Day 157: August 16, 2018
We slept until 9:00 am, but it was still only 6.5 hours sleep after we arrived so late on the train the night before. We had breakfast downstairs then met the group for a tour of Yekaterinburg at 10:00 am.
Due to conflict with Sweden, Russia wanted a more stable supplier of metals. The Urals were far from the capital so Yekaterinburg was created in 1723 by Peter the Great. The town is named after the patron saint of mining/industry or possibly Peter the Great’s wife Catherine I. In the 1690s mines were first constructed in the Urals.
We visited a merchant’s house from the 19th century. From 1924-1991 the city was called Sverdlovsk after a Bolshevik leader.
In the main square there was a statue of Lenin put up in 1957. All main streets in a city were named after Lenin in Soviet times. There was a cathedral in the location of the statue previously, but it was exploded by the Soviets.
Across the street was the city administration building with a painting of the Russian victory in WWII on May 9, 1945.
Up the street was a blue mansion from the 19th century. The owner wanted to show off by creating the most beautiful building in the city. He combined three architects’ designs. In the 21st century, it was turned into an official residence of the President.
We saw many buildings of the constructivist style or what we have been calling “Soviet”. The Soviets wanted to get rid of anything resembling the past regime including highly decorated buildings. Across the road was the city dam decorated with granite on the outside and a beautiful lake on the other side.
We saw a statue of Alexander Pushkin, a great Russian poet and author, in the literary district. From there we walked to the Church on Spilled Blood. It was built between 2000 and 2003 in the Byzantine style. A house used to be situated there and it was location of the Romanovs imprisonment following the revolution. In July, 1918 the Romanov family was sent to the basement and shot. The bodies were then brought to an abandoned mine so that no one knew where they were buried. In 1977, the house was knocked down to expand the street.
Outside the church were pictures of the royal family and a statue of all seven murdered members of the family. It is interesting how perspective changes. During Soviet times the people who killed the Romanovs were heroes and now they are seen as murderers. The Romanovs were seen as murderers of the country and now are considered martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church.
The walking tour of the city ended and we went for lunch. Danny and I both ordered salads then shared some dumplings. We tried a buckwheat and orange soda which had an interesting flavour.
After lunch we boarded a bus and drove 17 km out of the city to the Europe-Asia border. We were given ribbons to tie on a tree to make a wish. There were tons there already. Danny and I wound ours together and tied it to a small tree and each made our wish. It was a very nice moment.
We walked up to a monument showing the exact delineation between the European and Asian continents. The monuments shows an “A” and “E” together in a shape almost like the Eiffel Tower.
Down from there was a cute little area for taking pictures. Many weddings are held there or couples go to take their wedding pictures there. There was a board with Beauty and the Beast where we took one of our best pictures.
Next we drove to Ganina Yama Monastery constructed in 2009. Nicholas II, the tsar during the Russian revolution, wrote in his journal that he didn’t feel well prepared for ruling Russia. He was well educated and knew many languages, but did not have a military mind.
In 1917, Nicholas was stopped on his way to St. Petersburg and forced to abdicate. His family and him were first imprisoned in St. Petersburg. Then the White Guard, who supported the tsar, moved them to a remote Siberian town, Tobolsk, far away from the fighting with the Red Army. Nicholas II hoped to escape to Europe from there. He was related to many other European rulers, but none of them wanted to risk themselves to save him.
In spring 1918, a decision was made to return the family to Moscow for judgement by the people. They were stopped in Yekaterinburg on the way. The town was very against the tsar and imprisoned the family in an engineer’s house (the location of the Church on Spilled Blood).
In mid-July the White Guard was approaching the city so the Red Army sent a telegram to Lenin asking permission to execute the Royal family. An affirmative answer was received the same day. The family was taken to the basement in the middle of the night. They were read an order that they were to be executed. There were 12 soldiers present. Nicholas, Alexandra (the empress) and their son (Alexei) died immediately. The daughters had jewels sewn into their dresses that stopped the bullets. The soldiers had to stab them with their bayonets. They took the bodies to an abandoned mine and threw them inside. It was full of water so the bodies floated. They tried to explode the bodies with a grenade, but it didn’t explode. Instead they cut up the bodies and applied acid so they wouldn’t be recognized.
The monastery was created to commemorate the Romanovs who were recognized as martyred saints by the Russian Orthodox Church. Seven churches were built inside for the seven members of the family that were killed. We purchased some kvass (drink made from flour and molasses) made by the monks and gingerbread which was tasty.
We drove back to the city, but traffic was quite bad. The typical working hours in the city are 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. We walked to a sushi place and got take out then went to a supermarket to stock up for our upcoming 55 hour train ride.
Back at the hotel we ate our sushi which was a bit disappointing as it was more cream cheese than fish. We drove with the group to the train station and then waited half an hour before boarding. We are in a room with the Punjabi ladies from the UK. They are very nice. They told us all about the origins of the Sikh religion and we discussed spirituality. It was nice to hear their thoughts. We went and hung out in the dining car for a bit then went back to the room to go to bed.
Day 158: August 17, 2018
We went to bed quite late and then I didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at 9:00 am. I laid for a bit watching Orange is the New Black. I didn’t sleep very well as I felt the train was much more rocky than last time.
We were given breakfast by the train: crepes with ham and cheese then yogurt, a bun and cookies. It was all pretty heavy. I watched a bit more of our downloaded Netflix then we got off the train a bit to stretch our legs.
I had yogurt for lunch and Danny went to the dining car to play a game of chess with Sasha. I ventured to the dining car later to see how their game was going. It took them two hours to finish the game and Danny won.
We got out for a bit and went to a train engine display with the group for a photo. There were a billion mosquitoes there and we all got bit. We returned to the train and I watched more Orange is the New Black. Danny went for a walk and I found him drinking with the American Couple.
At midnight we had a 50 minute stop. We went outside the train station to a fast food place. I had quesadillas and Danny had a shawarma. It was actually very good. We returned to the train after our small dose of freedom. Then we curled up for bed.
Day 159: August 18, 2018
I woke up and watched some Netflix while everyone else slept. I slept much better than the night before. We didn’t have our oatmeal breakfast until 11:00 am. The time changes have messed up our schedule. We are now +4 hours from Moscow time.
We watched Archer on Netflix then we were able to get off the train for 45 minutes. Just outside the train station we went to a coffee shop. I got a milkshake which was not very thick, but had a very nice taste. Beside the train station was a mural of Lenin.
Back in the train we sat in the dining car for a bit watching Archer. Then we read in our room for a bit. There was another 15 minute break to get off the train.
We returned to the dining car and Danny played another game of chess with Sasha while I read. Sasha won this game. Back in the room we ate sandwiches for supper before our cheese went bad. Then we got ready for bed.
Yekaterinburg was an interesting town, but nothing too exciting. The train ride has been interesting. We have had lots of free time to chat with the others on our tour and catch up on Netflix. I’m looking forward to getting off the train at our next stop, Lake Baikal.