Saturday, April 11, 2015

Exploring Ekaterinburg

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, Ekaterinburg was known as Sverdlovsk. It was named after a Communist party leader who was thought to have ordered the assassination of the Romanovs, because apparently that is the kind of exemplary behavior that got you a city named in your honor in  Soviet Russia. In addition to being the place where the last Tsar of Russia was shot, Ekaterinburg is the hometown of the first Russian president, that ineffable alcoholic Boris Yeltsin. For those two reasons alone, I figured Ekaterinburg was worth a stop on my Trans-Siberian tour.

An aerial view of Ekaterinburg
Although I have a tendency to plan trips down to the minutest of details, I didn’t do a lot of planning before arriving in Ekaterinburg. Instead, I decided to leave that to a total stranger—a local Ekaterinburger (pretty sure that’s not the technical term) who found me on Couchsurfing. She had offered to drive me to the border of Europe and Asia, and since I don’t love the marshrutka and she didn’t have the look of a serial killer, I decided to go for it.

This afternoon, Ksenia met me outside my hotel and took me on a walking tour of her city. We meandered down a riverside promenade, which took us past street art that ranged from a Beatles memorial to a giant keyboard made of stones. Both were equally confusing, but Ksenia explained that you were meant to make a wish on the keyboard by spelling out something you desire. As an example, she used the Latin alphabet to type out L-O-V-E, then jumped on the “Return” key. I thought about my wish for a moment, then hopped amongst the following Cyrillic letters: Р-О-М-А-Н, or “novel” in English. Yes, my latest strategy for finishing my novel is enlisting the help of a Wishing Keyboard. Incidentally, “roman” also means “love affair” and is a man’s name, so here’s hoping I get the full trifecta.

We’ll see how that “roman” works out...
A mural dedicated to a Soviet singer who died in 1990

We continued through historical Ekaterinburg and up to the Church on the Blood. A recent addition to the city, it replaced the merchant’s home where the Romanov family was shot and now serves as a memorial. Today it was filled with women selling Easter cakes (kulich), so I bought one for Ksenia and me to share in a nearby park (Orthodox Easter is tomorrow). Our last stop of the day was the marker along the Europe-Asia border. For this, Ksenia enlisted the help of Valery, a friend of hers with a car who apparently had nothing better to do today than chauffeur us out of town for a photo op. Clearly everyone’s fears that I would die on the Trans-Siberian were well-founded—these tricky Russians are trying to kill me with kindness.

Church on the Blood

Asia - Europe


  1. I swear you're just making up people and recycling names.

    1. That's because there are only about 5 Russian names!