Ekaterinburg - Crossing into Europe
We left Irkutsk and spent another 2 nights on the train as it continued its journey westward across the massive Russian countryside. Our next stop off the train was in Ekaterinburg, or Yekaterinburg, a city named after Peter the Great's wife back in 1723.
We didn't know a lot about the city when we added it to our itinerary, but we knew that it was where the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family were killed as part of the Russian Revolution. The revolution was a critical part of how World War I played out, and with us being WWI geeks who travel to France and Belgium every year to see those battlefields and associated sites, this was more then enough for us to want to include the city on our Trans-Siberian train ride.
Turns out there's a lot more to the city then just a footnote in history as to where the Romanov family met their end. After the confusion in Irkutsk, we had confirmed that someone would be meeting us at the train station to transfer us the the hotel - that first night we arrived in the afternoon and would have free time before a second day full of touring. Getting off the train we headed to the exit and were surprised to see that we needed to run our bags through a scanner to exit from the tracks to the main station, and we were also surprised to hear announcements made in English over the speakers in that station. Turns out that Ekaterinburg is also one of the host cities for the World Cup, and with that there is a lot of increased security and the bonus of getting messages in a language we understand.
We didn't understand that much though, as we were looking around the main room of the station for who would be our guide a German couple that we had talked with the previous two nights in the dining car mentioned that there must have been a German on the train that we hadn't met since there was a guide up on the tracks holding a "Wichmann" sign and looking distressed that who they were meeting hadn't gotten of the train. It's a lucky thing they said that, as we had just walked past her without noticing the sign, and if they hadn't said something I wouldn't have known to head back up to the tracks to meet up with our guide and driver and get our ride to the hotel. She said that she hadn't even pulled the little sign with our name out when we passed since we got of the train first and seemed in a hurry and that we knew where we were going...
Once all that was sorted out, we were taken to the hotel and checked in, and with a recommendation as to where we could go to watch some of the football matches that evening, we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. The city itself is amazing, we just wandered around and were shocked about how comfortable it felt, the skyscrapers mixed in with old single or two story wooden homes from at least a century ago. It's a walk-able city, and we walked a lot of it before we finally did head into the Scottish pub that was recommended to us for watching that nights football matches.
And, for some fun, the city has a 30x sized keyboard in the park, kids would hop across keys trying to spell something. I tried to spread out across a ctrl-alt-delete all twister style, but it's too large.
The next day we were up and ready to meet our tour guide and driver, and off we went headed towards the burial site of the last Tsar of Russia. At least that's what our itinerary had on it, our guides shuffled it up a bit and added some items. First stop - Masks of Sorrow - commemorating victims on the political repression during Stalin's regime. It was moving to say the least.
Then onto something a little more lighthearted and enjoyable, a monument marking the run of the Ural mountains and the dividing point between Europe and Asia. Actually our guide to us they sometimes (usually) skip the masks of sorrow but we had talked about our trip and when she mentioned it we were excited to have them stop to see it. But, onto the dividing line of continents, that's something to see. As we walk up to the monument our driver pulls out a bottle of Russian Champagne and has our driver tell us that to stand in two continents we have to celebrate it properly. Who are we to argue?
From there we finally headed to the location of the well where the imperial family was thrown after they were killed in July 1917. At least that was what we had previously read, that the bodies we dumped in a well. Turns out it was a shallow grave in an old mining area, but when the bolsheviks realized the bodies could be seen they pulled them all out and then moved them and buried them elsewhere. Those bodies were found in 1979, identified in 1998, and then finally interred in the final resting place of all the Tsar's in St. Petersburg. All well and good, but the place the bodies were initially dumped is now a complex of 7 monasteries, one for each member of the family, and a strangely fascinating little setup out in the woods a bit out of the city.
Back into the city, a nice walking tour of the downtown that we had walked the day before, at lunch we ran into the Chinese couple that had been on the trains with us from China and that we say in Irkutsk, we found out they were also traveling the next day to Kazan on the train, so we left lunch saying that we would see them again.
Then it was back into some of the darker side of Ekaterinburg, and on to the Church on Blood, which was built on the site of the building that the royal family had been executed in. For a fun fact, it was Boris Yeltsin who, while the first president of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, approved the building of Church to commemorate the location they were killed. It was also Boris Yeltsin, while a party leader in Sverdlovsk (the CCCP name for Ekaterinburg) he oversaw the demolition of the house where the family had been killed.
We ended the day on a happier note, we went up to one of the tallest buildings in the city to get the views of the city. It sounded great, but the skies didn't agree with us and they opened up with rain when we arrived at the to and the open air viewing deck. We still managed to get a few photos before heading down and then eventually heading to the train station for our overnight ride to Kazan.
This is a city that we already feel we need to visit again, but this time with less of a schedule so that could spend some time and really enjoy everything the city has to offer.