Saturday, 11 December 2010

Eurasian Flu and Walking in Ice, Yekaterinburg, 1 - 4 December 2010

The presidential house.
Wading my way through the thick snow on the paths with my backpack, struggling to breath through the bout of Eurasian flu I picked up somewhere, I finally made it to my hostel.  A little later than anticipated due to the time difference from Moscow.  All train times in Russia are given in Moscow time, which can be extremely wierd when you turn up to a train station in Siberia and the clocks are all 5 hours slower than the local time.  I was sure that on my e-ticket the time stated said local time.

After I found the building I tried to call up to the hostel, however no one answered.  Luckily a couple came through and entered the building and I slipped in behind them.  Absolutely exhausted, I climbed the seemingly endless steps and triumphantly knocked on the door.  However, to my distress, nobody answered.  I was too tired to move anywhere so I made the decision I was going to camp out on the mezzanine and hope someone would come and let me in.  I must remind you that I was still bursting for the bathroom at this point.

A few anxious moments later I heard footsteps clambering up the stairs.  I sat there hoping it would be someone to let me into the hostel.  It was.  It was Katia, the owner of the hostel who had just popped out to get something from the shop.  Apparently she sent me a text message trying to confirm my time of arrival, but my phone had stopped working on the train so didn't manage to get it.  Bless her, she waited for two and a half hours for me to arrive.  She noticed that I was not very well, so after she had checked me in, she marched me down to the chemists and got me something to ease my cough.

I had the hostel to myself, which was great so I could catch up on some of this blog writing and sit there and watch a film on the computer.  It was absolute bliss to have your own space again, to sleep in a room without smelly, noisey and extremely strange individuals.  I thought I was going to have the place to myself for two of my three nights, but as I was cooking dinner on the second night, the door opened and to my surprise in walked Christian, a German graduate who was travelling across Russia heading to South East Asia.  I didn't know it then but we would spend quite a few days together after this.

Frozen River under 6 inches of snow
Yekaterinburg is an absolutely wonderful place.  It has got such a great atmosphere and I felt at home as soon as I started wondering around.  The people were so much different from the people you find in Moscow and St Petersburg, they smile for one.  The snow was knee deep and the temperature reached -25c in the day time.  It was so cold my nostels froze and my eyeballs begun to become hard as my tears froze.  The pathways were completely full of compacted ice and I though it was dangerous to walk on although the Russian ladies seem to have no problems walking along in their high heels.  It absolutely amazed me.

The city is just on the Asian side of the Ural mountains that splits European Russia from the rest and you could begin to see the changes in the demographics.  I personally found the girls much more beautiful than in Moscow or St Petersburg, perhaps it's because their lives are also much more relaxed than those in the big cities and they have time to smile more.  Walking around I got a sense that there is a good feeling there and people are happier.

A student jazz band shows local artistic flare of Yekaterinburg
On my second day in Yekaterinburg, I was invited to the Eurasian conference at the local university where I was promised dancing, art and music.  I certainly saw music and dancing, also photography but they packed up within one hour and I was left there wondering what was going on.  I had a conversation with a micro-biologist/photographer for half an hour and then decided to leave as nothing more seemed to be happening. 

Church on Blood
Yekaterinburg is definitely a place where I would like to return during the summer, when you can go out hiking in the Urals and spend time drinking in the outside cafes and bars.  It has quite a big music scene with lots of jazz bars, but the hypothermic nights makes it unadvisable to go out too far.  I didn't see too much whilst there as I wanted to try and shift the cough before it got deeper into my lungs.  The main sight that I saw was The Church on Blood which is a very new church that was built on the site where Tsar Nicholas II and his family where executed during the revolution as previously mentioned.

During my last night there, Christian left and I was joined by man from Luxemburg and a very sweet Russian girl who was taking an French exam the following morning.

My short time in Yekaterinburg was far too quickly over and I left Yekaterinburg on 4 December to head to Irkutsk on my longest train journey I would have to complete in my whole voyage around the world.  The train was around two and half days and when you're not feeling too well it seems to take a lot longer.  I arrived at the train station early so that I could get my ticket, board the train, make my bed and have a rest.  Unfortunately it was a train that originated in Moscow and was going all the way across Russia to the Pacific coast so it wasn't there and I had to wait around 45 minutes until it arrived.  During my time at the station, I found a waiting room which I went in and sat down, however, I was immediately confronted by this lady asking for money and pointed towards a price list.  I have never had to pay to wait for a train before and found it an utterly bizzare concept.  The price was small and the room was warmer than the platform so I decided to part with a little of my money for a little confort.

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