A Nice Burg With a Heart of Gold
Text Neil McGowan
Photos by Yekaterinburg City Council for Tourism
If the most famous girl of the American gold rush is Clementine, daughter of the “miner, forty-niner,” then her Russian equivalent is Katya, or Empress Ekaterina I. She didn’t have just one mine, though. She developed mining as an industry in the entire Urals region, an area brimming with gold, diamonds, and iron ore. She knew how to keep her husband, Tsar Peter I (also known as Peter the Great) happy: by providing him with lots of cannons. Her penchant for glittering pleasure, mining, and good management live on the city named for her.
Nestled at the foot of the Ural mountains, Ekaterinburg (sometimes spelled Yekaterinburg) is home to 1.5 million people, making it Russia’s third-largest city. A stop on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, this modern, vibrant, and sophisticated city is a fitting tribute to a lady whose “colorful” background included being “presented in her undergarments” to Swedish Brigadier General Adolf Rudolf Bauer for his personal amusement. Ekaterinburg offers plenty of colorful amusement in such clubs as Isterika (44 Ulitsa Malysheva), which features DJs from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Europe. Or you can try your luck on a throw of the dice, another grand old tradition in a city that made its money in the great Urals gold rush of 1745. Zolotoi Telets (The Golden Bull, 42 Ulitsa Baumana) has every kind of gambling one could hope to find, with a decor that pays tribute to the glory days of railroads in the 1920s.
Since armaments loom large in the city’s history, a visit to the Military Museum (27 Pervomayskaya Ulitsa, open Monday through Saturday from 11 to 17, closed Sunday and Monday) is both appropriate and informative. Some of the most impressive of Ekaterinburg’s military hardware output is parked outside the museum, a T-34 tank and a Katyusha rocketlauncher. Inside the museum is a tin-can-sized fragment of the American U2 fighter plane shot down over the city in a legendary Cold War incident. Also fitting for a city whose history is bound up with what has been extracted from the ground is a visit to the Mineralogical Museum (1 Krasnoarmeyskaya Ulitsa, open daily from 10 to 17) as well as to the Jewelry Museum (37 Prospekt Lenina, open daily from 10 to 19), which offers regular and visiting exhibitions of jewelry craftsmanship from the great Russian design houses of the 19th century, including Faberge and Khlebnikov.
In addition, outdoor leisure activities such as boating are accessible without leaving the city center: Ekaterinburg surrounds an artificial lake, which was created back in Ekaterina’s time when the Ural River was dammed to provide power for the first generation of ore-breaking machinery. The most popular — if not the most beautiful — excursion from town is to an entirely invisible feature that literally put Ekaterinburg on the map: The official border between Europe and Asia lies just west of the city. An obelisk marks the spot, although the city’s tourism council plans to replace this with an enormous visitor center. The obligatory photograph (with one leg in each continent) can be taken on a one-hour trip that takes you past a memorial to Stalin’s victims. Much more worth your time in this direction are a large number of mountain lakes. Lake Shartash, Lake Peshchanoye, and Lake Chusovskoye are the main attractions here, though you’ll need independent transport to reach them. The Europe-Asia border also runs through Chusovskoye, making it a romantic place (far lovelier than the parking lot with the obelisk) to contemplate the enormity of continents. There are also lovely beaches brocaded with pine forests, perfect for picnics.
In addition, a new water park, Limpopo (2 Ulitsa Shcherbakova), is setting a new standard for family fun and entertainment, attracting visitors from all over central Russia. Open daily yearround, the top-level facilities easily compete with those found in international vacation spots, offering summer temperatures even in mid-winter.
Of course, the fresh air is inclined to sharpen the appetite, so on return to the city you’ll be looking for places to eat and drink. The hearty, nourishing fare your Russian granny would have made (if you’d had one) is available at Grand Buffet (36 Ulitsa Malysheva, tel. 359-8366), and you can help yourself to as much as you like. If you can’t decide what you’re in the mood for or you have guests with widely differing tastes, Sunday (23 Karl Libknekht Ulitsa, tel. 371-5010) is an ideal choice — the theme here is “cuisines of the entire world.” A warm Puszta welcome awaits at the charming Vesyoly Magyar (The Happy Magyar, 68 Krasnoarmeiskaya Ulitsa, tel. 377-5124) a cafe-restaurant that conjures up the best of stick-to-your-ribs Hungarian cuisine in cozy surroundings with Viennese coffee and pastries in an adjacent room. Another must-try is McPeak’s, a Ekaterinburg tradition that mixes the burger-and-fries concept with traditional double-size Urals pelmeni (try the forest mushroom ones!). McPeak’s has branches at 24/8 Prospekt Lenina and 24 Posadskaya Ulitsa as well as other locations around town. Given that in Russia Asian cuisine usually means sushi, Beijing Duck (60 Rosa Luxemburg Ulitsa, tel. 377- 7816) is a great little find — real Beijing duck with the sauce and the pancakes plus charming service at reasonable prices.
A city that has the largest student population in Russia (by percentage) is certain to have good bars. Draft Guinness is on offer at Old Dublin (23 Ulitsa Khokhryakova, tel. 376-5173/5813), where service is still “Russian-style” (i.e. rather than ordering at the bar, waitresses come to your table) but the food is pricey. A similar setup at more democratic prices is available at Irlandsky Dvorik (The Irish Yard, 11 Ulitsa Malysheva, tel. 376-3544), which even has pub quizzes on Saturday nights. If authentic food and beer are your top priorities, you might opt for Gambrinus (87 Ulitsa Lunacharskogo, tel. 370-5853), which serves a range of Bohemia’s best beers cask-drawn alongside steaming platefuls of Czech food. For those taking the Trans-Siberian eastward, you have plenty of time to party — your train doesn’t leave until 3:20 am…
Time difference from Moscow: +2 hours.
City dialing code: +7 343
Both Ekaterinburg train station and airport are still known by their Soviet-era name, Sverdlovsk, which is how they are identified on timetables and tickets.
The special-service express train serving Ekaterinburg from Moscow is #16, The Ural. It departs Moscow daily at 16:08 and arrives in Ekaterinburg 26 hours later.
The following airlines have daily flights to the city: Rossiya (from Vnukovo Airport), Aeroflot (from Sheremetevo-1), Trans Aero (from Domodedovo Airport).
Ekaterinburg has hotels to suit every pocket. The Atrium Palace (44 Kuibysheva Ulitsa, tel. 359-5000) is a centrally located five-star hotel, while Fort (52 Uralskaya Ulitsa, tel. 341- 5509) is a new “mini-hotel.” There are also the three-star Oktyabrskaya (17 Kovalevskoi, tel. 374-1595), a hotel formerly for Communist Party officials that is now open to all, as well as the two-star Bolshoi Ural (1 Krasnoarmeyskaya Ulitsa, tel. 350-6896), which is Soviet-style but well located.