I made a stop midway of my Trans-Siberian adventure at Yekaterinburg, a vibrant yet unassuming city with a colourful past (probably a little dark). It was 3 days well spent immersing in the confluence of influences at the city straddling Asia and Europe.
Yekaterinburg (alternatively, Ekaterinburg), city of contrasts/ contradictions, where Asia meets Europe, classical meets modern architecture, communist symbols meet capitalist ones, and industrial icons meeting historical ones. With a vibrant mix of cultures, architectural styles and industries, the city may seem enigmatic to the curious onlooker, who upon deeper venturing may accidentally be stuck spellbound. Formerly Sverdlovsk (during the Soviet-era), it is probably most well known as where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed during the Russian Civil War. Today, it is the fourth most populous city in Russia.
I began where I left off, from the capital of Siberia, Irkutsk, to the capital of the Urals, Yekaterinburg. I arrived in Yekaterinburg late on a Friday night, after my first ever experience in a third class sleeper. Energised and excited upon reaching my second Russian city, I proceeded to the metro to head to the hostel. Hostels appear to be a little less common here in the middle of Russia, as compared to larger cities such as St Petersburg or Moscow. The ‘hostel’ i stayed in was a converted apartment in some private housing area. Nevertheless, it was clean and comfortable, and good for a short stay.
On the train to Yekaterinburg, I met a friendly local who happened to be from this city, and he offered to show me around for the day. Couldn’t have been more thankful for the offer, and it was an awesome day exploring the city on foot, while getting to know each other’s cultures and countries better.
As I made my way to the place we agreed to meet, a couple of sights caught my eye. At a pedestrian street near where I stayed, people had erected a sort of memorial to Michael Jackson, which included many large posters and a life size statue of him. On hindsight (after visiting 4 cities in Russia), interest in western pop culture is quite evident in Russia, and it is not some isolated country cut off from the rest of the world that western media paints it to be.
It was satisfying, first proper meal in half a week (I had mostly noodles and bread on the train and the previous night). With lunch done, we headed off to discover the interesting sights in the city, such as the buildings below, skyscrapers from distinctively different eras standing side by side. Ok, not exactly side by side, but almost. The Iset River runs through the heart of the city, and the landscaped banks of the river make them ideal for picnics or, more commonly spotted, wedding shots.
The Soviet Union produced a couple of distinctive architectural styles during the decades of their reign. I’m not educated enough to be able to name/ effectively distinguish them, but a few of these styles can be found in Yekaterinburg. Sounds like an ideal place to study the evolution of such styles, Given the distance from Europe, buildings here were spared of the heavy bombing experienced further west during the WWII.