Thursday, 19th July 2012
We stopped at Ishim in the middle of the night and I woke up long enough to take a picture of the attractive station building before going back to sleep until morning. By now the early morning pattern of arise, let the cabin attendant fold away the bed and order morning tea (which always came with an assortment of Russian biscuits) was well-established.
Large groups of sidings appeared on both sides of the route and we eventually arrived at Tyumen'. We were still on railway electrified at 3.3 kV d.c., but we had now left the West Siberian Railway and were on the Sverdlovsk Railway.
After about twenty minutes, during which the coach water tanks were once again refilled, we set off again, passing extensive sidings which, after some minutes, gave way to more rural views.
We had another 300 km to travel before we reached Yekaterinburg, leaving time for a leisurely breakfast followed by the showing of a documentary film about Tsar Nicholas II which I skipped. Lunch was at 12.30 p.m. which unfortunately clashed with our passing the lengthy sidings and increasingly industrial panorama which heralded our arrival in Yekaterinburg. We came to a stand whilst lunch was still in progress but, by skipping dessert and my usual cup of tea, I was able to leave the train and prowl up and down the platform taking photographs before we all met up at two o'clock for our coach tour of the city.
We set off through the largely modern, high-rise city to make our first stop at the Church on the Blood. Like many of the Orthodox Churches in Russia, this building is modern although built in a traditional style. The Soviet era made a pretty thorough job of either demolishing religious buildings or converting them for some non-religious purpose. Yekaterinburg's claim to fame seems to be that it's the city where the last Tsar and his family were killed (although, by that time, the Tsar had abdicated. The house where the Romanov family were killed has gone but the Church on the Blood has been erected on the site, making it an important place of pilgrimage for worshippers. In the gloomy crypt, there is a re-creation of the room where the Romanovs were killed, bathed in red light to emphasise the deeds. The floor above is laid out as a conventional Orthodox Church and, in contrast with the crypt, light floods in through the large windows. Outside the church, there is a statue depicting the Romanov family.
From the church we walked through fairly quiet streets to reach the River Iset and its attractive lake. We walked along the broad promenade bordering the lakeside, together with happy crowds of mainly local people enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine. Yekaterinburg's second claim to fame is that former Premier Boris Yeltsin was brought up here and was Mayor for some time. His house on the opposite side of the lake was carefully pointed out to us. The River Iset continues from the lake by passing under a major street and cascading over a small dam into a channel which passes through formal gardens.
The view of the formal gardens is dominated by a concrete television tower at the far end. The city made the mistake of planning the tower to be taller than the Moscow Television Tower. When Central Government became aware of this, they forced a halt to the work and it has never been restarted, leaving the city with a useless eyesore.
The guests from the 'Golden Eagle' then split into one group which would visit the Europe/Asia border west of the city and a second group who would be taken to the country for a bicycle ride. Bearing in mind my role as Honourary Secretary of the Bagan Cycling Club (earlier reports here and here), I joined the group who were to bicycle.
We drove to the outskirts of the city and turned off the main road onto a minor road which wound through pine forest before arriving at a large clearing with a number of modern buildings forming a resort for outdoor pursuits. Here, we were allocated to a number of smart mountain bikes. Although provided with 'Shimano' Derailleur Gears, the frame was proudly marked (in English) 'Engineered and Produced in Russia'. After a bit of saddle adjustment and practising, we set off on a mainly tarmac track uphill into the forest. I had the usual problem finding a gear ratio which was generally suitable and then matters proceeded rather better, particularly since I was persuaded to walk up the stiffer sections - a sensible compromise. The day remained sunny and warm but the mature trees provided welcome shade. The air was scented with pine sap and the ride was most enjoyable (particularly the downhill bits). I think we'd done about 5 km by the time we were back at the resort where Tatiana treated us to a fruit drink in the cafe.
We then all piled back into the People Carrier for the journey back to the city and the railway station. We were all back on the train in time for Dinner at 7.30 p.m. and our train departed at 9.12 p.m.
[Revised 13th August 2012, 15th August 2012]