Monthly Archives: June 2013

Stolby Nature Reserve, Krasnoyarsk

After our first failure at public transport in Krasnoyarsk, trying to get to the hydroelectric dam at Divnogorsk, we tried again the next day with a trip to Stolby Nature Reserve. We did all of our research the night before, cross referencing our guidebook, the nature reserve’s website (through google translate), and a website which plotted trips on Krasnoyarsk’s public transport. All of these told us that we needed to take either bus 19, 50, or 78, from the bus stop outside the Opera and Ballet Theatre. We made our way there by 10.30 and waited for 45 minutes with no sign of any of the bus numbers that we wanted… It was a very busy stop with buses arriving every couple of minutes but unlike most of the other bus stops in the city it didn’t have a sign listing the bus numbers which stopped there so it felt like there was nothing else that we could check.

We knew that the bus needed to cross the Communal Bridge to the other side of the River Yenisey to get to the nature reserve. The Opera and Ballet Theatre stop was just before the bridge so we’d seen all of the buses which crossed the river from there – what had we done wrong? At this point, I was almost ready to give up, but Andrew persuaded me that we should walk across the 2km long bridge and see if we could spot a bus going in the right direction from there. At the other end was a large roundabout, we crossed a couple of side streets and made our way to the main road which had a bus stop very close to the roundabout. Almost as soon as we got there a #19 bus arrived – hurrah at last! We got on, paid for our tickets and checked with the conductor that the bus went to Stolby receiving a nod in response.

20130610-082516.jpgOn the bus at last

After about half an hour on the bus, we checked again with the conductor, yes, she told us, four more stops. As we got off, she indicated to cross the road and told us 7km to the nature reserve. Great, that tallied exactly with the information about the reserve that we’d read. As we walked up the road opposite the bus stop, we were a bit surprised to see no signs pointing the way, but this is Russia and things are not always as clearly signposted as we’d like… After about 10 minutes of walking the road forked, again with no sign as to which way to go. After some debate, we took the rightmost, clearer track which passed behind some houses. Again, after a short walk, the clear track turned to the right with a footpath leading to the left. We knew that we needed to be heading uphill which meant taking the footpath. Hmm, it didn’t feel quite right that there wasn’t road access to the entrance of the reserve… We headed up the footpath anyway and after a short walk came to a clearing in the trees with a stunning view up the valley. Down below we could see a road leading through the trees heading in the direction we wanted – that’ll be the road we should be on then!

20130610-082549.jpgGreat view up the valley with the path that we need down below

We headed back down to the main road and a short distance along found the access road with ‘Stolby Nature Reserve’ sign at the entrance. By this point we’d wasted another hour, and with a 7km walk ahead of us before reaching the park we knew that we wouldn’t have long there before we had to come back. But it’s OK, the story has a happy ending and the day quickly began to improve. Within a few minutes walk up the path we started to see wildlife – a woodpecker, Siberian chipmunks (very cute!), butterflies, lots of different birds on a path side feeding table and even a small bat!

20130610-083247.jpgWildlife at Stolby Nature Reserve (clockwise from top left): Siberian chipmunk, butterfly, bullfinch on feeding table, Siberian nuthatch

20130610-083256.jpgA small bat flying overhead in the bright sunshine

Stolby is the Russian word for ‘pillar’ and the nature reserve takes its name from the giant boulder formations which litter the hill. They are similar to the ‘Kamennie Palatki’ in Yekaterinburg, and also reminiscent of Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire. The path to the nature reserve is described in our guidebook as ‘a gentle uphill walk’ and it does start that way, but the last couple of kilometres are pretty steep. That, coupled with a long flight of stairs up to the first pillar, meant we could definitely feel our calf muscles the next day! Locally, the pillars are popular with rock climbers, and many of Russia’s best rock climbers have come from Krasnoyarsk region having grown up with the Stolby. We tried a bit of rock scrambling ourselves and were rewarded with an incredible view.

20130610-084624.jpgAmazing view from the ‘Ded’, or ‘Grandfather’, rock

20130610-085051.jpgRock formations and a friendly squirrel

On the way back down to the road, we had another treat in store. We were approaching one of the feeding tables and saw what we thought was another squirrel munching through the sunflower seeds, but as we got closer we saw that it was a sable! Once highly prized for their fur, these animals are usually very shy.


After a frustrating start, the day turned out really well.

The 10 Ruble Tour

We don’t usually take guided tours. For one thing they’re generally pretty expensive so don’t fit into our regular budget, but also they usually try to cram a lot into a short time so that it can feel a bit rushed and one of the reasons that we’ve taken this trip is so that we can take our time – we can afford to travel by slower, cheaper public transport and absorb new places at a more relaxed pace.

But in Krasnoyarsk we decided to make an exception. We wanted to visit the hydroelectric dam at Divnogorsk about 40km away. Our guidebook informed us that to get there on our own we should take a hydrofoil from the city’s river station. We researched the times and found that the boats only ran 3 times a day at the weekend and that tickets are sold on board. On Sunday, we got to the river station at 1.45pm for the 2.30pm departure. Lots of locals were also queuing so when a boat pulled up at 2.15 we got on with everyone else. We were slightly perplexed when it pulled off straightaway – wasn’t it supposed to leave at 2.30? And when Andrew went to buy a ticket the lady told him that no this boat doesn’t go to Divnogorsk… To cut a long story short, we were on a kind of river bus which serves the bankside and island settlements of the Yenisey River and doesn’t travel as far as the dam. So when it turned around we bought a return ticket and treated it as an unexpected river cruise…

20130607-214251.jpgUs on our ‘river cruise’

20130607-210746.jpgKrasnoyarsk’s railway bridge and view upstream

With our attempts to get there on our own foiled, we emailed Anatoliy who runs SibTourGuide (also mentioned in our guidebook). He suggested that we might like to join a South African guest who he was taking on a ’10 Ruble Tour’ on the Tuesday as the trip to the dam is included in this full day excursion.

The Russian 10 ruble note (worth about 20p) features a number of places around Krasnoyarsk and Anatoliy has built an itinerary around these spots and others of interest.

20130607-210803.jpgAnatoliy showing us the sights on a 10,000 ruble note (the note was devalued to 10 rubles in 1998 but kept the same design)

Anatoliy collected us from our hostel and then we picked up the South African, Marius, from his hotel. The first port of call was the tiny Chapel of St Paraskeva Pyatnitsa which stands on a hill overlooking the city. It was built on the site of a watchtower which was part of the city’s 17th century fortress. Our visit was timed to coincide with the daily noon cannon firing which started in 2003 – the 375th anniversary of the founding of Krasnoyarsk. It was LOUD!

20130607-210815.jpgChapel of St Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, and cannon about to be fired

Of course one of the advantages of a tour is that you have an expert on hand to tell you the history and significance of the sights that you’re seeing, and if they’re good (and Anatoliy is), entertaining anecdotes to keep things interesting. From the chapel on the hill we made a few stops in the city – at the war memorial, on the riverside, and next to the steamship which is famous for carrying Lenin to his Siberian exile before the revolution, and also ferrying the last tsar, Nicholas II, across the Yenisey while he was still a prince and on his world tour.

20130607-210826.jpgWar memorial representing an armaments worker and a soldier, Andrew on a T-34 tank, graves of soldiers who died in Krasnoyarsk’s hospitals

20130607-210836.jpgSteamship Sv. Nikolay on Yenisey riverbank, ship’s bell, wheel housing

Next we headed over the Communal bridge (also featured on the banknote) and upstream for a couple of stops before reaching the dam. First was a lookout point featuring spectacular views and a large sculpture of a sturgeon, or ‘King Fish’ as it is known in Russian. From the lookout point we could also see the village of Ovsyanka, the home of celebrated Russian author, Viktor Astafyev, who wrote books telling of the life of real Siberian people in Soviet times and was treated as a mentor by Russian leaders in his old age. His home is now a museum of how life was in the first half of the 20th century.

20130607-210845.jpgUs at the lookout point

20130607-210857.jpgSturgeon monument

20130607-210906.jpgAstafyev museum (clockwise from top left): Anatoliy explaining the importance of the samovar, cow bells of differing sizes (to make different noises so that everyone could recognise their cow), portrait of Viktor Astafyev, outdoor tools

The town of Divnogorsk was built for the construction of the dam which started in 1961 and was completed between 1968-72. We made four stops here. First in the town itself, next in front of the dam which is currently the 6th largest in the world in terms of production capacity (when it was built it was the 2nd largest). Here we also got some great views of eagles circling overhead.

20130607-220424.jpgUs in front of the dam

20130607-220523.jpgGolden Eagle circling over River Yenisey

The third stop was at the side of the dam to get a good view of the boat lift. This is something like a giant bathtub that takes barges up to the top of the dam and back down to the river. Unfortunately we didn’t see it in action as it is not used so much nowadays (more of the freight traffic is by road than river now). Finally we made a stop behind the dam at the incredibly peaceful Krasnoyarsk Sea, the lake formed by the dam.

20130607-221117.jpgThe boat lift track

20130607-220546.jpgKrasnoyarsk Sea

Thanks to Anatoliy and Marius we not only had an excellent day of sightseeing, but very interesting conversations ranging from 20th century Russian politics to game hunting in South Africa!

Yekaterinburg, Russia

Yekaterinburg is the fifth largest city in Russia, the third largest in Siberia, and sits on the Europe-Asia border. But it is perhaps most famous as the place where the last Russian Tsar was murdered at the start of the Soviet Revolution in 1917-18.

20130604-230902.jpgYekaterinburg train station

The story of the Romanov’s transportation to Yekaterinburg via Tobolsk, their murder in the basement of the rich merchant’s house they were held in, the disposal of the bodies and their subsequent exhumation, canonisation, and state-funeral in St. Petersburg is lengthy and morbidly fascinating.

The merchant’s house was demolished on orders from Boris Yeltsin in 1976, the then mayor of the city, later to become president of the Soviet Federation. The site is now dominated by the shiny Church on the Blood, dedicated to the Tsar martyrs.

20130605-182124.jpgThe Church of All-Saints Resplendent on Russian Land (aka Church on the Blood)

This was the second time in a row we’ve hit the jackpot with our accommodation choice through – Irina and her son Igor picked us up from the train station, showed us around their apartment which we’d booked a double room in, then promptly left – we had the whole place to ourselves!

20130605-182201.jpgIrina’s spotless apartment in Yekaterinburg

The plans for our first day in Yekaterinburg were somewhat thwarted as the local micro-brewery was closed to visitors for refurbishment, and we couldn’t find our second choice which was a fire-station themed restaurant (!). Instead we had pizza, beer and cake at a cafe called Tchaikovsky. Mmmm, cake :o)

Next we made our way to the Romanov Memorial Church on the Blood, via the Ascension Cathedral opposite, and the striking memorial to the Russians lost in the Afghan war.

20130605-182242.jpgAfghan War Memorial in Yekaterinburg. Not your usual depiction of a soldier

20130605-182353.jpgThe Ascension Cathedral

20130605-182621.jpgChurch on the Blood – Downstairs is the memorial and history of Tsar Nicholas II and his family

20130605-182635.jpg.. Upstairs is a working church, which reportedly contains the most expensive icon ever commissioned

The next day we attempted to get into the largest private collection of precious stones, metals and crystals collected from the Ural region, but despite the Mineralogical museum building being open and the signs outside and in saying it was open, the main museum doors were locked. Thwarted again, we started to wonder if we had overbooked our time in Yekaterinburg as the city seemed to be shut.

After picking up a map from the tourist information office, we spotted that the “QWERTY” art installation was on the way back to our apartment, along the river Iset.

20130605-182714.jpgThe QWERTY art installation, or the “ЙЦУКЕН” in Russian, as it’s in Cyrillic as well (It might not be “ЙЦУКЕН” – I just made that up..)

There was some cool graffiti on the way home too..

20130605-182726.jpgGraffiti along the Iset river

That night we decided to get a little more organised, so we made a list of what we wanted to do, planned our days to try the sights we’d missed again, and asked Irina if we could stay a couple of extra nights.

The next morning we walked the length of Yekaterinburg to the train station which took us about 85 minutes! Tickets in hand, we headed back into the centre and took Irina’s suggestion to visit the viewing platform of the city’s tallest skyscraper – the Vysotsky Tower

20130605-182821.jpgYekaterinburg’s City Pond, from the top of the Vysotsky skyscraper

Speaking of tall things, Yekaterinburg has the worlds tallest unfinished structure – a TV Tower that stands at 220m. They got to half of its intended height before construction was abandoned in the 1990s and after a number of trespassing free-climbers died attempting to climb it, it has been fenced off. It’s visible from almost anywhere in the city.

20130605-182837.jpgYekaterinburg’s abandoned TV Tower

The following day we tried the Mineralogical Museum one last time, and.. it was open!

20130605-183458.jpgUrals Mineralogical Museum, worth the perseverance!

The Mineralogical Museum contains raw minerals, crystals and chunks of metals, but also some statues, ornaments and trinkets made from minerals too. We really enjoyed the variety and scale – some of the pieces near the door were really big.

20130607-004715.jpgWe loved the variety of minerals on display – so many different colours and shapes

While researching, I’d read that the world’s oldest idol is on display in Yekaterinburg. The Shigir Idol, dated 7,500 B.C.E was found in the Urals and what remains of it can be seen here, that is, if you know which of the 4 museums with “History” in their title it is in. I couldn’t find any mention less vague than “a history museum”, so we took a stab at the Icon History museum, and I can tell you the Shigir Idol is NOT among its exhibits.

Still, the Icon History museum was nice for a few reasons; it was small but full of really ornately painted religious icons – so ornate they had magnifying glasses dotted around for closer inspection; it was raining outside, and there was what I can only describe as a church in the style of a doll’s house, which the museum staff took great delight in opening up and showing off.

20130606-132837.jpgYekaterinburg Icon History museum

A little tired of walking, we got up early the next day and headed east of the city centre by tram to the nearby Kamennie Palatki (which means ‘stone tents’) and Lake Shartash, where, after some inventive sign-language that included me saying “ding-ding” and miming the bell on handlebars, we successfully hired a couple of mountain bikes and cycled it’s 12.5km circumference.

The Kamennie Palatki were formed by volcanic eruption, and afford a lovely view over the park with bits of the city visible over the tops of the trees

20130606-142438.jpgView north of the park from the easily climbable Kamennie Palatki

There isn’t a clearly marked cycle-way, but starting at the water’s edge we just kept the lake in sight as we made our way on the various pathways, access roads and muddy tracks. We were surprised at how many lone fishermen lined the shore, most with a rod and net, but some with multiple lines and hideaways, and even one or two in waders!

20130607-005140.jpgLake Shartash, lots of fishermen, and stopped for lunch

That night, two German guys arrived to share the apartment with us. Marcus and Michael found they shared a love of train travel, and had just 3 and half weeks of holiday to get from Moscow to Beijing. The next day, Irina had arranged to take the four of us to see a couple of the famous sights.

First, she drove us to the official Europe-Asia border monument

20130606-150502.jpgJulie, Irina, Michael, Marcus and I straddling the west-east divide

Irina translated the plaques on the monument – it contains stone quarried from each continent, and the European side is from Italy. There’s also a ceremonial area at the site where couples come to get married.

From there we went to Ganina Yama which used to be an abandoned mine, and is the site where the bodies of the murdered Tsar Nicholas II and his family were taken to be disposed of in 1918. Today the site resembles an outdoor museum of churches – there are beautiful churches, shrines and statues every few paces located in a secluded, fenced off area of woodland.

The highlight for me was the covered walkway around the series of pits where the bodies were found. We were fortunate that it wasn’t busy, so we had time and tranquility to reflect.

20130606-152138.jpgCovered walkway at Ganina Yama, site of the Romanov’s disposal

20130607-005337.jpgSpires, Julie and Michael in contemplation, statue of the Romanov children who were also murdered, my favourite of the churches as it has lots of outdoor staircases and balconies

Irina dropped the 4 of us in the centre on her way to work, and it was our turn to be tour-guides for our new found German friends as we showed them the sights. We had a great time chatting with Marcus and Michael – Marcus in particular has a very witty sense of humour :o) – and it was a perfect end to our time in Yekaterinburg.

Russian Haircut

Sounds scary doesn’t it? Maybe something like a Glaswegian Kiss? Well, thankfully it wasn’t that bad, but we were both a little nervous beforehand…


Andrew was first. By the time we got to Petrozavodsk (where we spent 3 days between St Petersburg and Moscow), we’d been on the road for nearly six weeks and his hair was getting pretty long. We looked up the word for barber/hairdresser (parikmakerskaya) and soon spotted a sign in the centre of town. We went into the row of shops and walked to the end, getting funny looks all the way. At the end we asked the woman in the last shop ‘parikmakerskaya?’ and with a certain amount of sign language she told us that it was shut and then enterprisingly tried to sell us some socks! Next we tried the modern looking shopping centre where we found a fancier looking salon, when we asked the price we were told 700 roubles (about £15) Too much for 10 minutes with the clippers we thought.

So, defeated, we returned to our hotel. But on the bus on the way back we noticed a few more parikmakerskaya signs and with hope that there might be a local option, we asked the lady on our hotel reception. Yes, there was a barber just 100m away. Great, we had time the following day before our train. Our ‘mini hotel’ was on the ground floor of a fairly new apartment block along with a supermarket and several other businesses, one of which was a barber as it turned out. Unfortunately, this one was closed as well. The area around was very residential, consisting mostly of quite deprived looking apartment blocks, and as we walked through to the bus stop, we spotted a sign over a corrugated iron porch and decided to investigate. Despite the less than salubrious exterior, the shop inside was nice enough and the girl who greeted us was friendly. Andrew mimed clippers and asked her how much – 100 roubles (~£2) was the answer – much better!

She then tried to ask what size guard he wanted on the clippers, but we couldn’t manage to communicate to her and eventually she gave up, put on the largest guard that she had, shaved a small patch, and then went down through the guard sizes until Andrew was happy with the length…

20130604-233431.jpgAndrew under the clippers

20130604-233445.jpgAnd afterwards outside the entrance


I’ve been going to the same hairdresser, Vicky at Fine Cuts in Dunston, for about 7 years and was very worried about going somewhere else. I’ve found that it usually takes hairdressers a few appointments to get used to my curly hair. But after 10 weeks my hair was really starting to frizz, and I was even more worried about getting my hair cut in Asia where it is likely that the hairdresser will never have cut curls before, so I decided to bite the bullet…

I’d spotted ‘Salon Okay’ around the corner from our apartment in Yekaterinburg. It started well, the price was comparable to what I paid at home (~£13), we had a bit of a conversation about (I think!) whether my curls were natural and what product I used on them – fortunately, I’d read ‘muss’ from the bottle. She washed my hair, clipped up the sides, and started at the back, indicating the amount to take off, just like Vicky does. She cut away, and when she reached the front, she parted my hair, and indicated a much shorter cut than I usually have. I shook my head and made the parting with the hair to the sides as usual, to which she wrinkled her nose and shook her head. So, unable to communicate in more detail and not wishing to have an argument in a language I don’t speak, I shrugged and nodded. She seemed to take this as agreement for a complete restyle, and started chopping chunks away from all over… By the time she got out the hairdryer I was nearly having a panic attack. Using the hairdryer and a brush, she tried to style my new “fringe”, but it just frizzed up. My hair always needs a wash after it has been cut to put the curls back properly, but by the time she had finished I was desperate to get back to the apartment and have a shower so that I could check the damage. As we left, Andrew said that he really liked it, and it was nice to see me with a new hairstyle, but I wasn’t reassured.

20130604-230845.jpgThat’s a lot of hair coming off…

20130604-230857.jpgAfter the hairdryer and brush treatment… I’m only smiling because we’re still in the salon!

20130604-234653.jpgWell, it’s not so bad after a wash. Much shorter than I would normally have agreed to, but I think I can live with it.