Don’t listen to tour guides: Enjoying Yekaterinburg, Russia

When I was on my Trans-Siberian trip across Russia (if you’re contemplating it – DO IT!), I stopped off at half a dozen spots along the route, turning the week-long train journey into a three week exploration.

Half way through, I remember so vividly standing at the Irkutsk train station, chatting with the local driver who had picked me up from the homestay I’d stayed in. He wasn’t exactly the friendly type but we had to stand and wait for a while together and eventually he asked me where I was going next.

Heading to Yekaterinburg, Russia

“Yekaterinburg,” I said, trying my best to pronounce it the way my homestay host had.

The driver screwed up his face and I thought my pronunciation effort had failed, but no, he’d got it. “Yekaterinburg?” he practically spat back at me. “Why would anybody ever want to go to Yekaterinburg?”

Right. What should I have said? I didn’t try to mention all the cool stuff I’d read about in my guide book. In fact, I was just a bit surprised, and more than a little concerned, because especially back then – 2003 – tourist information for Russia was pretty limited and for all I knew, he could have been right.

Railway kiosk at Ishim en route to Yekaterinburg Russia

These railways kiosks were regular features along the Trans-Siberian

I had enough time to worry, too, because it was two nights between Irkutsk and Yekaterinburg, passing through all kinds of other towns, some big and some small, some clearly not very interesting to stop at, but others that might have turned out to be better than Yekaterinburg, or so I started to think.

Meeting the locals in Yekaterinburg

After each leg of my Trans-Siberian journey, I felt like it was almost a shame to get off the train. I would get so used to the routine and the literal rhythm of the trip. And on arriving in Yekaterinburg, it took a while before this feeling really wore off. I was picked up by another tour company driver and dropped off at the agency which had organised my host family. Someone there told me I should sit and wait for an hour and a half until they could take me to the hosts, as they were still at work. Honestly, a bit of a boring start, right?

But then things got WAY better. I should have known they would. There’s honestly nowhere I’ve ever been that I didn’t enjoy. But that negative tour guide guy had got me actually concerned that I’d made a big error in picking Yekaterinburg as one of my stops. I hadn’t. My host family were a curious mix – a very strict mother (I got in big trouble for not wearing a particular pair of slippers in the apartment) and very chilled adult daughters; fortunately the parents were heading off to their dacha for the weekend and Tanya, one of the daughters, showed me around a little and then I followed my guide book’s walking tour.

Yekaterinburg’s Church on Spilled Blood and, of course, some Lenin

Coming from a position of having extremely low expectations (perhaps I should thank that grumpy guy in Irkutsk), Yekaterinburg blew me away with its beauty. The Church on Spilled Blood was quite new – it was built on the site where Tsar Nicholas and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks and obviously no expense had been spared in honouring them.

The Church on Spilled Blood in Yekaterinburg

The Church on Spilled Blood in Yekaterinburg

And like every part of Russia, there were numerous tributes to Lenin – a huge Order of Lenin monument and as in so many Russian cities, a statue of Lenin. I also visited a photography museum which really grabbed my attention, but I didn’t write down its name – Google suggests to me though that it’s probably the Metenkov Museum of Photography. I only had a couple of days in Yekaterinburg before getting back on the train to move on to Moscow, and so I only scratched the surface of the city, but to say that he couldn’t understand why anyone would ever go there? Well, that guy was so totally wrong. Wish I could tell him – he’s probably persuaded others to skip it.

Should you listen to travel advice?

Ah yes. So how do you know when to listen to travel-related advice people are offering you, and when to ignore it? I actually didn’t really have much choice this time round – I was five minutes away from a train heading to Yekaterinburg and so it was pretty unlikely I was going to take that guy’s advice and skip it (which does beg the question – why did he bother saying it?) but if I’d heard it a few weeks earlier, I might have missed out on a gorgeous city.

Each to their own, of course. One person’s garbage truck is another person’s trip highlight. Just as an example. What are you rules for receiving travel advice? What do you take and what do you dump?

Comments

  1. My personal method is to believe locals or people from other areas in the region if they say something’s worth seeing – and not believe them if they say it isn’t. We all get horribly jaded about our hometowns, but just about anything is worth seeing once.

    • That’s an excellent strategy, Jess – I think I’ll have to adopt that one, thank you! And you’re right – I’m not always super-enthusiastic about my hometown.

      • Amanda, could you describe your trip to Yekaterinburg in more details, I mean what was your budget, how did you get the host family. I can give you my email, if you find this information confidential. I am a local and thinking to organize trips to my home town. I like my city, although I didn’t travel much. But even my little travel experience helped me to change my attitude you mentioned above. Please , help me with any useful information . Thanks a lot .

  2. When I visited Russia people were surprised that I should choose the country for a holiday. At the same time they welcomed me and helped me as best they could. It turned out to be one of the best countries I’ve travelled to solo. Spasiba!

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