Stretching our legs for the day, en route to Irkutsk
02.07.2011 - 02.07.2011 24 °C
Whilst many travelers, including our friends from the restaurant car last night, travel non-stop to Irkutsk and often beyond, we had chosen to break our journey briefly in Yekaterinburg. We would spend the day here before departing on an Irkutsk bound train later that evening.
The previous day temperatures on the train had remained similar to those in Moscow. With no air-conditioning in the compartment by late afternoon the heat had become a little unpleasant. Disembarking in Yekaterinburg mid-morning that same warmth and sun now felt pleasant as we sought out a hotel that might provide hot showers. Securing a room, for the day, at the closest hotel to the station and after a good wash we headed into the city, home town of Boris Yeltsin and more importantly execution sight of the last Tsar of Russia.
From the station Sverdlova avenue leads straight to the spot where Tsar Nicholas Romanov II and his immediate family were executed by the Bolsheviks on the night of July 16th 1918. At the time the fall of the monarchy in 1917 was widely, and perhaps rightly, welcomed in liberal circles in both the West and Russia itself. Yet feelings change. Whilst Boris Yeltsin, then Governor of the city had the place of their execution demolished, for fear that it would attract monarchist sympathizers, today, an iron cross, from 1991, marks the site, and a second marble cross, from 1998, remembers when the Romanovs remains were sent to St. Petersburg for burial in the family vault.
With the Romanov family now elevated to the status of saints a massive Byzantine style Church of the Blood dominates the site. Newly erected the church contains the most expensively commissioned icon in Russia. As a place of pilgrimage for the faithful our Saturday afternoon visit also demonstrated its status with the newly married. A veritable convoy of wedding limousines and suitably decorated private cars were in attendance each time we passed the church. With Bride and Groom posing for pictures we could only assume that visiting the Church had become something of a modern ritual, perhaps ensuring that the favor of the long past Tsar is still offered to the loving couple.
Wondering further into the city very little held our interest. Whilst a variety of regional art, photography and geology museums were open we simply enjoyed the opportunity to stretch our legs after two nights on the train. Lunch and dinner in the city followed by a short provisioning trip to the local supermarket soon had us eager for the continuation of our trip. Having now covered some 1,200 miles we had a further 2,500 miles and 3 nights to travel before we would arrive in Irkutsk, having travelled by then some 2/3rds of the distance to Beijing.
As in Moscow the station was alive with passengers and their bags, looking to board a variety of trains heading east and west. As we had now grown to expect all trains were on time, ours being no exception. All train schedules and train stations operate on Moscow time, in Russia. Therefore, whilst we arrived at the station by 22:00 for our 22:30 local time train the station clock advised that it was 20:00. Slightly confusing but the simplest way to cope with the multitude of unmarked time zones that we have and would pass through.
Sharing our compartment for this part of the journey was a single, elderly Russian lady. Able to speak some German we communicated a little before retiring to our top bunks. By morning she had departed the train, replaced at some point during the night by another elderly couple who stayed with us for the rest of the following day. The ever changing travel companions was at first strange but something we, surprisingly, soon became accepting of.