Monday, September 23, 2013

Yekaterinburg - into the Ural Mountains

the Dacha Community
The ride out of town gave us a good look at the dachas, in dense communities of old small cottages where city apartment dwellers flocked on weekends to connect with their agrarian past.  “Everyone is growing something and what they can’t use themselves, they sell” - Konstantin.  We saw selling on the highway too – glass jars for canning, twigs for medicinal tea, canned stuff, extra potatoes, mushrooms and berries and larger farmers goods too with fall harvests – beets, pumpkins, vegetables and fruits in bigger quantities. 

Examples of the great woodwork
in the log architecture.  this from
the city
A stop at an old traditional wooden church – this for St. Alexis – the youngest and the heir to the Romanov chain. The religious purge that destroyed thousands of temples in Mongolia in the 1930s occurred in Russia too – religion seen as a useless and silly artifact of the past and a threat to putting all beliefs behind state goals.  Few of the old churches remained.  Beginning with Glasnost under Mikael Gorbachev religious tolerance returned but Russia is now only 15%-18% religious beliefs.  Most are agnostics.  We were impressed by the Russian Orthodox minarets and filigree combined with the log architecture. The dacha house is a pretty simple affair - except for the elaborate carving on the wooden window frames.  Stunning!

Picking Berries
The Trailhead
Up to a little village that was the birthplace of Russia’s beloved children’s’ storyteller and novelist: (we’ll get his name later) More lovely dachas and great to see Russians enjoying a Saturday. We hit the trailhead for a five-mile hike into the Urals – they are low in elevation at this point but still very rewarding with lots of Siberian pines (tall, straight as an arrow lodge pole pine-like with needled branches only at the top of the canopy. We looked at massive beaver dams and picked up trash along the way “from the children”.

The Old Quarry
We did some wild berry harvesting, a Russian-only berry that grows on a bush but tastes like a cranberry; indeed later on the next train segment we saw plenty of people selling buckets of these berries on the platforms.  We investigated the old soapstone and talc quarry now filled with groundwater, lunched late at a great spot filled with locals
Reflecting the Aspens, Birch and Siberian Pine
simply enjoying themselves, the last warmth (54F) of summer with their families and their dogs.  Lots of women line dancing, men and boys with soccer balls, picnics, laughing, a few dogs playing and camaraderie under the tall pines and the aspens with family and friends.  The park ranger came up as he does with some guests and groups, was smiling and gracious in Russian, bid us “Dosvydania” and went to the next group (who shared their napkins with us).  We needed this – although packed with people – it was a great hike, got the heart pumping with some modest climbs, but most importantly filled me with warmth about the Russians that I thought was not there.  Nowhere to be seen were the “Icy Ivans” that are so generalized everywhere.  Just warm, happy, engaging people who love their families.  No pictures of this - these families were not a tourist attraction.

A beeline back after extending a hand to a very nervous mother who lost two young teenage boys by giving her a ride to local authorities (the boys were found while we were enroute. The mother was left on the roadside crying happily as her party came to pick her up.  We’ve seem mothers like this behave everywhere).

Back in the city we asked Konstantin to drop us at a local market so we could buy some train fare beyond just the noodles and dehydrated potatoes that were a staple on our last train leg.  He took us to a massive new retail center with a huge supermarket.  We bought pickled salads, vegetable dishes, cheese, crackers, Swiss chocolate and …. Russian Standard Vodka.  Quite a haul.

We paid for a full night at the Hyatt even though we were not staying there just to have access to a shower, the internet, packing area, laundry, the Hyatt Regency club…  pricey, but worth it.  We enjoyed a light snack and dessert for a temporary anniversary dinner with a few glasses of Prosecca, checked out, Jaguared back to the train station, lumbered to our platform, role-reversed, and settled into our best berth yet for the 36-hour train journey to St. Petersburg.   

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