How Not to See What You Came to See

How Not to See What You Came to See

It was night time when we got to Yekaterinaberg and we were tired and hot and sticky as we piled out of the train and headed into the city to find our hostel. We found the metro, rode through its air-conditioned depths to our stop and followed the map I’d downloaded to our hostel. Only to find nothing there, no indication whatsoever.

Ivo went off to ask at a local restaurant where our hostel might be, while we waited and took pictures of our reflections.

He eventually came back, after actually being taken to the location by the kind bar lady who spoke as much English as Ivo does Russian, only to find that the ‘hostel’ was some guy down a dark alley with a car that would take us to another hostel, his apparently being overbooked. So, despite the inherent untrustworthiness of this scenario, we piled in the car, were driven a bit further away from the centre to a random apartment building, where we found another hostel.

Stolen from – our room was like this, but not so fancily made up.


It was our first run-in with the Russian apartment hostel, where they’ve taken a random apartment, often in a building that looks like somewhat slumlike, and fixed it up inside, with several rooms with bunk beds and communal kitchen. They’re super cheap and usually quite acceptable and clean, as this one also proved to be. They’re also impossible to find from the outside of the building – luckily they tend to be listed on sites like, which is where I found them all.

The receptionist there was nice and communicated with us via Google Translate, but I was miffed about being further from the centre and away from the shops and restaurants where we’d hoped to get dinner. But, with no choice, and even a slightly cheaper rate, we decided to stay. We broke out our instant soup and had that with bread, and got to bed.

In the morning, I had plans. We were getting on the same train we’d left the night before, which would leave at 21: 55 in the evening, so we left our bags at the hostel and headed out. The first item was to get to the mall and get K a new jacket. It was now really hot, but we knew she would need it eventually and Yekaterinaberg was our last real outpost of European shops for a while (we thought). We found the mall, huge and modern, with shops from all over the world, and eventually bought K a new jacket in the H&M, which was exactly the same as an H&M anywhere else.

Stolen from the mall website

With that out of the way, we had lunch in the mall at a Russian buffet, and then headed into the centre to see the few sights that Yekaterinaberg is famous for.

This is perhaps where we made a tactical error. We decided to walk, even though it was really hot and there wasn’t much shade. It was only a 30 minute walk after all, well within our capabilities.

So by the time we threaded our way through the town, along the lake and to the church, everyone was hot, tired and somewhat irritated. And the kids were not thrilled about being in a church, again. Even if this particular church marks the spot where the Romanovs were murdered in 1917. Or if there was a service going on as we went in, with Orthodox priests chanting, incense and devout people worshipping near the shrine to the family. No, they weren’t going to listen to why they should pay attention to this one. L was complaining, and K was sitting on Ivo’s feet, and so we went out, without me really getting to take a look.

The church

However, I did get to have one interesting conversation before we left. A young woman (always the ones who speak English well), came over to tell me about church. She told me about how the Tsar and his family had been holy, and that he had said that Russia would face 100 years of troubles after his death, and that after 100 years things would get better, and that’s what they pray for. I do wonder if that will happen, and whether Putin’s support for the church is related to this, and how he is in turn seen by the people. I would have liked to talk with her more, but at the time, facing kids in almost meltdown, I just had to get out of there.

We took the kids outside, and after some emotional discussions on all sides and then some cold water, we cooled down. I didn’t really want to go tourist while the service was still on, so didn’t get to see the Romanov shrine, or the reason we came to Yekaterinaburg. I did go into the church upstairs on my own, quickly, and we looked at the shrine to the sainted aunt, but that’s it.

The shrine to the sainted aunt

I felt pretty disappointed that we hadn’t been able to see it better, but we did learn a few lessons.

  1. Pay attention to feeding and watering the children – like plants, they can wilt.
  2. Make allowances for the weather and children’s lesser endurance, and maybe take a taxi or other transport.
  3. Explain what we’re seeing better before we go (I had tried somewhat, but could have done better to make it interesting).
  4. Talk more about what’s expected in places of worship before we’re there. As a non-religious family, this can be tough since they aren’t accustomed to being in church and don’t understand worship.

As it was cooling down, we actually walked back because we wanted to stop at the big fancy supermarket we’d seen in the mall to get more food for the train – the next ride would be our longest, 33 hours, two nights and a day – so we’d really need to stock up. With the help of a fabulous student of fashion design who really admired a certain gay politician he claimed to be the Dutch vice-prime minister (after research, we found that the politician was actually Icelandic) we deciphered what was in the stuffed pastries and got those for dinner, along with a bunch of other stuff.

From the mall website – the supermarket is called Hyperbola

We then got back to the hostel, got our bags, got the Metro back to the station, all with more than enough time to get on the train for the long trip. Our only disappointment was that despite our fabulous guide, we’d managed to get two piroshkies with meat after all. They went into the trash, along with our idea of seeing the place where the Romanovs were killed, and we were off to Krasnoyarsk.

Our last view of Yekaterinaburg


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