Having left the airport region, we stayed in downtown Yekaterinburg and celebrated my 40th before doing too many tourist activities. Julia and Molly decorated the hotel room, the hotel brought me up cake (with candle), fancy tea and a small gift, and then we went out for a few drinks and dinner.
Fresh from celebrating but feeling no older, the next day we headed off to tour town before heading to the Urals. The Romanov’s (Russia’s last monarchs) were executed in Yekaterinburg quite close to where we were staying. The family and their servants were shot in a basement of a building since destroyed, however on the spot there is now memorial crosses and an incredible church, covered in gilded domes. I am sure we will see more in Moscow and St Petersburg but for me there need not be more – the Church of the Blood is incredibly impressive.
The Europe Asian border was our first experience of doing a “tour”, complete with guide. The nearest we have come on this trip was our tuk-tuk driver at Angkor Wat who doubled as an official guide – funnily enough they did have something in common – they both filled every bit of silence with information about where we were! In both cases it was to our benefit, although it really is a bit overwhelming at first.
Natalia, our guide in Yekaterinburg, had a wonderful grasp of English and was able to easily discuss wide ranging subjects. She had fairly liberal attitudes to her country and it was great to talk about everything from Russia’s history, through to European politics and policy. The border marker is a special place for wedding parties to visit - there is a lot of champagne and vodka drunk out there and all in the name of prosperity and good luck!
Overall Yekaterinburg is scenic, relaxed and compared to our last 5 months, much closer to home than distance suggests. I was even able to buy my own train tickets, although I had to use Google translation pages to write out my request. We have eaten out at pizza restaurants where the only words we can recognise are Margerita and Vino and had a great time doing it. There is less English written and spoken here yet the overall attitudes, architecture and lifestyles seem much more western than we expected.