I missed my train out of Irkutsk by reading the date as the time. It was an easy mistake to make, but it cost me dear. The next train was at 2am. My bed was in the coupe section, but in the secret compartment at the end they save for emergencies. In a sense I was lucky to have what amounted to a private room, though I really prefer to share, and a three night journey on my own in a glorified cupboard wasn’t particularly fun. I did manage to read most of Anna Karenina though, a good 500 pages or so.
The train arrived in Ekaterinburg at 4am, so there was nothing to do for a few hours but hang around in the waiting room drinking lemon tea. By the time my money was changed and my bags were locked up it was clear that I was getting sick. After a brief look around I booked into a cheap, dingy hotel and lay on the bed watching Russian TV until checkout time the next day. Feeling a bit better I took the time to see the sights, then left.
Ekaterinburg is a slightly ridiculous place, a city focused on history in an unusually unproductive way. It was here 90 years ago that the last Tsar and his family were executed. Within a year the Bolsheviks went from denying the killings to saying they were the work of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ (who they’d had executed) and finally to not only claiming responsibility but re-naming the city Sverdlovsk after the leader who had ordered the executions. With the fall of communism the city was re-named Ekaterinburg again, but it seems to have been done a little half-heartedly. The train station is still “Sverdlovsk Station” and the hotel I stayed in was the “Sverdlovsk Hotel”. The statue of Yakov Sverdlov still stands in the centre of the town.
So, a town proud of killing the Tsar? Not exactly. Whilst the cathedral has been abandoned since the revolution the orthodox church have built the huge, shiny “Church On The Blood” next-door, on the spot the family died. In addition to this they have decided to canonise the whole family, an action that to me seems beyond bizarre. Nicholas II was a bad ruler – he was a rabid anti-semite, dissolved parliament whenever they disagreed with him and led the county into the first world war, where his terrible leadership led to the deaths of more than three million Russians. In what way he qualifies to be a saint I can’t imagine.
Altogether there wasn’t much to see in Ekaterinburg. It was probably worth stopping off at, but I don’t think I’d go there again.
Church On The Blood. Very shiny.
Cathedral. Not so shiny.
Something else. Also not shiny.
On the railway. Not particularly shiny.