On the way through Russia with the Trans-Siberian Railway, we planned ahead three stops in different Oblasts, administrative areas of the Russian Federation. As our first stop we choose to visit Yekaterinburg, the industrial, administrative and cultural centre of the Sverdlovsk Oblast. The city is located at the foot of the Ural Mountains, more than 1.600 km east of Moscow and about 40 km east of the imaginary border between Europe and Asia. With more than 1.3 million inhabitants it is the fourth biggest city of Russia.
Walking through Yekaterinburg feels like entering an open-air museum for constructivism, the official architectural style of the Soviet era. You can find entire blocks built in the constructivist style.
We walked the “Red Line”, which is directly drawn on asphalt and connects 35 tourist architecture sights in the city centre.
In Moscow we got the contact of Andrey, a travel enthusiast from Yekaterinburg. We were lucky that he had time for us and could show us his Yekaterinburg. One highlight was that we could enter the Ural State University to see the small ‘Old Man Bukashkin’ exhibition and got our private exhibition tour. Evgeny Mikhailovich Malakhin, known as the old man Bukashkin, was an extravagant street artist, poet and folk-punk musician. He used the whole city as his canvas and left traces everywhere, on garage walls, concrete fences, garbage containers, … We were told that the artist claimed himself as cockoo during Soviet Era to express himself freely without being censored. He asked people in the streets to join him and paint together to wake up the inner child again. The urban legend Old Man Bukashkin died in 2005 in Yekaterinburg, but his legacy is still alive.
In the evening Andrey invited us to join a meeting of a private travel community. Around 15 – 20 people met in a small apartment to watch and listen to a world trip presentation of one of Andreys friends. He cycled around lots of countries and crossed the States by bike. The presentation was in Russian, but Andrey did his best to translate from time to time. Nevertheless we enjoyed watching the projected pictures on the living room wall and tried Andreys homemade apple pie afterwards.
After leaving Yekaterinburg and spending a day on the train we reached the biggest city of Siberia: Novosibirsk, again more than 1.500 km to the east. We spent some relaxed days discovering the streets of Novosibirsk. We visited Novat, the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre and watched the Sleeping Beauty, a ballet in three acts with music by Tchaikovsky. It was a very fancy experience and again a mix of kitsch and beauty…
Our last stop in Russia took us to Irkutsk, 70 km away from Lake Baikal, our real objective. We really loved the relaxed atmosphere of this university town a lot. Strolling around the streets and watching some well preserved old wooden buildings was just great after the hurly-burly of city life. We spent two days in Irkutsk before we left by bus to get to Olkhon Island in the Lake Baikal. Check our additional story of Lake Baikal.