08 October 2009

Yekaterinburg - Gateway to Siberia. And Armani.

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After 51 hours on the train, rumbling into Yekaterinburg station was both confusing and exciting. Would we be able to exist once again on land or had we been permanently converted to half-functioning train people who survive on instant noodles, nutella and granola bars carried from America?

We waved farewell to Andy and Charlotte who were continuing on immediately to Moscow and headed for our hostel. With two nights and a day, the goal was - oddly - to take it easy and not do a whole lot. Like inertia, we were objects that had not been in motion and planned to continue to NOT be in motion.

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As Russia’s steel and metal capital and the unofficial “gateway to Siberia and Asia,” Yekaterinburg possessed a certain charm that we didn’t find in Irkutsk. Once Russia’s heroine and mafia capital, Yekaterinburg has slowly evolved into a chic place to live and work. The fascinating thing, however, is that this hasn’t led to new buildings - just new shops in old buildings. Take Armani, Paul and Shark, Benetton and Max Mara. One might guess that such stores would build new real estate to occupy. One would be wrong. Instead, the first floor of now decaying apartment buildings are lined with some of the world’s most exclusive brands.

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One less-exclusive brand that you won’t find here is McDonald’s. Fortunately, a spectacular law suit waiting to happen exists in the form of “McPeak.” They have happy meals, the “Huge Mac” and a bonus selection of Russian favorites like anything you can think of served in a pile of mayonnaise.

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Yekaterinburg is also home to heaps of Russian history. It is the hometown of Boris Yeltsin as well as the place where the last Tsar of Russia and his family - the Romanovs - were held prisoner then executed by the Bolsheviks (Commies). There is also a statue of Lenin. Oh wait, those are EVERYWHERE.

Beyond the history, we spent hours in the central internet cafe “going wifi” while listening to old Spice Girls tracks, cooking our own food (be still my heart) and watching movies. In fact, Matt was kind enough to share the wonder that is “Showgirls,” starring Elizabeth Berkeley. Quite possibly the funniest movie I have ever seen without trying to be. If you have a few hours that you’d like to never get back, rent it. Is there really any better tribute to Russia? I THINK NOT.


Kyle Taylor

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