Thursday 29 September 2016
The border between Asia and Europe is the Ural Mountains near Yekaterinburg so having travelled 4300km across Siberia in 5 days we are now in the Russian heartland.
Yekaterinburg, founded in1723, once closed Soviet industrial town, then scene of the savage Russian Mafia wars of the 1990’s, is today a peaceful city best known as the place where Russia’s last Tzar, his family and servants were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, their bodies dumped in an abandoned mine deep in the forest nearby.
We arrived at 1:30 pm and departed at 7:30 pm. The weather forecast: “a little bit crappy, but not too crappy” according to happy Hans, the train’s Tour Director, on his 7 am wake up call. First stop – a memorial to the 18,500 local people “disappeared” during Stalin’s purge of 1937-38 whose mass grave was only discovered during the construction of the new Moscow highway. Second stop – the border between Asia and Europe where, in accordance with tradition, we drank a glass of champagnski in each continent. Third stop – the place where the bodies of the Tzar and his family were disposed of, now a beautiful monastery in the forest. Fourth stop – the site of their murder where the huge Church of the Spilled Blood has been built in remembrance. What a history this city!
Friday 30 September 2016
From Yekaterinburg to Kazan is 875 km. The train took 14 hours, arriving at 09:40 am so we could have the whole day there, departing for Moscow at 7:30 pm.
1000 year old Kazan (cooking pot in Tatar) is the capital of the autonomous Tatarstan Republic and an interesting mix of Islamic and Orthodox cultures with one of the most beautiful kremlins (fortreses) in Russia. We were quite surprised by the affluence of this city. The old part, formerly split into Tatar and Russian sectors has been well maintained, restored or recreated in 18th century classic style. There are no modern high rises nor decaying Soviet era concrete buildings; the most charming Russian city we’ve seen.
After traveling 7923 km on a rattling train from Beijing we arrived in Moscow on time at 11:25 am on Saturday 01 October 2016.