Tuesday, January 27, 2009, 4:06 PM Printable version
I have seen more of Ekaterinburg and its surrounding environment than the average expatriate. I first came here in 1995 on a U.S. State Department/U.S.A.I.D. project, married a local girl named Sophia and have traveled back and forth from the States frequently over the past thirteen years. This time around, I’ve been in residence in Ekaterinburg since May of 2007. So what is Ekaterinburg really all about? What makes it interesting for a foreigner? My life is maybe not typical but I want to share some of my perspectives with readers on daily life, culture and the "spirit of the capitol of the Urals"!
For me Ekaterinburg is the capital of the "Real Russia". By that I mean it is a working city, not a showcase city like St. Petersburg or Moscow. Ekaterinburg is the sophisticated frontier; that edgy, exciting, elemental place that can offer the foreign visitor strong contacts in business and the chance to see your business prosper and take new direction.
For me Ekaterinburg is the capital of the "Real Russia".
It is the capital of a vast region that is currently (and is sure to remain by all accounts) one of THE strongest growth region for Russia in the coming years. This is possible due to Ekaterinburg’s traditional industrial base of machine building, oil and gas, mining and mineral processing, a growing real estate market, a technology base with both civilian and military applications. Ekaterinburg is also naturally positioned as the transportation and logistics hub for the Russian nation and its growing trading partners to the South.
|Frozen in Time - Meyass Lake in winter||Ski Lesson for Nadia at Meyass|
With the strengthening of the economy and the growth of the business sector, Ekaterinburg has developed a variety of shopping venues, office complexes and residential facilities. The soon-to-open 5-star Hyatt International Hotel will offer the lux-traveler and local elites a new level in hotel and dining services. My favorite hotel is the perfectly grand Park Inn/SAS Hotel. It is THE right-priced 3-star business hotel ideal for meetings and stay-in-the-city getaways. My wife and I go there for the great luncheons and suggest our visitors stay there for the location, courteous staff, great food and amenities. It is truly the city’s best value in hotel services.
In addition, the city offers a number of stores with services for the long term foreign resident like me. Clean modern food stores like "Kupetz" ("Купец"). "Kupetz" at Greenwich Center on 8 March Street is my favorite food store with the always-fresh meats, wholesome salads and warm out-of-the-oven bakery products. It is a store that caters to international tastes from exotic grape seed oil to the all-American favorite peanut butter and Tabasco sauce!
In addition, the city offers a number of stores with services for the long term foreign resident like me.
"Ashan Discount Center" at "Mega" is another alternative (it’s just like a "Super Target" in the States). For great retail clothing opportunities try "Mega" or the shops on Vainera Street or "Dedsky Mir Mall" and many, many more shopping venues. The multi-location "Magnum" chain offers a great array of your favorite alcoholic beverages 24 hours a day. For my taste buying vegetables from the numerous street vendors is superior to any grocery store. Many things are straight out of local gardens and the taste cannot be fresher. My family wants for nothing here in the capitol of the Urals thanks to the fruits of the new market economy. You can have it all in Ekaterinburg!
|Ice Castles - New Years 2008 in Ekaterinburg||Keeping the faith near Meyass|
The culture is a great blend of old and new beliefs and traditions. A cultural cornerstone is the strong Orthodox Christian traditions that survived the Soviet era. When I first came here only a small wooden structure on Mamina-Sibiryaka Street stood as a reminder of the place the last czar, Czar Nicholas II and his family had been shot. The Church-on-the-Blood, a cathedral-like, fully functioning Orthodox Church and monument to the fallen Czar and his family was erected on this site during the 1990’s. It is a magnificent reminder of the link the Orthodox faith has traditionally maintained with Russia’s royal family.
The new culture is a mix of Western European and Asian, American and hybrid, post-Soviet life all mixed with traditional family values.
Just a short distance out of the city is the site where the last Czar and his family were horribly disposed of. After being shot by Yakov Sverdlovsk and his band of Bolshevik revolutionaries, the bodies were then put in a sulfuric acid bath for final disposal and put down an old mine shaft. This is a sobering reminder of the brutality of the Soviet regime as it consolidated power. Other Christian and non-Christian faiths flourish here as well. Churches as diverse as the Methodists, Mormons, Presbyterians, and Buddhists worship in their own ways here in the Ural.
The new culture is a mix of Western European and Asian, American and hybrid, post-Soviet life all mixed with traditional family values. Russian women are among the most beautiful in the world and they dress accordingly - very stylishly, with flair and excitement to say the least. Ekaterinburg women manage to look stunning and sexy even in the dead of winter when they must layer up their clothing to ward off the cold temperatures. The world fashion of jeans is ubiquitous. When you add a great looking hip length Siberian fur jacket on top of a great pair of jeans and knee-high leather boots and matching bag, a statement is being made! Ladies you look great! But alas arrives the spring thaw and the mud which can spoil great looking clothes. Clothes cleaning is a constant chore at this time of the year.
|Cigar break while banya building||Gardening at the dacha|
The new culture means more disposable income for the growing middle-class Russian and that means travel and exposure to new tastes in food and beverages around the world. This has brought home to Ekaterinburg a wonderful array of Italian, Turkish, Japanese, Spanish, French cuisines and more! Food is my passion and I am always amazed at how the food offerings have expanded since my first trip here in 1995. All of these foods have a decided Russian flair. Sushi is quite different to Japanese with many selections being made with Philadelphia cream cheese (go figure!), same with Italian and others where the spicing is not quite to standard. The car culture is big here as well. You want a Corvette, B’mer, Rolls or Hummer - no problem. Gasoline is of bad quality and expensive. Better to have a small car if you drive or hire a driver.
You never want for things to do. The entertainment scene ranges from opera, ballet, hip-hop, heavy metal, pop, R&B and jazz. Theater offerings include musical comedy, serious drama and movie houses with films from around the world. For the 20 and 30-something crowds the club scene offers a great outlet for enjoying an evening of dancing, or just listening to contemporary music over a beer or glass of wine. Drinking establishments like "Churchill" offers the scotch malt and cigar experience. With a growing family we tend toward ballet, opera, and occasionally the musical comedy theater. My life is the family life.
As a semi-permanent expatriate resident, I spend a lot of time with my wife’s tremendous family. As you will see in our picture gallery "dacha life" is an important element of what we do for all the seasons. We will go in the dead of winter in February dig out the fire pit and have a shashlik bar-be-que (marinated pork chunks) and frolic in the snow or hike in the nearby forest.
|Nadia works the soil||Birthday fun in the rain|
In the spring and summer we prepare a garden and relax as much as work permits at the summer house located in a forested area about 20 kilometers from the city. Dacha life with the garden plots and rustic and unique dwellings are a part of life in Russia and I feel fortunate to be a part of it. As the weather permits, I’ve been helping my brother in law build his new banya. Banya (steam bath) is a marvelous tradition and something every visitor must do. It is a cultural and social fixture of Russia and the reason that Russia never suffered an outbreak of the Plague like western Europe did - Russians stayed cleaned in their banyas while those in France and Germany forgot to take a bath!
Ekaterinburg is alive even in the dead of winter. Take in the spectacular ice carvings and an awesome ice castle in the main city square across Lenina Street from the City Administration Building (Администрация города). We have an annual ritual at New Years of visiting all the nearby town squares (Uralmash, Himmash, Leninski, etc.), ending in the main square to ring in the New Year and to partake of a grand celebration. Dress warmly, come with your favorite brandy or vodka and a designated driver; the last two years saw the temperatures near a minus 30 below zero C.
During this current stay in Ekaterinburg, I affiliated with two of the premier educational institutions in the City: Urals State Technical University (UPI) and Urals State University-Gorky (UrGoo). The City boasts one of the best educated populations in the world! The educational establishment has maintained strong connections with the sciences over the years and is now beginning to diversify more into the humanities, hospitality and the social sciences. I find Ekaterinburg is a perfect blend of established sophistication and a youthful can-do spirit which is best exemplified by the teachers and students in the educational community.
|Ice Carving - New Years 2008, Ekaterinburg||Nadia skis at Meyass|
So in conclusion…
What to expect upon your arrival: Good
What to expect upon your arrival: Not so good
It’s a great life here. I know that all who come will find it exciting as I have. Do you have any questions? Feel free to email me at Mplynn@msn.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
We welcome comments and appreciate your feedback. Share your own opinion with us: firstname.lastname@example.org
I was afraid that there would be a strong animosity towards me as an American, but that proved to be an unfounded paranoia - Justin N. Yeager, teacher of English.
David V., USA - I am here with my wife and daughter.
Supi Mansor - do you want to know what motivated me to live in another part of the world?
Sinead O'Reilly Henell - coming to Ekaterinburg was not something my husband and I had ever thought about doing, especially at the time with a 9 month old daughter.
After working in many other countries before, Ural is one of the most interesting place.
Before coming here, I knew nothing about Ekaterinburg other than it was very close to the middle of nowhere and something about the cold.
I graduated from Bard College with a degree in Russian Studies. Russian Studies encompasses the study of Russian language, literature and history. How did I become interested in Russia and Russian? Well, Russia is my passion.
If you want to see the Real Russia, go to Ekaterinburg!
Beginning at the Right Time in the Wrong Place.
Perspectives on Ekaterinburg from a frequent American visitor, by Mike Lynn
Erik M. Pfaff, M.Min