Yekaterinburg heights and the Night Mission

Share
The city and its river

The city and its river

We stroll next door into the Scottish pub and settle down for a beer while we wait for our Russian friends.  They arrive a pint and a half later and, true to form for most of the Russian Couchsurfers, they don’t want anything to drink.  My three wives along with Supermodel Nastya, Pasha and Sasha are more eager to lead us across the road to the huge office building called ‘Altei’, which apparently has a viewing deck on its roof we can visit for a small fee.  It does appear to be one of the tallest buildings in Yekaterinburg, soon to be outdone by another skyscraper that is under construction less than a hundred metres away.  The open roof is replete with huge billboards you have to weave around and two viewing platforms on either side of the building.  We take turns with other groups of Russians enjoying the view from each side.  Seen from above, Yekaterinburg is a surprisingly spread out city, stretching along the river and out to the hills that surround it in neat waves of buildings and parkland.

YekaterinburgThe strangest monument looks like an enormous minaret sprouting randomly from the city floor.  It is one of the tallest incomplete towers on earth, standing at 220 metres; a little over half the 400 metres intended height of the structure.  It was built in the late 1980s as a TV tower that was to feature a restaurant seated high above the city.  Uralski Yulia tells me it was stopped when the Soviet Union fell apart in the early nineties and since then has had a checkerboard history of proposed developments that have all amounted to nothing.  Apparently it was used by base jumpers for a while, but after some fatal accidents it was closed again.  Today it seems to stand as a monument to the rebuilding Russian nation; a work in progress; frozen in time until its moment arrives again.Yekaterinburg TowerWe descend the building again and follow our friends to the restaurant.  Elven Nastya arrives and I’m also introduced to Liya and Alexei along the way.  Alexei is Uralski Yulia’s boyfriend and Liya is studying at the same university as a few members of the group.  We are escorted into a large restaurant, a long, low wooden building with equal size indoor and outdoor sections. The staff are all wearing traditional Ukrainian clothing, which makes the women look exceptionally cute.  The large table we are escorted to is in a room designed to look like the inside of a Ukrainian log cabin.  Down to the small, simple curtains, fireplace and cotton tablecloth.  We sit down and follow our hosts lead on ordering some pelmeni, a spinach soup and some grilled mutton with vegetables….and tomato and cucumber, of course.  Pelmeni are delicious small bite sized pastries like won-tons.  They can be boiled, steamed or fried and you normally dip them in sour cream or other sauces.  We had them quite a few times in different places as an entrée or drinking food – for which they are a perfect accompaniment.

Princess Irina

Princess Irina

Princess Irina orders a medovukha and most of the girls follow suit.  This is a very traditional Russian drink, most closely related to the mead made in Europe.  Honey ferments naturally over a long time; more than twenty years, but the enterprising Slavic people discovered this worked much quicker if the honey was heated.  In the 14th century they added distillation to refine the process further, but by the time of Peter the Great at the start of the 18th century, vodka had replaced it as the standard strong liquor of choice.  The modern version is delicious with a smooth, rich flavour you can enjoy from the first moment it touches your tongue to a few minutes afterwards as the honey flavours continue to please.  It reminds Don and I of the flavour of Glayva, a liqueur made from a blend of Scotch whisky with honey, herbs and spices.

Don and I are sitting at opposite ends of the large table and when the pelmeni arrive, we discover we have ordered two different kinds of these lovely Russian snacks.  So I throw one to him, which he catches in his mouth perfectly and pronounces it delicious as the Russians applaud him.  Always a showman.  We try the Ukrainian red wine we’ve ordered and enjoy its richness with the soup and are forced to order another glass or two later on.  Princess Irina and Yana jump up and start a photo session in the corner of the room with the fireplace; these Russian girls are unstoppable.  Over the course of dinner quite a few of the women take turns in getting their portfolio pictures in the same corner.

Photosession

Photosession

We enjoy the warmth of good company and share more stories of Australian and Russian life, before eventually emerging onto the street for the stroll home.  As we are passing a building, Supermodel Nastya pulls me aside and shows me a curious piece of art on the wall.  Using small, square mirrors, someone has spelled out, in Russian, the phrase ‘You are Unique’.  I smile as she translates for me and ask,
“What is this building that it has this written on the side of it?”
“It’s actually graffiti, it hasn’t been there long.”
I stare at it with even more respect, a fantastic piece of real graffiti art; not some moron’s initials scrawled with spray paint.  I had already noticed quite a few pieces of good graffiti in the city; this one quickly becomes my favourite.  I thank Nastya for showing it to me and as we walk together I ask,
“So what do you study?”
“Oh I’m the only one who isn’t still studying and is actually just working.  I work at the same company as Yulia and enjoy it, but it’s only a start to a career.”
We have to split up on the main road and I leave with Elven Nastya for the short walk back to the apartment.

You are Unique

You are Unique

On the way she tells me that I need to be awake with her around two in the morning to walk with her to the train station.
“Are more Couchsurfers coming?”, I wonder aloud.
“No, there’s some friends of mine coming through on the train.  I was involved with doing volunteer work with them last year”, she explains.
“Oh what were you doing?”
“I was a camp leader for a group working on the Black Sea clearing rubbish from beaches and surrounding areas.”
I remember the park in St Petersburg and thought they could do with plenty of help cleaning beaches as well.  It was for a Russian organisation called World4u that organises volunteer work camps around western Russia during the summer with the aims of promoting social cohesion, multiculturalism and an international youth volunteer community.  They have connections with the Alliance of European Voluntary Service Associations (and some international ones) which allows them to place young people from anywhere into the camps as well.
“So you must have enjoyed it then?” I prompt.
“Yes.  I loved doing it, the work made me feel good and the people were great.  I tried to join a group that would be working outside Russia this summer.  But they have a tight limit on Russian citizens joining it.”
“Do you know why?”
“Not really, it just didn’t work out.”
This seemed strange to me, I would have thought volunteers from anywhere would be accepted equally.

We arrive home and go to sleep for a few hours before launching ourselves into the early hours of Wednesday morning.  She hands me a sleeping bag and a backpack and advises me it’s my job to carry them.  I ask why else I need to be with her as we’re walking and then we round a corner near her place that explains completely.  It’s essentially late on Tuesday night and along a stretch of road that runs for a few hundred metres there are young Russians in all states of drunkenness swarming in groups.  There are groups sitting against buildings and drinking, groups lining the gutters doing the same.  All of the women are wearing very little and all of the men are busily trying to convince them to wear even less.  There are a number of cars parked along the side of the road with people inside them talking to women standing on the street.
“Is this normal for a Tuesday night? What’s going on?”
“They are all prostitutes; you can grab one on the way back if you like”, she answers with an evil smile.
“Sounds good, you’ll have to pick me a good one….no a couple, I feel frisky tonight.”
We laugh together as I look along the buildings and find the occasional entrance to a bar or nightclub.  I decide it’s an entertainment strip gone crazy, but there are still more of those women leaning into the windows of cars.  I decide I don’t really want to know and we make it to the train station without a problem, but plenty of men in pairs and small groups are looking angrily at me.  I’m not exactly a small guy and I’m particularly happy about that at this time.

The train is arriving as we approach the main entrance and we meet her friends as they exit the wagon.  I hand over the goods and, as she catches up with the group leader, I manage to talk to one of the others to find out more about why we’re here.
“When we caught the train out of Moscow, a large group of Russian soldiers on holiday jumped on and they were already very drunk.  They jammed all their belongings onto a row of beds next to us in the platzcart wagon and settled down to keep drinking the vast amount of beer they had brought with them.”
I could easily picture the scene as he described it.
“They had a lot, bottles and even five litre kegs.  The provodnitsa warned them about keeping quiet a number of times, but they just didn’t care.  The police were waiting for them at a station where we stopped for ten minutes.  The police came on the train to take them off and in the chaos the soldiers grabbed every bag they saw and took them all onto the platform.”
“Wow, a bit of excitement for you for the night then”, I commented.
“Da da da da da.  When that all finished we noticed we had lost a sleeping bag and half our food.  So we called Nastya who promised to help us.  And now here you are!”
So I was involved in doing a mercy run to help them out, the backpack is full of noodle bowls, tomato, cucumber and processed meat.  The train doesn’t stop long and we walk back home the same way with the street revellers still out in force.  I quickly return to sleeping and dream of crazy Russian nightclubs filling that empty TV tower.

Irina, Don and Yekaterinburg

Irina, Don and Yekaterinburg

Share

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>