Yekaterinburg blows my mind. You never hear anyone saying "I'm so excited for my Yekaterinburg vacation, I can't wait". There are only so many people that visit this city willingly. People sent there by their companies on business trips. Locals struck by nostalgia. Those weirdoes who travel to remote places looking for god-knows-what. Most of them are pleasantly surprised by how cool this city is. It's like New York, but in the middle of nowhere. It's the largest city/capital of the Ural region. The Ural Mountains are that giant range that separates the "civilized Russia" from the rest of Russia. They're also considered the border between Europe and Asia. Doesn't sound like that great of a place to settle in, right? The redeeming quality of Ural is that it's rich in natural resources, particularly in metal. People have excavated casting molds from the Bronze Age and ironworks are in these peoples' DNA. The city was founded in 1723 by Peter the Great and named after his second wife Empress Catherine I; not to be confused with Catherina the Great. That was actually Tsarina Catherine II, who seized power only decades later. Yekaterinburg became an industrial giant in a matter of years. They eventually built a railway connecting west with the east. Yekaterinburg ended up as one of the "Gateways of Asia" like Singapore. Trade took over metalworks as the city's main source of income. At least to a degree, the industry was still important, just less profitable.
Yekaterinburg was instrumental to modern history. Remember Pete and Kate? They were the Romanovs, members of the family that ruled Russia for three centuries. Lenin's socialist revolution happened and Tsar Nicholas II and his family members were exiled to Yekaterinburg. That's where the last emperor's entire lineage was brutally murdered by the Bolsheviks. Those events marked the end of the not-so-evil-Russia and the beginning of…modern Russia. There is a huge cult of the Romanovs in this city, somehow tied to their Orthodox Christianity. The Church on Blood was built on the site where the last Tsar, his wife Alexandra, their 5 kids and the family's closest retainers were massacred. There are shocking anecdotes about how the ladies were killed in the end with bayonets because the jewelry they wore under their clothes stopped a lot of the first bullets. It must have been the ultimate horror. Now it's probably the most famous landmark in Yekaterinburg. Officially it's called the Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land. I don't really like the building itself, but I do understand how crucial it is to the people. Ganina Yama is the second key site to this story. It was an abandoned mining shaft not far from Yekaterinburg. That's where the executioners hid the bodies. I'm not an expert, but I've watched enough "Dexter" episodes to know this is not the best way to dispose of evidence. Anyway, people built a church next to the hole, then another church. Ganina Yama turned into a sort of a monastery or pilgrimage site. That's not even the end to bloody stories staged in Yekaterinburg. The Soviet Union fell and the early 90s were a time of a power void in the city. The mafia filled in and started killing each other, as mobsters usually do. The result of that carnage is the most ridiculous cemetery in the world. You will see BMW- shaped tombstones with pictures of overweight Russian gangsters in tracksuits. It's a bizarre pissing contest about who has the most expensive grave.
Yekaterinburg is free of that stereotypical Russian kitsch, at least for the most part. It might be the most western city in eastern Russia, so to say. Take for instance the Yeltsin Centre; it looks like the Avengers Tower. It's a massive exhibition center dedicated to Russia's recent history and its first president, Boris Yeltsin, who was born in the same Ural region. You pay close to nothing for an entry and you're free to explore. They do guided tours, but only in Russian. There are interactive media like movies and such and those at least have English subtitles. The Square of 1905 is a good start if you'd like to do some traditional sightseeing on foot. There's a red line painted on the pavement that you can follow towards important landmarks. There aren't really that many, but it's a nice long walk. There's also the famous QWERTY keyboard monument. Do you want to travel to goddamn Ural Mountains to see the QWERTY keyboard monument? I know I don't. I'd rather hang around the Vaynera Street with all the shops and restaurants. Can't get enough of that borsch. Local markets are a great place to buy leather goods. These regions are known for cheap, quality leather and shearling jackets. Boy, I do love a good shearling coat: that stuff will last for generations.