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Yekaterinberg

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Soundtrack: 'Yellow' - Coldplay

Synesthesia is the phenomena when the human mind ascribes personalities or attributes to things like days, months or numbers.  For example, for me Monday is yellow, Tuesday is red, Wednesday has no clear colour, Thursday is purple, Friday is dark blue, Saturday is royal blue and Sunday is brown.  Similarly, one is whitish, two is red, three is green, four is yellow, five is red, six is blue etc.   So, for me, and I promise I'm not saying this to contrive a good excuse for the selection of soundtrack, Yekaterinberg is definitely yellow.  Maybe it was more examples of big Russian buildings painted yellow and white, maybe it was because I visited on a Monday, maybe it was the beer-coloured water that came out of all the taps in my hotel room, but yellow it was. 

The hotel was the one recomended by Lena from the train.  It turned out to be a business hotel and so more expensive than I had anticipated, but I was tired and not in the mood to walk further and I was too snobbish to say the words "Actually, I can't afford that", so I took the room.  I have yet to work out a way to carry the big backpack without sweating profusely so the staff looked very amused by me when I walked into reception all wet.  Not as amused, however, as they were when I turned up the next night to collect my bag during a rainstorm.   


After I had taken a yellow bath and practised my recently under-utilised skills in the art of finger and toe nail clipping, I headed into the town.  I was trying to find an internet cafe from my out-of-date guidebook but eventually decided it must not exist any more.  Although I was now a dab-hand at translating the cyrillic characters on signs, this damn town hardly had any road signs so it wasn't always straightforward to work out where you were.  I next tried to find one of the bars that Lena had told me would definitely have food and a television showing the final of the football.  This was tricky too, but I eventually got there about an hour before kickoff.  It was a big place that looked slightly more like a restaurant but they had loads of screens, including a giant projector.  After a bit of miming from me and some broken English from the only waitress there who spoke my language, it turned out that I needed to pay 800 roubles (16 pounds) to watch the game but that the beer would be free all night, which seemed fair enough. 


All the screens were showing the absolutely-fascinating World Fashion Channel.  After fifty-five minutes, with just five minutes to go before kick-off, and the bar still pretty empty, I began to get a bit anxious so I asked the waiter if they were going to put the game on.  By the time he had fetched someone to reply, the answer had already dawned on me; I had moved on another couple of time zones since Moscow so kickoff wasn't in fact going to be until 00:45.  So I settled down for two more hours in front of the World Fashion Channel with just unlimited beer to keep me company. 

By the time the real kickoff came around, I was chatting to Alex.  Or, at least, that's what I remember his name as being.  The night wasn't getting any younger, you understand.  Alex was a photographer from Moscow in town for three weeks on an assignment to photograph electricity stations for a power company.  He struck me as a bit of a nutter, in the nicest possible way.  I'm not sure there is anything on this planet he didn't raise a toast to during that night; To Spain!  To Germany!  To Russia!  To a bad game!  To a good game!  To beer! etc.  He grew up in Irkutsk, which he asured me to be the best city in the world.  He hadn't actually seen much of the aforementioned world though; he had been in the army until four years ago and apparently you cannot leave the country for five years after you are discharged.  In a year's time, once the period was complete, it ws his dream to go to Goa. 

The game itself was fairly good and the only goal was a cracker.  I love the fact that Spain, like a good version of the Scotland of old, always manage to hilariously embarrass themselves at major tournaments, so it saddened me that they won it and can now legitimately take themselves seriously.  Nonetheless, it would be hard to argue that the best team didn't win both the game and the tournament, so fair play to them. 

Afterwards Alex was still bleeding the free beer for all it was worth, but I was a spent force so I declined his pleas to join him at a nightclub and stumbled back to my bed by half-three. 

The
next morning I struggled out of bed just in time to get some free breakfast from the hotel restaurant.  I was delighted to see semolina on the menu so ordered it.  Whilst it wasn't particularly well made, I was a bit more disturbed to find that it came with melted butter on the top.  Not wanting to be some little-Englander who balks at foreign customs, I ploughed on anyway.  Admitedly, the previous night's beer was still taking its toll, but this stuff turned my stomach as I tried to finish it so I retreated back to bed. 

A minute before my checkout deadline, I left my big pack at the hotel for safekeeping and set out to explore the town.  It was generally a nice and relaxing place, albeit not one with two week's worth of leisure activities to pursue.  First I wandered around a nice park with a small lake and then went up the hill to where there were some churches.  Yekaterinburg is where the Romanovs, the last Tsars, were kept before the whole family and their personal servants were shot one night in the cellar.  Apparently, a job that was supposed to involved eleven victims, eleven soldiers and eleven bullets went more chaotically than planned when the soldiers got drunk first to build up the courage to carry out their orders.  The whole exercise, from first shot to last, took twenty minutes, fifty-seven bullets and a bit of bayonetting.  Even then, when it came to removing the bodies, they discovered that one of the daughters was still alive.  Since then, the family (but not the servants!) have all been made saints, which seems a bit generous to me.  Anyway, the point is that there were a number of churches, including the Church of Blood, built to recognise the family. 


Wherever I go on this trip, people keep staring at me, which I put down to the ginger hair and my general lost-tourist aura.  It can be a bit disconcerting sometimes though, for example in churches.  You're never sure whether you should be paying an entrance fee to look around a church or a cathedral, so you tend to walk through the door and look at the most official-looking person you can find to see if they're staring at you in an "Oi, you, come here and pay!" kind of way.  But, when everyone keeps staring at you, it's very confusing.  Is it still the ginger hair or have I missed a "Keep off the grass" sign and am angering the locals? 


It was raining then so I found something to eat in a shopping centre but the rain had only slowed down so I walked around some more around the parks, river and monuments in the drizzle before finding an internet cafe for a couple of hours (including the thirty minutes it took me to get from first finding the building to finding the actual internet room inside it).  After that I bought some supplies for the train journey before the end of the business day and found somewhere to eat and spend the evening.


The place I found was a Scottish theme bar, complete with authentic Scottish "City of Westminster" signs on the toilets.  I had about five hours to kill here so generally ordered food and small drinks.  At first I sat in a room with views by the river, but then decided to switch rooms to where the chairs were tall enough to rest my head.  Unfortunately, I did this just in time to see Zucherro in concert on the TVs at what appeared to be the Royal Albert Hall.  God, it was awful.  And the sadistic bastard did two bloody encores as well! 

At a quarter to midnight, I settled my bill, took the twenty-minute walk to the hotel in the heavy rain, collected my bag and took another twenty-minute walk to the station just in time for the rain to have mostly died off.  My train was due in at 01:20 local time and due out at 01:42.  It was suprising to see just how many trains were due through the station at this late hour and therefore how busy the place was. 

There had been a couple of guys sitting at the next table to me in the Scottish bar who I reckoned to be English, but I hadn't spoken to them.  When I got on the train, it turned out that we were sharing the same compartment.  They recognised me also and, as we were talking about what a small world it was, one of them said "Weren't you sitting next to us in the internet cafe earlier?"  And, do you know what, he was right!  



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Russia

Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Russia



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