When planning a route on the Transsiberian railway, we were looking for an interesting nature, so we chose the first major stop in Ekaterinburg, the imaginary gateway to the Ural mountains.
Border between Europe and Asia
Yekaterinburg lies on the border between Europe and Asia, it is a center of industry and education, and at first glance, it is a modern city with skyscrapers, museums, maintained streets, and parks. We spent one afternoon in the city, visited the center, but above all, we did not resist the view of the Vysockij skyscraper – a 186-meter high tower, the top floor of which includes restaurants and cafes. In one of them, we ordered a drink to enjoy the city view from a bird’s eye perspective at sunset.
The city, which wakes up after sunset, will certainly not disappoint any fan of good entertainment and Russian vodka.
Russian railroad is full of surprises
Our destination was not the city itself, but the “Olenji ruči” nature park. The name could be translated as Deer Streams, although rather than deer you will meet a bear in the park today , and still with a lot of luck. There is a bus a couple of times a day to the park, but we have decided to go there by ourselves and chose an alternative of a train which price has been a fraction of the bus price. For a one-way bus ticket, we would pay approximately 20 EUR for a person with a backpack, the train ticket cost us 2 EUR. So we bought a ticket to a train – russian „elektricka“, which runs for two hours and stops in every village along the way.
The first surprise was the fact that all Russian railway traffic is managed by Moscow time. We knew this was true for trains running on the Transsiberian railway, but it surprised us for small local trains. Fortunately, we caught the train but what we didn’t expect was the ticket control system. The fact that the ticket was marked by a conductor was not a strange thing, but what was strange was that there were two conductors on each wagon (the train had five wagons in total), each charging one side of the aisle. Well, even nowadays everyone has to have a job in Russia, so completely absurd positions are created and even though one or two conductors would be sufficient for the train, there were ten of them. The Russians are, however, proud of their railways. Even in the smallest and poorest village that is located on the railroad, the most beautiful and most decorated building is the train station. A street artist came to the train to sing about this national pride for us. He boarded in the middle of nowhere holding a harmonica in his hand, and playbacking a song: “Elektricka, elektricka, elektrickaaa …”.
We got off at the final station in the village of Druzinino, still 4 kilometers away from the main road where we hoped to hitchhike the remaining 25 kilometers to the park. We walked for a long time along the tracks and did not believe how long the trains are here. Perhaps a kilometer, maybe even more. In a thirty-degree heat, we managed to hitchhike a couple, which gave us a ride to a turn to the village of Bazukovo, from which we needed to hike only 2 more kilometers. At the entrance gate to the park, we took a break and ice cold water from the bathrooms and drank in this heat without a wink of the eye. When the Sun wasn’t so strong anymore, we set off for the river where we would spend the first night in a tent. We walked through taiga and enjoyed the peace and quiet, as we decided to avoid the most popular trail in the park. The campsite by the river offered wooden benches and roofs, but we were most interested in the river itself, in which we cleaned off sweat and hid from countless horseflies. They warned us about insects in Siberia, but we were expecting mosquitoes and flies. With the horseflies here, a bloodthirsty mosquito would be appreciated.
There was no need to be afraid of the bears, but we left the food outside for the night anyway. Not because of the beasts, but there were too many mice in the camp, and although an owl has been hunting at the dusk less than 30 meters away, we were not sure it will take care of all the rodents that would like to taste our food.
Angel, the protector of peace
In the morning we hiked to see a statue of Angel, which is one of the main attractions of the park. The trails on the map have been marked with full or dashed lines where the dashed ones were not maintained. We chose the unkempt route and it was obvious that we were the first ones to walk it that day. We went through high grass meadow and were glad for the trekking sticks we used to break the spider webs in front of us. We calmed ourselves down with the words “it’s going to be worse,” but the journey beyond the river soon reached the main footpath to the statue so we could enjoy wooden walkways for the rest of the day.
The statue of the angel overlooks the park and foothills of the Ural Mountains. In total, seven identical statues were made by disabled children in Sweden, and in 2005 these statues were placed at seven different locations in the world. Besides Russia, you will find them in Australia, Canada, Peru, Mali, Vanuatu and the Hawaiian Islands. These angels are the guardians of peace and protect mankind from evil and wars.
In addition to the statue, the park offers an exhibition of birdhouses of all sizes, shapes, and colors, and above all, views of the Russian taiga, which do not differ much from our mixed forests.
In the evening, we went to the second camp, built a tent and decided to go for a walk over the river and then to an underground cave, which is freely accessible to the visitors with headlamps. We met more tourists by the river as well as an old fisherman who was selling his today’s catch. On the way back, when a sudden storm caught us, we learned that the Ural weather was unstable. The road was blocked by a fallen tree that had not been there an hour earlier. We crawled between its branches and hoped that the lighting would avoid us.
On the last day of our visit to the park, the weather once again turned into a hot day, and according to the map, they gave us at the entrance, a 5-mile hike back to the gate was in front of us. When we left the park an hour later, our pedometer and legs showed about half a distance. The fact that the Russian maps show far greater distances than reality, occurred to us several more times during our further traveling in Russia.