July 3: Actually, Ekaterinburg, first known as Sverdlovsk, is really known for three things. The unfortunate end of the Czar Nicholas II and his family, the place where Gary Powers was shot down in his U-2 spy plane in 1960 and the birthplace of Boris Yeltsin and home of the University named for him. We had a full day of touring and since no one had car repairs to do, this is what we did.
First a quick stop at the military museum where a bit of Power’s plane is on display. It was closed, so we only saw the outside. Another interesting fact, this was a closed city, even to Russians until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Our guide, Tatiana, grew up here and told us, if you arrived by train without a permit to enter the city, you were put back on the train for you departure city. She has seen first hand all the changes here and her description of the communist regime and since was quite insightful.
The big part of the day was devoted to the Romanov history. The house where the Czar and his family were imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in 1918 was torn down but as history recreates itself, now the Church on the Blood (aptly named), a Russian Orthodox church, has been built over the exact location and you can visit the cellar room where the executions took place.
Then if that doesn’t instill your sense of tragedy, you can visit, as we did the site, (now a monastery), where their bodies where dumped into a mine shaft, dismembered, and burned with acid. The Romanovs are now considered saints-times change- and 7 churches have been erected at this monastery in honor of the 7 family members that were killed. There were as many souvenir shops as churches. Seemed a little commercial but the wooden churches scattered in the woods were interesting for the first 20 minutes.
It was not until 2008, that DNA confirmed all 7 were executed. You may remember that for about 10 years an American woman claimed to be Anastasia. Turns out she was Polish and somehow gained the knowledge about Anastasia passed down from one of the men (all Polish) that guarded the family while exiled in Ekaterinburg.
Russia seems quite capable of renaming towns, streets, saints, importance of events and most everyone. No wonder their novels are so hard to read with each character having a long list of names that keep Westerners making lists to keep track of everyone in the book!
Tomorrow Perm and a stop at the border between Asia and Europe.
P.S. From Ed. I am once again reminded of why I don’t do bus tours. If they last 2 hours, this is usually about 1 1/2 hours longer than I want and about 1 3/4 hours more of information than I want.