“Why are you going there?”
Every Russian I spoke to had the same reaction to my plan to spend a night in Omsk. They dismissed it as an ugly industrial city that was gray and boring. But boy were they wrong!
Okay, maybe they weren’t completely wrong. Omsk certainly wasn’t the prettiest city I visited in Siberia, but sometimes it’s fun to visit boring cities too. Well, maybe not quite fun. But I enjoyed wandering through Omsk, and even saw a few pretty sights.
It was Defender of the Fatherland Day (everyone simply called it “Men’s Day”) so the parks were full of people celebrating the day off work, and men of course.
And then we were off to Yekaterinburg, which lies on the border between Asian Russia and European Russia – it sort of blew my mind to think how far we had already traveled across Russia!
Yekaterinburg really does feel more like Europe, with a pretty downtown complete with cobblestone streets and lots of street art.
All you Russian lit and history buffs out there (you are out there, aren’t you?) will probably know Yekaterinburg as the city where Russia’s last imperial family, the Romanovs (Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, and their five children –
including excluding including Anastasia!) were murdered in the basement of a mansion they had been hiding in.
The mansion was demolished in 1977, and now in its place stands the Church of All Saints, also known as the Church on the Blood. Morbid?
And now for the best part about Yekaterinburg: the cemetery!
First of all, why don’t we put faces on gravestones in America? It makes walking through the cemetery feel much more personal.
Second of all, The Mafia.
In the past Yekaterinburg was a center for organized crime in Russia, with two prominent gangs battling for control of the city: the Uralmesh and the Centralniy. From what I understand, mafia presence hasn’t exactly disappeared in Yekaterinburg, but the height of the conflicts was in the 1990s. This was confirmed during our walk through the cemetery, where an alarming number of gravestones were for men who died in the 90s, usually in their mid-twenties.
You see, we were in Shirokorechenskoe Cemetery, which is where prominent members of the Centralniy gang have been buried. The cemetery is HUGE. We spent an hour wandering through just a small corner of it.
Former mob leaders were easy to spot from their expensive suits and embellished gravestones – one was even depicted holding the keys to his beloved Mercedes. Often nicknames and special skills were added to the stones as well (think “judo expert” and “knife-thrower”). And to make things even clearer for us, the bosses are always wearing suits, while the “muscle” wears t-shirts and leather jackets.
Conclusion: I’m glad I wasn’t passing through Yekaterinburg in the 90s.
Where to Stay in Omsk
We stayed at OK Hostel, which was very cheap but also incredibly clean, plus they had all female and male dormitories, which I’m always a big fan of! Check current rates and availability here
If you’re looking to stay in a hotel instead of a hostel in Omsk, my friends stayed at the Guest House A-suite and loved it – they said the staff was incredibly helpful and it’s surprisingly budget-friendly. Check current rates and availability here
Where to Stay in Yekaterinburg
We stayed at Hostel Atasikun, which was one of the nicest hostels I stayed at in Russia! I loved that the beds had curtains, offering some nice privacy in a dorm room. They also have private rooms. Check current rates and availability here
If you want to stay at a nicer hotel, then definitely book Hotel Renomme. It’s right by the city center and is a beautiful hotel – plus the breakfast is supposed to be really good. Check current rates and availability here
What’s the strangest place you’ve visited on your travels?