After the resort-like Samara we crossed the border with the Urals region in the early misty morning on board of our old-school train with wooden-frame windows, which was making its 3305 km way from Moscow to Karagandy in Kazakhstan in just 2 days 10 hours and 9 minutes. It’s funny that there’s this rhyming saying in Russian when somebody is asking you ‘where?’ you – irritated – reply ‘in Karagandy!’ (gde-gde, v Kargande!), meaning some far away place. And here we were, on the train to that mysterious destination But in fact we had to almost jump off the train at the Zlatoust station as the train only stops there for 2 minutes. Getting off the train in 2 minutes is not such a difficult task, but imagine getting ON the train in just 2 minutes when you also have to find your coach!
Samara – Zlatoust:
distance: plus 844 km
total distance from St Petersburg covered so far: 2622 km
local time: Moscow time + 2 hours
train: train Moscow – Karaganda (operated by the Kazakh Railroad, pretty decent though old-school); takes you from Samara to Zlatoust in 15 hours 41 minutes
A somewhat excruciating search for the breakfast after we got off the train yielded several observations (AND the breakfast itself but only after at least an hour of erring here and there in search of a cafe). Like that here people do not care a bit for all those hipster cafes and stuff. They just eat at home, man. They live a simpler and more down-to-earth life, not even knowing half of what we so much care for here in the big cities. But they do sell and buy a lot of knives here, the production of which gives them the majority of the profit it seems.
[a memory from our breakfast-quest morning]
After having our bulochka with bird cherry in a local Kulinaria (a Soviet invention for busy / lazy, a shop with ready meals which you can either take home or eat right there at a table) we hopped on a mountainous tram. Yep, you’ve heard that, a very rare kind in Russia! And I bet it was faster than this old-school bus with Zlatoust written on it that we saw in the morning (pictured above). Sometimes it moves past wooden houses so close that it seems like you are on an amusement park ride! And we did use the trams in a sort of entertaining way, as an excursion tram – we went all the way up the hill and down, visiting the city’s factories, some of which were in quite a derelict state. And we were also people watching on this tram – or rather people-listening.
Zlatoust is an industrial but yet a very scenic town in the notoriously heavy-industry Chelyabinsk region. It’s one of the most elevated mountainous towns of the Urals with its residential areas rising as high as 400-600 m above the sea level, to believe Wikipedia. To the East of the town there’s this borderline which separates Europe from Asia. They say that a family of entrepreneurs founded this town in 1754 and since their family saint was John Chrysostom, they named it in his honor (Zlatoust = Golden-Mouthed). And since then the town has been known for its ironworks, steel blades and other arms with sophisticated engravings. Thanks God they didn’t rename it into Stalsk (meaning both stal = steel and Stalin) like they intended to in in the late 1920s.
In some parts Zlatoust looks like a Russian version of Switzerland. Although the boring 1970s block of flats inevitably bring you back to the reality. Well, it’s obvious that here even with all their ponds and hills and forests, people of Zlatoust are not supposed to be too much enjoying themselves in this beauty. So let’s build them some houses for the working people, nothing more. They should be grateful for that, eager that they are to leave their old wooden houses. But as for me, I liked the wooden part of the town much more:
Looking from above (the wooden houses are somewhat higher than the part of the town located on the pond) I could almost imagine how it all used to be back when the town was prosperous and laborious. It is still laborious I guess, otherwise there’s little to do there for a living unless you’re employed by one of the factories. I also remembered the first color photos in Russia taken by the pioneer photographer Prokudin-Gorsky in the beginning of the 20th century upon the order of Nikolai II. When I saw them first I was wondering where that curiously named Zlatoust was…
My first encounter with the Urals took place several years ago in Yekaterinburg, Perm (2013) and then in the rough and tough Chelyabinsk (2014). Each time I went there I was disappointed with the cities but striving to get to the nature. Which I finally manged to do this time. I deliberately avoided visiting big cities in the Urals and chose this small Zlatoust of the town to get closer to the Urals themselves. So unlike in Samara where we just left our rucksacks in the locker at the railway station, we took our time and spent a night in a hotel in Zlatoust called Nikolsky (which for my friend was the first hotel experience in Russia – and not a bad one).
The Urals in general is a region of metal. Even its folklore is connected to the metal. This ‘park’ on the Krasnaya Gorka we went to to see the city from above is dedicated to the fairy tales of Pavel Bazhov, a Soviet writer from the Urals whose works were inspired by the local legends. Russian children (I hope) still read his ‘metal’ books, like The Mistress of the Copper Mountain, The Malachite Casket and the Tale of the Stone Flower which is commemorated in shape of a fountain at the VDNKh in Moscow. We climbed the stairs of the bell tower of the John Chysostom church (its height is equal to a 11-floor building), looking at the old-old Urals under the low clouds and that deep green forest stretching beyond…
Although the weather was somewhat cloudy and sticky, we could feel the spirit of the place. Next day after a nice buffet breakfast (apart from the apparently old meat pie which I wouldn’t eat anyway) we headed towards the vast natural park called Taganay, situated not that far from Zlatoust. The name derives from the Taganay mountains in the South Urals which in Bashkir language means a very beautiful and intriguing ‘trivet for the Moon’ (tagan = trivet, ay = moon). We left our things in a car belonging to the guard (this is what people do in exchange for a smile!), registered ourselves but finally went in a different direction to the one we stated. We chose a longer road leading to the first refuge, about 12,5 km in total.
Mountainous rivers, tons of fresh air, almost no people around, loads of stones everywhere – yellow stones and yellow water, climbing-climbing up, birds… They say the park combines several natural zones, there are the taiga fir trees, larch, birch and pine trees, steppe, tundra and sub-alpine meadows all in one park. Indeed, the place where Europe meets Siberia and the Arctic North meets the Southern Steppes.
Although we had to survive under occasional rain on the way up and consequently descent cautiously on slippery stones and the ground which turned into torrents of water, we were welcomed by the sun at the end of the walk, as if the nature preserved its gift until the end:
Taganay Park – the must! No matter how much time you have at your disposal and time of the year, just go there. We didn’t see even a tiny bit of the park and yet we enjoyed it!
Mountainous tram to drive you across the town as if on an excursion
Part of the town with wooden houses and the territory along the pond (look for Nikolsky hotel on the map)
A visit to a local ironworks or at least to their shop if you’re interested in all things cutting and shooting (we skipped that); otherwise – a visit to the Bazhov Park where you can buy all those stones and stuff
Municipal banya to round up the experience
Zlatoust in a few words:
An unpretentious town where you can feel the nature and everyday life of the Urals on the frontier between Europe and Asia
We had our lunch in the open air, recuperated our things and drove back to the railway station. And then we did another must when in Russia – we went to a traditional Russian bath called banya (it also happened to be an old-school municipal banya which we spotted on our way to the station). We were lucky enough to get all clean and shiny as it was a women’s day that day in banya which means the entire thing was occupied by the ladies. Ladies washing themselves, their kids and their clothes (or was it just us who jumped at the occasion and cleaned almost everything that got dirty by that point?). Of course we talked to women (well, it was a women’s day after all!) as well and felt a little bit closer to the crowd. We did not have a venik with us (a bundle of birch twigs used instead of soap AND as a kind of rough massage in the Russian banya) though but enjoyed a much needed bath after hiking in the rain anyway. And all fresh and polished as newborn babies we headed towards our train…
… which would take us to the next stop: Tyumen.