Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A night at the conference hotel

Besides the main tourist centres, like St. Petersburg, Moscow, Lake Baikal etc., the concept of a hostel is still in its infancy in Russia, which leaves the flashpacker with no other choice than checking in at a hotel. Western style hotels are ridiculously expensive (starting at US$ 200, sky's the limit), so I usually go for the cheapest experience. In Yekaterinburg which is also referred to by its old name of Sverdlovsk, I checked in at the "Sverdlovsk Conference Hotel" right opposite the train station. These places remind me of the hotels where I used to stay when I visited the "stans" 8 years ago and are a true communist experience. After checking in at the reception you are not given a key but instead a card with your room number written on it. With this card you can go up to the floor where your room is located and receive a key in exchange from the dezhurnaya (floor lady) which is usually a babushka (grandma) sitting at a reception desk on each floor. You better stay on good terms with her, she supplies hotwater for tea and laundry services. The rooms have hot water for most of the day, are reasonably clean and the TV has some 10 Russian channels and besides MTV the rest of the channels are all Russian, which sometimes feature Hollywood movies that are dubbed in a strange way. The characters start out talking English and one usually catches the first two words or so when the Russian voice takes over and continues until after the person stopped talking. No lip sync here. It can be fun to try and follow such a movie and make up an own storyline.

The taste of the food at the breakfast buffet is a bit bland, but the selection is quite good. What the smörgåsbord lacks in taste it make up for by giving the dishes great names such as "Pan Cakes Tasty", "Sour Cream Village", "Boiled Rice Golden", "Steamed Vegetables Creative" and my favourite "Black Coffee Grande Espresso" (which couldn't have been further from it).

As opposed to the hotels, going out for food is often a pleasant surprise. Besides great Russian cuisine there is a wide selection of international food in all cities available, sushi seems to be the most popular and it's served everywhere at quite decent quality. At the "Cuba Libre" in Kazan, they serve probably the best fajitas and mojitos this side of the Volga and when the tables are removed the whole place transforms into a salsa club where not only Shakira's but also Tatyana's and Anastassia's hips don't lie.
At a scottish pub in Yekaterinburg the waiters are wearing kilts (not sure whether with or without undies) and there are 12 beers on tap.

Don't get your hopes up too high, the maxi-bar in the corner is empty.

Enjoy the luxury of a private bathroom:

The door is equipped with a security lock.

It's a long walk if your room is located at the end of the corridor.

The desk of the "dezhurnaya"

and in case you are missing some great German food, go to Ratskeller:

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