Places of Tyumen: Alexandersky Park

One of the first differences between English towns and Tyumen that I noticed was the sheer number of green spaces all over the city, but Alexadersky Park is possibly the most beautiful. There is a law in Russia that states every residential block must have an adjacent childern’s play area, and these are more often than not combined with at least some greenery, which makes for a very pleasant pocket of calm amid the hustle and bustle of urban life. In this sense, there’s no desperate need to stray much further than a few metres from my front door to find an attractive space, but there’s something special about this particular corner that draws you in.

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Just to the left is one of the quickest, widest and busiest roads in Tyumen, but you can almost not notice

Before I begin gushing, let’s start with the downsides. One of the busiest and widest roads roars past one side of the park, while behind one end there is a crowded petrol station and a brand new hypermarket that is one of the biggest in Tyumen. Other than the limited offerings in the petrol station, there aren’t many convenient options to pick up refreshments nearby, and if you are not an animal lover, the dog-specific section may put you off the grass areas. So how can this all add up to a genuine hidden jewel?

For me, it is the memories I have there. When my elder daughter Sophia was a toddler, she took some of her first steps in Alexandersky Park, and I’ve lost count of the number of times she shrieked with delight as she threw psheno to the swarming birds. As a foreigner whose command of the Russian language is still wobbly at best, it was amazing how open and welcoming the informal community of mothers were back then, and the comfort helped Sophia form her very first friendships in the sandpit.

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I’m far from the only person who has emotional links to the place. It is one of the most popular places for newly-weds to have a photo session, as the trees provide a wonderful blanket against the mechanical backdrop, and beside the weaving paths there are a few romantic gems. The small gazebo in the far corner is a traditional spot for couples to dance and be snapped in their bliss – with a little ingenuinty, photographers can use convenient angles to capture the jaw-dropping sunset views without the shot being spoiled by traffic.

Although it is sadly no longer there, my personal favourite was a heart-warming titlted bench that angled downwards towards the centre from both sides so that couples would slide closer together. A metal flower has padlocks attached to it by lovers who then throw away the key as a symbol of their eternal love – the fact that some of them end up scrambling around trying to find the ket months later is irrelevant in the initial moment…

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Hazy summer days like this are just wonderful lying on the grass

Then there are the shaded slithers of grass which are heavenly on summer afternoons; partners lie next to each other while families share rare peaceful moments. Low hedgerows delicately separate the ‘orchard’ of miniature apples from quiet paths as grandparents watch the world float on by.

It’s genuinely hard not to slip into a poetic frame of mind when thinking of Alexandersky Park; at least for me it is. Never mind the fact that in the height of summer wedding parties literally queue up to have their special moments captured, or that yes there is a three-lane highway metres away – somehow the noise disipates into nothing, and the compact area becomes more spacious and private than you’d think.

Tyumen does parks very well. From simple playgrounds to vast forrests, there are endless places to suit every mood and activity, and I highly doubt I will encounter half of them in my entire lifetime. As a new arrival in the city I wanted to scour every essential destination so I could showcase my new home to anyone who was interested, and initially I struggled; the sort of attractions you find in tourist guides are not as plentiful as other places. I now realise that the best selling points are spaces like this – and my favourite of all is here.

Ural v Zenit

Glamour. Prestige. Quality. These are all words that you would most definitely not associate with a Russian Premier League clash between Ural and Zenit, but it has its own charms. Trust me…

Welcome! After the roaring success of my live coverage of the last two Tyumen matches, I’m bringing a taste of the big time to these pages. Bear with me if updates slow a little – temperatures have dipped below zero and WiFi is capricious beast here at the SKB Bank Arena – but I will bring you the latest with some videos, pictures, live comments and hopefully some exclusive pictures and comment from players post match.

16.16 Fontanello harshly penalised for an accidental handball on the edge of the box…

16.11  Artyom Dzyuba outmuscles Denis Kulakov at the back post, but his looping header sails harmlessly over. A mild warning shot.

16.07  Roman Pavlyuchenko looks to be playing as more of a lone striker, but he was involved well in Ural’s first decent attack. A well-timed layoff to Giorgi Chanturia set up a counter but it came to nothing as Criscito scampered back to cover.

KICK OFF

15.56  Minutes from kickoff here, and the sun has just crept out from behind the clouds. A portent of things to come?… Ok let’s rattle through the team news:

URAL (4-4-2)

Nikolai Zabalotniy; Denis Kulakov, Pablo Fontanello, Radovan Pankov, Alexander Dantsev; Roman Emelyanov, Artem Fidler, Sergey Podoksenov, Giorgi Chanturia; Chisamba Lungu, Roman Pavlyuchenko

ZENIT (4-2-3-1)

Yuriy Lodygin; Alexander Anyukov, Luis Neto, Nicolas Lombaerts, Dominico Criscito; Javi Garcia, Axel Witsel; Giuliano, Shatov, Alexander Kokorin; Dzyuba

15.36  After a five and a half hour drive, I’ve finally made it to the warm safety of the press room. Team news coming any minute (they’re reprinting the sheets after putting Anzhi as the title of Zenit’s lineup…)

*LIVE* FC Tyumen 1-1 Sokol Saratov

17.56  FULL TIME: Tyumen 1-1 Sokol.

In the end, a fairly turgid affair ends all square, although Tyumen shaded the best chances and will be gutted to let those three points slip. Andy McNab; “I got in for free, but I still feel ripped off.” Oh well, not everyone can have a 13-year-old Dembele to entertain. Until next time, see you then!

17.53  Into injury time, and Tyumen  are still pushing. Klenkin hits a very ambitious effort from a direct free kick 30 yards out, keeper collects comfortably after a bounce in front of him. Three minutes of added time…

17.50  GOAL! Disaster for Tyumen… Kamalutdin Akhmedov can only watch on as his stretched leg diverts a dangerous cross into his own net to draw the score level. Agonising to concede so late in a tight game. Tyumen 1-1 Sokol, 3 minutes to go.

17.46  Ryabokobylenko is on as a substitute – comes highly recommended by @vostok1981. A couple of ok passes so far.

17.41  Ten minutes left, cramp might start playing a part – genuine or tactical – and Sokol haven’t shown a thing for a while. Which probably means they’ll strike… Four on three counter sparked by Mamtov’s brilliant turn, but Pavelnko’s ball to Klenkin is left for Mamtov, with the defence able to clear easily. Trying to be a bit too clever there Klenkin.

17.38  Sokol’s players are getting frustrated by the referee’s decisions, and they may have a point, so the man in pink (very manly pink) books the latest player to voice his disagreement.

17.33  GOAL!!!! Ivan Chudin flicks in Pavlenko’s deep free kick, sneaks in the bottom corner. Finally a breakthrough, and with only 20 minutes left it could be crucial.

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Tyumen players celebrate the opening goal from Ivan Chudin

17.28  Two penalty appeals, one at either end; first Mamtov turns his marker on the due of the box and is tripped inside, but nothing given to the captain’s frustration. A few minutes later, Big Blonde Lad is taken out but is harshly booked for diving. Hang on, free kick to Tyumen…

17.24  Excitement! We have some excitement! The best chance of the game falls to Chukanov after Klenkin intelligently waits for the right ball, feeds the youngster, and after some brilliant footwork in tight space he hits a firm effort from around the penalty spot, but the keeper was equal to it.

17.15  Much like the first half, the second has started with the opposite of a bang – a whimper more like. The faintest of whiffs of a hint of a chance as the big lad (no programs left, sorry again) holds off Guz before theatrically falling into Tyumen’s centre back. It’s one of those “I’ve seen them given”, despite being correctly waved away this time.

Expert analysis time. Johnny McKenna, South West of Ireland Russian Football Expert: “I’m very glad the first half is over.” Andrew McNab, President of the Tyumen Celtic Supporters Club* (sort of): “I don’t want to be associated with this match.” Right, if that doesn’t whet your appetite for the second half, I don’t know what will…

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L-R: Your host Andrew Flint, President of the Tyumen Celtic Supporters Club Andrew McNab, South West of Ireland Russian Football Expert Johnny McKenna

HALF TIME: Tyumen 0-0 Sokol.

Ok, I lied, it’s not been a classic… As with many matches at this level at this time of year, the opening quarter of an hour was entirely forgettable, and aside from some late heart-stopping flashes of danger from Sokol neither goal has been greatly troubled. Pavlenko has been strangely quiet out wide for Tyumen, and the lack of his pace and direct dribbling has been sorely missed. If any, Pavel Shakuro and Andrea Chukanov have been bright performers in periods, but a lot more is required from Andrey Ivchenko and his men after the break.

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Not exactly a packed stadium for today

16.46  Like all classic bouts, the challengers is getting a second wind. Sokol’s number ten meets a dangerous cross on the half volley six yards out but spurns it wide of the post. Visitors definitely finishing the half on the front foot.

16.39  Hopeful shot drifts wide from Sokol right winger (apologies, haven’t got hold of a program yet, Sokol names hopefully in second half…); moments later the big blonde lad up front breaks forward in a two on two counter, cuts inside Guz with a smart turn of pace and curls an agonising effort a whisker wide. Two more chances for the visitors…

16.32  First sighting from Sokol down the right flank saw some neat triangles engineer a 3 on 2, and although it broke down under good pressure from Dmitry Guz it was a timely reminder that for all the pressure Tyumen are steadily building they can’t rest easy. Moments later Pavel Shakuro is hounded by his opposite man, but after some decent support from Pavlenko and Ivan Chudin, a deft flick from Danil Klenkin sets off a counter. Ran out of steam though.

16.24  Alexey Pustozerov gets to the byline but his cutback to Mamtov is cut out. Not a golden chance but yet another half glimmer for Tyumen.

16.20  Ooo Andrey Shlyapkin, what a mazy dribble! Tyumen’s right back dances across the Sokol defence (if you’d seen him play you’d realise how momentous an occasion that is…) and his shot is deflected wide. Andrey Pavlenko skins his marker from the corner, but danger cleared. Slowly building pressure.

16.17  Andrea Chukanov is looking lively on the left flank, getting stuck into his defensive duties with gusto despite being a slight little fella. Half Russian half Italian former Lokomotiv Moscow youth product you know…

16.14  Well not much to report from the first ten minutes here I’m afraid. Khasan Mamtov’s turn and blocked shot is about the closest we’ve come to any danger, which doesn’t bode well. Still early days though.

Welcome back my loyal readers – here we are at the Geolog Stadium for an absolute cracker of a FNL lower-mid table slugfest. He hosts are sitting pretty in 10th place, but Sokol are only just above the relegation zone. Strap yourselves in, here we go…

LIVE: FC Tyumen 2-0 Kuban Krasnodar

Welcome to the first ever live blog of FC Tyumen – due to technical issues* (shocking WiFi) we are a bit delayed, but let’s dive straight in…

FULL TIME: Tyumen 2-0 Kuban Krasnodar. Khasan Mamtov slotted a decisive penalty with just over ten minutes remaining to deservedly settle a tight game in favour of Tyumen to consign Kuban to their fifth defeat of the FNL season. Dan Petrescu’s absence from the visitor’s bench left the visitors unable to prevent another demoralising result, before Danil Klenkin’s wonder goal sealed the points with the last touch of the game.

20:38 – MAMTOV!!! No way was that a penalty, but Tyumen won’t care – the home skipper dusts himself off after going down under minimal pressure while running it across the edge of the box, simple penalty to put Tyumen in front. 1-0, now just seven minutes left.

20:29 – Spartak Gogniev is on for the visitors, the former Ural striker. Mamtov meanwhile tries a ludicrous bicycle kick but is snuffed out. Lobkarev again bursts clear of his markers, and a sloppy attempted clearance by Alexey Shlyapkin is redeemed by the referee’s whistle. Still 0-0 with 20 minutes remaining.

20:19 – “There’s no point knocking it into the box every time, Kuban are winning every header in the box,” says Johnny McKenna. Igor Armas and Azat Bayryev are towering above all comers, and as if to prove the point a lovely move on the ground slips in Mamtov, but his shot is just saved…

20:08 – They’re back out for the second half. Oyewole Moses has a powerful effort deflected behind, but corner is cleared.

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HALF TIME: FC Tyumen 0-0 Kuban Krasnodar

Well first off apologies for the delay in getting up and running – theGeolog Stadium may well be the best stadium in Siberia with a brand new artificial surface imported from the Netherlands, but the Internet connectivity is shite. Anyways, the home side have been well on top so far with pacy winger Andrey Pavlenko the main danger. Georgiy Zotov, who gained some top flight experience last season, has found no answer to shackling Tyumen’s no.7.

No clear sight of Dan Petrescu yet as the Romanian manager is serving a touchline ban, but he may have walked past with a clipboard. We’ll confirm soon.

Irish Tyumen expert Johnny McKenna: “Tyumen are on top, but Kuban don’t look like a club that were in the top flight last season, nor like one that will be next year.” With seven draws in 13 matches before tonight, he may have a point…

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19:39 – Tyumen’s midfield trio of Danil Klenkin, Ivan Cruden and Alexey Pustozerov are passing their way past Oyewole Moses, who looks so lost out there. Chudin shoots from distance, easily saved.

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19:31 – Pavlenko again the danger man, his time twisting and turning Azat Bayryev inside out but slicing his shot well wide. Vladimir Lobkarev is about the only Kuban player offering some threat for Dan Petrescu’s side, but his pace is often wasted.

19:27 – MAMTOV! Oh what a save from Evgeniy Frolov, denying the Tyumen captain’s stab at goal from 12 yards. Lovely movement from the hosts.

19:21 – It’s all Tyumen at the moment, this time it’s Amkar Perm trialists Danil Klenkin is felled out wide. Pavlenko bends it in, headed behind for a corner.

19:17 – Penalty?!? No! Andrey Pavlenko bursts into the box after burning his defender, clan through before he’s hacked down in the box, but the referee somehow waves it away. Crowd not happy…

The Greatest City in the World – Part One: Lovers’ Bridge, Limousines & A Champagne Reception *VIDEO*

Ok, I’ll admit it – I love Periscope. I’ve only just discovered this app, but after trying miserably to use it yesterday in Ekaterinburg I have worked out how to record videos and broadcast them to whoever might be watching. It’s a fascinating concept, and one I plan to exploit by broadcasting a series of videos around my home city of Tyumen, so stay tuned for more episodes.

Ever since I arrived in Russia, and specifically this wonderful city, the place and people have been mesmerising. To then see the lazy negative stereotypes that bring a bad name to them saddens and frustrates me, so in my own small way I will fight back by showing you my side of life as An Englishman In Siberia…

In this broadcast, I introduce Lovers’ Bridge and tell the story of how I got into a limousine with five strangers and drank vodka, champagne and cocktails for five hours while singing karaoke. It was mental, but in my mind was a perfect example of all that’s best in Russian people. I hope you enjoy it, and keep your eyes peeled for Part Two: Geolog Stadium

 

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A Brief Story of Tyumen Darts featuring Russian TV Interview

For the last six months, a small storm has been brewing in Western Siberia. The tight circle of expats that I know, along with some equally dedicated/sad locals, have gathered to play a sport that has a long way to go to reach the popularity it has in Britain, and it is slowly gaining momentum. I say sport; I have wavered on the line between whether I consider it more of a game in the past, but now I am convinced. Whatever the categorisation of darts, mark my words – it is going to keep growing in Russia.

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Anastacia Dobromyslova, three-time world champion

Anastacia Dobromyslova has been tearing through the women’s professional game for the best part of a decade, having won the BDO World Championship three time in her last six entries and is the undoubted poster-girl for Russian darts.OK, the best a Russian man has managed at the PDC World Championship so far has been to squeeze into the First Round proper, but it won’t be long before a male player will begin to make greater strides.

On a more local level, the first shoots of organised darts in Tyumen began sprouting about six months ago in a Lord of the Rings-themed bar on the far side of town on a Sunday night.  Hobbit Hole is a charmingly-decorated bar piping out endless Irish woodwing music that serves meat, meat, and meat, and on a Saturday is packed to the rafters. It is part of a hotel and restaurant complex, and is actually below ground level so has no natural lighting, but that enhances the earthy atmosphere – no problems so far.

An Inauspicious Start

On Sundays there is absolutely nobody there, at least not until the handful of tungsten aficionados traipse in towards the end of the day. Once a month the regular darts competition (Grand prize: 1,000 roubles behind the bar) used to attract about 10-12 players, and the organiser, bless him, had no clue of the rules of darts, or even of arithmatic, but thankfully we filled in the gaps and organised darts was off on its fragile way.

After a few rounds, a cruious old man appeared. Before, other than a few friends of mine, the entrants had been made up mostly of curious 20-somethings up for a bit of a drunken laugh, but Igor was different. He actually cared, for starters. It turned out he was motivated to take matters up a notch, and was thrilled to see some ‘native’ darts players.

Igor told us he oversaw training at one of the city’s universities, and had ambitions to set upthe first official Tyumen Darts Federation with proper affiliation to the Russian Darts Federation. Chuckle if you wish, but the winner of the RDF’s Open Championships earns a place in the qualifying round of the PDC World Championships, so effectively being one step below would in theory be no mean status. We did chuckle a bit though, as we just couldn’t see how Igor in all his excitement could find his way through the red tape to achieve his goal, even if he was being serious.

The Tyumen Darts Federation

As it turned out, he was very serious. The Hobbit Hall monthly competition was already petering out to the extent where the organiser himself forgot to turn up, and we decided enough was enough. Igor’s determination had secured the necessary paperwork, and the first official Tyumen Darts League was born. Feeling quite far from the PDC split from the BDO in the 1990s but equally buoyant, we realised that before long we, at best a bunch of pub enthusiasts with one or two exceptions, would have official Russian Darts Federation ranking points within a few months.

If you drive along the River Tura towards the end of Respubliki, you arrive at Lovers’ Bridge high above the water, and adjacent to the walkway leading to FC Tyumen’s Geolog Stadium. The Race of Champions biathlon meeting takes place through the stadium, and a few hundred metres past it lies the Sports Palace, home of the city’s ice hockey team Rubin Tyumen. Venture a little further, however, and you will wind your way past the stunning Architecture University and Svyato-Troitskiy Monastery until you reach Tyumen’s greatest sporting arena; the West Siberian State College.

In the college gym, there are eight Harrow’s boards that are hung for each league meeting (sensisbly, it must be added, with protective wood behind and under for errant darts), and mercifully proper lighting. Igor brings decent quality equipment for those who need it, as well as a whole range of utterly bonkers charts and tables detailing strange points totals to qualify at different levels of darts. It is strangely alluring about his conviction of the use of all these techincal measures; one thing that can’t be levelled against him, however, is being undemocratic.

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That’s more like it – proper boards, proper lighting, now all we need are more proper players…

Girls are given a headstart of 151 points when playing men, for example. “It’s to keep them interested, otherwise they wouldn’t play,” he says with what I honestly believe is unintentional mild sexism. Quite why a pursuit that doesn’t rely on physical strength or size at all needs to offer female players any help is beyond me – a headstart helps bad players, but has nothing to do with being a man or a woman, surely? – but at least it was intended to encourage participation.

For the record, the format of the Tyumen Darts League functions is as follows: there are five scheduled league meetings taking place three weeks apart, with the top 12 finishers each meeting receiving league points. Each player’s best three scores would be added up, and the top eight points totals will qualify those players for the Grand Final in August. Each meeting divides players into four groups, with the top two from each going through to a knockout stage to help determine a placing for that meeting.

Media Coverage

After four meetings, there have now been about 30 different players, which has seen the standings become very close indeed coming into the final round. The sign of the progress of the TDF was marked last weekend when none other than Vladimir Gut, vice-president of the Russian Darts federation, and Master of Sport and Junior World Championships player Diana Vechelkovskaya arrived from Ekaterinburg for the fourth meeting, as well as a team from Zavodoukovsk.

Best of all however was the presence of a TV crew from local news agency ASNTA, whose presenter Sergey Schneider – two-time Tyumen State University Oympiad Darts Champion – currently sits in the qualifying places for the Grand Final. Sergey is a good friend of mine and a first-rate broadcast journalist, so when he asked if he could grab a few words with me I didn’t take much persuasion. What I didn’t realise was that the report would be broadcast on TNT at prime time on Monday evening – this channel shows one of the country’s most popular comedy shows “Interni” (Russia’s answer to ‘Scrubs’), and there, wedged between shows, was my segment.

I have memories of spending Millenium Eve trying desperately to complete ‘Around the World’ (hit 1 – 20 in order, then ’25’ and bull) and failing miserably, but now the game has taken on a whole new meaning. My fellow competitors practice, and have set the bar high; I am just trying to keep up. With the focus of genuine competition in the shape of the Tyumen Darts League, and the progress of my fellow expats, the sportsman inside won’t let me settle for ‘OK’.

 

 

Tyumen Musings Part Fifteen: Hipsters & Hair

My mother will probably kill me for this, but here goes… I have decided to grow a beard.

Beards

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Sorry Mum…

In the past I have dabbled in facial hair, but mostly because I was simply too lazy to bother shaving for a while, and I did once grow a quite brilliant (even if I say so myself…) handlebar moustache for Movember. That experiment ended swiftly, as in two years I managed to raise the grand sum of 10 pounds, but this time is different. As I leaned against the parapet of the promenade by the River Tura in my home town of Tyumen last week on a quite sublime summer evening, with the breeze gliding past my cheeks, I realised the time was right.

It’s not just that it keeps the face a little bit warmer, but in my humble opinion the beard has grown a new life in modern Russia. Let’s be honest for a moment – 20 years ago, the thought formula probably went something like this: Russian man + beard = tough, grizzled & unsophisticated. Nowadays there are so many variations on beards that they can represent anything from historical grandeur to sharp fashion, but take my word for it, there is no deep-lying reason behind mine, and certainly not fashion. If you don’t believe me, have a look at my track record of hairstyles.

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Looking so Italian in Venice 10 years ago

No, this beard is being grown for one simple reason: I like it. I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to follow a trend with disastrous consequences before; as someone once said, to be old and wise, you must first be young and foolish. I’m not quite sure at what stage of that scale I lie right now, but I am at least aware enough to know my limitations. While living in Italy as a 21-year-old student, I thought it would be a great idea to grow my hair as long as possible, ostensibly because I thought “that’s what Italians do”. I apologise to everyone who had to suffer the monstrosity of my flowing locks for most of that year; it must have been truly terrifying.

Male Grooming

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Trendy London

The attitude towards male grooming in this country has altered dramatically to the extent where there are now more male-only hair salons than female or unisex ones. Vaguely presentable is not enough any more. Opposite my old workplace there is a faux-red brick building that holds one such establishment, “Trendy London”, which to be fair does a booming trade from the name alone. Wedding parties have even decamped outside the doors to take pictures such is the originality and cool surrounding it. I resisted the pressure to attend these types of places on a number of grounds, chief of which was that it pains me to pay 1,000 roubles for something I could do myself at home, but after a cunning move by my wife I had no choice but to cave in.

My New Year present, you see, was a certificate to “Like Bros” (like Trendy London, the sign is written in English as is the fashion). In fairness, it wasn’t as pretentious as I had dreaded, and my stylist – I still cringe using that word – even spoke excellent English. OK, I admit it; it was very reasonable value. Given that I take my daughters to a daily fashion parade, I mean take them to kindergarten every morning, I realise I have to keep up standards. You would not believe the height of the heels or skirt hems that the tottering mothers wear to drop their kids off; I’m not talking work suits, but full on nightclub-worthy attire. It’s mental, but in fact is just an extension of the obsession with appearance in Russia today.

In fact I am in a distinct minority as a husband who appears at Kindergarten. The ones who do turn up are either in very odd-fitting jeans and those ghastly dated bluetooth earpieces for their phone that were about as popular as MiniDisc players (remember those??), or in their work suits with about as much time for being there as Nigel Farage has for foreigners. A gruff, short “Stras-jay” is grunted, no more, between the male species of parents, as most aim to get out of there at the first opportunity. Male fashion? No time for that nonsense here.

Hipster Life

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Milya & Johnny; so effortlessly cool…

Outside the kindergarten gates, however, it’s a totally different story. When my good friend Johnny revealed he even has his beard trimmed professionally every so often at Trendy London, my initial reaction was to groan, but then after a while I thought: why not? His wardrobe used to be filled with tracksuits and simple t shirts, but now his skinny jeans and hipster sunglasses would not look out of place on the boulevards of Paris or Milan. Or Moscow.

The young professionals of Modern Russia aspire to more than life in their own town, or even country, but aim for loftier ambitions. 15 years ago, there were a very small handful of Italian restaurants in Tyumen; now you can take courses in Indian Kathak dancing, enjoy Thai massages or listen to authentic live samba music. If you had to pinpoint what exactly the Modern Russian character is, it would be something vastly removed from the stereotypes that still bandy themselves around casual conversation in the West. One thing is certain; the younger generation is deeply in touch with global trends, or at least wants to be seen to be so.

Anti-Cafes and Warehouse Cinemas

From ‘anti-cafes’ to warehouse cinemas, there is a whole range of hipster locations for hipsters to admire each other’s hipster style springing up at a dizzying rate. One cafe charges you by the hour, not by what you eat or drink, and in principle you can consume as much as you like as you play boardgames or just chat. Instagram has spawned a whole army of accounts that will be represented at any evening at such places, which everyone knows. This has the odd effect off people desperately trying to enjoy a ‘deconstructed’ atmosphere while simultaneously trying to preen themselves to the nth degree.

Another place, Fabric Loft, for me sums up the best and worst of this whole hipster craze. It is a three-storey warehouse with all manner of paint-splattered woodwork tools and half-mended doors hanging loose as you clamber between them to make your way upstairs. You pay what you like to watch as eclectic a mix of films, all in original language, and sit on a random but comfortable assortment of stools, benches and futons, but then are more often than subjected to a snooty talk about the deep meaning of the Korean art-house monstrosity about to come on.

Perhaps I am being a little bit harsh; if people enjoy the discussion about films with others of a similar persuasion, who am I to judge them for doing so? The same people might mock me for watching four back-to-back football matches on TV, even if I can’t imagine why they would. What I object to is the swelling number of those who flock to these places because they want to be seen to be doing so, not because they genuinely have a passion for art house culture.

If you do come to Russia any time soon, don’t expect to see bears walking down the High Street and men weilding Kalashnikov rifles and swigging vodka – they’re more likely to be rocking Ray Bans and Cuban heels.

 

Places of Tyumen: Geolog Stadium

“The Best Stadium in Siberia.”

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“The Best Stadium in Siberia” – Not a spurious claim

Some claim when you consider the scale of the vast abyss that dwarfs all other continents on earth, but aside from the obvious impossibility of objectively analysing and ranking all Russian stadia east of the Ural Mountains, I bet it’s not far off. One day I hope to take in as many of the competitors as possible – completing all of them would surely be a first – but for now I’m happy to make do with the magnificent Geolog Stadium.

15206_10101776817118029_6627663595509165702_nThat claim, by the way, was not made by me. Five years ago on a blazing summer’s day, 2,500 others joined me at the grand re-opening of the city’s premier football venue and read the words in the club’s own program. The design for one is revolutionary compared to the standard Soviet-era concrete bowls that merge into one another; the orange lattice outer layer on the main stands for starters is a striking mirror image of the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.

The facilities are almost certainly unmatched at clubs below the top flight in Russia. There is a huge on site fitness centre with a modern rehabilitation centre, a hotel, plush VIP seating area (those padded, heated seats are more of a necessity than a luxury in winter, trust me…), a full size all-weather training pitch with its own facilities that doubles up as the Regional Centre of Excellence. The capacity is over 13,000, which together with media facilites and the all-weather pitch make the ground conform to Premier League standards, which is more than can be said for newly-promoted Gazovik Orenburg (whose stadium only holds 4,500).

 

But the real reason why this is one of my favourite places in Tyumen is the experience on matchday. I don’t go in for winter biathlon (cross-country skiing and target shooting, for those who don’t know) so the Race of Champions, which draws crowds of 10,000 to the Geolog to see the world’s finest biathletes each year, doesn’t do anything for me. Watching the local side FC Tyumen play however introduces you to a whole new type of fan.

My wife Ekaterina joined me a few years ago for her first ever live football match, and we met one of the regular ‘characters’. I say met; the entire crowd experienced his drunken ramblings, although not much of what he said was intelligible. The quality on display that day was dubious at best – Sergey Volosyan, the rather limited winger, managed a complete airkick from a pass that travelled no  more than five yards – so the toothless octogenarian provided just as much entertainment.

10403655_10101539338901279_5027124652602690887_nLiterally everything he uttered was amplified by the relative silence of the rest of the spectators, and by the intensity of his apparent ire. It didn’t seem to matter which team had done something, good or bad, out bellowed some garbled growling garbage from his mouth. That it mattered so much to someone was a source of laughter for most, but I found myself drawn to his energy. OK, alcohol was probably speaking a little, but at least he was getting behind his local side, not passed out completely on the pavement.

Enough of drunken amusements, though. I have been lucky enough to get to know the press officer and marketting department, and have spent a few afternoons by the side of the pitch watching the first team train. Often the athletics track is dotted with members of the public jogging around, and there are regular youth tournaments in the summer. It is more than just a football stadium – public money funded it, and the public get to use it; just how it should be.

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What a night. Conveniently glossing over the extremely dubious goalkeeping from Zenit…

To have such a top-draw facility in my city makes me proud, as it is clear that the city government – who funded the renovation from a rickety wodden-benched bowl – are not content to make do with second best football. I will never forget the night when Zenit St Petersburg came to town in the Russian Cup, and the only full capacity crowd to date saw Tyumen, who were then in the third tier, win 2-0. Hopefully, it won’t be long before nights like those become more frequent.

Places of Tyumen: Lovers’ Bridge and the River Tura Promenade

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Performances can draw crowds of up to 2,000 to the river. Here, ninety teenage couples danced a waltz to commemorate the first schoolchildren to be sent to war 75 years ago

Without question this is the city’s most spectacular spot. No matter whether it is the middle of winter with river frozen over or a lazy summer evening, it is guaranteed to offer breathtaking views, and this is mostly thanks to the substantial investment the city government has made in the riverside promenade.

When I arrived in Tyumen six and a half years ago, there was virtually nowhere comfortable or convenient on the banks of the river for people to walk freely, but slowly the steep inclines were dug up, relaid with grass, bushes and trees, and the immaculate walkways that now traverse the slope began to take shape. The work is still not completely finished, but it is already a stunning spot that has developed a character of its own.

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There’s even Tyumen’s very own ‘Hollywood’ sign – half way up the slope in blue

Not content with simply installing a straight path following the course of the River Tura, the designs included multiple levels that each offer a different pace of their own. Right by the water’s edge, the wide ledge by the water’s edge is often occupied by couples taking pictures or dangling their legs, while the main pathway behind them is popular with skaters, skateboarders and cyclists. There is a wall running along the back of the first level that is decorated with freizes and statues of historic moments and people that have shaped the city.

Halfway up the bank mothers push buggies slightly away from the busier lower level as occassional joggers pace their way past, while the highest level is reserved for those who prefer a more leisurely pace, and is often much quieter. There is also a pavement at the very top of the slope which is set back from the street for those who don’t have the time or inclination to make their way down the steps.

 

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Stroll down the promenade at night,  and you are treated to sights like this

At night time in summer, the whole area is abuzz with popup coffee stalls while younger generations play music and an almost bohemian atmosphere takes over. I ventured down at about 10pm with my wife and two daughters aged four and two, and although there were some groups smoking shisha pipes who we avoided, it was a spectacular treat for Sophia and Dasha, especially when we passed an ice cream stall.

Perhaps the most iconic part of the area is Lovers’ Bridge itself. It is a simple pedestrian suspension bridge that is covered in graffiti of declarations of eternal love between partners, and is one of the traditional places for newlyweds to take photographs after their ceremony. It used to have thousands of padlocks attached to the railings with names of lovers inscribed – the tradition was for the man to throw the key in the river after attaching the lock as a sign he was never going to need to remove it, and therefore remain ever faithful.

Unfortunately, the local government decided to remove the padlocks a few years ago. Nevertheless no visit to Tyumen is complete without a casual stroll along the river from Lovers’ Bridge.

BBC News Live TV Interview: Russian Hooligans

After all the worldwide media coverage of the violence surrounding the England v Russia match in Marseille last week, suddenly being An Englishman In Siberia was worth a whole lot more. Thanks to the wonders of modern online technology, within the space of a few hours I had been invited on to BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC News channel to discuss the Russian hooligans.

I might offer my two kopeeks on the events in a later post, but for now, here is my second ever live TV interview; this time though, I wasn’t asked about my underwear