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.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…


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.

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.

anastacia dobromyslova

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.


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’.



Places of Tyumen: Geolog Stadium

“The Best Stadium in Siberia.”


“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.


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.