Places of Tyumen

Whenever I begin learning about a new city, I prefer to do so on my own. Grasping a tourist guide and following the key recommendations is my idea of drawing the best part of discovery out of the experience. Don’t get me wrong, there is some merit in ticking boxes if that’s your thing, and I have done that before on previous journeys abroad, but the best way in my mind is to let the city guide you rather than the other way round.

With that in mind, on this page I intend to describe some of my favourite places in this city from my personal perspective. It is not intended to be a tourist guide – mostly because we don’t get many tourists here anyway – but to give you a view of a city you would almost certainly never have heard of before. It might be a monument, a square, a bar or a street; I hope you enjoy.

 

Lovers’ Bridge and the Tura River Promenade

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.

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.

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.

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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.

That 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.

Literally 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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