We're on a major road in the outskirts of Yekaterinburg. The main highway has morphed into speeding city traffic – Tara is navigating as we make our way to the city center. "Okay," she instructs, "You're going to turn left in two hundred meters… keep going, keep going… okay that's your street up there!"
I slow down and flip on my left turn signal, waiting for passage through the oncoming traffic. Glancing in the rear view, I see a black car approaching. It doesn't seem to be slowing down. In fact, it looks like it is going to rear-end us! Boxed in, there isn't much I can do about it.
Thankfully, the driver slams on the brakes, his front end lurching towards the pavement from the rapid deceleration. After his car comes to a stop, he revs his engine and lays on the horn, clearly outraged that I, along with two other cars in front of me dare to hold him up! Less than a second later, the light turns yellow.
Oncoming traffic in the other lane slows to a halt. As I begin my left turn, the driver of the black car offers another long, drawn-out blast of his horn. I am shaking my head, bemused by his antics, when suddenly the idiot guns it, careening around us on the right and then turning sharply left to bring his vehicle in front of ours. Erratic maneuver executed, he slams on the brakes.
We're going very slowly, and I react instantly, jerking the steering wheel to the right so I can continue on unimpeded. As I try to pass the immaculately polished car, inches from its passenger door, the driver begins to match our pace! Now he is swerving left and right, weaving the front of his car around like a drunken boxer waving his hands in the air, spoiling for a fight.
With my face completely blank, pretending not to see him, I calmly begin drifting left. Our twenty year old, dirt-covered Toyota, which could handle another scratch or two, begins to push his new, mirror-finished vehicle into parked cars on the opposite side of our tiny side street.
Tara is a little upset, thinking I am egging him on and engaging in idiocy of my own, but cracks up when I do my impression of the driver:
I am in a black car! Can't you see how shiny and important it is!?
I'm a Division Manager in charge of 49 people! I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS!!!
Our cars are millimeters away from one another when he hits the brakes and merges in to the normal flow of traffic behind us. This entire ridiculous dance occurred in less than 30 seconds. A few streets later, he turns off and continues on to whatever highly important engagement awaited him – huffing and puffing with indignation.
Tara has chosen two attractions for us to see in the city. First, the museum of photography, and then the Romanov memorial. She's been fascinated with the Romanovs ever since seeing "Anastasia" as a little girl (the Ingrid Bergman version), and dancing to this song in college:
We start with the photography museum, paying a nice lady one hundred rubles each (about $3.50). We walk through the small building, looking at work from St. Petersburg photographers. There are some old cameras, but it is more of an art gallery than a museum.
There is a set of creepy people wearing gas masks; we wish we could read the motivation behind the photos, but everything is in Russian.
Here is a guy who takes a lot of photos of himself for artistic purposes:
…and here is one from the seventies, Tara's favorite:
We both dig these strange photos on which the artist has drawn, like a cartoon:
They make us really nostalgic and homesick for my family, who went on a camping trip of their own last weekend:
We miss you guys so, so much.
Next stop, the Romanov memorial. The last tzar of Russia and his family were taken to Yekaterinburg and ruthlessly murdered by the Bolsheviks. The actual home where Tsar Nicolas II, his wife Alexandra, and their children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexi, spent their last days was demolished by Boris Yeltsin. The Cathedral-on-the-Blood was erected in its place:
After a brief tour of the solemn site, we walk around outside, particularly enjoying photos of the last royal Russian family.
Tara especially, is enthralled by their story – from their enormous wealth and opulence, to their associations with Rasputin, to the myths and rumors which surrounded their brutal demise.
Once we've explored this important bit of Russian history, we leave Yekaterinburg, on our way to yet another free-camp. Not far from town, we drive by this golden domed church, shining in the late evening sun.