My hosts chose Ganina Yama as my next location to visit. It is a sort of monastery built in commemoration of Czar Nicholas II and his family. The site is the location where bodies were left the murdered czar and family dumped in a mine and supposedly burned there. It is a frightening story with many interesting but gruesome details. But from a purely historical standpoint, it is fascinating. (Read more here.)

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This is a very solemn place and women must wear long skirts and cover their heads walking around, but also especially entering any of the Russian Orthodox chapels. Fortunately, they seem very prepared for overcoming 21st Century fashions, providing long wine red wrap-around skirts for your use. I used my own scarf on my head rather than the ones in their bin by the entry gate.

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From the photo above, you can see that I look like one of the priests with my scarf over my black hat. But rest assured, there were plenty of devotees led by one of the priests providing details on the canonized family.

You may also have noticed the chapel is built from pine logs in the middle of a large pine forest. A fire recently took down one the primary chapels. However the priests have already started on a nice brick one to replace it.

As I walked around the large complex of buildings among the sacred grounds, there was a special wooden covered boardwalk surrounding a deep depression in the ground. The boardwalk was lined with family photos of Czar Nicholas II and his wife and children. But the pit was at the center, begging one to stare and wonder and how much a single moment in time can change history.

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I also couldn’t help but think how what happened at this place also changed the course of my own family’s history. That’s something I still try to wrap my head around. Some things are just too elusive in their ability to be brought to such simple terms. Yet I couldn’t help but see that pit as one of history’s pivotal moments.

Russian highways and getting to Ganina Yama

I should have put this part at the start of my story. But it’s idiosyncrasies suggest that a little humor would be a nice way to finish my tale of how we traveled to the monastery.

As we drove out of the city of Ekaterinburg, we could see various industrial complexes that immediately surrounded it. Some, I was told, were involved with military industry, while others were more benign. The factories gave way to tall thick pine and birch tree forests, cut in with small villages, dachas, much like the summer camps of northern Michigan. But these were places where many also grew their own fresh vegetables, and I would get a chance to visit a real dacha later in the week for another cultural experience. Some of the dachas are temporary, while others have been made to be more permanent. But, like Michigan, the mud roads would become impassible in Winter. So one must be willing to stay for the long haul if you want to live there.

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The overcast skies over these dachas promised to make the day even more solemn as they would eventually release a light rain.

Our highway was paved very well, better than most Michigan highways, and a large pipeline followed it the entire way of our travel. My hosts for the day were trying to find a little unmarked side road that would take us to Ganina Yama. But finding none, I could see they were getting a little frantic to find it and stopped several times for directions. We would learn that the little road had been blocked off and one would now have to travel from a regular exit, then through small villages, to get to our destination.

All the while, I am just going with the flow, not worried at all. Why should I? The signs for Ekaterinburg were clearly marked, even for someone like me who couldn’t read Russian. The name has become visible to me, as have some other words, too.

In the meantime, as we wondered the back roads to our destination, Elvis Presley crooned away “I can’t help falling in love with you”… And just as we made our way into the heavily forested and isolated monastery, The Platters reached the closing notes of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Yep… Sometimes I really do feel like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass.

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