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Yelabuga in Tatarstan – One of the Hidden Gems of Russia

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Most visitors to the Russian republic of Tatarstan just go to the republic’s beautiful capital of Kazan, with its interesting mix of East and West and Muslim and Orthodox cultures. However the republic has a lot more to offer than just its capital – as wonderful as it is. One such destination is the Historical City of Yelabuga in the east of the republic.

As with many Historical Cities of Russia, Yelabuga has managed to retain its charm due to it being overlooked when the plans for the railway lines were drawn up. We therefore opted to travel to Yelabuga by bus from Kazan which takes five hours, but we flew back to Moscow via the Begishevo Airport which is about a 30-minute taxi ride from Yelabuga. This airport also serves Yelabuga’s larger neighbouring cities of Nizhnekamsk and Naberezhnye Chelny (where KamAZ trucks are manufactured). Of these three cities, Yelabuga is without a doubt the gem in the triangle and the only one which can truly be described as a tourist destination; in fact it is hard to be more different from its industrial neighbours

The city is divided into two parts – the upper part is more industrial (one of the first special economic zones in Russia was established here), whereas the lower part is where most of the historical sites, restaurants and museums are found. However we started our visit in the upper part where the bus station is located. Despite being the less touristic part, it is here that you will find one of the most famous landmarks of Yelabuga: the stone tower of the Chyortovo Ancient Settlement. It is also appropriate in terms of chronology to start your visit here as this is where the first settlement in the area is believed to have been located next to the River Toyma (a tributary of the Kama).

Yelabuga is one of the oldest cities in Tatarstan and it celebrated its millennium in 2007, although the city’s official adoption of 1007 as the year of foundation is debated among some historians. Supporters of the 1007 theory suggest that Yelabuga was founded by Emir Ibragim I ben Mukhamad of the Volga Bulgars – a nomadic Turkic people who settled here in the 10th century and whose lands were incorporated into the Mongols’ Golden Horde in 1236. It was the Bulgars who built the fortification whose tower, which was restored in the mid-19th century, now once again stands overlooking the River Toyma as it flows into the Kama. From this vantage point you can enjoy great views of the river and the city below.

After looking around the settlement’s recent additions of a recreation of a wooden fortress and a statue of Emir Ibragim, we descended the staircase and headed for the lower part of the city. It is this part of the city which has earned Yelabuga the status of a historical city as it practically only consists of buildings from the 19th century arranged according to a town plan which was developed during the reign of Catherine the Great.

The main street in the historical part of the city is Ulitsa Kazanskaya which runs horizontally across the city. The street has completely retained its original appearance, albeit with the addition of Soviet or more modern monuments. One of the strangest monuments is an unusual statue of Lenin. It consists of a small bust of Lenin placed on top of a large pedestal in front of an small-scale imitation of the Moscow Kremlin’s walls. All in all it creates a rather out of proportion and comical picture.

From visiting the City History Museum on Ulitsa Kazanskaya is it immediately obvious that a great deal of investment has been made in Yelabuga’s tourist infrastructure. Normally provincial history museums are rather stuffy places with your standard displays of stuffed animals and old photos of the city. However this museum has been recently completely revamped and interactive elements have been added, which is still rather rare for Russian museums, even in cities much larger than Yelabuga.

Just off Ulitsa Kazanskaya is the city’s main cathedral – the Saviour Cathedral. We took the opportunity to go up the cathedral’s bell tower to again enjoy views of the city, this time looking from the historical centre to the River Kama and the Chyortovo Ancient Settlement.

A major benefit to Yelabuga’s tourism potential is its connection with significant figures from Russian culture and history. These connections have been made the most of and museums have been opened in the houses where these people once lived. The famous Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin, who is especially celebrated for his realistic forest scenes, was born in Yelabuga in 1832 (in fact, the restoration of the tower at Chyortovo Ancient Settlement was largely down to his father). The museum dedicated to him is located in what was once his family’s beautiful estate house. It is easy to image that the picturesque views of the Kama enjoyed from the house’s balcony must have helped inspire the young painter.

Marina Tsvetaeva, a leading figure of Russia’s Silver Age of poetry also has a link with Yelabuga, although her connection is much more tragic. She was evacuated here in 1941 during the Second World War but was deeply unhappy here and wished to be transferred to Chistopol where other authors had been evacuated. Her application was rejected and a few days later she hanged herself. We visited the museum located in the small house where Tsvetaeva spent the last weeks of her life and then crossed the road to another museum consisting of a recreation of a 19th-century laundry which the poet is known to have visited.

Shishkin and Tsvetaeva are well-known Russian cultural figures, but by visiting two more of Yelabuga’s museums we also learned about two lesser known figures. One is Nadezhda Durova who in 1806 left her husband and son, disguised herself as a man and ran off to join the army. She later became the first female officer in the Russian army and fought against Napoleon at the Battle of Borodino. After the war she settled in Yelabuga and spent the last 50 years of her life here.

Finally, we visited a museum connected with Mikhail Bekhterev – a leading neurologist and psychologist and rival to Ivan Pavlov (who admittedly we had never heard of before visiting Yelabuga). Bekhterev died in 1927 shortly after examining Stalin and it is believed he may have been murdered on Stalin’s orders for diagnosing the dictator’s paranoia.

The museum is not just dedicated to Bekhterev but to the standard and practice of medicine in Yelabuga from the 18th century onwards, including recreations of a healer’s house, a chemist’s, a consultancy room, a modern operating theatre and a herbal tearoom. Some of the items on display make you appreciate the progress made in medicine during the last century!

We had by now had our fill of museums, as modern and interesting as they were, and decided to walk more around the city. We ended up at the Old Cemetery located on the very outskirts. In keeping with our chronological order of exploring the city, the cemetery’s war graves brings you to the 20th century, however you will find here not just Soviet war graves but also the graves of German, Hungarian and Japanese POWs who were imprisoned at a POW camp in Yelabuga and died here.

The Japanese script certainly makes an unusual additional to a Russian cemetery. Also buried here is Marina Tsvetaeva and her grave can be found on the edge of a cemetery. However the memorial which stands on the grave today just marks the approximate place of burial as no tombstone was erected during the war and the exact location was subsequently forgotten.

All in all Yelabuga makes a great place to visit. It may not be the easiest place to visit from Moscow or St Peterbsurg, but it is certainly worth the journey as the city has all you could want for a nice weekend break: beautiful natural surroundings on the Kama, a quaint, unspoiled historical centre, unusual and quirky monuments, ancient historical sites and interesting museums connected with fascinating personalities. To top it all, you should also have no problem in finding a comfortable hotel or a good restaurant, which isn’t always the case with provincial cities off the beaten track!

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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