Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Red Square by night

A couple of posts ago I wrote an item about the hazards of pedestrian crossings in Moscow and the doubtful competence of some drivers here. If that item interested you, have a look at this link: http://youtu.be/AXz4P6EpX3s

We took a walk in and around Red Square the other evening.
North western access to Red Square.

Resurrection Gate. The entry into Red Square from the north east. The original 1680 gate was demolished in 1931 to allow access for military displays. It was rebuilt in 1996.
Nikolskaya tower. The original tower was built in 1491, rebuilt in 1806. The top of the tower was blown off by Napoleon's troops in 1812. A Red Star was first placed on top of the tower in 1935.

St Basil's Cathedral (or the 'Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat' if you'd prefer) and Spasskaya Tower (1491)

The Bolshoi Theatre. The building to the right is TSUM, a fashionable department store.

Eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden, under the Kremlin walls

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Dostoevskaya metro station

I haven't done a post about a metro station for a while.

I have chosen one of the newest - only opened in 2010 - Dostoevskaya. It is on the northern lime green line (number 10).

This is a beautiful station.

Dostoevskaya Station is decorated to celebrate the writings of that famous 19th century author, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most often recognised as the producer of several enormous Russian novels that everyone feels they ought to read...some day...maybe...when I'm retired...

Smile...Fyodor is watching

I have read 'Crime and Punishment'. Airing that achievement, along with the conquest of 'War and Peace', is sure to impress at parties. Any other academic achievements become quite incidental. I don't mention that 'The Idiot' defeated me after 300 pages.

When the station opened there were some complaints that it was too brooding and gloomy. Not surprising considering Dostoevsky's novels are brooding and gloomy. As the designer, Ivan Nikolayev reportedly said, "What did you want? Scenes of dancing?"

You might expect a space ship, but all you'll get is a rattly old train.
Scenes from Crime & Punishment. No dancing, just Raskolnikov and his axe.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Pedestrian crossings

In 2009 the first global conference on road safety was held in Moscow. This is a little ironic considering Russia has the worst road accident statistics in Europe. Figures from the World Health Organisation show that Russia has 55.3 deaths per 100,000 vehicles per year. For comparison, Australia has 8 and Iceland 5. Even the excitable Italian drivers can only manage 12. 

Pedestrians often fall victim to this motorised bedlam. Crossing the road is particularly hazardous (see the 16 Sept entry 'our lives in our hands' at http://diaryinvisible.wordpress.com/ for a tragic eye witness account). Major multi-lane roads in Moscow will generally have pedestrian underpasses (perehods). The only way to cross most roads, though, is by pedestrian crossing.

Moscow drivers will not stop if they see you waiting on the side of the road. You actually have to take the plunge and start the crossing, ensuring you are not so committed that you can’t retreat in a hurry. Most drivers will then stop - reluctantly. The problem is, you can’t be sure they are going to stop – some will deliberately swerve around you; be absorbed in a mobile phone conversation; are drunk; or may simply be incompetent behind the wheel (it is not uncommon for people bribe their way to a licence or obtain forgeries - http://rt.com/news/corrupted-driving-education-accidents/). 

Matters are not helped by the chaotic parking, with many drivers blocking the pedestrian crossings with their vehicles. I don’t know if it is illegal to park on pedestrian crossings in Moscow – after all, they park all over the footpath. I get the impression it’s OK to park anywhere that isn’t blocked off by bollards. 

Park wherever you like, even on pedestrian crossings, along Moscow's main commercial boulevard, Tverskaya Ulitsa. If it wasn't for the bollards, they'd be on the footpath, too.
 I doubt the traffic police would have the time to do anything about this madness even if they had the inclination. People involved in any accident are required to wait with their vehicle and not move anything until the traffic police inspect the scene. I spoke to someone whose husband was rear-ended going to work and he had to wait 4 hours. There have been two accidents at intersections in our street over the past few weeks, and those vehicles were there for hours, blocking the intersection so that cars had to mount the footpath to get around them. 

Given the high accident rate in Russia, I’m therefore not surprised that giving out parking tickets (if such things exist) is a low priority. 

Pedestrian crossings in Moscow are hazardous enough already without having to negotiate this.
Who gives a rats, I'll just park where I want.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Moscow City

It has been snowing, though rain last night cleared much of it. Last year we didn't have snow until well into December. It seems to have been snowing over much of Europe, so it may just be an autumn cold snap. 

There is a cluster of glass towers on the north bank of the Moscow River, about 4 kilometres west of the Kremlin, called the Moscow International Business Centre, or Moscow City.  It was conceived in 1992 and much construction activity has been going on there since, though not without hiccup. The world's tallest tower, to be named Russia Tower, was planned for the site. Construction began in 2007 but the project was scrapped after the global economic crisis.

That hasn't stopped Mercury City Tower, which is still under construction, from becoming Europe's tallest building at 339 metres and Federation Tower will be even higher at 506 metres.

The cluster of glass towers that comprises Moscow City. Mercury City Tower, currently Europe's tallest, is the gold building on the right
I don't mind glass towers, depending on their context. A city like New York is defined by its towers - take them away and there is no New York.

I am, however, less keen about artificial little clusters of skyscrapers that look as if they were dropped into a city from outer space. Even though they are only 4 kilometres from the Kremlin, these buildings feel kind of isolated and there is nothing worth mentioning at street level - just cold canyons. Stalin's towers were at least congruous with the other ponderously grandiose central Moscow buildings.

A Metro spur line has been constructed to the development, notable for being the only underground line on which one has to wait ten minutes for a train. There are two stations, one of which emerges at the ultra-modern AFIMALL shopping complex. This is a good place for coffee on a cold winter's day - there is a Starbucks right next to the fountain (say what you like - I don't mind Starbucks coffee - and they are one of the few cafes in Moscow that don't permit smoking).

Fountain in the AFIMALL shopping centre within Moscow City.

Most fascinating is the collection of giant matryoshka dolls on the top level of the mall, under a glass dome through which the towers can be seen.

Giant matryoshka dolls in the shopping mall. And you thought you'd seen all that Moscow has to offer.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Vagankovo cemetery

Winter is coming. The temperature has dropped to single digits with the arrival of October. The skies have been grey all week and it rains, on and off, most days. 

The Russian word for umbrella is zont, which I think is great. Looking down from our balcony one damp afternoon I noticed that many of the women in the streets carried zonts with fashionable colours and designs. They looked like little mushrooms moving about. Wendy had a boring black zont, so we went zont shopping on the weekend and bought her a very colourful new zont showing Parisian street scenes.

About 3 kilometres northwest of the Kremlin is a large cemetery called Vagankovo, which was established in 1771. It is a short walk from metro station Ulitsa 1905 Goda.

Particular burial grounds have long reflected one’s status in Russian society. This tradition was continued during the Soviet years. The most prestigious burial place is under the Kremlin walls, pride of place going to Lenin, who has a mausoleum in Red Square (after nearly a year here I still haven’t queued up to inspect his remains). Nearby are buried other significant characters such as Stalin and Brezhnev.

If you didn’t quite cut the Kremlin Walls mustard, but were still a big wheel in the Soviet machine, then Novodevichy cemetery was where you might aspire to push up daisies (all complaints about the idiomatic stew in that sentence will be ignored). Interestingly, Khrushchev was buried in Novodevichy and not at the Kremlin. That sort of thing tends to happen when one falls out of favour before one dies in a totalitarian state. 

Vagankovo was a bit further down the status ladder - a place for prominent artists, musicians and sportspeople. I won’t bore you with a list of people you’ve never heard of, you can find that sort of stuff elsewhere on the internet. 

Some memorials to people you probably haven't heard of.

I’m sure the irony of all this ultimately futile status-seeking in the supposedly egalitarian Soviet Union is not lost on you.

Vagankovo is also the happy hunting ground of many ordinary folk. Unlike the Anglo-Saxon headstone, which blankly offers only a name, some dates, and perhaps a little poem, Russian memorials typically carry engraved pictures of the departed. This is a tad disconcerting, but also quite touching. Considerable expense went into many of these memorials. Often, I expect, by people who could barely afford it.

I found the images unsettling at first. But they do add something very personal and real
 The cemetery is a pleasant place to stroll on an autumn afternoon. Tree-shaded lanes branch into paths branch into little tracks that weave between the jumble of plots. Most are defined by black, wrought iron fences. Here the grass and weeds have grown wild, there a plot is tended and tidy. Perhaps a little bench and a small rose bush. The occasional person wanders silently by, clutching a trowel and shriveled bunch of flowers.

The lanes are perfect for some quiet reflection

If you want to read more about cemeteries in the Soviet Union, this is an interesting article:

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Military music festival

Last week the Spasskaya Tower International Military Music Festival was held over seven evenings in Red Square. We bought tickets for Friday night's performance.

Now military music really isn't to my taste. All that brass, drums and marching around. I prefer to chill out on the balcony with a glass of wine and some Cafe del Mar playing in the background.

Opening performance of the festival. Spasskaya (Saviour) Tower, after which the festival is named, is the big tower with the clock on the right. By the way, I am now taking the precaution of adding a watermark to my photos. If people want watermarkless copies, email me at the address on the watermark.

Anyway, it was great. Red Square is a magnificent setting for a performance of anything, especially as the sun sets and the lights are turned on St Basil's. Yes, there was lots of marching, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the precision and there was some pretty imaginative choreography, too, both of the soldiers and the accompanying dancers.

So I suspended my prejudice against big brass bands for the night and thoroughly enjoyed the music. Being the bicentennial of Napoleon's invasion of Moscow, the 1812 Overture got a good workout.

Tell you what, though, it got darned cold when the sun set. I was shivering when we were walking home, and I had a warm jacket on. Autumn has moved in. I'm noticing the sun is quite close to the horizon now at 7am, and it won't be too long before it's dark when we get up in the morning.

I've added a link to a video I also made on the evening - click here  

Notice the guy in the foreground with the bucket and broom cleaning up after the horses.

Bagpipes and kilts always ensure the Scots a distinctive performance.  

With the Singapore show it was all about the dancing

The Chinese didn't seem to have a military band at all, just dragons and green umbrellas. 

Ending, of course, with fireworks

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Stalin towers: Moscow University

Irked by the fact that New York was building lots of skyscrapers and Moscow didn't have any, Stalin embarked on a tall building construction program. A design competition was held and the result today is seven buildings which are referred to as the Stalin towers, or the Seven Sisters.

The Seven Sisters are scattered across Moscow. I can see the towers of four of them from our balcony, in different directions.

The style of architecture is a sort of ornate Stalinesque, covered-with-statues, Baroquey, pseudo-Gothic - often succinctly referred to as 'wedding cake'. I quite like the buildings, they complement the character of Moscow rather well. New York style skyscrapers would have looked completely out of place, as do the glass towers currently under construction at Moscow City.

The Seven Sisters were solidly engineered. So much concrete and steel was used that they could never have been as tall as New York's buildings.

 This didn't stop the Moscow University tower, which I consider the most attractive, from being the tallest building in Europe from when it was completed in 1953 until 1990.

The Moscow University tower, for many years the tallest building in Europe
Gulag workers were employed in its construction, some of whom were German prisoners-of-war. For a time they were housed in the building on the 24th and 25th levels.

The Seven Sisters have provided the design inspiration for several more recent tower constructions, such as the Pekin Hotel near Mayakovskaya (close to where I live) and a new apartment tower at Sokol. It can be difficult for the passing tourist to work out what isn't an original Seven Sister.

Moscow University tower
Moscow University tower entrance

Inspiration for female students is provided near the building's entrance...

...and for the guys (he's actually got last week's 'footy record' hidden in that book)

Sunday, 2 September 2012


Sorry I haven't written recently. We've just changed apartments, which kept me pretty busy. Now we have a view, which is great, as we no longer have to take the lift and then walk outside to find out what the weather is doing. Speaking of which, it's become noticeably cooler the past week or so. Jackets are being worn.

A couple of posts ago I covered shopping malls. There was one notable mall missing - GUM.

I suppose you could buy glue here, but you’d more likely be seeking fashion accessories. 

GUM stands for Gosudarstvenny Universalny Magazin, which means Government Department Store. This lovely three story building defines the eastern side of Red Square. It was constructed in 1893 and at the time was one of the world’s most modern commercial areas.
GUM - last Christmas
During the Soviet years it was allowed to run down, maintenance of free-enterprise shopping centres not really being a part of the communist manifesto. When Wendy saw it in 1991 it was very shabby and there wasn’t much on offer other than the odd spud.

However, this is just the sort of place (location, location, location) that makes a free market economist’s eyes light up and it has undergone a complete renovation. It is now full of trendy boutiques, cafes and dazed tourists. 
GUM Christmas display, December 2011

Spring display 2012

Also part of the 2012 spring display
GUM - backdrop to the temporary winter skating rink in Red Square (add to your list of one hundred things to do before you die - skating at dusk in Red Square - it's a surreal experience)

Monday, 6 August 2012

Kolomenskoe sand sculptures

A number of excellent sand sculptures depicting historic characters and events have been created in Kolomenskoe Park. Tickets are only 100 rubles, about $3 - they are worth a visit (price quoted does not include airfares)

St Basil's in sand

Napoleon. This is a thoughtful sculpture, with his Russian adversaries on the far side and a broken chessboard in between.

Looking far less relaxed than Napoleon are these French soldiers, no doubt wishing they were sipping wine in Provence rather than dragging this cannon through the mud (sorry, sand).
Tolstoy, writer of that epic novel of Napoleon's invasion of Russia 'War & Peace'. Despite its size, the book is quite readable. Give it a go sometime.
View of the sculpture park. They will be removed in September 2012. The face on the left belongs to Maxim Gorky, about whom you can read in an earlier post.
And of course, it wouldn't be complete without good old Peter the Great.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Shopping malls

We did some shopping today. 

Afterwards we took a stroll in Sokolniki Park and came across these characters. They were enthusiastically playing that 1970s Deep Purple classic ‘Smoke on the Water’. 

 Back to the shopping. 

I wrote a post some time ago about supermarkets, and have been meaning to follow it up with an item about shopping malls.

There is no shortage of large shopping malls in Moscow. They cover the spectrum from busy, workaday places centred around large supermarkets to glitzy palaces with expensive brand-name boutiques and few visible customers. 

Muscovites seem to love spending Saturdays shopping and hanging out in malls. 

The Soviet Union lasted about 3,900 weekends. That’s a lot of Saturdays with no shopping malls. I wonder what they did with themselves? 

Entrance to the Metropolis shopping mall at Voykovskaya, just before Christmas last year, where I usually do my shopping.

Inside the Metropolis mall. The guys looking towards me are security guards and they told me not to take photos. I'm not sure what State secrets this photo contains. I now use a discrete little point-and-shoot in malls.
Looking down the elevator shafts in the Kievskaya mall. Above the clock is a cafe. I know its not immediately obvious, but if you look for a while, you'll work it out.
The mall associated with the large Ashan supermarket at Marina Rosha.
I don't know the name of this mall. It's very close to Red Square, beside Manezh Square.
This is perhaps the most exclusive mall. It's at Crocus City and is populated entirely by expensive boutiques. There are usually more security staff than customers. Though the coffee is expensive and its a bit of a way out, it is pleasant to sit in mid-winter amidst the greenery.
Another view of the Crocus City Mall

There is one notable shopping mall I have not covered here - GUM. This mall flanks Red Square and is a significant historic building. I'll cover it in my next post.