Friday, 9 March 2012

Kolomenskoe - Tsar Alexander's Palace

South of the city on the green Metro line (2) is Kolomenskoe. Originally a country estate of the Tsars, this 390 hectare park was designated a museum of architecture after the 1917 Revolution. As well as several in situ buildings, a number of beautiful structures have been moved here from locations across Russia. I’ll prepare a post on them another time. For the moment I will focus on one particular building that stands alone at the southern end of the park.

Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich, the father of Peter the Great, had a large wooden palace built at Kolomenskoe, completed in 1671. Visiting diplomats are reported to have described it as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Catherine the Great had it knocked down in 1786. She did, though, have the foresight to have a little scale model made. 

We went for a walk in Kolomenskoe in December, in the northern end, where most visitors go. I recall thinking how unfortunate it was that the palace had been demolished by Catherine. It would have been a highlight. 

More recently I took my skis to the park and the greater mobility they gave me on the snow allowed me to explore further afield. You can imagine my surprise when I stumbled across Tsar Alexander’s Palace!

I felt like Schliemann discovering Troy as I skied out of the trees and found this - supposedly demolished in 1786, but still standing, unnoticed by the entire population of Moscow for over 300 years!
It turns out that a full scale reconstruction of this magnificent palace was completed in 2010. But it is unmentioned in any guidebook I have (and they are quite recent) and barely gets space on the internet, at least in English. I couldn’t even find advice about its existence in the more heavily visited part of Kolomenskoe, though my Russian is not good enough to read complex text and it is possible I missed something. 

Anyway, if you are planning to go to Kolomenskoe, make absolutely sure you see this wonderful rebuild of Tsar Alexander’s palace. 
Tsar Alexander's Palace. A full scale reconstruction completed in 2010

Within the palace is a little maze of courtyards...
...and passageways.
If you have the time, this beautiful building is worth a visit.

Follow this link to find the location of Kolomenskoe on Google Maps

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Armour-plated police

Australian elections are sedate affairs. People queue up for a few minutes at the local primary school on their way to the shops on a Saturday morning. Voting is compulsory – if it wasn’t, everyone would just go straight to the shops. When the results are released, no one suggests there was election rigging. Just like supporters of the losing team at an Australian Rules football game, people shrug their shoulders and say to themselves ‘there’s always next week’. 

There is never, by the way, any spectator violence at Australian Rules games, despite the passion of the supporters. The umpire might be blind and stupid, depending on the decision they just gave, but no one really questions their fairness. Being unfair just isn’t Australian.

 It’s a happy place.

The Russian Presidential elections were held a couple of days ago. 

Yesterday I went for a walk down Tverskaya Ulitsa (street), near where I live. I felt I had walked on to the set of one of those 1960’s apocalyptic science-fiction movies, like Soylent Green. There were more police in Tverskaya than the whole of Australia (OK, I’m exaggerating, but I’m sure you get the drift – there very large numbers). Many were armour plated. 

Armour-plated police
 They had been brought there in military-style transports, and incongruously, mini-bus. There were heavy duty paddy-wagons. Lining the street there seemed to be every orange, city-maintenance truck in Moscow. There were barricades. 

Moscow is not a happy place.

Just some of the police transport vehicles

More armour-plated police
Paddy wagon

The communist rally at Pushkin Square. They came in second, with about 17% of the vote.
Lenin is still kicking on. The image on these flags is gazing at the largest McDonalds in Moscow.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Last Thursday (23 February) was a public holiday in Russia – Defenders of the Motherland Day – to honour veterans and soldiers. 

We took the opportunity to visit Stockholm, Sweden, which is only a two hour flight away. 

Stockholm is an orderly and beautiful city. The people smile. They do not park their cars on the pavement, spit in the street and few of them smoke. A refreshing change.

Stortoget, a square in Gamla Stan, the old city of Stockholm
 There are signs of spring in Stockholm. Green grass showing and only a relatively light dusting of snow here and there. Seasonally, it feels several weeks in advance of Moscow. It’s amazing the difference being beside the sea and the influence of the Gulf Stream makes.

Stockholm is expensive. But there are ways of keeping costs under control. Avoid using public toilets for a start – even the ones in the shopping malls charge 5 kroners (almost $1AUS). 

Stockholm Opera House at dusk

We stayed in a quirky and reasonably-priced place near the city centre called the Story Hotel. And for good meals at a fraction of the cost of regular restaurants, I can recommend Kungshallen. Right in the city centre, this eating hall, containing a number of restaurants, will make you feel like a student in the university cafeteria once again.

Gamla Stan street
Spring thaw in the Stockholm waterways
The last picture should be a sunset...right?