Saturday, 14 April 2012


The 14th of April and spring has at last arrived in the Russian capital. This afternoon was a balmy 15 degrees. Up until today it has struggled to get much above zero.  We spent 4 hours this afternoon strolling. People everywhere, doing the same. The snow is almost gone. I saw grass – green grass! Some of the cafes have put tables outside. I confess I had been getting quite down on Moscow after 5 months of unremitting winter, but today, it all changed. Magic!  

Wendy’s work took her to Kiev for a few days the week before last and I came along to have a look at this famous Ukrainian city.

Now, first things first, and I have to get this off my chest as it did irritate me -  Ukrainians getting upset about foreigners calling their capital Kiev instead of Kyiv. It is not uncommon for languages to have names for foreign places that differ from local usage. Nothing is intended by it. The English call Deutschland ‘Germany’, the French call England ‘Angleterre’. Nobody else seems to care. 

The Ukrainian language also uses inconsistent names and pronunciations. For example, my country is pronounced AV-stralia (this doesn’t bother me at all) and the United States of America is Spaloocheni Stati Americi. So to get upset with foreigners calling Kyiv ‘Kiev’ seems just a little hypocritical.

Anyway, Kyiv or Kiev, it’s the same attractive city. 

There’s much I could say, but I like to keep my posts short or you’ll lose interest. So, a snapshot summary. If you want to know more, check somewhere like Wikipedia.

The old part of the city - bearing in mind that much was rebuilt after a serious trashing by the Nazis - lies atop the steep western bank of the Dnieper River (which is the 4th longest river in Europe). This escarpment is wooded, so there is a long, pleasant stretch of parkland between the city and the river. The opposite side of the river is flatter and mainly park. 

Panorama of the Dnieper River. The old part of Kiev is outside the picture at left, atop the wooded escarpment. In the centre distance is another historic neighborhood, Podil, where the port facilities are located.

However, as with most European cities, further out is a wide ring of drab apartment blocks and in these most of the population live.

Back in the old city many of the buildings and churches are beautiful and the traffic is crazy. I didn’t think there could be worse footpath parkers than Moscow motorists, but Kiev drivers could give lessons. Pedestrians are an inconvenience to drivers seeking a parking spot. 

With one notable exception. The broad main avenue, Khreshchatyk, is closed to traffic on weekends. What a wonderful idea! I wish Moscow would close Tverskaya to cars on the weekend. OK, maybe that’s a bit much to ask, but perhaps the footpath at least could be a pedestrians-only zone on Saturday and Sunday?

Carless Khreshchatyk on a Sunday
St Michael's Monastery bell tower.

Kiev war memorial, located in a park overlooking the Dnieper. The statue is the 6th largest in the world at 62 metres - the sword alone is 16 metres long and weighs 9 tonnes. Its HUGE. And if you like records, Kiev also has the world's deepest metro station - Arsenalna - at 105 metres.

Independence Square. I am about to be asked for money by a strange furry animal.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


I grew up in the Cold War.

If one ignores the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, things were much simpler then. There was us in the West (the Good Guys) and them in the East (the Bad Guys). I suppose if one lived in Moscow there was us in the East (the Good Guys) and them in the West (the Bad Guys). That’s pretty straightforward and easy to understand as far as international politics goes.

Of course, us in the West took great delight in ridiculing anything to do with them in the East. That we knew almost nothing at all about what we were ridiculing didn’t matter in the slightest. 

The Russian national airline, Aeroflot (Air Fleet) was always a fine target. Perhaps in part because the name of the airline was just so easy to joke around with – ‘Aeroflop’. We would imagine worn-out aircraft with wooden benches; cranky, dumpy flight attendants tossing miserable passengers a boiled potato; pre-flight safety instructions consisting of ‘shut up and keep still’; together with a 50% chance or less of actually arriving at the destination.

With that sort of mental baggage, I was apprehensive about my first Aeroflot flight. In fact, I hadn’t actually seen an Aeroflot plane until we came to Moscow. They don’t venture any closer to Australia than Bangkok. 

For those of my Australian readers who have never seen an Aeroflot plane, this is what one looks like.
 Having now flown with the airline several times since arriving in Moscow, I can assure anyone who may be considering or concerned about flying with Aeroflot that it is a perfectly good modern airline, no different to flying with any other air passenger service. It runs modern Airbuses, the staff are generally courteous (some of the check-in staff still have a little to learn about customer service, though the flight attendants are always nice); the interior decor of the aircraft is a pleasant dark blue (no, not red!), and it meets modern safety standards – which is a hell of a lot safer than being on the roads.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Metro 4 - Ploshchad Revolyutsi

Ploshchad Revolyutsi (Revolution Square) metro station was opened in 1938. It's a popular station with visitors to Moscow. I occasionally see people with cameras, even small tour groups, in the station on quiet days. 

The station contains numerous bronze statues of figures engaged in various activities, particularly Soviet-style workers, soldiers and sports people. While I admire the excellent workmanship of the statues, I do find that the station feels a little cramped and gloomy. I was therefore interested to read recently that the government commission that approved the station also noticed this. Apparently it was Stalin’s admiration for the lifelike statues that allowed the opening to proceed as planned.

Ploshchad Revolyutsi station.
  An obvious feature of the statues are the occasional shining golden patches on the otherwise darkly oxidised surfaces. Watching for a while, you will notice people passing by often touch the statues in those spots. The wear of thousands of fingers has kept the metal bright. It seems that touching the statues brings various forms of luck. The girl student’s foot is supposed to remedy a broken love affair and the border guard’s dog brings good luck with exams.

The guard dog's nose gets a good work out from fretting students
The chickens evidently don't offer much luck.

Archway to the platform. Just feels a bit cramped to me.
Tunnel (or perechod) between Plochchad Revolyutsi and Teatralnaya stations. It is possible to move considerable distances under central Moscow using these perechods, which is a great advantage during the winter.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Smokin' an' drinkin'

On the whole, I like Moscow. 


In Russia, 70% of men smoke and 40% of women (2010 Health Survey report by Russia’s Health & Social Development Ministry). This is a lot compared to my country, where there has been considerable progress towards stamping out this vile drug addiction.

Unfortunately there is no restriction on smoking in restaurants or cafes in Russia and this is a bit limiting for us as I will not eat or drink in a place that is toxic and stinks. Many restaurants have no smoking areas (ask for ‘ne kooreesh’ if you really must eat in one), but often this is just an arbitrary line in the carpet. Regardless, the World Health Organisation warns that even in non-smoking areas the airborne toxic chemicals can be up to 4.5 times the recommended safe level. Fortunately there are a number, though not enough, cafes and restaurants that do not permit smoking in Moscow.

I was interested to find on our recent trip to Turkey, where people also puff like chimneys, that smoking is not permitted in enclosed public spaces such as restaurants. 

The burden on the Russian health system must be enormous. Interestingly, though, the majority of men don’t get the opportunity to die of smoking-related diseases. Alcohol usually gets them first.

The average Russian drinks more than the equivalent of 18 litres of pure alcohol each year. That figure includes the entire population. Extract kiddies and non/moderate drinkers from the average and it must be closer to an incredible 30 litres a year. Putting this in a perspective wine drinkers will understand, the average 750 ml bottle of wine contains about 11% alcohol. That’s about .0825 mls of alcohol. Thirty litres of alcohol is thus equivalent to 363 bottles of wine. In other words, the average Russian is socking away the equivalent of roughly a full bottle of wine every single day. Having seen shelves of cheap vodka in the supermarkets, I can believe it. A large bottle of vodka costs $8Aus or less. According to a 2009 study, alcohol accounts for 52% of Russian deaths. In addition, about 14,000 traffic deaths each year are caused by drunk drivers (plus 60,000 serious injuries). 

An alcoholic's paradise. Supermarket shelves loaded with vodka. There were more in the next aisle. Not to mention the bottles stacked in the bargain bins. I'd never seen anything like it - but this is common in Russian supermarkets.

In 2009 the average life expectancy for men was 58 years. That’s the average. It means, of course, that half the males die before they reach 58.

Finally, a sobering word to any smokers reading this. Many years ago my father, who was a smoker, complained of shortness of breath. He was found to have a collapsed lung. The other was full of cancer. He spent the next 12 months, between operations and chemotherapy, dying in a manner more ghastly than you can possibly imagine. His generation did not know the hazards of smoking. Now, with endless warnings about the effects of tobacco, I cannot understand why any person would self-administer a substance so deadly that it can, among other horrible things, collapse lungs. If you must take poison, do yourself a favour and use cyanide. In return it will, unlike tobacco, do you the favour of killing you quickly and painlessly.

Oh, and by the way, the famous Marlboro Man from those old cigarette ads – all three of the people who appeared as cowboys in those ads, Wayne McLaren, Darrell Winfield and Dick Hammer, died of – you guessed it - lung cancer.


We’ve been in Turkey the last couple of weeks. 

We departed Australia in mid-November, coming out of a Canberra winter. While winter in Canberra is mild compared to this seemingly endless Moscow epic, it does get quite cold and snows occasionally. Minus 5 is not uncommon.  So having had two consecutive winters, we felt the need for some warmth and sunshine.  

One of the things I like about living in Moscow is its proximity to so many interesting places. Istanbul is only a couple of hours flight away. The Turkish Aegean coast just 60 minutes further. 

Getting anywhere from south east Australia (other than New Zealand – which is a lovely place) is a very expensive undertaking. In order to travel overseas, people save for ages and then psych themselves up to endure lengthy flights. 

A photo of New Zealand with no purpose other than to show off scenic New Zealand. The mountain is Mount Cook, the highest peak. Below it, and feeding into the lake, is the Hooker Glacier. And, of course, there's Wendy, enjoying the sun.

From Moscow,  a few hundred dollars and a few days is enough for a complete change of scenery.
Ironically, during our four days in Cappadocia it snowed. The first time, we were assured, there had been snow in mid-March for 20 years. To makes amends, the Aegean coast was lovely.

Uchisar, in Cappadocia. The peak is a called a castle, but it is really just a small mountain full of excavated tunnels and chambers which could be used as a defensive position. The landscape of Cappadocia is so dotted with excavated holes that I'm surprised it doesn't completely collapse.

We returned to Moscow last weekend. Sunday it snowed all day. Looking at the European weather map, spring seems to have arrived in almost every major European capital, with temperatures in the mid-teens. Except Moscow.

 One of the things that puzzles me is why, many hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago, people first settled here. I mean, you’ve arrived with your donkey cart, presumably in summer. Very nice. Build a little hut out of sticks, skins and whatever. Grow a few vegies. Then winter comes. 6 months of snow and minus freezing degrees. Stuck in a draughty hut going bonkers. Surely at the first sign of spring a sensible person would load up their donkey cart and head south to the Black Sea?

Perhaps the donkey had died of the cold.

Cappadocia police station. Outside Goreme.
The Spice Bazaar. Istanbul

The Blue Mosque. Istanbul.
This is more like it!  Gulluk, on the Aegean coast of Turkey.