Friday, 29 June 2012

Peter the Great statue

Walk west of the Kremlin along the Moscow River and it won’t be long before you encounter the 98 metre tall statue of Peter the Great. This chap was Tsar of Russia from 1682 to 1725 and spent quite a bit of time in Western Europe, where he liked to hang around shipyards. Until Peter's time, Russia, with its capital at Moscow, was very inward-looking. This seems to be a feature of Russian history - swinging from, on the one hand, engaging with and being a part of Europe to, on the other hand, becoming quite parochial, paranoid and self-absorbed.

Popular legend has it that an earlier incarnation of this statue depicted Christopher Columbus and was to be a gift to the people of the USA, who didn’t want it. Perhaps the fact that it is twice the size of the Statue of Liberty had something to do with that. After the rejection, Christopher Columbus’ head was supposed to have been replaced with that of Peter the Great. I am sceptical of this yarn, but tall tale or true, the statue has nevertheless had something of a history of rejection.  

The statue was designed by Zurab Tsereteli and erected in 1997 with the blessing of the Moscow Mayor at the time, Yury Luzhkov. It was immediately controversial, there reportedly being plots to blow it up. Hence the base is fenced off and guarded.

There is no access to the base of the statue. Can't have people blowing it up - especially as it might land on the Chocolate Factory nearby.
 After Luzhkov’s term as Mayor expired, the statue was offered to the city of St Petersburg, who also didn’t want it (St Petersburg Times, 8 Oct 2010). 

Peter the Great didn’t particularly like Moscow and moved the capital to St Petersburg. This may, in part, explain the statue's unpopularity with many Muscovites. In St Petersburg, Peter the Great had Russia’s first navy built - the statue is actually called ‘300 years of the Russian Fleet’ and was built to commemorate this event.

Ironic. A huge statue of a guy erected in a city he didn’t like rejected when offered to the city he founded.

I wouldn’t like to see a statue like this in Sydney Harbour. The design is a bit wacky for my taste, as are the odd proportions, with a huge Peter standing on a pile of ships. Still, it is striking and a good conversation piece. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012


One of the reasons I love Melbourne is the trams. So I was pleased to find Moscow also has plenty of carriages rattling along its streets.

I have, though, got into the habit of using the Metro (underground rail) in Moscow and only recently hopped on to a tram. It was wonderful to see something other than dark tunnel walls screeching by. 

Apart from the Metro (and taxis), there are three main public transport options in Moscow – trams, trolleybuses and buses. The same ticket works on all three (though not on the Metro, which has a separate ticketing system). Tickets can be purchased at kiosks as shown in the photo below. The kiosks are quite common, especially near transport hubs. I usually buy a ticket for 10 trips, which costs 195 roubles (about $6).

And this is how it’s done:

Just go to the ticket office window, say 10 in Russian (pronounced de-yea-sit) and plonk 200 roubles on the little counter. The person in the kiosk won’t be the slightest bit interested in engaging in conversation, nor will they give a rat’s how good or bad your Russian is, as long as you can intelligibly say 10 (or just show them ten fingers). In return you’ll be given a blue ticket and 5 roubles change. 

When you get on the tram/bus/trolleybus you’ll be confronted with a turnstile and a yellow ticket machine. Put the ticket into the slot in the yellow machine with the arrow facing forwards and the blank (not the blue) side of the ticket facing up. The machine will validate the ticket and the turnstile light will show green. Grab your validated ticket and enter. That’s all there is to it.

Today we took a long trip across the northern suburbs of Moscow, from near Crocus City to Izmaylovsky Park. My intention had been to use 4 tram routes, plus one short trolleybus journey. Unfortunately, one of the tram routes was not operating and we had to take a bus and trolleybus to bridge the gap.

I’ll outline the journey, as if you are in Moscow on an extended stay and have a spare day, it’s a pleasant outing. I suggest, though, that you pick up a copy of the public transport guide (cover below) beforehand and take a decent map or street directory. People who are not interested in a tram ride across northern Moscow may now prefer to check out something interesting on You Tube.

Moscow public transport guide
 Take the Metro to Strogino (СТРОГИНО) on the dark blue line (3), to the northwest of the city. This, by the way, is one stop short of the metro station for the major shopping and entertainment complex of Crocus City (metro stop МЯКИНИНО), which I’ll write about another time. A short walk away is the tram line. Catch the number 30. This is an enjoyable ride, which includes a scenic crossing of the Moscow River and terminates at Voykovskaya (ВОЙКОЛСКАЯ), where there is a large, very modern shopping mall called Metropolis (where I usually do my grocery shopping). 

From here, take the 27 tram which terminates at Dmitrovskaya (ДМИТРОВСКАЯ). Follow the other alighting passengers, as the route to the metro station isn’t immediately obvious. On the way you will pass through a great covered passage with market stalls. These two trams rides would probably be enough for an enjoyable morning – if so, catch the metro home from here. 

However, if you are determined to traverse northern Moscow above ground, as we were, you will need to catch the number 3 trolleybus along ШОССЕ БYТЫРСКАЯ to Mendeleevskaya (МЕНДЕЛЕЕВСКАЯ) metro station. Here you can join the 7 tram to Preobrazhenskaya Ploshchad metro station (ПРЕОБРАЖЕНСКАЯ ПЛОЩАДь – try saying that after a couple of vodkas) and change to the number 11 tram, which will take you to journey’s end at Izmaylovskaya Park. 

Unfortunately the number 7 tram was not running today, which messed up our planning a tad. That’s why I recommend taking the public transport guide and a decent map – in case contingency planning is required. Otherwise, there is always a Metro station somewhere nearby. 

Inside a Moscow tram
The tram terminus at Voykovskaya
View of the Moscow River from the number 30 tram

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Gorky House

Not far from Patriarch’s Pond (see previous post) is Gorky House. We went there yesterday.

Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) was a notable writer during the Soviet era. He must have been in Stalin’s good books as he was gifted this house in 1931 and lived there until he died a few years later. The house is now a museum to his life and work. 

I’ll be honest and say I have never read any of Gorky’s work. Ploughing through the writings of Russians who had too much winter time on their hands generally doesn’t appeal to me. I was trained as a scientist and taught to write concisely, so am inclined to lose patience with long gossipy conversations in Russian drawing rooms. However, I did enjoy Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, and found Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ moderately interesting, though I felt it could have used a good edit at times. I gave up after 300 pages of ‘The Idiot’. Many of Anton Chekov’s short stories are entertaining. 

The main reason to visit the house, if one is not familiar with Gorky’s writing, is the architecture. The residence was designed by Fyodor Shekhel and built in 1906 for a wealthy Russian banker. The banker emigrated after the Revolution. 

The beginning of the 20th century was the time of Art Nouveau, with its flowing organic designs and  motifs based on nature and fairies. The leadlight panels and carved woodwork of Gorky House are typical of this style. The centrepiece is a carved limestone staircase, which descends to a  leadlight lamp vaguely resembling a jellyfish. 

Staircase and 'jellyfish' lamp.
 The exterior appearance of the premises, on the other hand, surprised me. Despite knowing the address and having the location marked on a tourist map, we walked past it. The wall along the street is deteriorating, the garden neglected and the outside of the building unprepossessing. Signage was minimal. 

There is no entry fee, only a 100 rouble charge (about $3)  to take photographs. Although not busy, there was a steady stream of visitors.

Gorky was not the writer’s original name. He was born Alexei Maximovich Peshkov. ‘Gorky’ is a Russian word that means ‘bitter’. He took this name in 1892 while working for a newspaper in which he would report the bitter truth. 

Gorky Park literally translated therefore means Bitter Park and Tverskaya Street, called Gorky Street during Soviet times, was Bitter Street. Perhaps not the most suitable name for Moscow’s main commercial boulevard.

Now that I’ve seen Maxim Gorky’s hat and overcoat, I’ll look up some of his writing.

Looking down on the 'jellyfish' lamp
First floor landing (this is the 2nd floor in Russia, where the ground floor is called the 1st)
Maxim Gorky's study, with his collection of oriental miniatures.
Wonderful reptilian column capital
Wendy on the marvelous Art Nouveau staircase

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Patriarch's Pond

Sorry I haven’t written for a while. Wendy’s work took us away again, this time to St Petersburg and Helsinki. I’ll write a post about those places when I’ve had a chance to browse through the photographs.

It has been warm with passing thunderstorms in Moscow the past few days. The occasional downpours have made it fairly humid.

I thought today I’d write a post about a small park near our apartment called Patriarch’s Pond. 

Patriarch's Pond. The building contains a restaurant.
The Patriarch is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the past he may have lived close to the pond and I assume the Church must have once owned it. It seems they stocked it with fish. Wikipedia also says an 18th century Patriarch’s goat, called Sloboda, used to hang out here.

Originally a swampy piece of ground, after the fire that razed most of Moscow during Napoleon’s 1812 occupation (exactly 200 years ago), this area was revamped. Apparently 3 ponds were created, which were later amalgamated into the single one seen today.

When the Bolsheviks took control in 1917, pleasant evenings fishing by the pond with his trusty goat were over for the Patriarch. The pond was renamed Pioneer Pond, only getting its original name back with the end of the Soviet Union. 

More recently, there was a shopping mall and car park proposal for the site, which was thankfully canned. As Moscow drivers would rather park on the footpath than pay to use a parking station, it would have been a pointless construction anyway.

The park is now within an affluent residential district, not far from Mayakovskaya metro station. In the winter it freezes and is groomed for skating. With the arrival of summer, the kiddies playground is getting a lot of use, as are the paths. It’s a pleasant place for an evening stroll for both Muscovites and expats.

Skating on Patriarch's Pond. February 2012
Slippery dip on to the pond
The plaques show scenes from tales by a popular 19th century Russian fairy story writer named Ivan Krylov.