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)