Saturday, 9 January 2010

No sympathy

Of course, the reason we (here) have no sympathy for British whining about snow and cold is that this country has all the 'kit' already in place.  Lots of dead animals to wear (there are even different words in Russian for a coat with the fur on the inside, and for one with the fur on the outside). Lots of snow-clearing devices, ones I have listed in an earlier post, but also a whole range of snow shovels and snow lawn-movers, which get pushed along the pavement. And whole bunches of people whose job it is to move snow around on roads and pavements, onto climb roofs and sweep the edges, to climb ladders and knock ice off drainpipes, and to put up miscellaneous barriers, warning of icy surfaces or dangerous icicles above. 

In fact, no snow left un-turned.

Queueing for church

There was a quite a queue to get in Christ the Saviour, where I had hoped to sit in on an orthodox religious service, so I went to one of my favourite cafes (Academia) which is right next door, and instead had my favourite snack which is a perfectly formed Melange Parmigiana, with a fan of parmesan pieces.

On a roll

On a bit of a roll on this snow and ice thing, which - especially for the English - is pretty current. (Sadly, I listen to BBC Radio 3 all the time, and the last news item was listing minus degrees everywhere across the UK in precise detail; for example, -13.2 degrees, which is a bit like saying your age is 23 and three-quarters).

Went for a lovely walk yesterday, down by the river. Because it was the day after Christmas here (!) the snow - which fell softly all day - has been less cleared up/messed up then usual, so everything is looking beautiful, clean and bright. 

Thursday, 7 January 2010

and more ..

....But we did go skating on the rink erected at VDNKh. Looking very much like Winnie the Pooh and Piglet (well, quite a big Piglet). 

Thanks to Erica for the photo, even though I don't think this is my best side.

More Katok news...

So, we also didn't go ice-skating on the pond at Chisty Prudie, despite locals clearing a small amount of snow and skating in very small circles (as well as making some pretty good ice-slides).

And I have not yet joined the gang of enthusiasts who are currently arguing on-line about what time to go skating at the Palace of Sports Krylatskoye.

A minority interest

This will only be relevant to a few of you out there - but one of the unexpected bonuses of getting lost trying to find Tiger Rocky, was that we walked right by a famous Constructivist building, the Rusakov Worker's Club, built in 1927  by Melnikov. This was one of 30 trade union commissions in the Moscow region around that year.  Though it now is neglected and empty, those projecting lecture rooms still have the power to inspire those of us sad enough to be enthralled by architectural stuff.

It is very close to Sokolniki Metro, just not sure in what direction..... 

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Meeting Tiger Rocky

Another slightly unintended experience centred on our attempt to see a 'typical' Russian New Year show. Quaintly, Google translates these as  'Firs', the yolka or Christmas tree celebrations for children. By the time I got around to booking, all the best tickets had gone or were inordinately expensive.

So I plumped for something called The New Year Adventure of Tiger Rocky (there is definitely a tiger theme here this year, related to the up-coming Chinese Year of the Tiger) because it was on ice, and included acrobatics and magic. It was a 3.00 pm matinee at the Sokolniki Sports Palace, in Sokolniki Park, and the first problem was that we couldn't find the stadium, despite being given many contradictory directions by people we asked. We arrived very late - which was a kind of blessing -as the audience was pretty sparse and the show a local, mainly amateur, affair. We did get our gifts from Ded Moroz at the end though, a bag of sweets, and the children who were there seemed to have a good time, with much shouting and joining in. And now we do know what yolka is. 

With thanks to Peter for the photo which shows Ded Moroz (Father Frost) in his rather fetching blue version - he also comes in red like our own Santa Claus - together with his grand-daughter, Snegurochka  (snow girl)... oh, and Tiger Rocky in the background. 

Skating in the dark

One of the things we did whilst my friends were here was enjoy the possibilities of outdoor ice skating. For reasons I can no longer quite make sense of, we elected to avoid the joys of the more obvious places such as the Red Square rink (too loud/gaudy), Hermitage Gardens (too obvious) or Patriarch's Pond (too picturesque?) Instead we went to a 'Movie' skating rink

This involved both metro and trolley bus ride and took us into the middle of a huge, empty and bleak sports park. What we had trouped out there thinking would a big warm indoor rink with a huge video screen turned out to be basically an iced over car park with no-one else around, and a small - and very blank - open air screen at one side. 

Worked out okay in the end, as the adjacent cafe meant we could sit eating chicken and chips whilst we watched the only determined person amongst us, happily skating on his own in a snow blizzard!

The mid-night snow shovellers

Was woken up last night by the sounds of industrial-style snow removal in my street. This involved a large dumper truck, followed around by a smaller truck - basically a moving conveyor belt on wheels - and then a little bulldozer (not shown in the photo, but you just need to imagine Wall-E); together with many men with spades. The procedure seems to be that the little one shunts the snow (which has already been piling up at the sides of streets through the manual efforts of many people with huge, flat snow shovels) into new piles which are then transferred, via the conveyor belt to the big lorry, which drives off at regular intervals to dump its load somewhere else. (Where? Snow-fill?)

When the big 'uns had finished, the little bulldozer remained to 'tidy up', through a repetitive process of scrapping and patting.
I know snow is a fact of winter life here, but it does make the British attitude of 'OhmyGod its snowing, cancel everything' seem pretty pathetic.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Happy New Year, Russian Style

Moscovites, like Londoners, advise you to stay away from the big party in Red Square/Trafalgar Square for New Year's Eve; so in the end, after various vague notions of finding a restaurant without a private party/huge entrance fee/face control we just sat in front of the TV and watched right through to President Dmitry Medvedev's speech (in front of images of an unrealistically quiet and  empty Red Square and Kremlin) at midnight. 

Which turned out, from my google researches, to be the 'proper' way to do it: 

“Most Russians celebrate New Year's Eve with their families and close friends. The celebration usually starts one or two hours before midnight and the common tradition is to "say farewell to the old year" by remembering most important events of the last twelve months. At five minutes to twelve most of the people watch the president's speech on TV or watch popular New Year TV shows ("Goluboy Ogonek"). There is a tradition to listen to the Kremlin clock bell ('Kuranty') ringing twelve times on the radio or on TV. During these last 12 seconds of the year people keep silence and make their secret wishes for the next year.” 

Which is exactly what we did. Well not the silences and the wishes thing, And to be honest we didn't watch the TV show,  we gaped at it. It was all glitter,  flashing coloured lights, bling, celebs, loudness, singalong songs, over-acting and gurning for the camera, and endless over-the-top theatrical gestures. I've stolen an image from the brilliant English Russia website, because I was too stunned to photo the TV. And in fact, for a great inside story and more images, go to their blog and read Happy Fake Year.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Disco time

I think I should mention that the boat - see previous post - does turn into a bit of a discotheque (and that is definitely the correct term) towards the end of the evening. So come prepared with your glitter ball and some 70s dance moves!

Handy hints for travelers 8: take the boat trip!

We did our Christmas dinner aboard a special ice-breaking tourist river boat, the first one working of the 5 recently bought by Radisson as part of their renovation of the Hotel Ukraine (another of the Stalinist skyscrapers.) Although the ice was mainly in thin floes, there was still enough to give an occasional satisfyingly eerie screech against the hull, and nothing beats seeing a city after dark from the water. The trip included dinner and cost 1,500 roubles a head (including food but not drinks). Brilliant.

Snowballs in Red Square

Had the glorious treat of my daughter and some friends spending (English) Christmas and New Year in Moscow with me. Had planned to wow them with the deep and crisp and even, and with bright skies and cold but clear  days. Of course was stymied by the fact that 1.) it has been snowing heavily in England 2.) Moscow was unseasonally mild, wet and therefore extra slushy 3.) that Moscow is not the easiest of places to get around in whatever weather.

Anyway here we are, exchanging snowballs (photo courtesy of Peter) in front of St Basil's, having arrived too late to visit Lenin, and before we worked out that the only way into the cathedral itself was via a door that very firmly said Exit/выход. (And the cathedral is a must-see inside, if only because it is so unexpectedly unexpected.)