Wednesday, January 03, 2007

And a Happy New Year!

Pretty, and weird, building on Novy Arbat

4th Jan in Russia and the snow's melting, mellllting

Pretty church at Kolomenskoye

Lady in (presumably) traditional dress at Kolomenskoye

The memorial to Peter the Great

George, Melani well muffled up, me and Andy on New Years - look it's snowing! And yes, I stood on the side of a hill in Moscow for several hours in this weather! The vodka in a water bottle I'm clutching probably helped.

Fireworks in the distance - I think over the Kremlin

Fireworks above the ever-changing Christmas tree

Pretty fireworks!

Fireworks light up the sky - you should see how many photos I took ha ha

Looking down on Moscow from Sparrow Hills on New Year's Eve - had to crop out the wall where I placed my camera to prevent me moving it and blurring the photo (see below for example) so that's why it looks a bit weird

Moscow University - one of the 'seven Stalinist sisters' skyscrapers

Snow-covered fountain near the Kremlin

Me at the Kremlin

Me in front of the giant Tsar bell which cracked during forging (it was almost complete when the wooden supports caught on fire and it cracked when it was hosed down). Look at the priceless look on my face - pure disgust! We waited forever for a turn in front of the bell for a photo, then a small child started trying to muscle in on the act just as the photo was being taken ha!

Yours truly on the cathedral steps, avec another weird expression on my face

Church of the... Archangel? Annunciation? Assumption? ??? At the bottom, note the mysteriously arriving and evaporating crowd watching the parade of children

The be-frescoed doors of one of the Kremlin churches (if you can tell them apart, you're doing a lot better than me)
Do you not think the Kremlin coulda sprung for a less manky Christmas tree?

The woods: less scary with snow (yes, okay, I'm obsessed with the woods. And with snow.)

Happy New Year everyone! Have had a few days off so no chance to get on the old email previously.

Right, so I know you've all been dying to learn what I've been up to the last few days...

On Saturday Melani & I went to the Kremlin, which is ridiculously expensive - 1 ticket to go into the churches and another ticket to go into the Armoury, which is where the old crown jewels etc are kept, so we only went into the churches. Then one of them was closed, boo. They were all very pretty on the inside - actually pretty plain on the outside, St. Basil's these are not - just white with gold onion domes and a couple of frescoes. But on the inside, every inch is painted and gilded, and there's tons of icons as well, so all very beautiful. One of the churches also had the tombs of various tsars (until the capital was moved to St Petersburg, I think), which dated back to the 14th century, so that was cool. Unfortunately the inscriptions were all in Old Church Slavonic, so I had mucho trouble trying to figure out who was actually in said tombs.

There were also some exhibitions of stuff that used to belong to the Orthodox Patriarch and an exhibition from the Hermitage of different pieces of jewellery and decorative objects, which were all very fancy, as you'd expect. Some would put the poor taste of the most blinged-out rapper to shame, so bejewelled were they.

We went into the Patriarch's Palace and when we came out, what had been the empty square of the Kremlin had been filled with crowds of people and militsia, all eagerly straining their eyes towards the centre of the square. We vainly sought the cause of all the excitement. In my favourite line of the day, Melani pondered, "Maybe Pushkin's coming!" That indeed would have been worth seeing... In the end, it turned out to be a parade of random children. Lame!

On Sunday, New Year's Eve, of course, I followed the time-honoured tradition of milling about the house all day getting bored - a fine strategy which I am convinced adds to the excitement of the night itself. Although I in fact have long since written off New Year's Eve as hopelessly overrated and always disappointing. Actually, this year wasn't too bad - aim low and you will in fact, not be disappointed. A bunch of us from work went up to Sparrow Hills, which overlook Moscow and are meant to be a good place for fireworks. Which indeed they were. From the time we got there, maybe 11.15 or so, until the time we left, about 1.30, there were non-stop fireworks, of both the official and unofficial variety. This was, in fact, rather frightening, since Russians have a distinct predilection for letting off fireworks in the midst of crowds of people, holding Roman candles etc. in their hands and so on. I was quite pleased to come through the evening without being blinded. So no great thrills, but it was pleasant enough. It also, as you may have inferred from the fact that I spent hours standing on a hillside, was not that cold. Cold enough for my ungloved camera-holding hand to be in pain and cold enough for my little toesies to start complaining, but not super cold. It snowed a bit, though. The metro was surprisingly deserted - I suppose it really is a Christmas-style family holiday for most people.

New Year's Day, also according to tradition, was spent in bed. I wasn't actually really hungover, but one of the other teachers came back to ours as we weren't sure we were going to make the metro connection, so best to stick together, and we stayed up until 8 in the morning, so I was a wee bit tired after that.

Yesterday, Melani and I headed out to explore Moscow a little bit. We went down to this sculpture park, which supposedly has old communist sculptures of Stalin and so forth, but we wound up not going in, because it cost 20 roubles for Russians and 100 for foreigners, and Melani didn't want to pay. I still would have, although I think a quintuple mark-up is a bit much. After that, we just wandered down to the river and saw the monument to Peter the Great (of all the tsars, surely the least worthy of a monument in Moscow?) which is a huge statue of a ship with him on the helm. We then passed by this little Orthodox church and decided to go and look around. This was nice, because it was on a side-street off the main tourist track, so it felt like an authentic place of worship, not just a tourist attraction like the churches in the Kremlin. We had to wear headscarves inside, it was filled with incense, and it was so super quiet. We were the only ones in there, and it was as if the place absorbed noise, you were almost afraid to move for fear of disturbing the peace. It was obviously less ornate than the Kremlin churches - there was white wall space, for a start - but it was still pretty, filled with icons of course.

After that, we hopped on the metro and went to Komosolskoe (or something like that) where there's a big park filled with different Old Russia-style buildings. It was a bit late in the day by this stage, so we didn't actually go inside any (you had to pay) but we walked around and saw old churches and schools, a log cabin where Peter the Great lived for a couple of months (not at all fancy for a tsar, but I think he was a man of quite simple tastes, plus it was only a temporary residence) etc. There were people out in the park playing these bell thingies, which was nice.

It was also even warmer yesterday - all the snow melted overnight on the 1st. Unfortunately, some of the water refroze, meaning there's ice all over the show. And mud. Sometimes there's big puddles of melted snow, with ice in the bottom where you can't see it. I certainly almost bailed a few times. Snow melting in Russia in January - there's global warming for you! I think the average temperature in Russia for December is meant to be minus 15 degrees C or something along those lines. I'm sure it was only about a 0 average, even counting night-time temps. Crazy!

Anyway, today I'm here at work, covering classes. I hope no-one turns up (no-one came to one I was covering on Friday night, woohoo!) Then I'm off work again until Monday or Tuesday (not sure on that). So I plan to make the most of my days to check out some more touristy locales in Moscow and report back, so stay tuned.

Hope you all survived New Year's intact & have a great 2007.

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