All posts by Suzanne

Red square and more

Red Square runs parallel to the Kremlin. The wall of the Kremlin is made of red bricks which gave the square its name.

At one end is the famous St Basil church.  It is now mainly a museum but is still used as a church once a month.The other two sides are flanked by chapels , and what was the Gum shopping complex. This had exclusive goods for the upper officers of the Party and government issued stuff for everyone else.

There was a zip line water skier!

Goodby Mosow

Moscow

 

When you imagine Moscow, you think of the austere grey buildings of the Communist area. Moscow for most people has been quite a secret place that we have only seen in glimpses. This is quite different to the reality.
We did a rapid whistle stop tour of the city with our bus weaving through the city. It is the city day when there are concerts and everyone is out enjoying the last of the warm days.

Buildings , have had an interesting history in Moscow. During the Stalin period some buildings were literally blown up. One such building was an ancient church. It was replaced with a very popular swimming pool in the existing park lands. This pool has now been replaced with an extremely expensive, replica of the original church that is almost as popular as the heated pool. 
       

No visit  to Moscow is complete without seeing certain iconic places. One of these is the Kremlin. It originally was the first settlement of the city and was a fortress. Within its walls now are the original churches where the Tsars were crowned, christened and buried. There are churches for the royal families to pray and small private churches for the priests and officials. Into this mix are offices, former residences and open space , created of course by Stalin. The churches are quite small inside but are beautifully decorated with murals  on every surface and icons. In the church used for coronations there were three thrones. Two  of these had been used by the Tsar and Empress as only they were allowed to sit. The third, a fabulous wooden carved thrown, dated back to Ivan the Terrible in the 1500’s. People in Russian orthodox churches stand to pray. There is no organ for music. The church is designed for the people’s voices to fill the church so the acoustics are amazing.

Bells are popular in Russia just like everywhere else. This bell was made but before it could be installed in a church or building, a fire broke out and many of the city buildings were destroyed. The bell survived but cracked. Both pieces were kept and installed for people to see in the Kremlin.

Guards are taken from the cadets during their military service. For many this must be boring just standing at attention for annoying tourists to stand beside you to have your photo taken. Some however get to be very official. They have whistles and if you stray of the paths, there is much blowing and waving of hands. Most tourists are oblivious to their transition.

Another iconic place to visit in Moscow is the Metro. The underground train station have each been decorated over the last 80 years with mosaics, bronze statues, chandeliers and tile work. There are six lines that interconnect. Trains come every two minutes and you have 20 seconds to let people off and reload. We went up escalators, down escalators and caught different trains to see some of these stations. Amazingly enough, all 18 people in the group managed to get on and off without anyone getting lost!

 

We went to two interesting restaurants today and had quite different food. Lunch was salad and then fried cheese. This was followed by a chicken dish that had an almost sweet and sour sauce. Dinner was Borsch followed by more chicken that was barbecued. Yum. Chicken has not been on the menu often and both restaurants were quite eclectic.

 

We hope to see the Red square tomorrow before we catch the plane. Until then here are some night photos.

 

Kazan


As we get closer to Kazan, it is becoming more populated. Villages are closer together. Houses now have vegetables or other plants in their backyards . Glass houses have also appeared.There are areas of open farmland with crops and even goats. We haven’t seen much livestock but there is the odd goat, no not us, the furry ones.The soil is darker, richer.

Kazan has been invaded by many different groups in its history and as a result, it is the home for many different ethnicities. At one point, the Turks invaded and many people adopted the Muslim religion. These became the Tartar people. In 1552 Ivan the Terrible, seized the city and moved the Tartar people away from their merchant businesses and the Volga river to an Area on the Lake near the Volga region. We visited the area where the Tartar lived. The houses that have survived time and the Communist era have now been restored. They have become shops and restaurants.

Tartar people are distinguished by their colourful decorated houses, and costumes. They wear beautiful leather boots which have a hand stitched design joining the leather pieces to form a waterproof garment. ( No I didn’t buy any)! We were entertained by a trio who showed us the music and instruments distinctive to this culture. It is a little bit Arabian night bellydance fused with gypsy mouth harps. Dancing is heel toe leaps fast skipping with graceful hand movements. Their string instrument is called a Dobra.I did not manage to learn any Tartar other than Salam (hello) and ChukChuk ( snacks) and forget Russian, my tongue refuses to get it right.

Kazan has two distinct language groups, Russian and Tartar. Both are taught in schools and used in all lessons. People are proud of their unique history and this is reflected in the city having two symbols: the dragon and a winged snow leopard. These are displayed near a huge cauldron shaped building. This reflects the legend that said the city site was chosen when a leader asked a wise person where they should build the city. They were told if when they poured water from their bowl into a river and it appeared to boil then that was the place. The cauldron shaped building on the Lake is now for the registration of marriages.

Our impression of this city is one of pride in its rich history and future. The streets are wide boulevards with beautiful buildings from the Kremlin ( which means fortress) to modern buildings. Old buildings have been maintained and swathes of parklands mean the tall apartment buildings have open space. A truly magnificent fusion of old and new.

You cat lovers would enjoy another unique story of Kazan. Catherine the Great had a little mouse problem in the winter palace in St Petersburg. She said the cats of Kazan were fat and fertile so must be good mousers. She sent for 27 Kazan cats. The descendants of these cats are handed out as kittens one day every year in St Petersburg. If you have a mouse problem, forget the trap and get a Kazan cat!

Following a class in Tartar cuisine, we can now make Cornish pastries, Tartar style, noodles for soup and a fruit desert. This was made using a flattened piece of dried fruit and filling it with a cream ,nut and fruit mixture before rolling it.
In Russia ,there are 23 Republics, each with their own parliament . This year the President of each republic will be given a new name as power is relinquished to main Russian President. This does not appear to be popular with many of the outer regions of Russia but was the agreement made when the republics were formed at the end of the Soviet Union.
Moscow here we come.

Yekaterinburg

 

Yekaterinburg , founded in 1773, was a city designed to be the link between Asia and Europe and the industrial centre for Russia. It is the third largest city. It’s position was chosen for its geographic position being in the centre of the Ural mountain. These have abundant mineral resources and in fact provided the metal for :the English House of Parliament roof,the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. A dam was built to provide ready water for the foundries. This was built with Larch wood and now 296 years later is still in place. Larch becomes hard when soaked in water and doesn’t rot…….no termites here!
As a city , Yekaterinburg is quite pretty with parklands within the city and many different and impressive buildings. We were shown some buildings in the constructionism design( where a building represents an machine from an aerial view). It takes a bit of imagination to see what the architect was aiming to show.

Train?
Tractor

There are other odd buildings where one side represents an outgoing personality and the other a reserved personality or buildings that are just ornate for the sake of it. The other peculiarity this city has is that many official buildings are green to reflect the Urals cities connection to nature and the forest.
This connection with nature was reflected when we visited the border between Europe and Asia. It is called the Bridge of Love and is popular for newlyweds to have photos taken. Every Friday a folk story is acted out. A girl from the local town is chosen to be the Mistress of the Copper Mountains. She is dressed in green and is surrounded by dancers who represent stone cutters. She greets everyone with wine and bread that you dip in salt. Legend has it that if she bestowed you with talents ,you would be successful. She was a witch who could also turn into a lizard that left gem stones in the surrounding area. Each guest is given a piece of stone to remind them of her story.
There is a darker side to this city’s history. The last Tsar and his family was brought to the city by the Bolsheviks. When it appeared that the white army may try to rescue them, the family and four companions were marched down to the dungeon and slaughtered. This was not the worst of it. In trying to dispose of the remains, the Bolsheviks dismembered the bodies and poured acid over it. These have now been exhumed and some buried in the Church of the Spilt Blood. The rest are in St Petersburg.There is a display of photographs outlining their life. Apart from this, at the place where the bodies were originally buried, a monastery has been built. A church has been built for each family member. Woman have to wear a skirt because it is a male only monastery. I don’t think any of our trousered legs would have inflamed a monk to great passion. Here the churches are surrounded by gardens and beech woods. There is an air of serenity , peace and a connection with nature. It is no wonder it is a popular place for people to come and pray. For some members of society who struggle with modern life, it is a sanctuary where they can live.
We have visited many different Russian restaurants. A meal in a restaurant consists of a salad, followed by soup. The main course is generally meat or fish served with potatoes or pasta and then fruit or a desert. I think now that food is plentiful, people are enjoying the experience.
Homes here are small. You pay per square metre. In Yekaterinburg,some people were still living in barracks or in the Russian units, known as Stalins Slums, even though these are falling apart. In this climate any house is welcome. Heating is by gas. The pipes run above the ground at just above head height so pipes run in front of every house and are frequently painted yellow.
People as we go have been friendly although not many speak English. As we travel west people appear more dour. There is less smiles when you say thank you or compliment them on something. You wonder if it has been more difficult living closer to big centres like Moscow, queues would have been longer and more officials to check on you and your family. Now Russia is open to foreigners in ten years time, you suspect they may again have achieved the European feelings that once existed before the terror of Stalinism.
War has influenced Russia as much as it has any country that experienced it. They say here that Russia won the Great Patriotic War( World War 2). Each town has an everlasting flame lit from that of the Unknown Soldier monument in Moscow . In Yekaterinburg, they also have the Black Tulip monument. This honours soldiers who have fought in wars and civil unrest campaigns since 1979. It has the name of Black Tulip from the plane that returns soldiers to Russia. The monument is here as many of the munitions were made in the city and the soldiers trained here. Extra photos!

Novosibirsk

Novosibirsk is a modern city by Russian standards. It was built in the 1890’s to build and service the Trans-Siberian railway. It is famous for having the largest Ballet and Opera theatre in Russia as well as two smaller theatres. There are special schools for training for all the performing arts. It is a university city. Here you have to get a high score to enter university but it does not guarantee you a high salary l
    The  Train museum has displays of photos showing the construction of the railway starting with a bridge over the Ob river.

There is also memorabilia from the different periods in the railway history.

 

 Icecream?

The main Ballet and opera concert area.

In the park in front of the main concert hall, they have different art displays according to the season. These twig art sculptures were for Autumn.   

 

 

 

 

 

One of the smaller theatres.
 

 

 

In Russia, it is common to visit a Baina. This consists of a sauna, massage with a Birch branch and then a cold bath, or sometimes a very hot then cold or snow bath. You may do it as a family or with friends you know well as you are generally naked. Men and women can visit separately if with friends or business acquaintances. This is then followed with a tea ceremony often with pancakes and jam and honey. We had the pancakes but only looked at the Baina…..we are not THAT friendly with our companions. It is expensive at $50 an hour.

Irkutsk and a day on the train

 

Today we are on the train. Our cabin is small but comfortable. There are two seats and the bunks fold down on top of them at night.
Luggage is stored under the seats and there is a small hanging area. Showers have become a hot topic. For the first few days it was impossible to get a hot,or warm shower. Cold showers in Siberia are somewhat chilly even at the beginning of autumn. People in the up market ,more expensive cabins have less room and sleep in bunks one on top of the other.
Forests of Silver Beech and the occasional Larch flank each side of the railway line. Freight and passenger trains constantly pass us on this main electric line.

Irkutsk is the capital of East Siberia. At 5000km from Moscow,it is in it’s own little world. 640000 people live here and the government encourages people from other parts of the country to move here. The city was settled by the Kosaks (we call them Cossacks) around the Angari river in the 1600’s.
In the past, Irkutsk was called the St Petersburg of Siberia and the Paris of Russia because of the beautiful decorated buildings. As these were made from wood, many have been destroyed but enough have survived to show the city’s former grandeur.


We have heard of wrong doers being sent to Siberia. For some this would have meant working in mines or other place under poor conditions. For some noblemen who rebelled against the government, the Decemberists, being sent to Siberia meant being sent away from the comforts and society of Europe. One unique group of women followed their men into exile. This was unusual for the time. They settled in Irkutsk. One family built a house and the family lived there for 20 years after the term of punishment. Their house was occupied by ten families during the communal living period of the Communist era. They shared a bathroom and kitchen. A family of two or more children shared one room..generous for one but not more. This house has now been restored to honour the original family who organised a school for local children, a library and concerts for the people of Irkutsk.

Apartments built in the Communist period were small consisting of two bedrooms, a kitchen/living area and bathroom. These are now falling into disrepair. More modern Communist buildings are austere and generally grey, but do have a regal air. These are softened in Irkutsk by the gardens or “embankments that line the river.
When the hydro electric scheme was built on the Angari river, many small villages were to be flooded. Houses from the villages were removed , and rebuilt in Taiga forest about 30km from Irkutsk, to show people the types of houses of the time. A fortress, church, school, inn and normal types of homes were saved and rebuilt. From the outside, they are little different to traditional houses still being built. Inside they are surprisingly cosy. We thought we could cope living there with just a feeeew variations. There is a central stove that heats the house. This provided heat to the bedroom, living and cooking area. Beds were sometimes built in spaces adjoining the large stone fireplace/oven. Outside would be a washing area and steam room for the weekly bath on Sunday after church.
In both modern and traditional Russian orthodox houses, one space is called the red corner. Icons belonging to the family are placed here, often with red decorated fabric.

Apart from private houses, churches were also taken over for communal housing in the early Communist era. People removed the Icons and hid them. These have now been returned to the churches and the buildings are being restored to their former beauty.
Irkutsk has the Siberian tiger as its city emblem. When it was first discovered,these animals were common in the area but are now only found further north in the forests.
There is a romantic side to Russia that appears in their fascination with love stories…..the Decemberists wives and girlfriends, Swan lake,etc. In one park was a statue of Fionella and Peter and a hare, in another a reconciliation chair ( it slopes into the middle ) , all devoted to the display and maintenance of true love.
Well it is late afternoon. We have been rocked all day by the motion of the train. People have recovered from their shower angst especially after a few vodka tastings…..chilli and honey, and raspberry vodka..yum, forget plain. Tomorrow we will reach Novosibirsk another part of the Siberian area.
We will see a river – yes the Ob
Old buildings and streets – of course
Opera and Ballet house- well we are in Russia, a cultural area.
Nature- it goes without saying
And, and , and a RAILWAYS MUSEUM
Until tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sent from my iPad

Lake Baikal

 

Lake Baikal is a deep rift valley towards the centre of Siberia. Now we have all heard of the terrible fate of prisoners and other dissidents being sent to Siberia. Siberia is actually a region rather than an actual place. It comes from the first settlers of the region who called their village Siber. If I was very verrrrrrrry naughty, I would quite like to be sent to Lake Baikal as it is beautiful with crisp clear water. The lake is the deepest fresh water lake in the world and was formed by movement of the earth thousands of years ago. It is 1632 metres at its deepest point and provides 80% of Russia’s water. It contains 20% of the world’s fresh water. Earthquakes still occur in this region and the lake is growing still.There are fresh water seals and 80 different fish species of which 33 are unique. There are two types of stone unique to the area, the purple Angara stone and the green Chersky. No prizes for guessing which colour earrings I bought.

As snow occurs in the area, we caught the chair lift up to the highest point to admire the lake before returning to the village of Listvyanka which is on one side of the lake. A magnificent sight, especially since there is brilliant sunshine today. During February and March, the lake freezes over ( it is Siberia with temperatures as low as minus 36), so there is winter sports as well as summer. Seals poke holes in the ice during winter so they can still fish. Summer is two months – June and July.

Within the village, there is an amazing Museum. This has an aquarium with seals, all 80 fish varieties and shrimp. There were the usual displays of the animals in the area. We were all intrigued by a predator called a Glutton which is the size of a medium dog. They have a seismograph that is recording any activity in the area and a display of the changes in the environment from prehistoric to the present. Even though our Russian is rusty…I mean non existent, the Museum was interesting with lots of visual displays.
From the Museum we went to the …….did you guess, yes the markets and then to lunch.

 

 

 

 

It was in a really cool restaurant with a nautical theme. They had these fabulous sculptures made from metal.Lunch was Omau salted, raw and cooked in breadcrumbs with tomato. It is the local fish.

Back by ferry to the other side of the lake to Port Baikal. The Trans Siberian railway does not use this part of the line any more except for tourists trains. Later tonight we will join the real, 1960, electric line to take us to our next stop Irkutsk.

Lake Baikal
Near railway

Seals

Local fish

Shrimp…yes I can get to the top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise

Ulan Ude

Ulan Ude is a city with an diverse ethnic history. It identifies itself as being mainly Mongolian but is part of the Russian Federation. It’s proud of its Mongolian routes and down its Lenin (main) street pedestrian area are a series of statues reflecting this heritage.They have he Mongolian three flame showing past, present and future. One or two posts showing the people. Birds, horn and /or animals reflecting wealth. As this city was a trade route between China, Mongolia and Russia, its city was known for its buildings and wealth.Buildings were wooden and there were frequent fires. Regulations were brought in to ensure at least the base , and first floor were made from brick or stone in the main city area. Only a few of these original buildings are left. The people also imported fire fighting equipment and had the first fire station of the time. Traditional homes are log homes with rope cauking. They have beautiful carved decorations over the windows and eaves. Shutters are not seen as much in the city .
Republic of Buryatia also has its own unique language that is taught in schools as well as Russian and English. It has retained its own folklore and traditions but has also adopted some Russian traditions. They use the Russian form a writing. Buddhism, Shamanism , and the Kosaks in the north follow Islamism. Christianity is in the for of Russian Orthodox. At new year, people follow the Buddhist traditions of washing everyone and thing to remove the bad vibes from the year. They have a wind force tradition where your name is written in a pattern on a piece of fabric and your wishes added. These are hung to catch the wind so your wishes can be heard by the god of your belief.     
Lenin had a great influence in all parts of Russia. In this area there are statues of him. They have the largest bust of him that was cast in two pieces and brought by train.Modern feelings suggest that Lenin and Stalin are not revered as they were once but to remove Lenin statue would be to forget part of the history of the country.
Buryat people follow Mongolian sports of wrestling,archery, and horse racing.
At the largest Buddhist Monastery, there is a tree coming from a twig from the original Bodhi tree under which Buddha is believed to have received his enlightenment.It is from the 1600’s. One temple was allowed to be built in the Stalin period and since then more have been built within the area. There is one temple dedicated to the female Buddha, Tara. She is shown frequently as being green to reflect her links with all forms of nature. Her hand is usually down to show her readiness to help her ‘children’. Compared to other monasteries, those here and in Mongolia, there is peace but not the deep serenity and feeling of being at one with the communities they serve.
In a traditional village we ate soup and steamed dumplings followed by a dough dessert dipped in a sour jam . Our traditional Buryat toast was with moonshine made from rye bread, yeast and water.      It had a whisky taste.We learnt to play a game with knucklebones were it mimicked a horse race and depending on how the bones fell you moved your”horse”. These bones are also used to strengthen old people’s hands and to tell fortunes. We put up a yurt, dressed in costume ,learnt to use a bow and arrow and also to make dough candles from dough reeds and cotton. These are lit for Buddhist ceremonies.

On the train, across the Gobi desert

Our day today is mainly a train journey. We are travelling to Ulan Ude. The railway was built in the early 1900’s to link west to east. It is 9288km in length and travels through varied geographic features of plains, mountains , dry sparsely wooded hills and wide valleys and wetlands. Here and there is an isolated farmhouse or a small villages. Hay is stacked in backyards or is still in the fields drying out.

Backyards are stacked with wood for the coming winter and vegetables in rows.Rubbish or household waste is not centralised and is scattered everywhere on the outskirts of townships.Most of the houses have brightly coloured shutters that can be closed come winter. They are made of timber unlike the brick and concrete structures of Mongolia and China. Many of the wooden houses ,as we come closer to Ulan Ude ,are made of log type construction. Most houses are tiny by Australian standards.
Level crossings have barriers that come down before the train arrives,and just in case you want to do something crazy like try to beat the train, spikes come up on either side across the road. Roads close to the track are dirt roads. This is true also in the smaller villages. Ulan Bator ,here we come.

Oops we are still in Mongolia and here is the blog

Today was hectic stop,eat,hectic,waiting for missing people,hectic,eat,wait,follow me, my feet hurt, a typical tour arrangement. Yesterday we visited the Terelj National Park and were astounded by the rock formations and beauty of the park. Turtle rock is considered one of the most well known.Unlike in our parks, here there are extensive camps for holiday makers, cows and cattle roam freely and the nomadic people are allowed to use it for their animals ,so beware of presents on the ground. Mongolian people are all given 700 hectares of land when they are born to do with as they wish. This includes parts of the park.
From the park ,we visited a traditional family. We arrived at milking time but were invited to try mare’s milk, homemade creamy butter or a cheese. From the grimaces on the faces of those who tried the milk and cheese, I had wisely chosen the butter. The son of the family showed us around. School aged children are sent to boarding school or to stay with family during school terms.

Our accommodation was a yurt at one of the camps. The fire was lit, the beds were cosy, the hospitality excellent. To wake to the quiet and serenity of the park, you can understand their popularity. There is something magical about the sun rising and creeping across frost glistening grass, yurts and a horse grazing.
Another day starts with rice and milk, soup, or omelette. Then we were off to visit the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery, the Gandan Monastery. From here we visited the mandatory factory outlet……a good one though with fabulous cashmere jumpers and scarves. More food! I am starting to feel like I’m Hansel and Gretel and being fattened up.

 

 

 

Sukhabaatar square is the main meeting area opposite Parliament House. The building is magnificent with gold, glass and white stone work. Ghengis Khan sits majestically in the centre, flanked on either side by statues of the horseman he led.
Visiting the National museum ensured we were aware of Mongolian history. The traditional lifestyle and traditional dress has changed little over time…..just become easier with the advent of solar and wind generators, phones and cars. Animals are still herded on horseback but the family takes produce to the market by car, not cart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our evening was spent at a folk show…now don’t cringe, it was awesome. The dancing was spectacular and represented the different cultural groups. They even had a contortionist.Traditional instruments and singers performed individually or in groups, with a finale from the National Ensemble which consists of 36 traditional instruments. We all smiled as we recognised familiar tunes.

People in the square in national dress.

Goodbye Mongolia, the train is here . We are greeted with Champagne and caviar and attendants in smart uniforms.