Parks & Recreation: Park Pobedy.

Moscow is one of the biggest cities in the world, and it is known for its pompous architecture and great boulevards. Many of the concrete structures are a reminder of past times which are still vivid in the people’s hearts, minds, and memories. One example of such a structure or area is Park Pobedy, a grand park located in the (South-)Western corner of Moscow.

Park Pobedy, or Парк Победы, was constructed in honour of the country’s victory in World War II or, as the Russians remember it, Great Patriotic War. It’s also where the name comes from – Pobeda meaning victory, so it’s the Park of Victory. It is actually a vast memorial complex that includes many monuments, fountains, museums, and a church, synagogue, and mosque. Every year on May 9, Russia celebrates Victory Day in which this park becomes the centre of celebrations.

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The park at Poklonnaya Hill is set as a reminder that Russia and its citizen suffered a great deal during the war. The area actually used to be the tallest point of Moscow and was an open-air museum to remind of Russia’s victory over Napoleon. The hill was leveled down to the ground in 1987 and has been gradually turned into the war memorial it is today.

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Right at the entrance to the park there is a long promenade that gives a great view over the area and the surrounding city. This big road lined with fountains leads to the obelisk, a war memorial museum and an exhibition of tanks, war planes, and other weaponry. The park ends into a forest.

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The park was carefully constructed, and certain numbers were kept in mind when planning it. For example, the central avenue, the “Years of War”, has five terraces which links to the five years of conflict. A total of 1,418 fountains can be found there – one for every day. The memorial chapel, mosque, and synagogue are for the different religions of the fallen soldiers. The height of the obelisk with a statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory, represents every day of Russia’s participation in WWII (141.8 metres, 10 cm for a day). In 2005, 15 pompous bronze columns that symbolise the main fronts and navies of the Red Army were added.

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What I especially liked about this park is that it is such a huge “empty” space within such a big city. It is such an interesting feeling that you get when walking around in such a massive park surrounded by skyscrapers. It is a mix of feeling secluded from everything but also being in the middle of a huge town.


The Museum of the Great Patriotic War is open TUE, WED, SUN 10:00–20:00 & THU, FRU, SAT 10:00–20:50. The entrance ticket for the museum is 300 rubles (4.30€ or 5.05 USD), or for the whole exhibition area 400 rubles (5.74€ or 6.73USD). The park area is free.

What to do in winter: ice skating!

Do you remember the time when you first stood on ice skates? Mine was when I was very young. Growing up on the countryside with a lot of space around the house we had our own small ice skating rink. I assume it was thanks to my brother and my dad; and yes, rink is too fancy a word. We (they?) just poured some water on an empty spot next to the house. Not big and far from perfect – it even had a small gap because of a mortar joint or something like that where we had to be really careful not to fall. Even ‘owning’ our own skating ground did not mean I was any good at it, but I enjoyed it at that time. Still, in my teens I hardly ever went on the ice, only when our gym teacher made us go. And only once during my student time in Vienna did I manage to go on the beautiful Eistraum in front of the city hall.

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University in Moscow

When travelling I like to visit university buildings as they are usually among the oldest buildings of the town and therefore quite impressive. Being a student myself it is always interesting to see other facilities and how well-equipped or not so well-equipped educational buildings in other countries are. As I was taking part in a student exchange in Moscow, I got to see this up close on a daily basis!

Apparently, there are almost 900 universities in Russia, and Moscow is the educational centre of the country, which has been like that since the USSR. There are more than 200 institutes of higher education and 60 state universities and 90 colleges. Most of them are centred around one specific field (i.e. aviation, economics, medicine) and only some of them have a wide-spectrum, such as the State University of Moscow. Russian universities are (mostly?) tuition based, which depends on the subject studied. It starts from 64,000 roubles a year (around 1,000 EUR) to 344,000 roubles a year (5,400 EUR) for the most prestigious universities.

Most of the universities also offer dorms for their students on their campus or near the universities at a relatively or very low price in comparison to the rent of a standard apartment in the city. Another great advantage of the universities in Russia is that they typically have their own sports facilities in order for the students to participate in uni sports teams or  just to work out.

The beautiful one

The Lomonosov Moscow State University – short MSU (or in Russian МГУ because of Московский государственный университет имени М. В. Ломоносова) – is one of the most impressive buildings that I saw in Moscow or even in Russia. The university itself was founded in 1755 by Mikhail Lomonossov, hence the name which the university received in 1940. It offers a wide-spectrum of programmes, so it is not centralised around one specific field.

The main building of the university was designed by the famous Lev Rudner, erected in the 1950s. Not only is it supposedly the tallest educational building in the world, but also the highest one of the famous seven Stalinist skyscrapers of Moscow. Apparently, inside the building there are a total of 33 kilometres of corridors and 5,000 rooms – quite impressive and a lot to walk if you’re an unlucky student. The university itself is home to around 47,000 students.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to just go inside the building as you have to work there, be a student, or have a special entry card, as security in such buildings is taken really seriously. So I only got to see it from the outside which was still worth the time it took to get there. I had to take the red line on the metro to the station ‘Universitet’ and then walk for another 15 minutes in order to reach the main building.

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My host university

My host university from my semester abroad was, however, not the grand State University but the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, short PRUE (Российский экономический университет имени Г.В. Плеханова). It is also one of the public universities of Moscow, and opposed to the MSU the university is one with a narrow specialisation, as the name already tells. The university’s foundation dates back to 1907, so it is not as old as MSU, but it was the first finance-specialised college in the Russian Empire. In the course of the Soviet era, PRUE became bigger and recognised as one of Russia’s most prestigious universities.  PRUE even has its own TV channel which is called ‘Plekhanov TV’!

Plekhanov university has around 14,000 students – not a lot in comparison with the State university – but the building/campus is rather small and the university is specialised. Also, in my opinion the location of PRUE is much better. The university has 8 buildings which are right next to each other, and it is situated in the city center and only two metro stations away from the Red Square. So I could not have been more lucky with its location as I wanted to see as much possible from Moscow without having the need to spend a lot of time on public transport.

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I must say that I was not very impressed by the university building itself, but I was being spoiled with mostly attending ‘brand-new built’ universities so far, and it unfortunately did not have the charm of the ancient universities such as the MSU. Nonetheless, it is the inside that counts, right? When entering the main building (which is building number 3 funnily) you are first greeted by safety gates and columns with mirrors, so students can make themselves pretty for classes I assume ;) Right next to the entrance is a small memorial with an ‘eternal flame’ which can be found on so many places throughout Russia. In general, the building is not bad for a university, but also not impressive in my eyes. I also think that the interior – especially some of the old and very very very uncomfortable wood benches – should be replaced.

University Life

In general, university life in Russia is similar to other universities in Europe, as we had lectures and seminars, presentations, group works, tests and exams. However, in my opinion the academic level is still lacking behind in comparison to the universities that I have attended so far in Western Europe. The system for graduates at PRUE was slightly different as master students only had classes in the evening (Russians usually work full-time during the day) and there is no mandatory attendance (but it helps getting a better grade sometimes).

What I especially liked:

  • My programme coordinator / my programme in general. The people responsible for my programme and us international graduates seemed to be very laissez faire in comparison to the bachelor student’s coordinator. We had more freedom in terms of negotiating certain administrative things and my coordinator even made the schedule in accordance with my wishes of doing additional courses to get more credits. At other universities abroad something like that would have never been possible and I wouldn’t even have dared asking that.
  • Location. My university & the dorm were situated right next to one and very near to another metro station, so travelling was very easy and comfortable for us. Plus, there were many supermarkets, restaurants and bars nearby.
  • The Buddy system. I already touched upon it in this blogpost in which I explained that some Russian PRUE students take responsibility for us internationals and take us places, help us out when needed, and just try to make the best out of our stay. With them we got to see cool places in the city and watch ballets and musical for almost free. Plus, in the end some of us became friends as well!
  • Nothing is set in stone. Just one example: even though we were supposed to have one presentation, a test and en exam in a course that we weren’t even able to attend, it turned out that we only had to listen to a few presentations and do a short test on principles of management. I’m not complaining. Also, I was lacking a few credits (as I couldn’t take one course) they just fixed it for me.

 

What I especially did not like:

  • The complex university building. I never got the knack out of it in which direction inside the main building I have to go in order to get to the room that I had been going to for weeks. Of course I remembered which floor to get on (most of the times) but I could never recall if I should turn left or right. Plus, come on, where were the toilets? There was none for women on the fourth floor, there was one on the third (or was it on the fifth?) that was always locked, and one did not have a sign. Or am I mixing it all up now? See, I am still confused with the stupid building and yes, I know, it is probably just my own fault and the poor university cannot take responsibility for stupid people like me.
  • Bureaucracy. A major downside of Russian universities that we exchange students experienced was the immense bureaucracy of the country / university. Getting something done like getting a signature, extending our visa, or even paying for the dorm could take hours, days, weeks or even months! I ended up not applying for the ‘social card’ which is a metro card for a very cheap price for students as my peers only got theirs at the beginning of/mid-December and I was about to leave by then already.
  • Nothing is set in stone. Up until one week before the end of one course no one knew how we would get our grades – not even the professor as someone else was giving instructions to him but they neglected to do that in a timely manner. So one week before the last class we got the news that we had to write a group paper and prepare for a presentation plus something like an oral exam/questioning thing. Fun times.

 

There are lots of other things that I liked and disliked but I just picked the ones that stick out in my head the most. I met great people, and I had a few really interesting courses with interesting professors. I also had courses that I did not like, professors that obviously had no idea what they were talking about or who did not once accept a different opinion on a subject. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world. For me, a study exchange should never only be about the academic side of it but more about experiencing and getting to know another country and culture and the people who live there!

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Exploring the Golden Ring: Sergiev Posad.

My stay in Russia is officially over, but I still have a few adventures and insights left that I still want to share with you here.

Part of my family came to visit me in Moscow at the beginning of December and I thought that it might be interesting for them to show them something besides (the very westernized and international) Moscow. So I took them to a city in the Golden Ring: Sergiev Posad.

The Golden Ring – Золотое кольцо – is textbook Russia not far from Moscow. It is an area that has the country’s oldest towns, which used to play a major role during the time of the Kievan Rus’. The architecture of the cities in the Golden Ring is marked with onion-shaped domes and kremlins, everything mostly untouched by the Soviet industrialisation. Now, this area is very popular among tourists as it is very idyllic, especially during winter when it is covered in snow.

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Before my family came to visit me I had already travelled to two other cities within the Golden Ring, namely Rostov and Yaroslavl. Sergiev Posad – Сергиев Посад – is the closest to Moscow in the Ring (72km by railway). Over 110,000 people live in the city which is located in the Moscow Oblast. Its most important or well-known site and reason for people travelling there is the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, which is the most important monastery and the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. Sergiev Posad is – apparently – also the place where the matryoshka dolls (traditional Russian wooden toys) were born.

We travelled by Elektrichka which took us around 1.5 hours. We decided to use this suburban electrical commuter train as it was the cheapest option and it gave us the most elbowroom for travelling (buying a ticket much in advance is not necessary, you can buy it right before boarding the train). However, there are faster train options available as well. A bus would have been another cheap and easy option but we didn’t want to risk that as we travelled on a Sunday and there is usually a lot of traffic during the weekend.

Already on the train my family got to experience something that isn’t a thing in (Western) Europe: there were more than ten people who tried to sell all (un)necessary stuff such as bags, christmas decoration, calendars etc at a bargain price. After arriving at the train station we had to walk for around 1km in order to get to the monastery. It was really easy to find as we could spot it from some way ahead and there were plenty of signposts.

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Sergius

Bartholomew was born in 1314. Already in his early life he knew that he wanted to live in asceticism so he decided to move into the woods where he could work and pray a lot. A few years later he became a monk and took the name Sergius. The city’s namegiver and patron saint apparently was able to work miracles by healing people and seeing the future. Already during his lifetime the monk became famous and people started to visit the monastery in order to get advice from him. He and his pupils further founded several monasteries throughout Russia. Today the Trinity Lavra is one of the most respected and largest one in Russia.

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The monastery celebrated its patron saint’s (St. Sergius of Radonezh) 700 year birthday in 2014

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

The monastery was closed by the Bolsheviks (surprise surprise), but it was reopened as a museum, residence of the patriarch and a working monastery after WWII. Despite the move of the patriarch and the church’s administrative centre to Moscow in 1988 the Lavra remained the most important spiritual site in Russia. The monastery became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

When entering the monastery we passed through the red tower with the Church of John the Baptist’s Nativity, which was erected in 1699. We followed a road that lead us to the heart of the square from which we could see all of the churches.

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The Trinity Cathedral was built in the 1420s and is the centrepiece of the monastery. People were already queuing outside the building in order to seethe tomb of St. Sergei (and pray in front of it?  or whatever they do) which stands in the southeastern corner of the cathedral. Apparently there is a memorial service for him all day every day.

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The Trinity Cathedral (on the left) with the queue

The most prominent church of the square is the Cathedral of the Assumption which was finished after 26 years in 1585. With its star-sprangled blue onion domes it catches one’s eyes. The money for this cathedral was left by Ivan the Terrible in a fit of remorse for killing his own son. Another special fact/thing about the church is that in its vault is the grave of Boris Godunov who is the only tsar that wasn’t buried in the Moscow Kremlin or in the St Petersburg’s SS Peter & Paul Cathedral.

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Empress Elizabeth particularly favoured the monastery and had a white and blue baroque belltower erected in the 18th century which is with 88 metres still one of the tallest structures built in Russia.

Right in the middle of the square is the Chapel at the Well which was built over a spring. It is believed that the spring appeared during the Polish siege. A blind monk drank the water and got his eyesight back. What a miracle! During summer the water is pumped outside and over it is a very colourful baldachin. I was pretty disappointed that neither my mom nor my aunt wanted to get holy water even though they wanted to go in almost every church that they saw in Russia. Tsk Tsk Tsk.

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Bell Tower with the baldachin for the holy water thing

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Baldachin and Chapel at the Well on the left

The most colourful building within the monastery walls is the Refectory Church of St. Sergei. It was a dining hall for pilgrims but is used as a church during winter in order to hold the morning services as it would be too cold in the Assumption Cathedral.

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Despite being an impressive monastery that had many beautiful and colourful buildings there were quite a few things that I did not like about the place. It was a bit disappointing that two of the main buildings inside the monastery, which looked very impressive at first glance, weren’t even churches but souvenir shops. Almost the entire building next to / behind the Trinity Cathedral was only a souvenir shop and nothing else. We also went to have food at a place nearby and this restaurant was the most expensive one that I took my family to and the food wasn’t even that good and the staff seemed to be very disinterested in keeping their guests happy. Still, the interior was nice and my family could try a bit more of the traditional Russian food there. We could really see that the monastery is very focused on (but also probably dependent on) tourists.

In spite of all the things that I did not like about the place it was a good travel opportunity for me and my family. I could show them something outside of Moscow, they got to travel in an Elektrichka and we saw the most important religious place in Russia.

My recommendation for people who are considering going there would be that you should only go there if you haven’t already seen a few other churches in Russia or if you want to see another city close to Moscow that hasn’t changed as much as the capital has in the past centuries. There are definitely more interesting and more beautiful cities in the Golden Ring, but if you don’t have much time to travel to another city or spend much time in another city, Sergiev Posad would be a great choice! Just beware – there are a lot of souvenir shops and stalls waiting for you there…

Christmas feeling in Moscow.

Christmas and especially the advent season has become my favourite time of the year. So I was really looking forward to experiencing this in Moscow.

Russians do not celebrate Christmas on the 24th or 25th of December but on January 6th and 7th. This is due to their Orthodox religion and the Julian calendar. Religious people start a fasting period 40 days before Christmas in which they don’t consume any animal products such as meat, eggs or dairy products.

Novy God (Новый Год) – New Year – is the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebration, which represents the start of their Christmas celebrations. January 1st involves a lot of joyous entertainment, fireworks, large meals and other festivities. It combines secular traditions with the Christian Orthodox Christmastide customs. Russians usually take the week between New Year and Christmas off – which they call the Новогодние каникулы “New Year’s holidays”.

Grandfather Frost – Дед Мороз / Ded Moroz – is their version of Santa; he brings the presents to children on New Year’s morning. He is accompanied by Snegurochka (Снегурочка), who is his granddaughter and helper. As opposed to wearing robes in red, they wear blue and silver. As a result of the Russian Revolution, Christmas traditions were discouraged due to being ‘bourgeois and religious’. Even Ded Moroz was considered to be evil. Regardless of that, Ded Moroz took his form during the Soviet era and became the main symbol of the New Year’s holiday which replaced Christmas.

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Even though Christmas is celebrated later and not in December, Moscow started to look very Christmassy very early on. Especially the shopping centres were full of decorations. Everything was very pompous and full of Christmas knick-knack. The early fall of snow at the end of October was the icing on the cake. It made everything look like a winter wonderland and was perfect for the season. I am not used to having this much snow so early and for such a long time (we had snow almost throughout November and December).

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Red Square Christmas market during the day

The most beautiful and most christmassy place in Moscow was definitely the Red Square. In mid-November they started setting up the market and a small ice rink. The market offered the usual touristy stuff such as matryoshkas, but they also had food such as blinys and mulled wine there. Oh and they also had a few other attractions such as a merry-go-round. My sister and I insisted on going on one during the day, and together with Madlene I tried another one in the evening. Very exciting!

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Saying goodbye in the evening

As I wasn’t spending Christmas in Moscow my friends and I decided to go to the Red Square shortly before I left the country. Even though I had the flu we spent a few hours enjoying the beautiful lights and Christmas decorations.

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Bliny in the making

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Exploring the Golden Ring: Rostov.

The Golden Ring near Moscow has several beautiful cities to offer. Their importance in history has made me want to explore not only Yaroslavl but also a small town nearby: Rostov.

Rostov (Ростов) is one of the oldest towns in the country with a population of around 31,000 people. The city lies on the shores of the Lake Nero. The city’s official name is Rostov, but to Russians it is also known as Rostov Veliky (to not mix it up with Rostov-on-Don). It is located around 200 kilometres northeast of Moscow, and it is quite easy to reach the city by train from there.

First people settled down at the place from 4,000 BC. Finn-Ugors people were living there until the 11th century, and the city of Rostov was founded by them. Officially it is known since the 9th century, making it one of Russia’s oldest towns. In the 13th century Rostov was one of the 5 biggest towns of Russia. Its importance was based on the fact that people living in the town were educated and worked very hard to make the town even better. The city’s political and cultural growth, however, came to an end with the Tartar invasion as many people were killed, the town was ransacked and partly destroyed. Nowadays Rostov is quite a small town with old buildings and a Kremlin.

When my boyfriend was visiting me, we spent a few days in Yaroslavl, and on our way back to Moscow we thought it might be a good idea to make a quick stop in Rostov. We took an Elektrichka (a local train) as it was the easiest and probably cheapest way even though it took some time (despite being really close to Yaroslavl) and it was also very cold inside the train. Nevertheless, we made it safely to Rostov. Some other passengers unfortunately already really hurt themselves when leaving the train by slipping on the ice. A very warm welcome to the city I must say!

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We made some great feline and canine friends in the city. At the train station we met a lovely white cat that was living at the station. At least we assumed that she was as every employee greeted her like an old pal. Also, we met quite a lot of stray dogs, and one of them started following us as he saw us eating something. He followed us from the train station to the city centre, which was almost an half hour walk.

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Our first view at the Kremlin / church

Lake Nero

After reaching the city centre we decided that we first wanted to walk around for a bit and not go directly into the Kremlin. Our route lead us to the shores of the lake. The Nero lake (Не́ро) is shallow, with an area of around 55 km². Apparently, it is around 500,000 years old, which makes it one of the pre-ice age lakes in Russia. It was very nice to walk there, as there were no people or cars on the streets. Some of the buildings next to the lake looked deserted. However, there were some fancy mansions next to half-collapsed buildings in which there were still people living.

At the end of the road that lead along the lake we could spot another monastery. Due to the ice and snow it took us such a long time to gain ground so we decided to skip this monastery as we just would not have time for it.

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Near the Kremlin there was also a souvenir market and as it was the weekend it happened to be open so we had a quick look at it. It was kinda really sad as no other people were there but we also did not want to buy anything from there.

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The Kremlin

The main sight of the city is of course the fortress with its Assumption Cathedral, which dates back to the mid-16th century. When visiting the Kremlin we even heard them as it was exactly 12 o’clock. There are several other churches within the walls, also tower bells, numerous palaces, and belfries. The bells rank among the largest and most famous ones in Russia, and everyone has its own name.

In order to see the whole area you need to pay a small entrance fee (I think it was 50 rubles). There is also the possibility to go inside some of the churches and museums there, but we decided not to do that. The area and the gardens were enough for us.

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So far, Rostov is the smallest city that I’ve visited in Russia. It was really interesting as it was so extremely rural. The city was covered in snow (and ice and some dirt) which transformed it into a winter wonderland. True, there is not much to do or see in the town, but it is perfect for spending half a day there just as we did.

 

Parks and Recreation: Gorky Park

A park in walking distance from my current place in Moscow is Gorky Park (officially Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure / Центральный парк культуры и отдыха имени Горького / Tsentralny park kultury i otdykha imeni Gorkogo). The park got its name from the Russian and Soviet writer Maxim Gorky (1868 – 1936), a founder of the socialist realism literary method (whatever that is…) and a political activist.

Opened in 1928 and the first of such kind back then, the park stretches along the bangs of the Moscow river with an area of 300 hectres. It is divided into two parts – the first one more dedicated to entertaining kids with funfair rides and such things. It is also possible to rent boats or horses. During summer there is a ‘beach’ area that is also an open air club in the evenings, and in winter part of this area becomes a vast skating rink. The other part of the park is more restrained and consists of formal gardens and woodlands. It is also home to some old buildings that date back to the 18th/19th century.

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Ministry of Defence

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Pushkinskiy most (bridge)

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Snowy park landscape

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The thing I like most about this park is that it stretches along the Moscow river and you see grand buildings on the other side of the river. Also, the bridges over the Moscow are beautiful and nice to look at. The park has plenty to offer for everyone, regardless of the seasons. Obviously, the pictures from above are more than a few weeks old, and the park is wrapped in snow (more or less). I can’t wait to go there and try myself at ice skating there.

Inside Moscow’s Kremlin.

On the day that I left my parent’s home to start my Russia journey my dad told me to send his best regards to Putin. Of course I had to try my best, and a visit inside Kremlin was a must! On a Friday noon a few friends and I went on our mission to see Putin in his home.

The Kremlin in Moscow

The Moscow Kremlin is a symbol of two imperial cultures – the medieval Muscovy and the Soviet Union. It contains a mixture of lavish opulence and austere secrecy. Two thirds of the citadel complex are closed to visitors, but the remaining third is open to the public. The Kremlin is also the official residence of Putin.

The history of the Kremlin begins in 500 BC with the first human habitation, but Moscow’s history really begins around 1147 when the Grand Duke of Kiev built a wooden fort there. Moscow grew rapidly and was soon powerful enough to attain primacy among the Russian principalities, so the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church moved there from Vlaidimir in 1326. The citadel was fortified with stone walls, and under Ivan the Great the kremlin was remodeled and became the centre of the unified Russian state. Also, the magnificent cathedrals and other buildings were added. Peter the Great moved the capital to St. Petersburg. After the Revolution in 1917, Moscow became the capital again and the Kremlin the seat of the Russian government. The Communist era is still visible in the red stars that are on top of many towers.

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Entrance to the Kremlin

In order to enter, you should NOT try to enter from the Red Square but go to the other side of the complex. Before you enter, you need to buy a ticket. It took us forever to buy tickets, and they refused to give us student discounts even though we knew for sure that we’d get one. So usually it is possible to get a 50% student discount, but we had to pay the full price of 500 rubles to go and see the museums on the church square. Apparently the cheapest way to enter the complex is by buying the bell tower ticket. Unfortunately, there is no ticket available that just lets you go onto the grounds.

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Ivanovskaya Square

The square’s name originates from the pillar of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. It is the biggest square of all the Kremlin squares, and was the site of the so-called Prikazy (Offices), which is more or less equivalent of today’s Ministries. Public announcements of various decisions of the state were made there.

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Sobornaya Square

At the very centre of the Kremlin is the Cathedral square, which used to be the junction of all the main streets of the Kremlin. On this square there are the big cathedrals of the Kremlin. It also used to be the place for official parades that marked the coronations of the tsars, and massed religious processions on church holidays.

Several churches are located here, and some of them are museums or contain exhibitions. In order to enter some of them, a ticket is needed, but into some you could enter without one. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which were for free…

IVAN THE GREAT BELL-TOWER ENSEMBLE

The bell tower Колокольня Ивана Великого is with 81 metres the tallest tower of the Kremlin complex, and it was built in 1508. The tower adjoins the Assumption Belfry. To climb the tower, a separate ticket is needed, and you can only do so at certain times of the day.

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ARCHANGEL’S CATHEDRAL

This cathedral –Архангельский собор / Arkhangelsky sobor – is a burial church of Mosvocite Princes and first tsars of Russia, and it is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, patron of the Russian army. In 1340 Ivan I Danilovich kailta ordered the building of the first stone church on this site, which was the start of the history of the greatest Russian necropolis of the Moscow dynasty of Rurikides and first Romanov tsars. There are more than 50 graves inside the necropolis, also the famous tsar Ivan IV the Terrible. Kind of spooky in there I must say!

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ANNUNCIATION CATHEDRAL

This cathedral – Благовещенский собор / Blagoveschensky sobor – was the private church of Russian grand princes and tsars destined for domestic and familial ceremonies that was founded in 1484. Inside the cathedral is a multi-tier iconostasis which is one of Russia’s oldest. An iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, which is very common in Eastern Christianity.

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CHURCH OF THE DEPOSITION OF THE ROBE OF THE HOLY VIRGIN

The Церковь Ризоположения was a private church of the metropolitans and patriarchs of Moscow and of all Russia, erected in 1484. Inside the small church is an exhibition of Russian wooden sculptures and carvings of the 15th – 19th century from the great cultural centres Moscow, Novgorod, Rostov, and Russian North.

 

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The tiny one between the big building & church

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I’m not too sure to which church this belongs to…

ASSUMPTION CATHEDRAL

The Успенский Собор / Uspensky sobor was the main cathedral of the tsardom of Russia, burial place of Moscow Metropolitans and Patriarchs. The cathedral was linked with the most important events in Russia such as the coronation of the Grand princes and tsars. Several Metropolitans are buried there.

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PATRIARCH’S PALACE

The palace was founded in the 16th century during the reign of Fyodor I. The patriarchate was established in 1589 when the Metropolitan Holy Hierarch Job was chosen without waiting for an approval from Constantinople, making it a complete independent entity. Inside the Patriarch’s palace is also the private church of Russian Patriarchs, which was dedicated to the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles. Now, the patriarch’s palace is part of the museum, dedicated to the Russian 17th century culture, where you can see objects of worship and everyday life that belonged to the Patriarchs or to the Tsar’s family members.

 

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This is the Tsar Bell, also known as Tsarsky Kolokol or Royal Bell, that is displayed near the church square. It was commissioned by the Empress Anna Ivanovna but it has never been in working order, suspended, or rung. The reason why it is displayed there is that before the last ornamentation was completed, a major fire broke out that spread to the wooden support structure of the bell. Guards threw cold water on it as they feared damage and a huge 10 ton (!!!) slab broke off.
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A fun little story.
We were walking on the grounds trying to find the second exit/entrance of the Kremlin. I tried to find our location on Google Maps but my phone couldn’t find our location. I didn’t think much of it, I just thought that my phone wasn’t working as it was quite cold outside. Later that day I stumbled upon this interesting article from the Moscow times that explains that geolocation inside the Kremlin isn’t working due to a transmitter that spoofs the signals, and devices think that the current location is Vnukovo airport. So now all the pictures that I took near there have the geotag of Vnukovo airport… :D
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Other entrance/exit

Even though that our start was rather annoying (buying tickets), but you just have to get used to such things in Russia when you are a foreigner. Also, I had the feeling that some of the churches just look the same from the inside, but I am just not used to iconostasis and I am not really into religion in general. I just admire the architecture and the art itself. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. The Kremlin complex is vast, beautiful and interesting. I could have spent more time there, but the cold weather (and other plans that we had) unfortunately prevented us from spending the whole day there.

The second Kremlin of Moscow.

 

A ‘Kremlin’ is not only the Moscow Kremlin, but it is actually just the word for a major fortified central complex that is found in historic Russian cities (but also in some others such as Kiev). Within this citadel-like area there used to be important buildings such as the armoury, churches, and administration. Kremlins were mainly built on hills near rivers, and around the kremlin the ‘посад’ (posad) emerged – more or less a suburb for craftsmen. The first Russian kremlins were wooden, and due to fires, wars and destruction in general, none of them survived until today. Only some later kremlins that were built of stone survived the passing of time.

On a rather cold and windy Sunday afternoon a few friends and I decided to take the metro and pay a visit to the ‘second’ Kremlin of Moscow. We were actually lucky as during our stay there the sun came out and it turned out to be the perfect day for spending some time outside. It was still a bit cold, though. ;)

The (rather fake) Kremlin in Izmailovo

This ‘kremlin’ – Кремль в Измайлово – is a cultural complex that was actually founded and established in the early 2000s and is a place for entertainment and culture. So yes, it is not a real Kremlin (in my eyes), especially when you compare it to the (real) Moscow Kremlin. The mission of the cultural complex is to revive Russian family traditions. Open craft workshops are held there for both children and adults, several museums can be found within the complex (eg. Vodka museum?!, bread museum, chocolate museum, Russian toy museum). There is much space for celebrations, there are a few cozy coffee places, and there is even something like a wedding chapel there. Also on the grounds of the Kremlin the famous ‘Izamilovo Vernissage’ was formed – a market for art, antiques, books, traditional Russian crafts, and of course souvenirs.

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When you go there (by metro) you actually enter the vernissage first and reach the Kremlin later, but it is also possible to walk around and enter it via a bridge with a beautiful view at the complex.

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A church dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra, the patron of crafts and trade, was erected in the center of the kremlin.

An interesting story – there was a fire at the Kremlin in Izmailovo in 2005, and both the kremlin and the adjacent ‘vernissage’ suffered enormous damage, but the fire more or less stopped before reaching the church, not daring to encroach the ‘sacred’ building.

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Izmailovo Vernissage 

This ‘Vernissage’ is a huge exhibition-fair of products and objects of art and craft that opened 25 years ago. It developed into a multi-purpose complex which purpose it is to maintain and develop Russian culture, crafts, and traditions.

Part of it resembles more like a flea market, whereas others are just dedicated to selling tourist stuff such as матрёшка (Matryoshka dolls). The vendors of the tourist section can ‘speak’ many common languages such as English, German or Spanish, and it is even possible to haggle over the prices. Some of the tourist things are really cheap in comparison to the ones that you find in the city centre.

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Entrance to the market (vernissage)

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Cold War chess set

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At one point of the market (between the tourist area and the flea maket) we found a staircase that we just climbed. We were pretty sure that we weren’t supposed to do this, but no one stopped us or said anything to us, so we could actually have a good view over the market and the surroundings of the area. In general I had the feeling that this area wasn’t the nicest one, and even though that the market/kremlin was more or less newly built, the surroundings were either still under construction, or just ignored.

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Some of the things they sell werde really strange – we saw so many license plates from ‘around the world’, and other random crap. But that’s just the charm of a good flea market!

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Even though the place screamed ‘tourist trap’ and the in my opinion the Kremlin in Izmailovo is not a real real Kremlin, it was still very very beautiful to look at. Especially walking through the (flea) market was super interesting. I would have bought a few interesting things if I didn’t have the problem of a suitcase weight limit…

 

Parks and Recreation: Kolomenskoye

I have already reported in my first edition of ‘Parks and Recreation’ in Moscow that the city offers a great amount of parks and places where Muscovites and non-locals can enjoy their free time and just have a stroll. In this edition I will share my trip  to another grand park/estate here in Moscow – Kolomenskoye (Коло́менское).

The 390 hectare park is located in the southeast of Moscow on the ancient road that leads to Kolomna (hence the name). The former royal estate overlooks the Moskva River. The village of Kolomenskoye was first named in a testament in 1339. It was founded by refugees from Kolomna, a city not far from Moscow. However, pre-Slavic civilisations dating back over 2,500 years have been found in this area. Between the 15th and 17th century the village transformed into a favourite country residency of a Grand Prince and several Tsars such as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, or Alexander I.

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In 1923 was the Museum of Wooden Architecture was founded in Kolomenskoye. Various wooden architecture examples were brought to the museum from all across the country, for example Peter the Great’s little house from Arkhangelsk. People were still living in Kolomenskoye as it remained a normal village, that became part of Moscow in the 1960s. Only after 1985 the villagers were resettled and it became the museum and park complex that it is now.

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Probably the most noticeable and famous building is a great white church in the middle of the park. The Ascension church was built in 1532 in order to commemorate the birth of an heir to the throne – the future Ivan the Terrible. The church is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage monument. Right next to the Ascension church are other ‘old’ buildings – the St. George the Victorious Bell Tower (16th century), the Water Tower (17th cent.) and the Hunting Pavilion (19th).

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Another beautiful building in the park is the Church of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan. It served as a family temple for royalties and is devoted to the Our Lady of Kazan icon, one of the most respected icons in Russia. This church was built in the 1630s, first as a wooden church and two decades later replaced with a brick one. It has the typical domes and plenty of gold which is a very familiar image of Russian religion.

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What also really struck me was that the Moskva river is really beautiful here. You can take a stroll along the riverbank and have a beautiful view over parts of Moscow.

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At one end of the park is the reconstructed palace of Tsar Alexis I, representing beautiful Russian architecture from the 17th century. Tsar Alexis I had all the previous wooden structures demolished and replaced with a new great wooden palace in the 17th century. Due to its fairytale roofs foreigners referred to this palace as an ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. During Peter the Great’s reign the court was moved from Moscow to St.Petersburg, as a result the palace fell into disrepair and was demolished at the end of the 18th century. Luckily, detailed plans of the original palace survived so it was reconstructed in 2010.

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Actually, I have been there twice – once during the day and once in the late afternoon/early evening. So I also got to see the park during that special time of the day that I really really like! Especially when the sky turns pink/violet.

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The park is really huge and there is a lot to see and do. There are playgrounds, cafés and other recreational activities offered. However, there is also more than enough space to find tranquility and solitude – something that is often needed in a megapolis such as Moscow. It is the perfect place for people who want to escape the big city noise. I definitely want to go there again when there is snow – I’ve heard that it is beautiful and quiet place to be during winter.


General information about the park:
The park is open daily from 8am to 9pm – free entrance to the park, small fee for the some sights to see the inside. To get there you just take the metro to Kolomenskaya Station, from which it is a ten-minute walk.