Just people’s kindness is worth the travel

The taxi driver who picked me up from the airport offered me a cigarette. I don’t smoke but I thanked him.

This man sitting opposite me on the train had a food box with two spoons. The second spoon was for me. I don’t eat meat so I had to refuse, but I smiled.

There was a group of young people in the restaurant last night who were drinking vodka, and invited me to join for a glass or two.

When I was on the plane on the way here, I was lucky to get three seats just for myself and got a good night sleep. When I woke up, I realized that someone had put a blanket on me.

This had happened also on the night train a few days later. It wasn’t cold on the train, but I was thankful a stranger had thought of me.

I’m now travelling in an absurdly overcrowded mini-van. It’s not comfortable at all, but I’m so happy I’m smiling. The woman next to me smiles back, showing a range of golden teeth.

My well-travelled suitcase has a broken wheel. I’m struggling moving it on the streets, and I see locals make fun at me. I smile back.

Just these smiles, just this kindness of strangers; it is totally worth the travel.

Notes taken on a day travelling in Kazakhstan, December 2016.

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Stalin’s Seven Sisters

Unmistakably Soviet symbols of Stalin’s megalomania… Visible proof of Stalin propaganda’s shift to nationalistic patriotism after the Second World War… And maybe even phallic metaphors of Stalin’s quest for recognition…

The Seven Sisters are seven skyscrapers that were built just after the war (when the Soviet Union in ruins had nothing better to do…) as a response to Stalin’s concern that foreign visitors would not be too impressed when visiting the Soviet capital.

They are still standing there, glorious and pompous. More tall buildings have grown around them including the super modern towers of Moscow City, but they are still a key part of Moscow’s urban landscape.

KOTELNICHESKAYA EMBANKMENT BUILDING (halfway between Kitay Gorod and Taganskaya)

This is my favourite Stalin Sister, perhaps because it’s so central and clear. It’s an appartment building and I’m dreaming of living on one of the top floors!

Photo September 2017

MOSCOW UNIVERSITY (metro Universitet)

This one is iconic, with its giant star at the top. Non less stereotypical is that gulag labourers were involved in its construction…

Picture February 2010

UKRAINA HOTEL (metro Kievskaya)

Now a Radisson hotel, this one is open to visitors and the entrance hall is really impressive, with a fabulous Revolution painting on the ceiling. Radisson has a ship that sails the Moskva river which can be a great way to see more of Moscow.

Photo July 2016
Ceiling painting inside the hall. Photo July 2016

LENINGRADSKAYA HOTEL (metro Komsomolskaya)

Another hotel, a Hilton this time but the Soviet name is still written on its top, this one has a distinguished, more feminine look because of its pinkish colours.

Photo July 2016

KUNDRINSKAYA SQUARE (metro Barrikadnaya)

What I love about this one is the grace of its decorations and spires. Unlike all other Sisters, it also has a little garden with a fontain at its foot, which makes it a pleasant place to stop for ice cream.

 

Photo July 2016

KRASNYE VOROTA BUILDING (metro Krasnye Vorota)

White and inmaculate like the Soviet regime, this one has a beautiful hammer and sickle sign at the top of its base.

Photo July 2016
Photo July 2016

MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (metro Smolenskaya)

And last but not least, this wonderful building inspired by the big American skyscrapers of the 20th century is not so delicately decorated, but so massive that it makes the Empire State Building look quite skinny. That’s Soviet generosity…

Photo September 2017

100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution… The authorities have closed Red Square

The October Revolution took place on 7 November 1917, exactly a hundred years ago, but the anniversary won’t be celebrated in Russia.

There has been a lot of discussions in the past few days whether this is right or not, published in media of all sorts like these vox pops from the Moscow Times, and Russians don’t seem to agree on the question.

Red Square this morning. Closed.

Well, the authorities have made it easier for all: this morning in Moscow, Red Square is closed, and surrounded by a whole lot of regular police, riot police, and horse police.

The message is clear.

Disappointed locals and tourists.

I had decided today would be a good day to finally take the time and go to Red Square to pay homage to Vladimir Ilitch Lenin whose dead body has been kept here for 93 years. But the Russian authorities didn’t let me in.

So I did what is always allowed in Russia, and even recommended: I went to the underground shopping mall underneath Red Square, and got my nails done. In Red, of course.

100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution D-1… craft beer with KGB view

The October Revolution took place on 7 November 1917, exactly a hundred years ago in 3 days, but the anniversary won’t be celebrated in Russia.

At this occasion, I’m showing you how much Russia has moved on. Whilst there are still tired Soviet symbols everywhere in the country, clearly the grass has regrown and these symbols have lost all meaning, becoming just a background for a new society.

This is how recently a craft beer place opened its doors in a 6th floor on Lubyanka square with outdoor terrace just across the haunted KGB headquarters.

This place where endless innocent soups were tortured and forced to confess uncommitted crimes before disappearing to hundreds of prisons and gulag camps under Stalin times, is now just a pretty building you can admire whilst you sip your double IPA. Cheers!

Craft beer from local Jaws brewery with KGB headquarters in the background.

100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution D-2… They’ve replaced Lenin by Jesus!

The October Revolution took place on 7 November 1917, exactly a hundred years ago in 2 days, but the anniversary won’t be celebrated in Russia.

At this occasion, I’m showing you how much Russia has moved on. Whilst there are still tired Soviet symbols everywhere in the country, clearly the grass has regrown and these symbols have lost all meaning, becoming just a background for a new society.

In Magadan, in Far-East Russia, there used to be a square with a big Lenin statue, like in every town of the USSR. It was at the heart of Magadan, in its most central neighbourhood.

Things started to change in 1985 when a huge Orthodox Cathedral was built.

A big Lenin statue looking towards an Orthodox Cathedral, that was a bit funny, wasn’t it?

Lenin has to be removed and this took a while but finally happened in 2010. And they replaced it by a statue of Saint Innocent of Alaska.

In Russia, you can’t just remove a Lenin and make it disappear; this is a delicate subject. Best case scenario, you move Lenin to a further spot somewhere in town; and in Magadan, they chose to place him… by the KGB headquarters.

Poor Lenin…!

The Orthodox Cathedral in Magadan. During 25 years, Lenin was standing here and forced to look at this religious building.
Lenin is now somewhere else in town, just by the KGB building (the one you can see on this photo)
Instead of Lenin now stands this statue of an Orthodox saint, Innocent of Alaska.

This is how a religion slowly replaced another!

100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution D-3… Poor Karl Marx

The October Revolution took place on 7 November 1917, exactly a hundred years ago in 3 days, but the anniversary won’t be celebrated in Russia.

At this occasion, I’m showing you how much Russia has moved on. Whilst there are still tired Soviet symbols everywhere in the country, clearly the grass has regrown and these symbols have lost all meaning, becoming just a background for a new society.

There is a massive statue of Karl Marx in Teatralnaya Square, in the heart of Moscow. It shows Karl leaning on a big stone that bears the inscription “Proletarians of all countries, unite”
But Teatralnaya has finally been renovated and is now the theatre of many street activities and street markets. Karl Marx now stands at the heart of the consumption society…