Boy, Do Mosquitoes Suck!

August 8, 2008

This morning, when I opened my fridge there was a mosquito, chilling out. How they get into my apartment in the first place is beyond me. Mosquito screens on the windows, mosquito detector on the door, mosquito check-ups every hour and yet every night they have themselves a feast and I have itchy patches on my arse.
Still I don’t suffer half as much as does my wife.
Which brings me to the point: I am Russian, she is English, we sleep next to each other, mosquitoes mostly bite her and I get a raincheck.

Do Russian mosquitoes prefer foreign blood over domestic? After all many Russian consumers have passion for foreign brands. Maybe Russian mosquitoes are communists? Many supporters of the old times are still about, you see them now and then gathering around statues of the forefather of Russia’s communist revolution.

Of course, when it comes to Lenin, nothing can beat the Mausoleum. When Solzhenitsin died I was half expecting headlines like “Body of celebrated dissident is set to replace Lenin in Red Square” and such. After all, many streets have gone back to their pre-revolutionary names and the imperial eagle has replaced the hammer and sickle.
However, speculative name changing and the replacement of a relic are not even in the same league, so I guess the swap is never going to stick. And rightfully so. The communist past is an important part of Russian history and a fascinating one at that.
The revolution, the Stalin years and the grim conflict of the Second World War all have inspired many talented architects and sculptors and left behind many landmarks.
When in town, check out Victory Monument on Ploshchad Pobedy. It’s dedicated to the victims of Leningrad’s Siege and the heroic defenders of the city. Sculptures of soldiers, partisans, sailors and workers surround a 48-m high obelisk. There is an underpass leading to the Memorial Hall. Solemn music, subdued lightning and the persistent beat of a metronome create an atmosphere to compliment a display of artifacts that records the war effort of Russian people.

Of all crimes against humanity war has to be the most serious one. Do people like George Bush realize that once they give their troops the go-ahead many sections of the community that are not supposed to be involved in the action will suffer a knock-on effect? These people are not soldiers, they did not sign-up and dying is not part of their job description.

The Siege of Leningrad lasted 900 days and lead to death of 2 million people, half of them civilians. Ost-West Kontaktservice offers an excellent guided tour designed to introduce you to the Museum of the Siege,”Piskarevskoe” Memorial Cemetery and “The Flower of Life” - a particularly disturbing monument as it commemorates the city’s many children who lost their lives during this tragic event.

Filed under: Sightseeing in St. Petersburg
Tags: , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 5:23 pm

Picking Off Pet Pooches

August 6, 2008

As I was coming out of the off-licence at about ten in the evening a group of dogs passed me and disappeared into the courtyard. I swear one of them sized me up but decided against whatever intentions it had on its mind. The incident left me wondering how long is it going to be before the boundary installed through the years of master/pet relationships will be forgotten and finally crossed.

Tehran had a similar problem in the late 70s. Stray dogs were roaming the streets forming violent packs. At nighttime it was not advised to walk on your own, particularly if you were a small child and could be easily carried off.

Saying all this, I somehow doubt that in Russia they might fail to deal with such a problem in the most efficient way. Likely there wont be any lack of wanna-be hunters willing to come out with their unlicensed rifles to shoot bad dogs and save the world.

In fact I wish they would start now by shooting dog-owners who don’t clean their pet’s mess. This is an outrage. Please, put your hand up if you never stepped into a pile of a dog poo on the pavement. Then you either did not live here long enough or you are a newborn baby and you don’t count.

However filthy the streets of St. Petersburg may be, they are still well worth walking, as many of them are historical sights themselves. A glance at a map reveals that a good attempt was made to bestow the city with an organized layout practically made for easily negotiable walks. In some areas around the centre everything is so close together that getting around on foot is the most rewarding way to explore and appreciate many fascinating architectural and sculptural details.

Citizens of St. Petersburg are fond of walking. On a fine day people of all ages are promenading up and down Nevskiy Prospekt or emerge into the parks and gardens. The Summer Gardens and Mikhaylovskiy Gardens offer excellent recreational opportunities as well as a superb scenery.

If you are looking for a romantic time try Palace Embankment at 2 a.m. during the White Nights. A stroll along the Moika or Griboedov Canal will take you away from the busy traffic of Nevskiy Prospekt and introduce you to some lovely residential areas of the city centre.
Excellent St. Petersburg walking tours in English, German and other languages are bookable anytime through Ost-West Kontaktservice. But please do note: during the high season (between May and September) this ever so popular service best be arranged well in advance.

Filed under: Sightseeing in St. Petersburg
Tags: , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 4:17 pm

Never Talk To Strangers

August 1, 2008

Russian underground network known as the Metro is cheap, reliable and gets you places fast - a bit like Tesco’s own brand lager. It is also crowded, full of the most terrible smells and has the worst light possible - people look hundreds of years old. Soviet engineers were striving to create the most comfortable conditions for passengers and failed miserably, while self-indulgent architects responsible for the Metro luxury interior succeeded and many stations represent significant landmarks.

I know somebody who works for the London underground. He is a keen photographer too. When in St. Petersburg he was well impressed with the Metro. His natural instinct was to draw his camera and take few quick snaps of the inside. A man dressed in a dark uniform came to his side and gently tugged on his sleeve. They talked. At the time I was there trapped in a two-dimensional continuum of the world of used stationery, unable to talk and invisible but able to see and hear everything. The man in a dark uniform said: “You does not have rite to photography. It is illegal. You go to prison!” “Tell ‘im to #&£$-off!” I shouted but to no avail. You see, once they get you talking to them, they may produce all sorts of papers saying it is against the legislation to do whatever you were doing and jail is awaiting you unless you pay a reasonable fine. Which is likely to be all the cash you got on you. The trick is to stay ignorant, not to respond and walk away. But do it with style. It helps if you are physically stronger than your opponent.

Some factual things about the Metro in St. Petersburg:
Its alive between 5.30 in a morning and 12.30 a.m.
It has four lines. They run from the outskirts through the centre. There they all intersect at one of the main stations.
The means of paying are either tokens (good for one journey) or magnetic cards (valid for ten or more journeys). Both purchasable at the station. Once you have paid your fare you may stay on the Metro as long as you need or want. Once you get off, you need to pay again - a bit like in New York.

All signs are in Russian, so are all announcements. To navigate efficiently within the metro get yourself one of network maps displaying the Cyrillic and transliterated names to hand.
Some stations have open platforms and some have concourses with safety doors. These open when the train comes to the platform.
As the train approaches a stop, the name of the station, changes for another line (if any) and the name of the next station will be announced. However, if you don’t speak the language you’re not likely to catch on, its best to keep count of the stops or check against the wall map inside your train car.
Please note, there is an attendant in a form of stern “babushka” sitting in a booth at the bottom of each escalator. You better be on your best behavior mate, or she will yell at you!

That be it for now. Remember to stand clear of the doors.

Filed under: Russia - everyday life, St. Petersburg — Everyday Life
Tags: , , , , , , , — sasha @ 4:54 pm

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