Tag Archives: Russia

On This Day – The Moscow Metro

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 26th May 2012 I was underground on a tour of the Moscow Metro…

Moscow Metro

Whilst visitors to London would be unlikely to consider the ‘Tube’ to be a tourist attraction, in Moscow the Metro is a ‘must visit’ place and not just for getting around the city because each station has a unique design using elaborate decorations and materials from all over the country.

Read The Full Story…

Click on an image to scroll through a Gallery of the stations…

European Capital of Culture 2011 – Tallinn

tallinn-unesco-08-08-2013

Before dining however we walked through to the opposite side of town and along the ‘wall of woolens’, so called because here there were more market stalls cut into the arches of the original city wall and then we were tempted to part with thirty Eeks each to climb to the top of the tower for a two hundred metre elevated walk looking down over the rooftops and the narrow medieval streets below.

Back at street level we wandered down the delightful St Catherine’s Passage in between fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings where artisans and craftsmen and women were preserving medieval crafts such as glass blowing, intricate iron work, jewellery and leather work.  At  the end of the passage was a basement restaurant where we stopped for a bowl of soup and a glass of beer and we successfully negotiated the potential crisis moment when Sue and Christine both found something on the menu that they could order with confidence and enjoy.

Tallinn Estonia Old Town

By mid afternoon when we left the subterranean restaurant it was already starting to get dark because thanks to the ‘polar night’ phenomenon, in the Winter, Tallinn, on the same line of latitude as the Shetland Isles, enjoys only a few short hours of daylight. It has late sunrises and early sunsets, which creates incredibly short days and endlessly long nights.  On an overcast day like today the effect was even worse and it is little wonder that Tallinners have been known to have a tendency toward seasonal depression as a result.

We needed some beers and a bottle of wine but we didn’t pass any shops so as it was still early Mike and I walked around the city ring road in search of a mini market.  The route we chose took us towards the railway station and this wasn’t any real surprise because is a railway man by profession and enthusiasm and after about a kilometre or so we were outside the ticket office and an impressive Soviet Steam Engine, the L2317, a 2-10-0 locomotive built in 1953 in Russia at a factory in the Moscow railway suburb city of Kolomna.

The Russian L-series locomotives were one of the more advanced steam locomotives built in the former Soviet Union.   It was a mighty black iron beast with red wheels of almost ninety tonnes that really deserved a name rather than just a number, which during its working life pulled mostly freight trains between Russia and Estonia and after it was decommissioned was rather ignominiously used as a static boiler to heat nearby houses.

It has been externally restored now and sits tall and proud outside the railway station, which was where we went next.

Tallinn Russian Railway Engine Soviet Steam Engine L2317

We were now in the working part of the city and a long way from the Christmas market and the students dressed in medieval costumes and the overpriced restaurants.

The station felt tired and past its best and next to it was a tram station that conjured up dreary images of the old days of the Soviet Empire and what was surprising was that the passengers on board looked grey and tired and firmly locked permanently into a 1960s Tallinn time warp.  The trams whirred and screeched and sounded bells to warn of their approach as they drew up and pulled off, setting down and picking up and clattering away again between the rows of old wooden houses and out towards the proletarian flats of the city suburbs.

Next to the station in an ugly 1970s concrete shopping mall we came across a two-story traditional food market selling fish, meat, vegetables and everything for the working class weekly shop.  Everything that is apart from alcohol so we were about to give up when we came across a small kiosk with cans of Estonian beer in the fridge and a screw cap bottle of blossom hill red wine.  Not exactly traditional but without a corkscrew we were severely limited for choice.

Later we all met up in reception and wrapped up in hats, scarves and thermal gloves walked back into town making our way past the skating rink that we decided to leave until tomorrow, towards the Raekoja Plats where we were surprised to find the market closed.  It was only eight o’clock and I would have thought a Times listed top twenty Christmas market would still be open in the evening.

We dealt with the disappointment as best we could and then began the search for a suitable eating establishment.  We didn’t take too long over this and agreed upon one of the medieval banquet houses, the Peppersack, that was located in an old building not far from the Town Hall Square.  There was a good menu of hearty food and we enjoyed meat skewers and fillets and best of all plenty of Estonian beer and wine to wash it all down.

All we needed now was some snow but sadly there was none as we left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel with the objective of a final nightcap.  There was no hope of that at the Von Stackleberg because the bar was closed so we wandered across the road instead to a modern glitzy hotel that was still open, and our final drink and made our day one assessment of Tallinn, which we agreed we all liked, before calling it a day and agreeing to meet at nine o’clock in the morning for breakfast.

Tallinn Christmas

Tallinn Christmas Market

Tallinn Estonia Old Town

On account of the grey skies we wrapped up in an appropriate way to tackle the bleak weather and set off for the old town and we retraced our steps from the previous night and repeated our visits to the viewing platforms overlooking the Baltic and the islands.

With one of the most completely preserved medieval cities in Europe, the seacoast capital of Tallinn is a rare jewel in the north of Europe and a city fully worthy of being on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

It was once a medieval Hanseatic town and for long periods in history dominated by the Germans, the Swedes and the Russians and even today contains lots of influence from those days but as we walked we could tell that there was a uniqueness to the place, a bit like Riga but at only roughly half the size certainly very different.

Coffee Shop in Tallinn

Tallinn is a city with a long and proud tradition dating back to the medieval times and it was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, Valdemar II of Denmark conquered the city, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285.

After joining the League Tallinn enjoyed unprecedented prosperity because its position as a port, a link between mainland Europe and Russia, enabled it to grow rapidly in size and wealth and many of the City’s finest buildings were constructed during this period.  This lasted until the sixteenth century when Sweden moved in and claimed the city and during this time of Swedish rule more fortifications were added and the architecture took on the baroque style of the times.

Just like the previous evening we were confused about how to find our way to the centre of the city not least because where we were was an elevated spot with limited access to the streets of the old town.  We wandered about and corrected ourselves a couple of times before finally walking through a medieval entrance to the city and descending steps behind the city walls before finding ourselves finally at the Raekoja Plats, the Town Hall Square.

tallinn-christmas-market

Here, in the middle of the town we had reached our objective because since 2001, from December through to the end of the first week in January, Tallinn hosts a traditional Christmas market.  This is appropriate because (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) the picturesque Town Hall Square is claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.  This would be a bit like any town in England on New Year’s Eve if the tree wasn’t taken down in advance during the afternoon.

Today the market is included in the Times newspaper top twenty European Christmas markets and here in the square there were more than fifty wooden huts and stalls where visitors and locals were being tempted by (traditional? well maybe) artisan products from all over Estonia.

Tallinn Christmas Market

Surrounding an enormous Christmas tree hung with lights and decorations, the vendors were selling a variety of original products including woolens, felted wool hats and slippers, buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, wickerwork, elaborate quilts, ceramic and glassware, homemade candles, wreaths and other decorations.  Traditional Estonian holiday food was also on the menu such as sauerkraut and blood sausages, hot soups, stir-fries and other seasonal treats such as gingerbread, marzipan, various local honeys, cookies and, best of all, hot mulled wine poured from copious wooden barrels.

Christmas Past

We stopped for a drink and paid over the odds in a restaurant on the edge of the square and then left and walked through the market towards the south side of town.  Here there were men and women dressed in medieval costume handing out lucky coins and trying to encourage us to dine in this or that particular restaurant.  Some of us thought there must be a twist involved and fearing an obligation refused to accept the coins but Kim and I took a chance on a con and took ours and it was all completely innocent of course.

Actually it was approaching lunchtime and therefore, because of the nervousness of finding somewhere that Sue and Christine would approve of, a potential crisis time in a new country with unfamiliar cuisine.  Without Micky the anxiety was all mine and weighed heavily because traditional Estonian Cuisine has developed over centuries with Germanic and Scandinavian influences and some of it is not for the faint hearted and certainly wouldn’t suit Sue’s delicate dining preferences.  For someone who turned her nose up at a plain fish salad in Portugal I was certain that she wouldn’t like sült, a sort of jellied meat dish made from pork bones, trotters and heads, or the marinated eel, Baltic sprats, sauerkraut stew or even the Christmas specialty of verivorst or blood sausage.

There was no real need to worry however because although Estonians speak fondly of their traditional food they are no more likely to eat it on a regular basis than in England we are to order pease pudding, jellied eels or brawn and the according to the menu boards displayed outside the pubs and restaurants had a good selection of acceptable offerings.

Christmas market

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Other Market stories:

La Rochelle

Pula, Croatia

Alghero, Sardinia

Palermo, Sicily

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Varvakios Agora, Athens

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur

Tallinn Christmas Market

Here, in the middle of the town we had reached our objective because since 2001, from December through to the end of the first week in January, Tallinn hosts a traditional Christmas market.

This is appropriate because (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) the picturesque Town Hall Square is claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.  This would be a bit like any town in England on New Year’s Eve if the tree wasn’t taken down in advance during the afternoon as a sensible anti-vandalism precaution.

Read the full story…

Cities of Eastern Europe – Tallinn

Tallinn Estonia Old Town

Back at street level we wandered down the delightful St Catherine’s Passage in between fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings where artisans and craftsmen and women were preserving medieval crafts such as glass blowing, intricate iron work, jewellery and leather work.

At  the end of the passage was a basement restaurant where we stopped for a bowl of soup and a glass of beer and we successfully negotiated the potential crisis moment when Sue and Christine both found something on the menu that they could order with confidence and enjoy.

Read the full story…

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge – The Moscow Metro

Moscow Metro Park Poberdy

The Moscow Metro:

Whilst visitors to London would be unlikely to consider the ‘Tube’ to be a tourist attraction in Moscow the Metro is a ‘must visit’ place and not just for getting around the city because each station has a unique construction using elaborate decorations and materials from all over the country.  Station designs incorporate granite, quartzite, limestone, twenty kinds of marble, semiprecious stones and are decorated with bronze sculptures, majolica panels, stainless steel columns, glittering chandeliers, bas-relief friezes, stained-glass panels, murals, and mosaics.

Moscow MetroMoscow Metro Detail

All lines start in the suburbs of Moscow and converge on the centre and there  is an interesting legend about the origin of the ring line.  A group of engineers met with Stalin to inform him of progress and as he looked at the drawings he poured himself some coffee and spilt a small amount over the edge of the cup. When he was asked whether or not he liked the project so far he put his cup down on the centre of the Metro blueprints and left in silence.  The bottom of the cup left a brown circle on the drawings.  Interpreting this as a sign of Stalin’s genius they gave orders for the building of the ring line, which on the maps is always shown in brown.

On the other hand, brown is also the colour of bullshit!

Moscow Metro

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Getting off of the train was another interesting experience because there was no platform in any sort of fashion that we would recognise and it was necessary to leave the train down steep steps that stopped about fifty centimetres from the tarmac and involved a final jump that only the most able bodied would ever be able to manage.

There were no signs of measures to address disability discrimination here I can tell you.

In fact, on account of the lack of engineering refinements on board, the whole railway journey experience seemed fraught with danger and this was well illustrated by a sign on the heavy metal doors that seemed to indicate that male passengers in particular should be careful not to trap delicate bits of their anatomy in between the closing doors as this could be very, very painful indeed. And to emphasise this the letters can be rearranged into that well-known warning ‘tite bals nastie’.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says

Latvian train Mind The Doors Warning

In fact, on account of the lack of engineering refinements on board, the whole railway journey experience seemed fraught with danger and this was well illustrated by a sign on the heavy metal doors that seemed to indicate that male passengers in particular should be careful not to trap delicate bits of their anatomy in between the closing doors as this could be very, very painful indeed.  And to emphasise this the letters can be rearranged into that well-known warning ‘tite bals nastie’.

Read the full story…

 

Russia, British Airways and Immigration Control

The St Petersburg Times

This was a British Airways flight so there was a level of sophistication to which we have become unaccustomed in our recent travels with the budget airlines and it was nice to be travelling in a civilized way rather than on the Ryanair cattle truck.

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To Russia With Love

I was born in the middle of the 1950s and grew up during the Cold War as Washington and Moscow prepared enthusiastically for wiping each other of the face of the earth.  We lived in fear of the day of nuclear Armageddon when all life on earth could be wiped out by the careless press of a big red button that said “do not press” and as a result of this permanently tense state of international relations the school atlas had a very different map of Europe to how it looks today.

Read the full story…