Be brave, was what I went to bed thinking last night. Go on, be brave.
I hate running where other people can see me, unless swallowed in a crowd, and have done for as long as I remember. In a city that is notorious for avoiding outdoor exercise, I felt intimidated by the mere idea of heading out for a run, which added to the concerns I had felt in London about my personal safety and what to carry with me, and where to go that was not a main street. But I knew that I would regret it if I let myself talk myself into a corner of fear.
So yesterday I looked up the nearest park (Park Pobedy, Victory Park) and this morning at the early time of 6.30 I headed outside to ‘pound the pavement’. I had calculated that this would be early enough to avoid most people, and yet light enough to guarantee that I would not get lost, and would see anyone approaching. It was also a nice temperature, bearing in mind that I had to take my softshell coat in order to transport the strange key/fob concoction that we have to get us into buildings. Plus I kinda wanted to bring my phone, in case the park turned out to be cool.
I don’t know how I managed to be oblivious, but this park is designed to be cool. Maybe not cool, but grand at least. The Victory park is full of monuments, a museum, etc all devoted to celebrating the victory over the Nazis in World War II, here known as the great patriotic war. I jogged around with frequent stops, taking in all of the different images that I had seen in books and articles. [Some are found here, please ignore the poor quality of these shots, they are designed to give you all an idea what I am talking about, not be artistic- I was on a run, and the weather/flat lighting was not conducive to beautiful mobile phone images.]
On my way around the park I was suddenly surprised with a large metal fence, on which there was a sign which read ‘Fortification and Weaponry Exhibition’. I began to follow this fence through the soldier- pine forest where every tree was aligned, until I realised I was running straight towards two tall and burly soldiers, complete with rifles.
I was surprised to find a few other runners, intelligently sticking to the designated, non-patrolled paths on the rest of my run. Granted, they were both male and clearly in or above their 40s, but other runners were a comforting sight nonetheless.
For the rest of the day, Katie, Rachel, and I had planned to go food shopping (back where the pans were found), and then wander around Gorky Park towards the centre of Moscow. I believe I should warn you here that in my personal journal, the shopping trip was documented in full detail over four pages. I was perhaps far too interested in the types of food, the packaging, the variety, the way you go about buying them…
One thing that definitely shocked all of us was the presence of a Shark. I didn’t actually determine if the shark was on sale, but the animal was on a bed of ice alongside all sorts of different (creeepy) fish. For those of you that know me well, it will come of no surprise that I hurried away promptly after taking a picture, and that I expect to have fish related nightmares tonight…
A comment on the ban of European and American foodstuffs. I didn’t actually read the government statement on what exactly would be banned (perhaps I should have), but it was very clear that a lot of branded goods were still on the market. Just as an example, my grandparents’ favourite Danish butter cookies are clearly on display, right next to the Russian-packaged belvita breakfast biscuits which I’ve seen many a time in the UK. In fact, we got the impression that all long lasting, branded food was still available (Haagen Daas, anyone?), it’s only the fruit and fresh produce that hasn’t arrived. And that was noticeable. Particularly in the cheese isle, where half of the shelves were empty and all of the cheeses were labelled Belarussian, Russian or some other non-banned country. On that note, I still have to find a Russian cheese which suits my tastes… I have however found a beetroot and horseradish spread which is similar to one available in Germany which I was introduced to last year. Very delicious!
I have somewhat less to say about the exploratory walk around Gorky Park, perhaps because I was already getting tired and hungry at that point. I also felt like everything was disjointed in the park- like they had tried to cram all sorts of ideas into too small a place. The idea of having super large beanbags to chill in was great, and the bicycle rental was very appealing, but the small, manicured part of the park did not inspire me to new artistic heights, or increased love for the place. I did enjoy a GYNORMOUS statue of Tsar Peter the Great, though, which stands looking over the Moskva river. The statue (apparently considered an abomination by many) is a crazy 99 meters tall, imposing and yet like a caricature at the same time.
We also got a different view of the Kremlin and of a few of the ‘seven sisters’, large, gothic style skyscrapers built in Stalin’s time, from the bridge as we crossed towards the heart of the city. This I think was one of the more beautiful views, as the disjointed architecture seemed to find some sort of harmonic melody, when usually it does not.
I am considering exploring some more tomorrow, but we have a few hours of Russian language lessons again, so I may put it off in favour of concentrating on that. Friday, however, we are intending to get slightly further out of Moscow, and visit Catherine the Great’s abandoned summer villa, now called Tsaritsnaya. Should be grandiose and beautiful, although the grey weather seems set to stay for the foreseeable future.