Stray Dogs, Runners, and a Palace fit for a Tsar

It’s been a busy two days.

Yesterday our Russian language class continued, we picked up our Student ID cards (which look waay coool) and wandered through the Arbatskaya region after making our way there from our Faculty (ie, beginning to understand where everything is located in relation to each other).

Casual Lenin statue on our way into town
Casual Lenin statue on our way into town

The trip to the Arbat was chosen especially because it featured so much in our Russian text book last year. It was a slight disappointment. The book had marketed it as the quinticential market street of Moscow, and so I expected narrow cobbled streets with old buildings and a mosaic of cafes, stores and knicknack shops. Granted, I should have remembered from ‘Red Fortress’ (see my blog here) that nothing in Moscow is really ‘old’. But still, I had expected something with more character than the concrete buildings which loomed out at me.

Aside: at this point I was somewhat weary, so potentially that clouded my experience as well.

We had a quiet evening at the dorm, Katie and I decided to test more Russian chocolate (part of experiencing the local cuisine and all that….) and then hit the hay at a reasonable time. It was partially because I was off for another run this morning, this time twice the distance to Gory park, which is south of the River. It proved a real adventure to get there, starting with a stray dog barking and following me (I ended up finding six stray dogs in total) as well as running along a (slightly inclined and therefore somewhat painful) path along a six-lane road.

The path itself was breathtaking. The sun was slowly coming up to reveal what turned into a gorgeous day, and I enjoyed the fresh air and the distance from traffic. I plodded along and even found many other runners- so many that I lost count, which was a very, very pleasant surprise. These runners all nodded or smiled in my direction, and I realised again how silly my fears of appearing odd by running in this city are. Below find some of my mobile ‘snapshots’ that I took on my jaunt, as well as some pictures from the stunning Tsaritsyno park, where we went in the afternoon.

Tsaritsyno park was built for Empress Katherine the Great, and was intended to be the summer residence near Moscow, so she had somewhere to stay and a reason to visit more frequently. What we actually saw today was the renovated version (opened 2007), and the entire park, as our tourguide said, was an exercise in making the artificial look natural and the natural artificial. The ponds are man made, the trees imported, even from Siberia, and the architecture designed to make the whole park seem harmonious and reflect the ‘nature’ around it. Katherine herself never actually lived in the structures we saw, rather she lived in  a wooden complex for a few weeks on the site, before deciding (for unknown, and probably multiple reasons) to tear down the first palace that was being built, fire the architect and begin work on the second (the one which stands restored on the grounds today- although it too is unfinished acording to the architect’s plans- this time because her son decided to cancel the construction).

Now the park is a place for people to enjoy, both as a concert hall, a museum, and open park space with bike and boat rental. We observed that it was particularly loved by newly weds, who were there in DOZENS, all taking photographs with the buildings and picturesque landscape. I have included a shot of one of these couples, who annoyingly continued to turn up on our way, and had such forced smiles by the end, I wondered why they bothered. Not only newlyweds were around, though. Again I found some runners, and parents took their children to give them some fresh air.

We did not dress up (I imagine that might happen at some other point in time, it only costs 200 roubles to pretend to be a courtly lady…) and we didnt see the crockery and doll collection in the second building (I believe it was inteded to be the kitchen rooms), but we did marvel at some really interesting tapestries, in an exhibit which contrasted medieval and USSR tapestries. Again, you can see my favorites in the snapshots- I especially liked that many of them were ‘3d’, in the sense that hair or textures came out of the tapestry in strands, imitating actual hair.

By our return home today, I had again walked roughly 25 km, so  I think that is more than enough for today. The people on our corridor have decided to organise a small meeting (with pancakes), which I will in no way willingly pass up, but it might be an early night again- tomorrow is my first Russian Park Run!


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