Noilly Prattle

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Europe Summer 2017: Russia 6 – Horror Story

Saint Petersburg – September 13, 2017

central St. Petersburg
     St. Petersburg didn't get off to a good start.

       Our plan was to stay in St. Petersburg for two weeks, attend some operas and ballets and our son Robin would fly in from Tokyo to join us for a few days.

on board the Sapsan (High Speed Train) Moscow to St. Petersburg
      We boarded the Sapsan (high speed train) at Leningrad Station in Moscow for the 4-hour trip to St Petersburg. Were met, as prearranged, by Leonid, the rental apartment owner, at the station. Before we even left the station he informed us that we had to pay the apartment rent in cash, which we didn't have. We had been negligent, it turned out, and had failed to read the terms of the rental agreement which stated that credit cards were not accepted, cash only.

Ulitsa Dekabristov (our street)
green around the gills
        Leonid was friendly but firmly insistent that we get the cash. He drove us to a bank with a Bankomat (ATM) machine before even going to the apartment at 19 Ulitsa Dekabristov. Spent a very frustrating couple of hours (don't ask why) trying to get cash from the machine. The amount we needed to pay the rent exceeded our daily cap for cash withdrawals. We finally managed to get enough for a down payment, told Leonid that we would contact our bank and increase the cap for the next day. He took us, finally, to our ultramodern apartment. Had to spend the rest of the already latish hour contacting our bank in Japan, by expensive cell phone, and eventually, not without much aggravation, got our cap raised to cover the larger withdrawal needed to pay the rent. We were not in a good mood, overtired, and me with a newly acquired cold. Sleepless night for both, tossing and turning.

ultramodern apartment decor
one of a pair of monkeys
       Next morning, September 14, went back to the bank, accom- panied by Leonid hovering in the wings, and finally managed to get a sizable chunk out of the ATM, but still not enough to cover the full rent. Leonid sent an associate the next morning to take us back to the our by now trusty old Bankomat friend where we finally extracted (something not unlike having a tooth pulled) the balance of the rental fee we still owed. 

apartment kitchen

the other monkey


our apartment building, behind the bus

        Having spent all this time in merely dealing with a cash transaction, we did nearly nothing about getting oriented (except go-rounds to and from the Bankomat) in St. Petersburg. Fortunately we had no shows scheduled until September 15, for the ballet Le Corsaire, at the new Mariinsky Theater. Good thing, actually, since we needed a good rest and night's sleep. Under the weather with a cold and exhaustion, we bought some ingredients at the supermarket down the street for some chicken soup for body and soul prepared in our own (rented) kitchen and stayed in.

sunrise the next morning from living room window - promise of a brighter future

Friday, February 2, 2018

Europe Summer 2017: Russia 5 – the Bolshoi Theater - Большо́й теа́тр


Большо́й теа́тр - Bolshoi Theater
     One of our main reasons, aside from a little sightseeing, in going to Moscow and St. Petersburg was to attend some musical performances at two of Russia's best known theaters, The Bolshoi Большо́й теа́тр in Moscow and The Mariinsky Мариинский театр in St Petersburg. Both theaters present operas but are best know for their superb ballet performances. We had the chance to see some of both at these houses and at other smaller theaters in both cities.

оперетта - OPERETTA

оперетта (operetta)
for Grand Cancan
       Just around the corner from our hotel on Kuznetsy Most there was a music hall in an ordinary building that was distinguished as a theater by a large vertical sign on the side of the building that read, simply оперетта (operetta) and a large marquee over the entrance that read Анна Каренина (Anna Karenina). The show that we attended, however, was not Anna Karenina, based on a tragic story of adultery and suicide by Tolstoy, but a lighthearted grab bag of vaudeville sketches, music, dance, songs, acrobatics and comedy that was called Grand Cancan. It was somewhat reminiscent of turn of 20th Century Paris at the height of the Belle Époque. The operetta was great fun. It was wonderfully relaxing and entertaining being back in the theater after two or more years absence with a lively and enchanting show and professional performances by the talented cast.

 the cast of Grand Cancan taking their bows

Большо́й теа́тр - BOLSHOI THEATER

Orchestra and stage of the Bolshoi Theater
chandelier Bolshoi Theater
       A trip to Moscow would not be complete without attending a performance or two at Большо́й теа́тр (Bolshoi Theater)--Big Theater. There were no ballets, for which the Bolshoi is world famous, while we were in Moscow. We attended a performance of the Russian opera Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky. The subject of the opera is the Russian ruler Boris Godunov who reigned as Tsar during the Time of Troubles from 1598 to 1605. The opera was enjoyable. With a prologue and four acts, it is a bit long but fast paced with three intermissions. There is a certain darkness in many Russian operas and Boris Godunov is no exception. The music was heavy but appropriate for the theme and most of the singers were excellent. The performance had an almost Shakespearean feel, especially the histories, but with music. The bass (Dmitry Ulyanov) who played the title role was excellent both in voice and acting. The story is about a guilt ridden boyar (noble), Boris Godunov, who reluctantly became Tsar during Russia's Time of Troubles and was accused of having usurped the throne by murdering Ivan the Terrible's son, the Tsarovitch Dmitry.

for Boris Godunov
matching clothes and curtains

Dmitri Ulyanov as Boris Godunov

the cast of Boris Godunov taking their bows

       All in all it was an interesting contrast between the light operetta Grand Cancan and the heaviness of the Boris Godunov tragedy in which Godunov, in a very dramatic scene, dies in Act Four.


lower Tverskaya Street (sans 870 Festivities)
       In order to work off our somber mood after Boris Godunov, we strolled around nighttime Moscow and got a different perspective from daytime Moscow. Like most very big cities, Moscow is better looking at night than in the daytime.

The Kremlin - entrance to Red Square - left

Kremlin Wall - Troitskaya Tower
guardian angel?

bar on Kuznetsky Most

Tsum Department Store

statue of Sergei Prokoviev
cafe on Kuznetsky Most

Большо́й теа́тр (Bolshoi Theater Square)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Europe Summer 2017: Russia 4 – party time on Tverskaya

Moscow 870
     As I mentioned in a previous post, I was dismayed by the temporary structures erected in Red Square for the Moscow 870 Festival since they spoiled the view of Red Square. But on the flip side of the coin the festival was an animated and enjoyable event—it was like a huge birthday party. The main street in Moscow, a kind of Broadway, is called Tverskaya Street. It begins at the Kremlin and shoots off to the northwest for I don't know how far.

       On returning from a visit to the Kremlin we noticed a lot of activity putting up temporary structures all along the center of Tverskaya as far as the eye could see. They were setting up the street for a two-day event as part of the Mokscow 870 Festival celebrations. Of course, we determined to go and have a look the following day.

Tverskaya Street - Moscow 870 Festival

classical music concert
       There must have been hundreds of thousands of not over a million people milling along a kilometer or more of Tverskaya with all kinds of events and displays: concerts, games, interactive art activities for young and old, side shows, food kiosks, etc. It was just a kaleidoscope of color and sounds. The festival continued into its second day with just as many crowds of hundreds of thousands of people. Great fun!

wall climbing
kids painting with an overlay
kids using sculpting tools on a horse

children's ballet class?

side show featuring clowns
to everything there is a season . . .

not quite sure what the message is here . . .

yours truly
street singer - tenor

Soviet era ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya
Ballet: The Swan, Maya Plisetskaya

geodesic dome food kiosk

tumble-a-whirl amusement ride
space vehicles including Sputnik - silver globe on the right

for the birds
      After we left Tverskaya we got conned on Kuznetsky Most (Street). We were walking back to our hotel on Kuznetsky and walked past three people (one male, two females) sitting on a bench who had several tame birds (pigeons and an owl). Road buddy, who is very fond of birds, wanted to have a closer look, so we approached. They turned out to be con artists. The male, pounced on us using the birds to fast talk us into posing for photos with the birds on our shoulders, head and arms--no mention of a price. Then the girls jumped in overwhelming us with birds all over the damned place and snap, snap, snapping photos with my camera faster than I can snap my fingers. By then we were getting suspicious, but too late (as is usually the case with a half-way decent scam). Then came the bill. We didn't have enough cash and had to argue and I finally told the guy to take it or leave it (I restrained myself from throwing it at him) and we angrily walked off (after recovering my camera of course). It was not a particularly edifying scene, but we did end up with a lot of bird pictures. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Europe Summer 2017: Russia 3 – the Kremlin

September 10

     Although you can wander around Red Square and visit such structures as St. Basil's Cathedral and Lenin's Mausoleum free of charge, as well, of course, as the Gum Department Store, you have to buy tickets to go inside the Kremlin.

entrance gate 
Troitskaya (Trinity) Tower

       The Kremlin is the seat of Government of the Russian Federation and is a very popular tourist destination with people from all over the world. After some searching to find the ticket office and confusion about the appropriate ticket sales line to stand in we managed to buy individual tickets and made our way to the entrance gate through the Troitskaya (Trinity) Tower, the tallest of the Kremlin's many towers.


Chinese tourist group just inside the entrance gate
       Almost immediately upon entering the gate we were surrounded by a large tour group of Chinese people. From then on Chinese tour groups became particularly noticeable in popular tourist areas in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. I had long been reading of the growing bilateral political and economic ties between Russia and China and their formal associations in organizations such as BRICS and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). Experiencing the reality of these Chinese tour groups added a new personal and direct understanding of the growing importance of these great powers' influence on global trade and international political, economic and military relations. 

Savior's Tower (left) and St. Basil's Cathedral

no-go zone and the Senate in the background

gentle crowd controller?  (no gun)
       Tourists are only permitted in a limited area inside the Kremlin. The large open area between the cathedrals and the Senate and the Arsenal is off limits and patrolled by police. If you stray off the sidewalk you are immediately admonished to stay in the designated tourist zone. The reason, of course, is that the Senate is the seat of the Russian Government where the President has his offices and must be protected.


Ivan the Great Bell Tower
Cathedral of the Annunciation
        Cathedral Square is the epicenter of the tourist zone. Most of the famous cathedrals are located around it—Ivan the Great Bell Tower, Cathedral of the Dormition, Cathedral of the Annunciation, Cathedral of the Archangel Michael, Church of the Twelve Apostles, Church of the Deposition of the Virgin's Robe, as well as such curiosities as the huge Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon . . . and more Chinese tourists.

Cathedral of the Archangel Michael

Church of the Deposition
of the Virgin's Robe

Dormition interior

Cathedral of the Dormition
Coronation venue of all the Tsars

the Tsar Canon

the Tsar Bell

Madama Butterfly

colorful Chinese tourists


red green and yellow 

Moscow Manege
        Along the western wall of the Kremlin lies the beautifully landscaped Alexander Garden. The contrast between the red and yellow brick of the Kremlin wall and the green of the grass and the leaves of the white birch trees is particularly striking. The Moscow Manege, a former indoor riding academy and military training facility is located on the western edge of the garden with a spectacular fountain of water geysers and horse sculptures reminiscent of the history of the building. 

horse fountain