Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Bittsevsky Park

I have just got home and was thinking it was quite warm, despite the falling snow. I checked the temperature and it is minus 5 degrees. When one starts thinking of subzero temperatures as warm, I guess one has become adapted to the Moscow winter. Considering when I walked Wendy to the Metro station the last couple of mornings it was nearly minus 30, maybe minus 5 is just a little bit warm. Minus 30 is beyond cold - it's frigid.

Ten kilometres south of Red Square is an attractive park called Bittsevsky. At 7 kilometres long and around 2 wide, this is a significant area of forest, readily accessible by Metro.

Unfortunately, typing Bittsevsky into a search engine will bring up a string of items about a serial killer, rather than the natural attractions of this park. It is unfortunate that this forest park has had its reputation tarnished by one loony, because it really is a lovely place. I spent 3 days of last week exploring Bittsevsky on foot and on skis, and I’ll spend more time there in the future. I can’t wait to see it in the spring. 

Bittsevsky Park - just made for cross-country skiing
 Muscovites have a reputation for being sullen people. They rarely smile in the street and tend to avoid eye contact. But I wonder to what extent visitors to Moscow take particular notice this because it’s something they’ve been told to expect. Walking down the streets of Sydney on any working day I also see few smiles on the harried faces.  

Nevertheless, I do wonder sometimes whether Muscovites have much of a sense of humour, they can look so morose. Then I encounter something delightfully quirky like this playground furniture in Bittsevsky. 

Who says Muscovites don't have a sense of humour?
If this was in a park in Sydney, it would be vandalised in a week.
I'm not sure why these bears look so shocked, unless...'s something to do with this fellow.

Follow this link to see the location of Bittsevsky Park on Google Maps

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Work required we visit Belgrade, Serbia, from Wednesday 1 to Sunday 5 February. Just in time for the big freeze that hit parts of Southern and Eastern Europe. It started snowing on the evening of February 2 and continued, almost without a break, until we left. We were much relieved when our Aeroflot flight left the white Belgrade tarmac and headed for home, only a little late.

We had an opportunity to visit Belgrade city centre prior to the heavy snow. A bit cold for too much sightseeing, but we checked out the main pedestrian mall, Knez Mihajlova and had a meal in quirky Skadarlija. The latter is a cobbled street, supposedly Bohemian. Maybe it once was a refuge of beatniks and other social fringe-dwellers, but now it just looks like a tourist zone. 
Al freezco dining in Knez Mihajlova
Skadarlija. Very pretty and a nice place for a meal.
 Outside these areas, Belgrade seems a bit shabby. There are some potentially lovely facades in the old town, but drab and much neglected. These alternate with some ghastly apartment buildings.  For the most part not a particularly uplifting place to stroll in the winter. 

Just a couple of blocks from Knez Mihajlova and the architecture ain't so charming
 The weekend we spent with friends in the city. By now the snow was a sitting half a metre deep on car roofs. Still, we ventured out to the incomplete (after many decades) Cathedral of Saint Sava and then on to Belgrade Fortress. Great castle, on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers. Well cared for and fun to explore.

Cathedral of Saint Sava.

Sitting on the bench is safe enough, it's just getting to it that's the problem. (Belgrade Fortress, overlooking the Sava River, confluence with the Danube at right)

Back in Moscow and the past two days (Monday and Tuesday) have been sunny. No new snow here. 

Finally, I have to say that Serbia is not somewhere I would have bothered visiting had the work-related opportunity not arisen. The image of this country is still tarnished after the appalling massacres of the mid-1990s.

The nations and various ethnic groups in this region are going to have to find a way to get along. But if our taxi driver’s attitude to Croatians was any indication, that’s probably not going to happen.