Monday, 21 May 2012


Nothing says one is in a foreign land quite like an exotic alphabet. With its inverted letters and strange symbols, Russian Cyrillic script gives a touch of romance to the most mundane streetscape. 

The script was originally conceived and promoted by followers of Cyril (hence Cyrillic) and Methodius. These two 9th century Byzantine brothers became Christian missionaries to the Slavic people in what is now the region around Bulgaria.

A knowledge of Cyrillic, even without understanding a word of Russian, is very helpful in Moscow. Many words common to English (and other Western European languages) are used on Russian signs. In Cyrillic, they may at first appear indecipherable. Learn how to pronounce the letters, though, and quite a lot of information about one’s surroundings can be picked while up strolling the street.  

The following photo was taken in Tverskaya. Even without knowing Cyrillic you can probably guess that the green sign belongs to a Starbucks (there are a lot of Starbucks’ cafes in Moscow). If I also tell you C is pronounced S; P is R;  Ƃ is B; and ɸ is F, then you can work out for yourself that CTAPƂAKC KOɸE is pronounced, yes, ‘Starbuck’s Coffee’ (said with a Russian accent, of course). 

Notice the cars parked on the footpath - my favorite gripe about this city.
 Also take a look at the red sign above Starbucks. On the left is the word PECTOPAH. It is not pronounced as it looks! Already knowing P sounds like R, if I also tell you that H sounds as N, then the word becomes ‘Restauran’. Also notice the word ΠEKИHCKAЯ. Π is P; И is EE; and Я is YA. So it is pronounced PEKEENSKAYA. From this you could correctly conclude that it is a Chinese restaurant (assuming you hadn’t already worked it out from the external décor) and get a meal.

Here’s another photo taken nearby. With the letters already provided previously, plus my telling you that Y is pronounced OO (and that a K is obscured by the lamppost), it’s easy to work out that the blue sign indicates a supermarket. If I also add that Г is G; an inverted V is pronounced L; and that you can ignore the little b symbol; then you’ll be able to find your way to a Grill & Bar.

The next photo is a Cyrillicised French word. The inverted half-moon is actually meant to be an inverted V (the half-moon shape is for advertising effect I guess). The word is L’Etoille. The Star. If I give you Ю = YOO, together with the information I’ve provided previously you can work out for yourself from the other words in the photo what is sold at L’Etoille (assuming you don’t already know this chain).

Finally, here are a couple of other interesting examples of English in Cyrillic.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Cycling in Moscow

At last, cycling weather.

I couldn’t find much information about opportunities to ride bicycles in Moscow before we arrived. What I did see was not encouraging. In particular I recall watching a You Tube video shot by some nutty guy cycling through the Moscow traffic with a camera strapped to his head. It was pretty scary. 

My winter explorations by foot and ski had convinced me there would be places to ride once the snow disappeared. There are plenty of large parks and there is a path along the river, though I didn’t know how far this went. The main problem would be linking them together. There was no way I was riding on those roads.

I have no idea whether it is legal to ride bicycles on the footpath in Moscow. But what the heck – people park on the pavement and I have even seen motorists drive along it looking for somewhere to park. A bicycle is comparatively innocuous. So I have become a footpath cyclist. Thus far, no one has taken the slightest bit of notice.

Last Saturday we took a ride along the northern bank of the river. So far I have measured 22 kilometres of cycle friendly path. The route ends at a road and a wall about 6 kilometres east of the Kremlin, but to the west, it follows the long bend in the river past Sparrow Hills, at least as far as the skyscrapers of Moscow City. 

Me cycling beside the Moscow River. The Kremlin walls in the background (photo by Wendy)
I see few other cyclists, and most of those, like me, are on the footpath. This is not a bicycle-friendly city. With a bit of patience and care though, it is not only possible, but an enjoyable way to get around. 

Wendy on one of the very few marked cycle paths in Moscow. The skyscrapers of Moscow City (which is several kilometres from the Kremlin) in the background, Sparrow Hills across the river on the left.
Of course, painting a bit of green on the footpath in no way negates a driver's right to park on it.
A few kilometres further on the green paint has run out. The covered bridge at Kievskaya in the middle distance..

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Lebedyansky Lake

In January I posted an item about Izmailovsky Park which included a picture of Lebedyansky Lake. I took a walk in the park today and photographed the lake again from a similar location.

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

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Summer arrives

I have recently returned from 3 weeks in the eastern USA. Wendy had a meeting in Washington for a few days, so I added a week on either side to visit New York and have a look around the Appalachians and Niagara Falls.  

This might seem a little extravagant so soon after a fortnight in Turkey, but seeing these places while we are in Russia makes a lot of sense. I have always wanted to visit New York, but the journey from Australia takes about 24 hours and is considerably more expensive than the 9 hour flight from Moscow.

It was also pleasant to spend some time in an English-speaking country. It can become a bit isolating, spending one’s days in a city where most of the conversation is all but incomprehensible. Though the speech of some Americans can be as difficult to understand as Russian. I gave up trying to order at one salad bar in New York – the youth behind the counter was using an almost unrecognisable dialect of English.

I returned to Moscow last weekend and have been struggling with jet lag since. I find it much harder to go from west to east than the other direction. Heading in the same direction as the sun, one simply gets a longer day (or night). 

But going west to east is like going against the grain of time. I woke in the morning, caught my flight, journeyed through a short sleepless night, arrived in Moscow the following morning and then had to stay up until the evening. Two short days, a short night and a completely confused biorhythm. 

Moscow is transformed. There had been just a hint of spring before I left. But spring seems to have been and gone while I was away and the city has already moved into summer. Rather than a gradual transition between seasons, it is as if a coin has flipped. 

All those trees I had become convinced were dead sticks are fully leaved, the snow has gone and cafes have put tables out on the footpath.  

Yesterday I took a walk in a large forest park a little northwest of the city called Timiryazeva. Plenty of people enjoying the sun. Some have dusted off their bicycles. A couple of sunburnt backs beside the lake. This is a pleasant park, but probably not one a visitor to Moscow should bother with unless they have plenty of time on their hands (I’m talking months). 

Walking track in Timiryazeva Park. With the burst of green and accompanying tee shirt weather, Moscow is suddenly a different city.
 The northern end of the park, where the lake is located, is the most visitor friendly. Here most of the happy family activity occurs. 
Part of the lake in Timiryazeva. Just a few weeks ago, this would have been frozen.

Towards the south, tracks deteriorate into muddy pools and there are far fewer people about. This end of the park is probably not the sort of place I would go for a stroll in the evening. 

The ubiquitous bird feeding house. I see these in most parks. They may help the few birds that hang around during winter to survive. After 6 months of seeing nothing but ravens, pigeons and sparrows, I am now seeing more varieties.