Friday, 25 October 2013

Love Locks

On Wednesday morning, temperatures plummeted here in Russia and our phones couldn't give us a definitive answer as to whether it was -1 or -2 degrees. Either way, our walk to uni was less than toasty. We'd had some rain earlier in the week and the often lake sized puddles had turned in to mini skating rinks...


By the time we got to class, we had numb faces and legs and our ears threatened to fall off. Its quite possible that, before long, ear muffs will become a fashion staple, as temperatures like this become the norm rather than the exception.
In an unexpected turn of events, this more than chilly morning turned in to a gloriously sunny afternoon (even if temperatures only managed to scrape a comparably balmy 4 degrees). Deciding to make the most of it, I wanted to take a walk down by the river bank to Admiralty Square, where we  saw the fireworks on День Города.

It was a beautiful day for a stroll as the sunshine reflected off the water. The island you can see in the picture about is where Tsar Peter the First took up residence when he built the first fleet in the Russian Navy here in Voronezh. 
I couldn't resist having a look inside this beautiful onion domed Orthodox church. I think its safe to say that some of the most beautiful churches in the world are here in Russia. Even this, a 'small' parish church, looks so majestic.
Sporting the traditional Orthodox headscarf look (sans make-up, not attractive, apologies!)
Unfortunately, photography was prohibited inside but there were hundreds of icons all swathed in gilt! I come for a nose at a great time as the priest was giving a blessing to a small group who had gathered to chant in front of a particular icon - it was quite a haunting melody, but it made the experience truly beautiful.
However, my favourite discovery of the day was this...
Along the railings on the river bank, I was surprised to see dozens love locks, each with individual messages from those who had left them there. Love locks (if you don't know) are a symbol of the love of whoever left them there, once the padlock is locked, the key is thrown away (in the case of Voronezh, in to the river) to symbolise ever lasting and unbreakable love.

Many of the inscriptions on the padlocks show that most of the love locks are from this year. A lot of local councils all over the world have problems with love locks seeing them as litter or vandalism. The problem was so bad in Paris (its not called the city of love for nothing you know!) that the council removed many of them, as they were making bridges structurally unsound. I wonder if the Voronezh authorities remove them at the end of every year too, like a sad spring clean. Along the railings, there were also a lot of graffiti love notes - cute in a scruffy, hopeless romantic sort of way.
Not quite comparable to its Parisian equivalent, but no less heart warming!
What do you think of love locks? Common vandalism or a public expression of love and hope for the future?


Sunday, 20 October 2013

'Dreams are necessary to life.'

In the wise words of Anais Nin, 'dreams are necessary to life'. Everyone has dreams...Martin Luther-King had a dream and so did Emmeline Pankhurst - their dreams changed the course of history. My dream isn't as grand as all that - it won't change the world - but it means a lot to me! I am lucky enough to share this dream with one of my dearest friends Samantha and, now that we are here in Russia, we've been lucky enough to make this dream a reality!!

When I was a little girl (I think around 5 years old), my mum took me to see a production of The Nutcracker at Christmas time.
Pictures: Left:(courtesy of Right:  (courtesy of The Telegraph)

If you don't know the story then SHAME ON YOU - here's a link (because I'm nice like that)

Not only did it bring a lot of holiday cheer, it started my love of the ballet. I am a self-confessed ballet nerd - I was a member of the English National Ballet club, I did ballet lessons between the ages of 3 and 17 and I've seen more ballets than I can count on two hands.

For years, I have dreamed of seeing a ballet at The Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Home to one of the most famous and prestigious ballet companies in the world.

Courtesy of
And guess what??
28th of November is the day that dreams come true!!

Pictures Courtesy of the Bolshoi Theatre
We're going to see the wonderful Le Sylphide!
The Story:
  The ballet is set in a manor house in Scotland (sounds strange, I know, but stay with me!). It is the morning of James' wedding to Effie and he is asleep in an armchair by the fire. A sylphide (a magical fairy-like creature) is sitting beside him, and wakes him with a kiss on the forehead. He awakes, confused, but captivated by the beauty of the Sylph, he tries (and fails) to capture her, as she escapes up the chimney.
   As the preparations for the wedding go on, James realises that he has fallen in love with the sylphide. In the hustle and bustle of the busy house, an old woman slips in unnoticed to warm herself by the fire. Sensing that she is a bad omen, James tries to shoo her away but his bride Effie convinces him to let her stay and read the fortunes of the guests. She predicts that Effie will marry Gurn (James' arch rival). James threatens the old woman and she curses him.
   Effie leaves to get dressed for the wedding leaving James alone. The sylphide reappears and declares her love for him - Gurn enters, runs to Effie and tries to convince her that James is in love with another woman, but she refuses to believe him. As the festivities begin, James, unable to resist the lure of the sylphide, leaves Effie broken hearted as he goes in to the woods in search of his mystical lover.
   The old woman plans revenge on James and makes a veil, irresistible to all that see it in her magical cauldron. James is welcomed in to the world of the sylphide in the forest, where the sylphide and her sisters dance for him, though he is still unable to catch her.
   The guests of the wedding have come in to the woods in search of James. Gurn proposes to Effie and she accepts, they leave the forest to prepare for their wedding. Meanwhile, James searches for the elusive sylphide and is convinced by the old woman that the veil will enable him to catch her.
   Encaptivated by the magical veil, the sylphide allows James to place it around her shoulders as he kisses her. The sylphide's wings fall to the ground, and its evident that the effect of the veil is fatal. James sees the wedding party of Gurn and Effie in the distance, and dies, knowing that he has lost everything.

It sounds tragic but promises to be an amazing show.

Courtesy of Google Maps

As Moscow is a 12 hour night train from Voronezh, we thought we should take the opportunity to explore the city as well. Our train tickets are booked for the 27th returning on the 30th so we have 3 full days to explore the best of the capital.

Already on the to-do list:
St Basils Cathedral
Courtesy of 

The Kremlin
Courtesty of Wikipedia
Lenin's Mausoleum (Lenin has been lying in state here since his death in 1924, apart from a short retreat in Siberia during WWII! Morbid, creepy and most certainly intriguing!)

Has anyone been to Moscow? Any must see's or recommendations?
Would love to hear from you!

With Love from the Motherland x

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Culture Super Post!

Whether at home or abroad, I am a bit of a self-confessed culture vulture (if you'll pardon the cliché). As a Londoner, I am lucky enough to have not only the West-End on my doorstep also but the countries most prized archaeological, historical and artistic gems (all poised and ready for FREE viewing). As culture goes, Bath isn't too shabby either. Holiday planning time is usually spent pouring over guidebooks and the holiday itself, strolling, camera in hand, through a carefully planned itinerary of museums, galleries, castles and backstreet cafes.

Though we're technically residents of Voronezh, everyone has to be a tourist in their home town once in a while. This week has been full of impromptu excursions around and about...

Our cultural escapades began with this rather delightful concert by the Voronezh the local shopping the middle of the food court. We enjoyed wondrous symphonies and hummed along to the scores of our favourite ballets, all washed down with a KFC diet coke. One way to bring high culture to the masses I suppose!

Next on the hit list was the Voronezh Regional Museum. Our culture lecturer organised a guided tour for us (all in Russian of course) as an alternative to our classroom lecture. Starting in the pre-historic period, we wandered through the exhibits from the bronze and iron ages, through the tsarist period, straight through WW1 and in to the revolution and the Soviet era.
Some of the things I found most interesting were our guide's explanation of the original settlement of Voronezh, which was created as a walled fortress (artists impression top left), and also the connection to the Tsar Peter the First who built Russia's first naval fleet in the town.
My favourite exhibit was surrounding the revolution and also the exhibit of Soviet propaganda. Having taken modules on both Soviet history and Totalitarian Politics last semester, it was interesting to see Russian history told from a Russian perspective.
This is my favourite poster from the Revolution exhibit. It is quite graphic, featuring a depiction of Lenin and Trotsky slitting the wrists of a woman, who I assume represents the motherland. The caption reads 'Lenin and Trotsky Doctors of a sick Russia'. To me, the image and its translated caption don't seem to match. The picture looks like they are trying to butcher the motherland but apparently they are her doctors...cruel to be kind, perhaps? Symbolic of cutting ties with an antiquated and corrupt system to make way for the saviours of Russia? Who knows...interpret as you will.
As a lover of the theatre, I was particularly excited when our culture lecturer suggested that we go and see a production of Юнона и Авось (a rock opera/ballet) at the beautiful Voronezh Opera and Ballet Theatre. In preparation for the show, our spoken language lecturer told us the story.
It's a beautiful, true love story set in the 1800s in San Francisco. Nikolai Petrovich Rezanova, a naval captain, sails from Russia to America to improve trade relations. Whilst he's there he meets Conchita, the sixteen year old daughter of the town's governor, and the fall in love. Though they want to marry, Conchita's parents forbid it as he is an Orthodox whilst she is a Catholic and they also don't want her to leave to live in a snowy, distant land. Going against her parents wishes, they are engaged to be married but Nikolai must return to Russia. He tells Conchita to wait for him and that he will come back for her. When he reaches Russia, he get sick in Siberia and dies. Conchita never hears of his death and continues to wait for him for nearly 40 years.
A sad but touching story, I think you'll agree. We were told that the show would be a modern representation of the classic story.
What transpired was interesting to say the least...
I absolutely ADORE the ballet.
I have seen many performances, both classical and modern.
Even if I don't like the style of a ballet or I don't really understand the story or message it is trying to convey, I can still appreciate the technical skill behind what the dancers are doing. I can safely say that this was no such occasion.
There is dancing with abandon (in a stylised way) and there is just not knowing where you are going to land or whether you are going to knock over the person next to you. This ballet was the latter.
There is choreography which is meant to evoke chaos and there is actual chaos. This was again the latter.
I am by no means a ballet snob (though I absolutely sound like it!) - I have been to plenty of amateur productions that I have really enjoyed. This, however, was a professional performance, not carried out to a professional standard.
There were some stand out dancers - namely Conchita - but the chorus left a lot to be desired.
Only one word for this one: OBSCURE!
Sam and I were less than impressed
After a late night, we had an early morning (and 3 hour bus drive) to go on an excursion to Divnagore. A national park close (in the Russian sense of the word) to Voronezh. It boasts beautiful view of the River Don and the surrounding countryside, the remains of an old fort, a beautiful chalk canyon and (the highlight) a chalk church and accompanying monastery. Here are some of my favourite snaps.

Chalk church protected by a beautifully painted icon of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that during a cholera epidemic a few hundred years ago, a woman from a village in the valley below dreamt that the cure for the disease would be found through prayer to the icon of the Virgin Mary of Sicily, located within the monastery. The monks spent ages searching but couldn't locate the icon, until someone remembered having seen it above the door way of one of the churches. Prayers were uttered and townspeople were cured. The church still houses the Virgin Mary of Sicily, but it is a reproduction - the original lost somewhere in history. 

Views of the Don from the remains of the fort.

Chalk canyon.
Just as I thought my historical journey was through for the week, our Russian work colleagues took us to this beautiful spot.
This park is just around the corner from the railway station and its filled with historical goings on...

In 1879, a political group met in this park to discuss what was to be done about the reforms of radical Tsar Alexander the Second. The party was split in its views one half wanting to impose its views through parliamentary measures and the other feeling that terrorism was the only way to break the cycle of reforms which they opposed so much. Each went their separate ways. The terrorist arm of the party later went on to assassinate Alexander the Second in St Petersburg. This memorial remembers the historical significance of that meeting in the park.

Here you can see the ruins of what was once one of Voronezh's premier concert venues. During a concert of Russia's most popular bands during the soviet period, things got out of hand - whether the crowd was to rowdy, or trouble broke out, no one knows but somebody was killed. Later, the theatre was torched in an arsene attack and the culprit was never caught...perhaps the mother of the killed concert goer got her revenge? The ruins have been left to grow over but the catacombs that are beneath them are the scene of many a Halloween dare.

 What better place for a staff meeting than sat on logs on a balmy autumn day enjoying the colours of the trees?