Archive for February, 2009

Newflash! Madman Encounters Idiots in Moscow Hostel…Panic Grips City!

Posted in 1 on February 27, 2009 by LaContra

Ok…so you all thought I was a bit (or a lot) mad to go off on this little jaunt

 

Well meet the Idiots (as they call themselves)….

 

Levi and Ellery…partners in crime and madness

 

I decide to drive through the Russian Arctic in winter?

These two young American nutters are going to ride bicycles from Vladivostok to Portugal

 

That’s right…ACROSS the Russian land mass!

 

The three of us have engaged in some serious discussion as to who really is the more insane…them or me.

 

They think the being alone in the northern winter clinches it for me…

I say no matter when they are going to attempt this…

 

…they’re on fuckin bikes!

 

Mind you everyone else in the hostel (and Moscow in general).just quietly slip away, eyes diverted from the three of us

 

…seems they think there is nothing to argue about…

 

In their eyes we’re all mad.

 

Check out their link

 

http://www.paneurasianbiketrip.com/

 

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Moscow

Posted in 1 on February 27, 2009 by LaContra

Dicing with insane traffic of Moscow where anything goes it seems…

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but no matter how tough and how stressful it gets…I am confident and secure that i can handle anything due to my Russian chocolate….

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Driving past row upon row of new housing on the outskirts of the city

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As with SPB I’m not really taking a lot of pics here….again nothing much has changed….here’s a link to the pics from last time on flickr…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/64701235@N00/tags/moscow/

SPB to Tver to Dubna to Moscow

Posted in 1 on February 27, 2009 by LaContra

The country side from SPB though Tver to Moscow is flat, open, and uneventful…..

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…except for the ubiquitous coniferous forests….

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….and the frequent interruption of the dilapidated and unremarkable traditional Russian villages lining the road….

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…indeed the only thing which focuses the mind and keeps the monotony at bay is the godawful state of the main highway…..

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As is so often the case the history of the area is probably the most interesting part of the region these days.


Firstly you notice that every village, town, or city has it memorial to the defenders of the Great Patriotic War whether it be large and ornate…

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Or modest and simple…

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Because this flat open landscape on which surrounds greater Moscow was not only the scene of intense and brutal fighting between the invading German Wermacht and the Red Army defenders but the location of some of the greatest tank battles ever witnessed, each village has it’s own story to tell.


In addition to the memorials each town has a sculpture or manufacture, surviving from Soviet times, which announces the township on the road and often denotes something the city is famous for or something in which it is involved.

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Here is one for the city of Dmitrov some 60km from downtown Moscow

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Recently Dmitrov was named a ‘City of Military Glory’ (the modern equivalent of ‘Hero City of the Soviet Union’) for the part the entire city played in repulsing the Germans assault on Moscow. The citizens and garrison of Dmitrov held the line in 1941 with some of the largest and most brutal tank battles ever.

Aiming somewhat ironically directly at the city cemetery

Aiming somewhat ironically directly at the city cemetery

In Western history it is often commented that the Russian winter defeated the German advances into the motherland…


Actually it was the millions of Red Army men and women, fighting in the harsh Russian winter which finally inflicted defeated upon the German war machine.


However there is another, less acknowledged bit of history regarding Dmitrov….that is Dmitlag.


With the perceived success of the White Sea Canal project in harnessing the labour of ‘state enemies’, Stalin sponsored the rapid expansion of the GULAG forced labour system.


Siblag (Siberia), Steplag (the Russian Steppe), Norillag (the Far North) any many others in other regions…including Dmitlag to service the region around Moscow. Stalin had decided that another canal project was to be undertaken…the Moscow-Volga Canal to aid transport links and channel water supplies to central Moscow.


The White Sea Canal required 47km of actual excavation to link the various existing lakes and waterways whereas the Moscow Canal would need 130km of excavation and construction, its entire length, thus there were 200,000 more GULAG labourers than on the earlier project.


No celebrations or grand titles for this part of Dmitrov history I should imagine.


And so behind this innocuous looking embankment of snow is another of Stalins crimes against humanity

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The Moscow-Volga Canal

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Indeed there were many canal projects in the West in the same epoch yet Russia would seem particularly ill suited to them one would think…the Moscow Canal is un-navigable for half the year due to ice. Yet Stalin seems to have had a mania for canal building, perhaps following (so he thought) in the footsteps of Peter the Great, the visionary behind the ‘Venice of the North’ St Petersburg.


The crossing point at Dubna… there is a ferry in the summer months and a pontoon bridge over the ice in winter

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And where the canal bisects a village… a simple footbridge over the ice is constructed every year

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Dubna was a pivotal town in the Dmitlag camp system where the labour camps were constructed and dismantled in a leap-frogging fashion to follow the progress of the canal work. These camps (called lagpunkts) consisted of wooden barracks, watchtowers and a fence and a few thousand slave labourers…so there is invariably no trace of them today


Ever metre of earth and rock excavated with wheelbarrow, pick, and shovel

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Yet the there was no need for the canal to look sparse or utilitarian. If the GULAG needed engineers, the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) simply arrested more engineers. If they needed architects, they simply arrested them. So if they wanted to beautify the canal and needed stonemasons, artists, and sculptors, well then, they simply arrested them too.

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remembering female aviators

remembering female aviators

children innocently playing a game of 'catch' across the canal

children innocently playing a game of 'catch' across the canal

How horrifically simple.


So as I drive the final kilometres to Moscow there is forest to my left and the canal parallel to the road on my right…. My eyes are distracted though, every time notice an empty uniform space in the forest, or a spot where the tree growth in obviously younger than the surrounding forest…..is that the remains of a Dmitlag langpunkt?…..or perhaps a mass grave of GULAG prisoners who didn’t survive a particularly harsh and deadly winter?….


Both exist here in the hinterlands of Moscow, in what was the administrative region of Dmitlag….forgotten, unrecorded, and ignored…


But here nonetheless.




Piskariovskoye

Posted in 1 on February 23, 2009 by LaContra

The one thing I really wanted to do was spend some time here at the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery on the outskirts of SPB. Last time I was here I had only a cursory glance……it is a place of memory and immense sadness and as such deserves better, so I spent a chilly afternoon wandering the 25 hectare site.

The Russian’s didn’t have World War II, they know it as the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945)

Over 24 million dead…

(Great Britain lost 300,000, the USA some 225,000)

The entire industrialised west of the country destroyed.

The farmland of the steppe and the Urals wasted.

Entire cities; Stalingrad, Pskov, Murmansk, Kursk… levelled.

Their populations decimated.

And then there was Leningrad (as St Petersburg was then)

Named for the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and the ‘Capital of the North…Hitler ordered the city razed to the ground.

The Red Army and the citizens (who Stalin refused to evacuate) began a spirited defence of the city against the German Army encircling the city.

The siege of Leningrad lasted 900 days.

That’s 1941…1942….and 1943.

900 days of endless shelling

900 days with almost no resupply of food, reserves, or fuel.

In the end some 100.000 Red Army troops were dead from the fighting.

…..and over 850,000 civilians had perished either; to the shelling; to starvation; or frozen to death in the ferocious winters.

Piskariovskoye is their memorial

The soldiers brought the dead to this place outside the city to prevent disease spreading through the population. Wood was in demand for fuel, there was none spare for coffins so the corpses were interred in mass graves.

The memorial was built in the mid-1950’s

Though built on huge scale it manages to be both intimate and reflective at the same time.

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The central plaza has a statue of Mat Rodina (Mother Russia) with a peace wreath in her arms and a series of bas-relief sculptures telling the story of the siege.

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There are military memorial markers for specific battles and actions…this one is the sinking of the warship ‘Kiev’. Red Army personnel were easier to identify due to ‘dog-tags’ and alike.

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But most civilians are buried anonymously in huge communal graves. People could not be identified as often all their family and neighbours who might identify them had perished as well. Entire apartment buildings of people were found frozen to death on some mornings.

The markers for 1941 indicate up to 5000 bodies in each large mound

The 1942 mounds are much larger with upwards of 10,000 bodies in each mound.

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10,000….think about that

…and there is mound after mound after mound…seemingly endless.

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Plaques on the wall denote particular groups who either helped defend the city or tried to maintain a semblance of normality…

This one is to the bus and trolley drivers who kept the transport routes working…

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This one to the teachers who died keeping the schools operating…

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Here in the central plaza is a series of crypts….over the years remains have been found in construction sites, riverbanks, and sometimes just pushed up out of the frozen ground in parks and yards….

They are in turn re-buried in these crypts….it has happened most years since the memorial was completed.

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People come here everyday, not just on their National Memorial Day. People leave flowers to lost relatives and tend the photos, the markers and the graves.

A personal remembrance…

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The photos tell nothing of ones so young

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While I was here a marriage party turned up with the newlyweds being photographed at the eternal flame….it is a tradition of thanks to those who gave their lives so these generations could live as Russians. The debt to the past is not forgotten.

I think Piskariovskoye is the second largest cemetery in the world after Arlington national cemetery in the US. But it has buried US service personnel since the American Civil War with its field of uniform white crosses.

Piskariovskoye marks 3 years in the life of one city.

If you ever want to try and grasp what the banality of war looks like and how the immensity of such anonymous grief can be portrayed

Come to Piskariovskoye once in your life.

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it just seemed to go on forever…..

Here is link to a site which has summer pictures and explains it so much better than I can. …

http://www.enlight.ru/camera/174/index_e.html

SPB (now that you’re in the know too)

Posted in 1 on February 23, 2009 by LaContra

What can I say about St Petersburg that hasn’t already been said before?


Probably nothing….


Since I was here a few years back, I’m not going to go around taking more photos….here is a link to the pic’s of SPB I posted on flickr then….believe me SPB hasn’t changed.


http://www.flickr.com/photos/64701235@N00/tags/spb/


The only difference is that the winter I was here it was rather mild and the canals hadn’t frozen like this….


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And instead of flying in to Pulkovo and staying at the 5 star Corinthian Nevski Palace Hotel for 25,000 roubles a night


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I drove the truck (bit difficult to find a jet wash in sub zero temperatures!)


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Parked in front and stayed at the Antonio House Hostel for 550 roubles per night (£11.00)….


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A bit seedy at the front…..


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With an ancient elevator that has trapped me inside twice now….


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…but quite clean and tidy inside…..a six share room with lockers and bunk beds?…….bit like prison I suppose!


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Just a quick aside regarding Co-pilot 2nd Class Harvey.

Posted in 1 on February 23, 2009 by LaContra

Some of the lunatic fringe who follow this site have sent messages with regards to Harvey’s wellbeing.

 

They have written that it seems;

 

  1. Perhaps Harvey’s diet is suffering somewhat on the trip.
  2. It looks as if Harvey doesn’t get to leave the truck very often.
  3. Harvey looks a little jaundiced and drawn and maybe is bored.

 

Well let me tell you something about ol’ Harvey…. Not only is he a lousy conversationalist and a slacker when it comes to doing his share of the driving but the minute my back is turned he is either;

 

Stuffing is beak with more than his share of the food….

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Hogging all the bed….

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Sneaking off to the girl’s showers…..

 

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In the hope of a little soapy rub-a-dub-dub shower action….

 

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Or he gets online….

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…for Ducky porn.

 

 

So you can just knock off sending me concerned emails about friggin Harvey……he’s a pain in the ass.

 

 

Saint Petersburg in my Sights

Posted in 1 on February 22, 2009 by LaContra

I think the last time I saw a McDonalds or a Burger King etc was in Trondheim…some 4000km ago

So Harvey and I decide to try the North Russian fast food equivalent

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Its 450km from Petrozavodsk to St Petersburg (SPB to those of us in the know) and there are some telltale signs that the major Russian  ‘southern’ cities are getting closer….

1. The really big potholes in the highway have been repaired.

2. Some of the road signs are in English as well.

3. There are more police roadside checkpoints

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4. There is much more private traffic on the road

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5. And there are many more Highway Patrol cars around….

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What?

You can’t see the Highway patrol car with the 2 cops in it?

Well neither the fuck did I…..and after they had lightened my wallet by 4000 roubles (80 pounds)…I was on my way again.

(If you look really close, thats them behind that mound of snow on the left of the picture)

Really…the bastards are the same everywhere aren’t they?

This is the last bridge over the White Sea Canal on the river Svir which joins Lake Onega with Lake Ladoga which SPB is partly located on.

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All of those men and women working and dying in these conditions to build that canal….I can’t get it out of my mind…haunted.