Patriarch Ponds

It’s 9.54 am and this expat is rushing for an appointment at 10:00; Mrs Expat called shotgun and is, as ever, in charge of the GPS. (this expat, who, at 13, was the only one in the house who could set the timer on a video recorder, is now a bit of a technophobe – is is that ‘technofool’?) Svetlana, the woman in our GPS, tells us to turn right in 120 meters, forgetting the slight lag in satellite time, we duly obey only to hear – ‘you have left [the] route’. I pause to hear the next instruction, fortunately it was one of the very few left turns allowed in Moscow. A quick left turn and suddenly a gap in the tall Stalin era buildings and a small park around a pond. But more astonishingly, a gap wide enough for a car to park; this gap about 50 meters from my appointment, this gap in the shade of a silver birch – the trifecta Muscovite motorists long for, but rarely get.  We had made it to Patriarch Pond by accident and not a tram smash in sight! (readers of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita will be sniggering to themselves at this literary reference – or not!)

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Appointment over, we went for a walk in the park. Sadly the restaurant on the lake was closed, even the swans and ducks were having a lazy morning, almost not caring that an eager toddler was throwing bread at them. But then the park is a lazy place; children playing on swings; couples promenading; mothers perambulating with their new born, bohemian types sipping coffee and reading and a few tourists with their oversized cameras that may (or may not) be over compensating for something. However, perhaps the most dangerous thing of all in the park were the octogenarians power walking forcefully doing laps around the park, armed with ski poles, iPods blasting away, leaving a trail of dust, small children and barking dogs in their wake.

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Although Patriarch’s Pond is the setting for much of The Master and Margarita, the park is mostly dedicated to Ivan Krylov, a writer of fables, much in the style of Aesop; and grower of incredible sideburns. Along with a statue of Ivan there are some sculptures depicting scenes of his writings. Including a rather nice one of an elephant’s bottom reminding this expat of an old British folk song – the hole in the elephant’s bottom, which, depending on the version, is amusing or simply risque! [various versions can be found at http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=64019] As people pass by the sculptures various parts are rubbed for good luck and so retain their brass look whilst, like Ivan himself, the rest is aging and weathering well.

As we walked back to the entrance, which, I guess, would now become the exit, we paused to brush off the dust raised by the lapping, aged power walkers, whilst owners pulled back on the leashes of their dogs encouraging them to cease barking. Brushing off the dust, four things were considered by this expat:

  • that these octogenarians caused more havoc and debris than the tram crash at the beginning of Bulgakov’s novel;
  • that we should leave before they circled round to us again;
  • whether Mrs Expat would appreciate Krylov style sideburns and;
  • that this expat didn’t get to use the phrase ‘elephant’s bottom’ nearly often enough

So, getting into the car Mrs Expat and Svetlana were treated to a tuneless verse or two of that folk song.

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Radisson Royal Flotilla River Cruise

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With the recent arrival of our guests, we finally had an excuse and opportunity to hop on board the Radisson Royal’s Flotilla. These beautiful, sleek, super-yachts travel along the Moscow River all year round and offer the most stunning views of Moscow. In the summer they have open decks and in the winter are billed as ‘ice breakers’ and literally keep the Moscow River from freezing completely.

The tickets are very reasonably priced and food items served on board from the menu are delicious and their prices comparable with most restaurants around. Although  first-class tickets for the upper deck are available, we were seated on the lower deck right up against the large panoramic windows. We were very fortunate to board the yacht whilst it was still light, although raining slightly, and enjoyed the view of the lights twinkling in the dark on our way back to the dock.

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Our boat began its journey at the Ukrainian Hotel (now the Radisson hotel – but old habits die hard, so Ukrainian Hotel it remains!)  and lasted about 90 minutes. Our winter coats were taken by friendly staff as soon as we stepped on board as we filed on board in an orderly and relatively patient queue. A waitress dressed a sailor appeared almost immediately at our table to take drink orders, it would have seemed rude not to have tried a vodka. – and when in Moscow! Another yacht came in to dock just  as ours was pulling out giving us something to watch. The we set off in the direction of the Kremlin. The place mats were A3 maps showing the route and some of the landmarks along the way. Had this expat been organised, and a lot more technologically minded we would have linked up our iPhone or iPad to the ships wifi system on board and would have had live feeds and info of your surrounds whilst sipping away on a sundowner, having a bite to eat or simply just in awe of some of the sites.

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Some really impressive landmarks we passed on the way (and yet to be investigated – expat style) included Novodevichy Convent, Luzhniki Olympic Complex with its big ski jump to nowhere, Lomonosov University, the space shuttle replica ‘parked’ at Gorky Park and this expat’s favourite, the Red October Chocolate Factory. Just after we passed the Kremlin for the first time, the massive yacht we were on slowed down, jet-like pumps were switched on and in the middle of the river, this amazing boat turned around one hundred and eighty degrees and began its slow cruise home.

No-one on board, even the ‘sailor’ men and women who plough up and down the river daily, could have failed to be in awe of the amazing view all around them as we were once again presented with the stunning view of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. Mr Expat quickly dashed upstairs into the open air to grab a few more pictures before the camera’s battery life ran out.  Enjoying the magnificent view of the moon and with the lights reflecting in the water, we sailed off into the darkness of the night with the stars in our eyes.

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