Thursday, 15 September 2011

Episode 9 (part one): This isn't Paris, this isn't London, it's not Berlin, it's not Hong Kong...

Yes Andrei, Russia is a big country. We know.

The obligatory giant Lenin monument
So, we'd just finished our last "Stranovedeniyeh" (Country studies?) lesson of the week and our teacher Andrei had spent the last hour explaining to us several times that Russia was gigantic. He brought a slide show with a map on it and everything. Cheers Andrei, you're a pal. Sarky attitude aside, he is truly a mine of wonderful facts about Russia and so with Captain Obvious catered for, he announced his plan to take us, weather permitting, on a morning tour of Petrozavodsk - the city that I am studying in until December. So I'll take this opportunity, after having assembled some photographs and impressions from our ramble, to elaborate on where I am and give my impressions ( in two parts) of this gem of Northern Russia.

Derzhavin - poet, governor, obsession
What can I say? Petrozavodsk is the capital of many things (mostly pot holes and modified LADAs). First and foremost it is the capital of the Republic of Karelia, one of the many constitutent Okrugs and Oblasts of the Russian Federation. This part of Northern Russia has its modern origins in the expansions of Peter the Great and, like it's bigger sister St Petersburg, Petrozavodsk was built and named after the progressive Tsar. Literally meaning "Peter's Factory", the town industry produced munitions for Peter's growning navy and the settlement was founded in 1703, with famous poet Gavrila Derzhavin presiding as first governor.

Today it is regarded as a calm and small town. Dreadful 60's towerblocks paint a gloomy skyline, but their oppression is counterbalanced by the pomp of 18th century architecture which lines the many sprawling squares of the compact town centre. The town is littered with monuments (a particular fascination of the Russian social character). They come in all shapes and sizes, here and are usually chiselled out of Karelian granite. Statues of engineers, warriors, Bolsheviks and poets can be found, literally round every corner boosting chances for cheeky photos. Fans of Jude Law flick "Enemy at the Gates" can pine over the several plaques dedicated to Stalingrad sharpshooter Vasiliy Zaitsev. Chunks of expensive rock aside, there are many green spaces and trees line the wide streets giving the town a breezy feeling and a reputation for being calm (even though the speed of traffic and uncomfortable road crossings suggest otherwise).  The town is served by an easy-to-understand transport system that requires nothing but initial bravery to use. In fact I cared so much I wrote about it here:
Lakeside Embankment in the sun

The lakeside embankment is by far the most beautiful part of the town. The gorgeous Lake Onega -easily the size of an English county- is quite simply epic. It's temperament changes daily, and mists from the far side often rise and drift over the water. Comparisons to lakes from pokemon were, naturally, swiftly drawn...

Further round the banks of Onega are small patches of pebble and shingle beach. Here any noise from the town mysteriously vanishes and in rare moments of sunshine these places are incredibly pleasant.

This was really a superficial post in the sense that it was about what Petrozavodsk looks like and is considered to be like. Soon i'll write you something about what it feels like, which, in my opinion, is much much more interesting and really what my kind of travel writing is about, so...part two soon!

Park with industrial monuments and an unexploded bomb for WW2...

Kirov Square with one of the many theatres in the town

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