Woke up on our last morning really early, in fact early enough to catch G’s father in the kitchen on his way off to work, with the sodium lights still illuminating the empty snow filled pre-dawn streets. Our run of
good brilliant weather continued with a dawn of clear blue skies, so naturally it was off to the University sports centre to hire a couple of cross country skies… Continue reading
In the evening we visited Olga and Sasha, childhood friends of Galina, for dinner at their apartment. One thing I’ve noticed about Russian apartments is that there’s just enough room to swing a cat as long as the cat doesn’t mind having some nasty clips around the head. Olga, Sasha, and Katya their daughter are all squeezed into what we’d call a one bedroom apartment back in Australia. Sasha told the story over dinner of how, when he’d been naughty as a child, his father who worked at one of the local rocket plants, would come home and threaten to pop him in a rocket and send him off into space, “no, no daddy, don’t send me off into space!”. Olga got to practice her english on me during the meal and I tried out my conversational Russian, which by the way is way worse than Olga’s english.
After dinner, and a few vodka’s, we all headed down to Revolution Square to see the Ice Village by night. Ice Villages are one of those Russian winter traditions that springs up in the centre of any Russian city of sufficient size in about November of each year and last until about March. The ice statues and houses are fashioned from ice blocks brought in and glued together with melt water to get the rough shape, then the blocks are hand sculpted to their final form. You can actually go inside some, and of course there’s the obligatory slide for the, er, kids.
Back in the day, Chelyabinsk was one of, if not, the most important tank manufacturing sites in wartime Russia, to the point where the city ended up being nicknamed Tankograd. The monument below is on Lenin prospect in the tank factory district, where unsurprisingly they still make tanks, along with tractors. The monument is a real tank the model IS 3, nicknamed the pike, which was finished just in time to miss the end of the great patriotic war but just in time for the start of the cold war.
You can also get your MacBook Air fixed in the tank factory district, which made Galina very happy. On the way home from that we ended up having bear dumplings at a restaurant, as you do in far off Chelyabinsk.
OK, so what do you do on your second day in Chelyabinsk?
Why walk through a gateway to the future of course. 🙂 Well more precisely walk through an ice replica of the ancient Mayan gate to the future at Labna on the Yucatan Peninsula. As to the gate there’s a few simple rules, first make a wish, second hit the tambourine on the way through and third walk through in the right direction. Of course if you walk through in the wrong direction…
After (hopefully) navigating into the future, rather than marooning ourselves somewhere in the 1980’s we walked down Kirovka boulevard, where you’ll find a series of life size statues of the inhabitants from various historical era’s. The other thing to note is that there are still some wonderful old wood and brick buildings left, I kind of hope they don’t pull them all down which is what usually happens in city centres. After stoping briefly at the opera house to see whether there was anything on of interest (there wasn’t) we went off to visit the apartment where G grew up and have afternoon tea with a friend of the family. Finishing up the day with a walk in the forest in the winter dark, cold and very clear.
So what do you do when you’ve just landed in Chelyabinsk on Christmas Eve?
Answer, after supper with the parents (and the shape of dinners to come) walk around to the hospital chapel for midnight mass. Mass had actually finished so G and Kira (G’s sister) lit some candles and we headed home to bed.
In the morning it was clear blue skies and -14 C so after breakfast we headed out to see the sights. Kira came with us as far as Revolutionary square but got cold feet (literally) and turned back. Turns out revolutionary square was where the winter fair was this year so we amused ourselves on the ice slide under the watchful eyes of Lenin.
After that we walked to the St Alexander Nevsky cathedral and got tickets for the organ recital that evening. And yes that is an oddity, a church in Russia with an organ. The story goes back to revolutionary days when the church was de-sanctified and used for various purpose before ending up as the concert hall for chamber and organ music. Now it’s a church again and the local clergy is rather unhappy about having this organ in their Russian orthodox cathedral. There’s a bit of a tussle going on between the music lovers and the church as a result.
Then we walked along the main road to the University to see some of the places where G lived, went to school and worked when she was growing up. Weather was just extraordinary, snow falling as tiny diamond bright crystals out of a blue and cloudless sky, with no wind. We ended up walking along Lenin prospect all the way to Igor Kurchatov’s monument at the edge of the recreation park, which is an amazing sculpture of two slab monoliths with an inscribed split atom, apparently there used to be an electric arc that ran between the two halves but the power bill was a bit excessive so they turned it off.
For those of you not familiar Igor Kurchatov was the director of the early Russian nuclear program, he’s a local lad, born in Sim a small town about 340 km to the west of Chelyabinsk. He swore not to shave his beard until they’d successfully tested the A-bomb but subsequently decided he liked his beard so he kept it, cutting it into ever more extravagant designs as he got older, no surprise, his nickname ended up as ‘the beard’. Much of the soviet nuclear program was (and still is) located in the Chelyabinsk region, which is also why the area is heavily contaminated by radiological waste.
After paying our respects at Kurchatov’s memorial we walked through the snow covered forest behind then headed back stopping at Stollie’s pies for lunch then headed home to freshen up before the concert. As it turned out it was a great concert, the organ is one of Russia’s best made by the German Hermann Eule company and finished up with an Beatles encore. Also included was a large lady in a dress appearing between works to declaim I’m not quite sure what. But according to G, this is part of the fun of going to a concert in Russia. 🙂