dijous, 16 d’agost de 2007

Russia (and 12): Domodedovo

We are at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, after a really intense week, ready to board our British Airways flight to London. While I look through the windows at the waiting lounge I realize what an exciting place for plane spotting can a Russian airport be. At Barcelona airport, for example, around 95% of the planes are either Boeing 737 and those of the Airbus 320 family, in airports with a large number of long haul flights, like Heathrow you can also see Boeing 747s and 777s and 767s or Airbus 340s and 330s. But at a Russian airport you can see all of these plus a whole range of old soviet-era planes, new Russian planes and second-hand Western planes. This picture is a great example of the situation of aviation in Russia.
Let's have a closer look: in the foreground an old soviet-era Tupolev 134 of Rossiya Airlines, next to it an Airbus 310 of S7-Sibir Airlines, one of the largest domestic airlines in Russia. The A-310 although not a particularly old model is hard to see in Western airports as it was not as commercially successful as the A-320 and A-330 models. Further away is another S7 plane, an Airbus of the A320 family. Russian airlines have been adding new Boeing and Airbus planes that are progressively replacing the old soviet models.
We can also see 2 planes from Transaero, Russia's second international airline (the first is Aeroflot), a Boeing 767 (right) and a Boeing 747-200 Jumbo (left), two wide-body long range planes that probably transport Russian tourists to resorts in the Mediterranean, that are popular destinations from Domodedovo.
In the background there is a large number of parked planes and, although it is difficult to tell from this picture, they are mostly soviet-built. For example, just behind the tail of the S7 Airbus 310 there is an Ilushyn IL-96, the Russian equivalent to the Airbus 340, of relatively new design, but that has experienced some problems that have prevented it from selling in larger numbers.
In summary, quite an interesting mix, that is probably going to become more homogeneous, as Russian carriers update their fleets, but as the restructured Russian aircraft industry gets back to the market with new models, it might continue to be more diverse than in the West.

Russia (11): My encounter with two Russian national symbols

Russia (10): around St.Petersburg- aristocrats and writers

Saint Petersburg was once the capital of one of the last absolute monarchies, until 1917, and consequently it got its fair share of palaces and royal residences.

We were lucky with the weather, so we spent a good time enjoying the gardens by the Baltic Sea that were once the preserve of that tiny elite that ruled over this huge country. No need to say that the display of wealth in these palaces was inversely proportional to the poverty of the subjects. While the Russian peasants lived literally like in the middle ages, its aristocrats were so much in their role, that refused to speak anything other than French among themselves.

We had also the chance to visit to places that have its honour place in Russian literature, Pavlovsk, summer retreat of the St.Petersburg elite some 150 years ago and setting of The Idiot by Dostoievsky (that I happened to be reading at the time of the visit!), and Pushkin (previously Tsarskoe-Selo), named after the famous poet, that lived and went to school here.

Russia (9): the capital of the Tsars

Saint Petersburg was built in a swamp by order of Peter The Great, the Russian tsar that wanted to make it Russia's gate to Europe. The city has a truly European flair and you can realise how its urbanism borrowed from Rome, Paris, Amsterdam...anyway, the result was really spectacular and I liked it, maybe because I like cities that interact with water.

Russia (8): On the way to Saint Petersburg

It's time to change the setting, after a few days in Moscow we are going to visit the European capital of Russia. The Nevsky Express, a fast, modern, train that covers the distance between Russia's two main cities nonstop in less than 4 hours, advances through the Russian plains and the immensity of Russia swallows us...on time to see the night opening of bridges in Saint Petersburg...!

PS: the day after we got back from Russia the Nevsky Express was the target of a terrorist attack that injured a number of people.

Russia (7): Cruise on the Moscova

dimecres, 15 d’agost de 2007

Russia (6): moving around in Moscow

Moscow is the biggest city in Europe, but fortunately it has also what is probably the most impressive metro in the continent. Each of the stations is a real piece of art. People in Russia like to say that this was is because the regime wanted to make the underground a sort of "palace of the working class", like a compensation for the hardships of everyday life during Soviet times.

But if you are on a low budget there are other ways to move around in the city, one of the most popular ones is to simply stand by the road and make signs to cars to stop. Like hitchhiking, just that in this case when the car stops (and there is no shortage of them, sometimes they even form a queue on the side of the road after making a simple hand gesture), a price for the ride is negotiated, which is often around 200 rubles (6 euros) for rides in the center. Some drivers might be rejected straight away if they do not inspire trust and old cars, like the zhiguli (a sort of Seat 124) are a regular fixture of this transport system.

Russia (5): the Kremlin

The Moscow Kremlin (Russian for "fortress") has been the center of Russian power for centuries, except for the period when the Tsars moved to live in St.Petersburg. It is not a single building or palace but a little city inside the city, surrounded by the red wall that gives its name to the famous square. Part of it is open to visitors so that they can contemplate its 4 Cathedrals and their golden domes.

Russia (4): the trauma of History

There are 4 historical events that have shaped Russia's history in the last 200 years: the Napoleonic invasion of 1812, the revolution, the Second World War (that Russians call the Great Patriotic War) and the fall of communism.
Of these, Russians are specially proud of their victory over French and German invaders. In the outskirts of Moscow, Park Pobeda (Victory Park) pays homage to those that fought in the Second World War and the nearby Borodino Panorama does the same for the Napoleonic war.
They both contain spectacular panoramic paintings and, in the case of Park Pobeda, an interesting display of Soviet symbolism.

Russia (3): The Red Square

Here it is, the heart of the Empire! The sole vision of the Red Square and the domes makes it worth to come to Moscow...!

dimarts, 14 d’agost de 2007

Russia (2): Past and Present

Many people in the West associate Russia with the communist regime and with the chaotic times of the decade of the 90's and, certainly, both happened and both left a legacy. Many problems persist, however, to focus only on this would be to ignore that things have evolved and Russia is certainly a booming economy right now, no need to read the Financial Times, signs of the strong economic growth of the past few years are visible everywhere in the streets of Moscow. Symbols of the old regime, however, can still be found in many places in the capital. You can get overwhelmed by the the display of affluence and luxury on display at Moscow's commercial centres, on the way back home, a wall painting at the underground station takes you a few decades back in time...

Pictures: Moscow underground and Atrium Commercial Centre

обнаружение России-Discovering Russia

I have just come back from a week long trip to fascinating Russia. It is really hard to describe the impression that produces the first sight of the St.Bassili domes when you first see it through one of the gates of the Red Square or the Golden domes of the Kremlin or the canals of St.Petersburg. However, over the next few days I will try to give you my account, a kind of travel diary, of what I have seen and experienced in this huge, fast moving country.

dijous, 2 d’agost de 2007

How would it have been?

Interesting article by John Kay in the FT one year ago.

Dreaming up "history" can help us glimpse the future
By John Kay, Financial Times
Published: Aug 08, 2006