La Gomera by car

I had two full days to enjoy La Gomera. Today I decided to explore the island by car and to look for good places to  hike on the next day.  The car hire company has said the car was fully insured except for damage to tyres caused by driving over rocks on the road. I soon understood why – the whole island is one steep extinct volcano that has been eroding away into the sea for the past few million years. The most visible sign of this erosion are great sweeping valleys, where rain dropping on the top of the mountains washes down to the sea.  But another sign is the frequent little piles of rock in the road from small landslides.

At first I drove up the mountain on the south side of the island – the landscapes were stark and dry.

Then I crossed through a tunnel to the east side of the island, which receives clouds blown in by the trade winds, which blow from east to west at this latitude – which is why Columbus sailed south to the Canary Islands before setting off for America.  As the clouds rise up the mountain they drop a steady supply of rain, meaning this side of the island is usually wet and supports luxuriant vegetation.  

The road took me to the Bailadero “mirador” (viewing point) which I had been targeting on my walk yesterday.  I was lucky that today there was less wind, meaning the clouds didn’t reach very far up the mountain, and the views of Los Roques were really spectacular.

I realised that it was a good decision to turn back on yesterday’s walk, since I was still a long way away from my destination.  From the mirador there was a pretty short walk through an atmospheric forest, whose trees were covered with thick moss and whose leaves and branches were wet with moisture from the clouds. 

After that walk, the road continued up the central ridge right on top of the island.  There I found yet more “miradors” with beautiful views north, south and east.

From the mountain ridge I drove to the south west corner of La Gomera, back into a bone-dry, lunar landscape of great eroding valleys.

I drove all the way down to the sea to have lunch at La Gomera’s main resort, Valle Gran Rey.  This was supposed to the richest part of the island, but still looked slightly run down.  Still, I had a nice octopus salad in a café on the seafront and after lunch ventured onto the beach for a paddle. The black sand had absorbed the heat of the sun and was very hot for little paws, so I ran to the sea…….which was very cold.  Maybe my short paddle wasn’t worth getting black sand all over my paws and in my fur, but at least I can say that if have been in the sea!

Next I drove back up to the centre of La Gomera and around the west and north of the island; the road sometimes followed the coast, and sometimes wound deep inland to worm its way around the deep valleys.  La Gomera is very beautiful, and its scenery very varied. Every few kilometres there was another mirador to admire a different island landscape.  

Although the island  is small – it’s roughly a circle with radius 5-6km – with the winding roads and frequent stops to admire the views, driving around it took a whole day and it was late afternoon by the time I got back home.  I settled down on my terrace with a glass of local wine to write my blog, and then had a very good steak from the local market for dinner.

From La Palma to La Gomera

I arrived way too early at the airport – most people seemed to show up 30-40 minutes before their flights and breeze straight through check in and security.  I boarded a small plane with propellers that went to Tenerife,  where I was met on the runway by some nice people that whisked me away in a small car to another small plane for the flight to La Gomera (La Gomera is so small that you can only fly there from Tenerife).  The flights gave great views of the islands, and in particular the volcano Mount Teide towering over Tenerife.  

As we approached La Gomera I admired its rugged landscape and wondering where a plane could possibly land, but eventually behind yet another cliff there was a small patch of flat land that served as the airport.  Within 5 mins of touching down I had picked up my bags, collected my hire car and was on my way to my holiday home. The road wound its way steeply up one mountain and then down another one -all roads in La Gomera are windy and steep. I stopped occasionally to admire the views and take pictures.

Then I made a bigger stop in the main town, San Sebastian, to buy food for three days – my accommodation was out in the country and far from any restaurants or shops.  Unlike charming Santa Cruz on La Palma, San Sebastian was mostly modern and felt rather poor – so far there is very little tourism on La Gomera. I found the market where I stocked up on meat, wine and vegetables at very reasonable prices.

My holiday home was about 15km north of San Sebastian along – yes, that’s right – another windy road.  Initially I missed my destination and drove all the way to the end of the track, where the valley ended and gave way to steep mountains.  I wasn’t annoyed – it was only a small detour, and it allowed me to admire the beautiful scenery – the plant life was even more luxuriant than on La Palma, and you could see Los Roques,  a group of three volcanic rock  formations rising vertically from the surrounding mountains. 

Los Roques are the most famous things on La Gomera and feature in every guidebook and website about the island. I also noticed some interesting paths leading from the end of the road into the Parque Nacional de Garajonay, a large park in the centre of the island famous for its ancient forests and spectacular scenery.

I retraced my steps and found my home for the next three nights. After the wonderful huge town house in Santa Cruz, I was a bit disappointed by my choice this time.  The setting was very pretty, with a little terrace overlooking the valley, but there was just one room that served as both bedroom and kitchenette. It felt a bit cramped, even for a little teddy bear.  So, after unpacking, I returned immediately to the end of the valley to go for a short hike.  There were two paths, one signposted to Parque Nacional and the other to Bailadero, which the sign said was 3.4km away.  I chose the second path. It wasn’t shown on any maps, but Bailadero was, and from there it looked possible to circle round and return to the car via some of the island’s main walking trails. It was 4pm and I might just have time to do the complete circuit.

The path led up a very steep slope. The ascent was unrelenting and apart from the very first signpost, there were no other markings to confirm whether I was going the right way. Occasionally I came across small piles of rocks left by other walkers, which reassured me.  The path led around to the right of los Roques; clouds were blowing over the top of the mountain ridge in front of me and spilling over the top of Roque de Agando, and then evaporating in the drier air of the west of the island.  

I reached a sign saying “Parque Nacional” that marked the boundary of the park.  I had been walking an hour and thought I would easily have covered the 3.4 km to Bailadero, but the map showed that there was still quite a long way to go between the entry to the park and my destination.  The clouds were getting thicker and spilling every deeper into the valley, now completely hiding the Roque de Agando. I realised that if I carried on, I would be walking for a long time in thick mist, and I only had light clothes over my fur. I decided to go back and try again another day.  The trip back was much faster – only 30 minutes – and soon I was back on the terrace of my holiday home enjoying a glass of wine whilst I wrote the day’s blog.

A day of frustration

I woke up feeling lazy. It had been raining during the night, and heavy clouds were rolling in from the sea, so I sat at home enjoying my town house in the morning.  I wrote my blog, and also found time to go to the market, where I bought some parrot fish (something you never see in London) for my dinner.  

In the afternoon I was feeling a bit more energetic, so I headed out to the Parque Nacional de la Taburiente, which is located inside the caldera of the huge Cumbre Vieja volcano. The road there went through a long tunnel. On the Santa Cruz side, the weather was still cloudy – on the other side of the mountain, there was bright sunshine, and you could see the waves of cloud spilling over the mountain top and then evaporating in the drier air of the centre of the island. 

I intended to do a short walk somewhere near the main entrance to the park, but on arrival I was told that I needed a permit to enter by car, and had to go back to the visitors’ centre a few km down the road. At the visitors’ centre they said they had sold out of permits for the day (surely they could have said that at the park entrance…..?).   I looked at my map and decided to try another entrance at the west of the park. I drove through a couple of sleepy small towns and then along a narrow mountain road that initially led steeply up before descending into a dry river valley, where I found a car park.   I noticed a sign indicating a path to the Cascada de los Colores, 5.4km away, and remembered that I’d seen this waterfall mentioned on websites, which said it was one of the highlights of La Palma, and showing pretty pictures of an imposing waterfall falling over bright red and orange rocks.

La cascada de los colores as shown on the internet

I also remembered people posting that you shouldn’t follow the path but should scramble up the riverbed instead.  So off I set, thinking that 5km should take about an hour’s walking.   Initially the riverbed was totally dry, but after a short while there was a small stream that I needed to jump across occasionally. The gorge was quite deep, so the stream must have been much bigger in the rainy season.

 There were quite a few other walkers, all coming back (it was already 3pm). I checked with one group that I was on the right path and continued onwards. After an hour’s walking I checked again – “Yes, just carry on along the river” “How much further?” “About an hour”. An hour! But this was only supposed to be 5-6km!  I was a little discouraged and thought about turning back because it was already quite late, but instead pressed on and after another 40 minutes, found a sign saying “Cascada de los Colores – 500m”.  In anticipation I hurried around the next bend in the river…….to be very disappointed. 

Cascada de los colores in real life

The waterfall was indeed pretty, and coloured red and orange, but it was only about 3m high. The pictures on the internet made it look big, but in real life it was dwarfed by the impressive scenery all around it.  Feeling rather short-changed, I headed back.  It was already 5pm and I was in a hurry to get home. I decided to follow the path along the side of the gorge this time, which was a good decision.  It was much easier walking on the hard rock of the path than the soft shingle of the riverbed, and the views were much better. I enjoyed the walk back much more and admired the shadows of the mountains falling across the gorge in the late afternoon sun.

I got back to my car in only an hour and drove home. At dinner, my parrot fish had an interesting and rather strong meaty taste – good to try once, but not something to buy again. I also tried another bottle of very good local wine.

 I reflected that today had not been the highlight of the holiday so far, but a nice walk all the same, giving a different perspective of la Palma.  Then it was time to pack up my bags (not so easy since my stuff had spread out through all the many rooms of my huge town house) in preparation for the flight to my next destination, the small island of  La Gomera.  In anticipation of an early start the next day, I set my alarm and settled down in bed.

Big adventure for little teddy bear

Today I planned a big tour around the island by car. To prepare for a long day, I started with my traditional café cortado in the café next door, then went to the local market to buy some fresh sea bass for dinner.  After that, I was ready, and I set off north around the coast.  It was cloudy, but the views from the road were still impressive.

My first stop was Los Tilos, an ancient forest of laurel trees on the East coast. This type of forest was very common throughout the Mediterranean millions of years ago but now is restricted to a few spots in the Canary Islands. I headed up a steep path, pausing to admire the dense vegetation. A fine drizzle from the clouds sweeping in from the West kept the path fresh and cool.  On the way I paused to make friends with some pretty local birds and to give them a little food.  They seemed to be very comfortable with tourists, even teddy bears, and walked right up to me.

At the end of the path was a viewing platform that looked out over steep canyons. The sun had finally come out and lit up pretty flowers of many different colours, whilst a thick mist rolled in from the sea and evaporated before my eyes. After admiring and filming the view I headed back to the car – in total it was a 2-hour walk, the sort of light exercise I needed after yesterday’s heroic treck.

Next, I explored the north of La Palma by car.  I took a wrong turn somewhere, but the minor road I took was going in the right direction and was probably prettier than the main road that I occasionally glimpsed far below. 

I missed the town of Barlovento completely (oh dear, missed an old church, never mind) and found myself at Zarza, and old archaeological site with ancient rock carvings.  Since I was there, I decided to visit; the carvings were simple spiral shapes in the rocks lining a river valley. It is the sort of thing archaeologists get excited about, but personally I don’t see a big difference between ancient rock carvings and modern graffiti.

Still, it was a pretty site and nice walk. In the visitor’s centre there was an interesting relief map of the island, which helped me understand just how tall the central volcano, Cumbre Vieja, was. This inspired me to continue the road up, clinging to the side of the mountain.  Below me impressive views opened of the sea and some of the coastal towns, but the road kept climbing. Finally, I arrived at the entrance to a complex of huge telescopes – at this altitude the sky is very clear and there is no light pollution, so it is a great place for an observatory.

The road carried on past several large telescopes to a car park on the very top of the volcano.  Leaving the car and walking up to the edge of the cliff, I was struck by the most amazing view.  The ancient volcano was enormous, and its caldera spread for many kilometres in a huge circle. It must have been formed by an immense explosion.  The sides were so sheer and deep that it made my head spin to look down.  

A short path continued around the ridge of the caldera, where I met more feathered friends – two magnificent ravens. They were so big I didn’t dare to get too close! 

There were yet more viewing platforms, each giving a slightly different perspective of the caldera – either south down the length of the island and across the crater, or west and north towards the sea. Although I am a very well-travelled teddy bear, this view was one of the most stunning I’d ever seen – the stark volcanic rock and bright white telescopes dotted along the ridge gave the feeling of being on a different planet. Cumbre Vieja is dormant now, but not extinct. Small earthquakes occur often, and scientists think that some time in the next 10,000 years the volcano will explode again. When it does, the massive volcano walls will collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami that could submerge the east coast of the USA and south coast of Britain.

 I admired the view for a long time, but it was getting late and reluctantly I set off on the drive home. There was a direct (but very steep!) walking route all the way back to Santa Cruz that was only 20km, but the road twisted and turned and was much longer than that.  However, I was rewarded by more spectacular views – firstly of the sea, and Mount Teide on Tenerife looking up out of the clouds……..

And then of the clouds blowing in from the sea and being swallowed by a thick pine forest.

I finally got home at around 7pm after a very long and fulfilling day.  I deserved my meal of roasted sea bass washed down with a very good local white wine, in the period setting of my townhouse’s dining room!

A hike for sporty teddy bears only

The next day I  offered myself a really nice café cortado (an expresso with a dash of milk) in the café next door, and then took at taxi to El Pilar, a place in the middle of the island that is the starting point for many walks.  I was intent on doing the famous hike “La Ruta de los Volcanes”, an 18km walk up and down a few of the smaller extinct volcanos that make up the backbone of the southern part of the island.  First the path ran through a pretty forest, where the smell of white flowers mixed with a heady scent of pine,

 with views to the north to the huge volcano Cumbre Vieja that makes up the bulk of the island.

Cumbre Vieja volcano – more about this tomorrow

After a while the path left the shade and headed up in bright sunshine through a typically volcanic landscape –sharp red and black rocks covered in black sand, with a few small trees struggling to recolonise the land.

The terrain was striking and very austere, with the contrasts of bright blue sky, green trees and red rocks and black sand.

 It was hot, and after a few km I was wondering if the walk would provide a bit of variety to this imposing, but stark, landscape.  When I reached the top of the first volcano, I got my reward – a view of the east coast of La Palma.  A short way out of from the land, the sea was covered with dense, bright white fluffy clouds.  In the distance, looking as if they were floating on this cloud bank, rose two other islands – little La Gomera and larger Tenerife with its mighty volcano Teide towering over the clouds.

The path continued up and (mostly) down like this for another 10km, offering slightly different perspectives of the same impressive view along the way.

 Then it dived into a pine forest for the last few km down to the southern tip of La Palma, before arriving at Fuentecalientes, a small town on the main road running around La Palma’s coast.  I was hot and thirsty, so found a small local bar and drank two Schweppes Limon before taking a local bus back to Santa Cruz.  Walking back to the hotel from the bus station I treated myself to a huge ice cream in a cone, which started dripping down my paws in the heat of the late afternoon. 

Back home, I had a much-needed shower and short siesta.  Then I headed off for an aperitif at an outdoor café and dinner in a restaurant I’d spotted the day before. It was located in an old town house, and its walls were made with beautiful wood panelling.  In a room next door, but clearly visible and audible through big glass windows, a choir of local men with lutes, guitars and drums were practising for a concert.  

They sang beautifully and added a great atmosphere to my meal.  I ordered local seafood – cod, octopus and shrimps. Maybe due to language difficulties my main courses arrived first and my starters last – but who cares, they were all tasty. I washed down my food with some local wine. The Canary Islands have some unique grape varieties, not found anywhere else in the world, and their wine is very interesting (in the positive sense of the word).  After dinner, I walked home slowly, happy in the knowledge that my day’s walking had given me the right to a little seafood feast and  a rich Canary Island desert of “bienmesabe”(made with almonds, eggs, sugar and a little alcohol).

Escaping to the sun

After Moscow in February, something completely different – the Canary Islands in March! I needed to escape the cold weather and all the relentlessly miserable news about Coronavirus.

The first island on my trip was La Palma, also called La Isla Bonita (the beautiful island) in Spanish. I was rather dreading the early morning EasyJet flight from Gatwick, which made me get up at 05.30, but in the event, Gatwick was pleasantly well organised, and the flight was pretty comfortable. From a miserable 8C in London the plane touched down to a nice pleasant 20C and bright sunlight in Santa Cruz de la Palma.   From the airport I hired a car and drove through the countryside, admiring the strange plants and bright flowers – the Canary Islands are a botanist’s dream, with many unusual species including palm trees, cactuses, wild aloe verde, the dragon tree, and other really strange things that I thought looked like a woolly mammoth’s trunk.

This is definitively not London……

I was soon ringing on the door of the holiday house I’d booked, an old merchant’s town house in the centre of the city. 

Traditional town house at Santa Cruz de la Palma

At the entrance was an old cast iron gate, then steep stairs leading up to a landing and a dining room with balcony over the street, kitchen, bathroom, a sitting area underneath a glass sunroof, and….. the house’s very own private chapel with a statue of the Virgin Mary and various images of Christ.  

Hi! this is my new home for the next couple of days

Another steep staircase up led to another bedroom, bathroom and a living room with large windows on all sides and views over the city.  Yet more stairs led to a roof terrace with a table and a couple of sun loungers, with a pretty view of a nearby church, and the mountains in the distance.

the landing

The house was decorated with portraits and old photographs of the family that had owned the place and even the christening dress of one of them. The furnishings were antique – old wooden beds, old chairs and tables, a gramophone player and an ancient radio.   There was a smell of old wood, and a sound of creaking floorboards whenever I moved.  It felt like the house described in Isabel Allende’s book, the House of the Spirits. 

the dining room
the private chapel
view from the roof top

Having explored my home for the next four nights, I set off to visit the town.  Santa Cruz is a small but pleasant place. Old town houses like mine with balconies line the streets, reminding me a bit of the Middle East, but there was also a sprinkling of ugly modern holiday flat buildings. I walked East to the edge of the town. where on top of a rock bursting with brightly colours flowers, there was an old fort with nice views of the sea.

view from the old fort

Next, I headed back into town, and found a very pretty square, lined with trees bearing bright red flowers, and with a church, a museum and a music school around its sides. In the middle was a large stone urn with a huge fern tree. Water dripped down the sides of the urn, offering a nice cool drink to some doves in the heat of the afternoon.

Pretty square, music school, church of Saint Francis

 It was siesta time. Hardly anyone was out on the street, and had the square to myself to sit and enjoy the atmosphere.  After a short rest, I continued my walk and found another pretty square in the centre of town.  This square also had its own pretty stone church and was also the location of the old town hall. 

the town hall
Church of San Salvador

In the street were the tables of bars and cafes; siesta was over, the streets were becoming livelier, and people were sitting down to beer and tapas. I continued my stroll until I reached the end of the old town, where the pretty town houses gave way to modern holiday flats.  Then I retraced my steps and offered myself an aperitif sitting outside at a café in yet another pretty square. After 6 months of the London winter, it was so nice to sit outside and feel the sun on my fur.  I was pleasantly surprised how cheap the beer and tapas were – mass tourism has yet to spoil La Palma.

When I finally I arrived home, it was dinner time. I popped into the Spar next door to buy some ham, cheese, wine and fruit that I enjoyed on my roof terrace.  A nice end to a busy first day on La Palma……..

Living in Style in Moscow

For my last week in Moscow I treated myself to a stay in a flat in a famous building – the “Stalin skyscraper” on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.  This is one of the “seven sisters” – buildings commissioned by Stalin in the early 1950s in an imposing Soviet style that now dominate the central Moscow skyline.  Today, two are ministries, one is the Moscow State University, two are hotels, and two are blocks of apartments. 

Stalin’s skyscraper on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment – my new home for 10 days

To get to my flat I had to walk through a pretty central entrance, guarded by an old babushka concierge, and then take a small lift up to the 5th floor.  I was really happy with my flat – the furniture was antique Russian style from the 50s, but very comfortable, and there was a spectacular view of the Kremlin.

The view from my flat

I also managed to sneak up to the 24th floor, where the view from the emergency escape staircase was even better

Better not to have vertigo….
What a view!

From this amazing base I organised my last week in Moscow. First I hosted a party for all my Russian friends.  I invited a lot of people, and luckily my (human) artist friends Oleg and Masha offered me use of their studio for the evening, which was bigger than my flat and a really cool venue. 

My friend Oleg in his Art Studio

I caught up with everyone’s news over food and drinks, before one of our musician friends gave us a short concert on a spinet (an old instrument like a clavichord) that had somehow found its way into the studio. 

Alexei in front of his spinet before the concert

Then we all ventured up a steep, rickety staircase (the teddy bear equivalent of the north face of the Eiger) up into a long-neglected tower, to a spectacular outdoor viewing platform with a 360 degree view of Moscow.  The view was amazing, but I had to hold on tight because of the wind and was glad that my fur protected me from the cold.  The studio is on the “Garden Ring”, an eight-lane road forming a circle around the centre of Moscow, and in Stalin’s time KGB officers were stationed in the tower to report on the movements of suspected spies and other enemies of the people.

The view from the tower

Next of course I had to revisit two famous cultural venues – the Bolshoi theatre, to watch the opera “Sadko”,

Night out at the Bolshoi

Applaud for the Sadko’s performers

and the new concert hall in the Zaryadye Park, right next to the Kremlin.  The park is a short walk from home and on the way there were nice night-time views of the building I am living in….

My home at night

In the 1960s the area was a Soviet era hotel that was demolished to make way for a new conference centre, but the developer ran out of money and later had to flee the country after falling out with the new Putin government. For years the site lay vacant, until the current mayor hatched a plan for a new park and concert venue.  Work lasted four years and was only finished in 2018. The result is really impressive – an artificial hill has been built, with a view of St Basil’s cathedral and the Kremlin, the old churches along Warvarka street have been restored and are beautifully lit up at night, and the new concert hall has great acoustics. I went to hear the famous (well in Russia anyway) pianist Matsuev play a programme of music by Tchaikovsky.  After the concert I strolled around the park and took lots of pictures of the park at night, and in particular the imaginative lighting installations.

Warvaka street today with its churches
View from Zaryadye park

I also visited the Illusion cinema, housed in the very same building where I am staying. It’s a lovely old place, decorated in 1950s Soviet Style, and tickets for a film cost only 300 rubles (4-5 euros).

Me in front of the cinema
Inside the cinema

I could also use my new flat for business meetings. Russians are very serious in business and never smile when being photographed, even if you have concluded a deal with them.

Meet my partner

I also had time to revisit some of my favourite drinks and dinner venues.  Except for wine, restaurants are much cheaper in Moscow than in Paris or London. In the last few years the quality has improved enormously and it was very hard not to eat and drink too much.

First, I enjoyed the Bosco café on Red Square

Prosecco time at Bosco Cafe

And then I headed to Twins Wine Space, a very small restaurant specialising in interesting wines, with a short but excellent menu.

Twins Win Space : one of my favourite restaurant in Moscow

Finally, my new home was a good base to walk and explore the south of Moscow. I was lucky with the weather – my last two days were very sunny and warm (well, warm for Moscow in February – around +5C).  Everyone was saying that spring had already come, and the streets were crowded with people enjoying the sun.   I lost count of the number pretty churches with golden domes I photographed – here are just a few.

lovely churches

This one is one of my favourites – the Church of the Resurrection in Kadashi. On my first visit to Moscow in 2009 it was totally derelict, but now it has been restored to its former glory.  

 My walk also took me over the old bridge leading to the Kremlin and Red Square.

An another view of the Kremlin
and in front of Saint Basil’s cathedral

I finally got home in the late afternoon.  My pedimeter said I had done 20,000 human steps – that’s 200,000 teddy steps!  I slumped down in a big armchair and admired the sunset. A brilliant end to a fantastic month back in Russia!

It is good night from me!

Living on Alexander Solzhenitsyn street

After a week in Moscow, I moved to a different part of Moscow, called Taganskaya, and to my great surprise I settled in a cosy flat, located on the 6th floor of a brick building (this time with a lift!) and above all with a fantastic view over the church of Saint Martin the Confessor.

Church of Saint Martin the Confessor

This is a perfect place for a Teddy Bear like me! Once my suitcases were in the bedroom and after sharing a tea with the nice young owner of the place, I had to rush for my Russian class.

My new home for a week
with a large comfortable bed just for me

But on my way, I could not resist taking a few pictures of the surroundings. Along Alexandre Solzhenitsyn street stand old lovely colourful aristocratic-like houses. This street has all the charm of old Moscow. I just love it!

Alexander Solzhenitsyn street

I will be staying on Solzhenitsyn street for a week, giving the opportunity to explore an area I hardly know. The street was only renamed after the Nobel Prize Winner ten years ago. It used to be called ‘the great communist street’ and it is only more recently that the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich, inaugurated the statue of the great dissident on the same street. You will not find Solzhenitsyn’s flat here but the interesting Museum of the Russians Abroad named after him.

Statue of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

But first I had to reach Taganskaya metro station if I do not want to be late. It is one of those pretty stations on the brown circle line and serves as a hub for the connection with two other lines. So it is pretty handy and I am only at 3 stops from my language school. Just to show you the beauty of the Russian metro, I took pictures of two more stations.

The metro station, the church of Saint Nicholas on Bolvanovka
and one of the 7 Stalin’s sisters
Inside Taganskaya station – the dome
inside the station
Kosomolskaya station
Station Prospect Mira

On my way back from school, I decided to execute my plan and explore my new environment: first I would start with the church of Saint Martin the Confessor, the one just opposite to my room. Then I continued up Stanislavsky street. For those who do not know, Stanislavsky was an actor, a professor and theatre director who created a method of acting which was very popular in the world of theatre and cinema not only in Russia but also abroad. I would learn later that he was also an old believer. And of course, this part of Moscow is not short of theaters and artistic scenes. I passed Fabrika, a sort of artist studio, exhibition rooms installed in a former industrial building, to reach the churches of Saint Alexei and Saint Sergius Radonezh and the Monastery Saint Andronikov, well-known for hosting the museum of icons painted by Rublev.

Church of Saint Alexei
This XVIIIe century building with a tower that looks like a light house was a police station. The tower used to serve as a fire tower. This is now a business center.
Me in Nicoliamskaya street

My investigation of this district of Moscow took me the Pokrovski Monastery dedicated to Matrona. As you know, I went several times to this Monastery and I already mentioned it in a previous post. But I did discover more churches….the Russians are not short of holy places and they are never empty!

Pokrovski Monastery

The Taganskaya area is also known for Stalin’s bunker which was used during the cold war as a command centre . The bunker is located 60 meters below street level….a bit too much for my little legs. When you visit the bunker, it is possible to hear the vibration of the nearby metro.

Me in front of the entrance to Stalin’s bunker

While I was living there, I went to the museum of Russian Icons, the largest private collection of icons, more than 4000 pieces are referenced there. The founder of this museum, Michael Abramov, was a collector and an Art Patron, who died last year at the age of 55. It was pretty impressive to see the door giving access to the collection. I thought that I was entering the safe of the State’s treasurer. But then it is an amazing collection which is on display and is highly recommended for those who love icons.

Entrance to the exhibition….seriously protected!
some of the icons

I also went to the Museum of Russians Abroad, telling the story of those Russians who emigrated during the troubled times of the revolution to other countries, most of the time holding one suitcase as their only belongings, believing that they would come back one day. The museum is named after Solzhenitsyn who contributed financially to its realisation but not much is shown about him. I really like this small museum and the way things were displayed, with interesting testimonies.

Me in front of the museum dedicated to the Russians abroad
I found a friend….
Solsjenitsyn and his Nobel Prize

There were also a small exhibition about Admiral Alexander Kolchak with a display of documents bought at the recent auction organised in Paris. Admiral Alexander Kolchak was also known for leading several expeditions in the great north and for leading the white army against the Bolsheviks but was executed by them in 1920. His life was the subject of a recent film which was very popular in Russia. So it looks like the Admiral is not any more ‘an enemy of the people’.

Portrait of Admiral Kolchak with an extrait of a letter to his wife

What a busy Teddy Bear I am! My little head is full of images of new discoveries. Too much to listen and read in one go, I will definitively come back to the Museum of Russians Abroad!

Moving to Petrovka street

Wednesday was a busy day for me as I was moving to a room rented in a private flat on Petrovka street. This is a very central street running from the 700 year old Petrovki monastery to the Bolshoi Theater. The street is lined on both sides with luxurious shops, restaurants (for all budgets) and coffee rooms. To add some cultural life to this place, the MOMA opened last December a museum to promote Russian contemporary/modern artists. My room was big but not so great, but I was not planning to lock myself inside!

First thing was meeting my friend Ludmilla at Turandot restaurant. She had a really great special offer, and for the unbelievable price of 1850 rubles we had a starter, a main course and a desert with a cocktail in a fantastic venue. Every thing being well presented and served by a charming girl.

Ceiling at Turandot restaurant
Yummy-Yummy dessert!
Where is the pianist?

We thought that we had made a wise choice by seating on the balcony, when a large group of Chinese tourists took possession of the ground floor…..

In the evening, I met friends for dinner in the restaurant Cutfish, only 4 minutes away from where I was now living. Interesting concept, nice taste but I thought that this would not be enough to keep me full. We finished at the Mendeleev bar, a cool underground bar hidden at the back of a noodles shop, but a secret venue which is not any more so secret and very much a standard of Russia’s nightlife scene.

Perfect for those who are always on diet…

During my stay, I visited the Petrovski Monastery, which founded in the 14th century although the buildings and churches standing now date from the 18th century and were built by an Italian architect. It is interesting to see the different periods of construction but the best of all is to listen to the bells in the late afternoon on Sunday.

Petrovski Monastery
The walls of the monastery at night

Opposite the monastery, the other side of the road is occupied by the MOMA museum. I had fun exploring the exhibition even I am not sure I understand what the artist was trying to say. Outside in the garden stand some of Tsereteli’s monumental sculptures…. He is a very popular artist in Russia but not anywhere else!

One of Tsereteli’s gigantic sculptures…and she is not alone!
Is the artist expecting money?
…more my style

During the next few days, I tried a few places for coffee and snacks. For example the Bordera for its eclairs (not too sure) and pain aux raisons (more tasty).

I found a rather large friend at Bordera. Obviously he seems to be well treated here…

“Mandarin Goose”, a sort of selfservice in a traditional decor and really not bad at all,

Me, my bortsch and my salad at Mandarinovi Goose

Lepim and Varim with their pelmenis – a traditional Russian dish. The ones with beef were really good. Of course the best place for dinner was at my friend’s home, Olga, who lives in a street parallel to Petrovski, Dmitrovska.

I really loved those pelmenis!

Of course, I could not do without music and I also went to a concert at MosConcert with my friend Nadia, listening to violin and piano performance with Paganini and Sibelius on the programme.

But that was not all, my friend Rika and I went to see Vasily Polenov’s exhibition at the New Tretyakov Galleria. Vasily Polenov was not only a painter but also an architect and designer for theater performance. One of his most famous paintings is the Moscow Courtyard representing Arbat in 1878 (difficult to realise the transformation of this part of Moscow in a 150 years). He did not only paint pretty countryside scenes but also scenes of the Christ’s life which were displayed in number.

Vasily Polenov’s most famous painting
I like his painting of the dead sea
Winter in Russia, of course

After our cultural activity, Rika invited me to a delicious Japanese restaurant. We really enjoyed our time together.

Me at the Japanese restaurant

Back to Moscow!

For my first days in Moscow, I booked a room ‘chez Michel’, a nice small hotel located on the fifth floor of a building near Barricadnaya metro startion with a restaurant also called ‘chez Michel’. Contrary to expectations, none of the staff spoke French (or even English) so I was very puzzled why they chose that name for their hotel and restaurant, unless they wanted them to look French (they did decorate with some French artefacts). I was the only non- Russian Teddy Bear there and I was probably given the smallest room possible. I like cosy places, so that was fine, even with my suitcases. Anyway, I was only there for one night just to get my registration (a document foreigners need if they stay more than a week in Russia, and only easily available from hotels).

Chez Michel on Krasnaya Presnaya street
My cosy little room

My plan was to start my Russian class and take the advantage of spending two days in this part of Moscow to explore it. On the Tuesday, I was woken up but the sound of people I mean clearing snow from the pavement, and I knew before opening the blind that it has been snowing over night. I was very excited and looking forward to dipping my paws into the snow.

By the time I arrived at the station, the street was already cleaned of snow

To get to my school, I had to take the famous Moscow metro. It is a piece of history and art. My nearest station was Krasnayapresnenskaya and only two stops from my school. On my way, I admired the elegance of the stations Bielarusskaya and Novoslaboskaya.

Decoration at Krasnayapresnenskaya station
One of the glass panels at Novoslobodskaya station
Bielorusskaya station

After my class, I decided to explore the area around my hotel. I discovered that there was more than just the zoo where some of my Russian cousins live.

Me in front of the Zoo

I initially thought of having a look at the Russian White House, home of the Russian government and Prime Minister since 2016. My route took me to the back of the building, where remains of the attempted 1993 military coup were scattered  along the street. At that time, the building housed the parliament which have moved since 1994 to the Duma building near the Red Square. To my surprise, sadly I found stones marking the death of young people and red and black ribbons knotted to the branches of trees and other railings.

One of the stones marking the death of young people

There were also poems dating back to the Great Patriotic War (Second World War to westerners) hanging on some railings and panels explaining the events.

One of the poems written in 1944 on the Belorussian front

I carried on my way and went around the White House, leaving on my left the monument dedicated to those who fought in the 1905 revolution.

Monument dedicated to the heroes of the 1905 revolution

In front of the White House, I met two interesting and opposite individuals. On one side stood a lady with a large board denouncing the corruption of prominent people in the Moscow administration and on the left side, a keen supporter of the president. I was invited to attend a meeting which I kindly declined… a Teddy Bear should never get involved in politics. But reflecting on those two individuals, I thought that probably this was an accurate picture of the current situation in the country.

A lady protesting against corruption in Moscow
A supporter of the Russian President
The Russian White House

Finally I headed off to the historical and memorial museum of “Presnya”. 

Me in front of the museum

This little museum is not only about the events who took place in 1905-1907 in this part of Moscow, when workers rebelled against the Tsar and his army which led later to the revolution in 1917 but also about the evolution of home interiors and the way of life in soviet society during the communist period. Not many people visit this little museum and all the staff was whispering behind my back while I was looking at the exhibits. Maybe they have never seen such a soft visitor like me!

One of the exhibits….the kitchen
A vintage room

I finished my visit with the diaroma of the december 1905 revolution. Now I understand why metro stations in this district are called: Barrikadnaya, Street 1905 and Krasnopresnenskaya. I thought that this part of Moscow must have been pretty ‘red and communist’ and maybe this is still the case.

The 1905 diaroma

For my evening, I had a plan to catch up with a friend who works at the French Lycée in Moscow. The lycée is named after the French writer of the Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas. The book is so popular in Russia that all Russian families have a copy and reading it is part of the Russian education… alas not any more in France!

Me in front of the French Lycee in Milioutinsky pereulok

My friend and I entertained ourselves in a Uzbek restaurant. A lovely evening where I could delight myself with the Uzbek tomatoes: unbelievable delicious!

One cannot imagine how tasty are those Uzbek tomatoes…

Before going back, I took a few pictures of the festive decorations still in place on Loubyanka. It was rather magical but I was a very tired Teddy Bear, ready for my night.

Festive decorations on Loubyanka
Loubyanka, its Christmas tree and behind the KGB/FSB building

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