Thursday, October 23, 2014

Communist All-stars Reign at Statue Park, Budapest

October 23, 1989, Hungary became an independent republic after 33 years of Soviet rule. Ironically, Soviet troops saw themselves as liberators in 1945 when they marched in, freeing Hungary from Nazi domination. Therein lies one of the great ironies of history: A country being freed from one totalitarian regime by another such regime.

When a regime falls, so do its monuments, notes Rick Steves, leading authority on European travel.

In the decades since Communism crumbled, Hungarians have resisted the impulse to demolish the statuary white elephants from the Soviets, collecting them instead  in Momento Park, an outdoor museum on the outskirts of Budapest.

I managed to visit Momento Park one recent spring. Care to join me for a look around? First, here's Rick Steves and The Communist All-Stars of Statue Park.

Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union and Prime Minister.

The German philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels co-authored The Manifesto of the Communist Party.

 The Soviet commander who liberated Budapest, February 1945, ordered a massive Liberation Monument of which this Soviet soldier was part.

Hungarian-Soviet Friendship Memorial: Ah yes, we get the body-language.

Vladimir Lenin: The man does get around.

Workers' Movement Memorial: Dedicated in 1976, as a symbol of the social and political results of the last three decades. 

Monument to Hungarian fighters in the Spanish International Brigades. Umm, okay. . .

The dutiful worker is honored here with the Republic of Councils Statue.
Since then, it has been dubbed The Cloak-room Attendant, shouting, Madam, you've forgotten something!

Happy Birthday! For his 70th birthday 1949, Hungarians gave Stalin the grandest statue of all. . himself up on a pedestal.

Sadly, to some at least, the Stalin statue was short-lived. The Hungarians revolted in 1956, demolishing the statue, a rather bold gesture but likely a response to the changing winds of politics in Moscow. It was Soviet leader Nikita Kruzhchev who began de-Stalinization after Stalin's death in 1953, first with his anti-Stalin speech to communist leaders in February, 1956. Later that year, the Hungarians revolted.

The Stalin monument was blown up in October, 1956 and only the boots remained. Here's the Momento Park replica of those boots.

Monument to the Martyrs of the Counter-Revolution, referring to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, a dark chapter in national history.

How wonderful that the grandchildren of those who witnessed the Communist era in Hungary can now visit Momento Park and catch a glimpse of their political heritage.

Monday, March 03, 2014

And Zee Winners are. . .!

Oh, before I name the winners, here's dear Janelle, an honest-to-goodness Olympic volunteer who's been here in Rostov over the weekend. Notice the official apparel!  All too soon, Janelle will be catching the train back to Sochi to help with the Paralympics. Besides volunteering at the games, Janelle volunteered to help me draw the winners of this contest. But you, dear friends, made that ever so easy ~ we had four prizes and four eligible contestants. Easy, peasy!
Janelle worked the bobsled run in Sochi and coordinated the press conference with the Canadian Hockey team.
Click here to follow Janelle's blog, I dream of Sochi. Here's a video interview with Janelle from CTV news, broadcast across Canada.

Thanks to Janelle for suggestions on my blog and on this contest. And here are zee vinners: Angela, Karen, Sonya and Michelle! I'll be getting in touch with each of you. And thanks so much to each of you for entering! May all your Olympic dreams come true!

You Can Win an Olympic Souvenir: 4 Gifts. . . and Going Fast!

Dear friends, here's your chance to be part of Olympic history! You can win one of four limited-edition official souvenirs from the Sochi 2014 Olympic games. Just scroll down to the bottom and leave a comment!

But here's the kicker: Gotta act now. Contest closes in less than twelve hours: Sunday midnight, Pacific Time ~ which is Monday noon, Moscow Time.

Here are the prizes. Oh and are they glorious. . . well, to someone they certainly will be!

Ski Boots Pack. This is nice: there's a zipper there on the back. Totally legal to use for tennies. Or lunch or books. Or Barbies or Legos, if you must. (Click photos to enlarge.)
Round Birch Box with the official mascots of the Sochi Olympics. Didn't you just love them skating at the Closing Ceremony?!
Official Olympic Bandages: Now these will sooth the pain!

Lapel Pin. And you know where to put this.
So there are your prizes. . . and here's the backstory.

In recent days, I stopped by SportMaster here in Rostov-on-Don, to pick up a few little trinkets. Here's what I saw. And here's what tempted me to buy and buy and keep on buying. 

SportMaster Window "Official merchandise, Sochi 2014. Best gifts" Figure skates for 1299 rubles,at 33 rubles to the dollar, that's  about.... 40$. Guess they're vinyl.
Here's the department of things Olympic. The manager, or some nice fellow parading around as such, gave me permission to photograph, and of course I bought enough Olympic loot to make it worth his while. So, up there on the wall, *Department of Licensed Merchandise, Sochi 2014.*
*Buy Olympic Merchandise* I am, I am! Decisions, decisions: What to buy? What will ship?
Official Leopards: Available for a good home. A blue-belted leopard is no ordinary leopard.
Down-the-Hill Stuff. Or perhaps giant frisbees there, far right. How about one of these inner tube-y things? Tempting, tempting, haha.
Hockey team shirt: These might be discounted now, or not: Guessing we're busy grooming hockey players for the next winter games. Go Russia!
Serious about Seat Pads. There are those among us who need more layers posterior. And then. . . there's the rest of us. ;)
Official Mascots inside of their "House of Mascots." Here they are but without their cute little ice skates.
Olympic hopeful 2026? This young lady's got stars in her eyes. All under Grandma's guidance, of course.
Olympic stickers: Two sets given away to classroom teachers. You'll forgive me, I trust. These things go fast, gotta tell ya. 
Silly me, in the heat of the moment, got this hockey puck ~ it was so very cheap, really ~ Got home and weighed it: 250 grams, or so. And at the post office they're so very picky about every little gram. So onto Plan B: The puck's in good hands now. Given to a local physical education teacher, knowing he will help inspire the next generation of hockey players.
Store window: here's the website where you can find more merchandise. Because of course you want to order your own hockey puck. Or official ice skates or. . . snow board!
Comments Please: 
a) Dear friends, please share something YOU ENJOYED about the Sochi Olympics!
b) WHICH prize do you want? (Which one will keep you awake tonight?)

Here's the fine print: 
1) Contest closes SOON! Comment right away! Drawing here in Rostov-on-Don Monday afternoon local time. That means: If you're in North America, enter Sunday night before you go to bed!
2) Prizes limited to folks residing in North America. (See, the prizes I've already mailed to Dallas! Umm, yes. Seemed like a good idea at the time....!)
3) Enter once.
4) Watch this space for announcement of zee Vinners on Monday! We're hurrying and later I'll tell you WHY!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Weathering the Ice and Snow of Southwest Russia: Sochi 2014

Let's talk about the weather of southwest Russia. Because if you're into the Olympics ~ and oh, surely you are ~ the weather is significant.

In a nutshell, although it's well below freezing here in Rostov-on-Don, it is not cold in Sochi (pronounced SO-chee), in fact today's high was 46 F.  But as you may know, there's a plan in place to maximize Sochi's unique geography ~ thus its climate cocktail ~ that will please even the most discriminating skiers, skateboarders and aficionados of all things snowy. We'll have a look at that shortly. . .

* * * * *

But first, please join me on the icy streets here in Rostov-on-Don. Several afternoons ago, the day's high was -7 F and felt like -31 F. Given the choice, most folks were hibernating at home, but I was itching for fresh air, wanted to check on an elderly friend and swing by the statue of Yuri Gagarin (pronounced Ga-GAR-in), the bigger-than-life Soviet cosmonaut, the first man in space. I was hoping the fresh snow and late afternoon sunlight might flatter him.

As it turned out, Comrad Gagarin was in spectacular form.

In front of Rostov Technical University is Yuri Gagarin, first man in space.
(Click image to enlarge.)

From atop his obelisk along the square named in his honor, Yuri Gagarin overlooks Voroshilovskii Street, a major north-south artery. Continuing ever-so-carefully several blocks south, I met a challenge of near-Olympic proportions.

Bare, bumpy ice. My task was to get across that mess and turn right on Maxim Gorky Street, the next intersection. This was an Olympic contest between the ice and me. I won, yes I did. (However, the outcome the next day was quite different.)

Ten meters to the left of the icy sidewalk, here's the view. I noticed an older woman in Soviet-era rubber boots trudging up this footpath along the curb. When in doubt, imitate the nearest Russian babyshka, or grandmother.

South on Voroshilovskii Street: Approaching the Gorky Street bus stop.

Thanks to these slippery walkways, I've had reason to haul out my new full-length down parka from Eddie Bauer, long enough to protect the knees, in theory at least. And protecting the lower limbs is a very good idea ~ said with a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts draped over my left shin, nursing an ice-related injury.

* * * * *

To head from Rostov toward the Olympic action, go southwest 250-some miles and you'll reach Sochi. That's an overnight train trip, as I know first-hand, and the temperatures there are considerably more moderate, thanks in part to the Black Sea. Here's a handy-dandy map of southwest Russia showing Sochi and environs. Click on the wide view and Rostov-on-Don is visible to the northeast. Zoom in closer and east of Sochi you see Krasnaya Polyana (Beautiful Valley), the Olympic ski area, 40-some miles inland, in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountain Range.

With the snow in question, a Michigan-based company, SMI, Snow Makers, has installed 400 snow-making machines, according to this National Geographic video. Before Thanksgiving, Jon Wax, an SMI employee based in central Washington, took leave of his snowmaking duties and headed to Sochi where he's been on the Olympic snow-making team. Here's his story.

Lastly, thanks to RT, Russia Today, "Don't Worry if There's No Flurry. . ."

How about you, dear blog-reading friend? Have you attended or participated in Winter Olympics? Or have you spent time in Sochi? Please do share!

Monday, January 20, 2014

It's Not the Polar Bear Club: It's Orthodox Epiphany

What would it take for you to plunge yourself into icy waters? Over the weekend, more than 90,000 devout Russians visited frozen rivers and ponds across the land, peeled off clothing down to their swim suits and dipped themselves three times in icy waters, so as to imitate Jesus Christ and his baptism in the Jordan River. One fortunate difference: the Biblical account doesn't mention ice. No surprise there. . .

This exercise is part of the January 19th epiphany, an official holiday on the Russian Orthodox calendar.

These hearty believers dip themselves under the water three times, one time each for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. One man, shown in a video I encountered somewhere,  added two more dips, one of those being for Russia, as I understood him. Now that's patriotism.

Folks immerse themselves to receive forgiveness of sins and, as I was reminded by a previous post, the fewer sins one has, the less frigid the water will feel. Thus the expression, Oh the water really wasn't all that cold! Being healed of illnesses is another goal of this exercise. As one Orthodox priest explained, each January 19th, water is thought to miraculously revert to the perfect water, as it was just after the Creation, thus with healing powers..

Well, although I'm not in particular agreement with this practice, I'm in awe of what folks are willing to do in hopes of getting closer to God. Here are lots more photographs from English Russia.

Have you ever jumped into icy cold waters. . . for whatever reason? Please do share!