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Sunday, May 06, 2007


DachaBoris' and Tanya's taiga forest dacha - "somewhere in Russia"

I arrived in St. Petersburg on Saturday evening, April 21st as the guest of Boris, Tanya and Lena. Early the next morning Boris and I set off to spend the next five days at the family dacha, some 150 miles east in the tiny village of Crasnaya Gora surrounded by taiga forest. If you have Google Earth you can zoom in to 58°50'N, 33°51'E to locate it. We were joined by Boris' hunting friends Dmitri and Tanya.

Boris, Dmitri, Jim and Tanya have dinner at the dacha

The first spring migrant birds were already established, with Redwings and Fieldfares (that might have been wintering in Britain a fortnight earlier) singing on territory, and Pied Flycatchers and Wheatears passing through. A beautiful male Pallid Harrier was a "lifer".

However, it is the speciality birds of the taiga forest that were of special interest. Hazel and Black Grouse were found quite easily but the hunter's Holy Grail, the Capercaillie, secretive in the more inaccessible swamps of the deeper forest, presented more of a challenge. I had not seen one since visiting Scotland as a teenager.

Dmitri and Tanya display their hunting spoils - capercaillie, mallards and woodcocks

Dmitri and Tanya located a covey one evening and returned with a magnificent cock (restricted to one bird per hunter). Early the following morning I set off, equipped with GPS, and spent a couple of hours treading carefully around the forest swamps, totally lost in orientation "somewhere in Russia", depending entirely on the GPS to find my way out!

The tangle of the swampy taiga, habitat of the elusive capercaillie

I had practically given up hope when a hen Capercaillie flushed just ahead of me and I was rewarded with a brief but clear view as she rose steeply and disappeared into the impenetrable tangle of the taiga.

I was happy to spot the architect of this arboreal sculpture (beaver)..

But maybe just as well I didn't encounter the author of this forest track (brown bear)...

I felt quite wistful to leave the peace and isolation of the beautiful taiga but also excited at the prospect of exploring St. Petersburg during my remaining week.

Evening view from the dacha


One long ambition has been to see a performance by one of the great Russian ballet companies. So a chance to see the Kirov Ballet in the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre was not to be missed. It definitely became one of those "What the heck, you only live once" moments when I was able to snap up one of the only two remaining tickets for Sunday's performance!

Mariinsky Theatre
Now, I am not saying that upon entering the tiered auditorium of the Mariinsky Theatre and setting eyes on the famous stage curtain I was instantly visited by the spirits of Diaghilev, Grigoriev, Fokine, Petipa, Nijinski, Anna Pavlova, Léon Bakst, and many other names associated with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes that I have read about and studied. Nevertheless it was impossible not to be moved by the occasion and to be minded of the importance of its place in the history of the performing arts.

The magnificent guilded circles
The performance comprised three ballets by Balanchine: Serenade (Tchaikovsky), The Prodigal Son (Prokoviev) and Ballet Imperial (Tchaikovsky). The latter represented an additional bonus as the music is Tchaikovsky's less-often performed second piano concerto, and Ulyana Lopatkina in the lead role was stunning. I was pleased too that a historic link was made as Prodigal Son was the last work that Balanchine choreographed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1929 with Serge Lifar in the title role.

I shall not attempt a full review here except to say I saw some wonderful dancing during a truly memorable occasion.

Inside the Mariinsky

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky

I spent my very first earned income (twenty-five shillings, picking apples, aged 16) on an 'Ace of Clubs' recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E Minor (Opus 64) played by L'Orchestra de la Swisse Romande, under Earnest Ansermet. This rather brooding music might not have been in accord with the tastes of my peers but for me marked the beginning of an enduring passion for his music.

I discovered some time ago that his grave is located in the Tikhvin Cemetery in the grounds of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery close to the Riva Neva in St Petersburg and ever since it has been my intention to visit it in to order to mark my respect for the composer who has given me a lifetime’s joy.

Image of a genius

And so I met up with my charming hostess Lena who helped me to choose six white roses (“one for each of his symphonies”) to place on his memorial.

Tchaikovsky's memorial


During my week in St. Petersburg I was able to visit many of the finest sights. The Hermitage Museum; a boat trip down the Neva to the Gulf of Finland; the remarkable cathedrals and the Admiralty building; a five km stroll along the Nevsky Prospect to the monastery; a visits to the chemist Mendeleev’s study, now preserved as a museum, his original manuscripts of drafts of his Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements (a component of A-level chemistry syllabuses everywhere).

So much to see and do. I hope these few images will give a flavour of the city.
Peter and Paul Fortress at dusk - the view from my window!

The Hermitage

The Winter Palace from the River Neva

St. Isaac's Cathedral from the Riva Neva

Thank you Lena for looking after me so charmingly!


Anonymous Ellee said...

What a fabulous trip, so many special memories. It seems to have been tailor made to your requirements, you are so lucky to have friends you can stay with in a host country, it makes the visit so much more memorable

I did wonder about you getting lost, Simon and I and others were worried about you. Now I have seen a pic of that gun, I think we had good cause for concern.

The ballet sounds fabulous, I remember seeing the Swan Lake there many, many years ago when I visited with Cambridge University Travellers and Explorers Club. Unfortunately, we had no time to visit The Hermitage.

Welcome back, I really enjoyed reading this report.

2:05 pm  
Blogger Merisi said...

This sounds like you had a truly wonderful time.
I didn't know there were capercaillie in Russia (I know them from Austria).
Those cloudscapes remind me of Kiev, where every afternoon big white cloudships would slowly sail along the low horizon.
I was down at the Danube this afternoon, and spotted several tree trunks that looked like they had been chopped on by beavers (no bear tracks, thank heaven).
Here a little capercaillie encounter:
Dancing Capercaillie (let me just say, I hope the capercaillie pecked that guy real hard!)

6:25 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Thanks Ellee, yes I do appreciate how lucky I am!

Merisi, Wow! Great bit of film, that bird was lucky not to end up in a stew pot! I was at the Danube exactly a year ago, in the delta, watching birds of course!

6:33 pm  
Blogger Merisi said...

Well, he may well have! :-)
The Delta must be wonderful (I have heard from a friend who was there on the Ukrainian side some years ago, that all they got to drink on the boat was Wodka *g*, hope you fared better).
The river here in the city is quite tame, but in the two hours I hiked around there today, I found some really nice spots that give you the illusion of being in the wilderness, and you can get your boots soaked nicely. There were mallards and other smaller ducks, a swan, lizards, ants, and Viennese ravens (or whatever birds they are). Traces of beavers, I think, too.

7:41 pm  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Oh Maalie!


7:55 am  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Am so glad you got to the Kirov ballet... you of all people would know how to appreciate it.
We got a record player when I was about 6. Most of the records bought for it were 45s of children's stories that we listened to repeatedly. But my father had four special records of his own. One was Kiri Te Kanawa singing the Nun's Chorus and "Let the Bright Seraphim". And another was a Tchaikovsky. So I was introduced to him at a young age, but don't think I have ever heard any of his music played 'live'.

11:17 am  
Blogger Davy said...

Brilliant mate! I would have thought that you'd have tracked down the bear for a photo-shoot for us though. I hope you've got your laundry sorted and your batteries charged for this weekend? See you soon.


11:57 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

What a lovely holiday, you lucky old thing. It is certainly nice having friends in so many countries to put you up and take you around with them. Also loved the capercaillie film. Quite right Merisi, I hope he got a good pecking too!

3:06 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Hi Maalie, I wondered if you could post a few more pics via flickr, I would love to see them all.

5:49 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Lol I see you have deleted penless' comments ;-) But not before I read them and went to her site where she and her friends are crowing over her boldness. Did some 'friend' get into your computer??????

7:20 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Actually I visited Penless's blog too and congratulated her on standing up to Maalie! She's braver than me.
I have studied the picture on Merisi's blog of the beaver tree, and personally I think the knickers are gentleman's underwear. I zoomed in on them and this is the conclusion I came to.

10:16 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Lorenzo, well you should know!

Kiwi, yes it's now in the public domain elsewhere, there was no need to retain it here.

11:05 am  
Blogger Abraham Lincoln said...

I like your photography. Interesting post.

See the latest windpower technology working here in Brookville.

11:41 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

If you hadn't deleted it your friends could have replied, then there would have not have been a one-sided debate, although I do appreciate that between you and Mr. Dawkins you would have squashed any mystical points of view!

12:43 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Friends? Have I got any left?

3:36 pm  
Blogger Penless Thoughts said...

Maalie - I came over to leave you another comment and of course read the additional comments that have been made. I am disappointed you deleted my prior comment. Yes, it is out in the public domain but it began on my blog comments and here.

That being said, what I really came to say is I am not trying to convert you, or anyone else. I could not if I wanted to!!! That is God and The Holy Spirits area and certainly not mine.

I hope to hear from you when you return from your retirement celebration and wish you a delightful time and trip for it.

I am not, whatever you may think, a hostile person. I desire to concentrate on the common things we share and not on the division.

3:43 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Yes, loads of us you poor dear man whose eyes etc. etc. etc. Your's is not the only blogsite that gets turned into a chatroom!

3:43 pm  
Blogger Barbara said...

Thanks for visiting my site. The Golden Hind replica is still at Southend. The trains still run along the pier, though there was a severe fire on end of pier last year (one 10 years ago also) so that part is not functioning. A great pity as there is a whole new feature at the end of the pier. New life boat station and the whole area is like sitting on the large deck of a ship. The entgrace to the pier is much changed too. Very modern with glass tower, lifts , stairways that lead across the road to the shopping area. Guess the rest of Southend is not much changed though. If you are familiar with Cenvey you might like the other Leigh and Two-Tree Island postings that I have done.
LOved your photos of Russia and St. Petersburgh. Would love to have been able to go there. Than ks for [posting them.

4:58 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Maalie, a pity youd didn't have time to visit the Siege of Leningrad Museum during your visit, a terrible story about WW11.

6:25 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

All that controversial talk of yours on Penless blogsite has certainly kick started my blog again!

8:12 pm  
Blogger Penless Thoughts said...

Maalie - The discussion between you and I seems to have been hijacked!!! I looked for an email address on your information but didn't find one. When you return from Spain will you please contact me by e-mail at
I would like to take our discussion out of the public domain and just between the two of us if that is agreeable with you.

9:13 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Ellee, thanks for bringing it back 'on topic' :-)

Yes, it is impossible to see everything in one visit. They say you would need a lifetime just to glance at everything in the Hermitage. I would like to have been able to take in the Siege Museum. The elderly obviously have it still very much on their mind. I was stupid enough one evening to leave a tiny bit on the side of my plate and was gently reminded about the siege. I was treated most generously but rapidly leaned to take small portions and go back for "seconds" when invited than to take a little more then needed first time. Don't we just take so much for granted?

9:18 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Susan, your comment came in while I was writing the former, I wasn't ignoring you. Yes, sure thing.
But I really must iron a few shirts now!

9:20 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

I think it's time for a large Scotch and bed. Night night.

10:13 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

What a tough life. Just jets in from two weeks in Russia. In a rush to iron his shirts so he can leave on time for Spain. Can you smell the envy?

8:28 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

He really does have a hard life Kiwi. Not only does he have to iron his shirts he has to wash them too. What he needs is the love of a good woman. Sorry, what he needs is the love of a bad woman.

9:02 am  
Blogger Merisi said...

Lorenzo etc.:
In better don't comment anything
(who is the master of topics, anyway?). *chuckle*

11:18 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Jim, just checking you received my emails ok from yesterday as I haven't heard from you.

4:31 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Hi Everyone, Thanks for the comments.

Off down to Spain (Coto Donana) today, I'll put some pictures of it up in a week or so.

6:57 am  
Anonymous may said...

What does this guy (Maalie) have of so special that makes him earn such loving attention from women?

7:40 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

May, he sounds genuine, and interesting.

8:52 pm  
Blogger May said...

From the little I know of him, you are right.

9:16 pm  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Nonsense - he's a runcible rascal, and girls always gravitate to the bad boys.

Fact ;-)

4:46 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

JLS: Quite right. He is a runcible rascal. Just spent a week with the rogue in Spain. Well, I had forgotten what a little sod he can be! We had a wonderful time and saw a black-shouldered-spotless-Iberian-short-toed-crested-Imperial-bootless-eagle.

9:40 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

Lena does look lovely, I hope you have been well looked after in Spain too.

12:30 pm  
Blogger Jeremy Jacobs said...

I was in St Petersburg in 2000. What a brilliant place.

6:37 pm  

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