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My trip to Russia

RuSSIR

00map
I am invited to teach at a summer school in Saratov/Russia. For those people who (like me) did not know where that is, here is the map.

Map from OpenStreetMap

10uni
The Russian Summer School in Information Retrieval is held at Saratov University, one of the oldest universities in Russia.
10me
I teach on Information Extraction, the Semantic Web, and everything related to Elvis Presley.

Picture by Leonid Bessonov

10cancer
My favorite class is Ingmar Weber’s class. Science is not the truth. It is a way to seek the truth.

Picture by Vox

10sing
Also outside class, we’re having a great time. Here we are intoning approximations of English songs at the Volga River.
10swim
We also swim naked in the Volga at night. The water is very warm.
10party
The RuSSIR party has food, music, dance, and fun. (Just kidding about the naked swimming.)
10hustle
We also give an improvised Russo-German dancing class. (We did swim in the Volga, though.)

Picture by Alexander-Kozko

Saratov

01bucharest
Saratov has 800,000 inhabitants and is a city of post–soviet charme.
01center
The city center has been renovated. These newer buildings coexist...
01wood
...with old-style wooden houses...
01contrast
...and soviet architecture — sometimes in close vicinity.
01gagarin
Saratov is also the city where the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, studied and trained.
02entrance
Saratov has well-maintained parks, which are very peaceful, ...
02park
...because, reportedly, Russian people do not like to shout when they talk to each other.
02fall
The rest of the city is not always as well maintained.
02repair
People are working day and night to improve the streets, because the mayor of Moscow will be visiting.
02schrott
Although, reportedly, this effort is concentrated on the streets that the mayor will see.
03tram
I also discovered an abandoned tramway,...
03cracks
...and abandoned tracks,...
03tracks
...which, to my surprise, are still in use and work well in tandem.
05man
Saratov is located at the Volga, the longest river in Europe. In Saratov, it is 3km wide — at its thinnest point.
05wide
At its widest point, it's more like 11km.
05bridge
The Saratov Bridge was the longest bridge in Europe when it was opened in 1965. the city on the other side is called Engels.
05beach
People swim in the Volga. The water is very warm and pleasant.
06icecream
The Church “Mother of God, Soothe My Sorrows” has the typical Russian–orthodox ice cream towers.
06unichurch
Here the church on the campus of the University of Saratov.
06interior
The priest of the Dukhososhestvenskiy Sobor Cathedral kindly shows me around — although communication remains limited (“Америка?” — “Германия!”).
07toilet
Once the obstacle of the cyrillic script is overcome, many Russian words become intelligible. This one reads “tualet”.
07modern
Here the same object in modern form. Note the TV and the small football goal in strategic location. It even has a small ball.

Saratov Victory Park

09park
The Victory Park commemorates the Second World War. A student volunteer of Saratov University has the kindness to guide me.
09tank
She says: People from all countries are usually nice; it’s politics that makes the mess. Maybe she has a point...
09view
Today is more peaceful. This view shows the Volga, the Saratov bridge, the Cathedral, the wooden houses (front), and the smog (back).

Trip to Moscow

11train
I take the night train to Moscow. This is the first class. I am lucky and no one booked the second bed.
11wait
The distance to Moscow is 800km (as from Paris to Marseille). But the journey takes not 3 hours, but 15 hours.
11landscape
I took a movie from the window. Watching the movie does not differ too much from looking at this picture.
11houses
The landscape is dotted with little wooden houses.
11arrival
I arrive in Moscow at 7:20 in the morning.

The Metro

14metro
Once in Moscow, the tranquility is over. The Moscow metro looks old, but it is extremely fast in comparison to the Paris metro. Trains run every 90 seconds.
14escalator
Even the escalators are noticeably faster than elsewhere (seriously). Therefore, they are supervised by a human. (For my Parisian friends: an escalator is kind of a moving staircase.)
14door
All metro trains have wifi. Ticket machines dispense a ticket in realtime. Paris, take note.

Red Square

18square
At 9:00, I am at the Red Square, the heart of Moscow.
18tower
From left to right (West to East), it contains the Kremlin walls...
18history
...the State History Museum (which is much more impressive from the outside than from the inside)...
18stalin
... and the graves of all Russian leaders since the revolution. While Lenin’s body was mummified, and is exposed in a mausoleum, Stalin (pictured) is much less revered today.
18gum
The immense GUM department store was commissioned by Catherine the Great. Probably to allow her to go shopping for shoes.
18basil
The most impressive part, however, is Saint Basil’s cathedral, built in 1555. It is one of the nicer legacies of Ivan the Terrible.
18inside
The church originally had only 8 sanctuaries. The 9th one appeared miraculously by divine intervention during a visit by Tsar Ivan IV.
18entrance
Today, such miracles are more rare. In their absence, normal healings are declared miracles.

The Kremlin

13outside
The Kremlin is not a single building, but an entire area...
13wall
... surrounded by red walls (dating back to the 15th century), ...
13trench
... and a trench. Napoleon tried to blow up the Kremlin in 1812, but did not succeed, because it was raining.
13inside
Inside the walls, we have palaces built in the 15th century by Italian architects.
13modern
We also have the State Kremlin Palace, built in 1960 by Soviet architects.

13all
Inside the Kremlin are mainly churches — much to the annoyance of the Soviet leaders, who shut them down in 1917.

13church
At least they did not destroy them. Today, all 5 churches are in excellent shape.
13onions
This is the place where the little cupolas are grown, until they are large enough to be put on the other churches.
13bell
The immense bells of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower...
13play
...can be rang from this pedals. Although you probably need an elephant to do that. The clapper was so heavy that I could not even move it with my hand.
13prunk
North of the Kremlin is a pompous park.
13horses
The horses of the four seasons have their buttocks permanently cleaned.

The Moskva

12savior
The cathedral of Christ the Savior was built in 1883. Yet, Stalin destroyed it completely in 1931, in order to build a gigantic statue of Lenin.
12alex
The statue never came. Instead, the park has a statue of Alexander II, who abolished serfdom. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1992, and opened again in 2000.
12moscva
I follow the Moskva...
12gorki
...down to Gorki park...
12liegen
...which is in great shape, clean, and tidy. Note the portable sun loungers.
12peter
Peter the Great traveled to Western Europe, and modernized Russia in the spirit of the Enlightenment. A great man indeed.

The City

19schrott
The city still has some soviet-looking buildings.
19street
However, the streets are new and clean.
15deco
Closer to the Kremlin, they are decorated.
19park
The parks, too, are clean and tidy. Alcohol, smoking, and stepping on the lawn are prohibited.
19church
Not just the big churches, but also the smaller ones are in good shape.
19bunker
In Bunker 42, 3000 people could live for 3 months without external supply. The bunker is connected to the metro system.
19defense
Also, this copy of La Defense looks rather felicitous.

Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery

16convent
The Novodevichy Convent is a world heritage site.
16inside
The monastery was founded in 1524, and remained virtually intact since the 17th century.
17sun
Much more impressive, however, is the adjacent cemetery. Every grave has a statue of the deceased person. Here we have a series of airplane pilots.
17tank
Everybody is shown with what was important in his life. Here we have a proud tank commander.
17suchanova
Wikipedia says that 27,000 people are buried here — including, possibly, a distant relative of mine.
17phone
It took me a while to notice, but did you see that there are nearly no crosses around?
17taxes
On the contrary, some graves pass a distinct political message.
17shosta
Here lies Dimitri Shostakovich, whom we play extensively in our dancing class.
17lie
In Shostakovich’s honor, I added cyrillic to my font. His full name reads Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович.
17ballet
I return the next day, right in time for the dancing class at Télécom ParisTech.
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