All pictures © Fabian M. Suchanek
My trip to Russia
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
Russian Summer School in Information Retrieval
is held at Saratov University, one of the oldest universities in Russia.
I teach on Information Extraction, the Semantic Web, and everything related to Elvis Presley.
Picture by Leonid Bessonov
My favorite class is
class. Science is not the truth. It is a way to seek the truth.
Picture by Vox
Also outside class, we’re having a great time. Here we are intoning approximations of English songs at the Volga River.
We also swim naked in the Volga at night. The water is very warm.
The RuSSIR party has food, music, dance, and fun. (Just kidding about the naked swimming.)
We also give an improvised Russo-German dancing class. (We did swim in the Volga, though.)
Picture by Alexander-Kozko
Saratov has 800,000 inhabitants and is a city of post–soviet charme.
The city center has been renovated. These newer buildings coexist...
...with old-style wooden houses...
...and soviet architecture — sometimes in close vicinity.
Saratov is also the city where the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, studied and trained.
Saratov has well-maintained parks, which are very peaceful, ...
, Russian people do not like to shout when they talk to each other.
The rest of the city is not always as well maintained.
People are working day and night to improve the streets, because the mayor of Moscow will be visiting.
Although, reportedly, this effort is concentrated on the streets that the mayor will see.
I also discovered an abandoned tramway,...
...and abandoned tracks,...
...which, to my surprise, are still in use and work well in tandem.
Saratov is located at the Volga, the longest river in Europe. In Saratov, it is 3km wide — at its thinnest point.
At its widest point, it's more like 11km.
The Saratov Bridge was the longest bridge in Europe when it was opened in 1965. the city on the other side is called Engels.
People swim in the Volga. The water is very warm and pleasant.
The Church “Mother of God, Soothe My Sorrows” has the typical Russian–orthodox ice cream towers.
Here the church on the campus of the University of Saratov.
The priest of the Dukhososhestvenskiy Sobor Cathedral kindly shows me around — although communication remains limited (“Америка?” — “Германия!”).
Once the obstacle of the cyrillic script is overcome, many Russian words become intelligible. This one reads “tualet”.
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
The Victory Park commemorates the Second World War. A student volunteer of Saratov University has the kindness to guide me.
She says: People from all countries are usually nice; it’s politics that makes the mess. Maybe she has a point...
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
I take the night train to Moscow. This is the first class. I am lucky and no one booked the second bed.
The distance to Moscow is 800km (as from Paris to Marseille). But the journey takes not 3 hours, but 15 hours.
I took a movie from the window. Watching the movie does not differ too much from looking at this picture.
The landscape is dotted with little wooden houses.
I arrive in Moscow at 7:20 in the morning.
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.
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.)
All metro trains have wifi. Ticket machines dispense a ticket in realtime. Paris, take note.
At 9:00, I am at the Red Square, the heart of Moscow.
From left to right (West to East), it contains the Kremlin walls...
...the State History Museum (which is much more impressive from the outside than from the inside)...
... 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.
The immense GUM department store was commissioned by Catherine the Great. Probably to allow her to go shopping for shoes.
The most impressive part, however, is Saint Basil’s cathedral, built in 1555. It is one of the nicer legacies of Ivan the Terrible.
The church originally had only 8 sanctuaries. The 9th one appeared miraculously by divine intervention during a visit by Tsar Ivan IV.
Today, such miracles are more rare. In their absence, normal healings are
The Kremlin is not a single building, but an entire area...
... surrounded by red walls (dating back to the 15th century), ...
... and a trench. Napoleon tried to blow up the Kremlin in 1812, but did not succeed, because it was raining.
Inside the walls, we have palaces built in the 15th century by Italian architects.
We also have the State Kremlin Palace, built in 1960 by Soviet architects.
Inside the Kremlin are mainly churches — much to the annoyance of the Soviet leaders, who shut them down in 1917.
At least they did not destroy them. Today, all 5 churches are in excellent shape.
This is the place where the little cupolas are grown, until they are large enough to be put on the other churches.
The immense bells of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower...
...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.
North of the Kremlin is a pompous park.
The horses of the four seasons have their buttocks permanently cleaned.
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.
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.
I follow the Moskva...
...down to Gorki park...
...which is in great shape, clean, and tidy. Note the portable sun loungers.
Peter the Great traveled to Western Europe, and modernized Russia in the spirit of the Enlightenment. A great man indeed.
The city still has some soviet-looking buildings.
However, the streets are new and clean.
Closer to the Kremlin, they are decorated.
The parks, too, are clean and tidy. Alcohol, smoking, and stepping on the lawn are prohibited.
Not just the big churches, but also the smaller ones are in good shape.
In Bunker 42, 3000 people could live for 3 months without external supply. The bunker is connected to the metro system.
Also, this copy of La Defense looks rather felicitous.
Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery
The Novodevichy Convent is a world heritage site.
The monastery was founded in 1524, and remained virtually intact since the 17th century.
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.
Everybody is shown with what was important in his life. Here we have a proud tank commander.
Wikipedia says that 27,000 people are buried here — including, possibly, a distant relative of mine.
It took me a while to notice, but did you see that there are nearly no crosses around?
On the contrary, some graves pass a distinct political message.
Here lies Dimitri Shostakovich, whom we play extensively in our
In Shostakovich’s honor, I added cyrillic to
. His full name reads Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович.
I return the next day, right in time for the dancing class at Télécom ParisTech.
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