Mean Canada (Russia #3)

October 15, 2019 Comments (4) Europe, Experiences

Underground Russia (#4)

The most original bit of street art in Flacon
In my final story from Russia I want to show you some stuff we found while in Moscow and Saint Petersburg that’s really ‘underground’.

The first area is one just discovered by my Russian photographer friend Sasha (whom I met in Burma a decade ago, but has since become a recurring character in my travel stories!). He’s relatively new to Moscow himself, and thought it was a bit ‘Melbourne’, so invited us to check it out with him.  The area is called Flacon.

What follows is my review of the area (as a freshly-minted Melbourne hipster snob) and also an extension of my last post documenting Russian ‘hospitality’.

Apartments in Russia are always left unfinished; Sasha’s is now a photo printing workshop.

The Flacon Hipster Incident

Upon arrival in the area, I happily noted the tasteful converted red brick factory apartments, the cozy walkable scale (no cars!), the ample street art, and the prevalence of shops, ethnic restaurants, and bars.  It seemed pretty nice!

But I soon began to sense something was a bit ‘off’. The street art: too manicured. The bar and restaurant prices: more than double other neighbourhoods in Moscow. Not a single shop selling everyday products for local residents. But a whole lot of ‘lifestyle’ stores: One was selling wakeboards (in central Moscow?); another just drones (wha?), and another just Go-Pros (srsly?).  

I rolled my eyes when I saw the overly-stylised word “Playground” painted at a shiny new basketball court (in English – because that’s more hip than Russian)

But after all of the above, what really made me cringe was the “DJ Scratch School”. For some reason that just put the whole place beyond redemption.

the Playground™
(*barf*)
Flacon is a perfect caricature of a hipster neighbourhood. It even had a theatrical component: a group adorned in shiny new activewear occupied the pedestrian walking area, conspicuously performing Crossfit.

The place is basically an open-air museum to Hipsterdom. I imagine in several generations’ time we’ll be taking schoolchildren here to teach them about this rabid cultural phenomenon.

And what kind of people lived here? (besides Crossfitters). We’d find out while eating overpriced kebabs, when Sasha took one step away from our table to grab a bottle opener. A guy walked past at full speed and snatched Sasha’s chair – with our mouths full, in the blink of an eye. We couldn’t even say anything before he was across the room.

Sasha, fairly surprised, saw his chair missing and walked over to retrieve it. Sasha explained in Russian, “Sorry, but I was sitting in this chair. I just went to open my beer.” 

Then it was our turn to be surprised: The guy growled back at Sasha, “I didn’t see your name on it”. 

“Well what about my food on the table, directly in front of the chair?”, Sasha replied. 

But logic was no impediment to this man.  “If it was your seat, why didn’t your friends say something when I took it?” 

Sasha whipped back, “Because they don’t speak Russian!”

“Well that’s their problem, not mine. We are in Russia,” he assholishly replied. 

At this point the guy sensed he couldn’t save face, and promptly stormed out. Sasha came back with his chair, sat down, and calmly took a swig of his beer. He reminded us that this area is exclusively occupied by rich, young Russians. “And Russians with money,” he added, “especially young ones, are almost always assholes.” 

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The next spot I want to show you is even more underground than Flacon. 

It’s… the Moscow Metro!

From its lowly beginnings in 1935 with just one line and 13 stations, it has grown to a whopping 17 lines with 232 stations. And with 7 million passenger trips per day, it’s the busiest in Europe!

The stations constructed under Stalin were designed to be “palaces for the people” and are architecturally extravagant. Take a look at just a few that we visited:

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What’s more underground than the Moscow Metro, you wonder?

Well, the Saint Petersburg Metro!

Owing to the swampy ground conditions, it’s the world’s deepest Metro system. It also has the world’s longest escalator (138m long, 69m high) at Admiralteyskaya station.

But most stations aren’t quite as ornate as the Moscow Metro. (Which itself, though stunning, in my humble opinion still takes second place to the world’s most beautiful Metro, in Tashkent. Too bad it was illegal to take photos when I was there, thanks to Uzbekistan’s “boil-your-enemies” dictator).

Retro CCTV surveillance at Moskovskaya
Goodbye, Saint Petersburg! Goodbye, everybody!
Thanks for reading my Experiences from China and Russia!

4 Responses to Underground Russia (#4)

  1. Louise O'Rourke Fuller says:

    “Russia has to be governed two ways, as a poor country and as a rich one, because it is both. More than 19 million people, or 13 percent of the population, have incomes below the official subsistence minimum of about $150 a month. That’s extreme poverty by developed-world standards.

    On the other hand, Russia’s resource wealth is enormous; it doesn’t just have the world’s biggest natural gas reserves, but also Europe’s biggest population of internet users and higher academic performance scores than half the developed world.”
    Leonid Bershidsky

    Story and pictures great as usual. But a country that somehow just terrifies me. But then again, you know I am not the adventurous type!

  2. Geraldine Brockman says:

    Wow, awesome photos, fabulous stories and you two are humorous. Love your face shots. That architecture is something else. Thanks for the journey.

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