An Estonian Prophecy


There were still ten minutes before the Tallinn double decker sightseeing bus was scheduled to depart.  The top deck now full: in front a group of Russians and, last on, a small group of Brits smartly dressed and diffusing as much aftershave as the perfume counter in Debenhams. During a stay in Tallinn 17 years earlier I met a traveler from Quebec at a backpacker hostel. Mike had been in the city for under a week and was ‘running out of things to do.’ His enthusiasm for the ‘pretty little place’ was as yet undiminished, but he was certainly aware … Continue reading

Stalin’s World


 Gruto Parkas was designed with the intention to shock and early signs were that it would do just that. The parks 500 acre grounds were dominated by some sixty odd statues of Communist icons, the old favourites such as Lenin and Stalin and some less known additions. Despite it being a sculpture garden with cafes, kids playgrounds, a zoo and other concessions to the modern day visitor, the idea was to ‘recreate the horror of the Soviet gulag’, and first impressions were indeed more gulag than theme park. First off the park was surrounded by barbed wire, guard towers and … Continue reading

Spare a thought for Laika


There’s a lot of talk about space at the moment; with the new Star Wars film soon out and Tim Peake’s recent blast off. Should the latter have missed your radar (and that would have been difficult)  the first British man in space launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same place where the first man in space Yuri Gagarin launched from in 1961. It’s also no coincidence that in September Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, opened the exhibition at the Science museum: Cosmonauts – Birth of the Space Age, which includes Vostok 6 and has been called ‘the most significant collection of Russian space craft and artifacts ever … Continue reading

More Volga Times

Volga beyond Staritsa

The following pics are of the early stretch of the Volga between the source and the historic town of Staritsa….. it really does feel like time stopped a few centuries ago and didn’t start again. Its the most contained and probably the most welcoming  part of the whole river. Bruce Chatwin, in his book ‘What am I doing here’ writes, ‘The Volga is the nomadic frontier of Modern Europe, just as the Rhine and Danube was the barbarian frontier of the Roman Empire. Once Ivan crossed the Volga, he set Russia on her course of eastward expansion, which would roll on and on, until … Continue reading


If you were to ask someone what the Volga meant to them you would probably get one of two responses. The first: ‘The Volga? Never heard of it!’ The second, a story of the tragic, turbulent and often brutal history of a river, at the heart of which would probably be Stalin’s vision of ruthless and rapid industrialisation. And of course it is the latter that resonates most with our understanding of Russia’s history; at once a place of merciless aspiration, tragedy and loss. Certainly the Volga can evoke this history…factory chimneys pushing out endless clouds of smoke, sewage pipes … Continue reading