In contrast to St. Petersburg’s relatively merciful weather (perhaps: “less dreadful” would be a better fit), Moscow, at the time of writing, is being refrigerated to -9° Celsius – compared to ST. P’s -6°C. Not exactly Northern Siberia then, but whilst the next 24 hours is likely to see the mercury reach positive single figures in Russia’s second city, Moscow is set to bottom-out at -23°C! They have it much rougher there. January 17th even saw the city’s issue an “Orange weather alert”, when 12 -15cm of snowfall was about to descend. ‘Not too drastic? Well that would’ve pushed the running total for the month (at the time) to a few cm short of the 1 metre mark. Here we are at the end of the month and still it falls.
Tragically the latest fatality (as I type this) is a woman caught in something so mundane as a traffic jam, whilst elsewhere; Moscow airports cast off scheduled flights due to yet another broad deluge. There were around 70 cancellations in November alone because of excess snow. With official advice issued for the population to stay at home unless absolutely necessary; the extremes of the Moscow winter are far from over. The point that stands out is that someone doesn’t have to wander recklessly off-track to meet their end. Mortality’s icy grip can reach you, even whilst inside your own property, as one resident; Igor Valeev found out after spending a mere 45 minutes tending his car. RussiaBeyondTheHeadlines reported his tale:
“I got dressed for the winter it seemed, but my car wouldn’t start… I tried starting the engine. I didn’t even notice how my finger and toes became numb. When I got to the hospital they were already covered with blisters. The doctors said I was lucky – another half hour and they would have had to have been amputated.”
Throw in alcohol and the party spirit; then suddenly things take a turn for the worse. 129 were hospitalised with frostbite during the New Year’s festivities and sadly two died. Road accidents even then were reportedly (according to RT) running into the hundreds.
So what to do in such precarious circumstances? Well in spite of the above scenarios; why not organise a 500-strong bike ride? It happened, in fact, on 8th January and is the second of what may become an annual outing during the brutal freeze. In spite of the temperature falling to -28°C, and in spite of another severe weather warning, the organisers optimistically maintained the event, the participants turned out (along with the sun), beards froze and no one needed medical attention. Result!
One event that is already an annual feature is the remarkable transformation of Red Square into a public skating rink. With an area that encompasses 3000 square metres it can hold 450 skaters per session, is open to all (for the price of admission) and also includes warm dressing rooms and even an onsite skate workshop. The current skate season runs daily, until 28th February, from 10am, until 11.30pm. How’s that for convenience and flexibility? Gorky Park is also regularly converted into a massive open-air rink too, incidentally.
In trying to focus on pursuits that are solely Moscow based (and exclusively held during winter too) I have to say that photographs of the Moskva River Cruise really caught my eye. But, in winter the river freezes solid – right? Well, yes, but that matters little when you are cruising on board an ice-breaker! If that conjures mental images of a towering, industrial, seafaring tanker then (depending upon your preference) be prepared for either reassurance, or disappointment. The craft itself looks similar to many other sightseeing vessels; broad, low, and clear-canopied; with the ice-breaking magic happening at the waterline and thereabouts. Having traversed St.Petersburg’s Neva river (in Autumn) I can say that this perspective on a city is a revelation. Now imagine Russia’s capital, it’s landmark buildings, trees and parks dusted (and piled) with snow. Modern, saturated hues of illumination contrasting with ageing architecture as you glide by; accompanied by the slow crunch of yielding ice. Amazing, surely?
Moscow’s snows came early this Winter, on October 27th; the earliest in the last 137 years, apparently. Their arrival saw a blackout affecting 24,000 Moscow residents, whilst simultaneously taking down railway services, schools and hospitals (as well as the aforementioned flights). It’s not over yet, and in spite of it all; life continues.