The tale of Moscow’s subway

Once upon a time, in the year of 1902, in a far-away land, there lived two brave men, Pyotr Balinski and Evgeny Knorre. Pyotr and Evgeny were two young, skillful engineers. One day, these two enthusiastic engineers told the fairy tale of a path to the world beneath daylight through an “underground metro” to the highly ranked people of Moscow: the Moscow City Duma. The Duma consisted of very wealthy rich men. They have never had to experience the traffic of their busy city and never had problems going anywhere. And, of course, they did not approve of the two young men’s foolish idea; Nevertheless, Pyotr and Evgeny did not back down. They persisted, and after five proposals, the Duma finally approved. Eventually, in the year 1935, the first metro opened.

That is, however, not even near the end of the tale of Russian underground life. When the doors of the subway first opened, it was like a gate into the most readily available and accessible transportation for the city’s population. Anyone trying to get to work and from school, in any weather and at any time, would now be enjoying their trips in a “luxurious palace for the people” instead of dirty buses and trolleys. The vivid images of Stalin, portrayed as mosaics and tile panels, covered the ceilings and walls of this new level of the Moscow city which was meant to be an ideological move to eulogize the young Soviet country.

The same artists that designed and created the original interior of this new underground world were the same ones to invent the mosaic icons for the St. Petersburg Church of the Savior of Blood.

Stalin's portrait as a mosaic in Moscow's metro

Stalin portrayed in mosaic form in one of Moscow’s metro stations


Bronze sculptures of workers, soldiers, and other every-day Soviet people are portrayed in 76 bronze sculptures throughout different stations. Any average person who will now be using the newly invented transportation will now have these wonderful works of art to relate to while they travel. There are even some small good luck charms incorporated into these sculptures for the superstitious travelers and other believers.

lucky dog in Moscow's metro

Rub the dog’s nose and have good luck!


The architecture took quite a few twists and turns throughout history ever since the first trains welcomed some daring passengers. This diverse history is exactly what makes Moscow’s subway as unique, abstract, and amazing as it is. With Stalin’s death in 1953, all of his art depictions were completely removed, the metro was renamed after Lenin and the images of Lenin completely replaced everything from the years past. In 1955, the metro went from its grand baroque style of the Stalinist era to the complete elimination of extravagance in design and construction, which was decreed by the Communist party: this ensured that everything built in that period, both above and below ground, was bland and boring. In 2002, the 30s and 40s architecture was reintroduced along with portrayals of book characters and scenes from popular authors such as Dostoyevsky.

Metro station

metro station

metro station
another view of an original metro station

The metro went from being merely an idea, a fairy tale, to 11km underground with 13 stations, to 300km with 12 lines and 182 stations, to monorail tracks, and now plans of over 120 more kilometers to be built.

The expanding underground world is also looking to become safer. The Moscow underground railways have been repeatedly bombed and attacked in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, numerous times in 2004, and 2010; along with smaller crimes and attacks happening monthly. The statistics are shocking. In hopes of alleviating such threats,  authorities are attempting to adopt new security technology. Just recently, news about VibraImage 7.5, a “new smart video surveillance system which automatically identifies potential threats, such as aggravated and distressed passengers” were reported on The Voice of Russia; this will hopefully help the city authorities prevent crime and terrorist acts which have been  killing thousands and scaring millions of people of this world.

Not only does the safety of the metro have a promising future, but designs of the new stations, additions, and renovations are making even me want to go back and re-visit. Some twitters link to the future of Moscow’s metro:



And, indeed, new designs of some of the new stations are quite “pretty” and do contain “badass hipsters”:

Farganskaya station project B

Ferganskaya station project B

Uhtomskaya poject B

Uhtomskaya project B

Okskaya project B

Okskaya project B

This isn’t the end of the story, either, and there’s always room for improvement, but for now, I’m going to leave it at that. And as the Russian folk tales usually end…

“They lived happily ever after

And that is my faithful tale’s end, while he who listened is my own true friend…”

Prison Wall Flowers

Thank you to my fellow classmates, I have officially come to the dark side: I am now using Twitter. Of course, I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet… I think I might have one follower and I’m following something like five other people. Actually, to be completely honest, I’m not sure if they’re even people.

So as I was playing around, slowly crashing my internet and laptop by clicking a bunch of random things, I decided to type in “Russia” in the search box and see what people are saying, or where that would even take me. Turns out, people really are speaking about Russia! The first couple tweets that popped up were about the release of one of the Pussy Riot members from prison:

Moscow appeals court frees 1 member of jailed Russian punk band; upholds prison sentence for other 2 – @A

Russian punk band members to be sent to remote prison: Russian prisons are notorious for squalid conditions and … 

And the next few that caught my attention all linked to the same article:

Sailboats and Swans: The Prisons of Russia and Ukraine – Photographer Michal Chelbin spent three years…

This article is based around the work of a famous Israeli photographer, Michal Chelbin. She’s done various solo shows all over the world including New York and Israel. Chelbin’s art is included in many prestigious public as well as private collections. Her work is described as “absolutely amazing” by andreameislingallery on tumblr, “superb” by Ian Brumptonon twitter, and her last exhibition is a “truly amazing body of work” according to AndreaMeislinGallery on twitter. This particular article, the one mentioned in a few tweets, discusses one of her latest works: “Sailboats and Swans”. This specific exhibition includes Chelbin’s work from 2008-2010 from Russia and Ukraine of… (you’ll never guess)…. PRISONS!

I don’t know about you, but I saw a little pattern there: Russian prisons!

Yeh, I know it might not sound super exciting just yet, but after clicking through a couple more links, I did see some good material for a blog.

Sticking to my previous theme of interior design, I just had to ask myself the obvious question: what does a prison look like?

When I think of a prison (especially a Russian one), I think of dark grey walls, black mold, rusty metal poles, and some other chilling and daunting images. Chelbin decided to challenge this stereotype. One of the first photographs that popped out at me, personally, is the following work of art:

Two inmates sentenced for violence and theft, pose for Chelbin in the Juvenile Prison for Girls, Ukrain 2009

Two inmates sentenced for violence and theft, pose for Chelbin in the Juvenile Prison for Girls, 2009. See more at:

Since when do prisons have flowers? Wallpaper? Artwork?

The next picture portrays the sleeping accommodations of young boys:

A young male prisoner posing for Michal Chelbin in a Russian juvenile prison

Sentenced for murder, Stas lays back on a metal bunk of a Juvenile prison for boys. See more at:

Notice the light blue curtains, wild print blankets, the aqua-colored metal cots along with night-stands and stools. According to Svetlana Bakhmina, a former lawyer that served her prison sentence in a Soviet styled camp south-east of Moscow, her specific prison housed anywhere between 50 and 100 people in something similar to an army-styled barrack which included rows of bunkbeds (just as pictured above). She told BBC that all she got was a night stand and a stool, once again just like the above picture. This type of layout is definitely not what I was expecting from an average prison, but seeing several people describe prison in this way makes me wonder if that is what most prisons are like in Russia.

Back to the photograph above… The flower-patterned wallpaper, is once again hard to miss along with the small crystal chandeliers hanging off the white ceiling. Looking at all those things, I would not have guessed this is a prison.

Interestingly enough, the title of this particular exposition, Sailboats and Swans, refers to the eccentric and rustic murals and wallpaper backgrounds that Chelbin found throughout the prisons (

So what does all this say about prisons? About Russians? What do prisons in general say about Russian popular culture? Well, I’m not exactly sure that I have all the answers. All I know is that these pictures raised more questions for me than answers.  And honestly, I think the answers to those questions might vary from person to person.

To help you form your own answer to the questions above, I do want to point out that not all prisons look like the ones in Chelbin’s photos.

The National Geographic takes their viewers to a totally different extreme of the Russian prison aspect.

Those webisodes are intended to give you another view on Russian prisons. A little harsher look at things behind bars (which Chelbin doesn’t even illustrate in her photographs).

Not only does Michal not show any physical bars of her prisons to her viewers and essentially raises more questions than answers with her artwork, but one of her main goals is to actually make her audience wonder “Who is this person? Why is he dressed like this? What does it mean to be locked? Is it a human act? Is it fair? What do we see when we look at a locked person? Do we punish him with our eyes? Does a killer still look like a killer? Is it human to be weak and murderous at the same time?” (see what else she says at When a guest walks though Michal Chelbin’s exhibition, or a reader flips through her publication, they do not know who these people are, what they’re doing, or why they’re in jail until the very end. At the end, when she provides the identities of the unknown people and crimes, she wants her spectators to “look at [this exhibition] and see themselves… The circumstances of life could have brought anyone to this place” (

I strongly disagree with the last half of her statement. I do not believe that even the most extreme circumstances can bring me to eat another human being (as in the National Geographic video) or even kill someone, or steal. It’s just wrong and against my morals. Having said all that, it is astonishing what Chelbin can reveal to people like me through a simple still photograph.

Take a careful look at the following pictures:

Vania. Sentenced for sexual violence against women. 2010.

Vania, sentenced for sexual violence against women, 2010. See more at:

Man with swastika tattoo in men's prison, 2008

Man in men’s prison, 2008. Did not wish to reveal name or crime. See more at:

Sentenced for theft, Ira is posing for Michal Chelbin at a women's prison, 2009

Sentenced for theft, Ira is posing for Michal Chelbin at a women’s prison, 2009. See more at:

Diana with her daughter Yulia at a prison for women and children, 2009

Diana with her daughter, Yulia, at a prison for women and children, 2009. See more at:

I might not agree with everything Michal says, and in fact I strongly disagree with the last statement I quoted, but her photography forces me to connect and relate to her subjects. Something about the faces and the expressions of these people makes these photos breath-taking and encourages sympathy.

Michal Chelbin has noted that she asked her objects not to smile. When they smiled, according to her, they got a “fake mask”. Her objective was to catch these people as they would be during their day to day lives without any extra “masks” or fake barriers they might be putting up for the camera. In the past, she has told a reporter she “usually [photographs] people outside the mainstream, and [looks] for faces and eyes that express the complexities of life and… a gaze that transcends from the private to the common”.

The portraits she took include a wide range of both males and females. Some of the younger girls, such as the fourth picture from above, have pale and delicate skin while other older women keep their facial characteristics severe with heavy makeup (this is both true in and out of prison). There are boys that look so small and innocent, one would not believe they deserve to be in jail. Their bodies are over worked and, with time, they start looking more and more like zombies. Other older men have scars that speak of years and years of hard living. Tattoos among men are not uncommon. They are meant to represent strength, social status, possible strong religious beliefs, and are deeply symbolical to their owner. Most importantly of all, Russian prison tattoos are a solid proclamation of the wearer’s rank within the complex and unique social imprisonment system.
In all of the portraits here and the ones available online, there is a sense of dignity that is emitted by the prisoners.
Even in rough times and in harsh prison conditions, Russians walk proud and hand-in-hand with their dignity.
To me, all of the photographs have a mythical, legendary, and mysterious aura. It is frustrating how this Israeli photographer brings up more questions with almost no answers, but she also does a fabulous job capturing something not everyone has the honor to be able to observe; I’d say she definitely makes her fans engage in meaningful, deep thinking.
In any case… who knew one of the world’s coldest countries with the toughest prisons puts flowers, wallpaper, and paintings on their walls?

Appropriate college living?

For those of us lucky enough to attend college, I think we can all agree that living in a college dormitory makes for one of the most unforgettable memories of our lives. Your dorm room is the reflection of who you are during the part of your life that molds you into where you will end up in life. For a student attending the University of Missouri-Columbia, teenagers and young adults have a wide variety of rooming conditions to choose from. You might want the community style dorm: sharing a room with another lucky, hormonal teenager with a bathing room down the hall used by everyone on that floor. Or you might consider a suite style dormitory where a couple rooms share one bathroom. As far as the kitchens are concerned, some dorms have one kitchen shared between everyone in the building, while other dorms have kitchens on each floor. Generally speaking, whichever dorm you choose, someone will make sure your bathroom and kitchen are in clean conditions, user friendly, and are fixed as soon as possible if broken. Although the sanitation of your room is left up to you, I can guarantee the furniture that is provided by the institution will be reliable and will serve you for as long as you’re there.


But not everyone is as lucky as the college attendees of mid-Missouri. Due to the harsh dorm conditions of Russia, most Russian native students choose to live with their parents while others share apartments with friends. As I was researching the World Wide Web and trying to narrow down the information Google spewed out at me regarding the conditions of Russian university living accommodations, I ran across a very interesting website: According to the home page they “specialize in study, research, and travel abroad to Russia and Eurasia” and they also “provide free info for students studying Russia and Eurasia” (JACKPOT!). So according to SRAS (The School of Russian and Asian Studies), the St. Petersburg State University has some pretty rough living conditions. The dorms are 45 minutes to an hour away from campus and the commute will involve “a bit of walking”. Internet is a paid service and is only available in some dorm rooms and the website clearly states “this is not always reliable” and offers a guide for alternatives to St. Petersburs State University’s unpredictable internet. For the lucky few, a television might be provided in their room (wonder what century that came from) and overall “conditions are livable, but they are not particularly well cared for”. According to this same website, the Moscow state university offers many options for living, mostly off campus. The only dormitory on campus provides you with your own room which includes a bed, desk, and wardrobe (all dated back to the Soviet Union times) with a shared entryway, toilet, and shower (also all original versions from the Soviet times). Here, kitchens are shared with the rest of the residents on the floor and do not always have functional refrigerators. And to top it all off, good luck meeting with friends for a midnight snack or a late night pity party! Guests have enforced restricted hours and each one must obtain a special pass consented by a resident. But surprisingly, the dorms do not have “lockdown hours” (curfew) like most other Russian universities!

A few people posted tours of their dorms in the following two YouTube videos:



I know I promised I wouldn’t post any more pictures of disturbing bathrooms, but Via Zyalt did a very thorough job of documenting the life of an average Russian at the Moscow University and I just felt like I absolutely had to share one of his pictures. He posted the following picture with the caption: “The restroom is one of the issues that bother students. The point is that there are just two restrooms on each floor and sometimes, a cleaning woman does not appear for days”.

For pictures of black mold that never leaves and always comes back even if you soak the entire building in bleach, click the photo above and it will take you to Via Zyalt’s article.

So now, we see that the living environment is clearly not the best, but what does the university do? According to the same article, absolutely nothing. The university is spending thousands and thousands on re-building their library and main buildings, but absolutely nothing to make the students’ home away from home any more welcoming than it is at this point.

So how do students survive in such awful conditions? And if the dorms are a reflection of our youth’s life and where they are going in life, then what does that say about Russians? And why is no one doing anything about this?



Russian Bathrooms For Dummies

I’ll go straight to the point: most Russian bathrooms require special talents to be used. This talent is merely innate in the citizens of former Soviet Union, but it is definitely something completely foreign to most of Americans.

As I was browsing the web to come up with ideas for comparing and contrasting the interior design of bathrooms (as promised from my last post), I actually came across a “how-to” website for Russian bathrooms!!! And although I won’t be going into much detail, it is definitely a page worth reading (so if you have 3 extra minutes of your time, come entertain and educate yourself at this website:

For those of you who just came back from that website: NO, it is NOT a joke! Yes, that is EXACTLY how Russian bathrooms function. For those of you too lazy to waste an extra mouse click (such as myself) I will summarize it for you:

Russian public (and some private) toilets are scary, have sandpaper for your hygiene needs, are dirty, can consist of simple holes in the ground, sometimes will not have enough water and power to flush the above mentioned sandpaper (so don’t throw your toilet paper in the toilet), some don’t flush at all, and….. get ready for this…. Best of all….. drum roll…. you might have to PAY to enjoy the experience of a Russian bathroom (small print: payment must be made in form of cash; no checks or major credit cards accepted).

In all seriousness, and all that set aside, let me take a step back and actually introduce you to our best friend: the bathroom.

Bathrooms in Russia have evolved from out-houses and баня (“steam baths”) to contemporary works of art.  Baths and bathrooms have always been taken seriously in that country and have been playing an important role in making history; it is not only where Russians have been bathing for centuries, but these “steam baths” have been used for religious ceremonies, healing of the sick, birth deliveries, and served many more functions (including the entertainment of the average American that might come across this post out of sheer boredom). To read a little more about the history of Russian baths, I will provide you with a couple websites ( ,, but I’m not here to teach a history lesson!

The very first website I gave provided a very valid and interesting point. Today, most toilets in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe are actually placed in their own, separate room. These rooms do not have a bath or a sink since those two items are located in yet another entirely different room. Both of those rooms generally follow the same design pattern: same color tile on floors and walls and same shade of ceramic used for the appliances. Once again, I’m being absolutely serious. Even in tiny apartments where a family can barely breathe without bursting someone’s bubble, there are two seperate rooms for what Americans generally just use one room and call it “the bathroom”.

Now that I’ve scared everyone away from traveling to Russia anytime soon, we can sit back and enjoy some lovely pictures of Russian bathrooms and some of their newly renovated and contemporary bathing rooms.

*The scary toilets (I’ll only torture you with two of those:) )

Russian bathroom graffiti

*Classic Russian bath and toilet rooms

*BBC reporter Jonathan Dimbleby visits a traditional bath house in Russia. WARNING: some nudity may be present.

*A couple different color schemes for bathrooms. All from the Дом Декора (House of Decor) blog.



Warm green walls are complemented by warm shades of purple. The freshly cut flowers give the bathroom a rejuvenating feel.

Белая ванная комната

White is the color of wealth and cleanliness. Using a fold-able chair and wooden foot stand instead of a carpet or an area rug adds a rustic feel to this simple, yet functional, bathing room.Черная ванная

Using bright green tile to contrast a white sink and tub adds class and value to any restroom. Hanging a mirror in the shower is a modern twist and is found quite useful by some. Note that dark colors do make it hard to see any dirt and might make it easier to overlook some dirty spots every now and then.Ванная комната

This spacious bathroom shows the use of yet another two warm and contrasting colors: blue and yellow. Very simple and easy on the eyes, this room differs from some other bathrooms by using laminate for the floors. When doing this, make sure to use flooring appropriate for use in bathrooms. It is very important to remember this in order to avoid dealing with mold and other similar problems down the line. 

Дизайн ванной комнаты

Rich colors add class to this bathroom. The deep shades of the walls and the floor put the focus on the toilet and the sink. However, due to the lack of a contrasting color, such a design might get boring and hard to decorate after a while.  Интерьер ванной комнаты

Plain, simple, effective, elegant. Placing the sink in a corner saves room and looks great!

 Дизайн ванны

The color blue’s association with water makes it very popular for baths and bathrooms. This shade is very relaxing and will help anyone feel restored and revitalized after just one dip in this bath.

Some of the above photos came from a couple other blogs from people visiting Russia and sharing their experiences/opinions, all extremely interesting and worth checking out. They can be found by either clicking on the photos themselves or on the links below (note that these are both in English!!!):


If you are still not satisfied with the amount of information provided, feel free to visit the following:

Maybe next time I’ll examine the Russian Orthodox Churches! Much more refreshing and definitely not as disturbing 🙂

What kind of heart does your home have?

According to one of Brigitte Beltran’s spring blog posts , “The kitchen is undoubtedly the heart of the home, and the principal representation of you and your family’s health.” What does your kitchen say about you?  Is your family “healthy”? And what exactly does the ideal “heart of the home” look like? A few bloggers and magazines have given their opinion on what they believed to be the perfect kitchen; and here, I’ll discuss just two of the many theories of what exactly the perfect kitchen might entail.

According to Olga Kondratova, a Russian interior designer who has been designing for her fellow citizens of Russia for over 11 years, the ideal kitchen is one that is “ergonomically designed”. That is, it should combine both aesthetics and functionality. According to her website, this kitchen we speak of should certainly please the eye as well as provide an easy and effortless access to performing simple kitchen duties such as boiling, frying, baking, grinding as well as other “unimaginably complex operations on preparing homemade food”. Olga brought this described ideal kitchen to life by following a couple simple rules: her design compiled all of the functional kitchen appliances against one wall, cabinets lined the entire height of the room for efficient storage, all of the furniture pieces were in shades of white and cream to keep the kitchen looking delicate and not too overwhelming, and accents of light blue and green gave the kitchen character and dispersed the monotone theme of cream colors.

In one of Olga’s projects, she combines a kitchen with an adjacent living room by the use of an island attached to a dining table. The kitchen island serves the functions of dividing the living room from the work-of-art kitchen, as work space, and as a bar under the overhang glass storage with room for a small collection of wine bottles underneath. Overall, the kitchen uses up very little space, is super functional, and fabulously stylish. Absolutely perfect for a small apartment in any city of Russia or just a house with limited space!

The magazine “Interior Design”, however, has a drastically different view of the perfect kitchen. Magazine editors received over thousands of various sketches and ideas from all over the world demonstrating what designers thought to be the ideal kitchen and bath, after reviewing all of them carefully, the winner was said to be Mathhew Bremer from New York. A blogger for the carefully and thoroughly discussed “Interior Design”’s choice of the perfect cooking area and broke down what was what in Matthew’s kitchen. According to the blogger, Matthew had gotten his inspiration from the streets of New York; and, indeed, it isn’t that hard to see the resemblance of harsh New York architecture in Matt’s kitchen:


The blogger points out and examines the sharp edges, 3-D walls, snow-white countertops, the play on light and shade, even the obscure white chairs which play the role of color transition from the strictly white furniture to the dark laminate flooring. All of these aspects of this room simply scream an unwelcoming, cold message to me. I definitely don’t want the heart of my home to be sending out a uncomfortable chill out; after all, I would like to think I’m not that cold hearted. This kitchen looks like something from a magazine advertising fast food or Chinese delivery: “Don’t touch the kitchen, get fast food!” Where is one supposed to keep all of their groceries? Is there even a refrigerator? This might be the ideal kitchen for some, mostly ones that don’t like to cook; but probably not something for an apartment in downtown of Moscow or St. Petersburg. In my home, the ideal kitchen would definitely be something along the lines of Olga Kondratova’s design. Not too dark, not too light, not too big, not too small, functional, and extremely user friendly. What’s not to love? So what does your kitchen say about you and your family? Whatever it might be, every perfect kitchen absolutely has to come with the perfect bathroom, but I will leave that one for next time.