Zelenograd: Home of the Brave: We few, we happy few . .
Ask anyone in Zelenograd about their town and the first thing they will tell you is that it is the "Green City", the literal translation of the name into English; that it is beautiful and clean and that they wouldn't want to live anywhere else. A good majority of the population, in fact, have chosen to live here. It is within commuting distance to Moscow, only 41 km northwest of the Kremlin, and although comparable in price to the Moscow outskirts, Zelenograd is considered "leafy". Now all this is in a Russian context so put aside any concept of leafy London suburbs, the grandes banlieue of Paris or the wealthy enclaves around New York City. Zelenograd is a new town with everything this implies. View the photo gallery.
Zelenograd was built in the middle of the forest in 1958 as the centre of the Soviet electronics industry. For security reasons, the town never officially existed, and if you look at a map that is over 10 years old, you won't find Zelenograd on it. One of the fascinating aspects of working here is knowing that as recently as the early 90's, Zelenograd was closed to foreigners. It is an interesting exercise to ride the number 19 bus across town, a bus full of modern teenagers that could be found in any European or American city, and try to place them in a formerly Soviet closed town. Of course, neither they nor you have any clue what it was like.
Zelenograd is divided into two parts: the old town and the new town by the railway line that connects Moscow and St. Petersburg. On either side of the town, the forest is near and visible and easily accessible for walks, mushroom picking (in season) and the traditional Shashlick (a barbeque in the forest). At the entrance to the town, just off the Leningradsky Highway, is a huge memorial to the dead of the Great Patriotic War, as the Second World War is known. It comes as a surprise to most Westerners (who are not military historians) that the Soviet Union lost 20 million people during the Second World War. What is especially poignant for Zelenograd is that it is the place where the German army was stopped on its march toward Moscow. The monument to the dead is huge-----however, it is not just Soviet architecture at its worst-large for the sake of large-but rather this monument on the side of the road is a huge sarcophagus. It contains the innumerable bodies of the dead that were uncovered once the fighting finished. It is regularly honoured and is a constant reminder of the human cost of the Second World War.
The old town, the original part of Zelenograd which is centred around the electronics companies and MIET, the electronics institute, is leafy and quaint. It is still part of the forest and includes the very pretty river which runs through Zelenograd. The old town contains trees which make for rather pleasant walks, and it is possible to walk through the forest to get from one district to another. The post-Soviet expansion, however, has been bleak. The new town is complex after complex of idenitical high-rise, poorly constructed buildings, trees having been razed to accommodate each new building, and this can be hard on the eyes. Aesthetics have been sacrificed for short-term efficiency and convenience. However, most of the people who have moved from Moscow to live here are reasonably well-off, middle-class professionals. And to be fair, these buildings are the same types that are found all over Moscow. In Russian terms, this is a very good place to live.
The newness of the town means it is extremely well organized. It is like a big university campus. It has few real street names as a result of having a closed status and instead is grouped into 17 districts (1-18, but there is no 13th) called "microregions". Directions and addresses here are by microregion number and building number. Most of where you need to get to is accessible on foot or by bus. The town is large with a population of over 300,000, most of whom work in Moscow. No one here will let you forget they are part of the greater Moscow region -they are Muscovites. Zelenograd is not a provincial outpost but rather a pleasant escape from the outskirts of Moscow with the capital a reasonable commute away.
Language Link has two schools in Zelenograd, both of which are modern, newly renovated facilities. The larger and newer school is located in the new town. There is a smaller school in the old town near the popular Ploshad Unisty. Students are mostly adolescents and teenagers. Classes are offered after 'real school' and therefore the teachers' schedules are blocked with most teaching taking place between 4pm and 9:30pm. The libraries at both schools are reasonably equipped with different levels of resources. Both schools offer a friendly yet professional atmosphere in which to work.
Accommodation is provided by Language Link and includes the bare essentials to get you started (ie. Dishes, cutlery, pots & pans, bed linen, pillow, blanket). Some flats are better equipped than others so you may be pleasantly surprised to find a television, vacuum cleaner (hoover), toaster and/or kettle but be prepared to wash your clothes the old-fashioned way (by hand) as washing machines are a rarity.
The flats are generally in good condition by Russian standards and are typical middle-class dwellings so your neighbours are likely to be professionally employed families. Many flats have balconies. You will find ample closet space, probably much more than you require considering the luggage allowance on most airlines. As long as you are not afraid of heights you will find the flats quite pleasant, but be aware that flats come in what are called Korpus's or, to put it another way, huge and rather ugly looking 15 to 20 floor building complexes often with hundreds of flats in them. (This is in fact where the majority of Russians in the entire Moscow region live).
Contrary to popular belief, there is no shortage of goods of any kind in Russian cities, and the same holds true in Zelenograd. We have many shops, kiosks, supermarkets, a large outdoor market and a recently-built IRIDIUM shopping centre both located next to the Kruikovo station for your shopping pleasure. Anything from electronics to sundries can be purchased locally, often cheaper than you'd find in Moscow. However, you should not expect a smile as courtesy is a difficult concept for many Russian shop assistants to grasp. Please note that English reading material is hard to come by (but there are several English bookstores in Moscow worth visiting).
Between the 15th and 16th regions there is a shopping complex offering a couple of restaurants (Yakatoria, a Japanese-themed restaurant chain, and Pronto Pizza), a shopping centre hosting a branch of Eldorado, an electronics chain, and a 24-hour supermarket.
"Life in 'The Grad' is nice and laid back. We're close enough to Moscow to enjoy the nightlife at the weekend but we don't have to deal with the problems of living in a major urban center."
Although what follows may not be an extensive list of 'things to see and do', I am sure you will find it enough to show there is life outside of Moscow. In a town of a few hundred thousand people you can obviously not expect what might be called a plethora of nightly entertainment or of course for that matter a thriving metropolis of non-stop action, but here in Zelenograd we do have a wide variety of things to do that may tempt you into spending some of your well earned money.
As has been mentioned Zelenograd is split into numerous regions and indeed into two parts by what locals refer to as 'the bridge' that straddles the towns area known as Krukova (where the train station, bus station and large outdoor market and shops are). The vast majority of places to go lie in the old part of town and that is where most of the places mentioned are to be found. However if you don't live there never fret because reliable and accessible transport is at hand; just stand on the side of the road and put out your hand and within seconds you will have your very own driver who will take you anywhere in town for about 100-200 roubles.
So what do people in Zelenograd do when they are not busy- just 'walking' (which appears to be the favourite activity amongst young people here)? Many will sit at home with friends or have mini get togethers to drink a few cheap beers or bottles of vodka. But more and more Russians are venturing out in numbers to see what their town has to offer.
There are two fairly modern cinemas showing all the latest Russian films and Hollywood blockbusters with the only drawback being for those of us who cant speak any Russian. This cinema is situated in what is the hub of teenage activity at weekends and after school namely Ploschad Unosty (youth square) a 100 by 100 meter or so block of land that also houses some shops, restaurants and a sushi restaurant/bar. As for bars and nightclubs I think I must first describe what Russians mean when they often so loosely use these words.
A bar can be anything from a couple of seats in the basement of one of the monstrous housing complexes to a full on complex of its own incorporating pool tables (Russian, English and American pool), a restaurant, karaoke and dance floor. Nightclubs can be similar in this respect but normally offer some kind of show programme (usually striptease) some nights of the week. Prices for entrance especially to those places calling themselves clubs are not uncommon and these will vary from 50R to 300R often with men paying more than women. Drinks range in price depending on your choice but a good quality Russian beer will cost about 40-50R although some places do sell drinks at the much higher prices normally found in Moscow (100R+). Vodka is rarely served with a mixer and so don't be surprised when you order what you think is going to be a shot because it is so cheap and you get what looks like a mini carafe, holding about half a bottle of the Russians national drink.
Opening hours depend on the day of the week but all places are open everyday and sometimes don't close until the last customer leaves, especially at weekends. There is rarely a dress code and indeed Russian fashion sense can often leave a lot to be desired so just dress to feel comfortable.
There are too many little bars to mention by name but what follows is a list of the most popular haunts of both Language Link teachers and students alike. So in no particular order:
Monte Cristo (Mystica), a basement bar with restaurant and dance floor.
Polinom and Bambyla, possible the two most crowded clubs in town and both a stones throw from each other.
Metro, a club that from the outside resembles the Moscow underground and inside houses the largest area to dance that Zelenograd has to offer.
And of course how can we forget Z1, Zelenograd's most fashionable and expensive club boasting two dance floors and bars.
There are also several pizza and sushi delivery services at reasonable prices for those days when you just don’t fancy cooking. The new British-style Temple Bar just down the road from the school in the new town offers international cuisine and a range of drinks. Around the city you can also try a number of small cafes for drinks and Russian cooking. Fast food, including McDonalds or the Russian favourite blini (pancakes), is also available at the IRIDIUM shopping centre.
In my opinion Zelenograd is a nice place to live and spend time, and it also has enough to offer to keep you from getting bored or going stir crazy. However, sometimes when you are bogged down by the bureaucracy and indeed strange attitudes of some Russians you must remember one little saying 'it's Russia, what did I expect'.
Russia is not the sort of country that you can get away with speaking English in. In downtown Moscow you can probably negotiate buying a hot dog and a Coca Cola in English, but if you want to ask for anything more, you might have some problems.
Before coming to Russia it is a good idea to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. All street signs, signs for cafes and restaurants are written in Cyrillic. Only a few places of business, such as money exchanges will have signs in English. After you have tackled the alphabet it is also a good idea to learn some key phrases: spasibo (thank you), pazhalyista (please/you're welcome), szdrasvyuite (hello) or previet (hi) and dosvedanya (goodbye) or paka (bye). It is also important to learn how to say numbers in Russian, as you will constantly need to communicate with taxi and other transport drivers, as well as be able to communicate your address or the address of the place you need to end up at! I highly recommend buying a basic Russian textbook with cassettes, especially if you are a beginner with the language. These books can be found in any major bookstore in English speaking countries, and there are also bookstores in Zelenograd and Moscow where you can buy such things.
Don't be intimidated by the fact that Russian is a rather difficult language! Russian people may seem brusque on the street, but I can guarantee that they are warm-hearted and patient people at home. Loyalty and friendship, as well as the Russian words for them (vernost and dryzhba) carry different, and in my opinion, more intense meanings than they do in English. Try to make Russian friends, even if they don't speak a word of English. It is very helpful to have Russian friends here who can help you with the details of living in Russia: buying electronics, going to banks, and all the other mundane details, such as making an appointment to get your hair cut, that you will need to start thinking about how to negotiate in a new language.
Good luck with the language, and enjoy the colorful slang-a few colloquial expressions will get you a long way! And the more language learning you take on, the more and more you will understand this unique and enormous land and the ways of her people.
Getting around Zelenograd is cheap (bus fare is approximately 30 roubles) and easy. The buses are reliable and, depending on the route, relatively frequent. As mentioned, the commute to Moscow is also quite easy, however, the travel time can vary quite drastically between peak and off-peak hours. There are several minivans and buses, costing about 50 roubles that will deliver you to either Skhodnenskaya, Tushinskaya or Rechnoy Vokzal metro stations. This journey takes between 40 minutes (off peak) and upwards of an hour (peak). There is also frequent train service from Krukova to Moscow, costing a little more than the bus (70 roubles). Journey times range from 35-40 minutes on a fast train and an hour on a slow train. The first trains to and from Moscow are around 4am and the last trains are around midnight-1am.
N.B. Please be sure to place 'Zelenograd' in the space allotted for 'Preferred Posting (first choice)'.
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