Winter has finally arrived properly, the snow that has fallen last week is still lying around so guess it is officially cold enough now that it is here to stay and will only get worse by all accounts. They have been saying on the radio (the ONLY English speaking radio station in the whole of Russia...) that we can expect a January and February where the temperature will not get above -20 C, the worst in many years, typical of us to choose a real bad winter to come to Moscow.
Anyway all this snow and cold weather brings a whole new set of challenges to getting around the city, you need to be equal part mountain goat and ice skater to negotiate our now ice covered streets and walkways. The rain we had earlier in the week is now about 1-2cm of solid ice on the footpaths. If the footpaths and walkways weren't rough enough as it was before winter set in, with all sorts of humps, bumps, hollows and cracks, not to mention the irregular depth of the top and bottom stairs on many stairways which always catch you unaware, or the loose or missing tiles on most stairways. There is a footpath on the way to the kids school, where it seems there was some old concrete or something in the path of the footpath, so rather than break it up and take it away to create a nice flat footpath they have paved a ramp up it with a drop off of about a foot on the other side, it is just bizzare, if you were sight impaired you would just topple off the edge with no warning. So now they are pretty much covered in ice and snow, so you have to walk tenderly to avoid coming a cropper all the while avoiding the traffic whizzing past as in many paths now you are walking on the roadway as the roadsides where you would normally walk are covered in snow, so far all of us have taken a fall of some sort and we are only about 2 weeks into winter so will be interesting when it really freezes up.
It is amusing though to watch otherwise dreary Russian businessmen walking on their way home from work put in a joyful little skate movement when they come to a patch of ice, obviously here it is the small things in life that bring the most heartfelt pleasure. I haven't noticed any Russian women yet throwing in a little skating step, but then I guess when you are on 6" high heels with a pin point it would be pretty hard to skate, at least though the pin point heels probably dig into the ice and allow them to stop sliding.
Once you have mastered staying upright on the footpath you then have to contemplate crossing ice and slush covered roads full of cars travelling quickly, who even on a good day don't show much courtesy to pedestrians. If you are crossing at a controlled crossing it isn't as bad, but still, before you hit the road you need to check and make sure that all cars have actually stopped and to weigh up whether those that are still moving are going to stop before they get to the crossing or whether they are going to try and shoot through ahead of you, it is not uncommon to think that a car in the last lane about 50m out from the crossing will have stopped by the time you get there only to find he hits the crossing just before you hit his lane so carries on ahead of you. Uncontrolled crossings are even more of a challenge, it is best to wait till there are no cars coming at all or till one has actually stopped for you. Even if the car in the first lane has stopped, there is no guarantee that the car in the second lane will actually bother stopping, so your best strategy here is eye contact. You need to make eye contact with the car in every lane and not take your eyes off them until you are safely past, as they don't want to be held up getting to their next traffic jam so if you aren't looking they are just as likely to carry on. This can make for some nerve racking crossings as cars race up to you in the last lane, not knowing whether they are going to bother slowing down, or if they do whether they will get enough grip on the road to stop in time, so is always a sigh of relief when you hit the footpath on the other side in one piece and with the right amount of children following.
You would think that after living in this environment for so many years that your average Russian's would have worked out that it is pointless trying to drive in the snow and that maybe on those days it would be easier to take the Metro, which after all is one of the most efficient in the world, is entirely underground so therefore not affected by the weather, but no they have to drive to the office. Last week there were reports of some (and I don't mean some as in a handful, but some as in a LOT) commuters driving home on the MKAD (the outer ring road around Moscow), getting stuck in the snow overnight then having to turn around and drive back to work in the morning after spending the night in their cars. They are also now talking of making their snow bound commuter telephone counselling service available to mobile phones as so many people are getting stuck in the snow, and currently you can only ring for counselling from a land line. I am fast discovering that it is typical Russian logic to expect that you would have access to a land-line phone when you are stuck in your car in the middle of nowhere in the snow.