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An Enchanted Point Between Russia’s Two Capitals

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RBTH disclaimer: While being a very charming place to visit, numerous visitors have reported that their visits to Vyshny Volochyok have been ruined due to the enormous traffic jams that can occur here. An ideal stopping off point between Russia’s two largest cities, we recommend that you choose your times of departure carefully if traveling by car.

Dating back to 1471, Vyshny Volochyok is an important dot on the map between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Prior to the 19th century, the Vyshny Volochyok Waterway connected St. Petersburg with central Russia: Its channels served as cargo lines for all sorts of supplies from food to construction materials. From the perspective of Russian art, Vyshny Volochyok was a “place of strength” for famed artists including Ilya RepinIsaac Levitan and Arkhip Kuindzhi.

A source of inspiration for Russian artists

It is the latter half of the 19th century. Ilya Repin has already completed his famed canvas, Barge Haulers on the Volga. The artist comes to visit his friend Kokorev, who lived in the vicinity of the small merchant town of Vyshny Volochyok on a peninsula formed by the head of the Msta River and Lake Mstino. Repin grew very attached to this plot of land.

“Isn’t it the promised land for a landscape painter! It is the essence of Russia, its soul and its beauty… It’s like a song!” he once wrote.  

The guides of the Academic Dacha Museum go out of their way to tell me a story about Repin dancing on the table, filled with delight upon seeing the scenery of Vyshny Volochyok.

Such connoisseurs of beauty as artist Ilya Repin and philanthropist Andrei Kokorev were the first to notice the advantages of the Vyshny Volochyok District in the north of the Tver Region, which would later play an important part in the Russian and global history of arts and crafts.

A good starting point for a walk around Vyshny Volochyok is the first and the oldest House of Pictorial Art, which has served as a field facility for the Union of Russian Artists since 1884. Every year, students of art academies come here to learn traditional Russian scenery painting.

Walking over bridges with warm feet

Vyshny Volochyok has taken pride in its waterway for more than two centuries. In the 18th century during the reign of Peter I, after a lengthy construction and reconstruction process supervised by Dutch and Russian engineers, the Vyshny Volochyok Waterway linked the Volga River with St. Petersburg for the first time. Today Vyshny Volochyok features about 40 bridges of all sizes, frequented by both locals and tourists who have nicknamed the town the “Venice of the Russian provinces.”

If you are traveling around Russia in late fall or in winter, remember to visit a traditional workshop of handmade goods not far from Vyshny Volochyok’s center. This workshop produces authentic Russian felt boots called “valenki.” Most people wear these boots without socks, even if the temperature drops to -30 Celsius. The Museum of Russian Valenki Boots, which was launched in 2012 on the occasion of the workshop’s 20th anniversary, will tell you all about it. They even say that wearing valenki boots lowers your risk of heart attack and other conditions.

Apart from instruments and the felting technology behind this traditional Russian footwear, museum visitors are also shown the astonishing Tsar Valenok (“The Royal Felt Boot”), size 201. It is 225 centimeters high and weighs 52 kilograms and features decorative felt panels.

With a pair of valenki boots to keep your feet warm, you can continue your tour of cathedrals and bridges, and if you try hard enough you might imagine that you are in Venice. Six years ago, Vyshny Volochyok even teleported to Venice as part of the Factory Russia Project, which was presented at the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2010. A hall dedicated to the 100 year old local factory Parizhskaya Kommuna (“Paris Commune”) at the local history museum is a harbinger of the changes that are about to occur as the result of a large-scale reconstruction of the factory: The architects plan to build a residential block, a congress center and an art school with an exhibition space and a concert hall. 

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Bank of Ireland linked to fund involved in massive European tax fraud

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Bank of Ireland’s services were used by a company involved in a network of hedge funds at the centre of financial transactions, dubbed fraud by a German court, that have cost European tax authorities billions of euro.

The Irish bank’s fund administration unit, Bank of Ireland Securities Services (BOISS), was the custodian bank of an investment fund involved in the scheme.

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Reader question: When must I change to winter tyres in Switzerland?

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While winters have been a little milder in recent years, the snow, ice and sleet can still play havoc with your car.

Landslides and other road damage caused by inclement winter weather can also mean you lose control a little easier. 

Even in city areas, the colder weather can increase the risk of losing control. 

READ MORE: Ten strange Swiss road signs you need to know about

In Switzerland, the law is relatively complex. While there is no hard and fast rule for winter tyres at certain times, you have a responsibility to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy – which means being ready for the conditions. 

When do I need to put winter tyres on – and what happens if I don’t? 

Unlike many of its neighbours – and many cold countries from across the world – winter tyres are not mandatory in Switzerland. 

Therefore, you will not face any penalty if you continue to drive on summer tyres all year ‘round, either on a federal or cantonal basis.  

This is somewhat surprising for people from Austria, Sweden, Finland and some parts of the United States where winter tyres are mandatory during colder months. 

In Austria, for instance, winter tyres are required from November to April, regardless of the conditions. 

In Germany, Italy and Norway, winter tyres are not mandatory on the basis of the year’s calendar, but they are required in certain road conditions. 

However, certain roads can require you to have chains or winter tyres in order to drive on them at certain times.

This will be designated by a sign on a particular road or pass that winter tyres are required. 

Generally speaking, this will be on mountain roads or other passes, rather than in city streets. 

OK, so I don’t have to, but when should I change? 

The Swiss Road Traffic Act (Art. 29) says that all drivers on Swiss roads have a responsibility to ensure their vehicles are in a roadworthy condition. 

In slippery, winter conditions, the best way to ensure that your car does not lose control is to have it fitted with winter tyres. 

There are also insurance obligations to consider. 

The Swiss government notes that drivers without winter tyres may be deemed to be negligent. 

Driving in Europe: What are the Covid rules and checks at road borders?

“In the case of an accident, the driver may be found liable if the car is not properly equipped for the winter. The insurance company may not cover the full cost of the damage or may even take action against the insured person for negligence.”

Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) says that you should consider putting winter tyres on your car if the temperature drops below 7 degrees. 

Auto Suisse says that a default rule to follow is consider replacing summer tyres with winter ones from October until Easter, although this is of course dependent on the conditions. 



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Social media: Why vaccines, paella and ‘tortilla’ trend on Spanish Twitter | Opinion

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The content that gets shared the most on social media is not always an indignant message or an ingenious insult. Sometimes, it can even be pleasant to be on Twitter. This past weekend, the German television network Deutsche Welle published an English-language video special about Spain’s successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This video has been shared by Twitter users more than a thousand times in messages that expressed pride and included the hashtag #marcaEspaña (or, Brand Spain).

The Deutsche Welle video compared the 78% rate of fully vaccinated people in Spain at the time the report was made (the figure is now closer to 80%) to the 69% in Italy, 68% in France and 65% in Germany. Some of the reasons put forward to explain this success, despite a slow start, include widespread faith in the country’s public health system, the media’s scant coverage of vaccine conspiracy theories, and also “the devastating first wave of the pandemic.”

Positive messages about Spain from a foreign source are usually popular on social media. But at the same time it seems that if a Spaniard mentions that the country is doing something reasonably well, such as the vaccination campaign for instance, their fellow countrymen have trouble believing it. The impression (not always off base) is that the speaker has an axe to grind or may be trying to sell us a story (or even worse, a flag). But if a foreign media outlet says the same thing – well, we may not be fully convinced, but at least we enjoy hearing it.

And it’s not just with crucial subject matter such as vaccines. It also happens with other less critically important issues, such as Spain’s famous potato omelet, or tortilla de patatas. When a reporter from The New York Times extolled celebrity chef Ferrán Adriá’s version, made with potato chips from a bag rather than freshly sliced potatoes, it prompted nothing but satisfied tweets. But messages about the same recipe shared before the article came out showed a marked difference of opinions, to put it mildly.

It also works the other way around: when our dear old Spain comes under attack, we view it as an affront requiring revenge. There are still Twitter users out there who have not forgiven British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for making a paella with chorizo in 2016 (at the time, some people compared his creation with the notorious botched restoration of a Christ figure in 2012).

And let’s not forget what happened to an Italian citizen who tweeted this summer that Spain was like Italy, but a bit worse. I will refrain from mentioning his name because he has already put up with enough grief. “Hey guys,” he amusingly tweeted afterwards. “Just checking, does ‘me cago en tu puta madre’ mean ‘I respectfully disagree’?”

I don’t think that Twitter turns us into patriots, fortunately enough for everyone. There’s no doubt that a lot of different elements are at play here: it’s easier to praise the Deutsche Welle video if you are a supporter of public healthcare (or even of the government). As for the food disputes, there is a lot of joking and pretending going on there. There is also an element of surprise: while we find it normal for there to be talk in Spain about the US, the UK or Germany, we are surprised every time Spain is mentioned abroad, and that’s because we tend to view ourselves as rather insignificant (which is understandable). And I’m also not ruling out the view held by some that focusing so much on what the foreign media says is, in itself, quite provincial.

But it’s also true that we should all find some joy in the fact that, once in a while, we can work together to do something well. And perhaps even celebrate with a good tortilla de patatas. I won’t go into whether it should have onion in it or not, because I don’t want to ruin the moment with another argument.



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