The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree | Moscow, Russia

My father, whom I suspect I’ve inherited much of my wanderlust from, took this photo for me during his last visit to Moscow. This is the Russian equivalent of the Kilometer Zero mark in Madrid, which I wrote about here, and – as such, serves the same purpose: to mark the starting point from which distances in the country are measured.

The bronze plaque, located in a short passage connecting the Red Square with the Manege Square, reads: “Zero Kilometer of the Highways of the Russian Federation.”

These zero-kilometre markings, which I hadn’t even heard about until about two months ago and had even seen, apparently, without knowing what they were (in what is perhaps another case of the Baader-Meinhof syndrome?), seem to be relatively common, and stand as the center point from which to measure distances in quite a few countries’ capitals around the world: from Cuba and Argentina through Switzerland, Romania and Slovakia (although I was unaware of it when I hovered over it in Bratislava), and all the way to Sri Lanka, Thailand and Japan.

One of the oldest surviving markers of this kind is the Milliarium Aureum, which was erected in the central Forum of Ancient Rome in the 20th century BC and from which all roads in the Roman Empire were considered to begin and all distances were measured. It apparently gave the literal origin of the expression “all roads lead to Rome,” to which I unwittingly (thought rather predictably) referred in my post about the Zero Kilometer marking in Madrid.

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All roads lead to… | Madrid, Spain

This is the figurative center of Spain – the precise point from which all of the country’s main roads radiate and are measured. Located in front of the former post office building at the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, the design of the marking echoes the semi-circular shape of the square itself, which is meant to look like the rising sun, with the streets radiating from it as its rays. Historically, the square has been a place for madrileños to gather, meet, welcome in the New Year, protest and even carry out assassinations.

So, it is just as well that, to get onto the Kilometer Zero marking, I had to literally jump over some police barricades, which were set up in order to keep out the protesters camping out on the square amid the demonstrations taking place at the time.

There was a less permanent, and slightly more ambiguous, marking on the ground nearby:

Before sunset | Bratislava, Slovakia

For such an uneventful town, Bratislava’s street surfaces turned out to be surprisingly lavish and full of decoration:

• the small brass circles with crowns etched on them (178 in total), spread over the Old Town, which indicate the route of the coronation processions that took place around the city when Bratislava was the city where Hungarian kings were crowned – between the mid-sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries;

• the giant (12 x 12 meters) chess board, each of its squares marked with a letter and number;

• the stately plaques explaining the history of various landmarks, in this case Michael’s Gate, the eastern entrance to the Old Town and the only surviving watchtower of the original city fortification;

• and underneath it, the compass with the direction and distance from Bratislava to 29 major cities around the world – most tourist guides wrongly claim they are all world capitals, but the nerd in my will quickly point out that Istanbul is visible in the above picture. (Notice my next destination in the lower left corner of the picture, as well as home a little above it.);

[Update: This, I learned almost a year later, is Bratislava’s Zero Kilometer, a feature common to many capitals around the world, such as Madrid and Moscow, although it is usually the spot from which distances are measured within the country, rather than to cities outside of it.]

• the ornate sewage covers (functioning ones);

• along with the fake, decorative ones, incorporating some of the many street bronze sculptures.

All of them – somehow made more beautiful by an accidental leaf or two. The mellow autumn sun didn’t hurt either.

One of the best things I stepped on was an installation of nine metal squares, not firmly fixed to the ground. When stepped on, they would sway and make different tinkling sounds. A kind of a Central European street version of those music/dancing games that are so popular in American arcades, but much cooler.

As we stood on top of them, it stopped raining and the sun came out. Though we made no sign of intending to leave, our taking a picture seemed to be the last drop for the little girl who, up until that point, had been hanging out on the side, patiently awaiting her turn to play on them. Finally, she gave up, rolled her eyes and walked away, and we stood there – tired, smitten and a little foolish.