Yet Another Attempt at Understanding Moscow

Moscow

Moscow is one of those cities that you either love or hate from the first sight. However, there’s a thin chance that you might get to understand this city with time. It’s my 6th time in Moscow if I’m not mistaken and I still have a long way to go if I want to get to grips with this giant open air museum of Stalinist megalomaniac architecture interspersed with white-washed walls of Medieval monasteries and all sorts of unexpected things.

Moscow

However this time I started my Moscow trip with a visit to a – supposedly – the place to explain the architectural mixed salad that Moscow represents, the Museum of Architecture of Moscow. However the museum proved to be almost void of ANY exhibits! Together with a family of foreigners we searched in vain for anything substantial in that place. But in vain, in vain indeed.

Moscow

The only thing I did like was this underground room with several old grates and doors and stained glass windows lightened up from behind. You might not believe me but the current exhibition was ABSENT (ill?) and the temporary exhibitions were to say the least weird, like the main one with TWO objects on display in an empty very cold ancient room or another one with photo retrospection of some architect’s works in Moscow with no explanation or anything.

Moscow

Meanwhile I learnt for example that there was a plan back in the 18th century to rebuilt Moscow Kremlin into something like a palace with classic columns and galleries, so that it looks more like St Petersburg, the country’s brand new capital back then. This project has never gone beyond an impressive hand-made model (which was on display at the museum) though. I wonder what if it were actually realized? Then it wouldn’t have survived the Soviet era for sure…

Moscow

And talking about the Soviet Moscow, here it is. This is a building housing one of the Post of Russia offices. Full to the ceiling as usual :)

Moscow

Having seen so little at the museum, I set off for a stroll from Kremlin to the south of the city, meeting this all squirrels-and-trees building dating back to 1936 which was to house the elite of the Narkomles, the People’s Commissariat for Forest Industry.

Moscow

I guess back in 1936 this house must have been very colourful and really reminding you of a forest… And at the same time you can come across this white masqueron on a perfectly St Pete-like building:

Moscow

I also stumbled upon an open air exhibition of black and white photos made by the Soviet informational agency TASS right in front of its building. It was raining lightly and the rain drops created a special extra effect to the photographs. Like this mysterious Moscow night:

Moscow

Or these Moscow girls happily discussing something on a fine summer day:

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But the real hit was this brilliant Red Square shot with a special guest of the 4th International Movie Festival of Moscow back in 1965.

Moscow

This mood was enhanced with our visit to a veeery Soviet Moscow place which has relevantly recently been revived and which still preserves the aura of the Soviet intelligentsia having a night out.

Moscow

It’s called Illuzion cinema and it reconstructs the atmosphere of the perfect Stalinist grandeur style with no problem. Why no problem? Then look where this cinema is housed!

Moscow

Yes, it’s one of those famous Stalin’s highrises that determine the look of the official Moscow center. It rises above the Kotelnicheskaya embankment and is known as The House on Kotelnicheskaya.

Moscow

It’s situated right next to Taganka district with the street names reminding you that there settled the potters, the official suppliers of the tsar family. One of the old buildings is decorated with Eisenstein’s portrait. And by the way inside the cinema there are portraits of the most loved Soviet actors as well as the all-star actors from the West. And there are old movies shown non-stop all around like this popular cartoon Kanikuly v Prostokvashino which we all grew up watching.

Moscow

Sit down to a cup of tea and listen to the pianist reworking some famous pieces of music before entering the hall to see some black and white Italian movie with the Soviet dubbing dating back to the 1950s. Chic!

    

Moscow

This is the highrise from the bridge which I took on my last day. It looks as if Moscow was made to be crossed from one end to the other. And people seem to enjoy it – with the convenient road conjunctions and broad avenues… which however do get jammed all the time. And even though there’s metro even more conveniently laid out than the one in St Petersburg (and larger and with a longer history) people still prefer the traffic jams. Well, you know :)

Moscow

In Moscow everything looks as if it was made to last. And everything was made to be vast and impressive. Lots of space when you look at Moscow from an avenue and on the other hand it feels so crowded when you get in the metro in the morning. Oh the grand metro stations of Moscow! Not all of them, but those built during the Stalin times were truly made to astonish and leave you speechless – especially in those times in early 1940s when the city was being just on the verge of being replanned and rebuilt to become the capital of the USSR. You know, they say Stalin hated the royal St Petersburg and so his grand capital would be nothing of the kind, of course.

Moscow

Talking about the dimensions of Moscow, here’s one of the places you can reach by metro and which however is about as far from the center as a suburb would be. It’s called Tsaritsyno and it was planned by the same person who had an utopia-like idea to rebuilt Kremlin into a classical palace. His name was Vasily Bazhenov and be sure that he had much more unrealised plans…

Moscow

We did not get much of the sun that day but the place is a very unusual one, recently reconstructed (been in relevant ruins from the middle of the 19th century) and representing several architectural styles all at once. You see, the residence was planned and built and then rebuilt by Bazhenov for Catherine and even after rebuilding it never appealed to the tsarine. So instead of the old military style picked up by Bazhenov (see the bridge above) another castle was built (the one on the previous photo) and the original one destructed. The park is large and there’s everything from people playing volleyball to romanticism-style ruins and mermaid’s arch.

Moscow

My last day in Moscow I made a really long walk across the center starting from that Taganka district which I wanted to visit after we saw it while walking to Illuzion cinema.

Moscow

Apart from several monasteries and churches planted here and there, it’s also full of Stalinist houses as if specially rising there to overdo the ancient Moscow remains.

Moscow

Here you can spot the same House on Kotelnicheskaya:

Moscow

This marvelous street has made me change my mind a bit about Moscow…

Moscow

The sun helped much too =)

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This small building on the right houses a nice vegetarian cafe where I sampled some thick spicy lentil soup with a thin khachapuri.

Moscow

Again that Stalin’s highrise and the monastery. And another glimpse of old merchant all-wood Moscow:

Moscow

And several meters away is this Soviet giant:

Moscow

And exactly after crossing the bridge this eeehm Soviet constructivist marvel:

Moscow

And after walking quite a bit you’ll find the French embassy:

Moscow

…in this pseudo Moscow style. Well, since it’s IN Moscow, we can call it Moscow style :)

Moscow

Walk a bit more along Leninsky Avenue and you’ll get tired from the Soviet architecture in the end:

Moscow

So, this time the Moscow check-list looks like this:

  • decent postcards – failed
  • post office – found but too crowded to be used
  • old town – a lot
  • market – at least three (sampled – fresh white cheese with thyme and super salty brined cheese, though both from Belarus)
  • local history museum – done
  • dairy products and baked stuff – sampled

Special thanks to my sister for taking me all over Moscow and making me feel at home in this huge city (once again fell in love with her oven while baking some Greek pies…).

Moscow

And yes, we did find a local history museum in Moscow which was informative and, well, contained some exhibits :) It’s called Museum of Moscow and I recommend it to you if you travel to Moscow. There among numerous findings and stones and Vasnetsov’s fairy-tale paintings you’ll also see some modern art (which I usually avoid), like this expo which represented modern St Petersburg artists where I spotted this Ivan Tuzov’s glass mosaic called ‘Swan Lake’ (2014) – these are actually policemen in their most recognized Soviet uniform =)

More trips soon! Seems like I’m going to Arkhangelsk once more – after I assured myself that no matter what I would not go there again…

G.

Enjoying Indian Summer in Imatra, Finland

Imatra, Finland

Before we move on to my trip to Petrozavodsk and Moscow, here’s a quick post on my short trip to a small town in the East of Finland called Imatra. Probably the last day with weather comfortable enough to walk around feeling the warmth of the sun on your face.

Imatra, Finland

The day was windy but sunny and I could enjoy the nature turning my back to the city and leaning on a huge stone. I went to Imatra, one of the cities of Finland that are the closest to St Petersburg and hence the most frequented by Russians coming here for various reasons. It’s also close to Lappeenranta, the destination for hard-core shoppers. I chose Imatra and spent zero once again.

Imatra, Finland

As in any of the Finnish cities that I have visited it’s not the architecture that interests me as I don’t like the Finnish straight and forward approach to building their houses and decorating the squares and parks. I prefer the nature part of it and believe it or not just several meters away from the Finnish-Russian border you realize that the nature is better preserved, taken care of and – well – cleaner.

Imatra, Finland

I also enjoy the rich and distinct colours of the nature in Finland as opposed to the seemingly coulourless cities that sometimes look as if they were deliberately made faceless. However there are the gems of Finnish architecture that do stand out of the rest of the crowd like this hotel built in 1903 to accommodate the rich visitors from the then capital of the Russian Empire, St Petersburg.

Imatra, Finland

You see, Finland used to be a part of that vast empire… When I observe how some Russians behave when shop-travelling to Finland I sometimes think they never learnt that this country is no longer a part of ours =)

Imatra, Finland

And Russians still stay at this hotel right on the edge of the ravine with Vuoksi river running down there with a waterfall barring the river. They started using the power of the falling water from 1920 when the hydropower station was built. Now the water is kept inside of the artificial pool and ‘freed’ every day during the summertime accompanied by the music of Sibelius.

Imatra, Finland

Even the coat of arms of the city reminds you of the electricity (it has three lightnings) and these scary signs warning you not to enter the bed of the river are placed all over the ravine:

Imatra, Finland

Back when the place was a resort frequented by Russians coming here for some rest in the nature, fleeing from the capital, there used to be the natural waterfall of course. The people would sit and observe the water falling (that was considered calming and beneficial to your health) and meanwhile they would carve their names on the nearest stones (how very typical). Not only Russians, mind you!

Imatra, Finland

There are some old buildings preserved in the town, so you can have a glance at what Imatra most probably looked like a century ago. That’s what I’m usually looking for, the traces of the past, well, you should already know it by now :)

Imatra, Finland

Not much to tell you here as the town is very small and I did not dare to apply my usual ‘check-list’ to it (the presence of a market, a post office, nice dairy products,..). I just enjoyed one of the last sunny autumn days eating my spécialité sandwiches with sourdough rye bread, cheese and veggies.

Imatra, Finland

I seem to be travelling all the time so everything that I cook is just for the practical part of it – I mean it’s being eaten before I get a minute to make some photos. Will surely make up for it in the second half of December, especially round the holidays.

Coming up – trips to Moscow and Petrozavodsk. And I still have my architectural walks in Kolpino to complete…

G.

Kaliningrad: In Search of Old Konigsberg

Kaliningrad, Russia

I guess it is the people who make the place. After staying in Chelyabinsk which has +2 hour difference with Moscow and then in about no time travelling again, this time to Kaliningrad which is in the West and is -1 hour, I came to this conclusion. I would say even more: it’s sometimes people who determine our journey more than the destination itself. Discovering a place with a like-minded person who is very dear to you is a certain plus for any place. However deeply brutally Soviet this place might appear from the first glance.

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This is the Kaliningrad airport – seats placed outside facing the parking which is being renovated still. Hmm, interesting way to accommodate passengers! Well, actually, Kaliningrad is a real mixture of things. Its Soviet component no doubt predominates but still there’s something in this city. Yes, there IS something in the city. Let’s start with the recently reconstructed Fishers’ Village in the historical center of the city, next to the island of Immanuel Kant.

Kaliningrad, Russia

Just as in Munich the Old Town Hall is newer than the New Town Hall, the buildings of this tiny village are not older than 8 years. We stayed in a hotel there which is full of antiquities and you can smell the old wooden furniture (the new furniture sometimes was worse than the old one though). I think this location gave us an opportunity to feel the heavy Soviet heritage a bit less distinct.

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Of course you can immediately tell that the entire Fishers’ Village is made but for the tourists (people don’t live there unless they are tourists) with its hotels, cozy restaurants and expensive office buildings. Even the lighthouse is a French cuisine restaurant to celebrate weddings.

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But it was certainly an extra plus to wake up among these styled buildings and I already miss that place in combination with the transparent autumn air and cold light. And – here most of those who visited the city would agree with me – I would call this gingerbread-house village the closest the contemporary city could get to the old authentic Konigsberg.

Kaliningrad, Russia

 

Konigsberg is the historic name of this Prussian city before it became a part of the Soviet Union in 1946. And probably the greatest symbol of that painful and from my point of view completely thoughtless transition is this House of Soviets (Dom Sovetov) on the left of the picture which from its first stone laid down in 1970 is STILL unfinished.

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It was fashioned after some buildings in the then newly built Brasilia. Well, USSR is in the past now and the building is still NOT used. The facade of this ‘buried robot’ as the locals call it was painted in 2005 so that the president would not be displeased plus the windows got installed. That’s all. A sad sad sad story. Very symbolic.

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And of course this robot’s head of the thing can be seen from every point of the city. And it’s just there in the middle. An eye sore. The unofficial symbol of the city just as the newly reconstructed Cathedral is the official one.

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Don’t punish me for spoiling the view, it’s not me who placed this Soviet garbage container close to Kant’s tomb. We walked along the walls and noticed this lady – as the inscription says – ‘in hope of the eternal life’. She looks rather eeh tired with the whole prospect of this eternal life =)

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In search of the authentic buildings left from Konigsberg we came upon Litovsky Val (Lithuanian Bulwark) Street with old brick houses like this one:

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In the cortyard of which we found this ex-church in a very weird state:

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And of course we went inside this open door to see the blurred windows and time-beaten doors:

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And here I found myself taking photos of the street names and house number signs, like this imposing ex-school building:

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And in between there were ugly Soviet residential houses. ‘Find 10 differences’ between this one:

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and this one, both in Lesopilnaya Street (Timber Sawing Street):

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Or how about this one in October Lane?

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I know, my selection of things to photograph and to post here might seem a bit weird but then… what else would you take photos of in a mixed-up city? Definitely not the newest architectural additions of the modern era. Like this one.

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This is to show you the complete confusion that the city is: Renaissance-styled early 19th century building of the ex-Stock Exchange turned into a culture house alongside with a high-rise and the reconstructed commercialized Fishers’ Village.

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And there used to be very curious buildings in the city indeed… It’s a pity they are now curious only for those crazy tourists who love all things decadent like me – for the rest they are just abandoned ruins:

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I liked this old building which still houses a photo studio:

Kaliningrad, Russia

Or this one:

Kaliningrad, Russia

And how about this impressive stairway to heaven?

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Well, let’s talk about food for a bit. We found a nice German-style beer house in the Soviet center of the city and went there twice. I ordered spatzle (the dish which I first tried in Alsace) and got a plate of soft boiled pasta with delicate translucent onion and melted cheese. Baked potato wedges were also tasty – they reminded me of the ‘Incredible Potatoes’ dish we tried in Estonia in almost every restaurant (and almost at every meal no matter what time of the day…). ‘Incredible Potatoes’ was how they were translated in one of the menus =)

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We thought we would chose the neighbouring beer house – this time a Czech-style one – for the third day and ordered this hearty mushroom soup in a bread bowl. The bread was no-yeast wholewheat and very chewy but I guess the soup would have been better if they did not forget to warm it up a bit more and, well, pour a bit more of the soup too =) the potato knedle were good too but I prefer baked potatoes.

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And no, we did not try any beer. Nor did we find any Konigsberg marzipan which used to be a food specialty of the city. But we did sample a very tasty poppy seed roll, sweet and super soft. And the local soured milk products were good too!

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We did not visit any museums although there is, for example, this Amber Museum where you can see all the curiosities preserved in the sunny amber. I don’t particularly like amber and dead insects, you see. Instead we walked to the Central park (which seemed too far to be Central) and coming out of it we saw this enormous monument to the Soviet cosmonauts born in Kaliningrad, called the ‘Conquerors of the Universe’ (1980) which is also known among the locals as the ‘Hello from the Nine’. I had to spend some time before I realized the meaning of this nickname .)

And we did see lots of fortifications and towers and almost all what is left from (or reconstructed after) the stronghold of the city, the Castle with its walls and reduits. But Soviet people do not live in castles, right? They destroy castles (the ruins were finally blown up in late 60s) and build the most beautiful houses instead. And then new people came and adjusted those dwellings to their needs. All without any hint of taste :)

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When we arrived in Kaliningrad it was as if we turned some weeks back in time, as there were still those colourful leaves on the trees. But when we were leaving, the trees got more and more bare. The last glimpse of the golden autumn!

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And yes, this ‘something’ that I was talking about which makes Kaliningrad special is its past which just could and can NOT be erased and which is still popping out here and there. Also I think there is some feeling of this past. As if all these Soviet architectural marvels are intruders there, built not in the right place, as if to hide and to make-believe there never was another city. The Island of Kant with its long broad walk leading from the large faceless bridge to the reconstructed Cathedral (where you can enjoy organ concerts, well, if you enjoy organ music) I think is the most haunted place in the city. The paved walk whispers you about the old city and old houses with narrow streets which used to be there on the island… But the people of Kaliningrad, I liked them, and that helped to form an opinion on the city.

By the way, did you know about the riddle of the Konigsberg seven bridges? Well, you are late to come up with the solution – it was proved already back in 1735 that there is NONE =)

Off to Moscow!

G.

Greek Spinach and Cheese Double Rolls

With each new Greek recipe I post here my blog seems to become a more Greek rather than post-Soviet blog : ) But I just cannot resist the heartiness and the comfort of the Greek cuisine! Me speaking Greek language has opened to me so many variations on the same good old theme – a Greek pie.

Spinach Cheese Rolls from www.argiro.gr

One of my favourite parts of Greek cuisine is the multitude of various pies with all sorts of pastries and fillings. And to think that I only make those pies that do not have meat in them or do not require the pastry I cannot make (or too lazy to do that) myself?

Spinach Cheese Rolls from www.argiro.gr

Fairly recently I’ve posted a Greek recipe of a Spinach Cheese Pie with Cornmeal Crust which is an unusual thing even for the rich versatile Greek cuisine. This time I would like to share with you yet another Greek pie also made with spinach and cheese but the filling is wrapped in a more conventional type of pastry.

A year ago – Cheesy Potato and Leek Bake with Sourdough Bread

Two years ago – Autumnal Comfort Sweet Treats

Three years ago - An Easy Bread and A Not That Easy Bread

Spanakotiropita se Rolla or Spinach Cheese Rolls (Σπανακοτυρόπιτα σε ρολά) adapted, translated and posted here with the kind permission of Argiro from www.argiro.gr will make two huge or three-four medium rolls with tasty pastry and salty filling. See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients

For the pastry:

  • 600 g all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbs vinegar – I used Greek red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • water, about 2 cups – I used less
  • 4 Tbs butter or margarine, melted

For the filling:

  • 1 kg spinachI used a bit less of frozen spinach which I defrosted and cooked in its liquid a bit
  • 10 spring onions with the green parts – I used less
  • 1 bunch dill
  • 2 eggs – I decided to leave them out
  • 500 g Feta – I had just a bit of real Feta left from this recipe so had to add 2 blocks of 5% fat cottage cheese (tvorog)
  • 100 g hard cheese (originally Kefalotiri)
  • salt – I also added the Georgian mix called Khmeli-suneli and some Provence herbs
  • freshly ground black pepper

Procedure

Making the pastry: In a bowl place the flour, salt, olive oil, vinegar and then add the water bit by bit, kneading the pastry until it doesn’t stick to hands and is very pliable. Divide the pastry into ten small balls. Roll each ball out on a floured surface to a size of a fruit plate. When you have the first 5 circles, brush one with the melted butter, cover with the next one, butter this one too and go on like this until you get to the fifth circle. Do not grease this one. Place the five circles in a dish and cover it. Proceed with the remaining 5 balls. Place both piles in the fridge for 1 hour so that the butter is chilled and the result is almost that of a sfogliata pastry (=puff pastry).

Now to the filling: Clean, wash and finely chop the spinach (I used frozen spinach that I cooked in its liquid), place it in a bowl, adding the finely chopped spring onions. Add 1 tsp salt and knead the mixture so that it releases the liquid (I did not do that). Leave it for ten minuted. Squeeze the mixture with your hands to drain it completely. Place it back in a bowl and add dill and beaten eggs (I didn’t add eggs). Add the grated cheese, season with salt and pepper and mix well (I couldn’t help seasoning the mixture with some herbs).

Assembling and baking: Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the filling in four. Roll out the first pile into a large rectangular of the same size as your baking sheet. Place tablespoons of filling along both long sides of the pastry. Roll each side up to the middle until the two stick together. Transfer this double roll onto the baking sheet (I rolled the pastry on the paper already). Do the same with the second pile. Brush the rolls with some butter, sprinkle with water (and some sesame seeds if you wish). Bake on the bottom rack for about 1 hour and 15 minutes till it browns nicely (my roll took just about an hour and I placed it on the middle rack).

Spinach Cheese Rolls from www.argiro.gr

Remarks: I did not bake all the rolls at once, I put the remaining half of the pastry in the fridge wrapped in plastic and the filling too. The next day I added some cooked corn groats to the leftover feeling (don’t kill me for that!) and made two smaller pies. One of them was only half-vegetarian as I filled one side of the roll with minced meat for my Father.

Spinach Cheese Rolls from www.argiro.gr

Result: The perfect comfort food for me. Oh that flaky pastry and that salty soft filling… Be careful with the salt though if your Feta is a real one. And of course all the sesame seeds will eventually fall off but who cares!

Recently made this good-looking Pistachio-Walnut Sourdough Bread with my rye sourdough culture – no hope that I will taste it though as I will soon be travelling again and I left it at my parents’ place unguarded… :)

G.

Greece: Piraeus and Thessaloniki with Markets, Cats and Dogs

Thessaloniki

I have certainly had a much happier year than this Thessaloniki cat indeed – I’ve seen most of the places abroad that I love and have very special feelings to – Strasbourg, Mediterranean Sea, Aegina with Agia Marina village, Thessaloniki and Piraeus. And I’ve also travelled in Russia quite nicely (and still have some more travelling ahead of me!). Now that I think about it I guess I’m really lucky this year, regardless of all the events which made me feel … less lucky this year.

Thessaloniki

It was snowing in the morning today (now there’s typical St Pete rain and gloom) and I remembered that I have not posted my Thessaloniki part of the Greek trip yet. That would be a great way to brighten up the day a bit, I thought. But then I looked at the first photos prepared long ago for this post and realized that the day I arrived in Thess the sun was absent in the morning and only present on this ruined house wall…

Thessaloniki

The clouds were circling around the city that day and I had to wait till the rain stopped as no doubt I had no umbrella. As soon as it was possible to walk I headed up towards my favourite part of the city is the old Upper Town, Ano Poli. On my way I took this photo of the ruins of the Roman times Galerius Arch – the most popular place to meet in the city and in general a very student place (close to the University). Yep, Greece is known for its numerous ruins and its almost negligence to them. However… they do survive there!

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Here’s the Street of Cyclopes and the on-going reconstruction of the ancient wall surrounding the old – historical – part of Thessaloniki (not necessarily THAT old inside now). I have walked up and down this narrow cat-full street hundreds of times – and here I find a new piece of street art, love it!

Thessaloniki

As I was getting higher and higher, the sun started peeping through the clouds and the humid sticky feeling I got (also from carrying all my things on me, but that just shows how stupid I can be=) immediately brought back those days I was walking around Ano Poli and taking pictures of all things decadent. Especially of all these old Macedonian houses (something similar I saw in Varosha, the old district of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria) and the ever present cats.

Thessaloniki

The thing that was new this time is that they have finally opened to public one of the surviving towers, the closest one to the sea, from the Eptapirgio (=Seven towers) fortification ensemble. I did not have chance to walk up (or better climb up) towards the highest fortress which served as prison up until 1989 (a certainly memorable year in the world history it seems) but I did look at the city from this newly opened tower. Inside there will be a sort of a museum as far as I understood. And thanks for the security guy who let me leave all my things and climb the narrow inside stairway to the platform on top of the Pirgos!

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It was invaded by young Turkish ladies travelling on a bus and they were all clad in long black robes and happily chatting away while taking selfies at all the corners. This particular photo is not taken from that Pirgos but from the place I once had my breakfast at. Cause yeah, they do sit on their centuries old fortification walls there.

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Right under the Pirgos is another – and way more famous – PirgosWhite Tower or Lefkos Pirgos, the symbol of the city. It’s situated right at the seaside (where you cannot bathe though) and it also has a platform on top. Inside there’s an interactive museum which I could visit for free when I was a students (ah-oh).

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The seafront is all about emigrants selling to you all kind of stuff, occasional bicycles and the cafe-boats that lure you by free entrance and then charge you ridiculous sums for the drinks. No surprise I have never gone on any of them, ahaha.

Thessaloniki

And I should tell you that I love this spacious blue & white paralia (=beach) as much as I love Ano Poli, the narrow ruined cats place.) It’s a pity I had just about three hours in Thess this time, in between my two buses (I had to return to Sofia to catch my flight). As the sun got higher I got really tired…

Thessaloniki

And after such a walk up and then down I needed some food… And what else could you eat in Thessaloniki but grab some sesame koulouria on the run or sit down for a cinnamon & sugar dusted creamy mpougatsa with a cold neverending frappe in your hand? And yeah, finally I got a photo of how these koulouria are sold in the street. Such a lady! When it’s cold in Thess (and it do become such a bitingly cold windy city in the winter!) they sell traditional hot beverage called Salepi.

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And down there at the seafront and along the Aristotelian Street it’s the realm of dogs.

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Very tired dogs.

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And then I made another discovery – I finally went (by chance) to the covered market that I missed all those days in Thessaloniki when I walked to the market in the Aristotelous Square. The Modiano market with its old tavernas where old guys are sitting and sipping at their retsina or ouzo or tsipouro. The entire place just brings you back to the 1920s and 30s when the city got invaded by the Greeks fleeing from the ex-Greek and now Turkish territories.

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Some old guys are just sitting there. Even without eating or drinking anything at all. Just sitting and watching rare birds like me who sometime enter the market. Or watching the others work. Here I bought my chewy koulouri and was happy =)

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Leaving this market I went up to buy some herbs and spices from the other market (or part of a large market area that spreads over several blocks) and just could not keep myself from taking photos of all those colourful things!

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This place is always crowded and I remember buying my fruits and veggies from this guy! And you should just come there to hear his powerful voice, fit to advertise himself in the highly competitive industry called Greek market : )

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I love the local markets. It’s one of the places I usually head to when I travel to a new town. And if it looks miserable as the one in Chelyabinsk then… well, I just put a Fail against this city name. Let’s not even mention that city, ok? : )

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Oh those colours! One of the things I love Greece for is the COLOURS (and the flavours)…

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And here is the best type of advertisement you could think of for a shop selling rugs and carpets called Love Home. This dog was a hit! I wonder if you call the number and order your carpet, the dog comes with the offer too? And oh, what a chair, by the way : )

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And I did traditionally run through the fish and meat alleys of the market (not my type of place), making this audio recording of the loud market people as I flew by:

Thessaloniki

And then I walked to the opposite part of the market, which is usually quieter and less populated. But during the lunch time it gets crowded too! This is a nice place to eat called Dihti (Fishing net) where you can eat the delicious saganaki cheese if you happen to be a vegetarian who hates fish…

Thessaloniki

The rest of this quiet part of the market is occupied by artisans and craftsmen who still make baskets and those typical Greek chairs with a seat made from interlaced twigs that you can now see either underneath some old guys on the islands or in Greek tavernas. I wish I could take one of those chairs to my place!

Piraeus

And oh, I forgot about the other place that has a lot of memories and meaning for me – the main port of Greece and now a part of Athens, Piraeus! The place where your journey to the islands most possibly starts (once you leave the airport) and ends. It was such a warm though windy evening with a spectacular sunset that day when I came back from Aegina and was waiting for my overnight bus to Thessaloniki. Just sitting there and soaking in the life of the port. The ships arriving one by one, some of them leaving, then the lights appearing in the windows and crowds of tourists moving around… It’s like sitting in an airport but much better.

And you know what? Just came to my head. Next time I go to Greece, Bulgaria or France, I will certainly get myself this rectangular bell that they attach to the cows in all these countries. I just adore the low ringing of the bell, it’s so comforting!

This is my last post in this year’s Greece + Bulgaria trip series.

G.

Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus and… Spanacouscous!

Before I continue with my post-Chelyabinsk travelling photos and thoughts here’s a recipe I tried back in August. It’s a traditional Greek dish from the mountainous region called Epirus and it’s perfect for vegetarians. And it looks like this pie is gluten-free too! Moreover, if you have some leftover rice or even cooked buckwheat groats on hand, why not adding it to the greens to make it more substantial for your meat-eating friends? And if you curious about Spanacouscous, we will come to it at the end of the post.

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

I haven’t contacted the author but I hope that my translation is not a bad way to popularize Greek cuisine! =) I have never tried this one in Greece, on the contrary cornmeal seemed to be quite not that very present in Thessaloniki or on the islands. Some people call this pie made with the seasonal greens blatsaria μπλατσαριά, others batsaria μπατσαριά and some batsina μπατσίνα. We will call it Cornmeal greens pie.

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

One year ago – Autumn Leaves and Karelian Pies

Two years ago - Khachapuri, I’m addicted!

Three years ago – My Sourdough Adventures, a New Start

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus (Μπλατσαριά με καλαμποκάλευρο (Ήπειρος)) translated and adapted from www.dinanikolaou.gr will make an unusual salty dish with greens in between chewy cornmeal layers. See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients

For the cornmeal batter:

  • 320 g finely ground cornmeal – I used a bit less
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3-4 Tbs olive oil (Greek, of course)
  • 420 g lukewarm water – I added around 400

For the filling:

  • 1 kg greens from the market, something seasonal like radishes (and here come some names of the Greek greens I have never heard of like Mediterranean hartwort and Chervil), cleaned and finely chopped – I defrosted 800 g of spinach + added fresh sage, sorrel and even leftover cooked buckwheat groats
  • 3-4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 bunch of dill or fennel, finely chopped - I used dill
  • 300 g of Feta, crumbled – you might have heard of our reaction to EU sanctions, so I used 350 g of Adygea cheese instead
  • 1/2 cup olive oil – I used pumpkin seed oil
  • salt, freshly ground pepper – I also added some Georgian herb mix called Khmeli-Suneli

Procedure

For the filling: Place all the greens plus salt and pepper in a bowl and mix for 4-5 minutes, working the mixture well with your hands, until they get all seasoned. Leave the mixture for 20 minutes aside and then drain from the liquid. Add the onions, the egg, dill or fennel, Feta and olive oil and mix everything well.

For the cornmeal batter: In a big bowl place the cornmeal and make a well in the center, then add the eggs, salt and oil. Mix well with a wooden spoon and gradually add the lukewarm water, mixing continuously, until you get a rather thick batter (you might not need all the water).

Bake the pie: Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Grease well the bottom and the sides of a round 32 cm baking dish. Pour half of the batter inside and level it out with a spoon. Put the greens filling on top and level it out too. Add 1 cup of lukewarm water to the remaining cornmeal batter (I added 100 ml) and drop tablespoons of it on top of the filling. Put the dish on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 45 minutes until a golden crunchy crust creates on top of the pie.

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

Remarks: I did not a very crunchy crust as you can see from the photos. Also the colour was rather yellow than golden but I guess I just should have baked it some minutes longer. I added some leftover buckwheat groat (grechka as we call it in Russia) and I think it added some… body to the filling. It did not alter the taste though.

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

Result: The taste might appear weird at first – with all this cornmeal and greens… But this is exactly what this Greek pie is famous and loved for – the combination of the crunchy cornmeal crust with mashy greens. You could almost mistake this pie for an omelet with its yellow cornmeal top. I liked how the greens peeped through the sunny crust! Oh that was back in August…

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

 ***

This month I was more lucky with Feta. Shhhh… I found some real GREEK Feta in a supermarket… Won’t tell you the name of the shop so that it doesn’t get fined and shut down for selling cheese from EU in Russia! Guess how glad I was to sample the real Feta with sheep’s milk, oh-oh. Why do we only have super salty Bulgarian-brynza-like cheese around?

Spanacouscous with Feta

In some earlier posts I shared with you my improvised vegetarian dishes – usually some baked or steamed veggies plus some grains or pasta. And cheese. Oh yes. This time I got something that I’ve christened Spanacouscous as it reminded me of Spanakorizo from Thessaloniki (a post on this city is coming!). It doesn’t necessarily look super sophisticated – and, well, it should not as it’s so easy. Here’s what I did:

Spanacouscous with (Real) Feta improvised by me will make a  combination of soup-like greens with salty cheese.

Ingredients

  • fresh / frozen spinach
  • some carrots
  • couscous
  • Feta or some salty white cheese (if you’re less lucky)
  • dried oregano
  • seasonings, salt

Procedure

I usually cook my veggies in water boiling in a pan under a cover (so they’re partially steamed I guess), adding some olive oil if I like to and salt plus some seasonings. When they are half ready I add some couscous as it cooks fast and absorbs the excess water. It usually ‘eats’ the salt too but don’t overdo the salt here – you will add the salty cheese later. I cover the pan and leave it on low heat for some time. Then I add some herbs like dried oregano and crumble some Feta on top. Dead easy.

Spanacouscous with Feta

Result: You will get a spoon of greens with a bite of Feta =) Also the sweetness of carrots comes in contrast to the salty cheese.

Lots of posts crowding and waiting for the turn in my Drafts. But where shall I start?!

P.S. I have a neighbour who laughs loudly almost every evening at the same time. Same time same laugh. I wonder if you can laugh on a schedule?

G.

Rough and Tough Chelyabinsk – Legend or Truth?

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So let’s see… Here are some photos and we’ll figure out whether Chelyabinsk, this industrial heavy-metal city in the Urals, is so rough and tough as the legend goes. My first impressions – the Soviet airport with other uglier parts being hidden by ‘Chelyabinsk welcomes its Judo Championship guests’ posters and then this enormous puddle – if you can call this sea a puddle – in front of the exhibition center.

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And then I turned right and saw this hm park called Garden of Stones. I later discovered that the garden was moved to the territory of the Local History Museum. But I didn’t know it then – and this was what I thought was Garden of Stones:

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And when I was crossing the river Miass I felt that whatever that guy was trying to fish out of the waters full of bottles and smelling badly, well, even the most desperate cat would not eat.

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You wondering what’s that weird tower-like object in the background? Me too! Cause the gates have this M sign which can only make you think of Moscow metro. Still don’t know what it is.

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And just after this tower thing as I was going to my hotel, I came across this very old building made with such skill that I wanted to take pictures of every detail and told myself to try to find more of this.

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The door sign said there was a not that hospitable dog guarding the premises so there was only this wall along the street that you can get access to. Also, when I looked what’s behind the corner, I found this tree growing right in the middle of the stone wall:

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Each time I go to a new (or the same) place, I try to find there several essential – for me – things like a market, a post office, an ethnographic or local history museum. And of course I’m looking for the market the most =)

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Look at the face of the guy who is the owner of this bric-a-brac eeehm kiosk and you will get the idea that I was not welcome in that market with my camera.

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Yes, this is a general view of the city (as well as many more cities in Russia these days too) -something old planted right in the middle of something new and ugly. Actually it is vice versa – all these new additions grew around the old things. The church as far as I understood used to house the local history museum during the Soviet times. And now it’s just side by side with the Green Market. Obviously everything is painted in green.

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There were more curious things in that market which I will not publish here. After the market (where I failed to find the things I usually try in every new place – dairy products and baked goods) I went back to the lovely river and found out this Pink Floyd wall. How pretty I thought but then read the title of the song and understood that ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ (misspelled as Godbay) from the Wall album is not there just for fun. They mean it…

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I was moving to the city center in my search of more things left from the pre- and early industrial past of the city with merchant houses and wooden houses. But first I passed along this wall skillfully painted with Russian fairy tales and cartoons.

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This is the guy who always wins over rich and stupid. He also drives a Russian stove perfectly and a magical pike makes his wishes come true. And here’s a super-Soviet-man:

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And the stereotypical bear wearing shapka and playing on balalayka. Where’s his bottle of vodka I wonder? I yes, he doesn’t need it as vodka trickles down from the tap here in Russia.

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As I thought I was moving towards the pedestrian street they call ΄local Arbat‘ (after the famous pedestrian street in the heart of Moscow), I actually came to this place called Aloye pole (Scarlet Field). No idea of the name but it had this:

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And also this…

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And this – pioner‘s house. Where your babushka sees you off every other evening for your piano or young naturalist lessons. A huge building with all the Soviet symbols really well preserved. This is how a child was to get used to all things great and grand and better than in that rotten world of the West.

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In the middle of the park there’s this unknown artifact:

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hmmm… Right next to this circle is a church.

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You’re in the city of ore, mining and metal so do expect everything to be a little bit too black and too metal:

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And even Communist heroes (all were boys and girls) are all made of metal:

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A veeery sinister looking circle of boys and girls, the pionery. There’s one who betrayed his own father because he was not a communist… One of the most famous figures in the USSR history – that’s what the children were learning at school, their role model, khm.

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And this whole circle of young Communist heroes is crowned or presided by Lenin of course. Although his eehhh grotto looks so very new, I mean, it doesn’t even look that old… I wonder if that was one of the later Soviet additions. And guess what he’s looking at? The church built in Nicolas II times!

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After that I came across the local State Pedagogical Institute. With the tallest Stalinist columns I have ever seem. There’s an ATM built-in the wall, a total anachronism.

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And after seeing the rain pipe I was sort of puzzled what kind of RAIN they do get here from time to time… Serious rain. Heavy heavy rain.

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Some Soviet decorative art in a yard:

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The next day I did get to the local Arbat-like street called Kirova Street (ex-Ufa Street), obviously called after the communist Kirov. There I finally got the chance to see what I was looking for – the old buildings and a tiny bit of that old Chelyabinsk, a town that lay on the Silk Road.

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The biggest matreshka kiosk you have ever seen against red-brick houses that survived the Soviet era – namely Drug Store (Pharmacy) #1 which has a tiny museum inside. It’s a pity this kiosk was closed, I wonder what they sell there.

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Some more preserved wooden decorations with an ugly looking club. The street could have been much better if the owners of the shops and clubs could really see what damage they cause with their lack of any taste.

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Old school tram near Kirova Street. Very creaking.

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Walking across the bridge along the same Kirova street I walk past the Philharmonic hall and then I also spotted this – which is not at all rare in Chelyabinsk and in most of our cities with heavy Soviet heritage.

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I bet this is the best shot of all my Chelyabinsk albums. Seriously!

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But don’t think that these weird Russians can make only ugly things. Look what they decorate their beloved women with!

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I finally went to the Local History museum to try to understand the region better. There were several rooms dedicated to the local craftsmanship – precious and semi-precious stones are found in the Urals all over the place!

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Remember Chelyabinsk meteorite back in February 2013? Here’s a piece of it with the medals issued all over the globe to commemorate the event. I really do not wonder now why it fell in Chelyabinsk of all the cities.

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But the most warm and cozy room of the museum attracted much more of my attention – that was a room telling us about the peoples of the region and their traditional houses and clothes.

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The sewing machine was made by hand by some local peasant in the beginning of the 2oth century. We had and still have these marvels, these naturally gifted people – samorodok, as we call them in Russia (literally giving birth to itself). The problem is that they mostly remain in shadow.

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Kitchen – my favourite spot anywhere! This one recreates a traditional wooden house called izba. Wood just transmits warmth and comfort to you. See the brass samovar and this thing on the left to cut the cabbage and the pottery and of course the traditional white stove with the peel and the hook to get the pots out of the oven.

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I guess I’ve told you before that the traditional Russian pech (stove) was the first thing built in a house (hence the saying ‘dance from the stove’, begin from the very beginning, ab ovo) and the central piece in all times. People made food there, stored things there, washed themselves in there, gave birth to babies and slept on the upper warm part.

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I really liked this women’s traditional dress from Ryazan region, which is not in the Urals though but closer to Moscow. If I remember correctly these are from Oryol and some other places in Russia. These were worn in some villages up until mid 20th century, I guess. Love the embroidered blouse!

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Chelyabinsk footware industry going from this pair of metal-shod lapti (traditional peasant shoes made from birch tree bark usually)…

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…to these Soviet monsters. It’s up to you to decide whether the local shoe industry progressed or regressed. The same shoes were worn by many many many Soviet people living in all corners of our huge rodina (mother land) cause the same shoes were made everywhere.

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This one goes to my father, an active collector of mugs. Not everyone of us would love to take our morning tea in a mug with LENIN written in gold letters. And I’m sure my father would prefer something less chic.)

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Yes, we’ve moved to the USSR room which – since this time is too recent to evoke only positive nostalgic feelings – is rather like a reminder, hey, it’s just yesterday that these were a part of our lives and now what, they are in a museum?!

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Like this kitchen which you can still see in very many households all across Russia. I guess some people would just NOT understand why on earth this thing is considered and exhibit.

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Or this school things and the girls’ uniform (black apron for every day and a white apron plus white lace collar for holidays) – I remember them so vividly, although I never had to wear this dress or this bag…

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I don’t necessarily recall similar assaults of the vodka shops during the Soviet prohibition times (that was during Perestroyka) but I do remember standing in line to get some food. Lines are the things Russian people VOLUNTARILY and very eagerly start, join and skip and make a hassle about…

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Walking back from the museum to my hotel I came across some walls, one of which had this written: ‘Smile or I will bite your nose off’. And then there was this green something. God, I love Chelyabinsk! =)

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It’s definitely a very Soviet city and at the same time there’s a lot from the 90s – or rather ‘like in the 90s’. It seems to me that some of the most recent stuff in Chelyabinsk look as if it was built during the rough & tough 90s. And some objects did remind me of the early 2000s too :)

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And guess what? I was really glad to see the cloudy sky above St Pete. Yes, better clouds above your home town than Chelyabinsk =)

So… Do you think rough & tough Chelyabinsk is a myth after all?

G.

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