Trans-Siberian Trip Part 3: Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

Zlatoust

After the resort-like Samara we crossed the border with the Urals region in the early misty morning on board of our old-school train with wooden-frame windows, which was making its 3305 km way from Moscow to Karagandy in Kazakhstan in just 2 days 10 hours and 9 minutes. It’s funny that there’s this rhyming saying in Russian when somebody is asking you ‘where?’ you – irritated – reply ‘in Karagandy!’ (gde-gde, v Kargande!), meaning some far away place. And here we were, on the train to that mysterious destination:) But in fact we had to almost jump off the train at the Zlatoust station as the train only stops there for 2 minutes. Getting off the train in 2 minutes is not such a difficult task, but imagine getting ON the train in just 2 minutes when you also have to find your coach!

Samara – Zlatoust:

distance: plus 844 km

total distance from St Petersburg covered so far: 2622 km

local time: Moscow time + 2 hours

train: train Moscow – Karaganda (operated by the Kazakh Railroad, pretty decent though old-school); takes you from Samara to Zlatoust in 15 hours 41 minutes

A somewhat excruciating search for the breakfast after we got off the train yielded several observations (AND the breakfast itself but only after at least an hour of erring here and there in search of a cafe). Like that here people do not care a bit for all those hipster cafes and stuff. They just eat at home, man. They live a simpler and more down-to-earth life, not even knowing half of what we so much care for here in the big cities. But they do sell and buy a lot of knives here, the production of which gives them the majority of the profit it seems.

Zlatoust

[a memory from our breakfast-quest morning]

After having our bulochka with bird cherry in a local Kulinaria (a Soviet invention for busy / lazy, a shop with ready meals which you can either take home or eat right there at a table) we hopped on a mountainous tram. Yep, you’ve heard that, a very rare kind in Russia! And I bet it was faster than this old-school bus with Zlatoust written on it that we saw in the morning (pictured above). Sometimes it moves past wooden houses so close that it seems like you are on an amusement park ride! And we did use the trams in a sort of entertaining way, as an excursion tram – we went all the way up the hill and down, visiting the city’s factories, some of which were in quite a derelict state. And we were also people watching on this tram – or rather people-listening.

Zlatoust

Zlatoust is an industrial but yet a very scenic town in the notoriously heavy-industry Chelyabinsk region. It’s one of the most elevated mountainous towns of the Urals with its residential areas rising as high as 400-600 m above the sea level, to believe Wikipedia. To the East of the town there’s this borderline which separates Europe from Asia. They say that a family of entrepreneurs founded this town in 1754 and since their family saint was John Chrysostom, they named it in his honor (Zlatoust = Golden-Mouthed). And since then the town has been known for its ironworks, steel blades and other arms with sophisticated engravings. Thanks God they didn’t rename it into Stalsk (meaning both stal = steel and Stalin) like they intended to in in the late 1920s.

Zlatoust

In some parts Zlatoust looks like a Russian version of Switzerland. Although the boring 1970s block of flats inevitably bring you back to the reality. Well, it’s obvious that here even with all their ponds and hills and forests, people of Zlatoust are not supposed to be too much enjoying themselves in this beauty. So let’s build them some houses for the working people, nothing more. They should be grateful for that, eager that they are to leave their old wooden houses. But as for me, I liked the wooden part of the town much more:

Zlatoust

Looking from above (the wooden houses are somewhat higher than the part of the town located on the pond) I could almost imagine how it all used to be back when the town was prosperous and laborious. It is still laborious I guess, otherwise there’s little to do there for a living unless you’re employed by one of the factories. I also remembered the first color photos in Russia taken by the pioneer photographer Prokudin-Gorsky in the beginning of the 20th century upon the order of Nikolai II. When I saw them first I was wondering where that curiously named Zlatoust was…

Zlatoust

My first encounter with the Urals took place several years ago in Yekaterinburg, Perm (2013) and then in the rough and tough Chelyabinsk (2014). Each time I went there I was disappointed with the cities but striving to get to the nature. Which I finally manged to do this time. I deliberately avoided visiting big cities in the Urals and chose this small Zlatoust of the town to get closer to the Urals themselves. So unlike in Samara where we just left our rucksacks in the locker at the railway station, we took our time and spent a night in a hotel in Zlatoust called Nikolsky (which for my friend was the first hotel experience in Russia – and not a bad one).

Zlatoust

The Urals in general is a region of metal. Even its folklore is connected to the metal. This ‘park’ on the Krasnaya Gorka we went to to see the city from above is dedicated to the fairy tales of Pavel Bazhov, a Soviet writer from the Urals whose works were inspired by the local legends. Russian children (I hope) still read his ‘metal’ books, like The Mistress of the Copper Mountain,  The Malachite Casket and the Tale of the Stone Flower which is commemorated in shape of a fountain at the VDNKh in Moscow. We climbed the stairs of the bell tower of the John Chysostom church (its height is equal to a 11-floor building), looking at the old-old Urals under the low clouds and that deep green forest stretching beyond…

Zlatoust

Although the weather was somewhat cloudy and sticky, we could feel the spirit of the place. Next day after a nice buffet breakfast (apart from the apparently old meat pie which I wouldn’t eat anyway) we headed towards the vast natural park called Taganay, situated not that far from Zlatoust. The name derives from the Taganay mountains in the South Urals which in Bashkir language means a very beautiful and intriguing ‘trivet for the Moon’ (tagan = trivet, ay = moon). We left our things in a car belonging to the guard (this is what people do in exchange for a smile!), registered ourselves but finally went in a different direction to the one we stated. We chose a longer road leading to the first refuge, about 12,5 km in total.

Taganay

Mountainous rivers, tons of fresh air, almost no people around, loads of stones everywhere – yellow stones and yellow water, climbing-climbing up, birds… They say the park combines several natural zones, there are the taiga fir trees, larch, birch and pine trees, steppe, tundra and sub-alpine meadows all in one park. Indeed, the place where Europe meets Siberia and the Arctic North meets the Southern Steppes.

Taganay

Although we had to survive under occasional rain on the way up and consequently descent cautiously on slippery stones and the ground which turned into torrents of water, we were welcomed by the sun at the end of the walk, as if the nature preserved its gift until the end:

Taganay

Zlatoust’s highlights:

Taganay Park – the must! No matter how much time you have at your disposal and time of the year, just go there. We didn’t see even a tiny bit of the park and yet we enjoyed it!

Mountainous tram to drive you across the town as if on an excursion

Part of the town with wooden houses and the territory along the pond (look for Nikolsky hotel on the map)

A visit to a local ironworks or at least to their shop if you’re interested in all things cutting and shooting (we skipped that); otherwise – a visit to the Bazhov Park where you can buy all those stones and stuff

Municipal banya to round up the experience

Zlatoust in a few words:

An unpretentious town where you can feel the nature and everyday life of the Urals on the frontier between Europe and Asia

We had our lunch in the open air, recuperated our things and drove back to the railway station. And then we did another must when in Russia – we went to a traditional Russian bath called banya (it also happened to be an old-school municipal banya which we spotted on our way to the station). We were lucky enough to get all clean and shiny as it was a women’s day that day in banya which means the entire thing was occupied by the ladies. Ladies washing themselves, their kids and their clothes (or was it just us who jumped at the occasion and cleaned almost everything that got dirty by that point?). Of course we talked to women (well, it was a women’s day after all!) as well and felt a little bit closer to the crowd. We did not have a venik with us (a bundle of birch twigs used instead of soap AND as a kind of rough massage in the Russian banya) though but enjoyed a much needed bath after hiking in the rain anyway. And all fresh and polished as newborn babies we headed towards our train…

… which would take us to the next stop: Tyumen.

This post goes to my On Russia and Travel series.

G.

Trans-Siberian Trip Part 2: Samara on Volga River

Samara

We left Moscow without much hesitation: the city is overwhelmingly busy, noisy and, well, exercises on you the same effect that any huge megalopolis would do in the summer. So we hopped on our fancy double-Decker train, occupying the top shelves of the first floor, to finally set off on the Trans-Siberian Trip. And we headed off to the old merchant city on the Volga River, Samara. It was still quite early for sleeping (which is normally what you would do on a train regardless of the time of the day), so we spent several hours playing Goroda (Cities) in Greek:) It’s an almost never-ending game for travelling – you have to name a city which starts with the last letter of the city proposed by your companion. And so it goes… and although Russia gives you an enormous heap of cities, they all seem to end either in -sk (i.e. letter ‘K’) or -a, as many other cities around the world would. In fact I named so many of them which ended in ‘k’ (most of which are in the Urals region) that my friend got suspicious if I invented half of them:)

distance: plus 1049 km

total distance from St Petersburg covered so far: 1778 km

local time: Moscow time + 1 hour

train: double-Decker train Moscow-Samara with all the amenities, departing from Kazan Railway Station; takes you to Samara in 14 hours 59 minutes

Samara

Already from the train you could feel we were moving towards the South: the morning welcomed us with sun and a whole bunch of herbs and flowers along the rail track, while the grass was apparently burnt by the sun in late June (time when our Northern summer just starts to finally come into action). But Samara is not only to the South of where I live, it’s also considerably situated to the East. And immediately was I transported somewhere back in time:

Samara

[Pochta – Letters, apartment 5]

Our first destination in the city was the river – and somehow we stayed there, close to the embankment, for the rest of the day while we were waiting for the next train which would take us to the following stop. I have never been to the south of Russia apart from Rossosh, so Samara to me represents what I imagine it to be. The city stretches along the elevated river bank which makes you first go down the stairs which are incorporated in the street and then go up the hill when returning back to the city center. And with all the sun and the (well-organized!) beach and the overall relaxed atmosphere, Samara makes you a little bit of a lazy tourist. After we got used to the loads of sun we were getting, I think we enjoyed its laid-back atmosphere particularly given the fact that we just left quite a crazy-busy city called Moscow.

Samara

While we were walking along the street towards the river we gathered not only the impressions but also some local food (fresh bulochki from a bakery and some mors or berry juice to go with it) for our second lunch. And by the way, people-watching in such small and relaxed places is a pleasure. Partly because people just move slower. Also, Samara is a multicultural city with such nations as tatars, mordva and chuvash living there (we could get a notion of who they were by visiting the Museum of Ethnography in St Petersburg). Local babushka in a classic summer attire (note her galoshi, rubber overshoes now mostly worn by the dacha people) accompanied with a woman in a no less (and all-time) classic dressing-gown with flower pattern:

Samara

And here’s a local dedushka in a traditional Grandpa style grey pidzhak (suit coat) which my Grandpa tends to wear all year round:

Samara

And although a short boat tour which we took along the bank of Volga gave us an idea of what the nowadays Samara strives to look like (in fact you don’t even have to move from the city’s ‘ultra-modern’ railway station for that), I think we mostly preserved in our memory the old houses. The city is old after all (older than St Petersburg by some 117 years) and does not feel ashamed of it, it seems. Moreover, it definitely ‘plays’ with it:

Samara

The late 19th century city theater looks like a polished gingerbread house:

Samara

While some of the merchants’ houses are craving for the renovation:

Samara

Also on this photo: the Soviet car called Volga:). And here’s one of the city’s symbols, Buratino with the golden key, a re-worked Pinocchio by the Soviet writer Alexei Tolstoy who lived in Samara in his early years. I had to explain to my friend the whole story about the Russian version of Pinocchio which is the only ‘true’ version we get to know as children unless we watch the Disney’s cartoon.

Samara

Samara’s highlights:

boat tour along the broad and long Volga, with wind in your hair and upbeat ‘hard-core’ pop music

old houses, some provincial but lovely Art Nouveau and even Constructivism

people-watching – slow-paced and thus enjoyable + try to notice a different sort of Russian they speak there

Volga river – why not have a swim in one of the world’s largest rivers (I did!)?

Samara in a few words: all in all the city is sunny with Volga as its nature-given gift and, well, southern-like provincial.

We skipped almost the entire Soviet and post-Soviet parts of the city but spent most of the time in Samara’s heart where you can still experience that old city with merchants competing with each other in building their mansions. We didn’t see Stalin’s bunker reserved for him in case Moscow would be seized by Germany, nor did we see the city’s later Soviet legacy with its booming aviation industry. By the way, Samara  renamed Kuybyshev after guess who? a bolshevik leader, used to be a closed city for that matter. On our way we would come across several more closed cities which opened their doors to foreigners only in the early 1990s. I was not planning it however, cause my main point was to see only those cities I haven’t been to yet – and old cities with history as much as possible.

An attempt to catch the fleeting beauty of the sunset from the window of our overnight train:

Samara

… which would take us to the next stop: Zlatoust.

This post goes to my On Russia and Travel series.

G.

Trans-Siberian Trip Part 1: Moscow Old and New

Moscow Day 1

From now on if I’m asked whether I’ve been on the Trans-Siberian railroad, I can say ‘yes’. It’s true that most of the Russians have never made it. Moreover, they are more likely to visit some Asian country rather than go to Baikal or Russia’s Far East. It’s cheaper and easier in terms of logistics and tourist infrastructure… I’m glad I did the opposite and reached the other, easternmost, ‘end’ of my country (I’ve already been to Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost point) before travelling anywhere else in that direction. We travelled together with my dear friend from Italy. And although we didn’t make it together to Vladivostok, and not on train as I flew there from Ulan-Ude on my own, we made a long enough Trans-Siberian Trip to remember.

Moscow Day 1

[Krutitsy Metochion in Moscow, one of those quiet corners of the megapolis]

We made thousands of kilometers on 8 trains to get from St Petersburg to Ulan-Ude and we made oh so many kilometers on foot too. We walked every day and almost every day there was another train to catch, another time zone to cross and another region to explore! And we got used to it so fast that once we stopped in Ulan-Ude, where our paths with my friend separated, it came almost as a shock to my ‘body and soul’. Now that I look back on our trip, I think I really enjoyed the rhythm.

Moscow Day 1

[Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, proto-futuristic windows:) ]

I’m sure that our experiences differ greatly. I was after all travelling in my own country, noticing things which were rather different than new to me (or those old things still lingering out there and nonexistent where I live). While my friend should have probably noticed larger-scale things, I suppose. When I looked at the photos she took during the trip and I realized that she noticed some details which I did not as they appeared to me as ‘normal’. What an avalanche of information and impressions she must have received!

Moscow Day 1

[Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture by Vera Mukhina, 1937]

Our first stop after almost a week of exploring St Petersburg (and re-exploring for me – expect more posts on that!) was Moscow.

729 km on a fast train called Sapsan that takes you directly from St Petersburg to the capital in 4 hours

no time zone change

… and that was just the beginning. When in Moscow, the recently re-polished VDNKh is the place to be.

Moscow Day 1

[Uzbekistan pavilion at the VDNKh in Moscow]

The former Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy aka VDNKh is undergoing some obvious revitalization. For example they’ve ‘discovered’ several beautiful facades underneath the later (1960s) added walls. You can now enjoy the grandeur of the Stalin’s idea to showcase the Soviet republics’ achievements and treasures in separate pavilions (which were transformed into ‘modern’ pavilions representing separate industries during Khrushchev and Brezhnev time) on a huge territory in the north-east of Moscow the capital.

Moscow Day 1

[The letters stand for ‘art’ – iskusstvo]

I visited VDNKh several years ago when it was still immersed in its lethargic decadence, with the pavilions occupied by what-not shops, fairs and entertainment. You can still spot those remnants of the 1990s here and there: there are still at least two pavilions focusing on selling seeds. Yep, you’ve heard it:)

Moscow Day 1

[Belarus’ pavilion showcases the abundance]

We were lucky to have our tireless guides who were eager to show us both the other – older and quieter – side of Moscow as well as its musts. We also had some time on our own during the weekdays, so that we had an opportunity to experience the city’s busy lifestyle too.

Moscow Day 1

[One of the Stalin’s skyscrapers on the Moscow river – also under renovation]

Moscow is a real mix of old and new. I’ve already written about it, that you can find an ancient monastery hidden in between the skyscrapers (which can also be as old as 1950s and as new as of today). And it’s true!

Moscow Day 2

[Gates to the Kolomenskoye estate in Moscow]

And another obvious thing about Moscow is its dimensions, its scale. If there’s a park in Moscow, it’s huge. If there’s an avenue, it’s wide as a river. If there’s an old lane with 16th century houses, its tiny and winding. One of such huge estates inside Moscow is this ex-royal Kolomenskoye estate which used to be quite far from Moscow. But Moscow is devouring its neighbors and sprawling in circles. Loved this tiny fortochka (fanlight window) inside this 17th century Lady of Kazan Church:

Moscow Day 2

Ascension Church (1532) of the Kolomenskoye estate in Moscow, built by an Italian and looking like a bride in her white dress with pearls:

Moscow Day 2

Peter the Great spent some of his childhood years here but then the capital and the tsar’s interests moved further north… to St Petersburg:) Gosh, it was so hot the day we went to Kolomenskoye! But there was this 56th floor of the Empire Tower, one of the Moscow City skyscrapers, that we climbed up to see the city from above. I must say I was so very ‘cooked’ by that moment that I was not impressed even in the least.

Moscow Day 2

No, we did not climb it in this fashion. There’s a super speedy elevator in there. It’s hard to tell what is old and what is new in Moscow,  it’s such a dynamic and yet such an old-school city in a way. But these cold glass surfaces definitely belong to the new Moscow. It rises above the rest of the city, as if its parts are competing who’s the tallest. The sunset we met on the Vorobyevy Gory (Sparrow Mountains or rather Hills), seemingly with at least half of Moscow citizens:) A view over the Moscow City:

Moscow Day 2
Once our indefatigable guides went off to work, we ventured out on our own. Thus, we finally got to the Kremlin, GUM, Arbat and Gorky Park (plus I went to Simply Red concert which was just so great!).  But we also dedicated half of a day to the metro. Moscow metro is older than that of St Petersburg and it has a bigger number of grand stations (the older ones, from the Stalinist era) that you just have to visit as a lazy tourist, without being in a hurry.

Moscow Day 4

Here is probably the most amazing station, Mayakovskaya (above, 1938, there’s a mosaic in each circle in the ceiling) and here’s the Belarusskaya (1938) one:

Moscow Day 4

and this is a later Komsomolskaya (1952), built to serve a busy crossroads of three Moscow railway stations, namely Leningrad, Yaroslavl and Kazan, which we headed to later that day to set off on the trip:

Moscow Day 4

… And the next stop is: Samara.

This post goes to my On Russia and Travel series.

G.

Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry for Midsummer

Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry

Home again and tired… I’m a bit late with the traditional Midsummer Post this year because I’ve just finished a crazy trip to lake Baikal along the Trans-Siberian railroad and then to Vladivostok and back on a plane. Still need some time to recuperate… And obviously yet another week or so of holidays to write posts about the trip. The day I arrived I was already baking (without any particular recipe, lazy style). In two days I felt ready for some more effort which means following a recipe. And here it is, my semi-improvised midsummer Greek spinach and cheese pie:

Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry

Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry will make a thin crunchy pie with soft cheese and herbs. For the recipe of the Homemade Phyllo Pastry, visit food.com. Here is the improvised filling and what I changed in the pastry recipe:

The only change to the pastry ingredients was to add some freshly ground pepper. As for the procedure, I did not use the dowel to poll it out as thin as possible but rather just… well, rolled it out with a rolling pin and then stretched it as much as I could before it would tear apart (which it inevitably did). For this pie I used only half of the pastry recipe – three sheets on the bottom and three sheets on top, brushing them with olive oil. Still thinking what to do with the remaining half (this type of pastry is traditionally used in both sweet and savoury pies, but  already added pepper to it…).

Filling:

  • c. 350 g of soft white cheese like Adygea cheese (try Feta if you can get it but be careful with salt)
  • 400 g of spinach (I used frozen)
  • 1 egg
  • some fresh herbs of your choice, chopped
  • salt, pepper, seasoning of your choice
  • dried oregano
  • sesame seeds
  • bran, wheat germ, semolina or just flour

Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry

Procedure:

First, I heated up frozen spinach without adding any water, so that the liquid evaporates. Then I left it to cool down a bit and meanwhile prepared the pastry. While the pastry was resting, I added cheese, egg, spices and herbs to the spinach. My idea was to get a less liquid filling not to lose the crunchiness of the pastry.

I laid three sheets of pastry onto the bottom, brushing them with olive oil. Then I sprinkled some wheat germ on top to absorb the liquid of the filling (you can use whatever absorbing ‘agent’ you prefer). Then I spread the filling over the bottom sheets and covered the pie with three more sheets, slightly pinching the edges. I brushed some olive oil on top too and sprinkled it with sesame seeds. I also pre-cut the pie which created this ‘pattern’:

Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry

Then I baked the pie at 200 ‘C for about 30 minutes until the top pastry layer achieved its golden colour.

Remarks: Thanks to all the precaution I took to reduce the amount of liquid in the filling, the bottom pastry layers was not soggy and the top was quite crunchy. Also, the pre-cutting worked out just fine. If you add all the 12 sheets into one pie, I would suggest making larger folds for the top pastry layers, so that you get a less dense dough part.

Result: A thin pie with a nice balance of pastry and filling. Perfect with a (Greek) salad on the side.

My midsummer series so far:

Adding this post to the Lunch / Dinner collection, where you will find other cheese and greens pies. For many more Greek and Greek-inspired recipes like Tyropita or Spanakopita, check out the By Country collection.

Will come back with my Grand Russian Tour posts, I hope soon.

G.

Avtovo and Kirov Plant: Unseen St Petersburg

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

For a change I made this journey to the Kirovsky district of St Petersburg on a bike and that was the best decision as I could cover the ‘inhumane’ distances that are characteristic of this district. Just as an example, there’s the main street – prospekt Stachek (Strike Avenue, ex Peterhof road) – which runs for 8 km and counts three metro stations… Naturally, I didn’t aim to see it all (there is enough left for 1-2 journeys) also because it took me already some time to get there.

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

The district looks pretty much like Moscow – or rather a heavy-Stalinist-era one with various industrial and other non-residential areas here and there. Just as the Vyborgskaya Side, this district around the Avtovo and Kirov Plant metro stations is situated on the outskirts of the city, but to the south-west of the city center. The ringroad actually cuts through it while that 8-km main street finally turns into a highway leading to Peterhof. The district used to be the city’s outpost called Narvskaya zastava (Narva outpost).

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

As I moved forward along prospekt Stachek (actually towards its beginning, in the direction of the city center), I came across so many Stalinist buildings that I started ignoring them. They were built there apparently in order to make this street look pompous and ‘greet’ the incomers with a clear message: you are entering the Soviet empire’s second city, see how mighty and hard-as-rock we are. I’m not a big fan of the Stalinist era inhumane buildings, as they seem to belittle you with their immense walls and Roman-like decorations. But this ‘palace’ (above and on the first photo) with a tower and a huge arch just drew my attention and made me cross the street to see it in details. It was built by Kamensky and Ashparyan in 1952. Some years later such a waste of money, space and materials wouldn’t have been possible. Stalin died and Khrushchev was more than willing to get rid of all the decorum and built standard block of flats all over the country.

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

This is the entrance to the Avtovo metro station and it’s a tricky one: it doesn’t really impress you as much as what you can admire inside and it doesn’t give away its treasure…

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

Avtovo (the name comes from the Finnish village and also applies to the district) is one of the first metro stations to be built in Leningrad: it opened in November 1955 with the first train running from it to the Ploshchad Vosstania metro station. It was originally planned to be finished by 1942 but for the well-known reasons the construction was frozen until 1946.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

This station is only 12 meters deep and there are no escalators. But there 46 columns which were to be decorated with glass. But the money ran out and only 16 of them got their weird Snow-Queen-palace-like appearance. They look like old glassware or some antiquity:

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations
The rest were ‘temporarily’ decorated with marble until the better times come. But Khrushchev came instead:) And here they are, 60 years later, still in marble:
Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations
But anyway this metro station strikes you as a very impressive one. It’s dimly lit notwithstanding all the chandeliers, and the light is reflected by its columns and walls. It’s not your regular metro, after all! The interior decoration is themed on the Leningrad’s defense during the World War II. But if you don’t know it – or if you just do not ‘read’ all those war symbols, you wouldn’t even think of it. There’s also this mosaic called The Victory (the top inscription says ‘Peace to the World’):
Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

My next stop was the area around the Kirov Plant (Kirovsky zavod), ex Putilov(‘s) Plant which was established here in 1801. It used to make everything from guns and cast iron to torpedo boats and tanks. It still functions but it’s not as grand as it used to be. Putilov was the factory’s most famous owner in the 19th century. Once the Soviets came they renamed the factory into Red Putilovets and not being satisfied enough called it after the recently killed tovarishch Kirov (hence the name of the entire district too). The factory used to be famous also for being the place where 2 Russian revolutions initiated (1905 and February of 1917).

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

And no, this photo was not taken somewhere on the territory of the Kirov Plant, which is anyway closed to the general public like that of the Izhorsky Plant. As I was gradually moving towards the beginning of the prospekt Stachek I was also moving back in time, advancing (or degrading?) from the empire-style Stalinist palaces in its middle (and hence later developed) part to the first architectural creations of the early Soviet republic, the constructivism.

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

So here’s a sample of heavily modified Soviet avant-garde, the Palace of Culture named after Gaza, a venerated bolshevik from the Putilov Plant. Gegello and Krichevsky started building it in 1930-1935, i.e. already in the late avant-garde era when it was forcedly dying out, but never finished it in the way they planned it to be. No money – no palace of culture, guys! And then the war came and destroyed much of what was already built… So the workers had to wait for 1961-1967 to have their palace of culture finished by Poltoratsky and Bubarina.

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

The result is somewhat visible in this original part of the building: while the flower vase was definitely added later in the 1960s, the long ‘enveloping’ balconies and the round windows is what remains from the constructivist project. It seems to me that the columns were redesigned later but in their authentic (slimmer?) state they were pretty much characteristic of the Soviet avant-garde.

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

Did not have the chance to get inside but it looks like its interior is too largely 1960-zised. Upon breaking up of the Soviet Union like many Palaces of Culture this one has lost quite a chunk of its territory formerly packed with clubs, cinema etc to commercial organizations most of which have nothing to do with the culture, let’s say. Meanwhile, the symbols and other leftovers of the bygone era are dying away, like this 1935 60-meter frieze telling you about the revolutionary deeds of the Putilov Plant workers.

Avtovo and Kirov Plant
Just some meters away was the last stop on my bike tour that day, not surprisingly also called Kirovsky Zavod. A Greek temple? Nope. Entrance to the metro station for workers! Ironically (or rather sadly) several entrances to the metro stations both in St Petersburg and Moscow were built on the ground of the churches taken down by the Soviets in their anti-religious frenzy.

Avtovo and Kirov Plant

It’s situated just opposite the entrance to the Kirov Plant itself, so that the workers could have everything close by. Just as the Avtovo metro station, this one hides away much more than you would think looking at its Ancient Greek-style appearance.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

The Kirov Plant station, one of the first in the city (1955), was to glorify the success of the Soviet industry. This one is much deeper than the Avtovo one and it does feel inside that you’re there underneath the city, in a sort of an underground industrial… temple. With the artificially bright and dead-cold lights coming from above and the repeating coat of arms composed of various tools, it feels like you’re in a production unit of an idealistic Soviet factory.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

Inside – marble, marble, metal. The only surviving monument to Lenin underground:) And the menacingly and at the same time weirdly looking ‘heraldic’ compositions with tools:

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

Feels really cold in their with all the marble and the metal.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

This composition in particular looks like a monster in goggles:

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

As I was on a bike I didn’t go inside the stations, instead I made a ‘tour’ down that metro line (coloured red on the St Petersburg metro map) and took photos accompanied by other tourists and looked at suspiciously by the locals who are too bored to notice the details. What I missed were the entrance halls of the stations which are also quite curious (the Avtovo one is round, right under the cupola). Will do it later.

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.

Working Class Hero: Down-to-Earth Vyborgskaya Side

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I started my architectural walk to the Vyborgskaya Side from the other side of the Neva river, crossing the Liteyny Bridge under the extremely intense sun. My camera wouldn’t even cope with the light and what I got was this overexposed bluish picture of the embankment:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I’ve seen just a tiny bit of what was there on the two long streets, interspersed with the major industrial sights and the townships for the workers, which is actually similar to both the the area around Porcelain factory and that around Kirov plant which I’m planning to visit soon. All three districts still preserve a certain atmosphere of a workers’ village. In particular, in contrast to the pompous and somewhat elite center of the city (which as you might know occupies in fact several islands), the Vyborgskaya Side (or the right side of the river Neva) has always been the place for the industrial sights and settlements of work migrants (both from other parts of Russia and from Finland).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

The Vyborgskaya Side got its name from Vyborg, the city to the north of St Petersburg, a much older and much more history-laden one, which borders with Karelia. And this – though quite relative – proximity of the Vyborgskaya side to the Nordic countries has obviously impacted this particular sample of the Art Nouveau style architecture:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This is an entire district formed by 3 residential houses built for the Finland Railway employees by Mirits and Gerasimov in 1907-08. Every staircase window in this house is actually a balcony – wish I could go inside and onto the balcony but I was too shy to follow the crowd… Which is a mistake: you should always follow the crowd where otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

These tiny loophole-like windows are cute. Is it a toilet, I wonder?:)

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And this huge mosaic wall was added in the 1960s. No surprise that it was themed on the Outerspace and Humanity:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

After walking around this district adjacent to the Finland railway station, I followed the long Bolshoy Sampsoniyevsky Prospekt (with a tiny Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral) running parallel to the no less long Lesnoy Prospekt, moving in between them to see more sights on my list (map).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

My next stop was at a district built for the workers of the Ludwig Nobel plant in St Petersburg. The worker’s village comprises of a number of houses of various shapes, some of which are more red-brick style rather than Art Nouveau. It was built by Roman Meltser in 1906 while the more imposing and apparently more famous house for the (higher status) employees of the same plant was designed in 1910-1911 by the distinguished Feodor Lidval who I really admire.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This one obviously was inspired by the Scandinavian neo-romanticism. Well, Lidval’s family was originally from Sweden.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I could have spent a day under that arcade which looks almost like a palazzo somewhere in Venice – but when you actually cross the street (Lesnoy prospekt) and take a better look at the building as a whole you realize it’s more like a castle (the awful top attic was apparently added later).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

the contrast between the airy arcade and the massive grey stonework creates a certain effect that no doubt catches your eye. The sun was shining right in my eyes so I couldn’t see all the details well but here’s one that was particularly awesome:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Unawares I walked past several buildings without either paying any attention to them or taking them for what they were not. I mistook a 1995 retrospectivist building (in a rather decadent state) for a poorly renovated modernist building, while a heavily renovated constructivist building turned into a business center seemed to me a regular contemporary un-creative creation. But this one I spotted from afar and unmistakably identified as avant-garde:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Regardless of all the later additions and changes that it suffered, the Vyborgskaya fabrika-kukhnya (automated kitchen) still pretty much preserves its authentic looks. It was built in 1929 by Barutchev, Gilter, Meerzon and Rubanchik.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I always wanted to see how it operated back in those days when busy workers could go get a full-fledged lunch or dinner accompanied by their fellow workers. The kitchen also catered for the nearby plants and factories until about 1970s. Everything automated, simplified, improved for the sake of the workers and their bright future! Here is a link where you can learn how it all worked inside.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And by the way this avant-garde thing was built right across the street from the baroque Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral. They say it was not by chance, this neighbouring: instead of spiritual nourishment here was  much more tangible and nourishing food:). And there was a park where the workers could have some rest (it was also popular with the locals). There’s no sign of a park now and the revamped avant-garde looks quite lost, standing there on the corner.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Just liked this savage architecture. This is actually a Soviet door installed into the wall of the Moscow regiment barracks (1830s). Moving along the avenue I finally came to the Children’s Hospital where it turns out I had been before visiting my friend (but at that time I did not know this part of the city at all).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Some Art Nouveau in the middle of the noisy dusty avenue is a good change.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This Children’s Hospital (and now a hospital + pediatrics institute) was built by Maximillian Kitner upon the highest order of the royal family in the 1902-05. Its multiple units are quite simple but still show the traces of the modernist experiments with the shape and utility. Compared to the ugly late Soviet unit built right where there was another part of the church looks completely out of place and, well, ugly.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

No this is already another building which caught my eye while I was moving back along Lesnoy Prospekt to see the townships. This is the obshchezhitie (dormitory) of the Military Institute of Physical Education, now occupying the territory of that Moscow regiment. Looks menacing!

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Some meters behind it is the Baburinsky township (named after Baburin lane which lost its name some time later) built in 1928 for the workers of the Vyborgskaya Side. The avant-garde idea was supported by the strain to get inexpensive houses from the scarce materials, hence a very laconic style. The main architect of this township was Grigory Simonov.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

The constructivism continued the modernist search for shapes and utility. Another workers’ township – Bateninsky township (named after Batenin lane, later renamed), located in a nearby area (you have to cross the railroad going from the Finland Railway Station), was built several years later (1930-33) by almost the same team of architects.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

It shows traces of a more sophisticated style though still looks quite laconic:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Moving further along Lesnoy you will get to yet another township, built in 1927-34 by N. Rybin for the numerous textile plant workers. It was even called ‘Town of Textile Workers’. I liked the soft-angle balconies embracing the corners:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And yes, there’s a church inside an atheist constrictivist building these days:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Moving even further, I finally got to the Polytechnic University campus (or rather dormitories). Built in 1929-32 it covers quite a vast area and has numerous units, creating a true “students’ town”. Some years ago they said they were going to abandon this campus and move all the students into new buildings but here it is, almost 90 years old and still serving the generations of students succeeding each other.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Of course the avantgardist looks are now not that distinct but you can still spot the windows ‘lying’ on their side and the attempts at placing the units at an angle to each other so that they all get enough of the rare St Petersburg sun. A similar students’ town was also built further up north, where my Grandad used to live when he came to study in Leningrad.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And the last building on my route was this constructivist school built in 1932 by Vladimir Munts. Students living in their dorms will get married, have children and send their kids to school. All very well planned!

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This is how the country cared for its most strategically useful citizens, the workers. Put them all in one place, provide them with the basic stuff and see how they work for you. They won’t even need to take public transport to get to their work – they will live and work in one place, how smart. This was much harsher and decor-less reality than that of the almost romantic dreams of the Soviet “garden city“…

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.

Korvapuustit, Finnish Cinnamon and Cardamom Buns

Korvapuustit / Finnish Cinnamon Buns

A quick food stop for cardamom and cinnamon buns from Finland. Just pour yourself a big mug of tea or cocoa and enjoy these cuties! Who cares if it’s summer outside when you can indulge yourself in some sweet treat? Do share it with the loved ones, though.

Korvapuustit / Finnish Cinnamon Buns

According to the author of this recipe, the Finnish korvapuustit stands for slapped ears. I’m not sure such a name can pay justice to these sweet buns with freshly ground cardamom though:) To me they look rather like snails – the shape of some of them was pretty much similar to a snail with a snail’s ‘neck’ which got separated from the ‘body’ during the baking (see in the background in the photo below).

Korvapuustit / Finnish Cinnamon Buns

Anyway, these buns were really pretty:

Korvapuustit / Finnish Cinnamon Buns

1 year ago – St Petersburg the Magnificent and Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake

2 years ago – Provence and Tapenade on Crackers

3 years ago – Petrogradskaya Side, St Petersburg

4 years ago – Fried Flatbread and Beans a la Grecque

Korvapuustit or Finnish Cinnamon & Cardamom Buns adapted from nami-nami.blogspot.com will make chewy flavourful sugary buns. For the entire recipe go to the original website.

My changes: I had to use more flour as the dough seemed a bit too sticky. I substituted caster sugar with regular granulated sugar for the dough and brown sugar for the filling, and used some brown sugar instead of pearl sugar for the topping. I added less cardamom, yeast, butter and salt in the dough (also, my butter got completely melted when I was warming it up in the microwave).

Remarks: Although I rolled the dough out quite thin, the buns puffed up and the dough part got slightly oversized I think. My buns took under 15 minutes to get ready – I feared they would get too brown with the required 225 ‘C so I took them out a bit earlier.

Korvapuustit / Finnish Cinnamon Buns

Result: Apart from being very tasty and flavourful, these buns are fun to make! And fun to eat: unrolling them, pinching them off them piece by piece or just gobbling them down! Aren’t they cute?

Korvapuustit / Finnish Cinnamon Buns

You can find my blog posts on Finland here, here and here.

Craving for a different kind of sweet buns? Check out Apple Cinnamon Rolls, Cinnamon Buns, Cardamom Flavoured Cinnamon Rolls, Orange Sweet Rolls, Sweet Orange Rolls (haha but they ARE different!), Torta delle Rose or Red Currant and Marzipan Swirls.

This post goes to the Sweet and country-specific recipe collections.

G.

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