architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Mozhaysk, or How to Get There and Back Against All Odds

Mozhaysk

A year ago Mozhaysk was on my to-visit-list as a B-side to Vyazma, an old town in Smolensk region. But I failed to get there – missed the train and had to rethink my trip, instead going to Moscow first. In our digital era, it’s easy to rebook your (overnight) train in a slightly different direction while still stuck in a traffic jam on your way to the railway station. So, once in Moscow, I ended up taking a fast suburban train to Mozhaysk (in the Moscow region) straight away as it was closer than Vyazma – just an hour ride from Belorussky Railway Station.

Mozhaysk

Mozhaysk is an old town and it does look old – but not like Kolomna, this is a rather different type of being old, run-down or unkempt would be more appropriate. It’s also situated some 100 km from the capital but how much less pampered it is! When you get there you understand that being close to Moscow is not always to your benefit if you’re a small town. However, they say Mozhaysk district is one of the least polluted in the region.

Mozhaysk

Autumn and decadence go hand in hand – and Mozhaysk just excels in the latter! How about this half-sunk house somewhere along one of the main roads (there was a hand-made – and rather poorly at that – sign further along the same road and same fence which advertised haircuts at just 200 roubles – the most glamorous spot for an ad of a beauty salon!):

Mozhaysk

And somewhat more colourful (and alive) colleagues spotted in various corners of the town:

Mozhaysk

Actually, Mozhaysk is pretty prolific in all kinds of wooden ornaments and wooden houses in general. For how long – I don’t know but at least now there’s plenty of them yet not covered in sheets of metal or simply destroyed.

Mozhaysk

For some reason, I’m partial to faded blue:

Mozhaysk

Having crossed the town up to the other side of the river to a Second World War memorial, I crossed the river back and continued on towards Luzhetsky monastery. I was blessed with weather that day. A propos, a sign in the monastery said: Walking on grass is not (literally) blessed 🙂

Mozhaysk

Luzhetsky monastery is there since the early 15th century and looks pretty much like a mini-Kremlin with whitewashed walls. And guess what? There used to be 18 (!) Medieval monasteries in the town, but only this one remains.

Mozhaysk

It sits on top of the hill where the river bends.

Mozhaysk

It had just a few visitors beside me that morning, which is actually a somewhat general feeling that I had in Mozhaysk – where are all its people?

Mozhaysk

Inside, just some fragments of wall paintings, outside, still visible the spot where an overhead icon once was:

Mozhaysk

The renovated old-Moscow-style bell tower looks perfect in its whiteness though:

Mozhaysk

Cats do like fences. Top of fences:

Mozhaysk

Walking back to the center (or so it seemed) of the town I came across this 16th century church standing side by side with a 19th century one, called Yakimanskaya church (Joachim + Anna). This buttress looks just like a nose!

Mozhaysk

Inside the 19th century church, a relic of the past – including the pre-1917 spelling:

Mozhaysk

And then I finally got to the main “attraction” of the town which I somehow left for the dessert so to speak, the early 19th century Nikolsky Cathedral that is perched up high on a former Kremlin hill.

Mozhaysk

I took numerous pictures of the cathedral from several points and it looks pretty amazing from just standing next to it too. I mean, it’s impressive in a way that it’s so out of place in this small town, so grand and sophisticated. I would rather expect a Moscow-style church there but not a pseudo-gothic one.

Mozhaysk

I must say a hundred years ago it looked somewhat less gothic, see Prokudin-Gorsky’s coloured picture – too bright! To the right on the picture below is the old-Nikolsky Cathedral, dating back to 14th century. They do look weird together, surrounded by flower beds, local cats and some junk as if it was someone’s backyard and not the main sight of the town. There’s also an eery-looking pond with a grate (I guess a leftover from the times there was a park there in the Soviet times) and a monument to those who fought and died there in 1941-42. They say there was a knitting mill inside the cathedral as well.

Mozhaysk

Well, I guess Mozhaysk is just a special one, rusty-dusty but authentic. It’s a pity I found no local foods/goods whatsoever though. Besides, my adventures did not end with just getting there. On my way back I managed to miss my train back to Moscow by a mere second (or so it seemed), so had to go shopping instead while waiting for the next one – which I was very eager not to miss as well!

Vyazma, I promise, I will get to you eventually.

Filed under the Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Kolomna, a Picture-Perfect Old Russian Town

Kolomna

Ah, Kolomna, such a picture-perfect 12th century Russian town! If ever you get to Russia and have very limited time, be sure to visit Kolomna, just some 100 km away from Moscow. It will give you a comprehensive and eye-pleasing picture of what “traditional Russian” looks like – and all that easily accessible on foot. Here it comes.

I was in Kolomna last October and was really blessed with fine weather. So the picture got indeed perfect. There’s a fast train leaving for Kolomna from Moscow’s no less toy-like Kazan(sky) Railway Station. The city center is within a relatively short walk from the local railway station, although there’s a tram going straight from where the Moscow train arrives.

I preferred “my two” as we say in Russia though, walking through meandering streets of this pretty low-rising town. Which is exactly what I like. Rejoice you, my fellow old-schoolers!

Kolomna

Kolomna was by the way one of those “closed” cities of the USSR – up until 1994. I wonder whether it actually helped it in a way, preserving it in a more or less authentic state. Now, however, it is a very touristy place and as far as I am concerned, bears no resemblance with a closed city at all.   

Kolomna

The only problem with Kolomna is that it’s very touristy and demonstrates a rather distinct “Moscow (posh) polish” in its city center which is inevitable when you’re so close to the capital. And as a result of this proximity of the ever-powerful Moscow, the once powerful Kolomna is now just a touristy town trying to keep up with its big brother and meet the demand from the incoming avalanches of tourists. So expect a number of Moscow-style coffee places and stuff. Back-to-back with perfectly run-down provincial corners which proved to me that “not everything is lost” here.

Kolomna

Also, the town is quite small, so in just about an hour or so I was somewhat anxious to get out as I felt I was going in circles more or less around the same place. However, deciding against catching the next train I wandered off the center along the river, just to check out the local life – which proved to be a good idea in the end.

The entrance to the Kolomna Kremlin is through the 16th century Pyatnitskye gates with the inevitable shop selling Kolomna kalach (see the sign to the right above), a typical Russian purse-shaped bread made with a handle so that you could eat it with comfort 🙂 A bit like with Cornish pies, people would discard the “dirty” handle although I wouldn’t do it if I were you! Not that it was particularly delicious. I did once try baking some kalach, and it was thicker in texture than in this touristy spot. However, they also offer to visit their bakery and see how the famous Kolomna kalach is made – to be later sampled with the local medovukha or something like this.

There was definitely something “cooking” in the “upstairs” kitchen that day, look at that thing in the sky!

Kolomna

By the way, there’s a regular school right in the middle of the Kremlin territory, next to the cathedral. And a monastery with a bunch of guys routinely begging for money at the entrance (which normally make me hesitant to go inside as I do not give alms as a rule). There were some locals riding their bikes across the Sobornaya (Cathedral) square which looks like some open-air museum with its “collection” of quite a number of churches in various styles. Churches with white (and not necessarily all that white) washed walls are my favourite.

Kolomna

Then I took a stride along the street leading to the impressive wall(s) of the Kolomna Kremlin that are still towering over the part of the town that lies beneath it. There’s also a super modern-looking sports center close by which is a bit out of place there. The cool thing about the town is that it’s not flat which for a St Petersburg native is an attraction in itself.

Kolomna

Just a random woman walking across the street dressed in the 19th century attire. Well, I guess she was going home on her lunch break from the nearby typical Kolomna delicatessen shop/museum. The ornate church in the background (also see the first image of this post) is one of the oldest in the town, now belonging to the Old-Rite Church.

Kolomna

Talking about the traditional Kolomna delicacies, I did buy quite an array of sweet stuff there. As far as I remember, I was in Kolomna on a quiet Monday morning, right after some kind of an autumn festival there. Shops were still decorated for the weekend and were obviously less crowded. I bought some pastila, a cross between fruit leather and marhsmallow, traditionally made with sourish Antonovka apples though a variety of other flavours is also available. Also was tempted to buy some hand-crafted pasta which was a bit like what my Belorussian Granny used to make (minus pepper). 

Kolomna

There are a number of such renovated/reconstructed shops-museums selling all kind of (mostly) sweet stuff, offering visits to their production sites located just behind their counters. Another typical thing to bring back as a souvenir is local soap the production of which was also revived by some enthusiasts. Elsewhere in the town, that’s what usually catches my eye the most:

Kolomna

Autumn in full swing, perfect companion of some local decadence:

Kolomna

This “dancing” house served as a background picture for my phone for a while:

Kolomna

Just loved it:

Kolomna

A local picture-perfect cat – the only thing missing was a picture-perfect kupchikha (merchant’s wife) unhurriedly drinking tea with pastila (I’m referring to the iconic painting by Kustodiev). Who knows, there might be one just behind the wooden fence! 

Filed under the Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Meanwhile in Kolpino

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

Just came back from Moscow where it’s all summer already, and feeling slightly dizzy after no sleep in my overnight platzkart train I made a walk in the now almost summertime Kolpino. My hometown close to St Petersburg where I first got interested in architecture and all. Just wanted to leave this moment here.

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

The apple trees are in blossom. We used to have quite a lot of wooden houses all across the town. Since then almost all of them are gone but the orchards still remain scattered here and there, a sort of a silent reminder of what our town used to look like in the old days.

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

Yep, just like this.

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

I was actually going to our island-based local park called Chukhonka (after chukhna, Finnic people that used to live there) to see how the nature’s changed since we were there last – only to find out it’s closed until December for a major renovation project.

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

So I had to make a tour around it but not in it. Also noticed that a long-standing knizhny (a book store, used to be one of the many and until very recently was probably the very last one from the old school type in our town) is on sale. It’s funny how your memories seems to overwrite all those things that used to be with the new stuff that comes to substitute the old. And it already looks as if nothing else existed there before but then you suddenly recall some detail from the past and you realize how it’s all changed.

G.

Italian recipe · no-dough · vegetarian

Pumpkin Curry… without Curry

curry-di-zucca...-senza-curry-5

Some weeks earlier I tried making a soup from a recipe that I found in a newspaper my sister brought for me from their trip to Italy almost 2 years ago. Not the most exciting reading but in terms of keeping up with the language from time to time even a commercial can be fine. Moreover, the newspaper is about eco / bio stuff and sustainability, and it featured two recipes as well.

curry-di-zucca...-senza-curry-4

So here’s the recipe of a quick vegetarian soup which I call soup but is more like a stew actually. With obviously not the most seasonable veggie but using the ingredients you will find almost everywhere and almost anytime. It’s not an Italian recipe either, rather Asia-inspired. Although in my adaptation it had no curry as it contains dried garlic which seems to be too acidic for our oversensitive stomachs, so we’re trying to avoid any such seasoning at the moment.

curry-di-zucca...-senza-curry-3

Curry di Zucca or Pumpkin Curry adapted from infosostenibile.it

Ingredients

  • 600 g pumpkin – I used frozen Butternut pumpkin bits
  • 500 ml milk – I used 1.5% fat
  • 2 tsp curry powder – omitted, used black pepper instead
  • 15 ml extravirgin olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • salt, to taste

Procedure

Clean and peel the pumpkin (using a sturdy vegetable peeler or just cutting the skin off with a knife), discard the seeds* and the fibers. Chop it into pieces (about 1-2 cm). Peel the onion and slice it too. Saute the onion in oil, then add the curry. Continue the process for a bit and then add the milk. Bring to the boil and add the pumpkin pieces and salt. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes or until the pumpkin softens and the stew thickens sufficiently.

curry-di-zucca...-senza-curry-1

Remarks

* You can reserve the seeds, wash and dry them thoroughly and then eat them raw or use in baking. We have quite a lot of them now from all the soups and vegetable stews!

This is a sweet soup – particularly without the curry powder, I guess. Plus the milk which also adds this sweetish vanilla-ish flavour. So to some it might seem a bit too ‘weird’ as a lunch option, though if you’re used to Asian cuisine, the taste will not surprise you at all.

The soup got even thicker the next day, so we added in some water.

Result

Sweet thick soup ready in just about no time. A chance to diversify your lunch routine!

Adding this recipe to the Lunch / Dinner collection.

G.
no recipe · St Petersburg

Alexandrovsky Park before It All Begins

A somewhat traditional report of the ‘before it all begins’ stage of spring from the Alexandrovsky Park in Tsarskoye Selo (aka Pushkin). We went there just for a couple of hours in the afternoon, did some walking, fed birds from the palm of our hands and basically enjoyed that very lingering moment in the beginning of the spring season when everything is getting ready to… spring! Love the geometry of the winter-like tree branches already dotted with the subtle fragile patterns of the upcoming green lavishness. Mom, the expert, says this is an oak tree:

Alexandrovsky_Park

I wanted to take photos of the white and green carpets made with grass and anemones.  Which for some reason seem to prefer only one (!) of the two river banks – I guess the one with more sun exposure. But I failed, it’s just impossible! Maybe a black-and-white camera would do that better.

Alexandrovsky_Park

Mom, the expert, thinks this should be lilac:

Alexandrovsky_Park

And a bit more of that leftover winter graphics which will very soon disappear underneath all the leaves:

Alexandrovsky_Park

Just wanted to leave this memory here. I’m getting reports from Moscow where it seems it’s more like early summer already. So I’m cheering myself up we’re still not there yet, we can seize the moment and enjoy this elusive natural beauty.

G.

bread · sourdough

Black Olive Sourdough Bread

black-olive-sourdough-bewitchingkitchen.com-8

I’ve been doing some baking according to the recipes recently. Not just what comes to my mind based on the ingredients we have at home. And you know what? It’s not that easy going back to following the instructions and measuring out the ingredients, so I’ve already had some semi-failed attempts, like flat and a bit soggy cakes and  super-spread-out bread (can’t master those recipes with a very wet dough and stretch & fold technique).     

black-olive-sourdough-bewitchingkitchen.com-2

However this bread with Greek olives turned out nicely, it rose just about fine (with only a little bit of that dense layer at the bottom), and developed a crunchy crust with all those cracks that I like so much in bread. Inside it was very soft and remained so for several days (though was not that suitable for toasting as the olive bits kept falling out).

black-olive-sourdough-bewitchingkitchen.com-10

Black Olive Sourdough Bread adapted from bewitchingkitchen.com where you will find the original recipe with all the instructions.

My changes:

I fed my sourdough rye starter with rye flower before making this recipe – hence an extra tangy taste and a more brownish colour. Also used plain flour instead of bread flour.

Used less olives and mine were sort of sun-dried, preserved in olives oil with paprika and thyme, made by the talented Irina from Yaroslavl. I also added in some of that olive oil which was not in the ingredient list. I think the olives provide quite a lot of extra salt which I only realised after baking the bread. It was a bit too salty for me as I ate this bread mostly with cheese for breakfast.

The white stuff you can spot at the bottom of the loaf is semolina which I used instead of the rice flour indicated in the original recipe.

black-olive-sourdough-bewitchingkitchen.com-7

Forgot to use a container for the final rise (the usual thing with the recipes – just can not NOT forget something!) so my loaf was sort of free-form. However it turned out ok. I didn’t use Dutch oven / dish with a lid, baking the bread on an inverted rack instead.

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I just love those cracks!

black-olive-sourdough-bewitchingkitchen.com-5

We’ve already made our early-spring trip to check how things are at our dacha. It’s been already some days since then so I won’t post the pictures with left-over snow here. Just this dry plant against the wall of our house (that needs painting).

dacha-in-april

Adding this recipe to the Sourdough Bread collection.

Liked the idea of using olives in baking bread? Try these Greek Olive Buns or Olive Bread Sticks.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Experimenting with the Soviet black and white Smena 8M camera that was given to my Mother as a present when she was still at school, in 1973 – her first photo camera. That was a popular and inexpensive model for beginners manufactured at the famous LOMO factory in Leningrad – well now you would rather call it a mind-boggling challenge! First and foremost, finding a black and white film was not that very easy, I managed to find only one type and it was quite pricey for an experiment. So I knew the price of every shot 🙂 Although that was not my first encounter with film cameras (I started with Zenith back in the early 2000s), Smena really is a Soviet austerity thing. The trick with this camera is that it is so basic that you can’t focus. Nope. No zooming, nothing, just your reckoning of how far the object is from you (which I’m pretty bad at!). And you can’t even fully get an idea of what will be in your picture once it’s developed either. I mean the thing you see in the finder when making the photo is not all what you get as a result. There are also those icons for the weather conditions that you need to choose from – I think I’ve made a mess with them every time, not mentioning the shutter speed that you have to determine yourself too. Add to this absence of a cap for the lens and a very stiff cover… Also when I had my film developed (which you don’t normally do these days, do you?) it turned out that most of the 36 shots were gone… I mean most of the film was just blank. I dunno if that’s due to the camera or to some error during the developing process but the thing is, I lost all the earlier photos that I did in January, February and March… So I’m left with the shots from early April till mid May 2018. By the way, I’ve deliberately kept the borders on the scanned photos (thanks to my Dad!) so that they have a more authentic feel (read: too lazy!).

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

The first shot that was more or less full (see a black stripe above) and the next one were taken in Tsarskoye Selo on a morning in early April, during the Easter week. That’s the church (below) and the wooden dormitories that I’ve already described in one of my previous posts. I was drawn by the interplay of the shadows and the bright sun on the walls but had no idea how it would look like in a black and white version.

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

A week later in April we took an evening walk in the Aleksandrovsky Park of Tsarskoye Selo. Again I was attracted by the shadows and the perspective of the tree alley. I had to consult my Mother as to what numbers / icons to choose. Absolutely no idea how people’s minds worked back then when everything was not automatically set! 🙂

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Next day at our dacha, trying to capture the warm evening sun of spring:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Late April – some shots taken while walking along Moyka river from – roughly – the Palace Square to Tavrichesky Garden in St Petersburg. The beginning of the active tourist season… I was not sure whether the camera would focus on the river or the lamp post…

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Trying to get that graphic repetition of the (shadow) pattern:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Here I was not sure wether the lamp would fit or not but I was more interested in the swirl:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Early May on the Palace Square, before getting my price for a Russian language competition 🙂

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film CameraExperimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

The sky was so dramatic, the wind was tough, I couldn’t hold myself from making another shot:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

And this is mid May when the weather suddenly turned to very autumn-like rather than spring-time. We took a very fast walk in Pavlovsk, near the Mariental Castle (aka BIP), see the very first photo of the post for yet another take on it:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Obviously tried to get more of the reflection rather than of the castle itself:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

And I think this is by far the best shot – a tiny bit of decadence:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

After all, I liked the challenge. Some of the photos did remind me of those I took years ago when I borrowed Zenith camera from my parents – but that was a colour film camera and much more user-friendly. With Smena I think for a moment I did get that feeling back when with every shot you make you realize that that was probably it – or nothing. You can’t take a hundred and then choose the best one with this camera, you can’t have a preview, you can’t see the result immediately, you just – well, you just ‘fire’ that thing and wait to see! Perfectly old-fashioned.

G.