Bird Cherry Birthday Cake

Bird Cherry Cake

This is my second attempt at making a Cheryomukhovy Tort or Bird Cherry Cake. You might have never heard of this bird cherry tree at all. You might have never even thought you could eat anything made from it. And yet it is one of the traditional ingredients in the Northern and Siberian cuisine.

Bird Cherry Cake

Last summer for instance we tried some bulochka with bird cherry filling in the Urals.  And my first attempt at making a bird cherry cake was back in 2014, after I bought a small package of bird cherry flour in Novosibirsk. This time I managed to get the flour in St Petersburg – it can be found in eco / bio / health stores and even in bigger supermarkets in the baking department. Funny enough, the flour I bought during my roaming on Vasilyevsky island last year is produced in Ulan-Ude, where we suffered from extreme heat just a couple of month earlier, in the summer 2016.

Bird Cherry Cake

I have doubts that the bird cherry flour can be found that easy outside Russia, so if you go on the Trans-Siberian one day, do try this thing. Such a distinct flavour – of almonds and some booze at the same time! This is why I decided to make a bird cherry cake for my Grandpa’s 85th birthday – something different for a change. And here is the recipe. And although you might never actually use it you will at least know how this exotic thing is made.

Bird Cherry Cake

1 year ago – Peanut Butter Post

2 years ago – How to Make Silky Cream Cheese at Home

3 years ago – Two Spinach Pies and Spinach…Rice

4 years ago – Polenta, Sempre Polenta and Broccoli

5 years ago – Two Rrrrrye Breads (Raisin and Riga)

Bird Cherry Cake or Cheryomukhovy Tort adapted from the recipe on the bird cherry flour package by aiuduhlesa.ru. Will make a huge multi-layer cake with distinct – or should I say never heard of? – flavour and dense crumb.

Ingredients:

  • 6 (!) eggs
  • 100 g sugar
  • 300 g all-purpose flour
  • 300 g bird cherry flour
  • 180-200 ml sparkling water – mine has lost its bubbles, see remarks
  • 1 heaped tsp baking soda
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 cups of high fat sour cream (smetana), for the icing – used less, see remarks
  • 5 Tbs sugar, for the icing – used a mixture of powdered and regular sugar

Procedure:

Beat the eggs with sugar until foamy. Add half of the sparkling water (100 ml) but do not stir. Add the flours and start mixing the batter with a spatula or a spoon (do not beat). Pour lemon juice onto the soda (it will bubble like hell) and add it to the batter. Gradually add the remaining sparkling water: your batter should resemble thick sour cream (I had to add more water). Leave the batter for about 10 minutes. It should get all bubbling and airy (mine was not…).

Divide the batter between two greased round pans (26-28 cm in diameter) and bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes at 180’C. Leave the layers to cool completely.

Meanwhile, get your icing / filling ready: beat the sour cream with sugar pretty well until the sugar dissolves. Cut each cake layer in half (I did it with the help of a special string but you can do it with a thread or a knife) and start building the cake. Take a half and place it on a plate cut side up, spread the sour cream filling and cover with the next layer,again cut side up. Proceed till you have your last layer, this time placing it cut side down on top. Ice the top layer with the remaining sour cream and decorate it with grated chocolate or some bird cherry flour (see remarks).

Bird Cherry Cake

Remarks: 300 g of bird cherry flour seemed like a lot after I added all the all-purpose flour to the batter. I wonder if you should actually use less of whether it’s just that I used less soda and still water instead of sparkling? Yes, I thought we had some sparkling water in the fridge and it turned out to have lost its ‘bubbling power’ by that time. Three cups of sour cream might also seem a bit too much but in the end you do get a lot of layers! I would add more sugar to the batter and use all the three cups of sour cream next time. And yes, although there’s no butter or oil in this recipe, there are SIX eggs 🙂

Bird Cherry Cake

As for the decoration, I sprinkled the top with finely ground flaxmeal – it’s rather neutral in flavour and taste, which doesn’t interfere with the bird cherry flavour. I did it not only for the sake of the desired ’85’ pattern but also because the top layer sour cream mixed with sugar and left overnight (although in the fridge) tend to acquire a brownish colour (no fear, it’s only natural!). So you would actually need something to decorate the top with (leave it to the last moment before serving) in case you’re not planning to serve the cake straight away. Leaving the cake in the fridge overnight is preferable so that the layers soak in the sour cream. 

Result: A big cake with the unusual flavour and the traditional sour cream filling which looks like a chocolate cake and yet is not. With minor changes to the recipe this can make a pretty good (birthday) cake. 

Snowy Saturday

Bird cherry tree is closely associated with the coming of spring: it blossoms lavishly in May, emitting its perfume all over the place. And since the weather changes back to cold for several days at exactly the same moment, there’s this persistent belief that it’s not a mere coincidence. In brief, when you see a bird cherry tree ready to show off its white flowers, there will be some cold days ahead. It works every year.

Snowy Saturday

We are quite far away from May now…

Snowy Saturday

Woke up today to seeing this outside our windows:

Snowy Saturday

And yet the days are growing longer and there’s even more light with all the snow. And you start hearing birds. Winter is beautiful but it’s just so long.

Snowy Saturday

This post goes to the Russian and Sweet recipe collections.

G.

Koulouri Thessalonikis, Take 2

Koulouri Thessalonikis

This is a take 2 of trying to reproduce the wonderful bread rings called koulouri: street food, breakfast food, snack food, these rings are sold all over the place in Thessaloniki, Greece. Of course I’ve done many more attempts over these years but the result has never been nearly as good.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

And hooray, now there’s a video of this recipe that you can watch (there was a request for that in one of the comments to the take 1)! I’m sure there’ll be no problem with it being in Greek as you might as well just try to reproduce the movements of the baker with the help of the recipe that follows. Here’s the video from the SKAI’s Chef on Air TV program – start watching from 3:55 if you don’t know Greek.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

The first koulouri I posted on this blog back in 2012 was with a slightly different recipe. I think overall those first koulouria (plural for koulouri) looked more authentic but almost 5 years later there’s no way I can actually compare the two recipe other than by appearance.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

1 year ago – Whole Wheat Fig Bars

2 years ago – How to Make Silky Cream Cheese at Home

3 years ago – Apricot Oatmeal Bar With Pistachios

4 years ago – After Apples Come the Berries

5 years ago – 2 Energy-Boosting Sweets to Keep Your Mind and Spirit Up

Koulouri Thessalonikis or ΚΟΥΛΟΥΡΙ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΙΚΗΣ adapted from chefonair.gr will make a dozen of soft and a tad sweet bread rings. I’ve made several changes to the original recipe which included filling the rings with chocolate cream cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 kg all purpose flour
  • 4 Tbs seed oil – I used olive oil
  • 1 Tbs salt – I used less
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water for the dough – I needed more
  • 2 Tbs sunflower seed oil for brushing the baking sheet – I used paper / baking mat
  • 2 cups lukewarm water for the sugary water – I cut this in half
  • 1 cup sugar for the sugary water – I cut this in half
  • 2 cups sesame seeds – I had too little of these (be generous!)
  • 3 Tbs flour for the yeast
  • 15 g fresh yeast – too lazy to check the yeast conversion website, I put in a bit of instant yeast (it should have been 1.76  tsp of instant yeast or 2.65  tsp of active dry yeast)
  • 1/2 cups lukewarm water for the yeast
  • 2 Tbs sugar for the yeast – I used a bit of honey

Procedure:

Pour lukewarm water into a bowl and dissolve the fresh yeast with the 2 Tbs of sugar. Add 3 Tbs of flour and mix. Cover with plastic foil and leave to rise for 30 minutes at room temperature.

(The original recipe asked for the mixer) Place the flour, the yeast mixture, the oil, the water and the salt to a big bowl and start kneading (3 minutes with the mixer running at low speed and then 5 minutes more at high, a bit longer by hand). Cover the bowl with a towel / plastic foil and leave to rest for 30 minutes and then knead again (5 minutes with a mixer, longer by hand).

Divide the dough into 15-18 pieces (I made 12 balls) and roll each piece into a rope about 30 cm long. Mix sugar with lukewarm water in a plate to create sugary water (it helps keep almost all the sesame seeds on place and adds some colour). Dip the ropes first into the sugary water and then into sesame seeds (place them on a shallow plate: I would suggest keeping some as a reserve because they stick so well and disappear pretty fast). Pinch the two edges to create a ring. Place the koulouria on a greased baking sheet (or line your sheet with parchment paper / baking mat), leaving space between them as they will puff up. Cover with a towel / plastic foil and leave to rise for 30 minutes (my first batch was rising for a bit longer already shaped while the second was rising longer as dough balls).

Bake in the preheated oven at 170’C for 15-20 minutes (mine took 20 minutes).

Koulouri Thessalonikis

Remarks: You can see how naked the second batch looks, as I was running out of the sesame seeds… For this recipe you do need quite a lot of them if you want a really authentic look and taste! And by the way, with the sugary water trick these seeds do not come off as massively as they would with dipping them in just plain water.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

The second batch also looks more browned as I was using a black baking mat for these. It’s a pity today on such a beautiful snowy winter day there’s not much light so the koulouria look rather blueish. Which they don’t 🙂

Koulouri Thessalonikis

I added less sugar to the dough and a bit less salt and still I think the crumb tastes pretty salty which comes into contrast with the slightly sweet outside thanks to the sugary water.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

Result: These traditional Greek bred rings are soft and chewy. I would eat them plain or with cheese and salad – although the original recipe suggests slicing them and filling them with chocolate. Which I imagine is also nice as bread is multipurpose!

Koulouri Thessalonikis

As for the crumb, koulouri is much softer than its Russian counterpart bublik (which has a dense crumb and poppy seeds instead of sesame). Bublik is also larger and thicker, with a more browned surface. Gosh, I love both 🙂

Koulouri Thessalonikis

By the way, all in the mood of the first Saturday of the month when we participate in the local recycling activity, I recycled the sugary water into a berry coffee cake. Worked out just fine.

Koulouri Thessalonikis

This post goes to the by Country and the Yeast Bread collections.

G.

Pavlovsk Is Beautiful

Pavlovsk

Pavlovsk Park close to St Petersburg is beautiful any time of the year. In winter on sunny day like this it is majestic.

Pavlovsk

For the lack of time and for the laziness I rarely get out of the city to meet with the nature not just on the pages of Michail Prishvin’s diaries (I’m reading his 1948-1949 diary now).

Pavlovsk

We came back with pink cheeks and too much fresh air in our brains and blood. Feels like we’ve been to a forest … with a 100 RUB entrance fee 🙂

Pavlovsk

While I was (swiftly) walking along the park lanes my Dad was making his magic with the camera: there was yet another photoshooting of girls in traditional Russian costumes designed by the enthusiastic promoter of all things Russian Marina Shadenkova. Spot the curious squirrel!

 Photo courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin

Model Marina. Costume by Marina Shadenkova. Photograph courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin

 Photo courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin

Model Marina. Costume by Marina Shadenkova. Photograph courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin

Photo courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin

Model Olga. Costume by Marina Shadenkova. Photograph courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin

What I particularly love about his photos is when he captures and reveals the beauty of the person he’s photographing. I guess that should be the ultimate goal of it all.

And this was one of the paraphernalia used for the shooting which still serves its owner so good we could only marvel at how great this old hand-made wooden sledge can keep the balance!

Pavlovsk

You can see some of my Father’s new photos here. Soon to appear on his website too.

Pavlovsk in summer, Pavlovsk in spring. I’m now missing a post on Pavlovsk Park in autumn.

G.

Pane a Spiga con Patate or Spike-Like Potato Bread

Pane con Patate

These last days of the year I’ve been baking a lot – making up for the days I’m going to be away from the family oven soon 🙂 Among all that I could manage to bake and squeeze into the freezer for my parents, this potato bread in particular stands out of the crowd. This is an Italian recipe which originally calls for lard but which I quite successfully turned into a vegetarian version, using butter instead.

Pane con Patate

It looks kind of funny too. It’s supposed to resemble a spike (spiga) but mine looks more like some insect. Well it might as well but it certainly tastes like white bread! 🙂

Pane con Patate

A year ago – Architectural Walks in Kolpino Part 6 – Prospekt Lenina

Two years ago – Old-Fashioned Apple Slab and Greek Crumble

Three years ago – Goodbye 2013

Four years ago – Let Me Invite You into the New Year

Five years ago – Flammekueche

Pane a Spiga con Patate or Italian Spike-Like Potato Bread translated and adapted from the original recipe at ilpane.blogspot.com will make a giant loaf of soft and sweetish white bread.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g flour (or farina 0 if you can get it), sifted
  • 200 g water
  • 12 g fresh yeast – I used an equivalent 1.4 tsp of instant yeast
  • 10 g salt
  • 15 g sugar
  • 25 g home made lard – I used butter instead
  • 300 g of boiled and pureed potatoes (weigh them after pureeing)

Procedure:

Place all the ingredients in a big bowl, adding the pureed potatoes last. Knead the dough pretty well, about 10 minutes, then place the dough into a greased bowl. Leave to rise for 1 hour. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and form 2 logs (batards), one smaller than the other (roughly a 1/3 and a 2/3) and leave them to rise for 30 minutes. With a help of a rolling pin or just with your hand make an indent in the center of the bigger log and place there the smaller one, pinching it so that they stick to each other (I had to reshape them both after the 30-minute rise as they were quite puffed at that point). Cover the loaf and leave it to rise for 40 more minutes. Dust it abundantly with ground bran (almost forgot to do it and dusted it with lour instead) and cut the top part with scissors to resemble a spike (I cut the lower part too and in a much freer fashion so to speak 🙂 ). Bake in the preheated 220 °C oven for 30 minutes or until your bread is done (mine took a bit longer).

Pane con Patate

Remarks: I used leftover potato puree which my Mother makes with milk and butter (plus salt). There were little bits of it visible in the crumb and I think the puree also added sweetness to the bread. I guess that eaten with some soup or cheese will counterbalance the sweetness. The loaf is huge but has baked through just fine.

Pane con Patate

Result: Soft and really white, a tad on the sweet side with a contrasting ‘burnt’ crust. Flavourful. The recipe is quite easy (having leftover potato puree helps a lot too) and yet the result is pretty impressive. And it does taste Italian to me! 

Pane con Patate

The air bubbles and the crust:

Pane con Patate

If you are looking for more Italian bread, here’s another – sourdough – version of potato bread (also with herbs) Pane con Patate ed Erba Cipollina, sourdough oatmeal bread Pane di avena a lievitazione naturale, leavened Italian Panini all’Olio, Pane Tipo Altamura, Tuscan Bread, Stirato or Italian Baguettes, or simply Italian Bread.

This post goes to the Leftovers, Yeast Bread and By Country recipe collections.

G.

Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

Inspired by a colleague who brought us some Iranian pistachios to the office (those were good!) and another colleague who baked her own sukhariki (Russian for rusks) recently, I just had to make some biscotti too. With pistachios.

Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

I ended up following an American take on an Italian recipe and using Greek pistachios, Russian chocolate and dried fruits from Finnish muesli which do not necessarily come from Finland as you can imagine 🙂 And that having in mind to ‘finally follow a recipe to the letter’. No way!

Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

A year ago – Architectural Walks in Kolpino Part 5 – Around Railway Station

Two years ago – Old-Fashioned Apple Slab and Greek Crumble

Three years ago – Vermont Sourdough and Yellow Roses

Four years ago – All the Soviet Children…

Five years ago – Flammekueche

Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios adapted from Chocolate, Raspberry, and Walnut Whole Wheat Biscotti on www.kingarthurflour.com will make crunchy sweet rusks, almost 100% whole wheat if you follow the recipe 100%. The recipe is on the website; here are my changes and remarks:

Ingredients: had to use a mixture of wholewheat flour + a bit of all-purpose flour as the batter seemed too sticky to handle; added less salt; instead of freeze-dried raspberries (what are they anyway?) used raisins and other dried fruits from muesli; used whole pistachios instead of chopped walnuts.

Procedure: did not flatten the logs that much for the first bake and thus the biscotti turned out smaller (shorter) in size; the procedure might take some time but there’s something so enjoyable in it that you’ll want to do it again.

Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

Remarks: Already after the first bake the biscotti (or rather logs of biscotti) looked pretty attractive with a crack along the top. Be careful with the timing: during the second bake you’ll have to flip the biscotti over halftime through and they might seem not that crunchy enough. However, 10 minutes after they will be more than crunchy, believe me! By the way, these biscotti do not contain any butter or oil. I would add less sugar next time, as chocolate and dried fruits already contain sugar.

Whole Wheat Biscotti with Chocolate and Pistachios

Result: Chewy, crunchy, sweet. The pistachios (from Aegina) I used were slightly salty which added that little something in contrast to the sweetness of the chocolate. The (original) raspberries should have contributed to the appearance too, however even with the modest raisins these biscotti have a very rustic look.

Want more biscotti? Try these Almond Biscotti or the Greek Ouzo and Pistachio Paximadia or simply Biscotti.

Thanks God we’re past the shortest days of the year, the light will gradually come back, drop by drop. We’re having no snow and consequently no sun here in St Petersburg. Wearing sneakers at the end of December reminds of my other December, 6 years ago in Thessaloniki, almost entirely spent in a T-shirt 🙂

This post goes to my Chocolate and Sweet collections.

P.S. Domes of the St Sophia Cathedral in Veliky Novgorod on some of the photos on a Catholic Christmas Eve unintended.

G.

Ryazan and a Bit of Moscow

Ryazan

On the first weekend of December I continued my adventures in Russia visiting Ryazan, and old city some 180 km away from Moscow. I took a train from St Petersburg which arrives pretty early in the morning. After getting some more sleep and a substantial breakfast at the hostel I went out to see the sights. It was snowing and there was unfortunately no sun at all. My first stop was at this church (Borisoglebsky Cathedral) which has a street running underneath it:

Ryazan

It was super slippery walking there but here it is from the other side:

Ryazan

Walking a bit forward to the Ryazan Kremlin I found this wooden house with a menacing note that informs its tenants of an imminent resettlement this summer… I hope they will somehow keep the building (just two steps away from it is an almost entirely burnt down wooden mansion ‘under reconstruction’).

Ryazan

The door was open:

Ryazan

I can imagine it’s not very easy living in such place but it’s so elaborate and just beats flat all the later built stuff around… Note the external thermometer outside of the window – don’t believe the weather forecast, trust your own sight:

Ryazan

Finally I got to the Kremlin where the tourist life was about to begin. It was Saturday after all:

Ryazan

It’s a pity there’s no observation point on any of the bell towers in the city (or did I miss anything?) cause it would be great to see the landscape – and the cityscape – from above. The rives Trubezh and Lybed, the tributaries of the larger Oka river, create a curious and beautifully carved landscape with meadows and hills.

Ryazan
Somewhere beyond the city lies the territory described by the Russian writer Konstantin Paustovsky whose short stories we all read as children in Russia. The old-school wooden building in blue is the river pier from where you can travel to the Oka river:

Ryazan
The Kremlin is traditionally situated on the top of the hill surrounded by the river streams. This is a part (ruined) of the Shelter for People (as opposed to the Shelter for Nobles situated nearby) and the Church of the Holy Ghost with a non-common two-pinnacle style.

Ryazan

I really liked this People’s Shelter building which curves a bit in the center:

Ryazan

The Ryazan Kremlin was founded in 1095 (which is also considered to be the foundation year of the city itself) and it continued developing mostly throughout the 13-18th centuries. Even though its walls are made in brick is preserves the traditional white-washed wall style:

Ryazan

I really like all those architectural details:

Ryazan

Enhanced with the snow:

Ryazan

These two buildings house the local History Museum where I spent almost third of the day, not only escaping from the cold but also actually learning something about the region – and about my country too.

Ryazan

There was this exposition on a woman who collected local crafts in the beginning of the 20th century. Looking at all those intricate embroidery, lace and skillfully woven cloth made me sigh and conclude that we’ve lost such a huge part of our heritage. We don’t know it, we ignore the meaning of all those colours and symbols and patterns.We don’t even know the parts of the traditional Russian costume.

Ryazan

There is also these reconstructed halls which look pretty touristy although I appreciate their attempt at recreating something super-(kitchy)-Russian:

Ryazan

After the museum I went on exploring the Kremlin (and the city).

Ryazan

The windy and mostly white-washed wall territory of the Ryazan Kremlin has a later Assumption Cathedral with this amazing mosque-like door which was unfortunately closed as it can only be visited during the warm(er) months. This is the main church in the city.

Ryazan

Here it is seen from the mound together with the bell tower and the wall inside which there is a… toilet 🙂

Ryazan

The mound looks really cool:

Ryazan

There’s a short street called Rabochaya (Working) running almost back-to-back with the mound. It has several obviously non-inhabited wooden houses like this one, built somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century I suppose:

Ryazan

This is another cathedral which is decorated with the colourful tiles looking particularly good against the (decadently non-) white walls:

Ryazan
Looking at the Kremlin from the Soborny (Cathedral) park and the Church of Spas-na-Yaru:

Ryazan

With all the churches and cathedrals, Ryazan has two Bezbozhnaya streets – Atheist or literally God-less Streets. TWO. Pervaya (First) Bezbozhnaya and Vtoraya (Second) Bezbozhnaya. They probably have other problems to solve than to rename those two streets, like the center of the city in a somewhat bad state:

Ryazan

I wondered off the Kremlin into the pedestrian Pochtovaya (Post) Street visiting of course the local post office in the search of ANY postcards that won’t be sold in packs. The green building behind the statue (to some famous nobleman) used to be the city’s main bank. Ryazan has a number of imperial buildings dating back to as early as the Peter the Great’s times.

Ryazan

As I spent quite a bit of time in the museums I did not see some of the minor musts of the city. What I can tell you is that the city is a bit of a maze and I discovered most of the sights by actually getting lost while trying to find some other sight. I really liked the presence of several rivers in the city and the way Ryazan builds up on their banks. The only drawback was that I couldn’t find that much of local food there: when I asked about anything local, a puzzled shop-assistant told me they have local kotlety (meat patties) 🙂   So I bought this black bread from the Tula region (another old city around Moscow, famous for its pryanik, samovar and weapons) instead:

Moscow

This is a sourdough rye bread made with fermented rye malt, molasses, kvass wort concentrate (used to make the traditional beverage kvass) and such (a variety of) spices as allspice, black pepper, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. The bread is called Starorussky Nasuschny (Old-Russian Daily or Vital) and it has three bogatyr (aka old-Russian supermen) pictured on its package. The bread was soft and really flavourful! To accompany it I bought some – finally – local  cheese:

Moscow

The cheese – called Myagky Ryazansky (Soft from Ryazan) was somewhat close to Adygea cheese but more dense. The cheese is made from cow’s milk and salt (not too salty). I used it for a pie with fresh coriander and tvorog from the same dairy farm.

So my verdict on Ryazan: it’s big and thus less cozily attractive as Vladimir (or Suzdal). It has interesting stuff in its museums and a rather concentrated old center. Not many local crafts / food detected though. Should be a very nice place to walk in summer with the rivers, hills, an island and the meadows.

Moscow

Later that day I took a fast double-decker train that circulates between Moscow and Voronezh (the region I visited last November) and in just two hours I was in Moscow. The weather was expected to be quite harsh but we ventured out on a (substantial) walking tour in the district of Khamovniky where the craftsmen would make and sell their linen fabric (the now – light – swear word ‘kham‘ originally meant linen fabric) many many years ago. I have never been to this part of the district which is situated closer to the end of the bend that the Moscow river creates (here it is on the map). Our first stop was at the Novodevichy Convent which we all know about from the school history lessons and for the famous people buried there and which is planted right there in the middle of the huge megalopolis. The Convent, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Moscow, has survived almost intact from the 16-17th centuries and is now sort of an open-air museum of Moscow baroque architecture. It is called Novodevichy for a reason (oe a number of reasons): it being new in comparison with the other – older – monasteries and a convent (devitsa = girl) also used for exiling unwanted tsar’s wives and other royal females, like Peter the Great’s grandmother.  

Moscow

While wandering in the district we also had a chance to admire this late 17th century church of St Nicolas in Khamovniki which after an apparently recent renovation looks pretty cake-like. They say Leo Tolstoy used to frequent this church as he lived just several meters away:

Moscow

And it was exactly his house that we also visited that day – located in the same formerly Dolgokhamovnichesky (Long / Big Khamovnichesky) Lane, now Leo Tolstoy Street. Tolstoy lived here in 1882-1901 and created many of his works like The Kreutzer Sonata and Resurrection.

Moscow

The wooden house appears quite small from the outside but has actually quite a number of rooms as it got rebuilt and upgraded several times since its construction in the early 19th century. They say most of the things (I mean exhibits) are Tolstoy’s original belongings. Thanks to his fame and the general love and respect from the official Soviet side, we can now see not a reconstructed but indeed preserved interiors.

Moscow

Some of the rooms look super modest (like the tiny bedrooms with tiny beds and almost nothing else) whereas others look pretty kitchy and crowded with things. Even if you’re not that into Tolstoy’s writings, I would recommend visiting his museum for the sake of the ambience, as a peek into the life of Moscow intelligentsia in the late 19th century. The territory is surrounded with a fence, there’s a garden and some auxiliary constructions (should be nice in summer – as all things are!). It’s also such a quiet place in the middle of the high-rise high-tech Moscow that you can hardly believe it was not erased to the ground. It reminded me of the recently visited Surikov’s museum in Krasnoyarsk – these places just take you away from the real life for a moment.

Moscow

Tried to get some food pictured for my future posts – but in vain. There was a weekend of sunny days but… nothing new or unusual to share with you.

Adding this post to the Travel collection.

G.

Winter Dreams of Vladimir and Suzdal

Suzdal - Vladimir

I recently ventured out on a short escape from the city life to two of the Russia’s so-called Golden Ring of historical cities, Vladimir and Suzdal. They are situated close to Moscow and there’s a direct train that will take you there overnight from St Petersburg. Both cities are among the oldest in Russia classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and both have a long story to tell.

Suzdal - Vladimir

I arrived in Vladimir so early in the morning that managed to gain several hours of sleep at a hostel before going out to explore the sights.  First, I took a bus to Suzdal, which long long ago used to be even larger and more important than Vladimir.

Suzdal - Vladimir

A local bus took me to Suzdal pretty fast and when I got there I was among the very few tourists (more of them arrived later) who were not scared by the wind, snow and general gloomish atmosphere.

Suzdal - Vladimir

However, it actually added to the overall impression of a tiny town resembling an open-air museum more than anything else.

Suzdal - Vladimir

With the whitewashed walls and the white snow (which do not seem that white when you come close to them) and the white sky, Suzdal in winter is a perfect place for listening carefully to its secrets, not disturbed by the hoards of tourists.

Suzdal - Vladimir

I took multiple pictures from all the angles although I was constantly worried that my camera’s battery would freeze. It’s obvious that in summer you are supposed to spend much more time near each point of interest just because it’s warmer but at the same time you probably will not as you will be facing loads of tourists trying to do the same.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Can you feel the fragility and the sophistication of Suzdal in winter?

Suzdal - Vladimir

Its old walls told me stories of the past: after all the town counts almost 1000 years of written history!

Suzdal - Vladimir

It was huge before Moscow became prominent and it had so many churches as no other Russian town could boast of.

Suzdal - Vladimir

But now the only thing that keeps it alive is the tourism: the smallest of all the Golden Ring cities (the concept was introduced in the Soviet era) has the greatest amount of tourists.

Suzdal - Vladimir

The things that you might want to visit in Suzdal are all situated within a walking distance, starting from the Trading Arcades (see pictures 5, 6, 8) and the nearby Kremlin (see the photo above and 5 photos down), which is the oldest part of the town (10th century),..

Suzdal - Vladimir

…with this 13th century church that has a very attractive door:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and the 16-18th century halls and Archbishop’s chambers with whitewashed walls:

Suzdal - Vladimir

It was 10 am when I got to the Kremlin – so deserted:

Suzdal - Vladimir

But the restaurant’s door was half-open:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Just noticed the somewhat conflicting pavement – too new to match with the whitewashed walls.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Looking at the picture above taken from the wooden Church of St. Nicholas makes me travel back to that moment.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Cold.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Snowy.

Suzdal - Vladimir

While the town was patiently waiting for the buses to come in with the tourists, I went to the open-air museum which gathers log-houses and wooden churches of the 18-19th centuries exemplifying the traditional Russian architecture.

Suzdal - Vladimir

For me, the most interesting part is what you can see inside of the log houses.

Suzdal - Vladimir

I know that all this is done for the tourists but…

Suzdal - Vladimir

…it’s so cozy inside! and warm 🙂

Suzdal - Vladimir

Inside almost each house you’re welcomed by a lady or two dressed in traditional clothes who is ready to tell you about the old habits, explain to you the use of all those objects and… discuss politics and smartphone applications 🙂

Suzdal - Vladimir

There are also two windmills, several storehouses and other constructions you would find in a village. There is also a stone house of a well-off merchant.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Leaving the cozy museum of the wooden architecture, I went back to the Kremlin:

Suzdal - Vladimir

…and then proceeded on till I got to the Monastery of Saint Euthymius which I decided to leave for future since I wanted to see Vladimir in the daylight too. On my way I spotted numerous facades, this one, for example, is in the Old (Staraya) Street :

Suzdal - Vladimir

this one is very festive:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and this one looks beautiful:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and this one looks fancy too:

Suzdal - Vladimir

I liked this surviving house dating back to the 17th century with this small ‘baby’ attachment, to my mind – for storing stuff.

Suzdal - Vladimir

I took my old-school bus back to Vladimir and walked there quite a bit along the main street, occasionally turning into the adjacent streets when something caught my eye. Like this tile:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Or this Art-Nouveau school (now university):

Suzdal - Vladimir

It’s interesting that from our first visit to Vladimir about 16 years ago I can hardly remember anything. Even this hallmark of the city, the Golden Gate, somehow did not get engraved into my memory:

Suzdal - Vladimir

It’s lower part is authentic (12th century) while the upper part was added / renovated in the 18th century. The center of Vladimir is pretty low-rise to say the least:

Suzdal - Vladimir

And here’s how it looks from the top of the ex-water tower which is now a museum dedicated to the old Vladimir: how the town looked like before and what the life there was like.

Suzdal - Vladimir

The top floor provides you with a view over the town with its small houses, churches and hills.

Suzdal - Vladimir

A street close to the museum with the road post:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Further along that street:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Another view over the city:

Suzdal - Vladimir

The dusk was already there when I got to the Assumption (Uspensky) Cathedral:

Suzdal - Vladimir

But it looked even more sophisticated and a bit eerie in this bluish light:

Suzdal - Vladimir

The horizon got lost in the snow:

Suzdal - Vladimir

When I got to the St Demetrius Cathedral (12th century), the daylight was gone:

Suzdal - Vladimir

The town turned its lights on and I walked here and there popping into local shops and ended up buying pryanik with cherries (they say Vladimir used to be famous for its cherry orchards) and wild apricot and lemon jam from Dagestan 🙂 I also bought this bread called Mstyora bread:

Mstera Bread

It’s a light rye bread made with rye malt and coriander made according to the recipe from Mstyora in the Vladimir region. Mstyora is actually better known for its miniature art. They make miniatures with a black background similar to the more popular Palekh art which I used to dream of when I was a child – I begged my Mom to buy me a tiny lacquered box to keep my precious objects there.

On the first photo: Stained-glass window at the Vladimir bus station.

This post goes to the Travel series.

G.

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