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Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Capital of Karelian Republic

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

My second trip to Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelian Republic in the North of Russia, has proved once again my first impression of a very provincial and yet welcoming city. In fact this visit has been one of the most rewarding as far as my job goes. But of course there was a travel part to this journey which was almost completely left out during my first time in Petrozavodsk 2 years ago.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Petrozavodsk is of exactly the same age as St Petersburg and was founded by the same super-active person, tsar and then emperor Peter the Great. Actually, Petrozavodsk is a shortened version of Petrovsky Zavod, the Factory of Peter, as there was this factory founded to make metal things for the Russian fleet.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

People had populated the area long before the new settlement appeared on the shores of the Onega lake, well, in fact, thousands of years earlier, so the region has enough to show and tell about its indigenous people and their culture, the Karelians. The language is very close to the Finnish language and – if not widely spoken – it is still preserved in the region. Petrozavodsk is Petroskoi in Karelian and that’s what you read written on top of the Stalinist railway station building when you arrive from St Petersburg.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Karelia for me is all about forests and stones. It’s a pity in this time of the year you don’t see much when travelling with an overnight train. When we arrived in Petrozavodsk it was so early in the morning we had to wait at the station (which had free wifi and actually there’s wifi all over the city for free!) till it got less dark and we could go have breakfast on the 4th floor of an ex-mica factory (dating back to 1930 but now shut down) with a view over the old roofs of the city. We were the first customers but I must say that Na Kryshe (On the Roof) cafe proved to be ready with tasty buttermilk oladyi (pancakes) served with oblepikhovoye varenye (sea buckthorn jam) and a pot of milk Oolong tea. And that was a very economical breakfast!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Out of all the cities I visited so far this autumn I think I liked the haunted Kaliningrad with its ever present past the most. Whereas Chelyabinsk left very negative feeling and it was not for nothing that I kept coughing each time I went outside there, Petrozavodsk left a rather positive impression on me. It’s a small very low rising (unless you visit one of the suburbs) provincial town with some preserved old houses and an embankment where you can catch a hydrofoil to get you to the famous Kizhi island which has become an open-air museum for wooden structures. We arrived too late in the year to get there but I hope I will see Kizhi soon. At least I don’t mind seeing Petrozavodsk in a better weather!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Petrozavodsk itself is an open-air museum for old houses, be it wooden barracks or Stalinist imposing buildings along the main arteries of the city. It used to be a very St Pete-like city, I mean the houses were really old, both built in stone and those in wood. Like this hospital building which can be seen from the Onega Lake embankment:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Well, the war swept away most of the old city and there came the 1950s when the new rationalizing plans which brought new buildings for the better future of the Soviet Petrozavodsk. And oh boy what houses!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

This is the house where the central office of Post of Russia is (no postcards!). Actually sometimes the buildings housing Post of Russia are one of the best in the cities I’ve visited (like in Vologda). But then it rarely affect the quality and the swiftness of the service…

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Another grand Stalinist house forming the ensemble of the central square:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

With these Stalinist buildings you just have to remember to look up from time to time – to discover all those details and (decaying) balconies which I actually try to avoid these days 🙂

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

And then – in stark contrast – there is this type of houses – we saw several of them:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

or these barracks – people still live there, mind you…

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

the same house from the other side – and with the wood for the long winter…

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

and this is the entrance to one of the wooden houses opposite those barracks

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

and how about this one?

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

the wall is just oh so decadent!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

However the city has a number of 19th and early 20th century wooden houses all gathered together near Onega embankment that form a separate district of historical and architectural value. Take a walk along the Onega Lake embankment starting from the square in front of the Theatre and then turning left. But do not walk fast however windy the day might be!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

The embankment is yet another open-air museum (and how does one fit in all this in such a small town?!) – this time of various successful and not that very successful sculptures and statues. The one from the beginning of the post called the Statue of Fishermen (a gift from Minnesota) looks really nice against the colourful sunset sky and the lake while the tall figure of Peter the Great (19th century) has actually been removed from its original place twice throughout the Soviet period. And guess who stands in Peter’s place now in the middle of the central square? You’ll find it out later in the post.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

And with this small stone house begins the district full of old wooden houses, in one of which we entered to warm ourselves up a bit and from which we went out with some embroidered souvenirs. They also have some natural products like shampoo and soap, made without any preservatives and all that stuff.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

This is the hospital church:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

And this is one of the most expensive hotels in the city spoiling the view on the old town. ‘Spoiling’ because as I said the city has very small amount of high-rises in its historical center, so this weird construction can be seen from far away.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

On the last day of our stay we left our hotel and went for a walk in the sun, heading towards the local history museum where we wanted to spend some quality time. It was sunny but rather frosty and we had quite a lot of time before the train back to St Pete – that was not an overnight but a rather fast Siemens train with comfortable seats which takes 5 hours.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

When we came to the end of this wall we realized that was the Industrial Museum (which we skipped) occupying the old factory buildings. We thoroughly enjoyed this urban art on the walls!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

So in the end we spent an unusual for an average visitor lot of time at the local history museum. Recommended by the way! There’s even a chance to listen to some Karelian folk songs and incantations or get a copy of Karelian recipes (will try some of them for sure!). Karelian cuisine is based on what the wild nature gives you and so some of the exhibits at the museum were dedicated to it.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

And yep, here’s your Lenin right in the middle of Lenin Square (apparently), where Peter the Great used to stand until the 1930s came. And the Square itself has a very curious story to tell – it changed its name so many times I got lost when counting them. Well, they definitely embellished the look of the square whatever name you call it in the recent years. But as soon as you go into the back yard of the museum, you find yourself staring at this wrack of the “state-preserved” building:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

The museum will also tell you about the brief period of the Finnish occupation of the city (1941-44) when the same Square which used to be Round Square (:) was renamed into Administrative Square. And oh, remember those Karelian forests that go on and on and on? Well, with the forests you have a strong culture of gathering or foraging and that means you have all the tools for berry picking or hunting for mushrooms 🙂 Here’s what you can see at display at the museum:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

This thingy with spikes is to pick berries in a fast and efficient way. Everything made from wood and bark of the trees… Perfect! Just as this proto-rucksack for carrying all the treasure the forests can give:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

After that we just could not have missed the local food! So we headed to the same restaurant opposite one of the best known symbols of Petrozavodsk (hotel Severnaya where I stayed last time – definitely NOT recommended, if only to see the inside of that super-red Stalinist buildings with white columns) where I ate 2 years ago. The restaurant is called Karelskaya Gornitsa and is although quite pricey and tourist-oriented is a nice place to imagine yourself travelling back in time.

  Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

But you see, last time we went to the Finnish part of the restaurant and this time we entered the Karelian part, which I found out when we were already leaving the place. All the time we were there I was wondering why I cannot recognize the place at all =) And then they explained to me there are two entrances leading to two parts of the restaurant. So we’ve made a better choice this time entering the Karelian cuisine part!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

There I sampled thew most fluffy and almost yogurt-like thing called tolokno (oat flour which contains all the bran usually removed when making the regular flour) mixed with blueberries (hence the colour) and also a rye blin (pancake) filled with millet. This type of rye or barley pancake is called skantsy or sulchiny and is traditionally filled with porridge (they are either baked or fried, sweet or sour). We drank cowberry mors (juice) which is almost always the best choice when it comes to traditional non-alcoholic drinks in Russia.  

For some Karelian recipes, see my post on kalitka, traditional Karelian rye boat-like pie which is also enjoyed in Finland and in the North of Russia.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

So, to wrap up Petrozavodsk, here are my checklist points:

  • decent postcards – failed
  • post office – found
  • market – failed
  • local history museum – done
  • dairy products and baked stuff – sampled
  • local specialités – as far as the vegetarian stuff is concerned – tasty! And my Mom said that her fried fish and rich mushroom soup were really good!
  • old town – seen and admired

Here you can hear the official hymn of the Republic of Karelia (actually a song from 1963). It was played on the train when we were leaving Petrozavodsk without unfortunately seeing all the beauty of the Karelian woods and lakes…

By the way, I am going to the dark-dark Arkhangelsk in two weeks! Hope this time I will get hold of the authentic sochni of Arkhangelsk…

G.

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