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.