architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

I took two (snowy) winter breaks in Moscow this year. My yet another attempt at taming Moscow couldn’t have happened in a more welcoming period – the temperature outside was around -20 ‘C. Well, with all the wind it might as well have been some degrees lower. I know! And still… It was quite a cozy stay in the Russian capital, which was obviously made even cozier with the presence of two cats who willingly and most generously provided their free (cat) therapy.

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Probably even thanks to such harsh weather conditions I was more active on the sight-seeing part, as I did manage to go to a couple of museums and visited some parks. This is just a square representing a typical picture of what you could see all over the place in February and March:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

After all there were loads of sun! Moreover, I had some translation & editing jobs to do so was only happy to drag myself out of the world of the computer and words (one of the reasons why I seem to be neglecting blogging these days). These are some shots from the Timiryazev park (I would rather call it a forest) just after the sunset:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Urban Moscow is just a stone throw away:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

You just need to get through this ‘portal’:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Looking back to kind of check whether there’s still way back:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Tracks:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

On one of the days I went to the Russian Realistic Art Museum, located in one of the facilities of a former cotton-printing factory. It’s a private museum which traces the history of the Realistic Art in Russia from the early 20th century till today. As always, I liked the first part of the 20th century much more.

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

I really liked these nostalgic etchings from one of the Vladimir school artists:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Outside the museum – typical Moscow (and Russia):

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

After which I went to a super-tiny museum of the Moscow Rail Road which was a disappointment. There was that very train that carried the body of Lenin to Moscow in 1924 and I guess that was and still remains the main exhibit for already many years. On my way there:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Yet another day – a trip to the Aptekarsky Garden, all covered in snow and quiet, right in the middle of the bustle and hustle of Moscow. Founded in early 18th century it used to be a real garden with medicinal herbs and stuff. It now belongs to the MGU (Moscow State University) and is open to public. The Aptekarsky Island in St Petersburg is also connected to the efforts of the ever-present Peter the Great. Well, he created the first botanical garden in Russia – among many other ‘first’ things!

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Made some photos with a black and white Smena camera that day, hope it still works 🙂

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

It was cold but lots of people were queuing to get into one of the glasshouses to get a refreshing glimpse of spring. Most of them were more involved into making selfies than actually looking at the flowers though… Anyway, it was amazing and definitely worth freezing my feet for some half an hour standing in the line!

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

In the tropical greenhouse:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Pressed layers of snow outside:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy
That day there was sun only at the very end of the day:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

Look who was helping me work:

Moscow Winter Holidays plus Cat Therapy

More Moscow stories coming along…

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Moscow Mosaics: The Stalinist Era

Rechnoy Vokzal, Moscow

From my trips to Moscow in late April, June and October 2017 I’ve selected the places that have impressed me most into this first Moscow Mosaics post, united under the same era that they belong to – the Stalinist era. We’ll start from the North River Terminal, built in 1933-37, when the creation of the canal that connected Moscow with the waters of Volga was also under way. So when the construction started, this river terminal was actually standing nowhere near water – the artificial Khimki water reserve was not yet filled with water 🙂 And yes, it looks like that very Doge’s Palace in Venice – and at the same time as a ferry when seen from above. Gosh, I’d love to travel back in time to see how it looked like with all the exclusive stuff inside including a posh restaurant and the artificial marble and the statues and the hairdresser’s, a shoe repair shops, an agitpunkt and a post office. The ideal life of the ideal citizens of the ideal state – as seen by the ideal ruler himself, of course.

Rechnoy Vokzal, Moscow

When I saw it I immediately thought about the Krasnoyarsk River Terminal on Yenisey which was built some 10-15 years later but following the same design. Well, it looks that they both are not in their prime state at the moment. They say the Moscow River Terminal which is in disuse for more than 10 years, will be renovated by 2020. The 1.5 meter in diameter (!) majolica medallions depicting the highlights of the Five-year plan (see the first photo of the post) were hand-painted (!) by a single woman artist (!). To me, the ‘Moscow – Volga 1937’ letters above the entrance just breathe the 1930s…

Moscow

Next stop – the Central Moscow Hippodrome which got rebuilt in 1951-55 incorporating the original late 19th century one into this Stalin empire style building with a tower. The tower looks pretty much alike with all those Stalinist era towers scattered all over the central Moscow. Though none of them has horses instead of the usual workers or happy peasants as statues.

Moscow

The Hippodrome is still functioning (we saw some horses in action) although I doubt it will ever regain its glory. One day I’ll walk inside but not for the races – to see the interior which seems to be quite nice as well as the public which seems to be mostly dedushki, grandpas.

Moscow

Some more of the Stalinist Moscow here, now at VDNKh, or the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy. It’s been undergoing a massive renovation (reconstruction) process recently and it looks so much better now. Hopefully these pavilions too will be soon renovated.

VDNKh, Moscow

Built in 1952 as Glavkonserv pavilion with the best of the canned food there was in the USSR (see the decoration in the windows below), it has been a Gastronom (a sort of a Delicatessen) for quite a few decades since.

VDNKh, Moscow

The trick of the store is that they’ve preserved all the original stuff inside – well, except for the food obviously! Which is a shame, though…

VDNKh, Moscow

How’s that for a shop? Not your usual produkty (grocery store) for sure!

VDNKh, Moscow

This 1954 pavilion was originally destined to showcase the achievements in the construction materials industry, hence the use of the super-tough stalinit, a sort of tempered glass which nevertheless is transparent so – they say – from the inside you feel as if the roof is just floating in the air because the entire glass wall becomes almost invisible. The pavilion was later used to showcase other stuff – nuclear energy, consumer goods and then health care. Haha.

VDNKh, Moscow

And this is a 1952-53 pavilion first built for the Tsentrosoyuz, an authority coordinating all the consumer cooperatives. It too has undergone several mutations, serving as a pavilion for the nuclear energy, mechanization of agriculture, and consumer goods. The style of the building is a Stalinist take on the art-deco.

VDNKh, Moscow

And here’s a small one I liked a lot – Uzbekvino, showcasing wine from Uzbekistan.

VDNKh, Moscow

Built in 1954 as a part of the entire Uzbekistan section (the main pavilion later mutated into the Culture one), it later became Sadko restaurant which did not survive till our days. They say that yet another restaurant is to open here soon.

VDNKh, Moscow

And for the dessert, here’s a Kremlin petrol station, they say one of the oldest in Moscow. It’s situated close to the Pushkin Museum pretty close to the heart of Moscow, the Kremlin. The say also that it is still functioning – though only for the governmental cars. Built after the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour got blown up in 1931, it is – they say again – is the only relic remaining from the gigantic plan to erect a monstrous Palace of the Soviets right on the spot where the cathedral used to be. There was a series of architectural competitions but the Palace itself was never built. In the end (since 1960) they used the foundation for a huge open-air pool right in the center of Moscow which later (late 1990s) got rebuilt as… Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Pertsova House, Moscow

Adding this post to the Russian section of the Travel collection.

G.

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

Spring and (More) Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Tsarksoye Selo to the south of St Petersburg is a treasure trove of yet undiscovered Art Nouveau architecture. Here, a bit out of the eye of the St Petersburg experts and activists in architectural conservation, some of the beauties have disappeared without a trace over the years. But luckily some of them are left as is and some are even gradually renovated. In continuation to my last year’s spring-time and autumnal walks in the Art Nouveau realm of Tsarksoye Selo, here we go.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

I think spring and autumn with their rusty colours of the nature, with their true warm light (as opposed to the ‘through’ hot light of summer) just bring out the best in Art Nouveau, they are the best seasons for spotting architecture in general – not much leaves on the trees to obstruct the buildings and no (or little) snow to cover the details. We did this walk back in the surprisingly warm early April (after which there was such a setback – raining and all that). Our first stop was at the now State Museum Tsarskoye Selo Collection (apparently – of the 1930s Leningrad art). But it used to be one of those mansions for just one family built right in the center of the city by the architect from the capital (i.e. St Petersburg then) von Goli in 1909.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Regardless of its pink painted walls, this mansion bears the signs of the so called Northern Modern style, the one which evolved in St Petersburg but was inspired by the Finnish Romantic style as well as the Scandinavian spirit in general.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Hence all the fortress-like reminiscence, such as the windows, portals and stone.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

But the mansions’ signature details is this tower rather menacingly hanging over passers-by. To my mind they even left the entrance right underneath is in disuse because of that.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Curious ‘lid’ above the balcony:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

There is not much known about the previous history of this cute little mansion. I will one day go inside since there’s also a workshop at the ground level. I wonder whether it sunk down quite a bit over the century or was meant to be that low.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

The wall on the other side which were in the shadow that morning are less… feminine, more laconic as there are no such doors or balconies, just a wall pierced by the windows.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)
Our next stop was not actually planned as I used to consider these buildings long gone and didn’t bother to check (I read about them in the book on the Art Nouveau architecture in St Pete). But since they were just some meters away from the pink mansion we bumped into them by chance, so to say.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

It was Sunday and Easter Sunday, so people were already gathering outside the church waiting for the priest to sprinkle that holy whatever on their traditional (and not so much) kulich and died eggs and whatnot.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

I was drawn by the pseudo-Russian style of the church which was also lit by the warm sun to its advantage. There’s something to its volumes and features that makes you think of the very old Russian churches (which was obviously meant) but there’s also something from the Art Nouveau aesthetics which is so appealing.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

This a ‘home’ church meaning that it was built into a building, actually into a charity organization for the Russian Red Cross nurses who lived here and worked in the hospitals of the city, the whole thing being backed by the emperor’s wife herself, Alexandra (i.e. the last Russian emperor Nicholas II’s wife). And it was designed by the emperor’s own architect with a charming Italian name of Silvio Danini. I’ve already investigated into some of his creations scattered all over Tsarskoye Selo but no to this one.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

As with the prototype – the first Russian churches – the rounded volumes are clearly the best:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

The history of this church during the Soviet era is pretty much similar to those churches which survived and were not taken down (this could happen not just in the 1920-30s but well into the 60s as well – sadly). They were mostly deprived of their distinguishing features (i.e. bell towers, cupolas, of course all the interior etc) and transformed into everything from cinema halls to driving schools to bread baking plants.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

This one was used – again – to the benefit of the society, as a part of the sanatorium for the TB kids. All the icons got painted over, regardless of them being designed by the famous Viktor Vasnetsov. The 1912-1914 church then got transformed into a show room in the 1990s and was handed over to the church officials back only in 2006. And the renovation started finally which can only rejoice me. What a unique show room (they say of… doors!):

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

The rest of the building has not been renovated and looks pretty sad. Though again I loved the volumes:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Right next to the brick church is this big wooden house pretty much in the style of the very first pre-Art Nouveau English-cottage-style creations by the prolific Danini (1896-1897). It is in a poorer state than the adjacent church:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

This was originally built as the Nurses’ dormitory and clinic, but later became a Soviet kids’ TB sanatorium (the ‘new’ 1980 Brutalist style facilities are right next door). It is older than the church (1907-08) and is right next to another charity organization (which I failed to see this time) again built by the same Danini some years earlier.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Now it’s some sort of something, no sign there but they say it will be handed over to the adjacent church some time soon.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

I hope it will be renovated. This could be a nice Sunday school or something, with its large windows. Although I doubt it will be restored as such. Real estate in Tsarskoye Selo is ridiculously overpriced…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

It does look like a wooden dacha (summer cottage). I can imagine drinking tea from samovar sitting on the verandah:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

I tried to capture these interplay of shadows that day with my mother’s first LOMO Smena photo camera, loaded with a black and white film. Still have some 10 shots to go before I can develop the film and find out whether it is actually still working. I adore black & white photos, its aesthetics, its graphic lines and atmosphere but still have to master it.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

The snow is already gone now but I’d love this early spring period to linger…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

Our last stop was actually in the neaby Pavlovsk, yet another royal-park-residence environ which is just a railway station away from Tsarskoye Selo. But this dacha is stuck somewhere in between wooden houses and posh ‘villas’, not where you would normally go to in brief.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo (spring)

This used to be a private dacha of the architect who built among others the Faberge store in St Petersburg, Karl Shmidt. Built in 1902-1903, they say it used to be painted white with green, blue and red details, but I like its current earthy colours as well. Not sure about what’s inside, they say it’s occupied by the Pavlovsk park administration.

For the autumnal part of my Art Nouveau walks see this post. For my last year’s Art Nouveau walk, see this post.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg collection.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia

Russian Handmade Dolls

Russian Handmade Dolls

I remember making something with my hands – almost obligatory – every winter school break. I would then give these creations out to my family as new year gifts. For some reason when you’re a child you are never ashamed of even the clumsiest thing you make. Because anything made with your own hands gives such joy to your parents, you can hardly reproduce that with any other gift – however outrageously expensive it might be.

Russian Handmade Dolls

This time I waited almost till the last day of my winter break from work to indulge myself in some handicraft. I really enjoyed the process so quite recently I made another doll. The first one stayed with us as a gift to my Mom and the other one is already somewhere in Italy, on its way to the Veneto region.

Russian Handmade Dolls

My guide into the world of handmade dolls is this book by a talented Russian artist Yana Volkova (here’s her Instagram, her posts are partially in English). She was trained as fine art restorer and makes wonders with all those bits of cloth that in her hands get transformed into warm-coloured creations.

Handmade Dolls

I really love Yana’s sense of colour, her handicraft (not only dolls) always has this homey feel to it. I also believe she’s that kind of artist who puts their soul into work. And I think there’s something from the Russian North in her creations, in the materials and the choice of the colour scheme. By the way, she also organizes online workshops from time to time. It’s a pity none of her two books has been translated yet, though.

Russian Handmade Dolls

So, first, here’s my take on a doll called Severnaya Bereginya (literally, Northern Safeguard Deity) which is a true exercise in colour matching. It’s essentially a tightly rolled up linen (the head) that is sort of wrapped in layers of coloured cloth.

Russian Handmade Dolls

Yana insists that this doll is nowhere traditional, in fact it’s her own creation out of two kinds of northern dolls – a wooden treshchotka (ratchet) and a Komi people rag doll.

Russian Handmade Dolls

The game (or the challenge) of making this doll gets even more… intimate when you realize there’s a story behind every bit of cloth. Mother helped me choose the ‘rags’ for this rag-doll out of all those fabrics she once used in her sewing. What a lovely way to recycle stuff!

Russian Handmade Dolls

Here’s my Bereginya out on a walk on our snow-covered balcony:

Russian Handmade Dolls

Her kerchief is made from a real kerchief that I recall from my childhood. Mom or Grandma would tie it over an aching tooth or put on when we went to a forest on a hunt for mushrooms.

Russian Handmade Dolls

My Mom could also tell a story or two about other bits of her dress.

Russian Handmade Dolls

In the ideal world the doll’s face should be white but I didn’t have any white linen thick enough to hold its shape. It’s also very imperfectly rolled up (and the ‘dress’ pieces are not that straight) but I like the overall result.

Russian Handmade Dolls

I liked the blue fabric so I used it twice in the doll’s dress. By the way, the whole process of wrapping the doll’s head in cloth is such a … warm thing! As if you were caressing or protecting something small and dear with your hands. There’s definitely something special to handicraft!

Russian Handmade Dolls

I didn’t make this one though – but I just wanted to show you this addition to our clay toy ‘collection’, now standing next to the dolls we painted with my Mom in Kirov back in 2015. I got this toy from the Arkhangelsk region as a gift. It’s a troika, a trio of horses, one of the Russian symbols. The guy on the back is holding an accordion. And on that collar thing in front they surely have some loudly jingling bells.

Podorozhnitsa

This is the other doll from Yana Volkova’s book that I’ve made so far, a Podorozhnitsa, a sort of a charm that was given to a man (I mean, a male family member) travelling (far) from home, hiding it in the clothes. Its name comes from doroga, the road.

Podorozhnitsa

In her bag called uzelok (knot) she has a piece of a rusk so that the traveller she is supposed to guard fears no lack of food along his road. It is also supposed to have a coin (so that it steers him away from hardship) and a pinch of soil (so that he returns) but they wouldn’t fit into her uzelok anyway.

Podorozhnitsa

I’ve made the doll’s kerchief from a shirt.

Podorozhnitsa

Yana says protective charms are never made with a needle so the fabrics for this doll’s body and dress are just tied with a thick thread, no stitches involved. The Bereginya doll has only one element that was sewn – the arms. As another variant of this Podorozhnitsa doll Yana suggests giving her a baby instead of an uzelok, but that would be a different story.

Podorozhnitsa

I’m contemplating on making yet another doll soon. There’s one of a grandpa, a dedushka, and several more that contain grains in their ‘base’ (body) which also has (had) a specific meaning to it in the pagan set of beliefs. I’m off to selecting the fabrics!

Podorozhnitsa

Yana Volkova‘s second book is titled Home and Family Guardians (Хранители дома и семьи), 2017.

Adding this post to the ‘On Russia / USSR‘ collection.

G.

cookies · Family recipe · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses

Rozochki

Unintentionally – but quite justified – I’ve taken a sort of a sabbatical from my writing here. With all the editing of the translations of Turkish (!) soap operas and various documentaries and TV programs, I just seem to be not very fond of computer in the evenings. But let’s do it, let’s open this new year with a revival of an old recipe that our family friend once shared with my mother.

IMG-2890

Who knows how old this recipe actually is but my guess is that it came into our family no later than 1988 – judging from one of the ‘nearby’ recipes in My Mom’s cookbook that has this date next to it. And as you can imagine the recipe is pretty laconic (see the first one at the top of the picture above). Though I would rather call it – lacuna-ic. Just as I did with my Granny’s recipe for Jam-filled Cigars, this Soviet recipe was non the easier in terms of deciphering (or rather guessing) the instructions.

IMG-2791

Before getting our teeth into the soft pastries / cookies, could we pause for a moment to marvel at this powder box from the early 1970s that belonged to my Granny. For no particular reason, just wanted to share with you my fascination for the Soviet ingenuity. Let’s unzip the box…

IMG-2788

…And ho-o-op we find the mirror and the (metal!) protective screen with a tiny lock at its right. The engraved emblem says Leningrad and bears the most recognizable symbol of the city, the Peter and Paul Fortress. And then we turn the screen over…

IMG-2789

…To find yet another protective screen – a gauze one this time that covers powder puff and the powder itself. I remember that I used to play with this box when we were coming or even staying over at our Granny’s – I used to be a fan of all things ‘lady’, imagining myself in the times of Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s stories. The other paraphernalia that played the part in my imaginary life were my Granny’s super-fine gloves, a silk scarf and a straw hat. Oh yes 🙂

IMG-2790

And now on to the food part – to the rozochki or small roses cookies (sic). The main trick with this recipe was that my mother couldn’t really recall the procedure. The instructions in her cookbook were apparently taken down at the time when they were pretty obvious and the only thing she might need were the exact figures for the ingredients. But since then (God knows when, late 1990s, I guess?) she has not baked these quasi-cookies at all and naturally the recipe has now presented itself as quite a riddle both to her and to me. But we did it, somehow.

Rozochki

1 year ago – Bird Cherry Birthday Cake

2 years ago – Peanut Butter Post

3 years ago – How to Make Silky Cream Cheese at Home (that’s what you do when you work from home)

4 years ago – Two Spinach Pies and Spinach…Rice

5 years ago – Rye Malt Bread, Two Versions

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

Rozochki or Cream Cheese Meringue Roses adapted from our family friend’s recipe.

Ingredients

For the pastry:

  • 1-1.5 cups cottage cheese – see remarks below
  • 100-120 g butte, softened
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1-1.5 cups flour

For the filling:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • pinch of baking soda
  • pinch of salt

Procedure

First, make the pastry. Mix the cottage cheese with the butter and the two egg yolks, add in the flour. Adjust the amount of flour / cottage cheese in your pastry. It’s ok if the grains of cottage cheese are still visible. The consistency should not be very tough, just enough to be rolled out in some flour. Shape the pastry into a ball, cover and set aside (somewhere cool / cold).

Make the filling by beating the egg whites with the sugar, salt and soda with a hand-held mixer. The desired consistency here is what you would get with the meringue – a sort of a thick spreadable cream. Preheat the oven to 200-210 ‘C.

Now you can either roll out the entire piece of pastry or in parts. Use flour generously to avoid a sticky mess and rerolling. Roll it out into a rather thin rectangle and spread the filling quite generously onto the surface, leaving a margin on the long side (though the filling will start escaping anyway). Start rolling from the long end – gently and not tight – into a log. Cut the log across into as many pieces as you want (roughly two fingers wide) and carefully transfer onto baking paper / mat cut side up. Put your fingers round the bottom part and gently press them so that the upper part opens up into a ‘rose’. Repeat with the rest of the pieces and with the remaining pastry. Space the roses apart as they will puff up and also spread out even more in the oven (so you might want to bake these in two batches). Bake for 12 minutes on the middle rack and then 2 more on the top shelf (for the golden effect). Do not overbake these as they will hard up as they cool down and you don’t want to lose their softness!

Rozochki

Remarks

A few words about the pastry: tvorog or cottage cheese should be quite dry, here the drier the better, so the grainy type will do as well. Mine was 5% fat. The less liquid you have in the pastry, the easier it will be to roll it out (and the less flour you will use).

The original recipe called for 200 g of margarine but it worked out fine with just half of it – and with softened butter, not margarine.

And yes, there’s absolutely no sugar in the pastry! But the super sweet filling plus the juices it creates while baking does the trick. The entire pastry is thus soaked in this juice and becomes sweet too.

The bigger piece of pastry you take for rolling out, the more ‘petals’ (spirals) your roses will have. My first batch resulted in rather small roses (I rolled out smaller pieces) but the second one (featuring in the pictures here) was from a bigger piece of pastry, resulting in something that was more close to the original (as we remember it).

As we couldn’t really recall the procedure, the instructions above might not be the authentic ones but they were clearly the most optimal ones for these roses. The original recipe suggested eating these warm but when they cool down they are perfectly fine.

Rozochki

Result

Very sweet and soft, these cottage cheese and meringue pastries will disappear before the second batch is ready. The combination of the chewy cheese pastry and the super-sweet meringue is addictive. Can constitute a sort of a warm meal for the sweet-toothed as these rozochki are pretty nourishing.

More Soviet recipes are here. And more Soviet paraphernalia in case you are interested is here.

G.

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

Wintry Icy St Petersburg

Wintry St Pete

Here’s some severe beauty of the frosty St Petersburg – before it all melted away. No ‘winter wonderland’ for this New Year’s eve, I’m afraid.

Wintry St Pete

An icy hello from the Ladoga lake which it sends to the city via Neva river once in a while.

Wintry St Pete

The ‘rotundas’ on the Palace Bridge are there as festive decorations.

Wintry St Pete

And a view back:

Wintry St Pete

The entire city looked like this that day: as if someone sprayed it all with fake snow.

Wintry St Pete

Oh, look, there’s sun in St Petersburg, hurry up before it’s gone!

Wintry St Pete

Icy sky hues:

Wintry St Pete

And a photo from a bit earlier – the illuminated Peter and Paul Fortress:

Wintry St Pete

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Back to 19th Century in Vitebsk, Chagall’s Birthplace

Vitebsk

I arrived in Vitebsk from Polotsk on board of a ‘business-class’ high-speed train in just 1.5 hours. Together with 3 babushkas who quite confidently enjoyed their ride. Vitebsk is Belarus’ second oldest city, founded by Princess of Kiev in 974 as the legend goes. Vitebsk is now more known as a birthplace of Marc Chagall whose figure haunts the city.

Vitebsk

Marc Chagall’s house is very close to the railway station so I headed there straight away. It was Monday and the museum was closed, so I just wandered a bit in the neighbourhood. It was all about small buildings, industrial sites and very few people.

Vitebsk

Not only the street with Chagall’s home is decorated with murals and his quotes – I spotted many of them all over the city. I’m not a fan and I really know little about him and his art but I think it somehow fits this city to have an artist who had such a connection to it. Chagall would go on painting his native Vitebsk up until his death.

Vitebsk

This quote about ‘homeland in his soul’ is right next to his house, and here it is:

Vitebsk

Same street:

Vitebsk

A nearby street:

Vitebsk

There were quite a few red brick houses in that district, only one of them completely ruined and graffiti-ed – but the rest faithfully serving their inhabitants.

Vitebsk

A local Beatles club where they throw dance parties and watch old movies. Was thinking of going there at first but that night they were having a party for ‘those above…’ which usually means a certain age which I don’t belong to yet.

Vitebsk

Can you spot a lamp in the left-hand window?

Vitebsk

Crossing the Western Dvina river towards the city center:

Vitebsk

In Vitebsk I could feel the winter is coming. After such a springtime day in Polotsk this came as an unpleasant surprise particularly because I was expecting a much finer day judging by the forecast. But the mist was so heavy in the first part of the day that when the sun finally did come out for a brief moment, I had to hurry up to retake most of the photos before it disappeared again.

Vitebsk

From the hill with the Assumption Cathedral one can enjoy the view over the city. The city which in its historical center one feels as if being suddenly transported to the Alexander Pushkin times, to the early 19th century!

Vitebsk

And those 1-2 storey buildings seem to be preserved in a pretty authentic state, not like in St Petersburg where quite a few of these were either upgraded with an extra floor or two, or ‘sank’ into the ground up to the balcony because the ‘cultural level’ grew fast.

Vitebsk

Judging by the plate, this house is here since late 18th century:

Vitebsk

I had my breakfast in the mid of the misty Vitebsk, accompanied by the pigeons:

Vitebsk

Can’t make out if this pigeon here is real or painted? 🙂

Vitebsk

I didn’t expect any museum to be open but turns out the other ‘museum’ of Chagall (or rather gallery – they call themselves Chagall’s Art Center) was working that Monday. They only had one floor of his drawings while at the second floor there were curious posters by Polish artist Ryszard Kaja.

Vitebsk

Then I came up to the Victory Square with this impressive 1970s monument.

Vitebsk

Just a few meters away is a street named after Chagall, with yet another of his quotes:

Vitebsk

And in the inner yard there’s this mural with the iconic ‘eternal student’ of the Soviet cinema – Alexander Demyanenko.

Vitebsk

Ah yes, I forgot to mention that I couldn’t resist the temptation to enter into a real relic from the past that you can hardly find in Russia now – Univermag (“universal store”), the central department store of Vitebsk with – literally – rows of clocks, kitchen utensils and crystalware, and flocks of very serious-looking customers. I was enjoying it immensely but just couldn’t take photos as nobody else would understand – they were enjoying it in a slightly different way 🙂

Vitebsk

Later, in my attempt to find nice postcards, sweet buns (for some reason I was sure I would find them) and some gostintsy (souvenirs) I also wandered way into the faceless districts with all kinds of Soviet houses from various epochs.Ah yes, I also saw this picturesque heap right in front of the local police station in the center:

Vitebsk

And then suddenly there was sun! So I hurried back.

Vitebsk

Oh those balconies!

Vitebsk

The center of Vitebsk is lovely although really small.

Vitebsk

As in many small European cities, if you have ‘too much’ time you end up making circles round the same place:

Vitebsk

Above – ex-town hall, now a local history museum which was unfortunately closed. Below – yet another baroque cathedral, looking pretty much like the St Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk – though less elegant.

Vitebsk
All of a sudden there was this nice evening:

Vitebsk

It’s a pity the sun was about to set.

Vitebsk

The pail and the kettle are there for a reason – they attract people to a local art gallery.

Vitebsk

A glance back at the Assumption Cathedral and the Vitba river which gave its name to the city.

Vitebsk

Trying to get rid of the remaining Belorussian rubles, I visited quite a few of shops in the railway station district. As a result, I brought back gostintsy – some of the goods that Belarus is famous for (at least, in Russia): potato chips (made with salt and sunflower oil, no preservatives), cheese, sausages, sweets and beauty products. Belarus is also providing us with textile, bed linen and… tractors :). By the way I did find some postcards in the end, three of them were particularly interesting, depicting the best known trademarks of Belarus – tractor, condensed milk and a huge truck.

Gostintsy

Belarus products for us I suppose mean something like ‘traditional quality for less money’. And theirs is quite an established brand in Russia, we have many outlets selling their dairy and meat products all over the country. Pictured above – bitter chocolate (which was a little bit too much with 90% cocoa) and that panforte or gingerbread they seem to be particularly fond of and that I sampled already in Smolensk. Pictured below: potato chips and condensed milk in a traditional blue can.

Gostintsy

It’s not my first time in Belarus, as my father’s mother was born and lived there. I was in Minsk, Baranovichi and Orsha. But this time the journey was a solitary one and I had more time (and more occasions) to think of this country from a traveller’s point of view. So, my overall impression of Belarus and its people:

From what I’ve seen, Belorussians are open and uncomplicated. Family is very important to them, relatives seem to be closer to each other – at least in terms of sharing thoughts, problems, i.e. living a more communal life. As a whole, it looks as if the nation has been (or is being?) calmed down and reassured by the state and habituated to a good steady moderately-consumerist life. Although they are not wealthy, they are not demanding either. Yes, I saw quite a few drunk people, some of them were openly drinking vodka in the morning enjoying the view over the river right in the center of the city. It is obvious that the level of income is pretty low but these guys are not used to luxury – and their notion of it might be quite ridiculous from a European point of view. By the way, November 7th, commemorating the October revolution, is still a national holiday in Belarus while in Russia it has been replaced with the amorphous ‘Unity Day’ on November 4th.

I came back home in a formerly trendy but now rather run down Zvyazda (or Zvezda, Star) Minsk – St Petersburg train, through the Art Nouveau gates of my city – Vitebsky Railway Station. Now its name makes more geographical sense to me than it did before!

This post goes to the Belarus section of my Travel series.

G.