architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Dunino, Zvenigorod and Moscow

Moscow

This time Moscow has shown to me its private side. First, though, we had to ride next to the outrageously high fences rising along the posh Rublevskoye highway where all those who have money and an urge to make everyone know about it have their dacha or home.

Moscow
And then all of a sudden you get to this tiny road with low fences, out-of-use phone booths and cars growing into the soil. By the way, the spot with the phone booth out-of-use and a new one in-use, seems to be also the one either with a better mobile reception or with too many phone-calling memories attached as we spotted 2 people simultaneously talking on their phones right there.

Moscow

But we were actually after the place where one of my favourite personalities of the 20th century lived, the Russian writer Mikhail Prishvin. He bought a house here in Dunino in Podmoskovye (the Moscow region) after the war and settled here with his wife and dog(s).

Moscow

Here, who would believe this is the same Moscow river as that wide highway running through the capital, near the Red Square and the Stalin’s skyscrapers?

Moscow

Life is so calm and unpretentious in Dunino. It’s obvious why Prishvin with his love for nature and simple life would move here and come to Moscow only when his car would break down 🙂

Moscow

Mikhail Prishvin lived here with his second wife who was his real soulmate, although 26 years younger than him. They found each other when Prishvin was 67, just before the war. This cozy house is just impregnated with the love they shared.

Moscow

I’ve been reading his diaries recently, not in the chronological order though. I started with the torturous 1930-31 and now moved on to the after-war 1948-49.

Moscow

Reading his daily musings and piercing thoughts about his country, about life and just about everything, makes you understand the very truth of his saying that for every line of his diary he could as well have got 10 years of execution.

Moscow

The house and the garden with beehives and many trees are very peaceful and as if waiting for their master to come back from the usual hours-long walks in the forest.

Moscow

Best-known in Russia for his short stories about nature and animals (and thus mostly read only in childhood), Prishvin as a writer, as a thinker, as a skillful photographer, was so very beyond this ‘tagline’ that persists today. Just read his Ginseng novel: yes, it’s so very romantic and out-of-place (written in the early 1930s and published in 1933 when the country was preoccupied with very different things like labour camps etc) but so very poignant, so philosophical (in a good way).

Moscow

I’m glad that writing a master’s thesis on this very novel did not ruin my love to the writer. I’m still discovering the treasure he left behind him, reading his diaries as real revelations of the era. Prishvin outlived Stalin for just 1 year but considering the things he dared to think and write down (though without publishing of course, his diaries only came to the public in the 1990s), he was way too lucky.

Moscow

Our next stop was in Zvenigorod where Prishvin used to walk sometimes. Under torrents of rain we ran into the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery which houses a local museum as well as executing its original functions.

Moscow

This monastery founded in the 14th century was pretty famous and quite rich in the old days. Now it looks a bit shabby but obviously gets its fair share of tourists and pilgrims who willingly buy bread (each of the items seems to be called Monastery-soemthing) and kvas.

Moscow

We spent quite a bit of time at the bread store but we also visited the museum which is divided into several section. With every new section we entered, the weather would change to the better. When we went out of the last one, the sun came out and the rain stopped.

Moscow

The sun finally opened my eyes to the surroundings and I regained interest in taking photos and in general looking out of my hood 🙂

Moscow

The spring always comes to Moscow earlier than to St Petersburg which is always lagging behind. My eyes were happy to see some bright green colors:

Moscow

By the time we went into the bread store and the cafe, it was all very fine. But when we were sitting in the cafe…

Moscow

The rain started again – this time it was recklessly pouring onto the surrounding hills and fields regardless of the shining sun. Here’s how it was:

Moscow

Our last stop before returning to Moscow was an old church hidden somewhere off the busy roads. It was unfortunately all covered in scaffolding so I took a photo of this small house instead. The street is called Gorodok, which is a diminutive of a city or town.

Moscow

Next morning we went to the recently-opened Museum of Russian Impressionism (yes, it does exist!) where we recharged our batteries with sun-lit paintings some of which were from Armenia (and were really good). After that we went to see one of the atypical places in the enormous capital, Sokol or the settlement (village) of artists.

Moscow

Rising up in the background of this photo is a nearby residential house and it’s a tricky question what seems to be more out of place: this high-rise monster or this village with tiny wooden houses? Although they say it is much more expensive to buy any of these houses than a pretty posh apartment in the center.

Moscow

The history of this unexpected village planted right in the middle of a ‘normal’ high-rise Moscow district is quite recent: it began in 1923 when the ideas of a garden city were in the air (including St Petersburg, then Leningrad) and so a community of artists, scientists and other intelligentsia were granted the right to use the land. The streets of this village are named after famous Russian artists, although they say not many artists live here now. It still preserves an atmosphere of an ordered village but the ever-present fences do not allow you to see many of the houses.

Moscow

We left the district on this bright blue tram. Seems so out-of-place in a more-than-busy capital like Moscow, doesn’t it? And yet the line crosses streets and parks and many people do still prefer this means of transport as it takes them to those hidden places where people actually live.

I really enjoyed this private side of Moscow!

This post goes to the Travel series where you can find more posts on Moscow under ‘Russia’.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Yet Another Getaway in Veliky Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod was good. It is already for the second time that this trip happens exactly at the moment when I most need this getaway. And when the weather is great too – windy and sunny – you unleash your carelessness and relax.

Veliky Novgorod

Last year our first day in Veliky Novgorod was pretty nasty in terms of the weather but this time I made quite a bit of sunny pictures.

Veliky Novgorod

These are the gates of the most venerable cathedrals in the region – Saint Sophia Cathedral of Veliky Novgorod. Never actually paid any attention to the details, always just looking at these gates as a whole while passing by. Gosh, did they have tons of time and skill in the old days!

Veliky Novgorod

Inside the cathedral it was warmer than outside so we lingered for quite a bit in there. It sometimes helps when you don’t have to pay attention to the sights as a whole (because you have seen them several times already) and so start enjoying the details:

Veliky Novgorod

Just outside of St Sophia there is this building with a funny balcony. I think it’s now a local center for kids where they teach them arts and crafts. We heard some music playing there. Right next to the school is the kremlin wall (no, Kremlin doesn’t exclusively refer to that red fortress in the center of Moscow, it can be found in other cities of Russia).

Veliky Novgorod

If you cross the bridge leading from the kremlin to the other side of the Volkhov river, you get to the Trade Side of Veliky Novgorod, where they have so many churches (and these are just a fraction of what was there before) that you can barely remember all their names.

Veliky Novgorod

I love how they grow from the earth (this church is almost 650 years old!). Sometimes they have to undig them out of all the culture layers that have accumulated throughout the years. And most of the times the years are pretty visible on these old walls:

Veliky Novgorod

Inside the walls of the late 17th century church:

Veliky Novgorod

Love those lines which are breaking all the rules of your school geometry lessons!

Veliky Novgorod

OK, here’s some geometry for you:

Veliky Novgorod

Our hostel was located in a very good spot, wasn’t it?

Veliky Novgorod

Next morning we went to Perynsky Skit on the Lake Ilmen where the monks would settle to get away from the busy monasteries. The tiny pieces of ice were rocking on the waves coming ashore the lake, creating some delicate music – or were they telling legends of the old times?

Veliky Novgorod

We made a wonderful sunny walk in the forest nearby and then visited the Yuriev Monastery, a must of all the coach trips to Novgorod:

Veliky Novgorod

Just a couple of meters away is the open-air museum of traditional Russian wooden architecture called Vitoslavlitsy.

Veliky Novgorod

It’s a bit of a tourist trap (especially if you just close half of the territory for reconstruction) but I still love it.

Veliky Novgorod

You can enter most of the buildings and see how the old Russians used to live:

Veliky Novgorod

There are houses of rich peasants and merchants as well as churches, a windmill and other buildings. A bit like they did it in Suzdal but I like the quality of their interior work much more.

Veliky Novgorod

Pity those vatrushkas were not real! 🙂

Veliky Novgorod

And there under the towel I suppose is a Novgorod carrot pie since we are in Novgorod!

Veliky Novgorod

And there to the right are blini while in the foreground is the traditional karavay bread served with a pinch of salt to the bride and groom at the weddings:

Veliky Novgorod

Can you spot some berries in between the window panes?

Veliky Novgorod

A babushka coming back to her duties after the lunch break:

Veliky Novgorod

Russian stove in a wealthy merchant’s house:

Veliky Novgorod

The icon corner is called krasny ugol (red or also beautiful corner) in Russia. The white and red towel has its meaning:

Veliky Novgorod

And here’s a workshop of a wool-maker:

Veliky Novgorod

View over the Yuriev Monastery from the open-air museum:

Veliky Novgorod

Can imagine how delicately green the city is now but back then in early April it was still rustic and brown, so very early spring-like. A wonderful start to the season!

Read my last year’s post for more details on Veliky Novgorod.

Adding this to my Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · travel

Prague’s Architectural Cocktail

Prague

My last stop on the Mitteleuropa journey, Prague is architect’s paradise and a heaven for architecture fans. It offers the eye so much information in such detail that you just get tired very quickly and give up. Besides, there is such a crowd of tourists moving about the city (mostly Russian and Italian-speaking) that you abandon all the attempts to have a nice peaceful walk and go with the flow.

Prague

Being a St Petersburg local, I’m quite prepared for a varied architecture with several epochs represented along one street, back-to-back. But Prague offers an even wilder picture as it also has yet another layer – Medieval architecture which with St Petersburg’s 300-and-something-year-old history is not the case.

Prague

We went from Bratislava to Prague by bus and after a night at a hostel we started off our day from the nearby Vitkov Hill. The National Memorial sitting right on top of this hill was originally constructed in 1928 – 1938 and that’s why it has a non-human totalitarian air about it. Well, it was really in the air that kind of architecture in those days. Ironically enough, this became an anti-Nazi monument after the war.

Prague

Prague is pretty representative of the Vienna-style Art Nouveau. It pops up here and there as hotels (below), residential houses or this Municipal House (above) which is extremely elaborately decorated both inside and outside.

Prague

To get even more of the Art Nouveau in the city we went to the Alfons Mucha museum and discovered for ourselves one of the sources of all things Art Nouveau in painting and decoration. Even if you don’t now his name, you will definitely recognize his elements in many many posters (1960s concert posters in America drew largely on Mucha’s style) and virtually anything which mimics the Art Nouveau style.

Prague

The windy and chaotic Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) over the Vltava river, the city most known landmark, with the Prague Castle in the background (above). And the view from the other side of Vltava:

Prague

Prague can get overwhelmingly touristy. Looking at its map now I can say that in some ways it is such a popular destination it is verging on being too much. Too much stuff is made for tourists that in the end you cannot really grasp the authenticity of the city. That’s why one would try to avoid Charles Bridge and Prague’s center – just to feel that you can be human again 🙂

Prague

Wandering in the city is easy – you just turn off the main road and keep your head up: pseudo-Gothic castles, real Gothic churches, baroque, classicism, you name it! Hard to tell which one is real and which one is a later interpretation.

Prague
I took photos of many a facade but I might just as well have dropped that thing at once as it is not possible to encompass all the crazy variety of architecture in Prague.

Prague

On our second day in Prague (which was obviously not going to be a warm day from the very start) we took a tram across the city to the other side of the Vltava river and then went up there where the Prague’s Castle is:

Prague

We got so cold in the Castle that I can hardly recall anything 🙂 Well, travelling in winter has its downsides. As is travelling on super hot days, I suppose, when your attention span is so short you can only think of getting something cold to drink and find a shady bench to sit on. Winter on its harsh days just makes your eyesight limited – you seem to be looking only in front of you, raising your shoulders and tucking your head in. Feels warmer this way 🙂

Prague

All I remember about Prague’s Castle is that although the entrance to the Castle is free of charge (they would just make you go through security check), it’s a sort of a tourist trap inside: entrance to anything else within its territory apart from several souvenir stores and the information center requires a ticket. But the view from the windy top was great. A real winter fairy tale. Somewhere over there there should be many creatures living on the roofs 🙂

Prague
By the way, they have a vineyard right on the slope of the hill which reminded me of Avignon. After descending back to the ‘ground’, spending some – warm – minutes in the Prague’s metro station right under the Prague’s Castle hill, we continued our wanderings in the direction of the Charles Bridge:

Prague

The ‘other’ side of Vltava proved to be a pretty cozy place, seemingly older around the Castle and probably less touristy than the “Prague 1” with its super touristy attractions such as the astronomical clock and the Jewish district.

Prague

After we got substantially cold and wind-bitten we ended up (twice) in a local cafe called At the Parliament (U Parlamentu). There we had a fix-price menu lunch with fried cheese and boiled potatoes on one day and on the other I tried some soup which turned out to be richly infused with smoked bacon :). You can obviously sample Czech beer at that place, along with some dumplings and other traditional stuff.

Prague
We did not go to any markets in Prague although the Christmas ‘market’ was still on place. We tried some local cheese though – brynza (salted white brine cheese), soft fresh cheese similar to the Russian tvorog (cottage cheese) and some pretty weird sharp-tasting cheese called Sedlčanský Romadůžek.

Here is another one of the spotted – allegedly – Czech dishes, Trdelnik, hugely popular and popularized street food which several countries claim their own, pictured at various stages of its preparation:

Prague
You can’t say it’s a baked bread because it’s cooked over coal, resembling something like a sweet shashlik or barbecue 🙂 Did not try trdelnik in Prague but later a friend brought some from Hungary where apparently they also consider it their traditional dessert. My impressions – overly sweet dough with lots of extra sugar on top!

Prague is a interesting place. It’s not a place you would go to relax though – you would just have no chance for that in the streets teeming with tourists ever hungry for more attractions. But it’s one of those ‘democratic’ places where everyone will find something of interest.

Adding this post to my Travel series where you will find more Mitteleuropa journey accounts on Bratislava and Vienna.

G.

architecture · no recipe · travel

Glossy Vienna

Vienna

The next stop on my Mitteleuropa trip was Vienna. I travelled there by train and back by bus thus experiencing both roads on one day. The journey from and back to Bratislava was really fast either way. And this post is going to be quite a brief one too because I really don’t have much to say about Vienna!

Vienna

I started my journey by visiting the market, Naschmarkt, which I couldn’t really enjoy 100% because of pretty intrusive vendors who would address you in all possible languages. Besides, I was not there only for the local produce and aromas although I must admit the bread looked amazing!

Vienna

I also wanted to see some Art Nouveau (or rather Secession) which this city is particularly famous for. And with all my love for Art Nouveau I was a little bit too dazzled to take it in – too many golden details, too shiny. I guess I’m more into the Nordic interpretation of Art Nouveau which you can find in St Petersburg and Finland, for instance.

Vienna

But I did like the Karlsplatz station designed by Otto Wagner. His motives and patterns were duplicated and triplicated by so many architects around the world that eventually it all became so very trivial.

Vienna

However, I was glad I could see the original Otto Wagner’s creations and not a-la Wagneresque. Very sophisticated and detailed.

Vienna

I must admit I don’t have much to say about Vienna indeed. I think I didn’t really like it there. And yes, the time I spent there was not enough to make a proper opinion of the city but there was a certain feeling of being in a place where everything is so fixed you can’t change anything. As if everything has been already done for you – the only thing left is just go and admire the place. Vienna appears to me as a grown-up city so to speak, which is done with its development and now represents a static glossy picture.

Vienna

In a way I do struggle to find things interesting to me in the places like Vienna. Same problem with Zurich and Luxembourg. Looking back at it now, I’ve realized what was missing in those cities which I consider quite ‘fixed’ and static (thus not very attractive to me): they seem to lack decadence! I mean, surely there are some old things around but with all their minor bruises or scratches you don’t feel they are… authentic in a way. Too glossy.

Vienna

So in my search for something authentic and less glossy I stumbled upon the stables right in the center of Vienna (the imperial stables of Hofburg palace).

Vienna

Then I got lost in the courtyards of the city center with its interminable museums, posh shops and restaurants, crowds of tourists and horse-driven carts. I liked this guard’s post with sharp ‘teeth’:

Vienna

After wandering in the swarming city center I was glad to get out of it on one of the Ring avenues and into the Stadtpark with a lake and curious clock towers. A nice place to eat your sandwich and get some fresh air.

Vienna

I was planning to go to Albertina museum to see some Monet but in the end I just headed off towards the station visiting the Belvedere Garden which I liked more than the Palace itself.

Vienna
There was a spring-time feeling in the garden although it was just January. But the sun does put you in the spring mood!

Vienna

The view over the garden and the city from the elevation of the palace:

Vienna

Mutlicolour houses just outside Belvedere and next to the central railway station:

Vienna

After all the grown-up glamour of Vienna I was really relieved to get back to home-like Bratislava. I think Vienna just has too much of Baroque about it. I guess you can compare the city to one of its Baroque churches: the interiors seem to be so over-decorated that you feel lost immediately – and tired too. It’s overwhelmingly fanciful. That’s why unpredictable places like Slovakia seem to be less tiresome: at least you don’t get bored there because with all the European-Union-standardization not everything there is as fixed, secure and prosperous as in its neighbor Austria yet 🙂

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky

Rostov

After seeing three European capitals in January, I’ve now switched back to the explorations within my own country, so i will interrupt my account of the Mitteleuropa trip to share my most recent impressions of two popular Russia’s Golden Ring destinations, the old cities of Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky (not to be confused with Rostov-on-Don in the South of Russia).

Yaroslavl

I saw both cities about 17 years ago and in summer but I can remember very little – and mostly thanks to the photos that back then we would print out and look at not just once. So this time it was just as if I went there for the first time anyway. I chose the bigger Yaroslavl as my base from which I travelled to the smaller Rostov.

Yaroslavl

And as always (well, actually only since I’ve started travelling on my own) I’ve enjoyed the train part of the journey. I travelled by night both there and back but I did not leave the train too early in the morning to miss that feeling of having a pretty lazy start of the day while knowing that you will have pretty busy rest of the day afterwards. So I arrived in Yaroslavl towards midday and had just several hours of light in front of me. Well, the day was not sunny at all which probably also influenced my perception of the city.

Yaroslavl

I started off from my hostel which was super conveniently located just next to the railway station and when I got to the center of the city, I noticed a flow of people heading towards the square in front of the cathedral – where they were celebrating the Russian Shrovetide, Maslenitsa.

Yaroslavl

I ignored the celebrations and chose to go see the Volga river instead – last time I saw it in Samara and had a swim there too. In the picture below you can see ice and snow-covered Kotorosl river and the ice-free Volga to the left. They come together at this point which is called Strelka (Arrow). This pavilion is one of the symbols of the city and one of the musts for all tourist groups.

Yaroslavl

After realizing that it should be less windy and hence warmer the farther you get from Volga I went to the Yaroslavl Kremlin – or rather Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery which was so fortified back in the old days it still looks like a fortress (and is mistakenly referred to as kremlin).

Yaroslavl

Unfortunately, the place is pretty run-down and doesn’t really impress you even though it seems to have all the necessary ingredients such as whitewashed walls, strong gates and a belltower.

Yaroslavl

Love these outside wooden staircases – they seem to be hanging on air and to be popping up in all possible places!

Yaroslavl

I went inside one of these buildings to see the exposition dedicated to the history of the region. One of the objects on display that keep amusing me since I went to a similar museum in Ryazan is kopoushka – a funny named thing used to pick old Russians’ ears 🙂 No photo of this thingy here but you can follow the link to see its many incarnations.

Yaroslavl

Sure enough they tell you about the main symbol of the city in that museum, the bear. It occupies the central place in one of the legends surrounding the foundation of Yaroslavl: they say the original dwellers of these parts used to worship bears and even sent a really ferocious one after prince Yaroslav the Wise, so he killed the bear and took over the power and built the city (which according to one of the versions took its name after Yaroslav). One of the numerous bear symbols in the city is right there on top of the tower:

Yaroslavl

There was a fun part in there for me too: a local producers’ market because that was the Maslenitsa weekend and the first and foremost thing everybody is up to during Shrovetide in Russia – is food. So out I went with a jar of cherry-rum confiture and some meat for my Dad. I also found some super flavourful honey from the Kuban’ region and tasty ryazhenka (baked milk) on my way back to the hostel. Also bought this black bread called Monastyrsky (it had no label on its package so I can only assume that it was made with sourdough and rye malt):

Monastyrsky Bread

Next morning I went to Rostov the Great (Rostov Veliky), within an hour bus ride from Yaroslavl. Just like in the Vladimir / Suzdal couple, Rostov used to be much bigger and much more important than Yaroslavl but then lost all the power. It now resembles a real village with lots of tourists and not many locals around. On the way from the bus / railway station to the center I spotted this dying wooden heritage:

Rostov

When you reach the ‘Kremlin’ (yet again, this is not technically a kremlin, it was the residence of the Metropolitan of Rostov), you do get impressed at its solidness especially if you know that it was not built to defend the city!

Rostov

Its fortified walls are particularly popular among Russian tourists for it being a movie set for the 1973 Soviet classics Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession (based on Bulgakov’s play).

Rostov

The city stars in several other movies as well. Seems like it managed to preserve this allure of a provincial town which other cities around Moscow might have lost due to heavy – mostly Brezhnev’s era – construction and reconstruction.

Rostov

An ex-church, apparently, and some rusty but still functioning mail boxes:

Rostov

I really enjoyed walking around the whitewashed walls and up to the lake Nero (yes, the name has obvious Greek roots). The lake was also white – all covered with ice and snow. And there was also sun blinding you with its unexpected enthusiasm as well as such strong wind you could hear it howling although there was nothing but plain surface of a frozen lake in front of you.

Rostov

The amazing Lake Nero and super happy French tourists hopping around:

Rostov

And you can walk on water and enjoy the cityscape…

Rostov

The sun obviously helped enjoy it even more, bringing out the colors:

Rostov

…and then you can climb up the rampant and watch children sliding down the slopes:

Rostov

I guess Rostov in winter is the place to take tourists to see something truly Russian. Besides, the Rostov ‘Kremlin’ looks much better than the one in Yaroslavl. However, there was a fair share of decadence inside too, so I had my moments of architectural pleasure when I entered its walls.

Rostov

And why not combine architectural pleasure with some gastronomic pleasure as well? Here’s how:

Rostov

Home-baked bulochka with apples and cranberries, mmmm, the dough was so light and sweet – just like a pillow! The lady making and selling them has taken the most advantageous spot there is in Rostov – right in front of the entrance to the museum, can’t miss that!

Rostov

And meanwhile inside the Rostov ‘kremlin’ the spring has arrived:

Rostov

…making navigating around a bit complicated. In some places you just had to run quick under a shower of melting snow and over a big puddle.

Rostov

Patterns:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Fortification walls which were never supposed to serve as fortification:

Rostov

And here’s the Metropolitan’s Garden – must look amazing in spring / early summer with all the apple trees blossoming:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

This is actually the entrance to the history museum (a rather disappointingly small one compared to Yaroslavl). Can you imagine that this very bit of a Byzantine jug should survive and not some other of its pieces?

Rostov

A rather unusually decorated church with a matching pine branch:

Rostov

Check out that door!

Rostov

This one is serious too:

Rostov

A rather run-down cathedral:

Rostov

The gates to the kremlin-residence:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Meanwhile outside of the kremlin walls: decadence, anyone?

Rostov

There was a bunch of wooden Art-Nouveau houses along Okruzhnaya street which runs round the center of Rostov right to / from the lake. This one resembles some kind of a green bug, quite in the fashion of Art-Nouveau:

Rostov

But the obvious winner was this house with a mad-mad-mad balcony windows:

Rostov

And loads of decadence around – this house was abandoned both by people and by wasps (see their nest in the top left hand corner):

Rostov

There was also an ex-church with its belltower turned into… a (fire) watchtower! I went up to the lake to have a glimpse of its magic before I headed off to the bus station. On my way from the lake the decadence was interrupted by some nicely preserved specimens of traditional Russian window frame decorations:

Rostov

As you might have already guessed, I enjoyed Rostov Veliky more – even though it is really small and packed with tourists in its most popular spots. I would love to come back to Rostov in spring or summer – the lake Nero should be gorgeous! And after all I haven’t heard all the legends surrounding it and haven’t been to all the monasteries on its shores to get the best views.

This post goes to the On Russia and Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · travel

Easy-Going Bratislava and Devin Hrad

Bratislava

This new year break was the second one in my life when I was away from home. I went to the yet undiscovered Mitteleuropa, visiting three capitals in one go: Slovakia’s Bratislava, Austria’s Vienna and Czech Republic’s Prague.

Bratislava

Bratislava welcomed me with seizing cold and wind. I left St Petersburg in sports shoes so you can imagine I was quite unprepared for long strolls. Even my camera was unprepared – it got all cold and its battery died on the first day before I could take the pictures of the misty snowy Bratislava.

Bratislava

Wandering in the relatively small old town of Bratislava won’t allow you to get lost for sure but it will provide you with quite a number of small details that I appreciate much more than anything else.

Bratislava

Adorable curves and street lamps all over the old town of Bratislava:

Bratislava

Right in the center of the old town. Wonderfully decadent.

Bratislava

But the most decadent street is Kapitulska which leads up to St Martin’s Cathedral. Reminded me of Thessaloniki’s Ano Poli.

Bratislava

This street is also right next to the city wall. Just one street but almost each house is mouthwatering for such decadence freaks like me.

Bratislava

A missing house which left its trace on the surviving neighbor’s wall:

Bratislava

I wonder how many more years these houses will last. The on eat the end of the lane doesn’t seem to be doing particularly good anymore.

Bratislava

13th century St Martin’s Cathedral. A place to warm up your frozen limbs before continuing your explorations:

Bratislava

Old pharmacy with a small opening for giving out prescription drugs?

Bratislava

The most famous bridge in Bratislava aka Most SNP and one of the city’s symbols since the 1970s. Also features a restaurant on top of the UFO-like tower. In that kind of weather it just lacked some lights to compliment the picture.

Bratislava

The remains of the city wall and the houses crawling up the hill crowned by the Bratislava Castle:

Bratislava

Frozen garden inside the reconstructed Bratislava Castle. This cloth is used for shielding the trees.

Bratislava

A frozen alley close to the National Theater. Looking all like Paris or Vienna (as I discovered later on).

Bratislava

Misty Danube after I’ve recharged my camera and went for a walk to the river. Children were playing hockey on the ice. Well, it’s not technically Danube, this is an intermediary stream Karloveske Rameno that I’ve crossed over to reach the real Danube. There’s also a Water Museum there.

Bratislava

I went up to see the city from the Bratislava Castle hill several times. The castle itself did not impress me much- it has been heavily renovated (or rather recreated) as it fell in disrepair and remained in ruins until 1950s. Although every magnet or postcard features the Castle as the most recognizable symbol of the city, I preferred the view from the Castle. They say you can see Hungary on a fine clear day from up there:

Bratislava

On one of the days I went to yet another castle, Devin Hrad or Devin Castle, one of the popular attractions very close to the place where my dear friend lives. It is situated at the confluence of Danube and Moravia rivers, a very fine spot!

Devin Hrad

It’s one of the most ancient castles in Slovakia, And as is common with (remains of) the castles, the view from the top is worth all the climbing and entrance fees 🙂

Devin Hrad

It was a windy day with some glimpses of sun so I could enjoy the scenery and was almost blown away when I got to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, the very top part of the castle was closed (it’s winter after all) so I could only wander round the lower towers.

Devin Hrad

That small tower is called the Maiden tower and immediately attracts your attention (and there’s of course a number of legends built around it). Love the sheer bulk of the castle, the massiveness and the roughness of the stone against the riverside background:

Devin Hrad

Remains of a 9th century church with the only thing still intact – the view over Danube. After all, the name of the castle, Devin, actually derives from the Slavic word for seeing, although other interpretations include such meanings as ‘the place of evil spirits’ or ‘castle of the girl’ among others.

Devin Hrad

On my last day in Bratislava we made a walk in the city center – and there was sun, finally. It looked even prettier with the sun, especially through the stained glass window – just like a fairy tale town!

Bratislava

These pictures were taken from inside the Town Hall which is now a museum:

Bratislava

You don’t need a monocle with these windows 🙂

Bratislava

All in all I really liked the country. I didn’t see much but I could grasp the easy-going spirit of the place (and I enjoyed the language too!). There’s something to the Eastern Europe that makes it closer to my heart. It’s not that fixed as the Western Europe and thus less predictable.

Bratislava

And yes, you can purchase locally produced sheep and cow-milk cheese and yogurt from a vending machine at the public transport stops. None of your chocolate bars or fizzy drinks please! 🙂 We’ve tried this cheese, called Mini Parenicky, which reminded me of suluguni:

Bratislava

Here pictured with spaetzle, cottage cheese and some salad. It was a very nice lunch we had at my friend’s place before I grabbed my rucksack and set off for my long way back home.

The following posts will be about Vienna and Prague.

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

 

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

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.