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 · St Petersburg

Tsarskoye Selo in Wait for Spring

Tsarskoye Selo

We went to Tsarskoye Selo right on the day when there was a blast in the St Petersburg metro. We were on the train when it happened so our escape from the city was very timely. Tsarskoye Selo is just a 30 minute train ride from the center of the city and yet it feels as if you really get into a different world and time.

Tsarskoye Selo

It’s curious that while being technically a part of St Petersburg Tsarskoye Selo is always some years behind – for me the town is stuck somewhere in the late 1990s – early 2000s. Although this doesn’t apply to the ex-royal residence and now a public park / museum, which is, well, out of time.

Tsarskoye Selo

In this time of the year – and on a work day – probably the most striking is the atmosphere in the park(s) of Tsarskoye Selo. There’s just literally no one there. The winter is not completely gone and the spring lingers to arrive, so there’s this feeling of in-between, of something suspended, waiting.

Tsarskoye Selo

The ponds are still covered with ice and the trees are graphic, resembling some black and white painting or shadow theater. Or simply ink spilled on paper.

Tsarskoye Selo

Just a few more weeks and the parks of Tsarskoye Selo will be teeming with tourists on any day of the week. But now you can still enjoy a solitary walk – or a solitary seat 🙂 And wait for the spring, open to all winds – and the view.

Tsarskoye Selo

But the birds are singing, they know the spring is very close.

Tsarskoye Selo

The color scheme of nature is brown – black – greyish white. More colors will arrive later. Can you imagine: all the colors, all the possible forms of life are there in the seemingly dead nature? Just wait and see.

Tsarskoye Selo

Here’s Tsarskoye Selo in spring, summer and autumn.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Avant-Garde Architecture at Narvskaya Zastava

Narvskaya Zastava

I started this post back in June 2016 when I was discovering new places along the red line of the St Petersburg underground. I took photos inside Narvskaya metro station having in mind an idea for a new walk – and later a blog post – around that area called Narvskaya Zastava (i.e. a frontier post leading to Narva). Which only happened in March 2017 when we went on the Avant-Garde Architecture excursion with the St Petersburg through Engineer’s Eyes project (the same one we went to re-discover the gorgeous Vitebsky railway station with). Unfortunately, the excursion did not turn out to be a huge success – neither in terms of the participation (we were just 7) nor with the actual participants. However, it made me see those crucial avant-garde place that I had been meaning to visit.

Narvskaya Zastava

The excursion started from the Narvskaya metro station, one of the first stations in the city opened in the south of the city in 1955. It was not built in the constructivist or any avant-garde style at all (although the very first Moscow stations were) but I think it’s worth stopping here for a while – especially in the light of the recent events in St Petersburg metro. Narvskaya’s ground pavilion looks pretty classical and routinely Pantheon-like, a leftover from the Stalinist architecture which after his death was doomed to die too. Very soon Nikita Khrushchev would take over the architectural line (as well as the power) and bend it in a very different direction, creating cheap faceless block of flats that people were only happy to move in. They are since called khrushchevki.

Narvskaya Zastava

I bet those doors in the background are there from the very beginning. I don’t normally like those bronze decorative things but here they look right. When you enter the station and go down, there are these marble bas-reliefs with sturdy never smiling (even the children!) Soviet people of various professions. All so solemn and out-of-this-world. As this entire district surrounding the station was largely a workers’ one, the station’s theme is all about labour and its glorification.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

I like these semi-circles of lamps, they look kind of art-deco-ish.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

It is true that the first users of the Leningrad metro were rather its visitors (and admirers). After all they were meant to be such – as these museums under ground, these temples of culture were supposed to cultivate and instruct those who would take the metro to work – and, well, work work work 🙂 Not much time for museum-going, you know.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

Now, more than 60 years later, people still wonder at these temple-like first stations of the Leningrad subway. We don’t have that an abundance of Stalinist stations compared to Moscow, but still you can spend quite a lot of time discovering those original stations. And not only them of course!

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

It’s a pity we use metro rather as… users now, we don’t have time for the details and rarely do we stop to admire them. The symbols keep loosing their meaning and I guess not all of the today’s passengers would tell you what this 1955 stand for. A similar grate but in silver can be found inside the Vosstaniya metro station.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

We didn’t really need a bus for this excursion really – it can be made on foot with no problems, most of the objects being pretty close to each other. Our first stop was at this school built to cater for the needs of a fast-growing workers’ district in 1927 – hence its name celebrating the 10 years after the October Revolution (Desyatiletiya Oktyabrya). They say it was built in a shape of hammer and sickle but there’s no official proof to that.

Narvskaya Zastava

The school is still functioning! It has this rounded wall with classes and an observatory tower (not used anymore due to light pollution) and there’s this weird interpretation of the hammer and sickle symbol pictured on the first photo of the post. The same architect, Alexander Nikolsky, created also a super progressive banya for 4000 customers a day located in the same district – the banya functioned until pretty recently but is now in such a state that I didn’t even try taking a photo.

Narvskaya Zastava

This is yet another constructivist public building in the district – a 1928-33 profilaktory (a health institution for preventing illnesses), now a hospital. With all the strive of that period for better and more effective, this profilaktory was designed to have continuous windows for more light (which never happened) and separate entrances for different groups of patients, etc etc. The years have had their toll on the building and now it has lost its avant-garde looks.

Narvskaya Zastava

Our next stop was at one of the local workers’ residential areas / townships or zhilmassiv. Like the one near Yelizarovskaya metro station (built in the same years, 1925-28) it has its own style and a signature detail: a semi-arch ‘growing’ from the wall. Nikolsky also participated in this project called Serafimovsky Gorodok as well as Gegello and Simonov. There are 7 houses and a laundry, creating a lot of space in the middle for a playground. That was one of the first projects of building an entire district in the city.

Narvskaya Zastava

Same architects were simultaneously building another workers’ township just a few blocks away, on Traktornaya Street – for the workers of the nearby Putilovsky, later Kirov Plant. Same signature semi-arch:

Narvskaya Zastava

And the rounded stairwells with a triangular canopy:

Narvskaya Zastava

This project is different in that it creates an entire street of 16 houses and not a square district with a playground in the middle. These neat houses came without bathrooms but with a niche for a perspective bath tub because at that moment the Soviet industry was incapable of making tubs 🙂 It’s a pity that with the active construction all across the district and the cars parked all over the place, this street doesn’t create the same effect anymore – it used to be some kind of a local landmark, with that school mentioned above at one of it’s ends and an arch at the other.

Narvskaya Zastava

Another must-stop of the district is the House of Soviets with a tall tower and quite a different aesthetics as it was built already in the early 1930s by architect Noy Trotsky (not to be confused with Lev Trotsky), known for his project of another House of Soviets in the Moskovsky district. They say that the building was faced with ground tombstones of a eradicated cemetery…

Narvskaya Zastava

I didn’t take any photos of yet another landmark of the Narvskaya metro station district which is situated right in front of the station pavilion – the local fabrika-kukhnya, a factory kitchen catering for the busy workers and their families. It is now so defaced and turned into such a mess of various signs that you can hardly recognize the original project by Barutchev, Gilter and Meerzon.  The same trio of architects also created fabrika-kukhnya on Vasilyevsky Island and in the Vyborgsky district. At first I thought these ‘stepping’ windows corresponded to the staircases but actually these are amphitheaters for lectures.

Narvskaya Zastava

And this is yet another constructivist project hidden behind the buildings on the Stachek square. Created by Gegello and Krichevsky in 1930-33, it housed some technical education institution and now it’s a store selling furniture… The ‘head’ of this building looks pretty familiar – it resembles Erich Mendelsohn’s Krasnoye Znamya factory’s power station on Petrogradsky Island.

Narvskaya Zastava

Our ultimate stop was in the local Dvorets Kultury imeni Gorkogo, Palace of Culture named after Maxim Gorky, a must that would adorn every large city of the Soviet Union, otherwise called Dom Kultury, house of Culture, if talking about a smaller town (I’ve definitely written about palaces and houses of culture in one of my posts about Kolpino). We actually had a chance not only to enter the building but also visit some of its parts hidden to the general public. Although this originally avant-garde creation of 1925-27 (architects Gegello and Krichevsky) has been heavily uglified by various add-ons throughout the years (this is how it looks now), it’s one of the city’s best preserved authentic palaces of culture.

Narvskaya Zastava

We had a chance to stand on the stage looking into the rows of chairs. These red chairs are here from the 1920s, can you believe that? The ribbon-like boxes look cool. Although I do not really like the color scheme 🙂 I only once was in this concert hall as a spectator – and that was when I knew nothing about the building, which is – as many constructivist creations are – almost like a machine or an organism with many functional sections and layers.

Narvskaya Zastava

This curvy corridor / gallery uniting two parts of the building is now closed and taken over by the flower pots. It runs on top of the concert hall with its windows looking out to the Stachek square.

Narvskaya Zastava

Some remains of the past in the library – it also has wooden bookcases with a 1930-something metal stamps on them. The library looks really sad with its old books and as we could gather – almost no readers at all. And here’s the staircase with the original wooden railing:

Narvskaya Zastava

It’s clear that in the today’s world it’s too hard for such an organization to survive without renting out its premises to various shops and clubs, so the building looks pretty patchy both inside and outside. It leaves an impression of slowly but steadily dying organism. Almost 90 years later it still carries out its function as a local center of culture and sports but it’s been attacked by the parasites for too long.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

G.

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

Vitebsky Railway Station through Engineer’s Eyes

Vitebsky Railway Station

There are places in St Petersburg that take you on a journey through time. One of such places is actually intrinsically connected with journeys – and time: Vitebsky Railway Station, the Art Nouveau jewel. So let’s indulge into the intricate details of a seemingly utilitarian place.

Vitebsky Railway Station

It seemed to me I’d covered most of its treasures: its Otto Wagner-like details, innovative steel constructions and atmosphere of the beginning of the 20th century (here is my rather detailed post on Vitebsky railway station).

Vitebsky Railway Station

But a recent excursion with the project St Petersburg through Engineer’s Eyes proved me wrong: there were many more hidden treasures to this place than I would have thought.

Vitebsky Railway Station

Also thanks to my Mom (who were brave enough to join this excursion while still having her arm cast. She would later join me on another trip – and now she has her other arm in a cast 🙂 – but that is a different story) I could notice even more details that would have escaped me otherwise. For instance, the tiles on the floor caught her attention.

Vitebsky Railway Station

Another detail we saw at least twice in the building – the mechanism for moving the chandelier up and down to change the candles, now substituted by a row of switches.

Vitebsky Railway Station

This time we also paid more attention to the structure of the railway station – and for the first time did we actually realize that all these ship-shape steel rivets were hand-made!

Vitebsky Railway Station

The guide told us about the process of riveting, that the team would consist of four members, namely the heater, the catcher, the bucker-up and the gunman (you can find a description of the process here). You surely must have seen those crazy photos of the construction workers having their lunch up there in the sky while building the Empire State or some other skyscraper. Countless rivets! 

Vitebsky Railway Station

Look at the structure here: there is the luggage storage room on the ground floor, whereas on the second floor there are offices (seen in the background), waiting rooms (to the left) and the entrance to the platforms (to the right), also situated on the second floor due to the high railway tracks.

Vitebsky Railway Station

It looks as if you’re outside because of the drain pipes and the windows looking inwards but it’s not! You can’t take the iron staircase anymore but you can cross the “bridges”.

Vitebsky Railway Station

This is what you would see on the ground floor to the left:

Vitebsky Railway Station

And then up we went to the very roof of the station. It felt pretty weird standing on the top of it and looking at the very structure holding the roof and the cupola – laboriously executed by the hands of many nameless people.

Vitebsky Railway Station

There were other places in the building that we were able to see this time, for example the waiting hall for the first-class passengers. I used to think it as not open to public and used for some high-class delegates or something (the doors were closed) but it turns out it can be admired freely by anyone (also see the very first picture of the post).

Vitebsky Railway Station

The curvy Otto Wagner-like wooden structure to the right of the mirror indicates the now walled up entrance to the first-class restaurant.

Vitebsky Railway Station

They say the restaurant will resurrect soon – we were allowed in to see what is left of the beautiful round hall with big windows, balconies and this wooden cupboard.

Vitebsky Railway Station

I really hope that they wont turn it into a posh place with prohibitively high prices which is what happened to several Art-Nouveau buildings in St Petersburg, their style being traditionally associated with something aristocratic and expensive.

Vitebsky Railway Station

Peacocks decorating the ceiling:

Vitebsky Railway Station

And this is yet another ceiling – in the waiting room for the princes. Interestingly enough, back at the beginning of the 20th century Art Nouveau was too new to be associated with aristocracy and so the royal family would rather have their chambers decorated in a baroque style or something more classical.

Vitebsky Railway Station

Still not discovered – the separate pavilion for the tsar – or should we say a separate railway station with a separate railway line. Now looking pretty run-down from the outside but apparently nicely renovated inside for some luxury offices.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

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.