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.

no recipe · St Petersburg

Towering over Your Head: Art Nouveau around Sadovaya Street

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

There are these buildings in St Petersburg that are ‘towering over your head’. First, they attract you by some detail that is more or less on the same level and of the same scale as you are. But you might not even be aware of how tall they are or what’s there on their top. So you just have to go back several steps, sometimes cross the street and take a thorough look from there.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Two weeks ago, before going to a ballet we made an Art Nouveau walk in the district surrounding the long and pretty straight Sadovaya Street in St Petersburg. I had a map with several buildings I wanted to see the most – all of them had to do with the Russian take on the Art Nouveau architecture. Sadovaya Street is a merchants’ street but it also has a decent amount of curious residential buildings, like this one:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

The first two pictures are of the department store built in 1903-04 by Schaub (now occupied by a wedding store for some decades already) and the one above is of the opposite building which was redesigned in the new ‘modern’ style to look more up-to-date in the beginning of the 20th century.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And this monolithic facade also underwent a redesign by the famous Russian-Swedish architect Lidval in 1907-1909 to house the Society of Mutual Credit. There’s an impressive two-storey hall with glass ceiling inside but no way to get there unless you actually work there unfortunately…

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Moving on along Sadovaya will get you to the very start of the Moskovsky Prospekt which has this 1907-08 corner building designed by Zazersky. It’s a somewhat late-period Art Nouveau which usually carries traces of the upcoming neo-classicist movement.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

You wouldn’t want to live / walk near this passage at all: some apparently very intelligent people have taken to use it as a toilet for years and years. Had to quickly make the photo and disappear not to disturb those people…

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Just opposite are these 1910-11 residential sister-buildings by Khrenov. This district which is adjacent to the popular Sennaya market used to be known as Vyazemskye trushchoby (Vyazemsky’s slum) back in the 1860-1880s. Public houses and a huge shelter for the homeless gave way to this “hygienic” late-Art Nouveau style dokhodny dom (tenement building).

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya
Walking further along Sadovaya you come to this 1899-1900 building by Nosalevich, looking just like a French chateau with lions and fleur de lys:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And now comes the cherry on top of the cake, the long and tall castle-like Dom Gorodskih Uchrezhdeny (House of City Institutions) built in 1904-1906 by Lishnevsky in the Severny Modern (Northern Modern) style which took its inspiration from the revival of the national styles and neo-romanticism in Scandinavia.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

It’s so tall and has such a long facade that I failed to get it into one picture. Let’s start analyzing it piece by piece, say, from the doors of its street facade adorned with a row of tall shop windows, all in different carved wood design:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya
Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

An opposite Stalinist building is mirrored in the doors:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And this is what you could have found behind these doors back in 1913: central city pawn shop, statistics bureau and its archive, city charity committee, six justices of the peace, hospital committee, public education committee, schools, merchants’ representative, city printing house,  city museum, 22 stores etc etc…

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

The first floors of this immense building is occupied by various social services for years on end, not all of which could preserve the wonderful interior intact. Or indeed make use of it in a decent fashion!

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

The inner court surprises you with its volumes and shapes – one of the signs of the upcoming constructivism in the architecture of the city. This is the staircase shaft from the outside:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And this is the interior wall making a rounded ‘mirror’ to the opposite wall:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And look who is there on the top – gargouilles? bats?

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Had to almost lie down on the ground to picture the entire skyline of the building and still couldn’t fit into one shot:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya
Same applies to the street facade – even from the other side of Sadovaya it’s just an impossible task to squeeze in this ‘castle’. The owls that you can spot on top of the gable is there thanks to a recent renovation (it disappeared some years ago). The two cavities of the tower also used to have two statues but they are gone.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

This monster of a building has left us truly impressed. And when I got home and read more about it, I figured out we haven’t seen even a third of what is still preserved in there. We’ll have to come back sometimes soon. Then we proceeded a bit off Sadovaya, to where the same architect (Lishnevsky) designed this castle-like residential house in 1908:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And finally, walking towards river Pryazhka, we came across this decadent in its neglect but still attractive sunny residential building (redesigned by Pereulochny in 1904-1905).

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

A take on the famous omega pattern propagated by Otto Wagner’s disciples:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

While we were walking along the streets, marveled by these architectural creations, we wondered if people who live inside actually care for all the beauty? Some of them apparently do, I frequently find testimonials on the architectural forums but… Sometimes we get such weird looks or even aggressive reaction from the part of the inhabitants when we arrive with our cameras and exclamations. I hope they are just tired of the numerous tourists and that’s it.

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

St Petersburg in March

Griboedova Canal, St Petersburg

I was just about to post these photos taken back in March to say goodbye to winter when we had a snow storm all of a sudden! I hope that this will not prevent the spring to take over…

Griboedova Canal, St Petersburg

I’m now reading Mikhail Prishvin‘s diary from 1930 and 1931 and he calls this first period of spring ‘the spring of light’. Look how light it is at 6 in the morning! I have a privilege to contemplate the sunrise from my 23rd floor every day:

Spring Light in St Petersburg

And then 12 hours later same day:

Spring Light in St Petersburg

The spring of light starts around February 20, I suppose, and by March 8 you can jog in the early morning and actually enjoy the first rays of sunshine. Now that the day is long you feel you can do more in one day: it’s a shame not to when the sun stays up so long!

Griboedova Canal, St Petersburg

Walking along the Griboyedova Canal makes you wonder why anyone might ever want to leave this city – it has everything! A special place on this planet indeed.

Griboedova Canal, St Petersburg

A few days before that walk in the spring sun, we went to a much needed and long-waited-for concert of the only Russian performer I actually love, Zemfira. The first time I went to her concert was 16 years ago and that was one of the strongest emotional experiences I ever got. Just love her music, her creativity, her voice, her talent. Love being part of the love that is exchanged between her and the people who love her. This shot was taken just before the concert – a warm evening and such a great concert!

Sunset

This post is a continuation to Spring in St Petersburg. The Beginning and it joins my St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · St Petersburg

Spring in St Petersburg. The Beginning

St Petersburg, Spring 2016

The frosty mornings do not discourage us. We believe that the spring has come to St Petersburg! Just a few shots of the city on a fine sunny day: we’ll walk together from the Summer Garden to Nevsky. Look at the clear ‘washed’ sky and the warm sun which is eager to melt this ice away!

St Petersburg, Spring 2016

The Summer Garden is in its transparent state now – when I walk along the Fontanka river, I can see though its bare trees. On some mornings the garden appears to be silver.

St Petersburg, Spring 2016

The crazy St Petersburg springtime sun – so very intense my eyeglasses become super dark immediately and my head starts aching. Two more things that distinguish the early spring in St Pete: wind and sand.

St Petersburg, Spring 2016

Going to this church soon to hear the choir performing Rachmaninov.

St Petersburg, Spring 2016

The pseudo-Russian style and the mosaics – so very elaborate that you can barely register all the details.

St Petersburg, Spring 2016

The grate of the Mikhaylovsky garden (belongs to the Russian Museum) which is close to the Church of the Saviour on Blood is one of my favourites. Its gates also feature some mosaics.

St Petersburg, Spring 2016

Soon it will all be covered in luscious green. Oh how we miss the green colour here in St Petersburg!

St Petersburg, Spring 2016

And here our short walk ends. We’re close to the Nevsky Prospekt and its busy crowds prevent you from observing the nature and its symbiosis with the city.

Adding this to the St Petersburg series.

G.

St Petersburg · sweet

Chestnut Coffee Cake and St Petersburg in February

St Petersburg in February

It’s March already and yet St Petersburg is treating us with a harsh winter comeback. As if the nature has just realized that it slept over all those days in December when it was warm and decided to have its revenge. We all hope for the best though!

St Petersburg in February

I took these photos while walking along the super windy Neva embankment back in the beginning of February. I don’t normally walk much around the city during the day so I grabbed at the chance to see the frozen river…

St Petersburg in February

…and the canals on the way there and back.

St Petersburg in February

The Hermitage and the space around it is usually so crowded with people that you just don’t get a single moment when there’s nobody there. However on that day there was just one group of tourists and I could take these rare-moments photos.

St Petersburg in February

I won’t tell you about the bureaucracy of the Hermitage and how very Soviet it looks from behind, when you have to deal with the back-office and not the touristy parts. It’s pretty much the same in all the state institutions which the contemporary Russia inherited from the USSR. People’s names and generations may as well change but the ways do not, they seem to be perpetrated with an impressive stubbornness.

St Petersburg in February

When walking back I passed this favourite spot of mine – the Prachechny bridge and the Summer Garden. Just a week ago it was closed because of all the water that flooded the park but now it’s more like Winter garden all over again!

St Petersburg in February

On the other day I was making my usual speedwalking to the place where I work and took these snowy pictures of the Inzhenerny (aka Mikhailovsky) Castle built for the emperor Pavel. By the way, I finally went there and saw it from the inside…

St Petersburg in February

…and it was boring! It’s a pity that with all those renovated halls and decorated ceilings they couldn’t make something authentic out of it – and I guess people just forget that they are in a castle (although a fake one) and treat it as an exhibition. It’s now a part of the Russian Museum and hosts a collection of portraits (which I find very boring) and a several temporary expos.

St Petersburg in February

However, the second part of my visit was way more interesting – a lecture about pop-art and popular culture at the Lectorium of the museum. The speaker was a very knowledgeable and truly hilarious man who actually translated both Lennon’s books into Russian back in the 1990s. And if you’re familiar with the texts and the playing around with words that Lennon was so fond of, you will understand what a challenge that translation (or rather re-construction?) that was! So now I got my copy of Lennon’s book signed: “In the absence of the author – signed by the translator” 🙂

St Petersburg in February

And now some food – which this time was quite experimental as first I had to roast the chestnuts and some of them burst in the oven 🙂 and then they wouldn’t cook through and wouldn’t peel either… I have tried chestnuts in jams but not baked so this time it was also a tasting experiment. And yes, for some reason I found chestnuts sold at one of the cheapest supermarkets in February and not in autumn when they are in season in our part of the world…

Chestnut Coffee Cake

1 year ago – Italian Sourdough Bread with Potatoes and Herbs

2 years ago – Sunflower Seed Rye Sourdough or We Need Sun Here

3 years ago – Thessaloniki

4 years ago – Mangoes and Rye to Welcome Spring

Chestnut Coffee Cake adapted from bonappetit.com will make a rather curious cake with a chewy chestnut and chocolate filling and a sugary topping. Visit the original website to get the entire recipe.

What I’ve changed: As I had no almond flour or meal I actually used some weird Korean tea made from almond + pumpkin seed + walnut meal. And for the chestnut filling, o-ho-ho, I had to roast the chestnuts I bought and then clean the oven because even though we cut a cross into their surface they just decided to burst out 🙂 As for the cake itself, I used strawberry yogurt instead of sour cream. I didn’t lined my pan with paper and yet the cake – which by the way rose nicely but then fell down – was easy to take out.

Chestnut Coffee Cake

Remarks: I would suggest using already roasted chestnuts – unless you’re a super chestnut-roasting professional, of course 🙂 Otherwise, the chestnuts might not cook through properly and your cake – just as mine was – will be a bit weird with quite chewy chestnut bits which added something, well, weird to the taste and the texture. I would also suggest covering the top with aluminum foil while baking as it got burnt in places and didn’t look as pretty as I would like it to.

Chestnut Coffee Cake

Result: Weird 🙂 But that was an experiment! The cocoa in the filling made it taste almost chocolately although there was no chocolate added. The sugary crust (topping) is very sweet but the filling is somehow not. Overall this cake is quite crumbly and nonuniform in the taste and texture. 

Chestnut Coffee Cake

This post goes to St Petersburg series and Sweet recipe collection.

G.

St Petersburg

Frozen Piter

Frozen Piter

I have gathered quite a collection of pictures with the frozen St Petersburg & Kolpino over these past days. The city looks much brighter with the snow & much better compared with the previous years thanks to the decision to stop using those nasty chemicals which created mud and ruined your shoes.

Frozen Kolpino

The shoes might still be ruined with the salt used to sprinkle the streets so that they become less slippery but the snow does really bring in the magic of winter.

Frozen Kolpino

Frozen berries, frozen cars, frozen front doors and handles, frozen canals and much more city space suddenly accessible thanks to the paths in snow across and over just about everything 🙂

Frozen Piter

After the irregular +12 ‘C in December the city has covered itself with a thick and warm white blanket. Most probably for good – the weather forecast promises mild minus temperatures throughout February.

Frozen Piter

If you’re not frozen all over yet (sometimes the temperature drops below -20 here) you can enjoy the winter sun and the winter fun too. I’ve always thought that winter is one of the two seasons most enjoyed by children and dogs 🙂

Frozen Piter

On some days you wake up to find the entire city turned into a subtle winter fairy tale, as if it’s all made from ice and you somehow start walking with great care not to ruin this fragile wonderland.

Frozen Kolpino

The sunsets are as always dramatic. With each day they come a little bit later and the day is gaining precious seconds and eventually minutes. Still it feels like everything around is in a deep sleep…

Frozen Kolpino

Winter sunrise is also picturesque – if we’re lucky to witness it:

Frozen Piter

The picture was taken last year when the ice was not still thick enough on the rivers and canals of the city. Now these have become extra streets and paths, and in theory you can cross all through St Petersburg via its waterways without a motorboat 🙂

Frozen Piter

Not only the Russian Museum benefits from this white frame. One of those Stalin-era residential buildings in Kolpino also looks better with all this snow around: its white decoration matches the snow on the trees.

Frozen Kolpino

Welcome to the frozen Piter!

Frozen Piter
This post goes to St Petersburg series.
G.

no recipe · travel

Marseille: Old Port and Traces of Civilizations

Marseille, France

I’ve made so many photos during this visit to Provence that I almost failed to identify some of them. Where was I? Ah, right… Probably next time I should pay more attention to what I’m seeing rather than to what I will then see on my computer screen. And yet the fact that I was travelling on my own made me feel each moment and each destination more closely, more vivid.

Marseille, France

I know it’s hard to ‘grasp’ the city or any place (but especially the city with its maze of streets and buildings) by just watching the photos. You do need to go there and experience it. But I will at least try to render the feeling I got from each of the places I visited during my trip. Here’s Marseille, the city I didn’t initially want to go to at all but then succumbed to its being a port and a place with such a long history. After all, if you arrive in the city’s airport (and even spend there a night – a whole experience! Like living in The Terminal) why not visit the city itself?

Marseille, France

Once I left the airport building I could feel I was somewhere close to Greece, which to me equals sea, magical aromas and colours and sights. Marseille was quite far from what the air and the temperature outside the airport promised, but it is a huge port with lots of traces left by the Greeks too. Marseille met me with rain and wind but at the same time the warmth and the overall aura of a Mediterranean city with the rich and inevitably neglected past that you tread upon and the no less neglected present (it’s dirty, what can I say). It’s just that it’s so huge and touristy that you somehow get lost and can hardly imagine the city as it used to be in the 1920-1930s when Marcel Pagnol wrote his plays (namely Marius, which I’ve just finished reading).

Marseille, France

I liked the Vieux-Port area (Old Port) with its numerous fishers’ unions, yachts and the view over the city crawling in all directions, here, there and everywhere.

Marseille, France

The old lighthouse, the fortress, the ships at the horizon, the brand new museum of the Mediterranean civilization, the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde Cathedral surveying the city, somewhat undecided tourists, ridiculous tourist trains and rare ever-in-a-hurry locals, the fish being cooked in every tavern and the mistral. The Greek Piraeus is Marseille’s sister-city – and this is a very accurate choice I should say.

Marseille, France

The sun was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds but in the end the weather did let me swim in the sea. Right within the city limits, the first official beach to the left of the port – and yet it was amazing… and there among hard-skinned locals was – of course – a Russian-speaking couple to keep me company 🙂 By the way, there is a free shower and stuff at the beach so that you can feel more human after a night at the deserted airport.

Marseille, France

At first when I was walking in the city I couldn’t really get the picture, what IS it, Marseille? But after going around the port and having a swim, seeing the city from a high view-point and eating some fromage blanc (which is a perfect kefir substitute in France 🙂 I think I did ‘get’ Marseille eventually.

Marseille, France

The city itself is such a labyrinth with traces left of all those civilizations, gone and still living. So many different people and so much information springing on you from all sides – a bit tiresome! The very and less old remains are interspersed with new buildings, and the usual French-city components add to the picture. I walked quite a lot in the city, seeing most of its sights attainable on foot – mostly guided by curiosity and not the frequent signs leading you in all the most popular directions.

Marseille, France

At that point I already had my ticket to David Gilmour’s concert in the pocket, printed out at the airport as soon as the FNAC boutique was open. In a way I was living those two days before the concert, well, as the days before the concert! In a way I was preserving my emotions and energy for the days to come (my usual mistake but sometimes it proves useful).

Marseille, France

I didn’t get to see Le Corbusier’s curious creations, so I think I will leave it for the next time 🙂 I would also love to visit the calanques (the closest I got to them was last year in Cassis) and the islands close to the city. I skipped the museum-going too, was too tired to consume any of extra information. I liked the railways station with its immense staircase and the palm trees reminding you of the city’s location. It had a completely different look when I saw it so rainy and windy in the morning!

Marseille, France

By the way, the ladies sitting with their backs to each ‘column’ have red cloth tied over their eyes. The justice is blind! Also noticed these sprayed ‘prints’ around:

Marseille, France

The Marseille’s trip checklist:

No markets visited or postcards bought, although I got myself stamps to various corners of the world at the post office in advance as I knew I would get nicer postcards elsewhere. No local food sampled either, nor museums to tell you about. And yet I would advise you to pay Marseille a visit, just to soak in the atmosphere and roam in its layers and layers of history on foot.

***

Marseille, France

Travelling alone is not all about me-time (and definitely not about feeling insecure!). It’s also a chance to get to know other people who would probably never approach you were you travelling in a company. It’s a chance to discover things in a sort of individualistic and yet a very insightful and intimate way. Will try not to forget that when planning my next trip somewhere.

Adding this to my Travel collection.

G.