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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street
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 around Sadovaya Street

Art Nouveau around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street
Art Nouveau around Sadovaya Street

An opposite Stalinist building is mirrored in the doors:

Art Nouveau around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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

Art Nouveau around Sadovaya Street

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

Art Nouveau around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street
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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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 around Sadovaya Street

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

Art Nouveau around Sadovaya Street

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

St Petersburg in March

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…

St Petersburg in March

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:

St Petersburg in March

And then 12 hours later same day:

St Petersburg in March

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!

St Petersburg in March

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.

St Petersburg in March

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!

St Petersburg in March

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

G.

architecture · 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.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Petrogradsky and Aptekarsky Islands in Details

Kuybysheva Street, St Petersburg

I’ve been quite a lot in and around the Petrogradskaya Storona (Side) of St Petersburg recently. Both Petrogradsky and the nearby Aptekarsky islands are pretty attractive in terms of the architecture of the late 19th-early 20th century.

Kuybysheva Street, St Petersburg

You see, these islands were originally used as a dacha territory (those were the islands already lying beyond the city limits) and the stone mansions were less frequent here than wooden houses for some decades. It was only later, closer to my favourite architectural periods, art nouveau and avantgarde, that the construction boom spread all over the Petrogradskaya side. And that is why these two islands have quite a young face.

Kuybysheva Street, St Petersburg

This part of St Petersburg evolved in its own separate way compared to the center of the city. And still today you can tell that this district has some specific aura around it, as if you enter quite a different city.

Kuybysheva Street, St Petersburg

Volumes and geometry. All these photos have been taken in various spots across the two islands and during several walks. Blisters and tired legs guaranteed 🙂

Kuybysheva Street, St Petersburg

Deciphering the city’s layers of history and culture – it’s amazing!

Kuybysheva Street, St Petersburg

Post of Russia mail box, converted from the Post of USSR.

Petrogradsky Island, St Petersburg

The inner yard of this 1933-38 late constrictivist residential building for the employees of Svirstroy. The red colour of the walls is original, distinguishing it from the rest of the constructivist creations. The building is pretty curious (some photos of the facades in my 2013 post). This sort of brutalism is somewhat more attractive than the Brezhnev’s era architecture. It has a longer history…

Petrogradsky Island, St Petersburg

Found this painted door advertising a house travel agency offering 5% discount to the residents. Doesn’t it look great, a painted advertisement? Or am I desperately old-fashioned? 🙂

Petrogradsky Island, St Petersburg

Found this uncommon decoration for a basement in a Stalinist house (actually, a recent addition) on Pesochanaya Embankment. Just found out it used to be Dom Khudozhnikov, a 1961 residential house + workshops for the Soviet artists (you know, it’s easier to control people when they’re all gathered in one place…). And during the Siege of Leningrad this spot was occupied by the city’s main radio station which was keeping the citizens alive.

Petrogradsky Island, St Petersburg

Don’t trust your own eyes – this quite avant-garde-looking building on Chapygina Street is actually a modernistic orphanage (1913-14) converted into an obschezhitiye (communal house, dormitory) in the Soviet period. Very curious volumes!

Petrogradsky Island, St Petersburg

Next to it is this 1936 residential building aka Admiral house. Although it is covered in columns and stuff as the official style would demand (Stalin’s neoclassicism), its brutal texture gives away the ex-preferences of the architect, a style by then fallen from grace – the constructivism… So Buryshkin (that’s the name of the architect) once the constructivism ceased to be accepted (he built among other things the Pravda newspaper HQ and a workers’ township similar to this one) became a ‘converted’ neo-classicist – actually, every architect just had to do that in order to continue their work.

Petrogradsky Island, St Petersburg

The craziest university building you can imagine. Brezhnev’s red-brick brutalism (1970s), the epoch that hardly interests me as the matter of fact. Looks like an unfinished factory or a crematorium… And yet my sister studied there. There’s a legend passed down from one generation of students to the other that the architect actually committed suicide once the building was finished. Judging from what a labyrinth it is inside with the staircases running in all possible directions, I shouldn’t wonder… Next to it is a beautiful modernistic building that you would definitely prefer studying at 🙂 – the oldest premises of the Electro-Technical University, aka LETI.

Petrogradsky Island, St Petersburg

This is one of the most well-known constructivist industrial building in St Petersburg – the 1925-26 switching station of Krasnoye Znamya (Red Banner) textile factory. Don’t be surprised that it’s situated on Pionerskaya Street running parallel to the Krasnogo Kursanta (Red Cadet) Street where the factory’s HQ are still located. But what this station so special about it is that it was originally projected by Erich Mendelson, the German expressionist architect, the first foreigner to design buildings for the young USSR. However, his original project was highly amended to such an extent that he renounced from his creation. A very futuristic thing in a sad condition, as is very often the case with the constructivist heritage. You actually have to get to this place in order to feel the weight of its history in full…

So much yet to see! I wish I had an entire life just for this 🙂

Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Backyards of St Petersburg

Goncharnaya Street, St Petersburg

Just as any other big city St Petersburg has its front-door face and its other side. And it has always been so. There is the ‘parade’ Petersburg as we call it (paradny), the official one, with the perfectly symmetric buildings and proper streets, and there’s the – actually – real life of the backyards. Both have been extensively described by poets, journalists and artists: everyone to their taste.

Goncharnaya Street, St Petersburg

When one talks about backyards, there are certain issues that are inevitable to discuss. With St Petersburg of the past you can be almost 100% sure to find a completely un-parade face (khm, face, is it?:) once you leave the flamboyant facades and choose the backdoor instead. The stark contrast can be quite shocking – both with its visual and the olfactory aspects. There are of course streets that are more consistent in their appearance – either nice and proper or dirty and stinky. There’s for instance Goncharnaya Street, just off Nevsky Avenue – very dirty inside and outside, especially in the summer, oh-oh.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

So let’s take a quick look at what you might come across when turning your back to the front and entering in through the out doors of St Petersburg. These photos apart from the first two were taken on the Aptekarsky Island of the Petrogradskaya Side.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

St Petersburg backyards are most famous for their blind walls built in a circle so that the actual backyard is limited to a ‘well’, hence the special term – kolodets – designating these well-like backyards in my city. A source of gloomy inspiration for many artists, these ‘wells’ actually get affectionately stuck in the hearts of those St Petersburg kids, who spent all their childhood and later years living in a very limited space. And that was the point – occupy as much of the territory with the living quarters cause it was (and still is) so expensive here. By the way, in order to get inside a building like this, unless you’re heading for a store or an office, you have to go into the backyard. Since these buildings are so very jostling each other, it’s not rare that the back walls have weird windows, just like these:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Or these:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Parts of the house on legs, windows built up with bricks…

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

…and unexpected decoration:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

A labyrinth of electric wires:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

And an even starker contrast:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

A window a bit out-of-place:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

A birch-tree growing a bit out-of-place too:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Century-old bricks and a car-shed:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Love the architectonics of multifaceted St Petersburg – both its front-doors and backyards 🙂

Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Indulging in Art Nouveau at Vitebsky Railway Station

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

Love the decadence of the early modernist buildings in St Petersburg. “Modern” is our Russian version of the French art nouveau or the German Jugendstil or the Austrian Sezession. It was created for the minority, for the rich and smart. In its sophistication, elaborate details and lavish (and expensive!) decoration it reminds me of the baroque buildings.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

But the modernism was much darker in its decadence than that of the baroque era. Already in the early 20th century the modernism preceded avant-garde with its functionalist ideas and futuristic glass, metal and cement structures appearing for the first time.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

But it was also the architectural style of the dying epoch, of the society and entire country soon to disappear from the maps. Reading about the turn of the century and the decadent lifestyle of a minority of the people and a hard life for the rest, “explains” in a way why the modern era was just doomed to be swept away by the new one. The days of modern were limited and its time was up.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

I can talk about modern on and on and on, indulging myself in every little detail. Let’s embark on a train journey which will take us to the Vitebsky Railway Station in St Petersburg. You might be arriving from Vitebsk in Belarus or from the royal residence Tsarskoye Selo. No matter where you’re coming from, you will be certainly amazed by the flavour of the days gone by long long ago still lingering there, in those surprisingly light-looking metal constructions.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

Vitebsk Railway Station or Vitebsky Vokzal, is one of the four major railway stations of St Petersburg. It was built in 1902-1904 by Brzozowski (this guy’s surname is no easier for Russians to pronounce either!) to replace a former – and the first in St Petersburg in general – station connecting the capital with the royal Tsarskoye Selo.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

I won’t go in much detail about the station, although it really is worth it, being something like a “book on modern”. You can read it just as people would read the cathedrals in the Middle Ages. I recently read a book on the public buildings built during the modernist era and there were many pages devoted to the Vitebsky Vokzal. It even made me just GO there again and look our for all the details, it’s literally opened my eyes! It’s just one of those places which you should experience at least twice – as a “user” and as an observer.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

And you know what? With this railway station, you don’t even have to distance yourself from the purely utilitarian side of the object, because the fact that this is not a museum or a secret palace but rather a place open to any class of the passengers, makes it even more attractive. They say that the modernist period was the first one when the architects finally started designing buildings from the inside – outside, meaning that they were focusing on the functional side of the building first and foremost and planning everything from that.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

The deliberately asymmetric building draws attention to it also by various details of all shapes and styles. Look at these almost some fairy-tale fish(?)-like (or Gaudi-like?) balconies and flower flagpoles, lion heads and city coat of arms, rectangular windows and a pioneer-large window which brings light to the main staircase:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

Here is the same window from the inside, with the stained-glass floral decoration characteristic of the modernist architecture:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

And here’s what you discover inside the hall with the main staircase:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

This hall is somewhat lonely, being to the right of the main entrance and thus and abandoned by the passengers now. But look up to the paintings representing the city view:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

and even the ceiling is worth looking at:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

You see, these days you do not enter through this East wing (I even prepared myself to find it closed to public), probably in order to preserve the newly reconstructed main staircase, the passengers have been redirected to the less posh but not less elaborate staircase in the West wing, under the clocktower:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

Oh those decadent modernists! It seems they had time and desire to pay attention to virtually every detail. And also that meant that the things they produced were there to last… The interiors of the Vitebsky station were co-designed by Sima Minash and they just blow your mind in terms of the multitude of details and the variety of styles, materials and at the same time the overall correspondence of one to another. Most of these interiors were lost, of course, but what remains and what was restored tells you a lot about the epoch when there was money even for the beautifully decorated halls for the third class passengers…, now a ticket and passenger hall:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

There’s also another entrance in the middle of the main facade – intended for the luggage departments and the ticket offices, with the straight metal marquee. Love the idea of incorporating the rain pipes into the structure’s carriers! These doors are also closed now:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

The ticket offices behind them have been moved up so the hall is mainly used as a waiting room with the wooden ticket booths occupied by the commerce. Here you can see it from the main staircase hall:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

When you get to the tracks on the second floor, you can spot this metal case which used to be ‘luggage lifting machine’, bringing the suitcases up from the ground floor to the trains.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

And yes, the tracks! A true metalwork masterpiece, immediately taking you back to the World Expo in Paris with its Tour Eiffel or the metal bridges that were being built during that period:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

No wonder that this station is featured in several Soviet movies about the 19th-early 20th centuries, like my favourite Sherlock Holmes series. The authenticity of the place was especially eminent during the Soviet period when there was little or no advertisement and commerce. However there was the not always true-to-the-source Soviet restoration the traces of which were removed over the latest 2003 restoration.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

In between the tracks and the passenger halls there is this corridor with the windows of the administration offices looking inside it, as if this was not a covered hall but a courtyard. That’s how the architect gained some more light for the offices (plus the glass ceiling) and also made this corridor look so interesting. The corridor is connected with the rest of the building by ‘bridges’ under which you see the luggage rooms on the ground floor. Here’s how it all looks from down there, unfortunately the spiral stairs are now used only by the personnel and the oooops toilet ehhm aromas make you rush through the queues to the lockers back to the open space:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

Although I made several rounds and up-and-downs across and along the building, I didn’t get the chance to see the restaurant apparently still being renovated and the already renovated Picture Hall or the Hall for first-class passengers, with pictures of the railways stations in the then Russian empire. Here’s a peak at it:

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

There’s also a separate (ex-) lavishly decorated Emperor’s pavilion, built for Nicolas II and his court. And yes, they had their own separate track leading to Tsarskoye Selo which was also connected to the rest of the city’s rail system. I got lost in the beauty of the main railway station and did not walk further to the pavilion… There’s still a lot to this railway station that you won’t have time for before your elektrichka to Pavlovsk or train to Minsk. Take a walk there JUST for the sake of the building and its beauty.

Vitebsk Railway Station, St Petersburg

And who would believe that a railway station could be that beautiful and intricate?

Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

G.