Greek recipe · pies · vegetarian

Tvorog Pie with Greek Horiatiko Pastry

Horiatiko fillo

My sister came back from her Greek trip some weeks ago and brought us gostintsy (souvenirs) from the sunny country. We now have our stock of oregano refilled and I have new Greek books which will help get me through the winter. And there was this herby olive oil from Corfu as well:

Horiatiko fillo

That was a good excuse to make one of my favourite things when it comes to savoury and comfort food – pies. A successful marriage between Russian fresh cheese filling and elastic Greek pastry made with olive oil was it, and as I had no Greek alcohol required for it too, I used some (pseudo) Russian vodka. The pastry recipe comes from Dina Nikolaou, Greek chef who travels around Greece and then presents the region from the gastronomic side of life on TV. The great thing about this pastry is that it doesn’t need lots of time to rise – it actually only rests half an hour in the fridge and then the yeast makes its magic right in the oven, rising the pastry just enough to be soft and not enough to get all soggy! Teleio!

Horiatiko fillo

1 year ago – Orange and David Gilmour

2 years ago – An Autumn Day in Lappeenranta, Finland

3 years ago – Bread-therapy for a Tired Traveller

4 years ago – Autumn Colours and Karelia

5 years ago – Creamy Peach Tart and Kitchen Reborn

Tvorog Pie with Greek Horiatiko Pastry (pastry recipe adapted from Village Pastry with Olive Oil, Horiatiko fillo me elaiolado / Χωριάτικο φύλλο, με ελαιόλαδο from dinanikolaou.gr) will make a Greek-size pie with a soft filling and just enough pastry (I know I’ve said this about so many pies but you just can’t keep yourself from saying this when you taste it!).

Ingredients:

for the pastry (enough for 2 big pies):

  • 500 g all-purpose flour
  • 30 ml or about 3 Tbs olive oil (I had to add some water too)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 30 ml milk (mine was 2.5% fat)
  • 8-10 g fresh yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup (100 ml) lukewarm water (I used 1.5 tsp active dry yeast instead)
  • 2 1/2 Tbs tsipouro or ouzo (well, I had to go for vodka!)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the filling (enough for half of the pastry recipe):

  • 500 g 5% fat cottage cheese / quark (tvorog) – might as well be feta or brynza or a mixture
  • leftover mashed potatoes (optional but good)
  • some grated hard cheese
  • 2 small eggs
  • fresh herbs like spring onion, coriander and parsley, chopped
  • salt, pepper, dried oregano and seasoning like khmeli-suneli

Procedure:

First, make the pastry: Place fluffed flour in a big bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in olive oil, beaten egg, milk, yeast with the water it was dissolved in, tsipouro / ouzo / vodka and add salt and pepper. Knead lightly with your hands until you get soft and flexible dough. (Here I had to add a bit more water cause my 500 g of flour seemed like a lot for the indicated amount of liquid). Divide the dough into 2 equal parts, wrap in plastic foil and place in the fridge for 30 minutes (I left them there for more than an hour).

Meanwhile, prepare the filling: Mix all the filling ingredients (a good idea would be to add all except eggs and try it for salt) and put aside.

Now you can proceed with assembling the pie: Take one piece of the pastry and roll it out finely on a floured surface (I used only one piece of the dough both for the bottom and the top layers). It should be larger than the baking dish you’ll be using so that the borders are covered too. Place it onto your greased / laid with parchment paper baking dish. Roll out the second piece (or the leftovers from trimming the overhanging edges, which I did) to the very size of your baking dish – this will be the top layer.

Place the filling evenly on top of the bottom pastry layer and cover it with the top layer, pinching the edges. Don’t forget to cut slits in the top layer to help escape the steam (and occasional cheese liquid).

Bake in the preheated to 200 ‘C oven for about 30 minutes. The pie should start getting brown on the top (the top layer got browned faster than I expected so keep an eye on it).

Horiatiko fillo

Remarks: You will get more pastry than you would need for a very big pie (I baked my pie in the biggest cast iron pan we have, greased). I’m keeping my second half wrapped in the freezer for future comfort-food pies.

Horiatiko fillo

Result: The pastry is just perfectly elastic and keeps shape nicely – it also rolls out easily after its rest in the fridge. The filling was a bit too bland to be called Greek, so I would suggest adding either more salt or a different kind of cheese like the salty feta or brynza (super-salty brine cheese) or at least making it 50/50 with the cottage cheese.

Horiatiko fillo

When you take the pie out of the oven, the pastry is all smooth at first but then these nice cracks appear on the surface patricularly when you cut your huge slices. And the top of this pie is also crunchy, oraia!

Horiatiko fillo

To make your life even more comfortable and cozy in this cold season (we’ve somehow skipped the autumn here and headed straight into oh-no winter, you just read some Moomin stories!

This post goes to country-specific recipes and Lunch / Dinner suggestions where you will find more Greek / Greek-inspired pies.

G.

bread · Greek recipe · pies · vegetarian

Greek: Grandma’s Cheese Pies and Homemade Village Bread

(Greek) Grandma's Cheese

I’ve got two Greek recipes to share with you: cheese pies and bread. Both recipes call for whole-wheat flour which in Greece is not that very common unless you really turn to home or rather village cooking. And that’s exactly what I like in cooking – let’s walk on the rustic side of it!

(Greek) Grandma's Cheese

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

(Greek) Grandma’s Cheese Pies or Tiropitakia tis giagias (Τυροπιτάκια της γιαγιάς) translated and adapted from bettyscuisine.blogspot.com will make lots of pies with rubbery cheese filling – a Greek version of hand pies. Beware (:) the entire recipe will make about 40 big pies! I halved the recipe and yet got about 2 trays of pies 🙂 See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg whole-wheat flour
  • 1 Greek yogurt case – was not sure about the volume so added about a cup for 500 g flour, using a mixture of milk and kefir
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup olive oil + added salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 700 g Feta, crumbled with a fork – I used a 250 g pack of 5% fat tvorog (cottage cheese) + 290g Adygea cheese (for all three fillings) + fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. Second filling was some cooked millet and third – Adygea cheese + green onions, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper

(Greek) Grandma's Cheese

Procedure:

Mix flour with yogurt (I would suggest adjusting the amount of liquid accordingly), soda, eggs and oil. Knead well and divide into pieces (I also let the dough rest about 20 minutes which made it softer). Roll each piece into a round disk and place a spoonful of the filling on one side. Cover the filling with the other side of the disk and pinch the edges. You should get crescent-shaped pies (I also tried other shapes, see remarks). Place the pies on a greased baking tray (I used a silicon mat) and bake at 200 ‘C for 20 minutes (before baking I sprinkled the pies with some water).

(Greek) Grandma's Cheese

Remarks: My pies took exactly 20 minutes to bake – no matter what shape I used. First I thought about making small pies just like pelmeni (or Russian ravioli) but soon got tired of all the rolling, cutting and pinching, so made medium-small pies with the rest of the dough. And I should really warn you that we’re dealing here with a truly Greek recipe that will feed all your relatives! 🙂 So I would suggest making only half of the dough recipe or you might end up with no filling! Even with half of the dough I still had to invent more filling options thus adding fresh herbs (rosemary was good!) and using both cottage cheese and soft white cheese.

(Greek) Grandma's Cheese

Result: I tried the smaller pies right out of the oven – they were hot (apparently) and rather rubbery with all the soft cheese inside. If you’re using real Feta (lucky you!) I bet your pies will be quite salty and won’t need any special spicy twist to them (the dough might seem a bit bland even with the added salt). You can serve these as a starter – or if you make them big as the author suggests, they can become your lunch or dinner! 

(Greek) Grandma's Cheese

***

Homemade Village Bread

I’m still looking forward to finding that very recipe which will result in the super soft and super whole-wheat rustic bread I ate almost each day at the free (!) student canteen in Thessaloniki. Gosh, even my parents remember it! 🙂 I guess the thing was in the flour which was rough but yet gave that wonderful flavour to the bread. And it was soft too – with a crunchy crust. Oh, that bread was perfect… So here’s what I call the Greek size:

Homemade Village Bread

Homemade Village Bread or Khoriatiko psomi spitiko viologiko (Χωριάτικο ψωμί σπιτικό βιολογικό) translated and adapted from www.sintagespareas.gr will make a huge flagrant bread with super soft crumb and yet all those healthy bran bits inside. See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg ‘village’ flour (whole wheat) – made a mixture of whole wheat + all purpose + wheat and rye bran + some oats for the topping
  • 2 packages of instant dried yeast – used less
  • 500 ml lukewarm water – had to use more
  • 1 shot of olive oil (Greek, please!)
  • 2 tsp salt

Procedure:

In a big plastic bowl (not necessarily🙂 mix all the flour with the yeast. Add salt and gradually pour in the lukewarm water, mixing well with your hands (yep, that’s how you do it!). Knead vigorously so that it becomes soft. Cover the bowl with a towel and a blanket (I just used plastic). Leave the dough to double in size in a warm place for at least 2 hours.

Then add the oil and knead well again. Place the dough in a greased and floured baking pan (preferably a large thick non-stick pan or tray). Slash the surface (I also brushed it with olive oil + sprinkled oats). Preheat the oven to 180 ‘C for 10 minutes, place the bread on the middle rack and bake it for about an hour (I had to move it to the lower rack at the end and baked just 55 min.).

When the bread is ready, take it out of the oven and out of the pan and leave it on a rack so that it gets rid of all the moisture inside.

Homemade Village Bread

Remarks: With all its Greek dimensions the bread did bake through! However, if you’re not planning to gobble this entire loaf at once (which you will surely do if you try just a bit!) and would prefer to freeze a part of it, I would suggest baking two loaves out of this recipe. I eventually cut the bread in – still – huge pieces and froze them. Beware of the burning top – I had to move the pan to the lower rack as the oats started burning and the voluminous top was menacing to reach the upper heater.

Homemade Village Bread

Result: The crumb is really very soft – and crumbly while the crust is… you get it, crusty! :). It’s hard to slice this bread properly – but I’m sure you will manage without perfect slices! This bread won’t keep well because a). you will eat it fast no matter how huge it is and b). the crumb has lots of moisture in it.

Homemade Village Bread

Hope I’ve given you a desire to bake some nice rustic Greek food. Ideal at the end of the winter (let’s hope we’re getting there soon!).

This post goes to Lunch / Dinner, Leavened Bread and Greek recipe collections.

In neverending search for wonderful food, always yours,

G.

pies · vegetarian

Cheese and Herbs Qutabs, Azerbaijani Pies with a Russian Twist

Cheese and Herbs Qutabs

Let’s have some savoury dish for a change. This time it’s going to be a recipe for Qutab from the Azerbaijani cuisine but with a certain Russian twist. I recently tried a similar fried filled bread from Turkey called gozleme traditionally made with white brine cheese. Both recipes are easy to make and do not require lengthy dough preparation. You can make them with meat or other fillings but I just love the cheese + herbs combination. For both recipes I used suluguni cheese mixed with some tvorog (cottage cheese) for the lack of proper brynza, and whatever is available from the fresh herbs.

Cheese and Herbs Qutabs

The Russian twist is ensured by the addition of rye flour to the dough. I doubt that in Azerbaijan they eat rye qutabs (rye flour is characteristic of the Northern parts of Russia rather than Azerbaijan!) but at the same time this adds some extra flavour (and a bit of wholesomeness) to the somewhat heavy dish. You might want to make a 100% white flour dough or mix in some whole wheat flour. Whatever your choice, heat your sturdy cast iron pan and let’s make the qutabs!

Cheese and Herbs Qutabs

1 year ago – Vyatka, City of Snow that Dreams of Summer

2 years ago – Two Spinach Pies and Spinach…Rice

3 years ago – French Bread

4 years ago – Two Rrrrrye Breads (Raisin and Riga)

Cheese and Herbs Qutabs translated and adapted from perfectfood.ru will make a chewy and vegetarian version of the Azerbaijani pies. Check out the original website for the video recipe (understandable even without any knowledge of Russian). See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients for 9-10 qutabs:

For the dough:

  • 150 g rye flour (can substitute with whole wheat or all-purpose flour)
  • 150 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 Tbs sunflower oil
  • water – as much as the dough will take

For the filling:

  • 100-150 g cheese, hard and /or soft (Adygea, brynza, paneer…) – I used fat-free cottage cheese and Suluguni
  • 300 g of herbs of any type, can use spinach, sorrel, nettle, etc. – I used dill, parsley, spring onions and coriander
  • salt, according to your cheese (I also added pepper)

For the sauce (optional):

  • matsoni or natural yogurt or smetana (sour cream)
  • garlic, couple of cloves

Procedure:

In a bowl mix the flours, add salt and oil. With your hands rub oil into the flour mixture, so that it’s distributed evenly. Gradually add water and mix until you have a very soft sticky dough. Cover the bowl and leave the dough to rest for 10 min.

Meanwhile prepare the filling. Finely chop the herbs. If you’re using nettle, first scald it with boiling water and then chop it (the nettle will thus lose its stinginess). Finely grate the cheese and mix in with the herbs. Add salt.

Flour the work surface and your hands. Pinch off a piece of dough that will fit in the palm of your hand. Roll it out into a flat round. Place some filling on one side of the dough leaving the edges free. Then fold the other side over the filling and seal the edges with a fork.

Place a dry skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat (no greasing required!). If your pan is big enough you will be able to cook 2 qutabs at a time. Cook 1 minute, then turn the qutabs over and cook 1 minute more (my qutabs needed more time – I also baked only 2 and then placed the dough and the filling in the fridge for a later use).

Serve immediately with the matsoni and garlic sauce, dipping the qutabs into the sauce. The sauce can be made in advance so that it gets the most out of garlic flavour: press several cloves of garlic into matsoni, mix and place in the fridge. For the lack of matsoni you can use natural yogurt or smetana (sour cream).

Cheese and Herbs Qutabs

oh that melting cheese!

Cheese and Herbs Qutabs

Remarks: I would rather call the rye dough pretty bland (although it contained salt) but the filling was pretty salty (didn’t pay attention to the saltiness of the cheese). Also, next time I would roll the dough really thin cause it was quite chewy. You can also experiment with the sizes and the amount of filling – some of my qutabs were a bit too big 🙂 These are best eaten hot – so I suggest cutting the dough recipe by half. I ran out of cheese with that much of the dough and had to use mashed potatoes with the leftover cheese filling for the last qutabs.

Cheese and Herbs Qutabs

Result: Easy pies with melting cheese? Count me in! Perfect with some greens on the side and a lot of kefir (for the lack of traditional matsoni). Also no problem with keeping these pies in the fridge and reheating them later.

This post goes to Lunch / Dinner and the country-specific recipe collections (first Azerbaijani recipe!).

G.

on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Where to Eat Out in St Pete – A Selection

Khachapuri i Vino, St Petersburg

Some time ago I wanted to make a series of posts on various St Petersburg cafes which seem to be experiencing a particular boom right now. Some of them disappear, new ones spring up and I’m in no way able to keep up with this process. So in the end I combined my posts into one, offering you a selection of two national cuisine places and one spot for just hanging out.

Let’s first talk about a small cafe situated on the corner of the streets with super-Soviet names (one of them is Socialist and the other is called after the Pravda newspaper) – Khachapuri i vino (Khachapuri and Wine), immediately announcing two probably most beloved items from the Georgian cuisine (at least for vegetarians) – the cheese pie and the wine. Georgian cuisine has always been popular in Russia. It’s the ideal get-together comfort food which is supposed to be quite hearty, fatty and well, abundant! There’s also this sharing side to it which you will also find in the Greek tradition (sharing meze, the appetizers, etc). I think I know more Georgian cafes in St Petersburg than places with Russian food. And since the Georgian and Caucasian dishes have long been considered a must on the Russian table, I usually prefer to go there instead of trying to find something ultra-Russian.

Khachapuri i Vino, St Petersburg

It is probably one of the cheapest places to eat khachapuri as normally they cost twice as much (the least expensive was cheaper than soup). Although the size is also considerably smaller which however helps if you are not that super hungry to devour an entire pie (remember that the Georgian – and Caucasian in general –  portions are big ones!). So I would say that the prices are medium, probably because this is a cafe and not a restaurant. I’ve just discovered that they have opened another cafe, also in the center.

Khachapuri i Vino, St Petersburg

We saw the lady who is in charge of the kitchen and I think she really knows her stuff 🙂 Also my father who grew up in the Caucasus appreciated the meat and the kharcho soup he ate there. As for me – and this is unfortunately almost a rule – as a vegetarian I have to choose between something with dough or a salad / soup. I didn’t really like it there as the salad (pictured above) was not that very fresh and the khachapuri was a bit too thin on the cheese-side than I would expect. I can’t recall if we tried the wine there but judging from the name it should be at least quite varied there. Ah, now I remember that I drank berry juice, mors.

***

The other cafe with a national cuisine is Bekitzer which is situated in this very building (the top of the tower is occupied by an artist), the spot is known as Pyat’ uglov or Five Corners. Four streets meet and create this well-known central place in St Petersburg. Rubinstein Street where this cafe is located is actually one of those restaurant streets of the city: almost every building houses some sort of a food place!

Pyat Uglov, St Petersburg

The cafe positions itself as a Jewish street-food bar – the idea exactly is to re-create such a place where all kinds of people can meet and eat. When we were there back in summer 2015 we did feel as if we suddenly moved to a busy  street somewhere in Israel, with people talking very loudly, the open kitchen and open doors. I don’t know how it looks like in winter but if you are searching for a quiet place, this is not one for sure 🙂

Bekitzer, St Petersburg

We had some falafel with humus and a lentil salad which we decided to finish with this great Napoleon-style cake (and here I mean the traditional layered Napoleon cake with lots of cream inside which is so adored by Russians) which is much lighter than the original and is made with matzo flatbread instead of pastry. I would definitely recommend trying it – especially on such a plate! 🙂

Bekitzer, St Petersburg

The food, the plates and the design are pretty zesty and bright. As for the prices, I would call this a rather affordable place where you can sample such dishes which you will hardly ever come across in most of the places in the city. They also have take-away service as a street-food place would and you can even try and celebrate your special day there with a company – and though you will obviously strain your vocal cords, it will be a very loud celebration 🙂

Bekitzer, St Petersburg

They say the designers tried to recreate some of the graffiti you can find in Tel Aviv. We were sitting just next to the open kitchen and observing the process of food making. I also like the fact that they chose this rough and ostensibly minimalist style which adds to the authenticity of the place. There’s also a long bar opposite the entrance – with the limited sitting space inside I guess it’s the only chance you can find a sit there in the evenings.

Bekitzer, St Petersburg

***

And finally one of the places operating according to the time-spent-in-the-cafe principle, called Anticafe in Russia. You pay by the hour and get some tea and cookies as a bonus. There are usually some games, books and even musical instruments. I cannot say anything about the cuisine though, as I have only tried tea there. The menu usually includes things like cookies, sandwiches etc but it can be more varied and substantial than that too – normally without any particular ‘specialization’. By the way, I have the same electric (!) samovar from the late 1980s:

Miracle Anticafe, St Petersburg

We have a number of such places all over the central St Petersburg where people apparently need some space to meet, read or eat without being constrained to cede place for new customers. You can come and celebrate your birthday in such a cafe or use it for a presentation, a meeting of a club etc. These cafes also tend to turn into some kind of artsy places with concerts, lectures and stuff. This one is rather close to the Hermitage and it is called Miracle Anticafe. Inside it’s such a mixture of odd and just old objects that it’s somehow feels like you’re in a very cozy kommunalka with a view to a typical St Pete courtyard 🙂

Miracle Anticafe, St Petersburg

     and a typical St Pete wall (photo taken in late March 2015)

Miracle Anticafe, St Petersburg

I hope I have given you an idea of what St Petersburg cafes look – and taste – like!

Adding this post to my vast St Petersburg series.

G.

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

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

Staraya Ladoga, supposedly the first capital of Rus’, the ancient Russia, is a small village in the Leningrad region. As its name suggests, it is situated close to the Ladoga lake: it stands on the Volkhov river, the same one which flows all the way from the Ilmen lake upon which Veliky Novgorod stands and into the Ladoga.

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

The epithet Staraya, old, doesn’t only indicate its precedence to the New Ladoga (Novaya Ladoga) town founded by Peter the Great in 1703 (same year as St Petersburg), but mostly reminds us of the really ancient status of this place. The fortress was erected in the 12th century and later rebuilt in the 16th century.

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

The honorable title of the first capital of Russia is contested by many. The legend – obviously preferred by the citizens of Staraya Ladoga – has it that Rurik came here in 862 (Ladoga was there already for at least 100 years) and chose Ladoga as the capital. Rurik is a legendary Scandinavian chieftain who is said to be called on by the Slavic tribes to sort out all the problems and … rule over these tribes. And rule they did – all the way through the 16th century!

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

The weekend we visited Staraya Ladoga, it was all unusually crowded and swarming with people dressed in old Russian and Scandinavian clothes. There was a festival which we observed (or rather heard) from the other side of the river and which we ‘tasted’ by drinking some kvas and medovukha, a traditional honey drink (see people queuing in front of a ‘honey stand’). Inside the fortress walls there is a beautiful white-washed 12th century St. George’s church, as well as a history museum. We did not get inside the fortress this time though but will surely do once they finish restoring the church.

Buttermilk squares from www.hefe-und-mehr.de

There right opposite the fortress we had our breakfast with a no less traditional buterbrod (sandwich). The recipe I used is this one:

A year ago – Midsummer Roses in Pavlovsk and Almond Puff

Two years ago – St Petersburg Sky and All That Bread

Three years ago – Midsummer’s Black Currant Rhubarb Cake

Buttermilk Squares adapted from www.hefe-und-mehr.de will make flavourful and chewy buns perfect for sandwiches! Visit the original website to get the entire recipe. ATTENTION: requires an overnight rest!

Changes: Used instant instead of fresh yeast, made more buns than the indicated 12. Also – although smaller – my nuns took more time to bake.

Buttermilk squares from www.hefe-und-mehr.de

Remarks: The process is very easy although the recipe requires an overnight rest. No kneading! You might even turn these buns into your breakfast bread … if you can wake up early, preheat the oven and wait 60 + 20 minutes before the buns are ready 🙂

Result: We used these squares for our ‘travel’ sandwiches – and they proved very nice and ship-shape for such purpose. The buttermilk + a bit of rye flour fermented overnight make these buns really flavourful while the seeds add to the chewiness. As for the appearance, I particularly liked the diagonal slash on top 🙂

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

Close to where we made our buterbrod-stop, there was this wooden house with a Zinger sewing machine case (who knows, there might be no machine inside). Altogether it was a very blemished but stylish ensemble.

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

Before we finally got to the other side of the Volkhov river, to the fortress and the rest of the sights, we spent some time in Chernavino, a village with two old churches next to a cemetery (all that is left from a monastery) – one of which was especially curious, all asymmetric and non-straight. Just look at the cross…

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

and the walls…

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

And that’s what is so very attractive in these ancient Russian churches with their white walls and wooden decoration!

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

I even felt as if I was suddenly transported to Greece with its white churches… The loneliness of the place (though completely not sad) and the flowers and grass under the heat, helped create this rather Greek atmosphere.

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

Just love the volumes and the texture. And the colour!

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

In the end I took more pictures of this church than of the rest of the sights in Staraya Ladoga 🙂 If you are a fan of such curvy architectural marvels, you should definitely visit the ‘second’ capital of Russia, Veliky Novgorod, which is just packed with ancient churches!

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

When we finally crossed the river to the fortress, the place got pretty crowded, so we moved on to the rest of the sights, visiting first the Monastery of St Nicolas, founded in 1241 by Alexander Nevsky after his victory over the Swedes. When we first came here (by first I mean the first time during my lifetime) it was all abandoned, bearing traces of some Soviet student campus. Just a year later the works started to bring it back to life.

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

The main sight of the now much less shabby monastery (apart from the local boys diving from the pier) is this super smug and super well-fed cat, the star of the tourists:

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

The Volkhov river is a very atmospheric river. It also has these mounds (not the warehouses of course, farther, in the background!) where the vikings buried their dead. Another contested location – the death place of Oleg, Prince Igor’s regent, is supposed to be on one of these mounds (the legend has it that he was bit by a snake which escaped from the scull of his dead horse). For me, this is a very… strong place, sending me some very history-laden messages.

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

The river – and the port of Staraya Ladoga – played an important role on the way “from Varangians into Greeks”, of which all Russian kids learn first at school. It’s hard to imagine now that these banks were full of merchandise and vessels coming from the Baltic Sea to Constantinople!

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

Close to the main church of the village, the Precursor Church, is this wooden house with a domovaya (house) chapel. The house is preserved in a very pretty state (there’s some artist living there for sure), which you cannot say about a nearby brick house, apparently very sturdy still but all ruined and abandoned. And why these abandoned places are always so attractive?

Staraya Ladoga, the First Capital of Russia

Some practical information on Staraya Ladoga: A 2 hour elektrichka ride from the Moskovsky railway station will take you first to Volkhovstroy. From there you should take bus 23 to Staraya Ladoga. The fortress is open from 10 to 5 pm except Mondays. There’s also a merchant’s house open as a museum, several motels and eating places. In July they organize reconstruction festivals. The map with all the sights is here if you understand Russian.

Adding this to St Petersburg series and Yeast bread recipe collection.

G.

on USSR / Russia · travel

Kaliningrad in Spring: Ships, Sea and Robots

Kaliningrad, Russia

My first time in Kaliningrad was last autumn when the city was at its most haunting stage I guess. This time with the warm(er) Baltic climate the city was much homelier and less mysterious – or was it just that we somehow got used to it? Looking at my autumn post made me wonder how different the city might appear to you 5 months later – and how differently you can see the same things!

Kaliningrad, Russia

And we did revisit quite a lot of sights in the city – although we also saw the new stuff. I thought that these new places would just add up to that mixed impression of a heavily 1970s Soviet urban creature with the traces of its past hidden here and there. However, the city did not produce the same effect on me this time – even with all its almost autumn-like weather on the first day.

Kaliningrad, Russia

A mansion in Handel’s Street. I somehow came to a conclusion that Kaliningrad is in its essence is all about matted colours and surfaces. Including the 1960s-70s stuff, like this ehm prison block of flats.

Kaliningrad, Russia

It seems that the city was living off these buildings for so long without caring for the old nor constructing new, that the recent addition of the glossy buildings just doesn’t work: they stand out of the crowd so much! That creates a very special patchy cityscape. Like that in the very center of Kaliningrad where the newly reconstructed Fishers’ Village is:

Kaliningrad, Russia

In the background you can spot the ever-present 1970s houses with – at that time – innovative design blocks hiding the staircases between the floors. You can also see that the village’s lighthouse is already loosing its luster – the city’s spell is taking its own!

Kaliningrad, Russia

The Cathedral is also a reconstruction (the entire island used to be full of houses). I wonder how the city looked like before the 1990s when they started building it on the remnants of the original cathedral (preserved thanks to the assumed Kant’s tomb, Kant being revered by the Soviets). Well, it was 100% dominated by this robot’s head juuuust to the left of the cathedral:

Kaliningrad, Russia

We’ve started investigating into the history of the House of Soviets (Dom Sovetov) and we found out that it was almost completely ready back in the 1980s when after lots of cuts to the initial project and the long-long construction it was just abandoned. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had this interest in the abandoned or unfinished houses, they acquire some kind of a mystery about them, as if this disuse (especially unexplained) make them much less trivial as the surrounding buildings.

Kaliningrad, Russia

I also wonder how those constructors feel about this ambitious project they took part in – it’s right there in the center of the city, visible from all corners and should be a constant reminder to them. Especially with the fact that the city managed to install new windows and paint the entire building in 2005 for the sake Kaliningrad’s anniversary – or rather merely to let them be gradually knocked out by vandals. If you’re attracted by such monsters, you can even find videos online showing in what state the House of Soviets is inside.

Kaliningrad, Russia

Kaliningrad is one of those places where you have to know what to look at before you set out on your sightseeing. For example, you don’t just find old Konigsberg-time houses when you’re in the center, you have to look for them in the quiet streets just behind the main roads (like near Kutuzova or Telmana Streets). Although some of the old stuff is heavily covered with graffiti – which in this case was actually quite creative:

Kaliningrad, Russia

The white on the girl’s eyelashes are actually two girl names. Look also at the psychedelic colours on the left and here:

Kaliningrad, Russia

Red bricks are scattered around the city.

Kaliningrad, Russia

This street name is Tiles Street (similar named streets can be found in the district). According to the German tradition they have separate numbers (sometimes extra letters) for each entrance of a single house, which is a bit misleading, like when you realize that the street doesn’t actually count so many buildings as the map might suggest!

Kaliningrad, Russia

Just a random arch 🙂

Kaliningrad, Russia

And in order to see the Cathedral in this way you will have to get on Vityaz research vessel, which is a part of the city’s Museum of the World Ocean. A must as far as the museums go! I enjoyed the visit to this ship most of all – never been to such a classical vessel not to mention its rich history! I guess that this ship has something of that particular romantic & courageous aura that the 1960s movies and novels gave to the researchers in the USSR (especially those who went out into the fields, like geologists or polar scientist whose work was also to help build up the wealth of the country). There were songs and poems created about them, making every kid want to become a cosmonaut when they grow up 🙂

Kaliningrad, Russia

Here is a glimpse into the food side of a research vessel’s life: above is the pantry (see how the plates are attached so they do not fall) and below is the kitchen (look at the size of the pots!). There was also a separate room for baking bread.

Kaliningrad, Russia

Vityaz has come through some turbulent years since its construction in 1939 in Germany, through its transfer to UK and finally its transformation into a Soviet ship for scientific research. During its life as a research vessel it served its country and the science at its best, but no matter how much honoured and appreciated, it was almost completely taken to parts and pieces in the 1980s when nobody cared for it anymore. However, in the 1990s it gave birth to the Museum of the World Ocean becoming its first exhibit.

Kaliningrad, Russia

The Museum itself tells the story of Konigsberg-Kaliningrad as a major port, with an entire skeleton of a wooden ship on display right in the middle of the room. There are some curious objects as well and these famous variety of canned fish that the Soviet food industry was supplying the country and exporting abroad:

Kaliningrad, Russia

The Museum occupies a large slice of the embankment with some of the historic buildings reconstructed and also being reconstructed, as it continues to grow. This is a souvenir shop with the urban legend of Konigsberg, the riddle of the seven bridges (how to cross every each of them without setting foot twice on any of them). Try solving it yourself!

Kaliningrad, Russia

More reconstructed port-related buildings. Looking too smooth to be true but still a very nice initiative! We also visited the aquarium – I’m not a big fan of fish, especially cooked, but I guess that was quite interesting.

Kaliningrad, Russia

The last thing we visited was the submarine. I’m probably less fond of submarines than I’m of fish… so I was really happy when the long corridor inside ended and I realized I didn’t have to make the entire way back to get out of it!

Kaliningrad, Russia

Getting though the corridor was quite a challenge. Not to mention the overall suffocating atmosphere – regardless of the fact that there was sun shining outside and the submarine was a museum exhibit moored (and not submerged!) peacefully for the sake of – mostly – entertainment… Well, if you’re a pacifist with hidden claustrophobia – just make your visit a very brief one 🙂

Kaliningrad, Russia

The signs on the door warn you of the truly wonderful possible outcomes of your visit to the submarine – Get out immediately / Move to the stern / Fire in this sector / Water in this sector / Move to the prow. As I was passing doors to each new sector I was hoping not to hear the Morse code for these warnings…

Kaliningrad, Russia

This is how a kitchen looks like in a submarine. Don’t ask me how the ‘shower’ and the WC look like. Nor the beds. Who would deliberately consent to live in such hostile conditions I wonder… I wouldn’t like to cook in such a kitchen by no means!

Kaliningrad, Russia

No, this is not a laser blade from the Star Wars saga. This is where the torpedo gets out of the submarine. Brrrrr! We definitely need some cheering up after that! Here’s some:

Kaliningrad, Russia

The windy Baltic sea, listen:

Kaliningrad, Russia

We went to Svetlogorsk (former Rauschen) on a sunny but rather windy day. This small town continues to play its Baltic resort role years after its coming under the Soviet rule. We took an elektrichka to get to the coast, walked all over the town in search of old German country houses and enjoyed the sea immensely. Even though it’s so different from the  – paradoxically for a citizen of St Petersburg – more familiar Mediterranean sea. And nothing can rival a buterbrod with tea on the seashore!

Kaliningrad, Russia

Svetlogorsk means a city of light and that’s a very true name (although the German Rauschen is also appropriate, meaning ‘to rustle’ and even sounding so). It’s also green with the aroma of warmed pines but all the while a bit artificial too, as most of the small resort towns / villages are. And old school 100% 😉 Just like Agia Marina or the sandy Sestroretsk. Here’s the most famous building in the town:

Kaliningrad, Russia

Looking like a mushroom with eyes this military sanatorium was built in the early 1900s to become a spa clinic. The sun clock on the tower was added in the 1970s. And this wall is all green in summer, though now it looks like a bird’s nest or something:

Kaliningrad, Russia

And this is … the funky massage department 🙂

Kaliningrad, Russia

This harmless birdie can be seen all over Svetlogorsk – this time it demands “Where’s the forest?” And did you know, the Svetlogorsk seagulls are silent compared to the squeaking St Pete seagulls!

Kaliningrad, Russia

After soaking in the sea wind and even getting a slight headache, we left with the elektrichka and the same cohort of babushkas back to Kaliningrad. On our last day in the city we walked all along the street called Litovsky val which doubles the former fortification wall: some of its super-long old buildings run continuously along the line and no doubt hide some of the original stones inside. And just when it was getting really warm … we had to leave Kaliningrad for a much less spring-like St Petersburg! In Kaliningrad we spotted chestnuts sprouting right in the ground and blossoming trees and green grass. Such a pleasure!

Kaliningrad, Russia

As far as my usual travel checklist goes, this time we visited the local market (or rather just an array of various kiosks under one roof), found pretty post cards at the Museum and did notice some minor changes in the city. Like there were no more chairs outside the airport 🙂 We also sampled more local dairy, bread and buns: I can mention rye bread with crushed rye and sunflower seeds, a kind of diet egg-less gingerbread with cocoa and raisins and … soft and vanilla-laden sochni!

No Easter food-related post this year – I’m busy replicating that kovrizhka (gingerbread) we tried in Kaliningrad! 🙂

Adding this to my Travel series.

G.

on USSR / Russia · travel

Vyatka, City of Snow that Dreams of Summer

Kirov, Russia

This is the view I was thinking about when I first had the idea of going to Kirov again. That’s the city which I liked the most from the super-travelling job I had back in autumn 2012. Kirov is old, not very large (at least its worth-seeing part) and has a river & hills landscape. What else would I need? 🙂 After all the artificial-ness of St Petersburg, you just need a nice chunk of history, sturdy roots and a splash of more history.

Kirov, Russia

I enjoyed this wintry trip to Kirov, regardless of any of the menacing signs of most imminent death by snow, shown on each and every building, starting from a wooden bird-house to the houses along the street.

Kirov, Russia

And talking about streets I should tell you they were quite narrow to say the least! More like bobsleigh tracks which means extra menace coming from the slippery & hilly hard snow-ice under your feet : ) The same applies to the space left for cars moving way too slow.

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The snow did not stop during the three days were were there. And you can imagine that it was doing the same for quite a long time, judging from the layered snow caps on all sorts of horizontal – and even vertical – surfaces.

Kirov, Russia

And this red brick is where the kids go, the school. In short, you get the picture.

Kirov, Russia

And here’s why this super-snowy city is obviously dreaming of summer:

Kirov, Russia

The sign on Svobody Street (Freedom) reads “Africa. Print and ads”. And I noticed more of that kind: July (beauty parlor), Safari, Mali,… What else would be on your mind with such amounts of snow that nobody cares to get rid of?

Kirov, Russia

Here I should probably add some words about Kirov. It’s old, much older than its super-irrelevant Soviet name which it bears from the 1930s. It used to be called Vyatka and Khlynov before. And it is not that old as Moscow but much older than St Petersburg.

Kirov, Russia

The city was build on the way to Siberia from Moscow, becoming a major merchant center. Well, Siberia also meant state prisoners were passing through these parts. Lost of different nationalities lived there too. And you know, when we looked at the costumes of all the nations which inhabited the area, I think I liked the Russian ‘fashion’ (probably for the first time!) for its simplicity. Really, with all our lack of understanding of when ‘this gets way too much’, these costumes look just perfect.

Kirov, Russia

Apart from being historically a crossroads of nations, Kirov is also a centre of traditional arts.

Kirov, Russia

This is Dymkovo toys, small hand-painted clay figurines which thrived through the Soviet period as gifts (they also grew enormously in size) and survived as all-Russian souvenirs till our days.

Kirov, Russia

These were initially ‘disposable’ bird-shaped clay whistles given to kids during festivities. The kids would play around with them and then throw them away and beg their parents to buy a new one 😉

Kirov, Russia

We even went to a workshop and painted a ready figurine ourselves! Guess which one is mine and which was made by an artist? Yeah, easy to tell by the un-steadiness of the lines. This toy is called ‘barynya‘, a woman offering bread and salt to her guests.

Kirov, Russia

And this is also art! It’s a local dry-cleaning which deserves at least a look at thanks to its employees’ flamboyant creativity! I remember this place from my last visit but then I only noticed a very Soviet-looking sign… Who would think that a walk around the building would reveal this?!

Kirov, Russia

Kirov also has this impressively decadent Artists’ Union building:

Kirov, Russia

Not long ago, our one and only Kolpino cinema hall was making its movie posters by hand. I observed the same thing in Thessaloniki, with small (tiny) cinema halls.

Kirov, Russia

There was also a hand-painted ad for a local X-Box club. At first I read the name in Russian and was wondering what that might mean (it reads ‘HVOH’ in Russian).

Kirov, Russia

This is also a fine specimen of Soviet unobtrusive advertisement (I’m currently taking a course in Advertisement on Coursera, by the way), promoting a tailor’s. Since it’s still hanging close to the door and there are several layers of text on it, we made a conclusion that there might be a tailor’s still there.

Kirov, Russia

This is the same building. The sign above this super aesthetic door says ‘Elite. Professional items for beauty parlors’. And this is an old and truly historic building by the way! The say the prototype for Gogol’s character in his Mertvye Dushi book lived in it…

Kirov, Russia

And it does look Gogol-ish, with snow surrounding (or rather flooding) it from all sides and with this ambiguity about it – from this side the house looks rather uninhabited but from the rear side it’s something of an office building!

Kirov, Russia

Another fine example I just could not have passed by – and take a picture of it even though my camera’s battery was low. The sign reads ‘Shop-salon. Novelty’.

Kirov, Russia

But actually Kirov is beautiful. Just look at this sugary-white church:

Kirov, Russia

And even this not very perfectly white pavilion looks tremendously picturesque with the blue sky in the background:

Kirov, Russia

Another white spot – the Monument to the victims of War.

Kirov, Russia

Boy was it windy that day and in that place! Biting cold. This is where all the Kirovchane (Kirov citizens) walk. The remains of the ancient Kremlin wall which rises high above the Vyatka river. The river is frozen of course and the landscape is 100% wintry.

Kirov, Russia

This is one of the surviving monastery walls that was inside the original Kremlin. We actually purchased a city guide which gives you an idea of what Kirov looked like when it was Khlynov. It was quite a challenge to walk through the nowadays Kirov having a map of the things that WERE there some 4-5 centuries ago 😉

Kirov, Russia

When I think of Kirov, the colour scheme of my mental image is something like this:

Kirov, Russia

Another monastery – turned into a central sports stadium in the Soviet era. Menacingly un-healthy icicles!

Kirov, Russia

And less menacing – more artsy icicles, looking like a typical Soviet lamp.

Kirov, Russia

And finally. to give you an idea of what the center of Kirov looks like, here’s a line-up of the facades, most of which are just marvellous:

Kirov, Russia

Ex-department store

Kirov, Russia

A bit of art-nouveau

Kirov, Russia

And some merchant-style red-brick building

Kirov, Russia

Corner buildings are the city’s specialty

Kirov, Russia

And this is a pseudo-Greek facade which has a weird shop called Greece opposite it. It has a hand-painted sign, it’s supposed to sell everything (from the saying ‘There’s everything in Greece’) and it broadcasts music on the street. A very indie place 😉

Kirov, Russia

After all, Kirov is a very atmospheric place, which can rival Kaliningrad in my top city list, I suppose. To wrap up the Kirov experience, here are my checklist points:

  • decent postcards – failed, had to buy overpriced cards with pseudo-Dymkovo motives
  • post office – yep
  • market – failed but the souvenir shops are to die for! I wish our St Pete ones were as creative and authentic!
  • local history museum – done, but too tiny!!
  • dairy products and baked stuff – sampled, even bought some yogurt which tasted like ice-cream
  • old town – very very very much liked
  • book store – bought two artsy envelopes
  • local specialités – not sure we tried traditional dishes but at least some local stuff we did! nice cafes and pretty low prices. Here’s raviolli with… fried cabbage and raspberry-cowberry tea:

Kirov, Russia

I could have continued my story and tell you more about this cozy town – which stubbornly remains cozy even with the tons of snow. But you just have to go there, as always. It’s a place where even the hotels are styled after a postoyaly dvor (inn) and people lunch at traktir (taverna, inn). I will just mention that we couldn’t resist buying lots of linen fabrics, a kilo of rye malt for Borodinsky Bread, local pryaniki and of course some Dymkovo statuettes. Definitely to be re-visited in spring. AFTER the moment all the Kirov snow comes down!

G.