no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Forest, Lake and Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Forests, lakes and waterfalls can all be found in the St Petersburg region (aka Leningrad region). This autumn we visited some of them back in sunny September and early October.

Waterfalls

I’ll start with the waterfalls on Tosna and Sablinka rivers, SE of St Petersburg, that we visited on a fine day that looked almost like summer. Tosna river is a tributary to Neva and Sablinka is a tributary to Tosna. They say that the name Tosna is derived from the Slavic root meaning ‘narrow’ (cf. tesny = close, cramped, narrow).

Waterfalls

The brownish color of the water in combination with the quasi-burnt grass and the early autumn woods, plus the texture of the fields and the rapids, make it a curious sight.

Waterfalls

The waterfall doesn’t look that impressive on a photo but as soon as you come close or even sit on one of the stones (see the child in the left-hand corner of the photo below) listening to the roar of the water and watching the stream flow past you, you get caught by the sheer force of the nature. They say the waterfall has moved about 7.5 km up the stream over its 11,000 year history: the limestone gradually gives way under the pressure of the falling water.

Waterfalls

Even just looking at this photo makes me dizzy:

Waterfalls

Relevantly close to the Tosna river waterfall is the Sablinka – minor – waterfall. Nearby there are former quartz caves used for the booming glass production up until the middle of the 20th century, now quite a popular site among tourists and schoolchildren.

Waterfalls

I visited the waterfall 19 years ago, when we we there for the first time with my classmates celebrating the end of the primary school (for me that was 4 years although for most of my – later – classmates that was 3 years of primary school), and now I couldn’t recognize the place…

Waterfalls

Meanwhile in the forests of the southern part of the Leningrad region:

Forest

We found ourselves in a real bog, surrounded by forest streams and so had to make several circles around the same place to get back to the dry safety of the road. We just couldn’t find the way we got there!

Forest

The summer has been particularly wet.

Forest

A very different forest – with mostly pines – that you can find along the southern coast of the Ladoga lake.

Forest

It was much drier there and we could gather some late cowberries and even blueberries.

Forest

Being in a pine forest on a dry sunny day was such a joy.

Forest

Someone snacked on this poisonous mushroom:)

Forest

These – edible – cuties have been found at our dacha – a gift from the birch tree.

Dacha
Our final stop is at the artificial lakes near Maluksa: the sand quarries are still being developed but the old ones have turned into lakes with surprisingly transparent waters and – sadly – a lot of rubbish all around. There was also an obstacle on the way there – a road (which could hardly be referred to as a road) completely ruined by huge trucks loaded with sand.

Maluksa

The color of the water was this blue:

Maluksa

The the sun disappeared and there was a brief rain while I was picking berries in a nearby forest.

Maluksa

For some reason these quarry lakes reminded me of the hunter stories by Mikhail Prishvin, I could almost see him hunting with his pointer dog in the reeds.

Maluksa

We went there in early October and experienced almost all the types of weather common for this period.

Maluksa

The sky was particularly dramatic.

Maluksa

First there was a sort of a cloud which later turned into this:

Maluksa

And then this:

Maluksa

When we were leaving the place, the sky was ominously dark, with the autumnal forest perfectly lit against it:

Maluksa

This post goes to the Environs section of St Petersburg series where you can find more stories about the St Petersburg region.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Trans-Siberian Trip Part 3: Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

After the resort-like Samara we crossed the border with the Urals region in the early misty morning on board of our old-school train with wooden-frame windows, which was making its 3305 km way from Moscow to Karagandy in Kazakhstan in just 2 days 10 hours and 9 minutes. It’s funny that there’s this rhyming saying in Russian when somebody is asking you ‘where?’ you – irritated – reply ‘in Karagandy!’ (gde-gde, v Kargande!), meaning some far away place. And here we were, on the train to that mysterious destination 🙂 But in fact we had to almost jump off the train at the Zlatoust station as the train only stops there for 2 minutes. Getting off the train in 2 minutes is not such a difficult task, but imagine getting ON the train in just 2 minutes when you also have to find your coach!

Samara – Zlatoust:

distance: plus 844 km

total distance from St Petersburg covered so far: 2622 km

local time: Moscow time + 2 hours

train: train Moscow – Karaganda (operated by the Kazakh Railroad, pretty decent though old-school); takes you from Samara to Zlatoust in 15 hours 41 minutes

A somewhat excruciating search for the breakfast after we got off the train yielded several observations (AND the breakfast itself but only after at least an hour of erring here and there in search of a cafe). Like that here people do not care a bit for all those hipster cafes and stuff. They just eat at home, man. They live a simpler and more down-to-earth life, not even knowing half of what we so much care for here in the big cities. But they do sell and buy a lot of knives here, the production of which gives them the majority of the profit it seems.

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

[a memory from our breakfast-quest morning]

After having our bulochka with bird cherry in a local Kulinaria (a Soviet invention for busy / lazy, a shop with ready meals which you can either take home or eat right there at a table) we hopped on a mountainous tram. Yep, you’ve heard that, a very rare kind in Russia! And I bet it was faster than this old-school bus with Zlatoust written on it that we saw in the morning (pictured above). Sometimes it moves past wooden houses so close that it seems like you are on an amusement park ride! And we did use the trams in a sort of entertaining way, as an excursion tram – we went all the way up the hill and down, visiting the city’s factories, some of which were in quite a derelict state. And we were also people watching on this tram – or rather people-listening.

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

Zlatoust is an industrial but yet a very scenic town in the notoriously heavy-industry Chelyabinsk region. It’s one of the most elevated mountainous towns of the Urals with its residential areas rising as high as 400-600 m above the sea level, to believe Wikipedia. To the East of the town there’s this borderline which separates Europe from Asia. They say that a family of entrepreneurs founded this town in 1754 and since their family saint was John Chrysostom, they named it in his honor (Zlatoust = Golden-Mouthed). And since then the town has been known for its ironworks, steel blades and other arms with sophisticated engravings. Thanks God they didn’t rename it into Stalsk (meaning both stal = steel and Stalin) like they intended to in in the late 1920s.

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

In some parts Zlatoust looks like a Russian version of Switzerland. Although the boring 1970s block of flats inevitably bring you back to the reality. Well, it’s obvious that here even with all their ponds and hills and forests, people of Zlatoust are not supposed to be too much enjoying themselves in this beauty. So let’s build them some houses for the working people, nothing more. They should be grateful for that, eager that they are to leave their old wooden houses. But as for me, I liked the wooden part of the town much more:

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

Looking from above (the wooden houses are somewhat higher than the part of the town located on the pond) I could almost imagine how it all used to be back when the town was prosperous and laborious. It is still laborious I guess, otherwise there’s little to do there for a living unless you’re employed by one of the factories. I also remembered the first color photos in Russia taken by the pioneer photographer Prokudin-Gorsky in the beginning of the 20th century upon the order of Nikolai II. When I saw them first I was wondering where that curiously named Zlatoust was…

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

My first encounter with the Urals took place several years ago in Yekaterinburg, Perm (2013) and then in the rough and tough Chelyabinsk (2014). Each time I went there I was disappointed with the cities but striving to get to the nature. Which I finally manged to do this time. I deliberately avoided visiting big cities in the Urals and chose this small Zlatoust of the town to get closer to the Urals themselves. So unlike in Samara where we just left our rucksacks in the locker at the railway station, we took our time and spent a night in a hotel in Zlatoust called Nikolsky (which for my friend was the first hotel experience in Russia – and not a bad one).

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

The Urals in general is a region of metal. Even its folklore is connected to the metal. This ‘park’ on the Krasnaya Gorka we went to to see the city from above is dedicated to the fairy tales of Pavel Bazhov, a Soviet writer from the Urals whose works were inspired by the local legends. Russian children (I hope) still read his ‘metal’ books, like The Mistress of the Copper Mountain,  The Malachite Casket and the Tale of the Stone Flower which is commemorated in shape of a fountain at the VDNKh in Moscow. We climbed the stairs of the bell tower of the John Chysostom church (its height is equal to a 11-floor building), looking at the old-old Urals under the low clouds and that deep green forest stretching beyond…

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

Although the weather was somewhat cloudy and sticky, we could feel the spirit of the place. Next day after a nice buffet breakfast (apart from the apparently old meat pie which I wouldn’t eat anyway) we headed towards the vast natural park called Taganay, situated not that far from Zlatoust. The name derives from the Taganay mountains in the South Urals which in Bashkir language means a very beautiful and intriguing ‘trivet for the Moon’ (tagan = trivet, ay = moon). We left our things in a car belonging to the guard (this is what people do in exchange for a smile!), registered ourselves but finally went in a different direction to the one we stated. We chose a longer road leading to the first refuge, about 12,5 km in total.

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

Mountainous rivers, tons of fresh air, almost no people around, loads of stones everywhere – yellow stones and yellow water, climbing-climbing up, birds… They say the park combines several natural zones, there are the taiga fir trees, larch, birch and pine trees, steppe, tundra and sub-alpine meadows all in one park. Indeed, the place where Europe meets Siberia and the Arctic North meets the Southern Steppes.

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

Although we had to survive under occasional rain on the way up and consequently descent cautiously on slippery stones and the ground which turned into torrents of water, we were welcomed by the sun at the end of the walk, as if the nature preserved its gift until the end:

Zlatoust, Taganay Park and the Urals

Zlatoust’s highlights:

Taganay Park – the must! No matter how much time you have at your disposal and time of the year, just go there. We didn’t see even a tiny bit of the park and yet we enjoyed it!

Mountainous tram to drive you across the town as if on an excursion

Part of the town with wooden houses and the territory along the pond (look for Nikolsky hotel on the map)

A visit to a local ironworks or at least to their shop if you’re interested in all things cutting and shooting (we skipped that); otherwise – a visit to the Bazhov Park where you can buy all those stones and stuff

Municipal banya to round up the experience

Zlatoust in a few words:

An unpretentious town where you can feel the nature and everyday life of the Urals on the frontier between Europe and Asia

We had our lunch in the open air, recuperated our things and drove back to the railway station. And then we did another must when in Russia – we went to a traditional Russian bath called banya (it also happened to be an old-school municipal banya which we spotted on our way to the station). We were lucky enough to get all clean and shiny as it was a women’s day that day in banya which means the entire thing was occupied by the ladies. Ladies washing themselves, their kids and their clothes (or was it just us who jumped at the occasion and cleaned almost everything that got dirty by that point?). Of course we talked to women (well, it was a women’s day after all!) as well and felt a little bit closer to the crowd. We did not have a venik with us (a bundle of birch twigs used instead of soap AND as a kind of rough massage in the Russian banya) though but enjoyed a much needed bath after hiking in the rain anyway. And all fresh and polished as newborn babies we headed towards our train…

… which would take us to the next stop: Tyumen.

This post goes to my On Russia and Travel series.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Capital of Karelian Republic

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

My second trip to Petrozavodsk, the capital of Karelian Republic in the North of Russia, has proved once again my first impression of a very provincial and yet welcoming city. In fact this visit has been one of the most rewarding as far as my job goes. But of course there was a travel part to this journey which was almost completely left out during my first time in Petrozavodsk 2 years ago.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Petrozavodsk is of exactly the same age as St Petersburg and was founded by the same super-active person, tsar and then emperor Peter the Great. Actually, Petrozavodsk is a shortened version of Petrovsky Zavod, the Factory of Peter, as there was this factory founded to make metal things for the Russian fleet.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

People had populated the area long before the new settlement appeared on the shores of the Onega lake, well, in fact, thousands of years earlier, so the region has enough to show and tell about its indigenous people and their culture, the Karelians. The language is very close to the Finnish language and – if not widely spoken – it is still preserved in the region. Petrozavodsk is Petroskoi in Karelian and that’s what you read written on top of the Stalinist railway station building when you arrive from St Petersburg.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Karelia for me is all about forests and stones. It’s a pity in this time of the year you don’t see much when travelling with an overnight train. When we arrived in Petrozavodsk it was so early in the morning we had to wait at the station (which had free wifi and actually there’s wifi all over the city for free!) till it got less dark and we could go have breakfast on the 4th floor of an ex-mica factory (dating back to 1930 but now shut down) with a view over the old roofs of the city. We were the first customers but I must say that Na Kryshe (On the Roof) cafe proved to be ready with tasty buttermilk oladyi (pancakes) served with oblepikhovoye varenye (sea buckthorn jam) and a pot of milk Oolong tea. And that was a very economical breakfast!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Out of all the cities I visited so far this autumn I think I liked the haunted Kaliningrad with its ever present past the most. Whereas Chelyabinsk left very negative feeling and it was not for nothing that I kept coughing each time I went outside there, Petrozavodsk left a rather positive impression on me. It’s a small very low rising (unless you visit one of the suburbs) provincial town with some preserved old houses and an embankment where you can catch a hydrofoil to get you to the famous Kizhi island which has become an open-air museum for wooden structures. We arrived too late in the year to get there but I hope I will see Kizhi soon. At least I don’t mind seeing Petrozavodsk in a better weather!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Petrozavodsk itself is an open-air museum for old houses, be it wooden barracks or Stalinist imposing buildings along the main arteries of the city. It used to be a very St Pete-like city, I mean the houses were really old, both built in stone and those in wood. Like this hospital building which can be seen from the Onega Lake embankment:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Well, the war swept away most of the old city and there came the 1950s when the new rationalizing plans which brought new buildings for the better future of the Soviet Petrozavodsk. And oh boy what houses!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

This is the house where the central office of Post of Russia is (no postcards!). Actually sometimes the buildings housing Post of Russia are one of the best in the cities I’ve visited (like in Vologda). But then it rarely affect the quality and the swiftness of the service…

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

Another grand Stalinist house forming the ensemble of the central square:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

With these Stalinist buildings you just have to remember to look up from time to time – to discover all those details and (decaying) balconies which I actually try to avoid these days 🙂

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

And then – in stark contrast – there is this type of houses – we saw several of them:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

or these barracks – people still live there, mind you…

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

the same house from the other side – and with the wood for the long winter…

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

and this is the entrance to one of the wooden houses opposite those barracks

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

and how about this one?

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

the wall is just oh so decadent!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

However the city has a number of 19th and early 20th century wooden houses all gathered together near Onega embankment that form a separate district of historical and architectural value. Take a walk along the Onega Lake embankment starting from the square in front of the Theatre and then turning left. But do not walk fast however windy the day might be!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

The embankment is yet another open-air museum (and how does one fit in all this in such a small town?!) – this time of various successful and not that very successful sculptures and statues. The one from the beginning of the post called the Statue of Fishermen (a gift from Minnesota) looks really nice against the colourful sunset sky and the lake while the tall figure of Peter the Great (19th century) has actually been removed from its original place twice throughout the Soviet period. And guess who stands in Peter’s place now in the middle of the central square? You’ll find it out later in the post.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

And with this small stone house begins the district full of old wooden houses, in one of which we entered to warm ourselves up a bit and from which we went out with some embroidered souvenirs. They also have some natural products like shampoo and soap, made without any preservatives and all that stuff.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

This is the hospital church:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

And this is one of the most expensive hotels in the city spoiling the view on the old town. ‘Spoiling’ because as I said the city has very small amount of high-rises in its historical center, so this weird construction can be seen from far away.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

On the last day of our stay we left our hotel and went for a walk in the sun, heading towards the local history museum where we wanted to spend some quality time. It was sunny but rather frosty and we had quite a lot of time before the train back to St Pete – that was not an overnight but a rather fast Siemens train with comfortable seats which takes 5 hours.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

When we came to the end of this wall we realized that was the Industrial Museum (which we skipped) occupying the old factory buildings. We thoroughly enjoyed this urban art on the walls!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

So in the end we spent an unusual for an average visitor lot of time at the local history museum. Recommended by the way! There’s even a chance to listen to some Karelian folk songs and incantations or get a copy of Karelian recipes (will try some of them for sure!). Karelian cuisine is based on what the wild nature gives you and so some of the exhibits at the museum were dedicated to it.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

And yep, here’s your Lenin right in the middle of Lenin Square (apparently), where Peter the Great used to stand until the 1930s came. And the Square itself has a very curious story to tell – it changed its name so many times I got lost when counting them. Well, they definitely embellished the look of the square whatever name you call it in the recent years. But as soon as you go into the back yard of the museum, you find yourself staring at this wrack of the “state-preserved” building:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

The museum will also tell you about the brief period of the Finnish occupation of the city (1941-44) when the same Square which used to be Round Square (:) was renamed into Administrative Square. And oh, remember those Karelian forests that go on and on and on? Well, with the forests you have a strong culture of gathering or foraging and that means you have all the tools for berry picking or hunting for mushrooms 🙂 Here’s what you can see at display at the museum:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

This thingy with spikes is to pick berries in a fast and efficient way. Everything made from wood and bark of the trees… Perfect! Just as this proto-rucksack for carrying all the treasure the forests can give:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

After that we just could not have missed the local food! So we headed to the same restaurant opposite one of the best known symbols of Petrozavodsk (hotel Severnaya where I stayed last time – definitely NOT recommended, if only to see the inside of that super-red Stalinist buildings with white columns) where I ate 2 years ago. The restaurant is called Karelskaya Gornitsa and is although quite pricey and tourist-oriented is a nice place to imagine yourself travelling back in time.

  Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

But you see, last time we went to the Finnish part of the restaurant and this time we entered the Karelian part, which I found out when we were already leaving the place. All the time we were there I was wondering why I cannot recognize the place at all =) And then they explained to me there are two entrances leading to two parts of the restaurant. So we’ve made a better choice this time entering the Karelian cuisine part!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

There I sampled thew most fluffy and almost yogurt-like thing called tolokno (oat flour which contains all the bran usually removed when making the regular flour) mixed with blueberries (hence the colour) and also a rye blin (pancake) filled with millet. This type of rye or barley pancake is called skantsy or sulchiny and is traditionally filled with porridge (they are either baked or fried, sweet or sour). We drank cowberry mors (juice) which is almost always the best choice when it comes to traditional non-alcoholic drinks in Russia.  

For some Karelian recipes, see my post on kalitka, traditional Karelian rye boat-like pie which is also enjoyed in Finland and in the North of Russia.

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

So, to wrap up Petrozavodsk, here are my checklist points:

  • decent postcards – failed
  • post office – found
  • market – failed
  • local history museum – done
  • dairy products and baked stuff – sampled
  • local specialités – as far as the vegetarian stuff is concerned – tasty! And my Mom said that her fried fish and rich mushroom soup were really good!
  • old town – seen and admired

Here you can hear the official hymn of the Republic of Karelia (actually a song from 1963). It was played on the train when we were leaving Petrozavodsk without unfortunately seeing all the beauty of the Karelian woods and lakes…

By the way, I am going to the dark-dark Arkhangelsk in two weeks! Hope this time I will get hold of the authentic sochni of Arkhangelsk…

G.