architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Vorontsovsky Palace

This is how it looked on the day I arrived in Alupka, on the Southern coast of Crimea – the Ai-Petri mountain perfectly vivid and shining under the sun. Next morning the top of the mountain was obscured by clouds (mist) which should have told me that the weather up there would be a little bit cold but… I didn’t even pay attention to that, it was so sunny down there. And that’s how the Ai-Petri and other adventures began that day.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

The cable road in Miskhor leading to the over 1200 m high Ai-Petri mountain is just a short walk away from the Vorontsov Palace, so there I went and very soon found myself and three other tourists (two of them from St Petersburg) on our way to the top in… a motor car and not a cable car 🙂 That’s one of the ways to gain money for the local men who take the tourists up to the mountain in a car with a few stops here and there for the price of a ride on the cable road.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Our first stop was at the Uchan-su waterfall (from the Tatar ‘flying water’ – which it is, falling from such a height it makes your head tired from looking up) on the Southern slope of the Ai-Petri mountain, where the guarding ladies (with a cat) will let you in once you pay a 50 ruble entrance fee (I immediately recalled The Twelve Chairs by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov – how the extremely resourceful main character was collecting unsanctioned entrance fee so that the Proval or Fall, a cavern with a lake in the Caucasus, would not… fall).

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Already at the waterfalls did we start to feel some kind of a chill – it was gradually getting colder the closer we we getting to the top of the mountain. Meanwhile, our resourceful driver drove us up to the next stop – at the rotunda overlooking Yalta the access to which is supposed to be forbidden but apparently not so at all in the absence of the guardians. I know I know, I took innumerable photos of the views which cannot render even a tiny bit of what you feel when you are there yourself…

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Then we drove more along the narrow (to say the least) serpentine road up the mountain, listening to all the legends our driver was eager to share. After some more stops we got off the car just before reaching the cable road station to see some tiny white and yellow flowers and… this:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

No, that was not cotton-wool used as fake snow in the old Christmas decorations. I cannot say we were not at all surprised to see this in May but… Given how cold it was up there, it was easier for us to believe that was real snow! And if you stay on that cliff open to all winds and biting cold long enough, you become as crooked as this tree!

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Oh that colour! My mind though…, well, it was quite frozen by the time we arrived at the top of Ai-Petri, so I can now barely recall the sensation. But I remember that looking down there I had only one idea in my head – there it should be sunny and warm, no more mist, no more strong wind!

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

In fact I got so cold and also instantaneously tired from the nauseatingly persistently offered service (grilled meat, ponies, excursions, whatever you like – how do they all survive up there?!) that I jumped into the first cable car available. They say in winter when the roads are covered with snow, the cable car is the only means to get provision to those who live on the mountain. Brrr! We made it back to the station with a stopover somewhere in the middle where you change cars in 15 minutes against about a 2 h ride up there. ‘Flying’ over the vineyards:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

When I got out of the cable car and started defrosting a little bit, I headed towards the bus station at the entrance to the Vorontsov park and got on the marshrutka (a commercial bus) that goes in the direction of Yalta. My target was the Swallow’s Nest, one of the symbols of Crimea. First, you get rid of all the souvenir shops greeting you at the bus stop, then you walk many steps towards the castle and then you see this:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Everyone’s there for the iconic view (there’s also another one from the sea if you take a boat) of this fairy-tale castle that sits on the cliff and seems to be sailing to the horizon. They say it looks like Miramare Castle in Trieste but most certainly it resembles a toy, a miniature castle, even when you get there and stand close to its entrance. The Castle is hanging there for over a century, originally built for the riches it was then abandoned because it started falling into the sea. It was under construction when I was there in May.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Done with the castle, I hopped on the bus which took me to another must of the Southern coast of Crimea – Livadia Palace, the one where they held the Yalta Conference in 1945. While Churchill was hanging out in the Vorontsov Palace, the President of the US was stationed here in Livadia, the former Nicholas II summer residence. Well, one of them.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I have to say I was much less impressed by Livadia Palace and I decided not to wait for the excursion group. Built round the same time as the Swallow’s Nest, this rather squarish palace seems a bit too… square. However, the park was beautiful as well as the view towards Yalta and over the sea.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Spring in Crimea is gorgeously luscious:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Much as I enjoyed the nature (there’s this Tsar’s or Sunny Path that runs through many palaces and parks which I would love to take in the future) I was too tired to continue my trip along the coast  and got back to Alupka where in the evening I however found some strength and attention to explore a ghost sanatorium.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

How to get there: I suggest to give in to the promises of the drivers (you will find many of them at the Miskhor cable car from about 10 am) and go up the Ai-Petri mountain in a car and then descend using the cable car. If starting from Yalta, take a marshrutka from the bus station towards Alupka and ask the driver to stop at the kanatka (cable car). If you wish to visit only the Castle and the Palace, the same bus will take you to Livadia (you will have to walk from the stop to the palace), and then you can proceed to the Swallow’s Nest taking any bus going in the same direction. These local buses make numerous stops at sanatoriums, hotels and other places so your journey might take some time. However, I managed to squeeze in these three musts in about 6-7 hours starting from Alupka.

Will continue my Crimean adventures soon, there’s so much I’ve seen and looking through the photos I realize there’s so much I have seen but haven’t really noticed!

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Vorontsovsky Palace

Crimea has mesmerized me. It is so multifaceted, it’s so sincere and so yet-to-be-discovered. I’ve definitely had the most enjoyable days of spring 2017 in Crimea when I took a short break and dedicated it to my favourite lifestyle – on the road.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Crimea is unique and yet I found there so many things you would typically admire in so many places in Europe – since I had never been to any of the ex-Soviet Black Sea regions / states before (the southernmost I had travelled in the post-Soviet territory was Samara on Volga), the only points of references for me were Italy, France, Greece… And all of them I could find in Crimea.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The unrivaled beauty of its nature, the simplicity of life and the decadent notes (not to say atmosphere) of a lost Soviet empire (plus cats everywhere :)) all make Crimea a perfect place for me. Except for their dairy products and bread, they do have to work on these two in order to win my heart and respect 100%.

Vorontsovsky Palace

I was travelling alone, without a car and huge budgets, I felt safe and could get almost everywhere using the local transport. People were open and eager to help – and if you avoid high season and ridiculously touristic places, you will get the most out of your Crimean adventures.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Just try not to have high expectations in terms of service and infrastructure, give Crimeans some more time to get over this tricky period and adjust to the demands of a different category of tourists who are no longer satisfied with the Soviet standards. Yet another tip: use bigger cities like Sevastopol, Simferopol and even Yalta as transport hubs and places of cultural interest (rich and important museums are there) but keep to smaller places where there’s a bigger chance of finding the authenticity well preserved – unless not the best specimens of typicized Soviet architecture is what you are looking for.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Although I spent my first day (that was Russian National holiday, Victory day on the 9th of May) in Sevastopol where I met my friend from the Erasmus Mundus times, I’d like to start from Alupka on the Southern side of the Crimean Peninsula. I’ve only been to a fraction of the peninsula (and probably the most touristy one as well – the YuBK or the Southern Coast) but every day I spent there was packed with impressions and could easily make for a separate post. This one will be dedicated to Vorontsov Palace and Park in Alupka (aka Vorontsovsky Palace), a place well known as a  setting for various popular Soviet films.

Vorontsovsky Palace

(insert toad sounds here)

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I’ve been to several parks in Crimea but I liked this one the most. I would just live there, I don’t need the palace, a shed would suffice with such a natural (and horticultural) beauty around you.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The park is huge and there’s no need to hurry up: take your time while you wander along its wonderful sunlit parterres and shadowy paths winding around stones and brooks.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The park was designed by a German while the palace was created by an Englishman (who also finished off a certain Buckingham Palace, they say).

Vorontsovsky Palace

Later, a certain Sir Winston Churchill stayed here during the Yalta conference. I visited the Palace on my first day in Alupka and quite liked it – probably more so from the inside than from the outside as it represents such a mixture of various styles that you cannot really make head or tail out of it.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The palace is worth visiting (there are audio guides available at the entrance which are included in the ticket price). There are castle-like rooms richly decorated with oak panels and almost Hermitage-like parlours with the view to the sea.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Two parts of the building are connected by a winter garden with marble statues and exotic plants. The gallery leads to this enormous dining room with a mantelpiece and some eastern motifs corresponding to the palace’s (other) Moorish facade.

Vorontsovsky Palace

You can spot this other facade in the photo below. This lion and the roses actually reminded me of a similar ‘composition’ in Pavlovsk where we went today.

Vorontsovsky Palace

That view though… the Black Sea at its best!

Vorontsovsky Palace

A delicate open gallery which got me occupied for a while. It is conveniently located in the shade of the palace, close to the exit to the park.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The 40 ha park occupies half the town or so it seems, especially to those who come to Alupka only to visit the palace. I would however suggest taking a stroll to the left (facing the sea) and there along the coast you will find the so called Rock of Aivazovsky (the marine painter born in Crimea) from which there’s a great view towards Yalta and over the majestic Ai-Petri mountain. I wish I could live in that gorgeous place…

Vorontsovsky Palace

Alupka doesn’t really attract you as a town in itself, though (apart from the park and the palace) there are several places – wonderfully decadent – that I will tell you about a bit later (I hope).

Vorontsovsky Palace

In the evening after the sunset I took a stroll along the sea shore (no way you can swim there, it’s all concrete including the so called Children’s Beach) and inevitably (and with great pleasure) made my way up to the hotel through the garden taking yet another glimpse of that beautiful tree growing (hugging) the tower gate of the palace:

Vorontsovsky Palace

The place where I stayed in Alupka for 2 nights was reasonably priced and untypically tasteful, well-equipped and looked after for the Russian standards (not mentioning Crimean) – it’s called Chetyre Sezona or Four Seasons. I witnessed one family coming back to this place after they got really dissatisfied by merely seeing their next hotel on their route.

Vorontsovsky Palace

How to get there:

I took an inter-city bus (about 1.5 h) that goes from Sevastopol bus station to Yalta and asked the driver to stop in Alupka. Well, technically, you will get off at a highway that goes above the town, so you’ll have to walk down to the sea and then to the left. Another way is to ride all the way to Yalta and take a marshrutka (a small commercial bus) which will take you to the Vorontsov Park straight away using a local (lower) road. Everywhere you go in Crimea there are marshrutka buses with many stops along their way which makes it quite handy if you travel around without a car and would like to save on taxis (which will cost about 10 times more).

Can’t believe I’ve eventually started my Crimean posts!

This post goes to the ‘Russia’ section in the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Yet Another Getaway in Veliky Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod was good. It is already for the second time that this trip happens exactly at the moment when I most need this getaway. And when the weather is great too – windy and sunny – you unleash your carelessness and relax.

Veliky Novgorod

Last year our first day in Veliky Novgorod was pretty nasty in terms of the weather but this time I made quite a bit of sunny pictures.

Veliky Novgorod

These are the gates of the most venerable cathedrals in the region – Saint Sophia Cathedral of Veliky Novgorod. Never actually paid any attention to the details, always just looking at these gates as a whole while passing by. Gosh, did they have tons of time and skill in the old days!

Veliky Novgorod

Inside the cathedral it was warmer than outside so we lingered for quite a bit in there. It sometimes helps when you don’t have to pay attention to the sights as a whole (because you have seen them several times already) and so start enjoying the details:

Veliky Novgorod

Just outside of St Sophia there is this building with a funny balcony. I think it’s now a local center for kids where they teach them arts and crafts. We heard some music playing there. Right next to the school is the kremlin wall (no, Kremlin doesn’t exclusively refer to that red fortress in the center of Moscow, it can be found in other cities of Russia).

Veliky Novgorod

If you cross the bridge leading from the kremlin to the other side of the Volkhov river, you get to the Trade Side of Veliky Novgorod, where they have so many churches (and these are just a fraction of what was there before) that you can barely remember all their names.

Veliky Novgorod

I love how they grow from the earth (this church is almost 650 years old!). Sometimes they have to undig them out of all the culture layers that have accumulated throughout the years. And most of the times the years are pretty visible on these old walls:

Veliky Novgorod

Inside the walls of the late 17th century church:

Veliky Novgorod

Love those lines which are breaking all the rules of your school geometry lessons!

Veliky Novgorod

OK, here’s some geometry for you:

Veliky Novgorod

Our hostel was located in a very good spot, wasn’t it?

Veliky Novgorod

Next morning we went to Perynsky Skit on the Lake Ilmen where the monks would settle to get away from the busy monasteries. The tiny pieces of ice were rocking on the waves coming ashore the lake, creating some delicate music – or were they telling legends of the old times?

Veliky Novgorod

We made a wonderful sunny walk in the forest nearby and then visited the Yuriev Monastery, a must of all the coach trips to Novgorod:

Veliky Novgorod

Just a couple of meters away is the open-air museum of traditional Russian wooden architecture called Vitoslavlitsy.

Veliky Novgorod

It’s a bit of a tourist trap (especially if you just close half of the territory for reconstruction) but I still love it.

Veliky Novgorod

You can enter most of the buildings and see how the old Russians used to live:

Veliky Novgorod

There are houses of rich peasants and merchants as well as churches, a windmill and other buildings. A bit like they did it in Suzdal but I like the quality of their interior work much more.

Veliky Novgorod

Pity those vatrushkas were not real! 🙂

Veliky Novgorod

And there under the towel I suppose is a Novgorod carrot pie since we are in Novgorod!

Veliky Novgorod

And there to the right are blini while in the foreground is the traditional karavay bread served with a pinch of salt to the bride and groom at the weddings:

Veliky Novgorod

Can you spot some berries in between the window panes?

Veliky Novgorod

A babushka coming back to her duties after the lunch break:

Veliky Novgorod

Russian stove in a wealthy merchant’s house:

Veliky Novgorod

The icon corner is called krasny ugol (red or also beautiful corner) in Russia. The white and red towel has its meaning:

Veliky Novgorod

And here’s a workshop of a wool-maker:

Veliky Novgorod

View over the Yuriev Monastery from the open-air museum:

Veliky Novgorod

Can imagine how delicately green the city is now but back then in early April it was still rustic and brown, so very early spring-like. A wonderful start to the season!

Read my last year’s post for more details on Veliky Novgorod.

Adding this to my Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Tsarskoye Selo in Wait for Spring

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Adding this post to the St Petersburg collection.

G.

no recipe · no-dough · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Pavlovsk Is Beautiful

Pavlovsk

Pavlovsk Park close to St Petersburg is beautiful any time of the year. In winter on sunny day like this it is majestic.

Pavlovsk

For the lack of time and for the laziness I rarely get out of the city to meet with the nature not just on the pages of Michail Prishvin’s diaries (I’m reading his 1948-1949 diary now).

Pavlovsk

We came back with pink cheeks and too much fresh air in our brains and blood. Feels like we’ve been to a forest … with a 100 RUB entrance fee 🙂

Pavlovsk

While I was (swiftly) walking along the park lanes my Dad was making his magic with the camera: there was yet another photoshooting of girls in traditional Russian costumes designed by the enthusiastic promoter of all things Russian Marina Shadenkova. Spot the curious squirrel!

 Photo courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin
Model Marina. Costume by Marina Shadenkova. Photograph courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin
 Photo courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin
Model Marina. Costume by Marina Shadenkova. Photograph courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin
Photo courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin
Model Olga. Costume by Marina Shadenkova. Photograph courtesy of Vasily Mulyukin

What I particularly love about his photos is when he captures and reveals the beauty of the person he’s photographing. I guess that should be the ultimate goal of it all.

And this was one of the paraphernalia used for the shooting which still serves its owner so good we could only marvel at how great this old hand-made wooden sledge can keep the balance!

Pavlovsk

You can see some of my Father’s new photos here. Soon to appear on his website too.

Pavlovsk in summer, Pavlovsk in spring. I’m now missing a post on Pavlovsk Park in autumn.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Ryazan and a Bit of Moscow

Ryazan

On the first weekend of December I continued my adventures in Russia visiting Ryazan, and old city some 180 km away from Moscow. I took a train from St Petersburg which arrives pretty early in the morning. After getting some more sleep and a substantial breakfast at the hostel I went out to see the sights. It was snowing and there was unfortunately no sun at all. My first stop was at this church (Borisoglebsky Cathedral) which has a street running underneath it:

Ryazan

It was super slippery walking there but here it is from the other side:

Ryazan

Walking a bit forward to the Ryazan Kremlin I found this wooden house with a menacing note that informs its tenants of an imminent resettlement this summer… I hope they will somehow keep the building (just two steps away from it is an almost entirely burnt down wooden mansion ‘under reconstruction’).

Ryazan

The door was open:

Ryazan

I can imagine it’s not very easy living in such place but it’s so elaborate and just beats flat all the later built stuff around… Note the external thermometer outside of the window – don’t believe the weather forecast, trust your own sight:

Ryazan

Finally I got to the Kremlin where the tourist life was about to begin. It was Saturday after all:

Ryazan

It’s a pity there’s no observation point on any of the bell towers in the city (or did I miss anything?) cause it would be great to see the landscape – and the cityscape – from above. The rives Trubezh and Lybed, the tributaries of the larger Oka river, create a curious and beautifully carved landscape with meadows and hills.

Ryazan
Somewhere beyond the city lies the territory described by the Russian writer Konstantin Paustovsky whose short stories we all read as children in Russia. The old-school wooden building in blue is the river pier from where you can travel to the Oka river:

Ryazan
The Kremlin is traditionally situated on the top of the hill surrounded by the river streams. This is a part (ruined) of the Shelter for People (as opposed to the Shelter for Nobles situated nearby) and the Church of the Holy Ghost with a non-common two-pinnacle style.

Ryazan

I really liked this People’s Shelter building which curves a bit in the center:

Ryazan

The Ryazan Kremlin was founded in 1095 (which is also considered to be the foundation year of the city itself) and it continued developing mostly throughout the 13-18th centuries. Even though its walls are made in brick is preserves the traditional white-washed wall style:

Ryazan

I really like all those architectural details:

Ryazan

Enhanced with the snow:

Ryazan

These two buildings house the local History Museum where I spent almost third of the day, not only escaping from the cold but also actually learning something about the region – and about my country too.

Ryazan

There was this exposition on a woman who collected local crafts in the beginning of the 20th century. Looking at all those intricate embroidery, lace and skillfully woven cloth made me sigh and conclude that we’ve lost such a huge part of our heritage. We don’t know it, we ignore the meaning of all those colours and symbols and patterns.We don’t even know the parts of the traditional Russian costume.

Ryazan

There is also these reconstructed halls which look pretty touristy although I appreciate their attempt at recreating something super-(kitchy)-Russian:

Ryazan

After the museum I went on exploring the Kremlin (and the city).

Ryazan

The windy and mostly white-washed wall territory of the Ryazan Kremlin has a later Assumption Cathedral with this amazing mosque-like door which was unfortunately closed as it can only be visited during the warm(er) months. This is the main church in the city.

Ryazan

Here it is seen from the mound together with the bell tower and the wall inside which there is a… toilet 🙂

Ryazan

The mound looks really cool:

Ryazan

There’s a short street called Rabochaya (Working) running almost back-to-back with the mound. It has several obviously non-inhabited wooden houses like this one, built somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century I suppose:

Ryazan

This is another cathedral which is decorated with the colourful tiles looking particularly good against the (decadently non-) white walls:

Ryazan
Looking at the Kremlin from the Soborny (Cathedral) park and the Church of Spas-na-Yaru:

Ryazan

With all the churches and cathedrals, Ryazan has two Bezbozhnaya streets – Atheist or literally God-less Streets. TWO. Pervaya (First) Bezbozhnaya and Vtoraya (Second) Bezbozhnaya. They probably have other problems to solve than to rename those two streets, like the center of the city in a somewhat bad state:

Ryazan

I wondered off the Kremlin into the pedestrian Pochtovaya (Post) Street visiting of course the local post office in the search of ANY postcards that won’t be sold in packs. The green building behind the statue (to some famous nobleman) used to be the city’s main bank. Ryazan has a number of imperial buildings dating back to as early as the Peter the Great’s times.

Ryazan

As I spent quite a bit of time in the museums I did not see some of the minor musts of the city. What I can tell you is that the city is a bit of a maze and I discovered most of the sights by actually getting lost while trying to find some other sight. I really liked the presence of several rivers in the city and the way Ryazan builds up on their banks. The only drawback was that I couldn’t find that much of local food there: when I asked about anything local, a puzzled shop-assistant told me they have local kotlety (meat patties) 🙂   So I bought this black bread from the Tula region (another old city around Moscow, famous for its pryanik, samovar and weapons) instead:

Moscow

This is a sourdough rye bread made with fermented rye malt, molasses, kvass wort concentrate (used to make the traditional beverage kvass) and such (a variety of) spices as allspice, black pepper, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. The bread is called Starorussky Nasuschny (Old-Russian Daily or Vital) and it has three bogatyr (aka old-Russian supermen) pictured on its package. The bread was soft and really flavourful! To accompany it I bought some – finally – local  cheese:

Moscow

The cheese – called Myagky Ryazansky (Soft from Ryazan) was somewhat close to Adygea cheese but more dense. The cheese is made from cow’s milk and salt (not too salty). I used it for a pie with fresh coriander and tvorog from the same dairy farm.

So my verdict on Ryazan: it’s big and thus less cozily attractive as Vladimir (or Suzdal). It has interesting stuff in its museums and a rather concentrated old center. Not many local crafts / food detected though. Should be a very nice place to walk in summer with the rivers, hills, an island and the meadows.

Moscow

Later that day I took a fast double-decker train that circulates between Moscow and Voronezh (the region I visited last November) and in just two hours I was in Moscow. The weather was expected to be quite harsh but we ventured out on a (substantial) walking tour in the district of Khamovniky where the craftsmen would make and sell their linen fabric (the now – light – swear word ‘kham‘ originally meant linen fabric) many many years ago. I have never been to this part of the district which is situated closer to the end of the bend that the Moscow river creates (here it is on the map). Our first stop was at the Novodevichy Convent which we all know about from the school history lessons and for the famous people buried there and which is planted right there in the middle of the huge megalopolis. The Convent, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Moscow, has survived almost intact from the 16-17th centuries and is now sort of an open-air museum of Moscow baroque architecture. It is called Novodevichy for a reason (oe a number of reasons): it being new in comparison with the other – older – monasteries and a convent (devitsa = girl) also used for exiling unwanted tsar’s wives and other royal females, like Peter the Great’s grandmother.  

Moscow

While wandering in the district we also had a chance to admire this late 17th century church of St Nicolas in Khamovniki which after an apparently recent renovation looks pretty cake-like. They say Leo Tolstoy used to frequent this church as he lived just several meters away:

Moscow

And it was exactly his house that we also visited that day – located in the same formerly Dolgokhamovnichesky (Long / Big Khamovnichesky) Lane, now Leo Tolstoy Street. Tolstoy lived here in 1882-1901 and created many of his works like The Kreutzer Sonata and Resurrection.

Moscow

The wooden house appears quite small from the outside but has actually quite a number of rooms as it got rebuilt and upgraded several times since its construction in the early 19th century. They say most of the things (I mean exhibits) are Tolstoy’s original belongings. Thanks to his fame and the general love and respect from the official Soviet side, we can now see not a reconstructed but indeed preserved interiors.

Moscow

Some of the rooms look super modest (like the tiny bedrooms with tiny beds and almost nothing else) whereas others look pretty kitchy and crowded with things. Even if you’re not that into Tolstoy’s writings, I would recommend visiting his museum for the sake of the ambience, as a peek into the life of Moscow intelligentsia in the late 19th century. The territory is surrounded with a fence, there’s a garden and some auxiliary constructions (should be nice in summer – as all things are!). It’s also such a quiet place in the middle of the high-rise high-tech Moscow that you can hardly believe it was not erased to the ground. It reminded me of the recently visited Surikov’s museum in Krasnoyarsk – these places just take you away from the real life for a moment.

Moscow

Tried to get some food pictured for my future posts – but in vain. There was a weekend of sunny days but… nothing new or unusual to share with you.

Adding this post to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Winter Dreams of Vladimir and Suzdal

Suzdal - Vladimir

I recently ventured out on a short escape from the city life to two of the Russia’s so-called Golden Ring of historical cities, Vladimir and Suzdal. They are situated close to Moscow and there’s a direct train that will take you there overnight from St Petersburg. Both cities are among the oldest in Russia classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and both have a long story to tell.

Suzdal - Vladimir

I arrived in Vladimir so early in the morning that managed to gain several hours of sleep at a hostel before going out to explore the sights.  First, I took a bus to Suzdal, which long long ago used to be even larger and more important than Vladimir.

Suzdal - Vladimir

A local bus took me to Suzdal pretty fast and when I got there I was among the very few tourists (more of them arrived later) who were not scared by the wind, snow and general gloomish atmosphere.

Suzdal - Vladimir

However, it actually added to the overall impression of a tiny town resembling an open-air museum more than anything else.

Suzdal - Vladimir

With the whitewashed walls and the white snow (which do not seem that white when you come close to them) and the white sky, Suzdal in winter is a perfect place for listening carefully to its secrets, not disturbed by the hoards of tourists.

Suzdal - Vladimir

I took multiple pictures from all the angles although I was constantly worried that my camera’s battery would freeze. It’s obvious that in summer you are supposed to spend much more time near each point of interest just because it’s warmer but at the same time you probably will not as you will be facing loads of tourists trying to do the same.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Can you feel the fragility and the sophistication of Suzdal in winter?

Suzdal - Vladimir

Its old walls told me stories of the past: after all the town counts almost 1000 years of written history!

Suzdal - Vladimir

It was huge before Moscow became prominent and it had so many churches as no other Russian town could boast of.

Suzdal - Vladimir

But now the only thing that keeps it alive is the tourism: the smallest of all the Golden Ring cities (the concept was introduced in the Soviet era) has the greatest amount of tourists.

Suzdal - Vladimir

The things that you might want to visit in Suzdal are all situated within a walking distance, starting from the Trading Arcades (see pictures 5, 6, 8) and the nearby Kremlin (see the photo above and 5 photos down), which is the oldest part of the town (10th century),..

Suzdal - Vladimir

…with this 13th century church that has a very attractive door:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and the 16-18th century halls and Archbishop’s chambers with whitewashed walls:

Suzdal - Vladimir

It was 10 am when I got to the Kremlin – so deserted:

Suzdal - Vladimir

But the restaurant’s door was half-open:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Just noticed the somewhat conflicting pavement – too new to match with the whitewashed walls.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Looking at the picture above taken from the wooden Church of St. Nicholas makes me travel back to that moment.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Cold.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Snowy.

Suzdal - Vladimir

While the town was patiently waiting for the buses to come in with the tourists, I went to the open-air museum which gathers log-houses and wooden churches of the 18-19th centuries exemplifying the traditional Russian architecture.

Suzdal - Vladimir

For me, the most interesting part is what you can see inside of the log houses.

Suzdal - Vladimir

I know that all this is done for the tourists but…

Suzdal - Vladimir

…it’s so cozy inside! and warm 🙂

Suzdal - Vladimir

Inside almost each house you’re welcomed by a lady or two dressed in traditional clothes who is ready to tell you about the old habits, explain to you the use of all those objects and… discuss politics and smartphone applications 🙂

Suzdal - Vladimir

There are also two windmills, several storehouses and other constructions you would find in a village. There is also a stone house of a well-off merchant.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Leaving the cozy museum of the wooden architecture, I went back to the Kremlin:

Suzdal - Vladimir

…and then proceeded on till I got to the Monastery of Saint Euthymius which I decided to leave for future since I wanted to see Vladimir in the daylight too. On my way I spotted numerous facades, this one, for example, is in the Old (Staraya) Street :

Suzdal - Vladimir

this one is very festive:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and this one looks beautiful:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and this one looks fancy too:

Suzdal - Vladimir

I liked this surviving house dating back to the 17th century with this small ‘baby’ attachment, to my mind – for storing stuff.

Suzdal - Vladimir

I took my old-school bus back to Vladimir and walked there quite a bit along the main street, occasionally turning into the adjacent streets when something caught my eye. Like this tile:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Or this Art-Nouveau school (now university):

Suzdal - Vladimir

It’s interesting that from our first visit to Vladimir about 16 years ago I can hardly remember anything. Even this hallmark of the city, the Golden Gate, somehow did not get engraved into my memory:

Suzdal - Vladimir

It’s lower part is authentic (12th century) while the upper part was added / renovated in the 18th century. The center of Vladimir is pretty low-rise to say the least:

Suzdal - Vladimir

And here’s how it looks from the top of the ex-water tower which is now a museum dedicated to the old Vladimir: how the town looked like before and what the life there was like.

Suzdal - Vladimir

The top floor provides you with a view over the town with its small houses, churches and hills.

Suzdal - Vladimir

A street close to the museum with the road post:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Further along that street:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Another view over the city:

Suzdal - Vladimir

The dusk was already there when I got to the Assumption (Uspensky) Cathedral:

Suzdal - Vladimir

But it looked even more sophisticated and a bit eerie in this bluish light:

Suzdal - Vladimir

The horizon got lost in the snow:

Suzdal - Vladimir

When I got to the St Demetrius Cathedral (12th century), the daylight was gone:

Suzdal - Vladimir

The town turned its lights on and I walked here and there popping into local shops and ended up buying pryanik with cherries (they say Vladimir used to be famous for its cherry orchards) and wild apricot and lemon jam from Dagestan 🙂 I also bought this bread called Mstyora bread:

Mstera Bread

It’s a light rye bread made with rye malt and coriander made according to the recipe from Mstyora in the Vladimir region. Mstyora is actually better known for its miniature art. They make miniatures with a black background similar to the more popular Palekh art which I used to dream of when I was a child – I begged my Mom to buy me a tiny lacquered box to keep my precious objects there.

On the first photo: Stained-glass window at the Vladimir bus station.

This post goes to the Travel series.

G.