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.

architecture · no recipe · travel

Glossy Vienna

Vienna

The next stop on my Mitteleuropa trip was Vienna. I travelled there by train and back by bus thus experiencing both roads on one day. The journey from and back to Bratislava was really fast either way. And this post is going to be quite a brief one too because I really don’t have much to say about Vienna!

Vienna

I started my journey by visiting the market, Naschmarkt, which I couldn’t really enjoy 100% because of pretty intrusive vendors who would address you in all possible languages. Besides, I was not there only for the local produce and aromas although I must admit the bread looked amazing!

Vienna

I also wanted to see some Art Nouveau (or rather Secession) which this city is particularly famous for. And with all my love for Art Nouveau I was a little bit too dazzled to take it in – too many golden details, too shiny. I guess I’m more into the Nordic interpretation of Art Nouveau which you can find in St Petersburg and Finland, for instance.

Vienna

But I did like the Karlsplatz station designed by Otto Wagner. His motives and patterns were duplicated and triplicated by so many architects around the world that eventually it all became so very trivial.

Vienna

However, I was glad I could see the original Otto Wagner’s creations and not a-la Wagneresque. Very sophisticated and detailed.

Vienna

I must admit I don’t have much to say about Vienna indeed. I think I didn’t really like it there. And yes, the time I spent there was not enough to make a proper opinion of the city but there was a certain feeling of being in a place where everything is so fixed you can’t change anything. As if everything has been already done for you – the only thing left is just go and admire the place. Vienna appears to me as a grown-up city so to speak, which is done with its development and now represents a static glossy picture.

Vienna

In a way I do struggle to find things interesting to me in the places like Vienna. Same problem with Zurich and Luxembourg. Looking back at it now, I’ve realized what was missing in those cities which I consider quite ‘fixed’ and static (thus not very attractive to me): they seem to lack decadence! I mean, surely there are some old things around but with all their minor bruises or scratches you don’t feel they are… authentic in a way. Too glossy.

Vienna

So in my search for something authentic and less glossy I stumbled upon the stables right in the center of Vienna (the imperial stables of Hofburg palace).

Vienna

Then I got lost in the courtyards of the city center with its interminable museums, posh shops and restaurants, crowds of tourists and horse-driven carts. I liked this guard’s post with sharp ‘teeth’:

Vienna

After wandering in the swarming city center I was glad to get out of it on one of the Ring avenues and into the Stadtpark with a lake and curious clock towers. A nice place to eat your sandwich and get some fresh air.

Vienna

I was planning to go to Albertina museum to see some Monet but in the end I just headed off towards the station visiting the Belvedere Garden which I liked more than the Palace itself.

Vienna
There was a spring-time feeling in the garden although it was just January. But the sun does put you in the spring mood!

Vienna

The view over the garden and the city from the elevation of the palace:

Vienna

Mutlicolour houses just outside Belvedere and next to the central railway station:

Vienna

After all the grown-up glamour of Vienna I was really relieved to get back to home-like Bratislava. I think Vienna just has too much of Baroque about it. I guess you can compare the city to one of its Baroque churches: the interiors seem to be so over-decorated that you feel lost immediately – and tired too. It’s overwhelmingly fanciful. That’s why unpredictable places like Slovakia seem to be less tiresome: at least you don’t get bored there because with all the European-Union-standardization not everything there is as fixed, secure and prosperous as in its neighbor Austria yet 🙂

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · travel

Back to Autumn in Berlin

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I didn’t go to Berlin just to catch the golden autumn while it was snowing in St Petersburg. Although it really felt like I was traveling back in time and getting that bit of autumn which got lost under the unexpectedly early snow. We actually planned the trip to see Zemfira live once again this year so here’s how this weekend away came about. I seem to enjoy such trips built around a concert, they transform the experience into a real adventure sometimes like that journey to the south of France back in September 2015.

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It was so good to take myself out of the routine, including that personal routine which resembles something like a box that you put yourself in and then don’t even notice unless you start travelling.

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First day was a little bit slow to begin (we had an early flight but then lost quite a bit of time standing in various lines) but turned out to be quite a long day in the end. We visited Potsdam, ate our lentil soup witо coconut milk (good!) and were just on time for the beginning of the concert same evening.

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It was my second time in Potsdam so I didn’t mind missing the main sights and having a longer walk in the Russian Village through alleys of multicoloured trees and looking at the city from the Belvedere tower instead:

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They say it gets really crowded in summer but that day we were virtually the only visitors in Belvedere to enjoy the wind and the somewhat solemn and silent landscape. It costs you 4.50 euros to get inside but it actually turned out to be worth it.

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They also say that this ambitiously looking palace (which was supposed to be but a first part of an entire project) was falling into ruins but finally taken over by the locals and turned into a must place for summer day hanging outs. It seems like Berlin has quite a lot of such initiatives carried out by local people who get hold of disused space and turn it into public places open for all.

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We got back to Berlin when it was already dark and as we were getting closer to the venue we heard more and more Russian speech. My Italian friend called to tell me she was probably the only non-Russian-speaking person there and when we finally got inside too we realised it was as if we never left Russia at all. The concert was different from the one I attended in St Petersburg this March, it was smaller in scale though definitely not shorter. It was more like a concert in a club with a very enthusiastic crowd.

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On the next day we continued our walking and music-related (and inspired) journey marching across Berlin and visiting both residential districts and touristy places.

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Starting from our nice hostel (with a funny name The Cat’s Pajamas) situated on the border of Kreuzberg and Neukölln…

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…we crossed the river Spree (it was so windy on the bridge and yet almost every arch had a homeless dweller in a sleeping bag)…

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…and arrived in Friedrichshain where we first of all stumbled upon an indie-looking place full of graffiti and bikes which did not appear particularly… clean. We walked out of it into the more family-friendly looking streets…

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…where we had some quality foodie time at the local market with amazingly looking vegetables and cheese from all over Europe. As you can imagine, I really liked walking in the residential areas of Berlin.

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Then we hurried up to the indie cinema hall where they were still screening that new documentary about the Beatles’ touring years but first got a little bit confused when we read “this is not cinema” across the wall of the – presumed – cinema hall building:

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We liked the film and got almost as excited as all those crazy kids shouting their lungs out at the Beatles’ concerts. There was also several photos and some footage that I had not seen before. We left the calm districts of Berlin after that to get to the touristy center, stopping on our way for yet another bowl of lentil and spinach soup (which was really good!).

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And then we saw the wall

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and Alexanderplatz:

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and a lovely sunset over the ultramodern parts of Berlin while walking away from the crowds:

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On our last day there was sun and there was quite a bit of walking before we headed off to the airport. We visited several parks gorgeously decadent under their – mostly – yellow veils and got to the Tempelhof field which used to be Berlin’s airport and now is something like a space run by people who won it back and did not let it be occupied by new commercial and residential estates. It has this communal garden with a beehive right there in the middle of the field where we wondered looking at how things can be recycled in a fun way (although I guess in several years all this stuff will look a bit miserable as it already starts to disintegrate).

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The rest of the field is taken over by joggers, cyclists, running dogs (!), refugee camp activities, etc etc. The ex-airport building (soooo long!) is occupied by the German police and military, as I found out. Gosh was it windy out there but also so sunny!

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The third day really helped me catch that spirit of Berlin which makes it so special. When in Berlin, drop the entire business of trying to fit it into the usual frame of European cities. It will disappoint you this way. But if you just relax and stop demanding and expecting too much it will not disappoint you. Especially if you enhance your experience with local markets, curious cafes and parks, and all that with a very good company, you do start to like Berlin.

Adding this post to the Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg · travel

Autumn in Gatchina

Gatchina

if I were an artist, I would paint autumn. In our parts an artist needs to be very swift cause autumn does not linger for long and you’d have to paint from memory!

Gatchina

This post continues (and most probably concludes) the “Autumn in…” series. We went to Gatchina, a somewhat neglected royal residence to the south-west of St Petersburg. It is a town in the Leningrad region mainly famous for its palace and beautiful (and big) park. Gatchina with its palace looking like a medieval castle used to be one of the royal family’s favourite places to escape from the capital where they felt not that easy at times.

Gatchina

It’s been a while since I last (and for the first time) went to the palace which is a museum now though we’ve visited the park relatively recently. In summer it’s gorgeous… In winter it all seems to be just lost in snow. I remember that when we went there in winter we got stranded in the park trying to get away from the ski tracks 🙂

Gatchina

The palace is still undergoing renovation after all those years of neglect and its being completely ruined during the war. It was built in the second half of the 18th century by (certo!) an Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi.

Gatchina

It has an underground passage where the tourist guides would diligently stop and tell their chilled (it’s cold down there!) listeners all the legends about it (it was built for mere entertainment though) and would make them repeat some phrases which would then be repeated by the echo.

Gatchina

I can hardly remember anything from our visit to the palace with my schools years ago apart from the fact that we were greeted by the emperor Pavel the First and his wife and then set off to treasure hunting (I cannot even recall what exactly we found in the palace after all!). But it’s obvious that the work is going on and more rooms are now open. We liked the third floor most cause it represents a somewhat nearer-to-us life, that of Alexander III and his family, i.e. late 19th century.

Gatchina

Just when we were ready to go wander in the park, the sun came out though the wind remained. Soon oh so soon it will all be covered with snow. But now there was this autumnal sunlight that doesn’t already shine but… pours? flows? It definitely feels like it’s much more thick than that of summer, if you know what I mean.

Gatchina

It was a pity leaving the park with all that sun in the sky but the temperature and the wind wouldn’t let us stay long. What should we visit next time?

This post goes to the St Petersburg series. And I’m going to travel tomorrow in the wee hours.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg · travel

Autumn in Tsarskoye Selo

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

I’ve been travelling in and about St Petersburg and its region these months and there’s quite a lot of photos in the autumnal mood. I will start the series “Autumn in…” from Tsarskoye Selo.

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

We came to Tsarksoye Selo (aka Pushkin) when the leaves were all over the place but also still on the trees. We didn’t go to the palace or to the place where Pushkin studies but wondered quite a bit through the park(s), also visiting that Art-Nouveau spot of the city which looks even more decadent with the fallen leaves.

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

There was very little sun that day. Actually, this autumn is not very generous on good weather at all. We had Indian summer for 1 day only which is not common even for such a notoriously grey and cold place as St Petersburg.

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

(Habitually) putting my winter hat on in the mornings doesn’t strike me anymore – we’ve been doing this since the beginning of October this year. Will be doing the same during the next 6-7 months.

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

Good God, spring is so far away, one could actually stop believing in its existence after more than half a year of winter in these parts! I start doubting there’s anything warm and comfortable on this planet somewhere in October.

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

However, I do enjoy the decadence of autumn, the clear air and the long shadows. And the subtle reflections on the smooth dark mirror-like  water.

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

Especially when there’s sun which creates the contrast and accentuates the lines. Without it the colours are a bit bleak like on this photo.

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

I love those colourful maple leaves, their rustling sound when you walk on the grass. Girls were making wreaths with the leaves, a somewhat forgotten skill from childhood.

 

Tsarskoye Selo in Autumn

If you’re in St Petersburg in autumn, don’t miss a walk in one of the parks in and around the city. Take a flask full of flavourful tea, some sandwiches and a warm scarf. And a good company!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post goes to St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · St Petersburg · travel

St Petersburg Environs in May

Orlinskoye Lake

This fragile spring-time stage of the nature before all the summer abundance comes in is so very fleeting. I enjoy it the most. When the summer comes it’s all very fine of course but there’s no contrast, everything seems to be even. That’s why I like setting sun in summer, it brings in the contrast and you start appreciating the day that’s gone.

Orlinskoye Lake

May in Russia is notorious for its holidays (May 1 for Labour Day and May 9 for Victory Day) and the start of the dacha season. This year we chose to go outside St Petersburg (following a tradition which is probably as old as the city itself) heading not to the dacha but to two environs instead. In the very beginning of May we went to the Orlinskoye Lake near Gatchina (St Petersburg region).

Orlinskoye Lake

We were happy to see the lake before the hoards of tourists and locals come and make shashlik to loud music (and leave heaps of rubbish all over the place). There was peace around the lake.

Orlinskoye Lake

We also met an amateur diver or rather a treasure-hunter who was trying to fish out some antiques on the shore and found a 1903 coin with his metal detector.

Orlinskoye Lake

The journey took us some hours to get there and especially back (as all the dacha and shashlik people were also trying to get back to the city before everybody else), but we managed to breathe in some pretty fresh air and enjoy the forest which used to be a park, actually.

Orlinskoye Lake

You see, the Stroganovs, one of the famous Russian dynasties, used to have their manor there – and so they planted the trees and had their own beach. Probably that’s why the treasure-hunting makes some sense there.

Orlinskoye Lake

But we were in for nature:

Orlinskoye Lake

Next week we also moved outside the city which was ready to host the Victory Day parade and other crowded events, and headed to Pavlovsk. There the nature was also actively awakening – and yet we managed to see it while it was still dormant in some parts:

Pavlovsk in May

The spring sunlight is so delicate, it seems:

Pavlovsk in May

…and then you turn towards the sun and there’s just a whole wall of light pouring on you:

Pavlovsk in May

This post goes to St Petersburg collection.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

The Brilliant Peterhof, Russian Versailles

Peterhof, St Petersburg

It was Peter the Great who dared outdo Versailles by creating a shiny new residence on the road from the capital to the port-city of Kronshtadt. Hence the name Peterhof which means ‘the court of Peter’ (aka Petrodvorets). Since the Peter’s times it has grown and bloomed and become a true treasure of the country.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Peterhof is one of the most famous and popular environs of St Petersburg – at least the most brilliant one. It is situated to the west of St Petersburg, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. To the students of my alma mater, the St Petersburg State University, it’s best known for the campus misplaced situated 29 km from the city.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Its location on the Gulf of Finland adds up to the particularly effective impression one gets when arriving there from St Petersburg on board of a hovercraft. This long promenade with the Grand Cascade and the Palace designed by Rastrelli (the same guy who built the Hermitage, Smolny Cathedral and Catherine’s Palace in Tsarskoye Selo) right in front of you.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

But we arrived from the other side, walking first in the town to the Lower Park. Close to Aleksandria Park there is this vast red-brick ensemble of the emperor’s stables. Part of the buildings are still occupied by a sanatorium (yes, people are housed in the ex-stables. But those were EMPEROR’s stables!) though there are plans to reconstruct the stables making yet another sight for the tourists.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

The ensemble was designed by Nikolas Benois, the emperor’s architect, in 1848-55 in pseudo-Gothic style. It does look like a castle!

Peterhof, St Petersburg

With various towers growing up towards the sky 🙂

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Once you’ve paid for your ticket to enter the Lower Park (called so in contrast to the Upper Garden, situated higher, obviously, farther from the water), you soon start the descent to see the main attraction of the ensemble – the Grand Cascade and the Grand Palace – in its entirety.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

The levels on which the two parks are situated is visible on this photo:

Peterhof, St Petersburg

I took it from the Lower Park and on top, beyond the tourists, there’s the Upper Garden (with free entrance, smaller and less posh). I must warn you that you will walk a lot 🙂 There are now even tourist mini-trains and something like golf cars for the tired visitors. So take it easy, make frequent stops and enjoy the beautiful regular gardens, splashes of fountains (there’s enough wind there, so close to the Baltic sea!) and – probably less so – myriads of tourists even during the week.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is the iconic view of the Grand Cascade. And here is how it looked like after the Second World war… It got so ruined, looted and ravaged that there were only walls left. And then it was literally reborn from ashes, with the works starting right from January 1944 when Peterhof was reconquered by the Soviet army and continuing up to now. The process has been painstaking to say the least. Some of the statues were buried in the ground in an attempt to preserve at least something from the rapidly advancing Hitler’s army in September 1941. Some treasures got evacuated from the city when the war broke out. But who could have saved all of the beauty…

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Seeing it now in all its luster (compared even to what I recall from my school-time visits) makes me at the same time proud and also somewhat estranged. I mean, the parks are great, the palaces are shiny and most of the objects are carefully renovated – but it feels a little bit soul-less… though when I was a child this place was like a holiday in itself, like a luna-park and ice-cream combined 🙂

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is one of my favourite shutikha – a ‘cracker’ fountain which gets you all soaking wet just when you think you are ‘in control’ and in safety 🙂 See that guy on the green bench? Previously he (it’s usually a guy – and what a job!) was pedaling right at the moment when a ‘victim’ (mostly kids) was nonchalantly hopping from one pebble to the other, trying to find that very stone that will switch the fountain on 🙂 Now the guy is a bit lazy so he’s operating the switch a bit randomly. Sorry if I’ve ruined the mystery! 🙂 When we learnt it with my sister back then, it was like finding out that all your letters to the Father Frost (Santa Claus) never made it to the North Pole cause he didn’t exist! I remember I was convinced each time that only I knew which stone was the ‘button’ to make the fountain work – and the result was inevitable change of clothes (thoughtfully foreseen by my Mother), a lot of excitement and once even a minus one primary tooth in my mouth 🙂  There are various other fun fountains in the park, like a mushroom with water running from its cap or an entire part of an alley suddenly turning all the passers by wet as mice (well, not suddenly after all – it operates on a strict schedule with PA announcements made in advance!). And there are, well, the other sides of the fountains too:

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is Eve (Adam’s on the opposite side of the park). But the place I still love the most is this ridge with a row of trees running parallel to the water:

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is the easternmost end of the park, and beyond the bridge there’s the Gulf of Finland. The wind up there between the trees just sweeps you off your feet!

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Walking up there you can see both Kronshtadt to the left and St Petersburg to the right.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Feels like you’re on the seashore… That makes me think that although Peter the Great might have exaggerated a bit with the utmost necessity of building St Petersburg right there on the bogs (the location is one of the things the citizens keep blaming Peter the I for :), the are so many things we enjoy about it, like this pearl called Peterhof, Peter’s court.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

He built his Mon Plaisir palace for his own little retreats here and, well, we can understand why! If by then you are tired of the crowds, you can leave the Lower Park and go into the Upper Garden with its ivy alleys and straight-cut bushes. There’s also much to see apart from the tourist-packed parks. The center of Peterhof is a UNESCO World Heritage sight as well as the parks are. While we were driving through the town I could spot some modernistic cottages and these wooden houses too. There are also more ponds and pavilions and churches in Peterhof. A true open air museum!

Peterhof, St Petersburg

This is St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, is a 1894-1904 neo-Russian church designed by Nicolas Sultanov. I cannot say that I like the neo-Russian style that much (at least here there too many details piled up) but I definitely liked the majolica decorations. And here’s where we end our journey for today.

Peterhof, St Petersburg

Some useful info on Peterhof: The park is huge so plan your visit ahead (there are eating places but also benches for buterbrod :). There are numerous pavilions, grottoes, museums and small and big palaces to visit, so if you’re looking forward to seeing lots of gold and porcelain, you might want to get a composite ticket. Otherwise you just get the entrance ticket and then pay for each other object separately. The Lower Park is where all the cascades and fountains are – and the entrance costs 500 rub. (you can enter the park only once with this ticket). The Upper Garden has free entrance. Aleksandria Park (a less popular landscape park) requires a separate ticket. If you arrive by public transport and not by water, choose the entrance close to Aleksandria Park – by walking some metres away from the main entrance you will avoid awful crowds and lines.

To get there you can take a bus number 200, 210 or marshrutka (commercial bus) number 224, 300, 424, 424-A from metro station Avtovo; marshrutka 103 (K-224), 420 from metro Leninsky Prospekt; marshrutka 343, 639-b from metro Prospekt Veteranov; marshrutka number 404 from metro Baltiyskaya. The stop you need is called Fontany. You can also try elektrichka, a suburban train (about 45 minutes) from railway station Baltiysky to Novy Peterhof from where you should take bus number 344, 348, 350, 351, 352, 355, 356 to get to the park. You can also choose a very convenient means that will take you right from the Hermitage or the Bronze Horseman to the Lower Park by water – a hovercraft (meteor). It costs quite a lot but takes just 30 minutes to travel. But do not buy a 2 way ticket for the hovercraft, cause once you enter the Lower Park where the passengers leave the boat  and then leave it to go to Upper Garden or the town, for example, you will have to buy the entrance ticket to Lower Park again – to get on board of the boat…

Adding this to my St Petersburg posts.

G.