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

Autumn and Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Autumn and Art Nouveau go really well together. And where else would they go perfectly well together than in Tsarskoye Selo, an aristocratic suburb of St Petersburg. I love visiting it in autumn when the ex-royal residence is wearing its gorgeous multicolour veil. This time though we decided (ok-ok, I persuasively suggested it) to go on an Art Nouveau quest around the town. The number of Art Nouveau places is limited but thanks to the overall status of Tsarskoye Selo as a ‘country’ residence, they are mostly separate cottages / dachas. The first spot we visited was the dacha (summer cottage) of the grand duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia , now the premises of the Research Institute of Horticulture. Built in 1896-1897 – supposedly by two English architects – it is considered to be one of the first Art Nouveau places in St Petersburg.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Since the last time we were there in spring 2017 (seems like years ago), they’ve surrounded the whole area with a fence and also started renovation in one of the buildings which used to serve as a stable (also built in 1896-1897). Also, the little clock tower which used to decorate this house is gone…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I do hope they will be careful with what is left from the original interior details (if any) – in this case you never know if the renovation is beneficial or on the contrary fatal for the building. The nearby second (reserve) home with a garage (one of the first garages for automobiles in Russia, built in 1899), slowly but steadily dying from the mold and disuse, represents a very sad picture from the inside:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Wonderfully decadent from the outside – if only there was a way to stop the building from decaying:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I don’t know the plans for the garage, but I hope they do something about it pretty soon as the roof is falling in:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

An un-standardized door:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

An un-standardized window:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The previous times I was there I didn’t pay much attention to the fountain erroneously thinking it was a later addition. probably thanks to the fact the dacha is somewhat off the main road and the fountain is almost in the ‘woods’, it survived till today – and who knows, maybe even its mechanism is still working?

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Another thing which I didn’t explore earlier was this hobbit-like pavilion near the greenhouses (not sure if these are the original ones) – also built in the Art Nouveau style and now full of junk.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The entire pavilion seems to be growing out of the ground, merging with the garden. It has obviously sank over the last century which only gives it a more ‘natural’ look. If only it was also kept in a better condition…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Our next Art Nouveau stop was the ex-store of the Guards Economic Society, built already in the late Art Nouveau period when in St Petersburg they were mostly moving towards the retrospective styles (1911-1914). But the ‘province’ (although Tsarskoye Selo is very close to the city) is a different thing.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

They say the building continued to be used as a shop even in the Soviet period but now it’s hard to say what’s there. There are security cameras and yet half of the building seems to be abandoned.
Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Apart from the decadent stone staircases…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

with trees growing through them, …

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

and original glass in the windows,…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

there is also a pavilion in the same pseudo-English style nearby (as well as two other pavilions of an uncertain function):

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I wish I could visit that shop when it was just open. Or even now, to see what’s hiding inside behind those large windows – and also what’s up there in the pinnacle? What’s inside the small pavilion is better not seen 😦

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The third stop was the mansion of count Gudovich (built in 1901-03), now a kindergarten, situated just outside the Catherine Park.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

You cannot go close to the building as the schools and places like this are now mostly fenced in (we had plans to get hired as cleaning ladies to get inside 🙂 so we just wandered around peeping through the fence. Must feel like a sort of Hogwarts to the kids!

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

One of the details that catch your eye is the grate and the gates designed by Art Nouveau guru Robert Metlzer. The grate reminds me of the Northern Modern style that was a very popular movement within Art Nouveau. It brought into the architecture all those Scandinavian fairy-tale elements that make you think of fortresses, ammunition and creatures that turn into stone.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The gates are still operating:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

There are also street lights but sadly no bulbs:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The forth stop was connected to the first automobiles in the Russian empire – though now it has more to do with the agriculture of the Leningrad (St Petersburg) region as it houses some of the departments of the local Institute of Agriculture. The garages were built in 1906-1907 to house 2 new Delaunay-Belleville cars bought for the emperor.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

When we saw this bas-relief we couldn’t decide whether that was a car or a tractor – such is the aura of the place now 🙂 But it actually depicts the introduction of the first cars in Russia. And here is the garage:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Now students sit in there listening to their lecturers. What a transformation for a garage!

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The building in the background is the one with the bas-relief.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

A pavilion nearby was built later and has a glass roof for more light. I guess they use it to house some specimens of agricultural machinery:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Faded colors of autumn:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Natural decadence:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Beautiful door of the nearby dacha of Alexander Pushkin:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The day was really nice so I decided to leave the architecture for a while and go enjoy some nature. The Alexander park (a free-entrance counterpart of the more popular and more regular Catherine park) was surprisingly green for late September and although the sun was already setting down, I enjoyed my walk along the alleys up to those corners that you normally miss out.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Although this is a landscape park and so it’s not exactly all nature… But the combination of the natural beauty with the tricks of the architect makes you love it no less.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

A lamppost next to the ruins of the Chinese Theater:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

One of the bridges bears the name of the factory that produced it – the famous one that is also responsible for major metal constructions found here and there in St Petersburg, the San-Galli Factory:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Since the summer started a month later than it was supposed to, the autumn also arrived late(r) this year. The autumnal hues were just beginning to make their appearance:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Four friends:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

On my way back:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The golden evening light of September…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

…made the Catherine Palace less pompous and a bit warmer:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

While it made the gold look even gold-er 🙂

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Baroque palace meets civilization:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

And as my final stop, I entered the 1860s Lutheran church with its rows of white benches and a boy changing the plates with the numbers of verses to be read next day. I came just after the organ concert finished. The church originally opened for the German instructors working at the nearby Lyceum (where Pushkin studied) and had services also in Finnish and Estonian languages up until 1931. Then it acted as the premises for a factory, gestapo and a driving school. Miraculously, it didn’t suffer much destruction through all that.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

More pictures of autumnal Tsarskoye Selo are here in my last year’s post.

Adding this post to the Environs section of the St Petersburg collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Fiolent, Balaklava and Chersonesus

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Three places near / in Sevastopol with an exceptional view that can be visited in one day? Cape Fiolent, Balaklava and the ancient Chersonesus! Scroll down for many photos and (a) few words to describe them.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The morning I set off for yet another around-Sevastopol trip was pretty promising, there was plenty of sun and warm wind. But already while I was enjoying the view at cape Fiolent there came the clouds and a sort of a haze.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

After enjoying the view from the observation platform with a monument to Pushkin (who once visited these shores), I came down a long-long stone staircase to the beach where I saw these layered volcanic rocks:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The popular Jasper beach was quite deserted although I managed to attract the attention of a guy from Tobolsk who was travelling alone just like me with the difference that he was staying at a sanatorium (he works shifts somewhere in the Far East).

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

It was almost drizzling with rain so there was the only thing to do – continue the journey. We climbed up the staircase to St George monastery, spotting this cat on our way. There’s a legend that in 9 century AD Greeks got in a nasty storm with their ship wrecking right there near cape Fiolent and since they survived they built a monastery.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The we parted our ways as I went to Balaklava (the center of the district where Fiolent is situated) and that guy headed somewhere else. By the time I got to Balaklava, it was raining and the wind was getting stronger.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

I hope I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings but I really found Balaklava a very run-down sad and dirty town with dirty water and a general atmosphere of something dying.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The local decadence didn’t leave a good impression even on me.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Walking towards the cliff:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Wait, you said balaklava?! Yes, they say that the British invented this sort of mask now closely associated with terrorism right there in Crimea where they were experiencing quite a freezing time of the year 1854.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

But Balaklava is also famous for this very harbour which boasts such a location and shape that it knows no storms (unlike Fiolent) and becomes almost invisible from the sea. There I saw dolphins!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

And that’s why it was used as a secret submarine base up until 1993. The town was a closed one and the entire population was employed at the base – and obviously they were not at all involved in searching for the gold left by the White Army (which they say they originally did in the 1920s, for which they opened the first diving courses in Russia there), they were working for the defense of the Motherland.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The entrance to the base is to the left of the ruined tower on this photo:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

There’s a museum now with no actual submarines – but I decided to skip it, recalling my sheer intolerance of closed space when we visited a submarine in Kaliningrad.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The tower is right above the town, guarding this water way into the harbour:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Scotland? Ireland?

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

It was misty and rainy when I got to the Cembalo fortress, first trying to get to a place intriguingly called Kefalo-Vrisi (Head of the Source) but helplessly and rather dangerously slipping and sliding on these rocks.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

But then I just couldn’t see anything around at all!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

They say they tried to renovate the 14th century fortress in the 50s – since then there’s this other thingy left:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Woohoo!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Some bits of Balaklava through the mist and clouds:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Balaklava might be a pretty ugly (I’m sorry!) place down at the ground, but then it just beats you when you climb up to the fortress!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Spot the bird:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Definitely Scotland! And yet it’s Crimea 🙂

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Realizing there was nothing more to do in Balaklava (I just spotted an entire factory now occupied by some hard-core quests, as well as a ruined cinema with the ‘Segodnya‘ (On today) letters still visible), I left the town for the city. When I arrived back in Sevastopol and went to Chersonesus, it was raining non stop.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Right there in Sevastopol there is an ancient site of Chersonesus which is a must for all the tourists visiting the city. By this point I was already quite tired and also the wall of rain was a bit obstructing the view, so the time I spent there was pretty inconsiderable.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

I’m sure the place has many legends to tell, with all those ancient stones, some of which might as well be there from when the Greeks established their colony there, in 6 century BC.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

And yes, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Imagine that those who live on the opposite shore of the bay can see the ruins of an ancient Greek colony every day?

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

But as always I enjoyed the view towards the sea most of all:

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Regardless of rain.

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

The sea is the best! And definitely not black at all 🙂

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

Love you too, poppies!

Fiolent, Balaklava, Chersonesus

How to get there:

There’s bus #3 that goes to Fiolent from the TsUM bus stop in Sevastopol. If you get off at Fiolent bus stop, you will have to walk a bit to the shore but in this way you will gradually take in the view as you stroll towards the monastery (you can also get off at the terminus which is right next to the Monastery). From there you can hop on any bus that goes to the transport hub called ‘the 5th kilometer’, where you can ask the locals for bus #9 that will take you to Balaklava. On the way back you can take the same bus to the 5th km, then get on any that goes through TsUM stop where you will get off and walk towards Chersonesus. Sounds like changing transport a lot but in reality it’s not that complicated, nor is it far.

Crimea in May series:

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

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

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisarai and Inkerman

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

One of the days when I was staying over at my friend’s in Sevastopol was dedicated to its ‘environs’ or the places you can quite easily reach from the Sevastopol bus station within several hours. That day I did three in one go (thanks to valuable advice from my host), visiting Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale and Inkerman. Brace yourselves – there will be lots of stones, caves and even more stones.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

My aim that day was not the Bakhchisarai Palace with its fountain (of Pushkin’s fame – and by the way the eponymous ballet is great!) but the cave city with a tremendous view, Chufut-Kale. The first thing you see when you walk from Bakhchisarai’s bus terminus to the caves is the Assumption Monastery of the Caves carved in the rock. It’s an inevitable stop along the way – moreover, some people come there just for it.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

It is believed to originate back as early as the 8th century but with all the construction and the renovation going on, it leaves no such impression. For some reason I didn’t want to stay there for long, so I moved on. After some walking along the ravine passing by a Jewish cemetery, I reached one of the most visited cave places of Crimea, Chufut-Kale (‘Jewish Fortress’ in the Crimean Tatar language).

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

This place impressed me quite a bit. I cannot say I enjoyed the caves a lot (although it’s pretty cool inside) but I really loved the view from this medieval fortified city on top of the world.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Any of these photos just fail to render the vertigo from the view and the wind you feel up there, with the birds flying across the valley and the road looking like a thread from such a height.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Gosh, this place is just stunning!

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

…it definitely sends shivers down your spine when you bend over to make a photo!

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

…but you can also take a look down your feet to check out the roads!

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

this one in particular – with the grooves left by oh so many wheels:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Believe it or not, but this place was inhabited (arguably from 5th century) until the very end of the 19th century. There are some temples and houses left. They even had a mint there. And a mausoleum, reminding us of the Mongol-Tatars. There’s also a museum of the Karaite culture but it was closed.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Crimean spring in blossom:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

And then walking back to the bus terminus from the other entrance to the site I got lost – together with three more crazy girls who stubbornly decided to take the upper road – the right one as they thought. I was foolish enough to follow them and even lead the way until I understood no one was behind me anymore and had to run back to them to find out they apparently changed their minds, well, quietly :).

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Walking back to Bakhchisarai‘s heavily touristy center (the city’s name means ‘garden palace’) to see the Palace, I passed by some rather old houses with the signs of ‘civilization’, like this one with newly installed windows:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

There are also Crimean dogs, not just cats:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Сan’t resist posting this photo either, sorry:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Walking closer to the Bakhchisarai Palace is a bit complicated as you are very persistently asked or should I say almost physically drawn to go eat somewhere. It seems like every tourist that arrives to the Palace should be at least starving!

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

I paid for the entrance to the territory of the palace but was not inclined to go inside and wait for the next group excursion.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Instead I walked up the hill to a Second World war memorial and then back to the palace, duly enjoying only those of its corners that are open to a visitor with an ‘only entrance to the territory’ ticket.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

The city obviously lives off the Palace and the tourists (as well as many extreme sports & entertainments offered nearby). It was once the capital of the rich and powerful Crimean Khanate… And there was that legendary fountain – though not this one I suppose 🙂

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

They say the palace is worth visiting but I spent there much less time than in Chufut-Kale and headed towards my last of the three destinations that day – for which I had to run a bit to catch a bus which did not stop where I was frantically waving to it but did stop some hundred meters further the road – the bus driver was a very law-obedient but also kind to wait for me 🙂

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

The bus took me to the medieval fortress Kalamita in Inkerman, a suburb of Sevastopol. As in Chufut-Kale, you first walk up to yet another cave monastery before you can reach the fortress.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

They built Inkerman Monastery of St. Clement on the ruins of a Byzantine monastery where they kept the relics of St Clement for a while.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

When you’re done with the Monastery (which I actually visited afterwards), you can go up the hill to see the fortress and take in the view over pretty industrial Inkerman (there’s also a winery open n 1961), an artificial lake and the railroad:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

The fortress, well, the ruins of it, dates back to 6th century AD, when the Byzantine people ruled these places – it was called by the Greek name Kalamita. The fortress was consequently rebuilt and then, taken over by the Turks, it was renamed into Inkerman (‘cave fortress’).

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

This is all what is left from it:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

And here is the view on the artificial lake – they dug it out, gradually extracting stone for rebuilding Sevastopol after the War (add sounds of 80s music from one of the jeeps with local holiday-makers):

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

And here are the poppies again:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Can you feel the wind? Add sighs here:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Feels and looks like a rug – I wish I had such a spot somewhere close to me:

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

How to get there:

The easiest way is to catch a bus from the Sevastopol bus station that goes to Bakhchisarai (you’d better get your ticket at least the day earlier cause this is a rather popular destination and you might have to wait for the next one like I did), then hop on the local bus that goes from the bus station to its terminus in Bakhchisarai (don’t be fooled by the ever present taxi drivers, it’s not worth a costly drive!) from where you can start your walking tour towards the Monastery (free of charge but you cannot take photos inside) and Chufut-Kale (there’s an entrance fee). Then you can walk a bit more / catch a bus back to the Bakhchisarai Palace (you can’t visit even the courtyard without paying the entrance fee and if you want to go inside you’ll have to wait for a group excursion), walk towards the road / get there on a bus to catch the Bakhchisarai-Sevastopol bus that will take you to Inkerman (you need the ominously looking Vtormet stop – see below), where you can visit the Monastery (free of charge) and the ruins of the fortress (also free of charge). From there you can either take the same bus back to the Sevastopol bus station or hop on one of the passing buses (which I did) that will drop you off at one of the city’s main transport hubs called ‘the 5th kilometer’.

Bakhchisarai, Chufut-Kale, Inkerman

Crimea in May series:

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

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

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Crimea in May: Sevastopol (and the Poppies)

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Nikitsky Botanical Garden and Massandra

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Crimea is this piece of land on the crossroads of so many nations and so many cultures. Below the general Soviet heritage that normally overlays every other historical layer on the post-Soviet territory (being the most recent – and a very distinct – one), there are Greeks, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Tatars, Turks, Goths, Scythians, Mongols and others who left their traces on this land. What unites them is the wonderful nature of Crimea, which in its turn is pretty diverse: steppe, mountains and sea!

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

I didn’t see the steppe part of Crimea but I did cover the mountains and the sea. To further explore the Crimean nature, I went to one of the oldest botanical gardens in Europe (est. 1812) – Nikitsky Botanical Garden near Yalta. On that day I left my super comfortable accommodation in Alupka and went straight to the Yalta bus station where I got on a local bus that took me to the Garden.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

At this point in my Crimean adventures I was thoroughly enjoying the nature – more than anything else. So much so that I didn’t really mind the poor service or sometimes total absence of pedestrian paths etc etc. I was in the tune with the luscious spring, the scope of which we can hardly enjoy even in July here in St Petersburg (this year in particular). However, I didn’t stop marveling at all the architectural gems of all kinds, as they are really many in Crimea.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

One of the first non-natural things I spotted when I entered the gates of Nikitsky Botanical Garden was this sort of a wall commemorating the 30 years of the October Revolution in a very minimalist way (2 years after the war had ended).

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

There was another very Soviet architectural must in most of the parks (particularly in the South) – this open air theater in the Stalin’s neo-classical style. It was one of the locations of the now cult 1980s movie Assa, by the way:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

I liked this house too. Can you see it? 🙂

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Gosh, was it hot on that day… After I – as usual – stubbornly covered several kilometers in a wrong direction (the Garden is 11 sq. km) from where I was evicted by a snake (!), I kept to the well-established paths and alleys.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

There was so much sun my photos of the Botanical Garden are pretty bleak. Like this one with the previously visited Ai-Petri mountain:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

I spent some time reading the signposts with the names of irises – parterres after parterres: Stop the Music, Stairway to Heaven and what not. I wonder how they pick the names! There were also roses, rows of palm trees, other amazing trees, bamboo groves and cats. Eleven (!) hectares of plants many of which have been introduced by the Nikitsky Botanical Garden research center.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

And here’s another cat – in the nearby Massandra estate.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

A tough touch of decadence:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Formerly one of the residences of Alexander III and Nicholas II, later a sanatorium for patients with TB amazingly called Proletarskoye Zdorovye (Proletarian Health), consequently one of Stalin’s (later Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s) dachas, Massandra is now a museum (I didn’t go inside).

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Spot the cat:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Here I was completely transported to France, most definitely to the Loire region – and that was probably what the architect (or rather his client) wanted, choosing the Louis XIII style for this jewel of a palace.

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

No need to go to France, folks!

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Its back facade looks even more Loire-ish, with its thin tubular towers. They say inside there’s some built-in mahogany furniture left over from the original owners (something is telling me not everything survived the sick proletarians :). Meanwhile, I enjoyed the wooden doors from the outside:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

I’ve always wondered why they put vykhod (exit) signs on the other side of the door (besides, this sign looks pretty old – thanks god no one dares screw in a sign on such a great door now).

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Add toad sounds here:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

Zooming in – oh those lilacs!:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden, Massandra

How to get there:

Nikitsky Botanical Garden can be reached by a bus that circulates from the Yalta bus station to Nikita, the settlement where the Garden is situated. It stops at the gates to the Garden, you won’t miss it. I got to Massandra on the same bus (just a few stops away) – moving from Nikitsky Botanical Garden back to Yalta but the other way round is of course also possible. Expect to walk from the road up to the estate, though.

Coming up: Sevastopol and its environs.

Crimea in May series:

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

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

This post goes to the Travel collection.

G.

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 · 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.