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.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Capital of Karelian Republic

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

and how about this one?

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

the wall is just oh so decadent!

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

This is the hospital church:

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

  Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

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

Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia

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

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

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

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

G.