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

Vitebsky Railway Station through Engineer’s Eyes

Vitebsky Railway Station

There are places in St Petersburg that take you on a journey through time. One of such places is actually intrinsically connected with journeys – and time: Vitebsky Railway Station, the Art Nouveau jewel. So let’s indulge into the intricate details of a seemingly utilitarian place.

Vitebsky Railway Station

It seemed to me I’d covered most of its treasures: its Otto Wagner-like details, innovative steel constructions and atmosphere of the beginning of the 20th century (here is my rather detailed post on Vitebsky railway station).

Vitebsky Railway Station

But a recent excursion with the project St Petersburg through Engineer’s Eyes proved me wrong: there were many more hidden treasures to this place than I would have thought.

Vitebsky Railway Station

Also thanks to my Mom (who were brave enough to join this excursion while still having her arm cast. She would later join me on another trip – and now she has her other arm in a cast 🙂 – but that is a different story) I could notice even more details that would have escaped me otherwise. For instance, the tiles on the floor caught her attention.

Vitebsky Railway Station

Another detail we saw at least twice in the building – the mechanism for moving the chandelier up and down to change the candles, now substituted by a row of switches.

Vitebsky Railway Station

This time we also paid more attention to the structure of the railway station – and for the first time did we actually realize that all these ship-shape steel rivets were hand-made!

Vitebsky Railway Station

The guide told us about the process of riveting, that the team would consist of four members, namely the heater, the catcher, the bucker-up and the gunman (you can find a description of the process here). You surely must have seen those crazy photos of the construction workers having their lunch up there in the sky while building the Empire State or some other skyscraper. Countless rivets! 

Vitebsky Railway Station

Look at the structure here: there is the luggage storage room on the ground floor, whereas on the second floor there are offices (seen in the background), waiting rooms (to the left) and the entrance to the platforms (to the right), also situated on the second floor due to the high railway tracks.

Vitebsky Railway Station

It looks as if you’re outside because of the drain pipes and the windows looking inwards but it’s not! You can’t take the iron staircase anymore but you can cross the “bridges”.

Vitebsky Railway Station

This is what you would see on the ground floor to the left:

Vitebsky Railway Station

And then up we went to the very roof of the station. It felt pretty weird standing on the top of it and looking at the very structure holding the roof and the cupola – laboriously executed by the hands of many nameless people.

Vitebsky Railway Station

There were other places in the building that we were able to see this time, for example the waiting hall for the first-class passengers. I used to think it as not open to public and used for some high-class delegates or something (the doors were closed) but it turns out it can be admired freely by anyone (also see the very first picture of the post).

Vitebsky Railway Station

The curvy Otto Wagner-like wooden structure to the right of the mirror indicates the now walled up entrance to the first-class restaurant.

Vitebsky Railway Station

They say the restaurant will resurrect soon – we were allowed in to see what is left of the beautiful round hall with big windows, balconies and this wooden cupboard.

Vitebsky Railway Station

I really hope that they wont turn it into a posh place with prohibitively high prices which is what happened to several Art-Nouveau buildings in St Petersburg, their style being traditionally associated with something aristocratic and expensive.

Vitebsky Railway Station

Peacocks decorating the ceiling:

Vitebsky Railway Station

And this is yet another ceiling – in the waiting room for the princes. Interestingly enough, back at the beginning of the 20th century Art Nouveau was too new to be associated with aristocracy and so the royal family would rather have their chambers decorated in a baroque style or something more classical.

Vitebsky Railway Station

Still not discovered – the separate pavilion for the tsar – or should we say a separate railway station with a separate railway line. Now looking pretty run-down from the outside but apparently nicely renovated inside for some luxury offices.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky

Rostov

After seeing three European capitals in January, I’ve now switched back to the explorations within my own country, so i will interrupt my account of the Mitteleuropa trip to share my most recent impressions of two popular Russia’s Golden Ring destinations, the old cities of Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky (not to be confused with Rostov-on-Don in the South of Russia).

Yaroslavl

I saw both cities about 17 years ago and in summer but I can remember very little – and mostly thanks to the photos that back then we would print out and look at not just once. So this time it was just as if I went there for the first time anyway. I chose the bigger Yaroslavl as my base from which I travelled to the smaller Rostov.

Yaroslavl

And as always (well, actually only since I’ve started travelling on my own) I’ve enjoyed the train part of the journey. I travelled by night both there and back but I did not leave the train too early in the morning to miss that feeling of having a pretty lazy start of the day while knowing that you will have pretty busy rest of the day afterwards. So I arrived in Yaroslavl towards midday and had just several hours of light in front of me. Well, the day was not sunny at all which probably also influenced my perception of the city.

Yaroslavl

I started off from my hostel which was super conveniently located just next to the railway station and when I got to the center of the city, I noticed a flow of people heading towards the square in front of the cathedral – where they were celebrating the Russian Shrovetide, Maslenitsa.

Yaroslavl

I ignored the celebrations and chose to go see the Volga river instead – last time I saw it in Samara and had a swim there too. In the picture below you can see ice and snow-covered Kotorosl river and the ice-free Volga to the left. They come together at this point which is called Strelka (Arrow). This pavilion is one of the symbols of the city and one of the musts for all tourist groups.

Yaroslavl

After realizing that it should be less windy and hence warmer the farther you get from Volga I went to the Yaroslavl Kremlin – or rather Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery which was so fortified back in the old days it still looks like a fortress (and is mistakenly referred to as kremlin).

Yaroslavl

Unfortunately, the place is pretty run-down and doesn’t really impress you even though it seems to have all the necessary ingredients such as whitewashed walls, strong gates and a belltower.

Yaroslavl

Love these outside wooden staircases – they seem to be hanging on air and to be popping up in all possible places!

Yaroslavl

I went inside one of these buildings to see the exposition dedicated to the history of the region. One of the objects on display that keep amusing me since I went to a similar museum in Ryazan is kopoushka – a funny named thing used to pick old Russians’ ears 🙂 No photo of this thingy here but you can follow the link to see its many incarnations.

Yaroslavl

Sure enough they tell you about the main symbol of the city in that museum, the bear. It occupies the central place in one of the legends surrounding the foundation of Yaroslavl: they say the original dwellers of these parts used to worship bears and even sent a really ferocious one after prince Yaroslav the Wise, so he killed the bear and took over the power and built the city (which according to one of the versions took its name after Yaroslav). One of the numerous bear symbols in the city is right there on top of the tower:

Yaroslavl

There was a fun part in there for me too: a local producers’ market because that was the Maslenitsa weekend and the first and foremost thing everybody is up to during Shrovetide in Russia – is food. So out I went with a jar of cherry-rum confiture and some meat for my Dad. I also found some super flavourful honey from the Kuban’ region and tasty ryazhenka (baked milk) on my way back to the hostel. Also bought this black bread called Monastyrsky (it had no label on its package so I can only assume that it was made with sourdough and rye malt):

Monastyrsky Bread

Next morning I went to Rostov the Great (Rostov Veliky), within an hour bus ride from Yaroslavl. Just like in the Vladimir / Suzdal couple, Rostov used to be much bigger and much more important than Yaroslavl but then lost all the power. It now resembles a real village with lots of tourists and not many locals around. On the way from the bus / railway station to the center I spotted this dying wooden heritage:

Rostov

When you reach the ‘Kremlin’ (yet again, this is not technically a kremlin, it was the residence of the Metropolitan of Rostov), you do get impressed at its solidness especially if you know that it was not built to defend the city!

Rostov

Its fortified walls are particularly popular among Russian tourists for it being a movie set for the 1973 Soviet classics Ivan Vasilievich Changes His Profession (based on Bulgakov’s play).

Rostov

The city stars in several other movies as well. Seems like it managed to preserve this allure of a provincial town which other cities around Moscow might have lost due to heavy – mostly Brezhnev’s era – construction and reconstruction.

Rostov

An ex-church, apparently, and some rusty but still functioning mail boxes:

Rostov

I really enjoyed walking around the whitewashed walls and up to the lake Nero (yes, the name has obvious Greek roots). The lake was also white – all covered with ice and snow. And there was also sun blinding you with its unexpected enthusiasm as well as such strong wind you could hear it howling although there was nothing but plain surface of a frozen lake in front of you.

Rostov

The amazing Lake Nero and super happy French tourists hopping around:

Rostov

And you can walk on water and enjoy the cityscape…

Rostov

The sun obviously helped enjoy it even more, bringing out the colors:

Rostov

…and then you can climb up the rampant and watch children sliding down the slopes:

Rostov

I guess Rostov in winter is the place to take tourists to see something truly Russian. Besides, the Rostov ‘Kremlin’ looks much better than the one in Yaroslavl. However, there was a fair share of decadence inside too, so I had my moments of architectural pleasure when I entered its walls.

Rostov

And why not combine architectural pleasure with some gastronomic pleasure as well? Here’s how:

Rostov

Home-baked bulochka with apples and cranberries, mmmm, the dough was so light and sweet – just like a pillow! The lady making and selling them has taken the most advantageous spot there is in Rostov – right in front of the entrance to the museum, can’t miss that!

Rostov

And meanwhile inside the Rostov ‘kremlin’ the spring has arrived:

Rostov

…making navigating around a bit complicated. In some places you just had to run quick under a shower of melting snow and over a big puddle.

Rostov

Patterns:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Fortification walls which were never supposed to serve as fortification:

Rostov

And here’s the Metropolitan’s Garden – must look amazing in spring / early summer with all the apple trees blossoming:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

This is actually the entrance to the history museum (a rather disappointingly small one compared to Yaroslavl). Can you imagine that this very bit of a Byzantine jug should survive and not some other of its pieces?

Rostov

A rather unusually decorated church with a matching pine branch:

Rostov

Check out that door!

Rostov

This one is serious too:

Rostov

A rather run-down cathedral:

Rostov

The gates to the kremlin-residence:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Meanwhile outside of the kremlin walls: decadence, anyone?

Rostov

There was a bunch of wooden Art-Nouveau houses along Okruzhnaya street which runs round the center of Rostov right to / from the lake. This one resembles some kind of a green bug, quite in the fashion of Art-Nouveau:

Rostov

But the obvious winner was this house with a mad-mad-mad balcony windows:

Rostov

And loads of decadence around – this house was abandoned both by people and by wasps (see their nest in the top left hand corner):

Rostov

There was also an ex-church with its belltower turned into… a (fire) watchtower! I went up to the lake to have a glimpse of its magic before I headed off to the bus station. On my way from the lake the decadence was interrupted by some nicely preserved specimens of traditional Russian window frame decorations:

Rostov

As you might have already guessed, I enjoyed Rostov Veliky more – even though it is really small and packed with tourists in its most popular spots. I would love to come back to Rostov in spring or summer – the lake Nero should be gorgeous! And after all I haven’t heard all the legends surrounding it and haven’t been to all the monasteries on its shores to get the best views.

This post goes to the On Russia and Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Ryazan and a Bit of Moscow

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

The door was open:

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

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

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

I really like all those architectural details:

Ryazan

Enhanced with the snow:

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

The mound looks really cool:

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Adding this post to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Winter Dreams of Vladimir and Suzdal

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

But the restaurant’s door was half-open:

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

Cold.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Snowy.

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

…it’s so cozy inside! and warm 🙂

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

this one is very festive:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and this one looks beautiful:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and this one looks fancy too:

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

Or this Art-Nouveau school (now university):

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

A street close to the museum with the road post:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Further along that street:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Another view over the city:

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

The horizon got lost in the snow:

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Mstera Bread

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

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

This post goes to the Travel series.

G.

sweet

Bulgarian Peach Sladkish and Czech Jam Kolache

Sladkish s Praskovi

With the lack of the light and the overall November blues atmosphere I seem to be reluctant to take photos of the things I’m baking these days. To make these pictures I had to use a lamp… Each year November seems to catch me off-guard, such a hard month. December somehow passes much easier as half of it at least is taken over by all the New Year and Christmas preparations (for those who do get involved). And then the days grow longer. But as for now, we are still a month away from that!

Sladkish s Praskovi

So why not dream about sun with this bright yellow cake (made extra-yellow thanks to the lamp 🙂 the recipe for which comes from the sunny Bulgaria. This country is famous for its peaches (as well as roses – and yogurt – and brine cheese…) so no surprise these guys know how to use them. The peaches I used were from Greece though 🙂 After baking with apples for so many months in a row I was really relieved to bake with something else!

Sladkish s Praskovi

1 year ago – Heritage Days in Avignon

2 years ago – Petroskoi or Petrozavodsk, Capital of Karelian Republic

3 years ago – Multigrain Bread and the Best View

4 years ago – Ramble On

5 years ago – 1 Idea for 2 Delicious Dinners

Sladkish s Praskovi or Bulgarian Peach Cake translated and adapted from www.zajenata.bg will make a big white cake with sunny peaches on top.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg peaches (or other fruit), sliced – I used almost an entire can of (Greek) peaches in syrup, drained
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (200 ml) sugar
  • 1 tea cup sour milk or smetana – I used tvorog (5 % cottage cheese) + smetana (15% sour cream) + kefir
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour – I also added some vanilla extract
  • ½ package baking powder – measured out something like 2 tsp
  • 100 ml vegetable oil – I used sunflower
  • a pinch of salt
  • powdered sugar, for decorating the top – skipped that

Procedure:

Beat the eggs with sugar, add smetana or sour milk, oil and salt. Then add in the flower sifted with the baking powder, so that you get a thick smooth mixture.

Grease and flour your baking dish and preheat the oven to 180 °С.

Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake for about 5 minutes. Then take the dish out of the oven and arrange the peach slices on top of the par-baked batter. Return to the oven for 30 minutes more. When the cake is ready, cool it and decorate it with powdered sugar.

Sladkish s Praskovi

Remarks: Although I par-baked the cake for more than 5 minutes, I also needed more time for it to be ready during the final baking. I guess the baking pan was a bit small for this cake. So I would add more peaches or bake the cake in a larger pan. Be sure to drain your peaches thoroughly if you’re using canned fruit like me.

Sladkish s Praskovi

Results: This cake can easily be used as a birthday / gift cake. It looks nice (even though it sunk in the middle a bit) and it keeps its shape. But as soon as you start cutting it, the peach slices inevitably fall apart 🙂

Grandma's Kolache

My second recipe that I baked the same day comes from a probably less sunny country, the Czech Republic. I have this idee fixe each time I want to bake something from the comfort food category – and that is jam envelopes, konvertiki s povidlom (pryaniki or Russian gingerbread belong to this category as well). This recipe comes nearly close to the thing I wanted so much.

Grandma's Kolache

Grandma’s Kolache or Czech Envelopes with Jam adapted from www.mrbreakfast.com will make 20 or so soft buns filled with your favourite jam. Follow the link to see the entire recipe. Kolache derives from the Old Slavonic kolo which means circle or wheel, and the Russian and East European bread kalach is actually round (more or less – depending on its local variation).

My changes and remarks:

I used butter instead of shortening, added less salt and vanilla extract, but had to put in more flour. As for the filling I chose homemade apple puree and just a few of the buns had apple jam inside.

I made less kolache – only 20 instead of the suggested 24.

I baked my kolache a bit longer than stated in the recipe. The jam started flowing out of the buns when I moved them to the upper shelf in the oven for several minutes. So the next batch I baked only on the middle rack and they rose better. On this photo the top kolache is with the apple jam (I used mostly the fruit part) and the other two are with the apple puree:

Grandma's Kolache

Result: These very soft mini-pies will remind you of your childhood years… even if you have never tasted jam envelopes before 🙂

Adding these recipes to the Country-specific and Sweet collections where you will find other recipes with peaches and apples.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Tram to Polytechnic University

Tram to Polytechnic University

My recent tram trip to the Polytechnic University campus and park started from the deserted Summer Garden in the heart of St Petersburg. It was a Sunday morning and there was me and an unusual combination of snow and leaves. There was not even any ice on the canals and rivers of the city back then. What a sudden winter attack in early November!

Tram to Polytechnic University

Winter and snow works magic and makes the city – and probably any place in general – more silent. Have you ever though that winter is a silent season? Even a busy city succumbs to this silence.

Tram to Polytechnic University

The city on a Sunday morning is slow and particularly in such frosty weather is also less populated which helps soak in the atmosphere and pay more attention to the details. Which apparently I did as almost all the photos I took on my way from the Summer Garden across Neva to the Peter and Paul Fortress on Petrogradskaya Side were all about…

Tram to Polytechnic University

street lights. Which usually grasp my attention anyway. So here we go:

Tram to Polytechnic University

never actually noticed this peculiar one guarding the gates to the Peter and Paul Fortress:

Tram to Polytechnic University

love those 18th century windows

Tram to Polytechnic University

while the square in front of the Peter and Paul Cathedral looked particularly theatrical:

Tram to Polytechnic University

a deserted path looking more like some movie set:

Tram to Polytechnic University

what a curve!

Tram to Polytechnic University

Then I walked to the terminus of the tram 6A and was lucky enough to get on one which was standing there as if waiting for me. It was only some minutes later that I realize I’m pretty much not used to tramway style of life! The lady was obviously not in a hurry, she checked all the indicators and chatted with the conductor about what they were eating this weekend. At first I was sitting a little bit nervous with the fact we were not moving anywhere but then I started getting into the tramway style of life… Tramways are not all new and warm but they have this stubborn old-fashioned something about them that makes trams and the people using them something of a sect. If you get on a tram no one INSIDE the tram will look at you kind of strange (like, why do you use this slow tram and do not use metro instead?!). They all take it easy, the time and the distance.

Tram to Polytechnic University

Tram 6A starts from the zoo and runs through the Petrogradskaya side onto the other side of the river Neva, to the Vyborgskaya side where it has its terminus at the Finlandsky Railway Station. There I got off and had to wait for quite a time to get on the next tram which would take me back first and then up north.

Tram to Polytechnic University

Tramway 40 has quite a long route though it used to be even longer. It crosses two islands and gets back to the Vyborgskaya side. It was for the first time that I saw the city from this point (I don’t drive so usually experience the city either walking or… taking the metro which is the fastest means of transport), I mean, from the middle of the streets and bridges. Here is the refurbished Aurora cruiser, by the way, and somewhere on the other side of Neva my workplace:

Tram to Polytechnic University

Back to the Petrogradskaya side the tram runs along river Karpovka and stops there where I walked some time ago visiting those Art Nouveau and constructivist spots of the island. Here are two Art Nouveau buildings, a small mansion which belonged to a family of artists and a city tramway power substation.

Tram to Polytechnic University

The best place on a tramway is at the back. It might be quite a bumpy ride if you choose to stay there but then you can see the whole panorama. As we crossed the Kamenny Island, we got back to the Vyborgskaya side where we proceeded to such places in the city where I have never been. Well, starting from this square (Svetlanovskaya square):

Tram to Polytechnic University

This reminded me of the important role that the tramway played in the Siege. It stopped operating only during the hardest winter of 1941-42 but then continued to serve the besieged city in spring 1942. By the way, before the USSR broke up the city tramway network was number one in the world with its 600 km of tracks. It’s a pity most of those crazy routes crisscrossing the entire city are now disused.

Tram to Polytechnic University

I had to get off tram 40 in the middle of the road as there was some accident along the line but we were very close to my destination that day: Polytechnic University campus. And there was sun which brightened the day and made me more resistant to the cold. I wondered off the main building along the sleepy academic buildings most of which were completed in the beginning of the 20th century.

Tram to Polytechnic University

The campus is massive, it starts from the previous metro station Ploshchad Muzhestva and stretches up to the Politehnicheskaya metro station. It’s open to public and I spotted quite a lot of families with children. They wouldn’t pay extra attention to this early 1930s constructivist block though:

Tram to Polytechnic University

My Grandad graduated from this university and he lived in one of the dormitories built in the 1930s which have been partially taken down now (even the street he still recalls the name of doesn’t exist anymore). From what I understand, his dorms should have also been built at around the same time. I still have to discover that district near Ploshchad Muzhestva which I only saw from the tram window. My next point of interest was this hydraulic station, one of the most attractive constructions in the area. Built in 1905 to resemble a watchtower and a garden pavilion at the same time, this tower supplied water until 1953 and also served as a laboratory.

Tram to Polytechnic University

The tower stands in the ‘forest’ or park which occupies quite a chunk of the campus. There was so much snow there that I already thought of skiing which I haven’t done for many years. I didn’t wander further (or farther) as I was getting cold, so I headed to the nearby Politehnicheskaya metro station, saluted the ever present pigeons and…

Tram to Polytechnic University

… oh yes, took metro back home, the fastest but much less nostalgic nor anywhere close to being a sightseeing means of transport (if we don’t take into consideration the stations themselves, like Avtovo one). Will try to dig out other peculiar tramway lines to discover more unusual spots of the city.

This post goes to the ever-growing St Petersburg series.
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.