architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Tsarskoye Selo in Wait for Spring

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Tsarskoye Selo

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

Adding this post to the St Petersburg collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Avant-Garde Architecture at Narvskaya Zastava

Narvskaya Zastava

I started this post back in June 2016 when I was discovering new places along the red line of the St Petersburg underground. I took photos inside Narvskaya metro station having in mind an idea for a new walk – and later a blog post – around that area called Narvskaya Zastava (i.e. a frontier post leading to Narva). Which only happened in March 2017 when we went on the Avant-Garde Architecture excursion with the St Petersburg through Engineer’s Eyes project (the same one we went to re-discover the gorgeous Vitebsky railway station with). Unfortunately, the excursion did not turn out to be a huge success – neither in terms of the participation (we were just 7) nor with the actual participants. However, it made me see those crucial avant-garde place that I had been meaning to visit.

Narvskaya Zastava

The excursion started from the Narvskaya metro station, one of the first stations in the city opened in the south of the city in 1955. It was not built in the constructivist or any avant-garde style at all (although the very first Moscow stations were) but I think it’s worth stopping here for a while – especially in the light of the recent events in St Petersburg metro. Narvskaya’s ground pavilion looks pretty classical and routinely Pantheon-like, a leftover from the Stalinist architecture which after his death was doomed to die too. Very soon Nikita Khrushchev would take over the architectural line (as well as the power) and bend it in a very different direction, creating cheap faceless block of flats that people were only happy to move in. They are since called khrushchevki.

Narvskaya Zastava

I bet those doors in the background are there from the very beginning. I don’t normally like those bronze decorative things but here they look right. When you enter the station and go down, there are these marble bas-reliefs with sturdy never smiling (even the children!) Soviet people of various professions. All so solemn and out-of-this-world. As this entire district surrounding the station was largely a workers’ one, the station’s theme is all about labour and its glorification.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

I like these semi-circles of lamps, they look kind of art-deco-ish.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

It is true that the first users of the Leningrad metro were rather its visitors (and admirers). After all they were meant to be such – as these museums under ground, these temples of culture were supposed to cultivate and instruct those who would take the metro to work – and, well, work work work 🙂 Not much time for museum-going, you know.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

Now, more than 60 years later, people still wonder at these temple-like first stations of the Leningrad subway. We don’t have that an abundance of Stalinist stations compared to Moscow, but still you can spend quite a lot of time discovering those original stations. And not only them of course!

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

It’s a pity we use metro rather as… users now, we don’t have time for the details and rarely do we stop to admire them. The symbols keep loosing their meaning and I guess not all of the today’s passengers would tell you what this 1955 stand for. A similar grate but in silver can be found inside the Vosstaniya metro station.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

We didn’t really need a bus for this excursion really – it can be made on foot with no problems, most of the objects being pretty close to each other. Our first stop was at this school built to cater for the needs of a fast-growing workers’ district in 1927 – hence its name celebrating the 10 years after the October Revolution (Desyatiletiya Oktyabrya). They say it was built in a shape of hammer and sickle but there’s no official proof to that.

Narvskaya Zastava

The school is still functioning! It has this rounded wall with classes and an observatory tower (not used anymore due to light pollution) and there’s this weird interpretation of the hammer and sickle symbol pictured on the first photo of the post. The same architect, Alexander Nikolsky, created also a super progressive banya for 4000 customers a day located in the same district – the banya functioned until pretty recently but is now in such a state that I didn’t even try taking a photo.

Narvskaya Zastava

This is yet another constructivist public building in the district – a 1928-33 profilaktory (a health institution for preventing illnesses), now a hospital. With all the strive of that period for better and more effective, this profilaktory was designed to have continuous windows for more light (which never happened) and separate entrances for different groups of patients, etc etc. The years have had their toll on the building and now it has lost its avant-garde looks.

Narvskaya Zastava

Our next stop was at one of the local workers’ residential areas / townships or zhilmassiv. Like the one near Yelizarovskaya metro station (built in the same years, 1925-28) it has its own style and a signature detail: a semi-arch ‘growing’ from the wall. Nikolsky also participated in this project called Serafimovsky Gorodok as well as Gegello and Simonov. There are 7 houses and a laundry, creating a lot of space in the middle for a playground. That was one of the first projects of building an entire district in the city.

Narvskaya Zastava

Same architects were simultaneously building another workers’ township just a few blocks away, on Traktornaya Street – for the workers of the nearby Putilovsky, later Kirov Plant. Same signature semi-arch:

Narvskaya Zastava

And the rounded stairwells with a triangular canopy:

Narvskaya Zastava

This project is different in that it creates an entire street of 16 houses and not a square district with a playground in the middle. These neat houses came without bathrooms but with a niche for a perspective bath tub because at that moment the Soviet industry was incapable of making tubs 🙂 It’s a pity that with the active construction all across the district and the cars parked all over the place, this street doesn’t create the same effect anymore – it used to be some kind of a local landmark, with that school mentioned above at one of it’s ends and an arch at the other.

Narvskaya Zastava

Another must-stop of the district is the House of Soviets with a tall tower and quite a different aesthetics as it was built already in the early 1930s by architect Noy Trotsky (not to be confused with Lev Trotsky), known for his project of another House of Soviets in the Moskovsky district. They say that the building was faced with ground tombstones of a eradicated cemetery…

Narvskaya Zastava

I didn’t take any photos of yet another landmark of the Narvskaya metro station district which is situated right in front of the station pavilion – the local fabrika-kukhnya, a factory kitchen catering for the busy workers and their families. It is now so defaced and turned into such a mess of various signs that you can hardly recognize the original project by Barutchev, Gilter and Meerzon.  The same trio of architects also created fabrika-kukhnya on Vasilyevsky Island and in the Vyborgsky district. At first I thought these ‘stepping’ windows corresponded to the staircases but actually these are amphitheaters for lectures.

Narvskaya Zastava

And this is yet another constructivist project hidden behind the buildings on the Stachek square. Created by Gegello and Krichevsky in 1930-33, it housed some technical education institution and now it’s a store selling furniture… The ‘head’ of this building looks pretty familiar – it resembles Erich Mendelsohn’s Krasnoye Znamya factory’s power station on Petrogradsky Island.

Narvskaya Zastava

Our ultimate stop was in the local Dvorets Kultury imeni Gorkogo, Palace of Culture named after Maxim Gorky, a must that would adorn every large city of the Soviet Union, otherwise called Dom Kultury, house of Culture, if talking about a smaller town (I’ve definitely written about palaces and houses of culture in one of my posts about Kolpino). We actually had a chance not only to enter the building but also visit some of its parts hidden to the general public. Although this originally avant-garde creation of 1925-27 (architects Gegello and Krichevsky) has been heavily uglified by various add-ons throughout the years (this is how it looks now), it’s one of the city’s best preserved authentic palaces of culture.

Narvskaya Zastava

We had a chance to stand on the stage looking into the rows of chairs. These red chairs are here from the 1920s, can you believe that? The ribbon-like boxes look cool. Although I do not really like the color scheme 🙂 I only once was in this concert hall as a spectator – and that was when I knew nothing about the building, which is – as many constructivist creations are – almost like a machine or an organism with many functional sections and layers.

Narvskaya Zastava

This curvy corridor / gallery uniting two parts of the building is now closed and taken over by the flower pots. It runs on top of the concert hall with its windows looking out to the Stachek square.

Narvskaya Zastava

Some remains of the past in the library – it also has wooden bookcases with a 1930-something metal stamps on them. The library looks really sad with its old books and as we could gather – almost no readers at all. And here’s the staircase with the original wooden railing:

Narvskaya Zastava

It’s clear that in the today’s world it’s too hard for such an organization to survive without renting out its premises to various shops and clubs, so the building looks pretty patchy both inside and outside. It leaves an impression of slowly but steadily dying organism. Almost 90 years later it still carries out its function as a local center of culture and sports but it’s been attacked by the parasites for too long.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

G.

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.

St Petersburg · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Bird Cherry Birthday Cake

Bird Cherry Cake

This is my second attempt at making a Cheryomukhovy Tort or Bird Cherry Cake. You might have never heard of this bird cherry tree at all. You might have never even thought you could eat anything made from it. And yet it is one of the traditional ingredients in the Northern and Siberian cuisine.

Bird Cherry Cake

Last summer for instance we tried some bulochka with bird cherry filling in the Urals.  And my first attempt at making a bird cherry cake was back in 2014, after I bought a small package of bird cherry flour in Novosibirsk. This time I managed to get the flour in St Petersburg – it can be found in eco / bio / health stores and even in bigger supermarkets in the baking department. Funny enough, the flour I bought during my roaming on Vasilyevsky island last year is produced in Ulan-Ude, where we suffered from extreme heat just a couple of month earlier, in the summer 2016.

Bird Cherry Cake

I have doubts that the bird cherry flour can be found that easy outside Russia, so if you go on the Trans-Siberian one day, do try this thing. Such a distinct flavour – of almonds and some booze at the same time! This is why I decided to make a bird cherry cake for my Grandpa’s 85th birthday – something different for a change. And here is the recipe. And although you might never actually use it you will at least know how this exotic thing is made.

Bird Cherry Cake

1 year ago – Peanut Butter Post

2 years ago – How to Make Silky Cream Cheese at Home

3 years ago – Two Spinach Pies and Spinach…Rice

4 years ago – Polenta, Sempre Polenta and Broccoli

5 years ago – Two Rrrrrye Breads (Raisin and Riga)

Bird Cherry Cake or Cheryomukhovy Tort adapted from the recipe on the bird cherry flour package by aiuduhlesa.ru. Will make a huge multi-layer cake with distinct – or should I say never heard of? – flavour and dense crumb.

Ingredients:

  • 6 (!) eggs
  • 100 g sugar
  • 300 g all-purpose flour
  • 300 g bird cherry flour
  • 180-200 ml sparkling water – mine has lost its bubbles, see remarks
  • 1 heaped tsp baking soda
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 3 cups of high fat sour cream (smetana), for the icing – used less, see remarks
  • 5 Tbs sugar, for the icing – used a mixture of powdered and regular sugar

Procedure:

Beat the eggs with sugar until foamy. Add half of the sparkling water (100 ml) but do not stir. Add the flours and start mixing the batter with a spatula or a spoon (do not beat). Pour lemon juice onto the soda (it will bubble like hell) and add it to the batter. Gradually add the remaining sparkling water: your batter should resemble thick sour cream (I had to add more water). Leave the batter for about 10 minutes. It should get all bubbling and airy (mine was not…).

Divide the batter between two greased round pans (26-28 cm in diameter) and bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes at 180’C. Leave the layers to cool completely.

Meanwhile, get your icing / filling ready: beat the sour cream with sugar pretty well until the sugar dissolves. Cut each cake layer in half (I did it with the help of a special string but you can do it with a thread or a knife) and start building the cake. Take a half and place it on a plate cut side up, spread the sour cream filling and cover with the next layer,again cut side up. Proceed till you have your last layer, this time placing it cut side down on top. Ice the top layer with the remaining sour cream and decorate it with grated chocolate or some bird cherry flour (see remarks).

Bird Cherry Cake

Remarks: 300 g of bird cherry flour seemed like a lot after I added all the all-purpose flour to the batter. I wonder if you should actually use less of whether it’s just that I used less soda and still water instead of sparkling? Yes, I thought we had some sparkling water in the fridge and it turned out to have lost its ‘bubbling power’ by that time. Three cups of sour cream might also seem a bit too much but in the end you do get a lot of layers! I would add more sugar to the batter and use all the three cups of sour cream next time. And yes, although there’s no butter or oil in this recipe, there are SIX eggs 🙂

Bird Cherry Cake

As for the decoration, I sprinkled the top with finely ground flaxmeal – it’s rather neutral in flavour and taste, which doesn’t interfere with the bird cherry flavour. I did it not only for the sake of the desired ’85’ pattern but also because the top layer sour cream mixed with sugar and left overnight (although in the fridge) tend to acquire a brownish colour (no fear, it’s only natural!). So you would actually need something to decorate the top with (leave it to the last moment before serving) in case you’re not planning to serve the cake straight away. Leaving the cake in the fridge overnight is preferable so that the layers soak in the sour cream. 

Result: A big cake with the unusual flavour and the traditional sour cream filling which looks like a chocolate cake and yet is not. With minor changes to the recipe this can make a pretty good (birthday) cake. 

Snowy Saturday

Bird cherry tree is closely associated with the coming of spring: it blossoms lavishly in May, emitting its perfume all over the place. And since the weather changes back to cold for several days at exactly the same moment, there’s this persistent belief that it’s not a mere coincidence. In brief, when you see a bird cherry tree ready to show off its white flowers, there will be some cold days ahead. It works every year.

Snowy Saturday

We are quite far away from May now…

Snowy Saturday

Woke up today to seeing this outside our windows:

Snowy Saturday

And yet the days are growing longer and there’s even more light with all the snow. And you start hearing birds. Winter is beautiful but it’s just so long.

Snowy Saturday

This post goes to the Russian and Sweet recipe collections.

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.