architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Kargopol, a Gem of the Russian North

Kargopol

There are places that hold a special place in your heart even if you only spent a few days there. And not in a small part this is due to the people you meet there. Last July I visited a place like this in Arkhangelsk Region. Kargopol, an ancient northern Russian town located on the Onega River, had never actually been on my travelling list.

Kargopol

But it so happened that through some long (and I really mean that)-distance volunteering work I got attached to this place in such a way that I accepted the invitation and after some 15 rainy hours spent on the St Petersburg-Arkhangelsk train and an extremely bumpy ride (there are hardly any good “local” roads outside St Pete or Moscow) finally got there. Our first day was dedicated to exchanging news and life stories – which resulted in me almost losing my voice for several days.

Kargopol

The following day I actually visited the place I have been volunteering for and had first to overcome my fears about not being able to in fact. One thing to help people in need – coming in person to this place is the other. I was not sure I would be able to let go of all that squeamishness and just be human. It turned out right, although I was pretty drained after this visit and had just a tiny bit of my mental powers to enjoy the historical center of the town with its churches and museums (these are very often two-in-one in Russia).

Kargopol

Kargopol occupies the area where people lived already in the 4th millennium BC, although it is officially considered to be founded in 1380, being the year when it was first mentioned in writing. Its name is a bit of a riddle, containing parts that refer to both its Finno-Ugric past and the later Russification. And while “pol(e)” (field) is pretty obvious, the first part is translated either as a “crow” or a “bear”, depending on the version you stick to.

Kargopol

There’s an earth mound right next to the local bus station from where I took the photo above that testifies to the times when Kargopol was colonized by the people from Novgorod the Great. The town used to be quite an important trading center in the 16th century as it had the right to trade… salt which was quite a luxury back then and not all the cities were granted the right to do so, forcing them to actually come and buy their “white death” (or is it only said about sugar?) in Kargopol.

Kargopol

But with all its rights and privileges, Kargopol was also a place of exile – tsars would send their unwanted relatives or favourites there, while the sign on the house above tells us that a certain Ivan Bolotnikov (known to all us in Russia from the school history books) who was a leader of a popular uprising in 1606-07 was executed here as well. The wooden sign reminds us that the street was previously called Potanikha instead of Bolotnikov Street (renamed in the Soviet era when Bolotnikov Rebellion was especially celebrated). A curious thing to note about this building in the photo is that the double windows are quite lazily insulated with some moss – to keep the warmth in between the frames.

Kargopol

This 18th century bell-tower is there to remind us of a devastating fire that left the entire town in ruins in 1765 and made Catherine the Great (see her letters above the arch) rebuilt it according to a so-called “regular plan” – the one that was later applied to many cities including St Petersburg. This is how Kargopol became one of the first cities in the Russian Empire to follow this new plan.

Kargopol

But its main purpose now is to serve as an observation tower – one of the things I really appreciate, especially when there IS what to see from up there 🙂 One of the (relevantly) recent experiences that I enjoyed was an ex-monastery tower in Staraya Russa. Which makes me think I still have plenty of my travels to tell…

Kargopol

The church with green cupolas is a weird combination of baroque and whitewashed-wall architecture – I would never have thought that it was built in the middle of the 18th century! And this one with the shiny black cupolas was build 200 years earlier, in the mid-16th century, and over the years it has sunk  almost 100 cm into the ground! The crazy buttresses made of stones and planks of wood were added to support the structure after the already mentioned fire of 1765. But the main attraction of this church is actually a collection of the so-called “heavens” or “skies” (nebesa in Russian), painted wooden ceilings characteristic of the Russian North. Gathered all over the region, they are exhibited in this church just propped against the walls.

Kargopol

Walking back from the main square to my friend’s place (after visiting a local history museum also housed in a church), I noticed a house with super dusty windows and some traditional clay Kargopol toys displayed in two of them. These toys might as well be taken for the more popular Dymkovo toys but are less flashy and I would say more authentic in a way. They say that those who used to make them in the old days would do so in the winter as during the rest of the year they were busy cultivating their land and harvesting.

Kargopol

The toy is considered one of the symbols of the town (and the area) and is featured on, for instance, the local foods such as pryanik and kefir. However, there are very few foods made locally here as the agriculture collapsed with the break of the USSR and due to the remoteness of the area aggravated by the lack of proper roads makes it hard for anything to develop here – including tourism. Speaking of which, here’s what you can find here, just a few steps away from the central square:

Kargopol

This delicate intricate beauty in the traditional “uzorochye” (literally “abundance of ornaments”) style is a 17th century church and the one to the right (below) is another church, once adorned with five cupolas but now reduced to just one.

Kargopol

They are both situated on the old market square – here pictured during the annual festival dedicated to the start of the mowing season and the Kupala Night that falls on the 7th of July. I was lucky enough to arrive just in time for the festivities which included a mowing competition among teams representing various villages, a market day and a real Kupala Night with a fire show, khorovod (round dances) and music.

Kargopol

The competition included mowing a designated plot and building a haystack with a “twist”. There were also traditional chastushki (funny and often ironic short songs that rather resemble short poems) performed by the competitors themselves. And these girls (below) were preparing some treats for the participants.

Kargopol

These ladies just rocked! They were I think the first to finish their “creation” and then they sang just like real stars! Here pictured against the 17th century church with silver cupolas as the background. I really enjoyed the festival, although we missed the first part, the actual mowing, as it started quite early. And I think people around me were enjoying it as well, sincerely, you know, as mowing remains a part of their daily life, actually, since many of the locals live in their own houses in Kargopol or nearby villages.

Kargopol

I was actually also clad in a traditional sarafan that my host made – although contrary to the people participating in the contest I felt very much an impostor 🙂 Moving further towards the “private” residential area of the town where people live in their own (or semi-detached) houses, I came about this apparently old but dying wooden building – this used to be shared by several families.

Kargopol

When everyone was having a nap, I wandered about a bit and was granted with this wonderful view over the town and the Onega River. Kargopol is like this, there are almost no buildings taller than say three floors (they stick to this rule deliberately) and there’s just ONE bus that makes a stop at the local bus station before moving on to the other side of the river when everyone gets off the bus (even if their journey is not over yet) and the driver with the conductor go inside the station building to have some tea. I think that took them about 10 minutes – nobody complained as this is an established “rule”. Not joking!

Kargopol

I enjoyed the view for quite a while, spellbound by the great weather, the atmosphere, the people and the silence which was broken only by a small motor boat moving along the river. There is also lake Lacha nearby, the largest in the region, but we didn’t manage to go there. With all the guests at my hosts’ place and the festival, I only managed to see a tiny bit of the town actually, so many things were left for the next time. I hope to have a walk around it myself too, like I did in that part of the town where my host lives.

Kargopol

That evening there was also the big party, the Kupala Night itself, originally dedicated to the summer solstice (falling on the 24th of June according to the old, Julian calendar) but now mostly celebrating just the summer, I guess. Already on the first day I noticed these wooden figures in the Onega River that were still being constructed. The locals told us these were created for the famous fire show that we were about to witness soon. The figures were also symbolic, some taken from the local fokllore, some representing the traditional Kargopol toys. The big night finally came and I have to admit, I’ve never experienced anything of the kind – the atmosphere of the festival was very far from what I’m used to and I would definitely like to attend it again if I can.

Kargopol

There was also a sort of catwalk with super tall girls demonstrating tradition-inspired costumes, a “skovorodka” (literally “frying pan”) or a dance “floor” with the 1980s music performed live by a biology teacher and his band (well, he’d better stick to biology, if you ask me!), lots of food being cooked and not so much of alcohol around as I would expect (which, I guess, was banned). After that there was some dancing in circles choreographed by a team from Petrozavodsk, which I did join. The culmination of the night was the fire show to the live music by a local musician. Although we were already quite tired and feeling cold, we did watch the first figures to burn (which they did excruciatingly slowly!) and, to tell you the truth, felt some kind of regret that they did burn these structures down.

Kargopol

Next day people from various local communities organized a festival/market showcasing their products and most notably traditions. Of course, there was a much less authentic (and exciting for me) part to this event, though moved away from the main square, where you could get some fast food and completely not local goods and stuff, which people seemed to enjoy a lot, in fact. The thing is, those living in the big cities are spoilt with all the junk stuff to the point they get enough of it, longing for something truly traditional, authentic, ethnic, organic etc etc while in the regions people regard the former as something genuinely entertaining and take the latter for granted.

Kargopol

I guess for me there was much more interest in the traditional part as that is what is missing from my life in the city and I feel only a very distant connection to it. Anyway, pictured below is the same lady who was so active mowing in the early morning, now busy heating water in the samovar. What a stamina she has!

Kargopol

People were selling homemade pies, smoked fish and sweet stuff. But as we ate quite a lot of our own freshly baked sweet and savory pies in the morning (see further), I didn’t sample anything there, just wandered along the aisles, dissuading myself from buying all those baskets, boxes and the like that were on offer.

Kargopol

As I had a train to catch later that day, I couldn’t enjoy the festival and the market as much as I wished to. There was also a singing and dancing competition which I had to ignore in order to see at least some of the things I was indeed interested in. I made some last-minute souvenir shopping, buying a tall box made from birch bark, decorated with the beautiful red and black Mezen patterns, traditional painting style from Arkhangelsk Region.

Kargopol

Earlier that day there was a real treat for me by my host’s sister: she cooked the traditional shangi pies with mashed potatoes (there should have been also some smetana or sour cream on top but the Russian stove my hosts have at home – see above – was piping hot and we had to skip that part) and some qutab-like pies with berries. The funny part about the master-class was when the hosts’ cat (who hissed at me like a real snake and snapped at my face) obviously curious and at the same time pretty nervous with all those people occupying its home (there was quite a few of us there) take a stroll right over the rolled-out circles of dough ready to be filled in and baked. We didn’t mind though 🙂

Kargopol

There was also a very hot banya with veniki (banya whisks from birch branches and leaves) from where I just had to flee as I can hardly stand such heat (and had to stand next to the window for half an hour to come back to life), there was marveling at how little I know about life outside big cities, there was walking with the dog in the nearby forest, there was a ton of new people I met and tons of stories I heard, there was a torrential rain and birds singing in the early morning, there were many things I noticed about myself. And there was some cooking on my part as well, mostly improvising with the ingredients that were available. Here’re some sugar knots and a berry pie in the morning light.

Kargopol

On the train I met a woman from Moscow who comes to the festival every year. Although she seemed to have traveled all over the area and learnt a lot, she made me think that you can only learn as much about the traditions and the life in the region as you see and are shown, whereas the true life is what you can only experience if you live there yourself. The next morning, I was already in the hustling and bustling, insatiably commercial Moscow – not the best place to go after such a getaway and a soulful, meaningful journey. One to remember, for sure.

Filed under the Russian Travels collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Mozhaysk, or How to Get There and Back Against All Odds

Mozhaysk

A year ago Mozhaysk was on my to-visit-list as a B-side to Vyazma, an old town in Smolensk region. But I failed to get there – missed the train and had to rethink my trip, instead going to Moscow first. In our digital era, it’s easy to rebook your (overnight) train in a slightly different direction while still stuck in a traffic jam on your way to the railway station. So, once in Moscow, I ended up taking a fast suburban train to Mozhaysk (in the Moscow region) straight away as it was closer than Vyazma – just an hour ride from Belorussky Railway Station.

Mozhaysk

Mozhaysk is an old town and it does look old – but not like Kolomna, this is a rather different type of being old, run-down or unkempt would be more appropriate. It’s also situated some 100 km from the capital but how much less pampered it is! When you get there you understand that being close to Moscow is not always to your benefit if you’re a small town. However, they say Mozhaysk district is one of the least polluted in the region.

Mozhaysk

Autumn and decadence go hand in hand – and Mozhaysk just excels in the latter! How about this half-sunk house somewhere along one of the main roads (there was a hand-made – and rather poorly at that – sign further along the same road and same fence which advertised haircuts at just 200 roubles – the most glamorous spot for an ad of a beauty salon!):

Mozhaysk

And somewhat more colourful (and alive) colleagues spotted in various corners of the town:

Mozhaysk

Actually, Mozhaysk is pretty prolific in all kinds of wooden ornaments and wooden houses in general. For how long – I don’t know but at least now there’s plenty of them yet not covered in sheets of metal or simply destroyed.

Mozhaysk

For some reason, I’m partial to faded blue:

Mozhaysk

Having crossed the town up to the other side of the river to a Second World War memorial, I crossed the river back and continued on towards Luzhetsky monastery. I was blessed with weather that day. A propos, a sign in the monastery said: Walking on grass is not (literally) blessed 🙂

Mozhaysk

Luzhetsky monastery is there since the early 15th century and looks pretty much like a mini-Kremlin with whitewashed walls. And guess what? There used to be 18 (!) Medieval monasteries in the town, but only this one remains.

Mozhaysk

It sits on top of the hill where the river bends.

Mozhaysk

It had just a few visitors beside me that morning, which is actually a somewhat general feeling that I had in Mozhaysk – where are all its people?

Mozhaysk

Inside, just some fragments of wall paintings, outside, still visible the spot where an overhead icon once was:

Mozhaysk

The renovated old-Moscow-style bell tower looks perfect in its whiteness though:

Mozhaysk

Cats do like fences. Top of fences:

Mozhaysk

Walking back to the center (or so it seemed) of the town I came across this 16th century church standing side by side with a 19th century one, called Yakimanskaya church (Joachim + Anna). This buttress looks just like a nose!

Mozhaysk

Inside the 19th century church, a relic of the past – including the pre-1917 spelling:

Mozhaysk

And then I finally got to the main “attraction” of the town which I somehow left for the dessert so to speak, the early 19th century Nikolsky Cathedral that is perched up high on a former Kremlin hill.

Mozhaysk

I took numerous pictures of the cathedral from several points and it looks pretty amazing from just standing next to it too. I mean, it’s impressive in a way that it’s so out of place in this small town, so grand and sophisticated. I would rather expect a Moscow-style church there but not a pseudo-gothic one.

Mozhaysk

I must say a hundred years ago it looked somewhat less gothic, see Prokudin-Gorsky’s coloured picture – too bright! To the right on the picture below is the old-Nikolsky Cathedral, dating back to 14th century. They do look weird together, surrounded by flower beds, local cats and some junk as if it was someone’s backyard and not the main sight of the town. There’s also an eery-looking pond with a grate (I guess a leftover from the times there was a park there in the Soviet times) and a monument to those who fought and died there in 1941-42. They say there was a knitting mill inside the cathedral as well.

Mozhaysk

Well, I guess Mozhaysk is just a special one, rusty-dusty but authentic. It’s a pity I found no local foods/goods whatsoever though. Besides, my adventures did not end with just getting there. On my way back I managed to miss my train back to Moscow by a mere second (or so it seemed), so had to go shopping instead while waiting for the next one – which I was very eager not to miss as well!

Vyazma, I promise, I will get to you eventually.

Filed under the Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Kolomna, a Picture-Perfect Old Russian Town

Kolomna

Ah, Kolomna, such a picture-perfect 12th century Russian town! If ever you get to Russia and have very limited time, be sure to visit Kolomna, just some 100 km away from Moscow. It will give you a comprehensive and eye-pleasing picture of what “traditional Russian” looks like – and all that easily accessible on foot. Here it comes.

I was in Kolomna last October and was really blessed with fine weather. So the picture got indeed perfect. There’s a fast train leaving for Kolomna from Moscow’s no less toy-like Kazan(sky) Railway Station. The city center is within a relatively short walk from the local railway station, although there’s a tram going straight from where the Moscow train arrives.

I preferred “my two” as we say in Russia though, walking through meandering streets of this pretty low-rising town. Which is exactly what I like. Rejoice you, my fellow old-schoolers!

Kolomna

Kolomna was by the way one of those “closed” cities of the USSR – up until 1994. I wonder whether it actually helped it in a way, preserving it in a more or less authentic state. Now, however, it is a very touristy place and as far as I am concerned, bears no resemblance with a closed city at all.   

Kolomna

The only problem with Kolomna is that it’s very touristy and demonstrates a rather distinct “Moscow (posh) polish” in its city center which is inevitable when you’re so close to the capital. And as a result of this proximity of the ever-powerful Moscow, the once powerful Kolomna is now just a touristy town trying to keep up with its big brother and meet the demand from the incoming avalanches of tourists. So expect a number of Moscow-style coffee places and stuff. Back-to-back with perfectly run-down provincial corners which proved to me that “not everything is lost” here.

Kolomna

Also, the town is quite small, so in just about an hour or so I was somewhat anxious to get out as I felt I was going in circles more or less around the same place. However, deciding against catching the next train I wandered off the center along the river, just to check out the local life – which proved to be a good idea in the end.

The entrance to the Kolomna Kremlin is through the 16th century Pyatnitskye gates with the inevitable shop selling Kolomna kalach (see the sign to the right above), a typical Russian purse-shaped bread made with a handle so that you could eat it with comfort 🙂 A bit like with Cornish pies, people would discard the “dirty” handle although I wouldn’t do it if I were you! Not that it was particularly delicious. I did once try baking some kalach, and it was thicker in texture than in this touristy spot. However, they also offer to visit their bakery and see how the famous Kolomna kalach is made – to be later sampled with the local medovukha or something like this.

There was definitely something “cooking” in the “upstairs” kitchen that day, look at that thing in the sky!

Kolomna

By the way, there’s a regular school right in the middle of the Kremlin territory, next to the cathedral. And a monastery with a bunch of guys routinely begging for money at the entrance (which normally make me hesitant to go inside as I do not give alms as a rule). There were some locals riding their bikes across the Sobornaya (Cathedral) square which looks like some open-air museum with its “collection” of quite a number of churches in various styles. Churches with white (and not necessarily all that white) washed walls are my favourite.

Kolomna

Then I took a stride along the street leading to the impressive wall(s) of the Kolomna Kremlin that are still towering over the part of the town that lies beneath it. There’s also a super modern-looking sports center close by which is a bit out of place there. The cool thing about the town is that it’s not flat which for a St Petersburg native is an attraction in itself.

Kolomna

Just a random woman walking across the street dressed in the 19th century attire. Well, I guess she was going home on her lunch break from the nearby typical Kolomna delicatessen shop/museum. The ornate church in the background (also see the first image of this post) is one of the oldest in the town, now belonging to the Old-Rite Church.

Kolomna

Talking about the traditional Kolomna delicacies, I did buy quite an array of sweet stuff there. As far as I remember, I was in Kolomna on a quiet Monday morning, right after some kind of an autumn festival there. Shops were still decorated for the weekend and were obviously less crowded. I bought some pastila, a cross between fruit leather and marhsmallow, traditionally made with sourish Antonovka apples though a variety of other flavours is also available. Also was tempted to buy some hand-crafted pasta which was a bit like what my Belorussian Granny used to make (minus pepper). 

Kolomna

There are a number of such renovated/reconstructed shops-museums selling all kind of (mostly) sweet stuff, offering visits to their production sites located just behind their counters. Another typical thing to bring back as a souvenir is local soap the production of which was also revived by some enthusiasts. Elsewhere in the town, that’s what usually catches my eye the most:

Kolomna

Autumn in full swing, perfect companion of some local decadence:

Kolomna

This “dancing” house served as a background picture for my phone for a while:

Kolomna

Just loved it:

Kolomna

A local picture-perfect cat – the only thing missing was a picture-perfect kupchikha (merchant’s wife) unhurriedly drinking tea with pastila (I’m referring to the iconic painting by Kustodiev). Who knows, there might be one just behind the wooden fence! 

Filed under the Travel series.

G.

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

Meanwhile in Kolpino

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

Just came back from Moscow where it’s all summer already, and feeling slightly dizzy after no sleep in my overnight platzkart train I made a walk in the now almost summertime Kolpino. My hometown close to St Petersburg where I first got interested in architecture and all. Just wanted to leave this moment here.

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

The apple trees are in blossom. We used to have quite a lot of wooden houses all across the town. Since then almost all of them are gone but the orchards still remain scattered here and there, a sort of a silent reminder of what our town used to look like in the old days.

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

Yep, just like this.

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

I was actually going to our island-based local park called Chukhonka (after chukhna, Finnic people that used to live there) to see how the nature’s changed since we were there last – only to find out it’s closed until December for a major renovation project.

Meanwhile_in_Kolpino

So I had to make a tour around it but not in it. Also noticed that a long-standing knizhny (a book store, used to be one of the many and until very recently was probably the very last one from the old school type in our town) is on sale. It’s funny how your memories seems to overwrite all those things that used to be with the new stuff that comes to substitute the old. And it already looks as if nothing else existed there before but then you suddenly recall some detail from the past and you realize how it’s all changed.

G.

no recipe · St Petersburg

Alexandrovsky Park before It All Begins

A somewhat traditional report of the ‘before it all begins’ stage of spring from the Alexandrovsky Park in Tsarskoye Selo (aka Pushkin). We went there just for a couple of hours in the afternoon, did some walking, fed birds from the palm of our hands and basically enjoyed that very lingering moment in the beginning of the spring season when everything is getting ready to… spring! Love the geometry of the winter-like tree branches already dotted with the subtle fragile patterns of the upcoming green lavishness. Mom, the expert, says this is an oak tree:

Alexandrovsky_Park

I wanted to take photos of the white and green carpets made with grass and anemones.  Which for some reason seem to prefer only one (!) of the two river banks – I guess the one with more sun exposure. But I failed, it’s just impossible! Maybe a black-and-white camera would do that better.

Alexandrovsky_Park

Mom, the expert, thinks this should be lilac:

Alexandrovsky_Park

And a bit more of that leftover winter graphics which will very soon disappear underneath all the leaves:

Alexandrovsky_Park

Just wanted to leave this memory here. I’m getting reports from Moscow where it seems it’s more like early summer already. So I’m cheering myself up we’re still not there yet, we can seize the moment and enjoy this elusive natural beauty.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Experimenting with the Soviet black and white Smena 8M camera that was given to my Mother as a present when she was still at school, in 1973 – her first photo camera. That was a popular and inexpensive model for beginners manufactured at the famous LOMO factory in Leningrad – well now you would rather call it a mind-boggling challenge! First and foremost, finding a black and white film was not that very easy, I managed to find only one type and it was quite pricey for an experiment. So I knew the price of every shot 🙂 Although that was not my first encounter with film cameras (I started with Zenith back in the early 2000s), Smena really is a Soviet austerity thing. The trick with this camera is that it is so basic that you can’t focus. Nope. No zooming, nothing, just your reckoning of how far the object is from you (which I’m pretty bad at!). And you can’t even fully get an idea of what will be in your picture once it’s developed either. I mean the thing you see in the finder when making the photo is not all what you get as a result. There are also those icons for the weather conditions that you need to choose from – I think I’ve made a mess with them every time, not mentioning the shutter speed that you have to determine yourself too. Add to this absence of a cap for the lens and a very stiff cover… Also when I had my film developed (which you don’t normally do these days, do you?) it turned out that most of the 36 shots were gone… I mean most of the film was just blank. I dunno if that’s due to the camera or to some error during the developing process but the thing is, I lost all the earlier photos that I did in January, February and March… So I’m left with the shots from early April till mid May 2018. By the way, I’ve deliberately kept the borders on the scanned photos (thanks to my Dad!) so that they have a more authentic feel (read: too lazy!).

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

The first shot that was more or less full (see a black stripe above) and the next one were taken in Tsarskoye Selo on a morning in early April, during the Easter week. That’s the church (below) and the wooden dormitories that I’ve already described in one of my previous posts. I was drawn by the interplay of the shadows and the bright sun on the walls but had no idea how it would look like in a black and white version.

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

A week later in April we took an evening walk in the Aleksandrovsky Park of Tsarskoye Selo. Again I was attracted by the shadows and the perspective of the tree alley. I had to consult my Mother as to what numbers / icons to choose. Absolutely no idea how people’s minds worked back then when everything was not automatically set! 🙂

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Next day at our dacha, trying to capture the warm evening sun of spring:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Late April – some shots taken while walking along Moyka river from – roughly – the Palace Square to Tavrichesky Garden in St Petersburg. The beginning of the active tourist season… I was not sure whether the camera would focus on the river or the lamp post…

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Trying to get that graphic repetition of the (shadow) pattern:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Here I was not sure wether the lamp would fit or not but I was more interested in the swirl:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Early May on the Palace Square, before getting my price for a Russian language competition 🙂

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film CameraExperimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

The sky was so dramatic, the wind was tough, I couldn’t hold myself from making another shot:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

And this is mid May when the weather suddenly turned to very autumn-like rather than spring-time. We took a very fast walk in Pavlovsk, near the Mariental Castle (aka BIP), see the very first photo of the post for yet another take on it:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

Obviously tried to get more of the reflection rather than of the castle itself:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

And I think this is by far the best shot – a tiny bit of decadence:

Experimenting with Black and White: Smena Film Camera

After all, I liked the challenge. Some of the photos did remind me of those I took years ago when I borrowed Zenith camera from my parents – but that was a colour film camera and much more user-friendly. With Smena I think for a moment I did get that feeling back when with every shot you make you realize that that was probably it – or nothing. You can’t take a hundred and then choose the best one with this camera, you can’t have a preview, you can’t see the result immediately, you just – well, you just ‘fire’ that thing and wait to see! Perfectly old-fashioned.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Spring Memories 2018

Spring Memories 2018

I’ve spent quite a lot of time at our dacha this spring – and later summer. And I guess I have to be pay my dues to the job I’ve been doing for almost a year now which allows me to work from any location and almost any point during the day. Thanks to that I’ve also travelled to new places since I don’t necessarily have to stay at home.

Spring Memories 2018

But at the same time too much is done on the computer which leaves me with no desire to use it any more after I’m done with the task for the day. So even if I have a desire to write to my blog, it’s not enough to actually do it. Which also made me ponder on the whole idea itself – whether I really need this blog etc etc. Ok, no more of this, let’s just leave some spring 2018 memories here.

Spring Memories 2018

The first photos are from April when there’s such an awakening around you, such a joy inside you that cannot compare with any other season I guess. I love the interplay of the seemingly dead / sleeping nature and the subtle but obviously very sturdy and vigorous new life.

Spring Memories 2018

It’s so fast this in-between season – I mean, between the winter and the full-on summer that you’d better open your eyes before it’s all gone.

Spring Memories 2018

This spring gave us a marvelous May which was in a way warmer and nicer than most of the previous summers. And it was also made pretty clear to us that we were to face yet another apple year, a very prolific one though the apples I’m afraid were record sour which made them almost inedible for those with a weak stomach.

Spring Memories 2018

We’re still dealing with the apple harvest and I can only occasionally make something non-apple in terms of desserts since we have so many of them and everyone around seem to be having the same problem so there’s just no way of getting rid of them by giving away.

Spring Memories 2018

During winter I had some thoughts of going back to Crimea to get some proper spring experience just like I did in 2016 but then I realized I’d be better off at our dacha just enjoying life and nature in a sort of a seclusion that a 0.6 ha plot can give you. While making my strolls along and across the multiple dacha cooperatives that stretch for kilometers along the New Ladoga Canal (which in its turn runs along the Ladoga Lake shore), I met quite a few people who were also enjoying their dacha life in many ways though not all of their lifestyles were so to speak healthy. I guess that the relative remoteness from the city (about 50 km) and a more relaxed and village-like atmosphere means vodka will never lose its popularity in these places.

Spring Memories 2018

I’m definitely not a village person, I mean if I were to choose, I would definitely love to live in the country but then I’m absolutely hopeless with all the hard work it entails. And I can only drink my milk already pasteurized and devoid of all the (too) natural aromas, if you know what I mean. But I’m not a city person either which makes dacha a nice sort of compromise in between. Russians love their dacha for a variety of reasons, mine is very personal cause I’ve been spending there most of my summers since my very first one. I’m grateful for those Soviets who had the idea of granting plots to their people. And I’m really thankful for my grandparents who courageously undertook such a hard task to develop a plot from virtually nothing (ex-forest) to such a cozy place. Even a 9’C day somewhere in the middle of July can’t spoil it.

Spring Memories 2018

I can brag on for ages, you know. Need to save my enthusiasm for the rest of the backlog of various posts that I keep postponing for ages.

P.S. Pictured above is the famous Cobalt Net tea pot from a porcelain set very popular in the 1960s. The pattern itself was created even before the end of the war by an artist working at the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory during the Siege of Leningrad.  I’m no fan of porcelain but this one is such an iconic pattern that it’s somehow ‘by default’ included in our inner cultural canon.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

I took two (snowy) winter breaks in Moscow this year. My yet another attempt at taming Moscow couldn’t have happened in a more welcoming period – the temperature outside was around -20 ‘C. Well, with all the wind it might as well have been some degrees lower. I know! And still… It was quite a cozy stay in the Russian capital, which was obviously made even cozier with the presence of two cats who willingly and most generously provided their free (cat) therapy.

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Probably even thanks to such harsh weather conditions I was more active on the sight-seeing part, as I did manage to go to a couple of museums and visited some parks. This is just a square representing a typical picture of what you could see all over the place in February and March:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

After all there were loads of sun! Moreover, I had some translation & editing jobs to do so was only happy to drag myself out of the world of the computer and words (one of the reasons why I seem to be neglecting blogging these days). These are some shots from the Timiryazev park (I would rather call it a forest) just after the sunset:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Urban Moscow is just a stone throw away:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

You just need to get through this ‘portal’:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Looking back to kind of check whether there’s still way back:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Tracks:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

On one of the days I went to the Russian Realistic Art Museum, located in one of the facilities of a former cotton-printing factory. It’s a private museum which traces the history of the Realistic Art in Russia from the early 20th century till today. As always, I liked the first part of the 20th century much more.

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

I really liked these nostalgic etchings from one of the Vladimir school artists:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Outside the museum – typical Moscow (and Russia):

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

After which I went to a super-tiny museum of the Moscow Rail Road which was a disappointment. There was that very train that carried the body of Lenin to Moscow in 1924 and I guess that was and still remains the main exhibit for already many years. On my way there:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Yet another day – a trip to the Aptekarsky Garden, all covered in snow and quiet, right in the middle of the bustle and hustle of Moscow. Founded in early 18th century it used to be a real garden with medicinal herbs and stuff. It now belongs to the MGU (Moscow State University) and is open to public. The Aptekarsky Island in St Petersburg is also connected to the efforts of the ever-present Peter the Great. Well, he created the first botanical garden in Russia – among many other ‘first’ things!

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Made some photos with a black and white Smena camera that day, hope it still works 🙂

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

It was cold but lots of people were queuing to get into one of the glasshouses to get a refreshing glimpse of spring. Most of them were more involved into making selfies than actually looking at the flowers though… Anyway, it was amazing and definitely worth freezing my feet for some half an hour standing in the line!

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

In the tropical greenhouse:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Pressed layers of snow outside:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy
That day there was sun only at the very end of the day:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

Look who was helping me work:

Moscow Winter Holidays and Cat Therapy

More Moscow stories coming along…

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Moscow Mosaics: The Stalinist Era

Rechnoy Vokzal, Moscow

From my trips to Moscow in late April, June and October 2017 I’ve selected the places that have impressed me most into this first Moscow Mosaics post, united under the same era that they belong to – the Stalinist era. We’ll start from the North River Terminal, built in 1933-37, when the creation of the canal that connected Moscow with the waters of Volga was also under way. So when the construction started, this river terminal was actually standing nowhere near water – the artificial Khimki water reserve was not yet filled with water 🙂 And yes, it looks like that very Doge’s Palace in Venice – and at the same time as a ferry when seen from above. Gosh, I’d love to travel back in time to see how it looked like with all the exclusive stuff inside including a posh restaurant and the artificial marble and the statues and the hairdresser’s, a shoe repair shops, an agitpunkt and a post office. The ideal life of the ideal citizens of the ideal state – as seen by the ideal ruler himself, of course.

Rechnoy Vokzal, Moscow

When I saw it I immediately thought about the Krasnoyarsk River Terminal on Yenisey which was built some 10-15 years later but following the same design. Well, it looks that they both are not in their prime state at the moment. They say the Moscow River Terminal which is in disuse for more than 10 years, will be renovated by 2020. The 1.5 meter in diameter (!) majolica medallions depicting the highlights of the Five-year plan (see the first photo of the post) were hand-painted (!) by a single woman artist (!). To me, the ‘Moscow – Volga 1937’ letters above the entrance just breathe the 1930s…

Central Moscow Hippodrome

Next stop – the Central Moscow Hippodrome which got rebuilt in 1951-55 incorporating the original late 19th century one into this Stalin empire style building with a tower. The tower looks pretty much alike with all those Stalinist era towers scattered all over the central Moscow. Though none of them has horses instead of the usual workers or happy peasants as statues.

Central Moscow Hippodrome

The Hippodrome is still functioning (we saw some horses in action) although I doubt it will ever regain its glory. One day I’ll walk inside but not for the races – to see the interior which seems to be quite nice as well as the public which seems to be mostly dedushki, grandpas.

Central Moscow Hippodrome

Some more of the Stalinist Moscow here, now at VDNKh, or the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy. It’s been undergoing a massive renovation (reconstruction) process recently and it looks so much better now. Hopefully these pavilions too will be soon renovated.

VDNKh, Moscow

Built in 1952 as Glavkonserv pavilion with the best of the canned food there was in the USSR (see the decoration in the windows below), it has been a Gastronom (a sort of a Delicatessen) for quite a few decades since.

VDNKh, Moscow

The trick of the store is that they’ve preserved all the original stuff inside – well, except for the food obviously! Which is a shame, though…

VDNKh, Moscow

How’s that for a shop? Not your usual produkty (grocery store) for sure!

VDNKh, Moscow

This 1954 pavilion was originally destined to showcase the achievements in the construction materials industry, hence the use of the super-tough stalinit, a sort of tempered glass which nevertheless is transparent so – they say – from the inside you feel as if the roof is just floating in the air because the entire glass wall becomes almost invisible. The pavilion was later used to showcase other stuff – nuclear energy, consumer goods and then health care. Haha.

VDNKh, Moscow

And this is a 1952-53 pavilion first built for the Tsentrosoyuz, an authority coordinating all the consumer cooperatives. It too has undergone several mutations, serving as a pavilion for the nuclear energy, mechanization of agriculture, and consumer goods. The style of the building is a Stalinist take on the art-deco.

VDNKh, Moscow

And here’s a small one I liked a lot – Uzbekvino, showcasing wine from Uzbekistan.

VDNKh, Moscow

Built in 1954 as a part of the entire Uzbekistan section (the main pavilion later mutated into the Culture one), it later became Sadko restaurant which did not survive till our days. They say that yet another restaurant is to open here soon.

VDNKh, Moscow

And for the dessert, here’s a Kremlin petrol station, they say one of the oldest in Moscow. It’s situated close to the Pushkin Museum pretty close to the heart of Moscow, the Kremlin. The say also that it is still functioning – though only for the governmental cars. Built after the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour got blown up in 1931, it is – they say again – is the only relic remaining from the gigantic plan to erect a monstrous Palace of the Soviets right on the spot where the cathedral used to be. There was a series of architectural competitions but the Palace itself was never built. In the end (since 1960) they used the foundation for a huge open-air pool right in the center of Moscow which later (late 1990s) got rebuilt as… Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Constructivist Gas Station

Adding this post to the Russian section of the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg · travel

Bogoslovka, Osinovets Lighthouse and the Road of Life

Bogoslovka, Osinovets Lighthouse and the Road of Life

There are some summer memories leftover from 2017. On a surprisingly sunny day in August we travelled out of St Petersburg into the (Leningrad) region to see Bogoslovka on the Neva river, and Osinovets and the Road of Life Museum on the Ladoga Lake.

Bogoslovka

First stop on our way was Bogoslovka, a sort of an open-air ethno-park where they reconstruct traditional wooden buildings of the Russian North-West region. These buildings are copies and had to be painstakingly recreated as none of them was lucky enough to survive till our days.

Bogoslovka

The central piece of Bogoslovka, the Church of Intercession of the Holy Virgin which – they say – was once designed by Peter the Great himself in 1708. After some 250 years it was lost in a fire but never recreated on the spot. So the enthusiasts of Bogoslovka did it here, on the south-east outskirts of the city.

Bogoslovka

The church is open not only as a museum but also as a functioning church. When we were there, they were baptizing a child or something. The church is immense! You can’t really take it in in one go – so many onion domes and kokoshniks (these wooden arches recalling the traditional Russian headdress), rising up to the sky, a real wooden skyscraper of a church!

Bogoslovka

There was so much sun that day (of otherwise pretty moody summer) that my photos seem to be overexposed. Here is another building, as far as I remember of a wealthy peasant. I guess they use it as a guesthouse.

Bogoslovka

I had to find points in the shade from where I could at least observe the buildings without constantly straining my eyes. Can’t believe St Petersburg summer can be that sunny sometimes! Well, once a year 🙂 Here’s a tiny church from the Arkhangelsk region and that huge peasant’s house in the background:

Bogoslovka

And a free-standing bell-tower:

Bogoslovka, Osinovets Lighthouse and the Road of Life

There was also a sort of a Russian crafts village but it was closed. There seems to be some more (re)construction going on there (as well as on their website) so some time soon there might be more copies of the wooden architecture from the region there. I like such open-air museums where they either move the original wooden buildings to or recreate them, like the one in Novgorod the Great or Suzdal. Have not been to the Kizhi open air museum yet, they say it’s the best.

Bogoslovka, Osinovets Lighthouse and the Road of Life

To get to the two other places we visited that same day we continued our way along the right side of the Neva river away from the city towards the Ladoga Lake. Both places are connected with the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

Road of Life

This monument belongs to a whole ‘belt’ of them, commemorating important places which played their part in the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad in January 1944. This used to be the front line of the defense of the city and you can imagine how fierce the battles were here.

Road of Life

This one is very much in the 1960s war-memorial style, and I think it’s rather powerful. The pyramid is placed on the top of an artificial hill (hence the name, Hill of Glory, or Nameless Height), right at a spot on the Neva river aka Ivanovo rapids where its flow is the most challenging: too shallow, too straight with the maximum speed. Nowadays it’s not that dangerous as they’ve performed a number of tricks which made it deeper, wider and less fast.

Road of Life

Further we moved along the Neva river and came to the spot where the ring stifling the city was kept from becoming complete. This spot on the western coast of the Ladoga Lake connected the besieged city with the rest of the world. The lake played the crucial role in the survival of Leningrad during the Siege: it was the city’s Road of Life, providing it with food, transporting people to the mainland.

Osinovets Lighthouse

Next we moved on to the Osinovets lighthouse on the Ladoga Lake, a contemporary of some of my most favourite buildings in St Petersburg. Built in 1905-1910, this 70 meter lighthouse is there to pinpoint the entrance to the Shlisselburg bay, where the river Neva takes its source from Ladoga.

Osinovets Lighthouse

It also played its role in the Siege, being an important landmark for those navigating along the Road of Life, under the heavy bombardments of the Nazis.

Osinovets Lighthouse

We walked along the artificial bar into the Ladoga. Looking back at the Lighthouse where the St Petersburg people come to have some (noisy) rest, it all seemed so peaceful and quiet. With only the waves and the wind and an occasional boat disturbing the silence.

Osinovets Lighthouse

I think I liked this spot most of all.

Osinovets Lighthouse

A few hundred meters away from Osinovets is a recently renovated museum of the Road of Life. I am not a fan of war museums although I do understand their importance. This one surprised me as being very much un-dusty compared to most of the war museums I’ve visited so far.

Road of Life

But you feel really really small, uneasy and scared of course while walking along the Ladoga Lake with all those guns and boats and aircrafts behind you. They also play some sort of bird sounds (very loud and disturbing) to keep the real birds away from their exhibits (and the glass walls as far as I can understand). Well, a war museum is a war museum, no fluffy staff there.

Road of Life

In one of the hangars they have some of those vehicles which helped transport so many goods and people to and from the mainland during the winter months of the Siege. The dark one is the famous polutorka which was one of the workhorses of the Road of Life, many of them unfortunately never made it to the land. The museum was about to close down for the day so we had to leave.

Road of Life

Then we had our lunch in a small cafe kept by Armenians where we could admire Ladoga from if not for the loud music outside which kept us inside 🙂 Oh yes, I also had my first swim in the Ladoga Lake that day – shallow and cold, but very refreshing. Such a fine day!

Road of Life

This post goes to the St Petersburg collection.

G.