architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Yet Another Getaway in Veliky Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod was good. It is already for the second time that this trip happens exactly at the moment when I most need this getaway. And when the weather is great too – windy and sunny – you unleash your carelessness and relax.

Veliky Novgorod

Last year our first day in Veliky Novgorod was pretty nasty in terms of the weather but this time I made quite a bit of sunny pictures.

Veliky Novgorod

These are the gates of the most venerable cathedrals in the region – Saint Sophia Cathedral of Veliky Novgorod. Never actually paid any attention to the details, always just looking at these gates as a whole while passing by. Gosh, did they have tons of time and skill in the old days!

Veliky Novgorod

Inside the cathedral it was warmer than outside so we lingered for quite a bit in there. It sometimes helps when you don’t have to pay attention to the sights as a whole (because you have seen them several times already) and so start enjoying the details:

Veliky Novgorod

Just outside of St Sophia there is this building with a funny balcony. I think it’s now a local center for kids where they teach them arts and crafts. We heard some music playing there. Right next to the school is the kremlin wall (no, Kremlin doesn’t exclusively refer to that red fortress in the center of Moscow, it can be found in other cities of Russia).

Veliky Novgorod

If you cross the bridge leading from the kremlin to the other side of the Volkhov river, you get to the Trade Side of Veliky Novgorod, where they have so many churches (and these are just a fraction of what was there before) that you can barely remember all their names.

Veliky Novgorod

I love how they grow from the earth (this church is almost 650 years old!). Sometimes they have to undig them out of all the culture layers that have accumulated throughout the years. And most of the times the years are pretty visible on these old walls:

Veliky Novgorod

Inside the walls of the late 17th century church:

Veliky Novgorod

Love those lines which are breaking all the rules of your school geometry lessons!

Veliky Novgorod

OK, here’s some geometry for you:

Veliky Novgorod

Our hostel was located in a very good spot, wasn’t it?

Veliky Novgorod

Next morning we went to Perynsky Skit on the Lake Ilmen where the monks would settle to get away from the busy monasteries. The tiny pieces of ice were rocking on the waves coming ashore the lake, creating some delicate music – or were they telling legends of the old times?

Veliky Novgorod

We made a wonderful sunny walk in the forest nearby and then visited the Yuriev Monastery, a must of all the coach trips to Novgorod:

Veliky Novgorod

Just a couple of meters away is the open-air museum of traditional Russian wooden architecture called Vitoslavlitsy.

Veliky Novgorod

It’s a bit of a tourist trap (especially if you just close half of the territory for reconstruction) but I still love it.

Veliky Novgorod

You can enter most of the buildings and see how the old Russians used to live:

Veliky Novgorod

There are houses of rich peasants and merchants as well as churches, a windmill and other buildings. A bit like they did it in Suzdal but I like the quality of their interior work much more.

Veliky Novgorod

Pity those vatrushkas were not real! 🙂

Veliky Novgorod

And there under the towel I suppose is a Novgorod carrot pie since we are in Novgorod!

Veliky Novgorod

And there to the right are blini while in the foreground is the traditional karavay bread served with a pinch of salt to the bride and groom at the weddings:

Veliky Novgorod

Can you spot some berries in between the window panes?

Veliky Novgorod

A babushka coming back to her duties after the lunch break:

Veliky Novgorod

Russian stove in a wealthy merchant’s house:

Veliky Novgorod

The icon corner is called krasny ugol (red or also beautiful corner) in Russia. The white and red towel has its meaning:

Veliky Novgorod

And here’s a workshop of a wool-maker:

Veliky Novgorod

View over the Yuriev Monastery from the open-air museum:

Veliky Novgorod

Can imagine how delicately green the city is now but back then in early April it was still rustic and brown, so very early spring-like. A wonderful start to the season!

Read my last year’s post for more details on Veliky Novgorod.

Adding this to my Travel collection.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky

Rostov

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Monastyrsky Bread

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

And you can walk on water and enjoy the cityscape…

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

Patterns:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Fortification walls which were never supposed to serve as fortification:

Rostov

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

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

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

Rostov

A rather unusually decorated church with a matching pine branch:

Rostov

Check out that door!

Rostov

This one is serious too:

Rostov

A rather run-down cathedral:

Rostov

The gates to the kremlin-residence:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Meanwhile outside of the kremlin walls: decadence, anyone?

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

This post goes to the On Russia and Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Ryazan and a Bit of Moscow

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

The door was open:

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

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

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

I really like all those architectural details:

Ryazan

Enhanced with the snow:

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

The mound looks really cool:

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Ryazan

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Moscow

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

Adding this post to the Travel collection.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Winter Dreams of Vladimir and Suzdal

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

But the restaurant’s door was half-open:

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

Cold.

Suzdal - Vladimir

Snowy.

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

…it’s so cozy inside! and warm 🙂

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

this one is very festive:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and this one looks beautiful:

Suzdal - Vladimir

and this one looks fancy too:

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

Or this Art-Nouveau school (now university):

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

A street close to the museum with the road post:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Further along that street:

Suzdal - Vladimir

Another view over the city:

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

The horizon got lost in the snow:

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Suzdal - Vladimir

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

Mstera Bread

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

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

This post goes to the Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Official St Petersburg or Along Bolshaya Morskaya

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

Back in June I walked to and along one of the most ‘official’ streets of St Petersburg – Bolshaya Morskaya which literally means Big Naval or Big Maritime. It runs all the way from the Palace Square for more than a kilometer and it used to be so posh and oh so rich back in the old days.

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

We’ll start from the Neva embankment, at the strangest place in the city with the authentic stone pavement from leftover from the 18th century. The Neva embankment here is considered to be the face of St Petersburg, at least its official facade – or else front-door, paradny Petersburg.

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

The best viewpoint to admire the front-door St Petersburg is from the water. Or you can enjoy the view across the Neva river: stone embankments, famous skyline and boats. In summer the river gets pretty busy which adds to the overall brouhaha of the city.

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

And yet, you can take your time, stop for a while and observe.

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

The stone embankments of St Petersburg deserve a separate post, they are a real masterpiece. Although my fellow citizens (me included) prefer to avoid them on especially hot days. Reason? Well, other fellow citizens persistently use them as public WCs…

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

Same as the courtyards, unfortunately. But if you quickly make your photo and dash outside, there’s no harm. We’ve moved away from the river now, joining the Bolshaya Morskaya Street. My eyes immediately set upon these two Art Nouveau buildings standing side-by-side:

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

The story of this very spot (Bolshaya Morskaya 22) seems to go back to the very early days of the city when – allegedly – a Greek captain would settle here and thus establish a seaman community. They say he was even one of the first inhabitants of St Petersburg in general! This place later changed hands, styles and purpose. After serving as a house of St Petersburg head policemen, the central telephone station got its new facade in 1905:

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

It is still occupied by the main telecommunications company. Next to it is yet another well-known building (Bolshaya Morskaya 24) which also retains its original purpose throughout the years:

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

This is the Faberge house built in 1899-1900. Previously this place belonged to a bell master, then to a goldsmith and later to a jeweler but also to a bookseller who would have Alexander Pushkin among his clients.

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

However, its most celebrated owner was Karl Faberge who purchased this building and got it revamped in Art Nouveau for his shop, workshops and apartments. The different surface styles of the same red granite from Gangut make it stand out of the crowd: it’s massive, it’s polished, it’s expensive! And then you sneak into the courtyard…

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

As is usually the case with the Art Nouveau buildings, their backyards are sometimes even more architecturally curious than the front face. The staircase windows follow the movement of the steps while the entrance to the courtyard is adorned with tiles:

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

And once more – here’s the facade of Bolshaya Morskaya 35, which used to belong to the ‘Russia’ Insurance Company. Look at the elaborate majolica created after Nikolai Roerich’s drawings. The original frieze didn’t survive but was restored in 2009. You can hardly see it, it’s so high up but it’s wonderfully fairy-tale-ish!

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

And here’s what you’ll find behind its face:

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

Super-rusty style

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

Moving further along Bolshaya Morskaya, past St Isaac Cathedral, you get to the Nabokov fanily’s house (Bolshaya Morskaya 47):

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

His family lived here and Vladimir spent his childhood behind all these lavish decorations. Still have to visit his museum there – not that I’m any fan of his, but rather to see the interior.

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

Moving off Bolshaya Morskaya to the Moyka River Embankment (leaving one of my ex-work places looking like Hermitage behind), you’ll come across the New Holland island, one of the city’s artificial islands, which is under reconstruction now. Not sure what will eventually become of it but they say it will be some artsy space plus hotels and shops. This is what you do with an unused 18th century naval port 🙂

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

A ship-like building along the Moyka Embankment grabs your attention by these, well, dangerous balconies and the rhythmic waves of bay windows.

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

And it’s actually known in the city as the House with Bay Windows. It was built by one of the masters of the ‘brick-style‘ quite popular at the end of the 19th century, with the Gothic elements which make it into some sort of a brick castle.

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

Right next to it is the architect’s own mansion, again in the brick style which preceded the Art Nouveau in St Petersburg. It was actually constructed earlier than the previous building and still carries the emblem devised by the same architect who set up the St Petersburg architectural society (look under the balcony).

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

And here I had to stop and walk back: we were to listen to some choral music in the St Isaac Cathedral later that day. More Art Nouveau stories coming for sure sometime soon.

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.
architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Trans-Siberian Trip Part 9: Vladivostok and Russky Island

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Hello Vladivostok! My friend met me with a flower, such a treat! After a flight which felt like being on a bus as it made several stops on its way from Irkutsk to Vladivostok, Ulan-Ude being its first one. We flew over China twice: before its second stop in Blagoveshchensk and after. It felt so weird to be travelling alone and not to have any more trains to take. Travelling by plane and covering over a thousand kilometers in a couple of hours seemed almost unnatural!

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Walking along the embankment or should I say the shore of the Japanese Sea later that day and listening to a street musician playing a bagpipe I was wondering whether I was in China after all? Or in Thailand? Never seen either of them but it felt like I was truly in Asia.

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My eager eye spotted the decadence and rejoiced at seeing these authentic courtyards which used to be quite a dangerous area and now is mostly occupied by various hippy-artsy places:

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Since its foundation as a outpost in 1860 Vladivostok (‘own the East’ in Russian) has been a melting pot of nations and interests. This district in particular – still called Millionka (either from the ironical ‘Millionaires’ or Million People) – was the local China town with gangsters and smugglers and spies and whatnot. It became a real city within a city but then the Soviets came and cleared the place out in the 1930s.

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Evening view over the city from one of its numerous sopka (volcano, hills). The new districts seem to climb to the top of the hills, the view from there should be amazing, I suppose. Next morning we set off on our way to the Russky Island – across the Zolotoy Bridge – and thus spotted more breathtaking views over the Golden Horn Bay (Zolotoy Rog):

Russky

Then we crossed another impressive bridge called Russky bridge and got to the Russky Island which is located … “9,334 kilometres east of Moscow” according to Wikipedia. That was amazing. I thank my friends who took me there regardless of the distance. I guess those Far Eastern girls just don’t mind those kilometers of walking at all.

Russky

Apart from being quite a challenge in trying to reach one of its capes, Tobizin Cape, through mud and over the cliffs, this island offered to me an insight into the unbelievably different nature of the Far East. It IS different there on the island, no birch trees by the way, which seemed to accompany us all throughout the trip.

Russky

My mind was trying to find a reference, something to compare the sight in front of me with. But it failed! The closest at times was the Mediterranean but the rest, especially with those long capes and gulfs and volcanic rocks and the horizon. I was swept off my feet! The eye would just fail to encompass it all.

Russky
Nature is generous on dimensions there. The Japanese Sea and the Ocean:

Russky

and then… there was all of a sudden this mist, at first just drawing a curtain over the sun:

Russky

People were seemingly unabashed by that change in the weather. They kept jumping off the cliff (I preferred not to look at them but still I could hear them) and swimming. It’s a pity I didn’t as I thought we would find a less rocky beach since there were quite a few of them around… Meanwhile the mist was stubbornly making its way to the city, enveloping everything in its white blanket:

Russky

It wasn’t cold at first so we just walked back to catch the bus (which we missed), stopping here and there to admire the Nature:

Russky

White poppies and thyme of the Far East:

Russky

And that was when people started gradually getting out of the island which inevitably created traffic jams on the only road leading to the only bridge connecting the island with the mainland Vladivostok. We hitchhiked a part of our way on some weird mini-bus full of quasi-military guys (we thought they were either soldiers or some military-style game addicts?) who ate the rest of the very tasty home-made cake 🙂 We thus got to the vast-vast campus of the DVFU or FEFU (Far Eastern Federal University) which looks more like a city and contributes to the population growth on the island:

Russky

They built all the monster buildings there on the ex-military school territory for the 2012 APEC Summit (as well as those two impressive bridges) and later they got revamped into the campus for the recently united three local universities. It’s enormous, there’s a bus circulating on its territory which we took for a quick excursion… and in that mist which was chasing us out of the island the campus in the middle of nowhere looked even less credible. One of the university alumni is Russian singer Ilya Lagutenko and he was scheduled to perform later that day in a concert on the main square. We got there on time but the mist was so thick and cold and damp by then that we failed to wait any longer and went home to warm up our bones. And sample some cooked bracken!

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Next day I went around Vladivostok on my own. I started my journey from walking to the Tokarevskaya Koshka lighthouse, one of the oldest in the country. It’s located on this narrow man-made patch (called koshka) which is washed by the waves from both sides and which disappears with the tide. It felt very… special being there all alone in the early morning, breathing in the ocean and observing the boats passing by. They say that this is the spot to meet the beginning of the day – it seems like the day on this planet starts somewhere over there!

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Then I got on the bus (and here I should say that Vladivostok buses are the most outrageously kitsch-decorated buses I’ve ever seen – inside, not outside) and first visited the Vladivostok railway station. I already felt nostalgia when I looked at all the trains and people going places. The building is in neo-Russian style and has these beautiful ceramic tiles:

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Walking in the city I – as always – mostly paid attention to the remnants of the bygone era. Loved this tiny Pharmacy on the corner:

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This is Vladivostok:

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Quite a mixture, isn’t it? The city is also quite rich in various types of street art, particularly paintings on the walls. Well, birds are abundantly present too 🙂

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The only museum I visited in the city was the Arsenyev Museum called after Vladimir Arsenyev who spent his life in relentless expeditions all across the Far East and wrote books about the region.

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I liked the museum (and the building!) – it was small enough not to get tired and some halls in particular impressed me with their curious ideas of how to display the exhibits. For instance, they had a huge shelve stand with a specific object representing this or that merchant / trade in the city’s history. And this is what you do when you have far too many books:

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They do not need any extra filters there with this mirror:

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I walked along the most central of the streets of Vladivostok, Svetlanskaya. As you can imagine, I was quite happy to see the street  lined with Art-Nouveau buildings as well as decadent Soviet creations. Loved this mirror and the staircase in the local GUM (central department store):

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Walking away from the center and then turning right to the embankment, I saw this submarine turned into museum. Remembering that sheer fright I felt inside the submarine in Kaliningrad, I avoided going inside 🙂

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Zolotoy (Golden) Bridge looking pretty… silver:

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I entered the port area and thoroughly enjoyed those red-brick workshops with layers upon layers of time periods on them:

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My friend suggested going up to see the Gothic-style Catholic church which I did – though I spent quite some time trying to get round all those courtyards and winding parking lots (roads?) leading towards the church. The church itself didn’t impress me as much as the view from up there, revealing even more layers of time:

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Vertical layers too:

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Later that day I thought how weird it was that people living in the easternmost part of my country would go to sleep at the same time as their friends at the other end of it would be at work. And then when you wake up – your friends are still awake on that other side… SEVEN hours, seven time zones!

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My last day in Vladivostok was a lazy day with even more mist, stifling dampness and drizzling rain. First I went out of the city to visit the Botanical Gardens. There I walked in the woods and admired more of that nature (see red fish in the bottom left corner of the picture above?) so strikingly different and yet so near. Then I bought some LPs for my Mother at a store called Kontrabanda (Vladivostok was always famous for it being too close to the capitalist world where they have jeans, Beatles, short skirts and long hair) and as a parting gift enjoyed a tea ceremony at home 🙂 Early next morning it was time to say goodbye – both to the city and the journey.

Vladivostok highlights:

walking along the embankment and people / sunset / sunrise watching

Tokarevskaya Koshka lighthouse (preferable before the tide:)

Millionka district, the local (ex-)China town

Arsenyev Primorye Museum

send old-school postcards with Millionka to your friends on the other side of the world

MISTS (June-July is the season)

Russky Island and other wonderful natural places away from the city

the Ocean, the port and the bridges

Vladivostok in a few words: Hills, ocean and layers of time that are recent enough to be visible and yet old enough to spark an interest. In some ways Vladivostok is pretty close to St Petersburg actually! Equally an ‘artificial’ city built to both defend from and be a window to the world. But just on the other side of the country 🙂 And although the city failed to keep my enthusiasm going for 4 days, I would like to come back.

This post goes to my On Russia and Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Trans-Siberian Trip Part 8: Breathing in Steppes in Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude

My idea was to take a train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude which will join the Circum-Baikal Railroad, to see Baikal from the other side too. And not by night but in the morning. So we had to wait for the train in Irkutsk at the station and then had some time to sleep before we would see this:

Ulan-Ude
I’ve made several bleak attempts at capturing Baikal from the train window, so don’t mind the wires. I woke up just on time when the train was getting closer to the Lake. The sun was rising, the water gleaming. you don’t see it in the photo but the colour was silver! I woke my friend up. Then we passed through a tunnel. We fell asleep for a moment. And then the Lake appeared once more. The train was following the winding road along the coast, sometimes we would see some village, sometimes abandoned and ruined agricultural constructions.

Ulan-Ude
Where does the sky end?

Ulan-Ude

I even took photos right from the open window in the WC 😉 And each time the road would pass through a tunnel I was thinking – this is our last chance to see Baikal, please don’t turn away from the lake now, not yet!

Ulan-Ude
Last glimpse of Baikal at the station justly called Povorot, the Turn, after which the road runs away from the shore:

Ulan-Ude

Irkutsk – Ulan-Ude

distance: plus 456 km

total distance from St Petersburg covered so far: 6865 km

local time: Moscow time + 5 hours

train: our last train Moscow – Ulan-Ude; takes you to Ulan-Ude from Irkutsk in exactly 8 hours.

Somewhere close to Ulan-Ude and already we could sense the steppes and the piping-hot day that was awaiting us:

Ulan-Ude

The landscape was truly impressive, with the river and the villages and the mountains in the background! And the road itself would keep on turning here and there. I think those 8 hours the train takes from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude are due to this turning and turning.

Ulan-Ude

Ulan-Ude is the capital of the Buryat Republic. Which is a part of Russia. And it’s not in Mongolia though Mongolia is very close. I mean it, even some of my Russian acquaintances asked me if I went to Mongolia when I said I was in Ulan-Ude. The name does have a similarity with Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator, both having this Ulan word which means Red (hence Ulan Bator = Red Hero). Both names appeared thanks to the Communists: Ulan-Ude used to be Udinskoye first, then just Udinsk, followed by Verkhneudinsk and finally Ulan-Ude in 1934. All these names contain the name of the river – Uda – on which the city is located. Just as many Soviet cities, Ulan-Ude used to be a closed city for foreigners until 1991. But now that’s it’s open we didn’t see much tourists around apart from Chinese.

Voila, theeee steeeepppeeee right in the city – can you feel it?

Ulan-Ude
The door to the Buryat Republic History Museum:

Ulan-Ude
We we glad to get inside air-conditioned exhibition halls and forget about the heat for a moment. As in a true Soviet museum we were issued several tickets for every hall and in each hall they would check them (and first they would open those halls for us as we were not many in the museum). Thanks God the museum was just several buildings away from our weird hostel (which turned out to be an apartment managed by a young girl. In that heat there was no fan so I won’t even mention the name!), same street. I cannot say that the museum was particularly entertaining (or was it just the heat? or a modest amount of exhibits?) but we saw some curious stuff. And that’s tea there to the left:

Ulan-Ude
Boy was it hot! The city just pressed us down with the heat. The air was hanging there without any movement.

Ulan-Ude
Hot hot hot

Ulan-Ude
Though apparently not that hot enough for these newlyweds!

Ulan-Ude

We were amazed that with such a heat people would walk with no hats, no sunglasses. Kids were running here and there and their parents seemed to be unmoved by the sun and the absence of air. They are just used to that steppe climate! By the way, Buryat people represent 20% of the population in the city. And you can see that this is truly so. Like in Kazan you instantly realize you are in a different setting so to speak. And people speak their language, you see signs written in it. You can also sense that China is definitely close by. There is a traditional boozy (not boozy but bo-o-zy) dumplings offered at every corner. My friend tried some in this super tiny one-room cafe run by a woman who would take the order and go to the kitchen and get it done with another woman. It felt like we were somewhere in another country!

Stalinist heritage on the main square of Ulan-Ude:

Ulan-Ude

Lenin’s head. The only thing that is interesting about it is that this is the largest Lenin’s head in the world. Yes it is. And that’s all about it.

Ulan-Ude
And a sample of the nowadays architecture (this is the local theater):

Ulan-Ude

It’s funny that the modern part of Ulan-Ude is quite limited. And I mean it – there are so many log houses left and inhabited! Whole districts of them. This is an embellished old Siberian house (upper-class, probably a merchant’s house) in the center:

Ulan-Ude

Moving a bit off the city center to the Uda river (which was dirty and certainly NOT refreshing):

Ulan-Ude
A local take on Art-Nouveau-ish windows:

Ulan-Ude

Auuuuthentic:

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Mum said this one in particular looks just like her native Rossosh in the South of Russia:

Ulan-Ude

It was so hot and stuffy (or rather – there was just no air to breathe!) that our minds were boiling. We wandered from shade to shade, resorting to shops and cool commercial centers (cool in terms of the temperature and very 90s / Asia-cool too). We got so dizzy with all our energy squeezed out that we went back to the apartment (aka hostel) and stayed there until the evening (helping the host assemble the fan which she finally bought – one for all her guests). Then when we felt we had regained some strength we got on a marshrutka (commercial bus) which took us up  up up to Lysaya Gora (Bold Mountain) where they have their datsan, the Mongolian for the Buddhist university monastery. It was the first time I ever visited one (I know there is one in St Petersburg but I never went inside) and thus could discover for myself another facet of Russia. Ulan-Ude is considered to be the center of Tibetan Buddhism, they say.

Ulan-Ude

Everything felt very unusual in that place – silent and full of some uncertain feeling at the same time (probably because we felt we didn’t belong here?). Local people would ruin the silence a bit with their loud shouting but when we moved away from the parking lot where the city could be admired from above (quite a view)…

Ulan-Ude

…we entered some unknown territory. The monks would walk from one building to another and say Hello to you. The sun went down and there appeared that steppe wind on top of the mountain – but at first it brought almost no change to the stifling air!

Ulan-Ude

These reminded me of Robert Plant’s Heaven Knows video:

Ulan-Ude

It was getting late so we took our marshrutka back (and down) and there it was, Lenin’s head again! Looking quite menacing but at the same time – so lonely and ugly, don’t you think? Poor old Lenin, who would believe back then that his head would become a selfie point of the city…

Ulan-Ude

There were many people in the streets, children included. Everyone was gathered round the fountain as if waiting for something so we went closer to see what’s going on. But nothing was, they were just looking at the fountain.

Ulan-Ude

And then the rain started and we could finally breathe again. We fell asleep to the sound of rain and the railway station.

Ulan-Ude highlights:

Buryat History museum to try to understand the region, its religions and peoples

Lenin’s head to wonder why it is so special apart from being the largest in the world (7.7 meters and 42 tons) and built in 1970 for Lenin’s 100th birthday

Baikal is farther from Ulan-Ude than from Irkutsk but you can see its other ‘side’ if you have time to travel

beautiful nature around the city

view over the city from the datsan on Lysaya Gora (or go to a farther Ivolginsky Datsan)

local food for meat-lovers

Ulan-Ude in a few words: City where you will breathe in the steppe, learn about Buryat’s culture and discover Buddhist Russia.

The next morning we had to part with my brave companion. We took separate planes: one went back to St Petersburg via Moscow and mine made an unexpected stopover in Blagoveschensk and finished in Vladivostok. We flew over China by the way! More about it in my next and last Trans-Siberian post. This is the airport of Ulan-Ude called Baikal airport:

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Goodbye to Baikal! And here’s the reverse of the air ticket. And of coooooourse they take the beautiful part of it and leave you the smaller one to the left:

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My plane took me to the ultimate stop of the trip: Vladivostok.

This post goes to my On Russia and Travel series.

G.