architecture · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Delinquent in Smolensk, A City on the Border

Smolensk

A super slow train took me to Smolensk overnight and well into the next day. The day was not a particularly fine one in terms of weather. But that of course was not the reason why I was delinquent in Smolensk. Let me keep the suspense for a little bit more till we get to that point while travelling across the city. For some time now I have been meaning to visit this city on the border with Belarus, one of the oldest in Russia and constantly popping up here and there in the tormented Russian history. First mentioned in the chronicles in the year of 863, it did not preserve much since that time, as you can imagine.

Smolensk

However, Smolensk does have a certain frontier atmosphere, testifying of all the various influences it has experienced throughout the years (Lithuania, Poland…). Its position on the Dnieper river, an important waterway of the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, has brought wealth and fame but also attracted too much attention from those who craved to get hold of both.

Smolensk

The first sight you catch when you arrive (not counting the railway station itself) are the two oldest churches of the city, Peter and Paul (12th century! on the left in the photo above and below) and St Barbara (16th; to the right), standing almost side by side and pretty far off the center and the walls of the fortress surrounding it. Just like Novgorod the Great, the Tatar-Mongol yoke did not destroy Smolensk (although Napoleon and Hitler were more successful) and so it boasts some of those pre-Mongol churches hardly to be found anywhere else in Russia.

Smolensk
After a short pause at a very Spartan motel (see below) I put my hat on together with the hood to make it across the Dnieper river. Dnieper has always been in my mind going side by side Ukraine and Kiev in particular. But then some Russians are not sure if Smolensk is in their city either… So, to cut this long story short, Dnieper takes its source in the Smolensk region and then flows across Belarus and Ukraine into the Black Sea. And here it is in its very beginning:

Smolensk

Just noticed the crazy bushes along the Dnieper river embankment that recklessly decide to blossom in snowy hazy November. And here’s a part of the renovated fortification wall that used to surround a really vast chunk of the city. I took this wall as a guideline for my itinerary throughout Smolensk and so followed it from the North clockwise.

Smolensk

The walls were constructed by the same architect who created those of the so called White Town in Moscow earlier in the 16th century. Only this time Fedor Kon’ thought bigger and taller, with much more towers, thus creating a real fortress around the town (which it really is compared to smaller Moscow Kremlin)

Smolensk

And here’s the weirdest part of the north wall – the classicist Dnieper Gates flanked by two bell towers on both sides, literally growing from the 16th century wall. The gates now house a church school.

Smolensk

It looks like this from the other side:

Smolensk

Following the northern wall clockwise I came to this hilly part of Smolensk looking pretty much like a village, with a typical rural shop where you can normally find almost everything you need.

Smolensk

Smolensk Village

Smolensk

View over the Sobornaya Gorka, a hill with the Assumption Cathedral. Right underneath me was a man lying apparently breathless and / or drunk beyond repair. On a deserted street below a couple was waiting for the emergency car to come. I didn’t see what happened next.

Smolensk

Out of 38 original towers only 17 have survived; this one is in the South-East part of the wall:

Smolensk

And here you can illegally climb the ruined stairs and get a view over both sides of the wall – illegally, too. But no one cares.

Smolensk

Avraamiev Monastery (founded in early 13th century, rebuilt in stone in the 18th)

Smolensk

Moving further – Nikolskaya tower

Smolensk

With a drive-through arch:

Smolensk

And a gorgeously Soviet store selling sports goods and clothes. By the time they realized it was time to renew the shop window design, it has suddenly come back into fashion again (the black & white posters are there for a very very long time):

Smolensk

Some Stalinist architecture, ship-shape:

Smolensk

A door leading into a 1930s Gosbank (State Bank) building – still used as a bank premises:

Smolensk

One of the most recognizable buildings in Smolensk – the 1930s constructivist ‘House with Lions’ as it is known here. What a combination! A lady waited patiently while I was taking this photo and then entered – too fast for me to follow in her steps and see what Smolensk avantgarde looks like.

Smolensk

Moving along a rather long Kommunisticheskaya (Communist) Street, which changed names at least 6 times across the centuries, including Bolshaya Dvoryanskaya (Nobleman) vs Bolshaya Proletarskaya (Proletarian), Sotsialisticheskaya (Socialist) and Stalina (Stalin). That street was not the lucky one for me – as we will see later. This is a local arts school in a neo-Russian style red brick building:

Smolensk

An early 17th century Gromovaya (Thunder) Tower and a monument to Fedor Kon’, the architect.

Smolensk

Moving further along the South-Western wall:

Smolensk

And looking back:

Smolensk

When I realized I’d seen most of the sights located in the center, I decided to move back and explore the old merchant mansions along Bolshaya Sovetskaya. Little did I know that after passing along this Fine Arts Museum on the same Kommunisticheskaya street I would get too distracted by a Stalinist building on the right and a neo-Russian on the left plus a 16th century wall lurking somewhere over there that I would nonchalantly cross the street where it was not supposed to and… bump into a policeman. So here we go, my first fine and about 20 minutes of the precious daylight wasted while another policeman was taking down my name etc and telling me stories about St Petersburg – veeeery slowly. No, they were not impressed that I was a tourist from another city and the fact that it was a state holiday did not make them drop the whole thing either. Delinquent!

Smolensk

Did you know that if you pay your fine within a short period in Russia (and you can make it online too) you only pay 50% of it? Well, I did 🙂

Smolensk

The 17-18th century Assumption Cathedral, all gold inside. My last shot in Smolensk after which I crossed Dnieper once again to the railway station district to wait for my late night train that would take me across the border to Belarus. I didn’t manage to sample anything particularly remarkable in Smolensk (only gobbled down something quite similar to panforte – but it was imported from Minsk), nor did I get any postcards. No local market either. Hm, seems like Smolensk did not pass my test! Or was it just the weather with wind and snow right into my face?

Not recommended in Smolensk: The city has a very scarce selection of accommodation options. So much so that you either end up in an overpriced ‘euro-standard’ hotel or in a very dilapidated motel-like place (which I did). Unless you have your train to catch the same night (and IN the night too), do not choose Mini-Hotel na Avtovokzale. It is very convenient for those travelling by train or bus but definitely to be avoided if you care about your own self.

This post goes to my Travel series.

G.

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

Autumn and Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Autumn and Art Nouveau go really well together. And where else would they go perfectly well together than in Tsarskoye Selo, an aristocratic suburb of St Petersburg. I love visiting it in autumn when the ex-royal residence is wearing its gorgeous multicolour veil. This time though we decided (ok-ok, I persuasively suggested it) to go on an Art Nouveau quest around the town. The number of Art Nouveau places is limited but thanks to the overall status of Tsarskoye Selo as a ‘country’ residence, they are mostly separate cottages / dachas. The first spot we visited was the dacha (summer cottage) of the grand duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia , now the premises of the Research Institute of Horticulture. Built in 1896-1897 – supposedly by two English architects – it is considered to be one of the first Art Nouveau places in St Petersburg.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Since the last time we were there in spring 2017 (seems like years ago), they’ve surrounded the whole area with a fence and also started renovation in one of the buildings which used to serve as a stable (also built in 1896-1897). Also, the little clock tower which used to decorate this house is gone…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I do hope they will be careful with what is left from the original interior details (if any) – in this case you never know if the renovation is beneficial or on the contrary fatal for the building. The nearby second (reserve) home with a garage (one of the first garages for automobiles in Russia, built in 1899), slowly but steadily dying from the mold and disuse, represents a very sad picture from the inside:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Wonderfully decadent from the outside – if only there was a way to stop the building from decaying:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I don’t know the plans for the garage, but I hope they do something about it pretty soon as the roof is falling in:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

An un-standardized door:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

An un-standardized window:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The previous times I was there I didn’t pay much attention to the fountain erroneously thinking it was a later addition. probably thanks to the fact the dacha is somewhat off the main road and the fountain is almost in the ‘woods’, it survived till today – and who knows, maybe even its mechanism is still working?

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Another thing which I didn’t explore earlier was this hobbit-like pavilion near the greenhouses (not sure if these are the original ones) – also built in the Art Nouveau style and now full of junk.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The entire pavilion seems to be growing out of the ground, merging with the garden. It has obviously sank over the last century which only gives it a more ‘natural’ look. If only it was also kept in a better condition…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Our next Art Nouveau stop was the ex-store of the Guards Economic Society, built already in the late Art Nouveau period when in St Petersburg they were mostly moving towards the retrospective styles (1911-1914). But the ‘province’ (although Tsarskoye Selo is very close to the city) is a different thing.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

They say the building continued to be used as a shop even in the Soviet period but now it’s hard to say what’s there. There are security cameras and yet half of the building seems to be abandoned.
Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Apart from the decadent stone staircases…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

with trees growing through them, …

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

and original glass in the windows,…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

there is also a pavilion in the same pseudo-English style nearby (as well as two other pavilions of an uncertain function):

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

I wish I could visit that shop when it was just open. Or even now, to see what’s hiding inside behind those large windows – and also what’s up there in the pinnacle? What’s inside the small pavilion is better not seen 😦

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The third stop was the mansion of count Gudovich (built in 1901-03), now a kindergarten, situated just outside the Catherine Park.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

You cannot go close to the building as the schools and places like this are now mostly fenced in (we had plans to get hired as cleaning ladies to get inside 🙂 so we just wandered around peeping through the fence. Must feel like a sort of Hogwarts to the kids!

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

One of the details that catch your eye is the grate and the gates designed by Art Nouveau guru Robert Metlzer. The grate reminds me of the Northern Modern style that was a very popular movement within Art Nouveau. It brought into the architecture all those Scandinavian fairy-tale elements that make you think of fortresses, ammunition and creatures that turn into stone.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The gates are still operating:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

There are also street lights but sadly no bulbs:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The forth stop was connected to the first automobiles in the Russian empire – though now it has more to do with the agriculture of the Leningrad (St Petersburg) region as it houses some of the departments of the local Institute of Agriculture. The garages were built in 1906-1907 to house 2 new Delaunay-Belleville cars bought for the emperor.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

When we saw this bas-relief we couldn’t decide whether that was a car or a tractor – such is the aura of the place now 🙂 But it actually depicts the introduction of the first cars in Russia. And here is the garage:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Now students sit in there listening to their lecturers. What a transformation for a garage!

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The building in the background is the one with the bas-relief.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

A pavilion nearby was built later and has a glass roof for more light. I guess they use it to house some specimens of agricultural machinery:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Faded colors of autumn:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Natural decadence:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Beautiful door of the nearby dacha of Alexander Pushkin:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The day was really nice so I decided to leave the architecture for a while and go enjoy some nature. The Alexander park (a free-entrance counterpart of the more popular and more regular Catherine park) was surprisingly green for late September and although the sun was already setting down, I enjoyed my walk along the alleys up to those corners that you normally miss out.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Although this is a landscape park and so it’s not exactly all nature… But the combination of the natural beauty with the tricks of the architect makes you love it no less.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

A lamppost next to the ruins of the Chinese Theater:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

One of the bridges bears the name of the factory that produced it – the famous one that is also responsible for major metal constructions found here and there in St Petersburg, the San-Galli Factory:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Since the summer started a month later than it was supposed to, the autumn also arrived late(r) this year. The autumnal hues were just beginning to make their appearance:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Four friends:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

On my way back:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

The golden evening light of September…

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

…made the Catherine Palace less pompous and a bit warmer:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

While it made the gold look even gold-er 🙂

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

Baroque palace meets civilization:

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

And as my final stop, I entered the 1860s Lutheran church with its rows of white benches and a boy changing the plates with the numbers of verses to be read next day. I came just after the organ concert finished. The church originally opened for the German instructors working at the nearby Lyceum (where Pushkin studied) and had services also in Finnish and Estonian languages up until 1931. Then it acted as the premises for a factory, gestapo and a driving school. Miraculously, it didn’t suffer much destruction through all that.

Art Nouveau in Tsarskoye Selo

More pictures of autumnal Tsarskoye Selo are here in my last year’s post.

Adding this post to the Environs section of the St Petersburg collection.

G.

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 · no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Vitebsky Railway Station through Engineer’s Eyes

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

Peacocks decorating the ceiling:

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Vitebsky Railway Station

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

Adding this post to the St Petersburg series.

G.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky

Rostov

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Yaroslavl

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

Monastyrsky Bread

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

And you can walk on water and enjoy the cityscape…

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

Patterns:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Fortification walls which were never supposed to serve as fortification:

Rostov

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

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

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

Rostov

A rather unusually decorated church with a matching pine branch:

Rostov

Check out that door!

Rostov

This one is serious too:

Rostov

A rather run-down cathedral:

Rostov

The gates to the kremlin-residence:

Rostov

More details:

Rostov

Meanwhile outside of the kremlin walls: decadence, anyone?

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

Rostov

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

This post goes to the On Russia and Travel series.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Vasilyevsky Island, Island of Men

Vasilyevsky Island

Vasilyevsky Island in St Petersburg is an island of men – with its long list of man-architects, with its connection to so many historic man-figures and with just men living and working there. Although you won’t see any on my photos, you will have to believe me, I met mostly men on Vasilyevsky Island!

Vasilyevsky Island

Last year I did just a bit of walking on the island (aka V.O., Vasilyevsky Ostrov), visiting one of its museums. But this year the island turned out to be indeed a new discovery for me. After studying on the southern edge of V.O. for four (!) years I somehow got so fed up with the terrible traffic situation (aggravated by the fact I was not particularly enjoying what I was standing in traffic jams for) that I almost deleted this district from my (architectural) walks.

Vasilyevsky Island

I tried to defy this by walking for three hours one evening – and covering just about 1/3 of the city’s biggest island. The sun was not present much that evening and there was the imminent rain menace in the air but who would it ever stop in St Petersburg? This also added to the overall atmosphere:

Vasilyevsky Island

It was nice finally walking on the island without being in a hurry although I did try to hurry myself up from time to time when it was obvious I was wandering off a bit too much. I used my Art Nouveau ‘map’ with the most interesting items on it only as a general plan for my trip as it was almost impossible sometimes not to get lured by those curious things hidden somewhere behind the island’s official ‘face’:

Vasilyevsky Island

I investigated into the V.O. ‘s Southern part starting from some of the most authentic (and somewhat deserted) 18th century corners to the East:

Vasilyevsky Island

With the original pavement though a bit carried away by the time:

Vasilyevsky Island

Did you know that all those straight streets on V.O. used to be canals? You see, Peter the Great wanted to have his own Venice of the North here and so – obviously – a prolific Italian architect Domenico Trezzini designed the plan of the island with canals. But they say that the city major Menshikov was too greedy and under his command the canals got way too narrow.

Vasilyevsky Island

They got later filled with earth thus becoming streets. They are called ‘lines’ and are numbered: actually, each side of the line is numbered separately. Moreover, lines with even numbers in their names have houses with odd numbers and vice versa! But the island has more weird stories to tell. Especially its backyards like this one with the remnants of the USSR used as shields to block windows:

Vasilyevsky Island

This tiny house resembles a face:

Vasilyevsky Island

Oh those rough views one find behind the facades in St Petersburg!

Vasilyevsky Island
But let us not forget about men! One of the most notable Art-Nouveau facades of the island is this red one on the Makarova Embankment – and it belonged to duke Stenbock-Fermor and was built by a man-architect of course:

Vasilyevsky Island

To add to the long list of men of the Vasilyevsky Island, here is the pharmacy, lab, factory and the residential building of Pel on the 7th line of V.O. (picture taken back in June 2015). Pel used to be the official provider of medications for the Royal court. They say that some of his inventions are used even nowadays (the pharmacy is open too)!

Vasilyevsky Island

Although the most attractive urban legend connected to his name is about the Griffon Tower located in the courtyard (unfortunately, the access is blocked – too many curious people!). Pel was believed to be an alchemist and to keep his griffons in the tower… Meanwhile, let’s continue our list of men (by the way, the island’s name comes from some Vasily, though there’s no 100% sure version as to who this Vasily was).

Vasilyevsky Island

This laconic building belonged to a general-major and was built during the late period of Art-Nouveau also known as ‘rational modern’. Artists (men?) would have their studios in the attic… Somewhat in the same line (but on different lines of the V.O.) are these ‘hygienic’ modernist buildings facing each other:

Vasilyevsky Island

I can’t say that I like this late Art-Nouveau period, it doesn’t give off any warmth of ‘home’:

Vasilyevsky Island

Even this Nordic-style Art-Nouveau building has a much colder appearance than its counterparts somewhere on Petrogradsky island:

Vasilyevsky Island

I really like these shapes growing one on top of the other – or rather sprouting one from another!

Vasilyevsky Island

this one too:

Vasilyevsky Island

And this one is just the ultimate monument to the utter rationalism:

Vasilyevsky Island

some gloomy castle-like house:

Vasilyevsky Island
and how about this weird helm-looking tower:

Vasilyevsky Island

or the attempt at bringing some life to the tiles:

Vasilyevsky Island

sometimes the backyards are indeed much more interesting, with all the weird architectonics and variations on the facade decoration:

Vasilyevsky Island
and then there’s just a WALL:

Vasilyevsky Island

or this very confusing and I would say alarming wall:

Vasilyevsky Island

and a very elaborately structured and decorated wall:

Vasilyevsky Island

was it just weather or even this bright facade is also a little bit cold?

Vasilyevsky Island
and here’s some curiously and seriously Sovieticized facade:
Vasilyevsky Island

More yellow – but in a much more attractive style:

Vasilyevsky Island

I liked this mansion a lot – one of the earliest examples of Art Nouveau in the city and already with all those characteristic details:

Vasilyevsky Island

Of course belonging to a man who would deliver freight from Finland to Russia. His mansion / bureau should be very beautiful inside.

Vasilyevsky Island

Yet another mansion is now occupied by the Medical Department of the State University. Doesn’t it look so strange with this wooden top?

Vasilyevsky Island

Again, it should be quite a sight inside too. When I got to this mansion on the 21st line it started to rain and the light was going away bit by bit but I stubbornly continued my voyage. Walking to and fro from one line’s end to the other, I finally came up to the embankment of the river Neva, there where the ships and the factories are:

Vasilyevsky Island
I told myself this would be the last destination as it was also getting cold. And there it was, the majestically horrendous constructivist tower, all alone and forgotten there at the Southern end of the Island:

Vasilyevsky Island

so very industrial from all sides:

Vasilyevsky Island

This is the water tower of the Krasny Gvozdilschik factory which would make wire and nails.

Vasilyevsky Island

‘Protected by the state’ as most of the constructivist heritage of the city.

Vasilyevsky Island

And then by miracle I caught a marshrutka (shared taxi; its driver was a man) which took me home across the illuminated city. And I still have 2/3rds of the Vasilyevsky Island to explore!

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.

no recipe · St Petersburg

Towering over Your Head: Art Nouveau around Sadovaya Street

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

There are these buildings in St Petersburg that are ‘towering over your head’. First, they attract you by some detail that is more or less on the same level and of the same scale as you are. But you might not even be aware of how tall they are or what’s there on their top. So you just have to go back several steps, sometimes cross the street and take a thorough look from there.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Two weeks ago, before going to a ballet we made an Art Nouveau walk in the district surrounding the long and pretty straight Sadovaya Street in St Petersburg. I had a map with several buildings I wanted to see the most – all of them had to do with the Russian take on the Art Nouveau architecture. Sadovaya Street is a merchants’ street but it also has a decent amount of curious residential buildings, like this one:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

The first two pictures are of the department store built in 1903-04 by Schaub (now occupied by a wedding store for some decades already) and the one above is of the opposite building which was redesigned in the new ‘modern’ style to look more up-to-date in the beginning of the 20th century.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And this monolithic facade also underwent a redesign by the famous Russian-Swedish architect Lidval in 1907-1909 to house the Society of Mutual Credit. There’s an impressive two-storey hall with glass ceiling inside but no way to get there unless you actually work there unfortunately…

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Moving on along Sadovaya will get you to the very start of the Moskovsky Prospekt which has this 1907-08 corner building designed by Zazersky. It’s a somewhat late-period Art Nouveau which usually carries traces of the upcoming neo-classicist movement.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

You wouldn’t want to live / walk near this passage at all: some apparently very intelligent people have taken to use it as a toilet for years and years. Had to quickly make the photo and disappear not to disturb those people…

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Just opposite are these 1910-11 residential sister-buildings by Khrenov. This district which is adjacent to the popular Sennaya market used to be known as Vyazemskye trushchoby (Vyazemsky’s slum) back in the 1860-1880s. Public houses and a huge shelter for the homeless gave way to this “hygienic” late-Art Nouveau style dokhodny dom (tenement building).

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya
Walking further along Sadovaya you come to this 1899-1900 building by Nosalevich, looking just like a French chateau with lions and fleur de lys:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And now comes the cherry on top of the cake, the long and tall castle-like Dom Gorodskih Uchrezhdeny (House of City Institutions) built in 1904-1906 by Lishnevsky in the Severny Modern (Northern Modern) style which took its inspiration from the revival of the national styles and neo-romanticism in Scandinavia.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

It’s so tall and has such a long facade that I failed to get it into one picture. Let’s start analyzing it piece by piece, say, from the doors of its street facade adorned with a row of tall shop windows, all in different carved wood design:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya
Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

An opposite Stalinist building is mirrored in the doors:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And this is what you could have found behind these doors back in 1913: central city pawn shop, statistics bureau and its archive, city charity committee, six justices of the peace, hospital committee, public education committee, schools, merchants’ representative, city printing house,  city museum, 22 stores etc etc…

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

The first floors of this immense building is occupied by various social services for years on end, not all of which could preserve the wonderful interior intact. Or indeed make use of it in a decent fashion!

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

The inner court surprises you with its volumes and shapes – one of the signs of the upcoming constructivism in the architecture of the city. This is the staircase shaft from the outside:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And this is the interior wall making a rounded ‘mirror’ to the opposite wall:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And look who is there on the top – gargouilles? bats?

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

Had to almost lie down on the ground to picture the entire skyline of the building and still couldn’t fit into one shot:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya
Same applies to the street facade – even from the other side of Sadovaya it’s just an impossible task to squeeze in this ‘castle’. The owls that you can spot on top of the gable is there thanks to a recent renovation (it disappeared some years ago). The two cavities of the tower also used to have two statues but they are gone.

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

This monster of a building has left us truly impressed. And when I got home and read more about it, I figured out we haven’t seen even a third of what is still preserved in there. We’ll have to come back sometimes soon. Then we proceeded a bit off Sadovaya, to where the same architect (Lishnevsky) designed this castle-like residential house in 1908:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

And finally, walking towards river Pryazhka, we came across this decadent in its neglect but still attractive sunny residential building (redesigned by Pereulochny in 1904-1905).

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

A take on the famous omega pattern propagated by Otto Wagner’s disciples:

Art-Nouveau near Sadovaya

While we were walking along the streets, marveled by these architectural creations, we wondered if people who live inside actually care for all the beauty? Some of them apparently do, I frequently find testimonials on the architectural forums but… Sometimes we get such weird looks or even aggressive reaction from the part of the inhabitants when we arrive with our cameras and exclamations. I hope they are just tired of the numerous tourists and that’s it.

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.