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.

no recipe · St Petersburg · travel

Oreshek Fortress where Neva River Begins

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

Thanks to Wikipedia I’ve just learnt that Oreshek Fortress, aka Shlisselburg, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s one of those places in the region that is very closely knit together with the history of St Petersburg and the deeds of Peter the Great.

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

We went there last week and it was the first time I saw the fortress from the other side of the Neva river which actually takes its source right there, flowing from the Ladoga Lake, the largest in Europe mind you.

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

Normally we would travel to the fortress on bikes from my dacha, visiting the town Shlisselburg (aka Petrokrepost’ or Peter’s Fortress, one of those “absolutely necessary” Soviet (re)names) and having our lunch on the riverside. The fortress is situated on an island which looks (and feels) just like a ship, breaking the waves and the strong wind from Ladoga.

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

By the way, the fortress has several more names depending on what language you speak 🙂 Schlüsselburg (hence the corrupted Russian Shlisselburg), Nöteborg, Pähkinälinna… The first name refers to it being a “key” fortress hence the key on this tower:

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

…while the other two are Swedish and Finnish for “nut” fortress, as it was built in 1323 on Orekhovets island (Nut Island) by the Novgorod people (hence the popular name Oreshek, a small – but hard – nut). And it has proved both its names right: it was a key to the Baltic sea for Russia and it was as hard to conquer as a nut, both for Peter who had to claim it back from the Swedes and for the Germans in the Second World War:

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

It was heavily damaged during the latter as it blocked the way to Leningrad and also courageously defended the only way which connected the besieged city with the mainland, the Road of Life.

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

Over the centuries its strong walls served as a prison, especially during the tsarist times when the various politically unwanted citizens lived and died there in harsh conditions. An American-style prison where all those anti-monarchists spent their lonely days in cold and damp cells without even a possibility to lie down during the day:

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

For those who did not get enough of cold cells in the Peter and Paul Fortress, there is a chance to see several of them fully reconstructed. And just outside there’s this blooming apple tree growing from the grave of Lenin’s brother who was hanged there. Of course this is not the authentic tree but it’s now a tradition to grow an apple tree on that spot. And I should say it really helps cheer the visitors up a bit.

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

There’s also a dungeon where it is so cold and eerie that you want to escape as soon as possible. And get back to that apple tree – or even better leave the fortification walls and stand a bit there where the Neva river begins. You almost feel like you’re standing on a ship looking ahead of you.

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

I tried to capture the sound of waves and the wind but all I got was a shshshhsh 🙂 So here’s a Thai picture instead. Wait, this is not Thailand, this is Neva!

Oreshek, St Petersburg region

How to get there: We accessed the fortress from the right bank of Neva (more precisely, a township called after one of the fortress’ prisoners, Morozov) with the help of a fearless rock (music, I mean) fan motor boat owner, who took us there in just no time and 100 RUB one way. There are more ‘civilized’ (organized, legal) ways to get to Shlisselburg from St Petersburg, try getting on a bus 440 from Rybatskoye metro station or 575 from Ulitsa Dybenko; then take a ferry boat from Shlisselburg town to the island for 250 RUB 2 ways. Also, there’s a way to get there on water directly from the center of St Petersburg: take a hovercraft from the Admiralteyskaya Embankment pier or the Dvortsovaya Embankment pier (the tour lasts 5 hours).

The whole island is a museum, belonging to the same ‘chain’ as several other St Petersburg-history-related museums (see my stories here and here). The entrance to the fortress is 200 RUB and includes a guided tour in Russian (English on demand, I guess). The somewhat un-updated information about the museum in English is here.

Adding this post to my

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

A Getaway to Veliky Novgorod

Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod, or Novgorod the Great, welcomed us with a cold and gloomy weather but the next day was it was sunny and even warm. A run across the bridge over lake Ilmen and along the tourist-less Kremlin walls was just what I needed!

Novgorod

You somehow miss such moments in St Petersburg – because it is rarely people-free, there are no REALLY old places and the overall feeling is that of a European city rather than one in Russia. And that’s why this getaway to Veliky Novgorod was like a breath of very fresh air to me. Couldn’t get back to senses for about a week afterwards!

Novgorod

You can see the Kremlin to the left of the photo above – with its red-brick walls and the bell towers. The Kremlin has been upgraded and rebuilt over the centuries but as it was not destroyed during the Tatar-Mongol yoke, it somehow represents that old Russia which most of the cities just lost.

Novgorod

This white wall was reconstructed there where the merchants would sell their goods, on the Merchants’ Side, opposite the Kremlin. The Ilmen lake and the Volkhov river provided the water way needed for the development of the trade.

Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod was rich and independent until Moscow took over. It traded with the Europe and the East. And it was a republic too!

Novgorod

The next day after we arrived I took a picture of the same place in much better weather circumstances. This bell tower is right in the middle of the Novgorod’s Kremlin:

Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod is the land of churches. Of all sizes and centuries. This tiny church is on the Kremlin’s territory too:

Novgorod

And I think I like it more than one of the oldest stone churches in Russia, St Sophia (11th century):

Novgorod

This one (on Ilyina Street, away from the Kremlin) is just like a rocket in a mist 🙂 Although that was not exactly a mist but the smoke coming from some spring-cleaning in the nearby courtyard. We tried to bang on the door but no one would open, so we called the number indicated on the door and got inside to see some Theophanes the Greek‘s frescoes.

Novgorod

Opposite this church is this monastery. With wonderful architectural decorations. You can tell these were HAND-made. Unique!

Novgorod

And even random architectural forms in the courtyard of our hostel (which occupies a quite old building too) do remind you of a church:

Novgorod

Well, not to mention that some citizens of Novgorod the Great actually LIVE inside a church! This one is St Ilya on Slavna, transformed into a residential building in the wild atheist times:

Novgorod

Last time we were there in 2013 and there were cats looking out of the window. This time we were observed by a local instead. The building is just mind-boggling.

Novgorod

Nice combination of the rusty brick color with the grass.

Novgorod

Another example of architecture blending in with the nature (and vice versa):

Novgorod

Some Moscow-style architecture for a change, with a pink-colored church in the background:

Novgorod

Birds enjoying the spring sun:

Novgorod

Absolutely love those shapes, patterns and volumes:

Novgorod

Another rocket-like church, with a later addition visible to the left:

Novgorod

This is a church in Perynsky Hermitage. Similar windows with small circles and the inevitable signs of the civilization 🙂

Novgorod

The Perynsky Hermitage stands on the Ilmen lake, where we spent some time enjoying the pine forest and the first signs of the spring:

Novgorod

And this is a different type of Russian churches, but the one which persisted the most. This is Vitoslavlitsy, an open air museum with all those log houses and churches collected all over the region to make an entire village.

Novgorod

It might be quite touristy (especially during summer and various festivities) but I like it there.

Novgorod

You can enter almost all the residential buildings and see what’s inside.

Novgorod

The interior reconstructs mostly later centuries but still you can get a feeling:

Novgorod

This long stick is a proto-lamp:

Novgorod

The Russian stove which was the first thing to be constructed when a house was being built, the place for baking, cooking…

Novgorod

… sleeping (on top), washing (inside!), giving birth etc.

Novgorod

Nice:

Novgorod

The so called “red corner” – for the icon, the beautiful hand-woven and embroidered towel and a lamp. During the Soviet times this expression got a different meaning – the place for Soviet propaganda power in a building.

Novgorod

We didn’t have much time there but I could have stayed longer.

Novgorod

Very cozy. Although a traditional Russian isba (the word comes from istopit, to heat) would be heated po-chernomu, without a pipe letting the smoke outside of the building (hence the dark walls) – all this combined with small and low windows.

Novgorod

And the windows from the outside:

Novgorod

And some more churches before we leave Veliky Novgorod:

 

Novgorod

As you can see, I’m much more interested in their architectural forms than in what they represent:

Novgorod

For me they represent the history, the tradition and the people. And the connection to all of it through the centuries.

Novgorod

More of the rusty colors. Looking good in the sun. After just a couple of centuries 🙂

Novgorod

Those shapes!

Novgorod

The lace-like decoration of this church reminds me of a traditional hand-woven towel.

Novgorod

So white and decadent.

Novgorod

Hope I could give you an idea of a – well – real Russian city.

Novgorod

The weekend was great. Miss travelling and learning about my country!

Adding this post to the On Russia series.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Museum of Political History of Russia

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

It just dawned on me that I was born in the last year USSR celebrated a round anniversary of the October Revolution in its lifetime. Four more years – and the country with that name ceased to exist.  Now we discover it in the museums, striving to find the missing pieces of the puzzle. In the museums formerly known as Museum of Revolution, for example, located in a curious art nouveau mansion:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

I finally visited one of the most information-rich museums of St Petersburg so far is the Museum of Political History of Russia on the Petrogradskaya side of Neva. This St Petersburg museum definitely requires a separate post – and at least 3-4 hours to visit. I liked that the museum does not come down to being just a large banal display of USSR-related bric-à-brac. There’s a lot to learn round all these objects (if only in Russian sometimes…) and somehow all this engages you emotionally too.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

A copy of a 1929 poster by Boris Schwartz: “Vodka is a foe, savings bank – a friend!”. A Soviet poster is an art in itself. Especially those of the late 1980s – with blemished colours and same old images, stale propaganda slogans and irrelevantly outdated verses (people’s eyes would just glide over them without even noticing them). Take a look on some posters here (scroll down) – some of them are pretty absurd if you don’t know the habitual Soviet propaganda repeated throughout the years, but mostly they are just sadly good-for-nothing. Meanwhile there were those late 1980s – early 1990s posters created outside the established ideology, which pretty bold and poignant:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

The CCCP evolution: Stalin, Kruschev and Brezhnev. Who’s next?

A propaganda picture in a propaganda picture: An ideal kindergarten of the 1930s with the famous picture showing Stalin holding a happy girl whose parents he would later persecute.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

By the way, Lenin was frequently portrayed and referred to as Grandfather Lenin although he died at 54! Stalin never reached this ‘grandfather’ status, probably because right upon his death the anti-cult campaign started and so he was never mythologized as an ideal and originator, but rather as a powerful follower already during his lifetime.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

Would you like your dessert served on this 1940 NKVD plate? NKVD was the predecessor of KGB, in case you were wondering. Or would you rather prefer this 1918 plate with a menacing revolutionary “Those not with us are against us” (ironically attributed to Jesus).

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

Talking about food, here’s a veeeery Spartan BREAKFAST menu at some high-rank health resort where many of the Brezhnev’s cohort were curing their sores, dated 22nd of February, 1979. Yes, everything was regulated and ordered from the above. The menu goes like this: “Granular caviar, stuffed pike perch, tenderloin with prunes, veggies. Russian schi (soup from greens) with vatrushka, baked crabs, fried turkey. Apples in wine, coffee.” I wonder, did they ever regain their health with such breakfasts? And what were the dinners and lunches then?

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

But nor everyone was frequenting high-rank spa resorts. There was the majority of those living in pretty modest apartments, often shared with others, called kommunalnaya kvartira aka kommunalka.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

I think this reconstruction of a Soviet kitchen is rather fair and true-to-life – you can still find these two-coloured walls and the tiled floor in kommunalka and in the public places. This right corner can not be dated exactly cause people were using same things much longer than they do now – hence the ‘universality’ of such a reconstruction:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

Always in the food line, here’s how to upgrade the box where you keep your sweets with these radically red tins celebrating the 10th anniversary of the October revolution!

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

If you like trinkets, here’s something to stand out from the crowd, a medallion and a ring with Lenin:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

The room with the Brezhnev’s stagnant era had more objects that I personally could recognize and relate to. The habitual Chronicles of the Current Events reports and the lies upon lies which could fool no one, a stable but also a very stale period which led to a series of deaths – both of the succeeding party leaders and the regime itself.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

The round object on the left shows a record diameter of… I forgot what 🙂

As the years went by, the official art lost a lot in its creativity. And it covered every aspect of the country’s life: people used to have the same books, same wardrobes, same clothes, same kitchenware, same cherished tea sets lovingly stuffed behind the glass doors of the same furniture sets, same everything… and in order to possess these commodities, people used to stand in lines and give bribe – on other words, GET as opposed to purchase. “Where did you get that?” was the first question one asked the happy owner of one of these commodities (or an even happier owner, if we are talking about something from abroad). More on this – in the Ironiya Sudby movie.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

And this corner is a very witty idea:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

It is the Soviet jokes corner – I got stuck there for some time 🙂 You just pick up the (old school heavy Soviet) receiver and listen to all those anecdotes which used to brighten up the Soviet life, were spread all over the country and repeated even within the nomenklatura (establishment), but which could easily cost someone their life. One of the jokes I enjoyed best goes like this: Why is the Soviet sun so joyful in the morning? Cause it knows that when the evening comes it will be in the West.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

There were Western LPs illegally copied on the X-ray slides (‘music on bones’), there were entire books copied as photos, there were people making tape recorders from spare parts at military plants to record censored singers. And there were books, magazines and other stuff (re)typed or hand-written in the still of the night while working at some heating plant – those were called samizdat copies – literally published on one’s own.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

And if you were working for the government instead of being a dissident, this is how the Soviet spies could hide their microscopic (for those times, 1950s-80s) cameras – with a fake button which you attach to your inconspicuous overcoat!

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

That was the last room I visited (while I was there the storm started), living the museum really tired but information-full. A few words about the two mansions it’s located in: the one in the first two pictures of this post is the 1909-10 Brant mansion, connected to the adjacent Kschessinskaya’s mansion, the prima ballerina. More photos of these two mansions here. Now that I’ve been inside I can tell you that Kschessinskaya’s house must have been super-lush. Not that I liked it that much, a bit too heavy to my mind, though the use of wood makes it less monumental and cold. In the next room there’s a beautiful wooden staircase which Lenin must have mounted o deliver his revolutionary speech, I guess.

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

A reconstructed room telling the story of Kschessinskaya’s life (with some of her costumes) and mansion. Never liked these plisse curtains, they were the must for all the Soviet establishments, e.g. palaces of culture:

Museum of Political History of Russia, St Petersburg

Important info on the Museum of Political History of Russia: The museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm (Wednesday until 8 pm) except Thursdays. Closed every last Monday. Location: Kuybysheva Street 2/4 (Gorkovskaya metro station). Tickets cost 200 rubles. For those interested there are some Soviet-themed souvenirs. There are audioguides and excursions in English, German and French (+ in the rooms with no tags in English there are brochures with translations). There’s a branch on Gorokhovaya Street telling the history of the Political Police in Russia but I’ve not been there. Plan for quite a lengthy visit – the museum covers the country’s history from Catherine II (18th century) up to today!

By the way, should you have a spare crimson jacket from the 1990s, the museum will be happy to accept it as a gift! 🙂

Adding this to my St Petersburg series and the posts on Russia. More St Petersburg museums here and here.

G.