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 · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Ghost Soviet Sanatorium

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

In continuation of my post on Vorontsov Palace and Park in Alupka here is my second one in the Crimean series in which I indulge myself into one of my favourite pastimes – exploring decadent places, sometimes but not necessarily including running away from dogs.

Vorontsovsky Palace

When I was walking down to Alupka’s center from where the Sevastopol-Yalta bus dropped me off on the highway, I read a sign on the bus stop – Sanatory Solnechny (Sunny Health Resort), there was even a booth nearby which was supposed to be greeting guests. It was closed though.

Vorontsovsky Palace

On the same day I spotted this mansion with this gate and a fountain behind it. The sign however read Vkhoda Net, no entrance… There were apparently several more of such mansions around with some signs and numbers on them. I realized these were the remains of that very sanatorium. So next evening I decided to go and see if I could actually take a better look at the place.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Sanatoriums were massively introduced in the Soviet Union driven by the idea that even the sole vicinity to the sea, fresh air and sun is capable of making people healthier and more productive. For instance, the Gulf of Finland coastline is stuffed with sanatoriums and children’s camps, all meant to let the sun-deprived citizens of Leningrad benefit from the pine forests and sandy beaches.

Vorontsovsky Palace

People would get heavily discounted putevka (vouchers) to such health resorts from their work places – or from a medical organization. And although a sanatorium is now mostly considered to be a place for elderly people lazily moving from one medical procedure to another throughout the day and enjoying their dietary restricted meals (adapted to the patient’s ailment), that was a way for many people to get some rest with the benefit for their health – at least once in a while.

Vorontsovsky Palace

This sanatorium in Alupka was treating people with TB and nervous system-related health issues – with the view over the mountains, rest in the beautiful park and walks along the sea included. Sign me up! Too late though – seems like it was shut down just recently, its website merely saying that ‘the distribution of vouchers has been suspended’.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I don’t have any blood-curdling story to go with this ghost sanatorium, there’s just this sad but seemingly inevitable fact that most of the unprofitable Soviet heritage in Crimea – as in many other places across Russia – goes wasted, abandoned, looted and burnt down.

Vorontsovsky Palace

I’ve googled this sanatorium and they say it was established in 1917 (rings a bell?) out of various nationalized mansions and dacha that were unfortunate enough to be built by rich people in Alupka before the revolution.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Little did they know back then that thousands of Soviets willing to recover from illnesses or to regain some health would flood into their leisure houses and their private rooms would be turned into common bathrooms, dining halls and massage cabinets.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Hence, this place in Alupka is double decadence – first it was abandoned by its owners and then it was (very recently) left by the people who ran the sanatorium. Some of the buildings however seem to be used as apartments (that’s where I got driven away by the dogs) – although the ‘medical service’ car parked outside manifests that those who occupy this place are probably its former employees.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Looks like the door to this mansion got a little bit … blocked:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

This building is way below the ground:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Now nature is taking its own back, turning these places into a sort of savage woods.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

One of the mansions got particularly unlucky as it was turned into a dump …. with a few cats really loving it there. Meanwhile, how do you find this balcony?

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Govorit Moskva…’ (This is Moscow speaking):

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

This blue house was on the ‘beach’ (there’s not one there, everything is either cemented or full of rocks), I was there in May and someone already wrote ‘Alupka Summer 2017’ in red paint on one of its sides (the hammer and sickle sign from the photo above was spotted near the ‘children’s beach’):

Vorontsovsky Palace

One of the mansions belonging to the sanatorium is just below the hotel I was staying at – it is already in a half-burnt state and the hotel’s owner has the intention to expand his premises incorporating it too. I hope at least one of them will get a proper – and delicate – facelift.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

… They say Abkhazia is the place to go if you’re interested in decadence overtaken by nature. Will go there one day.

This post goes to my Travel series.

G.

no recipe · St Petersburg

Working Class Hero: Down-to-Earth Vyborgskaya Side

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I started my architectural walk to the Vyborgskaya Side from the other side of the Neva river, crossing the Liteyny Bridge under the extremely intense sun. My camera wouldn’t even cope with the light and what I got was this overexposed bluish picture of the embankment:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I’ve seen just a tiny bit of what was there on the two long streets, interspersed with the major industrial sights and the townships for the workers, which is actually similar to both the the area around Porcelain factory and that around Kirov plant which I’m planning to visit soon. All three districts still preserve a certain atmosphere of a workers’ village. In particular, in contrast to the pompous and somewhat elite center of the city (which as you might know occupies in fact several islands), the Vyborgskaya Side (or the right side of the river Neva) has always been the place for the industrial sights and settlements of work migrants (both from other parts of Russia and from Finland).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

The Vyborgskaya Side got its name from Vyborg, the city to the north of St Petersburg, a much older and much more history-laden one, which borders with Karelia. And this – though quite relative – proximity of the Vyborgskaya side to the Nordic countries has obviously impacted this particular sample of the Art Nouveau style architecture:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This is an entire district formed by 3 residential houses built for the Finland Railway employees by Mirits and Gerasimov in 1907-08. Every staircase window in this house is actually a balcony – wish I could go inside and onto the balcony but I was too shy to follow the crowd… Which is a mistake: you should always follow the crowd where otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

These tiny loophole-like windows are cute. Is it a toilet, I wonder? 🙂

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And this huge mosaic wall was added in the 1960s. No surprise that it was themed on the Outerspace and Humanity:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

After walking around this district adjacent to the Finland railway station, I followed the long Bolshoy Sampsoniyevsky Prospekt (with a tiny Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral) running parallel to the no less long Lesnoy Prospekt, moving in between them to see more sights on my list (map).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

My next stop was at a district built for the workers of the Ludwig Nobel plant in St Petersburg. The worker’s village comprises of a number of houses of various shapes, some of which are more red-brick style rather than Art Nouveau. It was built by Roman Meltser in 1906 while the more imposing and apparently more famous house for the (higher status) employees of the same plant was designed in 1910-1911 by the distinguished Feodor Lidval who I really admire.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This one obviously was inspired by the Scandinavian neo-romanticism. Well, Lidval’s family was originally from Sweden.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I could have spent a day under that arcade which looks almost like a palazzo somewhere in Venice – but when you actually cross the street (Lesnoy prospekt) and take a better look at the building as a whole you realize it’s more like a castle (the awful top attic was apparently added later).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

the contrast between the airy arcade and the massive grey stonework creates a certain effect that no doubt catches your eye. The sun was shining right in my eyes so I couldn’t see all the details well but here’s one that was particularly awesome:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Unawares I walked past several buildings without either paying any attention to them or taking them for what they were not. I mistook a 1995 retrospectivist building (in a rather decadent state) for a poorly renovated modernist building, while a heavily renovated constructivist building turned into a business center seemed to me a regular contemporary un-creative creation. But this one I spotted from afar and unmistakably identified as avant-garde:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Regardless of all the later additions and changes that it suffered, the Vyborgskaya fabrika-kukhnya (automated kitchen) still pretty much preserves its authentic looks. It was built in 1929 by Barutchev, Gilter, Meerzon and Rubanchik.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

I always wanted to see how it operated back in those days when busy workers could go get a full-fledged lunch or dinner accompanied by their fellow workers. The kitchen also catered for the nearby plants and factories until about 1970s. Everything automated, simplified, improved for the sake of the workers and their bright future! Here is a link where you can learn how it all worked inside.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And by the way this avant-garde thing was built right across the street from the baroque Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral. They say it was not by chance, this neighbouring: instead of spiritual nourishment here was  much more tangible and nourishing food :). And there was a park where the workers could have some rest (it was also popular with the locals). There’s no sign of a park now and the revamped avant-garde looks quite lost, standing there on the corner.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Just liked this savage architecture. This is actually a Soviet door installed into the wall of the Moscow regiment barracks (1830s). Moving along the avenue I finally came to the Children’s Hospital where it turns out I had been before visiting my friend (but at that time I did not know this part of the city at all).

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Some Art Nouveau in the middle of the noisy dusty avenue is a good change.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This Children’s Hospital (and now a hospital + pediatrics institute) was built by Maximillian Kitner upon the highest order of the royal family in the 1902-05. Its multiple units are quite simple but still show the traces of the modernist experiments with the shape and utility. Compared to the ugly late Soviet unit built right where there was another part of the church looks completely out of place and, well, ugly.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

No this is already another building which caught my eye while I was moving back along Lesnoy Prospekt to see the townships. This is the obshchezhitie (dormitory) of the Military Institute of Physical Education, now occupying the territory of that Moscow regiment. Looks menacing!

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Some meters behind it is the Baburinsky township (named after Baburin lane which lost its name some time later) built in 1928 for the workers of the Vyborgskaya Side. The avant-garde idea was supported by the strain to get inexpensive houses from the scarce materials, hence a very laconic style. The main architect of this township was Grigory Simonov.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

The constructivism continued the modernist search for shapes and utility. Another workers’ township – Bateninsky township (named after Batenin lane, later renamed), located in a nearby area (you have to cross the railroad going from the Finland Railway Station), was built several years later (1930-33) by almost the same team of architects.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

It shows traces of a more sophisticated style though still looks quite laconic:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Moving further along Lesnoy you will get to yet another township, built in 1927-34 by N. Rybin for the numerous textile plant workers. It was even called ‘Town of Textile Workers’. I liked the soft-angle balconies embracing the corners:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And yes, there’s a church inside an atheist constrictivist building these days:

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Moving even further, I finally got to the Polytechnic University campus (or rather dormitories). Built in 1929-32 it covers quite a vast area and has numerous units, creating a true “students’ town”. Some years ago they said they were going to abandon this campus and move all the students into new buildings but here it is, almost 90 years old and still serving the generations of students succeeding each other.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

Of course the avantgardist looks are now not that distinct but you can still spot the windows ‘lying’ on their side and the attempts at placing the units at an angle to each other so that they all get enough of the rare St Petersburg sun. A similar students’ town was also built further up north, where my Grandad used to live when he came to study in Leningrad.

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

And the last building on my route was this constructivist school built in 1932 by Vladimir Munts. Students living in their dorms will get married, have children and send their kids to school. All very well planned!

Walking on Vyborgskaya Side

This is how the country cared for its most strategically useful citizens, the workers. Put them all in one place, provide them with the basic stuff and see how they work for you. They won’t even need to take public transport to get to their work – they will live and work in one place, how smart. This was much harsher and decor-less reality than that of the almost romantic dreams of the Soviet “garden city“…

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.

cookies · on USSR / Russia · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Taste from Childhood: Nutshells with Condensed Milk

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

From all the recipes I’ve tried over this long winter break that we officially have in Russia (the cold has made me stay at home most of the time) I’ve picked this Soviet recipe as the first post in the newly arrived 2016, another childhood sweet treat like Zemelakh cookies. Back in 2013 I made a post featuring a selection of Soviet kitchen utensils that are mostly out of circulation now. Among these were the aluminum molds to make walnut-like cookies filled with condensed milk. They look like this:

nut molds

My friend came along with her batch of walnut molds and two cans of sweetened condensed milk. Though three years older than our set of molds, her recipe is exactly the same (in the best Soviet traditions) and it comes on a gloriously Soviet-design packaging. If you take a look at the back of this recipe made by a Voronezh industrial machine plant (!), you will find out that it was printed on a recycled leftover packaging from a canning plant in Orel! 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

To make the walnut-like cookies even taste like walnuts, you can fill them according to the recipe (3 egg whites beaten with a cup of sugar until thick and then mixed with 1.5 cups of ground walnuts). Our choice that evening was caramelised sweetened condensed milk. And yes, you will need an entire evening to make all the cookies from the required 3 cups of flour with the limited amount of molds! 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

1 year ago – Winter Fairy Tale and Semolina Bread

2 years ago – Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee and Cakes

3 years ago – Join the Soviet New Year Table

4 years ago – Sourdough Breads

Nutshells Filled with Caramelised Sweetened Condensed Milk or Орешки со сгущенкой (Oreshki so sgushchenkoj) translated and adapted from a 1982 packaging of the nut molds will make a mountain of small nut-like cookies willed with the sweety-sweet condensed milk (teeth, beware!). If you don’t have the molds, try using madelaine cookie molds instead.

Ingredients

for the dough:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 200 g margarine – we used about 150 g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar – you really don’t need even that much as the filling is super sweet
  • 3 egg yolks – save the whites for some souffle, I made banana souffle
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt – we added just a pinch + some vanilla extract

for the filling:

  • about 3 cans of caramelised condensed milk or any other thick substance you prefer
  • or the original suggestion: 3 egg whites beaten with a cup of sugar until thick and mixed with 1.5 cups of ground walnuts

Procedure

We reversed the original procedure a bit, first beating the egg yolks with sugar until pale, then adding the softened butter and a pinch of salt and vanilla. Then we mixed in a third of the flour, then added a tiny bit of vinegar to the soda and poured the bubbly soda into the mixture. The 3 cups of flour were quite a lot for the decreased amount of butter that we used, so the dough ended up quite hard and not very easy to roll out. But if you dare using the whole 200 g of butter you will probably avoid this dryness.

Leave the dough covered in the fridge (original suggestion – somewhere cold) for 15-20 minutes and then roll it out into a thin sheet (we did it in portions). Cut the dough with the same molds and press the dough into the molds (we didn’t grease them as the butter in the dough will mdo the job). Here you will understand if you rolled the dough too thick or too thin – you should be able to cover the entire mold from the inside with the dough. The recipe suggests cutting the overhanging dough with ‘a sharp knife’ but you can also do it with your fingers (the overhanging dough will only appear if you cut the dough using a round cutter).

Place the molds on a baking sheet ‘like saucers’ (the dough side up) and bake (we guessed 175’C would be fine) for about 15-20 minutes until the dough starts browning. Be careful not to overbake! Leave the molds to cool a bit and then take the shells out. Fill both shells and bring them together. Enjoy!

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

Remarks: The caramelised condensed milk filling is super sweet as you can imagine. So if you want a lighter version I would suggest using some  nut butter or super-thick jam – or the original walnut filling. And if you do run out of filling (like we did with the whole two cans of condensed milk) and you realise it soon enough before you make another batch of nut shells, try using the dough for some individual tartlets filled with whatever you like (I had some thick cranberry jam). Well, at least even a small tartlet will use up more dough than a nutshell will!

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

Result: ‘A taste from childhood‘ was the verdict of my friend’s parents (the recipe makes such a mass of these nuts that you can feed three families with no problems :). These nuts are super-sweet and addictive. Best consumed with lots of tea to wash down all the thick condensed milk filling. There are various ways to enjoy these cookies – some people (kids) like licking out all the filling first and then eating the chewy shells, some prefer biting and some will just swallow the entire piece 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

The caramelised and regular condensed milk is definitely a taste from childhood. The caramelised version is particularly often used in many industrially made foods like syrok (a fatty cream cheese treat in chocolate glaze), layer cakes, cookies and biscuit rolls. A housewife in USSR would boil a whole can of sweetened condensed milk and produce the caramelised version at home, as only the un-boiled version existed (with such editions as sweetened condensed milk with chicory or sweetened condensed milk with cocoa / coffee). Some of these home experiences ended up on the kitchen door, floor and all over the place too 🙂

Fake Nuts Filled with Condensed Milk

As yo can see in this photo we had quite a lot of shells left unfilled – I didn’t witness what happened to them later but I guess they just served as a ‘base’ for the jam or something. I was actually glad we ran out of filling cause the procedure is quite tiresome with such a mass of dough! A recipe for a tireless Soviet housewife who knows how to make a treat out of the scarce ingredients 🙂

This recipe goes to my Soviet/Russian and Sweet recipe collections.

G.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · travel

Rossosh, the Other Russia

Rossosh, Russia

Rossosh in the South of Russia is where my mother was born. Last time we were there with her was 25 years ago and to tell you the truth I do not remember much. There were stories, photos and those silent family movies from that last visit which in reality constructed my own ‘memories’ of it all. It seems as if I remember something but most probably it was all just created in my mind by what I later saw in the family albums.

Rossosh, Russia

This was a very old-school journey. Regardless of all those shops and sushi and ugly contemporary buildings and shopping centers you can see in any Russian city. There is something to this place which suggests a very heavy trace of the old ways of life still present in the town and the villages around it.

Rossosh, Russia

It was a rather short visit too, for family reasons we had to come back earlier – but I guess we saw almost everything we could. My mother who would spend her summer holidays at her babushka’s place as a child, was obviously taken aback by all those changes and now absent places, buildings and other objects which she preserved in her memories.

Rossosh, Russia

What was present though was this stupendous aroma of the sunflower seeds being processed for sunflower oil. Just sweeping you off your feet and making you instantly craving for a pan of sizzling potatoes! This land where Rossosh stands is called Chernozem or black soil. And it IS black!

Rossosh, Russia

And almost everything grows there miraculously fast, just drop an apricot seed in your garden – and you will get an apricot tree soon! The problem with this region is that the droughts can easily ruin all your harvest, turning you into a bankrupt. We visited our relatives in a village called Ukrainsky, a former sovkhoz (it is in fact close to the border with Ukraine).

Rossosh, Russia

And they actually do speak a certain Ukrainian-like dialect there. And their Russian is also reminding me of what I heard in Ukraine… And these traditional mazanki houses (wikipedia claims it’s called wattle and daub in English) just transport you somewhere into the Gogol’s tales!

Rossosh, Russia

Look closer at the roof – it is first covered with reed and then with composition roofing (a later addition) – a traditional way applied to most of the houses in the town, Mom says. And these windows are amazing! It’s obvious that glass was kind of expensive and rare back when it was built!

Rossosh, Russia

My childhood memories do not contain any of these details. I just remember that the street we lived in (in a third of a former merchant’s house, separated into tiny one-floor apartments with all the conveniences in the yard) had more trees and that there was that mount of sand in front of it. And we hid a sandal in there with my sister, just to make our mother’s life easier, you know 🙂

Rossosh, Russia

Saw these nalichniki (traditional window casing moldings) too often in Rossosh to believe they were kind of a characteristic trait of the town. My guess is that they introduced them somewhere in the 1970s to make them all look alike…

Rossosh, Russia

This window belongs to the only house we saw which had the authentic reed-covered roof. With all its ruinous look it had this curtain moving with the wind. Someone used to care for this house, someone made this window look pretty. Love decadence but at the same time I always feel sad when I see something which was useful and who knows, very cozy too, so irreversibly abandoned.

Rossosh, Russia

Hand-painted advertisements promising you loads of cheap fur coats and bed sheets to be sold at the local house of culture, – THE best! Next to it was an abandoned park with a ruined pavilion and the remains of the dancing place. AND the aroma of sunflower seeds as there IS a functioning factory still!

Rossosh, Russia

A very 1970s view to my mind. There’s something about this town that is either 1990s or 1970s, I couldn’t make out the period it got stuck in exactly. The other thing which amazed us was the feeling of spring rather than of late autumn the last day we were there – such a disarming and confusing feeling when you see those multi-coloured leaves just about to fall to the ground!

Rossosh, Russia

The coat of arms of Rossosh on the gates of the market place – the town took its name from the Old Slavic for ‘bifurcating river’. And the apples there are AMAZING there! And it’s such a SHAME they never reach our shops here in St Petersburg. They are pink inside, they are super sweet and not acidic as our local apples are. And they make thick apple juice with no sugar added! Ohhh…

Rossosh, Russia

They also make wonderful honey there. But in vain did we search for it in the local shops and at the market even. If you need authentic honey from Rossosh you have to buy a local paper, find a producer and make an appointment. This is how you avoid buying Moscow honey while travelling in the honey region!

Rossosh, Russia

Golden Lenin. Mum says it’s typical of the Southern towns to paint their heroes in gold. The WWII monument was also painted in gold. BTW, there is this explanatory plaque for the new generations apparently: Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the first socialist state in the world. Probably to justify his still standing out there in the middle of the square.

Rossosh, Russia

A local Venus de Milo – a pioner-girl without a hand. This couple is right in front of the school where my great grandmother used to work. I remember her telling me about the war times when they had to write on the book margins for the lack of any paper. And she also taught me to read faster and lots of other curious things I struggle to recall now…

Rossosh checklist

  • bookstore & postcards – none
  • museum – nope
  • local food – homemade borscht, potatoes and apple juice! Plus a nice fruit braid and delicious grapes…
  • market – full of clothes and other junk because we were there on Monday when the food is not sold there
  • old town – it IS old anyway 🙂 There’s a 19th century church near the market and merchant houses here and there

I definitely miss traveling in Russia this autumn. Even though it takes ridiculously long train rides to get around, I enjoy this slow-tempo discovering of my country!

P.S. Just remembered two hilarious names we encountered in Rossosh – Aphrodite Lux for a beauty salon and Ritual Plus for funeral services. Everything better than the ordinary!

Adding this to my Travel and On Russia sections.

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.

no recipe · on USSR / Russia · St Petersburg

Unknown St Petersburg: 1920s Workers’ Township

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

About a month ago there was an excursion round one of the workers’ districts of St Petersburg near Yelizarovskaya metro station. This is one of the places in the city where you feel quite estranged, particularly if you get there after spending some time in the center.  The unknown St Petersburg slowly enrolls in front of you, revealing its unpolished side. I’m taking you on a walking tour in the 1920s workers’ township.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Yelizarovskaya metro is to the East of all major sights, close to the banks of Neva where the road led to Shlisselburg and Arkhangelsk. Once there used to be several villages, the names of which gave way to various Soviet names and thus very little remains of them. Here it was easier and quicker for big ships to moor. They would bring raw materials and stuff to the factories that were constructed here in the 19th century: metal and steel works, shipbuilding, porcelain factory, etc.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the workers’ movement grew and became quite a menace to the state. You can imagine that this district – along with the one located on the opposite side of the city – received a lot of ‘attention’ from the Soviet propaganda – in terms of commemorating this or that pre-October revolution event with a plate or a curious statue, And this district also got itself one of the earliest statues of Lenin – and one of the most true-to-life representations.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

But we are talking here about the people who for the first time in their life got a decent home. Before they were housed in insalubrious dwellings provided by the factory (which also cost them almost all their wages), mostly in wooden barracks with rooms crowded up to the ceiling. There workers would come from work – and sleep on one bench – in shifts… So imagine what a magical sight these semi-detached housed would appear to the workers’ families in the 1920s! Not all of the workers’ villages constructed in those early Soviet times are in perfect shape now, but this particular township is very well looked-after (at least from the outside).

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

You see, the modernist architecture, just some 20-25 years younger than that of the avant-garde period when these houses appeared, looks much better now. Well, they did have money back then at the beginning of the 20th century, whereas the architects of the young Soviet Russia were obliged to use cheap silicate bricks and sometimes even to re-use old bricks from other buildings!

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

This is the Palevsky zhilmassiv or Palevsky residential area, called so after a German merchant who used to own these places. There was a village called Smolenskoye here (since then the church disappeared but the Soviet roof-covered market replaced the village’s market place). The houses were built in 1925-28 by Rybin and Zazersky. This was not the first zhilmassiv of Leningrad, but one of the first. The city needed more housing – badly, immediately. Individually built houses just wouldn’t suffice anymore. And this is how Leningrad got its first tipovoy zhilmassiv (built after a typical project) which, contrary to the completely faceless high rises of the 1970s and beyond – had at least some… soul.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Palevsky zhilmassiv is one of the few garden-cities of Russia with every apartment having a separate entrance and a doormat 🙂 It’s a really atypical sight in the city which the Soviet era has left with so many typical buildings, particularly on the outskirts! In Russia you either live in a village in your own – often wooden – house or you live in a flat. And here my mind just started boggling: am I in the UK by chance? Each family having their own door and a mail box? Wow!

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

It felt really weird inside these green yards. People habitually walk though them on their way from the metro station to the avenue while I kept thinking how very… out-of-St Petersburg-like it all look. Folk selling old books and stuff right along the paths leading to /from the metro, linen hanging on the string, flowers in pots outside. Not your typical St Petersburg for sure! They say there used to be fountains and statues of pionery. They say that each ‘block’ of houses has its own plan and appearance. But they also say that there was no bathrooms at first (sad irony – there wasn’t a single factory back then to make baths!) and that most of the inner walls and floors are wooden.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Oh those low-rise houses which occupied a lot of space and gave too much, superfluously much, living space to the workers in the city where on average you would get just 6 m2 per capita! Well, you got the idea, they were destined to leave the stage. This zhilmassiv idea would later turn first into 5-storey khruschevka in the 1950s and then into high-rises all identical to each other, as seen in the hit Ironiya Sudby movie. But wait, first there was also a factory school built in 1932-33 which looks like an airplane when seen from above! You don’t get it when you stand close to it but, well, you just have to believe it 🙂 And also in the same district there are these weird pseudo-Roman pseudo-what? houses which were built here after the War in 1945-49 by Levinson:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

No comment.

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

When I got to these houses I was really dizzy with all the architectural items of that day to make any comments.)

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Cause there was also this:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

and right underneath it this:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

and also this apparently still operating cafe-bar:

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

… the sign says it belongs to a Spec. Olymp. Comm-tee 🙂

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

 This is a 1926-28 reel factory – built in a shape of a reel of course. There was also a house built for machinery engineers with balconies decorated in a sort of… tractor wheels. And an ex-culture center turned into a permanent book and pirate CDs and stuff fair. When I first got there years ago I was wondering why the hell the stands are all in tiers with chandeliers hanging at equal intervals and the floor is slanting…

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Well, the answer is quite simple – you’re actually treading the amphitheater and the stage! Built in 1926-27 this constrictivist ‘house of culture for textile workers” got revamped in 1956 to conform with the new official style, the Stalin’s neo-classicism. Now it’s still called House of culture (named after Lenin’s wife Krupskaya), aka Krupa but not every one would even think to turn their eyes from the school text books and look above…

1920s Workers' Township, St Petersburg

Or to the staircase railing which ends up in hammer and sickle. The Soviet realm has left its traces everywhere…

Will definitely take you to other unknown places in St Petersburg!

G.