no recipe · on USSR / Russia · sweet

Midsummer Post about the Best Russian Ice Cream

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

This year’s midsummer post is about the best ice-cream in Russia – sakharnaya trubochka or sakharny rozhok (sugar tube / sugar cone). Although this type of ice-cream is traditionally associated with its сountry of origin, Italy, where it is known as cornetto, millions of Soviet kids are forever grateful to a worker of the First Leningrad Refrigerating Plant for inventing a waffle-rolling machine… and thus making their lives a little bit merrier.

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

Personally I’m not a big fan of super-sweet ice-cream with dozens of add-ins – I prefer the plain vanilla ice-cream in crunchy waffle instead. The extra-creamy one. Glazed with chocolate that delicately breaks when you have your first bite. With that tiny ‘tail’ of the sugary waffle cone filled with chocolate. And that’s exactly what you get with sakharnaya trubochka. An even plainer type of ice-cream that I also like is vafelny stakanchik, vanilla ice-cream in a waffle cone shaped as a glass (hence the name). And contrary to the gelato or other ice-cream-ball-types, it’s filled with the creamy stuff right to the end.

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

By the way, they’ll never get you if you say you’d like a sakharnaya trubochka (tube) in Moscow – they call it rozhok (cone, cornetto) there instead. Well it’s true, it doesn’t really look like a tube but this name just caught on and if you ask kids in St Petersburg which ice-cream they are dreaming of, they’ll immediately say ‘trubochka‘.

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

As its very Soviet name suggests, the Leningrad Khladokombinat #1 was the first refrigerating plant (cold-storage facility) to open in Leningrad in 1934 – and the first one in the country to start producing this very type of ice-cream. The legend has it that a worker from the Experimental workshop Dmitry Smirnov invented waffle-cone-rolling and filling machine and the country has been thoroughly enjoying sakharnaya trubochka ever since (more precisely, since 1946). They say he was also responsible for inventing other mechanisms thus making such ice-cream types as stakanchik and briket (a brick of ice-cream in-between two layers of waffles) available in the USSR.

Sakharnaya trubochka ice-cream

Although they claim they still make this ice-cream according to the state-imposed and state-controlled standard (GOST), Sakharnaya trubochka‘s list of ingredients these daysdoes not seem particularly enticing (I doubt they had coconut butter E476 and soy lecithin back then). However, the main ingredients are still there: cream, milk, condensed milk, butter and vanilla for the ice-cream itself, flour, sugar, butter for the waffle and cocoa for the glaze. Warning: when buying a trubochka, check if its cone is hard enough, otherwise you will miss on the  bet part of it – the crunchy sugary waffle cone.

Previous year’s midsummer posts:

2016 – Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry for Midsummer

2015 – Midsummer: Samovar, Teacups and Saucers

2014 – Midsummer Roses in Pavlovsk and Almond Puff

2013 – Midsummer Berry Smoothie

2012 – Midsummer’s Black Currant Rhubarb Cake

Adding this post to the On USSR / Russia collection.

P.S. I took these photos last year in August when I had my one and only ice-cream of that summer. This summer I had it a bit earlier in July but this year again it’s not that type of summer in St Petersburg when you would want an ice-cream every day. Global warming is definitely happening somewhere else.

G.

Family recipe · no-dough · on USSR / Russia · vegetarian

Stove-Baked Potatoes

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

This summer feels like a lingering spring. Though most of June it looked like autumn – isn’t it a bit early to sit in front of the stove yet?! Thanks God, we are having pretty warm days now and are already dying from ‘heat’ (22 ‘C) :). And the White Nights period is still on:

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

Since I’m (again) searching for a job and can move around freely, I’ve spent several days at our dacha, unfortunately dressed in many clothes and trying to warm myself and the house up by feeding the stove with all that paper junk. Among which I found this Geography notebook from 1997:

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

Yes, back then we learnt that Pluto was a full-fledged 9th planet in the Solar system (what a loss!). I remember the teacher gave each pupil a planet’s name and we had to quickly rearrange in the planets’ order. We did the same with the months of the year and I can vividly recall my fear because I didn’t really study the months at home for that lesson! However, nostalgia did not prevent me from eventually throwing this school memorabilia into the dacha stove as well.

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

Heating pechka (brick stove) is almost obligatory even in summer because our house is wooden and poorly isolated. It feels pretty cool inside during hot days which is nice but it cools down a bit too much once the heat is gone (in our case the heat has not been here at all). We used to heat soup or other things using the metal ‘plate’ on top of the stove but you can also cook things inside the stove too.

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

The ‘recipe’ I’m going to share with you today is actually a no recipe at all, it’s just a way of making up a lunch or dinner which requires two main ‘ingredients’: a stove and potatoes 🙂 Ah yes, the third ingredient is that grainy salty salt!

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

My grandparents would bake us some potatoes in the residual heat left over from heating the stove when we spent our school holidays at our dacha. By the way, they constructed the stove themselves back in the 1970s when they were allotted a plot near Sinyavino in the Leningrad region. The dacha era was on!

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

So, backing potatoes in the stove goes like this: you wait till you get burning coal in your stove and then place some potatoes with the skins on (no need to clean them) right inside that coal & cinder mess. Shut the stove door and wait for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. You can check the doneness from time to time (it depends on the amount of heat left and the size of your potatoes) by fishing one of the potatoes out and touching them with your fingers (ouch!). If it feels soft and you can almost squash the potato through with your fingers – the potatoes are done.

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

So grab some salt and peel the potatoes with your fingers, creating mess all around (your face included), gobble them down while they are still hot! The best part is this burnt crispy layer which lies right beneath the skin. The rest is tender and almost sweet. New (baby) potatoes work best here – they are small and so will bake through in less time.

Potatoes Baked in Pechka

If you’re afraid your potatoes will burn too much or in case you prefer a cleaner type of meal, wrap the potatoes in aluminum foil before placing them in the stove. But this won’t be the authentic rough old-school way, you know.

P.S. I’ve tried baking potatoes in a bochka, a metal barrel traditionally placed outside the dacha plot (so that all your neighbors can enjoy the smell), used to burn down all that cannot decompose naturally (according to my Granddad). So I guess anything goes here!

Adding this recipe to Lunch/Dinner collection.

G.

muffins · sweet

Vintage Soviet Cookware and Date and Hazelnut Muffins

Mom says it’s not that vintage claiming they bought this glazed iron dish in the 80s, but to me this looks like 60s, doesn’t it? I rediscovered it at my grandparents’ place, and since it’s been out of use for quite a long time, I’ve decided to bring it back to life. Cooking in vintage (and pseudo-vintage) dishes and pans certainly adds up to the whole process, making it more enjoyable in a way.

Vintage Cookware

I’ve already tried baking bread in this vintage Soviet cookware twice and I must say it takes a bit longer than in my previous (and unfortunately now broken) glass baking dish.

Vintage Cookware

The bread turns out quite moist with thick crust, reminding me of that bread you would buy some years ago (good ol’ times, ya know).

Vintage Cookware

I baked the loaves about 25-30 minutes with the lid on and then about 25-30 minutes more without, including some minutes out of the dish as well.

Vintage Cookware

The first time I baked in this dish, the lid left an indent in the top of the loaf, the other time it didn’t. Both times I used baking parchment although I should probably try greasing the dish for a change to see how it goes.

Vintage Cookware

And here’s the sourdough rye bread baked with that very flexible recipe I’ve been using for quite a while – makes you pretty lazy though cause it’s so fool-proof and easy:

Bread in Vintage Cookware

And now on to another lazy recipe. There’ve been quite a few dried fruit recipes in the kitchen (and in my blog) recently. Well, you see, with this very capricious autumn-like summer in St Petersburg one has to find some solutions to substitute the energy you would otherwise get from the sun (and good mood). And even though we can buy nectarines from Tanzania (!), they all taste a bit bland (and sometimes are hard as wood), so you naturally turn to using dried fruits and nuts instead.

Date and Hazelnut Muffins

A pretty nice combination from my recent experiments – dried cranberries, walnuts and dark chocolate in a sort of spice cake, with brown sugar creating a crunchy crust, and these date and hazelnut muffins:

Date and Hazelnut Muffins

1 year ago – Spinach Pie with Phyllo Pastry for Midsummer

2 years ago – Rolling Pin Recipes: Flatbread, Pie and Sweet Buns

3 years ago – Two Ways To Make Russian Carrot Patties

4 years ago – Soviet Kitchen Heirloom

5 years ago – Sourdough Bread with Dates and Flaxseeds

Date and Hazelnut Muffins recipe will make 12 coffee-flavoured muffins. The amounts of the ingredients are quite approximate!

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 150 g sugar
  • vanilla extract
  • 50 ml sunflower oil
  • ginger
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • 300 g flour mixed with ground flaxmeal and flaxmeal flour (super fine ground flaxmeal, aka flax porridge), approximately
  • 1/2 tsp ground coffee
  • orange juice
  • chopped dates
  • roughly chopped hazelnuts, toasted / microwaved

Procedure

Beat eggs with sugar, add vanilla extract and sunflower oil. Mix flours with baking powder, soda, coffee and spices, and add the flour mixture to the eggs alternating it with orange juice (I usually do it in 2 doses, starting and ending with flour. And if I add too much of either dry ingredients or liquids, I just add more of the other). Do not overmix. Add chopped dates and nuts. Divide the batter among 12 muffin cups (I was using paper cases too) and bake in the preheated to 210 ‘C oven for about 20 minutes.

Date and Hazelnut Muffins

Remarks: I added two kinds of flaxseed meal / flax flour to these muffins, a rougher and a finer grind. I think adding bran or some other kind of flour would work as well.  

Result: These are sweet muffins, with a crunchy sugary crust and a delicate coffee flavour – just a hint! They puffed up nicely too. And who doesn’t like those tasty-tasty hazelnuts?

This recipe goes to my Sweet collection where you will find more muffins and dried fruit recipes.

G.

cookies · sweet

Oatmeal Cookies with Sesame and Prunes

Oatmeal Cookies with Sesame and Prunes

Before I start a whole series of posts with my recent Crimea trip, here’s a quick recipe of crunchy oatmeal cookies with sesame seeds and prunes. Less words, more oats! 🙂

Oatmeal Cookies with Sesame and Prunes

1 year ago – Working Class Hero: Down-to-Earth Vyborgskaya Side

2 years ago – Addictive Grissini and Sourdough Bread Twists

3 years ago – Pear Clafoutis, Jelly Muffins and Scandinavian Twists

4 years ago – Colours of Summer

5 years ago – Gros Sablé Breton or Je ne Mange pas Six Jours

Oatmeal Cookies with Sesame and Prunes will make crunchy sesame-flavoured cookies perfect for the capricious St Petersburg summer. ATTENTION: the measurements are given in a very approximate manner…

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 200 g sugar
  • 50 g butter, softened
  • 50 g sunflower oil
  • 250 ml of oatmeal mixed with some oat bran (I used medium-sized oatmeal, not the instant type nor the old-fashioned)
  • 150 g oat flour (I used tolokno, a rough grind of oats) mixed with some all purpose flour
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • prunes, chopped (to taste)
  • sesame seeds, plus extra for coating

Procedure:

Beat eggs with sugar, add softened butter and oil, continue beating well. Beat in the oatmeal and oat bran (you can omit the former if you want), baking powder, soda, salt and nutmeg and then add oat flour mixed with some all purpose flour, enough to achieve a rather thick mixture. Mix in chopped prunes (I scolded them with boiling water beforehand) and sesame seeds. Ideally, you should get a pretty thick mixture that will allow you to skip the chill-in-the-fridge step (to save time). But you can of course place the cookie dough in the fridge (no need to cover) for some time (20-30 minutes) first. I baked the first batch right away while the rest of the dough was waiting in the fridge (can’t say there was much difference in the end).

Oatmeal Cookies with Sesame and Prunes

Preheat the oven to 175 ‘C. Take a small ball of cookie dough (moistening your hands with some water might help), roll it in sesame seeds and place it on the baking mat / parchment paper, then slightly flatten it with your hand. Continue with the remaining dough (the cookies will spread while baking so consider making two batches). Bake for about 20 minutes but be careful – do not overbake otherwise the cookies will be a bit too crunchy!

Oatmeal Cookies with Sesame and Prunes

Remarks: Prunes are really quite distinct in these cookies, so if you prefer a more neutral dried fruit or something more traditional, try making these with raisins. You can also experiment with flour, adding some whole wheat flour for a change.

Result: Crunchy, pretty sweet cookies, with an accentuated sesame flavour … and sesame crunch 🙂

Oatmeal Cookies with Sesame and Prunes

As I was taking pictures on the balcony, one of the cookies did fall from the fifth floor. It survived the fall almost intact apart from being attacked by an ant when I went out to find the errant cookie. Then we used the good Soviet anti-microbes solution which worked well with the unpacked bread they used to sell in the USSR and in the 90s: scorch the thing holding it close to the gas burner and turning it from all sides – and you are safe!

This post goes to the Sweet recipe collection where you will find more cookie recipes.

G.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Official St Petersburg or Along Bolshaya Morskaya

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

Super-rusty style

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

Bolshaya Morskaya, St Petersburg

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

This post goes to the St Petersburg series.

G.
architecture · no recipe · 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.

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

Kronstadt, its Fort and Koporye Fortress

Kronstadt and Koporye

This summer was rich not only on Russian cities along the Trans-Siberian railroad. We also visited several places around St Petersburg. One day we went to the North-West of the city, visiting Kronstadt, Koporye Fortress and the Fort – all in one day.

Kronstadt and Koporye

Kronstadt (Krone meaning crown in German) is the main port of St Petersburg which used to be a closed military city during the Soviet times. As so many parts of the city it is located on an island called Kotlin – but in this case you do feel that you’re on an island from where you can see both sides of the Gulf of Finland. It is there to defend St Petersburg from the Baltic sea – the role which it played particularly successfully during the Siege of Leningrad.

Kronstadt and Koporye

With all its fortifications, military ships (it is the base of the Baltic Fleet) and monuments dedicated to various episodes of the Russian naval history, Kronstadt remains a little bit too military for me. There’s this atmosphere in the city as if ordinary people are not the main characters there and notwithstanding all the tourists it seems as if the daily life of the island still retains that something of a closed city.

Kronstadt and Koporye

And since it was a closed military town up until 1996, Kronstadt is now immersed in quite a decadent state. Those Stalinist era buildings which would normally look pretty ok somewhere on the ‘mainland’ St Petersburg, are preserved here worse than what was built much earlier. And here’s some local constructivism in a very poor state:

Kronstadt and Koporye

The Naval cathedral of Saint Nicholas is one of the main sights of the fortified city on the island. It has been recently renovated and looks impressively grand. It was built 100 years ago and since then served not only as a church but also as a cinema, a concert hall and a museum. All of which are not the worst functions that the Soviets could confer to an ex-cathedral.

Kronstadt and Koporye

The fence around the cathedral:

Kronstadt and Koporye

I remember visiting Kronstadt about 15 years ago and how miserably it all looked. I only recall that my attitude towards this city was ‘for boys only’ as I am not interested in all those military ships and constructions. The Cathedral back then looked awful.

Kronstadt and Koporye

But now it shines, attracts so many tourists and yet there’s a certain feeling of being in a church there.

Kronstadt and Koporye
Although the presence of security guards all over the place instead of the usual babushkas makes you keep in mind the cost of the renovation.

Kronstadt and Koporye

The pseudo-Byzantine and at the same time pseudo-Russian style makes you think of all those surviving churches built in the early 20th century in an attempt to conjure up the spirit of the good ol’ Russia. Looking at the mosaics you also recall the Saviour on the Spilled Blood church in the center of St Petersburg.

Kronstadt and Koporye

This cast-iron pavement has its history. It was created in the 1860s to repeat the success of the New York and Boston pavements which impressed the Kronstadt steamboat factory manager so much. The current pavement is not original as it had to be recast as mines during the Second World War.

Kronstadt and Koporye

Leaving the city we went to one of the Forts of Kronstadt that you can reach without having to swim to it. There are many fishermen around and those who come to roast some shashlyk or even sunbathe. What a pacifist destiny for the fort!

Kronstadt and Koporye

The rough landscape of the fort reminds you of the long military history of these places:

Kronstadt and Koporye

Inside the fort looks suspiciously clean which might be due to it serving as a set for some movie or a game, probably:

Kronstadt and Koporye

Outside it looks like… late Soviet architecture, although these thingies were built much earlier!

Kronstadt and Koporye

We had our lunch in the field, observing the clouds moving across the sky with such a speed we thought it would rain any minute – but never did. As many fields around St Petersburg, these places are gradually turning back into their wild state as the collective agricultural production lost its sense with the fall of the Soviet empire.

Kronstadt and Koporye

When we came to the Koporye Fortress, a Medieval marvel of the St Petersburg region. Thanks to very few attempts at renovating it since its foundation in the 13th century (!) we can almost travel back in time. However, the same fact led to its quite ruinous state and although they take money to enter it, there seems to be very little renovation going on yet.

Kronstadt and Koporye

Inside the fortress:

Kronstadt and Koporye

The entrance is – as it should be – via a stone bridge with a lifting mechanism. Reminded me of the fortresses I visited a year ago in Provence.

Kronstadt and Koporye

Being surrounded by all those mostly 19th and 20th century buildings in St Petersburg, to see this Medieval stronghold which witnessed sacks and attacks by Swedes, White Army and Nazis, is to say the least quite surprising. I mean, you always think of St Petersburg as something much younger than that! The Leningrad region keeps it secrets well – but also eagerly reveal them to you if you dare travel a bit further off the center 🙂

This post goes to the St Petersburg and Travel series.

G.