architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Vorontsovsky Palace

This is how it looked on the day I arrived in Alupka, on the Southern coast of Crimea – the Ai-Petri mountain perfectly vivid and shining under the sun. Next morning the top of the mountain was obscured by clouds (mist) which should have told me that the weather up there would be a little bit cold but… I didn’t even pay attention to that, it was so sunny down there. And that’s how the Ai-Petri and other adventures began that day.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

The cable road in Miskhor leading to the over 1200 m high Ai-Petri mountain is just a short walk away from the Vorontsov Palace, so there I went and very soon found myself and three other tourists (two of them from St Petersburg) on our way to the top in… a motor car and not a cable car 🙂 That’s one of the ways to gain money for the local men who take the tourists up to the mountain in a car with a few stops here and there for the price of a ride on the cable road.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Our first stop was at the Uchan-su waterfall (from the Tatar ‘flying water’ – which it is, falling from such a height it makes your head tired from looking up) on the Southern slope of the Ai-Petri mountain, where the guarding ladies (with a cat) will let you in once you pay a 50 ruble entrance fee (I immediately recalled The Twelve Chairs by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov – how the extremely resourceful main character was collecting unsanctioned entrance fee so that the Proval or Fall, a cavern with a lake in the Caucasus, would not… fall).

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Already at the waterfalls did we start to feel some kind of a chill – it was gradually getting colder the closer we we getting to the top of the mountain. Meanwhile, our resourceful driver drove us up to the next stop – at the rotunda overlooking Yalta the access to which is supposed to be forbidden but apparently not so at all in the absence of the guardians. I know I know, I took innumerable photos of the views which cannot render even a tiny bit of what you feel when you are there yourself…

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Then we drove more along the narrow (to say the least) serpentine road up the mountain, listening to all the legends our driver was eager to share. After some more stops we got off the car just before reaching the cable road station to see some tiny white and yellow flowers and… this:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

No, that was not cotton-wool used as fake snow in the old Christmas decorations. I cannot say we were not at all surprised to see this in May but… Given how cold it was up there, it was easier for us to believe that was real snow! And if you stay on that cliff open to all winds and biting cold long enough, you become as crooked as this tree!

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Oh that colour! My mind though…, well, it was quite frozen by the time we arrived at the top of Ai-Petri, so I can now barely recall the sensation. But I remember that looking down there I had only one idea in my head – there it should be sunny and warm, no more mist, no more strong wind!

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

In fact I got so cold and also instantaneously tired from the nauseatingly persistently offered service (grilled meat, ponies, excursions, whatever you like – how do they all survive up there?!) that I jumped into the first cable car available. They say in winter when the roads are covered with snow, the cable car is the only means to get provision to those who live on the mountain. Brrr! We made it back to the station with a stopover somewhere in the middle where you change cars in 15 minutes against about a 2 h ride up there. ‘Flying’ over the vineyards:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

When I got out of the cable car and started defrosting a little bit, I headed towards the bus station at the entrance to the Vorontsov park and got on the marshrutka (a commercial bus) that goes in the direction of Yalta. My target was the Swallow’s Nest, one of the symbols of Crimea. First, you get rid of all the souvenir shops greeting you at the bus stop, then you walk many steps towards the castle and then you see this:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Everyone’s there for the iconic view (there’s also another one from the sea if you take a boat) of this fairy-tale castle that sits on the cliff and seems to be sailing to the horizon. They say it looks like Miramare Castle in Trieste but most certainly it resembles a toy, a miniature castle, even when you get there and stand close to its entrance. The Castle is hanging there for over a century, originally built for the riches it was then abandoned because it started falling into the sea. It was under construction when I was there in May.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Done with the castle, I hopped on the bus which took me to another must of the Southern coast of Crimea – Livadia Palace, the one where they held the Yalta Conference in 1945. While Churchill was hanging out in the Vorontsov Palace, the President of the US was stationed here in Livadia, the former Nicholas II summer residence. Well, one of them.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I have to say I was much less impressed by Livadia Palace and I decided not to wait for the excursion group. Built round the same time as the Swallow’s Nest, this rather squarish palace seems a bit too… square. However, the park was beautiful as well as the view towards Yalta and over the sea.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Spring in Crimea is gorgeously luscious:

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

Much as I enjoyed the nature (there’s this Tsar’s or Sunny Path that runs through many palaces and parks which I would love to take in the future) I was too tired to continue my trip along the coast  and got back to Alupka where in the evening I however found some strength and attention to explore a ghost sanatorium.

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

How to get there: I suggest to give in to the promises of the drivers (you will find many of them at the Miskhor cable car from about 10 am) and go up the Ai-Petri mountain in a car and then descend using the cable car. If starting from Yalta, take a marshrutka from the bus station towards Alupka and ask the driver to stop at the kanatka (cable car). If you wish to visit only the Castle and the Palace, the same bus will take you to Livadia (you will have to walk from the stop to the palace), and then you can proceed to the Swallow’s Nest taking any bus going in the same direction. These local buses make numerous stops at sanatoriums, hotels and other places so your journey might take some time. However, I managed to squeeze in these three musts in about 6-7 hours starting from Alupka.

Will continue my Crimean adventures soon, there’s so much I’ve seen and looking through the photos I realize there’s so much I have seen but haven’t really noticed!

This post goes to the Travel collection.

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.

architecture · on USSR / Russia · travel

Crimea in May: Vorontsov Palace and Park

Vorontsovsky Palace

Crimea has mesmerized me. It is so multifaceted, it’s so sincere and so yet-to-be-discovered. I’ve definitely had the most enjoyable days of spring 2017 in Crimea when I took a short break and dedicated it to my favourite lifestyle – on the road.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Crimea is unique and yet I found there so many things you would typically admire in so many places in Europe – since I had never been to any of the ex-Soviet Black Sea regions / states before (the southernmost I had travelled in the post-Soviet territory was Samara on Volga), the only points of references for me were Italy, France, Greece… And all of them I could find in Crimea.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The unrivaled beauty of its nature, the simplicity of life and the decadent notes (not to say atmosphere) of a lost Soviet empire (plus cats everywhere :)) all make Crimea a perfect place for me. Except for their dairy products and bread, they do have to work on these two in order to win my heart and respect 100%.

Vorontsovsky Palace

I was travelling alone, without a car and huge budgets, I felt safe and could get almost everywhere using the local transport. People were open and eager to help – and if you avoid high season and ridiculously touristic places, you will get the most out of your Crimean adventures.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Just try not to have high expectations in terms of service and infrastructure, give Crimeans some more time to get over this tricky period and adjust to the demands of a different category of tourists who are no longer satisfied with the Soviet standards. Yet another tip: use bigger cities like Sevastopol, Simferopol and even Yalta as transport hubs and places of cultural interest (rich and important museums are there) but keep to smaller places where there’s a bigger chance of finding the authenticity well preserved – unless not the best specimens of typicized Soviet architecture is what you are looking for.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Although I spent my first day (that was Russian National holiday, Victory day on the 9th of May) in Sevastopol where I met my friend from the Erasmus Mundus times, I’d like to start from Alupka on the Southern side of the Crimean Peninsula. I’ve only been to a fraction of the peninsula (and probably the most touristy one as well – the YuBK or the Southern Coast) but every day I spent there was packed with impressions and could easily make for a separate post. This one will be dedicated to Vorontsov Palace and Park in Alupka (aka Vorontsovsky Palace), a place well known as a  setting for various popular Soviet films.

Vorontsovsky Palace

(insert toad sounds here)

Ai-Petri, Swallows Nest, Livadia

I’ve been to several parks in Crimea but I liked this one the most. I would just live there, I don’t need the palace, a shed would suffice with such a natural (and horticultural) beauty around you.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The park is huge and there’s no need to hurry up: take your time while you wander along its wonderful sunlit parterres and shadowy paths winding around stones and brooks.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The park was designed by a German while the palace was created by an Englishman (who also finished off a certain Buckingham Palace, they say).

Vorontsovsky Palace

Later, a certain Sir Winston Churchill stayed here during the Yalta conference. I visited the Palace on my first day in Alupka and quite liked it – probably more so from the inside than from the outside as it represents such a mixture of various styles that you cannot really make head or tail out of it.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The palace is worth visiting (there are audio guides available at the entrance which are included in the ticket price). There are castle-like rooms richly decorated with oak panels and almost Hermitage-like parlours with the view to the sea.

Vorontsovsky Palace

Two parts of the building are connected by a winter garden with marble statues and exotic plants. The gallery leads to this enormous dining room with a mantelpiece and some eastern motifs corresponding to the palace’s (other) Moorish facade.

Vorontsovsky Palace

You can spot this other facade in the photo below. This lion and the roses actually reminded me of a similar ‘composition’ in Pavlovsk where we went today.

Vorontsovsky Palace

That view though… the Black Sea at its best!

Vorontsovsky Palace

A delicate open gallery which got me occupied for a while. It is conveniently located in the shade of the palace, close to the exit to the park.

Vorontsovsky Palace

The 40 ha park occupies half the town or so it seems, especially to those who come to Alupka only to visit the palace. I would however suggest taking a stroll to the left (facing the sea) and there along the coast you will find the so called Rock of Aivazovsky (the marine painter born in Crimea) from which there’s a great view towards Yalta and over the majestic Ai-Petri mountain. I wish I could live in that gorgeous place…

Vorontsovsky Palace

Alupka doesn’t really attract you as a town in itself, though (apart from the park and the palace) there are several places – wonderfully decadent – that I will tell you about a bit later (I hope).

Vorontsovsky Palace

In the evening after the sunset I took a stroll along the sea shore (no way you can swim there, it’s all concrete including the so called Children’s Beach) and inevitably (and with great pleasure) made my way up to the hotel through the garden taking yet another glimpse of that beautiful tree growing (hugging) the tower gate of the palace:

Vorontsovsky Palace

The place where I stayed in Alupka for 2 nights was reasonably priced and untypically tasteful, well-equipped and looked after for the Russian standards (not mentioning Crimean) – it’s called Chetyre Sezona or Four Seasons. I witnessed one family coming back to this place after they got really dissatisfied by merely seeing their next hotel on their route.

Vorontsovsky Palace

How to get there:

I took an inter-city bus (about 1.5 h) that goes from Sevastopol bus station to Yalta and asked the driver to stop in Alupka. Well, technically, you will get off at a highway that goes above the town, so you’ll have to walk down to the sea and then to the left. Another way is to ride all the way to Yalta and take a marshrutka (a small commercial bus) which will take you to the Vorontsov Park straight away using a local (lower) road. Everywhere you go in Crimea there are marshrutka buses with many stops along their way which makes it quite handy if you travel around without a car and would like to save on taxis (which will cost about 10 times more).

Can’t believe I’ve eventually started my Crimean posts!

This post goes to the ‘Russia’ section in the Travel collection.

G.

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.

architecture · no recipe · St Petersburg

Avant-Garde Architecture at Narvskaya Zastava

Narvskaya Zastava

I started this post back in June 2016 when I was discovering new places along the red line of the St Petersburg underground. I took photos inside Narvskaya metro station having in mind an idea for a new walk – and later a blog post – around that area called Narvskaya Zastava (i.e. a frontier post leading to Narva). Which only happened in March 2017 when we went on the Avant-Garde Architecture excursion with the St Petersburg through Engineer’s Eyes project (the same one we went to re-discover the gorgeous Vitebsky railway station with). Unfortunately, the excursion did not turn out to be a huge success – neither in terms of the participation (we were just 7) nor with the actual participants. However, it made me see those crucial avant-garde place that I had been meaning to visit.

Narvskaya Zastava

The excursion started from the Narvskaya metro station, one of the first stations in the city opened in the south of the city in 1955. It was not built in the constructivist or any avant-garde style at all (although the very first Moscow stations were) but I think it’s worth stopping here for a while – especially in the light of the recent events in St Petersburg metro. Narvskaya’s ground pavilion looks pretty classical and routinely Pantheon-like, a leftover from the Stalinist architecture which after his death was doomed to die too. Very soon Nikita Khrushchev would take over the architectural line (as well as the power) and bend it in a very different direction, creating cheap faceless block of flats that people were only happy to move in. They are since called khrushchevki.

Narvskaya Zastava

I bet those doors in the background are there from the very beginning. I don’t normally like those bronze decorative things but here they look right. When you enter the station and go down, there are these marble bas-reliefs with sturdy never smiling (even the children!) Soviet people of various professions. All so solemn and out-of-this-world. As this entire district surrounding the station was largely a workers’ one, the station’s theme is all about labour and its glorification.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

I like these semi-circles of lamps, they look kind of art-deco-ish.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

It is true that the first users of the Leningrad metro were rather its visitors (and admirers). After all they were meant to be such – as these museums under ground, these temples of culture were supposed to cultivate and instruct those who would take the metro to work – and, well, work work work 🙂 Not much time for museum-going, you know.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

Now, more than 60 years later, people still wonder at these temple-like first stations of the Leningrad subway. We don’t have that an abundance of Stalinist stations compared to Moscow, but still you can spend quite a lot of time discovering those original stations. And not only them of course!

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

It’s a pity we use metro rather as… users now, we don’t have time for the details and rarely do we stop to admire them. The symbols keep loosing their meaning and I guess not all of the today’s passengers would tell you what this 1955 stand for. A similar grate but in silver can be found inside the Vosstaniya metro station.

Narvskaya, Avtovo, Kirov Plant metro stations

We didn’t really need a bus for this excursion really – it can be made on foot with no problems, most of the objects being pretty close to each other. Our first stop was at this school built to cater for the needs of a fast-growing workers’ district in 1927 – hence its name celebrating the 10 years after the October Revolution (Desyatiletiya Oktyabrya). They say it was built in a shape of hammer and sickle but there’s no official proof to that.

Narvskaya Zastava

The school is still functioning! It has this rounded wall with classes and an observatory tower (not used anymore due to light pollution) and there’s this weird interpretation of the hammer and sickle symbol pictured on the first photo of the post. The same architect, Alexander Nikolsky, created also a super progressive banya for 4000 customers a day located in the same district – the banya functioned until pretty recently but is now in such a state that I didn’t even try taking a photo.

Narvskaya Zastava

This is yet another constructivist public building in the district – a 1928-33 profilaktory (a health institution for preventing illnesses), now a hospital. With all the strive of that period for better and more effective, this profilaktory was designed to have continuous windows for more light (which never happened) and separate entrances for different groups of patients, etc etc. The years have had their toll on the building and now it has lost its avant-garde looks.

Narvskaya Zastava

Our next stop was at one of the local workers’ residential areas / townships or zhilmassiv. Like the one near Yelizarovskaya metro station (built in the same years, 1925-28) it has its own style and a signature detail: a semi-arch ‘growing’ from the wall. Nikolsky also participated in this project called Serafimovsky Gorodok as well as Gegello and Simonov. There are 7 houses and a laundry, creating a lot of space in the middle for a playground. That was one of the first projects of building an entire district in the city.

Narvskaya Zastava

Same architects were simultaneously building another workers’ township just a few blocks away, on Traktornaya Street – for the workers of the nearby Putilovsky, later Kirov Plant. Same signature semi-arch:

Narvskaya Zastava

And the rounded stairwells with a triangular canopy:

Narvskaya Zastava

This project is different in that it creates an entire street of 16 houses and not a square district with a playground in the middle. These neat houses came without bathrooms but with a niche for a perspective bath tub because at that moment the Soviet industry was incapable of making tubs 🙂 It’s a pity that with the active construction all across the district and the cars parked all over the place, this street doesn’t create the same effect anymore – it used to be some kind of a local landmark, with that school mentioned above at one of it’s ends and an arch at the other.

Narvskaya Zastava

Another must-stop of the district is the House of Soviets with a tall tower and quite a different aesthetics as it was built already in the early 1930s by architect Noy Trotsky (not to be confused with Lev Trotsky), known for his project of another House of Soviets in the Moskovsky district. They say that the building was faced with ground tombstones of a eradicated cemetery…

Narvskaya Zastava

I didn’t take any photos of yet another landmark of the Narvskaya metro station district which is situated right in front of the station pavilion – the local fabrika-kukhnya, a factory kitchen catering for the busy workers and their families. It is now so defaced and turned into such a mess of various signs that you can hardly recognize the original project by Barutchev, Gilter and Meerzon.  The same trio of architects also created fabrika-kukhnya on Vasilyevsky Island and in the Vyborgsky district. At first I thought these ‘stepping’ windows corresponded to the staircases but actually these are amphitheaters for lectures.

Narvskaya Zastava

And this is yet another constructivist project hidden behind the buildings on the Stachek square. Created by Gegello and Krichevsky in 1930-33, it housed some technical education institution and now it’s a store selling furniture… The ‘head’ of this building looks pretty familiar – it resembles Erich Mendelsohn’s Krasnoye Znamya factory’s power station on Petrogradsky Island.

Narvskaya Zastava

Our ultimate stop was in the local Dvorets Kultury imeni Gorkogo, Palace of Culture named after Maxim Gorky, a must that would adorn every large city of the Soviet Union, otherwise called Dom Kultury, house of Culture, if talking about a smaller town (I’ve definitely written about palaces and houses of culture in one of my posts about Kolpino). We actually had a chance not only to enter the building but also visit some of its parts hidden to the general public. Although this originally avant-garde creation of 1925-27 (architects Gegello and Krichevsky) has been heavily uglified by various add-ons throughout the years (this is how it looks now), it’s one of the city’s best preserved authentic palaces of culture.

Narvskaya Zastava

We had a chance to stand on the stage looking into the rows of chairs. These red chairs are here from the 1920s, can you believe that? The ribbon-like boxes look cool. Although I do not really like the color scheme 🙂 I only once was in this concert hall as a spectator – and that was when I knew nothing about the building, which is – as many constructivist creations are – almost like a machine or an organism with many functional sections and layers.

Narvskaya Zastava

This curvy corridor / gallery uniting two parts of the building is now closed and taken over by the flower pots. It runs on top of the concert hall with its windows looking out to the Stachek square.

Narvskaya Zastava

Some remains of the past in the library – it also has wooden bookcases with a 1930-something metal stamps on them. The library looks really sad with its old books and as we could gather – almost no readers at all. And here’s the staircase with the original wooden railing:

Narvskaya Zastava

It’s clear that in the today’s world it’s too hard for such an organization to survive without renting out its premises to various shops and clubs, so the building looks pretty patchy both inside and outside. It leaves an impression of slowly but steadily dying organism. Almost 90 years later it still carries out its function as a local center of culture and sports but it’s been attacked by the parasites for too long.

Adding this post to the St Petersburg 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.