Friday, 24 February 2012


And now for something completely different...

Yes, thats right...drum roll please...another spectacular, candy coloured, mouth-wateringly pretty church!
This ones the Russian Orthodox Chesme Church in the southern Moskovskaya district of St Petersburg. Looking like a delicious wedding cake that might grace the ostentatious table of Elton John's civil partnership reception, the church stands all alone, set back from the street and surrounded by unnamed graves of the casualties of Russian wars.

The church's beautifully intricate design is delicate and feminine, completed in 1870 for Catherine the Great. The bold salmon pink exterior accented by pale grey detailing and stark white stripes complete with twiddly edges looked just like your great grandmother's antique Russian wedding veil. Chesme truly is a little girl's fantasy church and its sparse, elongated pastel interior drenched in a warm, dreamy light really created an atmosphere of holy serenity.     

A few huge (we're in Russia remember) blocks away from Chesme stood the impressive Moskovskaya Plochad...thats Moscow Square to you peeps...featuring this iconic and effing well enormous statue commemorating Commie Good Times below. Lenin's defiant stance and the monument's cold, secular arrogance provided a sharp contrast to the church's protective charms. The power and immensity of the Communist state's iron grip remains embodied in the square's design however, the creepy, authoritarian Stalinist architecture of the House of Soviets (built for, but never used as government headquarters) backdropping Lenin's dramatic overtures. Thank god there were a few of the ubiqituous affectionate young couples in situ to modernise the place - mooching around, sipping pivo and watching the old ladies in colourful headscarves selling vegetables to local volk. Thirty rubles for a turnip you say? Bargain. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


One of the grittier artistic sights of Olde Petersburge was the Pushkinskaya 10 Art Centre. Housed in one of the grim apartment complexes south west of Nevsky Prospekt, the organisation's front entrance (below) appeared not unlike a Soviet gentleman's cottaging establishment.

The centre, established in 1989 is an artists' collective combining studios, residential flats, a bar/niteklub called Fish Fabrique and various other outlets for unbridled local creativity. Unfortunately, most of the galleries were either closed on account of their haphazard, non-conformist opening hours or too intimidating for a couple of piss-weak gaijin chancers like ourselves to actually enter. However, the residents' comings and goings (complete with the Soviet Death Stare directed as us two clowns) gave us license to slip in uninvited to the apartments' communal areas and have a right old sticky beak. Heres what we found...

Saturday, 18 February 2012


Without wanting to turn this blog into a full blown Russian extravaganza...the Savior on the Spilled Blood Cathedral was positively jaw dropping in its golden mosaic-tiled beauty, undoubtedly one of the highlights of St. Petersburg.

As if the wildly ornate exterior with its jagged domes and spiky, textured surfaces weren't enough, its the cathedral's incredible interior which really leaves the visitor in awe of what humankind is capable of achieving in the celebration of Christianity. Every conceivable space inside the church is a tribute to the power of religion, reflected in stunningly intricate mosaic designs representing 68 biblical and evangelical scenes.

Built on the site of Tsar Alexander II's assassination along the Griboedov Canal, surprisingly the church is just over a century old, though its design is a tribute to 17th century structures found in the Russian city of Yaroslavl and similar to Moscow's St Basil's Cathedral. Its enormous, elongated arches and magnificent dome interiors contain the country's largest mosaic collection, also one of the largest in Europe.

The church interior radiates with an intense sunlit golden hue, reminiscent of the spectacular St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. The main colour palette of the Spilled Blood's design is limited to this rich gold, offset by vibrant blue tones which created a sense of pleasing harmony and a calming, hypnotic ambience. The buzzing hoards of visitors, coach-loads of Russian cronks plus the usual suspects found at any international tourist site seemed to exit the church mesmerised, stumbling around in a trance-like state, awaiting the sensory-overload comedown while lining up to stuff their gobs with ice cream outside. Definitely worth a peep if ever you find yourself visiting Russia's great European city.  


This opulent art nouveau staircase forms the centre piece of Moscow's Ryabushinsky Mansion, now known as Gorky House since 'the father of Soviet literature' resided there for the last 5 years of his life. Originally commissioned by the wealthy industrial/banking Ryabushinsky family, the exquisite building was completed in the first years of the 20th century, now standing as a monument to aesthetic excess on the Malaya Nikitskaya ulitsa (ie street, fool) in an otherwise unremarkable part of the sprawling, polluted city.

The photos below attest to the strangely gloomy atmosphere pervading the building, its exotic interiors, while obviously stunning, evoked a peculiar feeling of claustrophobia. Presumably reaching a terrifying climax for the mansion's residents with the great unwashed baying for bourgeois blood around 1917. The architects left no detail untouched, no cornice unadorned and the mansion stands as a beautiful example of the relatively short but impressive period of art nouveau influenced architecture and interior design in Russia.

Friday, 10 February 2012

HEARTY RUSSIAN FAYRE sweet little luscious Russian dumplings...better than sex, we wolfed down a number of servings on the Eastern front - delicious little parcels of hearty meat, delicately hand-made then boiled and drowned in melted butter, vinegar and sour cream. Divine. Blini with caviar, tangy, satisfying fruit pastries drenched in rich cream (below), one could truly indulge every gluttonous whim in Moscow and Petersburg and my travelling compadre and I eagerly obliged. Then theres the handsome samovar (below), the traditional tea making urn common to many a Russian household (including Tolstoy's Moscow crib) decorated with shushki, the small, mildy sweet bread rings often accompanying tea.

In Moscow we loved this restaurant below (memory and Inspector Google both failing me on the name), evoking the atmosphere of an old Soviet apartment. Admittedly a cosily decorated bourgeois number, rather than a depressing communal 1930s one inhabited by drunken poets and elderly peasant headscarf-rocking babushkas. Complete with singing canary, waitresses in cute uniforms and an inquisitive house cat stalking the diners, the ambience was charming and the authentic Ruski nosh utterly delicious. Just the ticket to load up on before sweating out the toxins at the Sanduny banya, the historic Russian baths frequented by the likes of Clinton (Bill and George)...not that I in anyway advocate doing this with a skinful of top-grade voddie coursing through the veins.

Russian food supplies in London are available at the fabulous Kalinka store on Queensway. Primrose Hill's Trojka is a favourite restaurant of mine, for its authentic, cheap traditional food, wide range of heart-stopping vodkas, vibrant crimson interiors and traditional music.