Here’s another cuisine surprise – Swedish is more than meatballs and pickled herring. And even these plebeian offerings are delightfully presented.
The presentations are uniformly excellent
breaded chicken- they eat quite a bit of this dino
The cuisine centers around sour cream and other cultured dairy products. The grocery stores packed huge blocks of cheese and rows and rows of yogurt, Kefir and I don’t know what.
cheese, glorious cheese! You need help lifting them.
They make gorgeous breads, hearty, seedy, crackery. Mighty fine!
Deserts are a delight. There are lots of fruit deserts as well as creamy and there are lots of cookies.
And there’s lot of cherry desserts!
Watch out for your purse in the cafes, though. Our first cappuccino, espresso and basic cookie cost us $20.00. Eating out is everywhere through the roof. This is a soup eating culture – a bowl will easily run you $10. They make thick fruit soups including rose hip and blueberry. Lingonberries are made into a jam and served with various dishes. It is on the bitter side, not as bitter as cranberries though. Dishes are prepared with butter and margarine, although you can get olive oil in the markets but these are not traditional. Fish is plentiful and not too crazy expensive if prepared at home.
Oh, did I mention that the Swedes have a sweet from time to time?
You find aisles and aisles in the grocery stores.
Alcohol. There’s plenty and it’s taxed highly so the $2 bottle of Spanish wine is $12 (not that different from what you’d pay in the US). Some of that is from transport costs but largely it’s tax, the government’s way of trying to discourage excess consumption. I suppose things might be worse if they didn’t, but the Swedes are known for weekend binges. Have a glass during the week, though, and you might raise eyebrows. The day-to-day is beer. You can buy beer in grocery stores if 3.2% or less. Everything else comes from the state-run liquor stores.
Few people associate Swedish cuisine with the world’s finest, and it might not be, but it’s no slouch either, and their chefs are very well-trained even in inexpensive places. As Joel Gray put it in Cabaret, in Sweden, “Even the orchestra is beautiful.”
Just a two hour flight from St Petersburg and an hour to Riga, Stockholm is built upon a scad of islands (17 in all) with a wealth of architecture set against a slew of harbors, lakes and canals, with much fine exterior decor as well as art, history and more in its many museums. The most famous of its museums is not about art – the Vasa Museum contains the 17th century ship that sank on its maiden voyage, leaving behind a storehouse of information about its time.
Most important structures show foreign influence as French and Italian architects were brought in during the 18th century. Simon de la Vallée designed the Riddarhuset, the House of Knights . His son Jean de la Vallée and the German-born Nicodemus Tessin became a leading architect with buildings such as Södra City Hall , Axel Oxenstierna Palace , Katarina Church , Stenbock Palace, and Wrangelska Palace. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Architecture_in_Stockholm
City Hall is the site for the Nobel Prize banquet, except for the Peace Prize which is awarded in Norway. The structure is in the style of the Italian Renaissance, though it was built in the early 20th century. It’s interior is astounding, by far the most impressive of the city and competing favorably with others of its ilk in other countries. It’s a fitting venue for the Nobel Prize award dinner, that it seats 3000 or so being a minor advantage. The Queen of Lake Mälaren mosaic is my favorite piece in the hall. The guide said it is in the Byzantine style, but I do not see it that way, having never seen anything quite like her and finding little in common with the Byzantine aside from the gold mosaics.
These mosaics were made in panels in Germany. There are some 8 million tiles, the gold sandwiched between each one before it is attached to the panel.
Queen of Lake Mälaren mosaic in the Golden Hall of the Stockholm City Hall
Smaller but in the same style as the main figure of the hall
Stucco figure in City Hall
section of tapestry elsewhere in the building
Gamla Stan, the oldest part of the city, dates from 13th c, shows the influence of the architecture of northern Germany. It retains the narrow medieval streets of the small island.
Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, an alley in Gamla Stan
In 1697, the Castle of the Three Crowns was severely damaged in a fire, replaced by the Castle of Stockholm.
Stockholm’s many waterways make for a natural charm to contrast with man-made beauty.
Stockholm harbor area
Sculpture at City Hall
There are many ferries to take you around town
Art Nouveau Architecture
It would not be at all surprising if you were not sure what constitutes Art Nouveau. Literally the term means “New Art,” new being relative to around 1890 (lasting to about 1910). Part of the problem arises from the diverse terminology used to refer to that general style. The Czech term is Secese, Danish Skønvirke or Jugendstil, German Jugendstil, Art Nouveau or Reformstil, Hungarian Szecesszió, Italian Art Nouveau, Stile Liberty or Stile floreale, Norwegian Jugendstil, Polish Secesja, Slovak Secesia, Russian Модерн (Modern), Swedish Jugend. These various countries produced variations on the general theme and can be difficult to categorize. Here are some photos of the Swedish version.
I’ll add posts on the cuisine – surprisingly good- as well as the museums, also excellent. Even without those added delights, and the friendly English speaking populace – you’d swear you were talking to Americans – Stockholm is a great visit.
The main style of building in Riga is Art Nouveau. There are more buildings in this style in Riga than anywhere in the world, making Riga a major destination for aficionados of the style. Here are some excellent examples of what you can see here. I’ll be posting more of both exteriors and interiors. Often these buildings occupy an entire street, making it even more impressive. We saw interiors at the Rich Art Nouveau Museum.
These are fun and creative animations of paintings hanging in the Errata Museum (Contemporary Art, St Petersburg Russia) which we visited recently. You see about several paintings. The second is an installation, not an animation. Enjoy!!
I should have been surprised about how much I would enjoy Russian cuisine, and I would have been had I thought about it all. Who goes to Russia for the food? Most come for the Hermitage, as I was. One would vaguely expecting something gruelish, like kasha (it’s here, unfortunately). Too much bland cabbage dishes and greasy meats – they do like cabbage and you can certainly greasy (as well as quality) meats, including some of the best hard sausage I’ve had anywhere. But so much good stuff? Never!
Lunch at bistro, about $5
So what is it you dine one here? Of course there is the famous borscht, the kind of simple and inexpensive food you would find in a Russian bistro (inexpensive places unlike what the Parisian counterparts have become) , cafeteria or most any hole in wall. I’ve had a bowl for less than $1 with chicken bits in it. They taste much the same and always good.
I am certain the economy would collapse if either sour cream or dill became scarce. The former is dolloped or smeared on half of the things you see in restaurants, such as blinis, which are crepes filled with meat, cheese, veggies, great for a quick inexpensive snack or a whole meal. They can come filled with beef, pork, mushroom and a variety of other veggies, and sweet versions. You can get them for about $3 at Tepemok, a fast food franchise that features them. There they make them as you watch on one of several crepe pans (actually dedicated burners). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teremok (The ‘p’ in Russian is an ‘r’ in the western alphabet. Don’t worry, it is normal to find this confusing.)
Dill is in soups, stews, various versions of blinis and a wide variety of other items. I am not a fan but fortunately there are plenty of things to choose from which do not have it. Sometimes you do not see it as a listed ingredient, although many menus have English translations so you can choose your basic ingredients, sometimes it is just a garnish, but in Georgian food it with parsley is considered the standard spice.
Blinis, around $3. Beer is $2-3
St Petersburg cafeteria- Fast food is everywhere- and I don’t mean McD’s or BK, which are here as well. I mean mom and pop places like this one.
Dumplings are a favorite, stuffed with meat, cheese or veggies, often in soup. Meat pies, Pirozhki (pirogi), are popular and the same or similar dough is used for sweets. Salmon in various forms is common but fairly expensive.
Coffee shops serve coffee for $1- $2, many of them quite good. Some tiny places have push button machines that make a fine cup and there are free standing coffee machines that for $.50 serve up a very good cappuccino – and they use that very word in bars and restaurants. Pizza is popular, although I have had it only once, and it wasn’t bad but hardly what you would find in Italy. While at that restaurant the pizza was good, the white wine was served warm, the fries came out 20 minutes ahead of the burgers our friends ordered, and they were cold, as were the burgers, but this was the exception and not the rule for other places we’ve tried. Pizza, burgers, yep there is foreign food here, and that’s a St Petersburg tradition, having long ties to Europe.
Herring Under the Fur Coat is a salted herring salad that has several layers: salted herring on the bottom, topped with chopped onions, potatoes, carrots, beet roots and dressed with mayonnaise. Salad Olivier is a winter dish- boiled potatoes, peas, beef, pickled cucumbers, onions, eggs and carrots. Chebureki are a deep-fried turnover with ground or minced meat and onion. I had one at our local Cafe Brynza- it was wonderful! https://cafebrynza.ru/. Their site is in Russian but if you use Chrome you can translate it by right clicking anywhere on their page.
Soups! This is a cold country so they have perfected these. Okroshka is a summer soup. The main ingredients are diced raw vegetables, boiled meat, eggs and potatoes, served with kvas, a popular fermented drink made from black rye (I’ll skip this next time), and sour cream. Of course. Solyanka is a thick, piquant soup popular in Russian and Ukrainian cuisine. It can be cooked with meat, fish, or mushrooms. Other ingredients include olives, pickled cucumbers with brine, cabbage, potatoes, sour cream and dill. Of course.
Beef Stroganof, perhaps named after someone in the Stroganof family, is a common dish, but since it has sour cream, I have avoided it. Other main dishes include grilled and roasted meats, stews and a wide variety of fish. I am seeing a lot of sturgeon and salmon. I’ve bought roasted pork from the upscale Stockmans, which was excellent, as was their ham and Russian cheese.
Did I mention dumplings –Pelmeni? How could I forget (easily, I am not a huge fan). Lots of them around. They love cabbage and eat a lot of it in soup but also they stuff and roll the leaves. Yum! Chicken kiev is a popular dish of chicken breast stuffed with grated cheese, mushrooms, herbs, egg yolk, then breaded and baked in oil. Khachapuri are a thick boat shaped bread filled with varieties of melted cheese with an egg on top. Peg had one. I found the cheese to be rather bland and the dough to be rather, well, doughy, but maybe it was just the way that restaurant does them.
Beer is everywhere and the local stuff is inexpensive and good. Wine is widely available, but you have to get the imports or you will likely get sweet versions, which is how they like it here. But at Barclay Cafe they have a good selection of dry Russian wines, the house barely $2 for a small glass and not bad at all. We are quite far north so they need to add sugar to get enough alcohol and to mask any unpleasant flavors. There is a lot of Spanish wine around, even some from our favorite city there, Valencia, although the labels are not ones we have ever seen.
Desserts are fabulous! Lots of cherries, blueberries and other fruit fill or float on various dough arrangements. Since cherries are hard to come by in some many of the places we live in I am loading up on them here.
Kiosk– just up the street, a woman sits all day ready to get you an excellent and inexpensive cherry or other flavor pie or turnover.
Russian cuisine is quite sophisticated and varied, and there is so much I have not tried and a lot more that does not even show up in St Petersburg. This is a huge country with many ethnic groups, and other than Georgian (an excellent eggplant rolled around some king of walnut mixture) and the Chebureki (I think I had a Crimean version) we did not knowingly have anything that was from the non-European part of Russia. Visit and enjoy!
The Hermitage possesses over 3 million items including some of the finest examples of European art and holds the largest collection of paintings in the world. The art collection was founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine, those purchases coming via an art dealer her country of birth, Germany, and much expanded by her successors. It has been open to the public since 1852. There is comparatively little Russian art- that is to be found at the also excellent albeit much smaller Russian museum. European artists dominate the collection of paintings and sculpture, and much of it is French, Italian and Dutch. The excellent collection of Impressionists is in the General Staff Building
There are tons of portraits in the Winter Palace, the majority of them of high quality. You see more of Catherine the Great than any others, it seems, which isn’t surprising given who founded the museum.
Alexander Roslin, Swedish (1718–93) – Portrait of Catherine II (1776–77).
Several that I found of particular interest. This painting was done in the French Rococo style. The woman is wearing a colored silk dress. There are contrasts of colors and strong shadows.
The next painting gets the following write up in the Hermitage site: “Few artists have truly successfully depicted children, but Anthony van Dyck in this portrait of the daughters of Philip, 4th Lord Wharton, produced a genuinely appealing image. It was painted during the late, English period of the artist’s career, and is executed well within the traditions of Western European official portraiture. The girls are shown posing statically against a very roughly indicated, generalised background, with just a hint of a decorative landscape. Dressed and coiffed a la mode, they look like true grown up ladies, the eldest holding herself importantly and with a sense of her own importance, just like a lady at court. The youngest gently holds her sister by the shoulder, frozen in the pose in which she has been stood by the artist. The official majesty of the formal portrait is softened by the little dog, surprised by his mistresses’ immobility, who scratches wonderingly at the eldest girl’s dress with one paw. With its elegant colour scheme, dominated by cold pearly-grey and silver-blue, and the virtuoso skill in conveying the texture of fabrics and jewellery, van Dyck’s painting yet manages to be a very gentle and informal image of two charming girls.” https://www.arthermitage.org/Anthony-van-Dyck/Portrait-of-Elizabeth-and-Philadelphia-Wharton.html
Anthony Van Dyck Portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton
Caravaggio is a master of the light, although this is not the most dramatic of his paintings in this regard. There are three versions of this painting. The version in the Uffizi there is a table-top in front of the player, but in this versions it is marble with a violin and flowers. The notes are so exactly painted that we know who the printer is, the Roman Valerio Dorica.
Lute Player, Caravaggio
The collections are in six historic buildings along the Palace Embankment, that is along the River Neva. The Winter Palace is the largest of the buildings and has the most art – all of these photos are from this building. The museum has several exhibition centers abroad, such as the one in Amsterdam.
Sculptures in the Winter Palace
Sculptures in the Winter Palace
In the basement there is Siberian and Caucus art- one small example:The Roman and Greek collections, as well as the Egyptian, are also in the basement area.
The museum supplies a good map, but it is still a challenge to navigate at times. It took me a while to wind my way to the cafe area in the Winter Palace. There are only two and for whatever reason they are right next to each other. There are some grand spots elsewhere in the Winter Palace where having a coffee would have been quite luxurious!
I’ll remember the Hermitage rather more for the rooms than the art, which while excellent, is to be found elsewhere as well. One could say the same of the palace, but I found it different enough, and it’s general setting as well, to easily justify the costs and challenges of coming to Russia.
The State Hermitage Museum is one of the world’s great treasures, both for its palaces and for its magnificent art collection, the world’s largest. In the next post will be about the art.
The exterior of the Winter Palace, a green and white 3 story building, is full of sculptures, vases and Corinthian columns. When you enter are greeted by this magnificent staircase.
Staircase of the Winter Palace
The palaces were built for various Russian czars and are the rival of Versailles. This Winter Palace has 1786 doors, 1945 windows, 117 staircases and 1057 lavishly decorated rooms.
The Chapel, Hermitage
You make your way around the Winter Palace with the aid of a well designed map, which helps a great deal but you have to bear in mind that the palaces were not built with tourists in mind, so you can still have a hard time finding what you are looking for if you are not skilled at map reading. I found that the guards could get you pointed in the right direction, despite not speaking much if any English, nor I any Russian beyond vodka and nyet.
White and gold room, Hermitage
These gold leaf columns knock you down with their luster.
There are many wonderful of caryatids, many of them in gold leaf.
The Winter Palace throne room
The ceilings are magnificent as well.
The photos in this post come from the Winter Palace. There are 6 others open to the public. They are the Old Hermitage, The New Hermitage, the Small Hermitage, the Hermitage Theater, and the most recent additions, the General Staff Building and the
Winter Palace, Hermitage, St Petersburg Russia
In 1731 Empress Anna Ioannovna commissioned Rastrelli, the court architect, later the famous master of late baroque to build the Winter Palace. He completed it in 1735. Seventeen years later Empress Elizaveta Petrovna hired him to expand the building. However he decided to start over. The new plans were approved in 1754. The building was finished in 1764 under Catherine.
The Winter Palace
Winter Palace at night- which I have not seen at this time yet!
Speaking of over the top, is this not the best example?
The garish former church (now a museum) has a steeple that is 81m (265 ft) high. The bell tower on the left has 144 individual mosaic coats of arms representing provinces, cities and towns of the Russian empire that reflected grief over the murder of Czar Alexander II.
Photos of the interior are below the text. The walls and ceilings are covered with mosaic paintings. some 8000 square yards in all, with nary an inch left un-decorated. The interior of the church has multi-colored marble from Italy and colored stone from different regions of Russia including Ural jasper, porphyry, violet gray Altai jasper, dark red, pink and green marble.
The building commemorates the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881. It was built from 1883 to 1907 under Nicolas II. There is a canopy erected over the spot of the assassination. Not baroque like so much of St Petersburg, this style has its origins in medieval Russian architecture. It is similar to 17th-century churches in Yaroslav, northeast of Moscow and a World Heritage site, as well as St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. The spheres atop the spires stand out against any sky and are as far out as anything you might see at Familia Sagrada, for example, if even more demanding of attention.