I Painted Rostov
Rostov in my memory consists of colors white and blue. The kremlin’s wall, the walls of the churches, and the cloud were all white. And blue, as were Lake Nero and old onion domes that stood against Rostov sky that day. Yes, the sky was also blue. It looked infinite and seemed to follow you everywhere. Its blueness covered the whole town like a giant blanket you could not escape. Look at the photos and you will believe me.
There were several painters set up canvases within the kremlin’s wall. The air was fresh, the wind sat still, and the sun, it shone on us with no mercy. It was summer, a Russian summer of 2016 that we were there.
The old town, known also by its official name–Rostov Veliky, situates in the northeast of Moscow, two and a half hours away by train. After some nap (while my poor Nastya rarely slept at all. She was kept bumping into by some kids that ran around on the train), we reached Rostov Yaroslavsky railway station and started walking along a small soil pathway sandwiched by grass on both sides, passing typical Russian country houses made of woods. Many of them have delicate patterns decorated around the windows, with flowery, thin curtains behind.
We arrived at the central square. Before us was the kremlin. And before us, stood majestically, groups of tall onion domes. The ones I first saw and became my favorite are ones in the postcard. They are blue but tinted with brown here and there as if to say, proudly, how they have witnessed the passing of time, when there still lived the living archbishops.
“A good day starts with good breakfast”, said Nastya, over a huge amount of brunch that was spread on our table. There were chocolate ice-creme eaten with fresh blueberries (mine), milk ice-cream with tiny strawberries (Anya’s), two cups of cappuccino (Anya’s and Anya K.’s), three glasses of kvass (mine, Anya K.’s, and Nastya’s), banana milkshake (mine), apple and celery mixed drink (Anya’s), and syrniky (сырники), which is a Russian pancake made from cottage cheese, usually eaten with sour creme, jam, honey, or even condensed milk, whatever you like.
Alyosha Popovich, we started our day at that restaurant. Anya remembers its name well. “It’s the name of a character in Russian fairy tale”, she told me. Most Russian children know of the story. But Alyosha Popovich on Karl Marx 1 street was for me, part of my beautiful Rostov memory. Great food, good friends I had there. We started and ended the day in this place. On the train back to Moscow, I opened my diary just to write about the day and found myself ended up listing down names of food and drink we had there instead.
- Chicken stuffed with mushroom and cheese, served with boiled vegetables–sweet pepper, tomato, and cucumber. (The filling was perfect. The veggie went well with the dish.)
- Dark chocolate ice-cream with fresh blueberries
- Grilled salmon steak with dark sweet sauce. The sauce looked something Japanese. Nastya said after she finished with salmon, “I can feel blueberries swimming in my stomach. But when it comes to salmon, there’s always some space left for salmon.”
- Blueberries and cottage cheese filled in pancake, with unwanted jam on the side. The jam ruined everything. It was “monstrously sweet” by the word of Nastya. (She ended up doing caesarean section with the pancake, eating only the blueberries and cottage cheese. If the food doesn’t increase your satisfaction, why eat it?, again by the word of Nastya.)
Anya and Anya K. :
- Borscht, a Ukrainian red meat soup. Very popular in Russia. Usually eaten with garlic bun
- Some salad
Besides food, there were also liquids. A vast array of different types of liquids I should say. No wonder some of us had a problem with the stomach the day after. There were kvass of course, and medovukha, which is Slavic honey-based alcoholic beverage. I also ordered a glass of juice mixed of grapefruit and carrot that everybody was unsure of. There was an expression on the waitress face when she heard what I wanted. It took awhile to come. We all speculated that the whole kitchen might be passing it along for a sip or two due to curiosity. Well, it was not so bad in the end. And what else, what drinks did we have? How come I forgot to take note of them all?
Toward the Kremlin
First, we went up the Bell Tower. From there we could see low rise buildings around. Looking further, there was Lake Nero, the one that appears as a big triangle on the map.
Imagine what one would feel: climbing up narrow stairs of the tower, there you stood higher than the surroundings, a bit closer to the sky. Peacefulness embraced you. Looking over the horizon you sighted the lake, not very far, so blue, so calm, glittering playfully by the sun. Such sight! Such peace! Such air!
We entered the Kremlin. Inside it are Assumption Cathedral and churches with their fresco interior, and an orderly courtyard with a pond in the middle. There is also the Church of Virgin Hodegetria with its exterior resembling a bread house out of a fairy tale (I didn’t take a bite). There is a fancy restaurant, souvenir shops, and stall selling overpriced, as I had been informed, kvass and medovukha. An artist spread his paintings of Rostov’s scenery near the pond.
There were postcards selling near the ticket office. They were very cheap I remember. I got my favorite one for 4 rubles. Anya K. also bought several postcards that prompted me to ask whether she likes postcard too. She said yes, and began telling me about PostCrossing, a project that allows you to send and receive postcards to other postcard lovers all over the world. It’s the second time I’ve heard of it. We talked a little while walking out of the Kremlin heading toward the lake. It’s exciting knowing the person you are talking to also like similar things, like, for example, postcards and the art of writing.
At the lake, we hired a boat. The whole kremlin with several onion domes appeared in front of us once again, this time above the water, as we were approaching the shore. There was a magical charm about them. Together they look like toy castle, so small, and pretty.
Idyllic Country Churches
If Rostov’s central square were painted mostly with white and blue, a little further away, you will see the addition of green and brown. There was brown, color of the houses, country fences, and the soil. There was green field before, behind, and beside those domes. Some churches looked like they were hidden behind trees and grass, appearing as mysterious. Some were mere background seen further away, so tiny as if were just a decoration to this idyllic country scenery, something only added to remind you that you are in Russia.
Back at dinner time in Alyosha Popovich, after seeing the churches and lake, there’s not much else to do. We dined for hours (that’s why we had so much food and drink) waiting for a 8.30 p.m. train that would take us back to Moscow. Here, I love the restaurant scene, as well as the scene on the train. On the train to Moscow, Anya and I were sitting at the front, Anya K. and Nastya sat together behind us. Not a very comfortable arrangement for a conversation. Yet we could manage it somehow. I noticed some passengers were a little annoyed by us since we were the only ones on the carriage that talked. If only I could speak Russian I would walk up to the lady who sat nearby and ask for her favor. I am a traveler. I am here only temporarily with these friends. Would you mind if we break the silence? Nastya was funny and talkative as usual. Anya K. was warm, kind, plus a little shy. And my Anya was as nice as she is.
Here are Russia and its country town. There was the air of tranquility here. You come for Russia, and Russia you found. Better still, complimenting it were its sky, fresh air, and peacefulness you have escaped the city for.
I believe each visitor has some mutual impression of Rostov as such. Yet in the same setting, we all experience Rostov in our way. There are characters you put into the scenery, and your story becomes different. In my story, there were Nastya, Anya, and Anya K., plus kvass, fresh blueberries, chocolate ice creme, numerous food and drink, and the scene on the train in it. That is why that Saturday in Rostov has taken a special place in my heart, in the section where the impression of my Russia lies.
I am jealous of those painters who sat behind their canvases here and there inside the kremlin. I wish I could paint, or that I were a better photographer. Yet all I can do is write. And here it is, written on my canvas I have penned down my impression of Rostov, that Saturday 2nd July 2016, my first time in Russia.
[Participated in WordPress’s weekly Photo Challenge: Look Up]