Spotlight on the Karelian Capital
If you have a bit of free travelling time at the end of your course, or simply want a weekend away from the big city, the Karelian capital Petrozavodsk is situated five hours away by train or by car from St. Petersburg and provides the perfect starting point to discovering the beauty of Northern Russia.
Petrozavodsk (Петрозаводск) itself was founded in the early 18th century at the request of Peter the Great, who needed a place to manufacture cannons and anchors for his Baltic Fleet. The city is rooted in manufacture and iron foundry, with the middle word of its name ‘завод’ being the Russian word for factory, and the first part, ‘петро’, in honour of the monarch who brought about its existence. The name of the city, however, only came about under Catherine the Great’s municipal reform, and she ordered a new Neoclassical city centre to be built, which explains the beautiful, Petersburg-style buildings in the centre. It was occupied by Finnish troops for nearly three years in the Continuation War between the Soviets and the Finns, before being retaken by Soviet forces in 1944.
What to do
Petrozavodsk’s city centre is perfect for a relaxed, summer walk. It is small enough that you can take in the architectural wonder of the Round Square and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the space of an afternoon, before coming to the elegant embankment with a view onto the Gulf of Petrozavodsk.
The Пески beach is also worth a visit for the stunning views, you can get there on the no. 4 маршрутка, if you’re really lucky (and brave) the lake is sometimes warm enough to bathe in!
If you want to know more about the history and geography of the city, there is the Museum of Industrial History and the Karelian State Museum of Local Lore. For art-lovers, there is also the Republic of Karelia Fine Arts Museum, which has a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions.
The main attraction, however, has to be Kizhi island – a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is now home to 87 wooden constructions, the first mention of which dates back to 1563. The population on the island was rural, employed largely in the farming industry, but also with activities such as embroidery, weaving, knitting. The forced employment into the iron industry sparked riots. Ever since it became an open air museum in 1951, many constructions and buildings have been moved to the island, along with a museum which holds more than 41,000 exhibits, including church items and items from peasants’ everyday life.
Kizhi is not the only cultural highlight in the Karelian region. The Valaam Monastery, the Ruskeala Waterfalls and the Kivach Nature Reserve are a little further afield but there are convenient transport and tour links in Petrozavodsk to get you there.
To get to Kizhi from Petrozavodsk, the most popular form of transport for tourists is the hydrofoil service which runs throughout the summer. You can even do a day trip from St. Petersburg to Petrozavodsk, taking in Kizhi island and the Kivach Nature Reserve with http://go-karelia.com/daytours/karelia-1day/
There are buses running from the centre of Petrozavodsk to Sortavala, where the Ruseala Waterfalls are, and the trip takes about four hours. From Sortavala, you can get the hydrofoil service to Valaam.
Where to eat/ drink
On prospect Lenina, the main street, you can find кухня, a modern café selling burgers, pizzas, salads and some Russian classics. It’s cheap and the service is quick. Gastrobar Studiya (Dzerzhinskogo ul. 3) has a similar menu coupled with a chilled atmosphere. For lovers of the Friends TV series, anti-café хорошое место is a copy of the Central Perk café from the show.
Karelia is famed for its baked goods: try a ‘Kalitka’, a small open pie made of rye flour dough and filled with, usually, potato, but tvorog (Russian cottage cheese), fish and meat can also be used as fillings. They are also big on their soups, and fish – unsurprising considering the proximity to Lake Onega. For traditional cuisine and interiors, try Karelskaya Gornitsa (Fridrikha Engelsa ul. 13), or the more budget option Café Petrozavodsk (Pravdy, 6).
So, if any of this appeals to you, book your train tickets now and go and explore Karelia!
This post was written by Claire, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz.