Near St. Petersburg – Three days in and around Kizhi

Kizhi (Кижи) is a small Karelian island in the Onega Lake. With the gorgeous Transfiguration Church and its 22 domes, it has been an old dream of mine – one of these destinations of a lifetime.

While staying in Petersburg, we plan an excursion to Kizhi – for a few days to experience Kizhi and Karelia more intensely.

In the internet, Ursula has spotted the guesthouse Grace or Благодать. It is the only hotel within reach of Kizhi. It is located in the tiny village Ersnevo (Ерснево). I call Tanja, the owner. She is very friendly.  “Yes you can stay two nights and we have a boat service to Kizhi”, she says. I reserve two nights with meals.

From Petrosavodsk bordering the Onega Lake, three hydrofoils (“meteors”) leave for Kizhi in the morning (the first at 9:30 am), and the same three hydrofoil boats return to Petrosavodsk in the afternoon (the first at 3:00 pm). In the morning they take tourists to Kizhi and in the afternoon they bring them back to Petrosavodsk. This is a daily service.

Tourholding operates the hydrofoils. I call them and reserve tickets for the first Friday morning boat at 9:30 a.m. and return tickets for two days later – Sunday 3 pm.

Our train from Saint Petersburg will arrive in Petrosavodsk late in the afternoon and therefore I reserve one night in the Karelia hotel not far from the peer or причал to catch the first hydrofoil boat in the next morning.

Hotels and boats reserved… now we still need train tickets from Saint Petersburg to Petrosavodsk and back. Be aware: To buy (long distance) train tickets in Russia, you have to show your passport! At Ladoga station, we wait in a very slow queue. One hour later and just three minutes (!) before our booth closes, we have finished buying our train tickets. Uff! We are ready for Kizhi and our dream, the wooden Transfiguration Church with its 22 domes.

On Thursday morning, we board the train at Ladoga Station in Saint Petersburg. The train leaves exactly on time, 9:55. We travel in a so called Obschy Wagon (общий вагон) with couchettes. We have a compartment for us alone and stretch out on the couchettes, while the Karelian forests and some wide rivers fly by the windows. Seven hours later we arrive in Petrosavodsk (500km north east of Saint Petersburg). Peter the Great has founded this industrial town in the same year as Saint Petersburg (1703). The promenade invites for an evening walk along the Onega Lake.

I meet an old man who sells his book about the winter war in the 1940’s, when Russia conquered East Karelia again. He is so kindly proud of his book that I buy it.

We spend the night in the Karelia Hotel. At 9:30 a.m. our hydrofoil boat leaves, exactly on time. It is raining heavily. One and a half hours later we approach Kizhi. This is what we look forward to seeing: The 22 dome Transfiguration Church (Церковь Преображения Господня).

And this is what we see through the hydrofoil window that is damp from the rain: The Transfiguration Church is topped with about five cupolas… the other 17 domes have been removed for renovation.

Big disappointment about the church of our dreams. In addition it is raining. We decide to go to our hotel on the neighboring island. Tanja picks us up and the boat jumps across high waves. A tea warms us up.

Our Guest House is also a farm, and they offer what the farm gives: Eggs, milk, cheese, quark (творог) and fish from the Onega Lake. I particularly like the syrniki or сырники. A recipe to take home!

Fishing is an important sport in Russia requiring mastering and tactics. This newspaper teaches the school of mastering the fishing (школа мастерства).

It has stopped raining and we walk along our island. It is quiet and peaceful. The wind plays with the Onega Lake.

We catch a view of the central Kizhi church complex with the Transfiguration Church (now under renovation) and the Intercession Church.

We have a chat with a lady journalist who writes articles in the local Karelian newspaper – in the local Karelian language that is related to Finnish.

In the next morning the wind has stopped. The trees are now reflecting in the lake.

After a long breakfast we head for Kizhi to see the wooden churches and wooden buildings at display in the museum of Kizhi as well as to walk and visit the villages on the island.

The Transfiguration Church (the 22 dome church now under renovation, Verklärungskirche) and the Intercession Church (Mariä Schutzkirche) are surrounded by a wall. We have bought a pretty booklet that translates Intercession or “Покровская”  with “Maria Deckung Kirche”.  Both churches are from the 18th century. The walls are made from pine wood (сосна, Kiefer) and the domes from aspen (осина, Espe). The aspen domes shine in the sun, as if they were made from silver.

The Intercession church can be visited. It consists of three consecutive rooms. This is the view of the iconostasis, as seen from the second room.

The Transfiguration and the Intercession churches have always been the main churches for the area, whereby the latter can be heated in winter.

Around the churches of Transfiguration and Intercession, we find a museum of wooden houses, barns and wind mills as well as more wooden churches brought to Kizhi.

This is the farmer’s house of Oschewnewo (Ошевнего).

This is the church of Archangel Michael amidst cuckoo flowers.

The church of Lazarus is from the 14th century. It is the oldest church in the Kizhi museum.

The island Kizhi is not only a museum, but also a “normal” island with “normal” villages where people live in their wooden houses. Kizhi was one of the places where the Old Believers (Raskolniki, расколники)) retreated after the Orthodox schism of the 17th century. This is a beautiful house in the village Vasiljewo (Васильего).

After a long day walking on the island Kizhi, we return to our friendly guest house Blagodat or Grace. We get up at 2 a.m. in the middle of the night and take pictures.

On our last day our host takes us for a two hour boat trip to visit six more churches and three more villages. This is the chapel of Peter and Paul in Volkostrov (часовня Петра и Павла в Волкострове).

This is the chapel of the Three Saints on Kizhi (Часовня Трёх Святителей, on the other far end of the island).

We learn that only few people still live in these villages for the whole year. Most houses now belong to people from the town. They use them as their datschas. In Vorobji (Воробьи), we say hello to this small white cat and have a chat with the owner of the house.

In the afternoon we take the hydrofoil back to Petrosavodsk and at six (precisely on time) our express train leaves for Saint Petersburg.

The extended Karelian forests and some villages and small towns fly by the window. At eleven the train arrives – as planned – in Saint Petersburg. We take great memories with us from our excursion to Kizhi, though we may have to return, when the 22 domes of the wooden Transfiguration church are back in place…




One thought on “Near St. Petersburg – Three days in and around Kizhi

  1. […] Levitan’s Over Eternal Peace (Левитан, 1869-1900, над вечным покоем) attracts me, not far from here. The gallery guide book points out that the landscape paintings of Levitan can be compared with the prose of A. Chekhov, and, as a matter of fact, they were friends. Wikipedia quotes a reviewer who said that the painting “Eternal Peace” looks at the relationship of human existence and the eternal life of nature (“рассматривается вопрос об «отношении человеческого бытия к вечной жизни природы»”). The small church with the cemetery contrasts with the lake disappearing in the clouds and the horizon (it is the Udomlya Lake north of Tver). Levitan is considered to be the master of romantic landscapes. This small church in the middle of eternity reminds me of the many churches that I found around Kizhi. […]

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