On the road – visiting some museums at Moscow: Tretyakov Gallery and VDNKh

End of September 2019, I stay in Moscow with friends. The weather is chilly and wet. Visiting museums keeps us dry and warm. Let  me tell you about some impressions from the Tretyakov Gallery and from the VDNKh.

 

Russian art in the Tretyakov Gallery – worth seeing a third time

Today is another rainy day. We take the metro to the Tretyakoswkaya station to visit the Tretyakov Gallery. Pavel Tretyakov (П. М. Третьяков, 1832-1898) was a Russian merchant. In 1856, he started to collect Russian art from former centuries until his time, with the target to make his collection available to the Russian people. He exposed his paintings and sculptures. Also his brother was an art collector. In 1892, both brothers handed over their art collection to Moscow – and the city duma accepted the donation. In 1902, the artist V.M. Vasnezov (В.М. Васнецов, 1848-1926) designed the building of the Tretyakov Gallery with the famous frieze. The statue of Pavel Tretyakov stands in front of the museum.  In 2012, I had acquired the guide book with this title page that shows the entrance to the Gallery with the statue of Tretyakov.

Source: Третьяковская Галерия – путеводитель, 2011

The gallery displays Russian art until today.

Vasnezov’s paintings are exhibited in the Tretyakov Gallery. This is his the Tsarevich Ivan on a grey wolf (Иван Царевич на сером волке, 1889).

V.M. Vasnezov: Tsarevich Ivan on a grey wolf

A lady teacher stands in front of the Tsarevich with his princess, surrounded by a group of children – about eight years old – and their parents. She explains fervently, what happens here: The son of the tsar, the prince, takes the princess home. They are sitting on a wolf that is carrying them through the dark, dark forest. The only bright spot are some white flowers. The prince protects his princess – his eyes observe attentively the dangerous forest. “And how do you know, this is a princess?” the teacher asks, “well, look at her shoes. Fine and precious shoes with pearls. Does your mum wear such shoes with pearls for work? No, she does not, because she is not a princess. But from the shoes you can tell that this is a princess”. – The lady teacher makes Vasnezov’s painting come to life for the children, and also for their parents and for us.

In addition, Vasnetsov has painted this very Russian portrait of the Bogatyrs (Богатыри, 1898) which refers  to the ancient times, the years of the Kievan Rus in the 9th to the 13th century. The Rus existed as a loose connection of principalities under the lead of Kiev. The bogatyrs were heroes or bold warriors that fought for their princes and principalities (in addition, some of them were mercenary soldiers in foreign service). The three Bogatyrs checking the horizon for dangers have names: In the middle is Ilja Murowetz, to his left Dobrynya Nikitich, and to his right Aljoscha Popowich.

V.M. Vasnezov: Bogatyrs 

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.

I. I. Levitan: Over Eternal Peace 

I am always impressed by the hall with the painting “the Princess of Dreams” (Принцесса Грёза, 1896) by M.A. Wrubel (1856-1910, М. А. Врубель). His paintings look like Art Nouveau – they are dancing and swinging along.

M.A. Wrubel: the Princess of Dreams

In addition to his paintings, some of his maiolica work is exhibited, such as the grim Sea King (морской царь, 1898). Oh yes, I remember, it was the grand-father of my long year Russian teacher, P. K. Vaulin, who instructed Vrubel to master the art of maiolica.

M.A. Wrubel: Sea King

All these pieces  of art belong to the period that the gallery guide book calls “second half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century”. A group of artists left the Imperial Academy of Arts, and, in 1870, founded the Association of Travelling Art Exhibits or Peredvizhniki (передвижники). The most famous painting of this group of artists is Ilja Repin’s Barge Haulers on the Wolga, which is exhibited in the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg (here, I studied Russian painting from the 19th back to the 11th century and from the late 19th century until present in detail). The Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg had been initiated by Tsar Alexander III and then inaugurated by his son, Nicolaus II, in 1898. Both the Russian Museum in Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow were founded almost at the same time, around 1900.

Before leaving the Tretyakov Gallery, I want to show the icons collection to my friends. Where are the icons? I ask the guardian. He tells me that they have moved to the Andrey Rublev Museum (Музей Древнерусской Культуры). So I have to go back to my photos taken in the Tretyakov Gallery in 2012 to show the Archangel Michael (Архангель Михайл), the Savior (Спас)  and the apostle Paulus (Апостол Павел) painted by Andrey Rublev in the beginning of the 15th century.

When going to Moscow the next time, I will include the Andrey Rublev Museum in my visiting plans.

 

VDNKh (ВДНХ – Выставка достижений народного хозяйства)

To return from Sergiyev Posad to Moscow, we took the bus number 388 and after about one and a half hours we arrived at the metro station VDNKh which is the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (Выставка достижений народного хозяйства). The rocket can be seen from far and reminds us of the fact that in the 1950’s the Soviets were the first to start conquering the space.

The exhibition area was initiated 1935-39, then closed during war, reopened in 1954, first as an agricultural exhibition, later enhanced by an industrial area. For the first time, I came across the exhibition in 1968/69, when I started to learn Russian via TV (“Russian Language for you” or “Русский Язык для Вас”). One of the lessons was about a guided exhibition tour by a young lady. She proudly showed the household aids available, one of them being an electric coffee grinder. The young lady put some coffee beans into the grinder and forgot to close the lid. She turned on the grinder, and the coffee beans flew around. “Oh”, she said, and she started to clean up the mess. The educational book was an official Soviet edition and I did enjoy their humor.

After the 1990’s, the exhibition area of the VDNKh was closed. In 2014 the Soviet architecture of the exhibition area had been renovated and the exhibition area became an open air museum, including some sports offerings.

This is the main entry gate with the Soviet couple showing the success of harvesting corn. The gate is welcoming the visitors to the ВДНХ or VDNKh.

Behind the main entry gate, Lenin looks down at the visitors – his face expresses pride and strictness.

We enter the Space Pavillon with the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics under the rocket. I was here already in 2002. From that time, I remember one room with the Sputnik, Sojus, Vostok, Luna and Lunokhod. Furthermore I remember, the spacesuits of Belka and Strelka, the first (small) dogs that went into space, the spacesuit of Gagarin (he was very small) and small tubes for borzhtzh (the Russian soup) and liver – how delicious. Now I find the exhibition much enlarged and it included the Russian-US cooperation in space.

The official Website of the Cosmonautics Museum names 15 exhibits, some of them being

  • A duplicate of Sputnik I (один/one) that the Soviets had sent to the orbit on October 4th 1957. I was six years old then, and my father told me: “Look, with this Sputnik a new area is now starting: We begin to conquer space. You will see more of that, remember this date, when you get older.” And I do remember this date, now that I am much older.
  • The conserved bodies of Belka and Strelka, the dogs that were sent to space in August 1960, along with the landing box. I could not find their spacesuits now.
  • The spacesuit of Gagarin and his successors. Gagarin was sent to space in August 1961 (Wostok I). Yes, I see the suit again and Gagarin was not tall, he measured 1m57. I learn that he died early – in an aircraft accident.
  • The spacecraft Soyuz designed in the 1960’s which is, in its fourth generation, still in use today, also by the US (that gave up their Spaceshuttle in 2011).
  • The model of the base station Mir. I enter it and feel, how small the space is for human beings that are courageous enough to fly to space.
  • The model of the first Lunokhod (Луноход-1) with the original control unit.
  • The spacesuit of Michael Collins, the third man on the flight to the moon who did not put his foot on to the moon. He stayed in the shuttle. Printed on the white suit are the NASA sign and the US flag.

It is an interesting museum.

We say good-bye to the space rocket and return to the city center and to our cosy hotel Matreshka.

 

Sources: Christine Hamel: “Russland – von der Wolga bis zur Newa”, Dumont Kunstführer 1998. Eva Gerbeding: “Moskau”, Dumont Reisetaschenbuch 2018,; various Wiki-entries; В. Родионов et alii, “Третьяковская Галерия – путеводитель”, 2011; various Websites (linked in on the spot).

On the road – visiting the gorgeous Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiyev Posad

When spending a few nights with friends in Moscow in September 2019, we visit the magnificent Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. From the Jaroslawl station in Moscow, we take the express suburban train (Elektritschka or электричка) to Sergiyev Possad (70km, takes about an hour).

 

The artist welcomes us in Sergiyev Posad

From the train station at Sergiyev Posad it is a short foot walk to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. On the way, we come across this artist who has painted the monastery, when there was some more blue sky. Now he has returned (though it is more cloudy) to complete his painting here and there. He tells us that he used to be a professional artist. He seems to be in his seventies. He loves his profession and his eyes express the wisdom and serenity of age.

We stop for a while chatting.

Then we take our own pictures – just photos: The golden cupola surrounded by the blue star dotted cupolas shines in the sun – this is the Maria Assumption/Dormition Cathedral.

To the left we see the Refectory with the rectangular “tower” that covers the refectory church. Behind the Refectory stands the Belfry – 88m high. The Holy Gate is the main entrance on the right hand side, under the green roof with the small golden cupola.

I remember, what Ernst said, when we had returned from Saint Petersburg to Moscow in 2002: “Now I do feel like some original Russian churches with cupolas, let us go and visit Sergiyev Posad.” I was happy, we took the suburban train and in the lavra, we hired a young lady as a tour guide. Now, 17 years later, Ernst accompanies me in my heart.

Alongside stands selling matryoshka dolls (матрёшки), we reach the Holy Gate and main entrance to the Sergius monastery, which is, my Dumont says, the most important monastery of Russia (p. 160).

 

Overview of the main sights in the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

Let me first give an overview of the main sights of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius (direction east to west).

The blue line shows the outline of the defensive wall surrounding the lavra, whereby the main gate is now at the bottom (on the photo above, it was on the right hand side). I have placed the main sights in the sequence they appear, but in reality, they do not fill the whole area surrounded by the wall, but only half of it.

The buildings we see in the lavra are mainly from the 15th to the 18th century. They range from the specific Russian church building style of the 15th and 16th century (based on Byzantium, later with elements from Italian Renaissance, numbers 3,4,7) to Russian baroque, first (after 1600) the Naryschkin baroque from Moscow (2,6,8) and, after 1700, the baroque from Petersburg (5,9,10). (See below “some background information”).

 

Entering through the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity 

Right after the entry gate, we come across our first church, the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity (2, 1692-99, Предтеченнский Храм, Naryschkin baroque of Moscow). Small golden cupolas dance on the rectangular building decorated with lively geometric patterns and slim columns.

Behind the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity, the confusingly rich world of the lavra churches opens up.

 

Where the monastery began: Sergius and the Trinity Cathedral

The first church built from stone is the Trinity Cathedral (3, Троицкий Храм), erected in 1422 above the grave of Sergius, the founder of this lavra. White limestone and golden roofs – breathtaking elegance. There are three apsides. The facades are divided into three parts with swinging gables. Attached to the Cathedral is the small Nikon church, like a little brother (for more details about Sergius see below under “some more background information”).

The grave of Saint Sergius with his relics is where the pilgrims stand in line. The photo is from the book “siehe die Stadt, die leuchtet”, published in 1989. Inside, we encountered a line of pilgrims as well.

“Trinity” refers to the three angels visiting Abraham who serves them a meal (well, when they arrived, they looked like vagabonds. After Abraham had invited them, they turned out be angels). The trinity with Abraham and the three angels is a reoccurring representation in the Russian-Orthodox churches. The iconostasis of the Trinity Church holds the Trinity icon of Andrei Rublev – now as a copy. The original is in the Andrei Rublev museum of Moscow. I scanned Rublev’s Trinity from Hamel’s Dumont Kunstreiseführer about Russia (photos are not allowed inside the church).

 

The central complex around the Assumption/Dormition Cathedral with its blue cupolas

The Assumption/Dormition Cathedral (4) makes up the center of the lavra churches and it is surrounded by the Holy Font with chapel and cover (6 and 6a), the Church of Holy Spirit (7), the Belfry (5) and the Church of the Icon of the Godmother of Smolensk (10).

The Holy Font with the cross is covered by playful columns (Сень над чашей с крестом). This is the newest construction in the monastery, 1873, on this photo contrasting with the oldest from 1422, the grand Trinity Church.

The covered Holy Font with its cross stands very close to the Assumption/Dormition Cathedral and there is a reason for that. It stands where the Cathedral first had the narthex.  This was the place, where believers once bought candles and filled in the intercessions, before entering the Cathedral. However, the narthex was destroyed during the siege by the Poles (1608-10). A spring was then detected here. It was said that the water of this spring healed a blind monk. Also in 2002, our young tour guide asserted to us that the holy water has healed many people. In the late 17th century, the tiny red-white chapel was built above the spring, and later, in 1873, the Holy Font was covered with the columns.

The Maria Assumption/Dormition Cathedral was built in 1535. The Russian name “Успенский Собор” alludes to “Maria Dormition” or to her passing away, but the translators often talk about “Maria Assumption”, because this is, what we in the west celebrate on August 15th.

To the right, the slim Church of Holy Spirit with its one blue cupola has been constructed earlier than the Dormition Cathedral, in 1476 (церковь Сошествия Святого Духа).

Both white churches (made from lime stone obtained near Moscow) show the Russian style: The Dormition Cathedral has the typical round gables (sakomars) and the Church of Holy Spirit has the Kokoshniki reminding of the traditional Russian headdress of women (the swinging gables of the Trinity Cathedral are similar).

And yes, this cat lives in the lavra, too. May be it has heard a mouse under the ground.

The Tsar Boris Godunow (1598-1605) has been buried near the Dormition Cathedral. The family grave of the Godunows looks like a little house (to the left of the entry door).

The lavra is full of cupolas and you can play with them… these are the cupolas of the Dormition Cathedral and of the Church of Holy Spirit, seen from the Refectory; they appear behind the golden-brown cupola of the small Mikheyev Church.

Also near the covered Holy Font (and  hence close to the Dormition Cathedral) is the Belfry from 1770 (Колокольная). Its blue and white decoration reminds me of some baroque churches in Saint Petersburg.

Now, I zoom in the small and finely decorated сhapel above the holy spring (Успенский кладезь с часовней), just in front of the Dormition Cathedral. The chapel from the late 17th century shows the playful Naryschkin baroque of Moscow. The finely carved slim white columns on red ground give it some airiness. The tower is decorated with the geometric patterns that we have already found at the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity.

I very much like the graceful white Church of the Holy Spirit, made by skillful masters from Pskow. Clustered pilasters divide the facades into three parts topped by the headdress like “Kokoshniki”. In 2002, the tour guide told us that the small tower with the blue cupola is a belfry that can only be reached from outside via a ladder; it is rare that Russian churches have an integrated belfry. Usually the belfry stands separate.

In the background appears the Refectory with the small Mikheyev Chapel attached.

The medaillon showing Christ decorates the facade above the entry door to the Church of Holy Spirit.

The Refectory (1686-92, Трапезная) shows beautiful Naryschkin baroque of Moscow.  Its geometrical pattern reminds us again of the Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity. The “tower” hides the Sergius cathedral (храм), which to me seems to be very, very luxurious.

Just close to the Refectory is the elegant small Mikheyev church (1734). Mikheyev was a former abbot.

Behind the Belfry is the red church of the Godmother of Smolensk (1745-48, baroque of Saint Petersburg). It looks like the hermitage of a landscape garden.

The white tower belongs to the hospital chuch of Saints Zosimas and Sawwitiya (1635-38).

The abundance of impressions makes us hungry. We eat in the small canteen next to the golden entry gate. We have fish soup (ukha, уха), Russian ravioli (Pelmeni, пельмени) and herring under the fur coat (yes – it is called like that: селёдка под шубой. This is herring “under” a cover of beetroot salad).

We say good-bye to this magnificent monastery ensemble. I am happy to have seen it a second time now, and, after having studied it at home using all my sources available, I would not mind seeing it a third time.

 

Some more background information about the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiyev Posad (Свято-Троицкая Сергиева Лавра)

The Trinity lavra started off in 1340, when Saint Sergius of Radonesch (Сергий Радонежский) retreated to the forest north of his home town Radonesch to live as an ascetic hermit. More hermits joined him and Sergius built the first wooden church (according to the young tour guide that we had hired in 2002, he was a carpenter and hence built the church himself. He even knew the moment of his death six months ahead and timbered his own coffin, she said, and later pilgrims took splinters from the coffin such that it had to be protected under glass. Sergius is a much venerated person decorated with legends).

The support of Sergius was important for getting rid of the Tartar yoke. Sergius blessed Prince Dmitry Donskoj of Moscow before the battle against the Mongolian Golden Horde near the Don river in 1380. Donskoj defeated the Mongols, and this first victory counts as having set off the liberation of Russia.  As a matter of fact, the Mongolian Golden Horde was under pressure, challenged by Timur (1336-1405) , also with a Mongolian background (we will soon meet Timur in Usbekistan). Perhaps Sergius was a bit similar to Niklaus von der Flüe of the 15th century who also had political influence on the first cantons of early Switzerland.

The monastery flourished and became wealthy, as they were always on the winning side of politics.

  • This started in the 14th century, when Sergius supported the unification of the Russian principalities under the lead of Moscow and supported their fight against the Mongolian Golden Horde.
  • Then, in 1608-10, the monastery withstood the Polish besieging it for 16 months.  This supported Russia’s survival (in danger after the conquest of Moscow by Poland) and the subsequent rise of the Romanow dynasty.
  • And last they supported young Peter by allowing him to grow up here, protected from the revolts of the Streltsy. When Peter became Peter I the Great, he thanked the monastery later for that.

For my understanding I divide the main sights of the Trinity Lavra into three phases:

  1. Classical Russian style, influenced from Byzantium, from the wooden Russian churches and later by Italian renaissance architects: The first church was the Trinity Cathedral (1422) erected above the grave of the founder Sergius and containing the trinity Icon of Andrei Rublev.  Around 1450 pilgrimage to the grave of Sergius started. The Church of Holy Spirit (1476) and the Assumption/Dormition Cathedral (1585) followed, the latter being initiated and sponsored by Iwan the Terrible.
  2. Naryschkin baroque style of Moscow: In 1608-10 the monastery was besieged by the Poles for 16 months and could not be conquered. The monastery was admired for its boldness, and the first Romanow Tsars gave them donations in the 17th century. The Moscow/Naryschkin baroque buildings remind us of that: The Gate Church of Saint Baptist’s Nativity (1692-99), the Refectory with the included Church (1686-1692) and the Chapel above the Holy Spring (late 17th century).
  3. Baroque style of Saint Petersburg (founded in 1703): Peter I the Great, was a generous donator for the Sergius Lavra as well, as at the age of 10 (1682), he had fled here with his mother, after the revolt of the Streltsy. The buildings of Saint Petersburg baroque style commemorate that: The Belfry (1741-70), The Church of the icon of Godmother of Smolensk (1745-48) and the Mikheyev Church (1734, it has a Dutch roof, as Peter, after having studied ship building in the Netherlands had good relations with Dutch craftsmen and architects).

There are only two monasteries in Russia that are called Lavras. Empress Elizabeth (a successor of Peter I the Great) edited a decree to elevate the Sergius monastery to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. The second Lavra is dedicated to Alexander Newsky in Saint Petersburg.

Since the 15th century, the monastery with the grave of Sergius has been an important pilgrimage site. The pilgrims needed catering and wanted to buy souvenirs, such as icons and wooden toys. A small town emerged around the lavra. Today, Sergiyev Posad is THE Center for the production of matryoshka dolls – and, as a matter of fact, many of them are on sale on the street leading to the entry gate of the Trinity Lavra.

 

Sources: Christine Hamel: “Russland – von der Wolga bis zur Newa”, Dumont Kunstführer 1998. Hubert Faensen: “Siehe die Stadt, die leuchtet”, Koehler und Amelang, 1989; Eva Gerbeding: “Moskau”, Dumont Reisetaschenbuch 2018, various Wiki-entries and the excellent site Экскурсия по Троице-Сергиевой Лавре.

On the road back home – Romans-sur-Isère and Annecy

In November 2019 we travel in France and Spain. It is now beginning of December and we are on our way back home. On the way starting from Valence, we visit Roman-sur-Isère and stay overnight at Annecy.

Source: Googlemaps

 

Romans-sur-Isère – founded by Barnard de Romans who gave his name to the city. In the 19/20th century it was a center of shoe production

From Valence we drive north east and find signs pointing to Bourg-de-Péage and Romans-sur-Isère. No, no, we do not want to take the motorway, we do not intend to pay “péage” (toll) right now, we look for the “normal” road… but then we understand that Bourg-de-Péage is the sister city of Romans-sur-Isère, both bordering the Isère and connected by bridges such as this Pont Vieux or “Old Bridge”.

In the 9th century, Barnard de Romans founded his Benedictine abbey at the place, where the Collégiale Saint-Barnard (Collegiate Church)  is located today. Barnard de Romans gave his name to the city, Romans-sur-Isère. The Romans have never been here, only Barnard de Romans. The beautiful choir of the Collegiate Church contains gothic elements from the 13th century.

We find the tomb slab of Beatrix of Hungary. She was the mother of the last dauphin of his county Dauphiné, Humbert II. In Wikipedia I find, why the county is called Dauphiné and the count is called “dauphin”: In the 12th century their coat of arms showed a dolphin (dauphin in French). The count was nicknamed “dauphin” and changed the title “count” to “dauphin” or (in Latin) “delfinus”. The dauphin/count Humbert II had no successors. He decided to hand his county over to the heir of the throne of France, then Charles Valois. From now on, whenever a new heir to the throne of France was born, he received the county Dauphiné as a private property and was hence called “dauphin”. At the time of Humbert II, the Dauphiné was a fief of the Holy Roman Empire (how complicated, the son of the king of France reported into the German emperor). Only around 1500, the Dauphiné became French territory and the fleur de Lys was added to the dolphins on their coat of arms.

So – the mother of the last local dauphin, Beatrix de Hongrie (Hungary), died in 1354 and was buried in the Collegiate Church of Romans-sur-Isère and this is her tomb slab.

From around 1850 until in the late 1990’s, Roman-sur-Isère was an important center for design and production of shoes. The name of one of the famous designers is Charles Jourdan. The city cherishes the memory of their grand times by erecting giant shoes. This is a traditional model in red with a bow.

This is a more extravagant model with eyes and a mouth.

And this red-white shoe stands in front of the Tour Jacquemart.

There are shoe outlet shops in the city, now decorated for Christmas.

In addition, the people of Romans-sur-Isère are very proud of their three specialties: First Pogne de Romans are rolls made out of yeast paste with orange flavor. Second les lunettes de Romans are biscuits made from shortpastry (sablé, Mürbeteig), double layered, with marmalade in between, similar to the Swiss “Spitzbuebe” or to the Austrian “Linzer Augen“. Third Ravioles de Romans are tiny ravioli with a filling made from white cheese de Comté spiced with parsley. The “ravioles” have been probably imported by immigrants from the Piemont. We try them for lunch, and are disappointed that the grated cheese covers the fine taste of the white cheese filling.

After lunch we continue our way to Annecy.

 

Annecy – discovering the lovely old city on islands at night

My first impression of Annecy is “people try to help, but accessing our IBIS hotel is difficult by car”. The reason: In the city center, there is both a Christmas market and a “normal” market with products of Savoy, and around our centrally located hotel, the streets were closed. After our third round, Ursula leaves the car and explores the area on foot. She discovers that we are allowed to access the parking Sainte-Claire next to our hotel by driving into the one-way street in the “wrong direction”; for all signs, market stands and people we have not seen the relevant “exception signpost” that would have directed us to the parking garage. Finally we enjoy the view of the river Thiou from our hotel room …

… and set out to explore the old city entering it through the western gate.

We stroll through the narrow streets and cross the river Thiou using the Pont Morens with the view of the western side of the Palais de l’Isle.

Enticing shops sell sweets.

It is chilly cold and we decide to have a hot tea in the Péché Mignon with the inviting confectionery sign.

I wonder, why I find “Swiss flags” or “almost Swiss flags” – a white cross on red background – and I understand, the coat of arms of Savoy is very similar to that of Switzerland.

This shop sells products of the area, the cheese Reblochon being one of them. From Antony in Ferrette I had learned that Reblochon is a washed-rind cheese  (Rotschmierkäse) that is relatively mild. In the 13th century, the farmers who had to pay taxes on liters of milk obtained from cows stopped before having finished milking their cows. When the controllers and tax collectors had left, they clandestinely milked their cows a second time and obtained what they called “rebloche” in their local dialect. From the “rebloche”, they produced the Reblochon cheese. Only in 1860, when Savoy was integrated in France, the Reblochon left concealment and is now one of the registered regional trademarks, AOP (Antony, p. 47).

The market stands and the restaurants offer specialties of Savoy that often contain the Reblochon cheese. We decide to eat in the restaurant le Chalet near the Pont Morens. We have delicious perch filets (filets de perches) carefully fried in butter. They are the best filets de perches I have ever eaten. Around us, there is the smell of Fondue and Raclette which are not only Swiss, but also Savoy specialties. But there are some differences. For instance the Savoyards prepare a Fondue containing Reblochon. I will have to try that out, when back at home.

 

Annecy – also charming at daylight

In the morning we stroll along the river Thiou…

… and this related channel.

The city reminds me of Venice, and it is sometimes called “Venice of the Alps”.

In Annecy the dogs say: “here, I have to be taken on the leash” – will the dogs convince their masters?

The galleries remind me of our capital Berne – very convenient for shopping in the rain.

The narrow streets open to the place Notre Dame with…

… the Église Notre-Dame-De-Liesse, reconstructed in the 19th century after having been destroyed in the French revolution to install the square of freedom (place de la liberté). Only the original belfry from the 14th century remained.

The fountain with the four lions was erected in 1859  by a man called Aimé-Antoine Levet who took the inspiration from Florence, where turtles hold an obelisk on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Outside the city center with the narrow streets, we find a modern shopping center. The Christmas tree – built out of skis – reflects in the window.

A kind of snowflakes decorate the shopping center inside – charming French phantasy.

The lake d’Annecy is not far from the shopping center. We find a mysterious atmosphere created by low hanging clouds. There must be mountains around this lake…

We turn back to the city center…

… and get to the island in the river Thiou, called Palais de l’Isle. The buildings on the island were formerly a prison and now they house museums. The building with the tower dates from around 1200 and the court of justice was on the first floor.

Across the Palais de l’Isle, men are working at the bridge “Rue Perrière”, perhaps something to repair or some more Christmas decoration to install. It must be wet for the brave man in high boots.

This is the northern side of the Palais de l’Isle with the former prison cells.

We look up to the castle…

… enjoy pretty houses with flowers (now in December)…

… turn to the city gate…

… and say good-bye to Annecy that is also called the “pearl of the French Alps“.

My “old” Lonely Planet of France praises Annecy on p. 490: “the Vieille Ville (Old Town) is a ludicrously pretty ensemble of pastel daubed, geranium strewn houses…” – yes, I agree. The Lonely Planet then continues: “… Just look around you: The mountains rise steep, wooded and snow-capped above. Lac d’Annecy, so startlingly turquoise it looks unreal…” Mountains, wooded and snow-capped above? Now, we have seen nothing but clouds around Annecy. To see more of the mountains, we might have to return next year.

We return home to Switzerland. Five wonderful weeks discovering more about France and Spain are now history for us. Until next year!

Source: Ralf Nestmeyer:, “Südfrankreich”, Michael Müller Verlag – Individuell reisen 2015; “Parcours Romans-sur-Isère, du moyen-âge au xxe siècle”, imprimérie Despesse 2019; Bernard Antony: “Fromage”, Edition Ducasse 2019; Nicola Williams et alii, “France”, Lonely Planet 2013.