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September 29th 2013
Published: September 30th 2013
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I first visited Vyborg in the autumn of 2009, approximately at the same time as Veliky Novgorod. In 2013, the excursions repeated themselves, with the main difference being that in 2009 I went to the towns on my own, this year – with an agency, the already known Pervye Linii. The main reason I revisited these two towns wass to write entries for this website, because I have lost the previous photos, but, of course, I did indeed manage to see new things this time.

It is a bit hard getting up so early in the morning, but I soon reached the departure point and again had a breakfast at McDonalds (near Vitebsky Train Station). In the bus I thought about many things, such as whether I’d like to travel by car. I do not drive, but a certain person keeps requesting me to learn to drive. I suppose I can and will do it later, but I don’t feel like traveling by car will be pleasant for me – maybe only if Another Person drives the car, because I usually need to see Place A and Place B, and don’t wish to see what’s in between them, to say nothing of driving and being responsible. I also thought about the rather fast change of states’ boundaries. Now, look at Vyborg – its centre does not at all feel like a truly Russian town, as compared for instance to Pskov, but it is within Russia. War is the main drive behind the boundary change. Vyborg has belonged to Sweden, Finland, and Russia, but very long ago it was populated by korelas, the forefathers of the nowadays Karelians, who, independently and together with Novgorodians, traded with Hanseatic and Gotland merchants. There is no separate Karelian state, though.

A day trip to Vyborg can be easily arranged from St. Petersburg, by bus or commuter train, on one’s own or with a travel agency. I am favouring the guided tours for the past weeks because they show places I’d never see on my own and, indeed, it’s so comfortable to take no actual pains whatsoever concerning the tour.

We had a brief stop near the railway station; the microphone broke so the guide had to talk loudly (during the trip, I’ve finished reading A Clockwork Orange by Antony Burgess, full with violence, but I was extremely interested in the Nadsat slang, where Russian words were used by the protagonists, such as ‘moloko’, ‘tolchok’, ‘govoreet’, ‘devotchka’ etc – an excellent linguistic discovery for me). Later the driver bought a new microphone, while we were in the castle. We drove to Krasnaya Square from where our walking tour began, the weather being rather cold and windy.

We saw some pre-WWII buildings, a park with Alvar Aalto’s Library (a Finnish designer and architect) and a moose monument, some buildings of the functionalism style, a tree suffered a lightning stroke with faces carved by an artist, a monument to Mikael Agricola (Finnish bishop, enlightener and translator of the Bible into Finnish) and two churches, a short alley with stars of Russian and Soviet film actors and directors (the Okno v Evropu film festival takes place in the town), then came out to the Round Tower (built in 1550, remains of the old Vyborg fortress, bears much resemblance to the Korela Fortress of Priozersk) and walked the old narrow streets to the Clock Tower, in great need of restoration (the guide told us a demonstration was arranged that day because some build-new-houses-instead-of-old bastards have demolished several architecturally worth old buildings and removed the cobbled street). The old buildings, remaining in the town centre, are nothing like Russian – they are Swedish. Vyborg’s face is, I assume, Scandinavian, intermingling the Swedish origins and Finnish architectural forms.

Vyborg castle was constructed in 1293 by Swedish King Torgils Knutsson, leading a crusade to korela’s land. The castle was unwinnable till 1710. The Novgorod Republic didn’t put up with the loss of Karelian lands and tried to capture it several times, unsuccessfully. Peter I, in 1710, had captured the town, so it soon became a part of the Russian Empire. As we approached the castle, we saw the Old Town Hall (the building appearance immediately evoked Riga) and the monument to the town founder. I first visited the castle in 2009, when Olaf’s Tower was under restoration. The castle is the only surviving monument of West-European mediaeval military architecture in Russia. We ascended the tower, with narrow stairs a bit frightening and the whole middle space filled with scaffolding. I saw the whole town from above, the port, the bridges, the sea and the isles.

After the panorama I drank a coffee from a dispensing machine, went to the ticket office to buy a ticket to the castle museum (not included in our program) and entered the museum, comprising several sections: Swedes’ Vyborg, Finnish Vyborg, Vyborg during the Great Patriotic War, and The Nature of Karelian Isthmus. The most interesting items were: a copy of a rich merchant’s room, old Finnish money, a photo of a sauna, little models of WWII bombers and tanks, specimens of trees and soils. Having returned to the bus, I ate my sandwich and we soon departed to Mon Repos Park, a manor and park ensemble of the end of XVIII – beginning of XIX cc, including the main manor house (in miserable state now) and landscape granite rock park of the romantic style designed to evoke different emotions, both cheerful and gloomy – a unique monument, conceived by O. Montferrand, T. de Thomon, J. Mettenleiter, Pietro di Gottardo and many other artists. I remember being massively impressed by the park in 2009, in spite of the damned cold, and this time I discovered even more interesting views and places in it: a hermitage made of birch wood (restored in 2012), the Ludwigstein isle (separated by water from the main park and symbolizing the ancient myth of the River of the Dead; no bridge leads to the isle) with Ludwigsburg chapel, a statue of Vainemeinen – a hero of the Finnish Kalevala epos, and, of course, the granite rocks everywhere and the beautiful view on the bay. It is best to walk alone in the park, breathing it in fully, and you can even reach the Finnish border if you walk far enough.

The bus returned to St. Petersburg at seven o’clock in the evening.

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