One of the trips I wanted to take while I was in the St. Petersburg area was to Valaam Monastery, on an archipelago in the largest lake in Europe, Lake Ladoga. Many people from my church had gone there in 1994, not long after the Soviet Union crumbled but before the monastery had been renovated for a new generation of believers. After several days of researching and making phone calls in St. Petersburg (between visits to tourist sites), I finally found a fairly reasonable tour, lasting two nights, which would take me to both Valaam as well as a monastery I had never heard of, called Konevsky Monastery on Konevets Island (the subject of my next post). Here are the photos:
We boarded our bus in St. Petersburg, and then departed for a several hour journey to the shores of Lake Ladoga, where we would board our ferry to the archipelago and monastery. The name "Valaam" is visible on the sign on the left.
I had all of my luggage with me, which I could have done without (should have packed my day bag). But it didn't really faze me at the time, since I was so happy to just be going to Valaam.
Our ferry, somewhat torpedo-like.
There were numerous other pilgrims, all of whom were Russian... except me. I had to really convince them that I was indeed Orthodox, but they gradually came to believe it (despite my broken Russian and thanks to the four or five people on the trip who spoke English).
This is Alexander and his mother, who were my companions on the long boat ride.
Alexander isn't much for smiling. :-)
This might be the shore of the lake and not the archipelago - can't remember.
Lake Ladoga is gigantic = the 14th largest lake in the world, and the largest in all of Europe.
Our first glimpse of Valaam.
The dock is down this passageway on the left. Note the church on the left.
The main part of the monastery, the baby blue Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral.
The cathedral beckons... it's also next to all of the guest facilities.
Once the last few travelers had disembarked, it was time to hike to the monastery.
Literally (it was a short hike).
We were fed almost immediately after arriving. Monks are very hospitable.
The guest facilities were very nice, albeit communal. To the best of my knowledge, these buildings were either not present or not renovated when my church went in 1994. The difference 15 years will make.
Outside the monastery entrance.
Icon of Jesus Christ (obviously).
Inside the cathedral.
Monks of the monastery (I forget if they were speaking or singing, although it was being videotaped by professionals to my left).
The tour group with their on-Valaam guide (different from our guide who brought us from St. Petersburg to the monastery).
The archipelago has great natural beauty... and ubiquitous komari (mosquitoes).
This kid was hilarious = he didn't speak any English, but he got a good laugh out of my Russian phrase book ("Excuse me, where may I find baby diapers?"). I regretfully can't remember his name.
I have a bunch of photos of the cathedral, because it's rather photogenic.
The quality of the light on Valaam is amazing. It was the furthest north I had ever been up to that point (although later that summer I'd go to the Lofoten Islands in Norway, above the Arctic Circle).
We walked down the road to see a cemetery and another chapel.
Rustic and gorgeous.
They said a monk could be seen in this tree. I can imagine it, although it's a tiny bit of stretch.
Interior of the chapel.
Exterior of the chapel.
Grave of Abbot Damascene, one of the major builders of Valaam (died in 1881, 5 days before Fyodor Dostoevsky... just sayin').
It was getting later in the day, but the sun didn't really go down until after 11pm.
Day 2 = rainy. I decided to purchase a raincoat. All they had left was pink. It was unfortunately form-fitting.
Inside a church for divine liturgy.
Exiting the church after liturgy.
A different chapel with an impressive iconostasis.
Possibly the same chapel... unknown.
Yours truly with a certain Vladimir, who spoke conversational English. He helped me out during my time on Valaam, and I'm in his debt.
Yours truly and the hilarious youth.
Even if you're not religious, a trip to Valaam is an experience of nature and scenery.
Time to finally visit the first chapel we saw upon entering Valaam. It involved bridges, seen here.
Babushka on the edge of the archipelago.
The interior was exquisite.
Alas, all things must pass away. Time to leave Valaam to head back to the mainland. From there we'd bus down to the port for Konevets.
I hope to one day return to Valaam for an extended stay, but I'm grateful for even just 36 hours on the island.
Coming up next = Konevets. Stay tuned.