The following day we climbed back onto the bus for another long trip, this time to Sortavala, a city on the shore of Lake Ladoga, the largest lake in Europe. We would board another hydrofoil there for a short trip to the monastery on the island of Valaam. The island has changed hands many times over the years. In 1917 it became part of an independent Finland, but in 1940 it was returned to Russian sovereignty. Monks evacuated the monastery at that time, but have since returned.

Karelia Forest

Most of the land we passed on our bus trip looked exactly like this boreal forest. We whizzed past intersecting roads like this one, which turned into dirt tracks as soon as they reached the trees.

The primary variation was in the types of trees. Here we saw pines. In other places birch or aspen predominated.

Karelian Countryside

For variety we would occasionally whiz by a small lake. I was able to capture a picture of this one from the bus.

We passed very few towns. The area is sparsely populated.

Students at Valaam

We reached Sortavala in plenty of time for our reserved departure, so we got to hang out a bit.

This group of teenagers was also waiting for a boat to take them to the island for a camping expedition. The island is a pilgrimage destination both for its monastery and also for its natural beauty.

Based on the clothing, I'm guessing this group was going for the nature rather than the monastery!

They must have been traveling "standby" because they did not make it onto our boat, which was completely full.

Valaam skete

At Valaam, as at Solovetsky, which we will visit later, there were numerous outlying sketes or places where monks lived in greater seclusion than at the main monastery.

This is the skete of St. Nicholas. It is located just outside the main harbor.

Most of the religious buildings on the islands were damaged by the Soviets, but are being restored now that the property has been returned to the Russian Orthodox church.


This gives an indication of how popular this place is as a destination.

There was a "dress code" at the inner part of the monastery. Few people shown here complied! Women must cover their heads, but men must not. Women must also wear long skirts, which were supplied at the gate for those of us who didn't have them. Tank tops were not allowed, so I think shawls or other suitable coverings were also available.

Valaam MonasteryThe main monastery facility at Valaam was built in the 19th century. As noted above, it was evacuated in 1940 with the monks taking the primary icons and relics with them to Finland where they founded "New Valaam," which still exists.

No one knows for sure when the monastery was first founded. Tradition states it was established in the 10th century, but the first reference is from the 16th century.

The monastery is home to many lay workers who help with construction and the tourist industry. Our local guide has lived in the monastery for many years. She was attracted to the island because of the "spiritual essence" she felt there.

Alexander's Shrine

Tsar Alexander II, who freed the serfs, visited the monastery with his family in 1858 shortly after he became the ruler.

This shrine commemorates the visit.

Alexander Nevsky

The mosaic on the back side of the shrine depicts Alexander Nevsky, who is believed by many to be Russia's greatest hero.

When I was in college, I saw Sergei Eisenstein's film depicting Prince Alexander defeating the invading Teutonic Knights. The actor playing the prince was pretty hunky and my roommate and I swooned over him. When I saw the film again many years later, I wasn't quite as impressed.

Valaam Singers

A capella vocal music is an integral part of Orthodox worship. We were treated to an excellent performance by this group of professional singers. They were also selling "music product" CDs, but I didn't have any money with me to buy one. I hope the CD that I got at Kizhi is as good.

Some of the chants may be found online (you'll have to use Google translate for the Russian). This link opens in a new window.

Valaam skete

After visiting the main monastery we loaded back onto the hydrofoil for the trip to another part of the island. There we visited the Resurrection Skete, also called "New Jerusalem" supposedly because it resembled the original Jerusalem. Jim and I marveled at how anyone could think any part of Valaam looked like Jerusalem!

There is a refectory next to the church that served a delicious traditional meal.

During the Soviet period this location was used as a tourist camp and was severely damaged. It has since been restored.


The rather unassuming exterior contained this elaborate interior. The young woman, Elena, was our local guide.

As noted above Elena, and many other workers in the tourist industry, live on the island. The leaders of the monastery, however, are "encouraging" them to relocate to the mainland. So many have already left that the local school has been closed.

Blue bells

After lunch some of the group walked back down to the dock for a beer. Others of us walked out to see part of the island. There is a local micro climate that allows a wide variety of plants and the early monks established several gardens.

This is only one of many wildflower pictures. I plan to make a separate page (or pages) of them. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a lot of information on Russian wildflowers. These blue ones are undoubtedly some variety of campanula. See below for a couple of others.




A poppy of some sort.

Once we caught up to the rest of our group at the dock, we had an extended wait for a boat. It turns out that one of the hydrofoils had a problem that took it out of service.

Karelian village

The delay in leaving Valaam had our guides frantic because we had dinner reservations and a schedule to meet. There were panicked cell phone exchanges.

It worked out OK. Our driver zoomed along so we were only a little late for dinner at this house in the 16th century village Kinerma.


The accommodations were basic, but Jim and I agree that this was the best meal we had in the three weeks of our trip. It was simple peasant fare and it was delicious!

After dinner we had an opportunity to walk around the village a bit.

Hand-washing at Kinerma

This was the ingenious hand-washing system at the farmhouse. It worked admirably!

After dinner we were back on the bus to finish our journey to Petrozavodsk.

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