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Totma: sailors, vessels-churches, and cloudberry pies

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Totma: sailors, vessels-churches, and cloudberry pies


Sergei Vinogradov

Totma, the region between Vologda and Veliky Ustyug, during the last years rediscovers itself again. Dog sledding is offered in winter, while cloudberry meals festival at the summer time. Every year the official local festive event the Day of Russian America is celebrated with ringing of the bells. The Church of the Holy Entrance into Jerusalem together with Californian Fort Ross rings bells.

Totma Diehard

There are not so many historical settlements in Russia, only 41. In 2010 an extensive list has been reduced tenfold. Totma was included in it, and many other cities not, for example Moscow and Veliky Novgorod. Totma was noted for its historical construction and urban planning left over since times of Catherine the Great.

Totma. Photo: Alexander Korkka

By some extraordinary coincidence, happy or unhappy one, Totma hasn't become a symbol of Russia's hinterland like Uryupinsk. The name fits it very well, as well as the lifestyle of locals. On the first pages the guide mentions on this special town ambience. It advises to feel the vibe on winter morning, when the smoke is coming from chimney tops of village houses scattered throughout the hill. The bell-tower is ringing, a woman with a lever walks down the road, wooden sidewalk planks rattling.

Meanwhile, her friends stay on ramps rinsing laundry in icy water of Sukhona river. Those who couldn't put their impression in words will be helped by locals who always have a quote from Nikolay Rubtsov. He was raised in Nikolsky children's home of the Totemsky region, then studied in Totma and of coursed praised it. One of the most original monuments to the outstanding poet is erected in Totma.

Nikolay Rubtsov memorial. Photo:

Totma is a black sheep among places of Russian North. This peculiarity starts with the town's emblem, which is decorated not with typical for northern region bear and moose but with American black fox. The ancestors of Totma inhabitants were hunting this animal on Alaska. For that Ekaterina the Second personally approved the fox to be on the town's emblem.

Totma has barely changed since vessels with seafarers and pioneers headed from its quay to undertake expeditions to distant shores of Siberia, Far East, Alaska, and the Aleutian Islands. They were going on merchant trips but came back with newly developed maps and description of aborigines.

The main landmark, symbol and the face of the city is its architecture - churches resembling ships built entirely on donations of those merchants-explorers. About 20 years ago the Marine Navigation museum opened at one of the reconstructed churches. There one can learn, where and what means of transportation locals used to travel in 18th century.

Marine Navigation museum. Photo:

Apart of that the guide will certainly tell how during the Soviet times the regional history expert Stanislav Zaitsev unlocked the secret of kartush (the church decoration, part of the stonework). In fact, Zaitsev has saved the historical city center from the destruction that was about to happen according to the new master plan.

There are many museums.For example, we can find out that Totma was one of Russia's salt making capitals, and how locals invented to use wooden pipes to dig the salt in the regional history museum. One can see the pipes in the Varnitsu village situated next to Totma. Guests don't go away without making a picture of a gigantic stone named Utiug [The Iron] that during pre-Christian times was a pagan sanctuary.

Brine Spring. Photo: A. Korkka

American Indian – a friend of Totma resident

They don't have straws and dressed in regular outfits however faces look like those of Native Indians from movies,” describe locals the Kashia Pomo tribe representatives from California who came to Totma for anniversary celebration of Ivan Kuskov. He was an explorer of Alaska, who founded Fort Ross and served as Administrator of Fort Ross in California. Ivan Kuskov treated nicely Native Indians; he gave them a job and protected from Spaniards. The veneration to Kuskov have been passed on for generations of the Kashia Pomo tribe .

He returned home after more than 30 years of adventures with an Aleut wife. He bought a home but died several months later. Now Kuskov’s former house is converted into a museum. Kuskov in full uniform and his wife in Russian dress portraits can be seen in the first hall.

House Museum of Ivan Kuskov. Photo: A. Korkka

Foreigners, especially American tourists, visit Totma often thanks to Ivan Kuskov. Foreign tourists are so frequent here that almost everywhere Russian signs are dubbed in English which is not typical for this region, including local center Vologda.

Official representatives of US Embassy, American museums, and tourists come to Totma. Every year at the end of July or beginning of August the town celebrates Russian America Day. Festival guests can try real American cuisine (except for the fast food), shoot from Native American bows, play banjo, watch the skits from Columbus life and sing in English together with actors.

Read also: Californians Get a Call from Totma

Last celebration took place in the home setting. Several hundred Russian and US guests came to participate. Russian America Day concluded with the tolling of the bells in the churches of Totma and Fort Ross via live video. Here the dusk, there the morning wakes up.

The Church of the Holy Entrance into Jerusalem rings bells

Cloudberries and Alaskan malamutes

Cloudberry Summer Festival in Totma involves all local cafes and restaurants.

The town lives and breathes cloudberries. Chefs in every spot create their own special dish with this northern berry. Pies and cakes, shangi (Russian mini pizza) and kalitki (Russian open pie), various jams are cooked and consumed in large quantities. Guests come from other cities of Vologda region. This culinary event involves master classes, cooking competitions and concerts. A little cloudberry saucer is served with any order. Last year the Cloudberry Festival entered in the top three main gastronomical summer events, according to one of the major travel agencies.

Cloudberry Festival in Totma. Photo:

However, the signature dish of this region doesn't include cloudberries. The secret of sichenik cutlets is that locals use pumpernickel flour and put inside fish from Sukhona river.

Loud dogs's barking can be heard in the middle of January. Winter Sleddog World Championship takes place here for several years. The track is built specifically outside the town. More than 30 best sportsmen from Russia and Belorussia have participated this year. There were 250 sled dogs of all racing breeds: Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, mixed breeds, etc. The ticket to a sled dog race literary opens all the doors for the guests - it provides discount on entrance fee to all local museums.

Winter Sleddog World Championship in Totma

Apparently, for sled dogs 23°F is too hot, therefore January in Totma suits them in the best way. Thaws and little snow are rare for this area. Inhabitants are learning how to make the typical real Russian winter a local trademark. 

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