Velikiy Novgorod

After I had heard about Velikiy Novgorod in class I decided that I need to see Russia’s birthplace. I couldn’t find the placenta there, but learned a lot about Russian history in a guided tour around the town’s kremlin and the museum. You definitely should plan a stop here if you’re going from St. Petersburg to Moscow. The town even has a beach!

The view was literally like out of a postcard I just sat at the side of the river for an hour and enjoyed (the mosquitos biting me). I also got much photography practice in panorama fails and Yoyoma posing. I only had a day, since I arrived in an early morning train and left again in a night train, but I could have spent more time there, for example to see the museum where a musical instrument restorer shows old Russian instruments and also plays them. I also would have loved to do a boat tour on the lake Ilmen that the Volkhov River flows out of.

The town’s history can be admired in the Monument to the Millennium of the Russian Statehood in the center of the kremlin complex. It was erected in 1862 in commemoration of the calling of Prince Rurik to Novgorod to rule the slavs. He started the Rurik dynasty that was in place for 700 years and he gave the land the name “Rus”. Another interesting fact that I didn’t know is that from the 12th century there was a sort of democratic system in place where princes were invited and could be dismissed again if they did not meet the expectations. More about history can be found here: http://visitnovgorod.com/novgorod/discover_novgorod/The_birthplace_of_Russia.html

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The Golden Circle

After stopping for a day in Moscow (more about that in a different post) I started a trip to the so called Golden Circle, several historical towns around Moscow that can be visited in a couple of days or in weekend trips from Moscow.

It was exactly what I was looking for – beautiful countryside and an escape from big cities. It’s easy to get everywhere by public transport, just make sure each time you arrive at a bus station to check the timetable to your next destination. I’m glad I created a public trip on couchsurfing – several people saw that I was coming through and offered to show me around or to host me, which made the trip even more enjoyable.

 

Sergiev Posad

My first stop was in Sergiev Posad with the medieval Trinity Monastery of St. Sergei. I wondered again how you can get so many churches into such a little space, something I already thought in Velikiy Novgorod’s and Moscow’s kremlins. There are services the whole day in the Trinity Cathedral where St. Sergei’s grave is. I guess I haven’t been in such a solemn atmosphere in a long time, the light is really dim and one believer after the other walks up to the grave to make the cross sign, kiss the lid and lay down a piece of paper that they write a prayer on beforehand. These are read out later during the service.

If you have been to the Kremlin in Moscow before you will easily recognize the similarity between the two Assumption Cathedrals. The Sergiev Posad one was built on the model of the Moscow one, Ivan the Terrible built it because he felt sorry for killing his son… Between the churches is a holy well under a pavilion that some tourists were so eager to get the water of that they filled up 5 liter bottles.

I had the impression that half of the churches were taken up by souvenir and icon shops, but maybe I lost orientation and walked into the same building several times….

Not much Yoyoma posing time anyway, I just figure that a naked creature might be inappropriate to expose in that context. Photographing of people inside the churches is frowned upon anyway. So I went for the classic headscarf selfie.

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Yaroslavl – did you know it’s on the 1000 Ruble bill?

After a few hours bus drive I arrived in Yaroslavl, not quite on time to enjoy the dawn for pictures, but hanging out at the beach is nice as well. Pilmeni and beer and the evening is perfect. The next day I met up with Olga whom I had met on the boat to Peterhof a few weeks before. We had a wonderful autumn walk under falling leaves and sunny sky, she showed me the town and where she grew up. We climbed up the tower in the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour where incredible views of the town and surroundings can be enjoyed. We counted the churches (more than 16) that were built in a sort of competition to beautify the city in 17th to 19th century. In the distance a church is visible and only then I learned that the 1000 Ruble note depicts sites in Yaroslavl! On the back the church in the distance: Bell Tower and Church of John the Precursor. Front: monument to Prince Yaroslav the Wise, chapel on the background of the Yaroslavl Kremlin. http://www.cbr.ru/eng/bank-notes_coins/?Prtid=banknotes_itm&selBanknote=1000r_97&type=type1

We continued to the beautiful Strelka Park that was built in celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the city and is located where the Volga and the Kotorosl Rivers join. There is a musical fountain that accompanies a variety of pieces: Russian songs (the hymn, the Yaroslavl song), pieces written by Russian composers, and songs like “We are the champions” or Phantom of the Opera. Quite an interesting mix that invites to hang out for a while.

A monument at the far end of the park shows Yaroslav Mudry and a summary of the town’s history in plaques at the bottom of the monument.

The Legend goes that Yaroslav Mudry (the wise) founded the city of Yaroslavl in 2010 after defeating a bear (or in any case a big animal considered as a deity)  that the local population had sent against him. This is why the bear is the emblem of the city. The whole story can be found here: ttp://www.yaroslavl-online.com/history.html

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More interesting historical facts:

-Yaroslav the Wise was the Grand Prince of Kiev since 1016 until his death in 1054 (with a break in 1018-1019). As many historians believe, under Yaroslav Kievan Russia reached a peak of its cultural bloom and military power.

-Yaroslav’s work was a base for codification of laws

-Yaroslav promoted the spread of christianity, founded the first monasteries and launched the first translations of religious books into Old Russian

http://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/history-and-mythology/yaroslav-the-wise/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaroslav_the_Wise

 

Kostroma

The birches had turned yellow and started losing their leaves as I arrived in Kostroma, or probably I only realized it then. I was warmly welcomed in Academy Hostel, first by the staff (and the fact that I had a 4-bed dorm on my own), and then by Kirill who had contacted me the previous day after seeing my public trip on Couchsurfing. We walked through the autumnal town past the most beautiful firefighter headquarter I have ever seen, past statues of historical national personalities and then to the monastery that looks beautiful from the bridge at sunset. Rustling autumn leaves and Russian wooden houses are the ideal scenery for an autumn walk! We realized later that we had covered more than 22km.

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Kostroma’s important figures

I had seen paintings of Ivan Susanin before, now I learned that in the 17th century he saved young Tsar Mikhail and his family from the Poles who wanted to kill the Tsar and claim power. According to the legend he promised to lead them to the Tsar family over a shortcut through the forest, but they were never heard of again. In the paintings Susanin’s killing is depicted as the enemies realize that they were lead the wrong way and will die in the cold. Susanin became a national hero because of his devotion and sacrifice.

Susanin and Yoyoma
Susanin and Yoyoma

Another famous personality is Yuri Dolgoruky, a king of the Kiev Kingdom who founded several towns on the Golden Ring (Kostroma, Suzdal, Pereslavl-Zalesski, and others)  in the 12th century and is also considered the founder of Moscow.

We saved the Monastery of St Ipaty for the end and went right to the Museum of Wooden Architecture. This is actually a lovely park scattered with old wooden houses where the interiors with objects of everyday life at the time can be seen. Many couples use the idyllic scenery as a background for their wedding pictures. We got some practice in archery with the local archery club that has equipment on the grounds during the warm months (April to October). Members are practicing there and you can pay to try yourself.

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We quickly peeked into the Trinity Cathedral where a service was going on. I would have liked to see what’s behind the icon wall, but figured that it would take a lot more solemn singing and reading before that would happen. We walked back over the bridge instead from where amazing views could be enjoyed: the river Volga, Kostroma, the Monastery, boats, autumn colours, …

We spent the evening in a cafe with Mariam and her friend. I had met her when I arrived in the hostel and Germans are rare passers by to practice German with. I told her about Couchsurfing and how you can meet up with people who are travelling, so I think there will be a new profile in Kostroma soon.

And guess what, Kostroma has a beach as well that seemed to invite us to just stand there silently for a few minutes at the end of the evening.

 

Suzdal

The next day I spent more time in Suzdal than I thought actually because it was so nice. I climbed up the bell tower in the Monastery of the Deposition of the Holy Robe from where the whole town and the surrounding landscapes can be seen, then had lunch in the refectory of the Intercession Convent, which was cheap and good, and finally walked back on the road behind the Kremlin, where I got really nice views of the Kremlin. What a feeling to smell nature.

And not to leave out history completely, Yuri Dolgoruky was the first independent ruler of Suzdal. He moved the capital there and built its Kremlin in the 12th century.

It was actually my first time couchsurfing in Russia, basically all the houses in my host’s street are wooden houses and one is cuter than the other to the point that I started wondering if it would be rude to photograph all the neighbors’ houses. Before leaving to Vladimir and from there to Moscow Maxime, my host, drew a map for me so I knew what to visit in case the next train to Moscow wouldn’t be before a while.

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Wooden houses in Suzdal

 

Vladimir

I wasn’t planning on visiting Vladimir, but I had 2 hours before the next train to Moscow, so I followed the map my host had drawn, it really helped to make the most of it. Instead of comments I’ll just post the pictures I could take in the short time.

What I thought wouldn’t happen anymore during my stay in Russia finally happened. If you ever go to Suzdal, do not cross the street between the bus station and the train station, you need to do a detour to the pedestrian crossing that is not in the middle between the two buildings, because that would be too easy. I took the shortest and most obvious way when you get out of a bus (disoriented tourist syndrome) and the police stopped me and two other people, but they were so kind to give me only a warning instead of a fine. (I can’t say I didn’t know about the pedestrian crossing and red light thing, that was our first lesson in summer school in Yekaterinburg). I’m not sure what they were on about when they told me that my registration from the hostel in Kostroma was only valid until the previous day, maybe they were just trying to find something that is not in order with my papers. I told them that I have 7 working days to register again and they didn’t argue about that because they know it’s true. I guess if somebody painted that pedestrian crossing in the right place those poor policemen wouldn’t have any work anymore. And it’s a sign that Vladimir is safe, because if there was a lot of criminality going on no police officers would have time for that I guess.

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I’m back in Moscow now and I’m promising to myself and all the Russian police officers that I won’t cross anywhere else than pedestrian crossing or green pedestrian lights anymore. Hopefully I will manage in my last 5 days in Russia…

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