Michael and I spent a weekend visiting two provincial towns outside of Moscow, Vladimir and Suzdal. Before I tell you about the interesting cities, let me relay the experience of going back and forth. Our way there was fantastic, except for the fact that the train left at 6:45 am. I will never be a morning person, and that was just early to be on a train. We took a new high speed train and arrived in Vladimir in under two hours. It is similar to the Acela between NY and DC, but faster! On the way home, the high speed train was sold out so our only option was a train that started in Nizhny-Novgorod and ended up in St. Petersburg – 15 hours total. Our portion was about four hours. Every car on the train has sleeping compartments with four beds (coupes), or if you are very unlucky or short on money there are train cars (platzkart) with lots of bed lined up. When you buy your tickets, you are assigned a car, coupe, and bed. We could not purchase tickets for the same coupe, so Michael and I were next door and we were both assigned to the top bunk. I walk into my car and two of the women are sleeping and one is reading. It is clear they have already been on the train for a few hours. I throw my backpack up to the top bunk, but did not see a ladder so tried to jump to the top bunk. That didn’t work, but in the process I woke up the woman below me who showed me where the ladder was hidden. I climb up and there is not even enough room to sit up and read. There is a bed, which I can lie on, but I can’t do much else up there. On top of that it was probably close to 85 degrees on top. Michael and I devised a plan to hang out in the restaurant car and read our kindles and chat since it was only four hours. However, when we got on the train the woman took our tickets and we had to wait to get them back before we could leave our coupes. I think we were only in there for about 20 minutes before we received our tickets, but it felt like a lot longer. The next challenge was to walk through 9 train cars to get to the restaurant car. Thankfully, we finally made it. We sat down for a snack of pistachio nuts and chocolate and were much more comfortable. Around 11:45 pm the waiter in the restaurant car tells us that the car closes at midnight (our train was scheduled to arrive at 1:00 AM). At this point, we are unsure of what to do. I am sure everyone in my coupe is sleeping, plus they probably locked me out. Michael faced a similar problem. We decided to stand at an end of one of the cars and read our kindles there. The light wasn’t good and the hour seemed to drag on, but we did arrive back in Moscow and I did not have to re-enter my coupe. One of the more interesting things on the train was a sign in the bathroom in Russian (Michael translated it for me) that asked people to sit, not stand on the seat. I can’t imagine why anyone would stand on a toilet seat on the train. Any ideas? I can say despite the Russian travel experience the trip was worth it.
We started out in Vladimir, which was one of the medieval capitals of Russia. We spent the morning walking around and looking at cathedrals. You can see some of the pictures in the slideshow below. It was nice to see lots of greenery and be outside of a major city. There was this great path that encircled many of the cathedrals and was set upon a hill.
We then headed to Suzdal and had to deal with Russian public transportation again. This time on a mini-bus. We bought tickets that had seat numbers on them. Thank goodness we had seat numbers because there were 16 seats on the bus, but they squeeze on 30-40 people and everyone else just stands. There was no air conditioning and it was a very hot day. The bus ride was only an hour so it wasn’t terrible.
Finally, we arrived in Suzdal our destination. Suzdal was the capital of Russia after Kiev and before Moscow. It is very unique because the majority of the old churches and monasteries have been preserved. Throughout other parts of Russia they have been destroyed by the Soviets or from aging. It seemed that in every direction we saw multiple onion domed churches and they were all very old – the oldest being from the 11th century.
One of the highlights in Suzdal was the hotel complex where we stayed. It was very kitschy Russian, and our hotel room was a log cabin (check out the picture in the slideshow). It was not exactly rustic as there was air conditioning and warm robes. The complex had everything we needed for the night we were there – our choice of restaurants, a boat-themed spa, and a playground. The playground had a balance beam, which I successfully conquered, and a strength test where you had to lift logs, which Michael did very well at.
Suzdal is also home to an Open Air Museum, which has houses and other buildings from the region that have been moved there. It was interesting to see all the wooden houses, churches, and windmills. There was even what appeared to be a human size hamster wheel that was used to pull water from local wells.
Suzdal may be my favorite town that I have visited throughout Russia. It has maintained much of its charm and you feel like you are going back in time.
From Russia with Love,