Russia Part 2 – Suzdal and Vladimir

Day 154: August 13, 2018

Danny and I woke up early again and went down to the gym in our hotel in St. Petersburg. I didn’t push too hard the day before because I was worried of straining my muscles. After this workout my arms were sore.

We packed then had to wait ten minutes for the elevator. Apparently everyone was leaving at the same time. We caught an elevator going up, but then the lady in there with us ended up pushing five more floors with her back. We boarded our bus for a three hour drive to Suzdal.

Suzdal is called the Pearl of the Golden Ring which is a tourist track of nice towns. In the 12th century, Russia didn’t exist. There were just fighting principalities. In 1125, Suzdal was made capital of one of those principalities.

We had a lunch of salad, borscht, rice and breaded chicken. I’m not sure how I feel about Russian food yet as there seems to be a lot of pickles.

After lunch, we started a walking tour of Suzdal. Suzdal has 30 Orthodox churches and 14 bell towers. Its current population is approximately 10,000. The town was founded in 1024. The Mongols captured Suzdal in 1238.

The first church we saw had black cupolas and was built in 1667.

Church, Suzdal

During the rule of Catherine the Great she passed a law of securalization of church land which passed church land to the state.

Then we moved into an active convent founded in 1207. It was closed by the Soviets who opposed all religion then reopened in 1995 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Inside the convent was a white church built in the 1550s that we walked through. In Soviet times it was a power station.

The gate to the convent had glazed tiles not common to Suzdal. After WWII, rabbits were kept inside. The bell tower was constructed in 1812, but was put on hold during Napoleon’s siege. It was then completed in 1819. A couple of us in the group climbed to the top of the bell tower to get a nice view out over Suzdal.

View from the bell tower in the convent, Suzdal

We walked on to the Red Monastery built in the 14th century to protect Suzdal from the Moscovites. At the height 25,000 peasants would have been inside the wooden walls. In the 1660s, the walls were changed to brick, but were no longer required for defence.

Red Monastery, Suzdal

Next was the White Monastery which was established in the 14th century and is still active. Basil the Third, the Grand Prince of Moscow, had his wife become a nun there. She was then married to God and he could divorce her. After twenty years of marriage she had not produced an heir so he remarried and Ivan IV (also known as Ivan the Terrible) was born.

Inside the White Monastery, Suzdal

Next was the Kremlin which used to have a wooden wall built in the 11th century, but it has since burned down. We saw the Nativity Cathedral built between 1222 and 1225. The Mongols burned the upper part and it stood without a roof for 90 years. It was reconstructed by Basil the Third.

The Nativity Cathedral, Suzdal

The guide had a very dry humour which was enjoyable. He also filled the tour’s quiet moments with discussions of Russian cars which Danny enjoyed.

Suzdal

After the tour we returned to our lodgings, a quaint inn. We relaxed a bit then went up the street for some groceries and honey mead. Back in the inn, we sat in the common area with some of our group.

At 7:00 pm, we went down for supper with the group. We had fried zucchini, dumplings and steak which was pretty yummy. We sat outside for our meal and enjoyed the cool air. The flavoured vodka is very good here. After supper we returned to drink some more mead before bed time.

Day 155: August 14, 2018

We had a nice breakfast buffet in the inn. Then we checked out and drove to Vladimir, a larger city on the Golden Ring and took over the title of capital city from Suzdal in 1157. Vladimir was first believed to be mentioned in chronicles in 1108, but newly discovered chronicles mention it in 990.

The current population of Vladimir is around 360,000. The Soviets built many factories to attract people to the area which made it grow to its current size. It was also able to grow larger than Suzdal due to the Trans-Siberian railway passing through town.

We started our walking tour in front of the “Three Lazy Men” statue which shows a soldier as the protector of the city, an architect representing the prosperity of the city and a worker symbolizing the industry of the city.

We visited the Assumption Cathedral founded in 1158. Limestone from near Moscow was brought along the rivers for the construction. The chapel and bell tower in front were built later. In the 15th century an artist decorated the cathedral’s interior with frescoes. Catherine the Great funded restoration, but people didn’t know how to do it.

Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir

Next was the Cathedral of Saint Dmitris which was founded in the late 12th century and made of limestone. The church has 1,504 different carvings on the exterior showing images such as lions and palm trees.

Cathedral of Saint Dmitris, Vladimir

Religion came to the area from the Byzantine empire which is why the icons inside showed very Greek looking people as shown below.

Relief in Cathedral of Saint Dmitris, Vladimir

From there we went to the Golden Gate Tower which was the main entrance to the city. The height of the wall was 15 m. The doors used to be gilded, but were taken by the Mongols who thought the doors were pure gold. The city walls were eventually removed to allow the city to expand. Inside the gate tower was a diorama of the Mongol invasion of Vladimir in 1238.

Golden Gate Tower, Vladimir

We went for lunch up the street and I had a very good burger and fries. The milkshake I ordered was typical European, not very ice creamy. After lunch we got back in the bus to drive back to Moscow. We stopped at a grocery store to purchase food to eat on the train.

Then we went to the train station. We are on the top bunks in a room of four with the American couple, Wendy and Gary. We shared some mead then ate our supper of yogurt, berries and buns. We played two rounds of Hidden 31 and Danny won both. Around 12:30 am we finally went to bed.

Day 156: August 15, 2018

I woke up and really had to pee so jumped down from the bunk. Most of the group was out in the hallway so I waited out there for everyone else to wake up. We had oatmeal for breakfast then sat chatting. It was interesting learning more about the American legal system. They were very good at explaining their views on American politics.

We got off the train at lunch and walked around for a bit then back on the train. Sadly, our train did not have a dining car so we had to rely purely on the food we brought. For lunch we had little baguettes, cheese and sausage. We read for a bit then had a nap. For supper we ate packaged noodles.

By the end of the train ride we were ready to get off. It felt like being a caged animal or imprisoned. You just wanted to escape anywhere, but there was nowhere to go.

Ready to get off the train

We got off the train around 11:30 pm in Yekaterinburg. We met our driver who took us to our hotel. We checked in and went to our room. I had a shower so that I would feel a bit better for bed. We stayed up a bit chatting about the people on our tour then fell asleep.

Suzdal and Vladimir provided a bit of history about Russia during the Middle Ages. Suzdal was a beautiful town and I wish we had a bit more free time there to explore. Our short train ride was just a taste of what is to come. For now, I am glad to be off the train and am ready to explore the city of Yekaterinburg.

M

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