I recently ventured out on a short escape from the city life to two of the Russia’s so-called Golden Ring of historical cities, Vladimir and Suzdal. They are situated close to Moscow and there’s a direct train that will take you there overnight from St Petersburg. Both cities are among the oldest in Russia classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and both have a long story to tell.
I arrived in Vladimir so early in the morning that managed to gain several hours of sleep at a hostel before going out to explore the sights. First, I took a bus to Suzdal, which long long ago used to be even larger and more important than Vladimir.
A local bus took me to Suzdal pretty fast and when I got there I was among the very few tourists (more of them arrived later) who were not scared by the wind, snow and general gloomish atmosphere.
However, it actually added to the overall impression of a tiny town resembling an open-air museum more than anything else.
With the whitewashed walls and the white snow (which do not seem that white when you come close to them) and the white sky, Suzdal in winter is a perfect place for listening carefully to its secrets, not disturbed by the hoards of tourists.
I took multiple pictures from all the angles although I was constantly worried that my camera’s battery would freeze. It’s obvious that in summer you are supposed to spend much more time near each point of interest just because it’s warmer but at the same time you probably will not as you will be facing loads of tourists trying to do the same.
Can you feel the fragility and the sophistication of Suzdal in winter?
Its old walls told me stories of the past: after all the town counts almost 1000 years of written history!
It was huge before Moscow became prominent and it had so many churches as no other Russian town could boast of.
But now the only thing that keeps it alive is the tourism: the smallest of all the Golden Ring cities (the concept was introduced in the Soviet era) has the greatest amount of tourists.
The things that you might want to visit in Suzdal are all situated within a walking distance, starting from the Trading Arcades (see pictures 5, 6, 8) and the nearby Kremlin (see the photo above and 5 photos down), which is the oldest part of the town (10th century),..
…with this 13th century church that has a very attractive door:
and the 16-18th century halls and Archbishop’s chambers with whitewashed walls:
It was 10 am when I got to the Kremlin – so deserted:
But the restaurant’s door was half-open:
Just noticed the somewhat conflicting pavement – too new to match with the whitewashed walls.
Looking at the picture above taken from the wooden Church of St. Nicholas makes me travel back to that moment.
While the town was patiently waiting for the buses to come in with the tourists, I went to the open-air museum which gathers log-houses and wooden churches of the 18-19th centuries exemplifying the traditional Russian architecture.
For me, the most interesting part is what you can see inside of the log houses.
I know that all this is done for the tourists but…
…it’s so cozy inside! and warm 🙂
Inside almost each house you’re welcomed by a lady or two dressed in traditional clothes who is ready to tell you about the old habits, explain to you the use of all those objects and… discuss politics and smartphone applications 🙂
There are also two windmills, several storehouses and other constructions you would find in a village. There is also a stone house of a well-off merchant.
Leaving the cozy museum of the wooden architecture, I went back to the Kremlin:
…and then proceeded on till I got to the Monastery of Saint Euthymius which I decided to leave for future since I wanted to see Vladimir in the daylight too. On my way I spotted numerous facades, this one, for example, is in the Old (Staraya) Street :
this one is very festive:
and this one looks beautiful:
and this one looks fancy too:
I liked this surviving house dating back to the 17th century with this small ‘baby’ attachment, to my mind – for storing stuff.
I took my old-school bus back to Vladimir and walked there quite a bit along the main street, occasionally turning into the adjacent streets when something caught my eye. Like this tile:
Or this Art-Nouveau school (now university):
It’s interesting that from our first visit to Vladimir about 16 years ago I can hardly remember anything. Even this hallmark of the city, the Golden Gate, somehow did not get engraved into my memory:
It’s lower part is authentic (12th century) while the upper part was added / renovated in the 18th century. The center of Vladimir is pretty low-rise to say the least:
And here’s how it looks from the top of the ex-water tower which is now a museum dedicated to the old Vladimir: how the town looked like before and what the life there was like.
The top floor provides you with a view over the town with its small houses, churches and hills.
A street close to the museum with the road post:
Further along that street:
Another view over the city:
The dusk was already there when I got to the Assumption (Uspensky) Cathedral:
But it looked even more sophisticated and a bit eerie in this bluish light:
The horizon got lost in the snow:
When I got to the St Demetrius Cathedral (12th century), the daylight was gone:
The town turned its lights on and I walked here and there popping into local shops and ended up buying pryanik with cherries (they say Vladimir used to be famous for its cherry orchards) and wild apricot and lemon jam from Dagestan 🙂 I also bought this bread called Mstyora bread:
It’s a light rye bread made with rye malt and coriander made according to the recipe from Mstyora in the Vladimir region. Mstyora is actually better known for its miniature art. They make miniatures with a black background similar to the more popular Palekh art which I used to dream of when I was a child – I begged my Mom to buy me a tiny lacquered box to keep my precious objects there.
On the first photo: Stained-glass window at the Vladimir bus station.
This post goes to the Travel series.