In europe itinerary Russia

Russia's Golden Ring: day trips into history



North-east of Moscow lies a land full of small historical towns, straight from a Russian fairy-tale. Russia’s Golden Ring - a circuit of about 10 ancient towns - is often skipped by foreign tourists in favour of the majestic cities of Moscow and St Petersburg. Such a shame as only a short train ride away from Moscow lie golden onion-domed churches, convents, monasteries and wooden cottages with decorations that might as well have been carved by Gepetto himself.


The route is made up primarily of the ancient towns of Sergiyev Posad, Pereslavl-Zalesskiy, Rostov Velikiy, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Suzdal and Vladimir and are traditionally included in organized multi-day tours. The region however, can effortlessly be explored independently. If you have a week to spare you could hire a car in Moscow, where most international rental companies are represented, and drive the Golden Ring route yourself – that is if you can handle the mind-boggling Russian traffic jams. If, however, you are short on time, you can easily visit some of these towns on a day trip from Moscow. The journey times to most are only a couple of hours by train from the capital.


During our trip through Russia we spent time at two different Golden Ring towns: Sergiyev Posad and Suzdal. Read on and let’s discover them together!






About 80 km from Moscow lies the most important and most lavishly decorated monastic residence in Russia: the Troitse-Sergieva Lavra – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sergiyev Posad is known as the spiritual heart of Russian Orthodoxy and a pilgrimage. Many people come there to pay a visit to the various churches and pray.

From the moment we stepped out of our Marshrutka (Russian taxicab) we were met by an incredible view over the glistering domes of Sergiyev Posad, accompanied by a beautiful blue sky.




The whole avenue that leads up to the entrance gate is surrounded by local babushka’s selling beautiful scarves to cover your hair and shoulders when entering the religious domain. Oh…and the entrance is free of charge!




The impressive entrance gate and ornate decorations gave a real Disney-vibe to the place… as did the huge Russian crowds.

During our visit, many of the towers were being renovated. This can only mean that Sergiyev Posad only looks even better right now 😉.



WHAT TO SEE


Founded in the 14th century by St Sergei of Radonezh, Sergiev Posad is still an active monastery. One of the highlights for us was visiting the dark Trinity Cathedral. The interior was all lit up by oil lamps which gave an ancient and very intimate feel to the place. The tomb of St. Sergei stands in the southeastern corner of the cathedral and a memorial service for him goes on 24/7. Try to visit Sergiev Posad on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Even then we were met by a huge queue which tried to encircle the entire Trinity Cathedral, which we wanted to visit.

After visiting the cathedral we walked around the Lavra’s domain, admiring the gorgeous buildings, churches and traditions, taking in all the local people buzzing around. Unfortunately for us, about 70% of the domain was undergoing a massive renovation so a lot of the gorgeous onion-shaped domes were hidden from view. There are supposed to be some saphire blue domes dotted with golden stars somewhere underneeth those tarpaulins.




If you’d like a taste of the local cuisine, there is a nearby restaurant called Gostevaya Izba which serves Russian food made from the monastery produce (vegetables, dairy products, …). Unfortunately we only became aware of this after our trip (so much for research and planning ;-)) and spent our lunch at the McDonalds near the bus stop.



HOW TO GET THERE


Founded in the 14th century by St Sergei of Radonezh, Sergiev Posad is still an active monastery. One of the highlights for us was visiting the dark Trinity Cathedral. The interior was all lit up by oil lamps which gave an ancient and very intimate feel to the place. The tomb of St. Sergei stands in the southeastern corner of the cathedral and a memorial service for him goes on 24/7. Try to visit Sergiev Posad on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Even then we were met by a huge queue which tried to encircle the entire Trinity Cathedral, which we wanted to visit.

After visiting the cathedral we walked around the Lavra’s domain, admiring the gorgeous buildings, churches and traditions, taking in all the local people buzzing around.







A 30-minute drive from Vladimir, Suzdal is a picturesque rustic town where you can find a Kremlin and monasteries amidst blossoming fields of flowers. Oh… and it is surrounded by loads of pretty buildings too! I couldn’t stop taking snapshots of gorgeously engraved window frames, each painted in the most vibrant colors.




Though the town houses a lot of churches, the Soviets decided to base Suzdal’s economy on tourism and filled the small town with churches and wooden homes from other areas of Russia. In some way a part of Suzdal isn’t that authentic but it does provide a good depiction of how a Russian village used to look like. Walking through Suzdal, we kept wondering where these other buildings came from and how Suzdal looked before these tourist adjustments. And more, if the charm of the other Russian villages has disappeared with the removal of these historic buildings?


In order to maintain the tourists appeal, the Soviets decided to avoid building any modern buildings and banning stories over two stories high (not including the Kremlin and other ancient building of course). That’s why so many higgledy-piggledy old wooden buildings are still used, even though they all look quite old and sometimes badly impacted by the weather elements.


Hence, Suzdal feels completely different to any other Russian town. The lack of Communist architecture gives the city a very different atmosphere. Surprisingly, we didn’t see any of the huge tourist masses that we expected and had a very quiet stay in the town. It was lovely just being to walk around without having to share it with a horde of other tourists and casually strolling from monastery to monastery by crossing the fields.



WHAT TO SEE


On top of your list should be the cutest Kremlin you’ve ever seen! Yes, Suzdal has its own Kremlin, complete with a blue with stars decorated dome. From the Kremlin you can enjoy beautiful views over the surrounding fields dotted with different colored monasteries.


The collection of reallocated wooden houses and churches can be found in the open-air Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life. It’s great to have a walk around and get a picture of how an ancient Russian village would have looked like.


If you’re getting tired of history and religion, go to Torgovaya ploschad (Market Square). There are several eateries around the square but it is especially superb to shop for fresh fruit, honey, mushrooms or other souvenirs. I enjoyed just people-watching, most often babushka’s dressed in local attire that is more practical than fashionable. Time really seems to pass slower in Suzdal and I didn’t mind at all!















HOW TO GET THERE


There aren’t any direct trains to Suzdal, so the easiest way to get there is to take the train from Moscow (Kusrskiy or Yaroslavskiy station) to Vladimir. From Vladimir you can get a bus to Suzdal from the bus station across from the train station or arrange a taxi if you don’t feel comfortable taking the bus with the language barrier.





Ever been to Russia's Golden Ring?
We’d love to hear about it in the comments!





Related Articles

4 comments:

  1. Planning for a trip to Moscow in 2018 and on to EU after. Hope I can squeeze beautiful daytrips like these! Your photos are stunning too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Carla, that means a lot! I'm pretty sure you'll find the time. We had 5 full days in Moscow and spent two of them on daytrips. We'll be writing an article on Moscow and St Petersburg soon so keep an eye on our blog for more info!

      Delete
  2. The place looks mesmerizing!

    ReplyDelete

Powered by Jasper Roberts - Blog