Reaching Suzdal from Yaroslavl is not simple – we had conflicting information on whether or not a bus runs between the two cities and we therefore opted for a a more convoluted route. Our convoluted journey to Suzdal involved: Yaroslavl apartment to train station via car, Yaroslavl to Moscow via train, Moscow to Vladimir via highspeed train, Vladimir to Suzdal via mashrutka and Suzdal city center to guesthouse via 2km walk. It was a long day of travel but fortunately Suzdal is a very nice place to relax in the countryside.
Suzdal is a quaint city on the Kamenka River that appears to have maintained it’s small size by being left off the main rail lines. While there is much to see here, it is also an ideal place to sit idly by and enjoy the countryside, and we could have stayed longer to do just that. Everywhere you turn your head here there is a beautiful churches or walled monastery surrounded by lush green and gentle rivers. While we did get around to see all the historic sites, our stay here was more about relaxing – enjoying a boutique locally-brewed kvas and enjoying pelmeni,vareniki, borscht and bliney at the teahouses.
At the center of town the Torgovaya ploshchad contains an old trading arcade and several churches of varying styles, incuding the Resurrection Church, the Emperor Constantine Church, and the Virgin of All Sorrows Church. On weekends the square was filled with souvenir vendors and moscow weekenders but on weekdays it was very quiet.
Saviour Monastery of St Euthymius
The Saviour Monastery of St Euthymius is a large complex once one of Russia’s religious centers but now housing many museums. We visited all of the little museums here but, unfortunately for us, there was very little English. Some of the museums were interesting while others we could have easily missed. The Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour contained 17th century frescos and the Annunciation Gate-Church housed an exhibit on Dmitry Pozharsky, an old Russian military hero of sorts.
One of the highlights of our visit here was listening and watching the hourly musical performances at the belltower, in which a man pulls, tugs and stomps devices that ring different bells as he plays an improvised song.
The hill on which the monastery rests also offers a nice view of the Intercession Convent in the valley below.
This is a functioning convent and so we were restricted to viewing only the main cathedral, which has been restored and and is mostly new inside . There were some very attractive wooden log homes on the grounds belonging to the nuns with beautiful gardens.
The Suzdal Kremlin is located in the town center and while not as grand as other Kremlins we had previously visited, the idylic setting made this one of the more attractive. The old Kremlin walls encompassed an old neighborhood with wooden homes of various repair – some newly restored and existing in all their original beauty and some nearing collapse. Also inside the walls were the Archbishop’s Chambers, the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral and a small wooden church which had been transported here from another nearby town.
The Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral is probably Suzdal’s most famous structure and was an interesting place to visit. The original 13th century damascene doors were were protected inside the cathedral and 13th and 17th century frescos covered its walls. The exterior domes caught the eyer with golden stars set on blue.
We had an interesting guesthouse experience in Suzdal. We chose a guesthouse that had some very good reviews and appeared homey, but as it was the offseason all that was available to others in high season was not available to us – or so we assume as the advertising on the website did not match the services provided in more than one aspect.
The best story to come out of the experience was the second night we decided to cook in the ‘shared’ kitchen (but not really shared as they seemed to not want us to use it). Angie was on dinner duty tonight and had began cooking and as we usually do, some garlic in a pan with some olive oil to start our pasta sauce. However, the smell of garlic must have been too much as the family’s short, round babushka came charging into the kitchen speaking quickly to Angie in Russian and eventually making it clear that she wanted us to stop cooking. She went a bit overboard too, plugging her nose and then opening the doors and windows to Suzdal’s mosquitto-infested outdoors and turning on fans. Perhaps the most entertaining part was that she checked on us three times to make sure we were not cooking again!
Luckily, Angie had already started the pasta and it was near completion and we proceeded to have a pretty disappointing meal of partially cooked vegetables with room temperature tomato sauce and warm pasta. We won’t be recommending the guesthouse to others.
Vladimir is a quick bus ride from Suzdal and is where you must go in order to catch a train. It is also the historic capital of Russia, the town that Moscow’s rulers had to wrest power from in order to claim their status as the dominant settlement here.
Despite its historic importance, Vladimir is now a mostly unattractive industrial city though it does have a couple sights worth visiting. The Assumption Cathedral is the main cathedral in the city, built in the 1100s, and is still in operation. It was the model on which Moscow based its own Kremlin’s Assumption Cathedral in an effort to usurp Vladimir as the religious center of eastern Russia. There were beautiful frescos from the 1400’s, lit only by sunlight coming through the windows. The iconostasis was unique from others we have seen as it had large golden floral columns.
The nearby Cathedral of St Dmitry was a pleasant surprise, a small church with its unique stone carved exterior.