Exploring the Golden Ring: Yaroslavl.

The so-called Golden Ring (Золото́е кольцо́) is a city ring northeast of Moscow. This ring consists of various ancient towns that used to play a significant role in the formation of the Russian Orthodox church. The cities had been religious or trading centres in the 12th-18th centuries. The Golden Ring is the perfect place to explore Russian architecture, old churches, fortresses etc. and to learn more about Russia’s rich history. Besides going there for architectural reasons, it is another good way to experience the countryside and provincial Russia. After staying in busy Moscow for such a long time, taking a break from it and enjoying calmer, slower, and more peaceful cities such as Suzdal or Rostov Veliky is a good opportunity. In addition, those cities are not as much westernized, fancy, or hectic as some other big cities in Russia.

The entire route of the Golden Ring is around 700 km, but the distances between the cities are less than 100km, so travelling between them does not take that long if you are able to take fast trains. Sometimes, however, it is more convenient (or cheaper!) to take slower local trains or buses.

Before even arriving in Moscow I already knew that I definitely wanted to go to at least one of the cities at some point. Due to the 10-day-stay of my boyfriend I had the perfect opportunity to not only show him more of ‘real’ Russia but also see some of the Golden Ring myself. Usually, first stops of the Golden Ring are either Sergiyev Posad, or Vladimir with Suzdal, but we opted for the more ‘unusual’ stops Yaroslavl and Rostov Veliky. So we took a fast train from Moscow to Yaroslavl and stayed there fore 1.5 days before travelling to Rostov Veliky and back to Moscow.

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl (Ярослáвль), the unofficial capital of and the biggest city in the Golden Ring, is located 270km from Moscow on the Volga river. The city has almost 600,000 inhabitants – around the same size as Copenhagen (municipal population). The historical city centre of Yaroslavl is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded where the Volga meets the Kotorosl in 1010 by Prince Yaroslav the Wise, making it one of the oldest cities that were built on the Volga. Nowadays, the city is very industrial but still very interesting due to its rich history, architecture, and (apparently) city life.

Transfiguration Monastery

Probably the main sight of the city is the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery (Спасо-Преображенский монастырь), wich was founded in the 12th century and was turned into a museum 150 years ago. It used to be one of the favourite monasteries of Ivan the Terrible. On the grounds there are six churches which are open to the public. The monastery was also built to be a citadel and a kremlin, thus the white-painted thick stone wall with watchtowers and embattlements. The Transfiguartion Cathedral in the monastery was erected in 1516, and is the oldest detached building of Yaroslavl. We decided that we only wanted to see the grounds of the monastery and not go into the museums/churches, so we only paid 50 rubles (student discount), which was very cheap and also worth it in our opinion.

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What really shocked me inside the monastery was a tiny tiny bear cage (which apparently also includes a bath and amusements). The monastery is home to Masha, a 25+ years old bear. Masha is supposed to represent the city, as the coat of arms of the city is a brown bear. Visitors can pay extra to see the bear. My heart was bleeding :(

City Centre

After visiting the Kremlin grounds we just walked around in the city centre for some time. There was actually a lot of traffic going on, and the roads were deep in water due to the holes in the asphalt and pavement. We really tried our best not to get our feet soaking wet, but unfortunately we both did not manage to succeed. Sometimes it was just not possible to avoid a deep puddle in order to cross the street. However, this did not prevent us from walking around and enjoying the city architecture.

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Часо́вня Алекса́ндра Не́вского – Chapel of Alexander Nevsky

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Каза́нский же́нский монасты́рь – Nunnery of Kazan in Yaroslavl

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Sovetskaya ploschad with governmental buildings and a huge puddle

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Church of Elijah the Prophet

 

Walking along the Volga embankment

As Yaroslavl is located on the shores of the Volga + Kotorosl rivers, there is a very nice promenade where you can walk along the Volga river and see some of the beautiful architecture of the city plus enjoy the frozen river and winter landscape.

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Церковь Рождества Христова – Church of the Nativity

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Yaroslavl by Night

It got dark very early but most of the places are illuminated and look magical in the snow (despite the rain that we had on one day).

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Elijah Church

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Демидовский столп – Demidov pillar

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Selfie in front of the Часовня Казанской Богоматери – Chapel of the Holy Mother of Kazan

One our first evening in the city centre – when there was no rain and only snow – we decided to become kids again and made snow angels, even though the surface of the snow was frozen :D We also found places where we could slide down some hills on a bag. The child in me was full of glee!

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My beautiful snow angel with 4 legs

 

With Yaroslavl we made the right choice. Both my boyfriend and I enjoyed the trip to this city very much as it is very different to Moscow or Nizhny Novgorod. True, there is not much to do or see there, it is full of monasteries and churches. Still, with the snow/rain landscape, and the Volga and Kotorosl rivers frozen and covered in snow it was very beautiful and we had a lot of fun.

First real Russian travel adventure: Nizhny Novgorod.

After finally getting my passport back from the international office I was able to travel within Russia. I seized the chance immediately and together with three friends we went to the nearest ‘megacity’ of Moscow: Ни́жний Но́вгород (Nizhny Novgorod).

Nizhny Novgorod is a 1.2 million city (5h biggest in Russia), located 400 km east of Moscow (around 3-4 hour train ride), in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast of Russia. The city’s name used to be Gorky (Горький) from 1932 til 1990, as the writer Maxim Gorky was born there. The city is located where the Oka river empties into the Volga. The main center is the Kremlin, which is home to the main government agencies of the city and the Volga Federal District. The Kremlin has never been captured, and during the Time of Troubles (Polish invasion in Russia, early 17th century), Nizhny Novgorod ‘saved’ Moscow and Russia.

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We took a train and arrived on a Saturday afternoon. Exiting the train station we were already greeted by a totally different feeling than the one in Moscow. It was still busy on the streets, especially near the station, where there were shopping centres and such. However, one of the first buildings that we noticed was a skyscraper that looked a bit shady…

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Our river accommodation

Due to the spontaneity and the problems we had when trying to buy train tickets online (impossible to do that) we booked a place to stay very last minute without having a proper look at it. The deciding factors were that it should be close to the train station, have a good price, and fairly good reviews. Found one, booked it. Upon arrival we realised that we had booked a room on a houseboat. The hostel was on the river. In hindsight I should have comprehended solely by translating the name of the hostel into English. My ‘mistake’. It was a great experience nevertheless – it was super super cheap, the location was great, the rooms were clean, and we had a room to ourselves as there were hardly any other guests. The staff didn’t speak English to (but we managed) and it took them quite some time to have us checked in though.

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Pedestrian street

On our first day in the city we decided just to take a walk along the Rozhdestvenskaya Ulitsa, where many cafes, stores and clubs are located.

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Monument of Minin

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Monument of Chkalov, a famous Soviet pilot

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Panorama of the Volga & the Chkalov Stairs

For dinner we went to a place called Moloko (Milk) which is also located near the main pedestrian street. The interior is very stylish, with sofas and aged wooden panelling. Afterwards we went for beer that did not taste like beer in a beer brewery thing, and later to a British Pub.

Russian Breakfast

As none of us has already had a typical Russian breakfast yet, we wanted to try one in Nizhny. We read about a Russian place, Bezukhov, which was supposedly known for good breakfasts. It is a literary cafe with antique furnishing and a stucco ceiling. However, we were disappointed as they did not have Kasha (more or less porridge). Nevertheless, the scrambled eggs, Syrniki, and freshly pressed juices were still very delicious and nicely presented.

Exploring the city

After having breakfast we actually wanted to take a tram, namely the oldest Russian tram. However, we failed doing so as there was no start or end or station. Or at least we could not find any. So we just decided to walk along the road, which was also fine. It was another big ‘broadway’, the Bolshaya Pokrovskaya ulitsa, which is full of old merchant mansions, theatres and statues. Also, the building of the State Bank can be found there.

Of course there also had to be another ‘Памятник Минину и Пожарскому‘ – monument dedicated to Minin and Pozharsky. It is the same monument that is in front of the St. Basil’s church on the red square.

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A monument dedicated to the heroes of the Volga fleet

The Church of the Nativity of Our Lady can also be found on this street. The coloured onion domes resemble those of the St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

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We thought it would be nice to climb a steep 400-meter hill – the Fedorovsky Embankment. Even though the stairs were not safe and it was kind of slippery,  it was definitely worth it. From up there we had a breathtaking view of the city and the river.

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Another cool thing that we stumbled upon was a monument dedicated to Jules Verne, a writer that I happen to like. The bronze-painted plastic sculpture measures around 10 metres in height and was unveiled only in 2015.

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Успенская церковь – Dormition Church

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Kremlin

The kremlin (fortress) of Nizhny Novgorod was built between 1508 and 1515. The city used to be a guard city, where troops were gathered for the war against the Khanate of Kazan. After the fall of Kazan, the Kremlin in Nizhny Novgorod lost its (military) importance. Now, it is home to city and provincial authorities.

Along the Kremlin wall thirteen towers survived. The Tower of Demetrius is the main entrance to the fortress. The only church that survived the passing of time is the Michael the Archangel Cathedral located in the centre of the Kremlin. It is also the oldest building in the Kremlin, as it was erected in the 16th century. In the Archangel Cathedral there is the tomb of Kuzma Minin, who together with the Prince Pozharsky became a national hero after the Polish invasion the the 17th century. Nizhny Novgorod citizens who died in WW II are honored in a memorial site.

 

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A red deer is part of the city’s Coat of Arms

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Archangel Cathedral

Coffee Break

Some of our group were not well equipped for such a cold weather, so we had to take a coffee and cake break. And yes, it was me. As we were fairly close to the pedestrian streets, we just walked and decided for one of the coffee shops. However, as we were unsure how to enter it, a friendly Russian gave us the recommendation to go to another (better) coffee place, so we ended up going to Mishka (teddy bear). Good choice! We even found a photo booth next to it, so we couldn’t just walk past it, could we?

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Cable Car Adventures

Nizhny Novgorod has its own cable car that opened in 2012 which stretches over the Volga river for more than 3.5 kilometres, connecting Nizhny Novgorod with the small city Bor. Before arriving in the city I already knew that taking the cable car across the Volga river was on top of my agenda. The crew was quickly persuaded to do so. We took it already on our first day in the evening, but we also wanted to take a ride during daylight and further explore Bor on the other side of the river.

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Cable car selfie

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BOR

Бор has a population of around 78,000 people. It was founded in the 14th century. The most prominent local industries are shipbuilding and glass-making. Bor can be reached (from Nizhny Novgorod) via car over a bridge, ferry, or the cable car!!

Near the exit/entrance of the cable car station in Bor, there is a Площадь Победы – a victory square. It is in remembrance of the fallen soldiers from WWII, and depicts heroes of the Soviet Union.

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Train adventures

The train ride back was another adventurous part of our trip. The persons responsible for buying our train tickets (not me, hah!) bought the ‘wrong’ tickets by accident so we ended up taking a very long train (6+ hours) back home plus it was a sleeper. Very interesting experience, and not too bad after all :D

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The city trip to Nizhny Novgorod was a great experience (I guess for all of us?). This city is what you’d expect from Russia. Not the polished Saint Petersburg or grand Moscow. We finally experienced a true Russian city, at least that’s what we felt like.

 


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Inside Moscow’s Kremlin.

On the day that I left my parent’s home to start my Russia journey my dad told me to send his best regards to Putin. Of course I had to try my best, and a visit inside Kremlin was a must! On a Friday noon a few friends and I went on our mission to see Putin in his home.

The Kremlin in Moscow

The Moscow Kremlin is a symbol of two imperial cultures – the medieval Muscovy and the Soviet Union. It contains a mixture of lavish opulence and austere secrecy. Two thirds of the citadel complex are closed to visitors, but the remaining third is open to the public. The Kremlin is also the official residence of Putin.

The history of the Kremlin begins in 500 BC with the first human habitation, but Moscow’s history really begins around 1147 when the Grand Duke of Kiev built a wooden fort there. Moscow grew rapidly and was soon powerful enough to attain primacy among the Russian principalities, so the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church moved there from Vlaidimir in 1326. The citadel was fortified with stone walls, and under Ivan the Great the kremlin was remodeled and became the centre of the unified Russian state. Also, the magnificent cathedrals and other buildings were added. Peter the Great moved the capital to St. Petersburg. After the Revolution in 1917, Moscow became the capital again and the Kremlin the seat of the Russian government. The Communist era is still visible in the red stars that are on top of many towers.

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Entrance to the Kremlin

In order to enter, you should NOT try to enter from the Red Square but go to the other side of the complex. Before you enter, you need to buy a ticket. It took us forever to buy tickets, and they refused to give us student discounts even though we knew for sure that we’d get one. So usually it is possible to get a 50% student discount, but we had to pay the full price of 500 rubles to go and see the museums on the church square. Apparently the cheapest way to enter the complex is by buying the bell tower ticket. Unfortunately, there is no ticket available that just lets you go onto the grounds.

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Ivanovskaya Square

The square’s name originates from the pillar of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. It is the biggest square of all the Kremlin squares, and was the site of the so-called Prikazy (Offices), which is more or less equivalent of today’s Ministries. Public announcements of various decisions of the state were made there.

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Sobornaya Square

At the very centre of the Kremlin is the Cathedral square, which used to be the junction of all the main streets of the Kremlin. On this square there are the big cathedrals of the Kremlin. It also used to be the place for official parades that marked the coronations of the tsars, and massed religious processions on church holidays.

Several churches are located here, and some of them are museums or contain exhibitions. In order to enter some of them, a ticket is needed, but into some you could enter without one. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which were for free…

IVAN THE GREAT BELL-TOWER ENSEMBLE

The bell tower Колокольня Ивана Великого is with 81 metres the tallest tower of the Kremlin complex, and it was built in 1508. The tower adjoins the Assumption Belfry. To climb the tower, a separate ticket is needed, and you can only do so at certain times of the day.

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ARCHANGEL’S CATHEDRAL

This cathedral –Архангельский собор / Arkhangelsky sobor – is a burial church of Mosvocite Princes and first tsars of Russia, and it is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, patron of the Russian army. In 1340 Ivan I Danilovich kailta ordered the building of the first stone church on this site, which was the start of the history of the greatest Russian necropolis of the Moscow dynasty of Rurikides and first Romanov tsars. There are more than 50 graves inside the necropolis, also the famous tsar Ivan IV the Terrible. Kind of spooky in there I must say!

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ANNUNCIATION CATHEDRAL

This cathedral – Благовещенский собор / Blagoveschensky sobor – was the private church of Russian grand princes and tsars destined for domestic and familial ceremonies that was founded in 1484. Inside the cathedral is a multi-tier iconostasis which is one of Russia’s oldest. An iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, which is very common in Eastern Christianity.

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CHURCH OF THE DEPOSITION OF THE ROBE OF THE HOLY VIRGIN

The Церковь Ризоположения was a private church of the metropolitans and patriarchs of Moscow and of all Russia, erected in 1484. Inside the small church is an exhibition of Russian wooden sculptures and carvings of the 15th – 19th century from the great cultural centres Moscow, Novgorod, Rostov, and Russian North.

 

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The tiny one between the big building & church

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I’m not too sure to which church this belongs to…

ASSUMPTION CATHEDRAL

The Успенский Собор / Uspensky sobor was the main cathedral of the tsardom of Russia, burial place of Moscow Metropolitans and Patriarchs. The cathedral was linked with the most important events in Russia such as the coronation of the Grand princes and tsars. Several Metropolitans are buried there.

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PATRIARCH’S PALACE

The palace was founded in the 16th century during the reign of Fyodor I. The patriarchate was established in 1589 when the Metropolitan Holy Hierarch Job was chosen without waiting for an approval from Constantinople, making it a complete independent entity. Inside the Patriarch’s palace is also the private church of Russian Patriarchs, which was dedicated to the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles. Now, the patriarch’s palace is part of the museum, dedicated to the Russian 17th century culture, where you can see objects of worship and everyday life that belonged to the Patriarchs or to the Tsar’s family members.

 

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This is the Tsar Bell, also known as Tsarsky Kolokol or Royal Bell, that is displayed near the church square. It was commissioned by the Empress Anna Ivanovna but it has never been in working order, suspended, or rung. The reason why it is displayed there is that before the last ornamentation was completed, a major fire broke out that spread to the wooden support structure of the bell. Guards threw cold water on it as they feared damage and a huge 10 ton (!!!) slab broke off.
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A fun little story.
We were walking on the grounds trying to find the second exit/entrance of the Kremlin. I tried to find our location on Google Maps but my phone couldn’t find our location. I didn’t think much of it, I just thought that my phone wasn’t working as it was quite cold outside. Later that day I stumbled upon this interesting article from the Moscow times that explains that geolocation inside the Kremlin isn’t working due to a transmitter that spoofs the signals, and devices think that the current location is Vnukovo airport. So now all the pictures that I took near there have the geotag of Vnukovo airport… :D
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Other entrance/exit

Even though that our start was rather annoying (buying tickets), but you just have to get used to such things in Russia when you are a foreigner. Also, I had the feeling that some of the churches just look the same from the inside, but I am just not used to iconostasis and I am not really into religion in general. I just admire the architecture and the art itself. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. The Kremlin complex is vast, beautiful and interesting. I could have spent more time there, but the cold weather (and other plans that we had) unfortunately prevented us from spending the whole day there.

The second Kremlin of Moscow.

 

A ‘Kremlin’ is not only the Moscow Kremlin, but it is actually just the word for a major fortified central complex that is found in historic Russian cities (but also in some others such as Kiev). Within this citadel-like area there used to be important buildings such as the armoury, churches, and administration. Kremlins were mainly built on hills near rivers, and around the kremlin the ‘посад’ (posad) emerged – more or less a suburb for craftsmen. The first Russian kremlins were wooden, and due to fires, wars and destruction in general, none of them survived until today. Only some later kremlins that were built of stone survived the passing of time.

On a rather cold and windy Sunday afternoon a few friends and I decided to take the metro and pay a visit to the ‘second’ Kremlin of Moscow. We were actually lucky as during our stay there the sun came out and it turned out to be the perfect day for spending some time outside. It was still a bit cold, though. ;)

The (rather fake) Kremlin in Izmailovo

This ‘kremlin’ – Кремль в Измайлово – is a cultural complex that was actually founded and established in the early 2000s and is a place for entertainment and culture. So yes, it is not a real Kremlin (in my eyes), especially when you compare it to the (real) Moscow Kremlin. The mission of the cultural complex is to revive Russian family traditions. Open craft workshops are held there for both children and adults, several museums can be found within the complex (eg. Vodka museum?!, bread museum, chocolate museum, Russian toy museum). There is much space for celebrations, there are a few cozy coffee places, and there is even something like a wedding chapel there. Also on the grounds of the Kremlin the famous ‘Izamilovo Vernissage’ was formed – a market for art, antiques, books, traditional Russian crafts, and of course souvenirs.

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When you go there (by metro) you actually enter the vernissage first and reach the Kremlin later, but it is also possible to walk around and enter it via a bridge with a beautiful view at the complex.

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A church dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra, the patron of crafts and trade, was erected in the center of the kremlin.

An interesting story – there was a fire at the Kremlin in Izmailovo in 2005, and both the kremlin and the adjacent ‘vernissage’ suffered enormous damage, but the fire more or less stopped before reaching the church, not daring to encroach the ‘sacred’ building.

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Izmailovo Vernissage 

This ‘Vernissage’ is a huge exhibition-fair of products and objects of art and craft that opened 25 years ago. It developed into a multi-purpose complex which purpose it is to maintain and develop Russian culture, crafts, and traditions.

Part of it resembles more like a flea market, whereas others are just dedicated to selling tourist stuff such as матрёшка (Matryoshka dolls). The vendors of the tourist section can ‘speak’ many common languages such as English, German or Spanish, and it is even possible to haggle over the prices. Some of the tourist things are really cheap in comparison to the ones that you find in the city centre.

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Entrance to the market (vernissage)

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Cold War chess set

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At one point of the market (between the tourist area and the flea maket) we found a staircase that we just climbed. We were pretty sure that we weren’t supposed to do this, but no one stopped us or said anything to us, so we could actually have a good view over the market and the surroundings of the area. In general I had the feeling that this area wasn’t the nicest one, and even though that the market/kremlin was more or less newly built, the surroundings were either still under construction, or just ignored.

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Some of the things they sell werde really strange – we saw so many license plates from ‘around the world’, and other random crap. But that’s just the charm of a good flea market!

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Even though the place screamed ‘tourist trap’ and the in my opinion the Kremlin in Izmailovo is not a real real Kremlin, it was still very very beautiful to look at. Especially walking through the (flea) market was super interesting. I would have bought a few interesting things if I didn’t have the problem of a suitcase weight limit…

 

Parks and Recreation: Kolomenskoye

I have already reported in my first edition of ‘Parks and Recreation’ in Moscow that the city offers a great amount of parks and places where Muscovites and non-locals can enjoy their free time and just have a stroll. In this edition I will share my trip  to another grand park/estate here in Moscow – Kolomenskoye (Коло́менское).

The 390 hectare park is located in the southeast of Moscow on the ancient road that leads to Kolomna (hence the name). The former royal estate overlooks the Moskva River. The village of Kolomenskoye was first named in a testament in 1339. It was founded by refugees from Kolomna, a city not far from Moscow. However, pre-Slavic civilisations dating back over 2,500 years have been found in this area. Between the 15th and 17th century the village transformed into a favourite country residency of a Grand Prince and several Tsars such as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, or Alexander I.

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In 1923 was the Museum of Wooden Architecture was founded in Kolomenskoye. Various wooden architecture examples were brought to the museum from all across the country, for example Peter the Great’s little house from Arkhangelsk. People were still living in Kolomenskoye as it remained a normal village, that became part of Moscow in the 1960s. Only after 1985 the villagers were resettled and it became the museum and park complex that it is now.

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Probably the most noticeable and famous building is a great white church in the middle of the park. The Ascension church was built in 1532 in order to commemorate the birth of an heir to the throne – the future Ivan the Terrible. The church is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage monument. Right next to the Ascension church are other ‘old’ buildings – the St. George the Victorious Bell Tower (16th century), the Water Tower (17th cent.) and the Hunting Pavilion (19th).

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Another beautiful building in the park is the Church of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan. It served as a family temple for royalties and is devoted to the Our Lady of Kazan icon, one of the most respected icons in Russia. This church was built in the 1630s, first as a wooden church and two decades later replaced with a brick one. It has the typical domes and plenty of gold which is a very familiar image of Russian religion.

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What also really struck me was that the Moskva river is really beautiful here. You can take a stroll along the riverbank and have a beautiful view over parts of Moscow.

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At one end of the park is the reconstructed palace of Tsar Alexis I, representing beautiful Russian architecture from the 17th century. Tsar Alexis I had all the previous wooden structures demolished and replaced with a new great wooden palace in the 17th century. Due to its fairytale roofs foreigners referred to this palace as an ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. During Peter the Great’s reign the court was moved from Moscow to St.Petersburg, as a result the palace fell into disrepair and was demolished at the end of the 18th century. Luckily, detailed plans of the original palace survived so it was reconstructed in 2010.

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Actually, I have been there twice – once during the day and once in the late afternoon/early evening. So I also got to see the park during that special time of the day that I really really like! Especially when the sky turns pink/violet.

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The park is really huge and there is a lot to see and do. There are playgrounds, cafés and other recreational activities offered. However, there is also more than enough space to find tranquility and solitude – something that is often needed in a megapolis such as Moscow. It is the perfect place for people who want to escape the big city noise. I definitely want to go there again when there is snow – I’ve heard that it is beautiful and quiet place to be during winter.


General information about the park:
The park is open daily from 8am to 9pm – free entrance to the park, small fee for the some sights to see the inside. To get there you just take the metro to Kolomenskaya Station, from which it is a ten-minute walk.

A look into Lenin’s life.

One beautiful Saturday afternoon two friends and I decided to make the best out of the sunny and warm weather. Limited by the fact that we hadn’t gotten our passports back (which you need for travelling in Russia) we had to pick a place that was easy to reach (=no trains) and not too far away from Moscow. After doing some research we decided to visit Gorki Leninskiye.

Gorki Leninskiye is an ‘urban locality’ with around 3.5K inhabitants, which is located 10 kilometres south of Moscow city limits. The place is ‘famous’ for being Lenin’s home where he spent his last years.

After a rather adventurous bus trip which lead us into the seemingly nowhere – the bus stop wasn’t even a real stop but the driver just let us off on a rather busy road – we finally arrived at the estate and its beautiful park. We had to pay a small entrance fee (200 Rubles for students) because we also wanted to have a look at the museums there.

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Before Lenin’s takeover the estate of Gorki belonged to various Moscovite noblemen from the 18th century. A wealthy widow purchased it in 1909 and had the mansion remodeled in the Neoclassical style. She turned the estate into the grand building that it is now, added luxurious furniture and paintings. After the October Revolution the estate was nationalized by the Bolsheviks. After an assassination attempt  followed by a decline in health, Lenin was advised to find a place where he could rest. The estate was chosen due to its proximity to Moscow and and existing telephone in the house, so it was turned into Lenin’s dacha (a seasonal or year-round second home, very typical for Russia). The estate became his permanent home in 1923 until he died on January 21 in 1924. Straight after Lenin’s death people started to go on a pilgrimage to his estate, which lead to the decision to turn the estate into a museum in 1938 (which actually only opened in 1949). The estate was renamed into ‘Gorki Leninskiye‘ (previous Wyschnije Gorki). Additional museums such as the ‘Cabinet and apartment of Lenin in the Kremlin’ have been added since.

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Unfortunately we were only able to enter the museums by taking part in a guided tour which was held in Russian. My Russian is nowhere near as good as being able to understand a fast talking Russian lady telling stories about Lenin and the history of the estate so I only understood bits and pieces of it. However, my friend Monika is Bulgarian and she studied Russian for some time so she understood quite a bit and tried to translate the most important things that were talked about.

Before Lenin moved into the estate he gave orders not to change anything in there as he did not see his stay there as a permanent but only a temporary one.

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casual selfie…

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Lenin’s Rolls-Royce

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The second museum that we visited was the ‘Cabinet and the apartment Lenin in the Kremlin‘. This exhibition (this house more or less) used to be in Moscow but was transferred to Gorki Leninskiye in 1994. It shows almost the entire complex of buildings associated with the activity of Lenin – the office, an extensive library, conference room etc. The exhibition tries to recreate the atmosphere in which some of Russia’s major political figures have lived and worked.

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Stalin’s and Lenin’s seats

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Monument of the death of Lenin

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The estate and the surrounding park were beautiful, and the museums were really interesting to look at (especially when you’re interested in Russian history). Even though we did not really get all what the women were telling us about, we still enjoyed it there. The stroll in the autumnally park with the sunset was definitely worth the longish busride :)

Celebrations in Moscow

After living in Moscow for not even one month I already have the feeling that every weekend there is something to celebrate here. The city seems to be decorated 24/7/365. There are fireworks everywhere all of the time. I actively took part in two celebratory festivals so far, and let me tell you something: Moscow does not do things by halves. Especially not when it’s about celebrating something.

Moscow City Day

Every year since 1997 Moscow has held a festival to celebrate its founding. Actually, the first celebration took place in 1847 to mark the city’s 700 year anniversary. It was voted that the city was founded on April 4 in 1147, yet the celebration was held on January 1. Back then a prayer of gratitude was held in all Moscow churches and the city was illuminated. In 1947 the de-facto ‘Mayor of Moscow’ raised the issue to celebrate City Day again during a meeting with Stalin at the Kremlin, who supported the idea. A new date for the celebration was chosen, namely September 7, 1947. This gave them more time to prepare for the festivities, as post-war Moscow needed to be repaired and poshed up. The celebrations lasted four days and featured a firework (!). In 1987 the City Day was once again revived and it only became annual after 1997, when Moscow turned 850.

Since then it’s always been celebrated on the first Saturday of September. However, this year the festival would have coincided with the Day of Solidarity in the Fight against Terrorism (September 3) so it was voted to move City Day on the second weekend of September. Moscow celebrated its 869th birthday with an array of festivals, events, concerts, and of course grand fireworks at various venues in the city centre. According to the official website of Moscow, over a thousand events were held on 10 and 11 September. Cray cray! The main celebrations were dedicated to Russian films as 2016 is the Year of Russian Cinema (they celebrate something every year – last year it was Literature).

A group of people (and me) went to a place with two stages for music and other stuff (mostly for kids though). The concert area was really huge and there were quite a lot of people who were really into the music. However, Russian Rap (and Dubstep?) is not really my cup of tea, so the music was only so so (for me). Later in the evening we also went to a park to see the fireworks (that were held all over town). Unfortunately, we left a bit too late and missed half of the show. Also, we expected that the fireworks last a bit longer than 5 minutes, which they did not. Still impressive though and there were so many people on the streets! Nevertheless, we enjoyed the night walk and had a beautiful view from a bridge in Moscow. Unfortunately, on the second day we totally forgot that some of the museums also held special events and were for free and instead we went to the Red Square. Due to the Moscow City Day the area around the Red Square was heavily guarded with security checks and everything, but it was nice to see the decorations in the city centre.

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Stage 1 – Russian Rap ;)

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Second Stage

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Circle of Light Festival

There is another annual international festival in September: the Circle of Light Festival. At this festival lightning designers and specialists in audiovisual art from various countries use video mapping to reinvent the architectural scene of the city. Buildings such as the Bolshoi Theatre or the Moscow State University are transformed into screens for large video projections. Another good thing of this festival, besides the impressive 3D projections of course, is that admission is (mostly) free! Naturally, fireworks are also part of the festival. We saw some beautiful projections, but also a few strange ones :D

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As you can see Moscow has already tried to impress me in my first month and I must say Moscow managed to do so. Also, if you ever get the chance of going to a 3D light projection – you should go there. It is such a great form of art and it really does not matter where you stand and how many people there are as the buildings are usually always very tall :) The first time that I saw something like that was in Copenhagen during Kulturnatten (Culture night) where we saw a light installation of “Tolkien’s Universe” at the Royal Danish Arsenal Museum.

Moscow Diary.

So far I’ve been enjoying my stay here in Moscow. I’ve met so many people – both Internationals and Russians, I’ve seen quite a bit from the city already, and my courses have already started. There’s actually quite a lot going on at the moment. But one after the other ;)

University
I was really excited for my university to start, and I have heard so much from the bachelor students already (their semester started 1-2 weeks before the master student courses). Most of the exchange students had (and still have!) quite some troubles with the courses – they were totally different from the ones that got sent out beforehand, so many timetable clashes, no information on the second half of the semester and so on. However, our faculty just handed us a timetable for the first half of the semester and that was it. So actually quite different from the experience of the bachelor students, but also not perfect and it is still a work in progress. I have already sent numerous mails and have had numerous talks with my faculty coordinator that I already assume that she dislikes me. But yeah, that’s Russia! The funny thing is though – one of my courses is already over and I have my first 3 ECTS! I still don’t know yet if my home university will approve them, but yeah. :D

The City
Moscow has turned out to be the ‘perfect’ place for me to be at the moment. It has a great size, and I have always wanted to live in and experience a huge city like Moscow. There is so much to see, so much to do! The architecture is great – I love the mix of Soviet and grandeur. The downside of the city’s massiveness is that all the places are kind of far away from each other, so you really have to carefully calculate your time. One example: my university is only two metro stations away from the Red Square, but you’d walk for more than 45 minutes to get from one to the other. But even when going by Metro it takes you around half an hour, as it takes forever to even reach the actual metro train due to the fact that Moscow’s Metro is one of the world’s deepest. Usually the Metro is always full of people and superhot. I am already predicting that I will get a cold quite often, especially during winter… yay me!

Another not so yay fact is that hardly anyone speaks English. Don’t even think about asking for directions. Most of the time they will just talk in Russian, even though that they know you won’t understand anything that they are saying. Luckily I speak a bit and understand quite a bit, so that’s okay. Also, Russia is one of the cheapest countries in regards to phone plans, so with unlimited data & so on it is pretty easy to find mostly everything online if needed.

People
By far the most important aspect of my exchange are the people. As I live in a student dorm near the university (quite the opposite from my ‘former’ life in Copenhagen I must say!) I am ‘confronted’ with people on a daily basis. Almost everyone on the international floors (we occupy two) is from a European country, except a few Singaporeans. There are quite a lot of French people here, but also Germans, Dutch and Austrians (I think we are 5?). (Almost) Everyone is (or at least tries to be) super friendly to each other, there’s always something going on. It never gets boring. However, the first few ‘dramas’ have already taken place, but that’s just natural in a student dorm with so many people; and you never really have your privacy or a true quiet time.

Also, the university has a great buddy systems, with buddies who are really interested in us and are doing everything in their power to make our stay the best. Pick-up at the airport, holding our hands during official stuff, planning trips, tours through the city, going to special events with us, hockey games for free, and so on. Plus, they set up a language buddy project, so I have a tandem partner who I will teach German and she will work on my Russian. Yay! :)


I can already say that I never want to spend the rest of my life in such a huge place, but for now it is great. Moscow is super interesting and very beautiful. Even though Russians don’t or hardly speak English, most of them try to help you nevertheless. Some of them are really interested in you (or foreigners in general) and want to know more about your country and why you’ve decided to come here. I’ve also learned that Russian bureaucracy is a b****, it sometimes can take up to an hour before it’s your turn at the post office (partly my fault though maybe?), and nothing’s set in stone – not even at the university :D

Parks and Recreation in Moscow: ВДНХ.

Moscow – a city with millions of people, massive roads and pompous buildings. Some of the parts in town still reflect the former communist era of the country, whereas other parts are super shiny. A city of superlatives almost. Even though it is such a big city, Moscow also offers a great amount of parks that invite people to relax and enjoy a little bit of nature. From time to time the parks also mirror the grandness of the country and its rich history. Sometimes I get the feeling that the Russians really want to show off a little bit. But hey, I guess every city or country does or did that at some point ;)

In the short time that I have been here I really tried to make the best out of the ‘good’ weather and went to a few parks already. I assume that doing some exploring in minus degrees will not be as much fun as it sounds…

VDNKh (ВДНХ) – Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva

On one beautiful not too cold late afternoon we gathered a few people to explore the VDNKh ‘park’ (Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy), which is actually more a permanent trade show and amusement park. It is spread over 237 hectares (bigger than Monaco!) and it was first opened in 1937. Since then it has been rebuilt, expanded, reshaped and renamed several times. The main idea of the park was the creation of several pavilions – one for each republic of the USSR and for each major industry.

Before entering the park itself we were already greeted by the 110 metres tall Monument to the Conquerors of Space, which was erected in 1964 as a celebration of achievements of space exploration. Inside the base of the monument there is also the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.

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To enter the park you go through the Propylaea – the central entrance gate. Straight after entering the park you already get the feeling of how big VDNKh is as you see the central pavilion and a great avenue with flower gardens and small fountains.

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The sunset was just beautiful and we had to take advantage of that and made lots of pictures!

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In Moscow there are around 600 fountains, and some of them are in VDNKh. The Druzhba Narodov fountain (‘the friendship of people fountain’) is one of them. Unveiled in 1954 it shows 16 young women, each symbolising a national republic of the Soviet Union.

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We stayed in the park for a few hours and really enjoyed strolling around for a bit. We did not manage to see everything that is in there and we also did not enter the amusement park. It was a very impressive park with so many impressive buildings and I will definitely go there again :)

First impressions of Moscow.

As of today it has been 12 days since I arrived in Moscow, the town I will be calling home for the next few months. So far I have met many people from different countries all over Europe (and a few Singaporeans and Chinese) and my university courses have already started. More importantly, however, I have already seen a few (tourist) places of Moscow and I have walked almost 100km so far :O

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Red Square

The Red Square of Moskau – Кра́сная пло́щадь or Krasnaya ploshchad in Russian – is probably the most famous attraction/place of Moscow, so this was also one of the first places I went to.

The Red Square separates the Kremlin from the merchant quarter Kitai-gorod. It used to be Moscow’s main marketplace, but also a place for public ceremonies and proclamations, also coronation of Tsars happened there. The square officially got its name in the 17th century. Its name has actually nothing to do with the the surrounding red bricks (they used to be whitewashed at some points in time) or that communism is connected to the red colour. The name derives from the Russian word ‘krasnyi’, which used to mean ‘beautiful’ but changed meanings over time to ‘red’ in current Russian (For more  information: click here).

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Resurrection Gate

The Resurrection Gate (also called Iberian Gate) – Воскресенские ворота – is the only existing gate of Kitai-gorod in Moscow, connecting the Red Square with the Manege Square. Its name derives from the Icon of Christ’s Resurrection that was placed above it. In front of the gate there is the kilometre zero plaque of the Russian highway system – a location from which distances are traditionally measured. People also use it for making a wish and throwing a coin over their shoulders. I did that too but I was too fixated on throwing the coin and actually forgot to make a wish :O

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State Historical Museum

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Спасская башня / Spasskaya Tower – Saviour tower

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On the eastern side of the Red square is the location of Russia’s most famous shopping mall – the State Department Store, short GUM (abbreviation of Глáвный универсáльный магазѝн / Glávnyj Universáĺnyj Magazín). The current building was completed in 1893, closed in 1928 by Stalin and then used as the headquarters for officials working on the first Five Year Plan. Shortly after Stalin’s death in 1953 it was reopened and again used as a warehouse. Privatised in the early 90s, it’s become the address for top-end Western retailers. Very fancy I must say!

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Inside GUM

Another very famous landmark of Moscow that is also located on the Red Square is the St. Basil’s Cathedral. Officially it is called ‘The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat’, but yeah… Ivan the Terrible ordered the church in 1552 to mark the capture of Kazan from Mongol forces, and it was completed in 1560. The Cathedral survived Stalin’s plan of demolishing it to have more room for plans for massed parades on Red Square, and now it is home to a Museum.

In front of the cathedral there is the statue of Minin and Pozharsky, the leaders of the militia that repelled the Polish invasion of 1612. It was erected in 1818, becoming Moscow’s first monumental sculpture.

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Theater Square

The theatre square – Театральная площадь / Teatralnaya ploshchad  – is a square in the Tverskoy District not far from the Red Square. Its name derives from the theatres located on it (no kidding!): the famous Bolshoi Theatre, Maly Theatre, and Russian Youth Theatre. Apparently, there is also the last standing Karl Marx statue of Moscow on this square, ercted in 1961. On the statue is an inscription reading: “Proletariat of all countries, solidarity!”. Even though it had been proposed to remove the monument from such a prominent point in the centre, nothing has changed so far. So we were still able to see it there :D

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Bolshoi Theatre

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So far I can say that Moscow – especially the city centre – is very beautiful and also very different from the cities I’ve lived in so far. There’s always a lot to explore. I am sure that I will make a few additional trips to the Red Square and I really want to watch a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre (even though that I wasn’t that impressed by the building itself!).

So if you are interested in seeing more of Moscow and Russia – follow my journey here or on Facebook :) Stay tuned!!