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 (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.
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.
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 :(
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.