Parks & Recreation: Park Pobedy.

Moscow is one of the biggest cities in the world, and it is known for its pompous architecture and great boulevards. Many of the concrete structures are a reminder of past times which are still vivid in the people’s hearts, minds, and memories. One example of such a structure or area is Park Pobedy, a grand park located in the (South-)Western corner of Moscow.

Park Pobedy, or Парк Победы, was constructed in honour of the country’s victory in World War II or, as the Russians remember it, Great Patriotic War. It’s also where the name comes from – Pobeda meaning victory, so it’s the Park of Victory. It is actually a vast memorial complex that includes many monuments, fountains, museums, and a church, synagogue, and mosque. Every year on May 9, Russia celebrates Victory Day in which this park becomes the centre of celebrations.

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_moscow-sign_flowers

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_sign_column

The park at Poklonnaya Hill is set as a reminder that Russia and its citizen suffered a great deal during the war. The area actually used to be the tallest point of Moscow and was an open-air museum to remind of Russia’s victory over Napoleon. The hill was leveled down to the ground in 1987 and has been gradually turned into the war memorial it is today.

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_avenue

Right at the entrance to the park there is a long promenade that gives a great view over the area and the surrounding city. This big road lined with fountains leads to the obelisk, a war memorial museum and an exhibition of tanks, war planes, and other weaponry. The park ends into a forest.

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_pillars

The park was carefully constructed, and certain numbers were kept in mind when planning it. For example, the central avenue, the “Years of War”, has five terraces which links to the five years of conflict. A total of 1,418 fountains can be found there – one for every day. The memorial chapel, mosque, and synagogue are for the different religions of the fallen soldiers. The height of the obelisk with a statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory, represents every day of Russia’s participation in WWII (141.8 metres, 10 cm for a day). In 2005, 15 pompous bronze columns that symbolise the main fronts and navies of the Red Army were added.

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_flowers

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_church

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_monument

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_museum

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_square_buildings

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_square_fountains

russia_moscow_parks_park-pobedy_square

What I especially liked about this park is that it is such a huge “empty” space within such a big city. It is such an interesting feeling that you get when walking around in such a massive park surrounded by skyscrapers. It is a mix of feeling secluded from everything but also being in the middle of a huge town.


The Museum of the Great Patriotic War is open TUE, WED, SUN 10:00–20:00 & THU, FRU, SAT 10:00–20:50. The entrance ticket for the museum is 300 rubles (4.30€ or 5.05 USD), or for the whole exhibition area 400 rubles (5.74€ or 6.73USD). The park area is free.

Exploring the Golden Ring: Sergiev Posad.

My stay in Russia is officially over, but I still have a few adventures and insights left that I still want to share with you here.

Part of my family came to visit me in Moscow at the beginning of December and I thought that it might be interesting for them to show them something besides (the very westernized and international) Moscow. So I took them to a city in the Golden Ring: Sergiev Posad.

The Golden Ring – Золотое кольцо – is textbook Russia not far from Moscow. It is an area that has the country’s oldest towns, which used to play a major role during the time of the Kievan Rus’. The architecture of the cities in the Golden Ring is marked with onion-shaped domes and kremlins, everything mostly untouched by the Soviet industrialisation. Now, this area is very popular among tourists as it is very idyllic, especially during winter when it is covered in snow.

Sergiev Posad

Before my family came to visit me I had already travelled to two other cities within the Golden Ring, namely Rostov and Yaroslavl. Sergiev Posad – Сергиев Посад – is the closest to Moscow in the Ring (72km by railway). Over 110,000 people live in the city which is located in the Moscow Oblast. Its most important or well-known site and reason for people travelling there is the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, which is the most important monastery and the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. Sergiev Posad is – apparently – also the place where the matryoshka dolls (traditional Russian wooden toys) were born.

We travelled by Elektrichka which took us around 1.5 hours. We decided to use this suburban electrical commuter train as it was the cheapest option and it gave us the most elbowroom for travelling (buying a ticket much in advance is not necessary, you can buy it right before boarding the train). However, there are faster train options available as well. A bus would have been another cheap and easy option but we didn’t want to risk that as we travelled on a Sunday and there is usually a lot of traffic during the weekend.

Already on the train my family got to experience something that isn’t a thing in (Western) Europe: there were more than ten people who tried to sell all (un)necessary stuff such as bags, christmas decoration, calendars etc at a bargain price. After arriving at the train station we had to walk for around 1km in order to get to the monastery. It was really easy to find as we could spot it from some way ahead and there were plenty of signposts.

sergiev-posad_city-walk_monastery

sergiev-posad_city-walk_ducks

Sergius

Bartholomew was born in 1314. Already in his early life he knew that he wanted to live in asceticism so he decided to move into the woods where he could work and pray a lot. A few years later he became a monk and took the name Sergius. The city’s namegiver and patron saint apparently was able to work miracles by healing people and seeing the future. Already during his lifetime the monk became famous and people started to visit the monastery in order to get advice from him. He and his pupils further founded several monasteries throughout Russia. Today the Trinity Lavra is one of the most respected and largest one in Russia.

sergiev-posad_city-walk_statue

The monastery celebrated its patron saint’s (St. Sergius of Radonezh) 700 year birthday in 2014

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

The monastery was closed by the Bolsheviks (surprise surprise), but it was reopened as a museum, residence of the patriarch and a working monastery after WWII. Despite the move of the patriarch and the church’s administrative centre to Moscow in 1988 the Lavra remained the most important spiritual site in Russia. The monastery became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

When entering the monastery we passed through the red tower with the Church of John the Baptist’s Nativity, which was erected in 1699. We followed a road that lead us to the heart of the square from which we could see all of the churches.

sergiev-posad_red-tower_nativity

sergiev-posad_churches_square

The Trinity Cathedral was built in the 1420s and is the centrepiece of the monastery. People were already queuing outside the building in order to seethe tomb of St. Sergei (and pray in front of it?  or whatever they do) which stands in the southeastern corner of the cathedral. Apparently there is a memorial service for him all day every day.

sergiev-posad_trinity-church

The Trinity Cathedral (on the left) with the queue

The most prominent church of the square is the Cathedral of the Assumption which was finished after 26 years in 1585. With its star-sprangled blue onion domes it catches one’s eyes. The money for this cathedral was left by Ivan the Terrible in a fit of remorse for killing his own son. Another special fact/thing about the church is that in its vault is the grave of Boris Godunov who is the only tsar that wasn’t buried in the Moscow Kremlin or in the St Petersburg’s SS Peter & Paul Cathedral.

sergiev-posad_assumption-cathedral_full

sergiev-posad_assumption-cathedral

Empress Elizabeth particularly favoured the monastery and had a white and blue baroque belltower erected in the 18th century which is with 88 metres still one of the tallest structures built in Russia.

Right in the middle of the square is the Chapel at the Well which was built over a spring. It is believed that the spring appeared during the Polish siege. A blind monk drank the water and got his eyesight back. What a miracle! During summer the water is pumped outside and over it is a very colourful baldachin. I was pretty disappointed that neither my mom nor my aunt wanted to get holy water even though they wanted to go in almost every church that they saw in Russia. Tsk Tsk Tsk.

sergiev-posad_bell-tower

Bell Tower with the baldachin for the holy water thing

sergiev-posad_bell-tower_huge

sergiev-posad_square

Baldachin and Chapel at the Well on the left

The most colourful building within the monastery walls is the Refectory Church of St. Sergei. It was a dining hall for pilgrims but is used as a church during winter in order to hold the morning services as it would be too cold in the Assumption Cathedral.

sergiev-posad_refectory_snow

sergiev-posad_refectory

sergiev-posad_restaurant_05

Despite being an impressive monastery that had many beautiful and colourful buildings there were quite a few things that I did not like about the place. It was a bit disappointing that two of the main buildings inside the monastery, which looked very impressive at first glance, weren’t even churches but souvenir shops. Almost the entire building next to / behind the Trinity Cathedral was only a souvenir shop and nothing else. We also went to have food at a place nearby and this restaurant was the most expensive one that I took my family to and the food wasn’t even that good and the staff seemed to be very disinterested in keeping their guests happy. Still, the interior was nice and my family could try a bit more of the traditional Russian food there. We could really see that the monastery is very focused on (but also probably dependent on) tourists.

In spite of all the things that I did not like about the place it was a good travel opportunity for me and my family. I could show them something outside of Moscow, they got to travel in an Elektrichka and we saw the most important religious place in Russia.

My recommendation for people who are considering going there would be that you should only go there if you haven’t already seen a few other churches in Russia or if you want to see another city close to Moscow that hasn’t changed as much as the capital has in the past centuries. There are definitely more interesting and more beautiful cities in the Golden Ring, but if you don’t have much time to travel to another city or spend much time in another city, Sergiev Posad would be a great choice! Just beware – there are a lot of souvenir shops and stalls waiting for you there…

East meets West: Kazan.

A while ago when doing research about potential travel destinations within Russia I came across Kazan. I haven’t really heard much about the city before, I only knew that it was one of the megapolises of Russia. A quick google search told me that the architecture was supposed to be different from other Russian cities so of course I was hooked immediately and the decision was made to go there at some point. Some friends were easily convinced to tag along, so my old travel pal Madlene and I abandoned our former travel group members Frederik and Marcel and got us a new crew. Together with Monika, Viktoria, Daan and Ghezal we spent a weekend in Kazan.

Kazan_8418.jpg

Part of the new crew

Kazan

Kazan is the capital and the largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan. With a population of around 1.14 million people it is also the eighth largest one in Russia. The city lies at the confluence of the Volga and the Kazanka River. The most special aspect of Kazan is the mix between East and West / Muslim and Orthodox. Apparently it is also one of the most tourist-friendly cities of Russia. Yay!

People are proud of their culture and try to preserve it, which can also be seen on state level. Tatar language is official – students must learn it at school. Signs are written both in Russian and Tatar. In that sense it is not a typical Russian city which makes it even more interesting. In 2009 Kazan got the right to brand the city as the ‘Third Capital’ of Russia. The city has a rich industrial side, and is a cultural and educational centre. Kazan federal university for example is the oldest university in Russia.

Due to its continental and far inland position, Kazan has a humid continental climate which includes long, cold winters (it’s even colder than in some areas further west in Europe, eg Moscow). In December the average low is -11.4°C and the record low is -42.9°C. Freaking cold!

Exploring the city

While driving from the airport to our hostel we already passed many beautiful buildings that gave us a first impression of the city. Even though our cab ride was ridiculously overpriced (for Russia at least) our driver was very nice and tried to explain most of the buidlings and told us interesting things of the city. Some we understood and some we didn’t, but Google our friend and helper filled the gaps. The thing that sticked out the most were all the sports related buildings in the outskirts of the city. We learned that in 2013 the Summer Universiade – an international multi-sport event for university athletes – was held there (also referred to as World University Games, or World Student Games). It is the largest multi-sport event in the world apart from the Olympic Games. Apparently it was the most northern held Summer Universiade thus far. Also, in 2009 the city was chosen as the ‘Sports capital of Russia’.

kazan_8428

First look at the Kremlin

Kazan_4631.jpg

Our first expedition in the city lead us to a viewing platform on the other side of the river on which the Kazan Family Center is located. This tower has the shape of a huge cauldron and is a place for weddings. Unfortunately, the viewing platform on the tower itself is closed in the winter season. We had a nice view over the city nevertheless.

Kazan_8450.jpg

kazan_8439

kazan_8446

Kazan_8489.jpg

Within the Kazan Kremlin walls

As in many other cities in Russia there is also a Kremlin (or in Tatar kirman) in Kazan which was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. The skyline of the city is dominated by its beautiful fortress. Inside the white walls of the citadel there are various major monuments such as the Annunciation Cathedral, the leaning Soyembika Tower, or the Qol-Şarif mosque. Also, the central government of the republic is located within the walls. The kremlin is located on a relatively high point of Kazan so we also had a very nice view over the city and the frozen river.

kazan_4694

kazan_4688

Kazan_4636.jpg

Kazan_4764.jpg

Kazan_140006.jpg

kazan_4665

The Mosque Qol-Şarif

The Qol-Şarif mosque is the biggest mosque in Europe. Before Kazan was conquered by Ivan the Terrible in 1552, there used to be a white mosque with blue domes and minarets, and it used to be the capital of the Kazan Khanate. In the years after that the native population, Tatars, were massacred or forcibly christianized. In 2005 the mosque was rebuilt in honor of the Kazan’s Millenium Jubilee (yes, apparently the city is one of the oldest ones in Russia). It represents a new symbol of Kazan and Tatarstan – ‘a bridge connecting the past and future’. The mosque got its name to honour the imam who was killed by Ivan the Terrible’s troops in 1552 while trying to protect the city.

kazan_4729

 

Kazan_4697.jpg

kazan_4706

kazan_4732

kazan_4657

kazan_4677

Annunciation Cathedral

The cathedral inside the Kremlin was built in 1561-62 and is the only 16th-century Russian church to have six columns and five domes. Interesting fact, right?

kazan_4756

kazan_4669

kazan_4659

The Ministry of Agriculture

The building of the Ministry of Agriculture is a magnificent work of architecture. Very eclectic with a beautiful massive wrought-iron tree in the centre of the building. The building is located across from the Kremlin, so it can already be spotted from within the Kremlin walls.

Kazan_4770.jpg

kazan_4788

kazan_4820

Kazan_8545.jpg

Group picture!

Tatar Food

Unfortunately, I cannot tell much about Tatar Food as most of it contains meat. However, I tried soft manti dumplings filled with pumpkins and something else that I can’t remember at the Dom Tatarskoy Kulinarii (House of Tartar Cuisine) where we were able to listen to local live music for some time. We also tried chack-chack – a pastry coated in honeyed sugar syrup – at the Tatarskaya Usadba (Tartar estate). I did not really like the dessert, the place was very nice though and the waiter was very good at English, which is a rarity sometimes.

Christmas Feeling in Kazan 

Kazan was covered in snow and it was freezingly cold. Some streets were covered in ice which made it really tricky to walk without slipping. Nonetheless, the city was magical as parts of it were illuminated in fairy lights. There was even an ice skating rink on next to the river and it was the most beautiful one I’ve seen so far in Russia. Christmas was all around us and we even had a cup of hot cider in a cute little café near the ice rink.

Kazan_191222.jpg

Kazan was a lovely city despite the harsh wind and the freezing temperatures. We explored as much as we could while trying to stay as warm as we could by spending a lot of time inside restaurants and cafes, or taking an uber from A to B.

The Kremlin of Kazan makes a strong statement by having a (orthodox) church next to a mosque. It shows that is possible to live peacefully next to each other despite representing different religions. It was my first time ever inside a mosque and it was really interesting to see it and learn more about it.

In the north of Russia: Murmansk.

A few months ago I was thinking about which places I could go visit while staying in Russia. One of the first cities that came to my mind was Murmansk. I can’t even give a reason for that but I have always had the urge to go there. My travel partners from Nizhny Novgorod were (more or less) easily convinced and the flights to Murmansk from Moscow were relatively cheap as well. So Madlene, Marcel, Frederik & I spent an adventurous weekend in the city far up north without doing much research beforehand.

murmansk_8124

The City Murmansk

Murmansk is located in the northwest part of Russia on the Kola Bay, which is an inlet of the Barents Sea on the northern shore of the Kola Peninsula. The city is located on an extreme-northern latitude just 2° north of the Arctic Circle. It is very close to Norway and Finland – it is possible to reach both countries within a short time. The city’s name is derived from ‘Murman Coast’, and Murman is an old Russian term for Norwegians. With a population of around 307,000 Murmansk is by far the biggest Arctic city (followed by Norilsk in Russia with 175,000 and Tromsø in Norway with 71,590).

Despite being located in such an extreme Northern part, the city/region enjoys some benefits that other northern cities for example in Siberia lack. The Murmansk region has highway and railway access to the rest of Europe, as well as the northernmost trolleybus system on Earth. Comparatively warm Gulf Stream waters keep the city’s port ice-free even in winter.

Murmansk was the last city that was founded in the Russian Empire in 1916. Due to the outbreak of WWI Russia was in need of military supplies so Russia extended the railway system in order to reach the ice-free location on the Murman coast. In WW II Murmansk served as a port for arctic convoys, and afterwards it became the most important submarine base of the Soviet Union.

The climate of the region is subarctic with long & cold winters, and short but mild summers. The mean monthly sunshine hours of November are 6 and in December 0. As we were travelling at the end of November, we had around 3 – 4 hours of daylight and temperatures around -10° C.

murmansk_8136

sunrise or sunset?!


murmansk_8138

at the airport


murmansk_8152

Anatoly Bredov monument

murmansk_8161

Bandy, a sport similar to ice hockey where a ball is used instead of the puck, is very popular in Murmansk. We came across the city’s home arena which apparently has an audience capacity of 5,000. Only three places have representation in the female Bandy league, and Murmansk is one of them.

murmansk_8162

Bandy arena ‘Stadium Stroitel’

murmansk_8250

murmansk_8253

Murmansk railway station

Port of Murmansk

It was a must for us to go see the docks as the port is the raison d’être of the city.

murmansk_8185

murmansk_8183

murmansk_8167

murmansk_8186

murmansk_8187

Murmansk_8192.jpg

Lenin Icebreaker

In the port of Murmansk is the Soviet nuclear-powered icebreaker Lenin (Ленин) which was launched in 1957. It was the world’s first nuclear-powered surface ship. After the decommission in 1989 the ship was converted into a museum.

Murmansk_8191.jpg

IMG_8178.jpg

Alyosha and the view over the city

From the city centre we could see a huge monument on a hill a bit outside of the city centre. It is the second of the two main attractions of Murmansk so we had to go there and see it with our own eyes. Also, we thought that we might be able to have a great view over the city, which was true. Off we went with a taxi to go there as it would have taken us forever to go there by foot.

The Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War is the official name of the monument, but it is commonly called Alyosha (‘Алёша’). The statue was erected in 1974, is 33.5 metres tall, which makes it the second tallest statue of Russia. Alyosha is dedicated to Soviet soldiers, sailors, and airmen of World War II.

murmansk_8208

murmansk_8198

murmansk_8200

murmansk_8209

murmansk_8211

murmansk_8233

murmansk_8204

Hunting the Northern Lights

Murmansk is supposedly a prime spot for watching the Northern Lights. Not Murmansk directly, as a city is hardly ever the best place for spotting them, but the region around the city. Of course we had to try as well but unfortunately we picked the wrong weekend for doing so. Nevertheless, we were still able to see parts of the Murmansk area, we got to listen to very interesting stories about the city and Russia in general, plus we went on a hike at 4 in the morning in order to have a great view over the city. Who else can say that?! Oh, and we played around with Light Painting.

murmansk_8270

murmansk_8277

Murmansk_4619.jpg

The world’s…

… northernmost McDonalds in the world. 

On our first day we wanted to bridge the annoying time between lunch and dinner (we missed lunch as we were on the plane at that time) and decided to still our hunger with a quick snack. At that time we weren’t even aware of the fact that we were sitting and eating at the northernmost McDonalds in the world (even though they had a sign for that).

…northernmost trolleybus route in the world. 

According to several sources, Murmansk has the northernmost trolleybus route of the world. Frederik and I decided to stay in bed instead (and not get up earlier before going to the airport) so we did not travel with one of them, but Madlene and Marcel did. Good for them.

… tallest building above the Artic Circle.

The Hotel Arctic which is known as Azimut Hotel Murmansk is the tallest building above the Artic Circle. It was opened in 1984. We’ve been there every day as we had to ask a few questions at their reception, ate in the restaurant Arktika once, and cleaned our shoes with their shoeshine machine.

…first nuclear-powered surface ship

We couldn’t help ourselves but we just had to go inside the ship even though we had to wait for an hour to make the tour which was of course held in Russian.

murmansk_8300

murmansk_8301

agree to disagree on that one…

murmansk_8305

Murmansk is probably the most northern part of the world that I will ever travel to (even though I still kinda want to go to Svalbard). Seeing another interesting part of Russia that is so different from the parts that I have already seen was a great experience that I wouldn’t want to miss. We’ve spent some great 2-3 days there, we enjoyed meals in exclusive restaurants (we didn’t do that on purpose…) that were still cheap in comparison to our home countries. We were even lucky enough to see the sun on all three days. The weather was perfect during the day. Even during the night it was warmer than I’d expected it to be (still cold though!). The best thing about the city though is that it is full of beautiful huskies!! ❤️

Exploring the Golden Ring: Rostov.

The Golden Ring near Moscow has several beautiful cities to offer. Their importance in history has made me want to explore not only Yaroslavl but also a small town nearby: Rostov.

Rostov (Ростов) is one of the oldest towns in the country with a population of around 31,000 people. The city lies on the shores of the Lake Nero. The city’s official name is Rostov, but to Russians it is also known as Rostov Veliky (to not mix it up with Rostov-on-Don). It is located around 200 kilometres northeast of Moscow, and it is quite easy to reach the city by train from there.

First people settled down at the place from 4,000 BC. Finn-Ugors people were living there until the 11th century, and the city of Rostov was founded by them. Officially it is known since the 9th century, making it one of Russia’s oldest towns. In the 13th century Rostov was one of the 5 biggest towns of Russia. Its importance was based on the fact that people living in the town were educated and worked very hard to make the town even better. The city’s political and cultural growth, however, came to an end with the Tartar invasion as many people were killed, the town was ransacked and partly destroyed. Nowadays Rostov is quite a small town with old buildings and a Kremlin.

When my boyfriend was visiting me, we spent a few days in Yaroslavl, and on our way back to Moscow we thought it might be a good idea to make a quick stop in Rostov. We took an Elektrichka (a local train) as it was the easiest and probably cheapest way even though it took some time (despite being really close to Yaroslavl) and it was also very cold inside the train. Nevertheless, we made it safely to Rostov. Some other passengers unfortunately already really hurt themselves when leaving the train by slipping on the ice. A very warm welcome to the city I must say!

rostov_8148

We made some great feline and canine friends in the city. At the train station we met a lovely white cat that was living at the station. At least we assumed that she was as every employee greeted her like an old pal. Also, we met quite a lot of stray dogs, and one of them started following us as he saw us eating something. He followed us from the train station to the city centre, which was almost an half hour walk.

rostov_7717

rostov_8151

Our first view at the Kremlin / church

Lake Nero

After reaching the city centre we decided that we first wanted to walk around for a bit and not go directly into the Kremlin. Our route lead us to the shores of the lake. The Nero lake (Не́ро) is shallow, with an area of around 55 km². Apparently, it is around 500,000 years old, which makes it one of the pre-ice age lakes in Russia. It was very nice to walk there, as there were no people or cars on the streets. Some of the buildings next to the lake looked deserted. However, there were some fancy mansions next to half-collapsed buildings in which there were still people living.

At the end of the road that lead along the lake we could spot another monastery. Due to the ice and snow it took us such a long time to gain ground so we decided to skip this monastery as we just would not have time for it.

rostov_7721

rostov_7725

rostov_7722

rostov_8170

rostov_7739

rostov_7750

Near the Kremlin there was also a souvenir market and as it was the weekend it happened to be open so we had a quick look at it. It was kinda really sad as no other people were there but we also did not want to buy anything from there.

rostov_7752

rostov_7751

rostov_8178

The Kremlin

The main sight of the city is of course the fortress with its Assumption Cathedral, which dates back to the mid-16th century. When visiting the Kremlin we even heard them as it was exactly 12 o’clock. There are several other churches within the walls, also tower bells, numerous palaces, and belfries. The bells rank among the largest and most famous ones in Russia, and everyone has its own name.

In order to see the whole area you need to pay a small entrance fee (I think it was 50 rubles). There is also the possibility to go inside some of the churches and museums there, but we decided not to do that. The area and the gardens were enough for us.

rostov_8185

rostov_7767

img_7772

rostov_8189

rostov_7773

rostov_7774

rostov_7783

rostov_8223

rostov_7786

rostov_7787

rostov_7788

So far, Rostov is the smallest city that I’ve visited in Russia. It was really interesting as it was so extremely rural. The city was covered in snow (and ice and some dirt) which transformed it into a winter wonderland. True, there is not much to do or see in the town, but it is perfect for spending half a day there just as we did.

 

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.

yaroslavl_monastery_7526

yaroslavl_monastery_7515

yaroslavl_monastery_7519

yaroslavl_monastery_7522

yaroslavl_monastery_7532

yaroslavl_monastery_7535

yaroslavl_monastery_7540

yaroslavl_monastery_7542

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.

yaroslavl_city-centre_chapel

yaroslavl_city-centre_chapel_close-up

Часо́вня Алекса́ндра Не́вского – Chapel of Alexander Nevsky

yaroslavl_city-centre_public-office

yaroslavl_monastery_kazansky

Каза́нский же́нский монасты́рь – Nunnery of Kazan in Yaroslavl

yaroslavl_city-centre_revolution-square

Sovetskaya ploschad with governmental buildings and a huge puddle

yaroslavl_city-centre_revolution-square_church_elijah

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.

yaroslavl_7571

Церковь Рождества Христова – Church of the Nativity

yaroslavl_7574

yaroslavl_7576

yaroslavl_7583

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).

yaroslavl_7602

Elijah Church

yaroslavl_7604

yaroslavl_7605

yaroslavl_7609

Демидовский столп – Demidov pillar

yaroslavl_7612

yaroslavl_church_night

yaroslavl_tree_heart

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!

snowangel_mine

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.

nizhny-novgorod_train_6808

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…

nizhny-novgorod_train_6810

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.

nizhny-novgorod_hostel_6901

 

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.

nizhny-novgorod_pedestrian-road_6842

Monument of Minin

nizhny-novgorod_pedestrian-road_6847

Monument of Chkalov, a famous Soviet pilot

nizhny-novgorod_pedestrian-road_6863

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.

nizhny-novgorod_city_6921

nizhny-novgorod_city_6928

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.

nizhny-novgorod_platform_1629

nizhny-novgorod_platform_6945

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.

nizhny-novgorod_platform_1634

nizhny-novgorod_platform_1640

nizhny-novgorod_platform_1642

nizhny-novgorod_platform_6946

nizhny-novgorod_platform_1643

nizhny-novgorod_platform_1645

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.

nizhny-novgorod_platform_1658

nizhny-novgorod_platform_1661

nizhny-novgorod_city_1664

Успенская церковь – Dormition Church

nizhny-novgorod_city_1667

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.

 

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1722

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1688

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

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1679

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1708

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1706

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1696

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1712

nizhny-novgorod_city_6947

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1714

nizhny-novgorod_kremlin_1715

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?

nizhny-novgorod_pedestrian-road_1724

nizhny-novgorod_coffee_6952

nizhny-novgorod_coffee_7040

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.

nizhny-novgorod_cable-car_6969

nizhny-novgorod_cable-car_6971

Cable car selfie

nizhny-novgorod_cable-car_6977

nizhny-novgorod_cable-car_6984

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.

nizhny-novgorod_bor_6987

 

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

nizhny-novgorod_train_7024

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.

 


Wow, I just realised that this was a massive photo-dumb. If you’ve made it so far – congrats! ;) If you’re also interested in following me elsewhere, head over to facebook or instagram :)

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.

kremlin_outside

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.

kremlin_outside_inside

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.

kremlin_square_building

kremlin_red-square_car

kremlin_red-square_1

kremlin_red-square_tower

kremlin_square_selfie

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.

img_1582

img_1585

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!

img_6623

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.

img_1584

img_6627

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.

 

img_6612

The tiny one between the big building & church

img_1590

img_6635

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.

img_6619

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.

 

img_6632

 

img_6629
img_6631
kremlin_bell_broken
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.
kremlin_moskva_tower
kremlin_other-entrance_
kremlin_other-entrance
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
kremlin_other-exit_church
kremlin_other-exit_people
kremlin_other-exit_tower

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.

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.

gorki_leninskiye_park

gorki_leninskiye_park_airplane

gorki_leninskiye_mansion

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.

gorki_leninskiye_mansion_me

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.

museum_gorki_leninskiye_7

casual selfie…

museum_gorki_leninskiye_8

museum_gorki_leninskiye_9

museum_gorki_leninskiye_13

museum_gorki_leninskiye_14

museum_gorki_leninskiye_19_rollsroyce

Lenin’s Rolls-Royce

museum_gorki_leninskiye_18

gorki_leninskiye_selfie

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.

gorki_leninskiye_statue

cabinet_gorki_leninskiye_1

Stalin’s and Lenin’s seats

cabinet_gorki_leninskiye_2

cabinet_gorki_leninskiye_3

gorki_leninskiye_park_fall

gorki_leninskiye_monument

Monument of the death of Lenin

gorki_leninskiye_sun

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 :)