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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



August 16. GOLDEN RING: SUZDAL "Exploring a Medieval Village" The following morning we set out in search of some breakfast but only found some small local stores selling mostly sausage and cheese.  We finally ended up in the same cafe as another group of tourist from our hotel, the only place the seemed to be open.  There was one French couple that we had met briefly in Vladimir, a single French man who we had seen when we checked in, and an Australian woman.  The couple was on a Russia tour, the French man was continuing a loop he had started from France going through Central Asia and Russia as he made his way back to France, and the Australian woman was on a holiday from her current occupational stint in Oman.  They invited us to join them and we had a good chat before they headed off to a nearby museum.  The three French people were heading on to other places that afternoon but we arranged to meet up with the Australian woman, Karen, later on.

In spite of the constantly changing weather it was hard not to enjoy Suzdal.  It was a darling little village, dotted with one church after another along the snaking Kamenka River.  Small wooden bridges made places accessible from one side of the river to the other.  There was very little to the downtown area and taking in the various sites meant winding around the little streets, bridges and dirt pathways.  Out in front of the Ethnographic Museum we bought delicious homemade apple and cherry piroshigis from a babushka who was using a baby carriage to cart her goods.  The Kremlin housed a decent little museum but was too overpriced for foreigners, especially considering they couldn't bother to give you any information in any language other than Russian.  Inside the Kremlin was the beautiful Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral.  The inside was closed but the star studded domes were a highlight across Suzdal's skyline.  Throughout the day we stumbled across one little church after another until we reached the far end of town were the larger complex of the Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius.  We entered the monastery just in time to hear the lovely sound of a 10 minute bell ringing concert from the old bell tower.  The walls of Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior inside the monastery were covered in vivid paintings of the life of Christ and Biblical stories.  Most Orthodox churches had elaborate wooden altars that extended to ceiling with rows of paintings from top to bottom but this cathedral was undergoing reconstruction and just had its amazing walls left.  The priests at the monastery were all quite young, as were the nuns at the nearby convent.  With more than a generation of religious oppression it seemed that there were no older priests and nuns left.   As we headed back to our hotel we passed through the Intercession Convent again.  Some of the nuns were holding service, singing together in their small number.  Even at the small church in front of our hotel a few nuns were huddled together singing in front of the altar.  In the hollow old churches their voices resonated beautifully and sweetly.  

After a full day of cathedral going we met up with Karen at the hotel and went for some drinks.  Near the old town center was a trading market with a small restaurant in the back.  The location afforded some nice views across the countryside to the west. We stayed until the sun nearly set before Rob and I had to get some dinner.  We had an even better meal than the night before at the warm and friendly Restoran Trapenznaya in the Kremlin building.  

August 17. GOLDEN RING: SUZDAL to VLADIMIR  In the morning we met up with Karen early for some breakfast but we discovered that the cafe we had all met at the morning before didn't open until 10:00.  We settled on a restaurant closer to the hotel.  Their sign was out and the door was unlocked but when we poked our heads in we got rude looks.  It was actually 5 minutes to nine, opening time, and we weren't welcome before then.  The Russian hospitality really warms the heart.

After breakfast Karen went off to visit the monastery, I went off to see the few churches we'd missed the day before, and Rob joined me for a couple of churches and then went to mail our postcards.  It was Sunday so people were attending services. I stood near the door and watched one young priest give mass before his small group of quite old parishioners.  It was a tiny church but as we learned in Yekaterinburg there was no church too small for an Orthodox ceremony.  One small church in Yekaterinburg had held no more than three or four people in addition to the priest.  This small church could have held maybe 12 people comfortably.  There were about six people present.  The ceremony ended with singing as the priest swung incense through the air.  Before leaving each parishioner approached the priest and kissed the large gold cross that he held before him.  It was a touching ceremony, even more so because the group was older and the importance of their religion was so sincere.  

For all of Suzdal's visual charm and scenic beauty I didn't enjoy strolling the streets alone that morning.  The village was still coming to life but drunks were already out and about.  There was an odd gap between the sweet church going people I had just witnessed and these degenerate drunks stumbling through the streets.  One symbolized hope while the other seemed to just show despair.

We met up with Karen around noon and all headed to the bus station together.  What should have been a quick ride to Vladimir turned into a hassle.  Not realizing that there were assigned seats on the bus we took the seats that kept our bags as far off of the aisle as possible.  They were three single seats along the side of the bus.  Apparently they belonged to other passengers and when the only English speaking person around explained that we were in the wrong seats we located our assigned seats to find other people sitting in them. The English speaking woman, possibly not Russian since she also looked like a tourist, was helpful in translating that we were in the wrong seats but wouldn't help us extract the Russians from our seats.  She just berated us and called us names.  We explained that we had taken those seats to keep our bags out of people's way and that we didn't know the numbers scratched on our train receipts in ball point pen were seat numbers.  Two of the people just found other seats but one woman, whose seat I was in, just started going nuts.  She was pulling on Karen sweater and trying to wedge Rob out of his seat. I finally stood up to try and get my proper seat, feeling pretty certain the person in it would keep looking out the window and pretend they didn't understand me (as they had done during the whole scene), but when I stood up this crazy woman pounded me in my back with both of her hands and nearly knocked me onto the floor.   I just straightened up and sat back in the seat and made a motion that I thought she was crazy.  At that point I didn't care that I was in her seat.  Going to the extent of becoming violent over a mistaken bus seat was just crazy.  She eventually moved to the front of the bus and got another seat.  It was a sad experience after a mostly enjoyable few days in Suzdal.  

TRANS SIBERIAN RAILWAY Ulan Ude Aug 6-7 Irkutsk Aug 4 Aug 5-8 Yekaterinburg Aug 8-10 Aug 11-12 Kazan Aug 13 Nizhny Novgorod Aug 14 Golden Ring Aug 15 Aug 16-17

MOSCOW Aug 17-19 Aug 20-21 Aug 22-23