Trip to Russia. Day 5. Motley Crew Hits the Road. The Golden Ring Fragments — Sergiev Posad, Kalyazin, Uglich, Myshkin
The business of renting a car in Moscow is not for the faint at heart. Last night, we tried so many different places, even Charlotte without much Russian found a few numbers to call. It seemed like car rental offices in Moscow did not have cars.
In the morning, we stumbled upon a company called Alfacar. Vladimir, the guy on the other side of the line, was so chill — his answers were a “yes,” prices were reasonable, and his patience — beyond. Everything suddenly became easy and smooth. As a matter of fact so smooth that I called him three times in a row in disbelief to make sure there was no misunderstanding. Vladimir never lost it.
All turned out to be like he promised. In an hour after the phone call, we loaded our little white Ford Focus and Tom got behind the wheel.
Driving through Moscow went relatively smooth. As soon as Yaroslavskoe Shosse got us out of town, we hit the mother of all traffic. The ride that would, on a good day, take about an hour and a half turned into an almost five hour crawl. An overlap of the major road repairs and several car accidents slowed us down big time. And Muscovites do love switch their lanes and cut in front.
To entertain our driver, Lizzie and I spent some time fiddling with the car radio. We finally figured out how to connect my phone to the sound system and put on WFMU, Tom’s favorite station — actually the only one he listens to — broadcasting from Jersey City, NJ. Clay Pigeon’s “Wake and Bake” show was on, a sign that it was bright and early on the US East Coast. We gave Clay a shoutout through the app and he gave us one back through the airwaves.
The Golden Ring of Russia is a route that runs through eight medieval towns northeast of Moscow, with their monasteries, churches, and kremlins carrying thousands of years of Russian Orthodox history. The official eight are Sergiev Posad, Rostov the Great, Pereyaslavl-Zalessky, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Vladimir, and Suzdal. Besides these eight, many other little towns along the route are as interesting if not more.
Our four day adventure included four towns of the Golden Ring — Sergiev Posad, Yaroslavl, Rostov the Great, Pereyaslavl-Zalessky — and three of a smaller caliber — Kalyazin, Uglich, and Myshkin.
Our first stop was about 45 miles northeast of Moscow, in Sergiev Posad, the spiritual capital of Russia — Vatican, Mecca, Temple of Christian Orthodoxy.
In the 1300’s, in this area, Reverend Sergius of Radonezh settled as a hermit. His work attracted pilgrims and, in time, they organized a monastery here. Around the monastery, the town was born.
Over the centuries, this monastery, now called the Trinity Lavra of Sergius of Radonezh, went through a lot. Tatars burned it down, Polish-Lithuanian troops tried to capture it, it was closed during the Soviet times. And now it is standing in all its glory intact beautiful and taken care of.
This is the monument to the parents of Reverend Sergey Radonezhsky or Sergius of Radonezh erected by grateful descendants.
Serguis of Radonezh was known by his ability to make peace between the enemies. At the end of the 200-year-long Mongol-Tatar invasion, it was he who reconciled quarreling Russian princes and united them to fight against the invaders. In this monastery, he blessed Prince Dmitry Donskoy before the Kulikovo Battle and predicted Russian victory. That battle started the liberation of Russia from Mongol-Tatar oppression.
Gate Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the entrance into the monastery.
The lower tier of this church is cut by an arch, the Holy Gates of the monastery.
The murals inside the church and on the gate arches tell stories from the life of Revered Sergius of Radonezh and carry images of biblical prophets. Over the centuries, these wall paintings have been renovated so many times.
The miniature four-tier pink chapel is the Assumption Depository, built in the 17th century next to the Assumption Cathedral — the white one behind it — over the source of healing water, created here, according to legend, by Sergius himself.
There’s always a line of people in front of it filling their flasks.
The five-domed Assumption Cathedral was built at the behest of Ivan the Terrible in the 1500s. They say the tsar and his entire family were present at the laying of the foundation.
The Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin became a model for this Assumption Cathedral. But while similar, this one is not as elaborate as the one in Kremlin and it is built of brick, not of stone like in Moscow.
On the other side of the cathedral, there was originally an open porch. At some point in time, it was enclosed. Was it because of brutal Russian winters?
The Trinity Cathedral is the main one and the oldest surviving in the Monastery. It dates back to the 1400s. It was erected to “honor and praise” the founder of the Lavra, Revered Sergius of Radonezh on the site of the very first wooden Trinity Church that Sergius built.
This is the place where Sergius relics rest — the holy of the holies of the monastery and, with that, of the country.
The line to the 15th century tomb holding the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh never ends.
The soft diffused light inside the Trinity Cathedral pouring from the ten narrow windows at the top on the five-tired iconostasis is amazing. Taking pictures was not, strictly saying, prohibited, but the monastery workers gave us disapproving looks. That’s why not so many pictures inside. Maybe it was not that bad — we could enjoy more just walking around, looking, and feeling the vibes.
The two best icon painters, Andrey Rublev and Daniil Chyorny, decorated the Trinity Cathedral. Moscow royalty was baptized here. As the main temple icon to honor St. Sergius, Andrey Rublev created the icon “Trinity,” the most famous work of Russian icon painting in the world. In 1929, the icon was moved the State Tretyakov Gallery. The one in this cathedral now is a copy.
American girls in the Russian Orthodox world. Mandatory head covering for women visiting Orthodox institutions were, of course, provided by Tanya.
The Trinity Cathedral, the main cathedral of the Russian Orthodox world is in the background.
The Bell Tower with a 158,733 lb Tsar Bell on top is the largest functioning bell in the country. The tower is 289-feet high — higher than the belfry of the Novodevichy Convent and that of the Ivan the Great Belfry in Moscow Kremlin.
Church of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria is right behind the Bell Tower.
At the beginning of the 18th century, here was a monastery kitchen. On the outer wall of the kitchen was a miraculous icon of the Mother of God “Hodegetria” of Smolensk carved out of stone. According to legend, this icon appeared in the dreams of one of the withered and sick monks. After this vision, the monk got completely healed. Court doctors confirmed the miracle and the empress Anna Ioanovna ordered a church built on the site of the kitchen. The real icon is now in the museum of the monastery and the one above the balustrade is a copy.
Behind this church is the white tent of The Temple built to honor monks Zosima and Savvatiy Solovetsky. On both sides, it connects with two-story Viceroy quarters, the Cathedral Chamber, and the monastery library.
As we were about to get back on the road, with a magic wand, Tanya whipped out a table cloth and covered it with the best road food of my childhood. Hard boiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers, salo — a salt cured pork belly, a loaf of bread, apples, and zefir — a chocolate covered merengue.
When I was growing up, my parents did not have a car but so many times my mom organized these make shift snacks on a newspaper somewhere in the middle of nowhere during our trips.
Hard boiled eggs and cold boiled chicken — the golden staple of the Soviet road food. And the best part — my girls were so digging it!
When I was little, after I started school, every summer my parents took me to the Black Sea. They loved Crimea — the place of their first romantic summers before my brother and I were born.
A trip to Crimea called for a long, magical train ride: one full day and two nights. Oh, how I loved those rides! More than the Black Sea. A full day on a train playing cards, reading, sleeping, staring at the window as the scenery was passing by. And the train stops! During those stops, we were allowed outside where, on platforms, local babushkas were selling homemade food — roasted sunflower seeds, boiled potatoes, and pirozhki.
On a train route from Moscow to Crimea, there was this little god forsaken village Bologoe — tiny and obscure. Functionally, it was an O’Hare-scale transportation hub for the summer mass exodus of Muscovites to the shore. It was the longest stop on the way to the Black Sea — often in the middle of the night, sometimes for an hour or more — to change the locomotive. Catching a wave of business, local babushkas would crowd the train tracks carrying pots wrapped in blankets. Bologoe was so small that it didn’t even have platforms. From those pots, dished into newspaper cones, babushkas offered vacationers longing for home food freshly boiled, piping hot dill-infused potatoes. Heaven!
Unfortunately, our plans were seriously shifted by the late start and traffic. We skipped the observation deck with a spectacular view of the monastery as a whole. This was my final attempt to take a picture from the car window. The The Water Tower.
Oh, the Russian scenery — it brings back memories of Kursk and Shuklinka.
Before I started school, every summer my parents sent me to the town of Kursk where my maternal grandmother lived. Baba Liza came from a large family of noblemen called Navrotsky which goes back to boyars standing at the gates of Ivan the Terrible — thus, the name: Navrotsky — “na vorotakh” — “at the gates.” During Perestroika, my mom traced her family line and reinstalled it in the current Russian Noble Assembly.
Baba Liza was one of eighteen children. Her grandfather was a prominent nobleman in Kursk province. He was friends with the Russian poet Afanasii Fet, who also resided in the area. Baba Liza’s father, my great-grandfather, lost family favor when he fell in love and married a serf. According to family portraits and stories, my great-grandmother was strikingly beautiful. My grandmother and my mom carried her features. My mother even gave autographs to movie fans who thought she was Greta Garbo — the trick to pull it off was to keep her mouth shut, as my mom did not speak Swedish or English. The family joke goes — in me and my brother, that noble beauty was diluted by my father’s slovenly merchant line.
When my great-grandfather went against his father’s wishes, he was denied the family wealth and patronage. After a child was born, his father would come and throw a handful of golden coins in the crib of the infant and that would be all for the connection. Out of eighteen children only four survived for me to meet, including my grandmother. Some died in early childhood, many — mostly the White officers — vanished in Lubyanka’s corridors, the Second World War took the rest. Years later, we found documents describing some of the crimes my grandmother’s siblings were accused of. In particular, one of them, a high ranking officer, was accused of adding poison into the water used to wash the floor in soldiers’ barracks.
Four sisters remained. They were surrounded by a myriad of relatives — wives, children, cousins of all kinds — lucky survivors of revolution, famine, purges, and war. The family my grandma was close to lived in a village of Shuklinka in the Kursk province. Nearby was another village, Sapogovo, where she and her sister worked for some time as nurses in an insane asylum.
During my summers with grandma in Kursk, we’d frequently go to Shuklinka. The family hosting us was large and child-loving. The hosts had three sons. They were longing for a daughter so much that they dressed their youngest boy in girls’ clothes almost until he started school and rebelled. My grandma would bring me there — and they all would love and treat me like a princess just because I was a girl.
Every night in Shuklinka, my grandma and I would embark on a trip across a field of daisies to a friend with a cow. For milk. Grandma carried two gallon size jugs and I was trusted with a cast iron teapot. We’d watch the milking, chat for a while, and head back home our vessels filled. The two jugs grandma had to bring back for the family. The teapot was for me to sip from the spout on our way home. By the time we get back, I’d empty it.
Uncle Yura, the man of the house, was my knight and protector. In the morning, he would take me with him to the village well to get water. My favorite walk. He would be talking with 5-year-old me like I was an adult, introducing me to the neighbors. One day, I decided to play a trick on him and hid under the bed instead of going to the well. He thought I stayed home, women in the house thought I went with him. When he came back, my grandma asked him where I was.
— She didn’t come with me this time, — uncle Yura said.
— Yes, she did. She’s been out of bed since you left.
— No, I did not see her.
— Oh my god, you lost her! She probably fell into the well! Or wandered to the river and fell off the cliff! You, fool, run back, look for her!
The entire village got involved — police, medics, firefighters, neighbors. People ran to the river, into the woods, into the field.
Meanwhile, I got bored and fell asleep under the bed. Who knows how long I slept. At some point, I woke up, got from under it, and went outside. My grandmother was crying hysterically, medics next to her, police officers, neighbors with their children.
The story has it that I emerged from the house rubbing my eyes looking disappointed:
— Why is nobody looking for me? How long should I wait. It’s not fun.
Grandmother, going swiftly from hysterical to livid reached out for corporal punishment. Uncle Yura stepped in front of her. He picked me, threw me up in the air, caught and hugged me:
— We found you!
Grade school homework — memorizing Chichikov’s monologue. I still remember it. I can even translate it into English by memory.
“And what Russian does not like a fast ride? How can his soul, earning for a whirlwind, for a roam, for occasionally saying: “Damn it all!” how can his soul not love it? How not to love it when there’s something excitingly wonderful in it? As if an unknown force captured you on its wing, and you’re flying and everything is flying: miles are flying underneath you, merchants in their wagons are flying towards you, a forest with dark spruce and pine trees is flying along on both sides, with axes knocking and crows crying, the whole road is flying into god knows where disappearing distance, and there’s something scary in this fast flickering, where the disappearing object has no time to appear, only the sky above your head, and the light clouds, and a crescent moon tearing through them seem motionless.”
Thus thought Gogol’s Chichikov bouncing on his leather seat as he was a big fan of a fast ride. But Tanya warned us that the roads are really being watched so we behaved and did not do “Damn it all!”
I miss Gogol’s stories but afraid to touch his dark mind since reading my favorite “Old World Homeowners” after my mom passed away. It took me months to recover from this novel. Chekhov saved me from going crazy.
The scenery outside the window was a striking contrast with our previous four days in Moscow. We were driving through Tver Region, one of the poorest regions in the Moscow area. Russia is far from being all glitz and glamor and I wanted the girls to see the real deal.
Karamzin, a 19th century historian, once said that Russia has two misfortunes — fools and roads. We’re in the 21st century now and his observation still stands. The fools part is easy — in every culture, most people think of others as fools. But roads in Russia are special — it’s hard to define whether the roads are not good or they do not exist at all. Try to search “Russian roads. Images.”
Once, after a long trip to the US, I returned to Moscow and hailed a cab to go on an interview with an author. My plan was to use the ride to go over questions in a notepad. As I was desperately trying to write in my pad and my pen was jumping all over the place, a cab driver gave me a look in the rearview mirror:
— Did you just came from abroad?
— How do you know?
— I can tell…
Our next stop was the town of Kalyazin. Technically this town is not part of the The Golden Ring Eight but it was worth the time.
The history of Kalyazin dates back to 1400s when a monk decided to build a cathedral here to honor the Life-giving Trinity. The owner of the land didn’t like the idea and tried to get rid of the monk. Misfortunes started falling on the landlord, one after another. Scared, he changed his mind and allowed for a monastery to be built.
The citizens of Kalyazin collected the money to put up a bronze monument to that monk, Reverend Makary Kalyazinsky, the founder and patron of the town. It is a fragment of the monastery wall with a little window in it. In one hand, the monk is holding the monastery blueprints and his walking stick in another. There are always live flowers at his feet.
The Leaning Tower of Kalyazin, a 237-foot tall belfry — all what is left of the Nikolski Cathedral from the 19th century.
During early Soviet times, the government decided to make this part of the Volga River accessible to large ships. To do that, they had to flood a number of towns. Part of Kalyazin had to go under water. The cathedral was dismantled, but the belfry remained as a light house for ships. Around the belfry, an artificial island was created. In the top tier of the tower, there was a bell that weighed almost 18,000 pounds. After the flood, the construction workers tried to take it out but dropped it and the bell fell into the basement, breaking everything on its way. The locals say that before global catastrophes, the bell is ringing from underwater. It rang at the start of the World War II, before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and at the start of the war in Afghanistan.
In 1980s, the tower started leaning a bit and the foundation was reinforced. There’s even a little dock for boats now. No bells though — just the wind howling through the arches.
It was obviously a beautiful town some time ago. Would it take a Soccer World Cup to get the funds to restore Kalyazin to its former glory?
Remains of history, former beauty, and signs of neglect and poverty are everywhere.
A business venture next to the site of the main tourist attraction.
Interesting how the smaller a town is, the more it’s full of Russianness.
The sun was going down. We had one more town to visit on the way to our final destination.
Sergei speaks English, which relieved me from the need to translate everything and allowed me to talk to Tanya more. Besides, both guys share the same curiosity and interest about everything. Just like kids. Maybe that’s why they both look so young.
And the roads… Here we were literally going under 5 miles an hour and still felt every bump.
One more stop on the other side of the Kalyazin water reservoir, to look at the lonely belfry and skip some stones.
This is no Castle Rock, Oregon, 1959. This railroad certainly feels like it.
A few years ago, Charlotte got me hooked on Stephen King. I had an unfortunate experience with one of King’s novels in late 1970’s and after waking up with nightmares for several months, I refused to touch any of his books with a pole. Charlotte, on the contrary, was constantly walking around the house with one of his books in hand making me concerned that there was something wrong with her.
Not sure how, but she encouraged me to read his part-autobiography, part-writing tutorial, “On Writing.” Since then, I’ve read it as a book and listened to it at least twice. I have a hard copy of it, it is on my Kindle, and I have the audiobook. A mix of an unconventional life story and a great writing advice from a kind, decent, interesting person. Books like this don’t come around that often. Maybe it was Charlotte and Stephen King who inspired me to write these notes of our trip.
Seeing my interest, Charlotte gave me one Christmas his “The Different Seasons,” a collection of four novellas that all were eventually turned into movies.
When this book comes up in a conversation and the first novella, “The Shawshank Redemption,” is mentioned, I always hear back:
— “The Shawshank Redemption” is by Stephen King?!
Yes, it is. There is another — lesser known — side to Stephen King.
Charlotte once said that no one writes about children and childhood like Stephen King. And it’s true. There’s another novella in “The Different Seasons.” And the response is similar:
— “The Body”? Never heard of it.
— Have you seen the movie “Stand by Me”?
— What? This is Stephen King, too?
Yes it is. Four twelve-year-old kids hoping to become local heroes go on a road to find the body of a missing boy. These railroad tracks belong in that movie.
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” My thoughts on this trip…
It was getting darker as we arrived in the town of Uglich. Its chronicles go back to 937. This is the town where the history of Russia abruptly changed its course. A murder that took place here made Uglich famous throughout the world.
A memorial to Uglich’s soldiers killed in World War II is on the way to the old town. It resembles the top of a bell tower. Every other black panel shows soldiers in action. Names of the soldiers are engraved on black granite headstones — to remember the local young men who died in war.
The Transfiguration Cathedral was a witness to the tragic events that took place here in the 16th century. Its bell heralded the death of Tsarevich Dmitry and the end of the Rurik Dynasty, the dynasty that founded the Tsardom of Russia in the 880s and ruled it for twenty-one generations, more than 700 years.
A bit of history…
Having suffered and seen enough of boyar lawlessness, Tsar Ivan — it was before he became the Terrible — decides to reform domestic and foreign policy. Under his leadership, he unites as many Russian lands as possible and starts changing the methods of local government. He introduces the rules of military service, creates permanent militia regiments, and unites the church. All his efforts are met with hostility by the boyar clans.
Personal life of the king is not smooth either. His first and most beloved wife, Queen Anastasia, was poisoned. For various reasons, death takes three more of his darlings. And the church recognizes only three marriages. All others are considered unsanctioned.
Tsarevich Dmitry was the son of Ivan the Terrible and Maria Nagaya, his eighth wife. This marriage was not consecrated by the church and, accordingly, children born in such a union were considered illegitimate. Dmitry, although he was a prince, initially could not claim the Russian throne.
After the death of Ivan, Dmitry and his mother were sent to Uglich. Compared to other wives, who were either immediately killed or forcibly tonsured as nuns in distant monasteries, it was a good luck. The mother of Tsarevich Dmitry was sent into her exile accompanied by her retinue and servants, boxes full of luxurious clothes, jewelry, food and drink.
But those in power decided that Tsarevich Dmitry could, under certain circumstances, become the center of a union for those who disagreed with the current government. Dmitry was the only representative of the Rurik name and his character was very reminiscent of his cruel father.
The circumstances of the death of the Tsarevich in Uglich are not exactly known. Some say this is how it happened. Dmitry and several other children played the game of poke. A line was drawn on the ground, and the players had to throw a knife to see who throws farther. The prince was holding a well-sharpened large knife. Suddenly, he began to have an attack of “black illness,” now known as epilepsy. And at that time he “accidentally” stuck a knife into his own neck.
Modern doctors say this is not possible as, during an epileptic seizure, a person absolutely loses consciousness and cannot hold anything. It is possible that one of the servants, seizing the moment, helped Dmitry to fall on the knife and the royal child was killed on the orders of Moscow authorities.
The High Commission arrived from Moscow to investigate the tragedy and executed 200 residents, sent 60 families into exile in Siberia, forced Dmitry’s mother to a distant monastery where she was tonsured a nun.
The mysterious death of the tsar’s youngest son was the beginning of the Time of Troubles for Russia.
The investigation of the case of Tsarevich Dmitry, or the Uglich Case, and its commission were started by Boris Godunov. Many suspected him to be behind the murder of the prince. The prince could have eventually become a threat to Godunov governing at the time.
The prince was buried in the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Uglich.
In these chambers lived Maria Nagaya with her royal son from 1584-1591.
On the side of the entrance is a monument to the innocently murdered boy.
Another legend surrounds this building. When the cathedral nearby was being built, workers tried to dismantle these chambers into bricks. But some power did not allow this to be done. As soon as a person would climb the porch, something would push him down. Frightened, the workers left the chambers alone.
And the most famous church of the city is the Temple of Tsarevich Dmitry’s Blood built on the site of his mysterious death.
Dmitry was canonized. He is one of the saints most revered by Russian people. The Tsarevich is considered an assistant to street children, orphans, and disabled.
In Uglich, my daughters saw the Volga River, the symbol of Russia and Russianness, for the first time.
From this birch orchard of Uglich, we embarked on the final leg of our tour for today — to Myshkin.
Every day, on every step during this trip, I felt as if returning back into my childhood.
And now this. Ulitsa Mira, 4, Myshkin. More about this house tomorrow, on Day 6 — we stayed in Myshkin for one whole day and little bit.
This lampshade over the table — my grandmother had similar one but in orange. It has been my dream to have the same over my dining room table.
In this house, I feel like Lariosik Surzhansky from Zhitomir felt in #13 on Andreevsky Decline in Kiev. It is “warm and comfortable, especially the cream-colored curtains on all the windows are wonderful, which makes you feel separated from the rest of the world… And this outside world… you have to agree, is bloody and pointless.”
An Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano. What else can come to mind here?
And the huge real Russian oven. “At the Pike’s behest, at my desire…”
All the details in the house were collected from surrounding villages to create that unmistakable feeling of Russia.
All the artifacts in every corner… The emotions they stir, the memories they wake…
The second floor, where in addition to two cozy bedrooms there is a large living room and a balcony on which you can drink tea and enjoy the old town.
Every living room in a Russian house has to have a Red Corner with icons and the live flame. And so it was here.
Our girls stayed in this bedroom.
Tom and I shared this bedroom.
This amazing place combines the old ways with modern conveniences.
After five days without hot water, we were so excited about hot showers. I probably spent an hour just standing still and feeling the warmth with my eyes closed.
Lizzie expressed what we felt the best.
“Never. Never pull the lampshade off the lamp! The lampshade is sacred… Doze off by the lamp, read — let the blizzard howl — wait until yours come to be with you.”
Bulgakov’s pages are filled with lampshades… Is that why I like his words so much?
Our first Myshkin feast.
Lizzie has no idea what she captured here. This image belongs in “The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food.”
My New Jersey home is bursting at the seams with cookbooks. I grew up with only one — “The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food,” first published in 1939 and our edition — in 1953. My mother never touched it. No one even knows how this book ended up in our house. Mom’s cooking routine was streamlined — she had a full-time job as a magazine editor after all. On weekends, she’d make a bucket of borscht to stretch through the week for lunches. There would be kasha every morning prepared the night before — oat, farina, rice, or buckwheat. Our dinners were variations on beef — sometimes chicken — and potatoes. Dad looked down on rice and pasta — we all obliged. Sauerkraut was a treat in the winter months. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs were spring and summer treasures. Wine? What’s wine? Occasionally, I’d dust this cookbook and flip through the pages to see what wonders were out there in the world.
Lizzie’s picture would fit on the front page of that book right under the favorable preface by Joseph Stalin: “A characteristic feature of our revolution is that it gave the people not only freedom but also the opportunity to live a prosperous and cultural life.”
That’s how it was.