Trip to Russia. Day 7. Back to the Golden Ring — Yaroslavl, Rostov the Great

Trip to Russia. Day 7. Back to the Golden Ring — Yaroslavl, Rostov the Great

Leaving the Myshkin house, with its overgrown garden was not easy. In the morning, we walked around quite a bit taking pictures. It was sad knowing that most likely we will never come back here again. The world is big and time is scarce.

Final view from the second floor balcony: the apple trees, the cathedral, and our little Lizzie in the midst of it.

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For our trip, we rented a manual transmission Ford Taurus from a friendly and reliable group “Alfacar” in Moscow. At first, Tanya and Sergei insisted we upgrade to something bigger and better, fearing we couldn’t handle handle Russian roads. But the roads were not that bad, the car was fine. And we are tough.

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The next step was crossing The Volga on a ferry. Our days in Myshkin were rainy but the weather did not ruin the impression of the town — maybe improved it. And I do love rain.

Good bye, Myshkin under stormy skies.

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Check out this parking precision. No, the car is not touching the wall of the ferry. This is a New York City driver in action — fitting comfortably in small spaces and making sure there’s room for all.

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Here’s my American family going over this most Russian of all Russian rivers.

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“Why don’t people fly? I say: why don’t people fly like birds do? You know, sometimes I think I’m a bird. When you stand on a mountain, you are drawn to fly. This is how I would run, raise my hands and fly. Should try now?”

Not sure on the bank of what river Alexander Ostrovsky situated the town of Kalinin where Katerina pronounced her famous monologue. But it did came to mind here, over the Volga. And pulled with it memories of failed high school assignments and old Soviet movies into my mind.

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Technically, the connection between our two families on this ferry started with me and Sergei. We met in 1982 in Moscow State University. We had little in common. He hung out with his company. I had my own crowd. We met in classrooms.

At the journalism department in Moscow State University, our class had a little over two hundred students. The education process was split between lectures and seminars. For lectures, they would have us all together in large auditoriums. For seminars, we were split into groups of 10-15 people and gathered in smaller rooms. If I remember it correctly, in my year, we had seventeen groups: a few newspaper oriented ones, a couple of radio and TV groups, one editorial, one photo group, and a bunch of strictly “golden male” groups intended to cover international journalism — women could not be trusted with important stuff. I wonder if that is still the case?

Sergei and I ended up in the same newspaper group. My only memories of interaction with him are those of constantly poking fun of each other in a good and lively way that never caused any hard feelings and only lightened the air in the room. Once seminars were over, we went different directions.

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Then came Tanya. I have no idea how Sergei and Tanya met. I don’t even remember how Tanya and I met. She says, Sergei brought her to school to meet his friends and I came over to talk. And that was that.

My first memories of Tanya are the two of us sitting in her kitchen, me being pregnant telling her my fears and thoughts. And Tanya listening like no one has ever listened to me before. At that time, Sergei and Tanya already had their first son, Misha.

My son Anton inherited Misha’s playpen and clothes. Then Tanya and Sergei’s younger son Alyosha got that playpen and clothes back.

Then, I moved to the United States and got lost.

Our boys were way in their twenties and my girls were teenagers when social media somehow reconnected Sergei and me. By that time, all what I was hearing from friends back in Russia — divorces, divorces, divorces. I was afraid to ask if Sergei was still with Tanya — she was one of my favorite people from those days — so as I always do when I’m afraid to hear the answer, I popped the question right away. With his typical chuckle he said:

— With Tanya, with Tanya. Relax. All is good. We have three boys now.

We stayed connected. One conversation after another, and a few month later, their middle son Alyosha came to stay with us in NJ. Alyosha turned out to be the most incredible combination of Sergei and Tanya — the look, his way of speaking, mannerisms. Besides, he was exactly at the same age when I saw Tanya and Sergei last. Eerie experience when you still feel yourself the same like in the good old days and here comes the ghost from the past — unchanged.

Following Alyosha, Tanya came to visit with their youngest son Ilya. We reconnected again.

Here we are, together again, 30-some years later, on a ferry across the Volga.

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The crossing was quick and we hit the road to Yaroslavl.

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The Golden Ring starts exactly in Yaroslavl, one of the oldest and the most beautiful cities in that constellation and in the Volga region. UNESCO named it one of its World Heritage sites.

We parked close to the Church of Epiphany, which has been in this place since the 17th century. In Soviet times, it served as a garage. Lately, it has been returned back to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Such a Russian combination of warm green of the tiles and brick red of the walls.

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In 1612, the Russian militia used Yaroslavl as a stopping point on its way from Nizhny Novgorod to Moscow to gain strength before a major battle with Polish invaders. This relatively new monument, The Chapel of Our Lady of Kazan, sits right on the embankment of the Volga tributary, Kotorosl, in the center of Yaroslavl. It was installed here in 1997, to honor the 385th anniversary of that military maneuver.

The rocket-shaped structure with a stained glass partition can also be found on a 1000-ruble bill.

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The “Oath of Prince Pozharsky” mosaic commemorates the same events. They say it is at this place, in July of 1612, Prince Pozharsky offered his prayers to the Almighty, asking for the victory in his fight against the Polish-Lithuanian hordes.

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Arrows flying both ways to remind of Russia’s constant struggles with foreign invaders.

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Legend has it that a long time ago, here was a god-forsaken settlement of pagans called Bear Corner. The Great Prince, Yaroslav Vladimirovich, the ruler of Rostov the Great, was walking around his land and found that pagan tribe. The locals were unfriendly and let a fierce bear attack the prince. Yaroslav did not flinch and plunged an axe into the beast. Seeing such might, the pagans submitted to the prince. Yaroslav decided to found a city with a fortress so ships with different goods could freely travel along the Volga and various crafts could prosper. Naturally, the city was named in honor of its founder — Yaroslavl. And naturally, the bear became the symbol of the city.

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The Transfiguration Cathedral, the oldest one in Yaroslavl, was build in the 16th century. In 1613, from this cathedral, Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov sent a letter to Moscow Zemskaya Duma informing it of his consent to accept the royal crown, thus starting the Romanov dynasty, which lasted until the 1917 revolution.

The construction required a lot of money: the city had to pay not only for the purchase of the stone, but for extraction, transportation to the construction site, taxes, and so on. Local authorities turned to Vasily III, father of Ivan the Terrible, for help. The tsar gave not only money, but also sent in Moscow craftsmen, since in Yaroslavl no one was able to build from stone. That’s why architecturally this Cathedral resemble the forms of the Moscow Kremlin.

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The refectory chamber is the oldest building of the Transfiguration Monastery. Here, in the monastery’s book depository, is the only surviving copy of “The Word of Igor’s Campaign,” the earliest known manuscript written in Slavonic language.

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Near the refectory chamber, in spring, summer, and autumn, there are little beehives made by local craftsman.  They look like models of historic buildings of the Uglich region — a temple, a belfry, a hut.

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The monks chambers and the refectory have been converted into exhibition halls. We did not go in but heard that some artifacts — golden clad icons, pearl covered robes, diamond encrusted crowns — date back to the 12th century and can give Moscow’s Kremlin Armory a run for its money.

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The Epiphany tower of the Monastery was built with wood in 1622. In 1778-1781, it was dismantled and rebuilt in brick. The next reconstruction took place in 1803-1804 — the annexes were redone. Now restoration workshops are going on inside. Little by little, one century at a time…

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UNESCO includes the historic center of Yaroslavl in its World Heritage List of architectural monuments. Only two other cities in Russia were honored that high — Saint Petersburg and Great Novgorod.

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Architecturally, the city is preserved without significant changes. It definitely takes great care of its history — Yaroslavl is unique in the way that on its streets there are examples of almost all styles of Russian architecture spanning the centuries.

Next to the restaurant Gastronom #1, hunger hit us and we stopped for lunch. At this nice, not fancy and not fussy buffet-style place everyone of us found what they wanted.

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For the first time since we landed on this side of the ocean, I finally got a bowl of borsch. Either we were hungry, or because we ate outside, or because it just the way it was, that borsch was divine!

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No matter where I go, on either side of the globe, when there’s salad Olivie, I pause. Yaroslavsky Olivie was no exception.

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After lunch, we moved to the Volga embankment — the most beautiful and romantic place in Yaroslavl. There are actually two embankments. The Upper one was built at the beginning of the 19th century and the Lower one was added in 1960s. The slopes of the upper promenade are quite steep.

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Along the promenade, commerce was hopping: souvenirs, clothes, snacks. We got Lizzie this Golden Rooster candy that I used to beg my grandmother to buy me in Moscow back in the day. The old Moscow version was much smaller and thinner than this one — Lizzie had a hard time finishing it.

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Here the domes of the Assumption Cathedral, newly restored for the 100th anniversary of Yaroslavl, appear in the distance.

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Construction of The Assumption Cathedral, the first stone church in Yaroslavl, started in 1215. Over the centuries, this church suffered from major fires and was rebuilt over and over again — once or twice every century.

In 1918, it was badly damaged during an anti-Bolshevik uprising. After a partial restoration in 1922, the temple was used as a grain warehouse.

In 1937, on Stalin’s orders, the cathedral was blown up and in its place a “park of culture and recreation” was built.

Here, at the end of Volga embankment, stands the brand new Assumption Cathedral.

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In 2010, during the celebration of the millennium of Yaroslavl, the cathedral was lit and opened to the public. The cathedral was recreated according to a special “author” project — all the efforts to find the remnants of pre-Mongolian era were unsuccessful.

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A small park dedicated to the 1000th anniversary of Yaroslavl is in front of the cathedral, at the place where the Kotorosl tributary enters the Volga, where the Bear Corner settlement used to be. This was a strategic position to gain the foothold on the waterway to the capital of North Eastern Russia, Rostov the Great.

On the map, this place in Yaroslavl resembles an equilateral triangle and is called Strelka, The Arrow.

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A 20-meter high monument on Strelka has on its pedestal sculptures of characters reflecting the history of the ancient Russia: the founding prince of Yaroslavl, an Orthodox priest, an ancient chronicler, warriors, a woman with a child.

Despite — or maybe because of — its grandeur, opinions are expressed that the massive monument spoils the view.

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Earlier, at the place where the St. Nicholas Church now stands, were the defense walls of the Yaroslavl Kremlin. Like many other wooden constructions, the local kremlin (fortress) burned down and was not rebuilt. This church was built in 1695 at the expense of parishioners, most of whom were shipbuilders.

In the Soviet times, the temple housed a tire repair workshop. Since 1980, the Yaroslavl Museum of Art has been working on its restoration.

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The Church of Elijah the Prophet that dates back to 1650s was built in the place of two other burned wooden churches — Ilyinsky and Pokrovskaya.

After the revolution, it became a museum of local lore, then used as a warehouse. In 1931, a commission of the city council decided to demolish it but restorers and museum staff managed to convince the city authorities to preserve the temple as a unique structure that has architectural and historical value.

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Ironically, during a brief period of 1938-1941, the temple housed an anti-religious museum, with exhibits including holy relics of the noble Yaroslavl princes Fyodor, David, and Constantine.

After perestroika in the 1980s, it has been in joint use of the Yaroslavl Historical and Architectural Museum and the Russian Orthodox Church.

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Now Yaroslavl guests know for sure when they step onto land protected by the UNESCO World Heritage List. The first metal plaque marking the borders of the UNESCO zone with a map of the city and inscriptions “Historical Center of the city of Yaroslavl” in Russian and English appeared on the upper tier of Volga embankment. Now there are several of this plaques throughout the city.

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Here’s our happy company marching back to the cars after a walk around the city. The light is definitely turning towards the evening, hours passed and Lizzie is still working on her Golden Rooster. It was a big rooster.

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Back on the road — another 57 kilometers or 36 miles to Rostov the Great are ahead of us.

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It was getting dark when we arrived to Rostov. We took a walk along the walls of the Rostov Kremlin to Lake Nero.

Why is Rostov the Great important? Rostov is the place where the Romanov dynasty that ruled Russia for 300 years, started. From 1606 to 1609 Metropolitan Filaret, secular name Fyodor Nikitich Romanov, father of the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, was a bishop here.

Filaret’s time in Rostov fell during difficult years: The Time of Troubles of competing usurpers and Polish-Lithuanian invasion. In 1609, he was captured by the invaders. His wife and son hid in the city of Kostroma. It was there that Filaret’s son Mikhail Fyodorovich, whose family name was one of the few not tarnished during the political crisis, was approached by a delegation from Moscow begging him to accept the Moscow throne. In 1613, Mikhail stayed in Rostov on his way from Kostroma to Moscow to accept the throne.

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Rostov the Great, one of the oldest Russian cities, was first mentioned in The Tale of Bygone Years, also known as Russian Primary Chronicle, around the year of 862 when the Rurik dynasty started its 800-year reign in Russia — Finns populated this area before Slavs arrived.

One of the most revered Orthodox cities in Russia, Rostov the Great resisted Christianity for the longest time. The first two Byzantine patriarchs were simply driven out. The third one was murdered. But, as they say in Russia, water reshapes stone and religion reshapes brains. By the 12th century, Rostov was an example of Byzantine Orthodox Christianity. There even was a saying: “The devil went to Rostov, but got scared of the crosses.”

The heart of the city is the Rostov Kremlin — former residence of influential Rostov metropolitans of the 17th century. And metropolitans lived back then, I must say, on a grand scale.

White walls of the Rostov Kremlin, as they floated from around the bend.

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The centerpiece of the kremlin is the Assumption Cathedral with its unique belfry and completely preserved set of 15 bells, including the famous “Sysoy” — a giant bell weighing 2,000 pounds named after one of the metropolitans. Each of the four bells has a name — the three smaller ones are called Swan, Chandelier, and “Golodar”, a name derived from the Russian word for “hunger.” Golodar rings only during Lent.

The Assumption Cathedral was founded under Prince Vladimir in 991, around the time Russia was baptized into Christianity. It was one of the first cathedrals in Russia — there was not even a kremlin here. They started building the kremlin seven centuries later. Though the course of its life, the cathedral was rebuilt at least five times.

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By the time we arrived to Rostov, everything was closed here and we did not expect more than walking outside the kremlin around its perimeter. But a guard standing outside saw us peeking through the cracks, offered to unlock the gates and let us in.

We got inside and found ourselves in a fairy tale.

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This is the Hodegetria Church that was built when the walls of the monastery had already been completed. The builders had to make special efforts to ensure that the church did not look alien here. The church is rectangular stretching from east to west with an open balcony along the perimeter of the second floor, which makes it look quite different. External walls are painted in a way that makes a flat surface look three dimensional.

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Unfortunately, we were not able to go inside the buildings but it was a special perk to see the courtyard in the dusk, without usual crowds of tourists.

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Rostov Kremlin has three parts: Cathedral Square, Lord’s Yard, and Metropolitan’s Garden. We walked around Lord’s Yard and took a peek into Metropolitan’s Garden.

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This picture reminds me of the one people take in front of Taj Mahal. So I am just going to leave it here.

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In the chambers to the left, the famous cult Soviet movie “Ivan Vasilievich Changes Occupation” was shot. In that movie, a time machine brings Ivan the Terrible into Soviet Moscow of the 1970’s, while his lookalike and namesake Soviet bureaucrat, Ivan Vasilievich Bunsha, is carried into medieval Rostov.

The movie crew was so grateful for permission to shoot on the real location that they left the costumes used in the movie for the museums there. Now, important delegations coming on tours are greeted by museum workers dressed in the period garb.

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The sun was going down and we still had a ride ahead of us to Pereyaslavl-Zalesski — another 70 kilometers or 45 miles — to the house we rented for a night.

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When we got off the main highway it was pitch black. Minor paved roads quickly turned into dirt ones. There were no street lights, the sky was cloudy and the moon couldn’t help. No light pollution, to Tom’s delight. GPS got confused, we were driving back and forth through the woods and quietly preparing to spend a night in the car. Tanya and Sergei were in a separate car and we were following them when suddenly we ended up at a gate. How did this happen? It was the right gate and in a few minutes we were inspecting our bedrooms for the night.

Our place in Pereyaslavl-Zalesski had a steam room. It was not as cozy and authentic as the one in Myshkin. Nevertheless, Lizzie and I, since we caught the flavor of Russian banya, got in anyway. We’re still planning to find a good one in New Jersey.

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Before we hit the hay, Tanya and Sergei arranged a table where everyone sampled all the fish bought from the suspicious fish monger in Myshkin.

How I am going to miss those conversations at the dinner table!

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