Trip to Russia. Day 8. Along the Golden Ring through Pereslavl-Zalesski to the train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg
Our last morning of the Golden Ring trip was in Pereslavl-Zalessky, an old Russian city about 140 km, 87 miles, northeast of Moscow. It was founded by the same prince, Yuri Dolgoruky, and at the same time, as Moscow.
In 1374, an important congress of Russian princes was held here on the occasion of the baptism of the son of Dmitry Donskoy, Yuri. The ceremony was conducted by the Abbot of the Russian Land – Reverend Sergius of Radonezh. At this congress, an important decision was made to fight the Mongols. A battle at Kulikovo Field soon followed, ending 200-year oppression by Mongol-Tatars. This story somewhat reminds me of the “Godfather” final scene when Michael Corleone stands godfather to Connie’s son.
In the 16th century, while traveling to holy places, the wife of Ivan the Terrible, Queen Anastasia Romanovna, gave birth here to Tsarevich Fyodor who would become the last tsar of the Rurik dynasty.
Our little house where we stayed for the night was in Prigirodnoe village, about a mile north of Pereslavl. Sergey and Tanya found a complex of newly built, very comfortable new houses in this woody area.
Tom and I overslept the foggy part of the morning but Tanya and Sergey ventured out for the morning walk and took some pictures.
They say we did not miss much. The area was heavily covered with tall solid fences at every turn. Probably newly rich Russian people protecting their privacy and property in an area not currently known for its wealth.
Tom, armed with the stories from our travels around Sergiev Posad, Yaroslavl, and Rostov the Great, noticed:
— Everyone in Russia wants to have their own kremlin.
On the outside, this house looks tiny. Inside, it’s a maze of rooms, stairs, balconies. Plus, banya.
Pereslavl-Zalessky is situated on the shore of Pleshcheevo Lake. The lake is huge — it covers 50 square km. In English its name would be something like Splashing Lake. The reason for the name is that due to varying depths — from a few centimeters to 25 meters — the waters make characteristic splashing sounds.
The lake is famous for its freshwater herring — ryapushka or vendance — which in the 15th-17th centuries was served at the table of Moscow grand dukes and tsars. It was called “Royal Herring.” There was even a custom, after the coronation of the heir to the throne, serve a dish of Pereslavl herring. So naturally ryapushka is on the official coat of arms of Pereslavl-Zalessky.
The ride to the lake from the place we stayed at took about two minutes. The weather that day was spectacular. Not hot, not cold, not windy, not rainy, not too sunny — just perfect.
As every other day on this trip, I wished we could have stayed here longer and maybe have a picnic on Plescheevo shores.
During its heyday, Russian tsars Vasily III and Ivan the Terrible repeatedly came here for hunting and pilgrimage.
The area suffered greatly during the Mongol Tatar invasion. They say Pereslavl Zalesski burned to the ground at least six times in course of those two hundred years.
The city was destroyed once more during the Time of Troubles and then almost completely rebuilt.
At the end of the 17th century, Pereslavl was destined to become the cradle of the Russian navy when young Peter the Great built here his first, “amusing,” flotilla. But more on that later.
Here’s the Pereslavl miracle of miracles — the Blue Stone. The huge boulder weighs about 12 tons and sits at the foot of Alexander Mountain does have a blue tint. It was probably brought here by a glacier during the Ice Ages.
But of course there’s a legend around it. Apparently, in the 9th-10th centuries, the boulder was part of an ancient temple in the Kleshchino burial ground in one of the local ravines. It was worshiped and used as an altar for sacrifices.
With the advent of Orthodoxy, the church decided the boulder was a symbol of pagan “demonic” obscurantism. With that, in the 17th century, a local priest ordered it buried. After a short time, the stone managed to re-emerge to the surface — probably thanks to the groundwater. Its worship resumed.
A century later, during another attempt to get rid of the boulder, clergy had the idea to use it in the foundation of a church. In winter of that year, as the stone was transported along the icy lake, it fell from the sled, broke through the ice and sank. The consensus was that the stone self-destructed.
After several decades, the stone started showing up above the water, rather quickly approaching the shore. People were amazed to see that every year the stone came closer to the shore, and in the end it took its current position on land.
They say if you stand on the stone and make a wish, it will certainly come true. If you sit on it, diseases will go away, especially female ones. To make this happen, you need to tie a ribbon here.
The stone can be easily reached on foot without any boats. But now, thanks to the efforts of local entrepreneurs, there’s a fee to make your wishes come true and your ills to go away.
On the northern side of Pleshcheevo Lake, there’s Nikitsky Monastery, one of the oldest in Russia. Prince Boris, the son of Prince Vladimir, who baptized Russia in 988, built it. The saint the monastery is named after has a long and complicated history similar to that of Levy Mathew — starting a a rough tax collector and ending as a martyr.
Compared to other covents and monasteries on our trip, the dress code in Nikitsky Monastery was especially strict. Women here were supposed to cover not only their heads but also their legs. Tanya provided us with head covers, and at the gate we were given black cloths to wrap around our waists.
This is the Cathedral of the Great Martyr Nikita — the main one of the monastery. It was built here in the 16th century at the behest of Ivan the Terrible. The middle dome is so huge that the other ones that are quite large seem small from a distance.
In subsequent centuries, the wooden cathedral was rebuilt many times. Its southern aisle is a temple built by Vasily III, the first stone building of the monastery. Its top was added during the construction of a new large cathedral.
Its latest tragedy hit as recent as in late 1980s, when the middle dome suddenly collapsed. Now the cathedral is fully functional. We did go inside.
The rules about taking pictures inside Russian churches are generally strict but they were really stepping it up here. As soon as the guards see a camera on your neck they follow your every step. And as it is dark inside, a flash can easily go off. If it accidentally does, local babushkas devour you — bones and all. Their thought is: we are praying here, and you’re dragging in demons. Fighting them is not for the weak.
Not risking a fight, I did not even touch my phone when inside. Tanya, on the other hand, has the incredible talent of what I’d call “shooting from the hip.” With an angelic face full of attention, she was walking around looking at the paintings on the walls and the ceiling. Her camera was hanging low and irrelevant on her chest and… her finger was going on the shutter button nonstop. Incredibly, whether she aimed or not, all her pictures came out fantastic.
Next to the main cathedral there is a large refectory chamber with the Annunciation Church built here some time during the 16th century. They say during his first visit to this area, Peter the Great stayed in the western rooms of the second floor of the chambers.
Especially interesting are the window frames of the second tier — I did not notice it until Sergei pointed that out — they all are alike but differ in details.
The three-story belfry situated over the entry gates to the monastery houses the Temple of Archangel Gabriel. By Russian standards, it is relatively new — it was built in the 19th century and looks different than the rest of the monastery. That day, the white and blue tower against a blue sky with white clouds looked magical.
Tabernacle Belfry, the older one of two, adjacent to the refectory between the Nikitsky Cathedral and the Annunciation Church has been here since the 17th century.
Pereslavl-Zalesski area in general, and some places here like Blue Stone and Nikitski Monastery in particular, are considered so-called places of power, one of those areas where people claim special energy exists.
There are plenty of places like this all over the world. The most famous that come to mind are Egyptian pyramids. There are many in Tibet and India.
Usually places of power are connected with important historic events or religious activities, and become points of pilgrimage. People, once in these places, feel emotionally moved this way or another.
In Russia, many Orthodox churches are located in places of power, on the sites of previous pagan Slavic temples. People are drawn there for some spiritual power, inner purification, rethinking, or just getting rid of accumulated stress and looking for peace. Creative personalities claim to be inspired there and comes up with new ideas.
This little chapel is the center of power in the place of power. To get in, you have to let go of your thoughts, do not talk, follow local rules and rituals.
This monastery is named after the Monk Nikita Stolpnik, who lived here in the 12th century.
Legend has it that after young Nikita got married, he led the life far from virtuous. He worked as a tax collector. He oppressed the poor, cheated the rich, accepted bribes, accumulating riches.
Suddenly, after a church service where he claimed he had seen God, he realized what a horrible life he was living. He left his house, his family, his wealth, and came to this monastery. Through the course of his repentance, he became a rare example of selflessness and spiritual asceticism. Clad in heavy iron chains, he locked himself in a secluded stone pillar and remained there day and night in labor and prayer.
One day, two men came to the monastery for a blessing. By that time, Nikita’s iron chains became so shiny because of constant wear that two men mistook iron for silver. They killed and robbed the monk.
Behind the old belfry, deep in the monastery courtyard, there is a little stone chapel. It was built in the 18th century on the site of the Monk Nikita pillar.
On one of the walls there is an inscription that stuck in my mind: “Do not judge thy neighbor: his sin is known to you, his repentance is not.”
According to the legend, for his ascetic life and repentance, God gave Nikita the gift of healing. Word of the extraordinary Monk Nikita and his miracles spread far and wide. From everywhere, rich and poor started coming to him for advice or a cure. People still travel here from all over the country in hopes of healing and finding the right way.
From the monastery we drove to the other side of the Pleshcheevo Lake and parked at the foot of Mount Gremyach. The views of the lake, churches, and coastal village from the top of it were breathtaking.
This is another important place in Russian history.
At the end of the 17th century, young Peter the Great — before he became the Great — chose Pleshcheyevo Lake to build his “amusing” flotilla, that eventually became the foundation of the real Russian fleet.
For lack of a suitable house, the future tsar lived in the abbot’s chambers of the Goritsky and Nikitsky monastery and his shipyard was located in Pereslavl itself. Later, Peter and his assistants and shipbuilders moved to a more convenient place to lower the ships from the slipways directly onto the lake.
Here, on Mount Gremyach, Peter built an “amusing” palace, a business yard, forges, kitchens, a church. Small ships were built in the business yard, large in a meadow near the lake. Once ready, the ships were sent to a marina near the shore. Over a hundred large and small ships were built here, including 30 cannon frigates before the first joint maneuvers of the army and navy took place in Pereslavl.
Soon, Pleshcheevo Lake became too tight for Peter and he moved to Arkhangelsk to build a real battle fleet. Back then, Russia had access only to the White Sea. His first, “amusing,” ships remained in Pereslavl. But the tsar always remembered the labor of his youth, many years later, in the splendor of his glory, he came here again.
Peter returned to Pereslavl a few years before his death and discovered that the fleet was in a deplorable state. The angry king wrote the “Decree to the Governors of Pereslavl,” demanding to protect the remnants of the ships. For several decades, the tsar’s order was respected, but then there was a fire that destroyed most of the city and the ships. Miraculously, a boat named “Fortune” survived that, according to legend was built by Peter himself. This wooden boat, designed for five pairs of oars, the only remaining ship of the “amusing” flotilla of Peter the Great on Pleshcheevo Lake, is the centerpiece of the museum.
In front of the museum that houses the original boat, there are genuine forged anchors of the late 17th century, which were left over from the large ships of the “amusing” fleet and a monument to Peter the Great and the Russian fleet.
The funds for the museum were raised by Pereslavl nobility. Here it stands with a four-column portico and spire on the very spot where Peter’s Palace was once located.
Next to the museum there was a service that provides you with period costumes to take pictures in front of the museum. People were taking time dressing up with care. We decided to forgo that.
Instead, we took advantage of a nearby free service — stick your face in a hole above Peter’s body and take a picture of it yourself.
One final look at the lake and we were back on the road to Moscow.
For a while, the scenery outside the window was that of the Golden Ring: churches, villages, farm animals.
Slowly, rural scenes became more suburban.
And then, Tanya, send me a movie she made of our four day trip around the towns of Northern Russia. I have watched it so many times since. Thank you, Tanya! So sad you can’t walk into the same river twice.
After another encounter with traffic, our two cars got separated. Tanya and Sergei headed home as they had the usual work week ahead. And we entered Moscow on our own.
We passed by the famous sculpture of the Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman still holding hammer and sickle high up in the sky. My personal association with it is a feeling that a good movie is coming up. This sculpture was the logo of the movie studio Mosfilm and appears on the screen before every movie. And Mosfilm made a good amount of fantastic movies.
We drove by the house where Anton spent the first few months of his life when I was still married to his father. Now, his paternal grandmother Greta lives in this apartment building.
We did not stay in Moscow long. After an hour nap, not even taking a shower as there was still no hot water in my father’s apartment, we headed to the Leningradskaya train station, by the way, the oldest one out of nine Moscow train stations.
We were heading to Saint Petersburg.
There are speed trains now called Sapsan that can take you from Moscow to Piter, as they call it for short, in four hours. On a short notice, we could not get tickets for Sapsan, so took an overnight traditional Red Arrow like in the good old days.
I was actually excited that we were going overnight — I love trains. Unfortunately we had to travel in separate compartments. The girls and I were in one and Tom in the one next to us.
Usually, people are easy to swap places when they see a group separated. But the woman in our compartment categorically refused to move. Before we went to bed we spent some time in Tom’s compartment with his neighbors. They were very nice and we quickly made friends. Lizzie is still in touch with this boy.
Charlotte got the bottom bunk and went to bed first.
Lizzie and I were both on the top ones.