The start of the Golden Ring
Vladimir Travel Blog› entry 4 of 17 › view all entries
We leave Moscow early in the morning and head to Vladimir, which is located at a 178 kilometers of Moscow. Vladimir is the first city of the Russian Golden Ring, a name given to a group of ancient towns who are not only the most picturesque in Russia, they also have dozens of churches with Russia’s famous onion domes. Next to Vladimir, we’ll also visit other towns in the Golden Ring in the coming week: Rostov Veliky, Yaroslavl, Kostroma and Suzdal.
Our tour leader, the maternal Tamara, is in front of the bus and has the urgent need to talk over a microphone during the entire trip.
I like to experience a country by myself and not hear everything about it while sitting on a bus. Rens and I are used to group travel where we mostly all go our separate ways and find things out by ourselves. If there is anything specific we like to hear more about, we just ask, either the tour leader, or the locals. But Tamara likes to take us by the hand and explain every sodding thing we might see and come across. Yes, she’s lovely, no one could possibly be sweeter.
Rens and I both put the earphones of our MP3 players in our ears and read the guidebook. It says Vladimir was founded in the 12thcentury by Prince Vladimir Monomakh and the small town quickly became a cultural and religious centre. It has a number of churches and monasteries, some with golden domes and we’ll visit the most important ones this afternoon. That’s all we need to know for now. We put away the guidebook and stare out the window. Russia is passing by and we don’t want to miss it.
When we arrive in Vladimir we first have lunch in a cute looking restaurant called ‘Traktir’, which means Roadside Inn or Tavern. It’s located in a wooden house that is typical for houses in the countryside of Russia.
Vladimir has many churches and cathedrals, but the most important one is the Byzantine Cathedral of Assumption. It was built in the 12thcentury, a time of great growth and prosperity in Vladimir. This Golden Age lasted until the Mongol invasion of Russia in 1237. The Cathedral contains the original tomb of Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod, an important 13thcentury military leader who was also the Prince of Vladimir.
This Cathedral of Assumption has the typical Russian orthodox golden domes that are already starting to look normal to us, therefore the St. Demetrius Cathedral, which is located right next to the Cathedral of Assumption is a very nice surprise.
The Assumption Convent, better known as the Princess’ Convent is the next attraction on our list. This convent was founded at the end of the 12thcentury by Princess Maria Shyamovna, the wife of Vsevolod who was then the Prince of Vladimir. The Cathedral that is a part of the convent became the burial place of the wives and daughters of the princes’ families, in 1649 the Moscow painter Mark Matveyey added murals to the Cathedral.
Outside, near the gates of the convent, some local women have a picnic cloth out with huge, shiny apples for sale and we decide to buy a batch. They look like typical Russian farm women and when I get my camera and ask them if I can take some pictures, they quickly turn their backs towards me. Only one woman doesn’t flinch and waves at me it’s okay.
In 1929, Stalin founded ‘Intourist’, the official state travel agency. This company (which by the way still exists, even though it has been privatized in 1992) was responsible to carefully control and manage all foreigners in Russia. The main idea behind this, was that foreign tourism would be an excellent pro Soviet propaganda vehicle. Especially in the fifties, sixties and seventies, all places foreign tourists would visit were strictly regulated, providing them a positive view of the Soviet Union and its culture, economics and common life style.
Of course, all contact with local people was brought to a bare minimum. If a Russian person was somehow seen talking to a foreign tourist while the person wasn’t trained and brainwashed according to government standards, or if any proof was found of some unauthorized interaction with for instance a picture, this person got into trouble. Therefore especially older people still have no intention whatsoever to come near a tourist to this day, even though it is no longer forbidden to talk with a foreigner.
From the Princess’ Convent we walk to the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin. This small church lies right next to the Nerli river and is located in the middle of wide stretched out fields.
The tiny building was also commissioned in the 12th century, Vladimir’s Golden Age, but unfortunately, it is completely surrounded by scaffolding. It doesn’t matter much, I’ve had my share of churches for today. I immensely enjoy being outside and smell fresh grass and small flowers.
It’s late in the afternoon when the bus takes us to the nearby town of Suzdal, another town that is part of the Golden Ring.