The start of the Golden Ring

Vladimir Travel Blog

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A nice looking building in the centre of Vladimir (Vladimir, Russia)

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.

The restaurant Traktir (Vladimir, Russia)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very interested in Russia, its history, its culture and its people, but Tamara annoys the hell out me. Her exorbitant considerateness and her overflow of patronizing information make me feel as if I’ve accidentally ended up in a fieldtrip from kinder garden.

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 enjoyed his lunch at Traktir very much! (Vladimir, Russia)
But could she just leave us alone for one freaking minute?!

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.

The Cathedral of Assumption (Vladimir, Russia)
The interior is great and they serve traditional Russian dishes. I have a vegetarian Borsjtsj (beet soup) and Pelmeny (some sort of ravioli) and it is quite tasty for Russian food.

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 Cathedral of Assumption (Vladimir, Russia)
It is not dominated by domes, but by an extraordinarily beautiful carved exterior. It was built in 1193  and the carvings do not just depict biblical figures, but also many mythological looking animals. There are over a thousand lions, centaurs, snow leopards and other exotic ornaments to be seen, and the fact that they are non-Christian and made in the middle ages, make it all very rebellious.  

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.

The Cathedral of Assumption (Vladimir, Russia)
Today a group of aggressive nuns live at the convent and they guard the place like bloodhounds. It is absolutely forbidden to take pictures of the nuns or even point the camera in the direction of where they might plan to walk, even it is dozens of meters away. They also bark at tourists that aren’t dressed to their standards (apparently a T-shirt with short sleeves and a knee-length skirt are absolutely unacceptable). They make it I don’t want to stay very long.

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.

The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vladimir, Russia)
I’m somewhat surprised by the whole ‘turning the back-thing’, it isn’t until later in the trip, when we end up talking to a local while having a beer on a terrace, that we find out what the basis of the reluctance of Russian people to make contact with tourists or have their picture taken is.

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.

The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vladimir, Russia)
Tourists guides were well trained with academic background and special courses.

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 St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vladimir, Russia)
Since no roads lead towards it, we just walk and since it is a beautiful summer’s day the hike is magnificent.

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.

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A nice looking building in the cen…
A nice looking building in the ce…
The restaurant Traktir (Vladimir, …
The restaurant Traktir (Vladimir,…
Rens enjoyed his lunch at Traktir …
Rens enjoyed his lunch at Traktir…
The Cathedral of Assumption (Vladi…
The Cathedral of Assumption (Vlad…
The Cathedral of Assumption (Vladi…
The Cathedral of Assumption (Vlad…
The Cathedral of Assumption (Vladi…
The Cathedral of Assumption (Vlad…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vladi…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vlad…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vladi…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vlad…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vladi…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vlad…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vladi…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vlad…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vladi…
The St. Demetrius Cathedral (Vlad…
The Princess’ Convent (Vladimir,…
The Princess’ Convent (Vladimir…
The Princess’ Convent (Vladimir,…
The Princess’ Convent (Vladimir…
The Princess’ Convent (Vladimir,…
The Princess’ Convent (Vladimir…
The Princess’ Convent (Vladimir,…
The Princess’ Convent (Vladimir…
A lot of Russians dont like to ha…
A lot of Russians don't like to h…
This lovely lady didnt mind thoug…
This lovely lady didn't mind thou…
Hiking through the fields (Vladimi…
Hiking through the fields (Vladim…
Hiking through the fields (Vladimi…
Hiking through the fields (Vladim…
Hiking through the fields (Vladimi…
Hiking through the fields (Vladim…
The Church of the Intercession of …
The Church of the Intercession of…
The Church of the Intercession of …
The Church of the Intercession of…
The Church of the Intercession of …
The Church of the Intercession of…
View at The Princess’ Convent wh…
View at The Princess’ Convent w…
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photo by: Kramerdude