The next morning dawned bright as a new coin and Suzdal looked glorious. I woke up to the sight of rows of drying laundry against red autumn foliage and a lazy Kamenka river winked at me. It was the second day of my Suzdal trip and I looked forward to exploring the historic town. So, after a quick breakfast, I stepped out and walked around the country lanes until a twisted hilly detour landed me back to the busy square. Despite, being a weekday Suzdal’s main square hummed with activity and bees buzzed around flower bushes, to collect their winter hoard of honey. Keeping in mind, that Suzdal witnessed an explosion of late-blooming flowers, the bees seemed nearly giddy with nectar and berries of different kinds, sizes and colours peeped underneath the vine tangles. The sun basked the little town in full autumnal warmth and a mild breeze kept it from being stuffy. Small white fluffy clouds floated with the wind against a spotless blue sky and tolling of bells rung from every corner.
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Slow travelling during my Suzdal trip
The historic town of Suzdal, being an important seat of the Russian orthodox church contained more religious institutions than residents and nearly all of them were busy with wedding parties. On that warm autumn day, excited brides swarmed Suzdal in their flower swathed cars and billowing gowns and wedding parties held gay processions on the historic lanes. The whole scene seemed straight out of a very romantic movie and I sat down on a flower-draped bench to simply watch. All around me, the Suzdal life flowed in a happy joie de vivre and souvenir sellers set up local handicrafts in rows. Traditional dolls, handwoven scarves, quilts, woolen house shoes, pottery, and big bottles of preserves lent a more festive air to the already exciting square and old cobbled lanes winding away from the square seemed empty. Old fashioned bakeries sent wafts of delicious aroma from their wooden store chimneys and shoe-makers’ wrought-iron signs tinkled merrily in the breeze. Here and there small pockets of farmers’ markets sprang up neatly and the old babushkas with fierce stares and colourful headscarves sold chrysanthemums, autumn vegetables, foraged mushrooms, and berry tea from large steaming samovars.
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Time travelling or a Suzdal trip?
It was very lovely and the beautiful historic town seemed timeless. In fact, the time indeed had bypassed the town and the village was created by Soviet-era governments to promote tourism. They had deliberately crammed the historic area with old preserved buildings and strictly prohibited making any changes. That is why Suzdal forever seems to be time-warped and modernization can only be seen in its outskirts. As a sort of circle of a reality check, the town suburbs have modern housing complexes, factories, and supermarkets and most visitors overlook that on their Suzdal trip. That day, I walked a lot; exploring the town’s famous churches, old preserved traditional wooden cottages and down avenues of fallen autumn leaves. My explorations took me up and down the meadows, where young lovers sat on the steps of wooden churches, tourists sampled pikes cooked in earthen pots, past ornately carved windows with fluttering lace curtains till the end of the historic periphery, where signs of modernity encroached upon its beauty. The modern reality in contrast to the preserved vintage beauty looked and after a quick shopping at the supermarket, I turned my back to it as fast as possible.
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The downsides of a Suzdal trip
Suzdal being a proper touristy town comes with exorbitantly priced luxuries and a hot meal at a restaurant is one of them. Having the size of a dinner plate, there is no escaping the vicious tourist price trap and on my Suzdal trip, I had lived on a frugal budget. My salary was yet to hit the bank and having no cash to splurge, I did what most long term travellers do to save money. I was already acquainted with the real local food in Russia, knew what to buy, and how to toss them together to cook wholesome meals. So during my entire Suzdal trip, I lived on boiled pelmeni (stuffed Russian dumplings), pickled gherkins, local sausages and ready to eat shasliks, borsht, and cheese. My only indulgence was a cup of local medovukha honey cider and that I enjoyed from an old farmer’s stall every evening.
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How my Suzdal trip got over, but memories remained
My Suzdal trip ended as abruptly as it had started. An urgent message to join back work made me rush back to Moscow and I had just enough time to pack, rush to the train station, and catch a Trans Siberian train to Barnaul. My train ride to Barnaul was long. It lasted three days and during that time I thought of Suzdal a lot. I had a very funny sensation, every time I conjured up images of the historic town and it was a feeling as if the town did not exist at all. It was perhaps my last glimpse of the historic Suzdal center being surrounded by modernity, which left this impression and I felt secure with the knowledge that no matter what, the pretty town will be untouched by modernity for a long time.
All you need to know for your Suzdal trip
Suzdal, the crowning jewel of the Golden Ring Circuit of Russia is 38 kilometers north of Vladimir, and 217 kilometers north-east from Moscow. It is the second stop along the Golden Ring and definitely unmissable.
How to Reach Suzdal
There are intercity (mezhdogo rodnie) and local buses that go through Suzdal from/to Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Ryazan, and Minsk in Belarussia. The tickets for the transit buses (that go through Suzdal to go somewhere else) are sold upon arrival of the bus. Sometimes, these buses don’t arrive on time so it’s better to queue beforehand to make sure that you’ll have the tickets. The bus station is open from 5.00 until 20.00. It is located on the edge of the city and is 20 minutes’ walking distance along Vasilievskaya st. from the Trading Arcades or Sovetskaya Square. You can take a taxi to the bus station. Public transportation is irregular in Suzdal and this little town is easily walkable.
The bus tentative schedule to/from Suzdal
MOSCOW – SUZDAL – Total time taken: 4h 20 min, price: around 600 rubles.
Daily transit buses depart Moscow, Shchyolkovsky bus terminal. Depart Moscow: daily 7.00 (goes to Ivanovo), 7.30 (directly to Suzdal), 9.30 (goes to Ivanovo), 15.00 (goes to Ivanovo), 17.00 (goes to Ivanovo), 20.00 (directly to Suzdal).
Getting to Suzdal from Moscow by train
There are no direct any trains to Suzdal from Moscow. The easiest way to get there is via Vladimir. You can take the local electric train from Moscow’s Kursky and Yaroslavl stations, which takes 3.5 hours and costs about 400 RUB, or you can take one of the faster and more comfortable (and more expensive) regional express trains. These are called “Strizh” and “Lastochka” and follow the Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod route. The fast trains take only 1 hour and 40 minutes. From Vladimir you can get a bus to Suzdal from the bus station across from the train station for 72 RUB.
Where to Stay in Suzdal
My preferred place to stay in Suzdal is the cozy Godzilla Hostel. There are also many hotels and private guest houses around.
Suzdal Walking Routes
There are several main attractions in Suzdal: the Kremlin, the Museum of Wooden Architecture, Trade Square and monasteries. Suzdal’s medieval architecture and wooden houses are perfectly combined with its natural landscape and the city looks like an open-air museum. There are many walking routes in Suzdal. It is recommended to start from the Kremlin and then visit the Museum of Wooden Architecture to see traditional life. After that, follow the broad walk through the Il’insky meadow to visit monasteries. There are 5 monasteries in the town that are located next to each other within walking distance. The Pokrovsky Monastery is known as the final resting place for women of aristocratic families. The most beautiful local churches of Suzdal are the church of St. Antipius and the five-domed Cathedral of St. Lazarus on Old Street. Savior Transfiguration Cathedral has gorgeous 16th-century frescoes and the paintings are by the famous masters of the 17th century. Golden Gate inside the Christmas Church is also famous for its art.
Attractions of Suzdal
- Trade Square is the main square of the city. It’s near the Kremlin, just behind the ramparts.
- The snow-white Suzdal Kremlin is located in the most ancient part of the city. It was built in the 11th century to protect the city from enemies. The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin is the oldest building of the Suzdal Kremlin. Golden Gate inside the Christmas Church is considered as an apogee of Suzdal-Vladimir applied art. In the 17th century, stone buildings of the Bishops’ Chambers were built nearby. They included residential and farm buildings. Until the end of the 18th century, the Suzdal Kremlin served as the residence of the Vladimir-Suzdal bishops. Today it is a museum complex, a monument of ancient Russian art and architecture. Kremlin includes the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos (the late 11th century), the Archbishop’s Chambers and Museums, the Church, the Chambers of the 17th century (restaurant, exhibition, and souvenirs), the bell tower, St Nicholas’ Church, Kremlin Walls, Boat Trip starting point (about 1 hour), and the road to Museum of the Wooden Architecture.
- The Bishops’ Chambers Bishops’ Chambers are located to the west of the cathedral. This was the first stone building in the Kremlin. At the end of the 17th century, all the buildings of the Bishops’ Chambers were combined into a single complex. It has the richly decorated galleries, secret passages, stairs, and halls.
- Old wooden buildings, which survived in the vicinity of Suzdal, are gathered in the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life. This complex of architectural monuments is located near the Kremlin under the open sky. The museum exposition reproduces a small village with huts, churches, outbuildings, and windmills of the 17-19th centuries, which were brought here from different parts of the Vladimir region.
- Others: Monastery of Saint Euthymius, the Pokrovsky Convent, and the Rizopolozhensky monastery.
Resource Credit: Travel Real Russia
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