On one autumn Moscow day, I had gotten up early to catch a train to Vladimir from the nearby Kursky Station. Moscow Metro had been blissfully empty that morning and the train ride had been a silent one, as I had shared the space with only some sleepy street dogs. The sight of furry street dogs getting inside the Moscow metro trains to escape the cold of the city had been a common one and it had been one of those things, which made the Russian capital be more endearing to me. Cocooned in the warmth of the train compartment, I had peacefully contemplated on my weekend trip to Vlamidir and more than once, had wondered if the historic town had been worth leaving Moscow in autumn. Considered to be one of the most beautiful places for viewing fall colours, Moscow had been really pleasant at that time and my Siberia posting had been scheduled to start soon. I had no plans of leaving the city before the posting, when a photo documentary on Vladmir had changed all of that.
An ancient Russian city, Vladimir had been reputed for its cluster of exquisite churches and cathedrals, some of which had been the oldest in the country. The city’s history had been fascinatingly dramatic and it had begun in 1108, when a mighty fortress had been built by the legendary Prince Vladimir Monomakh for protection of the area. The new fortress had also helped protect the principality which had been founded by Prince Yuri Dolgoruky, the son of Vladimir Monomakh. The new prince had been a visionary and he had gone ahead building more new fortresses along with establishing numerous other cities like Moscow, Zvenigorod etc. Vladimir meanwhile had thrived well and in the 12th century, had reached its peak under the patronage of Prince Andrei Bogolubsky, the son of Yuri Dolgoruky. The new ruler had ambitiously added to the city’s grandeur and between 1158-1165 new ramparts had encircled the city. The grandiose construction boom had been wholeheartedly carried on by Andrei Bogolubsky’s successors and they had multiplied the city’s splendor by creating the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius, the Nativity monastery with the white church, Kniaginin monastery, and the main shrine of the principality, the Assumption Cathedral.
Vladimir’s luck however had soon run out and the devastating Mongol invasion in the 13th century had caused its rapid decline. The Mongols had heartlessly ruined the grand capital by looting and burning the marvelous churches, magnificent palaces and monasteries. Sacked city of Vladimir had thus lost its political significance too and the shifting of the new capital to Moscow had been the final nail in its coffin. The present Vladimir had none of its erstwhile glory though many of its magnificent old monuments had been lovingly restored and protected. Its skyline had been an unique mix of concrete and glass towers interspersed with beautiful onion domes of churches and the city had been the jumping off base of Russia’s famous Golden Ring tour.
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I had reflected on all these details as my early morning electrichka (local train) had rumbled towards Vladimir. It had taken 4 hours to reach Vladimir and the warm autumn sun filtering through the glass windows had livened up my fellow Russian commuters. There had been a melee of activities inside the train and the passengers had knitted, chatted, dozed, minded babies, refreshed their make up, smoked and practiced their rusty guitars in the smoking areas as the autumn colours of Russia had whizzed past in series of stations. The scenery which had begun by appearing grey and listless had become more and more beautiful as Moscow got distanced and soon amazing street art on the suburbia walls had been replaced with soft green meadows, patchwork harvested fields and forests of red and gold. Ancient clapboard cottages had stood amidst farms scattered with rolled bundles of hay and old stooping babushkas in head scarves had looked up from their cabbage patches to stare at our passing train.
Rural Russia in autumn had been a riot of wild roses and sunflowers and they had dotted every niche nearly all the way to Vladimir. The historic town had arrived on time without much fanfare and I had flagged down a taxi to reach the Pilgrimage Hostel, where I had been booked for the weekend. The hostel had turned out to be located in a nice residential area of Vladimir and fallen autumn leaves had carpeted the sidewalk in front of it. Kids’ bikes had been parked next to chain link fenced yards and little dogs had barked from the front lawns. It had seemed as if a quiet, subtle life had moved there at a very leisurely pace and even though the city’s beauty had not been not grand like St Petersburg, it had seemed homey and inviting.
The Pilgrimage hostel with its set of clean, comfortable dorms, spotless bathrooms and a friendly young hostess Maria who had loved to talk in English, had been an excellent choice and she had showed me around for the next 2 days. I truly believe that people make places and Maria from Vladimir had once again proved this right. An American university educated girl, she had morphed into my guide for the next 2 days and thus, it had been with her, that I had watched a sensational sunset near the Cathedral of the Assumption, tried my hand at making the famous Russian dumpling, pelmeni and ridden a public bus to a village outside Vladimir. While the churches of Vladimir had been joy to behold, I had enjoyed the countryside more and the day had basked in glorious autumnal beauty.
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The lovely Russian country side with its little brooks, green meadows and ornate wooden huts had been bedecked in rich gold and green. Painting like beautiful richly carved traditional wooden houses had stood in rows and Maria’s old friend had lived in one of them. She had invited us over for an evening of tea, slices of tangerine and freshly baked cheese puffs and that tete-a-tete had been the highlight of my Vladimir trip. Throughout the world, Russians have the reputation of being a dour bunch of people and the evening tea had broken that myth from my mind forever. Though insignificant in aesthetic or “once in a lifetime” thing to do standard, the Vladimir trip till today remains one of my favourite travel memories and it had been because of the warm Russian hospitality on a beautiful autumn day.
TRAVEL TIP – Vladimir is accessible from both Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, thus making it a suitable destination in the Golden Ring circuit. Vladimir’s Semyazino airport is connected by flights from St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport and the closest international airports at Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. Buses, cars and trains connect both the cities with Vladimir. The main train station is located next to the central bus station and all trains arrive there. It is also close to the historical center. From Moscow local train (elektrichka) for Vladimir depart from Kursky Station and has 3 connections per day. The most convenient and the most expensive option is the high-speed Moscow — Nizhny Novgorod train (“Lastochka” or “Strizh”) which takes 1 hour 39 minutes — 1 hour 47 minutes to reach Vladimir.
All the trains to Vladimir from Nizhny Novgorod depart from the main railway station Gorky Moscovsky. A direct express train runs on this route and the journey takes 3.5 hours.
Tickets can be bought two months in advance on the Russian Railways website as well as private company websites like http://www.russiantrains.com/. Vladimir has two bus stations. The central bus station which is located next to the railway station operates bus to every town in Vladimir Oblast along with many connections to Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Ivanovo, Ryazan, etc. Tickets are available inside the station. The historical center of Vladimir can be easily explored by foot and the must see UNESCO recognized monuments which are also in the World Heritage List, include Cathedral of the Assumption,
Cathedral of St. Demetrius, Golden Gate, Nativity Monastery , Princess Convent, Church of the Assumption of our Lady,
Church of St. Nikita etc.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE