The next morning had dawned bright as a new coin and Suzdal had looked glorious. The sight of rows of drying laundry against red autumn foliage and a lazy Kamenka river had woken me up and I had looked forward to explore the historic town. So, after a quick breakfast, I had stepped out and walked around the country lanes until a twisted hilly detour had landed me back to the busy square. Despite, being a weekday Suzdal’s main square had been humming with activity and bees had buzzed around flower bushes, to collect their winter hoard of honey. Keeping in mind, that Suzdal had been an explosion of late blooming flowers, they had been nearly giddy with nectar and berries of different kinds, sizes and colours had peeped underneath the vine tangles. The sun had basked the little town in full autumnal warmth and a mild breeze had kept it from being stuffy. White fluffy clouds had floated with the wind against a spotless blue sky and tolling of bells had rung from every corner.
The historic town of Suzdal, being an important seat of Russian orthodox church had contained more religious institutions than residents and nearly all of them had been busy with wedding parties. On that warm autumn day, excited brides had swarmed Suzdal in their flower swathed cars and billowing gowns and wedding parties had held gay processions on the historic lanes. The whole scene had seemed straight out of a very romantic movie and I had sat down on a flower draped bench to stare. All around me, Suzdal had hummed in a happy joie de vivre and souvenir sellers had set up local handicrafts in rows. Traditional dolls, handwoven scarves, quilts, woolen house shoes, pottery and local preserves had lent a more festive air to the already exciting square and old cobbled lanes had wound away from the square. Old fashioned bakeries had sent wafts of delicious aroma from their wooden store chimneys and shoe makers wrought iron signs had tinkled merrily in the breeze. Here and there small pockets of farmers’ markets had sprung up and the old babushkas with fierce stare and colourful headscarves had sold chrysanthemums, autumn vegetables and berry tea from large steaming samovars.
It had all been just too lovely and the bowl of beautiful historic town had seemed surreal. In fact, Suzdal’s Alice in Wonderland charm had been simply irresistible and time had indeed bypassed the town. However, all around it, in a sort of circle of reality check, modern housing complexes, factories and supermarkets had loomed in the distant horizon and the strange juxtaposition of new and the timeless had been an unsettling feeling. That day, I had walked a lot; exploring the town’s famous churches, old preserved traditional wooden cottages and down avenues of fallen autumn leaves. My explorations had taken me up and down the hills, where young lovers had sat on the steps of wooden churches, tourists had sampled pikes cooked in earthen pots, past ornately carved windows with fluttering lace curtains and to the end of the historic periphery, where signs of modernity had encroached upon its beauty. The modern reality had been an ugly surprise and after buying a few bags of frozen food at the supermarket, I had turned my back to it as fast as possible.
Suzdal being a proper touristy town, had come with exorbitantly priced luxuries and a hot meal at a restaurant had been one of them. Having the size of a dinner plate, there had been no escaping the vicious tourist price trap and so I had lived in a proper budget traveler style. Getting acquainted to local food, enough to cook them to save money, had been art that Suzdal had taught me and during my nearly week long stay, I had lived on boiled pelmeni (stuffed Russian dumplings), pickled gherkins, local sausages and ready to eat shasliks, borsht and cheese. The only indulgence had been perhaps cups of local medovukha honey cider, that I had enjoyed from an old farmer’s stall every evening and it had been all that I had needed to end my lovely days.
My stay at Suzdal had ended as abruptly as it had started and it had been a surprise visit by my traveling companion, that had urged me to leave the pastel coloured town. He had chosen to stay back in Vladimir, when I had moved on to Suzdal and both of us, having been sated with our individual destinations had re grouped to go deeper into Russia. The day had been yet another, cheerful autumn day as we had trudged upto the town square to return to Vladimir to catch a Trans Siberian train and Kamenka River had sparkled like a sheet diamonds. A taxi ride from the main square to the bus station, in the outskirts had been a silent one and I had kept turning back to catch glimpses of the fast receding historic town. Suzdal had slowly disappeared in a flashes of colours, gaiety and joy and in a strange way, I had the immediate feeling that the town did not exist. It had been perhaps the last glimpse of the historic patch being swallowed up by modernity, which had left this impression and till today, the word timeless is synonymous with Suzdal. Photogenic, time forgotten and blessed, Suzdal had been one extremely beautiful rendezvous.
TRAVEL TIP – Suzdal makes an awesome weekend getaway or day trip from Moscow and it is only 25 kilometers from Vladimir. There is no train connectivity to Suzdal and most people arrive their by small group bus tour or car/taxi. Buses for Suzdal leave from Moscow‘s Shelkovskaya bus station and the connectivity is very less. The nearest rail head is at Vladimir and it is possible to take a direct 30 minutes bus from there. Trains for Vladimir leave from Moscow’s Kurskaya train station and you will need a regional short distance ticket for the ride. There are many daily departures to Vladimir and Suzdal buses can be availed from the Vladimir Bus Terminal which is close to the train station. This is a local bus with assigned seat number, but it is not always strictly followed. The bus ticket is valid up to the Suzdal bus terminal or avtovokzal, which is located 2 kilometers outside of the town center. From there, either you can continue to the center by taxi or take another bus.
Suzdal is famous for its preserved monuments and most of them are clustered around the Lenin Street, including the Spaso-Evfimiev Monastery. The most interesting attractions of Suzdal are the Kremlin (with its own ensemble of churches), Museum of Wooden Architecture, Rizopolozhensky monastery, Alexandrovsky Convent, Saviour-Euthimiev monastery-fortress, Spaso-Preobrazhensky cathedral etc. It is a very easy town to explore by foot and local buses also ply within the center. I have stayed at the spic and span, fully functional and comfortable Godzilla Hostel and it had been a very good experience. Most of their rooms are mixed dorms with shared bathrooms and there is perhaps one private suite available. Suzdal is best enjoyed with leisure and most of the locals speak English. Although a safe and tourist friendly town, be aware of the taxis which scalp tourists at the Suzdal bus station and for those leaving by morning transfer to Vladimir, do carry some food with you. Suzdal bus station is horribly dismal with filthy toilet facilities and over expensive snacks for sale.
My Suzdal trip had happened quite a few years back and I have no recollections of the involved travel costs anymore. However, for latest tips on traveling in Russia and costs, please check out the 2015 posts on Russia Travel General Information and Russia Travel Costs
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