If you look in any guidebook or website about tourism in Russia, Suzdal will always be mentioned as one of the top attractions. It's a cozy little place, but I can't understand the appeal. There is nothing to see here except churches and a lot of colorful wooden houses, which you can view in almost any other city in Russia. Of all the churches, the wooden ones in Suzdal are my favorite, probably because they remind me of secluded, wilderness cabins from a distance. What is the lure for tourists? Perhaps it's just the easy accessibility from Moscow, the central starting point for most large, organized tours for foreigners. The city was my first stop during the last Russian trip, and after awaking at the crack of dawn, we ventured off to see one of the most well-known cities along the Golden Ring.
1. Along the way, we made a quick sunrise stop to view a church off the beaten path. At least, that was the original plan. I began the deep trek through the forest to find the mysterious Church of the Intercession on the Nerl, but gave up half way down the path. Just a complete sheet of ice the entire way, and I couldn't walk it. I fell three times, and on the last fall, I saw that Alexander was far ahead of me, almost at the destination, so I just gave up. The effort did not seem worth it to me, when I knew I would view dozens of other churches during the journey. Instead of stressing over falling every two seconds, I simply stood and admired the glowing pink sunset through the forest trees.
2. When you enter the main part of Suzdal, there's a sign directing you to all the holy places. One good thing - the points are duplicated in English! I don't remember the name of this church, but it sits by its lonesome in a secluded part of the town.
3. In this city, I walked alone. At first, I was optimistic when I saw English on the map, yet despite the huge influx of tourists to the town each summer, the language assistance ended there. Almost nothing else is written or duplicated in English, so you're on your own to decipher the meaning of places and directions. Emphasizes my point that it's absolutely necessary for any foreigner traveling solo in Russia to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. It helps so much, as lot of basic words are the same in Russian and English.
4. Of all the traditional Orthodox churches in the area, the Nativity Cathedral is my favorite. It sits right by the old Kremlin.
5. I give Suzdal credit because it at least tries to build some type of comfy atmosphere for tourists, like this small area right in city center filled with shops and cafes. The stores are all colorful and inviting for visitors. However, as almost everywhere in Russia, the paths are completely uncared for and covered in thick layers of ice and snow making navigation difficult. I can't understand why shop owners don't clear their areas, or make pathways for store entrances easier.
6. Babushka ready to sew you some clothes on her machine. Also, I now notice the shoes we discussed in the other post - valenki - sitting on the top shelf!
7. I became hungry and stopped in one of the cafes for a pancake snack. It was nice, clean and the layout was in my favorite color - orange! Very basic cafe, serving only pancakes, breads and sweets on paper plates. The menu was duplicated in English, and the service was good, maybe because I was the only person in the cafe. The waitress was friendly and seemed happy to have a guest in her restaurant.
8. One problem - the cafe had no proper coffee or espresso, only the instant variety, so I went to another place to have a hot drink. It was much fancier, with wooden baskets decorating the main counter and most tables, all filled with my favorite Soviet Alena chocolate. :) I still don't know if this image is based on a real baby, or it's simply an imaginary depiction? Readers have told me different stories about the creation of this chocolate.
9. Outside of the cafe, classic nesting dolls greet visitors!
10. Off topic, but during a recent visit to an antique store in Virginia, I came across this big matryoshka doll. Guess the price? $275 USD!! It's so cheap to buy these at any Russian tourist stand, so next time I will stock up and try to fund my future travels. :)
11. I began to walk around the neighborhood, and found some great houses and business areas, with the iconic colorful window frames. Seems odd that half of the building has windows painted in light colors, while the others are bright blue. In the USA, we have many restrictions governed by "home associations", which require uniformity when it comes to houses in certain neighborhoods. For example, you can't have a bright orange door if you desire it. I don't like this, and believe people should be free to decorate their houses as they wish, even if it's considered ugly by others. The reasoning for the restrictions is that tacky decor brings down property values for others in the event they wish to sell their home.
12. For those who are too lazy to paint or maintain nice windows, they simply put up a pretend version. This house had some artificial, cloth wall covering thrown over it to mimic the traditional appearance of the other homes in the area. Even a fake cat on the drawing! :) Maybe you would have thought the windows were real if I had not told you otherwise?
13. Along the fences in the neighborhood, there were various portraits of children and families hanging. I don't know the purpose or what they symbolized? These sisters appear to be cute twins. I liked it, because I'm always fascinated by family photos, and the different appearance and shape the human face can take.
14. Again, two-tone house color. The front plain wood, the back, light blue. Maybe repairs and painting are ongoing, or the dual design is intentional?
15. Nice statue of someone named "Alexey," I can't read the last name because it's covered in snow. If you know the person or his significance, please tell me in the comments.
16. I turned down another road, and here I discovered the life of the city! The local market, filled with pensioners buying all kinds of products. I guess it's their version of the local shopping mall. All products are sold here - food, clothing, shoes, hats, electronics...
17. And pigs! Ah, after seeing animal carcasses strewn about I feel bad about being a meat eater.
18. These two women had a loud verbal argument. I couldn't understand the Russian well enough to know what the dispute was about, but I assumed based on the hand gestures that the older woman was trying to negotiate a lower price for her sliced sausages, and the seller didn't want to cooperate. But, maybe they were just having a normal conversation. I've told you before that Russian speech always sounds very loud and aggressive to me.
19. Local street. There are no words - the image speaks for itself. Here, old people maneuver through ice, craters and pot holes, carry big bags of food, while cars drive and weave in between them. Russia - only for the strong! It isn't a random image, or a "pig searching for dirt", as many often accuse when such images are shown. This is the condition of most of the streets I walked in Suzdal.
20. The main road through the city was in good condition, and even workers with their ice picks were trying to clear the sidewalks. Bravo!
21. Last stop was the ancient monastery. Another old church on the grounds, but the purpose was to climb to a secret bell tower we read about online.
22. I've found that accessibility to tourist places in Russia is often unpredictable. There's no set schedule, sometimes places are closed in the middle of the day, and even gaining entrance is sometimes a chore. The same thing here. We had to speak to several people in the monastery to find the person who had the key to the church in which the bell tower was located. The gentleman was friendly, and after paying a small fee for entrance and being handed a pamphlet, we entered.
23. The inside is very decrepit and not properly maintained, with unstable wooden planks and exposed nails. I think in the USA, such a place would be closed due to safety hazards, but it's always pleasant to view any city from above, so I climbed the several hundred steps to the top.
24. Passed many pigeons on the journey up, it appears the church is one of their safe havens, and their droppings greet you around every corner, even on the rails to which you hold onto when walking up the steps.
25. There are several different vantage points, if you peek through various windows on the climb up.
26. The view from the top is magnificent and worth the effort. You really see how bright and colorful the city is, with all the vibrant domes and rooftops.
27. For whom the bell tolls...
28. Local houses, clean yards, in general the area is nice when compared to other cities I visited along the Golden Ring.
29. Part of the monastery, which appears abandoned.
30. In this city, I saw almost no young people.
31. Standard Russian facial expression. :)
32. Different angle of the church on the monastery grounds.
33. My favorite church in Suzal - St. Nicholas Wooden Church.
34. In one of the cafes, I discovered this delicious drink - medovuha! I would describe it is a honey beer. So tasty! I drank it in the car on the way to our next destination - Ivanovo, which I'll tell you about in a separate post.
My final impression is that Suzdal is a nice place for standard tourists interested in churches and a more formal, structured and cozy tourist environment. However, it's not really to my liking. I prefer more unique attractions, which are focused on people, rather than places and architectural wonders.