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Day 7: Vladimir and Suzdal

We had quite an adventure planned today, travelling to the small town of Suzdal which is approximately 150 miles east of Moscow. The guidebook advertised it as a day-trip from Moscow, but it's just about at the limit of the distance which you can do there and back in a day. Our journey was going to involve travelling to the nearby town of Vladimir by train, before attempting to catch a bus to Suzdal itself.

The first step was to get to Moscow's Kursky train station. We left the hotel an hour before we needed to catch our train, but things still ended up being a little bit frantic when we couldn't find the entrance to the metro station we needed (only the exit!). We got there in the end, passed through the train station security and found our platform with a few minutes to spare. Boarding the train was a complicated process; we had bought tickets online in advance, so we had allocated seats in a specific carriage, but trying to find the correct carriage was a bit of a nightmare. In the end we realised that there were small signs with the carriage number stuck on a window in each carriage, but they weren't very prominent. Everyone who wanted to get on at that carriage had to join a queue to have their ID checked by the conductor and then be pointed in the direction of their seat. You have to give your ID number at the time of booking and then it seems like no one wants to see your actual ticket; the conductor was just typing the ID numbers into a little machine to check that we had a reservation.

Eventually we got on and the train departed promptly. The journey from Moscow to Vladimir took around 1 hour 45 minutes on a Lastochka train, which only made one intermediate stop. As on our journey from St Petersburg the other day, the vast majority of the view which we saw consisted of forest. Russia definitely has a lot of trees xD

We arrived in Vladimir around 11.15 and made our way to the bus station, which is helpfully situated just across the road from the train station. Neither building is particularly scenic.


Once we were in the bus station, the next challenge was to buy tickets to Suzdal. The bus station had all manner of different counters, some of which seemed to be for buying specific types of tickets or tickets in specific directions. Unfortunately I couldn't understand what all the signs meant, so I chose a counter which I hoped said could be used to purchase all types of ticket and decided to give it a go. Luckily, in answer to my question as to whether it was possible to buy tickets to Suzdal here, the lady behind the counter said yes and sold me five. Phew :)  The tickets turned out to be very good value once again, costing around 100 rubles each.

We had just missed a bus at 11.30, so had been sold tickets for the next bus which was at 12.00. That meant we had some time to kill in the bus station, which was an interesting experience as it was lined with all manner of strange stalls selling everything from passport covers with the face of Putin to Transformers. The one thing they didn't sell was a spare screw for Helen's sunglasses, although she did look up the word and give it a try!

The bus tickets had what looked like a seat number on them, though it wasn't 100% clear whether this was really a seat number or whether this was just the number of tickets which the lady had already sold for this bus. When the bus arrived, we joined the queue and decided to attempt to sit in our numbered seats anyway. It worked, although I'm still not sure whether this was luck or because everyone was really obeying the numbering system. The bus quickly became very crowded anyway, with more people joining at stops within Vladimir once we had left the bus station, and it was full to standing as we eventually made our way our of the town and onto the main road towards Suzdal.


Vladimir felt like a big place and it took us a while to get to the outskirts of it, but we weren't actually sure how large it was. Having now looked it up, it turns out the population is around 345,000 which is indeed a significant size. Once we left the city behind, the views became much more scenic. We could see splashes of purple in lots of the fields that we passed through, but initially weren't sure what they were. Eventually we realised that they were wild lupins. How beautiful :) 

The journey to Suzdal took around 50 minutes. We arrived at the bus station and went inside to take a photo of the times for the return journey. The bus station is located about a mile outside of the main town but it's quite an easy walk, all along one main road. As we walked along, we got a view of our first church.


The road was lined with beautiful wooden houses. Some were brightly coloured...


...some were more traditional...


...and some were really grand.


We also passed some rather unusual floral displays housed in old tyres!


As we got closer to the centre of the town, there was a children's play area with some rather spectacular wood carvings.


And then we were in the centre of town, and could see the trading arcades and resurrection church.


It was definitely lunch time by this point, so we decided to investigate the trading arcades to see whether we could find something to eat.


We eventually settled on this restaurant, which was serving traditional Russian cuisine.


Some of us had soup, others had pelmeni (Russian dumplings, a bit like ravioli). The thing I was most excited about though was the fact that Helen and I got an entire litre jug of cranberry juice to share :) Cranberry juice seems to be really popular over here!


Once we'd eaten, we went out to explore Suzdal.


The reason we wanted to come here is that it is one of the "Golden Ring" towns and also one of the oldest towns in Russia. 


The town avoided industrialisation because it wasn't on the railway, and so is still home to lots of churches and historic buildings.


This red building is the Assumption Church. We went inside and I think it must have been the coolest place in Suzdal today :D It was absolutely baking outside and stepping into the church was like going into a fridge!


We walked past a park, heading towards the Suzdal Kremlin.


The Suzdal Kremlin dates from the 10th century. The most impressive building which is housed by the Kremlin walls is the Cathedral of the Nativity.


The cathedral was originally constructed in the 11th century and today is a World Heritage Site.


The blue roof with golden stars was absolutely stunning :) 


You can buy a ticket to go into the Kremlin, but today we didn't have time. Navigated by Helen, we pressed on through a field...


...and crossed a river.


On the far side of the river was the main thing which we had come to see; the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life.


It cost 400 rubles each (around £4.85) to buy a ticket to get into this open-air museum, which is home to examples of wooden architecture from all around the region.


The first building which we saw when we entered was this absolutely stunning wooden church.


That was the wooden Transfiguration Church and next to it was the equally beautiful wooden Resurrection Church.


It was incredible that something so intricate had been built completely out of wood.


The museum was also home to a couple of peasant houses which you could go inside to see what life would have been like for Russian peasants.


There was one for a well-off peasant and one for a peasant that was less well off.


The house for the well-off peasant in particular didn't look too bad, although I wouldn't have fancied sleeping on this bed-shelf right up by the ceiling!


The thing which I was most excited about seeing was the wooden windmill!


There was a map showing how many water mills and wind mills there had been in Suzdal. It looked like they had a lot of windmills in the past!


We could definitely all have stayed in the museum longer, but Tim pointed out that we needed to start making tracks back towards the bus station if we wanted to catch the 5pm bus to Vladimir.


And so we went back across the river and through fields to get back to the bus station.


Tim and I went ahead to buy bus tickets and before too long we were sitting on the bus back to Vladimir. It wasn't as crowded as it had been on the journey out, but it was still extremely hot!

When we arrived in Vladimir we had a slight problem as we weren't sure where the centre of the town was. We could see what looked like an enormous cathedral perched on the side of a hill and figured that the town must be in that direction.


While my parents tried unsuccessfully to get a taxi, Tim and I began to climb up towards the cathedral. Our strategy was partly just to walk towards it and partly to follow the directions on my offline map. This led to us taking a very strange route, up some extremely steep steps which were overgrown with nettles and along some dirt tracks, before finally emerging at the top of the hill outside the cathedral.


This is the Assumption Cathedral, which is also part of a World Heritage Site.


Vladimir was one of the medieval capitals of Russia and a cathedral was originally built here in the 12th century.


For over 300 years it was the biggest church in Russia, and it still looks pretty big today!


The golden domes on the roof were absolutely beautiful :)


We'd just got around to the front of the cathedral when my family rejoined us, having found a much more civilised route up the main road towards the town centre :)


In front of the cathedral we found this cool "I love Vladimir" sign :) 


We didn't have loads of time in Vladimir before we needed to catch our train home, but there was one more thing I wanted to see. Tim and I raced off down the main street in search of the Golden Gate.


The gate was constructed between 1158 and 1164 and survived the Mongol destruction of Vladimir in 1237. It was reconstructed in 1795 after being damaged in a fire.


We rejoined the others, who had found a nice restaurant to get pizza. We all had time to eat, before heading back to the train station and setting off on the long journey back to Moscow.


As we passed by a park outside the cathedral in Vladimir, I was slightly surprised to see a small child driving a toy tank :o 


On the way to the station we also passed another beautiful church...


...and this pretty yellow building which looked very official.


It was a long journey home, but all in all we had a brilliant day :) It would have been nice to be able to spend longer in both Vladimir and Suzdal, but I'm really glad that we got to see at least part of them today :) 

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