Suzdal is an extremely picturesque village located a few hours train ride away from Moscow and is the crowning glory of the “Golden Ring” comprising of the ancient towns around Moscow.
The main attraction of Suzdal for me was that it didn’t seem to be too popular with Western or non-Russian tourists, who seem to cover Vladimir as a part of the Golden Ring Tour. While Vladimir certainly has better accommodation and infrastructure, I found it to be utterly disappointing. The only bright side being that I found the Madonna icon that I had been ardently searching for. I am glad that I chose to spend a couple of nights in Suzdal instead with just a short day trip to Vladimir.
Suzdal seems caught in the ancient times – with the Trans-Siberian railways skipping Suzdal completely in the 19th century, industrialisation too seems to have skipped it. The streets of Suzdal are lined with beautiful wooden houses with engraved wooden frames. Colours of blue, green and yellow splash through their facades. White on blue, blue on green, brown on brown, yellow on brown – pictures of brightness in a post-winter scene.
A profusion of beautiful cathedrals. More that a dozen of them – serving the spiritual needs of a small population of just over 10,000 residents. Each cathedral proudly proclaiming its difference. Each with dramatic coloured, onion-shaped domes that I now recognise as being characteristic of a Russian Orthodox Church or cathedral. Green, blue, grey domes contrasting with golden spires and crosses looming high up in the sky. The best part about these architectural beauties is their religious relevance – still in use today in communist Russia.
The most stunning of them all was the Kremlin grounds and its Church, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin. The Church shouted out its significance as the center stage of Suzdal history. Outside – A burst of Star-spangled imperial blue domes, against the clear, blue skies of the village. Inside – a burst of blue frescoes with a liberal dose of majestic gold.
Equally enchanting was the monastery campus of St. Euthymius. Such a serene atmosphere. Makes one wish one didn’t have to leave. A breath-taking performance by the local choir – deep Russian voices resonating against the high vaulted ceilings made for a very memorable experience. As I walk around the monastery grounds, the bell tower ceremony starts as the clock strikes 12 with multiple bells chiming in perfect unison and adding to the tranquility of the monastery.
The village itself also made for a peaceful and quaint experience. Troika carriages relieving the lives of bourgeois Russia. Cute children riding on horses nodding away their floral tassels. Large open air markets outside the old trading square. Babushkas selling bottled medovukha (a local honey mead), pickled cucumber, handknit socks and rainbow coloured candies. Antique icons for sale on the street – rusted and faded, yet enticing. A household deity traded away for food or perhaps replaced by the gods of communism. Empty streets, long days with sudden streams of sunlight and a feeling that I have this village to myself. Unbeatable!