Russia's Golden Ring - Facts and Information
Our Experience
Comments on why we went, how we got there, what we did and what we thought of it
A sudden interest in Russian architecture led to a rather hastily arranged trip to the Golden Ring






Golden Ring Main Index

  Suzdal - Pokrov
  Suzdal - Euthymius
  Suzdal - Kremlin
  Suzdal - Churches
  Suzdal - Street scenes
  Suzdal - Wood Museum
  Bogolyubovo & Vladimir
  Kostroma - St Ipaty
  Kostroma - Wood Museum
  Yaroslavl - Street scenes
  Yaroslavl - Kremlin
  Yaroslavl - Church of Elijah
  Yaroslavl - Icon Museum
  Rostov - Kremlin
  Rostov - Gate churches
  Rostov - Miscellany
  Sergiev Posad - Kremlin
  Sergiev Posad - Refectory



Facts & Information Index

  History, geography, facts
  Our trip
  External links







Pictures, problems etc



Background and options
We had never heard of the Golden Ring until we saw references to it in literature we were using to help us arrange a later trip through Asia in 2008. A visit to Tallinn in May 2007 gave us an introduction to the Russian Orthodox Church and generated a fascination with its architecture. The more pictures we saw of the Golden Ring the more we wanted to go there, and and we managed to persuade ourselves we ought to see some of European Russia before our later trip into Siberia. Timing was crucial as the only time we could fit it in would be the first week in September. So that was what we did.

Having discounted any thoughts of doing it ourselves by public transport there were two possibilities: group tour or private tour. Group tours are anathema to us as you are fixed to a rigid schedule and have little flexibility, so private tour with guide and driver it was. We booked through Audley Travel whom we were using for a couple of later trips. The draft itinerary included two days in Moscow but we firmly ruled that out and said we wanted to go straight to the Golden Ring. Our logic was that we were short of time, we wanted to concentrate on the Golden Ring, we couldn't do justice to Moscow in such a short time, we hate big citiesand anyway the whole point of tailor-made trips is doing what you want.

Day by day
The first day saw us flying BA to Domodedovo and a two hour wait to clear immigration. The drive to Suzdal was long and - after dark - boring, but it got the travel out of the way and we arrived at Pokrov Convent where we were staying to have our spirits lifted as it was floodlit and enchanting. We spent four nights there and found it a captivating place and infinitely preferable to the large tourist hotel further out of town.

The second day was a short drive to Vladimir with its incredible cathedral plus Bogolyubovo and a walk over fields to the Church of the Intercession on the Neri on a beautiful late summer day.

The third day in Suzdal proved to be not long enough as we did not accomplish what we hoped with our guide. We had also agreed to have a lunch provided at a local house and whilst this was both excellent and interesting it took too much time out of the day. Suzdal is a very small town stuffed with monasteries and churches and we loved it. In its centre the atmosphere is almost pre-Soviet. Fortunately the fourth day was to be spent there on our own and we had a great time doing things missed the previous day and just wandering.

The fifth day we drove through Kostroma to Yaroslavl, both big cities. In Kostroma the Ipaty Monastery and Wooden Museum are both good. Sites in both cities can get a bit crowded at certain times with tours from the Volga cruises. In Yaroslavl we stopped at the Yubileynaya Hotel, a large, comfortable, boring tourist hotel.

The sixth day in Yaroslavl saw the start of autumn with cool winds and a chance to explore before starting with the guide. The cathedral and especially the Church of Elijah the Prophet are amazing. Our itinerary did not include the Treasury in the Kremlin but we said we wanted to go in and were very glad we did. It was newly opened, full of amazing things and had captions in English. Anyone going to Yaroslavl should not miss the Treasury. Then on to Rostov Veliky where thoughts of exploring the small town were dampened by persistent rain and cold. We had two overnights at the Pleshanova House, a small, pleasant guest house.

Our seventh day in Rostov was damp, but the Kremlin highly enjoyable and needed more time than had been allowed, a pity as the later trip to St Jacob Monastery was perhaps not good use of time. However in the afternoon we told the guide and driver we wanted to do our own thing and went back into the Kremlin then had a good nose round the small and slightly shabby town.

The eighth day saw a drive to Sergiev Posad where the Kremlin is amazing. Being so close to Moscow the place seems to get a lot of tours and it was a major Orthodox feast that day. After that it was back to Moscow for a (delayed) flight home.

Of the places we visited we consider two to be unmissable. Sergiev Posad because of its quite remarkable Kremlin, and Suzdal with its fantastic buildings and atmosphere. Yaroslavl would come in third. That is not to dismiss the other places, just to order priorities.

The galleries (links at the top of the column on the left) include further comments about The Golden Ring and our trip.

What we made of Russia
A few days in a very small part of a vast country with a driver and guide to mollycoddle us means our experience was very limited. And yet with Russia's history and previous attitudes to the west we went not knowing quite what to expect, especially as the towns we visited were not in the same league as the tourist honey pots like Moscow and St Petersburg.

First impressions were of a rather run-down country that is unkempt (though not untidy, we saw no litter) and a countryside of fields not being cultivated. Then the contrasts emerged; the juxtaposition of the brand new and the traditional, of prosperity and poverty. The pedestrian crossings every few yards that aren't used because drivers don't stop at them, the petty-fogging bureaucracy of some minor officials. But perhaps above all the friendliness and good humour of the ordinary Russian.

Some practical considerations
We were surprised how little English was spoken even amongst traders dealing with tourists, or on captions in museums. The Cyrillic alphabet makes interpreting signs difficult and getting a knowledge of pronunciations is worthwhile, as is learning the shape of some words. It pays dividends to find a restaurant with an English menu, unless you want to take pot luck (which we did a couple of times at food stalls and struck lucky). Food, like many things, is very cheap although tourist hotel restaurants apparently know how to charge. In Yaroslavl we had this in mind and were looking elsewhere when our guide saw us and took us into the place she was just leaving and helped us order. This was a sort of Armenian pizza-cum-barbecue caff which though basic was clean and produced an excellent and very cheap meal of soup and pork.

Tourists should be aware that some people, especially the older, are uncomfortable when cameras point in their general direction. Incidentally many sites require a photography permit to be bought for a few roubles. In some churches and museums photography is forbidden. In churches women are expected to cover their hair; some places require this and put scarves at the door to be borrowed. Sometimes trousered females are also regarded with disfavour and aprons are put out to cover their offending limbs.

Tap water presents a serious risk of giardia. Bottled water is readily available, but to avoid the hassle of getting it we had taken our collapsible Platypus bottles and purifying tablets. We also took a Katadyn filter bottle which was handy when cleaning teeth. Whilst on the subject of health just remember that some Russian drivers are suicidal psychopaths.

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