An excursion to a wonderful city in the Golden Ring and an evening in Moscow.
Sunday 22.5, Moscow and Sergiev Posad
Another nice breakfast before the guide Nina picked us up with her driver. We call him Leonid this time too, although strictly speaking, he is another.
Changing times in Mother Russia
Nina was a whirlwind of a woman in her best late forties or fifties. Grown up in socialist times and very proud of it and her Russian heritage. She speaks broken English after all those years as Intourist guide, but clearly better than Maria we had day one.
Nina recalled with nostalgia the good times, especially in the seventies when everyone had jobs, apartment, schooling and a pension to live with. Moreover, the Soviet Union was a superpower, even in outer space where they had advanced plans and almost were ready to implement space missions all the way to Mars and of course even further to Venus.
Then came the deluge. It was named Gorbachev. The happy family in the USSR was dissolved and Russians vehemently discriminated against in particular in the Baltic States and in Georgia. Fortunately, they had sensible friends left in some republics such as Kazakhstan. But otherwise the social glue within Russia unravelled.
All that and more, Nina told us in the mini bus on the way out to the town which is the second most important in Russian Orthodox Christianity. She is not one-sided in her social and historical narrative. Nina says that people were working, but that production was not something they cared about, or questioning.
Two hours with guide Nina’s reflections passed quickly as we roared ahead northwards on the motorway.
A walk in Sergiev Posad
The residence of the Patriarch
Monk Sergei (Sergiev) came here a few hundred years ago and quickly gained a good reputation. The monastery was big and important and when Peter the Great decided to separate church and state in the 1600s, he sent the ecclesiastical head here in a kind of internal exile. The patriarch lived here until Gorbachev invited him to move back to Moscow in the 1990s. Which he did.
Over 300 years of church activities has left its traces in Sergiev Posad. In addition 550 monks and a theological university with 700 students leave a living religious environment even today. Numerous domestic tourists or perhaps more like pilgrims come here to cross themselves and kiss icons. The magnificent churches with domes of gold are eternal witnesses of Russia’s intense religiosity that not even 70 years of “religion is the opium of the people” ideology could destroy.
Sergiev Posad church
We walked from building to building accompanied by Nina and a priest, a student, and had a wonderful experience in equally wonderful sunshine.
Sergiev Posad church interior detail
A visit to the centre of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Nina was very much on us to buy souvenirs from the many merchants outside the walls, but we are not of the kind. Our photographs are our memories. I guess Nina’s social disposition made her more intense than usual, putting up such a pushing effort.
The lunch restaurant was a place out of the ordinary world. A lovely old large building painted brightly red, was apparently used by pilgrims. But Nina had been there before and knew how to press the right buttons.
We were served authentic Russian multi-course lunch with authentic Russian food. A small, fresh salad and bread started the meal. Appetizers were followed by a soup, which for the others in my company was a beetroot (Borscht) soup while I chose a beef and vegetable soup. The main course was a big meatball and pan fried potatoes with nothing else. Period. The drink was red juice, which most resembled sauce.
Borscht beetroot soup
Everything seemed genuine, sturdy and tasty Russian. Modest main course without garnish turns out to be the rule here, we will learn later in the trip. But the experience was as great as it was cheap: 140 roubles or 11 USD kroner for four dishes.
Back in Moscow: Space Museum and Arbat
On the trip back all but one fell asleep, and this gave us time to swing by the Space Museum. The monument outside is a magnificent sight in itself. It is a rocket that flies in the steep curve up in the air with a tail of smoke behind it. High and sky busting.
The museum was very good and Nina was intensely proud. So strange that nothing is signposted in English even though this is something of the most outstanding the Russians have got to show the outside world!
Fully satisfied with the day, we returned to the hotel and discussed after a good shower if we should find a dinner place near the hotel, or go to the city. My suggestion was Arbat and my friends accepted. New and Old Arbat are the city’s most famous streets. We took the metro to the Old and walked the pedestrian street to the end. As anticipated, the street was crowded with people musing at musicians and portrait artists, as in other big cities, but it was not easy to find a restaurant. We ended up at a Turkish. Tasty.
Old Arbat street
At the end of the Arbat is a huge building with many pinnacles. The building houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is one of the “seven sisters” Comrade Stalin built around the city around 1950. (This picture is from another of the sisters.)