Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Golden Ring, Part II - Sergiev Posad & Yaroslavl

After a long evening the day before, I slept in and caught an 11:30am train to Sergiev Posad. I didn’t think I needed a full day there anyhow, since there was pretty much just the monastery. The local train was slow and hot, but it got me there after about an hour and a half. Unfortunately I had “forgotten” to eat breakfast or lunch again, so I grabbed a quick bite to eat. My train to Yaroslavl that evening didn’t leave until 9pm, so I had plenty of time to visit. I left my bags at the bus station (after a bunch of sign language and broken communication, I figured out that the left luggage lockers were indeed at the bus station), and headed off.

Overlooking the Monastery -- This viewpoint is on the way from the train station to the Monastery

The monastery in Sergiev Posad is probably the most spectacular that I have visited, and it is well worth even a daytrip from Moscow. The colors seem to be inspired by a drunk Russian who played too much Candy-Land, and it’s absolutely awesome. 

You cannot seriously tell me that vodka was not involved...

There is little else to do in the town, but the monastery offered hours of entertainment and photo opportunities. The changing light and changing crowds made it a great place to spend some time, and after taking tons of pictures and wandering around every inch of the monastery, I sat down to write a Facebook update, relaxed for a bit, and then had dinner at an excellent Russian restaurant that was on the way back to the station.


I usually run away from churches too. My sympathies, cat.
Inside one of the monastery halls. The artwork makes the Sistine Chapel look like a child's drawing.
Panorama of the Monastery (Not Pictured: Giant light blue bell tower)
When I got back to the station, I asked a lady who seemed to be offering “information” about my train to Yaroslavl. She looked confused, and told me to buy a ticket to Moscow. I knew that obviously was not right, so I asked her again in a slightly different manner. Shortly after I asked, a 15-year-old Russian boy turned around and asked if I needed help. I explained what was going on, and after a short conversation in Russian with the lady, he told me my train was on platform 3 and I was all set. I thanked him, but he said “I will show you, and besides, I want to practice my English” – and so we went out to the platform and talked for about 20 minutes before he realized his train was about to depart (his friend called him, shouting loud enough that I could hear) and he bolted. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to give him my contact info, but it turns out he was one of the best young violin players in Russia and had just gotten back from a performance in Austria. Random, but super-cool, and he was incredibly nice.

Happy to have the help and the conversation, I waited for my train and began to get concerned when it was 5 minutes before my scheduled departure time and the train hadn’t arrived. I was soon relieved about 2 minutes later when a rather nice sleeper-train arrived and I boarded as the only passenger on the platform. A short 3 hours and 15 minutes later, I arrived into Yaroslavl, grabbed a taxi (trying desperately not to get ripped off and failing), and headed to my hotel for the next few days: The Yubilebnaya Hotel.

The next day I decided to start my exploring by just wandering. I had a general idea where things were, and I walked along the river bank for awhile. Yaroslavl, as it turns out, is an amazingly enjoyable place to walk around. I spent a lot of time there just enjoying the tree-lined or river-banked boardwalks which either were shaded or had spectacular views.

One of the main parks in Yaroslavl extends out to the intersection of the Vega and Volga rivers, and has some neat monuments as well.

Yaroslavl Monument at the end of the park, with a view of the river intersection
After visiting the park and the Yaroslavl History Museum (which conveniently had a couple explanations in English and smiling babushkas), I headed inland to visit a few of Yaroslavl’s spectacular churches. I started with the Church of Ilya the Prophet, and was fortunate to be able to duck inside just as it began raining quite heavily. As far as places that offer shelter from the rain are concerned, this was pretty damned nice. In fact, it was pretty nice even for a building that wouldn’t offer shelter from the rain, but I disgress.

Sweet, sweet shelter - Church of Ilya the Prophet, Yaroslavl

Pretty, shiny shelter - Church of Ilya the Prophet, Yaroslavl

Warm, cosy shelter - Church of Ilya the Prophet, Yaroslavl

When the rain subsided, I continued onto the pedestrian avenue leading toward the Assumption Cathedral, newly rebuilt in 2005 after being destroyed earlier. Though it has been rebuilt, the interior is quite lackluster compared to the exterior. I finished my loop back to the river-bank and found an excellent Russian place for dinner right next to the history museum.

Assumption Cathedral and Eternal Flame/Victory Monument, Yaroslavl - The church is pretty on the outside, but cleaner than Hillary Clinton's ... (No! Stop that! Get your mind out of the gutter!) second email account.

My second and final day in Yaroslavl I left my bags at the hotel’s left-luggage and headed to the monastery near my hotel, then walked along the river bank until I had pretty much reached the city limits. I caught a bus back to civilization, and soon enough I was back to wandering around the picturesque town, where I revisited a few places and then headed back to my hotel to collect my bags before catching an evening train back to Moscow. My Golden Triangle was finished.

Here are some miscellaneous photos I thought were nice:

Sunset from the window of my hotel room, Yaroslavl

Random colorful wooden mini-houses along one of Yaroslavl's many tree-lined walkways
Epiphany Church, Yaroslavl

Love locks on trees, again, tree-lined walkways. Part of me thinks putting a lock on something so easily chopped down is less of a commitment than, say, announcing things on Facebook,Yaroslavl

View from the top of the monastery, Yaroslavl

Volga embankment, Yaroslavl

Practical Information

  • Booking Russian train tickets
    • Booking Russian train tickets online is difficult. While Russian Railways has an English version of their site (http://pass.rzd.ru/main-pass/public/en), I constantly had problems using a credit card to pay. Of all the third-party options for booking tickets, I found that tutu.ru had the best prices and least significant markups. Their site is straightforward, and although I initially had trouble using a credit card, a quick email to their support office resolved the issue (and I still am not totally sure what the problem was -- I think it had something to do with account verification). The booking process was smooth and very fast, the tickets were issued very quickly, and overall the site offers an excellent service. I highly recommend them, and I used them for all my train tickets.
    • For local trains, it is not necessary or possible to get a ticket in advance.
  • Local Trains in Moscow (Yaroslavsky)
    • Trains to/from Sergiev Posad leave from Moscow’s Yaroslavsky Station
    • To buy tickets and get to the trains, go through the station until you reach the platforms and then turn left. You’ll see the ticket counter a short ways away.
    • There are a couple trains from Moscow to Sergiev Posad you can buy tickets on ahead of time which are faster and nicer, but they are quite limited in frequency
    •  Local trains leave from Moscow to Sergiev Posad every 30 minutes. They are not air-conditioned and don’t have any services onboard, but they’ll get you there eventually. I believe my trip took a little over an hour and a half.
    • Going to Sergiev Posad is easy because it is terminus to terminus.
  • Sergiev Posad timing & Other stuff
    • I highly recommend Sergiev Posad either as a daytrip from Moscow or as a stop on the way to Yaroslavl. It’s a small town with only one major tourist attraction, but it’s a damned good one.
    • From the train station to the Monastery is an easy 10-15 minute walk
    • There are left luggage lockers at the Sergiev Posad bus station (which is very close to the train station), open until at least 8:30pm, possibly later.
    • I had an excellent and reasonably priced dinner at Russki Dvorik on the way back from the monastery to the train station. Leaving the monastery, it is just across the main street before going back down the hill.
    • I arrived in Sergiev Posad around 1:15pm, spent about 5 hours at the monastery, got dinner, and made it back to the train station by 8:30pm for my 9pm train. While the monastery is beautiful, it could certainly be done in a little over a half-day.
  • Yaroslavl timing & Other stuff
    • I loved my time in Yaroslavl, and again would highly recommend visiting. While it may not have nearly as much as say, St. Petersburg, I still think it is a worthwhile place to spend a couple days.
    • I spent about 2 days in Yaroslavl and felt that was plenty. While it would be possible to visit in 1, I found the city was one of my favorite places just to walk around and explore, and having the second day made that easy.
    • The café next to the history museum in Yaroslavl is excellent
    • Take some time just to walk around the city without any particular goal in mind, especially along the river.
  • The Yubileynaya Hotel in Yaroslavl had the fastest WiFi I have ever experienced in a hotel, and overall it was a very pleasant stay at a reasonable price. The hotel is located about 10 minutes from the main tourist attractions, but is still easily accessible.

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