Up early to shower and pack but a short walk past a briefing of many Moscow policemen and two metro stops meant we were at the train station with an hour to spare before we headed to Vladimir. Into the station through the omnipresent scanners and bag x-ray machines unloading and loading up again and we walked to where the signs indicated our train would go from to find ourselves in no mans land with no further info. Back into the station through the omnipresent scanners and bag x-ray machines unloading and loading up again and we walked to the food area and sat down.
Oh how we enjoyed the next 40 mins.
Travelling gives you time. A warped sense of time where differing surroundings and unusual routine stretches time much further than the normal daily routine of work life. The next 40 minutes seemed to take hours. Time allows for people watching which in foreign lands is curiously fascinating.
Drunk middle aged men ate lasagne and drank pints of lager. Drunk youths ate KFC and drank tins of lager. We sat down and realised two men were asleep at tables near us. Drunk men with pizzas shouted at them. They didn’t stir. Table cleaners prodded them. They didn’t stir. Many people ate ice cream. Some people with robust teeth ate ice cream and drank coffee. It was 8.30am on a Sunday. Better than TV.
We dragged ourselves away from the entertainment and a kind guard pointed us to our train. We joined the queue to show our passports to board (tickets are only checked onboard) and dived into the bunfight to put our bags somewhere. We were sat opposite an engaging American couple who were really well travelled. They described it as adventure travel and had been to a lot of countries. An old Russian lady with gold teeth won the “wrong seat despite a numbered ticket” competition and was replaced by a laconic looking Russian man who promptly fell asleep. Our conversation with the American couple had attracted the attention of another American lady sat a few seats down (were we in the foreigners coach?) and she came over to chat. She stood behind the sleeping Russian man and began shouting in American. After a while he awoke looking flustered, opened his bag and pulled a huge, nearly empty bottle of beer from it, drained it, replaced it in his bag, looked at me and rolled his eyes like a 70’s comedian before going back to sleep.
At Vladimir 80% of the train got off and I thought it must be very popular until I realised most people were just using the 5 min stop to smoke. Smoking is big here. A few vapers but mostly old school smokes.
Our loud American lady friend was also off to Suzdal so I carried her bag to the bus station for her as she seemed to be struggling. Our increasing knowledge of Cyrillic helped us buy a ticket to Suzdal and before you can say “huge menacing flock of pigeons in bus station” we were on our way.
Suzdal is old, quiet, sleepy and quaint and after a 19 day city break through Europe a welcome contrast. We were dropped off in the centre and used GPS on my smartphone to get to our guesthouse. AMAZING! When we travelled in 98 we had to rely on lonely planet maps which we came not to rely on.
No one was in at the guesthouse so we sat outside and wrote up the blog/ diaries. Another guest arrived and kindly phoned the owner to tell him we were here. Russians are still, so far, disproving the grumpy image. Owner arrived and showed us into our huge clean room with TV and sofa and coffee table, we were delighted after backpackers and a ferry cabin. No WiFi though.
We wandered into town over the meandering river, nosing into spaced out single storey intricately carved wooden houses but thwarted by ever present net curtains. Sunday is day-tripper day and the market square was full of stalls selling fridge magnets, slippers, pots and wooden maces! There were horses and carts to ride on and a lot of mead sellers and unusually we were ignored by the touts.
We viewed the many onion domed churches and paid to go into the Cathedral of the Birth of the Mother of God which wasn’t as golden as the Cathedrals in the Moscow Kremlin but the quieter atmosphere made it more enjoyable.
Besides the multitude of churches, (Daily Fact – at one point Suzdal had a church for every 12 inhabitants) Suzdal is famous for mead, the honey based booze drink. Church done, mead next. We headed to a tasting room and tried eight different varieties, all fizzy and sweet and all slightly different, based on whatever the lady said in Russian that neither of us understood. We liked it though so bought a few bottles.
Tea was in a small restaurant that did simple Russian food really well. Pork with cheese and prunes for me and salmon for Al, both with fried spuds and sauerkraut. No fancy nonsense, just simple classic rustic food done very well. (Rick Stein rant over)
Home for mead and we realised we’d been done. Classic tourist scam. All was out of date and had no fizz and didn’t taste great. We persevered but eventually folded. Oh well, better to have mead that’s flat than never to have mead at all.