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THE GOLDEN RING OF RUSSIA
The Golden Ring is a chain of small ancient towns situated to the North and East of Moscow. It is the most popular tourist route through the Russian provinces. Depending on the time available, you can choose short - one or two days - trip to the main points: Sergiev Posad or Vladimir and Suzdal'. But if you would like to examine thoroughly all the towns of the Golden Ring - and there are more than twenty of them - it will take you nearly a fortnight.
The Golden Ring is not only a collection of architecture masterpieces and charming landscapes of the middle Russia. It is also an opportunity to get acquainted with the life of Russian provinces, unhurried and calm, not spoiled by the bustle of big cities. For example, nobody in a small town gets surprised or upset if a herd of cattle blocks the traffic along the central street.
The tour around the Golden Ring starts in Moscow. Buses go northwards along the old Yaroslavsky Highway. In about 70 kilometers from Moscow Sergiev Posad is situated, famous for its Troitse-Sergiev Lavra ("a major monastery" in Greek). The Monastery was founded in the fourteenth century by Sergei of Radonezh, who was canonized during his life. For a long time, Sergiev Posad was the spiritual life centre of the country, sort of Russian Vatican. In the city, there are a monastery, a theological seminary and the Art Museum-reserve displaying the Orthodox history of Russia.
Many legends are connected with the town of Aleksandrov (100 km from Moscow). Once upon a time, they say, there lived Nikitka Kholop (Bond-slave) who was the first man in history to try to take off: he tied to his arms a pair of wings made of wood - and jumped off the Cathedral roof. The track of the famous Tsar's Liberia - library of Ivan the Horrible - was lost just here, in the old Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda (Suburb). An enormous by 16th century scales collection of antique Greek parchments, Latin chronographs and Jewish manuscripts admired by the scholars - contemporaries of the Moscow Tsar - vanished without leaving a trace. Even today, the mysterious Liberia provokes ardent interest of treasure-hunters and detective writers.
Suzdal' will greet you with tolling of bells. It is the most fabulous place of the Golden Ring. This museum city has hardly changed for the past two and a half centuries. More than 200 architecture monuments of the past millenium are concentrated here: the Kremlin, trading rows, several monasteries, lots of big and small churches. And on every corner "medovukha" is sold, an ancient Russian drink, sort of honey beer.
Another charming small town on the Volga - Myshkin (Mous'). Cruise motor ships sailing from Moscow to St Petersburg or vice versa make a stop here. There is a legend explaining the origin of the town's name: Prince Yukhotsky lay down on the river bank to have a rest after a hunt and fell asleep but was woken up by a mouse which ran across his face. When he opened his eyes, he saw a poisonous snake approaching him. In honor of the small rodent that saved his life, the Prince commanded to build a chapel on the place. Nowadays, the town's inhabitants wisely use its unusual name: they invented and established the only Mouse Museum in the world - an amusing collection of all sorts of images of this small grey animal. Besides, there is The Smirnovs Museum here dedicated to the native of the neighbourhood Peter Smirnov, creator of the famous vodka. And quite recently another museum has been opened - the Museum of Valenki, traditional Russian winter footwear (sort of felt boots).
Pereyaslavl' Zalessky looks as if there was more old ancient churches than hotels, cafes and shops altogether. Quiet Plescheevo Lake is considered the cradle of the Russian Navy: just here it was that 300 years ago the young Russian Tsar who later on became Peter the Great mastered the art of sailing. The small boat of the Russian Emperor miraculously survived and now is an exhibit in one of museums.
Plescheevo Lake is famous for its most uncommon "Pereyaslavl' herring" or "riapushka" of the salmons family. The fish is a relict sea one and probably got into the fresh water of the lake before the ice age. Russian Tsars used to like it very much, so it was called "Tsar herring". The fish is in the city emblem of Pereyaslavl' Zalessky.
Rostov Veliky (Rostov-the-Great) is the oldest city of the north-east Rus': it is first mentioned in chronicles in 862. It is situated by the lake whose name - Nero - means "muddy, silty". On its bottom there is a thick layer of silt, up to 20 meters, which is used for fertilizing fields. The towers of the Rostov Kremlin impressing with their white-stone architecture are reflected in the lake's water.
In the restaurants of Rostov you will find the whole range of genuine Russian cuisine. A real Slav meal is a long chain of various dishes: aspic and baked fish, piglet stuffed with boiled buckwheat, game, brews and skillies, fish-soup from three sorts of fish and poultry and saffron - you name it! And the embellishment of the table - an enormous "kurnik": a pie made of pancakes, chicken, mushrooms and rice.
Completing the circle rout of the Golden Ring we get to Vladimir, once the capital of the Russian state. Now it is a big industrial centre but it is worth visiting at least to see the frescoes by the great Russian icon-painter Andrei Rublev in the Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral, and majestic Golden Gates.
In a few kilometers from Vladimir, there is a masterpiece of the old Russian architecture - the Church of Protection on the Nerli river. It was built in 1164 on an artificial height in the midst of a water-meadow by the junction of the Kliaz'ma and Nerl' rivers. There is a legend that in the 18th century the white-stone church was about to be demolished, because too few people came to it, but by the will of the Blessed Virgin the church is dedicated to a sun ray suddenly reflected from the golden dome and blinded the workers; and so the church survived.
Along the whole Golden Ring, there are settlements where masters of folk arts have been living for centuries. And today crystal ware is produced in Gus' Khrustal'ny (Crystal Goose), painted wooden caskets in Palekh, painted metal trays in Zhostovo, big and brightly ornamented shawls in Pavlovsky Posad, enamel jewelry in Rostov. You will hardly find a traveler who could overcome the temptation to take along at least one traditional Russian souvenir to remember the far-away country.
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