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Report 1984: A Week Round the Golden Ring, Russia

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2007

Trip Description: The Golden Ring is the tourist name given to a loop of old towns to the north east of Moscow. We spent a week visiting some of them in September 2007.

Destinations: Countries - Russia

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Art Trip; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 15: Background to the Trip

photo by MAW

Sergeiv Posad

We visited Estonia and the architecture of Alexander Nevski Cathedral enthralled us. We decided we wanted to see more of Russia. Moscow and St Petersburg didn’t appeal being huge cities. We kept seeing references to ‘The Golden Ring’. A Google image search left us with jaws dropping and a strong desire to go.

Neither of us speaks Russian, so we immediately discounted thoughts of trying to do this ourselves and approached Audley Travel based in Witney to design a tailor made trip for us with a car, driver and English speaking guide. Once satisfied this was right for us, we filled in application forms for a Russian visa and waited with fingers crossed there wouldn’t be a problem.

We were thankful to have a driver and guide with us for the trip. The Cyrillic alphabet makes interpreting signs difficult. There is little English spoken or understood, even at museums, or by traders dealing with tourists. There is little information in English provided in museums.

We had the same driver and guide all week. Our guide was very much the old fashioned, soviet style guide who stuck rigidly to the itinerary and set spiel. It was a bit like turning on a record player, you got the full story and it was impossible to stop it once started. She wasn’t too happy about questions. This may be a throwback to the Soviet days when guides were asked afterwards what questions tourists asked and who they spoke to. Tourists had to be rigidly controlled in case they saw something the state didn’t want them to see. Tourists were definitely not expected to wander off and do their own thing. It took us a couple of days to come to terms with this and start to ‘manage’ our guide.

It is therefore important to get the itinerary right before the holiday. We found that requests to do something different were not well received as "it is not on the itinerary."

Most trips to the Golden Ring start with a few nights in Moscow. We didn’t want to do this and asked to drive straight to Suzdal from the airport for our first stop. It was a long drive but was well worth it. We spent four nights in Suzdal. We were booked into Pokrov Convent in Suzdal, a marvelous place, which unfortunately no longer offers accommodation.

We then had one night in Yarislavl and two nights at Rostov Veliky. This is not on the usual tourist route and sees few foreign tourists. It took a while for Audley to find suitable accommodation there. From there we drove back to Moscow.

We asked for a day to ourselves in Suzdal. Tom at Audley had expressed concern about what we would do but we assured him that we would just enjoy wandering and taking in the atmosphere. We did and it was one of the most enjoyable days of the trip.

In September the weather was changing rapidly. When we arrived all the leaves were still green. However the weather turned a lot colder half way through the week and the trees began to change colour overnight.

We loved the old Russian towns with their wooden buildings, kremlins (citadels) and old churches. Many of these had been shut or destroyed during communist times, but some are now being restored as churches again.

We find that Russia is addictive. You want to go back.

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