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Suzdal mega-post, part III

August 6, 2009

215km SE of Moscow lies the village of Suzdal (??????????????, if you’re looking at a Russian bus schedule). It is about two km long by one wide and consists solely of the dachas of Muscovites, one kremlin, three fortresses, and no fewer than 64 churches, cathedrals, temples, monasteries, and other onion-domed marvels (and ten more surrounding the village in the countryside). I arrived at two in the afternoon after a marathon series of trains, metros, buses, and marshrutkas, with the single goal of stopping in front of all 64 sites. Shouldn’t be impossible in a village of two square kilometers, right? Due to the lazy Kamenka River winding it’s way through the center of town, the maze of ancient cobblestone streets, the muddy paths through pastures, the nonsensical locations of the four bridges crossing the river, and the biblical downpour that decided to strike at five, I was forced to give up at eleven. My clever route through the village, however, left the two remaining-to-be-seen sites along the short walk to the bus station in the morning.

 Suzdal’s kremlin was built in the 11th century, the largest monastery in the 13th, and the majority of the rest in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, funded largely by Ivan the Terrifying (or Terrible if you prefer the mis-translated but more common nomenclature). Bypassed by the railroads and protected by the Soviet government, Suzdal is remarkably well-preserved by any standards and especially so by Russian.

 As one of the very first guests in the just-opened but still-under- construction Godzillas Hostel, I can tell that this place is about to explode with tourists. A few upper-end hotels have opened in the last year but Godzillas is the only budget-to-mid-range place. If you arrive on Wednesday or Thursday, you’ll be greeted by the British manager James, but if, like me, you arrive on any other day then you’d better know at least a bit of Russian because James’ right-hand-man Vassily’s English is limited to wild gestures and smiles. One word of caution: this village has hundreds of roosters wandering the streets who, like roosters the world over, enjoy a good cock-a-doodle-do at first light. Unfortunately, first light in the Russian summer is torturously early.

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