1. 2. Day 7 Wednesday: Yaroslavl-St Petersburg: | Our Travelling Experiences – With Cas & The Sanman

Day 7 Wednesday: Yaroslavl-St Petersburg:



Well, looking out from our hotel window it certainly didn’t look exciting at all, rather gloomy and dismal to say the least.  While it wasn’t raining yet, it certainly wasn’t far away.  Make no mistake – today was going to be an ENORMOUS AND LONGGGGG DAY – finishing around MIDNIGHT in St PETERSBURG!!!

After a shower and dressing, we made our way down to the restaurant for breakfast. The décor and fine blend of food (both hot and cold) made the choice difficult. Add to this the restaurant staff moved discretely to remove used plates and utensils. As I said in our previous post, “a total contrast to our breakfast experience yesterday”. 

We checked out just after 9am and yes it was starting to spit on the windscreen of the car.  This time our destination was for ROSTOV VELIKY, a tiny lakeside town, sadly often overlooked, on the shores of LAKE NERO, which in itself is rather picturesque. Incidentlly, LAKE NERO is around 13 km’s long, 8 km’s wide and just over 3.5 m deep and estimated to be about 500 THOUSAND YEARS OLD, making it one of a few “pre-ice age”, lakes in central RUSSIA.

Multi-coloured onion-domes and THE ROSTOV KREMLIN (a white stone fortress & covered walkway) are the hallmarks of this elegant town. Inside large coloured frescoes decorate chapel walls, many detailing the specific punishments advocated for sinners by the ancient administration. For example, people who spoke ill against the rulers, were hung by their TONGUES!

The town it ‘self is regarded as one of the oldest towns in the country, with a current population of around 35,000 people. First mentioned in the year 862 as an already important settlement, then by the 13th CENTURY RUSTOV became the capital city of one of the most prominent RUSSIAN principalities. It was incorporated into MUSCOVY (or simply speaking – “THE GRAND PRINCIPALITY of MOSCOW”)  in 1474. The centre of the town, whose foundation dates back to the 8th CENTURY, is dominated by the gigantic white walled KREMLIN – regarded by some to be the finest KREMLIN outside of MOSCOW.



It was constructed under the orders of the powerful Metropolitan Iona of ROSTOV.  He wanted the town (which in those days still wielded some power in the region) to have one of the most beautiful KREMLINS in the country and to that end he dug deep into the church’s coffers to build this imposing fortress. It was here we spent around 2.5 hours wondering through the KEMLIN & THE MONASTERY of ST. JACOB. 

This impressive building/fortress was built in the 17th CENTURY. (even though originally founded nine centuries earlier.) Clusters of domes rise above the walls, signifying the presence of churches within, one can’t forget that it is home to an ASSUMPTION CATHEDRAL.  The ponderous bell-tower containing 15 bells, (of verying distinctive tones) was constructed mostly in the 17th century. These bells are among the largest and most famous in Russia – each has its own name. The largest bell, cast in 1688, weighs 32,000 kilograms (71,000lb). It is named Sysoy to honour the city’s founding father. We went about and explored these as well as other structures within the complex. (I must point out that it is a massive complex housing a number of churches along with the ASSUMPTION CATHEDRAL.)

Our first call inside the complex was the ASSUMPTION CATHEDRAL which was first erected back in 991BC.  It has been rebuilt several times, in fact when we visited it was under restoration again. Today the Cathedral has a face of the XVI CENTURY (1508-1512) with is belfry along-side. Another interesting feature is the covered ridging/walkway, encompassing right around the top of the wall of the KREMLIN. The main reason for this was for protection.  If an enemy tried to scale the wall (u should notice small openings, evenly spaced, right around the top skirting of the wall) so that protecting soldiers could shoot from them, with little chance of being targeted and also poured boiling water down over the intending climbers. (enemies)

The Assumption Cathedral with Bell Tower - ROSTOV VELIKY

The Assumption Cathedral with Bell Tower within the Kemlin – ROSTOV VELIKY

This pic was taken by Frans Sellies who features his work on Flilckr.

We found that fishing in the historic “picturesque” LAKE NERO was very popular along with shopping for Finifit, a combination of enamel and metal jewellery painted with traditional paints. ROSTOV is also famous for its black potters, clay pots and whistles of an uncommon tint.

JUST FOR CLARIFICATION:In regards to church names, THE CATHEDRAL of the DOMITION and THE CATHEDRAL of the ASSUMPTION are different named CATHEDRALS for the same event, based on the religious belief of Mary’s departure from the earth, although the beliefs are not necessarily identical.

From the KREMLIN we drove a short distance to the MOSKOVSKY TRAKT HOTEL where lunch was served. This particular hotel appeared very new and seemed styled along an AMERICAN design.  It also seemed we were the only people in it – lunch was nice, three courses.  From there we headed onto SERGIEV POSAD regarded as one of the holiest places in all of RUSSIA with it’s stunning HOLY TRINITY ST. SERGIUS LAVRA SHRINE, nestled on a hillside.

The surrounding town of SERGIEV POSAD has been a place of pilgrimage and is the spiritual heart of many RUSSIAN ORTHODOX believers, over many centuries, not to mention the HUGE number of NON-RUSSIAN TOURISTS who flock to the area annually. A good friend of ours Oleg has allowed us to use one of her images.


Oleg, has an excellent personal guiding service for those who want to see and experience first hand MOSCOW’S GOLDEN RING in detail. She specializes in small group numbers, from 2-8 people and will tailor your itinerary according to your time permitted, stretching from 1-4 days. PLEASEEEEEE Take a look at her website:

                  The Calendar

THE LAVRA (lavra being an Orthodox term used to refer to particularly holy monasteries) was founded by St. SERGIUS of RADONEZH (c.1321 – 1391) a monk who from childhood seemed destined for holiness. He founded the monastery in 1345.

As a young man SERGIUS set off to live his life as an ascetic monk in the forests outside MOSCOW. He was soon joined by others inspired by his pious lifestyle and eventually a monastery began to grow around the small wooden church that SERGIUS had built.

The monastery was destroyed a century later by the TATARS, but during reconstruction SERGIUS was canonised, (after his death) as a saint, his remains lie in the monastery’s CATHEDRAL OF THE TRINITY.

After his death the monastery grew in influence, size and power sprouting a large village supporting the monks who lived there and catering to pilgrims who came to see St. SERGIUSS relics. Today the lavra is constantly abuzz with religious pilgrims and Orthodox clergy who study in the lavra’s seminary. Interestingly, the complex is currently home to over 300 monks.

The monastery has produced wooden toys as far back as St. SERGIUSS time, for the children of local residents and visiting royalty.  In the 19th century the town became the center of manufacturing for the MATRYOSHKA DOLL, (also known as RUSSIAN NESTING DOLLS,) many rare nesting dolls and other wooden toys and dolls are on display or for sale at the town’s TOY MUSEUM.  One can’t help but be fascinated with the many colourful hand painted dolls we saw – yes we did get some. 🙂  

After parking the car we made our way past the large number of hawkers selling souvenirs. At the entrance, (a large arch-way covered in ceiling frescoes) we were greeted by our guide who walked us around the complex. Halfway through it was obvious that Alex had a greater knowledge on the complex so took over.  One of the disappointments with our visit was that the whole complex was having a MAJOR restoration, so scaffolding was everywhere to be seen, making photo-taking somewhat difficult. 🙁 It was nice to see some blue sky, with the sun trying to shine through in parts. 🙂

Well, the time was just after 3.00pm so from here we were about to start the final leg of our GOLDEN RING TOUR, as we headed back to MOSCOW.  It was interesting to notice the scenery change from a rual setting and housing starting to reappear. Yes, the buildings got larger, roads wider, as we travelled back through industrial & commercial areas, not to mention the plathora of roadside advertising, some even in English.  Alex suggested, since we had a bit of spare time, a stop-off at the VDNKh PARK.  This in RUSSIAN means – Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva, or in English THE EXHIBITION OF ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE’S ECONOMY – in short THE ALL-RUSSIA EXHIBITION CENTRE.  It is a magnet for any fan of THE SOVIET LEGACY and a great place to spend free time AND certainly an interesting place to visit. Designed as a type of theme park, with rides, attractions fountains and (of course) momuments. The complex was orginally constructed back in 1935 and as u can image has had a few face-lifts since. Overall, it’s a very “FAMILY ORIENTATED” park, with a big drawcard for weekends and holidays.

The Entrance Gates to the VDNKh Park - MOSCOW.

The Entrance Gates to VDNKh Park – MOSCOW.

The Friendship Fountain in the VDNKh Park MOSCOW.

The Friendship Fountain in VDNKh Park – MOSCOW.

Some of the Amusements in the VDNKh Park - MOSCOW.

Some of the Amusements in VDNKh Park – MOSCOW.

One of the main walkways in the VDNKh Park - MOSCOW

One of the main walkways in VDNKh Park – MOSCOW

It was actually quite amazing in that the time was getting onto 6pm, yet it was still brilliant sunshine. HOWEVER, one must remember it’s just past their peak in summer so to THE LOCAL’S” it’s make hay while the sunshine’s as it doesn’t last for long. For us we started by making our final transfer, (in MOSCOW) heading for the LENINGRADSKY RAIL TERMINAL, (the main train station) for our fast train THE SASPAN (4 HOUR) EXPRESS TO St. PETERSBURG.

BOTH ALEX & GURVEY WERE MAGICAL, not only did they take us to the station, they assisted us with our luggage, RIGHT ONTO THE TRAIN, making sure it was placed in the right area and saw that we were in our correct seating. WE WOULD HAVE NO HESITIATION WHAT-SO-EVER in recommending Alex & Gurvey as a team, as they were both EXCELLENT, in what they did right through the FOUR DAYS.  Alex was basically a walking encyclopaedia of information for the whole area which we covered.  Gurvey had some arrangement with the tour operator where he used his own car and believe me he kept it spotless & in tip-top condition.  The vehicle was a late model KIA SEDAN and in my view had one of the best air-conditioning units I’ve experienced in a mid-sized vehicle.

This was our first train journey on the trip and it meant by using the fast train we would be in St PETERSBURG in 4 HOURS, a far cry from the overnight service. We were strongly advised that as foreigners using the fast train would be a much better option as we wouldn’t have the language issue to start with, which would have been a colossal barrier/obstacle on an overnight service. With all our train travel we made sure we were ticketed FIRST CLASS, (all of our travel was day-time which meant that it was mainly seated accommodation.) 

We  found that travelling FIRST CLASS meant u had plenty of room, the area was heated or a/c and in most cases complimentary food and newspapers were available. On this train we had a RUSSIAN couple opposite us, sharing the same table, the guy spoke very fluent English, while his partner, (his boss) knew a little.  They were returning to St PETERSBURG after a business day down in MOSCOW, apparently, this type of travel was quite typical, between the two cities since the introduction of the SASPAN. It was in DECEMBER 2009, that RUSSIAN RAILWAYS introduced the “SASPAN SERVICE” (RUSSIAN FOR “PEREGRINE FALCON”). At its maximum speed it comfortably achieves 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour),

Interior of THE SASPAN - Business Class 1.

Interior of THE SASPAN – Business Class 1.

Interior of THE SASPAN - Business Class 2.

Interior of THE SASPAN – Business Class 2.

Well, the day turned to night around 9ish and it wasn’t long after (11.35pm) before we were side-on to the platform at the MOSKOVSKY STATION. Now, one thing we were adament of and made sure we had organised b4 we left Aust, was that we had transport organised when we arrived at the train station to get us to our hotel THE CROWNE PLAZA. We  most certainly didn’t want to be wandering the streets unable to talk the lingo at that time of night.  Even though the hotel was only a 4-5 minute walk, it was still VERY VERY  reassuring to see someone there, waiting. Our first impressions in the car, in-transit to the hotel was, “WOW WHAT AN INCREDIBLE CONTRAST TO MOSCOW”. People everywhere, orderly, the place well lit-up and buzzing. 🙂

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