While the snowy winter is still going to last for a few months in Russia, why not take advantage of it and go for a 2-day trip outside of the city, to a sacred and a very beautiful old town, Sergiev Posad (Сергиев Посад). The trip is a 1,5 hour drive by car. There is also an option to get there by train or bus, but my recommendation here is a car trip with a few surprise stopovers:
- Abramtsevo museum and park
- Khotkovo monastery
- Ethnopark “Kochevnik”
When the temperature drops below 0 (better down to -10), this is a good time to get out of town to see the snow covered fields and trees around. It is truly what winter should be like! And once your car has winter tires with spikes and you have some warm clothes and thick sole boots on, you are ready to make the most of your journey through Russian winter.
A bit of History
Sergiev Posad is one of the towns belonging to the Golden Ring of Russia, which is a group of historically and culturally important ancient Russian towns. The main cities of this Ring (which is also a travel route that you do as a Russian child in school) are Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kostroma, Pereslavl, Rostov, Sergiev Posad, Suzdal and Yaroslavl (map). Sergiev Posad is the closest one to Moscow (see here).
If you are planning an epic trip to explore central Russia, I stumbled upon this route that covers both Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and some cities of the Golden Ring, and it looks like a good plan.
Holy Trinity Church Sergiev Posad
Sergiev Posad grew up around the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, which is considered to be the largest male orthodox monastery in Russia. This is the most significant landmark of the city, that attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists. During Orthodox religious holidays the influx increases by several times. The monastery is impressive with its grandiose architecture and beauty of its different churches. The ensemble of the monastery counts more than 50 buildings of various purposes. No surprise that the monastery is under the protection of the UNESCO. It was founded in 1337 by the sons of Rostov boyarin, one of which was St. Sergius of Radonezh, whose remains are a still in one of the churches and even at -20° outside, the queue to give respects to them is hundreds of meters long.
The famous artist Andrey Rublev painted the famous “Trinity” iconostasis for the oldest church in the monastery, the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Ivan the Terrible
Ivan the Terrible was baptized in 1530 in one of the churches of the monastery, Holy Trinity Cathedral. He lived later in his life in the city, turning it into his residence until 1581. From here he ruled the country and made punitive expeditions. During his life, he helped turn his favorite monastery into a powerful fortress.
It is here, according to some sources, that the tsar killed his son, Ivan, in a fit of anger. We all know the famous painting inspired by this rumor by Repin.
At last, if you are interested in his personality there is a movie by great Russian director Pavel Lungin, called “Tsar” and I found it with Russian subtitles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCvK57uhQxM
Here in Sergiev Posad in Soviet times one of the episodes of “Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession”, my favorite Russian comedy was shot. It tells a story of how Ivan the Terrible switched places with an ordinary Soviet guy in “modern” days. I found it with Russian subtitles here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3xVdxDWFWU
As you can see, there is a lot of significant sights in this small town, which used to be the epicenter of so many important historical events, where so many tsars are buried, that I will not be able to write about all of them, but will urge you to get a guide while there or read a guidebook (see i.e. Chernigov Skete, Sergius well, Godunov’s burial place, Pyatnitskaya and Vvedensky churches).
Few more recommendations
Even though it might sound not that tempting, the Museum of Toys surprised me by its great collection of toys from all over the world. And gave me a chance to see the actual toys of Tsar Nikolay Romanov´s children in a temporary exhibition. The collection of the museum (165 thsd. items) was started by Nikolay Bartram in 1910, and in 1918 this museum was open. According to the museum sources the first matryoshka actually comes from Sergiev Posad, and I must say it was so much prettier than its roundish bright modern versions.
If you want to bring one as a souvenir, there is a magical store/workshop with handpainted toys on K.Marks street, which I have marked with a “gift” icon on my map.
Eat and sleep
As for the restaurant, the is one legendary one, that all Moscovites know of, Russkiy Dvorik. It might seem a bit kitsch in its strive to look very Russian, but overall, it is the best you can find in town. And if you are lucky, you will be introduced to live Russian chanson music (not to be confused with French chanson). But despite all that, most importantly it has good Russian food. And my Chicken Kiev was ready to fly with its cute little wings.
The hotel which TripAdvisor, Booking.com and I can recommend as the best one in town is Krasnaya Gora Hotel. It is located on a hill just behind the monastery. It is very nicely renovated and holds exhibitions of local painters. For breakfast they serve the most delicious fresh vatrushka I have ever tried, and the staff is very friendly and speaks English.
Hotel’s website: http://www.kghotel.ru/eng/
Continuing the trip
15 km. away from Sergiev Posad is the well-known and loved village of Abramtsevo , the refuge for writers, philosophers and painters. Some of them lived for a long time in a charming house of writer Sergey Aksakov, after he bought it in 1843. In 1917, the house was nationalized and turned into a museum. The museum’s collection includes more than 25 thousand exhibits dedicated to the life and work of famous owners and guests of Abramtsevo.
The village is spread on 50 hectares of land which makes it a beautiful forest walk through of the village.
If this is not enough and you are ready for more impressions, on the way back to Moscow, visit the Ethno park dedicated to the lives of people from the North of Russia, where you can visit their yurts, and meet the donkey, camels, yak, goats, sheep and take a sledge ride with huskies or deer. Sounds exciting?
Check out this post to find out more about it: http://inacircle.co/nomad-park/
Sergiev Posad route from Moscow via Abramtsevo: