When you are going to distant Russia, you are always caught between: to go in winter or in summer? The most tourists definitely choose russian winter – the desperate ones! So, we also went to Russia to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.
But the chances that the temperature won’t come down lower than 5-10 C below zero are quite good, the weather surprises far and wide nowadays. However, when we landed at Sheremetyevo, the plain commander cheerfully announced through the radio: welcome to Russia, the weather in Moscow is sunny and fine, the ambient temperature is 22 degrees below zero… Ugh, it’s cold, the key point is to survive now, we wanted the impressions – and so, welcome to Russia!
Thanks to our friends, who invited us to stay at their place, the rout of our trip was not traditional at all: a visit to the Trinity Sergius Lavra in old Russian city Sergiev Posad, which was the residence of the Russian Patriarch till 1983, then a real Russian village 120 km away Moscow; Russian bath, Russian cuisine and other winter entertainments.
But of course we could not but visit the Red Square and the Vasilyevsky Spusk. We are entering to the central square and who do you think we see right after the Iberian Gate (The Iversk Gates)? You won’t believe – Joseph Stalin. Local color, as it is! Now I definitely feel like I’m in Moscow.
- Why are you alone? Where is Vladimir Lenin?
- His hair dress will hardly let one stand such a cold for a long time; he’s getting a warm somewhere.
We prattled a bit more, made some pictures for symbolic 10 $ with our own camera, but there’s a professional who can shoot you for the same money and your picture will be ready in 5 minutes.
What have they done to the square? You can hardly call it Red now – the name of the square arises from the Old Russian word means “Beautiful”. The left half of the Red Square is occupied with the ice rink, and at the right half they put an ugly fence around the Mausoleum. Only the narrow passage to the St. Basil’s Cathedral is all that is left after the wide and beautiful square. Well, at least it is still kept as it was, still photogenic and still holds on against the time.
Meanwhile, there is the real Russian winter outside – the frost chains your fingers and they simply refuse to make photos, and the camera itself complains about the low battery after each couple of shots. Cruel cold!
Two shots more and we move further. St. Basil’s Cathedral has a real mysterious history. It was built in the middle of XVI century in honor of Ivan’s the Terrible victory over Kazan. The Cathedral appeared to be so amazingly beautiful that Ivan the Terrible blinded the masters to prevent construction of the same cathedral in the future. It’s time to go.
We departed to Sergiev Posad early in the morning. The middle of January is just the full swing of the winter. The road tended north and the temperature slowly, but progressively kept coming lower and lower. Whichever season it is, there are always huge traffic jams within a fifty kilometers radius of Moscow. We overcame our 40 km to the former residence of Russian Patriarch only after three hours. Now, it’s just the right time to eat a hearty meal and to drink something heating, rather than go for sightseeing, and then directly to the Church.
Of course we have chosen the Russian cuisine restaurant, believe it or not, but the Russian cuisine is really various, square and tasty. The main thing is choosing the right place. The Old Russian city located not far from the capital is perfect for that: they feed with all largeness of the Russian soul, and the prices differ from prices in Moscow, which cannot but gladden. To be completely honest local people are also differ from the Muscovites.
We accommodated near the fireplace.
- Hey, belle, we froze, please bring the samovar!
We’ll take a cup of tea with honey and thaw a bit, and then the red caviar, the salmon and the mushroom julienne in the rye bread will arrive. Then, please bring borsch to everyone and serve vodka with horse-radish – just the real deal for the Russian winter – we yet are going to spent around three hours.
The variety of dishes in the Russian cuisine is huge, we wanted everything at once! But we have chosen: Russian traditional dumplings with meat and rare – with salmon and red caviar, “Monastery” fresh water fish and rabbit under the mushroom sauce. Meanwhile we’ll look around. Some time ago there was a guesthouse in place of this restaurant, and even the members of the last royal family stayed there; very special place – the Trinity Sergius Lavra is just across the street.
The owners did not begrudge for the interior – everything is solid and good, comfortable and cozy. Even the dishes and the cutlery were made-by-order.
It turned out that they still can cook well. And moreover they serve surprisingly friendly – I was pleased to notice such positive changes in Russia. And the bill was friendly as well – five thousands rubles (160$) for five persons – it is even funny by Moscow standards.
It’s pity that the souvenirs are expensive, so we just made a couple of photos. And now, as the Russian say: thanks to this house, it’s time for another. There we can already see the main goal of our visit – the Trinity Sergius Lavra.
The Monastery was founded by Sergius of Radonezh. People from all distant corners of Russia always gravitated first to him being alive and after to his Holy relics. Saint Sergius was announced the Patron of the Russian land in 1422. Nowadays the relics of St. Sergius remain in the cathedral church the Holy Trinity of the Monastery, founded by Sergius himself, and even in the middle of a working day there is a huge line to the relics.
The Holy Trinity cathedral was always considered a special place; all members of Russian royal family were christened here. The most famous Russian icon-painters – Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chyorny who created the unique in impact frescoes – were invited to paint the cathedral.
The frescoes in the cathedral are really unique, Christ’s eyes are looking directly at you and it feels like he sees you through. I have never seen anything alike. There was a time when miracle-working icon Trinity, created by Andrei Rublev, was kept in the Cathedral the Holy Trinity; now it remains at the Tretyakov Gallery. But I don’t believe it may impress you as much as these discolored to black walls, rising up to the sky.
We took a long walk; I’ll keep silent about the fact that we were half dead with cold, and now it’s time to go. It’s getting dark early in winter, and we still have to overcome 80 km till our village.
Russian village is something that stays unchanged all the times in Russia – same old rickety houses, smoke trailing from the chimney, older women, who keep open-hearty asking you in the street: where are you from, sweetheart? You go to our church – it is prayed-in.
But you should be very brave to go out! Yesterday we moved to the north and it was no surprise that the temperature during the time came down to minus 32 Celsius.
- May I stay at home, I don’t want to skate!
But still everyone came, even the huge dog of householders kept pace. First we made our way through the banks of snow to the lake – somewhere they are knee-high and somewhere even waist-deep. We took shovels with us. First we grubbed the snow away from the lake and then skated. Clearing away the snow was much warmer. Later on we came to the church. And in the evening altogether we made dumplings for the dinner.
Then we ski in the nearby forest. But hunters frightened us away quite soon – they are shooting hares and boars, God forbid we also be caught in their crosshairs. And the most frost-resisting of us went for the winter fishing to Volga. It’s not really far from here – around forty kilometers. We have plenty riding the quads through endless fields and forests; you can not have such a fun in the cities.
The next day we spent organizing to the great Christian feast – the Epiphany of the Lord. And for the real Russians the traditional Epiphany cannot take place without dipping into the ice-hole. The villagers made an ice-hole at the same lake where we skated yesterday, and the compline moved to the frost from the church. The Priest blessed the water and according to the old Russian tradition, everyone could dip into it from the midnight and the whole next day.
No matter how hard we were persuaded, we still refused to go into that ice-cold water. Sure enough we did not want to croak during the vacation. So, we decided not to risk our lives.
And the Russian bath is quite a different story. Well, we stand +70 С better than minus 30 С. The steam is wet, hot and amazingly fragrant with herbs; first five minutes we spent relaxing and getting a warm. And then the sacrament begins: I take the steamed birch broom and begin to thrash my sweetheart. Then we dip into the snow and repeat all the performance five times. And now it’s time for buckthorn tea with honey. I can see it in his happy eyes – Victor is pleased and feels like a new-born!
But every vacation comes to an end – whether hot or cold – the New Year, full of plans and work, has come, and it’s time to go home. The Russian proverb says: one good turn deserves another. So we decided to entertain the householder to the farewell dinner with Victor’s best dish, he loves it and cooks perfectly. He brought the receipt from the Middle Asia, and so all together under his tender guidance we made splendid hashans.
Chopped lamb inside the thin rolled dough, put some more garlic and onion, and doesn’t spare the black pepper! The whole house was filled with the fragrance, and the taste – it could make you long for more. And after all, the freezing cold Russian winter may be so cool!