Posted by: Anna | October 16, 2010

Our Visit to a Russian Storybook Village

Called Suzdal, about four hours west of Moscow. We went to Suzdal on a little sidetrip to get a break from the big city.

We had an employee at the hostel write a post it note to give to the ticket seller and the bus driver saying that we wanted to buy tickets to Ivonov, but that we wanted the bus driver to drop us off in Suzdal. After a couple of miscommunications, we were able to buy our tickets and board the bus. It was us and all Russians. On the bus ride, I decided to study the Cyrillic alphabet, as knowing the letters would make it much easier to get around. I used the billboards and our guidebooks translations of Cyrillic letters to learn them.

(A sidenote: Cyrillic was invented by a monk named Cyril who needed a written language to convert the Russians to Christianity. It is a combination of Roman letters and Greek letters. Some of the Roman letters do not represent the same sound they represent in Romance languages. For example, B = V, E = I, C = S, etc. So one common word, pectopah, is actually pronounced something along the lines of ristoran, and it means restaurant. You can see why reading the letters would be extremely helpful).

On the bus after about 4 hours, the bus driver looks over at us and indicates that we should put on our coats. We put them on. He pulls over on the side of the highway and opens the door.We look around – it’s not clear where to go or how to acquire a taxi to our hotel.  A woman had just disembarked from the bus in front of us, and the driver motions to her. He speaks to her in Russian. She looks at us and says, “English?” We say yes. She asks us where we are staying, and we tell her. She leads us across the highway (don’t worry – it was like a little two lane country highway), and up a hill. She walks to a taxi driver, explains to him where we need to go, and tells us it will be 50 roubles. We are looking at each other, wondering, who is she? Why is she helping us? But, there are no other taxis around, and so we go with it. She gets in the front seat of the taxi, and we are off. As we go, she points out in English some of the best sights of Suzdal and tells us which ones we can’t miss. We arrive at the hostel, and she hops out and goes inside to talk to the people at the front desk to ensure everything is a-ok. We go in, and we are able to check in. She just leaves – we hardly even got to thank her. It was so nice!

The hostel in Suzdal is owned by the same people who own the one here, and it is brand new. So new in fact, that we were the only guests one night, and the other night we had one other guest in the whole place. The other guest was a nice guy from Brazil named Gustavo, so we chatted with him and drank some vodka we had brought with us.

The next morning we got up to see the sights. We started with the Savior Monastery of St Euthymius, which was founded in the 14th century. The monastery has a church (of course), a bell tower, a hospital, and a prison (where many tsarist and communist political prisoners were held).


Monastery Entrance

Assumption Church

The Assumption Church is completely covered in frescoes on the inside, and it is truly amazing. They didn’t photograph very well, so I didn’t include any pictures here. (We were allowed to take pictures with a photography pass – 100 roubles – about 3 dollars).

We had a lovely lunch at a restaurant inside one of the buildings at the city’s Kremlin, or city center.


Not all the food we eat is exotic or unique to Russia - I had salmon and potatoes for lunch!

After lunch we wandered the Kremlin area, which was beautiful and also included a beautiful church with beautiful frescoes. The onion domes on the Kremlin are striking.


Suzdal Kremlin Onion Domes

Now you may be wondering why we think it’s like a storybook. Suzdal itself looks like a storybook – each little house has beautifully detailed carved wood windows, eaves, doors, and gates. The hinges and doorknockers have fanciful and interesting details as well.


Truly, every house is detailed and painted interesting colors. We should have taken more pictures! This one had chickens wandering around the front yard.

Look at the detail on this window. This is the only one we saw in a wood finish - all the rest are painted bright colors.

Suzdal was a nice break from the big city. We made it there and back easily, which is saying something because no one spoke English in Suzdal, including the people who managed the hostel. However, we were able to get by with charades and guessing, and the few Russian words we do know.



  1. What a charming village! Just how cold is it during the day? The photo of you together drinking Honey Mead is wonderful! I think you are on the road to writing a travel book similar to those written by Bill Bryson.I just read an article about him in the WSJ. (Neither Here nor There, Notes from a Small Island,In a Sunburned Country) My love to you both. xooxo kita

  2. It is so interesting that there is gingerbread on house in the US and in Russia. Certainly immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe and elsewhere must have brought it with them to the US. It was popular in the US in the Victorian era. Wonder when it was popularized there? Beautiful!! Love you both!

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