A Place Called Vyazma


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Europe » Russia » Centre
November 3rd 2015
Published: November 10th 2015
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This entry consists of three parts: the story about Vyazma, a couple of sentences and several photos from my hometown Birsk, and a short description of Petersburg’s Piskarevskoye Memorial Cemetery. I combine them all here for convenience and to make the entry more informative and varied. The central story is about Vyazma, the other two simply add to my previous experiences of two most frequently visited places in my life (Birsk and St. Petersburg).

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There are several ways to choose the best Russian cities to visit. The first would be to check out the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in Russia, which includes such places as Moscow’s Kremlin, St. Petersburg (its whole centre and lots of places in the environs), Kazan’s Kremlin, Velikiy Novgorod, Suzdal and Vladimir, the wooden churches of Kizhi etc. That would be enough for quite an extensive (and expensive) trip to Russia. The second way is to check out the list of 40 historic cities and towns of Russia which comprises those that have best preserved their authentic outlook. The third way is to visit the towns of the so-called Golden Ring, most of which are in the vicinity of Moscow and probably represent the best and most typical of the Russian architecture, culture, and spirit.

The fourth way is to select several names of cities at random and check information about them in the web. That’s basically how I came to know about Vyazma. I zoom in an out a Google map and select the towns which, to my mind, can meet a traveller’s expectations, then I read about the place in the web (only glance through its list of sights), and then I check the bus and train schedules.

I had to get from my hometown of Birsk to Saint Petersburg and I broke the journey in two parts: the first leg to Moscow and the second one was to include a half-day’s visit to a city, or town, obviously within a fast and comfortable reach from Moscow. For my dates and times, I could have visited Yaroslavl and Tutayev, Briansk, Rzhev, but the most desirable choice came to be Vyazma. It is possible, of course, to take the high-speed Sapsan train right to St. Petersburg, or even book an even cheaper flight; the cost of Sapsan was 3200 roubles, while the cost of Moscow-Vyazma bus was 450 roubles and the Vyazma-Petersburg train 950 roubles. The cost of flights was from 2000 roubles.

My train from Yanaul to Moscow arrived at 6.11 AM. I did not manage to sleep well during the day of the journey because there were noisy children. I usually sleep for the first half of the day on such journeys. My companion book in the train was Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd”. Upon arrival, I stayed for an hour at Leningradsky train station, surfing the web for want of a better occupation, after which I went to Tyoply Stan metro station, which was the point of departure to Vyazma. I bought my bus ticket via E-traffic website in advance.

The Tyoply Stan bus station consists of a small compartment used as the waiting room and two platforms, one for departures, the other for arrivals. Even in this small room you have to pass through a metal detector for security reasons. I sat there for twenty minutes and had a cup of coffee. The bus departed at 9 o’clock. It took about three and a half hour to get to Vyazma (thankfully there were no traffic jams), 210 km from Moscow.

Vyazma was first mentioned in the chronicles in 1239. A remarkable historic event, connected with this town, was its being residence of the Russian tsar Alexey Mikhailovitch with his whole family and Nikon the Patriarch since October 1654 till 1655 due the epidemic in Moscow. Another important historic event was the defeat of the retreating Napoleon’s army on 3 November 1812.

Upon arrival to Vyazma, I went inside the train station and asked whether they had a baggage room, they had not so I had to carry my rucksack on my shoulders during the whole day. I had nowhere to hurry, which is not frequent in my visits, so I explored the town well.

Vyazma is perhaps the gloomiest Russian town I’ve seen so far. While other cities and towns have a place where my eyes could feast on something, Vyazma looked uncared-for, disorder such as demolished buildings being evident in many places. I saw a monument to a fighter jet, a monument to the great Russian (Soviet) actor Anatoly Papanov (the film “The Brilliant Hand”, for instance), several churches, a bust of Karl Max, two banners dedicated to the Victory in the Great Patriotic War (70 years) – I wonder why they didn’t remove them because the celebrations were many months back. But, certainly, it’s always good to refresh people’s memory. The most interesting place in the whole town was the area on a hill near the Spasskaya Tower, the only surviving element of the Vyazma Fortress of the XVII century. It stands on a hill close to a small river, but the landscape of course did not look jolly as it is late Autumn now. Only gray and pale colours and bare branches and dry grass. I saw a caption in black on a tilted fence saying that “true skinheads are not Nazis”. Close to the tower was a nice church on a hill, descending which I emerged to a square with the stela of the Town of Military Fame. Such stelas have been erected in many Russian cities and towns honoured with this title.

I then crossed the bridge across the river wanting to see the monastery which I saw from afar but I somehow god lost and did not manage to get there. On the street were more signs of desolation but also construction and renovations works underway. A most interesting view was the bus stop in the form of an umbrella, I never saw the likes of it anywhere. I saw an imposing and impressive military monument to General Lieutenant M. Efremov who died on 19 April 1942. I then felt fatigue creeping all over me and decided to have a bite before finally returning to the train station. I found a café (called Versailles, if I remember it right), the food there was not awesome but very cheap.

I sat inside the train station reading the book, the train arrived at 18-45, and got to Petersburg at 9.30 on the following morning.

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I’ve stayed for 9 days at my hometown of Birsk where I had two walks in different areas of the town and took some photos. The town needs a lot of funding for its roads and many timber houses that are disintegrating even in the town’s centre.

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In St. Petersburg, I paid a short visit to Piskarevskoye Memorial Cemetery. It is not very far from the place where I’m currently living with my wife. It is one of the places of mass burial of the victims of the blockade of Leningrad in 1941-1944, with a monument. About 470 thousand persons, both soldiers and civilians, were buried there in mass graves. Most deaths were in the winter of 1941-1942.


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