Staraya Ladoga

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May 25th 2013
Published: May 26th 2013
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I bought a ticket for the excursion to Staraya Ladoga in the Davranov travel agency, my second experience with this company. It cost 1200 rubles. We started at 9-00 in the morning from the bus stop near Gostiny Dvor. As I waited near the ticket booth, I heard a young girl (not from my group, but heading for Vyborg) complaining about the bus – she demanded to change the small Ford bus for a large one, because, she said, “I have nausea in small buses! You did promise a big bus when selling the ticket! There’s a long way, not a couple of minutes…” I felt sympathy for this girl, because I also have nausea in certain buses under certain circumstances, but on the other hand she sounded annoying. It’s not reasonable to provide a large bus for a small group of tourists (e.g. we were ten). Ours was also a small Ford bus, with the guide sitting in the front seat and pouring out immense volumes of information about St. Petersburg as we drove out of the city, looking to the right and to the left, and even about the Great Patriotic War because the highway lies across areas of military activities.

First we drove to the town of Novaya Ladoga, an old merchant town founded in 1704 by Peter I. It was named “Novaya” (New) because there existed a small settlement of Ladoga, the latter being accordingly renamed “Staraya” (Old). More information is as usual available elsewhere. The town stands on the banks of Volkhov River, flowing into Lake Ladoga. The main attractions (for a tourist deeply interested in the history of Russia of Peter the Great’s epoch; it is possible to get there by public transport (commuter train plus bus, but in this case a guided tour is the best decision) are the Nikolo-Medvedsky Monastery, whereof the Cathedral of Ioann Bogoslov and Nikolsky Cathedral remained intact, and the engineering structures of Staro- and Novoladozhsky Canals built to facilitate navigation, because Lake Ladoga used to rage and destroy both the ships and cargoes (its storms are severe). The monastery has a cemetery and mosquitoes disturbed us in large numbers. The Nikolsky Cathedral needs renovation, as do a lot of old sacred places in small towns and villages.

The highlight of this tour was certainly the Staraya Ladoga fortress, with two towers restored and restoration underway of two another towers and a wall. The village (2000 dwellers) is considered to be the first capital of Russia, with bustling life and activity even before the rise of Moscow, Novgorod, and the Kievan Rus. Archaeologists dug out a certain piece of processed wood and analysis techniques proved it to date back to 753 (this year will see its 1260th anniversary). The fortress occupies a small area right on the bank of Volkhov River and on its other side flows the Ladozhka River; it has two churches, one wooden, the other of stone dating back to the XII century. Inside one of the towers there is a neat tiny museum with artifacts and other findings showing the life of ancient men. The fortress did not remain intact till present, about a half of it was restored. I was most impressed by the skeleton and a manikin reproduction of an Iron Age family. All the captions to exhibits were in two languages, Russian and English. It was a bit awkward hearing the concurrent voices of two different guides of different groups at the same time, because the place is rather small. After that, the guide showed us the archaeology museum of the Middle Ages whereto we went on Varyazhskaya Street, considered the OLDEST street in Russia. There we saw the standard set of old goodies such as axes, jugs, bijouterie, combs etc.

Next, we went to Staroladozhsky Nikolsky Monastery (friary) founded by Alexander Nevsky after the triumphant victory over the Swedes in the Nevskaya Battle. I did not listen to the guide attentively, but stood just looking at the churches. Everyone got rather tired and hungry by this time, and voted to go the café. It surprisingly had nobody to serve us, so I, and then the other people left it. Just opposite it there was a more expensive restaurant Kniaz Ryurik, where I ordered borsch and draniki (fried potato cutlets). Leaving me no time to get bored, they served the soup very quickly, in under ten minutes, and an added cup of tea totaled just below 10 Euros. Reinforced by the proteins, fats and other matter, we were taken to another monastery (nunnery), Staroladozhsky Uspensky Monastery, with the Uspensky Cathedral of 1154-1195 and beautiful Alpine hills (land beautification with finely arranged flowers and stones), with small forms of animals popping out here and there, to wit, a hedgehog, rabbits, a squirrel, an owl, a puppy, a turtle etc.

As we approached our final destination, I felt a particular feeling, which condensed itself in my mind into the phrase “the air is pregnant with quiet”, though I’m unsure that the English language uses such a simile. Really, I realized that the big city of St. Petersburg is too noisy even when you stay in your own accommodation, and just such short “expeditions” are indispensable. The final destination was the Church of Rozdestva Ioanna Predtechi (the Nativity of St John the Baptist), situated on Malysheva Gora (Malyshev’s Hill) overlooking Volkhov River. Its contemporary building was built in 1695. From the hill a fine view on Volkhov River opened, and I felt happy as a puppy experiencing the open air for the first time. In the hill bottom, there’s a spring of “holy water” where the locals take water home in big bottles. I was 100 percent satisfied, and now feel an urge to visit more fortresses, and more old Russian towns, and the planned list of destinations gradually grows.

In four days me and my future wife are starting for an European journey. Eating up almost my whole salary of two and a half months, this trip.

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