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Published: November 9th 2012
trucks & roadworks
From Moscow we're heading towards Kazakhstan straight through one of the most densely inhabited parts of Russia so its a constant battle with the local traffic – there's a lots of it and they certainly don't use the same rule book as we do! Some of our Australian co-riders are getting quite upset about it! Progress is slow, there's lots of roadworks and long stops for long trains including the Trans-Siberian Express (nice memories of previous trips).
En-route we stop off in the Golden Ring towns of Vladimir & Suzdal. This is where Russia began – where the Vikings settled, created fortified cites and set off to capture lands as far south as Kiev. The land of Principalities & Grand Duchies with buildings to match - UNESCO listed monuments are scattered everywhere.
Vladimir was once the capital of Rus, now its a big modern city complete with ring road but when you venture off it into the small historic quarter two stunning churches await. The St Demetrius Cathedral (1193) is small but perfectly formed, the top half is totally covered in carvings displaying an unusual selection of scenes: biblical King David bewitching the birds and beasts with music, Alexander
the Great ascending into heaven. The guide book goes into great detail and you can actually pick out all the characters and scenes it describes. We do several circuits of the outside clutching the guide book and gazing upwards.
In total contrast is the towering Cathedral of the Assumption (1160), for a time the mother church of medieval Russia. The Grand Princes of Vladimir were crowned here & buried in the crypt. When the capital was moved to Moscow a namesake copy was built in the Kremlin. Compared to St Demetrius it is very plain on the outside, except for dainty the golden crown running round the top. But inside are the remains of frescos by the greatest Russian Master of them all, Andrei Rublev – the 25m high iconostatis once contained 100 of his icons (they're now in museums in Moscow & St Petersburg). I'm not sure I'm enough of an expert to tell a good icon from a mediocre one but it was certainly very glitzy and impressive inside.
Not far down the road is Suzdal which has the feel of a sleepy village. Its a wonderful palace to while away an afternoon. Its like being
you can buy anything - dinghies, salted cucumbers, garden gnomes, brandy barrels
in a fairytale, you can't move for the colourful onion domes rising in all shapes and sizes from the multitude of churches. Suzdal was a royal capital when “Moscow was a cluster of sheds”, wealthy merchants & aristocrats liked to show off by sponsoring new churches and continued to do so after the capital moved to Moscow. After checking out the Kremlin & a substantial number of churches & monasteries we finish off the day sipping medovukha (the local honey wine) on a traditional wooden patio bar overlooking the vivid green water meadows and the gold domes of the Intercession Convent which was built to house discarded mistresses and unwanted wives of the Tsars.
Next day we're supposed to be heading to Kazan but we're off route again following a sandy track along the banks of the Oka river to see our 3rd
and final Shukhov Tower. Its an impressive, 128m hyperboloid electricity pylon built in 1927. There used to be 6 of them carrying cables across the Oka River. The river is wide and fast flowing, the banks are dotted with locals fishing, sunbathing & picnicking – it would be a pleasant place to while away a few
entering Vladimer via the Golden Gate
built to rival those of Kiev when Vladimir was made capital of Russia
hours but we have another 240 miles to do, in 40C heat, so its back to the road and traffic.
The large town of Nizhny Novgorod famous for all sorts of things: writer Maxim Gorky was born here, Nobel Physicist Andrei Sakharov was exiled here, its a manufacturing center for MiG aircrafts & GAZ cars. Having done battle with Russian Cars for several weeks we decide to go and see where they are made.
We can tell when we are getting close to the factory as company flags flutter from every street lamp, the iron railing down the centre of the road carry the company logo and the roundabouts have boards showing car models through time rather than direction signs. Tucked away in amongst all the factory buildings is a tiny door to a museum, you'd never find it if you weren't looking for it. But its worth it, inside its enormous. GAZ (Gorky Automobile Plant – in Soviet times the town was called Gorky after the writer) started up in 1932 and has produced a range of cars, commercial vehicles, powertrains, Ural trucks etc and they are all laid out before us. I'd always through of Russian
St Demetrius Cathedral, Vladimir
every inch of the top half is covered in detailed carvings
cars as quite utilitarian but I'm wrong there are some real lookers in here and some that look distinctly American with their tail fins and chromework. In contrast to western European museums there's as much space dedicated to the story of GAZ as there is to showing off the cars – lots of photographs of the factory workers, displays of medals won by the factory in Soviet times, info on technical & design solutions. Its really interesting (even if it is in Russian) and its nice to see the factory workers who made the cars being celebrated not just the cars themselves.
Just as we are setting off Edwin gets well overexcited as a DeLorian zips past us at high speed, it has its gull wing doors wide open, I'm not sure that's how you are supposed to drive them!! Now we're well behind the group so we ignore the other sights and historic town center and get back on the road. The countryside has changed, its much hillier, there's more grassland and wild flowers. We seem to have left the agricultural zones and vast fields behind. What we haven't left behind is the traffic & roadworks, there's mile
after mile of queuing trucks, far more than we have seen before. I think its because we are heading directly for the Volga River which, apparently, carries 2/3rds of Russia's overland freight!
Late in the day we enter the Republic of Tatarstan (more in the next blog) and cross the Volga River just as the sun is setting, very scenic and the trucks don't queue on the bridges so we have the luxury of trundling across slowly and taking in the view. We arrive in Kazan after dark which does have the advantage that the traffic has died down. We arrive late (21:30) and there's a wedding reception in the hotel restaurant and no other restaurant nearby. We just cant be bothered to wander into town and search out a restaurant but the very helpful security guard walks us to the local shop where we purchase a selection of goodies and beer and back at the hotel they oen up the breakfast room so we can sit and have our own private picnic.
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