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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 56.2997, 38.1166
Again, we had a great breakfast at Hotel Sovietsky, this time with music provided on a piano instead of a harp.
We met our guide and "sauna bus" which took us to Sergiev-Posad. Along the way Kira gave us a number of history lessons about the history of Bartolomeo, who later became St. Sergio after the miracle by which he learned to read and write because of his faith. The Sergiev-Posad monastery was closed during 1936-1946 by Stalin and used as a dormitory, library, and meeting club of workers during that time. Due to popular will, though officially prohibited, it reopened. The KGB kept a list of who came and went, but no one was killed.
The Russian nesting dolls (matryoshka) that most people think of as a historical symbol of Russia were produced by the monks at Sergiev-Posad, but were only invented in 1897. They became popular around the world after they were featured at an exhibition in Paris in 1901 and orders then came in from 17 countries. They are made from linden trees, cut down in April and aged two years in a dark place. Another typical Russian item, vodka, did not become commonplace until after it
was imported from Muslim areas in the 16th century. Ivan the Terrible figured he had a way to increase revenue without taxing the rich. He passed a rule that everyone had to visit a pub once each week, or he would be taxed at a higher rate or beaten. By the end of Ivan's rule, there were more than 1,000 pubs and Russia and vodka would forever become synonymous. For the rich, it became a tradition to have 33 different varieties of vodka in stock, each one named for a letter of the Cyrillic alphabet. (A = appletini… and so forth.)
We then took a quick picture break in a rural area and noted the steeply pitched tin roofs designed to keep the snow from causing damage. The wooden frames around the windows in these humble homes were very ornate. One home was so ornate and meticulously cared for, it looked like it came from a fairy tale.
Finally, we arrived at Sergiev-Posad, where we were accompanied by a local guide who spoke only French and Russian. She had the key that would unlock the refectory, so she was necessary. The refectory and attached chapel were very ornate. Next, we entered the
Church of the Assumption, which featured the 4 blue domes on the exterior. Inside, were the remains of two Orthodox saints. One was well known for translating the Bible into the language of his flock in Alaska. He was the metropolitan reverend of Siberia and Alaska. The other was a well know icon painter. The devout lined up to kiss the glass, seeking the blessing and assistance from these saints. Our final visit was to the Trinity Church, which contained the actual remains of St. Sergio himself. There was a line of the devout to kiss the relic and seek his blessing. Services in the Church are “eternal” and go throughout the day and night.
One refreshing stop was at the KBAC (pronounced kvas) tank. This refreshing beverage was made from bread, water, and a little rye, and was alcohol free. Jeannette then filled a bottle with sacred water from the holy spring and blessed us all with the cool water. She just now realized that she dumped the holy water all over herself on the bus ride home because of the sauna-bus induced heat stroke that came later.
Lunch was next. The appetizer of pancakes and red caviar did not set
well with the pilgrims, much to the shock of our server. (Imagine little pills of cod liver oil on your pancakes! No, thank you.) Rich adds “It was really something.” The next course was borsch, followed by a Russian version of a pot pie. Dessert was some kind of custard pastry. Our favorite part about it was that it was cold. We weren't. The servers were all dressed in traditional Russian garb, and we think they were growing exhausted at the large tour group ahead of us, each of whom insisted on taking a picture with them.
With full bellies, it was back onto the sauna bus for a grueling and intolerable trek back to Moscow. Jeannette almost fainted due to the heat. (See above how the holy water saved her.)
Back at the Hotel Sovietsky, hot and with no rooms, we sat in the back garden near a fountain and fake forest to try to cool off. This worked. Then, to save precious rubles, we opted for a picnic in a park near Dynamo stadium, a crumbling relic of Muscovite Soccer from the 1920s. This also gave un an excuse to visit the local cooling station, also known as a supermarket.
The frozen foods section was a great place to hang out. Q: What did you do today? A: Shoplifted cold air. Jeannette aimlessly pushed an empty cart up and down every aisle of the place and the guard just kept giving us strange looks. We were really happy he was a supermarket cop and not KGB.
Now we are waiting for our ride to an overnight train to St. Petersburg. Our last overnight train experience (from Paris to Rome) left much to be desired, so we are hoping this can't be any worse. A little air conditioning would be greatly appreciated. Until next time, stay cool. We're not.
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