Northeast of Moscow you’ll find a number of cities which make up the popular tourist trail known as the Golden Ring and we’d planned to a visit a couple of them. But first on our list was a visit to a little known town possessing a very unique sight.
Don’t miss the 09:09 train to Kalyazin. Matt the idiot forgot our phone was charging in the hostel kitchen, results in us missing the first of two daily connections in Savelovo. This meant we had a wait of five hours instead of the time pleasing 30 minutes. So with naught to do we endured the staring, stinky homeless and an over enthusiastic cat ripping at the backpacks as we waited it out in the tiny station waiting room.
Back on the train we pass creatively named stations such as 124km before arriving in the freezing cold darkness at tiny Kalyazin station. We hoofed the three kilometres in 25 minutes to the only hotel we could find online, Hotel Kalyazin. Well we pretty much would have been warmer in the outdoors than in the room as a freezing draught poured through the poorly sealed window all night. A steaming hot shower later we wrapped ourselves in blankets to watch The Counsellor, two hours of our life that we can’t ever get back.
Kalyazin has only one noteable landmark, the neoclassical belfry of the Monastery of St. Nicolas built to commemeorate the coronation of Nicholas II of Russia. As part of Mr Stalin’s Uglich Dam project several medieval structures along with most of the monastery were submerged in 1939. Today the remaining 74 meters, known as the Flooded Belfry, has become a tourist draw hence our stupid idea of getting up at 05:00 in the morning to capture it enclosed in the icepack.
Without any experience navigating on frozen rivers the already trodden path relieves our nerves as we set up the tripod in the -25 temperatures. Hearing unsettling noises coming from the ice we realise that despite the calm white surface we’re standing on underneath us the River Volga is still passing through. A few more air bubbles create unnerving sounds which seem to echo across the river and numb from the cold we quickly shuffle back to the ‘warmth’ of the hotel. This time the hot shower does little to relieve the crying pain of the cold and we instead wrap ourselves in every blanket we can find.
Grabbing a taxi back to the station the driver had little time to get us there. On the icy roads the champion driver, even with a pit stop at the bank, gets us there with minutes to spare to catch the 09:42 dug up relic of a train for the return to Moscow with a soundtrack of accordion folk and 80’s synth pop.
See below for how to make this journey as an overnight trip from Moscow.
We originally stopped here only as a jumping off point for the town of Suzdal, part of the Golden Ring.
‘Then things got interesting.’
Checked in to the Vozduh Hostel we headed over to the 4 Brewers craft beer bar, the only one in town, and ended up in conversation with a guy who teaches English at the local University. This was also the night we found out the sad news that Mr Bowie had left this planet for good, RIP you musical genius. A smallish venue with a few tables they stock exclusively Russian beers and mostly from the closest regions. This time we behave ourselves leaving after three beers and tucking ourselves into bed when a muscular nugget of a man bounces into the room.
Giving Matt the flicking action to his neck (the Soviet sign for ‘Are you drunk?) with a mostly full bottle of scotch whiskey in one hand and three glasses in the other, we try our best to politely decline before exchanging a look of
‘Well, if you can’t be ‘em, join ‘em!’
Anton is an ex-marine with a voracious zest for life and well, scotch. Back into the common area we’re downing the spirit with gusto and when the bottles done our commando mate suggests we grab another. Two hours later Sarah, who’d stayed behind at the hostel, is using google translate to ask the staff if;
1. They are friends with this crazy Anton guy and
2. Will Matt make it back in one piece
One of the two got a definite yes.
Two hours later they’re back with stories of Matt flipping down snow banks and searching for the top shelf 7 year old scotch. With our new mate providing us a feed of Russian dumplings and sour cream we crack open the second bottle ending with a four in the morning bedtime. So much for an early night.
Next morning Mr.Marine is straight up in Matt’s face before he’d even opened his eyes trying to get him to start on the scotch again! Parting ways (sober) it’s only a couple of hours later that he’s back with a plastic bottle of home brew weisse beer trying to get Matt back on it. Tasty drop too.
Vladimir isn’t immune to the decorative lights of Christmas so armed with the tripod and camera we venture out into another snow storm to capture the sights at night (and avoid a repeat of last nights ambush). Back to the warmth of the hostel we make the most of the hot showers and cozy beds thinking we’d made a great choice in the Vodzuh Hostel.
Taking the side trip to one on Russia’s oldest towns Suzdal we thought it a good idea to start early catching the 08:00 bus. Now in this part of the world not much happens before 10:00 in the morning, evident by the cold reception of the lady at a café next to the Kremlin who refused to pour us a coffee at 09:45 let alone use the toilet even though they clearly opened at 09:30. Apparently shoveling snow was more important than customers.
Entry to the Kremlin (RUB400) includes most of the museums within, however like most Russian museums, what little explanations there are are usually in Russian. The most interesting of the lot is the museum that hold a couple of 600 year old books, a great authentic area that feels a lot less touristic. Also don’t miss the interior of the Monastery of Our Saviour and St. Euthymius which has some great frescoes dating from 1689. There is a great little shop that carries many a souvenir all hand produced by independent local artisans. Suzdal also contains a load of churches and and due to the town earning federally protected status in 1967 some of the best preserved wooden houses that have remained unchanged for ages.
Returning back to Vladimir we slip and slide down and ice covered stairway back at the station for the bus to Nizhny Novgorod when lo and behold our ex-marine mate Anton walks in on his way to go ice diving in the south of the country. This guy is INSANE! Soon enough he’s outside coercing Matt into drinking his own concoction of vodka, lemon and herb. Does it ever end?
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for our next post as we head to the fun little town of Nzinhy Novgorod. You can check out more pics of our time in Russia by clicking on any of the images above to be taken to our Flickr site.
Tips for Kalyazin
- We found it impossible to get to Kalyazin and back in one day via train. Instead we (planned to) take the 09:09 train from Moskva Savelovska station which arrives in Savelovo at 11:25. A connecting train leaves for Kalyazin at 11:53 arriving at 13:18. This gives you the afternoon to view the bell tower before returning the nex day on the 09:42 to Savelovo (arrives 11:09), with the connection to Moscow leaving at 11:52 arriving at 14:16. This allowed us to catch an afternoon commuter train to Vladimir.
- You can check RZD’s website for alternative times (using spelling Kaliazin).
- Research the required metro/train stations for your departure beforehand. We use Maps.me app as it’s great to use off line.
- Trains which commence from Moscow are always at the platform at least 20 mins before departure. If not start asking questions sooner rather than later. Our train to Vladimir was due to depart from platform 1 but was actually stationed at platform 11, a continuation of platform 1.
Tips for Vladimir
- Beware the ex-marine. He’ll commando you when you least expect it!
- Vozduh Hostel is located at Devicheskaya ul., 9. It’s cheap, dorm beds are comfortable and not cramped, the kitchen is ok and the showers are hot. The staff are also really nice guys.
- There’s a large SPAR supermarket on the lower level of the shopping mall on Bolshaya Moskovskaya and Devicheskaya for self catering.
- We opted for the bus from Vladimir to our next stop Nizhny Novgorod as it was half the price of the train. The Bus station is across the road from the train station.
Tips for Suzdal
- There are plenty of buses from Vladimir to Suzdal each day from the bus terminal. Click here for information and timetables.
- The bus will drop you at the main bus station which is 1.5 kilometres from the centre. You can choose to walk or an extra RUB14 paid to the driver will get you dropped in town.
- Coming back just wait at a bus stop with the locals on the main road out of town and a bus will eventually arrive heading back to Vladimir.