Dear Trip Journal
Yes , I realise that after only two days, here I am again already communicating with you. However, this is the thing......., when I was in the UK, I was there for quite a long time and although I did something new and exciting every single day, I did not want to bore you with all the intimate details, hence the less frequent journal communications.
However, I am now on a rather fast paced trip through exciting Russia with a new and exciting experience and challenge every day, so to avoid one day merging into the next, I like to record my magical mystery tour as frequently as possible, to ensure that I don't forget any of these wonderful memories.
So we sat in a mini bus early one morning for a very long time en route into the Russian countryside to a very special little town called Suzdal (which not surprisingly does not show up on my trip journal map - trust Intrepid to find a town off the map to explore). The sensible people in our lovely group of 10 spent this boring time relaxing and catching up on some much needed sleep. Me, well I fidgeted, wrote my paper diary, edited my photos, fidgeted, did my leg (non clot) exercises, studied my maps until 5 hours later we finally arrived at our destination.
Suzdal is actually quite a famous town and the former capital of several Russian principalities however is now more of a religious centre situated in the countryside. It is a great example of Russian architecture with many shiny onion domed churches (UNESCO) and monasteries, church bells and mostly wooden cottages with streams and meadows.
A really pretty little town which feels like a village, and lovely to be away from the crowds and fast paced city of Moscow.
We stayed in a delightful traditional wooden cottage in a back street with lots of beds, plenty of space and lovely big kitchen and dining area where we could have fun together and made a nice change from impersonal hotel rooms.
We went on a guided walking tour of this charming town and saw the interesting Kremlin (I always thought of only Moscow as having a Kremlin but many Russian cities have one as 'Kremlin' actually means a fortress), monasteries, churches, the local market (which sold funny mushrooms which I was keen to try but thought better of the idea) generally wandered around the river area, and checked out the lovely old traditional wooden cottages all painted different colours.
The highlight of our time in Suzdal was dinner at a local Russian lady's house in Suzdal organised by our Intrepid guide.
Leana was a real character and kept us in fits of laughter all evening, even tho' she could not speak a word of English. She served us a delicious home cooked Russian farmstyle meal in her kitchen, introduced us to her dog and cat, showed us round her garden and family spa in the garden and by the end of the evening she had her family photo album out (yes Nadine, I had the opportunity to give my wedding photos a well earned airing too). Of course we had all decided that this was a good opportunity to give the Russian Vodka a good taste test and as is done here, washed down the vodka shots with beer. Ok, so the vodka doesn't taste so good but by golly, it sure does makes so good. A jolly time was had by all, especially when Leana insisted we all don on aprons and help prepare the desserts. The 40 minute walk back to our cottage was also quite a raucous affair.
However, all good things must come to an end, and it was soon time to board a very comfortable overnight train to Novgorod. Cameron and I ended up sharing a compartment with an interesting young Russian businessman who actually had a teeny bit of English and it was interesting finding out all about his life (by the next morning I was able to report all of his most intimate details to our interested little group).
So now we've just had another great day and lots of new experiences in a delightful and Russia's oldest (former capital of ancient Russia)town called Novogorod which is on a fairly major river(volkhov). A picture perfect sunshiny day after leaving Suzdal in pouring rain. We had a guided walking tour of this historical and beautiful town, enjoyed the graceful Kremlin, wandered beside the peaceful riverbank, did a river cruise, and checked out the little river beach, etc
However, there is always a highlight and today's one was the local sauna bathhouse with the locals in a very old bathing area in the oldest part of town. Boys and girls were separated and then we joined the locals in a massive soap up, lathered, scrubbed, rubbed, beaten with Birch Tree Branches soaked in goodness knows what and half drowned in many buckets of water of varying extreme temperatures, not to mention being baked in a million degree temperature sauna between each procedure. Interesting and a lot of fun watching the locals, mums arriving with youngsters and elderly parents for their weekly soak and soap up on a Friday evening. The young men would pop outside in between bathing rituals to cool off with their bottles of vodka, kind of different to what we would do on a Friday night in Sydney.
And tomorrow morning, we are off to St Petersburg which looks to be yet another exciting few days, so Dear Trip Journal, sit tight and expect another overload of Russian gossip soon.