Ksenia picked us up at 5.30am the next morning to avoid the morning traffic of Muscovites on a Saturday out of the city.
One of the main streets had 11 lanes one way and there were many accidents with people changing lanes.  We saw two such accidents in our short time in Moscow and a mangled car on the way down to Vladimir.   There were some interesting passengers in the cars on the way down there – an exotic bird, a black cat and a van inside a van going to Poland.

Moscow was built on a ring road system whereas St Petersburg on a grid system.  Ksenia told us that there was no fine for travelling up to 20 kilometres over the speed limit, $15 for 30 kilometres over the limit, $100 for 40 kilometres over and at 60 kilometres over the limit your licence was lost!   They didn’t have a licence points system at all.

The trip to Vladimir (on the so called Golden Ring) our first stop should have taken us 3-4hours but took more than 5hours with many stops in a traffic jam.  There were not many people driving in Moscow that early but once we got out of town there were many people were on the road to
their Dachas (country houses) for the weekend.
We stopped in Vladimir for about an hour to have some blinis for lunch at a very square old soviet cafeteria building  and a look at the old churches and view of the valley below. We continued a further hour on to Suzdal, a very old town on the Golden Ring stopping at the fruit sellers along the road.

Ksenia took us to a lovely garden restaurant serving freshly made Russian food. We were glad we had her with us as there were no English menus and no one spoke English or German unlike our host at our B and B who had lived briefly in Germany and spoke German. Many of the older generation had learnt German in school and the younger generation learnt English.
There were numerous small hotels, guesthouses and B and B’s and the one we stayed in the “Vintazh Otel Surikov” was a lovely B and B right on the river.
The other guests were all Russian but one spoke good English and was very friendly. Vladimir put on 60’s rock and roll music during the day as he renovated an old Mercedes and another old Russian car.  We were given a hearty Russian breakfast of porridge, bread with butter, cheese and ham,pancakes with fruit and a large cup of Turkish type coffee.   Sunday was the first really hot day we had had with 34degrees and sunny which we really enjoyed. It got humid later in the afternoon and rained on an off from
about 5pm.
Nothing was too much trouble for Vladimir and he found us a retired teacher Yuriy as an guide who took us on 2hour walking tour around the town. He spoke good English and gave us the history of the town.

The very old town was set up during Soviet times (1967) as the first tourist town and a large hotel was built in honour of this.  The town was also used as the setting for many Russian and foreign films, one of which was “Peter the Great” and stars such as Omar Sharif and Vanessa Redgrave were in Suzdal for the film.   Apparently there was a large film set built close to the river near where we stayed depicting  Moscow in the 1700’s and after filming closed the Americans wanted to donate the entire set to the town however two generals at the time had other ideas and took it all to their dachas (country houses).
Yuriy walked us through the town and into various convents and churches and pointed out interesting houses along the way.
The entire village was made of wood many centuries ago however much of it has been rebuilt with bricks and mortar after much of it burnt down.
Suzdal is known as being the place that Moscovites and others from reachable cities came to for the weekend. It was surrounded by vast fields and the small town of 11,000 had 30 working churches and a few more that were derelict or under restoration.
We walked later through the town to meet Ksenia for dinner at a Russian restaurant called “Traktir”. We had a typical Russian meal with a delicious beetroot, garlic and walnut salad, a white radish and parsley salad followed by an eggplant and tomato dish and potatoes with horseradish sauce. Maurice had “blinis” pancakes with fruit to cap off the meal. Ksenia had to read us the menu again as it was all in Russian and no English subtitles or separate English menus.   There had been two busloads of Italian tourists in the town but they were given a set menu so no language was needed.
Ksenia drove us to a orphanage/church complex on the other side of town which was beautifully laid out and later to a very old abandoned large church in the fields which looked fascinating in it’s derelict state  even though there were plants growing from it and it was falling apart.

Maurice and I wanted to go to the monastery for a look the next day (Monday) but it was closed  Monday so we went for a nice walk instead and could see why people from the city love the fresh air of the countryside and the lack of people.
Ksenia picked us up and we went to a ceramic factory where we bought a couple of little hand made china pieces and then drove into a very ordinary small Russian village with quaintly painted houses to buy a large quantity of berries for her mother to make jam and also buy some goat’s milk from other villagers.  The roads were pretty rough with many potholes but a lot of work was being done to the old houses.   Most were very colourfully painted and decorated.  We drove the hour back to Vladimir where we farewelled Ksenia who had shown us so much Russian hospitality. We caught the train back to Moscow (which took four and a half hours) deposited our bags, had a meal outside the station and then departed at 11pm on a very new and superb Siemen’s train to Helsinki. The very friendly conductress brought us coffee in fine china when we boarded the train and again and gave us bottles of water and a breakfast bag with muffin,juice, yoghurt and chocolate. We had comfy pillows and duvets and electronic passes to enter our cabin.  It was a fantastic train service . The thirteen hour trip from Moscow landed us back near  Helsinki at 12noon  to another sunny warm day.  We turned our watches back an hour.

In many of the countries we visited,  the cities are thriving but there is still a lot of poverty in the country areas with little infrastructure.
It was interesting to hear from Ksenia that pensions in the country areas were far less than in the city where the cost of living was greater. A couple of people admitted to us that Russians in general were better off under the Soviet system with educational opportunities and medical services for all whereas now if one cannot pay for a service they don’t receive it.

Russia more than exceeded our expectations and especially the attitude of most people that we encountered who were not the western portrayed dour and uncompromising people they were made out to be.  Some officials were like that but no more so than in any other country.  We both hope to return one day.

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