Brilliant autumn weather in Moscow. Far too brilliant not to leave, I decide. Oh yes, it is true, the leaves on the Moscow trees are very colourful as well. But the concrete and the asphalt are simply too overwhelming to be able to really appreciate all these colours. And so I gather some stuff and leave. On my way to places where nature still rules and where the influence of men and machine is limited. The good thing about this immense city is that it is surrounded by a far more immense countryside. Just a matter of catching a train to the north, east, south or west. It does not matter, the rural areas are everywhere.
With these thoughts in my head and with my suitcase in my hand I am standing at the metro station. Surrounded by thousands of people who are all on their way to their jungle. Of concrete. I cannot help it but suddenly I feel very happy. Just because I realize that in a few hours I will be in Suzdal. The pearl on the necklace known as the ‘Golden Ring’, a name given to some cities located east of Moscow. ‘Gold’ refers to the time, long ago, when Moscow was not yet the capital of Russia. Even refers to the time that Russia was not yet a nation. Then these cities were important and influential and their governors powerful. ‘Ring’ refers to the geographical location of these cities. Connecting all of them creates something like a circle. All these cities breath, even today, history. Although several of them at the same time breath pollution caused by old Soviet industry or modern industries.
Soon I leave the masses of the metro behind and change them for the relative peace of the train. These Russian trains always make me dream about places, several days away from Moscow. About tundra, taiga, emptiness, Siberia and Kamchatka. But today all of this is just in the back of my head as Suzdal is in fact just around the corner. Only three hours by train. It is nothing for Russian standards. Hardly time to drink a tea, so to say. The train slowly heads eastward, clearly we are not in a hurry. But it is all fine with me, as I am suddenly also completely relaxed. The speed of Moscow already forgotten, the craziness of the city left behind. The lady in charge of the wagon offers me a tea for 25 euro cents. Even the prices are suddenly much more relaxed! Sipping my tea I am looking through the windows. Gradually, the flats of Moscow are disappearing, instead I see old and small stations and a messy periphery. Not much later replaced by wooden houses, trees with golden leaves and green fields. Moscow might be huge, it still does not take a lot of time to reach the countryside.
In Vladimir, another Golden City, I swap the train for a bus. Sadly enough it is already overcrowded when I get in. And so I have to stand. Looking around I notice that all my fellow passengers are Russians. Obviously they all want to go to Suzdal. Strange, I think, after all Suzdal is not bigger than Oude Pekela or Surhuisterveen. Moreover, it is a place where, as far as I can remember, never anything happens. So why all these Russians are heading for Suzdal? Once again I do not understand them. Not at all. But 45 minutes, when we enter Suzdal, I do. Suddenly, I even feel connected with them. Like me, they just want to see the skyline of Suzdal. How logical! Onion shaped churches in various colours, white monasteries, the colours of autumn, tiny little rivers and tinier wooden houses. This is the panorama of Suzdal. The sun and the blue sky make it really look like a fairytale. Surprised and full of joy I am breathing the fresh Suzdal air.
Completely relaxed I wander through the city, looking for a place to sleep. Are there more churches here than people? It seems so. At least, I see more of the first. After a while I notice a sign indicating ‘ komnata’. Just what I am looking for. I follow the sign to find out that it is one of these wooden houses where I could spend the night. I knock the door, half and half expecting that an old lady with a hairy chin will open the door. But when the door opens I see her granddaughter. She smiles at me and tells me that she has a place for me to stay. Of course she has. The season has ended and Suzdal is without tourists. I might even be the only one in town. When I enter the house I notice a dozen cats running away from me. The whole place to myself I will not have, this is clear. The house is old, small, and too hot, but still somehow clean. It reminds me of Hansel and Gretel. More fairytale ambiance!