03 September 2007

Travelogue number one: Rostov Velikii

Some extra notes at press time: 1) I don't know why some of the pictures here are sideways, but I'll try to fix it.
2) I should know better than to trust my ears - according to my advisor, the fricative I was talking about in the previous entry is voiced, not voiceless. This is, what, the millionth time I've said something on my blog that I turned out to be wrong about?
3) Huge headline in Komsomol'skaya Pravda yesterday: POLITKOVSKAYA'S KILLERS ARRESTED. Being a chump, I didn't buy the newspaper. But looking at the wikipedia update, I don't buy the story, either, so I guess it works out.

Every year during the August orientation session, the Fulbright program takes its ETAs to one or more of the ancient "Golden Ring" towns to the northeast of Moscow. Last year was Yaroslavl/Kostroma/Plyos; this year we went to Rostov the Great (Ростов Великий), also apparently known as Rostov Yaroslavskii (Rostov of the Yaroslavl region), both of which names distinguish it from the important Rostov.

To some extent, once you've seen one of these towns, you've seen them all, since the main attraction in each is the old architecture (kremlin, monasteries, churches). But they do have their own claims to fame as well. For example, Yaroslavl is the home of the famous elaborately-painted lacquer boxes (not to mention Yarpivo); Kostroma has a lot of linen and was the hideout of the first Romanov tsar during some sort of political intrigue; Plyos was Isaac Levitan's inspiration; Rostov Velikii has a big lake and is known for its painted porcelain.

Anyway, the point of the trip is bonding among the ETAs as much as escape from Moscow, which is why it doesn't really matter that all these towns are variations on a theme; accordingly, I have a lot of pictures of iPod karaoke and a boxing match that at least one participant doesn't remember. I won't share those with you – instead, here are the pretty ones.

The kremlin is a bit of an onion-dome-a-palooza. Americans have many misconceptions about Russia – like the idea that nesting dolls are authentic folk art – but onion domes are one stereotype that corresponds to reality. Anyway, as kremlins go, it's a really nice one, with several different exhibits inside (porcelain, old icons, and bells, to name a few). You can walk along the walls and go up in the bell tower, too.

It's pretty rare that you can take pictures inside an Orthodox church – it's often only allowed in ones that aren't being used as places of worship anymore, like this one. The elaborate paintings covering the walls and the tall, narrow windows are standard. Another interesting point: there are no pews. You have to stand the whole time. (Does this affect church attendance? I have to wonder...)

I don't think I've ever been to a monastery or kremlin that wasn't being renovated. Like the construction at the datsan in Ulan Ude, it's a sign of the times – the country is getting interested in preserving and fixing up what escaped destruction during the Soviet period.

Before we went up in the bell tower, the guard warned us, "Girls, no ringing the bells!" We didn't listen.

The morning we left, we got up early to go to a monastery we had missed the day before. It was overcast, so I don't have any really great pictures, but it was an interesting place – neo-Classical mixed in with the requisite onion domes, and really nice gardens. They also had a holy spring, which is what we're posing in front of for this picture. They were quite serious about the dress code, which is why we're all in headscarves and skirts. Our sole male companion got a dressing-down from a monk for wearing shorts, and steered back to the guard station to put on some pajama pant-like things.

The monastery looked even more interesting the night before, when we walked there from our hotel down wide, still, unlit streets to find it looming before us, glowing white in the light of a rising moon. And you can't see the peeling paint that way.

Last thing: if you go to Rostov in the summer, take bug spray. The mosquitoes are ungodly.

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