As I’m sitting down to write this, the TV in our dorm’s common room is playing a Russian news clip in which a journalist with a microphone goes walking down a line of people waving Syrian flags and holding pictures of President Bashar Al-Asaad – a contrast from the rebel-centric media that we see in the States. That doesn’t relate to much in this post; rather it’s just a note about different presentations of fact in the US and Russia.
Last week we were in Vladimir, a city of some 345,00 people that sits about 120 kilometers from Moscow. Our train arrived late on Friday night and, when we stepped out from the station, Moscow’s midnight roar of revving motorcycles and Audis was replaced by the drone of a single Lada puttering out of the station’s parking lot.
After a Saturday trip to Suzdal, a tourist-fueled town of 10,000 people dotted with churches, we spent Sunday getting to know Vladimir a bit before the evening train back to Moscow. Our day there was focused on holy sites. We didn’t have time to see Vladimir’s Golden Gate, unfortunately, but it was on the docket too.
The field that we walked through, seen through trees near the Svyato-Bogolyubsky nunnery.
Part of the reason that we didn’t have to time to get to the Golden Gate was that we spent a long time at the Svyato-Bogolyubsky nunnery and the nearby Church of the Intercession on the Nerl, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Church of the Intercession is small and slender, crowned with a single dome in the Russian Orthodox style and built in the middle of a floodplain abutting the banks of the Nerl river. The plain, when we were there, was flooded. It’s bordered by the railroad tracks that come from Moscow and a few of us walked along them a ways, looking for a place with some sort of an isthmus for us to cross, and then we turned around and went back down the other way. After perusing some few hundred meters in the opposite direction, we found what seemed to be a road covered by a few inches of water. A few ideas were floated about how best to cross it before we took off our shoes and socks and rolled up our pants. The water was bitterly cold and we stopped on the other side of the ford and hopped around to get more blood flowing into our feet.
After our feet had dried enough we put our socks and shoes back on and walked across the plain. The day was gorgeous, crisp and blue, and it felt good to be out in an open place with clean air after our first month in Moscow. Spring green hadn’t yet arrived and varied hues of brown dominated the field, but it was warm enough that we were able to take off our jackets. We followed a vague path and passed a few other parties coming back form the church. A biker rode past us once.
The Church of the Intercession of the Nerl, seen just a little before we arrived at the banks of the Nerl.
We had to cross another bit of water as we drew close to the church, but it wasn’t as big as the first ford. On the banks of the Nerl, though, we found what would be our foil: the bridge across it was, according to a few people we asked, under water, and the river was too broad for us to cross. When we turned around, I didn’t feel defeated: even though we hadn’t been able to go into the church, I felt like I understood a bit about it through the long walk out to it and besides, the walk itself had felt sacred.