Where do I begin. Let’s just say that last weekend (this was written some time in Feb or March) was an experience and a half. A colleague and I decided to make it out to Souzdal last weekend, which is a little town outside Vladimir, which is one of the golden ring cities encircling Moscow. We met at the train station very early Friday morning to buy train tickets, then were sent to catch our train at another train station and waited for 2 hours. I got to see Turkish toilets for very first time! Yukky.
Anyway, after a 3 hour train ride we got to Vladimir. We found our way into the center of town by walking through tiny dirty roads, random back alleys and stairways, up the hill towards the church. Once you go around the church and walk through the forest, you’re at the center of town. We had asked someone on the way, how to get to the center and they said “go towards the church, you will come across the ‘three men’, and then walk through the forest.”
We did that, despite not seeing the three men. Then we explored down the main road and walked towards the door to the city in the middle of a roundabout, which we found out is a UNESCO heritage site (image below).
Then we went to use Wifi at a Russian kind of McDonald’s and the people had we asked directions from earlier, had magically appeared. (This was the beginning of my first experience of kind-of / sort-of / not sure-of / being taken advantage of, for being a Westerner. My Swiss colleague said he was Canadian. So, we talked, we went to the liquor store with them, they bought us a cheap 200 ruble ($6) bottle of Russian champagne. They told us they would take us to a hostel and then we would go to a club. So we got in a cab, and we went to a cheap $15 night hostel, which was pretty decent, and then we went to meet their friends and to a Karaoke bar. They previously bought us stuff like cheap $1 beers, and we agreed to pay their cover at the club. So, they took us to a Karakoe bar with no cover. But the drinks were expensive. The first round cost us $30 and we were taken aback. We had this weird feeling they might take advantage of us. Then the girl kept ordering us all stuff we didn’t want, without even asking us. We refused to pay because we didn’t want the stuff they were ordering. The bouncer came, and we were at a standstill for about 20 mins, so I paid and got the heck out of there.
The next morning my buddy and I felt really sick. We walked through Vladimir to the bus station and finally saw the three men. You can see one of them in this picture to the left. Apparently he was giving me the finger, lol. We bought two tickets to Souzdal for the equivalent of $5. We got there, and it was cold. I felt like, hm..let’s call it cow manure…and we walked by the market, saw lots of horse carriages, decided to walk to the end of a street which looked like there was a field at the end of it. We saw a little pedestrian bridge crossing a river so we crossed it. My friend lit a cigarette and asked if it bothered me, to which I responded by vomiting. I felt so much better afterwards. Our mission was to find a place to stay and we were rather surprised to find a fancy automatic door hotel. It was quite the contrast to the unmaintained houses and churches in the area. We then decided to walk down the main street in the opposite direction to see the other side of the town, which was really fun, because there were lots of little paths and gated areas with tiny entrances, and ruins. We even found a knife sharpener in the back of an old truck. We climbed up a tower and went walking on the river. Then as we walked back to the bus station, our last bus passed right in front of our eyes. The cashier who was leaving the bus terminal, told us we could flag a car on the highway that we were next to. It’s common to flag cars in Russia.
Anyway for some reason, we decided to walk back to Vladimir, not realizing how far the distance was. We stopped at a few places on the way to stretch and warm up. After 6 hours of walking next to a highway we were tired and in pain. I was carrying about 25lbs in my backpack and the ache in my left shoulder went away after my right leg started to give out. We were walking so slowly by the end. What made it dangerous was that as it got dark, the headlights from the oncoming traffic was blinding us, so we couldn’t see, and we started to get drowsy. Even more dangerous, was that, we were walking on the left-hand shoulder, and cars in the right lane were coming into the left lane to pass cars, right next to us. It happened at least ten times. I counted. So every time we saw light coming behind us we stopped to watch for cars, and when cars came at us in the opposite direction we stopped because we couldn’t see anything. So we constantly and to start and stop. We were sending txt messages to a friend in Moscow every 30 minutes or so just to make sure someone knew what we were doing and that we were ok. Needless to say, that person stayed up all night until we returned to Moscow and greeted me with quite the lecture. I digress. While on the highway from Souzdal to Vladimir, we had finally flagged a taxi to stop and pick us up. It was only another 5 minutes by car to Vladimir but walking, at our speed, would have taken another two hours. Then it would probably have been another 4 hours through Vladimir to the train station for a grand total of 12 hours of walking since we left. We had originally started walking at 8pm and arrived at the train station in Vladimir at 3am (7 hours of walking!!). We caught the train leaving at 3:20 AM and arrived in Moscow at 6:45AM. My leg is still a bit sore but my limp is barely noticeable.
I know this all sounds scary, and yes it was scary (we told eachother our wills, in case one of us were to die even) but the entire weekend was full of laughter and adventure. I will never forget the night I walked from Souzdal to Vladimir in the Russian countryside under the very same stars I see back home, in Canada.