Monday, May 23, 2016

Travel Log: Days Five and Six

Suzdal and Sukhovka, 5/20/2016

         I haven't had a reliable connection to wi-fi for the last few days, so I'm doing a mega-blog with all three days-worth of information; I am not a concise person but I will do it best to keep it short. 
Selfie Off the Bell Tower
One of the Suzdal
         Our first out-of-town excursion was to Suzdal, a historic city about thirty minutes from Vladimir. Now, Russia has a lot of churches, but Suzdal had a church every other block. There were numerous monasteries, nunneries, and cathedrals, all with long histories and some half-destroyed. I hadn't realized how much damage the Soviets had done to elements of Russian culture; all the churches we visited throughout the day had been closed when the Soviets came to power and either damaged, converted into something more 'useful', or left to fall into disrepair. There were bells smashed after being thrown off of clock towers, nunneries changed into hotels, and large parts of the city Kremlin were destroyed. Regardless, the museums were fascinating and the architecture of the city was very impressive. Also, Andrei, a native of Suzdal (who had studied abroad at the Vandy Divinity School and was traveling with us today), took us up the tallest clock tower in town, which was tall, dilapidated, and closed to the public: a blast, in a word. 
Pictured: The Dacha
L to R: Vlad, Scott

            After a delicious lunch (in which I finally had my first borsch!) and a tour of the wooden architecture museum, we started the drive to Sukhovka; after fighting through afternoon traffic in Vladimir, we drove out into the most beautiful countryside, to the dacha in Sukhovka. A dacha is a Russian country home, and this one was owned by a lovely couple that also owned a banya. A banya is a Russian sauna, steeped in tradition and way more complicated than you think. Vlad, the father of the family who owned the dacha, said "you aren't Russian until you've been in a banya." The whole group stripped down and sat in the sauna several times to 'warm up' (the heat was unbearable for more than five minutes, it was definitely hotter than a normal suana), while steam and oils 'healthy for the skin' filled the room. After spending ample time relaxing, including massages (mostly involving dried branches from birch trees, covered with oils), we had to jump into a pool outside, which was filled with freezing cold water (this was at least 8:30-9:00 at night by now) to cool off. Apparently some Russians do this weekly. It was the easily the most bizarre thing I've done in a long time; it was also the most relaxing thing I've done in a long time. We all were vaguely terrified when the whole process was explained to us, and, by the end, we all wanted to go again. I definitely plan on keeping an open mind in the future.  
               After the banya, we had a late dinner (10:00 or so; we've eaten late most days here) and, exhausted, went to bed.

Funny Moment of the Day: There were definitely too many to pick one. Turns out when we are all barely dressed in a very foreign 'sauna' type thing there are many opportunities for hilarious situations. 

Sukhovka and Vladimir, 5/21/2016

The Spring At Which We Were Blessed
Garden Near the Dacha
                 Saturday was fabulous. First of all, we could finally see the countryside around the dacha and it was breathtaking. Trees stretching for miles, forests farther than I realized, and a perfect, twisting river that we spent the morning exploring. After a delicious breakfast and a while of
running through the wilderness outside, we went to a nearby village that had a pure, natural spring near the church that had been sanctified by the priests there. Stepping into the freezing cold water and dunking your head under three times, as we would do that day, was meant to be an echo of baptism, and each submersion represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, respectively. It was a shockingly cold but strangely calming experience; it was touching to see the belief of the family we were with; more and more Russians are coming back from the religious downturn of the Soviet time, and, as Vlad explained to us, they value their ability to practice their religion all the more because of it. It was a ritual that I was honored to be able to participate in.
Delicious Homemade
Bread, Made by the Family's
Above: The Dmitrievski Cathedral
Lit Up for International Museum
Below: Some of the Students and I
                After spending the whole day at the dacha, eating huge meals (including handsdown the best bread I've ever eaten), flying kites, playing with the dog, stacking wood, all kinds of cute, relaxing country things, we drove back to the city to eat dinner with the Vladimir State University students. We had a blast, just us and a bunch of Alexei's students, eating borsch and chatting about nothing. After the meal, we all went to a jazz concert at one of the history museums. Saturday night was International Museum Day, and all of the museums had special programs and were open until midnight, and so the history museum had a concert of famous Russian movie soundtracks (many of which were American movies or artists, which meant lots of the music was Elvis, Ray Charles, etc.). It was a blast, and the Americans all got really excited about the music they knew. The students were wonderful, and we all loved getting to know each other. We'll be seeing plenty of them in the future.

Funny Moment of the Day: During the meal, we were looking for games to play, and it turns out that our Russian counterparts call Truth or Dare 'Truth or Consequences' (which is infinitely better); it was a huge laugh, including when we made Ethan eat a concoction including an orange slice, caviar, sour cream, and more. The Russian students are a great time.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful and I love hearing how wonderful/relaxing the country was. And your story about being blessed in the spring - beautiful! :-)