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Visit to Yaroslavl 2019


It is the second time I have visited Yaroslavl, the first being some 5 years ago with my husband Paddy.  This time though I went with Jeremy, our 27-year-old son, who has always longed to go to Russia.  The visa applications had become noticeably more difficult to complete since my last visit but finally, we were delighted to receive them.


Our arrival at Moscow Airport, Domodedovo, brought us face to face with our fellow companions fielding suitcases off the revolving luggage wheel;   Robert and Bob, not to be confused, Sue and ourselves making a party of five. Scooped up by Irina Peneva we made for the minibus waiting for us under a grey and rainy sky.


The journey to Yaroslavl was not all we had hoped for. Plunged into a traffic jam caused by an accident we were able to observe the Russian emergency services at work tearing along the central lanes. Progress was very slow but 2 hours later we eventually moved off.   A motorway break was much appreciated and so also the delectable potato pies. Later on, a blini and berry drink were also welcome in a restaurant with taxidermist specimens displayed around the room.   A Brown bear, a lynx, foxes, and a grouse all watching these odd English specimens.  Our hosts valiantly turned out at a very late hour to receive us and escort us to their homes.



The following day we were taken on a tour of Yaroslavl starting with The Kremlin, and a climb up the belfry to see the incredible views of the city.   Some tried their hand at minting a coin with a huge hammer.  The walk along the embankment made you realise what a beautiful city Yaroslavl is. The green parks and old churches alongside The Volga make a breathtaking sight.  Lunch in a cellar restaurant 'Sobranie', satisfying with the famous Olivie salad.   Some of the gentlemen in the party couldn't do without a glass of red wine.  Afterwards, we visited the Church of Elijah the Prophet.


In the evening we were welcomed by The Friendship Society at Sobinov Art School. Here was an evening to remember. The young girls sang some old Russian songs and then 3 girls danced individual dances. One girl in full Russian folk costume danced with such pride and feeling we were mesmerised. This was followed by a girl who used a hoop who managed to swirl and twirl the hoop like a conjurer-keeping hoop in unison with steps and movements.   Then an American dance was enacted with Madonna movements that were extraordinarily dextrous.  They clearly enjoyed it as much as we did.



City day was upon us.   This was the day we had been warned to take our suit or smart jacket that had caused us all concern in that quarter.  Suitably attired we hoped we met the delegation at Ibis hotel to be bussed to the Official Reception at the Mayors Office.   I think some of us felt for the first time what it was like to be a diplomat.  We met our guide and were ushered to seats. Those who spoke a little Russian had a very great advantage over those who didn't although there was a translator. It was interesting to see that Exeter was not the only city to be twinned with Yaroslavl.   Poitiers from France, Palermo from Sicily, then representatives from Finland, Latvia, Bulgaria, Mordovia etc were all present.  It was the year to commemorate the Volkokov Theatre the first theatre to be built in Russia.   However later in Moscow, I came across another theatre that made the same claim.


Bob read the letter from the Lord Mayor of Exeter.  Translations and thanks took place and a plaque was given as a souvenir to remember the close ties between the two cities.


Following this, we were bussed to the monument of Yaroslavl the Wise, founder of the city, where officials in his memory laid flowers. I have a picture of Valentina Tereshkova, the first lady astronaut to go into space, who was present during the ceremony. As soon as each delegation had completed their speeches we were bussed to The Volkov theatre, where a really enjoyable Blues Concert was put on for us.  Then again we were moved on by bus to the Sparterkovets stadium where we watched a show that was on a par with the Olympics opening ceremony.  Dancers, athletes, children all worked together to form a spectacular display.


We lunched at a hotel and afterwards, in case we hadn't had enough excitement in one day we were taken up The Ferris Wheel.   This was something I had not volunteered for and was not looking forward to however it really was great and the views were well worth the anxt. That night we dined at the Volga-Volga hotel situated on the banks of The Volga. Music was played, food and wine served followed by dancing and fireworks and drive home.  We had been truly spoilt.



You might think that free time with host families would imply a leisurely day.  However, this is not the case.  On Sunday Margaret had organised with Alexei and Olga  Volkov to take us to Rostov the Great.  Picked up from our house we drove along the autoroute for an hour then turning off sharply onto a minor road to Rostov I was alarmed by Alexei suddenly wheeling and dealing across the road like a drunk.   It was only a minute later that I realised he was driving to avoid the seriously large potholes.  Then I saw all the drivers were doing it. Rostov the Great is a beautiful old town with a remarkable Kremlin that could make a film set for Genghis Khan's invasion.  The whitewashed walls surround the Kremlin and inside musicians in traditional costume who were singing folk music met us.  The playing was utterly beautiful in its strange fusion of harmony and discordance. Our hosts stayed put as we toured the battlements of the fort.  We could see Lake Nero in the distance.


After lunch, we drove back to Yaroslavl and were treated to see a famous red-bricked 16-century church St. John the Baptist with 13 cupolas.
We dined with our friends Alexei and Olga and daughters Sonia and Masha in their very comfortable house.



The following day we returned to The Volkov theatre and had a tour.  First, we visited the auditorium which seats 900 people then we were taken backstage.  We saw a spacious area where they made the props and costumes.   Some of the costumes were on display and two identical outfits but different sizes were kept in a glass case both for the main actor and the understudy who alternated the parts. Then we saw the exquisite model sets for plays like Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard' and   'The Three Sisters'; Shakespeare's 'A midsummer's Nights Dream' and Moliere's 'Tartuffe'.    Afterwards we were led onto one of the largest in Provincial Russian drama theatre stages where Jeremy, my son, did a rendition of part of a speech of Richard III and even I was surprised by his Shakespearean voice.


Our second visit of the day was quite different. We set off to the ferry port to catch the boat that took us up the river to The Tolga Convent.  Time to dip into our packed lunches and take out a sandwich or two or 3 or 5.   No shortages of supplies from Margaret. It was a good place to reflect on the past few days as views of the banks and passing cruise boats reminded us what an important part The Volga plays in the history of the city.


On the left bank, a whitewashed building gleamed with its copulas blinking in the sunshine. The Tolga Convent was founded in 1314.

Our guide told us that the local Lord of Rostoff was on his way to Moscow and rested on the bank of the river.  Waking up from his sleep to a bright light on the tree, he saw a miraculous appearance of Tolga Mother of God.  He decided then to build a shrine to her at this very spot.


Today the nuns who still inhabit the convent keep the gardens beautifully.  Local volunteers support them.  Posters were displayed of Vladimir Putin's recent visits.  It was a restful afternoon until we realised that we might have missed the bus back.  However, we took a later one and returned home tired but happy.


 That evening Margaret took me to dinner at her sister's flat.  It was a modern flat and very comfortable compared to the old Soviet blocks.  Here I met her two grandsons, Margaret's student Kate and a friend Galina. The idea was for them to practice their English on me.  We were given the delicious soup, fish, and potatoes, blinis filled with ricotta cheese, which I was becoming accustomed to.  A huge three-litre jar (a bunker) was produced that contained the deliciously strong compote of pickled plums and tomatoes together. Then two wines, one made from cherries the other strawberries that she had grown on her dacha.   Her friend Galina was someone who had special powers and can cure the sick.  We discovered we women were all 64 years old.



The following morning we met up in Red Square.   We were all beginning to get our bearings by now.  Zoya Volkova and Ariadna Poletaeva accompanied us to Rybinsk and Tutaev an hour's journey by bus.  The town Rybinsk is situated on the banks of the Volga near where the  Scheksna and Volga rivers meet.  Rybinsk was an important merchant town and is known as 'the capital city of barge haulers.'  There is a famous painting by Ilia Efimovich Repin (1844-1930) showing the barges being pulled by men. 'Song of the Volga boatmen' was sung on the bus by Zoya and others to give us a feel for the city's past.


The attractive square is made up of old merchant's houses with a large central courtyard where they could store their goods behind the facades.  First, we visited a tourist shop where porcelain from St. Petersburg was on display at fancy prices.   Teasing Zoya I asked her 'whether she had any St. Petersburg porcelain?  Her reply surprised me.   With great energy and passion, she said   'NO but I have some beautiful Meissen teacups and saucers. Do you know how I acquired them?    My father when he was an army officer during the war entered Berlin and he brought them home as a trophy.'    Another strange thing in this museum was seeing our very ordinary “Willow Pattern' English china in a glass cabinet being sold for vast sums.  Obviously, there is a demand for such wares and we have some in our loft.


We were taken to a small museum later where two very unusual exhibits were shown; the first were memorabilia from the Swedish family 'The Nobel's' (as in The Nobel Peace prize). In the 19 century, a very rich and successful industrialist Alfred Nobel had set up business in Rybinsk and had 3 sons. They made a huge fortune from developing a new pipeline system and inventing storage tanks as well as oil tankers. This allowed for the importation of oil from Azerbyjan.   Wheat was transported from The Ukraine by barge up the Volga.   Stored in Rybinsk it could then be forwarded on smaller barges to St Petersburg navigating the Marlinsk Canal system. They became the linkmen for supplying oil and wheat from The Ukraine to the North of Russia.  From their profits, they went on to create the Nobel Foundation. The other exhibits displayed Joseph and Nicholas Schenck two Jewish brothers memorabilia who were born in Rybinsk emigrated to America and became owners of MGM studios.


We called in at Tutaev Museum on our return where we were given drinks and unusual talks about the Romanovo sheep, which supplied the exceptionally warm wool that made the very long grey coats used by the Bolsheviks. We were picked up by Galina and taken back to her flat for supper.  It was interesting to compare apartments. I was allowed a shower as we had no hot water at Margaret's' supper of pelmeni.



The following morning was officially our free time and we requested to be allowed to go and have coffee somewhere (a simple pleasure that had been denied to us most days!) and also visit a bookshop. Both of which we enjoyed.


At 12.45 we were taken round Yaroslavl Art Museum by the governors daughter (an old student) who brought the governors house vividly to life in her 19-century costume and demure manner.


After lunch at Sobranie restaurant, we joined a round table tea party with Exeter and Yaroslavl.  We were expected to give a brief talk to the students of who we were or something of interest.  Bob spoke well about being a post-war baby in Derby.  Sue described her work as a translator in Italy.  Jeremy talked about his acting career that hasn't taken off the way he would have liked.  I told a silly story about buying a bottle of vodka. The star of the show was Robert who gave a talk in Russian accompanying a visual form of explaining geometry using cubes, triangles and hexagons. It was highly original and I reflected if my maths teacher had shown me this I might have had more success.


In return, a young girl of 18 spoke about an organisation which she is a member called  'Exploration' where volunteers search the former battlefields for the soldiers remains determined to give them a proper burial and a name. They base themselves in the forests near St Petersburg conditions are basic – they camp in the woods and some days have to wade waist-deep through the mud to find the bodies of the fallen in World War II. Four million are officially still missing on the Eastern Front.


Another young woman sang.   Finally, we were each given some very nice presents, a tile of The Volkov theatre and some chocolate.

That night a surprise invitation to dinner with Margaret's other friend Galina the one who had special powers.  Visiting her apartment was a lesson on how to be tidy.  Not a thing out of place and quite sparse.  A simple tablecloth was laid with similar food to the night before.  Jeremy turned up later with the other Galina having been to a concert given by a famous pianist Denis Matsuer.  They had loved it.


The ladies, all teachers, Irina, Galina, Galina and Margaret were very relaxed that evening and it was a pleasure to see them laughing and chatting away drinking the wines that were produced in these huge bunkers.  Listening to them I felt almost Russian.  Descriptions of Galina beekeeping on her dacha and how she made jams and pickled fruits.  On leaving Galina presented me with the most beautiful book on Yaroslavl in both Russian and English with photographs.  It is wonderful and most generous.



The last day of visits and although we had loved every moment we were beginning to flag.   Our agenda had been busy.  Today we went to see Space a museum erected at the birthplace of Valentina Tereshova the first lady to go into space.  It showed the very capsule she was sent off in and it looked extremely restricting like an overlarge-hollowed out gigantic ball with a dummy astronaut tied in by tubes, uniform etc.  We saw photographs of her as a child, at school and working in the weaving factory.    Then a tour of her reconstructed dacha.  Great excitement as outside her daughter had arrived and some people wished to get a photo.  As I already had a photo of Valentina herself from the City Day I felt rather superior


After this, we returned to Yaroslavl Planetarium  - How Stars Are Born.   As I said I was flagging and had foolishly accepted two cups of green tea the night before believing mistakenly that it was caffeine free.  I hadn't slept a wink.   Once ensconced in my seat at The Planetarium, lights out and head pointing towards the sky and stars, accompanied by sonorous Russian voice, I fell asleep.   Waking abruptly to the sounds of snoring (myself) and my horror realising where I was, I apologised to Galina who laughed and said: “Oh yes when we take the children they all put their heads up and go straight off just like that!”


Lunch and coffee were most welcome that day. We went down to the cellar of Bazar Café and were served with another of their delicious soups.  This time Borsch and then liver casserole to follow.

Then souvenir hunting in the afternoon with Margaret and Galina who led us to two shops that sold Russian dolls, bowls, spoons, figures etc.   We bought them up and then went to the market where Jeremy found some caviar for my sister's 70th birthday.


In the evening we attended a concert of Yaroslavl Symphony Orchestra that played Rachmaninoff's 3rd piano concerto and Rimsky Korsakov's 3rd symphony.  `It was uplifting. Margaret's sister came to supper at our flat.



I haven't mentioned my increased vocabulary.   By now I had mastered: Dobra utra, spaceba, pjalosta, izvinitiue,  spakoynoy nocce, Kupol or Glavar,  strazwitiue,  dastivagnia, moloko, nastarovia, privet, rau dez caxapee, shutkra, rau E caxapax,   saxar which I thought was pretty good although I expect you can all say them. Next mission is to master the Russian Alphabet.


Useful thing to know if you are a woman in Russia. Married Russian women wear their wedding ring on the 3rd finger of their right hand.   When they are widowed they move their ring to the left hand. So all Russian men must think I am a widow.


Bob who does not speak any Russian developed a method of speaking to his Russian host who does not speak any English by using translate app on his mobile. They got on very well proving there is no need to learn Russian to communicate.


Whilst staying with my friend Margaret, I had forgotten the Russians have two weeks a year when the hot water supply is turned off while the plumbing in the block is overhauled. This meant we had to boil the water to wash with. We couldn't drink the water.   Our water had been brought from the country from a spring at Margaret's dacha.


A visit to the supermarket is well worth it for the array of fish, smoked fish is amazing.


Russians are not allowed to drink at all when they drive.  It is forbidden.



The final morning was devoted to souvenir shopping with our hosts.  I found a scarf for my daughter and Jeremy bought two pairs of fake trainers Reebok and Addidas in the market.


After lunch of a bowl full of doughnuts and coffee, we went to the school to present the prizes. The children sang in chorus and then collected their prizes accompanied by a lady playing the piano, it had the flavour of Joyce Grenfell.  Bob made a good speech saying what a marvellous time we had all had and he would be writing to Mr Putin to tell him how well we had been looked after and what's more he would get a reply.  This seemed to amuse the Russians.  Then Jeremy got up and volunteered to do a speech from Richard II.  He did it very well.


It didn't end there…


We were bussed out to the country to a newly built dacha for The Farewell Party.   On the way the road was rather rough, potholes were more than cavities but shell holes and there was a swaying from side to side accompanied by a deep gritty laugh. Bob was enjoying this trip. 'Were rocking and rolling' he said, the road narrowed and the bus swung the corner. We had arrived. Everyone was there and we had music, folk dancing, a wonderful buffet of Russian delicacies baked from home and fruit, wine and juices. Some people were brave enough to bathe in the river near to the house. Presents were exchanged, addresses swapped and goodbyes made.  Back up the rocky road and home.


Sally Manning


Editor's note:

After Yaroslavl, Sally and Jeremy stayed on for a few days in Moscow. They visited all the sights including The Kremlin, Bolshoi Theatre and Novodevichi Monastery and graveyard. If you would like to come to Russia with us next time please get in touch