I boarded a day train in Moscow headed east bound, intended destination: Suzdal. Technically, this was the 1st leg of my Trans Siberian Railroad adventure, although it was a really short leg since Suzdal is only 220 kilometers east of Moscow.
Stopping in Suzdal was important to me though, because it was a return visit, having spent several days here in 1999. That was before Suzdal was a significant stop on the tourist circuit. Most of the roads were still unpaved and there were few cars, and no tourists buses. With the quiet old Monasteries and the beautiful Convent of the Intercession, Suzdal looked like “Old Russia”, a village from a previous century, which was why I had sought it out.
Here’s what Lonely Planet says: “With rolling green fields carpeted with dandelions, a gentle river curling lazily through a historic town centre, sunlight bouncing off golden church domes and the sound of horse clops and church bells carrying softly through the air, you may feel like you’ve stumbled into a storybook Russia.”
That was pretty much the way Suzdal was in 1999. To make that first visit even more perfect, I was actually able to book an Izba (cabin) inside the walls of the Convent of the Intercession. I was in search of my “Russian Soul”, and Suzdal was where I found it.
So what did I find on my return visit? Well, Suzdal is much more of a destination now, with plenty of tourists and several tour buses making their way to the town center. Most of the roads are paved, and there are a lot more cars on them. You can still feel like you are off of the beaten path here, especially when compared to the big cities, but you’ll have to share Suzdal with more folks than just the locals. My biggest disappointment was that the increase in tourism has caused the Convent of the Intercession to take measures to protect the privacy of the sisters and of the convent grounds. Back in 1999 you could stroll the beautiful grounds, but today much of the area of the convent is roped off, restricting visitors to only a small area. The greatest disappointment was that convent doesn’t book the izbas to travelers anymore. I had to stay in an Airbnb apartment out on the edge of town.
Never the less, I’m glad I came back to Suzdal. It’s still a beautiful town, but it is no longer that little 19th century Russian village that I remember.