Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Yaroslavl, Russia

Tuesday 19th July 2011

Around 7.0 a.m. we arrived at Yaroslavl and berthed at a modern terminal with one other river cruiser already moored astern of us. After an early breakfast, I decided to go for a walk on my own since the arranged City Tour was not until nine o’clock. The river embankment has been improved and provides an attractive place to watch the river traffic. I walked as far as the modern road bridge over the river and then turned inland. Building work was in progress on various sites creating good quality multi-storey apartments. But the majority of apartments were old and in poor maintenance. Each sheet-steel street door gave access to a number of apartments. Ground floor windows were invariably heavily shuttered. Quite a few people were about, making their way to work. I saw trolley buses, many with lady drivers, and battle-scarred local buses. Most of the traffic was private cars, comprising, it seemed to me, rather more battered specimens than I’d seen around Moscow.

Yaroslavl is situated at the confluence of the Kotorosi River and the Volga. It became an important manufacturing town in the nineteenth century and was joined to Moscow by railway in 1870. In the Soviet era, manufacturing was further developed featuring vehicle and tyre production. More information can be found on Wikipedia.

Our coach trip took us first to the recently-rebuilt park flanked by the two rivers, neatly laid out with manicured gardens. The war memorial here has an Eternal Flame and two huge carved blocks of stone – one commemorating the contribution of servicemen, the other acknowledging the contribution of those left behind who managed to keep industry and home life going. Within the park, we then visited the huge Assumption Cathedral in traditional style with five large gilded domes. It was actually a completely new creation, opened last year!

The Bell Tower at the Transfiguration Monastery.

The 12th century Transfiguration Monastery right in the centre of Yaroslavl is an ancient, walled enclosure with an interesting collection of buildings. This was our next detination. It’s principally a museum with numerous souvenir shops and cafes. You can also pay to see a captive bear (I didn’t). The bear has a nice enclosure and I’m sure is well looked after but I can’t approve of animals in captivity. The bear has been the symbol of Yaroslavl for a thousand years since Prince Yaroslav impressed the local tribes by wrestling and killing a bear they’d set upon him. However, I was able to enjoy a display of bell ringing. A number of bells, the largest about two feet tall, had been set up on a portable stand. A piece of string was attached to each clapper and the remote ends of the strings were tied together. The bell ringer stood holding the bundle of strings and by deftly twisting his wrist and plucking strings individually with his other hand, he was able to produce remarkable tunes.

On leaving the monastery, the Market and the ATM machines were pointed out to us and we were given almost an hour ‘free time’ to shop or explore. The population of Yaroslavl is around 600,000 and it was interesting to watch people going about their business. With manufacturing industry currently in a depressed state in Russia, tourism is particularly important and they are keen to encourage both Russian and foreign visitors. I wandered round a few city blocks, through the dry goods market and the (very clean) food market. I ended up in a square flanked by a modern building also containing a small, restored 19th century chapel. The large fountain was popular but I wasn’t sure about the tall tower in the centre of the fountain with three working television screens.

Fountains with Television, Yaroslavl

The gardens appeared to be hosting some sort of light-hearted gardening competition, for numbered areas contained, for example, a rather cartoon-style deer and a car. I think you needed to be Russian.

We then drove to the former residence of the Governor of Yaroslavl. This was an agreeable 18th century building overlooking the river. The former Governor was an art collector so the building has now become the Yaroslavl Museum of Russian Art. There's a website (in Russian) here but you can click on 'English' for a translation. With an imaginative flair, the female guides are in period dresses and claim to be daughters of the Governor. We were shown through a number of rooms with pictures on display. Works by ‘Anonymous’ and ‘Unknown’ were common but I was delighted to see one painting of the Moscow Kremlin by my new hero Vereshchagin. The Governor’s office was very well laid out with his desk and artefacts and it offered wonderful views across the river. In the ballroom, we were treated to a glass of sparkling wine whilst we listened to a trio in period dress (piano, violin and viola) play. Two of the Governor’s 'daughters' then danced for us, before each selected a surprised male partner from the visitors for a lively dance.

The former Residence of the Governor of Yaroslavl.

The coaches returned us to the ship by 1.45 p.m. and at two o’clock, the ship slipped away from the quay to continue our journey. I’ve not said much about life on the ship but the meals have proved varied and enjoyable. In addition to food, there are also lots of shipboard activities, most of which I’ve not taken. For instance, after we left Yaroslavl, the following was on offer during the remainder of the day:-

- Talk on Russian Vodka (with tasting)
- Demonstration of cooking Blinys (Russian pancakes – also with tasting)
- Lecture on ‘Russia in the last 25 years’ (I attended this)
- Live piano music in the Melody Bar
- Lecture on ‘Russian Costumes’
- Balalaika Concert

In addition, the satellite television in each cabin had 11 channels, with occasional special-interest videos like ‘Catherine the Great’. All-in-all, we were kept fairly busy.

My pictures of Yaroslavl are here.