A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to have spent my Unity Day (November 4th; it was a Monday) holiday in the town of Sergiev Posad. The whole trip started over the Moscow Expat forums, believe it or not. Olga, whom I’ve since hung out with more (she rocks!), offered to make the drive in to town, and I jumped on the chance to not only see a new part of Russia, but to spend time with a native Russian speaker!
The drive, which I was warned in advance to expect heavy traffic, wasn’t bad. It took us roughly an hour and a half in the rain; getting back would be a whole other beast, though! On the way there, it was a bit surprising to me, as it took us about an hour to clear Moscow region. Case in point: we were driving by fields and I though to myself, “okay, we’re outside of Moscow” only to have Olga tell me that nope, we still were in what was considered Moscow. Moscow is big, folks. By comparison for everybody back home, imagine Washington, D.C. proper and then a good chunk of Arlington/Alexandria/NoVa and southern Maryland being part of D.C. Other than having my mind blown that so much territory was claimed by Moscow, the ride there was uneventful.
As a wise man once said, “don’t judge a book by its cover” and boy was that proven correct. The outskirts of Sergiev Posad were a bit, shall we say, burnt out; the ongoing rain particularly didn’t help with this image. You know all of those stereotypically derelict Soviet buildings you may have seen or heard of (if you’re roughly my age) after the fall of the good old USSR? Yeah well, the first impressions of S.P. were formed on seeing those. It was almost like there was a battle fought there with extreme prejudice. Anyways, these buildings were outliers in the grand scheme of things-we saw a modern “town” of over 1,000. Okay, town isn’t the right word. Then again, visiting from the 8th largest city proper in the world, anything else is essentially village. I’ll admit that I kind of thought that once you break away from Moscow, you run into less tech savvy, run down villages and small blips on the map. Again, I was happily proven wrong-S.P. was definitely a modern town/city.
Olga and I spent the entire afternoon walking around, looking at the plentiful churches and spires dotting the city (and yes, I’m switching over to calling it a city). I’ve seen my fair share of churches during my travels, so I was somewhat skeptical that I’d really enjoy walking through them. Nope, these were amazing. With all due respect to my religious friends, there’s normally a certain time limit to be had before walking through these places get stale. Here, there was none of that. From the glittering gold decorations to the crisply preserved paintings to the reverent worshipers (side note: men aren’t allowed to wear hats or caps in Orthodox churches, but women are. I learned this when a guy came up to me and made it clear I needed to take my toque off.) making the sign of the cross followed by kissing the paintings of the saints, it was awe-inspiring. I genuinely felt a connection with everybody, and I did come away with a better respect for Orthodox Christianity.
We toured the main (which were free!) churches/cathedrals, but we also went the smaller, out-of-the-way ones, just to enhance the experience. At first, I was a bit skeptical, but they were absolutely worth it. I think that you can see a lot about a culture by visiting both the big and little places a city or town has to offer. Sure enough, there were people paying their respects in those small churches. I’m by no means religious, but it was refreshing to see people take time out of their day to stop by.
After several hours walking around in the rain and trying not to slip on the slicked over quasi-snow, Olga and I decided to head back. Remember how back in the first paragraph (and thus testing to see you if you actually read what I wrote) how I mentioned that the traffic on the way to Sergiev Posad was actually decent? We apparently cheated the weather gods who consequently decided to curse us with bottleneck traffic. In the rain. When the holiday was over and people were coming back. Therefore, it more than doubled our return trip back to take about four hours, not that we had anything better to do. I forget which hour it happened, but Olga started laughing hysterically about the rain, as she said that she just washed her car the previous day-had she known it would rain, she wouldn’t have bothered. As this anecdote proves, we were thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. When she dropped me off at the metro, we definitely had a fantastic time in the town/city of Sergiev Posad. My first Unity Day was a great one!