Suzdal, Russia and The Golden Ring

This is the picture of our lodging at the Art Hotel Nikolaevsky, Posad. Looking closely on the left the building with three green roof tops is where we stayed in a lovely suite. The red roofed building with the blue roof was reception-dining-bars- and hotel rooms.

Never leaving the grounds, a guest would have swimming pools, three different restaurants, a church, and sports fields.

This picture of the Kuysechesky offers traditional cuisine in an aged but beautiful surroundings. It was difficult for me to walk to the main restaurant and this one was nearby. The weather was cold and raining (Mid October) so not surprising that we were the only dinners there. The food was prepared in a Russian coal stove and wonderful!

The next night, the same weather, we hit the tavern, “Opokhmelachnay”. Located in the former house of gardener Sheryshev, built in 1760. No picture for this restaurant.

 

 

“The Winter Garden” This building was right across from our balcony but it was not open to the public, most likely due to the weather. Otherwise, it would have been delightful to see the sun set and have an overview of the moon and the stars and the Suzdal fields called, “Opolie”.

Each day our driver, Vitaly, came to pick us up in the morning. The first stop was a castle and completely walled in, “The Savor Monastery of Saint Euthymius”

Suzdal served as a royal capital when Moscow was a cluster of cow sheds. The monastery was founded in the 14th century and grew mighty in the 1600th through the 1700th century. While Mike went to see the inside, I remained in the car, safe from the rain and the cold, and just read about it.

Following that, we went to see the museum of wooden architecture and peasant life.

This picture shows the rural outdoor living of the people. The large first structure on the right was a necessity for the water wheel. The two buildings behind are used to give tours to show the lifestyle and building types of that era.

In 1864 the Trans-Siberian-railway went through Vladimir 35 kilometers away and Suzdal was by-passed not only by trains but by the 20th century.

Thus it remains the same today as it was 200 years ago. If you want to walk back in time this would be the place to go!

 

The next blog will be dealing with the first wine tasting festival in this area of Russia, our (Mike’s) main reason for visiting!

 

 

 

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This is a continuation from the first blog about Russia

 

The Aurora Ship, which was used to counter attack the Bolsheviks in Saint Petersburg as they attacked the parliament while it was in session at the Winter Palace. This revolution was in October 1917.

The Aurora revolutionary ship. It fired its gun, one shot, to provoke the Revolutionaries to storm the Winter Palace. Here was the seat of the provisional government that the Bolsheviks planned to over throw- and did.

We did move on because it felt that the gun was aimed at us- along with the frosty air, and also it might be the fact that we are from California. The ship was preserved as a, “Historical Reminder”.

Mike and I are smiling because we’re about to go board our enclosed canal boat but had time to get a cup of hot coffee. And left the horses on either end of the bridge to stand guard.

The horse behind.

This horse was guarding the Anichkow’s Bridge along with the Fontanara, Moika, Neva Rivers.

Looking out over the green hedges we were surprised to see the Peter and Paul fortress along with church shadowing it.

Still on the canal boat- the heat is on! We could have gone out to the back deck for better viewing of what we were passing- but then we would have to come back and defrost again.

Figured that with all the sideshow on the river boats and with the Aurora that you might be interested in seeing some of the elegance distributed by the wealthy. This one is Catherine’s Palace and the entrance way to the same.

The leaves are falling, time to go in.          What can one say about such elegance and beauty? This was only one of the three Catherines’ Palaces.

 

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Saint Petersburg

Saturday October 7th, we took two trains to Saint Petersburg and arrived at 7 PM: A mob of train people- including, “Taxi hunters” hustling at exorbitant prices. If you were dragging luggage you were a victim. Mike kept saying, “Too much.” Until he got a reasonable price.

Our destination was the Helvetia Hotel, and what a very good choice

It is comprised of an early 9th century converted mansion with a gated and guarded entrance. It opened into a lovely courtyard covered by an awning for the occasional rain. An oasis of chairs and tables outside- with lovely greenery abounding. The Helvetia Hotel is located in the city center and is in the immediate vicinity of the main artery of foot traffic. Only 5 minutes away from the Moscow train station.

The next morning our guide, Natalia, took us to see the infamous Aurora ship that is revered as a symbol of the 1917 Revolution in Russia. The cruiser fired one shot to prod the revolutionists into storming the Winter Palace, seat of the provisional government that the Bolsheviks planned to overthrow.

We were cold so we will put this off till next week!

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Moscow Russia

Arrived around 1:00 PM and checked into our hotel Pushkin. And proudly shown into our split-level suite. She said welcome to our best room in the hotel and stopped. Looks at my cane. I look at her, and at the stairs, and at the cane and I said, “Do you have an elevator?”

And we were changed to a nice first floor room.

But there was an elevator anyway.

Met our guide Natalia the next morning who led us to the Kremlin and Red Square. Cold and drizzly but walking was good, but not for all of us.

This is the Kremlin. It was a fortress of old, and now is the present seat of government. Sunk 49 feet into the ground so as not to dwarf the other surround buildings, the State Kremlin Palace is the Kremlins only modern building. Built in 1961 to host the Communist Party conferences.

The Cathedral of the Arch Angel. Commissioned by Ivan the Great shortly before his death in 1505 this was the last one of the Great Cathedrals to be built in the Kremlin.

The Cathedral served as a burial place for Moscow tsars whose white stone sarcophagi with bronze covers were no longer buried here after the capital was moved to Saint Petersburg.

Lovely building but not allowed in because of a service going on.

 

 

 

Ignore the truck in the driveway- another old church but lived in by one of the tsars, and so preserved.

 

 

 

 

Mike only in front of the Kremlin walls- Saint Basil Church. I had to go back and rest up to continue walking. (And maybe a glass of wine too.)

And look at this picture, boy I am sorry I couldn’t make that walk.

This is the Arbat district. An artist community where we had lunch and happily it was in a very warm and dry and served wine restaurant to rest up after this remarkable day.

To be continued, but only if you want to read it. We will go to Saint Petersburg for our next stop.

 

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Recent overview of Russia

Ship 1

This is the Aurora Ship, which was used to counter attack the Bolsheviks in Saint Petersburg as they attacked the parliament while it was in session at the Winter Palace. This revolution was in October 1917.

Ship 2

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Andorra

The culmination of our parador trip ended (May, 20th 2017) in the principality of Andorra as we crossed the French Alps.

The population of this whole country is 80,000 although not seen in this picture. Then as we drove through this breath taking beauty we arrived at an entrance way to the City.

Shortly thereafter we stopped for an overview for as much of the country as we could see, what with the Alps all hanging around.

 

 

This country became independent in 1993 and had its first democratic elections. This country became independent in 1993 and had its first democratic elections. Before that time it was the autonomous state of both the French and the Spanish since 1278.

 

For many years now Andorra has been the tax free paradise for shoppers and changed from the Peseta to the Euro in 2002.

 

As fascinating as the country is- we were on our way to a wine tasting area near by- and what a trip that was.

This was the overview of our room, looking up, down, and around at the magnificent Pyrenees. With all the tree coverage and homes we wondered where the Devil the wine growing was going on???


 

Although this Patio is not overwhelming, it made up for it as night with the sound of the river cascading down the hill side behind it… and lulled us to sleep.

 

The next morning the hotel owner and vintner told us that we would be going up to his winery driven by his second in command.

It started off basically at ground level and transitioned immediately to steep curves, and suicide curves, every time we went around a corner I almost fell off the back of the truck. But the driver just kept laughing and said, “It gets better.” “Better than dying?!” I asked.

When we stopped at the top my legs had to quit jittering before I could get out of the truck. But the magic words, “Come, let’s taste this wine.” Looking around and down, and down, and down. God knows how they grew grapes on this magnificent mountain.


These giant distillers were shiney, modern, and clean— and loaded with wine. We drank, smiled and drank some more. I asked out driver how we would get down, would we be going down the same way as we went up? I’d rather walk… He laughed and said, No, we have an easier way down. And I asked why he didn’t do the easier way up? He responded, “More fun this way.” Mike chimmed in, “Yeah, but I need another drink before I get on any winding road again.”

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Parador de Baiona: Part 2 of Series

parador-de-baiona

A fantastic location over looking the Atlantic, with rolling Pine Hills off to the left! On the right and straight  ahead, the small orange roofed  building is the Bar and Grill  with an outside patio right on the water.  In the evening it is lit with fairy lights that extend over the white path that outlines the Atlantic. Notice the circular front entrance on the road to the left.

parador-de-baiona-entranceAnd this Regal  Entrance  leads us to the Parador…guarded by ancient walls on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on  the  other….also well protected by the animals within, and currents.

 

Having the opportunity to walk, we took the path on the right and headed uphill into town. Small city (at that time) but packed with fetching shops and a beautiful  Church.

baiona-water-view

Coming back from the upper town, we were amazed with this wonderful distant view of “our” island! Limping down to the Bar and Grill, we chilled out with a local wine.

 

 

Still tired from the long walk, we naturally headed for the heated swimming pool with the soft Atlantic breeze as a bonus.  We decided to eat in one of Baiona’s restaurants  that eve.

baiona-bedroom

 

 

 

Not our bedroom…although ours was lovely…and less expense.  I figured in another 5 years, and with  the Senior Savings, the 40% reduction would certainly be a benefit.

 

 

 

 

We could see why Christopher Columbus wanted to retire here.

parador-de-baiona_from-the-sea

That evening we walked over to the Bar & Grill, sat under the fairy-lights and toasted  the fantastic view. And this was a “keeper”!

November, 20, 2016

 

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Footsteps of the Templars- Aveyron, France. Part 1

Footsteps of the Templars- Aveyron, France.

This is a location map for the sites visited.

8-1-12 Averyon, France

We left Montpellier, France on the A-75 highway to Paris. It was heavily packed with Sunday traffic and impacted with roadwork repairs. We exited for the first stop in tracking the Footsteps of the Knights Templar at the 11th century site of Covertairade.

LA COUVERTOIRADE

This beautiful walled city is set in the middle of pastoral farmlands with distant rolling hills. The entrance to the village is through huge doors that were barred from the inside during attacks. Then crossing a tiny plaza in front of a museum, we continued walking past both ancient and some refurbished houses and shops. The streets were narrow and graveled. We came to a lovely 12th century church adjacent to the castle/armory built on top of a ridge. This height gave oversight of the stream and farmlands below…a very important factor when you live on a road that leads to the ports of the Mediterranean Sea. Although these local Templars were originally concerned with teaching farming techniques and improving the livestock of the farmers, but roving bands of attackers forced them to also become protectors. Since those mercenaries, whether attacking or not all needed water, the Templars devised means for accessibility without their entering the village. Just right of the entrance gates was a single, narrow passage up a rocky hill where only ONE person could climb and fill his container from a cistern.

Randomly scattered throughout the village were small stone barns for the animals that area farmers wanted to secure during attempted seizures. Other stone structures were used for sheep shearing and butchering cattle, pigs and chickens. Both the single and double floored buildings have deep basements for storing food and animals.

Some houses have already been rehabbed for cafes and artisan shops, and when we were there, one restaurant. The wares of a weaver were advertized on the flag above his shop and below were vibrant blankets, throws and scarves draped over tables and chairs. He said the government was selling these rustic structures cheaply and in particular wanted artisans, -restaurateurs, writers and the like to buy. There were two stipulations: the owner would remodel (plumbing, electricity et al) and would live there. The benefit being one could freely sell his or her wares. Since tourism was just beginning in this area, the weaver hoped it would become quite profitable. At a nearby jewelry and trinket shop, I bought a number of items for my granddaughter…who loved them!

Hot and overwhelmed by our surroundings, we stopped for a glass of wine. The bar was in the basement of a small house and the owner motioned for inside or out. Cooler inside but more entertaining people-watching out…and soaking up the atmosphere. The quality of the merchandise we saw (and drank) would definitely be a draw.

The walled village had the typically rough rock and loose stone passage ways—definitely for rubber soled shoes only. We ended our tour at the beginning, in the information booth just across from the entrance. The agent recommended the Hotel Midi-Papillon in Saint Jean-du-Brul AND SHE CALLED AHEAD for us. What a wonderful recommendation it was!

Forty-five minutes of driving through lush green hills brought us to an old mill town and farming community of Saint-Jean-du-Brul. The lovely old Hotel Midi-Papillon was built next to a deep gorge. High wooded hills surrounded the village with a rough 13th century bridge crossing the river and a 15th century church at the end.

The Hotel fronted a small patio beside the gorge where we could partake of drinks, cigarettes, and coffee—but not much conversation due to the roaring water. The 18 room hotel was full but the attached medieval building offered the “Marquis Suite” for slightly more money. Being antiquity loving Americans, we jumped on it. Our suite was on the second floor (no elevators in 14th century houses) and the original, broad curving stone stair steps were hollowed in the middle. We didn’t need to worry about damage from dragging the suitcases up—quite the reverse. The front rustic but classic bedroom had a small balcony over-looking the street and, to the left, the 15th century Church. The bathroom had been modernized and was exquisite!

8-2-12

After an excellent breakfast finished with coffee overlooking the misty gorge, we continued our Circuit du Larzac.

LA CAVALERIE

This site was developed in the middle of the ancient north-south route connecting with the Mediterranean ports. Established for the cavalry and, most importantly, shelter for the horses; It became a commercial center supplying both accommodations and safety for travelers.

Within the original fortified walls with its enormous gate, 15th through 17th century houses were added. The structure was established by the Templars and completed by the Hospitallers. The large parking lot behind the compound conveniently has the information booth attached and offered site maps. We walked around the structure and entered by a side gate. On the inside, and attached to the front wall of the fortress, were the original 12th century single room houses. Practical people building their homes above the stables: cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter…if you could survive the barnyard odors. A large double gate at the end of the stables permitted multiple horses to both enter or exit simultaneously. Small groups of workmen were leveling the rough sod of the central plaza; covering the ground with handsome pavers and setting guidelines for sidewalks. (The tourists were coming!)

Most buildings were 2 floors including the first lower level basement where animals and farm equipment had been stored. We saw a few nicely finished structures with attractive small porches and single flight staircases. Some ground level places were setting up as stores or shops and one as a cafe..so far. Several of the rooms above were already inhabited.

Walking toward a garden area we saw a tiny 12th century church at the end. The front doors were open and several candles lit the alter with the only other light coming from a small barred window just above. A narrow control aisle and maybe room for 20 persons on the skinny wooden side benches. The atmosphere in here was conducive to silent prayer. No one was around.

It was wonderful to visit these sites before they had been converted for mass tourism…now I would like to revisit in a few years to see their progression.

After visiting La Cavalerie, we drove to the nearby area where the “Commanders” lived, now a small farm village inside the walled old fortress. The large parking lot had only one car in it although just beyond we saw a small herd of grazing sheep being shepherded by a young boy.

9/13/2012

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Georgia, the collapse of the Soviet Union and Noah’s Ark

 

noah-ark-grass

 

The history of both Armenia and Georgia begins with Noah’s Ark, pictured here, which to all accounts landed on Mount Ararat. Both countries metaphorically share this mountain and it can be said that their histories go back to the beginning of time.

 

Mountain Ararat

Georgians claim descent from “Kortholts” and Armenians claim their ancestry from his brother “Haik”, both great grandsons of Noah and his Ark. Georgia became the world’s  2nd  Christian country preceded only by Armenia. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, both countries were left with massive environmental problems …especially  inheriting oil polluting from heavy metals, erosion from uncontrolled logging and over-grazing….among others.

 

The following mill has disintegrated over about 20 years after their leaving Georgia.

And this is a good example of all of their buildings.

mill

Both Armenia and Georgia reversed this situation and are now entering world trade because of their excellent organic food products and wine development. Our guide said “We couldn’t afford the pesticides needed for crops or money for new equipment……so organic farming and wine production was our only choice. And now it’s paying off.”

Driving into Tbilisi, Georgia, we quickly discovered one of their city’s idiosyncrasies: any alley is considered a 2-way street. The direction is determined wholly by who gets half way first. Since the front of our rental had been damaged coming cross-county.

Photo048

(the white stuff on the ground is our front bumper ….smashed by two teenagers

backing into us…..and then poorly reattached),

I do believe oncoming drivers felt we had nothing to lose….and that worked!

 

 

 

We found Hotel Kapola, an original converted mansion and checked into our Suite #12.

Hotel Kapala, Tbilisi

They had overbooked.  I had reserved a 4 day stay 3 months earlier, and since no-one wanted to pay the price of the suite….we got it by default!

thT69MOWWU.jpg History from the balcony

And it was magnificent.  The large balcony overlooked the hillside, the river and the mountain. That night we ate at our roof top restaurant, overlooking the same view.

 

thY1J3I5V2.jpgDinner on Hotel's rooftop

 

Lovely music coming from a small band playing In the bar. The only problem was the waiter. Mike ordered a bottle of white wine, the waiter bought red….already uncorked and poured it without “presenting” it to Mike first. The situation was immediately solved by the manager.  The waiter was a bit hostile to Mike afterward….but he had no idea how easily he got off!

The next morning we met our local guide, Lila. For brevity’s sake I will reflect on a few sites, although all were marvelous.

Citadel and Fortress wall

The most impressive was Saint Nicolas Church (4th century) surrounded by the remaining fortress walls sitting on the hill top. The city is growing up to the ancient Citadel and has just opened a tram running from down town up to it. Our energetic tour guide felt we would enjoy walking up the historic pathway to the Citadel…….but we compromised: took a cab up and walked down.

 

Aerial Tramway

We saw the new tramway begin operations the day before we left Tbilisi. Afterward we walked through the Old Town Pedestrian restaurant street. While we ate, Lila, early 50’s, gave some insight on family life both before and after the Soviet Collapse.  “First”, she said, “they got rid of all the intellectuals either by transferring them to ‘work farms’ or  deporting them to Siberia. Then assigning jobs to all, regardless of experience, and paying minimum wage. Minimum housing….4 families to ONE flat.  All worked until too old or too feeble, and then received bare subsistence pay.

I had to move away to get an education and returned afterward as an educator at the  University.”  She said the older generation got used to this life, accepted it as normal  and were lost, at first, when the Soviets left.  This is what happened to her own family.

Kakheti David Gareja Complex Georgia

View of the 6,000 year old monastery that will begin the sequel.

8/24/2014

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The Serendipity of Senior Malfunctions when traveling Independently

This first segment has to do with “closed” mountain passes, “bus” people,  (derogatory, yes…due to being independent-travelers), hotel and motorcycles.

Driving to Lake Bled, Slovenia  was nerve wracking with narrow roads and hairpin turns, additionally  complicated with falling snow. But on the plus side, there was little traffic and at the top of Julian Alps, none. Julian alps Then the clouds split, the sun shined and we stopped to see the spectacular scenery surrounding us.

When we drove  again, the snow returned, but stopped just before we reached Lake Bled. (We later found out the road had been “closed” but we could  not read the Slovenian signs.) Lake Bed Slovenia

This tiny lake is surrounded by lush mountains and centered with a small island containing a castle and a church. The surrounding mountains are snow-capped, but almost none around the lake.

We chose Park Hotel, notably for its view of the lake, which we could see from our balcony.   Park hotel The lovely  dining room was only open for breakfast and the service bar in the empty lobby was only staffed just before busses arrived …and departed. We walked down to the lake and found a small restaurant  “Rike”  overlooking the water and serving excellent trout. The next morning we arrived at the dining room at 8:30, and hordes of people  were racing from the dining room to their busses. The waiter started to close the door but we said it’s only 8:30 and he said we usually close the doors when the busses leave. Mike said we don’t have a bus. The buffet was cleaned out, only some lettuce leaves and cold toast. The waiter looked at us “What would you like?” And it was good.

There was a 5 mile pathway around the lake, the weather good and exercise was needed. Tree branches overhead, birds, frogs, water frothing on the sand…wonderful. Near the end of the trail we saw a campsite. Camp ground Lake Bed Just as we bought  coffee and sat at a table, at least 50 motorcycles  (not shown in this picture) roared in.  Guitars appeared, songs rang out, beer was flowing….a very jolly group!  With only a mile to go, and  they would be passing us on a dirt road, we decided to wait till they left. (Some less steady than others.)   We had really enjoyed their conviviality! Some of our “malfunctions” when traveling were the best part.

 

1/11/2015

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