Veliky Novgorod is located 200km south from St. Petersburg, two hours by train; for us it was the ideal place to have a rest after visiting mainly big cities so far. We decided to spend one night there and we did well! A real Russian grandmother (babushka) was waiting for us on a rainy Sunday; we felt like when we were children and our grandmas used to give us sweets and attention.
Both of us thought that there was only one Kremlin, the one in Moscow, but we discovered Kremlins in many others Russian cities. Actually, the Kremlin means fortress in Russian, it’s a central complex of historical Russian cities surrounded by walls like a medieval hamlet in Europe. It’s the center of political and religious power and common people could not live inside, that’s why there are only churches and the government palace.
The most important construction of Novgorod’s Kremlin is the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom also known as St. Sophia Cathedral. It was built between 1045 and 1050 and it’s the first structure that represented the original features of Russian architecture: austere stone wall and five helmet-like domes. The simplicity of its facades contrasts with the richness of the interior, where the golden Icons and the frescos remember us the power of religion. It’s by the intercession of the Icons (generally a flat panel painting depicting a holy being or object such as Jesus, Mary, saints, angels, or the cross) that people can “communicate” with God. Devotes are mainly women; they pray in front of the Icon, they touch it and make a vote; they made the cross sign three times with the right hand before going away without give their backs to the Icon. In churches only women must cover the head with a scarf. The sanctuary is behind the iconostasis (wall of icons) which has three doors; one of them is opened only during the celebration and in Eastern week. There are no chairs in the church because only the king and sick people could sit: the first in a throne on the right of the iconostasis, the seconds in some banks in the back. By the way it’s the best place to sit and read the guide where there are too many tourists around.
We also explored the left side of the city on the other side of the river. Smalls houses, churches and… the Central Market! (Normally when we are visiting a new town, one of our must see is its central market); we can find locals (again most of them are women) who are glad to speak with us and, even if we do not understand anything they are kind and open. Here in Novgorod one of these ladies offered us some homemade tvorog (a kind of cheese we could classify as something in between the cottage and ricotta) with cream: delicious! Our kind sellers do not smile a lot and they rarely let themselves be taken in photos, but two or three words in our poor Russian made them laugh and feel more comfortable. Cadu is the master of the “niet parusski” (no Russian speaking) approach: almost no one could resist to his Brazilian accent!
Temperature was still cold but the sun put its nose out of the clouds and we found a way to bargained the price to rent two bikes. Cars, busses and camions drive very fast here in Russia, we were a little bit scared of being 5 Km on the road so we pedaled as faster as we could against the wind to reach sane and safe the most beautiful monastery we ever saw. The Yurev Monastery is on the Volchov’s shore; the turquoise bulbs of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of the Cross contrast with the white of the wall and the green of trees and grass. Some others all white buildings for the monks and the garden complete this peaceful scene.
Babushka was at work when we left home. We took some photos of the apartment before going towards our first overnight train adventure! Direction Moscow!