A day in Veliky Novgorod with Liden & Denz
Saturday started a bit earlier than most days – 06.45 am ten students and a staff member from Liden & Denz met outside Moskovskiy train station. The plan was to spend the day in Veliky Novgorod (Novgorod the Great), a three-hour train ride south-east from Saint Petersburg.
Liden & Denz regularly arrange guided tours and excursions open to students, staff and others. You can read more about them here: Liden & Denz activities in Saint Petersburg.
I love travelling with train in foreign countries because you get to see so much of the nature and countryside in short time, but I have to admit it was hard keeping my eyes open having slept less than four hours the same night. Except for some hundreds of dragonflies that seemed to like the colour of our train, I do not recall much of it except one thing I found very odd. When I woke up, it was due to an announcement from the speakers, saying we were “about to reach the stop ‘64 kilometres’”. 64 kilometres… что? почему? (what? why?). Apparently, when all the good names were used and creativity ran low, it was common to name some of the stations and platforms in this way during the Soviet era. Supposedly, it indicated that we were 64 kilometres from our end station in Novgorod and our first meal of the day. For me that included сырники со сметаной (syrniki with sour cream) and чёрный чай (black tea).
Vitoslavitsy museum of wooden architecture
Novogorod used to be the capital city of the Republic of Novgorod (1136 to 1478), a former East Slavic state covering the area between the Baltic Sea in west to the northern Ural Mountains in the east. Trade alliances with its northern and western neighbours through membership in the Hanseatic League helped the city prosper. Just outside the – then – big city, the small town of Vitoslavitsy was located during the 12th century. Today, Vitoslavitsy is turned into an open-air museum of the wooden architecture that they used around 700 years ago. To the right, you can see Liden & Denz students in front of an old chapel (click to enlarge).
As a Norwegian, from a Hansa city (Bergen), I found the museum quite interesting because the architecture carried several similarities to the one used in Norway during the same period. Our guide’s stories about the superstitions and habits of the time, such as putting sick babies in the oven (not as bad as you might think) made the visit interesting and well worth it. Outside, there was also several small stalls selling home-made souvenirs and freshly made морс (lemonade).
After finishing our tour in the museum, we went one to have lunch in a traditional Russian restaurant where they served us холодный борщ (cold borsch), отбивная с картошкой (steak with potatoes), Пельмени с грибами (Pelmeni with mushrooms) and, of course, холодное пиво (cold beer). I can honestly say it was the best Russian food I have ever tasted, and I have not found anything quite like it in either Saint Petersburg or Moscow.
The old town
Novogorod has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage since 1992, which is not very surprising we must have walked past more than 20 churches, monasteries and cathedrals. I am pretty sure there cannot be any other city in the world with a higher density of churches than Novgorod, which is quite impressive taking into account that the people who used to live there was not very religious. To the right, the left, right in front of us and a little further down the road, around the corner, across the bridge and outside the old city. Everywhere. Nadya, our Liden & Denz tour guide, told us that it was a way succesful traders and merchants showed off.
The part of the city I found the most beautiful was around the river on the eastern side of the inner city, which was surrounded by a Kremlin similar to the one in Moscow. There was even a beach and some small floating docks from where kids could jump into the river. I am pretty sure we would have done the same, if we had brought our swim wear. Instead we settled for a big glass of ice-cold kvass to cool down in the ridiculously hot weather (29 degrees celsius). That was the last we did before heading to the train station to catch the last train back to Saint Petersburg.
If you get the chance, I would highly recommend to get on a train to Veliky Novgorod from Saint Petersburg, either for a day or over night. The city is small and charming, the weather is usually a bit better than in the city and the food tastes amazing.