Monday, July 16, 2007

Regional Exploration- Vol #1: Yaroslavl

As is so often the case with great epiphanies, a bunch of us were sitting around somewhat embeveraged the other weekend, and the observation arose that if, as so frequently stated, Moscow is not reflective of the "True" Russia, we should probably get ourselves to the regions to find out what this ephemeral Real Russia consists of!

As it turns out, apparently Real Russia consists of shirtless stocky dudes with mullets (some even have all their teeth!), more churches & weddings than Vegas, bisexual 17 year-olds, nightclubbing 13 year-olds, shorter skirts and higher heels than were previously thought possible by modern physics, and of course the occasional blue horse.

Photos of all of the above are here.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Scenic Yaroslavl, about 250km NE of Moscow, was chosen for our first regional excursion through Cam's scientific process of drawing a 400km circle around Moscow (limit of car/train for a weekend), and then comparing the cities within against Wikipedia's list of the largest cities in Russia.

Yaroslavl is one of the most ancient cities in Russia, apparently founded by Prince Yaroslav the Wise (not sure if self-titled) in around 1000 AD, when he slayed some poor locals' sacred bear by hacking it to bits with his magic axe (Russia always has such a peaceful (pieceful?) history). It's located on the mighty Volga river, and boasts more churches per capita than anywhere I've seen outside of Utah or the US South.

The above would have been particularly useful to know before Ariel & I jumped on a train there, but what the hell...

We spent the next few days wandering the city again & again (it's not that big), partying ourselves into oblivion (not sure if having the local McDonald's next door to our hotel helped or hindered), dining at Yaroslavl's top restaurants (all three of them- good food!), and partying at it's hot nightspots, named creatively like "Joy Party", "Metro Fashion Cafe", "Tarzan", and "Pyatnitsa (Friday's)". We weren't sure if another venue called "Viagra" was so named because of the age of its patrons or their aesthetic qualities.

Other than Viagra, the nightclubs seemed to be principally populated by pre-pubescent Russians demonstrating the finest dance moves a vodka-(or sugar?)-induced haze would allow... We were particularly entertained by one of the (approximately 300) wedding parties we saw, having their reception at Joy Party, with the bride getting down (dress & all) on the dance floor! We were able to seek sanctuary at some places catering for an "older" (above 17) crowd. The local clubs often offered local "variety" (softcore cabaret) shows of varying degrees of quality... We even emulated the Moscow experience by being "feised" at one establishment! For those used to Moscow nightlife, the "early" closing times of 5am came as a bit of a shock!

We met a number of interesting people (ie the gentleman pictured to the right), and found people generally friendly, and far more interested in life and events outside of Yaroslavl and Russia than Muscovites, although virtually nobody spoke any English. Unsurpringly, virtually everyone we met was pretty negative about Moscow, perceiving Muscovites as arrogant, shallow and self-obsessed- Ariel & I were perplexed as to how people could possibly have developed that impression!

The town itself was very pretty, packed with churches, parks, and a historical Kremlin, as well as beautiful walks along the Naberezhnaya (Volga River embankment). Yaroslavl was, however, far more run-down than the centre of Moscow, and virtually every building and monument was in a state of disrepair.

Prices for everything were far cheaper than Moscow. The cost of the whole weekend, including our tickets, accommodation at Yaroslavl's best hotel and eating & drinking the best the city had to offer, was barely more expensive than a single night out in Moscow.

Overall, Yaroslavl was a fascinating trip, as a destination in itself, a break from Moscow, and an insight into a different world.

Looking forward to my next regional adventure!

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