RUSSIA IS LITTLE EMPTY OXFORD
Having a lovely time. Wish you were here. I am away from Samotechny Lane, sending this postcard from Suzdal.
Actually, It would be reassuring if anybody were here. This ancient Russian city is an architectural jewel, comparable perhaps to somewhere like Oxford, yet at the height of the tourist season it is almost deserted. I arrived as the sun was settting, coming over a glorious plain with a prospect not of dreaming spires but of dreaming onion domes, Suzdal being one of the so-called “Golden Ring” religious centres of old Russia.
Now I am staying in the Tourist Centre. A private hotelier leapt into the road as I passed, trying to attract me to his bed and breakfast, but I had already booked the former state hotel. It is fine. The renovated room costs $20 a night. There is soap and toilet paper. I have promised the private man to dine at his guesthouse instead.
I explore the city. It has a kremlin, a convent, two monasteries, dozens of churches, dating from the 12th to the 18th centuries and a nearly 200-year-old shopping arcade with traditional iron signs outside the shops. Little wooden bridges take me back and forth across the river Kamenka, meandering and thick with water lilieas.
There are no high-rise buildings here. The city is like an extended village of wooden houses, with lace curtains and geraniums in the windows. Goats and geese stand at the bus stops.
The locals are poor. At night, the street lamps are not lit. The city budget lacks funds.
Yet, there is a feeling of quiet dignity here. The statue of Lenin in the central square is not overpowering. Capitalism also seems to kiosks that make other Russian cities sleazy.
If only there were more road signs to encourage tourists. If only at the private Kuchkova guesthouse they could do something about the flies. Then Suzdal would indeed be a five-star tourist destination. So why are there so few visitors? Because rich Russians go abroad and poor Russians do not have holidays, while Westerners are scared off by the country is instability.
Suzdal is distinctive, an island of beauty in a sea of mediocrity. Yet, closely Linked to the rest of Russia, it is dragged down to the common level. In that sense, it is anything but an island and will only prosper when Mother Russia herself finally Flourishes.