I sat in the car, staring at nothing but semi-trucks and Ladas ahead of us and thought to myself:
“Someday, I will look back and laugh at the day I tried to go to Suzdal and never made it.”
It was nearly 1:00 p.m. on my last Friday afternoon in Moscow – nearly five hours after I thought we were leaving the city to head to the Golden Ring town of Suzdal for the day.
Tim indicated the previous night that we should try to leave by 8:00 or 8:15 a.m. to start the four hour drive to Suzdal – 8:30 at the latest. I awoke at 7:00, showered and ate breakfast, and then patiently waited for Tim and Olya. I have learned in two months in Russia that nothing really happens when people say it will, so I was not surprised when it was after 8:45 when we actually departed the flat, but I figured we would still arrive in Suzdal by 1:00.
Our first stop was supposed to be to pick up a friend of Tim’s who was joining us for the day, but instead it was getting stopped by the police. I assumed we were pulled over for speeding, but Tim said they just wanted a closer look at his car – a dark green monster with California plates with an interior that is pimped out country-western style. Considering they did not seem to even ask to look at his documents, I was inclined to believe him.
Demonstrating a complete lack of efficiency when it comes to road trips, in the next hour we picked up Tim’s friend, stopped for a bathroom break and stopped to get gas.
Don’t Russians know you’re supposed to combine these things to save time?
By 10:45, we had barely left the city and in my head I revised our original anticipated arrival time of 12:30 to closer to 2:00 p.m. However, that proved to be unrealistic as we spent the next two hours in a near standstill on the main freeway out of Moscow heading toward Suzdal. It was a holiday weekend in Russia and apparently everyone and their babushkas were heading to the Golden Ring.
I realized that, if I had gone on my own, I would probably already be in Suzdal.
My impatience was growing but I tried to calm myself by focusing on the fact that at least I was going at all.
Noon passed. And then 1:00 p.m. We occasionally drifted onto the shoulder of the road, creating a third lane to try to zoom by large trucks (apparently that is okay in Russia). We passed vendors on the side of the road selling everything from produce to fluorescent stuffed animals to American flags (random, right?). We also passed cars that seemed to have given up and were trying to turn around and head back to Moscow. It occurred to me that we might meet the same fate.
Shortly after 1:00 p.m., the massive traffic jam (Tim estimated it was 100 kilometers long) cleared and Tim accelerated loudly and sped by car after car in an effort to make up some time. As the engine roared, I wondered if I might instead die in a fiery car crash before reaching Suzdal.
Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
But it was. We finally pulled into town around 3:00 p.m., with just a few hours of daylight remaining. Better late than never, right? Our survey of the main sites was fast – the town square, full of arts and crafts vendors, church after church after church and, finally, the monastery.
We were lucky to arrive when the bells started ringing – not just a quick ding-dong, but an ongoing melody that lasted several minutes. We stopped to listen and to watch the bell-ringer in the tower far up above us. That alone was so moving it made the whole journey almost completely worthwhile.
Two hours after arriving, we bid adieu to Suzdal, stopping on the outskirts of the city for dinner before heading back to Moscow – arriving home in just four hours instead of the six we spent getting there.
It wasn’t exactly the trip to Suzdal I anticipated, but two hours there was better than nothing and I appreciate Tim and Olya’s efforts in trying to show me this historic town.
And I know that I need to make a return trip someday – for a couple days instead of a couple hours.