30 Hours in Ryazan
Weekend Trip from Moscow
4000-5000 rubles (if you stay in a hostel)
Knowing nothing about Russian holidays, when Unity Day (November 4) rolled around, I unexpectedly found myself with a long weekend. “Hey,” my friend said, “I’m going to Ryazan this weekend. Wanna see my hometown?” Uh, yes please!
Once a trading and defensive center of the Grand Duchy of Ryazan, Mongol-Tatars invaded and burned the city down twice, in 1365 and 1379. Locals rebuilt Ryazan in its same strategic position, on a hill overlooking the Oka River, and it remained independent until Moscow conquered the city in 1521. Today, with about a half-million people, Ryazan is considered a mid-sized city with many attractions, including art and history museums, a historic kremlin, religious architecture and more – all within three hours of Moscow.
My trip was unorthodox from the beginning. Mostly wanting to see something new and hang out with a friend, I left the itinerary completely up to her. In the end, while we did see some of the city, we really focused more on local life. Though difficult to plan, it’s the type of experience that stays with you forever.
We travelled by Blablacar, a fairly large inter-city rideshare program that helps long-distance commuters save on gas bills. You contact a driver, arrange a meetup location and pay with cash once you’ve arrived at your destination. I spent 300 rubles each way. If you prefer something more traditional, round-trip train tickets start at 500 rubles each way. Each driver has reviews and number of trips posted, so you can get a pretty good idea of who you’re getting in a car with before you even make contact. Your driver may or may not want to chat, but if they do… it’ll likely be an interesting journey!
We arrived Sunday evening, around 9pm. Yulie’s father stuffed us full of homemade blini, coffee, tea, and sweets before the two of us ventured out on our own. If you are going on your own, there are hostels available throughout the city starting at about 1,000 rubles per night. If you’re looking to make some new friends, plenty of Couchsurfing hosts in Ryazan would be happy to make your acquaintance.
In less than five minutes Yulie and I found a log cabin themed bar. Drinking ensued, and we eventually transferred to a couple other locations. Although it was a relatively sleepy night, prices were reasonable and almost every establishment we encountered advertised specials.
The next morning, Yulie’s father drove us 20 kilometers to Solotchinskiy Convent (Солотчинский монастырь), founded in 1390. Services are held to this day and, per the Orthodox tradition, females are expected to cover their heads on the property. Entry was free. After, we drove about five minutes down the road to smell the fresh air of the Russian taiga and explore a small piece of the Oka State Nature Reserve. In all, spending some time in the forest was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. I didn’t realize how much I missed fresh air and quiet roads until we spent some time outside.
Back in town, we had some options: the Ryazan Kremlin, Ivan Pavlov’s House (of “Pavlov’s dog” fame), History of the Airborne Troops Museum, the Regional Art Museum and Prince Oleg’s Palace… then we remembered that museums are always closed on Monday and decided to get our nails done. Afterwards, while we were chatting outside, some random dude came up and made our acquaintance. He and Yulie turned out to have a mutual friend, and he also had a car, so we all went to check out the Ryazan Kremlin.
The Ryazan Kremlin is located on top of a steep hill, overlooking a tributary of the Oka River. Our new friend wanted to pay his respects to the relics of Saint Basil, so we entered the Nativity of Christ Cathedral. There was a gift shop selling figurines, postcards, books, candles and trinkets inside the main hall. We spent 10 rubles on some holy beeswax candles and drank some holy water (free of charge!). When we left the cathedral, we found a small truck outside that sold light snacks, coffee and tea, on which we sipped and munched as we walked the grounds.
Before too long we found ourselves at Bar Chervachok (Бар червячок), or “Worm Bar.” Honestly, it felt like walking into someone’s basement. Caricatures of Homer Simpson, Beavis and Butthead and characters from Nu, Pogodi! (Ну, погоди!, the Soviet Tom & Jerry) graced the walls, and people milled around different rooms filled with darts, bunk beds, and pool.
Once, while climbing down from one of the bunk beds, I almost stepped on someone’s purse. The moment I opened my mouth to say “oh my gosh I’m so sorry!” (in Russian), the purse-owner heard my accent and knew I was foreign. Before the night was over, she was inviting us to visit her parents in Sochi. We left after a few hours, a few rubles poorer but a few friends richer.
Yulie and I arranged for a Blablacar early the following morning – leaving Ryazan at 4am ensured we’d get back to Moscow before she had to work and I had class. Getting to explore another town not too far out from the Moscow Ring Road was incredibly rewarding: life is a little slower, people a little warmer, and you speak a whole lot more Russian.