In spite of the difficulty, getting out of Moscow last night was an excellent plan. We're told the smoke, smog and heat (caused by the forest fires covering Western Russia) escalated to new levels of awful today. Apparently the haze is so thick now that St. Basil's Cathedral isn't even visible from the edge of Red Square!
I had hoped our city-escape would bring with it cooler temperatures and clear skies. No such luck. The edge of the fires and the beginning of tolerable weather lay several thousand kilometers east of us. Instead of sweet relief, we woke up in a sauna, crawled out into a furnace to pack our things, and drove away from our tranquil free-camp in a pressure cooker.
Drenched in sweat and drinking copious amounts of tepid water, we slowly puttered through the first town on our "Golden Ring" tour, Pereslavl-Zalessky. It was a deeply satisfying drive, partially due to a sense that our Russian adventure was now truly beginning, and also because the ever-present haze of smoke had lulled us into an introspective, peaceful mood.
Every turn off the main road led us to new discoveries. There were ornate crumbling monasteries aplenty:
This little guy left me longing for the roads of Romania, where we befriended at least one new animal every day. When I tried to say hello, he tore off like a playful madman, scrabbling around in frantic circles, kicking up dust like a racehorse. Once he'd tired himself out, he plopped down in front of me, consenting to a good petting while he vigorously chomped an itch:
We could scarcely travel a kilometer without running into another church, monastery, or cathedral. It would have been nice to more deeply understand the significance of what we were seeing, but I consoled myself with the reality that we are only two people, and in spite of how slowly we go and how much research we do, there is only so much we can learn and accomplish in a given day. The details and history of yet another church and another monastery will be left undiscovered, for now.
Pereslavl-Zalessky is situated next to Pleshcheevo Lake, the shores of which were a resort for Russian Tsars of old. Flowing through the town, emptying into the Pleshcheevo, is the Trubezh river. Before leaving for Rostov (the next city in our tour) we drove along the heavily rutted paths following the last of the river's journey.
With temperatures soaring towards 40°C (104°F), it's waters were mightily inviting to us, as well as to the children in the village. But unlike us, they decided to leap right in.
Not far from the pack of wild boys, we drove past a group of painters, joyfully capturing the quiet day on canvas. I wistfully wished we had stopped to take a picture, so Tara encouraged me to go back and ask. Barefoot, I ran back along the dirt road to say hello and mime as best I could that I'd like to take their pictures. They all smiled and agreed, and then, as I was snapping away, they asked if I was from the New York Times. I laughed and said nyet, then ran back to the car for a few of our cards before sprinting back and passing them out. Hopefully they get a chance to see these photos!
Back in the car, we headed towards our next Golden Ring destination: Rostov.