Sarah Kapp studied Russian in Moscow during the school year of 2006-7 through an RSL program with SRAS and served an internship with the School as a research assistant, translator, and writer. She holds a BA in Russian Studies and Comparative Literature from Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) and plans to attend graduate school. We asked her, as her last assignment with SRAS, to tag along with her recently-arrived classmates from HWS to record their experiences in the historic and mural-covered town of Borovsk, which is quickly becoming a popular day trip for our group tours. All photos by Sarah Kapp and the HWS students.
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Murals, Folklore, and Locals
By Sarah Kapp
The Russian department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) hosts an annual summer trip to Russia. It is attended primarily by beginning students of the Russian language, but students of other related fields are welcome as well. Thus, this year's group included several students who had just completed their first year of Russian language, a few who study history or international relations, and others who were simply curious about what it would be like to visit Russia. HWS arranges the trip, with all tours, visas, registration, and other logistic issues, through The School of Russian and Asian Studies. Usually, the group tours Moscow/St. Petersburg stopping at favorite locations such as The Kremlin, The Red October Chocolate Factory, and The Hermitage with a day trip to one of the smaller towns within the Golden Ring. However, each year is slightly different, based on particular interests of the group and special opportunities that might be available at the time. Therefore, this year the group's itinerary included a longer, overnight excursion to Borovsk, a small town located about 90 minutes by train to the southwest of Moscow.
We arrived mid-morning to the town of Balabanovo, a nearby town in the Kaluga region and the nearest train station. We then took a taxi to Borovsk, a small town famous for its well-preserved architecture, hardly changed from the 18th and 19th centuries. Upon arriving in Borovsk, we dropped off our baggage at the hotel and then headed for the Pafnuty-Borovsk Monastery. There the group explored the grounds in a tour led by Brother Yaroslav, a friendly 19-year old "poslushnik" (lay brother or novice) at the monastery. After climbing an old bell tower, many students were awe-struck by the panoramic view of the lush, idyllic surrounding landscape. "It's really nice to be able to enjoy the countryside," remarked one the students. "I had no idea how beautiful it would be here." Afterward we headed to the czar's dining hall where we enjoyed a traditional three-course lunch with Brother Yaroslav and our SRAS guide and interpreter, Andrei Nesterov. The lunch began with sweet
ds and piroshki (stuffed rolls - these particular piroshki had a potato filling) followed by a cold summer vegetable soup. Fish and grechka (buckwheat) were served as the main course.
Next we went back into town to the Borovsk History Museum, where we discovered a table awaiting us laid with myriad scraps of colorful cloth, yarn, and other tools. Tatiana, a friendly docent at the museum, informed us that we would be making traditional Russian cloth dolls to take back home with us. She animatedly explained the folklore behind dolls, telling us that the dolls bring good enerdgy and happiness to the home, and then she showed us how to make our own with the materials on the table. After we had all successfully crafted our own dolls, a few resourceful students purchased additional multi-armed dolls, which the students were told would aid in performing domestic duties. Afterwards, we decided it would be nice to go on a short walk, so one of the docents from the museum led us to a nearby point overlooking the countryside. On the hill we came across two men sitting near a vacant restaurant. After observing the jovial tour group which stood enjoying the view and taking photos, the men invited us into their restaurant (which was still anticipating its grand opening) for some complementary kvas and candy. For many students, it was their first experience with kvas, the popular Russian drink made from dark bread. "I'm really surprised by how nice the people are here in Borovsk," said Andrew Smith, a history student. "I don't think this would happen very often in the states!" Other students nodded in agreement, enjoying the kvas and candy. "Yeah, I'm glad we took this side trip to a small town because here we are actually getting to know a lot of people," said another student.
After bidding farewell to the restauranteurs, it was time to return to the museum where we met with Vladimir Ovchinnikov, a local mural artist, whose murals are scattered throughout the town, adorning countless walls and buildings. He led us on a walking tour, explaining the stories behind many of the pieces. With murals featuring poetry, history, and the local people, his accounts gave the students a close look at the history and people of Borovsk.
Walking back to the hotel for dinner, one student from Manhattan, Robyn Jensen, who studies Russian literature at HWS, admitted "I thought that, coming from New York and being a city person, I would prefer Moscow. In fact, I wasn't really looking forward to this trip to Borovsk that much. But now after today, I think I prefer Borovsk over Moscow!" Many students enjoyed the relaxed pace of life in the countryside, and the interactions we had with many of the townspeople particularly played a large part in their interest in the town.
Many of the students were already interested in Russian language before coming to Russia – but for Andrew Smith, the trip inspired curiosity in him. After making some new friends at a Borovsk high school graduation party (which was held on the lower level of our hotel), Andrew said, "Being here and getting to know some of the people makes me really want to learn Russian."
Professor David Galloway, who leads the group each year, was also quite pleased with the Borovsk excursion. "It's interesting to compare this to the Sergiev Posad trip we tried in '03," he said. "That [excursion] didn't work very well, mostly because all we did was the monastery, so it felt like traveling hours [from Moscow] to see what was essentially the same as the Kremlin churches. Borovsk had this nice variety of experiences which really made it special." Everyone agreed that the addition of the Borovsk excursion to the usual itinerary of Moscow and Petersburg sights provided a unique experience for the students with Russian culture. Having the opportunity to meet with a local artist, fashion Russian crafts, eat at an ancient monastery, make new friends at the restaurant and hotel, and stay overnight on a more unconventional excursion made the overall trip to Russia particularly memorable. On the train back to Moscow, many students expressed new interest in returning to Russia for extended study abroad experiences and new or renewed interests in studying the Russian language. Hence, as is often the case with travel in Russia, what was a not-highly-anticipated excursion became a highlight of the whole trip, and many students look forward to visiting Russia and Borovsk again.
Suggested Program for a Day-Trip to Borovsk from Moscow
9:00am - Hop on board the electric train at the Kievskaya Train Station in Moscow.
11:15 - Arrival in Balabanovo.
11:15 - 11:30 - Trip to Borovsk in a van or taxi. Just outside of the train station is large square where busses will pick up passangers.
11:30 - 12:30 - Excursion within the 14th century St. Pafnuty Monastery with a monk as your guide.
12:30 - 1:30 - Have lunch in the Czar's Eatery, the ancient hall where czars and princes who visited the monastery used to dine.
1:30 - 4:00 Excursion around the town. See the buildings of 18th and 19th centuries, the building where Napoleon stayed for 3 days while waiting for new from his general, as well as the road which he evacuated his army on. Visit the museum of local history and take advantage o the craft activities in the museum – where you can make traditional Russian dolls of pieces of fabric. Visit a chapel built on the place where prominent supporters of Old Believers, Boyarynia Morozova and Princess Urusova, were starved to death by the czar's soldiers. And, of course, see all the beautiful murals.
4:00 - 6:15pm Return to Moscow.
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