My wife Linda and I came to Moscow in July 1998 on a work mission. We have never been to Russia and wanted to learn more about the country, its language and its people.
Shortly after our arrival, I noticed the fascinating engraving on the back of the five-ruble note of the Green Paper. It showed a brick fortress from the 14th or 15th century overlooking a river with an island and a lake in the background. The name of the place was engraved in the corner: Novgorod.
I asked the Muscovites about it. They all knew about Novgorod, but only one that I ordered was there. They told me it was less than 550 miles from Moscow, an overnight train ride in the same direction as St. Petersburg. My wife and I decided to leave.
Our trip to Novgorod
Since he had already bought tickets to St. Petersburg, he knew where to buy them. Our car and compartment numbers were printed on our tickets. Last year, we arrived at the train station shortly after nine o'clock on a September afternoon and entered our private compartment in car number 5.
With a groan and a drag of resistance, the car leapt forward. This had to be repeated all night as we were on a local train. We stopped and within minutes another train roared. It would be a few more minutes before we were sitting on the siding in the quiet of the night. Then the brakes were released and our car protested, whined, whined, and finally followed the rest of the train. So I fell asleep again.
The wagon matron knocked on our door shortly before Novgorod. The station was manned even at seven in the morning. At a newspaper stand we find a map of the city and ask the seller about the price of a taxi to our hotel. For 20 rubles (about 70 cents) the taxi driver took us to our hotel in his Russian Lada across the Volkhov, the river of the burns.
The driver told us that he was not Russian, but his wife was. That's why he lives in Russia. The hotel reception found us and even let us check in even though it was only 7:30 am. She gave us ideas of where to go. We walk along the river and then have breakfast.
We saw a park with well-cut grass and felled trees. The walk along the river was gorgeous with decorative flower beds. Although there were tourists (the occasional Korean bus drove past a group of tourists) Novgorod is not a tourist city. Most of the people we saw were Russian.
Several local residents told us that Novgorod is the oldest city in Russia. It is said to be more than 1,100 years old. Dozens of ancient churches across the city testify to its religious heritage. On one card, Linda counted alone in the hotel zone 25.
We found a tower in the Kremlin, not the Moscow Kremlin; "Kremlin" is the Russian word for "fortress city". The tower was accessible from above. For 5 rubles (less than 20 cents) we could climb the spiral staircase. I compared the view with the picture of the five-ruble bill. The trees had grown and the passage to the Kremlin wall was covered. However, there was the Volkhov River, the same river, and the same island and lake in the background. Only the crane dredging the river wasn't in the picture.
We noticed something remarkable on our second day in Novgorod. Although the Russians think the city is small despite its 250,000 inhabitants, its residents remember us and give us details! The hotel girl reminded us of the day before. He remembered that we loved coffee and we always took it. He also remembered that we didn't want juice so he didn't ask if we wanted it on the second day. When I asked about the check, Olga, I remember her name, she smiled and said and looked straight at me: "This is room 356, right?"
On Sunday, thousands of people invaded the Kremlin, the bridge over the Volkhov, the streets and the waterfront. Linda bought popcorn from a street vendor near the bridge, which - you - guessed it! - I remembered her from the day before.
As we climbed back to the tower to see the view again, the girl who stepped in the door smiled at us and said, "You were here yesterday, weren't you?" You paid yesterday so you don't have to pay again. ""
We met David, a friend we met in New York years ago. He married a Russian girl, Alyona, and they now lived in Novgorod and served as ministers in a congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. We are in front of the Detinets restaurant, which is embedded in the upper wall of the Kremlin. There they served us the best Russian food we have ever eaten. We found a three-course meal (salad, soup, main course, coffee and dessert) to be relatively cheap.
Novgorod was a city with friendly people who remembered us, great food, and enough history and variety to make it interesting.
Sounds like an amazing city