By Luc Jones. Russians love to tell you how their country is one of contrasts; recent statistics show that around 80% of foreigners who visit never actually step outside of Moscow or St. Petersburg, and are therefore left with a rather lop-sided view of what they perceive to be Russia. Venturing further afield is where things start to get interesting and Torzhok is a likely candidate for the good, the bad and the ugly all thrown into in.
Begin with getting there. Reaching the Koltsevaya liniya exit of Komsomolskaya metro station, turn right directly to the central entrance of Leningradsky station. Those who chose the opposite exit by mistake will understand that by fighting the way to Leningradsky station through the plethora of elektrichka kiosks, fast food stalls and oversized babushkas carrying double their weight in sacks heading out to, or back from the dacha.
Yet the moment you step on to the slick Sapsan heading north, you’re suddenly in a different world. The train is spotlessly clean, the ticket inspectors are impeccably dressed – and polite, and the carriages are either heated, or air conditioned, depending the time of year. An hour later you arrive in Tver and enter the dank bus station with what you at first believe to be a collection of homeless bums, who are in fact other passengers waiting to catch their diesel-fumed bus somewhere no sane person wants to go. The ride itself, along bumpy roads is an adventure which should be experienced first-hand, rather than simply read about!
Arriving in Torzhok, you’ll initially wonder why you bothered. Whilst it’s a standard, functioning town of around 50,000 inhabitants, most of the buildings were erected during the Soviet period, and have undergone little renovation since. And it shows. However, dig under the surface a little and you’ll be glad that you did. Begin with a walk along the embankment of the Tvertsa river and the place begins to liven up; there are the usual collection of oniondomed churches and pretty houses. Don’t expect to find many souvenirs on sale, or anything aimed at tourists for that matter as you’ll probably be the only one, bar a few church-goers.
Torzhok is said to date back to 1139 although you’ll do well to spot anything this old. Coming close, though is the old monastery of Saints Boris and Gleb, which has been partially restored and is still undergoing considerable restoration work which hopefully, in a few years will bring it back to its former glory, even though it is likely to require a combination of buckets more cash and some intervention from above! Just down the road is The Saviour-Transfiguration Cathedral which surely must win the prize for the most beautiful building in town, which was founded in 1374 even if much of what you’ll marvel at was in fact consecrated in 1822. It’s conveniently located at a traffic junction so can be photographed from all angles.
Torzhok ain’t big; everything you need is within walking distance of everything else!
Staying there Although Torzhok can be done on a day trip from Moscow, you can sample the town’s delights a little longer by staying the night. The unoriginally named Torzhok Hotel on ul. Vokzalnaya 6 (www.torzhokotel.ru) did the job; comfortable doubles cost 2,400Rbl per night and included breakfast. The restaurant served up a pretty good (and inexpensive) dinner too, although we were on the edges of a wedding party. The hotel is a convenient 5 minute walk from both the bus and train stations (which are next to each other).
Getting there Unless you have your own car, the fastest way is to catch the Sapsan from Moscow’s Leningradsky Station to Tver (1 hour) or Lastochka train (1,5 hour), walk to the bus station (2 minutes) and catch a bus to Torzhok, which runs every 30 minutes or so, which takes about an hour and a half. There are occasional direct buses and trains between Moscow and Torzhok, but these are excruciatingly slow and infrequent.