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Visitors to Moscow could be forgiven for thinking that the Kremlin next to Red Square is the only one of its kind, given its importance and grandeur. Few are aware that there are in fact dozens of Kremlins, dotting the European part of the country and stretching from Russia’s far north just inside the Arctic circle down to the Caspian sea. Granted none hold quite the same level of importance and not all are in such pristine condition, yet if you fancy a trip outside the capital with some history and culture thrown in, then begin adding ticks to your Kremlin checklist.
Head northwest of Moscow on the Riga highway and after a couple of hours you’ll hit the town of Volokolamsk, which takes its name from the Russian work ‘volok’ which means ‘portage’ (which itself means the carrying of a boat over land, between two stretches of water, in case you didn’t know), and the nearby Lama river. The town dates back to 1135 and was fought over for centuries until 1462 when it was given by Tsar Ivan the Great to his younger brother, andthe single-domed limestone Resurrection Cathedral was built, which still stands today.
In late 1941, Volokolamsk was briefly under Nazi occupation but Kremlin and its churches survived and rank among the best preserved of those remaining in Russia. Walk down the hill from the town’s centre (less than 10 minutes) and the Kremlin is directly in front of you; you can walk around the grounds 24/7 but entry to the inner area is only between 10:00 – 17:00, and costs 100Rbl, although even when the gates are shut you can still see inside. The entire area appears genuinely free from modern touches so it isn’t hard to imagine how life was during Tsarist Russia several centuries ago.
A 17km drive north-east near the village of Teryaevo is the Joseph-Volokolamsk Monastry, which is well worth the trip if you’ve come this far. Back in its heyday, in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was considered one of the wealthiest and most authoritative monasteries in Russia. Whilst its importance may have waned, it’s beauty hasn’t since much of it has been restored to its former glory (although some parts are still being ‘remonted’). You’re free to walk around the monastery grounds and there’s a surprisingly large souvenir shop near the entrance so you can add to your fridge magnet collection.
Volokolamsk is a full day trip from Moscow, but there’s no reason to stay overnight there. On public transport, there are elektrichki (suburban trains) leaving Moscow’s Rizhsky Vokzal approximately every hour but they take around two and a half hours to make the 130km journey; cost is 250Rbl each way. Driving there on the Rizhskoye shosse should be considerably faster!
The train station is 5km from Volokolamsk itself and although there are local busses into town, cabs wait nearby and are your best bet unless you’re a complete skinflint. We paid 600Rbl to take us to the monastery and then into Volokolamsk, which included waiting time.
Ruzsky Trakt is the best joint in town; serves up decent, local food in a pleasant environment – while you’re waiting for your food to arrive, admire the maps and pictures on the wall; scenes from centuries ago. It’s slap bang in the middle of town on ul. Panfilova 9 and has several rooms, including a bar area if you’re just popping in for a beer. Or there’s a McDonalds’s, in case you’re really desperate.