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A Weekend in the Russian Countryside: Visiting Tula and Yasnaya Polyana

It’s hard to believe its been almot 5 years since I spent 6 weeks living in Russia. I was telling some of my students about my trip the other day and reminiscing on my time there. I decided I wanted to share some of my Russia trip on the blog since I only have talked about St. Petersburg before. One of my favorite parts of my time there was our weekend trips out of Moscow, including a wonderful two days in the Russian countryside visiting the city of Tula and Tolstoy’s estate at Yasnaya Polyana. This is an easy weekend trip out of the city and lets you enjoy the countryside. I have used my travel journal from that summer to reconstruct the details of the trip. I hope you enjoy this peak into my study abroad memories and my reminiscing on my time in Russia!

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Our Day in Tula

The Armory Museum

Our trip started in the city of Tula, which is famous for 4 things: weapon production, invention of the samovar(a Russian device for heating water and making tea), Gingerbread, and the invention of the Garmon(an accordion like device). We started out at the newly constructed Armory Museum where we got to see all kinds of guns, bows, shell casings as big as my torso, and scale models of tanks and other war-related paraphernalia. Having grown up in the American South in a military family, I have a strong appreciation for weapons and military history. It was really cool to send pictures of the tanks to my cousin who is in the Army and pictures of old guns to my dad who loves military history. If weaponry isn’t for you, skip it! If this piques your interest, this museum gives a nice glimpse into Soviet arms production and military history

The exterior of the Armory Museum is reminscent of the onion domes atop orthodox cathedrals.

Tula Kremlin

After the Armory museum, we stopped at a famous gingerbread store and our professor bought one so we could all try it. I am not the biggest fan of gingerbread, but I have to admit it was pretty delicious. Next, we made our way to a restaurant and had a really delicious lunch of soup, salad, chicken cutlets and mashed potatoes. Tula has pretty standard Russian food, but it was nice to be out of our campus dining hall for the weekend. One thing I noticed in my time in Russia is that they season almost everything with dill, so if you aren’t into that, you have been warned.

After lunch, we visited the Tula Kremlin and main square. At the time, they were restoring the Kremlin. This meant we could only walk around the interior of the protecting walls. We went into one of the buildings that used to be a church though. It housed the portion of the Armory museum not moved to the new building just yet. The exhibit was even cooler than the new building. It contained miniature versions of a bunch of weapons, including a gun so small you had to use a microscope to see it! Another miniature was a flea with shoes made of gold, so small you need a microscope to see it! This seemed random so I read up on why. Someone challenged the artist of the miniatures to prove he can make anything miniature and so he made shoes for a flea.

This is inside the walls of the Tula Kremlin

The Church of the Ascension

After visiting the Tula Kremlin, we wandered around the main square of Tula and went into the Church of the Ascension. One thing I remember vividly was that some scary older Russian women yelled at us for taking pictures. They wanted to make it clear that no photos could be taken once inside. We asked our professor translate for us though because we thought they were angry about the pictures we took outside.

Behind me you can see the little old Russian woman who yelled at me about 30 seconds after this picture. Side note: this was one of my favorite shirts and I have no clue where it ended up. Study abroad casualty maybe?

The church was much more impressive on the outside than on the inside. It felt very dark and closed off inside, but that that is kind of the style of orthodox churches. Our last stop in Tula before our hotel was a memorial to Leo Tolstoy. It was a huge statue of him, surrounded by fountains and plaques with quotes from his works inscribed on them. It was a really beautiful memorial to one of Russia’s greatest authors. Then we were off to our very nice hotel that was surrounded by beautiful greenery and even some actual nature. We rested before dinner and then after , we went on a little hike to a river that was close by. Tula was a nice change of pace from Moscow and it was great to enjoy a bit of nature.

Me and my good friend Leo Tolstoy. Fun fact: In Russian, his first name is pronounced Lev not Leo, but the americanized version is still Leo for some reason.

Yasnaya Polyana

On Sunday, we woke up, checked out of our hotel and made our way to Yasnaya Polyana–Tolstoy’s Estate. First, we had breakfast at a little restaurant right outside the grounds of the estate. Then we wandered around a little bit before our tour started. Before our tour, it was raining and gross, but towards the end the weather cleared and the sun came out. Downside of the storm: extra mosquitoes swarming all over, but luckily I packed bug spray! The estate itself was absolutely breathtaking. There are trees and ponds/lakes all over the place. When I visited, the apple trees happened to be blossoming and all the tulips and flowers in the gardens were in full bloom. It made for a beautiful setting for the afternoon.

This is the exterior of one of the main buildings of the estate. Unfortunately, I lost my pictures of the inside so you will have to go in person to see that!

The estate has preserved the buildings and I loved hearing about the life of a man that I used to know as “that guy who writes those long hard to read books”. (I had a rocky relationship with Tolstoy during High school English). It was fascinating to learn that he knew 14 languages and aboutthe many visitors he hosted at Yasnaya Polyana. One famous visitor included 3 time US Presidential Candidate, William Jennings Bryan. We the saw the spot where they buried Tolstoy’s body at the edge of a ravine. The significance of this spot comes from a story his elder brother told Leo as a child. It was the location of a magical green stick in the story and where the family chose to bury Leo.

The beautiful tree-lined entrance to the estate

After the estate, we ate lunch(so much food all the time) in the area. Then we made our way to the train station where Tolstoy’s body returned after his death. Tolstoy died of pneumonia on a trip out of Yasnaya Polyana and after the family brought his body home to bury him. The railway station looks exactly how it looked in Tolstoy’s time thanks to restoration work. The station have all the clocks set at the time that his body arrived at the station. Our final stop was the cemetery where the rest of the Tolstoy family is buried. After that we headed back to Moscow.

The exterior of the railway station

Quick Tips

  • Making your way out of Moscow and into the countryside can be a bit of an undertaking.
    • I suggest using train travel if possible because it helps you avoid traffic.
  • Allow plenty of time to explore!
    • My favorite part about this trip out of the city was having time to explore the area. Its fun to wander around a place without a tour guide sometimes!
  • Pack appropriately
    • If you are visiting churches, pack a scarf for your hair and wear pants or a longer skirt/dress.
    • If you are visiting in the summer months, I suggest a water bottle and bug spray for this trip. It is very warm and buggy in the summer and so be prepared.

Overall, I loved visited Yasnaya Polyana and Tula when I studied abroad in Moscow. It was a fun weekend adventure and a great break from the city. From one Misguided Millennial to the world, I hope you get to visit Russia and enjoy its beauty!

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