Those lucky enough to embark on a semester of study with American Councils in Moscow are faced with a tragic dilemma: there will be never enough time to experience all the city has to offer in that short time. Even now, near the end of the summer, there are countless things that I have missed. There is a danger in the expanse of things to do within the city, however. In the enormity of this experience, it is easy to forget all of the other historic towns in the Moscow Oblast that are there also to be explored. I implore the reader, if ever there is a chance to visit Moscow, to consider spending a weekend at one of these places.
I would suggest limiting oneself to remaining in the oblast to maximize the amount of time spent in your destination. The cost of the short trip from the city center is quite minimal, approximately ten dollars for a round trip elektrichka ride from Moscow. There are a number of choices in towns (Vereya, Dmitrov, Sergiyev Posad, and Serpukhov, among others), specialty museums, and monasteries from which to choose.
For my own experience, I traveled two hours from Moscow to Kolomna, a sleepy town situated at the confluence of the Oka and Moskva Rivers. Kolomna was founded in 1177, just thirty years after Moscow itself. Walking through the streets, one can feel the turning gears of time. One contrasts the centuries old Kremlin and the XIV century Church of John the Baptist, with the beautiful monuments of the Second World War, to the number of American fast food restaurants and the highly contemporary speed skating complex in the city center. In this place, one can feel the history of Russia played out before himself.
One of the most rewarding benefits of taking a trip to a town like Kolomna, however, is the opportunity to speak with the people who live there. It is easy to imagine after months spent in Moscow or Saint Petersburg that those met elsewhere are likely to be made of the same stock. This is simply not the case. There is a tender kindness and openness of the people who live outside the metropolises. The hostel in which I stayed was maintained by some of the sweetest people I have met here. The fellow residents were interested to talk to me when they noticed I was a foreigner, though confused to find an American in a place like Kolomna. The group in particular whom I met were students and I could hear them practicing English in the common room as I slept. There is a quiet bliss to be found in these places.
The most important aspect of your trip, however, should be the people with whom you travel. I was lucky in that the person with whom I partnered is adventurous, understanding, and open to new experiences. It cannot be stressed enough that any time while abroad, though especially in small towns like Kolomna, can be made infinitely more enjoyable if in the presence of another who just as much loves to travel. A journey like this cannot be made alone.
So I challenge you to open your mind to the world beyond the city, to meet great new people, and to have an unforgettable experience together with those for whom you care.
By: William O’Brien