Saturday, May 4, 2013

Big City Escape: Yasnaya Polyana

"In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you." ~L. Tolstoy

Big cities have their thrill, but with the glitz comes the grime and an ever-brisk pace of life can leave you somewhat winded. When the thought of another morning in a swarming metro is enough to push you past the limits of big-city sanity (the definition itself differs in such places), it's time. Time to get out.

After throwing a mini-temper tantrum at work on Monday, I knew my time had arrived. Luckily, I had felt the onset of insanity and had already planned a day getaway. May 1st is the start of the May holidays in Russia which means about 6 work days off for most Russians, as many as 10 for others, and approximately 0 for anyone who works in a theater. I disregarded the fact that I work in a theater, however, and Wednesday morning set off to visit my Russian bestie in Tula, about 2 and a half hours south of Moscow.

I can't offer much information about Tula itself. It's slower paced. The air is fresh. Menu prices are shockingly low (EVERY menu price will likely seem low post-Moscow existence). And crossing the street doesn't feel like potential suicide. Suburbs for the win! If you do make it to this city, you can't leave without trying the renowned Тульские Пряники (Tulsky Pryaniki). They're famed for this dessert! It comes in all shapes and sizes with a variety of fillings. But while people may try to replicate them elsewhere, everyone swears that there's a special secret in the recipe used in Tula. They're just tastier. Having only sampled those from Tula, I am not yet in a position to give a fair assessment of the matter.

But for me, Tula's main attractions centered around my friend and her family. The aunt who wants to talk about everything and everything, refuses to let you pass the evening without tea served in a proper tea setting and will not hear of you passing up on the cake. Her daughter, the cousin, is attempting to fight off her similarities with her mother, but not with much success. She's every bit as gregarious, and will not be turned down when she offers you some of her shashlik. Even though you've JUST eaten. We're shown family pictures from the 50's, carted around in the second seat of the family car...sharing it with 5 people...given souvenir magnets, and given a tour of Papa's newly purchased apartment. With a 13-year-old and a toddler in the equation, there's never a dull moment. Noise, laughter, and the sounds of family are ever constant. I loved it.

But where was that bit about the city escape? The calm and quite? Don't worry, it's part of the day as well. One of the main reasons to escape to Tula is to visit this place:

Yasnaya Polyana. The place where the famous Lev Tolstoy was born, wrote his two greatest novels (War and Peace, Anna Karenina), and is buried. While it will be officially decked out for Spring in approximately 2 weeks, the greenery is starting to show and it's easy to see how anyone could happily pass their days here...especially with the occasional visit to the city! 
One of the museums, located in a smaller house on the property.
One of my favorite views: the birch walkway up to the Tolstoy home
Tolstoy's Self-selected Burial Site

My amazing host and Russian sister
No trip would be complete without a marschrutka adventure.  Loved this sign:
Shout if you want to get out!
Tolstoy has been a big part of my Russian experience as I've read both Anna Karenina and War and Peace for the first time since moving to Moscow. I knew that I couldn't leave this time around without seeing his home. I could have spent hours in the museums and his home...mostly just looking through his book collection! We were told there are approximately 22,000 volumes in his library and browsing through their titles and languages is completely fascinating. Tolstoy himself studied 15 languages and was fluent in several...something to me which is awe-inspiring as I continue to work on my Russian.

After our tour through the fabulous grounds and museums, we wandered the grounds. And wandering through the woods, with my feet in grass and dirt, brought me back to peace and sanity. Sometimes a day off and a change of scenery is all it takes to come back to your city with an open heart!

Getting there: trains from the Kursky Train Station (Metro: Kurskaya)
Cost: approximately 350 rubles in a seated wagon
Yasnaya Polyana website
Tour (available in English): 250 rubles


  1. That birch walkway is beautiful! How cool to visit Tolstoy's home!

  2. That is one successful getaway. A short trip to get away from things works like magic. I agree with Deidre. Now we know why Tolstoy wrote that quote.

  3. I love Tula! I lived in Tula for 8 months! Although sometimes a little bit crazy, people from Tula are the best! It made my day to see pictures of Yasnaya Polyana - glad you made it there!

    1. Yay!!! Glad you found the blog and can share in the Russian experience! I love finding fellow lovers of Russia. :) Hope to see you around here more!

  4. I'm thinking that next year we need to visit Moscow and all the suburbs. This is truly Russia.

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