Beauty in Yaroslavl, of the expected and unexpected sort

The expected.

My current home of Yaroslavl is part of Russia’s Golden Ring, a cluster of beautiful and ancient towns that remain a point of pride for Russians.  Just two years ago, Yaroslavl celebrated its 1,000th birthday.  She looks pretty darn good for her age (though I think she’s had some work done).

As expected, the city is full of oh-so-Russian orthodox churches with colorful onion domes peeking out over the skyline everywhere you look.

I took this photo from a moving vehicle, so I apologize for the poor quality, but the blue domes with gold stars were too beautiful not to attempt to capture.

The center of the old city comes to a point at the “strelka”, at the confluence of two rivers:  the Volga and the Kotorosl’.  There, you can find gardens, fountains, monuments, and of course a beautiful view of the water.

The churches and fountains and parks are magnificent, of course, but also easy to find with a Google search of Yaroslavl.  What interests me more is what falls between the sight-seeing cracks.

The unexpected.

Since the Russia we typically hear about back home is centered around Moscow (and occasionally vague images of a snowy and awful Siberia), I expected someplace industrial and cold.  What I found instead is a place where people revere nature and color.

The Russians I have met love to talk about their pets.  They adore flowers, and will find any excuse to bring home a bouquet: romantic expression, kitchen decorations, or to drop off at a monument or memorial.  Vacations and holidays are spent at dachas (country houses) where the air is clean and fresh and curative.  Some of the sick children I work with attend a boarding school in the forest, where they receive treatment and, most importantly, are surrounded by nature to help battle their illnesses.

Someone here described Russians to me as the “Latinos of the North.”  I was shocked.  Isn’t Russia supposed to be cold and dark and devoid of fun (and salsa)?  But I’ve come to find some truth in this claim.  Russians can be hot-blooded, and they tend to say very directly what is on their minds.  They love color, as evidenced by interesting hair dye choices and the bright home exteriors.   I haven’t heard any reggaeton yet, but I’ll keep an ear out.


More color!

And even more color! And an oh-so-Russian birch tree.

Windows, “the eyes of the house”

Flowers that traditionally bloom as summer approaches (though apparently only on cold days, as many Russians repeatedly told me)

One of the most beautiful expressions I have seen here in Yaroslavl is the outpouring of love and remembrance for their late hockey team, Lokomotiv.  As I wrote about many months ago, the entire hockey team perished in a plane crash in September of 2011.  This small city was (and still is) fiercely proud of Lokomotiv.  The enormity of their loss overflows in the form of memorials, graffiti, posters, stickers, scarves, and other messages of love.

At the hockey arena, fans still leave scarves of various hockey teams, cards, and other items in honor of the fallen team members. Here, you can also see a dyed egg and a glass of vodka.  Creative.

The members of Lokomotiv who passed away in September of 2011. “Our team… forever.”

“We remember…”

And finally, I find beauty in the work that I do here.  I get to make arts and crafts every day.  Picture frames.  Masks.  Mobiles.  Simple things, but they generate so much creativity and laughter.

This country mouse is leaving Yaroslavl this weekend for a trip to Moscow.  I’ll be back to share more of this charming city’s unexpected beauty with you later.


  1. lisa

    Loved this..Thank you! it all began with a Viking River Cruise promotion I received in the mail then a mention of a visit to Yaroslavl then my curiosity to see what it was about then clicking your picture then here! Great blog great images want to go!! Looks lovely and very beautiful Many would like to visit this country but the xenophobia etc all these years made people reluctant.. Would love to see all this and St. Petersburg

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  3. I love this post! Thank you for sharing more about Russia, from a positive angle. The ‘latinos of the north’ and your details about their weekends away, love of colour and bouquets, etc. really interested me because I’ve always wanted to go to Russia but it gets such a bad rap!

  4. Прелесть этой серии снимков – в авторском видении города. Эти снимки окон чего стОят. Снимки вызвали во мне чувство уважения к автору.

  5. Thank you for sharing these pictures of this amazing country. I spent 6 weeks there a year ago and will never forget how surprising, beautiful and incredible Russia is. It took effort to travel in Russia as so few people speak English and I don’t speak any Russian but it was so worth it, and an incredible adventure. Russia is one of my favourite places and I always tell people they should go.And those wooden houses get me every time :o)

    • Isn’t it such a special place? I have already begun telling friends back home that they should plan a trip here. It’s sad that so many negative Russian stereotypes still linger for westerners.

      Kudos to you for traveling through Russia for 6 weeks without speaking Russian, by the way! I was just in Moscow and realized that none of the signs in the streets or the metro are in English. It’s a tough country to navigate, but I find that people are so kind and willing to help if you ask them.

      Thanks for reading!

    • Thank you! I am a fiend for beautiful colors. I don’t really do black and white very well, haha. The amount of color and creativity poured into architecture, fashion, playgrounds, etc here in russia is incredible and so unexpected.

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  7. Latinos of the North? That is certainly a description of Russian people that I’ve never heard of – and wouldn’t have thought of. So interesting!

  8. Kay

    Love the post and pics! I am amazed at all the color in Russia, looks beautiful.
    I can’t wait to get your take on Moscow 🙂

    • Thanks Kay! Yea, it is a very colorful place, surprisingly. I haven’t even gotten any pictures of the playgrounds yet. They all look like a rainbow threw-up on a jungle gym.

      Miss you!

  9. The domes, amazing! Even with a drive by shot, you can tell how beautiful they are. I love the architecture there.

    Those kids make me smile 🙂 You can tell how much fun they are having and it brings me back to my childhood. Have a blast in Moscow this weekend!

  10. This is a wonderful post Meghan! Where exactly is Yarolslavl? Did you have to take another plane from Moscow or a train? The colors are fabulous. What is the culture like? The food? The weather and the temperature? So many questions for you! Also, how many CCS volunteers are there? WHat is the home base like? Do the people have different dialects here? Ok…I am swamping you with questions but I am so curious!!!! How long are you there for?

    • Haha I am planning to do a post all about the details of this CCS program, which will answer most of these questions. But, in short, I am here six weeks in Yaroslavl, which is located about 4 or 5 hours north of Moscow. There is only 1 other volunteer here, and she is leaving this weekend. I think a new batch is coming in a couple weeks though. There are a lot of similarities with the Peru program, but of course differences based on culture. The home base is actually the first 3 floors of an apartment building. Houses are hard to come by here in the city. I love it all so far.

      More to come later! Thanks for the questions! 🙂

  11. Love these pictures, especially the “unexpected” sort. I’m just plain guilty of not knowing much of anything about Russia. It’s a fault of mine, so I look forward to reading/seeing more through you.

    • Loni, I minored in Russian Studies and most of the time I feel like I don’t know much of anything about Russia, haha. It’s a surprising place, that is for sure. Thanks for reading!

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