Happy City Day, Yaroslavl!

This past Saturday was Dyen Goroda (Day of the City) in Yaroslavl, a day devoted to celebrating this historic town and the people in it.  I needed this holiday.  After hearing about my friends and family enjoying Memorial Day weekend back home in the States, I felt nostalgic for barbecues, sunshine, flip flops, and flags.  And on Dyen Goroda, I got the best Russian version I could have hoped for.

I set off alone from my apartment to the city center in the early afternoon, donning the first sundress I’ve worn yet in Russia thanks to the (finally) warm temperatures and cloudless sky.  I stood at the bus stop for about ten minutes, longer than I’d ever had to wait before.  A bus finally appeared, but as the doors opened, disgruntled bodies that had been tightly pressed against the walls bubbled out the doorway.  A very frustrated boy who looked like his face had been smushed up against a window for the last half hour shouted very definitively to us: “There’s NO space!  No space at all!” and waved us off.  The doors shut again and the sardine people were packed ever tighter as the bus took off toward the center.

I stared left and then right down the street, pondering my next move.  A man with Asian features approached me and said something to me about the buses in fast, accented Russian.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Russian so well.  Can you say that again?”

“Ahhh where are you from?”

“America.”

“Seriously?!”  He flashed a big smile, showing two gold teeth on the left side of his mouth.  “But you look so Russian!”

“Yes,” his wife chimed in, “you do look Russian.”

We got to talking about how they had moved to Yaroslavl from Kyrgyzstan a few years ago.  Amid discussing the civil war in their home country, we decided that we all might as well walk to the town center, since the buses were all full.  They asked me the standard gammit of questions.  What’s your name?  What are you doing here?  Are you married?  The last question irks me most, not in the righteous feminist way that it ought to, but rather that I now look old enough that people think I should be married.  Oh, vanity.

I explained to them that I was here as a volunteer, working with children and the elderly.

“Oh that’s nice.  So do they pay you in dollars or in rubles?”

“Well, no, you see… I don’t get paid.”

Shock and horror.

We finally reached a bus stop near the center of the city, and they kindly said goodbye and wished me all the best.  I thanked them for showing me the way by foot and waved goodbye.  I wondered if they felt bad for me, unmarried and unemployed as I was.

I could tell as soon as I approached the city center that it was going to be a colorful day.  Huge clusters of balloons floated above crowds of people.  Children ran around wearing neon sunglasses and eating drippy icecream pops.  I could hear live music playing and tipsy teenagers laughing.  I wandered around for hours, people-watching and snapping photos.

One of so many adorable children on Dyen Goroda

Multitasking: eating pretzels and walking

In front of the Church of St. Elijah the Prophet, a young troupe of dancers was performing traditional Russian dances on a stage.  Tiny adoring fans watched from below and danced along.

The stage was surrounded by little munchkins doing their own versions of the traditional dances.

The city smelled of hotdogs and funnel cake and beer.  If I closed my eyes, I felt like I was home for the Fourth of July.  Boardwalk-style games (if primitive ones) were set up in parks all around the city:  pop the balloons with darts, knock down the tower of cups with a baseball, hold a pull-up for X number of minutes, etc.

As I was taking photos, a group of young men yelled out, “Hey girl!  Come take our picture!”  Eager to document what the inebriated youth of Yaroslavl look like on Dyen Goroda, I obliged.  They also wanted to take a picture with me and ask all sorts of questions about New York.

“Dyevushka! Come take our picture!”

Me and rando Russian. Awkward photo, yes, but the only one I took of myself that day, and I happen to like the dress I was wearing. So here you have it.

Darts and balloons game

Some of the things being sold on Dyen Goroda. Neon wigs and Scream masks seemed to be very popular.

Face painting galore

Hotdogs, the universal summer holiday food.

Revenge against hotdog eaters?…

Little guy throwing coins into the fountain

One of the most beautiful discoveries I made while walking around the city was the collection of “love locks” along the embankment of the river.  Young couples decorate locks with their names, wedding dates, and other symbols of love and secure them to the embankment fence or along a bridge over the river.

Love locks along the embankment of the Volga River

“Maksim and Liliya”

Sort of describes me in Russia right now.

Although my goal was to stay awake late enough to see the fireworks at 11:15 (which is about when the sun sets here these days), I realized I was already pushing the envelope by walking around for six hours with a sore throat and minor fever, and in sandals with heels.  So, I retreated home before the serious partying began.  Later that night, I listened to the fireworks in my bed while munching on chocolate priyaniki (cookies) and sipping tea.  How old am I again?

All in all, the day was a success, despite my sore feet and early bedtime.  I felt grateful to the city for giving me a little bit of my own summer-initiation celebration (although I guess I’ve been living an eternal summer for about a year now).   I fell asleep that night feeling full of sugar and warmth and just a touch sunburnt, turning over all the images and colors of the day in my mind.  Thanks Yaroslavl, and Happy Birthday.

44 comments

  1. Very beautiful! Seems like all the volunteer work is worth it. I love how you capture all the colors in your pictures. Russia looks so lovely. I wish I could visit it in the future and learn some words and phrases as well. Keep us updated 🙂

  2. Excellent post Meghan! You are really making me ache to go to Russia! Wow, it looks so beautiful….everything about it. The buildings, the colors, the people and the children! I love that pictures of you with Mr. Russian. You are so young and pretty! I’m sure you had lots of those guys following you around! I always forget too that there are lots of blonds in Russia. You probably fit right in! Keep the posts coming! I would love to hear one on your volunteer work! 🙂 Nicole

    • Aw thank you Nicole! Glad to hear I still look young, haha. I think people tend to marry much younger here, so maybe that’s why I keep getting asked (at least, I’ll keep telling myself that).

      And yes, I definitely need to catch up and compile a few posts on the volunteer work. There’s so much to talk about I’m not sure where to begin!

  3. Once again another amazing adventure Meghan! I love the locks on the gates and the colourful costumes on the dancers and the kids in their absolutely stylish outfits. You can see that summer is here. I may now have to add Russia as a country to visit thanks to you!! Have fun!

  4. Hahaha, the typical American question that annoyed me the most when I was a teenager was “Do you have a boyfriend?” I don’t think I’ve ever had a Russian ask me that! Marriage, however, is a different matter.

  5. Meghan, I love your blog. Your pictures are amazing and your experiences remind me so much of my times traveling alone – meeting random strangers, figuring it out on the go. It’s a self-defining experience. If you don’t mind, I’d like to make Soulshine Traveler my Abroad Blog of the Week tomorrow on homeboundglobal.com. I’m a study abroad advisor and I think your blog would be great to share with my students.

    • Thank you Elise! I would love to be on the Homeboundglobal site! Let me know if there is anything else I can do, as well. I did not study abroad in college and always regretted it (although I suppose I am making up for it now), so if I can motivate others to do so in any way, I’d be more than happy.

      • Thanks so much, Meghan! There’s no doubt your experience is motivating. My post will be up around 7am PST if you want to check it out. Best wishes and I look forward to reading more!

  6. Very interesting idea that every city can have its own July 4, but more interesting is the idea that love can be symbolically closed with a locked padlock on a bridge over a running water… 🙂

      • That’s good to hear! Also, I wanted to say that although we (Russians) look very gloomy at times, we have big hearts once we let people in! 🙂 Hope that you will have a good experience like that!

        Yulia

        • Haha well, I am from New Jersey so I am quite used to people walking around without smiles on their faces. That wasn’t surprising to me at all. And you are right, people here really do have big hearts. The people I work with on a daily basis at my volunteer placements are angels.

          Thanks Yulia!

  7. Meghan, thanks for including us on your adventures. All these bright, colorful photos definitely add something to your readers’ day, although I’m partial to ‘Acrobatics’ and ‘Beauty’. Oh – and I’m inspired to surprise my wife with a love lock somewhere in our Lansing…

  8. You are a topnoch storyteller, Meghan! Thank you for the wonderful post about Yaroslavl’s City Day. Especially, for your point of view on russian style of life (the bus adventure is so ironic and it is so native to all provincial russians). 🙂

  9. Mike C

    Spectacular pics Meg! And yes, your parents were over last night drinking beer and eating burgers! And kids in the pool! It sounded like you had an amazing day!

  10. Your pictures are absolutely stunning. 🙂

    I love discovering holidays in different countries and watching how people do it. What a great holiday, ‘City Day’ sounds.

    Haha, don’t worry too much about having early bed time routines. 😉 I wish it was something I had because I end up sleeping in late during the morning and miss a lot of the day then!

  11. I mean, St. Elijah. There was no way I wouldn’t notice and smile.

    Happy City Day, Yaroslavl. You are beautiful and magical enough for me to not resent you for holding on to my best friend.

    • St. Elijah’s is (naturally) one of the most beautiful churches in Yaroslavl (which I’m sure your Elijah will be glad to know). Yaroslavl says thank you, and that he will be returning me to you soon. Thanks twin!

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