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Hello! Our destination today was an island called Kizhi; it is located in Lake Onega, a freshwater lake in northern Russia. It took us quite a lot of traveling to get here. First, we took an overnight sleeper train from Moscow to Petrozavodsk (I can’t speak Russian and didn’t know what was going on, but the strangers in my compartment were very nice and helpful). Next, from Petrozavodsk, after stopping for breakfast, we took a hydrofoil boat to the island of Kizhi.
Kizhi is an idyllic place, and Dan exclaimed that this was “untouched paradise!” The people who live in the villages are only here for the summer. The open-air museum of Kizhi also has buildings that were moved from other villages to conserve the culture.
Here we met Igor and Elena, who both work for Kizhi museum. Igor is the bellringer for the museum; they call him the “Spirit of Kizhi.” Elena served as our guide as we went on a tour of several chapels among the islands, which she called a “chapel necklace.”
From the island of Kizhi, we had a connecting boat that would take us to another island. The first chapel we went to was on a different island from Kizhi. Elena explained that this chapel was built in as a domestic structure – maybe a barn – in another village, but it was converted to a chapel in 1911 and later moved to its current location for the museum. Chapels are different from churches because they do not have altars. They are the centers of the villages here, as they unite a village – pray together and meet your neighbors.
“How many houses make a village?” Evan jokingly asked.
“Technically two,” Elena answered. The chapel to house ratio was quite high.
We ascended the wooden bell tower and began to ring the bells with Igor and Father Roman. These bells were modern and cast only last year; Father Roman was consulted and helped to install them. We then watched and listened to Igor ring the bells. In northern Russia, the style of ringing is different from what we have learned. Instead of shaking a set of ropes to ring the trill bells, Igor uses a smooth, circular hand motion to ring the bells, which are tied like the melody bells.
(I will insert videos when I get faster internet)
We took our boat and returned to Kizhi. The next chapel we went to was built in 1860. This chapel has a balcony. It was originally a house, and balconies were quite fashionable for houses at the time of construction. Elena explained that a saying here is something along the lines of, “A house without a balcony is like a man without a beard.” So apparently it was vital for completion.
Then, we went to another chapel built in the 18th century. This was in a relatively large village (probably about eight houses) whose name translates to Sparrows.
We visited our last chapel in the fourth village. In these larger villages of the third and fourth chapels, we began to have audiences – a family with four little daughters who came up to the bell tower, a local dog, and a tour group.
After visiting our fourth chapel of the day, we passed by the church of Kizhi. This structure is extremely impressive and boasts 22 wooden cupulas. Even under renovations, the church is beautiful.
In the evening, we returned from the island to our hotel on the coast of the lake by a literal motor boat. We loaded all our luggage into this boat, donned our life jackets, and zoomed across the lake.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we had a delicious dinner consisting of fish, potatoes, grilled vegetables, bread, tomato and cucumber salad, and apple cake.
Our last thing on the agenda for the day was the Russian banya, or sauna. In Russian tradition, people sit in the extremely hot sauna, hit each other with bushels of branches, then either cool off with a cold shower, bucket of water, or by jumping in the lake. We spent a few rounds in the heat of the banya and then cooling off. Russians really enjoy the banya and say it’s really good for you, but I was mildly suffering in the heat.
Overall, I really enjoyed the villages of Kizhi. The scenery was incredible, and except for the twinkling sounds of our bells, the villages were silent. All we could hear was the water of Lake Onega lapping up against the dock and the breeze rustling the tall grasses and trees. Beautiful sights, sounds, and peace.