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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Welcome to Tula!
Marina Lukanina, photos Anna Stepanova and Tatyana Shorova

I am the kind of a person who rarely likes to travel within Russia. I never get tired of being in Moscow. I am not usually looking for a “week-end getaway place” since I am not a big fan of these small towns outside of the city of all cities. At school, I had to travel to several towns on the Golden Ring, such as Vladimir, Suzdal, etc. Visiting these towns was among the most boring experiences in my childhood. However, a recent week-end in Tula will definitely remain one of the most fun and entertaining times that I have ever spent in Russia.

I have passed through Tula many times over the past couple of years as my company has a tissue factory in that region. But always being in a hurry, I never got a chance to see this town properly. Then a couple of weeks ago, my friend and I decided to go to a concert held in one of the night clubs in Tula. Since we were going all the way there we thought it would be a good idea to do some sightseeing as well. What made the trip even better was the fact that my colleague kindly offered to host us for a week-end at her house and to organize a private tour for us around the town and its surroundings.

The town of Tula is located approximately 190 kilometers (120 miles) kilometres south of Moscow, on the Upa River. Half a million people live there. It was founded in 1146 so it is one year older than Moscow. Just as in Moscow, in the heart of the city there is a Kremlin which is over 500 years old. In ancient times it served to protect the town from invaders, and consists of nine towers, four of them on the gates, and a wall with crenellations in the Italian style in a form of swallow tails. Unlike the Moscow Kremlin, there are only two cathedrals inside the Tula Kremlin: the Uspenski Cathedral (1762) with golden domes, built in Russian baroque, and the Bogoyavlenski Cathedral (1855-1862) which was built in the memory of soldiers who died in the Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon. The Bogoyavlenski Cathedral is also houses the Tula Armory Museum.

On orders issued by Peter the Great in 1724, a collection of old and antique guns was started at the Tula arms factory, which later became the basis of the Armory Museum, which currently houses a unique collection of weaponry from the late 16th century onwards. A cross-section of Russian, European (Belgium, Germany, France, England, Italy) and Oriental (Turkey, Iran, Japan) weapons gives the visitor the chance to compare the achievements of Russian and foreign gunsmiths. The Museum also has a large collection of sporting, hunting and decorated arms.

Among the most famous exhibits is “Levsha’s flea shoe”. A legend about Levsha says that he was a very talented man, so skillful indeed that he managed to create a steel flea during Tsarist times. Contemporary Tula masters have re-created such a steel flea in memory of Levsha, although nobody knows if Levsha actually existed.

Tula is well-known for its samovars, and a samovar factory was opened in the town in 1778. There is a proverb that says: “Do not go to Tula with your own samovar”. It has the same meaning as “carrying coals to Newcastle”. Tula samovars received lots of awards at the different Russian and foreign exhibitions in Paris (1889), Chicago (1893), London (1909) and all-Russian exhibitions in Moscow. The town now boasts a Samovar Museum.

Of course Tula people had to have something to drink their delicious tea from samovar with: traditional Russian pryaniki (gingerbread), cookies made of honey and spices. At the eponymous Pryaniki Museum, you can see, and buy, the smallest one (the size of coin) and the largest, (about 16 kg).

There are couple of churches within the city limits that are worth visiting: the Church of Annunciation (the oldest Orthodox church in Tula from 17th century) and the Cheglovsky Men Monastery.

Perhaps the most popular tourist attraction in the Tula region is Yasnaya Polyana, the home and burial place of Leo Tolstoy. This is located 12 kilometers south-west of the town. It was here that Tolstoy wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The grounds and park are open to the public, and it is pleasant to stroll around the beautiful apple orchids. However I would highly recommend you go on a guided tour through the house and the wing where Tolstoy organized his famous school for the peasants.

Tolstoy lived here for most of his life, and it became a museum in 1928. The authenticity of the furnishings and the works of art, the library, which belonged to the writer’s family, makes it one of the most atmospheric museums in the world. The library contains 22,000 books and periodicals in 39 languages. The interior of the house has been kept as it was in 1910 so it is not too difficult to envisage Tolstoy having dinner or writing in his study.

If you are not so lucky as I to be put up for a night, there are a couple of hotels to consider. One of the most convenient, and expensive, is called the Ind-Garnik hotel: www.ind-garnik. ru/ This is within walking distance of the Kremlin and offers over 60 recently renovated rooms along with sauna, swimming-pool, billiard and a very good Armenian restaurant. A less expensive, smaller, but nevertheless nice hotel is called Profit, also located in the downtown area of Tula.

There is a plethora of cafes and restaurants in town. My favorite one is called Beerlin situated on Krasnoarmeiski prospect This is a very refined place with good service and delicious food.

If you fancy a party, then Premier Club is for you: www.krkpremier. ru/ Not really liking this kind of venue, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed a concert there given by a Russian singer, along with the club environment, music and the public. It is situated right next to the huge town park.

So, if you’re looking for something to do next weekend, go to Tula and you will be pleasantly surprised!

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