Vladimir (2018)

In 2018, after visiting Suzdal I visited Vladimir, which was the capital of Russia from the mid-1100s to the early 1200s, when it was sacked by the Mongols and never fully recovered its importance (Moscow took over). Like Suzdal, Vladimir is one of the cities in the Golden Ring. Unlike Suzdal, Vladimir is a real city.

At a train terminal in Vladimir there was the following display of "information for passengers", where the top row hopefully contains only irrelevant information (who could read it?).

The bus terminal also sold an array of useful products, like the cologne "Sasha" and C3PO-sponsored "Durasell" batteries.


In the center of Vladimir, one of its most important monuments is the "Golden Gate" shown below. It used to serve as a gate to access the city, which of course by now has grown completely around it. The current version is a reconstruction. The original gate was replaced in 1795 after being deemed to be in too poor a condition to maintain.

Close to the Golden Gate is the Trinity Church, which was constructed right before the Russian Revolution. Next to the church, workers are building what looks like a fountain.


Up a street from the Golden Gate is the following old water tower, which has an observation deck on the top and houses a historical museum about Vladimir below that: the photo is from 1880 and the carvings with moveable pieces on the inside were made from a single piece of wood.


Near the water tower I saw the following well-dressed local on the left in a cafe. On the right, a family is carrying blue bags from Vladimir Zhirinovsky's political party. Someone was running around giving out these free bags of party swag (must have been some election coming up). He approached me and I made it clear I had zero interest.


On Bolshaya Moskovskaya ("Big Moscow") street is a tobacco store named after Sherlock Holmes.

Off that street is a Museum of the Spoon. Its entrance is the door in the first photo below. Note the blind person eyeglass symbol, and below that a button for people in a wheelchair to be let in. It is admirable for the museum to make itself accessible to the handicapped, but if they were really committed to this they should find a better location: the museum is down a steep and bumpy asphalt road that even able-bodied people need to walk along carefully! A better view of the road than what I show in the photo is at Google maps here.

According to the museum's website (in Russian), it opened in 2015 and has the biggest spoon collection in Russia. The second photo below has a spoon with a hole in it; this is what you use if you are on a diet. A lot of the spoons in this small museum are part of spoon collections that different companies once sold. If your grandmother ever got spoons from the Franklin Mint, there is probably a copy of them here.


At the Soho Pub Steakhouse (that's Soho as in London, not New York), the menu shows where all the parts of a steak come from: sirloin, flank, and so on. I knew what part of a cow a rib steak comes from, but some of the other information was new to me.

In a park where artists could sell their work, one guy displayed the carving below. It is a parody of the painting shown after it, which everyone in Russia knows. The painting is called "Bogatyrs" (the Russian analogue of knights) and hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.


At a museum near the park I found 15-puzzles with removable pieces for sale and bought one of them (I wrote about another one on the page about Suzdal).

Georgievskaya street, a pedestrian area, was rebuilt in 2016 with new brick paths, new benches, new building facades, and a few bronze statues. Here is one of the statues: a 19th century fireman outside the local fire station. (A news article about its installation is here if you know Russian.) This is interactive, since if you push the wooden handle up and down, a stream of water comes out of the hose that the statue is holding.

A kiosk off this street had the following Trump-era US currency holder for sale.

By far the most interesting tourist activity in Vladimir is a visit to Borodin's blacksmith shop, where you can forge your own nail if you visit on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Before the lesson began, I tried on the chain mail and helmet in the waiting area, shown below. The mail weighs almost 50 pounds, with its main pressure being on the shoulders. Taking it off made me feel so much lighter!

Behind the chain mail and helmet above is a shield. In Russian, the word "shield" is щит (shcheet). There is an Uzbekistan power company Щит Энергия (Shcheet Energiya) which translates its name into English not as Shield Energy, but as Shit Energiya. I am not making this up. You can see their name in English at the top and bottom of a Wayback Machine copy of their 2018 homepage. Strictly speaking, Shit Energiya is an LLC, and that abbreviation is translated into Russian as OOO, so the full name in English is the more impressive OOO Shit Energiya, as you can see at the top of a Reddit page on Engrish. In 2014, Ben Stiller visited the Russian late-night talk show Evening Urgant and, without knowing Russian, participated in a skit where he had to guess what presents different children asked him about in Russian. A child asked to get a shield, and Stiller was astonished by the word he (thought he) heard. This skit was posted to the show's YouTube channel here, but that link stopped working for me after the show was shut down in February 2022. I found an archived copy of the skit on Facebook here (the part about the shield starts at 1:55).

For some reason, the waiting area also had a copy of a "Felix" pinwheel calculator. The name is from Felix Dzerzhinsky, who organized a factory to create them based on an earlier model (see here) while he wasn't busy killing people. The Felix calculator at the blacksmith is on the left, and a shinier version I found at the Computer History Museum in California a few months later is on the right.


Here are the blacksmith's forge (furnace), anvil, and work tools.


The lesson (or "master class") was led by Alexei Borodin, who began by discussing the important role of blacksmiths in the era before mass production of consumer goods. They made everything a household used that was metallic: pans, utensils, keys, horseshoes, scales, nails, iron wheel tires, etc. After discussing a minimal set of tools a blacksmith would use, he asked "What else does a blacksmith have to use?" "The head!"


This metal decorative piece took him 2 months to create.

Below, our instructor discussed weighing heavy and light items; the metal scale on the right is over 100 years old.


Now he heated up a metal rod to demonstrate for the audience how to make a nail.


He hammered the end of the rod to get a sharp tip, cut off the end, and hammered the top of the tip (with the rest of the nail held in place in a bar called a nailheader) to create a nailhead.


It was now time for people in the audience to make a nail. Everyone else who wanted to do this was a child, and I let them go first. After putting on an apron and holding a hammer, it looks like I know what I'm doing, from forming the nailhead to cooling it off in the bucket of water (quenching).



Behold my off-centered nail!


Alexei Borodin giving a version of his lesson on YouTube. He starts instructing the first "apprentice" at 26:25, and hammering begins at 28:30.

Here is Yuri Borodin's lesson on YouTube.

The last place I visited in Vladimir was a monument to Prince Vladimir (on the horse) and St. Theodore near the Assumption Cathedral. At sunset there were amazing lights and clouds behind the building.