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Gorokhovets – The Hidden Jewel of Central Russia

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Having already visited all the famous cities of Russia’s celebrated tourist route known as the Golden Ring, we wanted to visit somewhere which is less well-known and which hasn’t yet lost its provincial charm. Although several of its neighbours in the region are part of the Golden Ring route of ancient Russian cities, the city of Gorokhovets is more often than not left off this list. It is not a particularly famous city and it has never played a central role in Russian history, nor does it have real links with any major figures from Russia history or culture. Gorokhovets however is an old merchant city whose appearance has hardly changed since the 19th century. Gorokhovets could be described as a hybrid of the established tourist destinations of Plyos, with its hilly surroundings on the River Volga, and Suzdal, with its multitude of old churches and buildings and provincial atmosphere.

The city is located relatively close to the large city of Nizhny Novgorod on the M7 Federal Highway. Up until the recent launch of the Lastochka high-speed train between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod which makes a stop in Gorokhovets, there was no direct train link between Gorokhovets and the capital. These years of poor transport links nevertheless helped Gorokhovets remain unspoiled by industrialisation.

<figcaption>View of the city from Klyazma river</figcaption>
View of the city from Klyazma river

We visited the city in the height of summer and the city appeared very calm with very few people about, in fact it was only the odd car now and then that spoiled the illusion that I had travelled back in time. I instantly appreciated why the city has been named a historical city as you are immediately struck by the number of old buildings which have survived in the city. Among the typical wooden Russian houses with decorative window frames are some elaborate examples. One such building is the house of industrialist Mikhail Shorin which is a modern style wooden mansion complete with a tower.

Normally the only buildings in Russia to survive from the 17th century tend to be churches, however Gorokhovets also has seven 17th-century stone buildings which were once home to merchants. As a comparison there are only four surviving 17th-century civil buildings in nearby Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow only has one. One of Gorokhovets’s surviving civil buildings is the Sapozhnikov House, which is now a museum and inside its thick stone walls the building’s interiors have been recreated to how they would have originally looked.

Walking around the labyrinth of staircases and going down to the cellar allows you to soak in the history of the place.

The main square is dominated by the Annunciation Cathedral, which is a traditional Russian monumental style of cathedral with five pale blue domes. Today it no longer functions as a place of worship and is owned by the neighbouring museum, although this arrangement may change in the near future. Also here is the Sretensky Convent which was established in 1658 on the orders of Patriarch Nikon and today is once again a functioning convent.

From here we crossed the pontoon bridge over the River Klyazma to visit the Znamensky Monastery on the other side of the river. It is only possible to make this crossing in the summer when the bridge is there or in winter when the river has frozen over. From this side of the river you get stunning views of the city which appears like a scene from a Russian fairy tale: wooden buildings, onion-dome churches and monasteries rising above the river on a picturesque hill.

It is a view which has not drastically changed over the last 300 years.

The hill is known as Puzhalova Hill (derived from the old Russian word for ‘to frighten’) and features in one of the most famous legends about the city. Being situated between Moscow and Kazan, Gorokhovets served as a Russian defensive outpost and was subjected to raids by the Tatars throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. One such raid came in 1539 but it is said that the Tatars were scared off when they saw a vision of a knight appear over the hill. It is well worth the rather steep walk up here via a rickety staircase both to look around the Nikolsky Monastery at the top and to enjoy the views from here of the River Klyazma and the Znamensky Convent and endless forests on the other side of the river.

The final destination on our trip was to a site of natural beauty just outside the city called Bald Hill, as no trees grow on the hill’s summit because of the wind. According to legend a Tatar khan who died during a raid on Gorokhovets was buried here. From here you treated to completely unspoiled views of the forests on the other side of the River Klyazma which run to the horizon.

Out of all the cities in Russia we have visited, Gorokhovets occupies a special place. Here there is a perfect combination of provincial charm and beautiful natural surroundings. It is unsurprising that Gorokhovets has been used as the backdrop for several historical films as it really looks as if time has stood still here since the 19th century. It is a great place to spend a weekend and forget all about the hustle and bustle of modern life. In terms of tourist infrastructure, there are several guesthouses here and a nice hotel. There is not much choice in terms of restaurants or cafes in the city, but provided you are not expecting fine dining you shouldn’t be disappointed.

In 2018 the city will celebrate its 850th anniversary and the regional authorities have pledged to restore the historical centre. It is possible that this will give the city a new lease of life and establish it as a favourite destination for tourists. Alternatively, it may result in the city’s historic buildings being renovated to such an extent that they appear to be brand new. Just to be on the safe side, there is no reason for delaying your visit to this authentic and charming provincial city!

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Bank of Ireland linked to fund involved in massive European tax fraud

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Bank of Ireland’s services were used by a company involved in a network of hedge funds at the centre of financial transactions, dubbed fraud by a German court, that have cost European tax authorities billions of euro.

The Irish bank’s fund administration unit, Bank of Ireland Securities Services (BOISS), was the custodian bank of an investment fund involved in the scheme.

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Reader question: When must I change to winter tyres in Switzerland?

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While winters have been a little milder in recent years, the snow, ice and sleet can still play havoc with your car.

Landslides and other road damage caused by inclement winter weather can also mean you lose control a little easier. 

Even in city areas, the colder weather can increase the risk of losing control. 

READ MORE: Ten strange Swiss road signs you need to know about

In Switzerland, the law is relatively complex. While there is no hard and fast rule for winter tyres at certain times, you have a responsibility to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy – which means being ready for the conditions. 

When do I need to put winter tyres on – and what happens if I don’t? 

Unlike many of its neighbours – and many cold countries from across the world – winter tyres are not mandatory in Switzerland. 

Therefore, you will not face any penalty if you continue to drive on summer tyres all year ‘round, either on a federal or cantonal basis.  

This is somewhat surprising for people from Austria, Sweden, Finland and some parts of the United States where winter tyres are mandatory during colder months. 

In Austria, for instance, winter tyres are required from November to April, regardless of the conditions. 

In Germany, Italy and Norway, winter tyres are not mandatory on the basis of the year’s calendar, but they are required in certain road conditions. 

However, certain roads can require you to have chains or winter tyres in order to drive on them at certain times.

This will be designated by a sign on a particular road or pass that winter tyres are required. 

Generally speaking, this will be on mountain roads or other passes, rather than in city streets. 

OK, so I don’t have to, but when should I change? 

The Swiss Road Traffic Act (Art. 29) says that all drivers on Swiss roads have a responsibility to ensure their vehicles are in a roadworthy condition. 

In slippery, winter conditions, the best way to ensure that your car does not lose control is to have it fitted with winter tyres. 

There are also insurance obligations to consider. 

The Swiss government notes that drivers without winter tyres may be deemed to be negligent. 

Driving in Europe: What are the Covid rules and checks at road borders?

“In the case of an accident, the driver may be found liable if the car is not properly equipped for the winter. The insurance company may not cover the full cost of the damage or may even take action against the insured person for negligence.”

Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) says that you should consider putting winter tyres on your car if the temperature drops below 7 degrees. 

Auto Suisse says that a default rule to follow is consider replacing summer tyres with winter ones from October until Easter, although this is of course dependent on the conditions. 



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Social media: Why vaccines, paella and ‘tortilla’ trend on Spanish Twitter | Opinion

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The content that gets shared the most on social media is not always an indignant message or an ingenious insult. Sometimes, it can even be pleasant to be on Twitter. This past weekend, the German television network Deutsche Welle published an English-language video special about Spain’s successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This video has been shared by Twitter users more than a thousand times in messages that expressed pride and included the hashtag #marcaEspaña (or, Brand Spain).

The Deutsche Welle video compared the 78% rate of fully vaccinated people in Spain at the time the report was made (the figure is now closer to 80%) to the 69% in Italy, 68% in France and 65% in Germany. Some of the reasons put forward to explain this success, despite a slow start, include widespread faith in the country’s public health system, the media’s scant coverage of vaccine conspiracy theories, and also “the devastating first wave of the pandemic.”

Positive messages about Spain from a foreign source are usually popular on social media. But at the same time it seems that if a Spaniard mentions that the country is doing something reasonably well, such as the vaccination campaign for instance, their fellow countrymen have trouble believing it. The impression (not always off base) is that the speaker has an axe to grind or may be trying to sell us a story (or even worse, a flag). But if a foreign media outlet says the same thing – well, we may not be fully convinced, but at least we enjoy hearing it.

And it’s not just with crucial subject matter such as vaccines. It also happens with other less critically important issues, such as Spain’s famous potato omelet, or tortilla de patatas. When a reporter from The New York Times extolled celebrity chef Ferrán Adriá’s version, made with potato chips from a bag rather than freshly sliced potatoes, it prompted nothing but satisfied tweets. But messages about the same recipe shared before the article came out showed a marked difference of opinions, to put it mildly.

It also works the other way around: when our dear old Spain comes under attack, we view it as an affront requiring revenge. There are still Twitter users out there who have not forgiven British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for making a paella with chorizo in 2016 (at the time, some people compared his creation with the notorious botched restoration of a Christ figure in 2012).

And let’s not forget what happened to an Italian citizen who tweeted this summer that Spain was like Italy, but a bit worse. I will refrain from mentioning his name because he has already put up with enough grief. “Hey guys,” he amusingly tweeted afterwards. “Just checking, does ‘me cago en tu puta madre’ mean ‘I respectfully disagree’?”

I don’t think that Twitter turns us into patriots, fortunately enough for everyone. There’s no doubt that a lot of different elements are at play here: it’s easier to praise the Deutsche Welle video if you are a supporter of public healthcare (or even of the government). As for the food disputes, there is a lot of joking and pretending going on there. There is also an element of surprise: while we find it normal for there to be talk in Spain about the US, the UK or Germany, we are surprised every time Spain is mentioned abroad, and that’s because we tend to view ourselves as rather insignificant (which is understandable). And I’m also not ruling out the view held by some that focusing so much on what the foreign media says is, in itself, quite provincial.

But it’s also true that we should all find some joy in the fact that, once in a while, we can work together to do something well. And perhaps even celebrate with a good tortilla de patatas. I won’t go into whether it should have onion in it or not, because I don’t want to ruin the moment with another argument.



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