Torzhok: Ancient Crossroads Between Moscow and St. Petersburg

Russia seems to have a never-ending supply of historical cities. And if you’ve lived in Russia for 22 years, like me, you might start getting a little cocky thinking you know all of the historical and even lesser-known cities such as Kostroma, Petrozavodsk, or Vyborg. So, when my Russian friend Zhenya suggested we visit Torzhok with our Russian-language YouTube channel, I wasn’t just surprised, I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, but we quickly agreed to make the trip.

Torzhok is conveniently located halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. This was doubly convenient in our situation as I am in Moscow and Zhenya hails from St. Petersburg. You can travel to Torzhok by train from Moscow via Tver, for less than 1000 rubles. There is a direct overnight train from St. Petersburg. And, of course, travel by car has become much easier to Torzhok from either city with the new Moscow-St. Petersburg superhighway.

The Tvertsiy River courses through the heart of the ancient city of Torzhok

Torzhok was first mentioned in an ancient chronicle in 1139 as “Novy Torg”, which means “New Trade”. It was a commanding point on a trade route to Novgorod. And although it once held a key position in trade, it now has the feel of a sleepy provincial town that has been left to remember its rich history.

A birds-eye view of the Boris and Gleb Monastery that overlooks Torzhok from a hilltop.

I understand there is a Shell oil refinery on the edge of town that perhaps keeps the local economy alive, but when in the city there is only a very real sense of history.

Of course, Moscow and St. Petersburg are cities that have invested massive resources into renovating their historical architecture, and rightly so. But sometimes, the feeling is that the renovation has been done so well, that the feeling of history is lost. And this is what I loved about Torzhok most: They are renovating, but there is much work to do, and this is a chance to not just see, but feel the history.

Zhenya and I met a church photographer who argues that renovations must be done using ancient tools, rather than modern construction methods. An interesting point.

If you’ve been to both Moscow and St. Petersburg and are looking for a short getaway nearby, or on your trip between the two major cities, Torzhok is definitely worth stopping overnight and for a day. Or you can do what I did, and meet your friend from the other city at what is roughly the halfway point.

Trying out some of the local cuisine at the “Onyx” restaurant, with our guide Sergei

If you’re looking for a guided trip, check out this site. We weren’t able to work out our schedule to make it to any of their events, but they recommended Sergei to be our guide, and he was fantastic.

A local man presumably enjoying the weather and the fact that he is avoiding the hustle and bustle of Moscow

I would be interested to hear what other less-famous and historical gems are worth visiting in Moscow? Please comment with your ideas.

And here is the Russian-language video version of our visit to Torzhok. Enjoy.

Soviet Medical Treatment Finds Rebirth With Foreign Patients

“Those who have had lymphedema know how it feels.”

I’m talking to Natalia in a clinic in the city of Perm, a two-hour flight from Moscow.  She is describing the 14 years of pain and swelling in her legs that no doctors had been able to alleviate until she came in for treatment with the Lymphatech Clinic.

Natalia probably has no idea that this “miraculous” treatment began many years earlier during Soviet times.  It was already in 1986 that the Soviet medical authorities first approved further development of medical treatment through the lymphatic system.

ALSO READ: 4 Americans come to Russia for obscure medical treatment

Natalia’s story of lymphedema being treated with lymphatic methods is perhaps unsurprising, but surprising are the results that the clinic is now seeing treating arthritis, diabetes, certain types of cancers, pneumonia, asthma, and even mouth-breathing and snoring.

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The Lymphatech Clinic’s chief doctor, Professor Nadezhda Garyaeva, or as most of her foreign patients affectionately refer to her, “Doctor Nadya”.

The Lymphatech Clinic is housed in an unassuming two-story brick building not far from the center of the city of Perm.  Nobody would pick out this city on the edge of Siberia as the birthplace of innovative medical treatment.

But the Lymphatech clinic’s chief doctor, Professor Nadezhda Garyaeva, begins to tell her story:

In 1983, I went to Professor Borisov in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to start a scientific career in lymphology – a branch of medicine about which many knew almost nothing. Namely, the lymphatic system largely determines the course and outcome of almost all diseases. We conducted research on the lymphatic vessels – I wrote a doctoral dissertation on this topic. I met with the academician Yuri Borodin, who headed the valuable Institute of Lymphology in Siberia. I was inspired by the possibilities that the lymphatic system offers to the doctor – a completely different approach to the treatment of the entire spectrum of diseases.

It is, of course, more than a little interesting that the lymphatic system, which affects so much of our health has remained largely ignored.

Visas to Russia, the Easy Way

It is also unfortunate that the political and economic events in the Soviet Union, and then Russia, in many ways hampered the further development of these ideas.  During the 1990’s, although Professor Garyaeva headed the largest department of the Perm Medical Academy, there was no funding for research, so she bravely created a private research institution that carried on this important work. As a result, 9 medical method patents were developed. 

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A Soviet medical document from 1987, related to lymphatic treatment.

For many years, the Lymphatech Clinic both successfully and quietly handled its work among local patients and was mostly known for its cutting-edge cancer treatment.  However, it is now starting to receive some international attention, and patients are making the trek internationally to this city in the heart of Russia.

Mike French has suffered from asthma and chronic sinus issues for many years.  Listen as he tells his story of visiting the Lymphatech Clinic in Perm.

Susanne Trokhymenko of England talks about how she was unable to find relief from her lymphedema, even after seeking medical attention for many years.  But at the Lymphatech Clinic, she was able to find relief after just two treatments.

Wee Tiong Howe is the head of an investment capital company in Singapore.  He describes his time at the Lymphatech Clinic as “Amazing. They were able to solve all of my issues in an extraordinarily short period of time.”

Patients are surprised to learn the benefits of this innovative treatment and how the lymphatic system affects so much of our health. But even more surprising is how the Lymphatec Clinic doctors take the time to thoroughly study their situation before moving into the treatment phase.  A first visit with Professor Garyaeva generally lasts at least two hours, as she is careful to look through all of the details and listen to the patient attentively.  The treatment itself is outpatient and usually involves a daily injection with the purpose of bringing health through the lymphatic system.  Since the injection is targeted, the dosage is lower and more effective than what a patient would experience elsewhere in the world.

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The blue highlights in this heart mark the lymphatic system.  When most patients see how significant the lymphatic system is for human health, their only question is “Why haven’t we heard about this before?”.

John is a retired plumbing contractor from the State of Ohio in the USA who was diagnosed with chronic leukemia a few years ago.  His latest tests showed a spike in his white blood cell count, but his American doctors offered him no options except to wait.

John decided to send his tests to the Lymphatech Clinic.  Three oncologists at the clinic, including Professor Garyaeva, spent 4 hours each, studying John’s test results.  They then sent him a detailed report in English. It was surprising for John to learn as the Lymphatech doctors explained that as they are members of both the Russian and American Cancer Societies, that they understand the approach to cancer treatments in both nations.  They then explained that with his present white blood count, that in Russia, chemotherapy treatments would have already been prescribed.  

The Lymphatech doctors’ report for John then explained that they had a high level of confidence that they could at least positively affect John’s situation, with a lymphatic system treatment.

Pleasantly surprised both by the doctors’ thoroughness, the price, and also simply an option other than “just waiting”, John immediately made plans to fly to Perm.  Listen as John describes his experience at the Lymphatech Clinic in detail on the clinic’s Facebook page.

Much of the clinic’s results can only be treated as anecdotal as there is not a large enough sample size to predict future results.  But the list is more than fascinating: Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arteriosclerosis, and much more.

If you just have a question or are looking for a second opinion, you can contact the Lymphatech Clinic.  

On a personal note, I am proud to say that I am working with the Lymphatech Clinic.  And it is without reservation that I can say that this is one of the most both intriguing and useful of Russia’s gems that I have been able to uncover in 20 years of living in this great nation.

A Moscow Herbal Steam Barrel and “Normal” Massage

I mean, I guess there are folks who specifically go for a massage because they want it to be “weird” (if you know what I mean).  And this concern can be doubly troubling when one is sojourning in foreign lands.  But it is because of fear of weirdness that I’ve only gone for a massage on personal recommendation.

But when a friend called and told me that she had just gotten a job at a new Moscow massage salon, I knew that it wouldn’t be that kind of weird.  She had done massage for my family in the past.  But it was when she told me about the Herbal Steam Barrel, I knew I was going.

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Herbal Steam Barrel Ready For Business

Actually, I was only told that it was something like a Herbal Barrel, and I only found out upon arrival that it was a Steam Barrel.  I had thought about how it would be filled with water… and cleaned between customers.  But no worries on that, much to my relief. 🙂

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Wondering what happens next, also glad you can’t see the disposable “pants” they gave me to wear

I love the Russian banya experience, and since this is Russia, I expected the heat to be extreme.  Would I be less of a man to admit that I was happy that it wasn’t overly hot? They told me that the Herbal Steam Barrel was first invented in ancient times, but only came into it’s modern form in Russia during the 1970’s.

They also told me about the mix of herbs in the steam, now removing the toxins from my body.  There was a whole list that I can’t remember, mostly from the Altai region of Russia.

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During the procedure, I did work up a sweat.  But Vitaliy was kind to offer me some bottled water.

There is a shower stall right there in the room, so I thought that I would jump in for a rinse before the massage, but they informed me that I was to immediately get on the massage table.  Because that’s how it works.

They turned down the lights and put on some relaxing music.  The lyrics of this particular song did cause me to chuckle a bit.

The massage was well, relaxing, and this affected my eloquence, but this is what I had to say.

I had lots more work to do that day, so I am happy to report that after some “reviving tea”, I felt great and ready to go.

I am thrilled to find a massage salon in my neighborhood in Moscow (it’s located between the Universitet and Profsoyuznaya metro stations) that is clean, professional, has some Russian uniqueness, but is also free of the “weird”.

What Russian spa treatments, other than the Herbal Steam barrel do I need to try?  Let me know in the comments.

The Soviet Arcade Museum

My kids like video games, and I like history.

When you’re 42, have 4 kids, it’s raining, and your wife is gone for the week, you start to think about stuff, you know?

The main thing you think about is how to get the kids out of the house!  This can be one of the challenges of raising kids in Russia.  The weather isn’t always delightful in the Motherland, and you want to stay active.

After doing a quick internet search, I was happy to be reminded of the Soviet Arcade Museum.

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The Soviet Arcade Museum is currently located at VDNKH

The Soviet Arcade Museum is located at the VDNKH park complex.  From what I understand, it has moved from the city center, due to renovations, so not sure how permanent the location is.

VDNKH is one of my favorite places to takes guests when they come to Moscow, and it’s a bit strange to me that I don’t see more tourists there.  But I’m not complaining, because the crowds there can be overwhelming, particularly on the weekends.  The complex has some of the most fantastic architecture in Moscow, a fascinating history, a huge aquarium, a robotics museum, and much more.

Point is, the Soviet Arcade Museum can be a great part of a day spent at the VDNKH complex.

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The “Sea Battle” puts you in command through a submarine periscope

The entry cost is 450₽ per person, or if you’re like me and have 3 children or more, it is 350₽.  The admission cost also includes 15 tokens (in this case, 15 Soviet kopecks) for game play.

So, if you’re keeping score, my kids and I had a total of 75 game plays ahead of us.

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Success:  4 kids happily playing, in this case soccer and basketball

There are, of course, plenty of racing games, some ultra-simple “Pong” style games, sports, and war.  Our favorite though, was the simple basketball game in the above photo.

Here’s a “Prove Your Strength” attraction that just might leave your back aching.

It seemed that either a few of the games weren’t working, or we didn’t understand how to use them.  There was a kind and talkative gentleman, walking around and fixing the games.  I assume we could have asked for a refund for some of those games, but we didn’t as 75 total game plays was more than enough.

IMPORTANT:  Game instructions are provided in English, and the staff also speak great English.

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A Hunting Game

I was thrilled that the kids liked my idea for afternoon fun, as that is probably the exception more than the rule.  I think it was fun for them to play games where you can actually see how it works mechanically.

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TORPEDO ATTACK!  (Not sure how this is different from “Sea Battle”)

If you’re looking to get out of the house with kids.  I also did overhear my teenage offspring comment that “this would be a great place for a date”.  The Soviet Arcade is in Pavilion 57 at VDNKH, which is in the very back of the park complex, in a large building that is mainly devoted to Russian history.  Point is, you might not see the signs, so best to know which Pavilion.

And there is also a Soviet Arcade Museum in St. Petersburg.  Enjoy, and let me know what other ideas you have to get the kids out of the house.  With this one we all won, I enjoyed the history, and they enjoyed the games.

A Guy In Russia Is Carving 1000 Stone Rabbits

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Perhaps it was this ageless wisdom that inspired Sergei Gapanovich, Petrozavodsk, Russia businessman, to remove graffiti on a rock face next to the road… with multiple rabbit sculptures.

The “Rabbit Valley” project has now received attention by media from all over Russia, and when our YouTube channel team was visiting the capital city of Russia’s Republic of Karelia, I knew we needed to visit Sergey and try our hand at the art of stone-rabbit sculpting.

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This humble blogger’s first attempt at Russian stone-rabbit sculpting

Why rabbits?  “When I was six years old, I became lost in the forest,” recounts Sergei, “and as I lay shivering in the cold, some rabbits came and kept me warm throughout the night, and in the morning led me home.”

Never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, Sergey also doesn’t seem to let his successful business ventures in Petrozavodsk get in the way of his passion of stone-carving.

He is currently working on a giant rock bench on a Karelian island, and plans to take on even more difficult stone-sculpting projects.  At the moment of this publication, Sergey has sculpted 400 rabbits, which means there are only 600 rabbits to go.

Have you ever dreamed of having a certificate of your own personal rabbit sculpture from the Republic of Karelia.  It’s possible, by visiting the Rabbit Valley web-site.  You can choose the type of rabbit that you love the most and will get a certificate of ownership.  Dreams can come true.  And with just a flew clicks of a mouse, you can have your own stone rabbit.

Because “only in Russia” is only possible because of people just like Sergey.

Check out our video of the project and more from the city of Petrozavodsk:

 

Mouse Town, Russia

What is your town’s competitive distinction?  What separates your locality from everywhere else on the planet and is an argument for tourists to come and slap down their hard-earned dollars?

Myshkin is a town in the Yaroslavl region, with a population of about 6000, beautifully situated on the high bank of the Volga River.  But every year, more than 140,000 tourists come and visit.  What draws them there?  It’s a four hour drive from Moscow, and there are certainly plenty of other beautiful cities along the river.

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The first glimpse of Myshkin, on the approach by ferry

Myshkin’s first draw is a quirky play on it’s name that roughly translated from Russian means “of the mouse”.

And in Myshkin, there are mouse museums, a mouse palace (we’ll get to that later), a restaurant “The Mouse Trap”… and much more.  In all, I understand there are 29 museums in this small town.

With 10 and 12 year old boys getting some cabin fever as the summer continues (with their older siblings off at camp), I thought, why not make a weekend excursion up to Myshkin?  Certainly, any town that has created an industry off of the mouse name has a sense of humor, and deserves the drive.

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The water closet in the “Mouse Trap” restaurant

Upon arriving, we checked into the guest house that my wife had found and decided to go exploring.  The Orthodox church in the center of town is being renovated, but you can climb up into the bell tower for a 10 ruble donation.

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After dinner, we had a bit of a stroll.  I was impressed- there were small signs on most of the houses downtown explaining the significance of the house.  In most cases, it wasn’t information of national significance, but it created a good amount of interest.  For example, one house was home to some wealthy merchants and had electricity even before the Communist revolution.

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There were plenty of tourists, it seemed that most of them had recently arrived on a river cruise ship.

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Incredibly intriguing was not just the cruise ship on the Volga, but the boardwalk and beautifully maintained lawn all along the riverfront.

The next day, we started with a museum that celebrated the local history of linen production, and also had an outdoor museum dedicated to various machinery.

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The “Locomobile” hails from an age when there was no concern regarding a carbon footprint

The cost of this whole museum was 70 rubles- just a bit over a dollar.  And as we found out, it was our favorite museum.

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A young tourist tries his hand in the linen production process

We didn’t have a lot of time, but I understand that there were museums in town that would show the pottery process, and also the woodworking processes that Russia has perfected over the years.

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Learning about life before Playstation

The outdoor museum was a random collection of antique cars and other heavy equipment, some blacksmith’s work, and lots of woodwork.

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“Hey kids, look at that old wooden sleigh…”

We had certainly gotten more than our 70 rubles worth, and the boys were looking to head to the river, so that we did, where they ran around in the water, but mostly threw sand at each other.

For the grand finale of our trip, we decided to go to the Mouse Palace and splurged on 200 rubles per ticket (over $3!).  We were greeted by the Mouse King and Mouse Queen:

I’m not sure what it was about that presentation, but our 12 year old said that he would “never be able to unsee that”.

Then we were taken to a room of the Mouse Palace where we learned about mouse rights and humane mouse traps.  I swear that I’m not making this up.  There was a bank of phones on the wall, and we were instructed to pick up the phones and listen.  Sure enough, there were mice squeaking on the other end of the line, and it was being translated.  It is with great pain and a no small amount of shame that I must tell you that I don’t remember their message to humanity.  If properly decoded, I think the mice might have been trying to communicate that “even if you pay only 3 dollars, it will still all feel very gimmicky, and the historical parts of the town are a much better way to spend your time”.

After that, there was a trip to the basement where we viewed various types of mice in cages and were informed that Myshkin will be hosting a Major International Mouse Event in 2020.  I’m totally going.

My recommendation: I think Myshkin is a great weekend getaway.  Reasonable prices, and plenty to do for a couple of days.  I would recommend it for families with children who live in Russia and speak at least a bit of Russian- we saw no foreigners while we were there nor any English-language signs.  If you only have a week in Russia, you might want to focus on some other cities, but if you’ve already been to Moscow, St. Petersburg, etc., why not make a quirky getaway to Mouse Town, Russia.