A Trip to Tver
Several Days in a Small Town between St. Petersburg and Moscow
Normally Tver – a small town between St. Petersburg and Moscow is unjustly forgotten by tourists and left out of guidebooks on Russia. Yet Tverskoy district is the largest in the European part of Russia occupying 84100 square kilometres. The population of Tver is over half a million people, so it is small by Russian measurements, but many Western people would call it quite big.
Ancient Tver is about the same age as Moscow. It dates back to 1135, which means it was founded a century before the Mongolian invasion on ancient Russia. Same as many Russian ancient towns, Tver changed its appearance throughout centuries, several times it was burnt down completely and raised from the ashes. In 1300s Tver rivaled Moscow and was even the capital of Russia for a number of years.
Present-day Tver is a provincial town that certainly has places of interest to show and is off-the-beaten-track for foreign visitors in Russia. Tverskoy region and Lake Seliger is one of the points for eco-tourists to go.
From St. Petersburg to Moscow by the Road of the Russian Tsars.
Back in the 18th century, when St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia, Russian rulers frequently travelled by horse-drawn carriages between Imperial St. Petersburg and merchant Moscow. It took from 7 up to 10 days to travel one way between the new and old capitals, and the tsars had palaces-on-the-road to stop and have a rest. Catherine the Great’s Road Palace in Tver is the town’s major attraction up to now.
First half of the 19th century brought technical revolution to Tver: the Imperial railroad connecting St. Petersburg and Moscow was constructed. The ways of travelling changed and Russian tsars didn’t spend so much time in Tver resting on the road anymore. Instead, they had comfortable rooms at the train station. However the railroad brought Tver closer to Moscow and St. Petersburg too. In 1850s it took just 23 hours to travel between the two capitals by train. Closer and closer with each century: now it takes just 1 hour from Tver to Moscow and slightly less than 3 hours to St. Petersburg by a new high-speed Sapsan train.
It is still possible to travel between Moscow and St. Petersburg by car, making stops in Novgorod and Tver, exploring provincial Russia. But since we went with two smaller kids, Sapsan was our choice. This super comfortable train now is a serious rival to flying, as it leaves from the centre of St. Petersburg and arrives to the centre of Moscow. It is disabled-friendly, kid-friendly and pet friendly, clean, nice and safe.
Our kids are always excited to go by train, and in 3 hours of playing, singing, drawing and snacking, when we finally went out in Tver, they were not really much tired.
Where to Stop in Tver
Like in many Russian provincial towns, tourist infrastructure in Tver is not really developed. There are several hotels in the town, but most of them date back to Soviet times and the quality of service and rooms leaves much to be desired. However Tver is definitely working on that: new hotels appear, and the best option to stay overnight is Osnabruck hotel. It has European comfort and central location.
What to See in Tver
As we were travelling with kids, we had to take it slowly and I’m sure some attractions were missed out.
The Imperial Road Palace
The Imperial Road Palace was constructed on the orders of Catherine the Great. The Empress spent quite some time in Tver and in her days the whole architectural appearance of the town changed, developed.
The Imperial Road Palace in Tver is relatively small and modest (compared to the palaces in St. Petersburg). Besides the huge reception hall, the palace included a chapel, a library and 12 rooms that made private quarters of Catherine the Great. The Empress was fond of landscape parks, so a park was laid out for Her Majesty’s pleasure. In the 19th century, with the railroad construction, the palace became unnecessary for the Imperial family and served as the Governor General’s quarters.
After the 1917 revolution, a local museum and a picture gallery was opened here. During WWII, when Tver (called Kalinin in Soviet days) was occupied by the Nazis, the palace was severely damaged. After the restoration the museum re-opened, but by 1990s the unique road palace was falling apart again. The recent restoration works are coming to an end, the picture gallery (the oldest exhibit here dates back to the 16th century) will soon open its doors to the visitors again.
Tver Everyday Life Through the Centuries
Tver Everyday Life Museum is located in a historic building – a mansion that dates back to the 18th century and used to belong to a wealthy merchant family. Peter the Great himself used to stay here when stopping in Tver overnight on his way to Moscow from the newly founded St. Petersburg. One of the exhibition halls is dedicated to Peter the Great’s times. The museums mostly focuses on everyday life of different layers of population in old Tver. Among the exhibits one will find a collection of samovars and traditional Russian folk art objects. We had a tea party with samovars and Russian honey-cakes, which my kids enjoyed in particular.
Monument to Afanassiy Nikitin
This monument is one of Tver’s recognizable symbols. In medieval times a merchant from Tver Afanassiy Nikitin undertook a long journey “across the 3 seas”. The journey lasted 7 years, and in the 15th century Russia it was something really unheard of. Afanassiy Nikitin’s travel journal (he called it “A Journey Across the Three Seas”) is regarded nowadays as one of the most outstanding medieval literature pieces and is quoted in many historical chronicles. Afanassiy Nikitin, frequently called “the Tver Columbus” is considered one of the pioneers of India.
Monument to Alexander Pushkin
Another famous symbol of Tver is the monument to Alexander Pushkin on the Volga embankment.
This famous Russian poet frequently visited Tver – not only on the way between St. Petersburg and Moscow, but also just travelling and visiting his friends in their noblemen’s nests. One of Pushkin’s school-mates even became the Governor General of Tver.
There are several monuments to Pushkin in Tver, but this one on the Volga river is the most interesting from the historic and artistic points of view.
Holy Trinity Church
There are many 16th and 17t century churches in Tver. However, this church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity is the most revered one. It was constructed in 1564, the times of Ivan the Terrible, and already in those days locals called it “the White Trinity” (this name is used by locals now too). In Tver the White Trinity is considered to be the most well-payed sacred place, as it remained an active church in Soviet times too. Even during WWII the Holy Trinity was open for the locals to come and seek shelter and spiritual support during the Nazi occupation. I remember it was the very first church I ever visited for a service back in the times when the Soviet Union was falling apart.
There are many more things to visit in Tver. It has its own Paris and its own Fountain Square, monasteries and former noble mansions, its own Drama theatre, circus and Philharmonic hall (by the way, boasting one of the best organs in Russia).
Several days and then back home to St. Petersburg. For our family it is always a special visit and a change from the rapid pace of a big city. For a traveler in Russia, a short stop in Tver will show how different Russia can be. Big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg are certainly important and must-see, but these are not big cities that make Russia. Genuine Russia is provincial ancient towns like Novgorod, Tver or Staraya Russa, with their slow pace of life and very kind-hearted people, with the gems that all of a sudden you might find in provincial museums, with the secret nooks of undisturbed nature.