Talk about contrasts!
We had not expected to find such a delightful anchorage and wondered how the monastery island of Konovets, our next destination and one of the goals of our Ladoga cruise, could surpass it. After an idyllic sail north to the island the cerulean domes of the 14th century monastery rose above its forested shore.
But as we approached the bay our excitement turned to dismay. A veritable forest of cranes, barges and piledrivers surrounded the harbour. The waterfront and the monastery itself are undergoing an enormous upgrade. It seems Vladimir Putin visited the island a couple of years ago and millions, if not billions of euros have been earmarked for the job.
Just 18 monks are cloistered here. Pious pilgrims – all women in scarves and black stockings, heads bowed – move silently between virile young construction workers in flouro jackets. When the renovations are complete the monastery will be very impressive, though it will take another 400 years and another 200 monks for the patina of time to reinstate the magic of this place.
The hammering of the piledrivers at the harbour was deafening and we decided to stay at the pilgrims’ guesthouse, a lovely ramshackle affair up the hill. In the warm still evening we strolled through ancient forests and explored monastic outbuildings before sitting down to a communal meal for the pious. A plump and rather bored monk sang the prayers.