The best place to see how perfectly traditional Russian architecture matches colors and shades of Russian winter is the area of Vladimir and Suzdal. These old Russian cities are located close to each other and it takes only 2 1/2 hours to drive there from Moscow (or one can choose a comfortable tourist bus when drinking and sightseeing is easier to combine). A nice weekend idea, popular among both native Muscovites and visitors: leave for Vladimir early on Saturday, enjoy the countryside landscapes for some time, spend the afternoon in Vladimir and stay overnight there. Next day, Suzdal and the trip back home.
Here you feel the flavor of XII century, the time when Tartars invaded Russia, then a land of fragmented principalities, not densely populated, but with amazing architecture of white stone churches and cathedrals. Vladimir and around is the rare enough area where some of these landmarks survived through the centuries.
The Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky sobor) is still the dominant part of the city's skyline. It sits on a steep river bank - when you are near it, you can enjoy not only the masterpiece of the old architecture - but also fantastic views of the land around, stretching far and flat.
The Church of Intercession on Nerl is frequently described as a gem of old Russian architecture. It deserves this - and any other excited comment. Almost the same as nine centuries ago, it sits in the low fields a few miles from Vladimir. Here you see, feel, and almost touch the harmony between the nature, the lone building, and yourself. It looks strong and fragile at the same time, a magic combination. It's beauty is overwhelming at all times and all seasons - but different every hour. Look at the two pictures made right after winter sunset. Not the best time to enjoy the architecture, theoretically, but this particular church breaks the rules.
Suzdal is famous not for only quality of the monuments it includes - but also for their concentration. In a small town there are several monasteries, lots of museums, and endless churches, domes, onions, bell-towers. Founded in 1024, the city has seen too much to get nervous about anything nowadays. The place is truly special: a tourist attraction that has all the means to attract people; you can learn here a lot, you can watch here a lot - or you can simply have here lots of fun without historical excursions.
Suzdal is compact and cozy - between breakfast and lunch you can cross it several time on feet and never even think about other means of transportation. Rolling fields around and a surfeit of monasteries radiate calmness we all miss in big cities. A very important feature of Suzdal is that the Russian Orthodox Church so far failed to garb all the monasteries - there are wonderful museums in them. The result is - you can feel and even hear old lifestyle, not just the history of the Church and religious hymns.