Visiting Russia by boat
Upon boarding a cruise ship bound for Russia, my wife and I knew we were in for some fun. It was both pleasant and informative – an all-around enjoyable holiday tour last May all through the lakes and rivers of Russia, St. Petersburg to Moscow.We flew from Denver to St. Petersburg via Heathrow in the United Kingdom. The tour company, Grand Circle Travel, had people meet us at the gate. From the start, we were very impressed with the thoroughness, helpfulness, and friendliness of the tour employees. The tour was basically broken up into three parts; three-plus days in St. Petersburg, four days on the rivers and lakes of northwest Russia, and three-plus days in Moscow. The distance covered was about 1,000 miles and was just gorgeous the whole way. My impression was that Russia, at least this northwestern-European part, is still largely wild and empty.The pace was flexible, and you could tailor your activities according to your interests and energy level. Tours of local sights typically started early in the morning and returned in time for lunch. Afternoons and evenings were often on your own or with optional activities. I was a U.S. Naval officer in my 20s and frankly had low expectations for the quality of the ship and our stateroom accommodations. But, in both cases, the ship was very clean and extremely well cared for. Rooms, while not large, were very adequate. The crew, and especially the captain, was courteous and delightful. Food was good and varied.Places not to be missed include:
St. Petersburg is Russia’s cultural and historical treasure, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and one of its top-ten tourist destinations according to “The Forbes Traveler.” It is known as the “Venice of North,” thanks to its numerous canals and hundreds of bridges.
Mandrogi is the ideal place to explore and discover a very unique style and architecture. For centuries, this region was occupied by the northern tribes which brought with them Scandinavian traditions.
Kizhi is a small and distant island on Lake Onega. It can only be reached by water and is most famous for its amazing transfiguration cathedral. This wooden structure is truly an architectural wonder – it has 22 domes and was built without a single nail! This was the northern most point in our voyage. There were long days and its famous “white nights.” It never gets totally dark in summer.
Goritsy stands on the banks of the Volga River where it falls into the White Lake. Goritsy is the home to the Kirillo-Belozersky monastery, which was built in 1397. This quaint place is most famous for being a safe haven for many noble families during the “Times of Trouble”
Uglich is a small town located on the banks of the Volga River. It’s tiny by modern standards, but back in medieval times it was one of the best-defended fortresses of the kingdom of Moscovy.
Moscow is Russia’s largest city – its political and economic capital. The town of Moscow was the center of Moscovy, a small principality that unified the Russian lands against the Mongols in the late 14th century, and has ruled Russia ever since.For me Moscow was a pleasant surprise. I had heard it was dirty and grungy – not true. The old parts were well cared for, and there is a modern tech center with shining skyscrapers developing rapidly. I thought the city in the same class with Paris or Vienna, with fascinating variety of architecture, parks and interesting history.
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