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Trip Report Russia river cruise - trip report

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I've already posted my photo link but thought I'd start a new thread for my trip report. In case you missed it:
http://kbutler8.photosite.com/Russia/

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This was a trip of serendipity. My sister (Kathye, with an 'e') and I had planned for China this year when two friends we'd met on a 2002 trip to Spain and Portugal (Kathy, no 'e,' and Chuck) invited us to join them on a Russian river cruise.

The Kremlin Wall over the Great Wall? A felt boot factory in Yaraslovj instead of the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian? The VOLGA River rather than the Yangtze and Li? Sis, are you sure? She was. And so we went.

China still beckons, but our trip to Russia was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Here's our story...

We flew United out of Washington/Dulles and were delayed two hours at the gate because of thunderstorms, causing us to miss our connection with Lufthansa in Frankfurt. We had two options: wait six hours for the next Lufthansa flight to Moscow or... take Aeroflot (the United agent assured us they hardly ever crash anymore). Comforted (right), we went with the Russians and had no problems. I think it was my first flight ever where none of the announcements were made in English, but that was ok since we knew the drill: fasten seatbelts and get off when everyone else does.

The food was the worst I'd ever had on any airline, but they did smile when they gave it to us. I'm not sure what the bread was made of, but a mixture of cardboard and styrofoam seems more likely than anything in the wheat category. Still, they got us there safely.

Passport control was next, and while the Russians may have caught on quickly to free-market reforms, they have a ways to go with crowd control. Apparently, no one has mentioned those ropes you can use to line people up in an orderly fashion. Instead of a queue, there was a mob of thousands (well, maybe about 100 - don't you drop a couple zeroes before doing conversions? or is that just with money?) crushing toward about five passport control desks. And to make matters worse, each dour officer scrutinized each and every passport for at least 5 minutes. Newsflash: hordes of people are probably not clamoring to enter Russia illegally, but you'd have thought they were. Welcome to Moscow.

Since we'd missed our flight and changed airlines, we were worried Intrav (the tour company) wouldn't be there. But the orange Intrav sign we saw as we (finally) reached the front of the mob was the best sight so far. Once through the passport formalities, Intrav personnel took care of the rest - got our luggage and transferred us via van to the ship, the Glushkov. We'd made it. YAY!

Ship accommodations: our room, second category from bottom, was fine. Yes, it was small as expected, but it was well-designed. Two lower bunks with a table between. Plenty of shelf space on one side of the room. Two small closets, each with a draw and shelf space. And a small bathroom but with plenty of hot water and good water pressure in the shower. Fresh bottles of water in the small refrigerator (new bottles appeared every day and were also available at breakfast and handed out on the bus whenever we had tours). Don't drink the water, we were told. And candy on the pillow ever night. Doesn't get much better than that! :-)

Tomorrow - MOSCOW. To be continued. (Oh, and by the way, my name's Karen for those you who don't know me from the Asia board.)

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