My river cruise in Russia

Apr 11th, 2007, 11:23 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 8,421
phxtrvlr: You itinerary could vary, but we arrived in St. Petersburg early one morning. That day, Viking provided a 1/2 day tour of the city (which included a wonderful visit inside the Peter & Paul Fortress). We were bused back to the ship for lunch, then a complimentary bus ride back into St. Petersburg (and returning) was provided (which return in time for dinner, or you got back on your own). Olga met us at the ship and rode with us back into St. Petersburg on the Viking bus. We toured with Olga the rest of the day and into the evening, enjoyed a late dinner with her and she arranged a taxi back to the ship (about $9.00), giving the driver specific instructions to find our ship for us before leaving. (They all look alike and move around frequently.) Had I known the Viking schedule before leaving home, we would have had Olga meet us in St. Petersburg and had lunch there, along with another 2-1/2 hours in the city. (Olga was very flexible and we would have been able to phone her to change plans.) Especially since the weather was so nice that day.

The next day, we went with Viking to Peterhof (arriving at opening time), toured the palace, and viewed the fountains. Viking provided box lunches for the ride to the Hermitage, where we were given a guided tour and allowed some free time. Then it was back to the ship, a "snack", then to the theater (included) for the ballet "Swan Lake". Dinner was scheduled for 10:15, but so many of us (about two dozen) stayed behind that the Chef (we had the most awesome Chef on our cruise) offered to serve us dinner early! And, the piano player in the cocktail lounge and the band on the Skybar deck started earlier than planned as well. Those of us who stayed behind were glad to have the ship to ourselves!

The next day was a "free day". We had hired Olga because I was unable to determine ahead of time which optionals would be offered on our cruise. We were very glad to have done that as we were relieved not to be bussed around en masse any longer!

Optionals ranged in price (and this was back in 2003) from $24-29/person. Offered were a Canal Tour (we did this with Olga), the Russian Museum, Yussupov (we did this with Olga), Pushkin Palace (location of the "Amber Room"), which we could have done with Olga, and Folklore Show.

Optionals had minimum/maximum requirements. Some filled up quickly; one or more was cancelled because not enough people signed up. Our assigned Viking guide was in charge of the Pushkin tour and was trying to talk everyone out of it, saying if you were only going for the Amber Room, there would be a long line and you wouldn't see anything else and might not get into the Amber Room, but the trip was held (and everyone who went loved it). As it turned out, the line for the Amber Room was short.

Anyway, we spent the day with Olga. She met us at the ship right after breakfast, and we all went into the city on the metro (station very close to dock). There was also a light rail stop right across from the dock (better for scenery), but we wanted to ride the metro.

We started at the Hermitage where Olga got us past the entrance lines and also into the Treasury. She also knew where the elevators were located and we were able to use the "staff" restrooms (with seats and TP). We visited more of the Hermitage, rooms we had not had time to visit with Viking. We toured several cathedrals inside and out (she provided excellent commentary, also at the Hermitage). Most beautiful and amazing was the Church on Spilled Blood. She knew the best places to shop (not the "souvenir" shops), took us to an outdoor art show (very inexpensive, found an exquisite original water color), and we had a few cafe rest stops. She knew I was interested in Art Nouveau and pointed that out inside and out along our travels. We saw a few beautiful gardens. We enjoyed lunch, where we had dinner the evening before, because the place was so nice and the food so good. Awesome potato cakes and Beef Stroganoff!

Olga arranged a taxi and we returned to the ship for the "farewell" dinner at 7:30 (10:15 for those attending the optional folklore show). If I had it to do over, we'd have spent another few hours in St. Petersburg with Olga and enjoyed another dinner in the city. The main reason we didn't though, was because it poured down rain all day.

Olga offered (ahead of time) to recommend theater performances and acquire tickets (they are not expensive), but we preferred to see the city rather than attend indoor activities. (We also happened to be there during the White Nights.)

There were many on our ship who ventured into the city on their own via the metro or the train. With a licensed guide, though, you can skip the lines at the museums, cathedrals, etc., and the guide doesn't have to pay admission. Also, commentary everywhere (on the Canal cruises even) was only in Russian, and we didn't know the alphabet and were worried about wasting time getting lost. Olga, of course, knew her way around, when to take a bus, a taxi, etc. to make our visit more efficient. Best was that she was a "translator" for us (with menus, shopping...) and we asked her a million questions. And, she pointed out things everywhere we never would have noticed.

If you have any other questions, feel free to e-mail me [email protected]
djkbooks is offline  
Apr 11th, 2007, 11:26 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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PS For anyone going on a river cruise in Russia, I highly recommend "Russia By River".


They had these for sale in the gift shop on the ship, but it was several editions ago and marked way up!
djkbooks is offline  
Apr 12th, 2007, 06:03 PM
Join Date: May 2004
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For anyone interested in heavy theater going as part of their Russia experience, I recommend the Elderhostel arts and theater tour. It is on the elderhostel site ( The tour is 2 weeks and split between Moscow and St. Petersburg. We went to about 11-12 performances and got to see a lot of venues the average tourist does not see. The strongest part of the program were the lectures. We went to the Moscow Art Theater a couple of times.

Please note that the Bolshoi in Moscow is now closed for renovation and will be closed for a very long time. There is an underground stream or canal and the theater was actually sinking.

Do not, however, be disappointed about the Bolshoi because some of the less well known venues actually had more interesting and inventive things. We also went to the Moscow Circus, but that was probably the least impressive evening. It was a conventional circus. Cirque de Soleil is certainly much more interesting.

The elderhostel trip hits all the museums. I spent an entire day at The Hermitage, which would be difficult to do off of a Volga Cruise unless you pre or post cruise stayed.

We also had 3-4 hours at the Tretnyakov Gallery in Moscow--which is full of wonderful Russian Art virtually unknown in the West. I saw the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg as well, but the Tretnyakov cannot be beat. It was just a real eye opener!

I did have a couple of days where I wanted to stay longer at someplace or do something different than what was scheduled. When I did that, I would generally go through the morning program and break off at lunch time to do whatever I wanted to do. If you have basic Cyrillic skills to read the signs, it isn't difficult to get around without a guide. I can speak a small amount of Russian and could understand the announcements of the stops on the Metro. If you can't, you can follow your route on the map as you go.

In St. Petersburg, I did the Canal boat tour myself. When I got there I had to wait a bit because there was a group of Russians who, shall we say, were in their cups. I just waited patiently and the lady charged me the Russian price--which I thought was very nice (foreigners generally pay a higher price for almost every tourist attraction). Some of those interactions--when you go off on your own--are the things you end up remembering best.

I also went off to see the House of Peter the Great (near the tombs of the Tsars in St. Petersburg inside of a museum). Peter the Great is supposed to have built the house himself when St. Petersburg was being built.

When you go off on an organized tour, always tell the tour director where you are going. You don't want them looking for you and holding up the others. And, always meet them where and when you say you are going to meet them.

I get tired with all the regimentation on tours at times and need some time away from the group to just do my own thing for a few hours. I generally met the group at the evening performance--wherever it was.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Apr 13th, 2007, 09:43 PM
Join Date: Feb 2007
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Thx for the great information. You have given us some great ideas and Olga must have been a great guide. I am interested in the fact that you didn't use a car and driver. As I have e-mailed with a guide (not Olga) prior to my post and your response, she recommended a car and driver to get around. Since you took buses and the metro, do you think that using a car and driver would have helped you see more or have more time at the attractions that you visited? One more question, did you hire a guide while you were in Moscow? If so, who did you use. Thanks again for all of your help.
phxtrvlr is offline  
Apr 14th, 2007, 07:40 AM
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When we went on the Viking Kirov al tours and theater/ballet tickets were included. The only extras were the lunches we decided to do on our own instead of returning to the ship which took up a lot of time.
SuQue is offline  
Apr 14th, 2007, 12:08 PM
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Olga does not have her own car, but would have rented one and driven us had we chosen any destinations that required driving (such as a trip to Catherine Palace). The daily car rental fee was very reasonable. But, we decided to stay in the city, and still did not have enough time to get around to all we really wanted to see.

djkbooks is offline  
Apr 14th, 2007, 03:09 PM
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DJKBooks, didn't you go to Peterhoff? I thought you had mentioned going there. That requires transportation of some sort. For an interesting way of getting there, you can go by hydrofoil that leaves from the St. Petersburg boat dock on the river. However, the cheapest way is by bus, but that would take awhile.

All the palaces: Peterhoff, Catherine, etc., are sort of clusterd together outside of St. Petersburg in the same area. I would recommend taking the hydrofoil (much faster than the bus) if you do not want to pay for a car and driver.

When I went with Elderhostel, all of these destinations were included because we had more time in Moscow and St. Petersburg than is the case on a river cruise (unless you pre or post stay).

There is so much to see in Moscow and St. Petersburg that, even with a week in each place, it was not enough time.

Again, if you have only one day in St. Petersburg, I recommend going to The Hermtage and that's it. Once you get to the museum, there are brochures in English and you really do not need a guide. As with any museum, you go wherever there are things YOU want to see.

In Moscow, I know that if you do not do The Armory, you might feel cheated. We did do the Diamond Room. While it is worth seeing, I wouldn't put it at the top of my list if you just have a day or two. The Tretnykov Museum was much more interesting to me than the Puskin Museum in Moscow because the Russian Art was entirely new to me. I could have spent a whole day there rather than the 3 hours or so that we had. The most well know things to see at the Puskin are the arifacts from ancient Troy in Turkey.

I cannot wait to return to Russia to revisit both major cities and see some of the churches/monasteries in the ring towns around Moscow.

Remember, Russia goes through 8 time zones. You can only touch the surface in a conventional tourist visit.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Apr 18th, 2007, 07:25 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 21
Faux ste marie & djkbooks,

Thx to both of you (&everyone) for the info. very helpful. I'll post when i get back and hopefully add to all of the great info.
phxtrvlr is offline  
Apr 28th, 2007, 09:21 AM
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 9
To Rudy and all others:
I am working my way thru reading all these comments and appreciate them very much, as my wife & I will be taking this cruise in July 2007.

I have 2 questions about shopping that I would like to get your opinions on:
(1) I'm told that Gum dept store in Moscow is triple the price of the same items elsewhere, and I can believe that, but I was also told that ANY item you see at Gum you will also see somewhere else on the journey to St. Petersburg. Is this your experience? Or were there some things that were at Gum's and you never saw them anywhere else? If so, what sort of things?
(2) Looking for just general tips about shopping along the cruise route.

Thank you all so much!
Marvin is offline  
Apr 28th, 2007, 10:14 AM
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Marty: Highly recommend "Russia by River"

Excellent narrative and invaluable tips on everything, including shopping. There was also a comprehensive shopping seminar on our ship.

GUM is basically a collection of international, very expensive, boutiques. Designers, chain stores, etc.

We were advised that prices would also be high on the Arabat, and this turned out to be very true.

I didn't think I would have any interest in lacquer boxes, until I saw them!

We were advised we'd be taken to a special place to shop for these, and we were - in Yaroslavl. The selection was stunning - all shapes and sizes - all four authentic varieties, along with high-powered magnifying glasses for inspecting them and certificates of authenticity. Prices were 1/2-2/3 of those we saw elsewhere, though there were some shops in St. Petersburg with good prices. I was also lucky to find a 300th Anniversary box which is positively exquisite.

Since our trip, I looked at Russian shops in our travels and can tell you that prices for authentic Russian goods are a fraction of the prices in the shops in the US.

Anyway, there is no shortage of shopping along the cruise route. Each town we visited had excellent shopping right near the dock. They know the ship schedules and set up markets those days. Prices for the same items are much, much lower than in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

Be sure to pick up books of photographs and postcards (both very inexpensive) while in each town (and at the individual cathedrals and museums) as you won't find them anywhere else.

Another item I got hooked on collecting were Faberge egg pendants. There is a huge variety all over at all sorts of prices.

Some of the ladies on our ship bought up a lot of lacquer boxes, pendants, nesting dolls, etc., to sell on EBay when they got home and did very well indeed!
djkbooks is offline  
Apr 28th, 2007, 01:47 PM
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Imitation Fabrege eggs on chains can be bought all over, not just in Russia. They are probably manufactured somewhere other than in Russia.

High quality lacquer boxes can be found in the Arbat in Moscow.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 04:27 AM
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djkbrooks - Just a clarification - you said "Since our trip, I looked at Russian shops in our travels and can tell you that prices for authentic Russian goods are a fraction of the prices in the shops in the US."

Are you saying it is better to buy these in the US?

Last time I was in Russia - I bought a lot of post card sets everywhere I bought. Are those still available - for example one set would be "fountains at Peterhof".
Theresa is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 07:05 AM
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Russian goods in Russia are a fraction of the cost of the same/similar items in Russian shops in the US.

Many items, such as the stacking dolls (in a huge variety of designs) are inexpensive in Russia and of very high quality, whereas they are expensive in shops in the US.

There's a shop of Russian imports in Cambridge, MA and another in the Cannery in San Francisco, and I wandered into one in NYC - I couldn't believe the high prices!
djkbooks is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 10:06 AM
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Is anyone on this thread going with Intrav in June/July?
Philbill is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 11:13 AM
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Wow, thanks to everyone for the great info and fast replies.

dkjbooks - I will check out the Russia by River book. I saw your recommendation earlier in the thread and looked on Amazon, but all they had were old books at $45 or more. But I see the website you recommended is selling much cheaper.

Final question for now: Was there ANYTHING in the way of souvenirs or momentos that you saw high-priced in Moscow or St. Petersburg that you NEVER saw available for sale anywhere else? If the big cities offer a once-only opportunity to buy something I don't want to miss it.

Thanks again to all!
Marvin is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 11:50 AM
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When you buy stacking dolls, try to pull them apart. You get what you pay for. The vendors have cheap ones, made in China and you cannot pull them apart. If you want quality items in Russia, as between St. Petersburg and Moscow, I did not find better places than the high quality stores in the Arbat in Moscow. Remember there is always a second price and cash gets you a discount as well.

I cannot speak for the small towns along the Volga cruise route because I did not take one.

The best thing of all to buy, in my opinion, was the street art. You pay about $15-25 per picture and some of the art is very good. Generally you can get a discount if you buy more than one. The pictures are generally of tourist attractions and sold all over by individual artists and in the Arbat.

I came back with 9 of them--and a big bill from the frame guy.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 11:51 AM
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Just a word: Don't buy anything on impulse and you will save a lot of money.

PS I did not take my own advice when I bought my lacquer box but I am delighted to have it.
FauxSteMarie is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 11:52 AM
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I did the same thing you did Marvin, as I usually find excellent prices on Amazon. This morning I ordered my books (also ordered a phrase book) and only paid $17.50 for Russia by River Guidebook, the same book that Amazon was charging over $40.00.

We're going on our first riverboat cruise in July with Viking from Moscow to St. Petersburg. July seems to be the warmest month, at least in those two cities. Would have liked an A or B stateroom, but we got a terrific deal for a C stateroom (two for one). Couldn't pass that up and I'm sure we'll manage in the much smaller quarters.

I'm wondering how formal passengers dress for special nights and even during the entire cruise. I'm hoping to take just my 22" (I take larger bag for ocean cruises). I guess I'll stick with the kinds of things I wear in Europe unless someone has some other suggestions. What about jeans?

Wonderfully helpful thread that all started with Rudy's terrific report of his cruise in 2002. Amazing!

Giovanna is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 01:47 PM
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Giovanna: During our cruise, there were two special dinners for which "dressy" was suggested. A few people were very dressed up; a few people did not dress up at all. Most of the gents wore jackets and ties (very few suits - slacks and blazer predominated) and most of the ladies a dress or skirt and dressy top, or slacks and dressy top. I brought a black dress with two nice sweaters (and wore one the first time and the other the second). Nowadays, though, I pack a black skirt and dressy tops/sweaters.

There were a lot of Brits on our cruise, and the gents all changed to coats and ties for dinner every single night, but most of the other gents did not.

There were very few people on our cruise wearing jeans (which are really not comfortable in the hot weather).

A waterproof/windproof jacket with hood is really great to have along for enjoying the outside decks while cruising (where it's chillier) and in case it rains.

If you are anticipating hot weather, be sure to pack plenty of very lightweight clothing - some interiors (museums, cathedrals, palaces...) are not air conditioned, and those that are air conditioned are not as cool as what we're used to.

Note that after being out and about all day, you'll probably want to change for dinner.

We were thrilled to have our binoculars along.
djkbooks is offline  
Apr 29th, 2007, 02:11 PM
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Thanks djkbooks. Your suggestions were pretty much what I had in mind to take, but it's nice to hear it from someone who's been there/done that. My husband will be happy to know what to take. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area so guess we will fit in with the two nice dress-up plan! The only time I wear jeans abroad is when we visit archeological sites, but since we won't be doing that on this trip I'll probably leave them at home.

"Hot" seems to be in the low 70's on the average and lower in the evening, so will be taking some cardigan sweaters. I don't have any hoodies so will pick one up to take.

We each have a neat fold-up umbrella with a sort of flashlight in them that we'll take, and had planned on binoculars.

Thanks again for this specific advice for me, as well as all the other things you have provided on this thread. You're a wealth of info!
Giovanna is offline  

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