My river cruise in Russia

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Jun 21st, 2002, 10:44 AM
  #21
ttt
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Topping a great trip report
 
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Jun 23rd, 2002, 07:40 PM
  #22
rudy
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My Russian river cruise continued...

Thanks, Rus. Yes, there are several buildings undergoing restorations, but this really shouldn't detract from your appreciation of the architecture. Actually, many of the restorations have been completed, and the buildings are more beautiful than ever. Where work is being done, you will find that it is often on one side of a building, or on one of the domes of a five-domed church, for example, and that's where the scaffolding will be. It could be a problem for you if taking photos is a main goal. When we found buildings that had scaffolding, we just bought a postcard of that building for our album. Or, we took a photo of just one part of the building. I know that's not a good substitute, but I really believe you will find that you will fall in love with St. Petersburg regardless of the work being done on buildings.

As for problems, I really don't remember any except for the traffic jams, which, depending on the time of day, could be quite bad. It just took a lot longer to get from one place to another.

We had no problems with crime or pickpockets, but we kept a low profile, wearing fairly conservative clothing and not calling attention to ourselves. We did wear money belts to carry our passports, credit cards and larger amounts of cash, but most people also carried pocketbooks or wallets with no problems. This doesn't mean that there weren't potential problems out there; we just didn't encounter any. I guess I'll just repeat what I've read in this forum so many other times from others: take the same precautions that you would in any other large city, either in the U.S. or in Europe. Enjoy St. Petersburg!
 
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Jun 23rd, 2002, 08:11 PM
  #23
rudy
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My Russian river cruise continued...

Jaroslavl is a large commercial center. Mechanical engineering, the petrochemical industry and the textile industry are the main areas of occupation for the residents.

While in Jaroslavl, known as the Florence of Russia, we visited several churches, the Museum of Musical Instruments, and a toy museum. Then we attended a folklore show in one of the theatres.

Jaroslavl is the oldest city on the Volga, and will celebrate its millenium in 2010. Legend has it that Prince Jaroslavl the Wise once wrestled a bear on the banks of the river and won. The city reached the height of its prosperity in the 17th century when it became known for its handicrafts.

Our guide informed us that if we wished to purchase an authentic lacquered box which held the signature of the artist and came with a certificate of authenticity, Jaroslavl was the place to buy. On the second story of the toy museum, we were given an opportunity to meet with an artist who stood with his fairly large display of lacquered boxes of various sizes and shapes. They were uniquely beautiful, and it was obvious that a great deal of close, delicate work had been done to make them. It was almost impossible not to buy, though they were much more expensive that what we had seen to that point. Prices ranged from $25 to over $1000 for the larger, rarer pieces. There were many to choose from in the $75 to $150 range that pleased most of us.

I recalled that, in St. Petersburg just off our boat ramp, a man had stationed himself to sell lacquered boxes. It was obvious that he had taken postcards, lacquered them onto the lid of the boxes, and tried to pass them off as authentic. Though pleasing to the eye, we could see that they were fake, and did not buy them, though we noticed that many others did purchase them for $5 each. They were in no way comparable to the exquisite handiwork of the boxes purchased that day in Jaroslavl.

It was difficult to leave such a beautiful city, but we were headed to Uglich, our last port of call before Moscow. continued...

The churches were beautiful
 
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Jun 23rd, 2002, 08:14 PM
  #24
rudy
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My Russian river cruise continued...
 
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Jun 23rd, 2002, 08:41 PM
  #25
rudy
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My Russian river cruise continued...

Sorry. I hit the "post" button before I was ready. I started to say that the churches in Jaroslavl were beautiful, and each has a unique history. The Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior was one of the wealthiest churches in Russia, and the frescoes that cover the entire interior are the oldest in Jaroslavl. The Church of the Epiphany is striking, made of red brick with five blue domes. It is decorated with glazed colored tiles called Kokoshniki, which is a tradition of architecture in Jaroslavl.

Back on the river, we passed a small town with a lovely chapel on the banks of the river. The residents keep alive the tale of a nobleman who fell asleep and was awakened by a mouse running over his face just in time for him to see a poisonous snake which was about to bite him. He killed the snake, saving his life. Out of gratitude, he built a chapel on that very spot and named it "Myshkino" which means "little mouse" in Russian. If one visits the town, he is greeted with residents dressed in huge mice costumes.

Our next stop was in a town called Uglich. We were all eager to arrive there, because we had been told that there was an internet cafe in town. After so many days of no contact with the outside world, no t.v., no radio, and no telephones, many of us wanted to send messages home to say that we were doing fine and were having a great time.
We found the cafe with no trouble, but it was very difficult to send messages. The computers were very old and slow, the people working there could not speak English well enough to help us, and there were only a handful of computers to serve the surging group. Only a few of us managed to send messages before our time in the town had run out and we had to board the boat.

The town is known today for its Chaika watch factory which is no longer operating but still has appeal because of its well-known enamel clocks and watch bands. Our guide told us that the watches make great gifts because they are so pretty, and that this is the place to buy them, but that we shouldn't be surprised if, upon returning home, the watches stopped working. Then he made a joke that they watches come with a guarantee, so if we decided to return them... Still, at about $10 a watch, it was worth the gamble to buy one or two. The one I bought is still working, and if it stops, I still have a uniquely pretty enameled bracelet.

 
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Jun 24th, 2002, 10:24 AM
  #26
Rus
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Thanks Rudy and Alexei for the info.
 
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Jun 24th, 2002, 12:04 PM
  #27
Dolores
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Rudy,

Your trip report is fantastic! Thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to post it.
 
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Jul 1st, 2002, 02:46 PM
  #28
Soon-to-travel
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Rudy, I am grateful for this trip report as I will be leaving later this week to go on the same trip with Viking River Cruise. I had a question about the rooms on the Kirov. Do they have a room safe? Also, did you happen to use an ATM to get cash or just exchange your
US $ that you brought for rubles? Any one thing you wish you'd brought along that you did not?
 
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Jul 1st, 2002, 08:14 PM
  #29
rudy
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Dear Soon-to-travel,

Sorry I didn't finish the trip report yet. I was away on business and just returned. I hope I'll finish up before you leave this week, so that you have a complete idea of the trip in its entirety.

To answer your questions; no, there are no in-room safes. This is one of the questions I had also before leaving. We were told that we could leave valuables in the office safe, but I opted not to bring along anything of great value that I couldn't carry on my person. They did collect our visas and airline tickets after we boarded, and they kept them in the office safe. This was disconcerting to some, but I thought it was great to not have to worry about those items until we left. We never had to show our visas or our passports until we were at the airport on the day of departure. To answer your second question, we brought along $1000 in cash for the two of us. On our first full day in St. Petersburg, we were brought to a hotel where we were able to go to a money exchange office. We exchanged our dollars for rubles at the going rate (at that time, I think the exchange rate was 0.0329). We were able to use dollars most of the time. I would advise taking along at least $50 in ones for two people. We took $100 in ones, and came home with about 1/3 of that. We also had a fair amount of $5's and $10's. Finally, since we were staying in a deluxe cabin which had a lot more room, I didn't pack lightly, knowing that the weather in May was iffy. The only thing I wish I had brought was gloves! I just thought of something: if you are a female and you take the optional tour of the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius at Sergeiev Posad outside of Moscow, you will not be allowed inside unless your head is covered, so bring a scarf. And for that tour only, make sure you are wearing either a long skirt or slacks, and that your arms are covered.
 
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Jul 1st, 2002, 08:17 PM
  #30
rudy
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And no, we never used an ATM.
 
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Jul 2nd, 2002, 08:35 PM
  #31
rudy
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My Russian river cruise continued...

Uglich is a beautiful town that has a tragic history. The beauty lies in the churches which shine their colors in the sun, and are easily seen from the approaching boat. In the 16th century, Ivan the Terrible banished his seventh wife, Maria Nagaya, along with her family. After Ivan's death, his infant son Dimitri came to live in Uglich, and was later found dead in the palace garden at the age of nine. His death was deemed "suspicious" because he was found with his throat cut. It was felt that Boris Godunov wanted Dimitri dead so that he could lay claim to the throne. After Dimitri was declared a saint, the townspeople of Uglich built the Church of St. Demetrius-on-the-Blood (familiarly known as the "Blood Church") over the spot where he was murdered. We were given a solemn tour of the Church, stunning in red and white and with five blue domes. Another stunning church, the Church of the Transfiguration, has gleaming green domes.

That evening, we celebrated the Captain's Dinner with champagne and a wonderful dinner. We were also given questionnaires to fill in with our evaluations of the cruise. Each cabin was also given "gratuity" envelopes to make it easier for those who wished to thank members of the crew. We set sail for Moscow, where the cruise portion of the trip would end, though we would stay on the boat until our departure from Moscow four days later.
 
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Jul 2nd, 2002, 09:18 PM
  #32
rudy
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My Russian river cruise continued...

As we cruised along the Moscow Canal, our level of anticipation rose markedly. We would finally see the heart and soul of the Russian empire, the almost 850 year old capital, with all its intrigue and phenomenal history. The scenery along the canal changed from bucolic sights to industrial buildings and miles upon miles of apartments.

The temperature had risen to a very comfortable 25 degrees centigrade (about 80 degrees fahrenheit), and several of the passengers were sunbathing on the sundeck. Along the canal, we could see families sunbathing on the banks (some in the nude) and a few hardy souls were even swimming in the frigid waters.

Moscow is the center of industry, culture, and politics. Tolstoy wrote that Moscow is the soul of the empire, and that it remains eternal because "Russians look at Moscow as if she is their own mother." It is believed that the very word "Moscow" means "mother bear".

Within minutes of arrival at the Northern River Terminal, we boarded busses to take a city tour. It is almost impossible to describe the traffic. We soon found ourselves in a massive jam, and our bus inched along at a painfully slow pace. Cars, busses and taxis were everywhere, and it seemed as if we would never arrive at the city center. All eyes were on the lookout for the Kremlin walls.

After a painfully long bus ride, the beginning of our tour started at Red Square, the heart of the city. It is called Red Square from the Russian word "krasny", which means both "beautiful" and "red". Red Square is magnificent, with its towering Kremlin walls, St. Basil's Cathedral, the Lenin Mausoleum, the Historical Museum, GUM department store, and the gorgeous and breath-taking St. Basil's Cathedral. St. Basil's was erected during Ivan the Terrible's reign. Legend has it that he wanted the most beautiful church ever to be created, and that he never wanted another built that could be more beautiful, so he had the architects blinded after they designed it. Though that has been proven untrue, it is hard to argue that there is a more beautiful church in existence.

We went inside GUM (pronounced "GOOM") with its large, glassed roof. When built, there was no heating sytem, and the glass roof was meant to absorb the heat of the sun.

Though we saw Lenin's Tomb from the outside, it was closed that day, and noone could say why. Soldiers stood everywhere with stoic expressions. We were told that Lenin is often taken out for his periodic "flushing", though it wasn't fully explained what that meant!

That first day in Moscow, we did not go inside the walls of the Kremlin. Rather, we just drank in the atmosphere of Red Square, and watched the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier of WWII. Later in the evening, we were driven to a high hill overlooking the magnificent vista of Moscow below, and as the sun set, we were treated to champagne. The ending of that first day could not have been more perfect.
 
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Jul 11th, 2002, 10:14 AM
  #33
Mimi
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Rudy: Just discovered your posts quite by accident. My husband and I are taking the reverse itinerary on the Viking Pakhomov later this month. Found your descriptions terrific. A couple of questions, though. You mentioned appropriate female attire for one of the cathedrals, is it the same for all of them? Also, I hope to purchase some amber earrings as gifts for my friends -- how was the shopping? Is one city better than the others? Since ours is the reverse to yours, should we shop in Moscow or wait until St. Petersburg? Thanks again -- hope to hear from you.
 
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Jul 11th, 2002, 11:24 AM
  #34
cynthia
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Rudy: sounds wonderful. my questions, were there many or any children on this boat and were the cabins quiet? thanks.
 
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Jul 11th, 2002, 07:13 PM
  #35
rudy
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To Mimi:

The only time that "appropriate" attire was ever mentioned was for the optional tour of the monastery in Sergeiev Posad. This is a very sacred place. Otherwise, you won't have any restrictions. As for the shopping: our guides pointed out places in each city where we might find souvenirs. We were reminded that purchasing amber could be an "iffy" proposition because one could never be sure of the quality, or even if it was actually amber. We were advised to buy in the "better" shops rather than from venders on the street. I bought great amber earrings and bracelets in the little town of Mandroguy (not on the itinerary, but the captain stopped there because the weather was favorable, and he wanted to treat us). It was very reasonable in price, and we were assured that it was indeed real amber. If your captain stops there (he most likely will; the town is built specifically to cater to tourists) go into the souvenior store and into one of the rooms in the rear. You will find the salespeople very helpful, and will probably be pleased with the prices. I recall that the bracelets were about $10, but there were some that sold for only $5 (the stretch type) and more expensive ones. Both in St. Petersburg and in Moscow there are many stores and shops where amber is sold.

To Cynthia: There were no children or even teenagers on our boat. I saw very few young people on any of the boat tours. I did notice that on one of the other Viking boats there was a family with two high school age daughters. Your question about quiet cabins made me smile because we never heard one sound at all (and I'm a light sleeper) but we talked with another couple who heard nightly "intimacies" from the cabin next to theirs. Maybe the type of cabin made the difference. We stayed in the deluxe cabin, but they were in one of the standard cabins, and claimed that they could hear everything. Then again, maybe we just lucked out and had quiet neighbors.
 
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Jul 11th, 2002, 07:43 PM
  #36
rudy
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My Russian river cruise...

I just realized that I never finished. Moscow blew us away. We kept telling ourselves that we couldn't believe we were actually standing in Red Square, or inside the walls of the Kremlin, or in front of St. Basil's Cathedral. We're not spring chickens, so we vividly remember the Cold War, and Krushchev's dire warning, "We will bury you!"

We had done a great deal of reading about Russia and about Moscow in particular, so our appreciation of the history and of its significance was heightened. But Moscow offered us so much more. It is a city rich in art and architecture. Seeing St. Basil's, the Convent, the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum is to really "see" Moscow. Put simply, Moscow is enchanting. Even the Metro, the most popular form of transportation for over ten million Muskovites daily, is an experience not to be duplicated.

The stations are very deep, and one takes a sharply angled escalator to get to them. They were originally built as bomb shelters during WWII. Many of the stations are gorgeously decorated with stained glass, marble, mosaics, chandeliers, and even statues. We found ourselves taking photographs of the art. In one of the stations, we could see mosaics which included the old hammer and sickle symbol, which is rarely seen anymore.

The trains are very crowded, and people push against each other. At one point, I came close to a panic attack because we were packed in so tightly that I felt I couldn't breathe. This is an experience not to be missed!

It's important to note that this is the quickest way to get around Moscow. Cars and tourist busses sit in traffic for long periods of time, sometimes an hour or more, and one can get to a destination within a few minutes by traveling on the metro. continued...
 
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Jul 11th, 2002, 07:59 PM
  #37
rudy
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My Russian river cruise continued...

While riding through Moscow on the bus, our guide pointed out a huge building which was the "Red October" factory. Red October is a brand of chocolate, and our guide told us that it is delicious. We later bought some from a store, and loved it. We decided to buy some in the airport before leaving, but to our dismay, there was no Red October for sale anywhere in the airport, so we weren't able to bring any home for ourselves and for souvenirs. The packaging itself looks so pretty that a large chocolate bar would make a nice little souvenir for someone who loves chocolate. My advice is to stock up before going to the airport. The duty free shop wasn't carrying any.

Our final nights in Moscow were spent at the ballet and at an evening concert. The Viking itinerary had included the Moscow Circus, but it was changed to a concert. We were told that the circus was "not very good, and even an embarassment." They seemed very reluctant to even talk about it. Many people were very disappointed about missing the circus, but we used it as an opportunity to see a different kind of show, and the concert was very entertaining.

Departure was just as easy and trouble free as our arrival. We were bussed to the airport in the wee hours of the morning, and were taken to the departure area where our visas were taken, our passports stamped, and our farewells to the guides were said. We had absolutely no problems with the officials at the departure area. Noone asked how much money we were leaving with, or even checked to see what we had purchased.

I'm ready to return, but next time on our own. I'm happy that we took a cruise for our first trip to Russia, and have no hesitations about going there again but without the benefit of a group tour. But I would hire a personal guide, because street signs and metro signs are all in Cyrillic, and if one is not fluent in the Russian language, it would be hard to negotiate completely on one's own and without any help.
 
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Jul 12th, 2002, 11:56 AM
  #38
mimi
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Rudy: Thanks again for your wonderful saga. I have shared it with several friends who are now regretting that they did not book this river cruise when I asked them to accompany us. I am a little concerned about your reply to Cynthia re: adjacent cabin noise. We are booked into a category "B' cabin and are not on the end of the row, but will hope for the best! Anyway, thanks for the clarification about dressing to visit churches and cathedrals. We will certainly take your advice and go on the optional tour of Sereive Posad and hope that for us, too, the Circus trip will be cancelled and a ballet or concert substituted. We also appreciated your comments on taking US dollars and your suggestions on purchases to bring back home. Many thanks on the info about amber. Re: bottled water, we each have insulated "bottle carriers" but rather than pack water, on past cruises we were able to fill them up daily on board ship at the water coolers. Is the water on board drinkable? Once again, thanks for sharing your story. I look forward to adding my comments on our return.
 
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Jul 13th, 2002, 07:19 PM
  #39
rudy
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Hi Mimi,

I'm happy for you! I know you will really enjoy this trip. Your friends will definitely regret not going after you return with great memories to tell, and fabulous photos to show.

Remember that you only have to cover arms and legs and wear a scarf for the one monastery.

As for your cabin, ours was a "BX" (B deluxe). I can't remember if there is a distinction between a "B" and a "BX", or if they are the same thing. My memory is that there were only six in our category. All of the BX cabins were in the front of the boat, down the hall from the room called the "Library". That entire hallway was very quiet, because there was very little traffic. Also, as I said before, we had very quiet neighbors. Our cabin was not an end, but right in the middle of the group. Most of the cruisers were so tired by the end of each day that we all retired fairly early and slept soundly.

There was water available at all times for those who wanted to fill their containers. It was free. Many people took the opportunity to fill their containers, and to drink the water poured from pitchers at dinner each evening. They suffered no ill effects at all. We were worried about the quality of the water, though, and decided to purchase several large bottles of Evian in a small grocery store in St. Petersburg where we started our cruise. By the end of the cruise, we were also drinking the water. We found it funny that bottled water cost $2, but wine at every meal was included. Sodas and beer were also $2 each. By the way, always carry your water container with you. I don't recall ever seeing any drinking fountains, and the pace of the tours is fairly fast, so you will get thirsty. We were always thankful for our water.

I would be interested to know what we are in agreement (or disagreement) about after you return. Have a great trip, and if you have other questions, I'm happy to answer them.
 
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Jul 13th, 2002, 08:06 PM
  #40
Gary
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We enjoyed your report on your river cruise in Russia. We did the repositioning cruise on the Litvinov from Rostov on Don to Moscow in May. We enjoyed it so much that we are going to take another cruise at the end of September, this time fom St Petersburg to Moscow and then from Moscow to Rostov on Don. This will be my fourth visit to Russia and my wife's second. It is a very interesting country with many sights to see. Rudy I hope that you are able to make an independent trip, it will be a little more difficult but even more enjoyable. I would recommend, besides Moscow and St Petersburg, a visit to some of the Golden Ring cities, such as Vladimir, Suzdal, Kostroma, Rostov Veliky as well as Novgorod Veliky, near St Petersburg.
 
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