Sometimes we have to “pinch” ourselves to see if this is “real!” After all our planning, we’re in Russia, and the Viking Surkov ship is wonderful, our quarters are ample, comfortable, wonderfully supplied, etc. The meals are great, many choices, wine with dinner, service top notch, and everyone so friendly and helpful. We’re concerned our clothes are getting a little tighter!
We’re off on our first tour. There are six buses, a separate guide for each, to take you to the venue. We were told to make sure we had a good guide, one who spoke clearly, had personality, etc. Our “gut” reaction made us choose Natasha. Wow! She is fantastic. Very knowledgeable, great personality, and able to bring life experiences into her briefings! Her university learnings were in languages and history! Then we were off to The Hermitage – what a museum! We spent about 2 hours there viewing some beautiful master’s art work and displays. This is only a drop in the bucket. They say you need a year, going nearly every day to get the full experience. What is displayed is only about a tenth of what they have!
After dinner we went to the St. Petersburg Ballet performance of Swan Lake at the Hermitage Theatre. It was wonderful! Although the stage is full sized, the venue is small. This was Catherine the Great’s own theater, which provided intimacy with the dancers. It was beautiful, colorful, and very well done!
We had an overview tour of Pushkin with an overwhelming lesson of history! We toured the St. Catherine Palace in all it’s splendor and riches! It was originally built for Peter the Great! There we learned about the relationships with Peter the Great, Catherine the First,
Daughter Elizabeth 1, and Catherine the Great! A “Cossack” show was an enjoyable ending for that day!
The Peterhof Grand Palace, park and fountains is Russia’s “Versailles!”- it was wonderful touring the Palace, and then, walking around the beautiful gardens!
Then, we were off cruising! We went through many “locks” to raise us or lower us between rivers and lakes. We went along Lake Ladoga, Europes largest fresh water lake. We could’ve been cruising on an ocean since there was no land in sight!
When cruising from St. Petersburg to Yaroslavl, we mostly saw forests with the tree right up to and sometimes in the water. It was rare to see any communities until we came closer to Yarolavl. Then, as the weather warmed, we saw many communities heading towards Moscow. In fact, we saw families along the river enjoying the beaches!
The communities along the river that we toured were the ancient villages of Mandrogi, Kizhi, Kuzino, Yaroslavl, and Uglich. We saw many Monasteries, and many churches! Plus, there were outdoor and indoor markets, all over, for the tourists to spend their money!
On the ship we’ve had Russian language lessons, and have learned much about Russian history, and all the politics! The guides have been very free with their feelings toward their leaders!
Now we’re on our way to Moscow!
We stopped in 3-4 smaller cities along the way to Moscow! All were interesting in their own way! Most of the life is focused around the Russian Orthodox Church. So, we saw many churches, with their icons.There’s a special arrangement of Icons that is found in all their churches. We, now, feel we know that arrangement! Also, there are no seats in their churches. If the service is 1-2 hours long, everyone stands or kneels on the ground!
In Moscow, standing in Red Square was amazing! It was hard to believe we were there! Over and over we heard about the Russian people’s feelings toward Gorbachev – It’s not good! The Kremlin tour was interesting – not only government buildings, but many churches! The GUM department store is loaded with high-end stores like Hermes, Ferragamo, Cartier, etc! This was a surprise for us. Norm and I enjoyed the Military Museum which had many tanks, armor, missiles, troop carriers, the U-2 Spy Plane they shot down, etc.
The Viking River Cruise is such an exciting tour – we highly recommend it!
This post was written by Barb and Norm – from Foster City
(San Francisco Bay Area), California.