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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

Sergei Kirov ~ Viking River Cruises
Moscow to St. Petersburg
June 23 to July 6, 2001

Part Two

Diane & a "Babushka" selling flowers

Wednesday, we docked at Uglich at 11:00 A.M. Docking this large boat (ship?) seems as complicated as stopping an elevator at a floor. We had bow and stern thrusters and using those, we just simply "stopped" at the dock, tied up a couple of lines, and we stepped ashore. At many places, we were docked or "rafted" with one or two similar boats. We just walked through from our boat to the dock. (Or their passengers walked through our lobby.) At Uglich we had a walking tour to the Church of the Blood of Dimitri. Our guide was a high school English teacher. Here we found the first onslaught of many souvenir stands and of old women selling wildflowers for whatever they could get to have some money to eat. It was sad. There were also some beggars. We helped when we could but didn't contribute to young men who could have done some kind of work. (Even picking and selling wildflowers.) Bought some Russian military watches for friends and a cute outfit for our granddaughter. Back on the boat, lunch featured "Galupsy", a cabbage roll filled with minced meat. At dinner we had "Jalupa" a Ukrainian soup and a choice of haddock or a stuffed chicken leg. Both were delicious. During the afternoon, there were 2 lectures; "Modern Russia and her problems", and "The Gorbachov Phenomenon". Maria Gordeyeva, Ph.D, Russian State University of the Humanities, in Moscow gave most of the lectures. There were also a few round table discussions that my wife really enjoyed. Any subject was free to be discussed. Each night there was a very good Russian band with a girl singer playing both Russian songs and contemporary favorites in the Panorama Bar and also in the Library, there was a very good pianist playing classics and favorites. Next to come, Yaroslavl and Goritzy.

A young girl demonstrates the old art of Russian braiding

Thursday, we arrived at Yaroslavl, a rather large industrial city. We toured the puppet theater, the Church of Elijah the Prophet, and attended a very good folklore show. Our local guide Alexi was a surgeon in regular life. He made the equivalent of his monthly salary each day in tips from the tour groups. He spoke very good English. We had a nice talk with him about Russian culture and how they are ahead of us in insisting that the arts are a critical part of the culture and every town has its theater and musicians. Back on board, the dinner featured Italian specialties (I forgot exactly what, but it was good). In the evening, the ships' orchestra performed their folklore show for us in the Panorama Bar. Very nice!

Friday we were in Goritzy and toured the Krillov-Belezersky Monastery (now a museum). Back on board, it was Viking night. My wife had codfish and I had one of the best steaks I've ever had. We had "latkes" for the appetizer. Don't ask me what they are, but they were delicious.

The Wooden Church at Kizhi

Saturday, we cruised Lake Onega en route to Kizhi. Most of the cruising was close to shore on the rivers and we passed many villages and towns. The main industries seemed to be logging and we saw birch logs being loaded onto ships as late as 10:00 P.M. (It doesn't get dark until 11:30 and the sun comes up again at 4:30 A.M.) The passing countryside reminded me of Minnesota and we saw miles and miles of beautiful forests. Whenever we passed people, they waved to us. We also saw many "dachas", Russian country cottage get-aways. The city dwellers regard having a "dacha" as a necessity and they range from small one-room log cabins to rather elaborate country homes. Most have a garden. While cruising on the lake we were treated to tours of the bridge and the galley. Enrico, the German chef has become my new "best friend". The entrees for tonight are Sturgeon or chopped meat in a pastry roll. (It was Russia night). We arrived at Kizhi at 4:00 P.M. and had a walking tour to see the famous wooden church with its 22 wooden onion domes. Our guide Alexi was a high school English teacher from a town 40 or 50 miles away.

The crew displays their talents on board 
the Sergei Kirov 

Back on board, the crew put on a show for us. It was very funny with the boys spoofing a ballet and the waitresses doing some great song and dance numbers. Among our waitresses, there were 6 "Natasha's", "4 Natalie's", 1 "Olga", 1 "Anna" and 1 "Irina". If you needed something, you had the odds in your favor by calling for "Natasha". All of them were just delightful!

Sunday was spent cruising on the Svir river. There were lots of opportunities to observe life in small towns and villages as we cruised by. As we passed one small village, we could hear the choir singing Russian hymns in church. Lovely! Each day there are lectures on Russian history, culture, politics, economy, and its past and present leaders. These were very educational and informative when compared to our western perceptions. As an added bonus, the cruise line has provided a video photographer to follow us and make a video of this voyage. It will be available to us at the end of the cruise for $25. Today we saw a preview of the tape (first half). It was well worth the money. He will be adding the St. Petersburg tours to what he has already shot.

The weather for this voyage could not have been better. Sunny skies and temperatures between 70 and 76. Only 2 brief showers in Moscow, and those were when we were on the bus. Later in St. Petersburg, there were a couple of fast-unexpected showers, so it was prudent to carry an umbrella everywhere. Today, the lunch entree was breaded Pike-Perch and tonight is the Captains' special dinner. We were served Cream of Mushroom soup followed by Beef Wellington and Shrimp Scampi. Tonight is also the traditional "Tip" night for the crew. There is a box placed at the entrance to the restaurant where tips are placed for all the Russian crew. Recommendation is $5 per person per day. All the crew equally shares the money. Later at the end of the trip we will tip our guides and lecturers.

Monday morning we had an early departure for the Peter & Paul Fortress (Museum). At noon, we bussed to the city of Pushkin where we had a traditional Russian lunch at the "Podvorie" restaurant. In the afternoon, we waited in line for over an hour to go through Catherine’s palace. A sudden shower surprised us and those who had neglected to take umbrellas got a little wet. By 4:00 P.M., we were back to the ship for a quick snack so we could change and get ready to go to a ballet. Dinner would be served at 10:00 P.M. We bussed to the Moussorgsky theater and saw "Corsar". I've never been to a ballet before, so I not only couldn't tell the players without a number on their backs, I couldn't even tell who had the ball. Actually, it was enjoyable and the theater was very pretty. Those who knew ballet said that the lead dancers were very good and the rest were pretty good. This company is supposedly rated second in St. Petersburg. Back to the ship, we were bushed, so skipped dinner and went straight to bed. Touring can be tough!

Tuesday morning was another early departure (8:30 A.M.) and we went straight to the Peterhof, visiting both the palace and the park. Had another box lunch from the ship and in the afternoon we visited the Hermitage. Back to the ship just in time for dinner. We were exhausted by so many museums in such a short time with heavy crowds of many nationalities. All museums charge you to use your own camera. $2.50 for still and $10 for video. After our quick dinner (more of a snack), we were off to an Army Folklore show. It was excellent! All the musicians, dancers and singers are regular soldiers assigned to the St. Petersburg district. As in the museums, you could buy a license to videotape the performance, or here, you could buy a video of last years show for $15.

On Wednesday, departure was at a normal 9:30 and we went to the Russian Museum and saw art from Russia. For lunch, Viking arranged a buffet for us at the Moscow Hotel. It was a nice spread with lots of choices. After lunch, we boarded a canal excursion boat for a leisurely and scenic trip through the canals and rivers of St. Petersburg. Misha, our Viking Cruise Lines tour guide served as our city guide all throughout St. Petersburg as it was his hometown. He even drove us by his apartment and showed us his car, a Volga. (He was very proud of it.) We finished the day with a couple of hour’s free time. Some shopped on Nevsky-Prospect, the main street. We sat in a park and watched the people. Young lovers, older people, and children playing. We decided to buy an ice cream cone from a vendor. While doing this, my wife noticed a young man sketching me. When he was finished, he came over and showed it to me. It was a very nice drawing. I asked how much and he said, "since we made no contract, this is my gift to you." I dug into my pocket and came up with all my remaining rubles, (about $2.50 worth) and gave them to him as "my gift". He was delighted and so was I. We talked for a while and parted as friends. Note: The dollar goes a long way in Russia. Things are very cheap for us. We were tired, so after another nice dinner, we went to bed. We will pack in the morning.

Thursday. Today we are scheduled to depart. We had the standard breakfast. They requested that we be out of our cabins by 10:00 A.M., so that they could be cleaned and prepared for the next guests. We had plenty of time to pack and my wife had planned beforehand to leave some of her clothes behind. When she asked the stewardess if she would like to have them, you would have thought that we were giving her a fortune. This made us feel that we were giving her a little "extra" tip, allowed us room in the suitcase for the souvenirs and gifts that we bought, and pleased the stewardess, so we all "won". Since our flight didn't leave until late in the afternoon, we stored our luggage in the library. We spent the day with our travelmates discussing the great time that we all had. Lunch was provided, and we were transported to the airport 2 hours before our flight. This time, clearing passport control was simple and fast. We had a charming, young lady official who decided to practice her English with me. For me it was another opportunity to express how much I had enjoyed Russia, the friendly people, and the beautiful scenery. She appreciated my comments and was as friendly as the other Russians we had met. We boarded our KLM flight for the 3 1/2-hour flight to Amsterdam where we spent the night at the Airport Hilton. Once again, very nice people who upgraded us to a King-size bedroom. We got a great nights sleep. Had a very nice meal on the flight, so skipped dinner. In the morning, we had the breakfast buffet. It had to be the most comprehensive buffet I have ever seen.

We checked in for our 10:15 A.M. Delta flight with a minimum of fuss. I was surprised that our carry-on luggage went through no less than 3 x-ray machines. Extra security is ok with me! The Delta flight was very nice and as on the trip over, the meals were delicious. My wife had chicken with cous cous and I had beef tenderloins. Later we were served a chicken salad followed by a warm chocolate chip cookie. Before boarding, I asked the Captain if we were going to be flying over Greenland, and when he said yes, I asked to be notified when we were there. It is a beautiful sight from the air with the mountains, glaciers and snow.

We arrived in Atlanta early and while claiming our bags, a Delta Passenger Service Agent asked us "by name" if he could be of any service in rechecking our bags. Evidently, he had a list of the Business class passengers and where they were connecting to, so he could identify us from our bags. It was a nice touch and it shows me that Delta is trying very hard to please their passengers. We made our connection and arrived home at 6:00 P.M.

I hope you enjoyed our trip as much as I enjoyed reliving it. This seems to be one of the great-undiscovered vacations available. I think there are still cabins available this season if anyone can go with no notice. This would be a great trip to take the kids on. Especially if they are of high school age. It is an opportunity to experience history in the making. Viking River Cruises has 2 other Russian cruises as well as many other European river cruises. We are considering going back next year on either the Siberian Cruise or the Cruise through the Ukraine to the Black Sea. Both sound wonderful, but I am leaning towards Siberia (in Summer) for the natural beauty.

When you go to Russia, take cash! Traveler’s checks are a pain to cash. You have to make a special trip to a bank and it takes about an hour to get all the paperwork done to cash them. We had one couple who brought nothing but traveler’s checks and we all had to wait in the bus for them. Bring nothing larger than a 20, and bring plenty of singles for tips and souvenirs. They will only take new bills without any writing on them. Someone passed off a black & white copy of a 5-dollar bill to a young boy and he was trying to get us to take it for change. They are not familiar enough with our currency and are afraid of counterfeits. Credit cards are practically useless except to pay your final bill on the ship. The ship will also take any remaining rubles from you towards your bill, so you don't have to worry about that. You really don't need many rubles at all. The people prefer dollars and will give you better than the official rate. If you do want something from an "Official Store" where rubles are required, there are currency exchanges in practically every block. I recommend using a money belt. We had no problems, but were constantly warned of pickpockets in all the crowded places such as the subway and the tourist stops.

Hope you enjoyed the report and Happy Traveling!

Photographs & Text Copyright © 2001--Gary Karschnick

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