Russia Part 1

Tuesday – Moscow

We spent most of the day on Tuesday travelling. We had a fairly early flight in the morning, and with the flight taking close to 4 hours and Russia being 3 hours ahead, we didn’t arrive until early evening. We had a transfer waiting for us and there was a group of us in the same minibus that took us to the ship – MS Chernyshevsky. We had a quick look in our rooms, had our bags delivered, and then went to the Conference Room for a meeting about the optional excursions that were available in Moscow. This was where we met our group leaders, Masha and Stas (pronounced Marcia and Starz). When our big group split into 2 for the excursions, we were with Stas. It was his first cruise, but his English was excellent and once you got him talking he was a lot of fun. In our big group there were several Australians, as well as a few from the UK, New Zealand, Canada and a group of 8 friends from Holland. It turned out to be a great group and we all had lots of fun together.

We then had dinner, which for us was in the Volga Restaurant each day. We asked 2 elderly ladies (Faye and Jeanie, who both live near Sydney) if we could join them and soon after that a lovely couple from New York (Robert and Richard) came to sit with us. We got along really well with them, so continued sitting with them for lunch and dinner, until we were informed that we had to stay in those exact seats. This was so we could choose (from the options provided) each course for lunch and dinner the following day. Each lunch was 4 courses – salad type appetizer, some sort of soup, main and dessert. Each dinner was 3 courses – the same but without the soup. Breakfast each morning was buffet.

The food each day was very fresh and tasty and presented very nicely. I could’ve taken a photo of almost every meal – the detail was stunning. One of the salads had a piece of tomato sitting on top of a boiled egg, with dots of mayonnaise, making it look like a toadstool – incredible!

Wednesday – Moscow

After an early breakfast we got on the buses for our City Tour. The main attractions were the Cathedral of St Basil on Red Square and the Kremlin. The Moscow Kremlin is a historic fortified complex at the very heart of Moscow, and includes four palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin Wall and Kremlin towers. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of Russia. The irregular triangle of the Kremlin Wall (built from 1485 to 1495) encloses an area of 275,000 square metres.

We had lunch at the Golden Ring Hotel, which was very nice, and we then continued our tour, arriving back at the ship late afternoon. Adrian and I had booked to go to the Moscow State Circus, but it was cancelled as not enough people wanted to go. That meant that after dinner we had the evening to ourselves.

Thursday – Moscow

On Thursday morning we went on an optional excursion to Sergiev Posad, one of Russia’s most important monasteries to which even the Tsars though it honourable to make a pilgrimage on foot. It is still an operational monastery, so we were able to experience the Russian culture first-hand, going into several of the cathedrals while there were services and dedications occurring. It was here, at the markets, that I bought my lovely pashmina (there’ll be photos of it I’m sure).

Lunch was back on the ship and in the early evening we set sail for Uglich (312 km, 7 locks). There was a Captain’s welcome cocktail, which we skipped, and then dinner. After dinner we went to the concert called ‘Let’s get Acquainted’ where we were introduced to the singers, button accordion player and dancers, who were all very good. We then spent the evening on the deck watching as we went through a couple of locks, explaining it to our new friends Janet and Juris (pronounced Yuri) and Ian and Lana. I had seen many boats passing through locks, but had never actually been on the boat myself, so it was quite an experience, especially when some of the locks were quite tight. We were told that one lock in particular was only 0.5m wider than the boat – the Captain was specifically requested to be in control during that time. It was lovely to stay out on deck talking and laughing and getting to know people better, so we didn’t mind that it was a late night.

Friday – Uglich

After breakfast, we had a quiet morning until the safety drill at 12.30. We had to put on our life jackets (which was easier said than done) and wait outside our cabin. Once everyone had been checked, we were ‘dismissed’ and it was time for lunch. After lunch was our first Russian language lesson, run mostly by Masha. We arrived at Uglich at 4.30 and then started our excursion, which was a walking tour to the Church of St Dmitry on the Blood and the Kremlin. Dmitry was Ivan the Terrible’s grandson and was murdered by the Tsar’s advisor, Boris Godunov, so that he couldn’t be heir to the throne. The ‘official’ story is that Dmitry fell and cut his neck on a knife during an epileptic fit – yeah right!

While in one of the cathedrals, a group of male singers called Ark, sang 2 songs for us. The first was a sacred song called Our Lord God, and the second was a folk song called Volga Boatmen – apparently quite well known. It was so nice to be surprised with this little concert and of course to hear a group sing a cappella in a cathedral was amazing.

We had some free time after the tour, so we found a little supermarket to stock up on biscuits, toothpaste (we didn’t forget, just didn’t realise quite how empty our travel one was) and tissues. We then wandered through the markets and only bought 2 things – a matryoshka doll keyring and a Russian ornament for our Christmas tree. A matryoshka doll is what everyone would know as a babushka doll – where each doll has another smaller one inside. The word babushka means grandmother, whereas the word matryoshka means fair lady or woman – that is why they are actually called matryoshka dolls. This was something they wanted us to clear up with our family and friends, as it is a common mistake, so there you go.

We were all back onboard by 8pm so that we could set sale for Yaroslavl (370 km). After dinner there was a folk music concert, which again was lots of fun. They taught us traditional Russian kissing games and there was lots of screaming and laughing for the whole night!

Saturday – Yaroslavl

After an early breakfast, we started our city sightseeing excursion in Yaroslavl. This was the only place where we didn’t really like our guide, but it was still a nice morning. He took us to a few churches, walked along the river, to a museum and then to the Governor’s palace. At the Governor’s palace there was a young girl dressed as the Governor’s daughter, who took us for a tour of her ‘father’s palace’. She played the part very well and at the end of the tour there was a chamber concert (piano, violin, cello) with dancing and champagne. After that we had free time in the city, but since we had seen just about everything and were cold, we went into a cute little café for a hot drink. I, of course, had a hot chocolate and Adrian had a cappuccino. It was the best hot chocolate I’d had in a long time, and was to be the only hot chocolate I would have in Russia.

We were all onboard by midday and the ship then left for Goritsy (250 km, 2 locks). After lunch we had a lazy afternoon and then went to out second Russian language lesson. The theme for dinner tonight was Ukrainian, so all the staff were dressed up. We were very impressed by the dessert, which was honey cake. On top of the cake they had made a little bee out of cream and sauce, using broken bits of wafer for the wings. On the plate beside the cake they had sprinkled cocoa powder in the shape of a beehive – very clever! The concert was ‘Rhythms of the world’ which as usual was lots of fun.

Sunday – Goritsy

After breakfast on Sunday morning, we joined one of the other groups for a Russian history lecture. The lady giving the lecture seemed to have worked for all sorts of people so she knew her stuff. She spoke to us for an hour and half, and then continued for another hour and a half on Monday morning.

We had an early lunch so that we could go on our excursion to Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery (the monastery of St Cyril of the white lake). Today the monastery serves as a museum but some of the buildings have been returned to the Church and a few monks have begun to take up residence. The tour took us into one of the churches and then down to the lake, where the water is believed to make you look 10 years younger. As we were already the youngest on the ship (by about 30 years) we decided not to try it. We popped into another little building where we had another little concert from 4 male singers called ‘White Lake’. Our final stop was a museum with lots of icons. Icons are painted on wood and then hung in the church, whereas frescos are painted directly onto the walls.

In the afternoon we left for Kizhi Island (374 km, 6 locks). Back on the ship, we learnt some Russian national songs and then relaxed in one of the lounges for a while. We ended up having a bit of a sing-along with the Aussies and the Dutch, which was a lot of fun. Then it was time for dinner and the theme for tonight was Pirate dinner! Juris provided us with the most entertainment. He’d used the eye mask from the plane as an eye patch, tied one of Janet’s scarves around his head and had a few too many vodkas earlier in the afternoon at the vodka party!! As you walked into the restaurant the staff were sitting in two rows on the floor, pretending to pinch our jewellery etc and making us look ‘messy’. They were tying people’s shoelaces together, folder up one trouser leg, putting the hood of their jumper on, doing all sorts. Then at the end of the line they made you skull a shot of vodka before they would let you through. When we got to our table we realised that all our cutlery was there, but it had all been moved around, some of the glasses were on their side, napkins were on the floor – it was a huge mess. We had o much fun laughing at everyone, but mostly Juris. I don’t actually think he was that drunk, just playing up on it, but thanks for the entertainment Juris – you’re tops!!

After dinner we retreated to the lounge and Janet and Juris joined us for a nice evening drink, where we got to know them better and Juris told us the story of how his family came to be in Australia, having come from Latvia. It was a great evening.

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