River Cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow – 2012
I wonder what the St. Petersburg airport is like …………………… we arrived in St. Petersburg by bus with Globus tours. We had come off of a Baltic Tour and were now joining a Uniworld River Cruise to travel from St. Petersburg to Moscow. We spent six days in St. Petersburg and our experiences can be found by clicking on St. Petersburg on this website under My Travels.
We boarded the River Victoria and had our first taste of northern rural Russia as we travelled along the Svir River which connects two large lakes, Ladoga and Onega. The local population of this area have always been engaged in hunting, fishing and shipbuilding. This river was chosen by Peter the Great, the famous Russian Emperor as a center for building the Russian fleet. The choice was made due to first of all, that the Svir had always been an only way to get to both Scandinavia as well as Asia for a purpose of trade. Secondly, the local forests boast their fine pine trees which are perfect for building good ships. And finally, nowhere else in Russia could one find better shipbuilders than in this area.
Our first stop was Mandrogi located in the Leningrad region on the Svir River. The original village was burned down during WWII and during the 1950s only a few families who worked on the local Hydro-power station lived there. The revival of the village actually commenced in 1997 with the main purpose of the reconstruction being to keep the culture of the Russian North and to share it with the tourists of the world. Today, Mandrogi has a permanent population of 100 people but approximately 300 others come there daily for work from villages nearby. The village offered a great variety of souveniers ………………… beads, lace, clay pots, wooden carvings, glass artifacts, paintings, etc.
Our next stop was on Kizhi island, located in Lake Onega, second largest lake in Russia with Lake Ladoga being the largest. With a shape resembling that of a clawed lobster, Lake Onega spans a 10 000 square kilometre area, making it the second largest lake in Europe, bowing in size only to its twice larger neighbourhood Lake Ladoga. Depth of the lake averages 30 meters, but includes cavities reaching as far as 120 meters. More than 50 rivers and 1000 streams feed Onega. The lake contains over 1300 islands, most of which lie in the north where forests of pine stand at the edges of the rock jagged coastline. Linden and elm trees are more common in the middle and southern areas, where sandy shores slope into shallow bays of reeds. The lake sustains more than 40 species of fish, including salmon and trout. Lake Onega is known for its clear, clean water, practically unsurpassable in its purity.
The island of Kizhi is treeless, small and narrow …………………… about 6 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide. It used to be a pagan ritual site, but Russian settlers established a parish on this island in the 11th century. Three very prominent structures stand erect and break the bleakness of the treeless landscape. The first and the most dominant is The Transfiguration Cathedral which was erected in 1714 partly in commemoration of the victory of Peter the Great over Sweden.
This awe-inspiring wooden church, built without nails, was made from pine cut in winter and dried for three to four years. It is crowned by 22 cupolas (onion shaped domes) of differing sizes, sheathed in 30 000 carved aspen shingles. It is said that the shingles shimmer like silver in the sunlight and the light at dusk or dawn turns them a rich purple; however, when we were there it was drizzling rain so we did not experience that. The second one is the Church of the Lasarus Resurrection which was moved to Kizhi from a monastery on Lake Onega (1286 – 1391) and restored in 1973. The third church, the Church of the Intercession (1694 -1764) was built on Kizhi Island as a winter, heated church. It has 10 domes covered with aspen shingles. The church was restored in 1956-1959 and is now a functioning church. Kizhi is also home to a number of other historic timber buildings and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Travelling along the Volga River-Baltic Canal and passing through a series of 6 locks, we reached Goritsy on the Sheksna River in the most northern part of Russia, the Vologda region. Most of the population in this region are Russians. 70% of the land is covered with forests which bound with hares, squirrels, bears, martens, badgers, wolves, foxes, grouse, partridges, etc. The average temperature in the summer is 18 degrees C. In the winter, everything is covered with snow and it gets very cold.
Upon arrival in Kirillov, we visited a monastery where only 6 monks reside today. At one time it was one of the biggest monasteries in the Russian North. The total area of the Monastery is 10 hectares with ten churches and cathedrals inside. Rules and regulations of the monastery were very strict. It played an important role in the social and political life of the country. At the end of the 15th century buildings made of stone appeared at the territory of the monastery. There was much work and lack of workers so monks became masons, carpenters and joiners. By 1427 the brotherhood already consisted of 53 monks, owning thousands of acres of land and 20 000 serfs. In the 17th century the monastery became the strongest fortress of Northern Russia. Polish-Lithuanian armies besieged it six times but their attacks failed. After the Revolution of 1917 the Bosheviks’ Government nationalized the monastery and its property and opened it to the public as a museum.
Yaroslavl, located on the banks of the Volga River, has an interesting legendary beginning. There was an outpost called Bear Corner located at the junction of the Volga River and a tributary, the Kotorosl River where pagans revered and worshipped bears. Occasionally tribal members would exploit their privileged river front position by ambushing passing merchant ships. Angered, these merchants sent Rostov Prince Yaroslav the Wise to defend them. The tribesmen greeted Prince Yaroslav by sending a ferocious bear on him. The Prince killed the bear, winning the submission of the amazed onlookers. He ordered a church to be built and founded the ancient city of Yaroslav.
The city has an interesting checkered history including being capital city of its own principality, being burned to the ground by Mongol-Tatar invasions, being annexed by Moscow, being the Capital of all of Russia for a period of time, being a prominent mercantile center of the upper Volga region, being a prominent cultural center, being the city where Russia’s first national theatre was founded in 1750 and being the city where the country’s first major provincial newspaper was established in 1786. It is truly a city of churches.
We had the opportunity to visit a puppet theatre but unfortunately we were there on a day when there was no performance as we would have liked to have seen one. The puppets were huge, expressive and beautifully clothed.
In my opinion,Yaroslav was the best place for shopping during the whole trip but we did not know that at the time we were there. Shopping highlights included lacquer boxes, linen cloth, bedding, word carvings, nesting dolls, silver, etc.
Uglich, located northeast of Moscow on the Volga River, was our next stop. It is one of Russia’s Golden Ring cities – a term used for a city with a heroic distant past. According to legend, it was founded in 973. Its name came from the Russian word “ugol” meaning angle because of the sharp turn made by the Volga river where the town stands.
It was at Uglich that we met our very blond English speaking Russian guide who called herself “Olga from the Volga”.
It was Ivan the Terrible who gave Uglich to his son, Dmitry and in 1584 after Ivan’s death, it was to Uglich that the two year old boy and his mother Maria were banished by Tsar Fyodor, Ivan’s stepbrother. Seven years later, Dmitry was found dead in the palace courtyard with his throat cut. On the spot where the young prince had been found, a wooden chapel was built at the beginning of the 17th century. In 1630 a wooden church was built and and in 1692 a stone one. The church became known as the Church of Prince Dmitry-on-the Blood.
The bell that mourned Dmitry’s death in 1581 used to call an insurrection on the murder of the prince who was really the heir to the Tsar throne, on the orders of Godunov, Tsar Fyodor’s right hand man, was publicly flogged and its tongue ripped out before it was banished for 300 years to Siberia.
The bell now rests in the Church of Prince Dmitry-On-The Blood.
The Savior and Transfiguration Cathedral is the main Cathedral of Uglich.
It was built by Yaroslavl craftsmen in 1712. The four smaller onion shaped green domes represent the four apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John with the large dome in the center representative of Christ.
Uglich was a very interesting city with many more cathedrals, palaces and museums
and I would have liked to have been able to spend a few days here. I guess that will have to wait until another visit to Russia.
We were very fortunate to have on board for a portion of the river cruise, a guest lecturer Professor Inna Gritsenko from a university in Moscow, who gave an impressive 5 day series of lectures on Russia. Her topics included “Peter the Great”, “The Russian Monarchy and its Tragedy”, “The Russians and Communism: Negation or Nostalgia?”, “Russia in Transition: Petestroika and the Dashing 90’s” and “President Putin: Personality, Policies, Prospects”. Copious note taking on all the information provided reminded me of University days!
Our three day Moscow adventure was dampened by rain every day. Everyone who goes to Moscow I’m sure visits Red Square and the Kremlin and it was here in Red Square that we did have a glimpse of sunshine.
One afternoon on our own, we tried to enter the State Historical Museum. We had a communication breakdown at the entrance and never did get in. In Red Square and when facing the State Historical Museum, off to the left is the Lenin Mausoleum. It is only open 4 months of the year and since we were visiting in October, Lenin was “sleeping until spring” and the building was closed. Off to the right is located GUM department store, a high end elegant structure.
At the other end of Red Square opposite the State Historical museum, stands St. Basil’s Cathedral with its colorful, swirled and textured domes.
The Kremlin is enclosed by high walls. The Armoury of the Kremlin is full of treasures accumulated over the years by the Russian state and Church; armoury, jewels, authentic wedding dresses and clothing of the Tsars, chariots and carriages, renowned Faberge Easter eggs and thrones. Picture taking was not allowed!! On the Kremlin grounds there are many different Cathedrals.
We only entered the one in which the coronation of the Tsars had been held. It was similar to other Orthodox cathedrals we’ve been in …………… no pews, frescoed walls and ceilings.
A tour of Moscow took us to a Museum and Convent, Novodevichy (New Maiden) where we walked through the graveyard of the ‘rich and Famous’ Russians. A few that we quickly identified were:
Raisa Gorbachev (1931-1999)
Nikita Krushchev (1894-1971)
We stopped to take pictures of the Bolshoi Theatre
and the Hotel Metropol.
A visit to Moscow has to include a trip on the Moscow metro system. The metro system is a huge network of 11 lines and 170 odd stations known throughout the world. It is the most heavily used metro system in the world with the most miles of track. There are very long steep escalators which take passengers up and down to the stations. I have never seen such long escalators and my active imagination proceeded to work a little overtime here. What if the power failed? What if we got separated? There were hundreds and hundreds of people crammed onto the platforms, on the escalators and in the subway trains. A bit scarey, I might add! We were told that the underground metro was built also as bunkers in case the city was bombed.
Many of the stations are famous for their expensive artwork, mosaics, marble, chandeliers, stained glass, life size statues, etc.
We were only in three different stations but each was unique.
A visit to Moscow must include a walk down Arbat Street. Arbat today is a street for souvenir shopping, with lots of street cafes and bars, street performers, artists and fun. It is a walking street in the city center with a great history which started so long ago that nobody is sure about the street name’s most real legend.
This area was mostly famous for its inhabitants of the late Soviet era to whom belonged a lot of intelligentsia, writers, poets and dissidents. Our walk down Arbat Street was somewhat disappointing as many kiosks and shops were closed due to the rain. Street vendors and entertainers were nowthere to be seen.
Moscow is a city to which I would like to return as my impression was so colored by the weather but then …………… who knows whether the sun will shine on my next visit!