Moscow to St. Petersburg

Sept. 1 thru 18, 1999.
by Grant C. Vogel

Sept. 1, 1999.
Wednesday. David took us to the Los Angeles airport, and we checked in. We left about 4:30 p.m., Russian Aeroflot airlines, on a new Boeing 767 plane. Because of the 11 hour difference it was 3:30 a.m. Sept. 2 in Moscow. We had a good 12 hour flight, food was good, but we did not sleep much. Got to Moscow about 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 2.
Had to go through customs and got to our hotel about 5 p.m. . We were staying two nights at the Rossia hotel, the largest hotel in Europe. It has 3000 rooms, and the best location in Moscow, next to the Moscow river, the Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basilís, the cathedral with tall golden domes, and about two blocks from Gumís department store. Our hotel window faced the Kremlin and the cathedral, which was all lit up at night, quite a sight. Got some pictures at night, also in the morning.

Sept. 3.
Had a free day, wandered around Red Square and Gumís. The weather was just perfect, no rain, clear sky.

Sept. 4.
We were picked up at the hotel about 11 am and taken to the ship, a large river cruise ship on the Moscow river about a 30 minute bus ride from the hotel. Our ship was not the only one there, seems this is a river cruise terminal, there were many large and smaller ships tied up there. Some two or three alongside of each other, the first tied to the dock and the others tied to the ship alongside. In order to get to the second or third ship you walk through No.1 into the next one, etc. We checked into our cabin. We were shocked; it was not nearly as large as the cabins on a regular cruise ship, had a small bathroom, nice sized wardrobe and two single beds, a small table, and a nice size window. We were on the top (fourth) floor. When we start the river cruise we should have a good view.

Sept. 5.
Had breakfast at 7:15 am. We had a city tour of Moscow from 9:15 until 4 p.m. . Today is Moscowís 852nd birthday. Because of all the celebrations we could not include some of the places that were scheduled for the tour, but we sure did see a lot of the beautiful city, many good six and eight lane roads and beautiful buildings, parks, a beautiful clean city. They gave us a short ride on the metro (subway.) What a wonderful transportation system, they have trains that go all over the city. For 40 cents you can go any place in the city. Iím sure you could go at least 50 miles and perhaps more on these trains, as they travel underground most of the time about 40 or 50 mph. Thereís a train every few minutes, and during rush hours thereís a train every minute so thereís no waiting even if you have to change from one train to another. Some of the metro stations are real showplaces, beautiful, including all kinds of shops, some three or four floors down.

Sept. 6.
As usual, first my morning walk, breakfast at 7 in a nice dining room. After breakfast we picked up a packed lunch as we leave at 9:15 for an all day tour of the Kremlin, Armory, etc. We first went to the Armory museum, a very large place with a lot of things, four and five hundred years old, lots of army stuff such as guns, swords, uniforms, beautiful jewelry, carriages, furniture, gowns, dishes, etc., most very elaborate, lots of stuff from Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great and Peter the Great. Then we spent some time at the Kremlin and Red Square, a full day, and back to the ship about 3:30.

Sept 7.
After my walk and breakfast we got on the bus to Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the first museum of paintings entirely dedicated to Russian works of art, founded in 1856. It contains over one hundred thousand works of art. Its collection of Russian icons is the finest collection in the world. Icons are religious paintings on wood, many of Jesus, Mary, old and new testament figures, some made in the 1300s, and works of each century through the 19th century. Of course in a three hour tour we saw only a small part of the collection. We went back to Red Square for about two hours, and on our way back to the ship traffic was quite heavy. Tonight at 5:30 the ship set sail leaving Moscow on our way to St. Petersburg. There was lots of releasing balloons and waving goodbye to the people on the dock. Traveling the canal to the Volga river, by 7 the morning weíll have gone through 6 of the 18 locks we go through before we get to St. Petersburg.

Sept 8.
Got up about 6, out on the deck in time to go through lock no 6 and enter the great Volga river, the longest river in Russia, 2300 miles long. Today we stop at the city of Uglich. Had a walking tour of the city famous for the Chaika watch factory. Also visited the church of Dimitri.

Sept 9.
Today we visit the city of Kostroma. We had a bus tour of the city, a large city, it is 848 years old, and they are planning a big celebration in two years for their 850th year. We visited churches and museums, took a picture of a statue of Lenin. Most statues of him have been removed. We had some time for shopping in a shopping area, lots of small shops and a large open area with over 100 fruit and vegetable stands, and stores that sell meat and poultry or fish and some sell linens and some beautiful cloth. This evening a group of local dancers and entertainers put on a pretty good show on the ship. We sailed at 9 p.m.

Friday Sept 10.
City of Yaroslavl, a city of 600 thousand people that stretched 18 miles along both sides of the Volga river and has a beautiful bridge across the river. It has several beautiful cathedrals. We visited two cathedrals, had a nice walking tour on the bank of the Volga through a beautiful park, heard the bells ring next to the monastery that was next to a cathedral. Then we into to a concert hall where we enjoyed a 40 minute concert. Back to the ship at 12:30, lunch at 1 p.m., set sail at 2 p.m. Unemployment here is only 2 percent. Some parts of Russiaís have a lot of unemployment.

Sat. Sept 11.
We are scheduled to get to the city of Irma at 11 am. Itís called a recreation stop. We will be over there early, supposed to have a picnic lunch on the shore, Russian shishkabob. But the weather was windy and a little rain, just a few sprinkles, so it was decided it was too cold outside, so we had our picnic on board in the dining room. There were only a few buildings at the dock and several stands there where they were selling all kinds of souvenirs. There was a dirt road up around a hill to a village, there were some houses, all quite old, and lots of stands trying to get some of those greenbacks from us. Also the program for the day said there would be a fishing contest, they had 14 fish poles so I signed up for the contest to start at 11 am from the side of the ship. I am not sure if there were any fish there. One person pulled up a paper fish. I think someone from below hooked it on. Anyhow, we were told we would get a bottle of champagne for each fish we caught. After about thirty minutes someone told me to come inside there was something important I had to take care of. The cruise director told Nancy to go with me and she would hold my pole. So we went in to the reception desk, he asked our room number and if weíd signed up our tours for St. Petersburg.
Soon we went outside and the lady handed me my pole. I started to pull it up and it felt strange so I pulled it up and it had a seven-inch fish on it, it sure did not move, I thought it must be sick, everyone made a noise about the big fish and the lady said, this is a two bottle fish. That fish felt more dead than alive, but I did not catch on, but it bothered me. Then I realized I was called away and they had attached a dead fish on my line. Anyway I got two bottles of champagne that that we gave to neighbors on the ship. They sure had me fooled for a while. Everyone had a good time.

Sept. 12.
Weather has changed. For nine or ten days the weather was just perfect, now itís overcast and drizzling a little. In the morning, it was about 41 degrees and forecast a high of 55. Today, Iím doing most of my walk inside down the halls, and outside for a few rounds. Today we are cruising all day, relaxing and looking out the window as we pass forests, farms, villages, factories etc. We have gone through six locks, today we are over the summit and we go down about 60 feet at each lock. First into lake Onega, it is about 60 miles wide and 170 miles long. It is just about like being on the ocean; you canít see land. We had some wind all day, not hard, perhaps 20 to 25 miles per hour, so the lake is quite choppy. I think the ship will rock us to sleep tonight. We had a good day cruising and plenty of good food.

Monday Sept.13.
We are still on Lake Onega and will be most of the day. Today we will have two stops, the first one on an island, Kizhi for a walking tour. One of the highlights on this island is the famous 22-dome Transfiguration Church, built in 1714, wooden architecture, built without a single nail. There are many islands in this area of the lake. I took some video of the church and area. It is cold and about 45 degrees and windy. Soon we will leave here and at 3 p.m. get to Petrozavodsk (Peterhof) a large modern city of two hundred sixty five thousand people. This city is on the bank of Lake Onega. Peterhof means Peterís factory. founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. We will have a bus tour here. A very clean city with many parks, and we were taken to a large beautiful theatre where we were entertained by about 50 musicians and dancers for over an hour. This was a good day, two stops even if it was cold. Tonight we will leave Lake Onega and travel the Svir river to Lake Ladoga, a very large lake.

Tuesday Sept. 14.
Cruising all day, one hundred and forty miles on Lake Onega and then to the last large lock, dropping about 80 feet to Lake Ladoga. Tonight we have a talent show. This is a show where passengers are requested to contribute. I took part, I told a couple of jokes. They pretended to like it and think it was pretty good.

By morning we entered Lake Ladoga and entered the Neva River. That took us all the way to St. Petersburg. The Neva River empties into the bay of Finland.

We got to St. Petersburg about 8 am. St. Petersburg has 50 museums, 20 theaters, 60 stadiums, 4500 libraries, and about half of the people have country homes (dachas) besides the apartment they live in in the city. We had a city tour from 8:20 to 4 p.m. Perhaps the most beautiful city in the world, it is the second largest city in Russia. St. Petersburg is not an old city, it started in 1703. It was 40 percent destroyed in World War 2 by the Germans, and it was surrounded by the German army for 900 days. Over a million people starved or froze to death during that time, because the city was completely cut off from the rest of the world. Now there is no sign of destruction, everything has been rebuilt, the canals, beautiful buildings, bridges, parks, great churches, museums, castles, and government buildings. One store building is a mile long. St. Petersburg has the deepest subway in the world, as it goes under the rivers and the canals. 40 percent of the city is water. Today we visited the Hermitage museum. The beautiful building covers about a block. It was originally the palace of Catherine the Great. Her mother started to build it, and after she died Catherine the Great finished it. It is a beautiful building on the outside, but the inside is so massive and beautiful I donít think it could be built for a billion dollars today. It is now a museum and has great works of art, over three million pieces. If you spent one minute at each one it would take you nine years to see all of it. We saw a lot in about three hours today, this was perhaps one of our best days yet. Moscow was great but so is this, and we still have two days here.

Thursday Sept. 16.
We had a tour 8:30 to 4 p.m., went to the city of Pushkin. Pushkin was a famous poet. We visited the former residence of Catherine the second; she had a little home three stories high and over a thousand feet long plus several separate attached apartments for employees. The entrance has a gold gate, the inside has huge rooms, much of the pillars and walls are covered with gold leaf. We also went to Peter and Paul fortress, the oldest part of St. Petersburg, a beautiful church and other buildings, all original including the jail.

Friday Sept.17,
our last full day in Russia. Our tour was to Peterhof, grand palace and grounds, about 35 miles northwest of St. Petersburg, right on the Finland Bay. It was great, spectacular, and so much more. There was one huge castle and four smaller ones.

I expect the whole area covered 80 acres with over 170 fountains and beautiful gardens. We did not go into the grand castle, I am sure it was as grand and beautiful as the grounds. Took some video of the area, also of two churches, one going, the other on our way back to the ship. Got back about 3 p.m., did some packing, will finish after dinner or in the morning. We have to get up at 3 am, leave for the airport at 4 am. It will be a long day before we get home but it was worth it. It was different and one of the best cruises we ever had.

Grant C. Vogel

(To read Nancy's impressions, click here.)