Traveling Europe in 2013 travel blog

Crusie Map

Our cruise ship

Our cruise ship

Our cruise ship - Dining Room

Us at dinner

Our cruise ship - Dinner Group

Our cruise ship - Buffet

Our cruise ship - our first dinner

Our cruise ship - Our Servers

Our cruise ship - Our Cabin

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Traffic

Saint Petersburg, Russia -Old & New

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Old Bridge

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Old & New

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Peter & Paul Fort

Saint Petersburg, Russia -

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Palace Square

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Palace Square

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Palace Square

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Palace Square

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace

Saint Petersburg, Russia - Hermitage - Winter Palace - The part not...

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace - after WWII bombing

Catherine's Summer Palace-Now

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

Catherine's Summer Palace

St Isaac’s Cathedral & Peter & Paul Fortress - But this I...

St Isaac’s Cathedral & Peter & Paul Fortress

St Isaac’s Cathedral & Peter & Paul Fortress

St Isaac’s Cathedral & Peter & Paul Fortress

St Isaac’s Cathedral & Peter & Paul Fortress

St Isaac’s Cathedral & Peter & Paul Fortress

St Isaac’s Cathedral & Peter & Paul Fortress

Burger King --- What? You couldn't read it either???

Goodbye Saint Petersburg

Goodbye Saint Petersburg

Goodbye Saint Petersburg

Going through the locks 1

Going through the locks 2

Mandrogy, Russia

Mandrogy, Russia

Mandrogy, Russia

Mandrogy, Russia -

Mandrogy, Russia - Vodka Museum, helping Chinese buy some

Mandrogy, Russia

Mandrogy, Russia

Mandrogy, Russia

Mandrogy, Russia

Our Servers in their "Sail Away" uniforms

Kizhi Island

Kizhi Island

Kizhi Island

Kizhi Island

Kuzino Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Kuzino Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Kuzino Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Kuzino Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Kuzino Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Kuzino Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Kuzino Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Kuzino Kirillo-Belozersky School

Sea Gull Island

My Birthday

My Birthday & Vodka Tasting

On The River

Yaroslavl-Church of Elijah the Prophet

Yaroslavl-Church of Elijah the Prophet

Yaroslavl-Church of Elijah the Prophet

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl - Battle of the Flower Displays

Yaroslavl - Battle of the Flower Displays

Yaroslavl-Governor's House

Yaroslavl-Governor's House performer

Yaroslavl-Assumption Cathedral

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl

Uglich

Uglich

Uglich

Uglich

Moscow Sights

Moscow Sights

Moscow Sights

Moscow Sights

Moscow Sights

Moscow Sights- 5 o'clock traffic

Moscow Sights

Moscow Sights

Moscow Sights - Concert Opera Singer

Moscow Sights - The Metro

Moscow Sights - Red Square

Moscow Sights - Red Square

Moscow Sights - Red Square

Moscow Sights - Red Square

Moscow Sights - Red Square

Moscow Sights - Red Square

Moscow Sights - Red Square

Moscow Sights - Red Square

Moscow Sights - Red Square - Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

(MP4 - 5.37 MB)

The Concert

(MP4 - 8.88 MB)

The Amateurs Dance

(MP4 - 3.93 MB)

The Pros Dance

(MP4 - 9.04 MB)

The Sail Away

(MP4 - 7.18 MB)

Opera Singer

(MP4 - 9.81 MB)

15th Century Church

(MP4 - 2.38 MB)

Amber Room @ Catherine's Summer Palace

(MP4 - 7.47 MB)

Russian Concert 1

(MP4 - 10.25 MB)

Russian Instrument Concert 2

(MP4 - 8.78 MB)

Russian Instrument Concert 3 Old guy

(MP4 - 2.54 MB)

Russian Instrument Concert 4

(MP4 - 4.88 MB)

Vodka Tasting with John & Penny

(MP4 - 4.23 MB)

Vodka Tasting with no hands

(MP4 - 8.62 MB)

Vodka Tasting with Sophia


We arrived in St Petersburg, Russia without any problems and were met by the ship’s bus to take us to the pier. The drive from the airport to the port took around 45 minutes and we had a chance to see some of Saint Petersburg on the way. One gentleman on the bus who I talked to said that he was here around 25 years ago and the entire city was a huge dump. There have been obvious improvements made and they have a lot of new buildings, but there are still many, many old buildings that need to be torn down. We got a good laugh at the expense of their “storage units”. Most have seen their better days many, many years ago, but as we later learned, when you live in a commune with over 30 other folks, there just isn’t any room for extras and outside storage is a must.

Our ship, The Rurik, belongs to a company named “Viking”. We’ve taken this company’s river cruises before and have enjoyed them. Many, but not all, shore excursions come with the price of the ticket. This one was probably the most expensive river cruise we’ve been on coming in at twice what we paid for a sea cruising ship 5x the size. The pluses with this ship were the crew and the food; both top notch. The crew went out of their way to make you happy. The food was terrific both with presentation and taste plus each lunch and dinner came with all-u-can-drink beer and/or wine. The minus was what is missing on just about any river cruise; things to do when you aren’t on a shore excursion. Whereas the big ships have the stage shows, casinos, pools, fitness centers, etc., the river cruises usually don’t have room for any of that (except for the whirlpool we had on the Nile river cruise). Our ship was clean and in good repair. We enjoyed our balcony, as always, the 24 hour coffee/tea/hot chocolate station (with the cookies, of course) and the free Wi-Fi (when we could get it). It was a very relaxing 13 days down the rivers, across the lakes and through the locks to get us from Saint Petersburg to Moscow.

All the ships we have sailed on had many crewmembers from different countries, a lot from the Philippines, and this cruise was no different. But, after the cruise was just about over we realized that the housekeeping staff and most supervisors were Russian (or close to it), but the kitchen and wait staff were mostly Filipinos. As we were sitting in the lobby waiting for our taxi to the airport I saw a supervisor call over one of the very few non-Filipino wait staff and give her instructions, in Russian, to pass along to the Filipinos in English. I asked one of our Filipino friends “waz up wif dat?” He said that when Viking first started cruises in Russia they either chose to or were required to hire only Russian workers. The ships’ ratings, or “report cards”, determined by the passengers turned out to be very low during this time so management decided to bring in the Filipinos to work in the area (restaurants/bars) that have the most contact with passengers. I can see why. The Russians have not learned the art of “customer communication” as they very seldom smile or make eye contact and answer questions very abruptly or with “shortness”. The Filipinos on the other hand, seem to be brought up with a different culture as most I have met over my many years are extremely polite, smile a lot, maintain constant eye contact, do whatever is needed to solve a problem for a customer and address everyone either by name or with a “sir” or “ma’am”. Since the company made this change the ships’ ratings have gone up a lot. Most of the Russians we met make no attempt at English and just give you a blank stare until you go away.

Now for your history lesson (and mine since I had to look up most of this information): Saint Petersburg is a city of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. In 1914 the name of the city was changed to Petrograd, meaning "Peter's City", to remove the German words Sankt and Burg. In 1924 it was changed to Leningrad and in 1991, back to Saint Petersburg. In Russian literature, informal documents, and discourse, the "Saint" is usually omitted, leaving Petersburg. In common parlance Russians may drop "-burg" as well, referring to it as Peter.

Saint Petersburg was founded by the Tsar Peter the Great in 1703, but it was not named for him as many would think (O.K. – just I thought that, eh?) He actually named the city for his favorite saint, Peter. From 1713 to 1728 and from 1732 to 1918, Saint Petersburg was the Imperial capital of Russia. In 1918 the central government bodies moved from Saint Petersburg (then named Petrograd) to Moscow. It is Russia's second largest city after Moscow with 5 million inhabitants. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint Petersburg is also home to The Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world. How large you ask? We were told during our visit that if you looked at an item in the museum for one minute, it would take you ELEVEN YEARS to see everything they have to show you. Also, a large number of foreign consulates, international corporations, banks and other businesses are located in Saint Petersburg.

Peter the Great was interested in seafaring and maritime affairs, and he intended to have Russia gain a seaport so it could trade with maritime nations. He needed a better seaport than Arkhangelsk, which was on the White Sea to the north and closed to shipping for months during the winter, so he started a war with Sweden to gain control of this area. He built the Peter & Paul Fortress in 1703 on an island at the mouth of the river to cover both entrances to the port, but the war was over (and won) before they finished the fort. It is now a prison and the Peter and Paul Fortress became the first brick and stone building of the new city. The city itself was built by conscripted peasants from all over Russia and a number of Swedish prisoners of war were also involved in some years. Tens of thousands of serfs died building the city, but that seems to be Russia’s MO in just about everything they do, eh? Peter moved the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in 1712, nine years before the Treaty of Nystad of 1721 ended the war with Sweden.

With the emancipation of the peasants undertaken by Alexander II in 1861 and an industrial revolution, the influx of former peasants into the capital increased greatly. Poor boroughs spontaneously emerged on the outskirts of the city. Saint Petersburg surpassed Moscow in population and industrial growth; it developed as one of the largest industrial cities in Europe, with a major naval base (in Kronstadt), river and sea port. The Revolution of 1905 began in Saint Petersburg and spread rapidly into the provinces. The Russian Revolution of 1917 began in Saint Petersburg when the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace in an event known thereafter as the October Revolution, which led to the end of the post-Tsarist provisional government, the transfer of all political power to the Soviets and the rise of the Communist Party. In March 1917 Nicholas II abdicated both for himself and on behalf of his son, ending the Russian monarchy and over three hundred years of Romanov dynastic rule. After that the city acquired a new descriptive name, "the city of three revolutions", referring to the three major developments in the political history of Russia of the early 20th century.

In September and October 1917, the German troops invaded the West Estonian archipelago and threatened Petrograd with bombardment and invasion so on March 12, 1918, the Soviets transferred the government to Moscow. During the ensuing Civil War, in 1919 general Yudenich advancing from Estonia repeated the attempt to capture the city, but Leon Trotsky mobilized the army and forced him to retreat. On January 26, 1924, five days after Lenin's death, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad. Later some streets and other were renamed accordingly and the city has over 230 places associated with the life and activities of Lenin. Some of them were turned into museums, including the cruiser Aurora – a symbol of the October Revolution and the oldest ship in the Russian Navy.

BTW – as I hope all our friends do who know much more than we do as we visit places we’ve never been to, Rob and Tom (world travelers in their own rights) recommended that we visit the cruiser Aurora. As Tom put it, “the most powerful weapon in the world. Fired once in 1917 and caused 74 years of destruction”. The one (blank) shot fired from the guns of the Aurora signaled the start of the 1917 revolution. The cruiser is currently moored in Saint Petersburg as a tourist attraction and we did get to see it.

Continuing with your education --- In the 1920s–1930s, the poor outskirts were reconstructed into regularly planned boroughs. Housing became a government-provided amenity; many 'bourgeois' apartments were so large that numerous families were assigned to what were called 'communal' apartments (kommunalkas) which are still in use today (Watch the 1965 movie “Doctor Zhivago” to see what happened to his home and you’ll get the idea). One kommunalka we were allowed to visit had six families sharing one kitchen and ONE bathroom --- that was more than THIRTY folks sharing! This was a very depressing visit. We were also told that in the 1930s, 68% of the population lived in such housing, but now are down (supposedly) to around 30%. That is still a hellava lot of “bunk mates”.

During World War II, Leningrad was besieged by German forces following its invasion in June 1941. The siege lasted 872 days from September 1941 to January 1944.The Siege of Leningrad was one of the longest, most destructive, and most lethal sieges of a major city in modern history. “Enemy at the Gate” is a great movie to give you a pretty good idea of what the city and its people went through. Germans isolated the city from most supplies except those provided through the Road of Life across Lake Ladoga. More than one million civilians died, mainly from starvation.

Leningrad also gave its name to the Leningrad Affair (1949–1952), a notable event in the postwar political struggle in the USSR. It was a product of rivalry between Stalin's successors where one side was represented by the leaders of the city Communist Party organization – the second most significant one in the country after Moscow. The entire elite leadership of Leningrad was destroyed, including the former mayor, the acting mayor and all their deputies; overall 23 leaders were sentenced to death, 181 to prison or exile (exonerated in 1954). About 2,000 ranking officials across the USSR were expelled from the party and Komsomol and removed from leadership positions.

On June 12, 1991, simultaneously with the first Russian presidential elections and fall of the USSR, the city authorities arranged for the mayoral elections and a referendum upon the name of the city. Meanwhile the economic conditions were deteriorating as the country tried to adapt to major changes. For the first time since the 1940s, food rationing was introduced, and the city received humanitarian food aid from abroad.

Saint Petersburg is also known as the "beer capital" of Russia, due to the supply and quality of local water, contributing over 30% of the domestic production of beer with its five large-scale breweries where the oldest is LIVIZ (founded in 1897).

This morning we went to the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg to visit the legendary Hermitage Museum. The Hermitage is actually five separate buildings (museums) to include the Winter Palace. There we got to see a vast collection of art, antiquities, jewelry and sculptures. After a picnic lunch we saw some of St. Petersburg’s other landmarks, including St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Peter & Paul Fortress and Nevsky Prospekt. We had an early dinner, followed by an evening performance of traditional Russian ballet. We were also told that, like our Smithsonian buildings, what we see today is just a small part of the total. As I mentioned earlier, they say that if we look at an artifact for just one minute, we would spend ELEVEN years to see everything. Sorry, I’m just not that committed. But, seeing all the grandeur and gaudiness of these palaces and thinking about the millions of citizens who died to “make it so”, I really get sick. No one person or family needs or deserves all these palaces, gold, art, statues, etc. that they got on the backs of the poor; just my thoughts, you understand.

Today’s excursion took us to the Pushkin area where we visited Catherine’s Palace, the elegant rococo 18th-century summer residence of the Russian Czars named for Catherine I (widow of Peter the Great). We toured its various halls, including the storied Amber and Agate Rooms, and saw the ornate décor throughout (more and more gaudiness).

(Click here to see Amber Room)

The Catherine Palace Rococo palace is actually located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), 15 miles south-east of St. Petersburg, Russia and was the summer residence of the Russian tsars. The residence originated in 1717, when Catherine I hired a German architect to construct a summer palace for her pleasure. In 1733, Empress Anna expanded the Catherine Palace. Empress Elizabeth, however, found her mother's residence outdated and incommodious and in May 1752 asked her court architect to demolish the old structure and replace it with a much grander edifice in a flamboyant Rococo style. Construction lasted for four years and on 30 July 1756 the architect presented the brand-new palace to the Empress, her dazed courtiers, and stupefied foreign ambassadors. Gotta say though, palaces like this is definitely a good reason for a popular rebellion.

During Elizabeth's lifetime, the palace was famed for its lavish exterior. More than 220 pounds of gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco façade and numerous statues erected on the roof. It was even rumored that the palace's roof was constructed entirely of gold (during the WWII the roof was painted gray to keep bombers from using it as a beacon).

Most of the interiors, specifically those dating from the reign of Nicholas I, have not been restored after the destruction caused by the Germans during World War II. (I took photos of before and after paintings of the palace after WWII.) When the German forces retreated after the siege of Leningrad, they had the residence intentionally destroyed, leaving only the hollow shell of the palace behind. Fortunately, prior to World War II the Russian archivists managed to document a fair amount of the interior, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace. Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed in time for the Tercentenary of St. Petersburg in 2003, much work is still required to restore the palace to its former glory. In order to attract funds, the palace's administration has leased the Grand Hall for such high-profile events as Elton John's concert for an elite audience in 2001 and an exclusive party in 2005 featuring the likes of Bill Clinton, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Naomi Campbell and Sting. At least the repairs are not being done on the backs of the citizens, eh?

Today was our “day of rest” which means Julieann sleeps (her job) and I spend the entire day editing her photos – my job. We spent the next day relaxing and cruising along Russia’s intricate waterways. We sailed on the Neva River then crossed Lake Ladoga, Europe’s largest lake where the water got a little rough and we needed our drugs to get some sleep (mine worked). We then cruised the Svir River to the town of Mandrogy where we had some time to explore this museum village. We were “forced” to visit the vodka museum and shop for handmade Russian craft items. Check this – a ticket to the Vodka Museum was 200 Rubles, which is around $6.66 USD. For that amount, in addition to just walking around the museum and looking at the thousands of bottles of vodka and numerous bottle shapes, we got to sample four shots of different types of vodkas. That afternoon I went back to the ship for a nap; just can’t hang like I used to.

We continued along the Svir’s 139-mile “Blue Route” toward Lake Onega and enjoyed some quiet time aboard the ship. We cruised through the early morning, admiring the tranquil waters of Lake Onega, Europe’s second largest lake. We arrived during breakfast at the island village of Kizhi and Julieann set out on a walking tour through the Open Air Museum of Architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here she saw a collection of wooden houses, windmills and churches representing ancient Russian architecture, highlighted by the famous three-tiered Preobranzhenskaya (Transfiguration) Church—a fairytale-like structure built in 1714 without a single nail. This is the oldest wooden church in Russia. Since it was cold and rainy outside and my bed was nice and warm inside, I opted to stay on board. I finally got up and worked on our Journal until lunch and I did manage to take a photo of the wooden church from the ship. Kizhi is an island near the geometrical center of the Lake Onega in the Republic of Karelia, Russia. It is elongated from north to south and is about 3 miles long and ¾ of mile wide. Settlements and churches on the island were known from at least the 15th century.

We departed late morning and cruised through the night. So what do we do when cruising, you ask? They have numerous lectures about the regions or Russian culture, they have a bar in the front of the ship that usually has a musician, they have trivia games and they have two movies playing on the closed circuit TV in addition to the regular news channels (CNN, BBC, CNBC, etc). I, of course, brought my own bottle of Vodka aboard the ship and have had NO problems in getting tonic and ice from the accommodating crew members who have been fantastic.

Today is the 69th anniversary of my birth. Yeah, I’m as surprised as most of you that I made it this far. Anyhow, today we continued cruising along the Volga-Baltic Waterway. This system of rivers and canals, spanning 229 miles and seven locks, links the Volga River with the Baltic Sea. We arrived in Kuzino, a typical Russian village, just after lunch and took a guided walk through the historic Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, founded by Saint Cyril in 1397. We also saw several small wooden chapels, the Assumption Cathedral, a museum and we visited a children’s art school and restoration workshop.

Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, loosely translated in English as St. Cyril of Beloozero's Monastery, used to be the largest monastery of Northern Russia.

That night I had my “special” birthday dinner/cake/song and then we joined other passengers for vodka tasting. We were also shown the “proper” way to drink a shot of vodka without using hands and to drink two shots at once from two glasses by a young lady of Russian decent who I suspect was a wild one in her earlier life.

(Click here for "Drinking with Sophia")

(Friends & I Vodka Tasting)

We sailed the rest of the night and arrived in mid afternoon in Yaroslavl, one of the Golden Ring cities—ancient towns that preserve the memory of Russia’s historical events. We visited the Church of St. Elijah the Prophet, featuring detailed frescoes and icons and were treated to a choir performance. Then we took a guided stroll through the Governor’s Palace, a living museum of Russian art, history and culture. Employees (for the lack of a better title) were dressed in period costume and identified themselves as sons and daughters of the missing governor. They gave us a room-by-room tour and then showed us the dance of the time. Somehow I managed to get myself “volunteered” as a dance partner, not a pretty sight.

(Click here for Concert)

(Click here for Pro Dancers)

(Click here for the NON-pros)

Continuing……Right up until the beginning of the First World War Yaroslavl remained a large industrial town with a well-developed municipal infrastructure. However, the effects of the 1917 October Revolution were wide-reaching, and after the Russian Civil War of 1917-1920 the city's economy suffered rather drastically; this led to a significant contraction on the city's population. The Yaroslavl Rebellion, which lasted from 6 to 21 July 1918 had particularly grave consequences. IA group of conservative activists tried to remove the newly-installed Bolshevik municipal authorities through an armed intervention. The rebels managed to secure a number of large parts of the city, however this led only to an assault by the Red Army which saw the city surrounded, cut off from supplies and bombarded day and night with artillery and air forces. The rebellion was eventually put down, and ended with official figures putting the number of deaths among the city's residents at about 600, in addition to which around 2,000 of the city's buildings were either destroyed or badly damaged.

During World War II, Yaroslavl managed to escape the prospect of a German occupation of the city, since the Wehrmacht did not manage to break through the Soviet defense lines surrounding Moscow. However, due to its location as a large transportation hub and since the 1913-built railway bridge over the Volga in Yaroslavl was the only point at which to cross the river, the city became a major target for air raids during 1942-1943. Overall about 200,000 people from the Yaroslavl area died on the fronts during World War II. This sacrifice is today memorialized through a monument and eternal flame (see my photo.)During the Blockade of Leningrad a great number of children, who were brought over the frozen Lake Ladoga (the so-called Road of life) were evacuated to a safer new life in Yaroslavl. Yaroslavl was also home to a camp for military prisoners of war 'Camp No. 276' for German soldiers.

Despite the effects of the Russian Civil War and a number of air-raids during World War II, the city of Yaroslavl has managed to retain a great deal of its 17th, 18th and 19th century urban substance. This has helped make the city recognizable as a monument to the architectural development and style of the Russian Tsardom.

Our next stop was Uglich, a historic town in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia, which stands on the Volga River and has a population of 34,507. During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the town passed to his only brother, Yury. Local inhabitants helped the Tsar capture Kazan by building a wooden fortress which was transported by the Volga all the way to Kazan. Throughout the 16th century, Uglich prospered both politically and economically, but thereafter its fortunes began to decline. After Ivan's death, his youngest son Dmitry Ivanovich was banished to Uglich in 1584. The most famous event in the town's history took place on May 15, 1591 when the 10-year old boy was found dead with his throat cut in the palace courtyard. Suspicion immediately fell on the tsar's chief advisor, Boris Godunov, and a number of other officials and they were all killed. To this day, even when an official investigation concluded that Dimitriy's death was an accident, they still are not sure if he was murdered or cut his own throat during a epileptic seizure. They also cut a "tongue" from the cathedral bell that rung the news of Dimitriy's death and "exiled" it to Siberia.

After breakfast we disembarked for a walking tour through the provincial village of Uglich, which is another Golden Ring city. We saw the former Kremlin of Uglich and visited the Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood, built on the site where Ivan the Terrible’s son Dmitry was mysteriously killed. As Dimitry was the last scion of the ancient Rurik Dynasty, his death precipitated the dynastic and political crisis known as the Time of Troubles. People readily believed that Dmitry was alive and supported several False Dmitrys who tried to grab the Muscovite throne. During the Time of Troubles, the Poles besieged the Alexeievsky and Uleima monasteries and burned them down killing all the populace who had sought refuge inside.

The Romanov Tsars made it their priority to canonize the martyred Tsesarevich and to turn Uglich into a place of pilgrimage. On the spot where Dimitry had been murdered the city in 1690 built a small Church of St. Demetrios on the Blood, which appears on the horizon with its red walls and blue domes as one sails north on the Volga. The palace where the prince lived was turned into a museum. The image of Tsesarevich with a knife in his hand was adopted as the town's coat of arms.

We had lunch aboard and cruised through the night. This morning we cruised along the Moscow Canal, approaching Moscow during lunch. We disembarked for a half-day city tour. We saw the famed Bolshoi Theater and stopped at Red Square for a view of the colorful onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral. We also got the chance to explore the famous GUM Department Store and experience the city’s underground Metro. We then enjoyed an evening performance of traditional Russian folkloric music followed by a late dinner on board.

(Guys -- if you don't watch anything else, please watch the Opera Singer to the end)

(Click for first concert clip)

(Click for 2nd concert clip)

(Click for 3rd concert clip-funny old guy)

(Click for 4th concert clip-Happy Fingers)

(Opera Singer -- "Thank you -- no thank YOU!!)

After breakfast the next day we traveled to the city’s famous red brick enclosure known as the Kremlin with its many tall towers and elegant palaces where our education was expanded of what the Kremlin really was/is. The Moscow Kremlin, sometimes referred to as simply the Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River (to the South), Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square (to the East) and the Alexander Garden (to the West). It is the best known of kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes five palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.

The name Kremlin actually means "fortress", and is often used as a synecdoche to refer to the government of the Soviet Union (1922–1991) and its highest members (such as general secretaries, premiers, presidents, ministers, and commissars), in the same way that the White House refers to the Executive Office of the President of the United States and Number 10 Downing Street or Whitehall refers to the Offices of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the British Government.

Following the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the French forces occupied the Kremlin from 2 September to 11 October. When Napoleon retreated from Moscow, he ordered the whole Kremlin to be blown up. The Kremlin Arsenal, several portions of the Kremlin Wall and several wall towers were destroyed by explosions and fires damaged the Faceted Chamber and churches. Explosions continued for three days, from 21 to 23 October. Fortunately, the rain damaged the fuses, and the damage was less severe than intended. Restoration works were held in 1816–19. During the remainder of Alexander I's reign, several ancient structures were renovated in a fanciful neo-Gothic style, but many others were condemned as "disused" or "dilapidated" (including all the buildings of the Trinity metochion) and simply torn down.

As mentioned, the existing Kremlin walls and towers were built by Italian masters (BTW – All those churches we saw that have tops that look like and are sometime called “onions” are actually supposed to represent a burning candle flame). The upper part of the structure was destroyed by the French during the Napoleonic Invasion and has, of course, been rebuilt. The Tsar bell, the largest bell in the world, stands on a pedestal next to the tower.

In order to reduce the disruptions to Moscow traffic caused by motorcades, President Vladimir Putin authorized the construction of the Kremlin helipad (see my photo), which was just completed in May 2013. The President will now commute back and forth to the Kremlin using a soviet designed MI-8 helicopter.

Our Overall Impressions: It will be good to return to the States where I can once again hear my favorite TV and movie stars speaking English. I’ve heard Gibbs, Ziva, Abby, Charlie, Allen, etc. speak in German, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Egyptian and some other languages I can’t identify (you who know me know I skipped right over French – won’t even go there). On the other hand, I’m going to miss the World News provided by BBC and CNN (international). When we have access to the Armed Forces Network and watch CNN, we are “locked into” watching over an hour of what the creep did to those three girls over a number of years. Yeah, it was bad, but does it really take an hour to tell us – and EVERYDAY? And Snowden….again…..really? Another hour, day, week of same reporting. The BBC and CNN I’ll miss actually tell me what’s going on in the rest of the world. Riots in Egypt, Greece, Turkey because of “whatever”, problems in Russia, good stuff happening in Germany, etc., etc. When I now watch USA news I’m thinking “what else is going on in the rest of the world that they aren’t telling me?”

As we heard from others and saw (partially) ourselves, Russia is in dire need of a major facelift and it looks like they are trying. Traffic, as with most large cities, is a problem. The main street in Moscow has eight lanes going each way and it’s still not enough. They are working hard on improving the Metro and that should be a big traffic relief.

Smiles are a premium. The older Russians we met hardly ever greet you or smile. After what they have lived through, I guess I can understand. The older Russian women wear clothes and shoes that are “practical”, but the younger girls like the (sexy) western look. I still find it amazing on how they get into some of the pants and jeans I saw. They are also into makeup and hairdos, unlike their elders. Russia is still learning what democracy means. Many paid a bitter price when the change from communism came 20 years ago, some losing everything they had and had to start all over from nothing. The middle class dream of a decent condo/apartment/house seems to be extremely hard to reach. Most appear to have enough money for most luxuries, but not for living quarters close to town; the closer you get to town, the higher the housing costs go. The only individual homes we saw were on the river banks and were very large, giving us reason to believe that only the richie-rich live there.

It was a fun and educational trip and I wish the folks who live here the best of luck --- they can use it.

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