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Culture news
Cruising the waterways from St. Petersburg to Moscow
10.23.2006 14:26

boat After four days of playing tourist through the wonderful palaces, churches and museums of St. Petersburg, we were ready to set sail and enjoy a relaxing day aboard ship. We were part of a Uniworld Cruise aboard the MS Litvinov. The ship is advertised as "comfortable and cozy," and that it is.

However, cozy in this context actually means small. All I'll say about the "staterooms" is that two people have to choreograph their moves if they are going to be in the room at the same time. The ship holds 200 passengers, which, when at capacity, puts a strain on some of the lounges and public areas.

The activities aboard ship were both interesting and entertaining. Throughout the cruise we had lectures on Russian foreign policy, internal politics, economics and social issues, i.e. health care, housing, education, taxes and corruption. We also had Russian language lessons. I think they hoped we would learn the Cyrillic alphabet so we could fend for ourselves on the Moscow Metro (subway).

During the cruise we also had several talks on Russian art, particularly the arts and crafts local to the towns and villages we were visiting. Marina, the art consultant, also had lots of good information about amber and what to look for when purchasing amber jewelry.

The entertainment in the evenings was provided by a very talented family of musicians. Mom played the piano and keyboard, dad played a mean accordion and the daughter, just 15 years old, had a wonderful voice and gave several very impressive concerts. One of my favorites was "dad's" rendition of "Flight of the Bumblebee," on the accordion.

Our first stop was Mandrogi, a reconstructed village built to illustrate the traditions and lifestyles of Russia's past. We had lunch ashore and walked around town and through the artisans' shops. Heather and Erin found the Vodka Museum. After a round of tasting we headed back to the ship.

Early the next morning we docked at Kizhi Island, located at the northern end of Lake Onega. The entire island is an open-air museum featuring the traditional wooden architecture of the Russian north. The island has been designated a UNESCO cultural heritage site. The most remarkable structure on the island is the Church of Transfiguration. Though not as colorful as St. Basil's Cathedral or the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, this all-wooden church has 22 domes in three tiers that were constructed entirely without nails. It is the largest wooden church in Russia.

We entered the Volga-Baltic Canal and docked in the town of Goritsy. Here we took buses to Kirillov, a small provincial town with a population of only 9,000 people. We toured the town, met several teachers and students and enjoyed afternoon tea at the "House of Culture." We were also treated to a folklore show and even got to join in for some Russian folk dancing. We returned back to Goritsy and found time to do a little souvenir shopping before getting back on the ship.

We arrived in the city of Yaroslavl in the late afternoon. Unlike the villages and towns we had visited in the first part of the cruise, Yaroslavl is a large city located at the confluence of two main rivers (the Volga and the Kotorosl Rivers) with a population of 600,000 people. Our first stop was the Church of Elijah the Prophet. The church, built in 1647, is a masterpiece of Russian architecture with its bright green onion domes peering over the treetops as one approaches the city center. The interior of the church is wall-to-wall frescoes depicting the life of saints.

Next on our itinerary was the 12th-century Transfiguration Monastery. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Cathedral of the Transformation, with murals depicting St. John's apocalyptic visions, was closed for restoration. It's not that I didn't want to see the murals, but I was getting "churched out." I remember having similar feelings on a trip to Spain several years ago. When the churches all begin to look alike, it's time to take a break! Heather, Erin and several members of our group climbed to the top of the bell tower for a panorama of the city.

Our cruise was coming to an end. Our last stop on the Volga before we entered the Moscow Canal was Uglich, a town noted for its beautiful churches and cathedrals, as well as its tragic past. It was here that the young tsar, Dimitry, son of Ivan the Terrible, met his untimely death at age 9. To commemorate the death of young Dimitry, a church was built where he was found murdered - the Church of Prince Dimitry-on-the-Blood. The church, built in 1692, is small with frescoes inside the church telling the tale of the prince's death.

As we left the ship to walk into town, vendors lined the pathway for several blocks. It was hard concentrating on what the guide was saying when all I wanted to do was shop. We visited the Church of Prince Dimitry and the Transfiguration Cathedral. As we exited the church a male a capella group performed.

The walk back to the ship was fun. Over 100 vendors lined the pathway selling all sorts of Russian handicrafts from lace tablecloths to Matryoshka dolls (nesting dolls). Uglich is the perfect last stop on the cruise. It definitely had the best prices and the widest assortment of crafts.

Join me next week in Moscow as we visit the Kremlin and Red Square, tour the Armory with its fabulous collection of Faberge eggs, tour of the Moscow Metro and see the famed Moscow Circus.

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