Written by Wasatch on 11 Jun, 2006
The brochure price for a river cruise is not as all inclusive as the brochure would lead you to believe. Besure to read ALL the fine print to learn what is not included in the “all-inclusive” price. Here is what wespent for two on top…Read More
The brochure price for a river cruise is not as all inclusive as the brochure would lead you to believe. Besure to read ALL the fine print to learn what is not included in the “all-inclusive” price. Here is what wespent for two on top of the advertised price:Taxes & fees: $180Passports: $150-180 (depends if new or renewal) Russian Visas: $390Tips: The cruise company suggested $15 a day per person for the crew plus $6 a day per person for theCruise Director. Other sources said $5-6 for the crew per person, $2-3 for the Cruise Director. Localguides, $1-4, bus driver $1-4 (Hint for tipping: a 50 ruble bill is just about $2 in 2006).Souvenirs: $520.Optional Tours and tips for bus tour guides/drivers: $500. Optional tour prices ranged from $18-44 foreach half-day tour (3 to 4 hours, plus admissions). This is noticeably cheaper than optional tours cost in theEU.Carry lots of US$ or Euros in cash. Many merchants will take $ in payment, and they do not seem to ripyou off on the exchange rate. We met a couple who could not cash American Express Travelers checks ata bank in St. Petersburg. Note: there is an Amex office in both Moscow and St. Petersburg where you cancash their Travelers’ checks. Good luck on finding it. Generally, exchanging currency at a bank gets thebest rates. As in all foreign currency exchanges, you will never get the price advertised. There areunstated fees.It was sometimes cheaper to pay in $ than to use rubles from an exchange at a bank. To convert rubles to $ in your head to figure out prices: The exchange rate was $1=26+ rubles when wewere there in May, 2006. 26 to 1 is almost 25 to 1, which is workable math. Multiple the ruble price byfour, and shift the decimal point two places to the left. Thus, 250 rubles = $10 (250 x 4 = 1000. Decimalmove two places = $10) Actual value = $9.58, so our estimation system came pretty close. If you want toget even closer, after preforming the above calculations, subtract 5% (take 10%, then divide by 2).Look for early or last minute booking discounts. Sometimes these come from the cruise companiesthemselves, but often they are only offered through certain travel agencies who specialize in this sort ofthing. We used early booking deals through River Discounts for our three river cruises as we couldn’t findany lower rates anywhere else. As for airfare, sometimes it cheaper to do your own, sometimes it ischeaper to use the cruise company’s special rates. The only way to tell to search and compare.If you find an unlikely last minute discount, there will be high extra fees for expedited visa service.Don’t forget to check on the current damage being done to your foreign travel budget by GW Bush’s stupideconomic policies, which have raised prices far more than the soaring price of oil. In the last year of theClinton Administration, $1 bought €1.15. Today, the rate is $1= 0.78. A €20 meal in 2000 cost$17.40. That same meal today costs $25.60. Last year, $1 bought almost 30 rubles. When we were inRussia, $1= 26 rubles. That is about a 15% price increase in everything an American tourist buys inRussia, and the Central Bank in Russia is subsidizing dollars. Last year in Prague, we got 26kr for $1. The rate now is 22kr for $1. The $18 diner for two we had last year costs $21 this year.Close
Written by Wasatch on 05 Jun, 2006
This Experiences review covers our cruise stop in St Petersburg. Moscow and ports in between are discussed in other entries.During the Soviet era, the expression Potemkin Village meant a misleading showpiece village makingRussia look better than it actually was. The Soviets were good at this,…Read More
This Experiences review covers our cruise stop in St Petersburg. Moscow and ports in between are discussed in other entries.During the Soviet era, the expression Potemkin Village meant a misleading showpiece village makingRussia look better than it actually was. The Soviets were good at this, and Moscow and St. Petersburg arePotemkin Villages on the grand scale. The great advantage of a Russian river cruise is that it also stops at more typical villages, towns, and cities which gave us a much better picture of Russian life than what isseen in the great cities, but, the great cities, even if not the real Russia, were definitely worth the time allottedby the tour, if not a few days longer.Peter the Great built St. Petersburg in the 18th century to be the great capital of the great Russian Empire,and for 300 years, St. Petersburg, not Moscow, was the seat of government. Only Paris rivals St.Petersburg for monumental buildings, but Paris is built of cold gray stone while the palaces of St.Petersburg are a riot of pastel colors. Like Washington, DC and Brasilia, St Petersburg is one of the handful of national capitals that wasoriginally constructed as the nation’s capital. Peter the Great started the job in 1703, creating a citydesigned to impress, and impress it does.Day 1: Morning trip to The Hermitage. It is not clear exactly what the Hermitage is. Simply put, it is one of world’s greatest art museums—350 rooms, 2,700,000 works of art—but it is also more than that. It consists of 1,2, 3, or 4 buildings, depending on how you want to count. The Winter Palace, now part of the Hermitage, displays art in the grand rooms of the Tsar’s official home. The decor overwhelms the art. The Large Hermitage was built by the Tsars as an art museum. The Hermitage Theater is only used for performances, no tour visits. Our guided tour took us through the most of the major palace rooms and works of art—Da Vinci, Renoir, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Rubens—but if you want to see all the grand place rooms, abandon the tour. Afternoon bus tour of St Petersburg. With a number of photo op stops, and a visit to a souvenir shop nearthe university—with very attractive prices.Day 2: Morning tour to Peterhof, the Tsar’s summer place on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, about 15miles west of St Petersburg. Peterhof consists of 7 to 8 palaces and churches set in a large park, Englishgarden on the ocean side of the Great Palace, a French garden on the other side. Our tour took us throughCatherine’s Palace, because, according to the guide, there was not enough time to tour the Great Palace. Inaddition, we saw the Great Cascade and the English garden with its fountains and follies. If I had to doover, I would leave the tour and go through the Great Palace and visit the Grand Cascade, which is next tothe Great Palace. Catherine’s Palace was too modest. I’d rather see the Grand Palace's more ostentatiousdisplay of gold and velvet. That afternoon’s 75 minute Canal Boat tour was a highlight of the trip. This is the way to see St Petersburg. I wish it had been longer.Day 3. Morning tour of Catherine’s Palace in the nearby town of Pushkin. This is a “don’t miss” while inSt Petersburg. By now, I had lost track of how many palaces the Tsars had, but this was their favorite. The first room visited is the aptly named “Grand Hall", with a short concert, CDs, $20. The star ofCatherine’s Palace (named for Peter the Great’s Wife, Catherine I, not for Catherine the Great, is the Amber room, a room where all the walls are covered with a mosaic of amber. The German Army occupied Catherine’s Palace during The Great Patriotic War (WW II). After the German retreat from St. Petersburg, the Amber room had disappeared. The KGB searched for the room for 45 years without luck. Finally, a reproduction was made, being completed in 2003. There are several photos in the palace with pre-post WW II scenes showing the destruction caused by the war. We had a choice of optional tours or free time for our last afternoon in St Petersburg. While she packed for the return home, I ventured into the city via metro. This was an experience, and it has or will have itsown “Experience” review, “Getting Around”. That evening, we went to the ballet at the Hermitage Theater, built by Catherine the Great.Close
This “Experince” review is specific to what we experienced on the MS Tolstoy. For a discussion of how to pick ariver ship cruise, see “Experience—How To Pick a River Cruise”First off, and this is very important, there are several reviews of the Tolstoy on the…Read More
This “Experince” review is specific to what we experienced on the MS Tolstoy. For a discussion of how to pick ariver ship cruise, see “Experience—How To Pick a River Cruise”First off, and this is very important, there are several reviews of the Tolstoy on the Internet. Ignore them. The ship changed owners and was completely remodeled for the 2006 season, and what we experienced inMay, 2006, was nothing like what those earlier travelers reported. It is misleading waste of time to evenread them. A couple examples: earlier passengers complained that breakfast was too skimpy. Now,breakfast is a buffet. Earlier reviews complained about the fairly typical Russian ship bathroom where theshower head is located above the toilet and you have to sit on the pot to take a shower. Not so on the 2006Tolstoy. There is separate shower, but, like most advanced river ships, the bathroom is cramped.We decided on the Tolstoy because we were satisfied with our previous cruise on the Danube which wasoperated by the same company (Amadeus Waterways), the ship was refurbished during the winter 2005-2006, Amadeus cruises include wine with diner (only one glass on the Tolstoy) and an early bookingdiscount from RiverDiscounts.com helped make the price right.More than 70 ships operate the river cruise between Moscow and St Petersburg, and, up until 2006, theTolstoy was the cream of the crop. It was built in 1982 as the Soviet leadership’s cruise ship—Brezhnev’sSuite was three doors down the hall from our cabin—and, as such, is a level of comfort above thecompetition (a newly built ship which may rival or exceed the Tolstoy came on line in the spring of 2006). As only some of these ships provide cruises in English, keep in mind that all my subsequent comments onship comparisons are limited to the English speaking trips and ships.The Tolstoy is the only ship with a swimming pool, but it is very small. There is a bar on the deck of thepoll with unusually comfortable chairs for a cruise ship. The maximum passenger load of 150 is less thanany other ship. The typical ship carries 200 to 240. Even with its smaller passenger load, the Tolstoy has alot of public space. Public areas are: the sun deck—forget it in bad weather; the bars/lounges;theater/concert hall; and library.Good ship: plenty of room inside for everyone to sit in one of the public areas. Bad ship: not enough seats. Good ship: comfortable chairs. Bad ship: uncomfortable. I’ve yet to find a good ship in this category, butthe Tolstoy was better than our two previous experiences.We were tied up in St. Petersburg between two of the 240 passenger ships, and the Tolstoy’s sun deck wasclearly larger than the others.Why a library? If you want to read, it is the only quite place. Tolstoy’s library was quite attractive, andlarger than any others we have seen.Dining room. Good ship: all tables are window tables. Bad ship: lots of interior tables. The Tolstoy hadonly three interior tables (12 seats).There are two parts to the crew on a cruise ship—those who make the ship go, and those who serve thepassengers. Since passengers rarely interact with the ship operators, whenever I refer to the crew, I’mtaking about the passenger care staff. While the crews on our two previous cruises were fully competent,Tolstoy’s crew went above and beyond. They were cheerful and friendly without being pretentious aboutit. There were enough very good English speakers around that language was never a problem. Thefollowing is a post-cruise email from one of the staff. Note how well this Russian native can writeEnglish, and note the attachment to the passengers, which was reciprocated by the passengers. “We have new passengers aboard the Tolstoy now, and we miss you immensely. The new-comers seem tobe strangers after the previous guests who have become so dear during our short period of acquaintance.Take care,P.S. Greetings from Sasha, Olga, and our receptionists Lyuba and Vlada, as well as the rest of the cruisestaff .After what we had read on the Internet about the food on Russian river cruises, we were more than pleasedwith the food quality. No doubt to give us taste of the country, the chef programed a number of Russiandishes, which tend toward the bland– there is just so much that can be done with cabbage, beet soup, andboiled potatoes. That aside, food was generally prepared very well, and include the best prepared pork andchicken I have ever eaten. There was a tender and juicy pork cutlet, ½ inch thick, that was easily cut by fork. Try that at Denny’s. Soups were uniformly outstanding. There was also a sauna, a gift shop, a TV room, but only Russian TV although the brochure said someEnglish language satellite stations would be available. Deluxe rooms and suites had in room TV/DVDswith a small collection of DVD movies available at Reception. Electricity was standard European 220v,but a hair dryer was in the cabin. There is a safe for keeping valuables. Coffee, three types of tea, andanimal crackers were avilible free, 24/7. All other drinks except one glass of wine at dinner were extracharge. There are cabin controls for heat and air-conditioning, but the fan got really noisy above low speed.The crew included a Professor of Russian History who delivered a series of lectures on post Soviet Russia,a three person folk music group, and two musicians who entertained each evening in the main lounge. There was also a doctor and masseuse on board.Each evening the bed turndown ladies left a schedule of the next day’s events in every cabin.Standard cabins on Russian ships come at 88, 92, or 110 feet² Mark this off in your living room, andremember it includes the bathroom & closet. Suits/deluxe cabins are generally larger. On the Tolstoy,standard cabins are 110 feet², deluxe cabins, 220, and suites 330. However, there is a wrinkle. Some shipshave standard cabins where one bed folds up against the wall during the day and the opposite bed convertsinto a couch, turning a very cramped bedroom into a relatively roomy day room. Standard cabins on theTolstoy did not do this, making them petty much useless for anything but sleep. Some passengers solvedthe space problem by alternating getting up time, wife stayed in bed until hubby showered & dressed & leftthe cabin. In his type of cabin, you will spend almost all your waking hours outside your cabin, so theTolstoy extensive public areas are all to the good.We opted for a deluxe cabin which was large enough to include a small desk, two bedside tables, arefrigerator, a TV, and two arm chairs that were more comfortable than most of the seats in the publicareas. Unfortunately, it had two windows with flimsy curtains instead of one, but I had two pieces of blackplastic which turned them into real curtains.Back to the cabin: the bathrooms on some Russian ships are so small that you have to sit on the toilet totake a shower. Not so on the Tolstoy, but there is room for only one person at a time in the bathroom. Twocan squeeze in if one is in the shower.The Tolstoy had such flimsy curtains that they were useless for room darkening (in St. Petersburg, sun setwas at 10:45pm, and it never really got dark at night). To darken the room, we took some black phasicalong big enough to cover the window and used spring loaded cloths pins to attach it to the flimsy curtain. If you want it really dark, take a double layer of black plastic, it is light and doesn’t take much room whenrolled up in your suitcase.Close
Written by Wasatch on 04 Jun, 2006
During the Soviet era, the expression Potemkin Village meant a misleading show piece making Russia lookbetter than it actually was. The Soviets were good at this, and Moscow and St. Petersburg are PotemkinVillages on the grand scale. The great advantage of a Russian river cruise…Read More
During the Soviet era, the expression Potemkin Village meant a misleading show piece making Russia lookbetter than it actually was. The Soviets were good at this, and Moscow and St. Petersburg are PotemkinVillages on the grand scale. The great advantage of a Russian river cruise is that it stops at some moretypical villages, towns, and cities which gave us a much better picture of Russian life than what is seen inthe two great cities.Places visited (in order):Moscow: Days 1-3 days, depending on when your plane arrivesDay 4 Uglich- a small village of great historical importanceDay 5 Kostroma- a noted monastery in a delightful classical style small cityDay 6 Yaroslavl- another monastery in a larger (600,000 pop.) cityDay 7 Goritsy (St Cyrll of White Lake Monastery)Day 8 Kizhi Island Open-Air Museum of 18th-Century Wooden Village BuildingsDay 9 Mondrogui—Russian Colonial Williamsburg. Days 9-13 St. Petersburg- Russia’s other showpiece cityThe Rivers Volga, Svir, and NevaThe two largest lakes in Europe.The rest of this Review will cover the stops between Moscow and St. Petersburg, each of which has aseparate review.UGLICH dates back to 1148, and while it is a backwater of some 40,000 today, Ugligh played a major rolein the history of Russia, about which you will learn from your guide. Our visit had three part– first, a tourof the remains of the Kremlin (a Russian word meaning fort) whose cathedral had the most spectaculariconostasis we saw on the whole trip. Here we first encountered one of the standard parts of tour ofreligious buildings in the hinterland—the church choir performed a couple numbers, and announced theyhad a CD for $20.Part II: free time at the souvenir stands lining the dock.Part III: A typical diner with home brewed vodka at a home in Uglich. First course: cabbage soup and carrot salad. Second course, boiled potatoes. Third course: apple cobbler. The 16-year old daughter of our host family spoke English better than most American teens do.KOSTROMA was the most attractive stop along the Volga because it was large enough (350,000) to havean interesting old town of classical buildings and old wooden houses but small enough that the streets werenot clogged with traffic. I used every possible moment to wander the streets, and wish we had had moretime here. Prince Mikhail Romanov lived here when a delegation from Moscow arrived and invited him tobecome Tsar, starting 300 years of Romanov rule. The last Romanov Tsar, Nicholas II came to Kostromain 1913 to dedicate the foundation of a great statue in the city park in honor of 300 years of Romanov rule. The last Romanov Tsar threw a handful of gold coins into the cement. The foundation now supports astatue of Lenin. The spacious town square is surrounded by fine classical buildings constructed after a devastating fire in 1773 destroyed much of the ancient city of wooden buildings. The building with what looks to be a lighthouse on top was the fire station, complete with a fire lookout tower rising from the roof of the building. Also on the town square is the largest old city market (the arcade buildings) remaining anywhere in Russia. The usual warnings about pick pocks apply if you visit the daily farm market.Fifteenth-century St. Ipaty Monastery at the confluence of the Volga and Kostroma Rivers, is the town’s principal sight, including two numbers by the choir. CDs, $20.Close to the town square, the baroque Convent Church was the prettiest church on the trip. Face the fire station at the town square, and walk a couple blocks down the second street to the right.Because of its military installations, Kostroma was closed city, not even shown on Soviet maps, until 1991.Linen is an local industry, and the usual pier side souvenir stand offer a variety of linen goods. The ladies will love the lace table cloths.YAROSLAVL is the regional capital. With 750,000 people, the city is borderline on traffic congestion. We visited some attractive churches and another monastery. Instead of a choir concert, we had a demonstration and concert of northern Russian bell ringing, unique in that the bells do not move, only the clapper. The bell ringer controls a bunch of bells with strings wrapped around his fingers. CD, $20 (wait until Kizhi, bell CD for $12).Our visit fell on St. Cyril’s Day, honoring the inventor of the Cyrillic alphabet. A religious procession marched through the grounds of the monetary near the end of our visit, and was most interesting to follow as long as we could.GORITZY is the stop for transfers to busses for a visit to the Monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake, eliciting several comments along the lines of, "Oh no, not another monetary," but the people who put this tour together know what they are doing. It was not just another monastery, and afterwards, all the initial grumblers were confessing they were glad they went. This is/was the largest monastery in Russia, ruling 400 villages and 20,000 serfs in its heyday. The role played by the Orthodox Church in subjugating the populace is obvious from the massive fortifications surrounding the monastery. The monastery contains a small museum displaying 200 remarkable icons from the 15th to 17th century, a far better show than Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. The gift shop offered a variety of quality crafts at decent prices. Be sure to request a “Certificate of Authenticity” if you buy any amber. You don’t need it for anything, but makes a great souvenir with all the scroll work and incomprehensible words. KIZHI (pronounced key-she) ISLAND MUSEUM OF WOODEN ARCHITECTURE will do as Russia’s answer to Colonial Williamsburg. Wooden churches and farm buildings, mostly for the 19th century were reassembled here as an open air museum starting in 1951. The star is the Church of the Transfiguration, built in 1714 and crowned with 22 onion domes whose well weathered aspen wood shingles shine like silver. The big church was a summer church, unheated. The smaller church next door with 11 onion domes, was the winter church.We quickly left the guided tour with its excess of information and too much standing around and found there is a small plaque at each building with a brief English description of what it is.Several of the farm houses are open and furnished in with original furniture of that era. Leaving the boat, most of the museum is to the right of the end of the dock. Almost everyone returned to the dock (souvenir shops) when their trip around the loop walk brought them back even with the dock. I kept going, and a short distance away, I came across another farmhouse museum, the largest and most interesting of all. Nearby was a display showing how the buildings were conducted with out the use of nails. They were all build from cut pieces of wood that fit together, something like Lincoln Logs. Any nails you might see were added in 20th-century reconstructions.The oldest church dates back to the 14th century, and a bell ringer would occasional play some bell music, CDs,$12.MONDROGUI is about as authentic as Disneyland’s European villages. Described as a village of artisans, it is a big tourist trap, with somewhat more expensive souvenirs than most places. Nevertheless, there is a wide selection of souvenirs, and the buildings are fun to look at. Some cruises have a Russian BBQ lunch here in the big tents. Ours didn’t.By some accounts, there is a vodka factory and museum here, with free tasting, but we didn’t find it.Close
Arrival at the Moscow airport after 17 hours of airplanes put us in bad mood, a 115-minute wait at passport control, unclear signs, and pushy mobs of Russians. When we finally reached the arrival hall, things began to pick up. As promised, a person holding…Read More
Arrival at the Moscow airport after 17 hours of airplanes put us in bad mood, a 115-minute wait at passport control, unclear signs, and pushy mobs of Russians. When we finally reached the arrival hall, things began to pick up. As promised, a person holding a sign saying "MS Tolstoy" was waiting right at the door. Transfer was handled by a driver and an English speaking member of the crew. When we finally arrived at the ship, about 10:30pm, dinner was still being served in the dining room.Moscow’s 9 to 12 million people, depending on which source is right, live in a city covering nearly as large an area as los Angeles, 390 miles² versus 450, making it an usually spacious city for Europe. Green space is further increased since most of the people live in high-rise apartments. Moscow was founded in 852 A.D.and became capitol of what would become Russia more or less in the 16th Century in 1157. In 1712, Peter the Great moved Russia’s capital to St. Petersburg where it remained for 300 years until the 1917 Revolution. The Communists restored Moscow as the capital in 1918.Moscow Day One. It rained all day. That morning, we got on one of four busses for the approximately 130 passengers and met Masha, our excellent English speaking guide, for a tour of Moscow. After driving around seeingthe sights form the bus, we disembarked and rode Metro, stopping at four of the most notable Metro stations, finishing close to Red Square. We entered Red Square by the National Historical Museum, revealing an impressive view of Red Square, GUM, Lenin’s Tomb, and, at the far end stood grand St. Basil’s Cathedral. After Masha did her thing, she turned us loose, to meet in 30 minutes in front of St. Basil’s. We immediately headed for the small, wildly colored church on the corner behind us, where a full blown Russian Orthodox Service was in progress. Seeing and hearing the service, contestant chants by the priests and choir, was a not to be missed experience.Then we entered GUM for our first encounter with a Russian restroom, a type we call a squat toilet—no seat, just two steel pedestals where you stand and squat.After a brief lecture on recently repainted St. Basil’s and lots of picture taking, we reboarded the bus behind the Cathedral and headed to an impressive view of the Novodevichy Convent from the shores of Swan Lake, the one Tchaikovsky wrote the ballet about.Back to the ship for lunch, then off to the Tretyakov Gallery to spend the afternoon visiting what is by universal acclaim, the greatest collection of Russian art anywhere. That said, if this is the best of Russian art, I can think of a lot of better ways to spend my time than looking at Russian art. We quickly abandoned the guided tour, walked through the place in quick time, and went outside to explore the streets until bus departure, a much better use of our time than looking at Russian art.Dinner aboard was preceded by the Captain’s Reception and Cocktail Party. Having experienced this traditional absurdity twice before, we went early, grabbed a glass of the invariable cheap champaign, some hors d’oeuvres, and left.Moscow Day Two. The morning tour of the Armory and Kremlin was a highlight of the Moscow visit, once it finally got started. Unfortunately, like passport control, the Kremlin is run by a government seemingly devoted to making tourists miserable—73 minutes to get inside the Kremlin walls. With hundreds of visitors lined up in the Alexander Garden, the government had one metal detector operating at the gate. The Kremlin is an old fortified city within the city. The red brick walls of the Kremlin extend for 1.3 miles, rising to 240 feet at some of the towers. About half the original towers are now gone. They were built a regular intervals spaced at twice the maximum range of guns in the 15th century so that gunfire from the ports in the towers could cover the entire wall. Inside the walls, the Kremlin, as the original Russian seat of government and religion, is a city of palaces and churches. The Armory Museum was built by the Tsars to display their wealth—Faberge Eggs, porcelain table settings for a couple dozen people, royal dress, Ivan the Terrible’s throne, Catharine the Great’s State Carriage, armor, guns—an altogether staggering display of conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately our tour did not include a visit to the diamond collection. Then we had a guided tour across the grounds of the Kremlin, with a visit to St. Michael’s Cathedral. We left the Kremlin into Red Square, and walked past St. Basil’s to the waiting bus.That afternoon, we took an optional tour to the Pushkin Art Museum (also offered, an optional tour to the grounds of the Novodevichy Convent). Almost all the people on the Pushkin bus went to see the Museum’s noted collection of French Impressionism (one gallery had a dozen Monets, the next room, 11 Renoirs), and some of them ran into trouble trying to find it. A reception had closed the route the guide directed us to take, and the floor plans were only in Russian. I had Baedeker’s, with a floor plan in English, so we maneuvered directly to the Impressionist Galleries. On our way back for quick walk through of the rest of the museum, we rescued some of our group who were still floundering about trying to find the Impressionist galleries with time running out. Other than the Impressionist collection, there are some Kadinskys, Picasos, and a nice collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt. Much of the museum is given over to copies of great works from around Europe, originally made for use in art training programs.After dinner, there was a choice of optional tours to the Moscow Circus or “Moscow By Night.” We took Moscow By Night, which turned out to be another highlight of the Moscow visit. First stop was some of the city’s newest contemporary buildings and a walk across the bridge over the Moscow River with views of the Kremlin. Next stop, the Victory Monument, a vast memorial to Great Patriotic War (WWII) located on a hill with a panoramic view of the city. The Monument includes all sorts of monumental stuff, a war museum, 3 to 4 churches, and 1,400 fountains lit from below by red lights arraigned in a series of pools descending Victory Hill. Our final stop was the city overlook atop Sparrow hill, the highest. place in Moscow, and here we learned why the tour brought us into Moscow on Friday. We met Moscow traffic in a midnight traffic jam on a bridge. We could see our destination from the bridge, perhaps ¼-mile away. It took 45 minutes to get there. We got back to the ship about 1:am.Close
Written by SDCarol on 22 Jul, 2003
Business Trip Extension in Moscow
The overnight train between Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow (500km) costs $46 for first-class accommodations that are clean and attractive. There were two people to each compartment, with comfortable bunks. The small table in each compartment was covered with linen, a potted…Read More
Business Trip Extension in Moscow
The overnight train between Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow (500km) costs $46 for first-class accommodations that are clean and attractive. There were two people to each compartment, with comfortable bunks. The small table in each compartment was covered with linen, a potted fern, and a boxed breakfast containing yogurt, bread, sausage, and red caviar. Before we went to sleep, we were offered a nightcap--I chose cognac and the guys, beer. In the morning, we were served hot tea from the samovar-like device in our car.
The translator left us in Moscow--she was going to her dacha with her husband, son, and parents for Easter week (celebrated on May 5). Our driver met us and took us to the Marriott Grand Hotel for check-in. I gave the guys until 9:30am to get ready for our trip to the Moscow Flea Market at Izmailovsky Park, where you can find anything from Soviet-period relics to truly valuable works of art. I got directions from the translator, and we took the Metro all by ourselves! They groused a bit but ended up enjoying themselves hunting for bargains. I found an old and heavy, solid brass mortar and pestle there.
The Metro was incredible. The stations are called "underground palaces," and they truly are. Decorated in mosaics, marble, granite, onyx, semi-precious stones, chandeliers, stained-glass windows and sculptures, the Metro has more than 160 miles of track. About 9,000 trains carry more than nine million passengers each day.
At twilight, I walked back to Red Square to see St. Basil's Cathedral lit up at night--swirling colors and redbrick towers each topped with an onion dome, extravagant and brightly colored. In front of Lenin's tomb at one side of the square, many young recruits were lined up taking each other's pictures. It was a balmy evening, and only a 1km walk from the hotel.
The rest of the team left the next morning, but I stayed an extra day. I took the Metro again, this time to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts--it has the best and largest collection of Impressionists in Russia. Between it and the river stands the newly rebuilt (2000), enormous, gold-domed Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The original, built in 1883, was torn down by Stalin and replaced with a gigantic, year-round, heated swimming pool. I joined literally hundreds of people for Palm Sunday services. As I left, all five tower’s bells started ringing. Once back at the hotel, I took a short, final walk towards the Kremlin in search of caviar and discovered a shop in an 18th-century building with curved, ornate, and gilded ceilings and 20-foot-tall mirrored walls selling beluga for 125 grams for 1,100 rubles. I bought my limit--250 grams for $73!
Written by j_cemw on 09 Sep, 2002
There's a lot to say about Moscow and I won't be able to say it all here, naturally - but I'll do my best to give an informative glimpse of this fantastic city. I can't comment on hotels because we're lucky enough to have friends…Read More
There's a lot to say about Moscow and I won't be able to say it all here, naturally - but I'll do my best to give an informative glimpse of this fantastic city. I can't comment on hotels because we're lucky enough to have friends who own a flat in Moscow, and that's where we stayed. Let me try to tempt you, anyway!
I guess the first thing to say is that the currency is a little confusing - in the sense that you're never quite sure whether to use US dollars or Russian roubles. Most of the time it's fairly obvious but it helps if you have a companion who is "in the know"!
We arrived at Sheremetyevo airport, late, after our flight from London with Aeroflot and got through customs remarkably quickly. Our friends were waiting for us at 5am, with a taxi. Wow! Forget the roller-coasters in Florida and just go for a ride in a Russian taxi instead! They make dangerous driving look so very easy!
Having refreshed at or hosts' flat, we decided to head off to see the Kremlin and Red Square. Another exciting taxi ride.
If you decide not to take a taxi, the metro station at Red Square is well worth a visit; it's got loads of interesting marble statues of revolutionary figures. Don't take photos at metro stations, by the way! It's illegal. We did (but please keep THAT a secret!!) and lived to tell the tale, although our host was certainly more than a little nervous!
Red Square is staggering. I'd often seen news pictures of steely-faced communist leaders braving the bitterly cold snow to see thousands of tanks drive through it, but today it was hot and sunny and somehow extremely welcoming. GUM, the huge department store is to your left and has some very up-market shops; we bought a Russian version of the famous board-game, "Monopoly" there. It'll be fun trying to fathom that one out! St Basil's Cathedral is in front of you, with its brightly-coloured spiral spires, and on your right is the Kremlin, with its golden domes, and Lenin's tomb. There's an awful lot to see and do. Getting into the Kremlin involved fairly tight security and we were glad to have had a native Russian speaker with us. My wife was pregnant at the time (my fault!) and was not too keen on walking through the security scanner. Anna managed to negotiate an alternative with an extremely officious security guard - the only really unfriendly person we met during our stay. The Kremlin is, anyway, well worth a visit and you should take your time. It's a jewel.
You'll undoubtedly queue if you want to visit Lenin's tomb but it's well worth the wait. No cameras are allowed. It's a strange and very serene experience and I'll let you decide for yourself whether it's really him or not! As you leave, you walk past the tombs of many other (in)famous Russian leaders such as Brezhnev, Kruschev and Stalin. It's a superb experience and I'm glad I queued up!
Not far from Red Square is a really nice park where you can sit and enjoy the sun, people-watch and enjoy an ice-cold beer or three. Note, incidentally, that the Russians don't consider beer to be an alcoholic drink! That accolade is reserved for the more serious stuff. Yes, I'm talking about Vodka! Vodka with a "W". Don't sip it - just knock it back in one go and you'll delight your host! Just make sure that you brace yourself first! Drink is readily obtainable and represents very good value.
We had booked tickets on the "Red Arrow", a sleeper train from Moscow to St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). It's a truly great and thoroughly memorable experience which really shouldn't be missed. First class tickets get you a great twin-bedded compartment and, at about US$100 return, offer absolutely superb, unbeatable value. You get the transport and two nights' comfortable accommodation. It's quite an adventure! You just cannot go wrong! Sit in the restaurant car for an hour or so, with its lace curtains and elegant table decorations, and you could be on the Orient Express, but at a mere fraction of the price. The caviar is cheap (if you like it, that is - personally, I can't stand the stuff) and the Champagne is about $3 per bottle (and I love it).
Anyway, the train leaves at midnight (in each direction), so we needed to find something to do for the evening. Now don't get me wrong - I am NOT into ballet at all(!) but we just HAD to go and see "Swan Lake" at the Bolshoi Theatre. The experience was captivating. Don't try to get tickets at the box-office unless you're booking way in advance, because all the tickets will already have been sold to (hush!) the local Mafia, who then hang around outside, making a handsome profit selling tickets with a face value of a couple of dollars for about $50. It hurts, but it's about the only way to get in! We enjoyed the show, then got a "taxi" to the station, bought some food and some vodka and toasted the night away on the train to St Petersburg!
When we got back to Moscow, there was yet more to see. Gorky Park, immortalised in the film of the same name, is apparently really nice. We turned up to find thousands of guys in Green hats wandering around looking drunk and decidedly dangerous. Apparently it was a national holiday for the National Guard and they'd decided to descend on Gorky Park to party the day away. We decided to go elsewhere! Onto a bus and off to the Arbat....
The Arbat is a long street of some repute and it's now crammed with souvenir sellers. I love it; it's crazy! You can buy hats, flags, KGB ID cards, Russian dolls - anything at all; even a cosmonaut's outfit, with helmet, if you want to. My friend settled for a "Bleck lyeckered borx" or black, laquered box (all the more expensive because, as the vendor pointed out, "Look! Nyem of artist!") and, for some reason which totally escapes me to this day, a pair of "binoculars of high myegnification". They have not been used since! Mind you, I haven't flown my red flag either, so I shouldn't criticise.
Here's a useful tip. Don't EVER point at the President! We were just descending into a metro station when I noticed a police car hurtling down the street. It did an impressive handbrake turn, stopping in the middle of the road and blocking off the traffic. Moments later, a fast-moving cavalcade of black cars and President Putin's limousine tore down the street. "Look!" I said, and pointed. Potentially huge mistake. I was spotted by a bodyguard and, for a moment, was very worried. Nothing actually happened but I must confess that I did feel a little uneasy!
There's so much else to do in Moscow. Visit a church and experience the sights and fragrant smells of a Russian Orthodox service. Eat out - there are loads of places to choose from. You can even get a McDonald's - if you must. The military museum is superb and well worth a visit. One thing that you will find is that virtually everything has a two-tier pricing system, whereby tourists pay considerably more than locals. Whilst you may complain that this is unfair, bear in mind that local wages are generally extremely low (unless you're in the mafia). This also explains the eagerness of private motorists to act as unofficial taxi drivers! At one museum, Anna's brother tried, rather enterprisingly I thought, to get us in as native Russians. "Just don't speak!" he said. We didn't.... And we still got caught! I guess we just didn't "look" sufficiently Russian. All a bit embarrassing really - so don't try it yourself!
A really fantastic trip to a city which I'd heartily recommend and will NEVER forget (although I'd avoid it during the football world cup!) And by the way - you certainly don't HAVE to drink like a fish; it just helps! Enjoy - and take care!
Written by Ksu on 24 Feb, 2003
Those evening bells! Those evening bells!
How many a tale their music tells
Of love, and home and that sweet time,
When last I heard their soothing chime.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the bell ringing was spreading widely over the Moscow river. In his novels,…Read More
Those evening bells! Those evening bells!
How many a tale their music tells
Of love, and home and that sweet time,
When last I heard their soothing chime.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the bell ringing was spreading widely over the Moscow river. In his novels, Ivan Shmelev describes this sound during the great Orthodox holidays. He especially loved the sound of bells at Christmas and Easter; in those days, the bells announced the church services, holidays, and other important events of the city or town.
In old Russia, metal strips were first used in churches, and then the bells were brought to the country (first mentioned in 1066) and the belfry was separated from the cathedral by the erection of bell towers. But what interests me most is the method of ringing: clappers of western bells are fixed, thus the bell should be given a swing, but in Russia the bell ringer swings the clapper using a long rope, making it strike against the bell walls. The experienced bell ringer nearly dances on the belfry--he uses his hands and feet, and sometimes also needs a helper to swing the biggest bell, because the main thing is to set the general rhythm.
The largest bell is called the Large Annunciation bell, and then comes the holiday bell, the Sunday bell, and the every-day bell. The Novodevichy Convent, the Danilovsky Monastery, and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior all have belfries, and at the important Orthodox holidays, the sound of the bell ringing resounds throughout the city. When I hear this ringing, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit descends to the earth, and it makes me feel happy and joyful. Now there are small and big churches in every street in the center of Moscow, so have a look at their decorations and bells if you have time.
"And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Written by Ksu on 17 Feb, 2003
The Russian world is the world that Russian men and women have created and lived in through centuries of history. The achievements and failures of those centuries have moulded the institutions, the art, the religion, the economy, the landscape, and the people of the "Russian…Read More
The Russian world is the world that Russian men and women have created and lived in through centuries of history. The achievements and failures of those centuries have moulded the institutions, the art, the religion, the economy, the landscape, and the people of the "Russian nation." What were those achievements and failures? What is the character of the country and the people who have experienced them? What is the "Russian spirit" that runs through the history of Russia? Why is it not always understood by the non-Russians?
To answer all these questions, let us first look more closely at the Russian landscape--a strange, evocative area with a wild, desolate beauty of its own. The beauties of nature still retain much of its rural charm despite the Industrial Revolution. Russia's spaciousness has helped to shape both the history of the Russian nation and the philosophy of the Russian character.
But Russians have not always been conscious of the history that surrounds them. To be more exact, in Russia, not only was the traditional way of life destroyed (during a great number of conflicts), but also, as a result, so many priceless works of art were lost. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. And now, from traditional church ceremonies to restored country houses in the suburbs, we have gradually come to believe that, at every level, we should try to revive and remind ourselves of that culture and history.
On the other hand is the philosophy of the national character: the knowledge--unconsciously assimilated since childhood--that Russia is one of the most powerful countries in the world encourages a sense of security that could easily slide into one of superiority. The long centuries during which the land was invaded meant that there are could not be a continuity of tradition, however, the cultural activity even during all the war conflicts, was able to survive many ups and downs . . .
Written by NNegrete98 on 30 Mar, 2002
Being a college student at the time of my most recent trip, I found visiting the campus of Moscow State University very enjoyable. Simply walking around the campus you are sure to meet people from around the world. The campus is very green and…Read More
Being a college student at the time of my most recent trip, I found visiting the campus of Moscow State University very enjoyable. Simply walking around the campus you are sure to meet people from around the world. The campus is very green and for some reason I felt the large number of apple trees growing here gave it a nice touch. The buildings on the campus were absolutely beautiful and really tall!
Behind the main building is a strip that goes directly to a wall where you can look right upon the 1980 Olympic Stadium. The path is aligned with memorials to Russians who are well known that studied at Moscow State University. I was very excited when on I read in Russian "PAVLOV" on one of these memorials. While looking over the wall at the Olympic stadium you could also get a nice view of the city as well. I think if you are a college student or involved in the academic field it is definitely worth a visit.