UPDATED 20/7/2016

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Landed in Moscow, Roubles in hand, and arrive to find we have the MS Surikov to ourselves for a few hours as all the others have gone to a different airport. It is a fantastic ship with everything we need and our cabin is right by reception.

Shared dinner with a couple from Cuba. Our guide tells us Russia is a country with an unpredictable past! (History is rewritten).

We are shown the various types of architecture in the city. This is separated into styles according to the leader of the day. Quite amazing to see the differences. Some of the huge stone buildings are simply made of wood inside.


A sightseeing tour of the great landmarks of Russia's cultured, capital city.

The colourful St Basil's Cathedral is a wonder, Lenin has a day off on Monday and Friday, his mausoleum is closed, not to worry we pop into GUM. GUM used to be a state shop but now is a mall of staggering proportions.

I add these remarks on 17/6/16 For each visit we have a local guide, However our ship's guides accompany us all the time and are responsible for our visits. I simply can not find the right words to say how well they look after us. Tanya, Anastasia, Katya and Frederica are absolutely wonderful. During the navigation season (river not frozen) they go back and forth many times. But for us it is as if this is their first time. Ultimately they are the Russians we get to know the best of any. Their energy, enthusiasm and humour are infectious and contribute so much to our holiday.

Novodevichy Cemetery is full of famous Russians including Mikhail Botvinnik Chess World Champion and Father of Soviet Chess, I ask to see it but to no avail. On the way out I discover it is #29 but it is too far away to get to now with our coach on the way back to us. The bar man says they do not serve white tea, but he can do black tea with milk. The first taste of Russian humour, I think there is more to come!

Nikita Khrushchev is remembered here and not in line at the Kremlin. NK was the ruler when I was born and I grew up knowing of him, but I have learned much more about him in two days than I ever knew before.

For example NK was unpopular with the other ministers as he would take immediate decisions without discussion. They got their own back on his death. The story is that NK once went to an up and coming artist's exhibition. The artist painted abstract works. The artist was explaining to NK the meaning of his works but NK hated them. All the works were destroyed and the artist's career was left in ruins. When NK died he was exiled to this cemetery and the powers that be had to decide who would design the memorial. You guessed it, they chose that artist NK had destroyed. One of the most obvious design decisions is the black and white, representing NK's way of thinking.

Our guide for the Moscow by night and Metro tour was very good, lots of jokes and very pleasant to hear. We are all wired for sound and this has spoilt both of us for the future. Red square at night, tourist delight. Red square in the morning, you have missed the coach back.

As with a lot of works of art in Russia they are made of bronze and weigh a ton. Usually, when people can reach it, some part is polished by people touching it. Here it is the soldiers gun barrel. Another NK joke? A man stands in Red Square shouting Khrushchev is a fool Khrushchev is a fool. He is arrested and taken before the court and given a sentence of 23 years.

"WHAT" asks the man, "it is usually 3 years for criticising the leader". The judge replies "Yes, but also 20 years for telling state secrets".


We visit inside the Kremlin, a city within a city. In fact Mr Putin lives here in a city within a city within a city. There is a certain amount of security to go through. First stop is the 'Armoury' but this is actually a museum. Holding such treasure as Dresses, crowns, gold, silver, jewel encrusted religious artefacts and Fabergé Eggs.

There is a section of wonderful coaches, many given as gifts but also one sledge. This was drawn by 24 horses and had a stove inside with room for about 12 persons. We also look into the cathedral which amazes us all with the space inside. Sunshine all the way and warm breezes. Back to the boat for lunch and depart from Moscow afterwards.


We did not expect locks! There are many and they provide us with entertainment as we go. Breakfast is followed by lifeboat drill. There can be some waves here. The Volga is not so much a river as a series of lakes created by dams. There are many towns drowned in the past by the rising waters. We hear stories of the families who stayed with their house as the waters rose.

The steepled belfry was built in 1796-1800 as part of the Monastery of St. Nicholas, with a Pentacupolar Katholikon dating from 1694. Of its 12 bells, the largest weighed 1038 pounds. It was cast in 1895 to commemorate the coronation of Nicholas II of Russia. When Joseph Stalin ordered the construction of the Uglich Dam in 1939 to form the Uglich Reservoir, the old part of Kalyazin, including several medieval structures, were submerged under the reservoir's waters. This included the Saint Nicholas Monastery and Troitsky Makariev Monastery.

We have Russian lessons which are very good and build on the reading we have already done. Later we make our own up, for example: VasFordEEnYa? or in English, What's for dinner? Yes we are all nearly effluent in Russian now.

Then onto a tour of Uglich to uncover its chequered past, which is linked to figures like Ivan the Terrible and Boris Godunov. Another massive locks leads into a harbour. A grand hotel looks out over the waters. Inland there are market stalls on both sides leading to the main square. The Cathedral of Transfiguration was built in 1713 and it's the largest structure in the Kremlin area. It's topped by 5 onion-shaped green domes , It combines the best traditions of the ancient Russian architecture and some relatively new methods of building. The Cathedral of the Transfiguration was built of stone during times when Peter the Great ordered to use stone only for construction in St Petersburg. The acoustics of the interior are remarkable and four singers sound like a large choir. A truly remarkable surprise to hear and see a couple of pieces. Very moving, and bringing some of us to tears.

Our guide Vladimir, introduces the singers.


Yaroslavl was Russia's second largest city during the 17th century and now it is a World Heritage Site.

Yaroslavl's founder's monument and coat of arms are depicted on the front of the 1000 rouble note. The next picture shows Yaroslavl located at the confluence of the Volga and the Kotorosl Rivers. Yaroslavl and its local area have a typical temperate continental climate, in comparison to central and western Europe. This makes for a climate with more snowy, colder, but dry winters and typically temperate, warm summers. But so far we have had beautiful Sunshine and warmth. There has been some rain, but it has happened at the right time and has passed by quickly.

Students have 3 summer months off but are expected to do 'practice' which means working in the local area to clean streets, repair things or make the parks look good. Yaroslavl has a large number so the square is wonderful at the moment. There are so many areas like this chess one devoted to different aspects of worldwide interest. There is also 1 year for national service. If you do this after university, you do it as an officer.

Everywhere is so clean. 'How can you drop litter when you have spent one summer cleaning it up?

We have another concert equally as good as the first. Very moving.


The small settlement of Goritsy and the 14th-century monastery of Kirillo-Belozersky has much to be admired in the way of icons, old boxes, lace and eggs. The shops provide much in the way of clothing and Russian accessories which is handy because tonight is Russian Dinner Night when we are all to dress up. I have my Moscow hat for Croquet, that will do thank you.

I am now half expecting and hoping for a concert at the end of the tour. I am not disappointed, today it is perhaps the best so far.

More humour: 20Roubles to visit here, or, another way 2p to pee.

How things were once. The winters are vicious here.

Now I can answer two of my questions with one photo: A) Why has the internet connection dropped off? B) What is all the fuss about life jackets since we are on a river?

The dams and water management have created vast stretches of open water, it is as if we are at sea. We form a team for the quiz, which is quite tough. European countries and capitals, Russian pictures and football team nicknames. There were 5 points for the most amusing team name. Scores came in we had 50, another team 52, but we won a cold bottle of Vodka because our team name was Boris Not Good Enough. Seems as if all night we passed through about six locks.


After breakfast our briefing for the afternoon takes place and then we are right into the third and last of our Russian language classes. This includes a final test, our papers are taken for marking. Liz visited the bridge and shared some advice with the Captain Alexandre. Time to find another joke: What did the Russian use to light their homes before they started to use candles? ... Electricity!

The open-air museum of wooden architecture on the island of Kizhi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes an impressive collection of churches, chapels, houses, snakes and biting insects. It is rather special and very interesting. The bell ringer has a series of ropes and gives us a beautiful tune from the top of one of the bell towers. Generally, museums collect artefacts and bring them together. This one is no different, all buildings have been moved here.

Some mean hydrofoils bring Russians here from StP at about 80KPH.

The whole area we are sailing through is named Karelia. To our NorthEast, not so far away, is the border with Finland, the birth place of Jean Sibelius who composed the Karelia Suite in 1893. There is a section of about 12 minutes everyone remembers and it was used as the theme for Thames TV 'This Week' as well as being one of the favourite peices the Nice would perform regularly in the 1970's.

We sail away, manoeuvring all the time between large and small islands all covered in trees. The mood is foreboding, to say the least, especially when you try to imagine everything frozen, in darkness.


That is a slide, I guess used in Winter snow? No earphone day! We are on our own to walk about Mandrogi a reconstructed traditional Russian village complete with charming old wooden houses and cobblestone walkways.

In the vodka museum. An opportunity to try four shots for R300. I chose Classic, Cranberry, Medicinal and Chili-Honey.

The crafts being made here are wonderful. Dolls and eggs being painted so very well. Along with many other items. Musicians play in the street. The pie shop sell wonderful pies. Horses draw wagons of tourists. Glass works, blacksmiths, clothes and also a pie shop. Theses pies are exceptionally good and we have one each to soak up the vodka, although it may have spoiled our BBQ lunch. It is all very good.

Herbs grow in the gardens next to the boat jetty. This is a beautiful place especially on a day such as this, bathed in Sunshine.

Many activities on board after this as we sail. The fourth part of the History Channel documentary, Russian dance class, a look at the ship's video so far. The Captain's cocktail reception. The gala dinner and then the talent show!


Dense foggy rain for one hour coach trip in heavy traffic to various photo stops in Saint Petersburg, the most Westernised city of Russia. As well as being the cultural capital it is the northernmost city in the world with a population of over one million. They say here that those who do not drink or do not smoke die in good health.

In January 2013 Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu announced plans to recommission Aurora and make her the flagship of the Russian Navy due to her historical and cultural importance. On 21 September 2014 the ship was towed to the Admiralty Shipyard in Kronstadt to be overhauled, it returned on the day of our visit. We leave the coach here and start to explore by ourselves, crossing a long bridge on foot we get back to the centre of the city. It stops raining!

The Elisseeff Emporium is a large retail and entertainment complex, including a famous food hall (A la Fortnum & Masons), constructed in 1902-1903. The complex consists of three buildings, although the corner one is the structure that is referred to as Elisseeff's store. It is one of the most striking examples of St. Petersburg Art Nouveau architecture. At the time of its construction the building was considered controversial.

After Strogonoff for lunch we take a river boat on an amazing journey. Here is the Hermitage from the river but everywhere looks so much better from the water.

The escalators at our local station Lononosovskaya are so long that some people sit down and read a book while using them. The longest in Moscow is 3 minutes.


While I was wearing my Vietnamese T-shirt and feeling a bit hot, we were surprised to discover, when looking at a globe, we are on the same latitude as Anchorage. We go to the Hermitage to be amazed and indeed we are. You do not have to be an expert to see this building is far superior to , say, anything in London or Paris. Then you have to consider the collection inside which must be the best in the world.

Leonardo da Vinci and a few others have works here which are must see, or rather must photograph. Our group becomes a well schooled team, forming a semi circle elbow to elbow as we all move forward together as a unit, preventing incursions from the side by other groups less well behaved as our own.

We take a lunch break on the coach to Peterhof. A palace and gardens with fountains driven by gravity. The so-called Lower Gardens comprising the better part of Peterhof's land area, are confined between this bluff and the shore, stretching east and west for roughly 200 metres. The majority of Peterhof's fountains are contained here, as are several small palaces and outbuildings. East of the Lower Gardens lies the Alexandria Park with 19th-century Gothic Revival structures such as the Kapella. The gulf of Finland is on the doorstep.

A picture is worth a thousand words but this garden would need a thousand pictures. Here is #2. Best visit yourself to see more.

There are some 'trick' fountains where guests may get a little wet if they sit in the wrong place or step on the wrong stone.


Sadly disembark MS Surikov, leaving crew and guests behind.

Bonus Photos

"Shall we go for a drink"?
"Let's think about it"

My glam assistant shows a Metro art work in Moscow.

The face of Russia at the everlasting flame remembering the Great War.

I just has to be done in SPB. YUM YUM