Russia 2019 – Day 15 – Homeward Bound, Part 2

Up at five, on the shuttle bus at 5:50, in line at 6:10, at the gate at 7:00. We’re not missing this flight!

The flight to Chicago was uneventful, but on arrival we were in for a couple of curveballs. First off, when we departed Moscow early Monday morning we had received a bag breakfast from the hotel since we departed before breakfast was available. Included in the bag was an apple. I ate mine at the airport in Moscow. Not sure what everyone else ended up doing with theirs – until now. While waiting for our bags in the customs claims area, the beagle brigade came through and sniffed something in Doug’s carry-on. Yep – he hadn’t eaten his apple or had time to dispose of it. So the beagle got a reward for finding the contraband. No fresh produce allowed Doug!

That wasn’t really a big deal. The next curveball was a bit worse – Doug’s checked luggage didn’t show up. This was despite the agent in Frankfurt confirming that it was check through. To make it worse, United didn’t seem to have any record of the bag… To make matters worse, Doug’s only car keys were in this checked bag… We’d have to wait until Minneapolis to see if maybe his bag had actually flown yesterday. Fingers crossed!

Unfortunately, on arrival into Minneapolis Doug’s bag was nowhere to be found. Even worse, United really had no idea where the bag was. They would have to follow up with Frankfurt and try to track it down. So after getting things squared away, we got a taxi to Jerry’s where my car was located and I gave Doug and Nancy a lift to their son’s place in Woodbury.

From there it was the final leg to my place. I got home around 4 o’clock and am ready for a good night sleep in my own bed! It was a great trip but now I’m happy to be home!

Russia 2019 – Day 14 – Homeward Bound

Was in bed by 10 o’clock last night but didn’t get much sleep. Up at 4 am, suitcase in the hall by 4:20 and the bus was rolling at 5 o’clock! Due to the early hour, traffic was no issue so it took us just about fifty minutes to arrive at Domodedova airport which is located to the southeast of the city center. Check-in, security, and passport control were a breeze and we were at the gate by 6:45. Plenty of time to relax before our 9 am flight to Frankfurt.

Our flight arrived in Frankfurt on time, however we had only an hour and fifteen minutes between flights. Normally this should probably be fine but not today… Our plane was parked on the tarmac and we bussed over to the terminal. We entered the security line at noon for our 12:45 flight. We (Jerry, Doug, Nancy and myself) didn’t make it through in time. Jackie who was using wheelchair assistance and Diana who accompanied her, were able to make it through in time.

Thus began our adventure to find a hotel for the night. It first took awhile to find the hotel phones. We reached the Holiday Inn which said they had rooms available so we headed that direction. On the way we spotted a Sheraton which was onsite which would have been more convenient but they wanted 500 bucks. Onward. It was a little confusing navigating out of the airport so we stopped at McDonald’s for an ice cream. Called the Holiday Inn to confirm location and room availability. Finally made it out of the airport and after a dead end street found are way to the Holiday Inn. They were now sold out…

They suggested the place across the street. In the meantime I was able to secure a room at the Hampton Inn next door. The other hotel was also booked. Turns out there is some convention in the city this week. The Hampton Inn was also booked so we had just the one room for the four of us. Fortunately it had a queen bed Plus a pull out sofa so we could manage.

We went next door to the Holiday Inn for dinner as it was pretty much the only restaurant in walking distance. While we were having drinks, Doug checked if any rooms had become available and they told him to check back after 7. So as we were having dinner it passed seven o’clock and Nancy check on a room and luckily enough a room was available. So in the end we all had comfortable space for the night.

Next step – get out of here tomorrow morning!

Russia 2019 – Day 13 – Moscow

After a long day yesterday, I slept in until about eight o’clock. Finally downstairs to breakfast about 8:30 and had a relaxing breakfast prior to our 9:45 departure for the Tretyakov fine art gallery. Again not something that I was particularly looking forward to but it’s on the agenda. In the end it was actually quite enjoyable as there is some amazing artwork. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with brush and paint by a skilled artist.

Two in particular that struck me, though don’t ask me the artist or the names of the works. The first was a painting of a woman on a horse in which the background was green trees and she wore a green scarf blowing in the wind. You could clearly discern the green on green. The second was a winter painting of several women on a street with a puddle in the foreground. From a distance this puddle with their reflection looked like water while close up it appears just as a matte surface. Okay there was a third which featured a bridge consisting of three logs. It was reminiscent of an MC Escher drawing as when viewed from the left the bridge appears to go from lower left to upper right but as you move to the right it appears to orient in the opposite direction.

We returned to the hotel about one o’clock and I’ve been catching up on the last couple days of posts. Finally a nice relaxing afternoon. We meet for a farewell dinner at 7:30 this evening and will get our plans for tomorrow morning. Our flight departs Moscow at 8am so it’s likely to be a very early morning!

It has been a very enlightening trip. I did not really know what to expect of Russia and ended up being surprised by a lot of things. Definitely a worthwhile time!

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” —Mark Twain

Russia 2019 – Day 12 – Moscow

I’ve been fighting the beginnings of a cold the last few days and finally took some Tylenol pm last night before bed. For the first time in a week I finally got a good night’s sleep! So good in fact that by the time Jerry came back from breakfast it was 7:20 and I had 25 minutes to get showered, dressed and have my suitcase in the hall… I made it. Then went down and had a relaxing breakfast and headed back to the room to await our 9:15 departure.

First stop of the day was St. Basil’s cathedral. We then strolled across Red Square where we had a view off Lenin’s tomb. Opposite side of the square is the Gum department store (really a shopping mall). We were given a little free time to wander around but I just found a bench and did some people watching.

We then descended into the Moscow Metro for a quick ride around to a few stations to see the architecture. The stations are all located from 60-80 meters below ground and of course served as bomb shelters during WWII and the Cold War. Every station is unique and features different styles of architecture and decor. They are very opulent and were used as a type of propaganda during soviet times to show how well off the country supposedly was.

Then it was on to our hotel, the Grand Marriott, just about a 20 minute walk from the Kremlin. We had about and hour rest period before heading to the WWII memorial museum.

The museum is very impressive and there was a lot of information to be conveyed. Unfortunately we had a museum guide speaking Russian interpreted by our local guide. So it took twice as long to pass along information meaning we only got to see half of the exhibits. As America’s European WWII experience was primarily in Italy, France, and the Low Countries we very rarely are exposed to the soviet experience. The Soviet Union suffered tremendous losses in the early days of the war and the civilian population endured terrible conditions for several years. The numbers involved in the battles along with the losses suffered are staggering. As the saying goes; one death is a tragedy, while millions are merely statistics…

We returned to the hotel about 6 pm and headed out for dinner. We decided on an Italian cafe where I ordered their signature Basiilca pizza. It was described as having smoked meats and cheeses, herbs, capers and red olives. What are red olives you might ask, seems to be a miss translation of cherry tomatoes… they were easily removed! And capers seem to be green onions, while herbs consisted of basil, parsley and dill. Little bit of an odd mix but all in all was really tasty! Then back to the hotel before our tour of Moscow by Night.

Unfortunately it had started to rain and the temperature had dipped so it wasn’t as fun as it potentially could have been. We only got one new view which was an overview of the Kremlin from a pedestrian bridge. We were back to the hotel around 11:30 or so. One very long day!

Russia 2019 – Day 11 – MS Rostropovich & Moscow

Same morning routine as usual on the boat today. While I t was to be our last day of sailing we would have one more night aboard. Shortly before heading to breakfast we passed through the sixth and final lock on the Moscow canal and would be arriving into port shortly before 1pm. After breakfast I took care of packing as it was to be a late return to the boat and we are heading to a hotel tomorrow for our last two nights.

We arrived into port right on time and were on the bus and ready to go at 1pm. It took about an hour to make the drive into central Moscow and our destination of the Kremlin. On arrival we had to get through the massive line through security. It took about thirty minutes so all in all was not that bad.

We strolled into the Kremlin and passed through cathedral square which contains four different cathedrals. One was used for baptisms, another for marriage and a third for funerals while the last was simply the personal chapel of the Tsar’s family.

Cathedral Square

From there it was on to the Armory museum which contained a bit of armor and a lot of royal clothing, thrones, carriages, etc. I know that most if not all of the royal families of Europe had such lavish tastes, but looking at all of the excess here it’s becoming easier to see why there was a revolution…

After the museum we returned back to Cathedral square and went inside one of the cathedrals. This one was so gaudily decorated in my opinion that I was not impressed with all the artwork.

Finally Inside the Kremlin we passed the Tsar Bell, a 200 ton bronze bell, which was never installed as it cracked at some point during production. We also passed the Tsar Cannon, a forty ton cannon that was produced only to show the size capable of Russia but it was never actually fired.

We then headed to dinner at the National Hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Had a nice dinner of a salad and salmon and then a chocolate dessert.

As compensation for the day at anchor and missed excursion during the river cruise the boat and tour agencies arranged a special musical experience. A local art gallery was opened and a special performance by the Zlatoust Moscow Ensemble of Soloists was arranged. Not knowing anything about them I was not necessarily enthused about this, but in the end it was very entertaining. It did make for a long day as we then had to return to the boat where we arrived a about 11 o’clock.


Russia 2019 – Day 10 – MS Rostropovich

Finally got some sleep last night, I think, as I woke about about 6:30 feeling fairly well rested. Caught a few YouTube videos, then showered and was down for breakfast at 8. After breakfast headed down for the last day of Russian history session. Covered the period from Stalin up to present day. The session started with a clip of Trevor Noah’s stand-up routine about Russian accents.

The scheduled Russian language class was apparently cancelled for some reason which was both a relief and disappointment. We docked in the town of Uglich at about noon. We made a visit to a local couple’s house where they shared with us a traditional Russian visitors snack of pickles, potatoes and bread to accompany a few shots of home brew vodka followed by tea and apple cake.

From there we were dropped off in the town square where we free to wander around before heading back to the boat. I found a couple of war memorials that I snapped a few pictures.

Then it was back to the boat where we had an afternoon tea lesson with snacks. We then met with Ivan to discuss plans for the next few days in Moscow. Then it was on to dinner, I skipped the captains fairwell cocktail, and back to the room. As I’m writing this we are passing through the last lock on the Volga river as we prepare to enter the Moscow canal for the homestretch so to say.

Russia 2019 – Day 9 – MS Rostropovich

Today was a lazy day as the ship was working to catch up on our itinerary. Breakfast was at the same time followed by another Russian history lesson, this time from the revolution up to present day. Then an hour break before a discussion on modern day Russia with our tour guide Ivan. Then it was on to lunch and then about three hours before our visit to the village of Goritsy.

Goritsy is a small village of about 600 people. We visited the elementary school and then a local home of Galinda and Leonid. We then visited the local church and convent. The boat had been repositioned downstream a bit so we were bussed to the new location.

View from the chapel overlooking the river.

Then back on board we had a quick cocktail g eat together with the group, then a vodka tasting before dinner. As I haven’t slept well on the boat, I’m hoping all the alcohol lets me finally get some rest tonight.

Clear, honey-pepper, and cranberry vodkas – oh boy…

Russia 2019 – Day 8 – MS Rostropovich

I was in bed by about 11 pm last night. I think I fell asleep with the gently rocking boat as we were still at anchor. I next awoke to much heavier rocking and recognized that we were under way. It was about 12:30 am and for the next three hours I was unable to get back to sleep as the rocking was heavier and heavier as we crossed Lake Ladoga… Finally about 3:30 as we approached the eastern shore the boat settled down and I was able to fall asleep. I slept until almost 8 am.

After breakfast I attended a second history lesson which covered the Romanov dynasty and then a second Russian language course. We then arrived at what was intended as our destination for yesterday, Mandrogi Village. This is a purpose built tourist site that serves as a location for various artisans to ply their trades and provides a destination for the tour boats. Unfortunately due to the delay we only had about an hour to spend here. One could easily spend an entire afternoon exploring the village.

Mandrogi Village

It was then back on the boat for lunch after which I started watching a documentary on the Tsars but ended up taking a nap. Later on we met our tour guide for a discussion about Russian geography and culture.

We then had a briefing from the captain explaining the weather that caused the delay and the resulting change in our itinerary. We were to visit the Kizhi island on Lake Onega and the village and monastery located there. However the transit across the lake and back takes about eighteen hours and as we are about twenty-two hours behind schedule we must skip this stop in order to maintain our schedule through the locks and arrival into Moscow.

After the briefing it was on to dinner and then back to the cabin for some rest. We’re transiting Lake Onega as I write this and the boat is rocking a good bit – though I don’t think as much as last night…

Russia 2019 – Day 7 – MS Rostropovich

We set sail on the Neva River from St. Petersburg last night on time around 7pm. Our course was to take us up the river and across Lake Ladoga, the largest lake in Europe, and then up the Svir River to the village of Mandrogi.

However when we woke we found our boat at anchor in a bay in the southwest corner of the lake. We had been there since 11pm the night before as there was a storm over the lake with steady winds of nearly 36mph producing swells of up to 8’ on the main body of the lake. The MS Rostropovich is primarily a river boat and only rated to operate with swells up to ~6’. Therefore we were forced to await improving weather.

This was determined after the 9:30 am lecture that we had attended on early Russian history. At that point the day’s remaining itinerary was out the window and the crew quickly reorganized onboard activities. After an hour break I attended a Russian language class after which it was time for our lunch which had been intended to eat ashore but we enjoyed onboard instead. The remainder of the afternoon was relatively free, as I did not attend the offered cooking and dancing lessons. I watched the first part of a documentary on the Romanov family and caught up on some YouTube videos – fortunately we’re still close enough to shore for internet service. Then it was off to dinner and then back to the room for the night.

We’re hoping to be able to sail in the morning and arrive at our second destination tomorrow night. We shall see…

Russia – Day 6 – St. Petersburg

First morning waking up on the boat, unfortunately didn’t sleep great but nonetheless up at 7 again and down to breakfast about 7:30. Nice buffet and some good coffee and ready to roll. Unfortunately today looked like the weather was not going to cooperate…

We boarded the bus at 9 for our last day in St Petersburg. It was nearly an hour drive back to the city. We stopped for one photo op at Smolny convent and then on to the Hermitage. We spent about 2 hours on a tour and were then out the door at 12:30. Like the Smithsonian one could spend days looking at all of the artwork. It’s an amazing place but simply too much to absorb in so short a time with thousands of other people. Then it was off to lunch at a local restaurant. The rain had started by this time so the afternoon looked pretty bleak.

After lunch we toured Peter and Paul Fortress which also contains a Cathedral which houses the burials of all the Romanov family Czars and Emporers. Due to the cold rain and wind we didn’t spend any time outside though I’m sure a walk around the grounds would have been quite interesting as our guide Ivan is very knowledgeable. Instead it was back on the bus for the hour ride back to the boat. We leave St Petersburg tonight for our journey to Moscow on the MS Rostropovich. До свидания, Санкт-Петербург!