Our journey started by navigating a section of the 80 mile Moscow Canal, part of the network of waterways that connects Moscow to St Petersburg. Stalin's use of prison labour vastly accelerated the vision of Peter the Great and this mammoth construction contains 15 dams, 11 locks, 8 Hydroelectric power stations, 5 pump stations and 15 bridges. The dimensions of the project were greater than either the Panama or Suez Canal projects.
One of the advantages of being on a ship of the Viking Rurik's size, with only 160 passengers (200 capacity) was the intimate nature of the relationship between crew and passengers and amongst the passengers themselves. It was easy to get to know everyone, regularly seeing each other about the ship and on excursions. The crew quickly got to know your names and preferences, plus Jens Wehrenberg (Hotel Manager) always seemed to be there to greet you, wish you a good day, have a chat, make sure all is OK (did he ever sleep? Was there more than one of him?). By the time we had transitioned through the 6th lock we had moved on to the Volga river and we were graced with a beautiful evening where we watched colourful and heart shaped hot air balloons glide along the river bank oozing calmness and serenity, so peaceful.
Uglich was the first Golden Ring city that we visited and as we started off to see a local family we learnt that the city was founded as far back as 1148. We were warmly greeted by our hosts for our taste of "real Russian life", a welcome distraction from the tourist hotspots of Moscow. We were shown the flower and vegetable garden plus the rabbit hutches, which along with fishing provide some of the dietary needs of the family. A lively discussion via our translator revealed much about their everyday lives, whilst tea, cake and some homemade Vodka (moonshine) helped the conversation along. This was such a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Back into the city we visited the Church of St Dmitry on the Blood where the body of Dmitry (son of Ivan the Terrible) was found, allegedly assassinated under the order of Boris Gudunov. Sadly the official story of accidental death was accompanied by severe reprisals, deaths and exile. Even the church bell that rang at his death was flogged (sounds like Basil Fawlty) and exiled to Siberia.
Uglich is one of the few places in Russia that has a Tourist Information Office and we visited briefly to help us with our free time in the city. The lady in the office greeted us with enthusiasm and spent some time talking to us in the most impeccable English and showing us Dymkovo toys (clay figure/pennywhistle).
As soon as we landed in Yaroslavl (also a Golden Ring city) we were whisked off to the market where Danilo Mielke (Exec Chef) had prepared a selection of local cheeses and meats for us to try. Tasty though they were, it was the tomatoes infused with garlic that tempted me to stay and carry on eating, rather than continue with the tour. I would have missed a treat though because soon enough we were being greeted by a lovely lady in period costume for our tour of the Governor's Palace. She guided us expertly though the collection of 18th and 19th century art, allowed me to be Governor for a few seconds and then danced the waltz with me to the small orchestra that was playing. My contribution to all this was to smile a lot and not step on her toes, as we'd been told the Russian tradition was to step right back on yours.
We passed the War Memorial, in front of the Annunciation cathedral, in the town where flowers were being laid at the eternal flame by a wedding party. The practice here is to thank those that gave their lives in battle, so that the Bride and Groom would have a future. Our destination was the Church of Elijah the Prophet that was a splendid end to the days excursion. This church houses some of the most outstanding frescos, done by Gury Nikitin, that I have ever seen and combined with the iconography it was hard to keep my overwhelmed eyes in their sockets.
Back to the ship and we are greeted with Lemon Tea to ward off the little chill in the air and we cast off just as we head for lunch (well I didn't eat that much at the market). Did I mention my clothes were shrinking? That afternoon's cruising towards Kuzino took us past some beautiful scenery, including the 700 year old and still functioning convent at Tolga.
Author’s Note: A single picture cannot begin to do justice to the inside of The Church of Elijah the Prophet, so here’s a short video to give you a better idea.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking River and Ocean Cruises
• Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 1: The Ship and The Stroganoff
• Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 2: Moscow and Monty Python
• Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 4: Mother Volga and The Cool Table
• Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 5: Jurassic Park and the Squirrel