Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 4: Mother Volga and The Cool Table

Mother VolgaWe spent an enjoyable afternoon sitting in the sunshine and chatting with the other passengers whilst cruising along the Volga.  At more than 2,000 miles long it's Europe's longest river and carries two thirds of Russia's river freight on it and its tributaries.  So as well as enjoying scenic delights, such as the town of Tutayev with its fairy tale style churches, we encountered many working craft along the way.  As we entered the lock of Rybinsk (one of 17 we encountered) we unusually rose up 14m.  All the other locks took us downwards in a total drop of 156m between Moscow and  St Petersburg.  At the entrance to the vast man made Rybinsk Reservoir we got the opportunity to photograph the 236 feet tall statue of Mother Volga.  Her outstretched hand is said to be in welcome, rather than the fact that she is collecting a toll or expecting a tip.

I began to get a feel for what makes cruising with Viking special, it's all the little touches and attention to detail.  Like the radio and ear pieces that mean I didn't need to huddle around our guide to hear what's being said, but could stray away for that picture angle or a close up look of something that interested me.  Like the samosas brought round to us on the deck one afternoon and later some locally made chocolates they’d purchased in our earlier stop at Yaroslavl, nice little surprises.  Pleasant little extras like a couple of songs from a small choir that made that part of your excursion particularly enjoyable.

Kirilov-Berozersky Monastery on Severskoye LakeWe docked at Kuzino some 600 Km North from Moscow and a journey of 8 hours for locals by train.  Our first treat was a light hearted show that touched on the Viking influence in Russia, made somewhat interactive by dressing up 4 of the audience as King, Queen and bodyguards.  Next we moved onto Kirilov-Berozersky Monastary, sat fortress like beside Severskoye Lake.  The Abbey was originally founded in 1397 and was a key cultural, political as well as religious centre in medieval times.  Now a Museum that has just 6 monks on site, it has a tremendous store of artefacts and iconography including a 10Kg Tabernacle in solid silver.

A visit to a local school taught us that there was very little difference between a Russian and English school.  Perhaps the most striking difference is that in a town where tourism is the main employer, learning a foreign language is the key to future employment rather than a nice to have on the curriculum.

Cruising the White Lake, every now and then a white crested wave would race away from the ship like a teeming shoal of white fish making a break for the shore.  This phenomena is apparently where the lake gets its name.  Or it could be one of the other two stories I heard, or make your own one up, who cares it’s a beautiful lake.

Transfiguration ChurchThe great thing about travel is the people you meet.  We wanted to adopt the couple who started their lives in England and India respectively to end up meeting in a retirement village in Canada, where in their 80s they fell in love and ran away together.  They now travel the world, sit and hold hands and look into each other's eyes no less adoringly than a 20 year old couple (say Ahhhhhh now).  Then there was the couple who unofficially annexed a large table and each day would invite people of their choice to the "Cool Table".  It was all done with such fun and a great sense of humour that it became a feature of the trip.  We were on our second visit to the Cool Table, don't be too shocked that I can be cool sometimes. Next day was Russian day and following a delicious selection of Russian based meals (I loved this chef but my waistline was suffering) we finished off with an evening of Vodka tasting.  Slow start to the next day for all.

The vast Lake Onega has over 1,600 islands and we docked at its most popular, Kizhi island.  Recognised by UNESCO as a world Heritage site for its collection of wooden buildings moved here from other parts of Karelia to form an island Museum.  The most eye-catching of all its attractions is the transfiguration Church, which boasts no fewer than 30 domes between the larger and smaller buildings.  As we stood there on a brilliantly sunny day the wooden tiles which cover the domes shone like silvery fish scales, but it is said they burn a fiery red when they reflect a sunset.

Bag FeverOur journey from Lake Onega along the Svir river to Lake Ladoga (the largest lake in Europe) was broken by a stop at Mandrogy.  In reality it's little more than a tourist trap but makes a pleasant pit stop and a chance to stretch our legs in a green and pleasant location.

Back on The Rurik we set off for our final destination in Russia, St Petersburg.  A bad case of “Bag Fever” has also broken out on the ship and even the Management team are fighting over who will have it next (see picture).

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 3: Uglich and Yaroslavl
•  Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 5: Jurassic Park and the Squirrel

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Steve Aldridge

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