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The Cruise

 

 

On board, our cabins were small but comfortable and the meals were ample and very good quality.  Reasonable quality wine was available with the meal for less than $30 a bottle.  Nevertheless we chose to eat in the city on a number of occasions when we were out and about or departing from the organised tours. In this way we sampled a good range of Russian food and found it very enjoyable. We were also able to bring bottles and other supermarket goods back to the ship provided we drank and ate outside on deck or in our cabin.

 

meals on board

 

After three more days moored in Moscow we set sail for St Petersburg. The tour company had organised a number of stops along the way.  We were typically met by a guide and fed into the tourist sausage machine - wireless earpieces in - follow me group 2. 

 

Guides were usually very informative
Former Governor’s House Yaroslavl

 

At most of these stops we waited for the group ahead to move on and were then fed into a church; or palace; or local hall to hear a local group sing. Buy your CD here. 

 

Moving in the group

 

One island is so entirely given over to local crafts that there are no tours; just dump the tourists on-shore and leave them to buy the goods until lunch time.

 

Craft Island
Mandrogi tourism village

 

Nevertheless, most of the guides were very interesting and well-informed. It is also very helpful to be in a tour group to by-pass the crowds waiting to enter some locations like the Kremlin in Moscow and the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

There was often free time to roam about and the guides sometimes welcomed the opportunity to simply chat.  'What's your idea of democracy?' one asked me; and genuinely wanted to discuss my view of representative government; including the the necessity of compulsory voting and the importance of an apolitical head of state with the authority to dismiss Parliament but who is normally just a figurehead and politically powerless.

Russians do seem to be very politically aware despite a long history of political abuse. Our guides quite often slipped in little jibes at the state of Russian politics.  Putin announced that he was divorcing his wife while we were there and this provided material for some sly jokes.  Much of the historical material concentrated on the Tsarist times.  This was not surprising when visiting palaces and churches.

Guides refer to the 'Soviet Period'; as if it was a brief historical aberration; like that under some tyrannical Tsar.   But apart from references to the War, Communism seemed to be a taboo subject and comments related mainly to the Communist fetish for complete restoration of buildings damaged or completely destroyed during WW2, including the meticulous reinstallation of gold; amber; silk; and marble.  

 

Elizabeth1 palace2
palace3 palace4

 This palace was a burnt-out shell - the gold and silk and inlayed floors are real - all restored since 1945

 

 

While the cities are clearly prosperous, it's not as wonderful in the countryside. There, the few people we saw seem to be clothed and fed, but were obviously quite poor.   Again you can make a virtual visit to many towns Russia in Google Maps - Street View.

The most striking thing is how sparsely the countryside is populated and the vast tracts of forest that from the air seem to cover at least a third of the terrain.

 

country scene



As a result wood is obviously inexpensive and is very widely used for construction (log huts and even houses) and for fuel - huge wood heaps in preparation for winter.

 

forest



But now it was summer with clear bright days generally 15 to 25 and sunny; til close to midnight (it did get cooler in the evenings).


In small city of Yaroslavl there are still factories and businesses producing unwanted goods (mechanical watches and unremarkable cheese), presumably under some kind of subsidy, but tourism and education are the actual economic mainstays. Major Tourist attractions include the churches and points of historical significance; mainly from the pre-soviet times. 

 

another church
Cathedral of the Dormition - Yaroslavl 

 

Tourism is becoming more important and we were often invited to come back or to encourage friends to visit.

During the cruise we reached the furthest north of the trip on Lake Onga, As it was close to the solstice we watched a spectacular sunset and the sun just dipped below the northern horizon for a couple of hours.  

 

GUM GUM 2
GUM3 GUM4

 

 

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