Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Russia continued - A Volga cruise

(Leaving the Moscow cruise terminal)

On the outskirts of Moscow the cruise terminal awaited us as we alighted a van provided by the Russian cruise organization so we can timely board the Ms Rostropovich with another 200 plus foreigners for an eight day trip to St Petersburg, city of the Czars as well as birthplace to Vladimir Putin the modern Czar of the present Federation of Soviet Republics. 

            (Our cruise did not stop in Yaroslavl)

                                                          (A piece of then suppressed Christianity offered up to the new lakes after the Soviets were installing dams and locks)

                     (Passing traffic in wide wide lakes we traverse)
                                                                                     (While our ship rises in a lock, I peek over the edge to still waters below)
The boat trip is interesting in so far that it highlights a remarkable project, the 229mile/368km Mariinsk canal system connecting Moscow with the Baltic Sea, started around 1810 as an extension inward toward Moscow of the work Tsar Peter I did in the early 1700s, with the last leg connecting the White Sea to the Baltic Canal using gulag prisoners in the 1930s. 

(Are these dachas or permanent residences in the middle of nowhere Russia? Don’t know)
The trip takes us on five rivers and canals, across 4 lakes and reservoirs and through 16 locks going up and down during the 6 day trip, where we gawked at postcard tourist locations that live off river boat visitors year around, with local guides at every port blurting out the same old story mixing in the rehearsed jokes that amuse the masses. 

                      (Our first lock after Moscow)

                                                                                          (Our Imperial suite on board; would Putin have slept here?)

(Uglich, first stop - a tourist trap - Vladimir my history professor onboard 
tells us that it is famous for the murder of the young heir to the throne 
                      Dmitry Ivanovich, youngest son of Ivan the 
                      Terrible. Dmitry was banished here and had
                                    his throat sliced in 1584)

                                                                                                (The Transfiguration Cathedral in the Uglich Kremlin - did you know Kremlin means citadel)                

                      (Our ms. Rostropovich in Uglich)

                                                                                                           (Herman, my brother in law entertains himself)
On board the entertainment ranged from Russian dance and or music performances, Russian song lessons, language class, poetry sessions, bingo, matreshka painting (the famous Russian dolls), treasure hunt, and dress rehearsals for a talent show among the cruise participants. 

(Another lock, sometimes we experience a
 8 to 11 meter rise or fall)

                                                                                                                                             (Kishi, Russia’s sacred island houses churches built without nails
                                                                                                                                                               although we saw a few - nails that is)
And in the evening for those of us that did not go to the live performances, black and white movies in the cabin like Anna Karenina and Dr Zhivago.
I attended a vodka tasting session, and every morning Vladimir’s Russian history lesson and to my shame a bingo session. 

                 (A Belgian couple doing ballads - his role is to stand there)

                                                                                                                                                                      (These guys were almost funny)
The pictures of the cheesy towns we stopped at will be highlighted under the pictures and were in sequence Uglich, Goritsy, Kishi and Mandrogui.
In some of them you will find Sandee seated in her 2 euro a day Dutch wheelchair rental posing for posterity.

(Staff pictured during Russian dinner
 with loudest passenger on board seeking attention)

                                                                                                                                                              (Sandee during her “care for me hand and foot days”)

(Way outside of St Petersburg we dock at the cruise terminal so on to the main part of any Russia trip: downtown)

St. Petersburg is the main event for any Russia trip you ever might envision. Emboldened by the history lessons of Vladimir, revisiting the city of the Czars is a breathtakingly beautiful encounter with history, showcasing the wealth and lifestyle of the privileged few, fed by the toiling of millions of agrarian peasants and their minions. 

(The famous Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood; that name because Emperor Alexander II was assassinated here)
Although I have never visited India, I would postulate, that here in St Petersburg in the time of the Czars, life was for the privileged few, more over the top better than anywhere else on the globe. Pictures of and within the palaces are proof of that way of life, that screams in every room one enters: here roamed a Marie Antoinette personality with a “give them cake” mentality. I don’t think even the pictures in this blog can describe that feeling adequately.
                    (St Isaac’s Cathedral)
                                                                                                                                                                                            (Admiralty Building)

(Don’t know anything about this 3 master)
                                                                                                                                                        (Views across the Neva river on the Kunstkamer complex)

(Forgot what this building was, being part of a church complex?)
The Russia that Lenin changed to Communism (“all of us own everything for the benefit of everybody”) is actually an extension of Caesarian, Byzantism and Czarism, all absolute power structures, controlled by one absolute ruler smart enough to create supporters (nobility- give them land and serfs- Catherine II gave on one day alone, the 18th of August 1755, 100,000 serfs away) and a bureaucracy to keep them in line.

(Hermitage overview of plaza)
                                                                    (Hermitage close up)
In a period of 300 years of Romanovs 762 titles were bestowed, among them 178 prince titles with of course the land and serfs that come with that. A quick check at Wikipedia tells me that Napoleon bestowed 4000 titles during his short reign for the same reasons. 

                                                   (Enormous wealth was accumulated here during the times of the czars)

All the money that flowed back to St Petersburg is to be seen in Palaces, princely homes, churches, showing furnishings, gold and glamour. The Dutch who made Czar Peter I a seafaring Czar, who brought industry and trade to burgeoning Russia while consolidating his power, had “modest mini palaces” with courtyards and 10 plus room mansions, amassing wealth in bringing all kind of imports to an awakening Russia, that later expanded its territories to east and west with the provided technologies and European sciences. 
                                                                           (Former Dutch traders residence during Czar Peter I reign)
Paris became the city to emulate. All this the tourist can find roaming St Petersburg. Where my sister and brother in law took residence in a nearby hotel, we moved into Zhanna’s 4000 sq ft penthouse, riding daily the cozy rattling death trap elevator for 2 or scaling 12 well trodden marble flights, testing our lung capacity and stamina. 

(Nice hallway from outside to elevator)
                                                                                                (Here is the elevator to the 6th floor)

                                                                                                                                                                                                (Are you ready to enter?)
                                                                                          (Ok push the wooden doors and walk in)

(X’ed out buttons do not work! Last inspection?
Emergency call button does not work.
 Ride up far from smooth with many 
threatening noises and stop and go shakes)
The wheelchair did not fit in the elevator and leaving it unattended downstairs was inviting unwanted attention, thus in folded condition we found refuge for it in Zhanna’s 2 person Smart, straddling both seats.

(The Hermitage we visited the same
 way as last time: admiring the 
building more than the art)
                                                                                           (We marveled at ceilings)
                                                                                                                                        (We gawked at floors)

                                                             (Floors - some you could not walk on)
                                                                                                                               (Others you could)

(You get the picture?)
                                                                                (We did!)
Highlights: revisiting since our first visit in 2002 the Hermitage, and this time the restored Amber room (fascinating story to check at the worldwide web one day) or in novel form: the thriller by Steve   Berry: The AmberRoom. 

              (Google picture of the famous amber room in Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace, where nobody was allowed to take pictures) 

Wherever we went, we got special treatment because of my invalid spouse and her wheelchair. Like us, dear aspiring visitor to St Petersburg, visit as many metro stations you can muster, and of course visit the Peter Paul Fortress, the Church of the Savior, Peterhof Palace, take a bus tour to the winter palace.

(This could still be the longest ride down the metro escalator, almost 400 feet to the deepest metro station
 in Russia the Admiralteyskaya; Moscow’s Park Pobedy station wins longest escalator but is less steep)
My personal interest: visit the Kunstkamer with Peter Ist personal collection of curiosa, among which lots of deformed stillborn babies sent to him from all over Russia, copying an idea of a Dutch surgeon he met while in the Netherlands, to show case that nature creates accidents and to debunk the superstitions of his time about the powers of  monsters.

(A picture here was removed by my editor as she found it “horrendous and very disturbing”. Thus it is moved to the bottom of the blog under various extra pictures. She heeds you not to look at it. So I already know what will happen)

There is so much more to see in St. Petersburg that it could take weeks to roam it and still find new things to admire, not to forget the ballet, which also here was not in season yet.
(But we did find this a cross walk sign for blind people
alerting them (sic) that sound will guide them 
safely across the street)
We did attend a concert in a beautiful palace of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, son of Alexander II, and had a private tour of his quarters. Unfortunately no pictures were to be taken there. So I show you google pictures.

(I forgot to take an outside picture of the palace. So google came to the rescue)

(This is the entrance staircase to the palace residence, compliments of google)
Here follows a YouTube clip of the music performance we attended.

We end here our blog and add below some pictures that do not need to be part of our story, but we made the pictures, so here they are:

(Every tour bus in town stops here so that it’s passengers can “relieve” themselves 2 ways)
PS if it was not for the cruise trip, we would never have seen the above during our scheduled bus tour of St. Petersburg. Another reason to travel the way we like to see the world: independent traveling without organized tours

  (Street dancing on a regular work day in full costumes down town St. Petersburg)

Below the picture of the Kunstkamer curiosa that Sandee finds very disturbing:

(The museum has many many more of these but also agrarian implements, weaponry etc. In short the wonders of the day in Peter’s times. Did you know he started taxing wearing a beard, so Russians would look more European)