During our trip around Europe last year we did not manage to go to Italy and since we had cruise credits we picked an itinerary that took us around the boot plus a couple of other countries. While in Europe, we are adding the Russian river cruise.
  • Day42

    Moscow by day

    May 25, 2018 in Russia ⋅ 🌙 10 °C

    Finally we come to what is likely to be the last entry for this trip as we start travelling home on Sunday - Moscow-Frankfurt-Singapore (overnight)-Brisbane (Monday night) and home on Tuesday. So today was a very busy day touring the major sights of Moscow... well, actually it was mainly The Kremlin and involved quite a lot walking, queuing and standing around but not allowed to take photos inside the buildings.

    The Kremlin (which means fortress) is everything inside the Red wall. It's a city within a city and contains many churches, government offices including Mr Putin's, and the Armoury (treasurery). To enter the grounds there were security checks and no large backpacks permitted. There were guards that would blow a whistle at you if you walked on the road - you had to stay to the footpath. We visited another church (same old, same old), saw world's biggest cannon that has never been fired (probably too heavy to load the cannonballs), and a big bell that has never been rung because it had a crack in it when it was cast. The Armoury contained all the priceless objects from ceremonial garments, royal coaches, jewels and Faberge eggs (i really liked those) . We explored Red Square and the GUM department store... tried their world famous GUM icecream (very nice). Took photos of St Basil's Basilica with its colourful domes.

    Moscow itself is quite a green city with many parks and open spaces but they seem to think dandelions are a beautiful flower and leave them to flourish everywhere in the overlong grass. The traffic is horrible and is definitely not something English speaking people should even attempt. Check out the last photo and see if you can decipher the road sign. As with our entire holiday, we were fortunate to have beautiful weather and that certainly helped with our enjoyment of the places we visited.
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  • Day41

    Moscow by Night

    May 24, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Arrived in Moscow in the afternoon and had a bit of a panoramic drive around the city... but I will cover Moscow by day in the next blog.

    We chose to do an optional tour of Moscow by Night including the Metro. Moscow's metro stations are a tourist attraction in itself. Many of them around the city circle are highly decorated with statues, mosaics, stained glass, chandeliers and other decorations - pretty easy to explore too as you get on at one station, ride for one stop, get off, explore and repeat. The trains arrive about every minute and is probably the best way of getting around in the city as the road traffic is horrible and quite chaotic.

    We left the Metro and walked to the famous Red Square which is bordered on all sides by The Kremlin, St Basil's Basilica , GUM department store, and a rather nice looking building which I think is a museum (but I will have to look that up) The road to the Red Square - St Nicholas St - has a canopy of fairy lights all hanging down and gave the area a twinkling wonderland look. The GUM department store was outlined in lights and St Basil's was lit up as well - an extraordinary building. I know the photos won't do it justice but you get the idea.

    This tour was definitely a highlight even though it was a late night, arriving back around midnight. Even better, the weather was mild and clear with not a cloud in the sky.
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  • Day40


    May 23, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Very short blog. Uglich is a small town and is the last stop before Moscow. Once again another church to visit with its usual decorations, another choir singing with the usual CD that can be purchased, and a church that was built as a memorial to the son of aTsar (can't remember the Tsar but the church was called Dimitri, church of the spilled blood, or something similar) . Dimitri was about 8 and was playing outside with a knife when he had an epileptic fit and managed to stab himself in the neck 7 times (Oh yeah? More likely he was assassinated so someone else could take the throne.)

    Ran the gauntlet of market stalls but they did have some nice items reasonably priced. Set sail and went past a spire of a church rising out of the middle of the river. There was a whole town underneath when the area was dammed . Later that night we had the talent show where those of us who had been learning Russian, sang three songs, the Russian dancers gave a dance, plus a few other items. Amateur mike night but it was a bit of fun.
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  • Day39


    May 22, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Happy birthday to me!! I'm a few days late with my blogging but may have some time to catch up today. Our next stop is Yaroslavl, a large city of 600,000, but we don't arrive until mid afternoon, so we filled our morning with Russian language lessons and I even painted a Matryoska doll. It doesn't look too bad if viewed from a distance and you squint but compared to some other efforts it looked like something a preschooler would do.

    Our tours at Yaroslavl included the usual church - ancient with fresco paintings. We had a tour of the Governor's House which was done in a very entertaining fashion with pretty young Russian girls who acted as the daughters of the governor and they were showing us through their house. It finished with a live classical music (cello, violin, piano) with ballroom dancing. At another place we also sat and listened to a quartet who sang choral music. Beautiful voices but not something I could listen to for long.

    Dinner tonight was a pirate night - not sure what this had to do with Russia, probably just an excuse for the crew to dress up. Halfway through they come parading around to sing Happy Birthday to me and present me with a birthday cake. Very nice touch.
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  • Day39


    May 22, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    We don't arrive at our next stop until the afternoon so we spent some of the morning learning about Russian fairytales plus some information about the program when we arrive in Moscow.

    In the small farming village of Goritsy we visited the ancient Monastry of St Cyril - founded in 1397 and became one of the largest abbeys in Russia by the end of the 17th century. It is now a museum that houses decorative lacework, religious icons and embroidery. We have seen many examples of these already so won't go into any detail.

    Only a couple of hours at Goritsy before setting sail again. We experienced a Russian tea ceremony (pretty amateur) and in the evening they had a Russian Folk concert. They have very talented musicians with the singer having a very powerful voice. I think she was a bit too loud for some of the oldies.
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  • Day37

    Kizhi Island

    May 20, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 40 °C

    We arrived at the small area of Kizhi Island along the banks of Lake Onega - 2nd largest lake in Europe . Kizhi is basically an open air museum of wooden architecture. There are well preserved wooden houses, windmills and churches dating back to the 14th century. There is a magnificent three tiered Transfiguration Church which has 22 domes and supposedly built without using a single nail. The truth is they may not have used nails made from metal but they did use peg nails made from timber. (Metal nails were extremely expensive at this time and 1kg of nails would cost as much as a cow). There was actually a Summer church and a Winter church. The summer one was in the process of restoration so we were not able to go inside but the Winter one had plenty of icons typical of Russian Orthodox churches.

    It was interesting walking around the site to see how people lived. The houses were large enough for the animals to live indoors during the bitterly cold winters. There was even a small church where a campanologist (bell ringer) gave us a bell ringing display - something I don't think i have seen before.

    Back on board, Brad attended the Captain's bridge tour, then we had our 2nd Russian lesson - apparently we shall be performing a couple of Russian folk songs later in the week. After dinner, the crew photographers who are actually talented musicians, gave a performance on the accordian and the balalaika (thing that looks like a lute). Very entertaining.
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  • Day36


    May 19, 2018 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ 7 °C

    On our way to our next destination we crossed the largest lake in Europe - Lake Lagoda. Almost like an inland sea it became quite rough during the night and the boat rocked and rolled a bit (but not enough to make us sick). In the morning we entered the Svir River on our way to Mandrogi, our lunchtime destination. We had a lecture on handicrafts and what to look for if purchasing Matrousska dolls (the Russian nesting dolls), lacquer boxes, Faberge eggs and the various lacework, embroidery and other handiwork. Basically, if it only costs a few hundred rubles (100 rubles = $2 approx.) then it is not the genuine article and probably not even a good copy. After this we had a Russian language lesson. At 33 letters in their alphabet and letters that look like backward N, R,; E on its side; K as a back to back mirror image; plus an assortment of other strange symbols, we soon discovered that Russian would be a very difficult language to learn (especially when a P is pronounced as R and H as N.) Still, it was a bit of fun and we even started learning a Russian song. We will find out what we were singing about next lesson.

    We arrived at Mandrogi, a fishing village that was ruined during WWII. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a group of Russian investors decided to restore the village as a type of open air museum which demonstrated traditional Russian folk life, arts and crafts (hence this morning's lecture), woodworking and probably the most popular, a vodka museum (the tour included some vodka tasting)

    During a traditional Russian BBQ lunch (chicken shishlak) we were entertained by a Russian folk music group. Now, usually I view traditional music as nice to fill in a bit of time but not really enjoy that much. These guys however were fantastic especially the guy playing a kind of lute (I think) - it was so full of energy and everyone thoroughly enjoyed them.

    I forgot to mention the weather. The morning started quite cold and overcast but by the time we arrived at Mandrogi the sun had come out and it was very pleasant. Our run of nice weather continues.
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  • Day35

    St Petersburg Part 2

    May 18, 2018 in Russia ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    Another fine sunny day even though rain was forecast. Fortunately it held off until the evening, after all our touring of St Petersburg was completed. Today we visited the Imperial Estate - Peterhof - also known as the Russian Versailles . Intended as a Summer royal residence, it features beautiful gardens with numerous statues and fountains. We were fortunate at this time of year to see masses of tulips and daffodils flowering.

    Our tour took us through a section of the palace, which like most royal palaces just oozed opulence with carvings in gold leaf, expensive silks and tapestries, intricate timber inlaid flooring and basically no expense spared. We also visited the bath house complete with cold baths, warm baths, steam rooms and fountain shower room - all completely over the top.

    Unlike other palaces / museums / cathedrals we have visited, at Peterhof we made to donn protective booties (like those used in a hospital), and were paraded through each room in quick smart time with rather serious faced Russian women in each room ensuring we did not touch anything and kept walking with a rather abrupt 'Move it'. It came across as quite rude but it think it was more due to the language differences.

    Back on board the boat we sailed out from St Petersburg, making our way to Moscow.
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  • Day34

    St Petersburg Part 1

    May 17, 2018 in Russia ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Early start Wednesday as we made our way to the airport for our flight from Helsinki to Russia. No hassles and arrived in St Petersburg and thankfully were met at the airport by a travel representative and transferred to our ship. Russian river boats are not like the fancy European river boats and our cabins are quite cosy (real estate lingo for cramped) however they are comfortable enough. There are 210 passengers on board - all Australian I think. Unlike ocean cruises, WiFi is available (free ) in the lounge/ bar although it may be a bit sketchy along our journey.

    Our first full day started early with a city tour including photo stops at various points of interest such as the Smolny Cathedral, St Isaacs, and the Church of the Saviour on our Spilled Blood (with its ornate onion shaped domes) before visiting the Winter Palace (The Hermitage) which was the main residence of the Russian Tsars from the 1760's. Today, the Hermitage boasts over 2.7 million exhibits from throughout history (from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th century Europe). The experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking at each exhibit on display in the Hermitage, you would need 11 years before you'd seen them all. Needless to say, we only saw a smidgen of artworks etc. One of the must see exhibits was The Peacock Clock which features 3 birds that which come to life when it strikes (only once a week apparently - 5pm Friday), so we didn't see it working but there was a video showing its operation. There was also an impressive vase made from from a single slab of jasper and weighs over 19 tonnes.

    After a four course lunch at a local restaurant, we then visited the St Peter and Paul Fortress which is a citadel that houses several buildings including the mint (for coins only) and the Peter and Paul Cathedral which is the burial place of most of the Russian tsars plus a few other members of the royal family.

    It was a busy day with a lot of walking and standing around but it was very interesting. The guides kept thanking us for bringing lovely sunny Aussie weather as they generally only have 30 sunny days a year. Our run of great weather continues!
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  • Day32

    Helsinki part 2

    May 15, 2018 in Finland ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Our last day in Helsinki and we woke to another beautiful day. Apparently warm sunny weather is a bit of a rarity in Finland and even makes the news headlines. We are lucky to have seen Helsinki at its absolute best.

    We caught the tram to the railway station as a bit of a trial run as we needed to leave early to get to the airport (it all worked well as I am writing this blog at the airport). After that we caught the HOHO bus to pick up a couple of sights we missed the previous day. First stop was the Sibilius monument - an unusual sculpture dedicated to a Finnish composer. We checked out the interior of the Russian Orthodox cathedral (was closed on Monday), had some lunch and bought some Finnish lollies that are apparently an acquired taste. They are like a salty licorice. I don't like licorice but first taste I thought it was ok, second taste not so much.

    In the afternoon we caught the ferry to Suomenlinna Island - a sea fortress that protected the city of Helsinki. We inspected a WWII submarine , a military museum and generally walked around the island enjoying the scenery and the sunshine. In the evening we went to a traditional Lappish (Lapland) restaurant where they had a fish boat - large boat filled with ice and variety of seafood dishes and salads.... something a bit different and it was very nice. Surprisingly one of my favorite dishes was some sort of fish (pike?) that was pickled? with a purple fruit (lingonberry?)

    Overall, we had a great time in Helsinki and would recommend it to others... just make sure you order the fine weather as Helsinki in the middle of winter is covered in snow and ice and sees just 2 hours of daylight.
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    Molly, can’t beat sunshine to improve travel experience! Brad would love the military history.