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I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the cruise. I knew it would be nicer then an average Russian cruise, but our experience went above and beyond our expectations. The food was fantastic, the service fabulous, the tours interesting. Having lived in St. Petersburg for the last two years, we were just looking for an interesting way to see Kizhi, the Golden Ring and Moscow. Instead, we had one of the best weeks here in Russia.
United States - Russia
My impressions were so positive, I want to come back to Russia
We had to get used to the fact that Russian people hardly ever smile except for all the staff in hotels and on the cruise ship. All of them were very friendly and accommodating. I also learned that Russians are masters at avoiding answering questions or completely deflecting them! This however did not hold true for everybody we had a chance to talk to. Some had very critical minds.
The staff on the boat was excellent and very courteous. Olga, the hotel manager was very helpful and attentive. The course director Olga was nice and she tried hard to accommodate everybody. The Maître D’ was especially nice and came to me for every meal pointing out what food I should not touch because of garlic. I really appreciated this!
The food without exception was outstanding. I have to go on a diet now because all this great food settled around my waist!
The on-board programs were interesting and Luydmilla, the professor, was a highlight for us. Her lectures were excellent. We are aware that the Russians did not care for her Gorbachev talk! We learned a lot more about Russia, its people and politics, which was very helpful. We had no idea that Stalin destroyed so many churches during his time in power. Also, her lectures on realistic Russian art were excellent. She is very enthusiastic and also very good at mixing with guests. We had her on our table several times and enjoyed her company. I am certain other English-speaking people on the tour enjoyed her as well.
We also loved to sit on the deck and watch the scenery. Some of the locks were very impressive and we were astonished how overall smooth the ride on the boat was.
All the excursions to shore were interesting and instructive. We enjoyed going on our own through the village of Mandrogi and buying a few souvenirs for our friends. We loved Kizhi with its old wooden houses and the wonderful Transfiguration church. The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery was really worth visiting. On this warm day, a lot of Russian people were enjoying themselves bathing in the lake next to the monastery. The church treasures impressed us. We enjoyed visiting Yaroslavl with its various churches and the visit to the Governor’s house. We found the visit to a private home informative. We assumed this was staged for us but interesting nevertheless. We always like to see how people live in other countries and this was such an opportunity for us.
I think 3 days in Moscow and St. Petersburg is not quite enough for an in-depth experience. However, I think is great that Volga Dream offers extra days in these two cities with stays in great hotels and interesting tours.
We feel that the most important things to see in Moscow are the Kremlin, the Pushkin Museum and the Tretyakov Galleries (old and new). Since the Pushkin has the more significant collection of Impressionists, more time should be spent there. The Russian collection is outstanding and should not be missed. We loved to see the painters in the time after Malevich and Kandinsky - Moscow has more and better paintings of these two artists.
We enjoyed seeing the Kremlin and the Armory. Personally I probably would want to see the Diamond Fund but concentrate only on the most important pieces and skip the gold nuggets (as we did). However, many people who have a special interest in great jewelry, may want to spend more time in this exhibit. We enjoyed seeing the Metro Stations and thought they were unique and nothing anywhere else in the world is quite that grand AND clean. We also enjoyed walking alone in the early evening through the Red Square and the pedestrian malls.
Overall, we found Moscow to be a beautiful city with great buildings, excellent restaurants and good-looking people. It had a wonderful cosmopolitan feel to it and in spite of its large size we felt very safe, granted we did not venture out at night into dark alleys.
In St. Petersburg, you obviously want to go to the Hermitage with its major grand rooms. Maybe two hours should be spent in the General Staff building of the Hermitage where now the Impressionists are housed. All three of us thought the collection at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow was stronger. However, the Hermitage and the Pushkin are complementary. I think in the Hermitage you should focus on selected galleries and artists whereas the Pushkin should get a more in-depth tour through the galleries. In the Hermitage, the galleries with the Picassos, with the important Matisse paintings, with the paintings by August Renoir, Paul Cezanne and Monet should be looked at. We saw so many very famous paintings that I have seen in art books, it felt like seeing old friends but now for real.
The Russian Museum is a must as most of the real important Russian painters are there. Repin obviously stands out among others with the fantastic painting of the Duma with Tsar Nicholas II. The Kunstkammer is interesting but one probably could make a shorter visit through the anatomical anomalies and spend more time in the ethnic exhibits. The Stieglitz Museum is very interesting for art lovers such as us. The Fabergé Museum with its over 4,000 items is an absolute must. We enjoyed it a lot. The modern display is elegant and highlights all the objects well. We loved the Yusupov Palace with its grand theater and palatial staterooms. It was interesting to see the Rasputin display but the guard of the museum really pushed us through!
As to the cathedrals, we felt it was important to see the insides of the Cathedral of the Lady of Kazan close to the Grand Hotel Europe, of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral (we loved ascending the stairs for the view), of the Spilled Blood (not only the outside for photos as they interior is spectacular) and Peter and Paul Fortress with the tombs of the Tsars. We also loved St. Nicolas, which is more intimate. I hope our prayers for a return to Russia will be answered as we ignited a candle in most of these cathedrals.
We also liked the tour in a small river boat. Ours was smaller because of our small group but this made it very nice and comfortable. The views from the water were very interesting. The Peterhof was spectacular and we also loved the Palace of Catherine the Great with its Amber Room and over-the-top staterooms.