The lunchtime entertainment…
Well my camera has now totally given up the ghost so relying today on i-Phone until I can get to a camera store this evening.
First Call today is Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo a modest little pile of several hundred rooms and more bling than ones eyes can soak up. Including the famous Amber Room – now totally rebuilt and restored thanks to a German sponsor. Well after all it was they who trashed and lost it in the first place !!
This is just the Little Hermitage in the garden which was used as a dining room with individual dumb waiters for each person so that the staff were not seen and let alone heard !!
And a cute and friendly squirrel…
A statue of Pushkin whose estate was adjacent to Catherine and after whom the local town was named…
Then back to St Petersburg for lunch with bizarre entertainment from an Army choir before setting of for the majestic St Isaacs Cathedral and Church on the Spilled Blood (built on the spot where Tsar Alexander was blown to bits by The Peoples Will (a bunch of pre-bolshevik terrorists). Better photos are included in last years blog if you can be bothered….
Awesome Frescoes and Mosaics not to mention statistics. One of the two, and I cant remember which, employed almost 500,000 people in its construction over 40 years. No-one will estimate how many did or did not survive the experience !!
Anyway off to huge shopping mall full of everything that huge shopping malls in the west contain – A huge contrast from 25 years ago when any shops, few as they were had nothing in them ! Headed stright to the Camera Dept and found just what I waqs looking for and so the photograpic dept, can resume normal service. Phew !!
Disembarked from Volga Dream first thing and were met by our new local guide Ludmilla and taken straight off to the Yusipov Palace. Much opulence and spleandor and best known as where Rasputin was murdered. At this point my trusty camera decided to give up the ghost so only one photo. Check back to last years blog for more photos and details on the Rasputin malarkey.
Then off to Peterhof created by Peter the Great and inspired by his visit to Versailles. Only did the gardens this time but the weather was amazing, compared to last year when it was freezing and chucking it down.
So a few photos of sunny fountains including the awesome Grand Cascade. All fed by gravity and from a source over 14Km away. Camera still misbehaving so scroll back to last year for more details and shots of a rainy day at Peterhof.
Then back on the bus and St Petersburg for a visit to the St Peter & Paul fortress and cathedrals with loads of dead Romanov’s and bling.
A view from the fortress across the Neva and then back to the hotel for dinner and major “argie bargie” with extraordinary display of arrogant abuse from the restaurant staff. Our “Group of Five” decidedly unimpressed however some fine wine calmed everybody down. Camera still not cooperating so a shopping trip had to be scheduled for the next day so that normal service can be maintained. Things may get a tad flaky for the next 24 hrs as had to resort to plan B which involved I-Phones and my cheap spare camera which also didn’t want to work !! Off to bed as another hectic day scheduled for the next day.
At some point in the proceedings there was the obligatory Vodka tasting evening on board during dinner. Vasiliy (the on board pianist) showing how its done and Bill showing how its not !!
Also the obligatory team photo of “The Gang of Five” or the troublemakers as we soon became!!!
Kizhi is a small island in the middle of Onega Lake (huge !!!!). Founded in the 16th century Kizhi has one of the finest collections of wooden architecture in Russia. Including the amazing Transfiguration Church with 22 domes and which was constructed in 1714 without the use of a single nail. Unfortunately currently under renovation, and covered in wooden scaffolding, it is the summer (unheated) church. The smaller 9-dome Church of the Intercession which is adjacent and is the winter (heated) church. Nearly all churches and cathedrals in Russia are built in pairs (summer & winter) “linked” by a bell tower normally between the two.
There are also numerous chapels, houses, farm buildings etc that have been brought from various parts of the country including the 14th century Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus. A very spiritual place and totally unspoiled by any modern structures – apart from the occasional cruise ship of course. The attached photos dont really do it justice due to the renovation process but you should get the idea…….
All the roof shingles (tiles) 30,000 for the one church alone, are cut my hand by Dmitri and his team with a VERY sharp axe. While sister Olga sits and spins the flax…..
Then its back to the ship to cruise to Svirstroy.
Our last port of call before getting to St Petersburg and a rather sad place with sod all to offer and a total waste of our time. Svirstroy’s main claim fo fame was its proximity to the infamous Soviet concentration camp Svirlag which based its headquarters in the Alexander Svisrky Monastery and was established in 1931 in order to exterminate the majority of the Russian Orthodox Clergy. Not a good vibe but anyway we “grinned and beared it” (bored it ???) before getting back for the Farewell Dinner and our last night on board. It didn’t even warrant a photo until it was time to raise the anchor with Bill (One of the Gang of Five and a total inquisitive engineering anorak like myself) supervising from his stateroom balcony. Sorry Bill but I did warn you !!!!!
Up at crack of dawn for our arrival in St Petersburg for an action packed schedule before the bliss of a half-decent hotel – The Kempinski – next to the Heritage. And Wi-Fi !!!!!
So almost catching up. Lots more to follow………..
Volga Dream (The Ship) was to be home for the next six – or was it 5 ? nights. Stopping at a different location each day for a guided excursion. The first port of call was …
Uglich is another town in the Golden Ring. Its main claim to fame is that on 15th May 1591 Ivan the Terrible’s 8 year old son Dmitry died in extremely mysterious circumstances which still to this day many conspiracy theories abound. Most probably on the order of Boris Godunov who was challenging the Ruriks to become Tsar. This plunged Uglich and the whole of Russia into the “Time of Troubles” accompanied by a number of “False Dmitrys all claiming their right to the throne and needless to say there are numerous churches, cathedrals and monestaries. The obligatory Kremlin and the Church of St Dmitry on the Blood. It seems that to qualify for sainthood all you had to do was to be murdered !! But first we passed a flooded bell tower and several quite dramatic locks
A Statue of the ill fated Dmitry and then a slew of onion domes etc..
Of the course Golden Bling everywhere !! Then back on board and we set sail for Yaroslavl
Yes I know we have been here before as part of the previous weeks Golden Ring Tour so I wont bore you with repetitive blurb. Just a few more photos……
A visit to the local market (they wont starve !!) and a statue (well sort of !!) of Don Quixote – Don’t ask because I didn’t ………….
A bizarre costumed performance in one of the old palaces and then back on board to sail onto Goritsy..
A few churches that we passed on the way, another lock and a statue of Our Lady of the Volga..
A pair of monasteries including the Kirillov Belozersky Monastery of St Cyrill (as in developer of the Cyrillic alphabet – another shortcut to sainthood !) on the edge of Lake Siverskoye. The largest monastery in Russia. Both needless to say crammed with amazing frescoes, icons and assorted golden bits.
Oh yes and a sleeping dog……….
Missing “the kids” so back on board to sail off to Kizhi Island.
However as I struggle to keep up with my blogging its off to Novgorod for a 2 day visit after several days in St Petersburg with fantastic weather. A beer beckons so will post this now and get to Kizhi when I can……..
Wi-Fi along the Volga was non existent so have now arrived in St Petersburg with lots of catching up to do so lets get Moscow out of the way first. My Kremlin Tour included all of the old favourites including The Tsar Bell & Cannon…..
The Cathedrals and Palaces….
The Walls & Towers……….
And a bunch of Guards strutting their stuff having just graduated……..
As anticipated the Volga Dream 3-Day programme was somewhat of a disaster !! An endless stream of impressionist art galleries and a city tour that wasn’t ………
Fortunately I was able to keep the steam from coming out of my ears as I had pretty much done it all before !! Anyway a few highlights………
A park full of soviet statues that nobody knows what to do with but daren’t consign them to the scrapheap. Including one of Uncle Joe with a broken nose !!
A few paintings from the Trechikov Gallery, Or was it the Pushkin ???
With total Art overload looming I bailed from the main group and went to the Museum of Russian History at the end of Red Square. Totally amazing, Not many photos but the heaviest book ever that anyone passing through Spain is welcome to inspect providing I can get it home !!
Then off down the Moscow Metro………..
A glimpse of The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour that was blown up during soviet times and turned into a swimming pool for the masses – There were many other grandiose plans that never came to fruition, so after the collapse of communism they decided to rebuild it from scratch in time for the 1997 anniversary celebrations.
More Art & Icons……………….
A backstage tour of the Bolshoi that never went backstage. However since it has been restored and renovated is pretty impressive………Even from front of house………
Then more “city tour” in a low van with dirty windows and lots of traffic…
That was war memorial and monastery. Then it was off to the boat (Volga Dream) home for the next week and embarkation..
A couple of The Gang – Bill & Susan, last view of Moscow and Wi-Fi
And sight of our first lock. The first of many……
A great week lay ahead though Wi-Fi Free so will catch up and publish when I can
Various “Omens” and my 7th sense had alerted me to the fact that the Volga Dream Moscow 3-Day Tour was not going to live up to expectations and promises. So I booked myself a spare day in advance so that I could see various places that had strangely dropped off the schedule. This included the Diamond Fund in The Kremlin Armoury (no photos I’m afraid) with jaw-dropping jewellery and State Regalia not to mention bucket fulls (literally) of raw, uncut and cut diamonds. Not to mention the largest gold and platinum nuggets that you can imagine. Also did the circuit of Kremlin Cathedrals and the usual sites including the Tsar Cannon and Bell which apart from their size have one thing in common – which is that neither ever worked !! So lets start there..
Volga Wi-Fi is proving to be even slower than its Siberian counterpart last year !! So will publish the blurb and photos will follow,,,,,,,,,,
After a three hour drive from Suzdal we arrive at the outskirts of Kostroma and a first glimpse of the mighty Volga, already over 1Km wide at this point. There is only one road bridge across the river and this has been under renovation for the last couple of years. They have just managed to keep two lanes of traffic open but this has to cope with the construction site as well. And needless to say we had to cross it ! 2 1/2 hours later we make it onto the bridge and get to where we are going, And yes there is a Kremlin and a set of churches but then its time to head back over the bridge and onto Yaroslavl.
Kostroma is a large city which used to have a thriving textile industry but no longer and so is now a city in decline and unless they build a new bridge or at least finish the old one, is likely to decline further !! As totally inept construction projects go (and I have seen a few !) this one definitely qualifies for the Gold Medal. Another 1 1/2 hours to get back on the bridge and off we go to Yaroslavl……..
A much better vibe and situated at the confluence of the mighty Volga and Kotorosi rivers. During the reign of Ivan the Terrible he did a deal with English merchants to allow them duty free access to the Volga (remember no roads!) in exchange for armaments etc so some lovely old merchants house and palaces etc. An inevitable Kremlin, several monasteries, cathedrals and churches including the 17th Century Church of Elijah the Prophet (the earlier one was torched by the Mongol Tartar hoards and has been rebuilt and restored on numerous occasions:-
A jaw dropping iconostasis and frescoes everywhere !!!
A night in Yaroslavl, Dinner in an Irish Pub – a couple of pints of Guinness and one of the best steaks ever and off to bed.
Up early for the last two stops on the Golden Ring – Rostov the Great and Peroslavl-Zalessky before heading back into Moscow and more roof terrace McMafia………in preparation for the Volga Dream experience and Cruise.
Rostov The Great
Rostov was founded in 11th Century and at one stage was the seat of a Grand Duke, and cities such as Vladimir, Yaroslavl , Uglich and even Moscow, were subordinate to it. So needless to say it has its own Kremlin and associated Monasteries and Churches. Situated on the banks of Lake Nero its bells can be heard across the lake and surrounding countryside.
Founded in 1152 by the extremely energetic Yury Dolgoruky who had already founded Moscow. Peroslavl was ruled between 1238 & 1263 by the legendary Alexander Nevsky whose main claim to fame was his victories over the Swedes and The Teutonic Nights (think Germans with dustbins on their heads). Immortalised in Sergie Eisensteins movie called surprise surprise Alexander Nevsky !
It boasts another very ancient limestone Cathedral within the remains of the Kremlin and a beautiful monastery on the shores of Lake Pleshchayevo
So now its back to Moscow for a three day list of excursions before boarding the Volga Dream for the cruise up the Volga.
In 988 Prince Svyatolslav who was the Rurikid Main Man at the time decided to eradicate Paganism which was causing all sorts of divisive issues. He needed to find a mainstream religion that could be applied across Russia and hopefully unite the many tribes competing to be the Boss.
The Story goes that he considered a short list of Western and Middle Eastern religions – Judaism was considered but as they didn’t eat Pork that was rejected. Next he considered Islam as they practised polygamy which he liked the idea of, but then they shun alcohol so that went out of the window. Catholicism – No way too much guilt !
At the time Russian relations with Byzantium were strained so that didn’t work and he decided to adopt his own version of Greek Orthodoxy which with some modifications has survived to this day.
Russian Orthodoxy is about the only thing that the average Russian has had to hold onto over past millennium and continues till this day. Hence the vast number of Cathedrals, Churches, Chapels and Monestaries most which are operational every day.
Anyway I digress as we are heading to Kostroma and its f-ing bridge !!
Suzdal is the “Jewel of the Crown” of the Golden Ring as it has been there since 1024 and for various reasons has never expanded into a large urbanisation, There are churches, convents and monasteries everywhere. In fact they probably outnumber the number of dwellings. At one time there were 15 active monasteries each with their own cluster of churches. The following photos focus on one monastery and one convent with a few other stray churches thrown in. It has to be seen to be believed as each one contains a plethora of icons, frescoes, treasures and surprises, Each one has a story – usually tragic – to tell . The Monastery that I visited (St Euphimious) was used a prison for “problem” political prisoners who were deemed to be unbalanced and were therefore special cases during 19th and early 20th Century. In WW2 it was used as a prisoners for Italian and German soldiers captured at Stalingrad so “ghosts” abound. Amazing hidden museum galleries containing awesome quantities of Icons, Jewels and other treasures. Suzdal was never conquered and so managed to avoid being pillaged by either Napoleon, Hitler or the rest of the marauding armies that have ransacked Russia over the past millennia.
Anyway a selection ……….
That was the Monastery, here is the Convent…
A few other gems..
And a man waking his dogs in the river….
The entire area around Suzdal is a Unesco World Heritage Sight.
Next stop Kostroma and Yaroslavyl……………