EYEBROWS are raised when friends hear australiancruisingnews.com is off on a Russian river cruise as that country is locked in dispute with neighbouring Ukraine as we fly out of Australia.
But concerns are swept away in Russia’s capital Moscow, a city on a grand scale, with friendly people making the best of a turbulent past and focussing on big dreams for the future.
There australiancruisingnews.com boards Scenic Tsar, a luxury river cruise ship that will carry us – and one hundred other passengers – along the Volga, Svir and Neva Rivers from Moscow to St Petersburg.
Everything including land excursions is part of the Scenic Tours package, with souvenirs the main out of pocket expense.
After four days sight-seeing in Moscow – with Scenic Tsar our home base each night – we cruise through the north-western corner of Russia where wooden dachas (holiday houses) nestle amid fir forests, and ancient towns keep old traditions alive.
It is easy travel through Russia’s heartland, along quiet rivers, canals and inland lakes, as we learn of the nation’s troubled history that takes in powerful Tsars, revolution and dictatorships.
We taste borscht, pirozhki and blini, attend ballet and circus performances, and meet a cosmonaut who spent time in space. We are mesmerized by Russia’s treasure trove of art, culture and architecture, and “ooh” and “ahh” at the delicate beauty of Faberge eggs.
In Moscow we explore the mighty Kremlin, the vast Red Square, the onion-domed St Basil’s Cathedral and landmark GUM department store. We also take in the gilded art deco embellishments of the city’s Metro stations where massive chandeliers, and stirring Soviet murals abound.
En route to St Petersburg we tour historic monasteries and artisan workshops, and wander around Kizhi Island, a UNESCO World Heritage open air museum, where a soaring onion domed church and medieval houses are made from timber without using nails.
Finally, in St Petersburg, the Tsars’ golden baroque palaces take our breath away, as does the Hermitage Museum where some of the world’s greatest artworks are housed.
Scenic’s Russian river cruises run from Moscow to St Petersburg (or in the other direction) from May to September, scenictours.com.au