My Cruise From Moscow to St Petersburg with 220 OAPs

If you make it to 70 and want to fritter some of the kids’ inheritance cruising Russia, I know exactly how to do it.

I spent two weeks on board the Rachmaninov ship with Gvidon Tours. We travelled along the Volga Canal and through Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega between Moscow and St Petersburg. I was joined by three other bloggers and their partners / mum, and ‘Club 50’, which underestimated the youngest by at least 15 years.

No age offence to anyone – I’m just stating the facts.

One of my co-cruisers volunteered the information that she was the youngest, at 65. The trip was an interesting lesson in life as an OAP and the challenges you’re forced to face as you get older. I actually admired quite a few of them for the obvious mobility issues and still going for it round the Hermitage Museum, even if they did moan a lot. I hope I’ll still be flip flopping the world well into my 80s.

Gvidon tours

Moscow to St Petersburg

My cruise with Gvidon was everything I thought a cruise would be, without the OTT entertainment, spa facilities and epic meal times. This wasn’t one of those huge cruise liners you see advertised but a 120 room cruise boat with one restaurant, three bars, a library and a small room with a chair for cutting hair and painting nails, calling it a ‘spa’ was pushing it.

En route we covered the world’s longest manmade canal, and Europe’s biggest lake, as well as six impressive locks. It’s 650km between Moscow and St Petersburg on the Leningradsky Highway, which would take around 9 hours driving, but we cruised the route leisurely over 8 days.

The clientele

Moscow to St Petersburg on a cruise

I spent two weeks on the boat, if you count the stationery days in Moscow and St Petersburg either end. Of the 220 of us there was a team of about 30 from the UK – I’m not entirely sure which century though. One of the men liked to use words like ‘ghastly’ loudly, really stressing on the ‘arrr’, and talk about how “Travelodges were really going downhill”.

After a fortnight I got used to seeing people around, even if you don’t talk to people. And of course, you get sick of the sight of them. There was this really horrible man, he walked around on canes, yep, sad for him, but he was so nasty to his wife it was embarrassing.

“You really are a peculiar woman.”

This was his bitter response in front of everyone when she asked if he’d like his drink bought into the restaurant from the bar.

“Of course I do.”

On the first day us bloggers asked if he’d like to join us for a drink as he was drinking alone, he looked at us like we’d just stamped on his pocket watch (I assume he had one). Good job divorce is more socially acceptable these days – hate to get stuck with someone like him.

Apart from the anomalies there were a few nice people, although most people kept their distance from us. We found out towards the end that just like us, they were wondering what ‘young’ people like us were doing on board.

My quarters

View of the sunset from the boat

The room was nice, really nice in fact. I had a junior suite for my two weeks and enjoyed the fact I could actually put things away and ‘settle in’. It was the longest I’d stayed anywhere consecutively for a long time. I had a little bathroom, a fridge, plenty of storage space, a TV and a sofa. I was happy in there. I could sit on the sofa and watch Russia go by out the window. The perfect conditions for a hard-at-work travel blogger.

Every morning at 7am we were woken by Russian music playing through the room radio, until I worked out how to turn the damn thing off and remember to do it every night once the cleaner had turned it back on again.

Cruise food

Cruise food

The food got better as the days went on. On the first day, when I was presented with a plate filled with mashed potato (bleugh) and a burger patty on top, I panicked. By day three I worked out that I could always just eat the soup, if nothing else. Dinners were 4 courses and I never really went hungry, although I did eat a lot of Pringles from the on board bars to fill the gaps as on average breakfast would be at 8am, lunch at 12 and dinner at 8.

I was amazed at how much the chef managed to do with potatoes on the cruise. Around 90% of the dishes had some sort of potato base in them – whether it was potatos in the chicken soup, potatos and fish, potatoes on toast or potatoes on potatoes.

The serving staff were lovely on the cruise – eager to please even if we didn’t communicate very well with my 5 words of Russian. I made our server Anna a card on the last day, to say thank you. She definitely liked it.

The waiting staff on gvidon cruise

The waiting staff had different outfits for every meal – a good way to bring a different look to the same dining hall we ate every meal in, every day. The above was my favourite…

Wi-Fi

An important topic for all, but for someone who can’t work without it, it’s vital. And it worked about 50% of the time. My planned days of writing about the trip went out the window.

Four days in Moscow

St Basil's Cathedral

The Moscow by Night tour was a definite highlight. It started with a Metro tour, which might sound odd, especially as I’d already been on it that day, but the Moscow Metro is beautiful and you need someone in the know to show you the best stations. You can see more of the mosaics, sculptures, bas reliefs and other works of metro art in my blog post here.

We carried on to St Basil’s Cathedral, which had been closed off that day thanks to the National Day of the Alphabet (wtf?). It was absolutely incredible to see it at night.

All the lights outside the old Gum shopping precinct nearby looked beautiful too – reminded me of Harrods in London. After seeing the Red Square and driving round the city we went to Victory Square and saw the statue commemorating the deaths of war. The red fountains represented the blood shed, which felt pretty morbid, but the colourful ones round the corner were much more cheery.

Amazing what some rainbow lights can do to a fountain. These ones are in Victory Square in Moscow…

Posted by VickyFlipFlopTravels on Wednesday, 27 May 2015

By day we visited the inside of the Kremlin and saw where Putin worked. We explored a few of the churches and saw where old Vladimir had got his minions to build his two helipads, against the rules of UNESCO seeing as it’s a registered site. Obviously better than UNESCO, apparently.

Kremlin in Moscow

Cruise tours and excursions

In Uglich we heard about the Legend of Dimitri and watched a concert from some local Russian opera singers.

Gvidon Tours Russia

In Yaroslavl we saw another church, and then decided to leave the group and go to the local zoo. Which actually turned out to be one of the worst zoos I’ve ever seen. The marketing promised us bears and giraffes, what we actually found were fish – huge fish in tiny cages – a rabbit and some ducks. At least it passed 30 minutes I guess.

We visited Goritsy, where we left the tour group and were invited into a local’s home. This was one of the villages you get to see on the tour that not many people in the world have visited. Our guide Elena told us she felt ‘privileged’ to see places like this, and that her Russian friends were jealous.

Mandrogi in Russia

On the last day of cruising we went to Mandrogi Fairytale Island where we had a BBQ and gig. This was the best meal of the trip. We took a little boat over to see a zoo, where I saw a beaver for the first time. Definitely didn’t look like the friendly ones from my Sylvanian Families set. We basically just took selfies with statues. One of the other cruisers told me after the trip she thought this was the worst stop as it was so fake.

Island in Russia

Kizhi was a beautiful island classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We wandered around for a few hours, again leaving the group in favour of covering twice the distance in half the time. We’d walked the whole island before they even exited the church.

Cruise in Russia review

In St Petersburg we went with the group to the Hermitage, the biggest collection of. Then we went off and visited the awesome arcade game museum by ourselves, and the Sex Museum too. Both were awesome, and pretty funny. The Church of the Spilled Blood above wasn’t too bad either!

On board entertainment

Rachmaninov tour

We had a folk night, a Russian music night and vodka tasting. My favourite was the night they had an entertainer in to sing to us and she sat behind her laptop reading the words of the screen. Why doesn’t Beyonce do it like this?

Russian classes were on offer so I went along to two, with a Bloody Mary and the army of bloggers. My eventual smorgasboard of Russian vocabulary for the fortnight went a bit like this…

  • Yellow Blue Vas – I love you
  • Da – yes
  • Nyet – no
  • Spas’iba – thank you
  • Pajowsta – you’re welcome
  • Priv’et – hi
  • Gal’ubushka – my sweet dove (girls)
  • Gal’oopchick – My sweet dove (guys)
  • Paka paka – bye bye
  • Victoria Charlesovna – my name in Russian (Charles is my dad’s name, and girls add ‘ovna’, boys add ‘ovich’)

I used them at every opportunity, especially Yellow Blue Vas, which I could tell was appreciated by the boat bar men and St Petersburg shop keepers alike.

Every evening an A4 itinerary would be pushed under our door for the next day giving us the option to sign up for tours the next day, and giving us timings.

Russian politics

Cruising from Moscow to St Petersburg

Everyone we met was very open about talking about Putin, the general consensus seemed to be that they don’t like him, they don’t agree with or trust him, but he’s the best of a bad bunch. A view probably shared worldwide when you ask a nation about their elected leader.

You can get thrown out of the Kremlin if you’re overheard being negative about him so our guide gave us the Putin lowdown before we arrived.

Leo’s son was good looking, strong and intelligent enough to be a soldier inside the Kremlin. This is one of the biggest honours you can bestow on someone, and it means that person gets free higher education for the rest of their life, so every boy wants that. Education here is very expensive.

My first cruise

rachmaninov russia

Sitting watching the Russian landscapes go by was a beautiful and relaxing experience. I think I felt at a bit of a loose end though, which is why I made my way through all the coffees, cocktails and Pringles that I did. With no Wifi and nowhere to go I was lost. I can only stare at the landscape for so long.

 

Cruising in Russia

Once I’d settled into this I could see why people choose to travel on cruises. You’re herded from one point to another, you don’t even have to think about it. The meal choices were limited, you couldn’t go anywhere else, and you were stuck with the same people – there was something really, really relaxing about that. If ever you had a question you could ask Elena, and there was always someone to blame, as I saw a lot of the clients doing. Going on a cruise is absolutely no work on your part, especially compared to the backpacking I’ve been doing.

I would be head down working and then look up to see a church. At meal times I’d look out the huge windows and the calmness of the sea just looked like milky caramel. We had the most beautiful sunsets every night.

I was a guest of Gvidon Tours, but when you’re 70 make sure to check them out, prices start from £1000pp. 

Ever been to Russia? What did you think?

 

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tagged in cruise

13 Comments

  1. by Emily Ray on June 18, 2015  9:09 pm Reply

    Not been to Russia (yet) but your photos are absolutely GORGEOUS. Particularly love the one of the sunset from the ship! And I'm not gonna lie, being on a boat with 220 OAPs sounds an absolute dream to me (moaning old men aside...). I could make them cups of tea and listen to all their stories <3 x

    • by Vicky on June 21, 2015  8:52 pm Reply

      Thanks Emily, yeah, if you enjoy old people you'll love a cruise! That's pretty funny it'd be a dream for you – you should do it, I'd read. I reckon if you made friends you could keep up a well funny Twitter feed of it all.

  2. by pragati on June 19, 2015  11:07 am Reply

    Vicky, You are one brave girl...15 days on a boat...oh my..this seems so poignant to me since I just finished reading the latest Jeffrey Archer book and it has stuff about the Hermitage and St. Petersburg in it. Love the whole story and the pics..
    Safe Travels!!

    • by Vicky on June 22, 2015  8:47 am Reply

      Thanks Pragati :) yeah, it was quite a long time but actually went quite quickly once I'd got to the end of it! Thanks for reading and happy to hear you're enjoying my stories!

  3. by Arianwen on June 20, 2015  3:41 pm Reply

    I do love the silly faces you pull in photos Vic! I found this post really interesting too. I think I might be tempted by a cruise when I'm older and less mobile. I can totally picture us all on a boat when we're 70, reminiscing about the past. I wonder if we'll all still be blogging!

    • by Vicky on June 21, 2015  8:50 pm Reply

      Ha, thanks Ari. I didn't quite realised how many stupid photos of me there were in this until you mentioned and I scrolled down :). Should probably stop doing that! Yeah, I reckon cruises are cool for oldies – pretty sure I'll be on them too.

  4. by Gilda Baxter on June 21, 2015  7:29 pm Reply

    Great post, I would love to go to Russia and I think a river cruise would be a good way of doing it. I have done few Ocean cruises, but never a river cruise. The food is usually amazing on Ocean cruises, certainly the ones I have been on. As always I enjoy your humour and honesty.

    • by Vicky on June 21, 2015  8:48 pm Reply

      Hey Gilda, yes, it was definitely a good way to see another side of Russia rather than just the big cities. Thanks for reading :)

  5. by Catherine on June 24, 2015  11:42 am Reply

    The photos are great! I'm not sure I could spend that long on a cruise though, I'd go mad! Also I'm a total control freak and like doing everything my way, so having someone else organize my whole holiday wouldn't go down well at all! :/

    C x | Lux Life

    • by Vicky on June 30, 2015  7:14 pm Reply

      Yeah I think that's what bothered me too. It was so restrictive living on the boat I'm not used to it!

  6. by Kat on July 21, 2015  8:17 pm Reply

    It does sound like a nice relaxing cruise, little monotonous and too easy going but when you are 60-70 then that's exactly what you need.
    About potatoes... I'm Estonian (next to Russia) and we both eat lots of potatoes. Truly, we eat it like 80% of our meal times -smashed, fried, baked, cooked, in soup, in cassarole etc. It's the primary vegetable to grow and it's cheap. Noodles and pasta and rice are rather new to our table. They has to be exported. Russian kitchen is actually very highly valued. To bad that they didn't offer you some real treats.
    I'd like to correct the phrase "I love you" in russian. I do belive that you were trying to be funny by making it sound like a sentence in english but it actually doesn't sound like it all. я люблю тебя - read "Ja ljublju tebja". (first word being "ya" and "j" pronounced as soft "y" in the other words").

    Very nice blog! Hope to hear more from island-countries. That what fascinates me!
    With the best wishes,
    Kat

    • by Vicky on July 22, 2015  8:32 pm Reply

      Hey Kat, yeah I was just writing it so I'd be able to read it! That's how our Russian teacher Elena told us to do it. Thanks for the clearer version though – hopefully that will help some of my readers to say it properly. I love Estonia – I recently wrote a post about my time in Tallinn that got shared on the President of Estonia's Facebook page which was pretty cool. You can see it here: https://vickyflipfloptravels.com/photos-to-make-you-want-to-visit-tallinn/

      And I love potatoes! Just not that many...

  7. Pingback : VickyFlipFlopTravels » UK Travel Blogger Who Loves Festivals and TravelHow to Be 30 and Not Have a Meltdown - VickyFlipFlopTravels

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