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.
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.
You’ll need a visa to go on the trip. If you’re travelling to Russia from the USA, then you can get a Russia visa here.
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.
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.
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 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…
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
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.
Cruise tours and excursions
In Uglich we heard about the Legend of Dimitri and watched a concert from some local Russian opera singers.
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.
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.
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.
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!
READ MORE: My Review of the Scarlet Lady Cruise Ship, from Virgin Voyages
On board entertainment
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.
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
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.
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.