Journey of the Czars
a diary along the blue highways of the Russia rivers

Thursday, June 17:

Wednesday was a quiet long lazy day on the boat, eating, sleeping, and some lectures and language classes. We also went through an electrical storm along the White Lake. It seems they adjusted the trip to bypass the sites on the east side in favor of the northern side of the riverway, possibly due to the expected bad weather.

I've been walking about 1 mile each morning - they tell me that is 10 laps around the ship along the promenade deck. Good idea overall. Also the back rubs have worked wonders. Yvonne says she needs to be more active.

At night, they have some music concerts. The first was a classical pianist, later it was a father on balalaika and daughter on the electric piano and singing. The girl's voice had great breadth and will only get stronger with professional training. She's been accepted at a music conservatory, so should progress well. The pianist has studied under world class competitors and is "technically sound". The piano on board ship is not your concert-quality-equipment, but we are fortunate nevertheless.

Homes along the river look either very old or very new. Almost as if few people bothered to try building in between during the past 70 years, but today, a few have hope.

On Thursday, we visited the Island of Kizhi, where they have a living museum of ancient (600 years old) architecture -- wooden churches,homes, hot houses, and a belfry. The island is actually unoccupied, today. All the tourist staff live in a nearby coast city, but take their boats over to the island when they see the cruise ship coming. They are very protective of these ancient structures, as well they should be. They are impressive, especially when one realizes that, originally, they were constructed using one tool, an awl, and no nails. When they relocated the buildings to this site, they had to re-assemble the log structures and had to add nails because they didn't retain the knowledge of how they were assembled.

Kizhi Island - Transfiguration Cathedral

Mandrogi - a "spec" hunter's cabin

Later today, Friday, we stopped for lunch at Mandrogi where a more contemporary entrepreneur is building a hunting lodge, a vodka museum, gift shops, and a half a dozen homes for hunters -- all on speculation, all using the very same log-assembly techniques that we saw a day earlier on Kizhi Island. We were his guest for a lunch of shashlick barbecued in the open grill. They had benches covered with a birch supported system of plastic awnings. Most of the food came from the boat, but the entrepreneur provided local entertainment in a little "shell" hewn out of pine beams. The wood craftsmanship is very good. With a little more equipment, their productivity would be even more impressive.

One last town before heading out to St. Petersburg was Svir Stoori -- a tiny little bump on the way. But it is comparable to Uglich relative to Moscow -- without the church and tradition. It's almost as if we were sent there primarily to buy local (or trucked-in) crafts as a last rural stop before St. Petersburg. We obliged them. Another tourist bus was parked at the same place. We found prices very reasonable Fereydoon bought 5 scarves for the Indivest staff. I made my first and only purchase (besides books and CDs) of a straw inlaid wooden box, just to remember the craftsmanship here. It's probably all machine made, but it does look nice.

Along the waterway toward St. Petersburg, we're seeing a lot more lumber yards and barges full of pine and birch.

The Hermitage - St. Petersburg

During Wednesday and Thursday's lectures on board ship, Irina spoke about the post-1913 revolutionary era, all the way to Yeltzin. Then the Geography of Russia. Today, Friday, she was sharing the podium with the four translators in two Question and Answer sessions. I attended both to try to gain more perspective on the country and the people. There were major differences in viewpoint depending, first of all, on the speaker's age -- older citizens are more skeptical and bitter and risk-avert. Younger Russians still have the hope of their years, but they are very cautious. All of the 4 translators have computers at home or at work, have email and use it relatively without censorship (other than the economic restrictions of the per use of per month usage charges). The dominant use is email, as usual. Irina seemed surprised by the fees that one or two of them had been able to find for their service -- some prices were relatively competitive.

As we transition toward St. Petersburg, we are starting to see a few more apartment complexes with lots of antennas for TV on the rooms. Until now, we've only seen electrical lines going into the rural waterway communities. Not TVs.

In terms of the geography of the country, it is interesting to me to learn that Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine -- the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union -- is on the same latitude as New York City, while Moscow is on the same parallel and Southern Canada, while St. Petersburg is on a parallel with Anchorage. Their agricultural window of production is very narrow: April to October in good winters, more typically May through September. The ships that left St. Petersburg and came to Moscow just before we left had to use ice-breakers in late May/early June. Moscow had snow in May. With all that in mind, we are exceedingly grateful for our current 80-85 degree temperatures.

Thursday, we had a guided tour of the bridge by the captain. Typical set up, except the news that they use GPS for under-5 meter precision location and that they have special stabilizers which explains why the trip was so smooth, even during the 1 storm we had on the White Lake area. The captain said he's been with this boat since it was built in 1989. He spent years completing 5 separate colleges or certifications for different specialties (navigation, etc.) He spoke through an interpreter both during the tour of the bridge and during the 2 other dinner/drinks occasions that he hosted for us. Later that night he agreed to hold up the UCLA banner with some of us for yet another group photo shot. Later, we learned that his wife and newborn baby are on board -- another surprise as I thought that was considered bad luck by most superstitious ship hands.

Catherine's Palace - the Grand Staircase

Catherine's Palace