Contents Introduction ............................................................................3 Investigative Methods ............................................................4 Our “Laboratory” ....................................................................7 Our Really Big Surprise............................................................8 Moscow - Our Arrival City .......................................................9 Waterways ............................................................................12 Moscow Canal ....................................................................12 Volga River..........................................................................12 Rybinsk Reservoir ...............................................................13 Volga-Baltic Canal ...............................................................13 Lake Onega .........................................................................13 Svir River .............................................................................13 Lake Ladoga ........................................................................14 Neva River...........................................................................14 Uglich ....................................................................................14 Yaroslavl ................................................................................17 Petrozavodsk.........................................................................20 Kizhi Island ............................................................................23 Mandrogi ............................................................................26 St. Petersburg .......................................................................28
June 27 to July 12, 2006
Introduction What stereotypical images have we used over the years of the Cold War to identify the Soviet Union? Certainly the Russian Bear and the Kremlin come to mind quickly? The hammer and sickle flag logo tumbles quickly from our memory as do the onion domes of Russia’s outlawed churches. All were basically hostile pictures, used to portray the menace we perceived from communist Russia. After our recent visit to the Russian Federation, those images suggest an entirely different concept to us in the present day. The ferociously toothy bear now appears tamed like a circus performer who is engaged in an incredibly difficult balancing act, standing on one leg, juggling a ball on his nose to the cheers of Russian children. The Soviet Flag is no more to be seen since the fall of the Soviet Union, so the hammer and sickle live only in old photographs. The Kremlin is now a tourist-thronged citadel filled with historical churches where Tsars have been crowned for 300+ years. The high red walls no longer seem to keep the modern world at bay but instead beckon the visitor inside to see where the government of the Russian Federation grapples with enormous internal problems rather than seeking to spread a communist view of society around the troubled globe. Red Square itself no longer bristles with tanks, goose-stepping soldiers, and the latest rocketry. After having loomed so large in our nightmares, the square is now a benign and much smaller-appearing plot of paving stones where an old market place once stood. Lenin’s tomb is still there but there are no endless lines of citizens waiting to get inside to pay homage to the communist ideologue. Actually, the tomb is now open only a couple of days a week for a couple of hours! Instead, the reawakened GUM department gleams and invites capitalist consumers, both native and foreign, inside its fussy Victorian Age walls to sample designer clothing, shoes, gourmet foodstuffs from around the world, electronic gadgetry and appliances. Its glittering lights and furbelow-architecture wink across the square at the defeated Lenin and his ideas of what makes human beings happy. GUM merrily and prettily caters to the acquisitive individual desires of people. Though many of those superb onion domes tower over deconsecrated churches now become museums, many others crown functioning Orthodox Churches again where Russians, young and old, come back to discover an old faith or enter to see what Russia’s own religion has to offer in the modern world. The bear balances unsteadily but determinedly, the domes shine out over landscapes of uncertainty, the Kremlin oscillates between GUM’s dangerous but alluring invitation and the Old Churches’ history of autocracy and serfdom. Everywhere in Russia, the society seems to be performing an incredible and perilous high-wire act as it transforms itself from that communist repression with its managed economy into a true democracy with capitalism as its economic basis. There is no safety net here, except for the hope of the people and their willingness to embrace the many challenges their country
faces as it moves a couple steps into that Brave New World and then slips back a step in dread of the discomfort of change and fear of the unknown. Perhaps the most accurate symbol for Russia today is a different one from bears or domes—the double-headed eagle of the Romanov dynasty. What an irony that the deposed Tsars’ symbol of royal and absolute power can now stand for the Russian people on their balance beam, looking hopefully but fearfully into the future and trying to leave the brutal, dark past behind them without falling off the beam. In Peter the Great ’s time, that double-headed eagle with its talons firmly grasping the symbols of royal privilege and power (the orb and the sword) was a metaphor for a Russia looking at its past Asiatic roots and forward to its linkage with the Western World. Peter’s goal was to make Russia a part of Europe with its scientific advancement, its culture heritage and dynamism, and its economic powerhouse. Today Peter’s eagle is gazing at a future where democracy elects the leaders rather than the divine right of kings or the bludgeon of the dictator. But he also stares in the other direction, ever aware of the terrible history, both ancient and modern, that the Russian people have endured. Truly that great eagle is also part of the balancing act we outsiders watch the Russians perform as they try to move into a totally different governmental structure from any they have ever experienced in their history. They wobble and teeter, but that eagle keeps at least one of his heads firmly facing forward to the future. Investigative Methods So how did a riverboat full of Americans visiting Russia on vacation get to observe all this change and ferment? We flew from Atlanta to Moscow via Frankfurt and were taken to our ship, the Nicolai Chernyshevsky, immediately. Our itinerary called for us to spend three days in Moscow using the ship as our hotel, until it set sail through the Moscow Canal to the Volga River, the Svir River, crossing two lakes (Ladoga and Onega) bringing us to St. Petersburg, where we spent 4 days, still staying on the boat. Between the two cities, we visited small villages and towns along the water route to see how people live in these areas. As we sailed along for those 12 days, various historians, guides, geographers, and even a panel of young college students treated us to lectures and round table discussions. We were given an amazing amount of information about Romanov history, Soviet times, and the present day since Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost. The people were candid, even brutally so, eager to share their experiences, their hopes for the future, their fears about all the changes and their impressions of how their fellow citizens are reacting. Of course, it is true that we met a limited number of people, but we were impressed with the dominance of their hopes over their fears. From our completely unanticipated meeting with Gorbachev himself to our fresh and exciting round table discussion with the four colleges students (2 young men and 2 young women: 18-20 in age), the
dominant theme was confidence in Russia’s forward evolution and certainty that no matter what happened she could not return to the dark past. We also thought it significant that so much attention, time and treasure has been spent in preserving Russian history, even by the Soviets. Churches and palaces, certainly symbols of the institutions that the Bolsheviks were opposing so violently in the name of the people, were nonetheless preserved and even restored when they were devastated through war and revolution. Though religion was thought to be needless “opium” for people who were to be fulfilled through communist ideals, those magnificent Russian Orthodox cathedrals were wonderfully maintained even if they now serve mostly as museums. Some have been restored to a religious function, but no one feels that more than 2% of the Russian people have returned to regular churchgoing. The opulent palaces of the Romanovs and their related nobility have also been retained and converted to museums for the people and Russians are visiting these historical structures in great numbers. It is easy to see how the angry mobs who had been so repressed and downtrodden by the Tsarist autocracy would have been only too happy to wreak a kind of vengeance on those structures by stripping them of their treasures and completely vandalizing them. However, that was not done—only the Nazis were guilty of that type of plundering. And Stalin, after the war, diverted much of the country’s treasury to repairing that extreme damage. Clearly, though the Soviets “managed” history, changing it and inventing new versions, they did not want to obliterate Russia’s past entirely. Nowadays, people are continually being surprised as they learn more about the past through the opening of archives and the freeing of previously repressed books which testify to occurrences in the Soviet times. As the current joke in Russia runs, “Russia’s future is unpredictable and so is its past!” Our opportunities to observe modern Russia’s building boom—new apartment blocks, new roads, factories and other infrastructure—revealed the extreme contrast between those forbidding, miserable Soviet-style apartment blocks of the 1960s and 1970s & the newer, more comfortable and higher-end structures. The big cities are having a difficult time accommodating all the citizens streaming in from the countryside to pursue jobs, education, and modern capitalist life there. The cities do not contain sufficient housing to meet these needs. We saw abandoned factories in remoter areas around small towns and cities so it is clear that jobs vanished from those areas when the plants closed down. Because in Soviet times, the Russians had to buy and sell to and from each other, most of the products from those factories were inferior and few according to our informants. Now the citizens can buy from a wide choice of sources in the world outside Russia and they have opted to purchase better quality with more variety. So the factory outside Uglich that once made shoes, oblivious to the fact that it was producing only left shoes, has died and it stands crumbling into ruin by the Volga River. Its workers have no jobs so they move to Moscow or St. Petersburg or even Petrozavodsk looking for work. Consumers don’t miss the factory that produced only left shoes for the market, but
the man who made his living in a subterranean sort of capitalist system by converting one of the left shoes into a right shoe for his customers certainly does and so do those factory employees who made the pairs incorrectly back in the first place! Because more and more Russians are able to purchase automobiles, of German, French and Japanese make mostly, Russian roads are miserably clogged with new drivers who either do not know or do not care about any ordinary traffic rules. They double and triple park when they cannot find a legitimate space and collisions are numerous. The roads are blocked constantly for these and other reasons as well. So road building is proceeding as rapidly as it can be accomplished. Since there will soon be a Ford factory outside St. Petersburg, perhaps Russians will also be purchasing cars of American design. Perhaps, too, when the employees of the factory experience American capitalism and management systems, they will appreciate those concepts and help spread those ideas among the population. Everywhere there are shops with small merchants and large—cheap offerings and high end ones. Everything from individual convenience stores to department stores and malls with Gucci and Versace on display. Who are all these conspicuous consumers? Some Russians have embraced capitalism with gusto and are profiting from their work and their willingness to take risks. Older people on fixed incomes from Soviet times are admittedly suffering as prices rise, apartments become scarcer as well as pricey, and such services as health care and rent are no longer provided by the state. These older folks look back at the Soviet days as some kind of “golden age.” So too do younger Russians with no particular skills or inclination to adapt to such a radically different market economy. They too long for those days when there wasn’t much to buy but all basic needs were assured. A wonderful joke we were told may illustrate this attitude: A British, French, and Russian man visit an art gallery and study a huge canvas depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They begin a discussion on what nationality the couple might be. The Brit says, “It’s obvious they are British. See how calm and reserved they are even in their innocent state, with what dignity they treat each other, averting their eyes to one another’s nudity. They are definitely British!” The Frenchman scoffs and says, “No, No, No! Look how seductively Eve is posed; she is clearly tempting Adam into some sexual encounter. Viva l’amour! They are clearly French!” But the Russian ends the discussion when he says, “Nyet! They are Russian for sure. See, they have no clothes to wear, they have only one apple to share between them, and yet they think they are in Paradise!”
The East German-made M/S Nicolai Chernyshevsky was a comfortable basis from which to explore the very small part of Russia we were visiting. As we returned from an outing, we could relax in comfort while we discussed and processed what we had seen and learned. Then the lecturers would add their insights and expertise to
our experiences and we gradually grew to enjoy a certain understanding of Russia today.
The ship was built in 1981 and then refurbished in 2002. We were amused to find that even this comfortable ship could be seen as a metaphor for the changes the communist coalition has experienced since “perestroika and glasnost.” When the ship was undergoing its renovations, the Russian workers realized that the East Germans had not designed any drain plugs for the bathroom
lavatories. When they looked at the original plans for the ship, they realized that this was an omission right from the start. So they just laughed and did what Russians had been doing for so long. They improvised; they now supply each shipboard lavatory with a small round rubber mat to be placed over the drain whenever it is desired that the lavatory hold water. It works really well, too. We can testify to that. The ship is 375 feet long and 49 feet wide with a draft of 9 feet. It has four decks and can hold up to 223 passengers. On our cruise, there were 210 total passengers. The cabins are small but adequate and they were kept scrupulously clean throughout the voyage. The ship has a top speed of 17 miles per hour; but since this was a leisurely trip,
the captain never pushed it to that extreme. After all, we were supposed to be following the currents, experiencing the 65+-year-old lock system, and enjoying Russian summer and landscapes under the brilliant skies of the “white nights” when the sun doesn’t dip very far below the horizon so the nights are short. There were two dining rooms, two bars, a sauna, fitness room (which we never entered), conference hall and sundeck. There were no elevators between the decks so we all got plenty of exercise--a very good thing, too, because the kitchen staff was excellent and the food way too tasty for the waist’s sake. We had all expected Russian to be heavy, simple, plain and probably rather dull. Oh no, not at all. These meals were delicious and full of variety—lots of fresh fruits and veggies, lip-smacking soups, tangy and crispy salads, and desserts I won’t even mention except to say that Russian ice cream is superb! So any hopes of losing weight on this cruise were buried under the wonderful Russian breads
almost immediately. The most we could hope for from those many stairs was a holding action! But I don’t think it worked for many of us, even in that limited way. Our First Really Big Surprise On our first full day in Moscow, we were to start the day with a visit to the Gorbachev Foundation. Mikhail Gorbachev 's daughter runs the Foundation that he established to further studies into democratic styles of government, human rights, and methods of reaching peaceful settlements of international political disputes. He also works to raise funds for research into both childhood and adult leukemia. In the modern 4-story building housing the offices of the Foundation, there is also a small museum dedicated to Gorbachev himself and the changes he wrought in the USSR. There are pictures of him as a child beside his farmer father and mother. Highlights in his career from education to voluntary resignation as the first and last President of the USSR were documented through photographs, certificates, newspaper & magazine articles, and even a display of his Nobel Peace Prize! There were pictures of him with Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin and other world leaders. There were documents pertaining to his concepts of “perestroika and glasnost.” It was a fine tribute to his achievements in destroying communism in Russia. We were welcomed into a small lecture hall, holding perhaps 100 people, where the Public Relations Director greeted us for the Foundation and Gorby’s daughter. Both spoke to us in English about the efforts the Foundation is making towards realizing the goals outlined in the paragraph above. They are obviously dedicated and serious young people who believe in what the Foundation is attempting
to accomplish in Gorbachev’s name. They eagerly answered all our questions without apparent reservations. When their little presentation was over, our group left the lecture room and went into the museum area. While we were milling around in the anteroom, we realized that the group that followed ours had been in the lecture area far longer than our meeting had lasted.
We peered in and realized that Mr. Gorbachev himself was inside answering questions through his interpreter! With great excitement, we all quietly re-entered the hall and found places to sit or stand so that we could ask questions and hear the answers ourselves. Gorby, as Americans rather affectionately call him, talked with us over an hour and answered any questions put to him. He was gracious, affable, humorous,
intelligent and committed to the work of his Foundation. After we had run out of questions, he generously stayed with us and let us take pictures and shake his hand. Never once, I must hasten to report, were we asked for donations in any way, overt or subtle. Our groups definitely felt that we had enjoyed a very special privilege and experience in meeting the man who had made history by opening his country up and beginning the dismantling of the Soviet form of government. The balancing act which the Russian bear performs today is the result of the enormous change that “glasnost and perestroika” started in Russia. Some of our guides told us that Gorbachev is admired much more in the USA than he is at home. Many Russians who are feeling the effects of the transformation of the economy in a painful way resent and dislike the man who started it all. When he stood for election the last time, he polled less than 2% of the total vote. Like many another courageous leader who overseas a radical shift in a country’s direction, Gorbachev is like the prophet who is not appreciated in his own land. The British people treated Winston Churchill in the same way after he had led them through the darkest period in their history—World War II. Even though he had rallied them, supported them, inspired them, and led them to victory, at the end of the war, they wanted someone new to lead them in a different direction that would take them away from the memories of their suffering. So too with Gorbachev, he loosed the restraints the Russians had endured since 1917 and at the same time unleashed a certain amount of chaos and confusion. The people wanted to forget all that and move ahead with Yeltsin as their leader. The question our group kept pressing Gorbachev to answer was about his opinion of the direction that President Putin has been moving recently. We had heard from our own lecturers that many of them are concerned because of recent attacks on the free press with many publications being closed down and others under great pressure to report only what the government wants to have publicized. All our speakers were aware of just how important a free press in preserving democratic institutions. Here, Mr. Gorbachev was a bit “cagey” in his response. He reported that he does have a “relationship” with the current government so that he can get his views to the attention of Mr. Putin. But he was very careful also to say that such “access” does not guarantee that his ideas are taken seriously. He did express concern about the recent actions against the press and he seemed to agree with our lecturers on the importance of a free press to Russian democracy. Only later in our own adventure did we realize that starting our exploration in our meeting with Gorbachev was the most logical and meaningful thing that could have happened for us. We were allowed “to be there at the beginning” so to speak. What a significant basis for our exploration and understanding of Russia today! Moscow - Our Arrival City Moscow was founded in 1147 and its population is now about 12 million, making it Russia’s largest city. After our very long flights between Atlanta and Frankfurt and a 2 ½ hr. flight from Frankfurt, we finally arrived in Russia’s ancient (by Russian standards-it’s about 850 years old) capital in the early afternoon. The Vantage people are savvy about Western travelers so they moved us quickly to the
ship for a leisurely evening—good supper and a restful night’s sleep in preparation for a full day on June twenty-ninth. Even though the nights at Moscow’s latitude are bright until quite late, heavy curtains in the cabins as well as our overwhelming sleepiness combined to give us passage easily into dreamland. Our three days in the Moscow revealed a modern city with not much to distinguish it from any other large city coping with enormous population expansion and all the accompanying problems with that growth—too many cars for the roads, too many people for the available housing, air pollution and loud noise. Russians are not big on blowing their car horns, any more than are the captains of their ships for sounding their sirens. The true signature of Moscow and its defining landmark is, of course, the marvelous Kremlin. Now that it no longer appears so forbidding, it is easy to recognize and appreciate its distinct architecture and dominance in the city. The Kremlin's high red brick walls with the individual towers at the many corners as well as the high-flying, gilded onion domes atop the many churches within the citadel confines are the definitive illustration of Russian architecture, at least for most visitors. And they do not disappoint either. The churches are spectacular inside and out, with mosaics, icon paintings, and other decorations covering all the walls. St. Basil’s is one of the most recognizable of Russia’s churches, but it is not the one in which the Tsars were crowned—that one is the Cathedral of the Annunciation which was allowed to operate as a church through Soviet times. A boat ride on the Moscow River with views of the embankment and city from a new prospective as well as floating along in front of the huge Gorky Park gave us another idea of the capital city. And it was a chance to be free of the constant Moscow traffic jam/gridlock that we experienced on every outing in the city. That night, we were taken to the Moscow Circus and it was treat for everyone. So exciting that no one fell asleep despite this being our first night in the country. We had lions, tigers, chimps, dogs as well as high wire acts, jugglers, acrobats and trampoliners! Everything we would have expected from one of the most famous circuses in the world. Churches and convents are among the oldest structures in Moscow, most of them dating from the 1500s or more recent. All are spectacular in grandeur both outside and inside. The Russian architectural style is nothing if not impressive and the completely decorated interiors of the churches are simply stunning. The Novodevichy Convent (The New Maiden Convent) contains a cemetery for famous Russian people such as Raisa Gorbachev, Nikita Khrushchev , Stalin’s widow, Nadezhda "Nadya" Krupskaya, Peter Kropotkin, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Konstantin Stanislavski, Boris Yeltsin, and Mstislav Rostropovich.I t contains a beautiful and peaceful garden setting with lovely trees and flowers. Many people still would want to be buried within the convent’s walls.
Another of the must-see sights in Moscow is the wonderful Metro system. We rode this excellent system far enough to see 5 different stations. All the stations are like art and sculpture galleries— beautifully decorated by artists and artisans of the Soviet period when the subway system was built under Stalin’s regime. There are many statues depicting members of the proletariat at work in addition to well-recognized Soviet scientists and uncontroversial writers from the past, such as Pushkin and Lermontov. The
escalators up and down to the tracks are exceptionally long, longer even than London’s. The trains are free of graffiti and the stations clean and neat. What a wonderful infrastructure for city transport!
On another night in Moscow, we had tickets for the Bolshoi Ballet production of “Cinderella” with music by Prokofiev. The theater is quite a little jewel but it’s a lucky thing that this particular gem doesn’t melt at high temperatures. There is no air conditioning in the hall which seats about 350 nor was there any breeze except for that created by all of us fanning
ourselves with whatever piece of paper we could gather: programs, brochures, notebooks, whatever. We just couldn’t imagine how the dancers would avoid collapsing under the bright stage lighting as well as the sauna-like conditions wafting their way from the audience. The performance was enjoyable despite all that and Prokofiev’s music quite stirring. Waterways Moscow Canal Until Stalin’s time, Moscow was a landlocked city. Soviet planners could see that it needed to be connected to St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Finland by water. In addition, the city of Moscow desperately needed a new and reliable source of fresh water. To accomplish that link, Stalin put his engineers to work and provided them with workers from among the millions of people he had imprisoned for “crimes against the state.” Over 35,000 of them died during the canal’s construction which was accomplished within an amazing 5 years. What a legacy those poor folks left to their fellow countrymen however. The Moscow Canal is about 74 miles long, and includes 7 concrete dams, 8 earthen ones, 11 locks, 8 hydroelectric plants, 5 pump stations, 15 bridges and 2 tunnels all of which are still working well. It connects the Moscow River with the Volga River of “Yo Ho, Heave Ho” (Song of the Volga Boatmen) fame. The Volga is big enough to insure a steady water supply for Moscow. Volga River This river is 3,688 kms. in its entire length, making it Europe’s longest river. It is rightly recognized as Russia’s most important trade route carrying commerce from an area northeast of Moscow to the Caspian Sea. It has been imprudently dammed, causing great ecological damage throughout its course. Most experts now agree that the damming was also a huge economic mistake as well since the amount of electricity provided is small in comparison with the cost of all the dams and reservoirs.
Rybinsk Reservoir Because the Volga seasonally floods and dries up dramatically, Stalin and his engineers decided that it must be dammed and reservoirs created to further insure the water supply and to permit navigation and shipping throughout the summer months. The Reservoir is so huge that it is often referred to as the Rybinski Sea since it covers 4500 square kilometers. 200 small villages were sacrificed to the construction as well as thousands more of the GULAG prisoners. Fertile farmlands were drowned and the people moved elsewhere without any chance for their protests. Motoring up the waterway, silent church steeples project out of the waters memorializing the villages they served. The great forest lines the river, the canal and surrounds the reservoir. At times it seems we are sailing in a dense green tunnel with its top having been painted a sky blue. Volga-Baltic Canal This canal is another stage in the ultimate linking of Moscow to St. Petersburg. It is comprised chiefly of natural river and lake-beds which were flooded by damming. This canal is comprised of 8 lock systems, 8 hydroelectric plants, and numerous dams, bridges and reservoirs. This area is lined with small villages with some farmlands which alternate with angular industrial complexes and intense timbering operations. The forest is still healthy and thick even though timbering seems to continue day and night and has done so for many, many years. Lake Onega The Volga-Baltic Canal leads next to the second largest lake in Europe—Lake Onega, which covers 10,000 square kilometers in area. More than 50 rivers and 1000 streams feed into Lake Onega but only one river, the Svir, emerges from it. The lake contains 1200 small islands, all of which are covered in deep forests of pine, elms, and birches, providing homes for many mammals such as bear, elk, moose, squirrels, fox, wolves, and hares. Many species of birds live on this lake as well as at least 50 species of fish. The water is so pure that it is said only distilled water is purer. Because the lake is so large, it is subject to waves of five meters when the storms are raging across. However, we were lucky to see only the calmest of waters here. Many primitive peoples lived along the rocky shoreline of this lake as well and there is evidence of their presence in petroglyphs in many places in the area. Svir River The next connector after Lake Onega is the Svir River, about 215 kms. long between Lake Onega and Lake Ladoga, the largest one in Europe. This river area has long been considered wild and savage. People have been living along the Svir for more than 5000 years and, in many eras, it was considered an appropriate place for exiling undesirables. The scenery along this waterway is more picturesque since there are rugged but low cliffs with colorful clays and rocks along the shoreline. Because it varies considerably in depth between summer and winter, it has always been a navigational challenge. In normal winters, it freezes over from December to April, but in milder ones, it is does not freeze entirely and fishing can continue.
Lake Ladoga This largest lake in Europe covers 17,700 square kilometers in area and can reach depths of 230 meters. However, compared to our own Great Lakes, it is a small pond. For instance, our largest freshwater lake (Superior) covers 82,000 square kilometers and our smallest (Lake Ontario) covers 18,960 kms. However, Ladoga is large enough to act like a sea in bad weather with huge waves. The Lake is different in its southern part where sandy beaches slope to the water and in the northern part where precipices tower over the shoreline and sharp, jagged bays cut into the land. The 500 or so small islands and skerries in the northern part echo this type of shoreline as well. Though 50 rivers, streams and creeks feed into Lake Ladoga, only one emerges from it (like its sister Lake Onega), the Neva which flows through St. Petersburg. Lake Ladoga supplies St. Petersburg with its drinking water even though it is highly polluted, almost dead really, and has recently been found to contain radioactive waste because of a ship that sank there 30 years ago. This is a lake that is better to sail over than swim in or drink from. Neva River The Neva runs 74 kilometers from Ladoga to the Gulf of Finland off the Baltic Sea. At its delta, the river sprawls over 280 sq. kms. of marsh and estuary. The delta contains many islands on which Peter the Great built his new capital city, St. Petersburg. The area has long been subject to flooding but is usually quite temperate in climate due to the proximity of the Baltic Sea. The Neva flows between rather high banks and is often quite wide though it will narrow down suddenly causing the river captains some anxiety in their routes. Ownership of this river and its surrounding lands was hotly contested between Sweden and Russia until Peter the Great decisively defeated the Swedes in the Northern War (1700 – 1721). Uglich This is the first town we visited after we left Moscow. Uglich springs out of the green landscape as a surprise to the riverboat traveler. After miles of green forest on either side of the Volga, suddenly the towers and domes of the town’s churches blaze against the trees in brilliant reds, blues, and golds. From the river, the visitor is already excited about the prospect of seeing these fine structures. Uglich’s official founding date is 1148 and it certainly has known periods of prosperity mixed with eras of decline. But everyone seems to agree that its time of greatest importance was during the fifteenth century. So it can accurately be said that its glory days are in the past. The single event which propelled Uglich into the history books, however, occurred in 1591 when Tsarevich Dmitry Ivanovich, only heir of Ivan the Terrible, was murdered there while he was a child. Many theories have been advanced about Dmitri’s death: the most blatantly false being the verdict that a jury made up of Uglich residents rendered - he had stabbed himself to death during an epileptic seizure. Most historians now accept a different theory—one that finds Boris Gudunov guilty of having ordered the murder of his most formidable obstacle to the throne. The so-called “Time of Troubles” when various pretenders to the throne warred among themselves ensued following Dmitri’s death. Initially, Boris Gudunov prevailed and was Tsar from 1591 to 1605 when Boris died. The internecine struggle continued then, allowing all sorts of miseries to beset
Russia and little Uglich. Repeatedly attacked by the Poles who were attempting to take over Russian land, the town fought bravely but was finally almost completely obliterated by the Swedes in 1611.
The resilient town gradually recovered, chiefly due to the religious pilgrimages many people made to the church Uglich citizens erected to commemorate Dmitri’s death, the Church of Dmitri on the Blood. A new kremlin (citadel) and another church, Church of the Transfiguration, were added to the Uglich scene, promoting greater safety for citizens and pilgrims and creating another shrine for holy veneration. The town continued sleepily, not really prospering, but not suffering either. Then Catherine the Great visited in 1775 and demanded that Uglich be redesigned to conform to her ideas of European architecture and symmetry. The already existing churches, convents, and kremlin were not changed, but the streets were straightened and newer buildings added which did not always enhance Uglich’s older ensembles. The worst of times for Uglich, however, came during the Stalin years when historic buildings were blown apart, a huge hydro-plant built on their spaces, and much of the town flooded.
Now Uglich has returned to its somnolent condition and riverboats bring tourists rather than pilgrims to visit the remaining two churches and the European style structures in this riverside town. Its current population is about 40,000. We riverboat travelers enjoyed two very special events here in Uglich. The first was a wondrously beautiful concert of religious music performed by 5 monks in the Transfiguration Church with its very special acoustics. The sublime voices of the five singers filled the church with echoing sounds that rolled upon those stonewalls like an oceanic tide and brought tears to our eyes since ears do not weep.
The other experience was our home-hosted meal with Tatiana and her sister, Lidia, in Tatiana’s farmhouse just outside the little city. Vantage, our tour company, arranges with families in various countries to offer home-hosted meals to their travelers in order to create opportunities for meaningful meetings between peoples. The hosts are paid a small stipend and they are reimbursed for what the foods they prepare actually cost. In Russia, a set menu was prepared in each household so that no one in any group could complain they had been served something different. The six of us and one other couple were put together at Tatiana’s home. In addition, Katya, a young English-speaking member of the ship’s staff, was sent with us so that we could really “talk” with our hosts. Tatiana had at least one son and grandson who were visiting when we arrived. They, however, did not stay for the meal. Her sister, Lidia, who lives next door on a farm of her own did join us and we were told that she helped prepare the meal: traditional cabbage soup, pickled fish, cabbage and carrot salad, boiled potatoes, and little pastries for dessert. In addition, Tatiana had us try her home-brew which was pretty potent. It relaxed everyone enough so that when she turned on her CD player, many folks got up and danced with her and each other. We had been introduced to her dog, Rada, a big German Shepherd looking fierce watchdog in his cage and to Masha, her lovely calico cat who was indoors sitting in a windowsill when we arrived. She disappeared when we entered the house.
We were also given a tour of her “farm” where veggies for personal use were growing as were flowers and fruits, especially luscious looking strawberries. She had chickens for eggs and meat as well. She told us that the farm had been in her family for three generations. She showed us pictures of her parents and grandparents too. Her house was rather like a log cabin and appeared quite comfortable. We all felt that we had made some sort of connection with Tatiana who had a delightful and warm personality. Her sister was more reserved but nonetheless friendly. We left Uglich that afternoon grateful for the company’s policy. Yaroslavl Our second stop on the river cruise was the city of Yaroslavl, founded in 1010 by a gentleman with the name of Yaroslavl the Wise. Now it is the oldest and most famous of Russian provincial towns. Its current population is 620,000. Situated as it is on the Volga River, it has a lovely riverfront prospect and several interesting churches and a wonderful old monastery, which was the fourth largest out of 1000 monasteries in Russia during the twelfth century. At the height of its influence, the monastery, the Savior-Transfiguration, was home to 100 monks and about 50,000 serfs were also assigned to it. Today it no longer retains any religious function, but the climb to the top of its 90 ft. belfry calls many to visit because of the expansive view of the city from this vantage point. The Church of the Prophet Elijah is another museum-church of astonishing beauty. Its exterior is irregular and crowned with 5 green cupolas. Inside, every surface is covered with paintings— illustrations of Biblical stories from the Old and New Testaments, icons, and portraits of saints. The iconostasis is one of the most famed in Russia because of its lace-like construction and the magnificent icons placed upon it. In this church we learned that the iconostasis is a part of every Orthodox church and it separates the worshipers from the altar area where the priest performs the sacred rites.
Every iconostasis has 5 levels:
1) Figures of local interest, priests, saints & Bible figures associated in some way with the church or town; 2) Illustrations of church holidays; 3) Jesus and his saints; 4) The twelve apostles; and 5) The patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church. We also were told that the portrait second to the right of Jesus on the third level is always the personage to whom the church was dedicated. This church was also helpful in demonstrating the Russian practice of constructing two connected churches—one to be used in winter and the other in summer. That way, precious paintings, icons, carvings, and the like could be protected from the ravages of winter weather because the most highly decorated church could be kept closed during those frigid months.
We also visited a double-theater for young people here: one auditorium housed the puppet theater for children and the other the drama theater for teenagers. Productions go on all during the year and children and teens are both entertained and taught the basics of theatrical performance, puppetry, and production. The city government supports the theater monetarily and ticket prices are kept very low so that all children can afford to attend the theater performances regularly. The auditoriums were handsome and comfortable and the display of the various kinds of puppets used in the children’s theater was fascinating. We all wished we could have seen a production ourselves. Petrozavodsk This is a university city with a current population of nearly 300,000. It was founded in 1703. Our refreshing Q&A crowned this next stop with the 4 young college students attending university here, already described earlier in the journal. Peter the Great founded this city as a place for his armory. There is a statue in the City Garden depicting Peter pointing to the very spot on which his armory was to stand. He ordered the city to establish iron foundries and then the arms factory to create the cannons, cannonballs and assorted other weaponry for his Northern War with Sweden. At present, the statue does not stand on the site Peter selected. During Soviet times, he was unceremoniously moved from that place and stood up in the lakefront park. At least he was not melted down for Soviet arms. At any rate, the city must have performed its function well since Peter did win his conflict. Thirteen years after the war (in 1734), the Petrovsky Foundry ceased operations, only to be reactivated by Catherine the Great in 1772 to create weapons for her war with the Turks. Following that period of activity, operations slowed in Petrozavodsk because there was no direct rail connection from the city to other parts of Russia. The Soviets transformed the armory and iron foundries into several manufacturing plants to build heavy civil engineering equipment.
The Russians themselves in World War II bombed the city extensively as they struggled to drive the Finns out. Over 65% of the city was destroyed (so many of the structures had been wooden) during that time. Post World War II saw Petrozavodsk in a period of slow rebuilding and recovery. Today it is a local cultural and economic center for its region. There is an enjoyable lakefront walk with interesting statuary lining the pathway gifts from Petrozavodsk’s several sister cities, one of which is Duluth, Minnesota. The town sits on Lake Onega and the views are quite pleasant: look to the west and enjoy the lake itself; turn your eyes east and study the styles of the statuary. The weather was cool enough to enjoy an evening walk as well. The famed “white nights” allowed us to enjoy the walk even at 11 PM. Earlier in the day we had been driven around in a bus to view anachronistic street signage, statues of Marx and Lenin, and the strangely named “Round Square.” The city decided to retain the Soviet era street names along with the more modern names and it refused to remove the communist era statuary since those folks represented an important 70-year part of Russian history. The “Round Square” contains one of those monolithic Statue of Lenin and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier . The buildings surrounding the square are semi-circular and were built in the eighteenth century as housing for the officials of the Alexandrovsky Foundry re-established by Catherine the Great. They resemble a rather more severe eighteenth century architecture like that in Bath, England. Our Second Great Surprise One of our other wonderful surprises was the party the captain and crew threw for us on the Fourth of July. There was food, drink, music, dancing and, believe it or not, fireworks!! So much for worrying about fire aboard a vessel!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site. About 90 people currently live on the island. All of us had been looking forward to visiting this very special place. We knew from our pre-trip literature that the island has been inhabited for thousands of years. It is part of the Karelian Province and there is a decided Finnish heritage here. The Karelian people are of Finn-Urgic descent. The island is located in Lake Onega, not far from the mainland shore. People could easily live on the lake banks and go to and from Kizhi which at some times in its history seems to have been a center for pagan ceremonies rather than a dwelling place. However, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Russians began to enter the area, escaping the Mongols who were invading Russia to the south of Moscow. They established homes and churches on Kizhi and on the surrounding lakeshores. The island is now an outdoor museum featuring several wooden structures of Northern Russian/Finnish design taken from other places in this part of Russia. There are peasant houses, churches, gristmills, small chapels, a bell tower, granaries, bathhouses and barns. The Soviets ordered this area preserved because its architecture represents, in communist-era language and philosophy, “proletarian creativity.” In 2000, Kizhi Island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is amazing to learn that Kizhi once held 13 separate villages in its small area: 2.5 miles long by 656 yards wide. It is quite tiny and narrow so those villages must have consisted of a few structures each. The only creatures living on Kizhi now are mosquitoes which can be quite formidable and the
European viper or adder snake who is still revered by people on the island because it has been worshiped since ancient times. Visitors to the island rarely ever see the reptile since it prefers to slither through the tall grasses away from the pathways. The most impressive architectural ensemble on the island is also the only grouping that was originally built on the island: this is the Transfiguration Church (erected to commemorate Peter’s victory over the Swedes) and the Intercession Church together with the bell tower between them. Interestingly enough, the Transfiguration Church was built in 1714 though the Northern War was not officially over until 1721; however, to all intents and purposes, the outcome had been decided by 1709. The ethereal and protean Transfiguration Church is built of aspen wood without nails. This wood is very hard and weathers most impressively. Because of the patina developed in the weathering process, the wood can reflect many magical colors depending on the light and its angle, the clouds above, and the time of day. It can appear silver or gold, aluminum or pink, orange and green. There are 22 onion domes situated on five levels which required 30,000 shingles. These individual shingles catch the light and create the protean appearance of the Church. It was built as a summer church only so that it is kept closed during the fierce northern winters. The Intercession Church is the winter church and the bell tower connects them. The domes on these structures total number thirty-three for the whole ensemble—perhaps based on the number of years Christ lived on earth. That number of domes in one ensemble is pretty special, even for Russia! The modest Chapel of the Resurrection of Lazarus built in 1391 is the oldest wooden structure in all Russia. Not built entirely of aspen like Transfiguration Church, it does not change colors like a chameleon but stands homely and sturdy in testament to the faith of its builders just the same.
The farmhouses are also very interesting because of the intricate woodworking on the eaves to create decorative patterns quite reminiscent of Pennsylvania Dutch designs. The artisans even added signs that resembled those folks’ hex signs too. These houses were also distinguished from many such structures by their very large rooms and huge stoves so large that people slept on them in the harsh winters to keep warm. The hay barns were also different because of the wooden ramps which horses
could climb pulling the wagons behind them.
The barn was large enough and strong enough upstairs over the house so that the horses could be turned around in the room and led back down the ramp. Methods of latching doors and windows were fascinating as were the period furniture pieces. We were lucky to have a fiftyish Karelian guide of who was so enthusiastic about Kizhi and its reminders of her people that her joy was
The Helen, Georgia, of the Svir River. Mandrogi is a very small town, fallen on difficult economic times since the factories around it all closed down after the Soviet Union collapsed. In an effort to inject new life into their community, the citizens have begun to build fanciful shops and factories for crafts, an Inn and Restaurant, a visitor’s center, demonstration housing to show how the people live who work for the corporation formed to transform Mandrogi into a “destination” for tourists. There is a little ferryboat to take visitors across a pond to roam a tiny zoo with both animals and statues of fairy tale figures on display. The fanciful statues were engaging, especially Baba Yaga in her chicken-legged house. We enjoyed seeing the baby moose, the pet crow, baby bunnies, and the raccoon dogs (very strange creatures who appeared to be a cross between a short-tailed raccoon with only the faintest of masks and a coati from Central and South America).
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