Latest edition : 11 January 2014
It floats like a little air of communism on board, everything is a bit rigid .... But there are also the smiles that seduce. Traditional welcome to the sounds of the balalaika with bread and salt. Without forgetting the small glass of vodka!
The next morning, the buses are waiting to take us to the center of Moscow. First question that arises: but where does this incessant flow of cars come from? Never seen so many big sedans and 4x4s either, an old Lada looks like an extraterrestrial vehicle!
Moscow is an incredible kaleidoscope of architectural styles: magnificent monasteries, renovated churches, Stalinist-era buildings, contemporary skyscrapers. Its inhabitants seem to be doing quite well at the sight of this golden youth, luxury boutiques, gourmet restaurants and trendy clubs.
But here we are in Red Square and Gilbert Bécaud's words run through our heads. Except that the place is not empty, that our guide is not called Nathalie and that the famous Café Pouchkine, my faith, was a simple fantasy of Gilbert Bécaud (it opened years after the release of the song. Colorful bulbs of St. Basil's Basilica look like giant lollipops, tourists flock to visit the impressive Lenin Mausoleum.
We visit the Kremlin which we walk around while remaining wisely on the sidewalks and zebra crossings under penalty of being immediately called to order. The cameras crackle as a military parade passes. We dive into the metro whose stations look like art museums. The Goum department stores surprise with their luxury brands. Pushkin, Stalin, Lenin, history surrounds us and we plunge our noses into our guide to try to follow, to understand.
After two intense days of sightseeing, navigation begins on the Moskava to Volga canal. A cruise that lives by the contrast of the splendor of the big cities and the expanses of the landscapes along the waterways. Over the coming days, we will travel around 1760 km, pass 18 locks to overcome a difference in height of 260m and do several stages.
Our first stop will be Uglich where we will arrive the next day in the afternoon. After the modernity of Moscow, it is the surprise.
Old Lada have replaced the big 4x4s, the buildings are much more modest, vast vegetable gardens surround the city. The visit to the little Uglich Kremlin is moving.
There is the lovely Church of Saint Dimitri sur le Sang with its bulbs all in blue, magnificent frescoes and a cast iron floor. The frescoes tell the sad story of the church erected to commemorate the assassination of the Tsarevich in 1591.
We continue our visit by the Dimitri Palace, an old church converted into a museum (a vocal quartet offered us a very beautiful concert), then we pass in front of the main cathedral of the city: the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior dating from the 18th century . Our guide evokes the communist era and is not ashamed to say that she regrets, for example, the return of buildings of worship to the bosom of the church. It is also an opportunity to buy souvenirs. Only the inhabitants of the small town have the right to offer their merchandise. But since Uglich is best known for his watch factory, everyone is rushing to buy them.
After passing the Rybinsk lock, everyone joins the bridge to immortalize the statue of Mother Volga which, from its 24 km top, watches over a large artificial lake. The development of this vast body of water (140 km long and 70 km wide) required the displacement of an entire village. Only the tower of the old church which emerges from the water still testifies to the old one of its old site.
We dock for a short visit to Yaroslav who saw the birth of the first female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. Visit of the church of Saint Nicolas the miracle worker, of the monastery of the Transfiguration but also of a huge market which holds zouk with its innumerable stands of shoes and T-shirts. The city seems to be at the crossroads between modernity and traditions. On the one hand, churches, monasteries, a market where the Lada act as a flower shop; on the other, nightclubs clubs and western brands. Unusual: in the town hall with its very "communist" architecture, a device to polish your shoes ...
Next stop, Goritsy which reveals life in the countryside: pretty wooden houses, but no running water. Everyone gets their supplies from the spring near the old monastery. Everywhere, immense vegetable gardens, carefully maintained. It sounds idyllic, but would we like to live there? Maybe not ... In the village school, a room is reserved for the small war museum, compulsory in each school. Patriotism is not dead. In the souvenir stalls, fur clothes sit side by side with homemade preserves and dried fish.
Kiji and Mandroga, crushes.
The cruise takes us to Karelia, passing through Lake White, the Kovja River and the Vytegra. The boat follows relaxing landscapes, made of vast expanses of forest before arriving on Lake Onega and Kizhi Island. It is a magical place, inhabited only by a handful of artisans. Much of the island is an eco-museum with a handful of residents. When the domes of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration stand out against the sky, one is dumb with admiration. Here, no gold but wood. 22 aspen scale bulbs cover an all-wood building. Even the assembly is done with wooden dowels.
Craftsmen show the way of working of the time: weaving, cutting wooden tiles, embroidering ... We visit a 20th century peasant isba, a windmill, a bell ringer welcomes visitors to the small chapel of Archangel Saint Michael.
Our last stop before arriving at our destination is the Mandroga peninsula with its village of craftsmen designed entirely for ... tourists. If the village is therefore "artificial", it is here that you should buy your souvenirs. Because the craftsmen who animate the beautiful houses of Mandroga, create authentic objects at quite correct prices: works of art, clothes, objects in painted wood, jewelry in birch wood. Thirsty people take a tour of the vodka museum, dreamers go deep into the Pushkin forest.
After a relaxing cruise through the verdant Russian countryside, the last stop brings us back to a world of incredible splendor, Saint Petersburg. From Peterhof Castle on the shores of the Gulf of Finland with its magnificent park to the Hermitage Museum via Catherine's Palace and its legendary amber room, not to mention the churches with their domes, it's a riot of color , gold, works of art. The "Venice of the North" is an open-air museum. What a contrast to the old trams which only seem to hold up thanks to the many coats of paint. Three days of visits which give us only one desire: to come back!
And it's already the last evening on board. Over the course of the cruise, the Russian waitresses learned a few words of French and became more cheerful. As for us, we have acquired some rudiments of Russian, to taste vodka with a piece of pickle. Without however succeeding in piercing the Russian soul! It will be for next time !
This cruise from Moscow to Saint Petersburg is offered by the Alsatian company CroisiEurope specializing in river cruises. The company's boats are on a human scale with only a hundred cabins.
The supervision is flawless. These cruises are mainly intended to make discover a country or a region through its cultural treasures, from where a very dense program of visit.
The cruise in Russia is not done on CroisiEurope boats but on Russian ships. The standard is therefore not the same: no elevator, cabins with somewhat spartan comfort but with all the amenities.
A legacy of the past, life on board is strictly regulated. We don't mess with the meal and entertainment times! The cruise director is French, the guides and animators are French-speaking. But not (yet) the waitresses. The organization of the excursions is perfect. No casino on board but lectures on Russian history, concerts of Russian and classical folk music, Russian song and language lessons ...
Find out more on www.croisieurope.com