Now that we're home, I'd like to give you some more info about the specifics of the vendors we used, and final thoughts we had about Russia throughout the trip.
First, the cruise line is Vodohod, and we booked it in the U.S. through Gate1 Travel.
Our ship was the MS. Zosima Shashkov. They also have "First Class" itineraries. I saw one of the ships and it had bigger windows, doors from the cabins to private sitting areas on the decks, etc. I imagine the food is probably more upscale. But the Shashkov definitely more than met our needs.
Here are links to some of the places we visited. I explored these big city websites before we went, and they were very helpful with weather facts, currency, customs, etc.:
We were surprised at some of the things we learned about Russia and the people, and by some of the things we saw.
- KFC was everywhere in the big cities, by far the most prevalent American fast food company. We only saw them in the big cities. We also saw a Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and Starbucks, but there were only one or a couple of them.
- We did not realize how huge the country actually is until they showed us the itinerary on a map. Of course we have seen maps of Russia but it really hits home when you see the route from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and it's only a blip on the map. We were told that the distance from Moscow to Chicago is the same as the distance from Moscow to the east coast of Russia.
- Those of us who grew up during the Cold War were told that the Russians wanted to attack the U.S. and take over. The "Godless Communists" were going to abolish the churches and we'd all have to worship in secret. We'd all be in workhouses wearing grey uniforms. We remember McCarthy and the Hollywood blacklists.
We were surprised to find out that Russians never thought of America as a threat. The people were not afraid of us and did not think of Americans as enemies. Instead, they felt this way about NATO. They were taught that NATO was the bad guy, coming to conquer them and wipe out their way of life.
- There were flowers adorning all the parks in Moscow, celebrating the spring and summer. Everywhere we saw arches adorned with baskets of flowers that turned the arches into solid bouquets and they were beautiful. There were many fairs and festivals in the big parks, mostly geared toward children with rides and games.
- WWII is the event that affected most of the people, and there are memorials everywhere. The history of what happened to the population in different regions is recorded and displayed near the monuments. We saw them in all the larger cities. Entire towns had their male populations wiped out. Historic areas were completely demolished. They have not forgotten.
- Russia's unemployment rate is 5% to 8%. In Moscow, it is 1%. 1%! Our guide said that only "an idiot" who wanted to work wouldn't be able to find a job.
- People are people wherever you go. The children cried, laughed, played and slept in their parents' arms. People were camping and fishing along the rivers, waving to us as we went by and taking photos of the ship. People were worshipping in the churches with a reverance you don't see in many American churches. People were drinking Coca Cola and kvass and fruit juice and vodka and wine and tea and espresso. People were happy to see us visiting their country.
- Travel with family and friends is the best way to go. The memories we make with our travel companions are special.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog. I confess, I re-read all my blogs throughout the year. Otherwise I'd forget little things about our trips and that's why I try to post as soon as the day is over.
Watch for a new blog in November this year (teaser).
(Note: I know that there are bots posting spam in the comments. I block them as fast as I can but they just multiply. Please ignore the spam.)