Yet, for its repressive political history, Russia has a romantic side that's hard to resist. From the other-worldly silhouette of its onion-domed churches to the musical accomplishments of its theaters, the country has a well-documented architectural and artistic legacy that's a culture-vulture's dream.
A river cruise that features port stops of several days in St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as some exposure to the smaller towns along Russia's lakeshores and riverbanks, provides passengers with plenty of opportunity to change their perception of the country. Several of the major lines make the trip, including Vantage, Uniworld, Grand Circle Cruises and AmaWaterways. You might find -- as we did on Viking River's "Waterway of the Czars" itinerary -- that it's a surprisingly easy place to love.
--by Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor