I think that the Viking Cruise Line should get an award for bringing two cultures together that, for so many years, were told to doubt and fear each other. I'm talking about the United States and Russia. I knew that our cruise was going to show us Russia; however, I totally underestimated how much Viking would help us understand each other. They started early with emails that gave us a preview of what to expect--what our ship looked like, our accommodations, what to wear. There were interesting bits about food and culture. Well, those were just the warm-ups. We were even welcomed on the boat if we showed up a bit early. On the first day, at check in, they wanted to know our travel plans to get to the airport when we left from Moscow. Everything was always covered so well. But that's just the minor stuff.
Every morning we were awakened by our social director (I'm sure there's a more suitable title) hearing her wonderful voice, "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen; welcome to another day in beautiful St. Petersburg"--or wherever we were. We loved our tour guide, Olga. We thought, "Wow, we lucked out!" only to learn that everyone "lucked out"; everyone loved their tour guide. We knew that, too, as we got to know all of them as they presented Russian language lessons, Russian history lessons, and lessons on the politics of Russia. These presentations were so well thought-out, so fair in their perspective, so honest--everything that we could have wanted.
The choices for tours was so encompassing--seeing "Swan Lake" in St. Petersburg, the Armory in Moscow, the amazing museum of Russian art in Moscow, the stop along the river in Kizhi, the Folklore Symphony in Moscow, the beautiful palaces---I could go on forever. Every day was a new discovery, a new sense of wonderment. No wonder we were close to tears when it was time to leave beautiful Russia. And, of course, it wasn't just the sights. What about the adorable school children who put on a play in English for us, the sweet, humble family that had us to their home for a mid-morning tea (and vodka!). I loved seeing their garden, their grandchild. What I felt with the Russian people, over and over again, was, "They are exactly like us. They want the same things for their children and from their leaders that we want." I recalled all those years when I had to do bomb drills at school because "the Russians were going to bomb us!" I'm so grateful to Viking for providing us with such an in-depth experience, to bring us together with other wonderful people who, at one time, we were taught were our enemies. For that alone, Viking deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. It's only through travel, one on one encounters, and deep cultural experience that we can experience the oneness to which we are heirs. Thank you, Viking. P.S. The food was great and healthy!