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Sail Date: July 2012
We are four people, one in their 50's, and three in their 60's, and everyone is very well traveled.We took the route from St. Petersburg to Moscow. On the positive side we met many very nice people, which is very important on this cruise, ... Read More
We are four people, one in their 50's, and three in their 60's, and everyone is very well traveled.We took the route from St. Petersburg to Moscow. On the positive side we met many very nice people, which is very important on this cruise, as there is nothing to do for most of the time. The brochure talks about all their shore excursions. On one of the "shore days" we were off the ship at 8:00 a.m and back on the ship at 10:15 a.m. It would be another 29 hours until we got off the boat again- with nothing to do for all of that time.We would have loved to explore some of the beautiful stops, but the tours are very self-contained and of a very short duration.However, the one worth taking with the optional excursion to the banya. Our banya treatment lasted a few minutes longer than it should and we had to run, soaking wet, back to the boat.The only down side to going to the banya is that you cannot see anything else on this island, as there is no time allotted for to do both. There is absolutely no entertainment on the ship. They advertise a piano bar, which actually means one musician playing background music. After several memos to Viking we did have one night where he actually played lively songs with audience participation. The food was barely tolerable, and the choices worse. Breakfast was the best of the meals, only it was exactly the same day after day. Sometimes they did substitute whatever vegetable was left over from the night before. One day we sat down to lunch with another couple.Four of us ordered as our main dish. The waiter came back to say that they were out of soup, but they had two portions of chicken kiev left. One night at dinner we ordered spring rolls (which were the main course). Two tiny spring rolls appeared and when we asked for another portion the waiter told us they ran out. Many nights we had a baked potato and a wilted cesear salad. Lunch did have a salad bar, but it was the same every day (I never figured out what the two extra salads were- they were labeled "with fish" or "with pork") If you are hungry after dinner you are just out of luck. After much discussion with the ship's manager we did manage to have a very small plate of cookies put out at l0:00p.m., but you had to know to be in the bar at that time. The food was the absolute worst I have ever encountered on any ship, or any two star restaurant. The staff was completely indifferent to us- they did not, in any way, try to make our trip any better. As someone else wrote, they never looked up at you, welcomed you (or ever had food/drink to welcome you back) or stopped their conversations. I just read another review of this ship and they talked about the sister ship Helga and how nice it was. Our hotel manager told us his hands were tied and all directives come from Viking. Apparently that is not true. Viking does not charge two star prices, they should not provide two star voyages. Despite all of the above, we had a wonderful vacation. We met really nice people and saw places we had only read about. I can just imagine how much better it could have been on a different ship or a different line. The beauty of Russia is a trip worth taking, just not on the Viking Ingvar. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2012
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 ... Read More
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! Read Less
Sail Date: March 2012

From the moment I boarded the Viking Odin, my home for the inaugural cruise, I knew I was in for a special treat. From the friendly and courteous staff, some of whom I had grown quite attached to by the end of my cruise; to the ... Read More

From the moment I boarded the Viking Odin, my home for the inaugural cruise, I knew I was in for a special treat. From the friendly and courteous staff, some of whom I had grown quite attached to by the end of my cruise; to the amenities on board and in the cabins; to the unforgettable excursions; and yes, the glorious food--the scrumptious, delicious, gourmet food we delighted in each night. Plus, there many magical moments on board from sailing through locks and under bridges to cruising the rivers past idyllic landscapes, fascinating architecture and enchanting villages. I am still reeling from the entire experience and urge all who seek a leisurely and convenient way to see the sites of Europe, to see out Viking River Cruises for an unforgettable vacation that will create memories to last a lifetime!

Our first port-of-call was Volendam where upon arrival, we embarked on a journey through Edam--home of that most scrumptious cheese; Marken--a quaint seaside village on the shores of the Ijsselmeer and then back to Volendam for a stroll through narrow streets lined with quaint and uniquely Dutch architecture.

The next week, we awoke to the enchanting site of windmills barely visible in the misty horizon--Kinderdijk--where we learned about the miller's heritage and the workings of the windmills. We even climbed to the top of one of them. After lunch, we sailed to Rotterdam for a tour of the Hague to see the Queen's palace grounds and office, the Peace Palace and the Mauritshuis Musuem--home to "Girl with Pearl Earring" among other famous works of art.

Not only does Viking River Cruises operate world-class ships with exceptional guest service, they provide enriching and cultural experiences for all who sail from the accommodations and spectacular ships to the epicurean delights and immersive guided tours through the various ports of call. Above all that, I think what I enjoyed the most is the intimate setting on board these river-going vessels. To sum it all up, this will not be the last time I experience Viking River Cruises--they have a new fan for life!

 

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Sail Date: August 2011
This summer i sailed the Danube on the Viking Prestige. Though this was only the second cruise I've been on it was one of the best trips I have ever been on. My grandparents and I did a 3 day extension of the cruise in Budapest which was ... Read More
This summer i sailed the Danube on the Viking Prestige. Though this was only the second cruise I've been on it was one of the best trips I have ever been on. My grandparents and I did a 3 day extension of the cruise in Budapest which was gorgeous. Viking set everything up for us and we were right in the middle of everything we wanted to see and right on the Danube.

Because I was with my grandparents and there were three of us we got one of the two suites. It was a beautiful space with room and shelves for all of us. While the boat was in between ports we would read in our room while looking out the window or enjoy the sun deck or library.

Every meal was well prepared and delicious and there was food that everyone could enjoy. While we were ported and sometimes in between ports I got good Internet access and was able to email and check my facebook.

On every excursion we got the opportunity to take the leisurely tour which was fabulous because both my grandmother and I have knee problems and we wanted to see everything but not have to walk all day long. The leisurely walks gave us the opportunity to see the same things as everyone else without getting too tired.

The boat was beautiful and brand new so everything worked very. At the end of the cruise they had everything scheduled perfectly so everyone had their bags taken out and sent to the right places at the right times and people were taken to the correct airport or their next destination. We had a fantastic time and I encourage others to ride the beautiful Danube Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2011
Waterways of the Czars

Viking River Cruise

July 5 - 17, 2011

~~Welcome to Moscow! July 5th~~

By noon today, July 5th, we had deplaned our Delta flight 46 from Atlanta - a 10.5 hour ... Read More

Waterways of the Czars

Viking River Cruise

July 5 - 17, 2011

~~Welcome to Moscow! July 5th~~

By noon today, July 5th, we had deplaned our Delta flight 46 from Atlanta - a 10.5 hour flight, had passed through Russian passport control, retrieved our checked baggage, and were collected by Viking personnel at the exit of Sheremetyevo International Airport, and transferred by bus to our ship, the Viking Surkov, docked on the Moscow-Volga Navigational Canal at the Northern River Boat Terminal.

After a brief check-in we were invited to a buffet lunch in the dining room while our cabins were undergoing final preparations for an estimated 3 PM occupancy; another group had just left the ship earlier this morning. So now I am sitting in the Panorama Lounge, enjoying a glass of cold white wine, and sending this first email to all of you. Wireless internet is available throughout the ship and is free!

The ship, having been fully refurbished only a couple of years ago, is absolutely beautiful! I look forward to the next 13 days and 12 nights aboard. More later.

~~A Cool Damp Morning in Moscow: July 6th~~

After sleeping from 6 PM last night until 3 AM this morning, I now am showered, shaved, shampooed and feeling almost human again. Yesterday and the day before were FULL days of travel with very little sleep and last evening it all caught up with me; I just could NOT stay awake! Even missed dinner. Now I feel rather good, especially after a few cups of coffee. There is a 24-hour coffee service available: coffee, tea, cappuccino, espresso, etc. - machine, but not that bad. This morning has a relaxing schedule with our afternoon city tour beginning at 1:30 PM: Red Square, Metro, St. Basil's, etc. Then tonight there is a special concert we will attend, getting us back aboard at 9:45 PM for a late dinner.

Our Delta flights from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and then nonstop on to Moscow, went without incident - just LONG! The Economy Comfort seats we had from Atlanta to Moscow were well worth the price: $80. Lots of legroom and special treatment: drinks, etc. Can't say too much for the food, however, but it was eatable at least. On arrival at Sheremetyevo International Airport around 10:40 AM, we were met by Viking personnel who took our luggage, next to be seen in our cabin, and our rather short bus ride brought us to the Viking Surkov by noon. It was very good to finally get into our Category A Deluxe cabin, #433, on the Upper Deck, near the front, just steps from the Panorama Lounge, at 3:00 PM, and relax.

While Jim went shopping locally for wine and flowers, I treated myself to a nice glass of cold sauvignon blanc in the Panorama Lounge, and wrote the email sent yesterday. As mentioned already, wireless internet is free and seems to work very well so far on my little Apple iBook G4. There was an embarkation lecture in the Sky Bar, just above us on the Sun Deck, at 5 PM during which I just could NOT stay awake! Returning afterward to our room, that was it for me for the night.

Next to us is the Viking Kirov, and behind us is the Viking Pakhomov, both almost identical ships to ours - with different schedules, of course.

Breakfast in the Neva Dining Room begins at 7 AM, just a few minutes away, so I will end this for now and add more comments later. It looks like an "umbrella day" for sure, although the temperatures are quite pleasant.

~~Wednesday in Moscow: July 6th~~

This was our first day for tours and the included Moscow City tour was extensive and interesting. A driving tour took us all around the major sites in Central Moscow, now a mega-city of around 20 million: Red Square, St. Basil's Church, Moscow River, etc. The traffic in the city and surrounding areas is unbelievably congested; it is common for 8 lane expressways to come to an absolute standstill with bumper-to-bumper cars, trucks, vans, etc. The absolute worst I have ever seen!

Our first stop was near the Moscow State University, a massive complex of high-rise buildings surrounded by acres and acres of dense parkland, for a toilet stop. Then we had another brief stop nearby, overlooking much of the city. Moscow State University sits atop Sparrow Hills and the views from there are panoramic. The main building is in the Stalinist "wedding cake" style of architecture, topped by a spire with a star, and the huge building houses much of the University as well as housing for faculty, staff and students. As a retired educator, it was of interest to me, of course.

The next stop was at a Metro Station where we entered and descended deep, deep down to the underground train station, spectacularly and ornately decorated, for which the gigantic Moscow metro system built by Stalin in the 1930s is famous. We were instructed by our guide to quickly enter a subway car - which were already at near capacity - and then to ride on to the fourth stop before exiting the train. Miraculously, our entire group successfully accomplished the task and then we ascended up and up to the surface Metro Station "Ploshchad Revolyutsii" near Red Square. It was quite an experience, especially for me - being an aficionado of trains and subways.

Entering Red Square through the Resurrection Gate, demolished by Stalin in 1931 in order for his tanks to enter the Square, and rebuilt in 1995, the cobblestone surface extends from St. Basil's Church at one end to Historical Museum at the other end, and from the Kremlin walls on one side - including Lenin's Mausoleum - to the GUM Department Store on the other side. This is the site for many parades and celebrations of military might during the Soviet era. The Kremlin walls are of red brick and towers are located at corners and several other locations along the wall, the largest being the Saviour's Tower.

After walking the entire length of Red Square towards St. Basil's Church, we had a short tour of the GUM Department Store, one of the largest buildings in Moscow. (Gosudarstvennyy Universalnyy Magazin) Consisting of three separate arcades, of three or more levels, and almost a half-mile in length, it is now a gigantic shopping complex of shops, restaurants, etc. Many upscale stores are here and if you have the rubles, they have the goods. By the way, ATMs are located almost everywhere and are the best source for us tourists to obtain local currency, rubles. One US dollar will buy 27.84 rubles, or about 4¢ per ruble. Moscow is also one of the most expensive cities in the world now. I bought nothing.

The end of our Red Square tour was at St. Basil's Church from which we walked further on out to our waiting buses; lots and lots of walking! Finally sitting down in the seats of our bus was a welcome treat!

The last stop of our afternoon/evening Moscow City tour involved a walk across a bridge over the Moscow River, studded with metal "trees" on which young married couples attach a locked padlock, ensuring a long marriage; there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of the padlocks adorning the trees.

On the other side of the River we walked further on to a concert hall where our Viking groups were presented with a special concert of classical Russian music - including much folk music - but performed by young musicians with authentic Russian folk instruments: balalaikas, bayans, domras, guslies, flutes, accordions, drums, and a xylophone. The music was uniquely beautiful, especially performed on these native instruments. Several solo performances were featured by these superbly talented young musicians. A female vocal soloist also enhanced the performance with a wonderful operatic voice. The audience reception by our Viking groups was most enthusiastic. It was quite an experience!

Then it was back onto the buses - 6 in all - for our return to the ship, the Viking Surkov, where a late dinner was awaiting us. It was a full afternoon and evening to say the least! By the way, Viking now serves complimentary wine with dinners, of which I gladly partake! We also kept bottles of local wine in our cabin's refrigerator.

With an early tour departure scheduled for this morning, Thursday, July 7th, getting into bed and to sleep last night was no problem at all. My poor feet and legs will never be the same!

~~Sergiyev Posad Monastery: Thursday, July 7th~~

Again trying to catch up with my reports, here is a description of our FULL DAY optional (surcharge) tour for yesterday, out from the city of Moscow to a small town where located is the Sergiyev Posad Monastery. It was a full day tour, beginning at 8:15 AM, and again the bus ride there was complicated by horrific traffic congestion, requiring over an hour to reach our destination.

As usual, the first stop was for the toilets, at the hotel restaurant where we would later have our lunch before returning to Moscow and our ship. A short walk away brought us to the entrance of the large monastery, a large gate in the surrounding walls, prolifically adorned with ancient frescoes. Inside the walls of the monastery were lush gardens with lots of flowers, grass and trees - a very tranquil, relaxing setting.

There were several chapels and cathedrals included in our visit, along with many other tourists, some more from our ship as well as many local worshippers. The exteriors of these buildings were resplendent with light blue painted walls and gold leaf covered onion-shaped domes. A bell tower dominated the interior square, taller than even the bell towers at the Kremlin in Moscow.

Also of interest was a natural well, or water source, considered holy, and the local worshippers were filling water jugs with this "holy water" with faith that it would bring them healing results. Being the skeptic that I am, I feared more diarrhea from the holy water than its healing powers, so I declined.

After our extensive guided tour of the monastery we were given an hour and a half on our own, which I thought was entirely excessive; I had already seen as much and as many details as I thought necessary, so I ventured out of the Monastery and across the busy street into a local shopping area, looking for a nice cool place to sit: a bar! Finally finding one I ordered a glass of beer which turned out to be "Baltica" from St. Petersburg, and it was quite good - SO I had another; at 40 rubles a glass - about $1.50 - it seemed a meager expense.

Meeting the rest of the group at the appointed time in front of a statue of Lenin, next to a large square in front of the monastery, we then walked back over to the restaurant for our scheduled lunch at 1 PM. The dining room was quite clean and airy and the tables & chairs were modern and comfortable - Danish design, I concluded. Lunch consisted of a rather Spartan salad with no visible dressing - nor offered, followed by a delicious chunk of salmon, cooked in a foil pack with some vegetables, served with rice. Wine was extra - 150 rubles ($5.40) and dessert was a type of crepe with a dollop of jam, served with coffee - made from a powder. The salmon was excellent, making the entire lunch "acceptable."

Then it was back on the bus for the return to Moscow through severely congested expressways, finally getting back on board our ship at 3:45 PM, only 15 minutes late, as it turned out. I was exhausted and immediately opted for a glass of cold white local wine, and a nap. Awakening at 10 til 7, our dinner hour, I scurried to dress and rush to the Neva Restaurant, right on the dot.

Our second optional (surcharge) tour of the day was "Moscow by Night," from 9:30 PM until midnight, so after a short rest after dinner, we again found our bus and returned to the city center, this time with MUCH LESS traffic - a major relief. Since it doesn't get very dark here, lights were late in coming on along the downtown streets. We had a brief stop at a monument for Peter the Great, a HUGE statue of questionable taste, out in one of the rivers; lighted it would have been much more impressive, but the lights had not yet been turned on.

The last stop was again near Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral with a short walk up to the Square itself that was very brightly lighted. The GUM Department Store was covered with white lights outlining the building and windows and floodlights illuminated the Kremlin Wall; the tallest of the towers in the Wall, the Saviour's Tower, contains a big clock that always shows the correct time. The evening was dry and fresh with a slight breeze, making the outdoor experience most pleasant. Our speedy return to the ship at midnight ended a VERY busy day.

~~Friday Morning in the Kremlin: July 8th~~

Our last day in Moscow started with a morning tour inside the Kremlin, after we FINALLY negotiated the heavy, congested traffic just to get there!

It was a beautiful day - we have been quite lucky with weather - and our entrance through the Trinity Tower gates immediately revealed a beautiful, unexpected complex of ancient cathedrals and lush gardens of flowers nestled among thick stands of trees, along with many government office buildings. It certainly was NOT what I expected to see!

We soon passed in front of the very modern building (1961), the State Kremlin Palace, which at one time housed the Communist Party Congress - but we not permitted inside, and then strolled the grounds along a certain prescribed route. We came upon The Tsar's Cannon - gigantic, which had never been fired - and then an enormous bell, the Tsar Bell - largest in the world at 200 tons, from which a large chunk had broken free; it also had never seen use.

Then it was inside one of the cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Assumption, in which walls were covered with exquisite "icons" (paintings) of various historic Russian Orthodox deities: no photos. We were also permitted to enter and view two other cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Archangel and the Cathedral of the Annunciation, but the most impressive were the exterior adornments: gold leaf coated onion domes, etc. It was a photographers' paradise.

Our last attraction was a park area with flowerbeds resplendent in the colors and design and a tree planted in honor of Yuri Gagarin, the first Russian in space. Reluctantly we had to depart this beautiful setting and return through the Trinity Tower Gates to our waiting bus, and back to the Viking Surkov. It was certainly an unexpected exposure to the inside the Kremlin.

After lunch aboard our ship, we departed Moscow, cruising up the Moscow Canal towards the Volga River. Once out of the metropolitan area our cruising was along a smooth waterway lined with lush forests and many local families and children could be observed along the banks enjoying a warm summer afternoon, camping alongside the Canal, swimming, cooking, etc. It was quite a contrast from the city.

Our journey soon brought us to the first of several large locks, dating back to the early 30s, which lowered our ship substantially. The lock mechanisms and designs were especially interesting in contrast to what we usually see in the Panama Canal. Supposedly Stalin had commissioned the construction of the Moscow Canal, which was completed in record time, to provide a navigable access to St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea. Essentially, the Canal connects several natural lakes in its path toward the Volga River. Cruising along the calm waters of this Canal was a most pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

Later on, however, an approaching storm caught up with us and a heavy rain descended, accompanied by spectacular lightening and thunder. Safe and dry in the ship's Panorama Lounge, it was quite a show for us.

That evening was the Captain's Reception at 7 PM in the Sky Bar on the top deck with complimentary champagne and introductions of the officers and managers of the Viking Surkov. With 210 passengers in this room which accommodates only 160, it was crowded, to say the least; NOT a good arrangement. Then it was a special Captain's Welcome Dinner in the Neva Restaurant and most passengers - as did we - dressed for the occasion. There will be a second Captain's Farewell Dinner near the end of our cruise in St. Petersburg.

~~Report: 2 dead, more than 100 missing after ship sinks in Russia - CNN.com - NOT THE VIKING SURKOV! Monday, July 11th~~

http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/07/10/russia.boat.sinks/

Evidently this was an older Soviet-era 1955 riverboat, the Bulgaria, which was greatly overloaded with passengers and seriously overdue for maintenance. The event occurred far down river on the Volga in Central Russia.

The Viking Surkov on which we are cruising, departed Moscow northward along the Moscow Canal, joining the upper Volga River near Uglich; then yesterday we left the Volga River by means of a huge lock, into the Rybinsk Reservoir, and on northward toward Kuzino, today's port, on our way to St. Petersburg. A huge statue of "Mother Volga" marked the entrance/exit of the River and the Reservoir.

~~Saturday in Uglich: July 9th~~

With a lull in activities today while cruising across the huge Lake Onega, one of the largest in Europe, I will try again to catch up on my journal entries:

Saturday morning, July 9th, began with bright sunshine and clear skies after the storm the previous night and our included walking tour of the charming town of Uglich was a pleasure with the cool, forested parks and gardens of beautiful flowers. Our group "Bus 46" with guide Sasha, was also accompanied by a local guide who narrated to us by means of individual receivers and earpieces, now standard procedure for Viking excursions; it makes hearing and understanding much better in crowded venues.

Of course, there were the obligatory cathedrals, the Cathedral of Our Savior's Transfiguration, containing numerous "icons" (paintings) covering the walls and an impressive altar, and also the Church of St. Demetrios on the Blood, where it is said that young Tsarevich Dmitry, son of Ivan the terrible, had been murdered by order of Boris Gudunov.

During the Soviet era, most churches were closed down and many were actually demolished, so currently there is resurgence in religion, Russian Orthodox, and cathedrals have reopened and undergone restoration. One such small church had not been reopened as such but serves as museum and small concert hall. Inside we were treated to a vocal performance by 6 young men - a cappella - that was truly outstanding! So much so that we purchased their CDs which were offered for sale - conveniently.

At the conclusion of our included tour of Uglich, we chose an optional (surcharge) "Home Hosted Visit," and it was uniquely delightful. About 10 of us boarded a small bus and were taken into a residential section on unpaved streets, to the home of a lady school teacher who welcomed us into her lush garden - flowers and vegetables, and into her modest home where we were tightly seated around a large table.

We were each served a shot of her homemade vodka - delicious! - followed by blueberry-topped pastries - also delicious! The vodka was accompanied by slices of brown bread and pickles; the pastries were accompanied by cups of tea served from a beautiful samovar in the center of the table. With our guide Sasha translating, many questions and answers were exchanged among the 10 of us, and our hostess. It was with reluctance that we had to leave such a hospitable home.

It was then back on the Viking Surkov by lunchtime and continuation down the Volga River; from Moscow we had been on the Moscow Canal, descending by means of a large lock to the River level. These locks along the canals and rivers are quite impressive by their shear size and unique mechanics - quite unlike those in the Panama Canal. The Hammer & Sickle emblem is still sometimes evident on the very large structures housing the lock's mechanisms. We have been told that there will have been 19 locks on our journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Stalin is credited for much of the construction in the 1930s.

The "Waterways of the Czars" route is an ancient one, well before the canals' construction, when it was necessary for the riverboats to be "portaged" over connecting landmasses by man. Today we see all kinds of boats and barges making the Volga-Baltic Waterway a busy commercial route.

~~The Viking Surkov: July 11th~~

We are now cruising along the Svir River, approaching Lake Lagoda and the town of Mandrogy, our last stop before St. Petersburg tomorrow. So I thought I would share some details about our ship, the Viking Surkov.

Viking River Cruises owns four essentially identical riverboats: Kirov, Surkov, Pakhomov, and Peterhof, the first three of which have been fully refurbished by Viking to their European standards. The Peterhof is due for refurbishment next year for the 2012 season. These four ships were constructed in 1984 as part of a Soviet project for 80 river boats, built in Eastern Germany, and almost every one of the river boats seen on the Russian waterways today are among these essentially identical ships, although Viking's ships are among the few that have been so modernized by substantial refurbishment.

The ship's capacity is 210 passengers in 96 "deluxe" staterooms, 2 suites, 6 "standard" staterooms, and 2 single staterooms, all beautifully refurbished with spacious bathrooms, flat panel TVs, refrigerators, wonderfully comfortable twin beds that can form a double bed: 158 square feet for the deluxe category. The older configuration had much smaller (90 sq. ft.) cabins that were replaced - 3 to 2 - with the current size. I would compare the current deluxe stateroom with a Princess ocean view stateroom on ocean cruise ships in size and amenities.

Two complaints I had were with the soundproofing and the very steep stairs; sounds from adjoining cabins seem to come OVER the walls by way of the false tile ceilings, common throughout the ship - not THROUGH the walls. The two stairwells are STEEP and have rather narrow risers, and the vertical distance between steps is more than what is comfortably climbed.

The dining room (Neva Restaurant), the Panorama Bar, and the Sky Bar are all beautifully decorated. There is a library and computer center and wireless internet is freely available in most areas of the ship. In many locations, scattered throughout the ship, are comfortable chairs and sofas, with tables for secluded rest, reading or computing.

There are about 115 crew and staff aboard, mostly Russian serving staff, along with many Filipinos; the Program Director is Russian, the Restaurant Director is German, as is the Head Chef. Many of the Russian girls are absolutely beautiful, and ALL of the serving crew are typically Viking-trained to be personable, efficient, friendly, with good English; very quickly they learn everyone's names and greet you warmly on every contact.

So far my expectations have been greatly exceeded and this may well be one of the best Viking river cruises I've taken.

~~Yaroslavl: Sunday, July 10th~~

Still trying to catch up on my journal emails, the following describes our visit to one of the Golden Ring cities, Yaroslavl.

A beautiful city on the shore of the Volga River, we visited the Church of the Epiphany, another restored Russian Orthodox Church, containing a wealth of treasured, ancient icons (paintings) on the tall walls and ceilings.

Instead of visiting the second Church of Elijah the Prophet, our alternate tour took us on a visit of the Governor's Mansion, which was a great choice. Greeted at the entrance by the beautiful young daughter of the Governor, dressed in a period gown, we were escorted by her to the upper floor rooms displaying works of art and exquisite furnishings: desk, cabinets, tables, etc.

On return to the main hall on the ground floor, we were treated to a concert performance with piano, violin, and cello, highlighted by Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto on the concert grand piano. To top it off, three couples - all dressed in period costumes, and including the Governor's daughter, danced for us the minuet to the strains of Rachmaninoff. It was SPLENDID! I am happy that we chose this alternate tour.

Then it was back on board our boat for lunch and the continued cruise to our next stop at Kuzino on Monday.

~~Kuzino and Kirillov: Monday, July 11th~~

Docking at the remote, newly constructed river dock of Kuzino, we were transported in buses to the nearby village of Kirillov where the included tour went to the Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery, and the alternate tour - ours - first stopped at a children's day school where we were greeted by volunteer teachers and young children who come to this facility for arts and crafts instruction and development. We observed many of their activities and items of their creation, many for sale.

In an upstairs studio a young girl, singing beautifully and professionally, also treated us to a splendid performance. Staffed by volunteers and funded by contributions, this school serves an important part of the local children's lives and education.

Then it was back on the bus to another nearby venue where restoration of older buildings is taught and practiced using very basic and ancient tools. We observed the reconstruction of classic wooden buildings; one such is destined for transport when complete to Fort Ross National Park in Northern California. The smells of the fresh woods were intoxicating.

Following that visit we were then transported to the Monastery for a brief tour of only the grounds; the included tour had also had an extensive interior visit. The Monastery once served as a fortress but is little used today. It's location next to the beautiful Lake Siverskoye made the visit even more enjoyable.

Back to the dock at Kuzino, time permitted my enjoyment of a couple of Baltica beers in the beautiful wooden pavilion-type "bar" while others perused the nearby souvenir shop. Obviously these facilities were built to service the river cruise ships.

~~Lake Onega and the Island of Kizhi: Tuesday, July 12th~~

During the morning we cruised across the huge Lake Onega, the second largest fresh water lake in Europe, which is littered with over 1300 islands. In many places the navigable channels are clearly marked with poles, indicating that shallow waters need be avoided. Besides several riverboats, we also encountered many barges using this busy Volga-Baltic waterway.

There were also tours of the bridge of the Viking Surkov, with each of our 6 groups being given a 20-minute session. Very modern equipment: control panels, computers, GPS units, and scopes were in evidence, monitoring every function of the boat.

In the middle of the afternoon we approached the Island of Kizhi on which exist several all-wooden buildings: homes, barns, chapels, windmills, and the magnificent Church of the Transfiguration, together with the Church of the Intercession and a nineteenth-century bell tower, all constructed of wood without the use of a single nail. It is an open air architectural museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On a lengthy included walking tour from the dock area, we extensively toured the Island with visits inside two of the ancient home-barn combinations, fully equipped with furniture, stoves, tools, and farming and fishing equipment. Local ladies in period dress demonstrated yarn spinning and other crafts. They are splendid museums of historic Russian life. We were even treated to a concert of bells from one of the bell towers, much to our enjoyment. And of course, CDs were available for purchase.

The view of the Church of the Transfiguration is the icon for Viking River Cruises in Russia, the Waterways of the Czars. Its unusual, curved adornments and 22 timbered onion domes are unlike anything I have ever seen; it is truly a structure of incomparable beauty representing ancient Russian culture.

~~Svir River, Mandrogy and Lake Ladoga: Wednesday, July 13th~~

Departing Lake Onega we cruised along the Svir River during the morning, stopping at the "resort" of Mandrogy. This village is a recreation of a typical Russian village. It was revived in 1996 and today is a stopping point for cruise boats. There are wooden houses that operate as hotels, restaurants, museums, and craft workshops. Even a Vodka Museum (over 3000 different vodkas) caught my interest - and a few rubles. After sampling 4 vodkas in the Museum for 100 rubles, I finished off my visit with a stop at the bar near the dock for another Baltica beer. Set in a park-like environment, it is popular for tourists and even conferences. By the way, it was a beautiful day!

Back on board there was a special lunch, "Taste of the USSR," served on the Sun Deck featuring a buffet of typical Soviet food - and beer, of course. The many items were surprisingly delicious; I certainly was dined to satisfaction! - so much so that I had to pass on the many tasty dessert offerings.

The remainder of the day and evening were spent cruising across Lake Ladoga, the largest fresh water lake in Europe. It is SO huge that no land is visible for most of its transit, and a strong wind created waves that caused considerable motion of our ship, quite unexpected for me. Exiting the Lake into the Neva River brought us to St. Petersburg very early the next morning where we temporarily anchored along the bank before approaching the docking area, the Salt Pier.

The Captain's Dinner this evening in the Neva Restaurant began with a receiving line lead by Captain Nikolai, Program Director Constantin, Hotel Manager Hilbert, Restaurant Manager Oliver, Head Chef Andreas, and the 6 guides, with flutes of champagne offered for toasts. A special menu featured Prime Fillet of Beef with Truffle Crust or Grilled Fillet of Salmon, preceded with an hors d'oeuvre, soup and a warm appetizer of sautEed scallops, and followed by Baked Alaska "Surkov," presented "a fire" in a parade about the dining room by the servers. It was a splendid meal!

10 PM brought the Guest Talent Show in the Sky Bar, a farcical play mimicking a Russian fairy tale (I played the "Evil Robber" who kidnapped the Princess), preceded by a humorous skit by the Guides: Sasha, Andrei, Natasha, Tatiana, Galina and Natalie, and a "Dance of the Virgins" featuring 6 male guests costumed in traditional dress. The finale was a rousing rendition of "Kalinka" by the entire cast and audience.

~~St. Petersburg: Thursday, July 14th~~

We are at dock on the Neva River in St. Petersburg, having arrived very early yesterday morning after exiting Lake Ladoga, the largest fresh water lake in Europe. During its crossing no land was visible on the horizon, it is so large; also there was sea motion, which we had not expected on this river cruise. The Salt Pier is the docking area for the many river cruise boats and is quite a distance up river from the city center of St. Petersburg, discouraging very much independent touring - as if there were any time for that!

The first excursion (included) of the day was to the Winter Palace, the "Hermitage," leaving the Viking Surkov at 10:45 AM and returning around 3:30 PM. Of course the traffic was heavy but nothing like the gridlock congestion of Moscow. There are wide 4 to 6 lane boulevards on either side of the Neva River, with many bridges (405, to be precise) crossing the River. It is interesting to see left-turning traffic adding to the congestion, brought on by the absence of left-turn lanes or left-turn signals; cars and buses turning left from any one of the three lanes is an unusual sight to me. I was amazed by the few accidents we saw.

Finally reaching the Hermitage and quickly exiting the bus, briefly stopped in mid traffic, we were lead into the huge museum complex, the largest in the world - contested by the Louvre in Paris. Security is tight with no liquids or large handbags or backpacks allowed. Our Viking guide for the day was Natasha and she was expert in keeping our Bus #42 Group together and navigating through the many rooms to observe the remarkable exhibits. There were literally thousands of tourists, and on our departure at 2:30 PM, there were many more thousands waiting to enter: what a throng!

Having been to the Hermitage once before in the year 2000, I knew basically what to expect, but the splendor of the interior rooms - especially the walls and ceilings, with matching designs in the parquet floors, was breathtaking. Our earpieces worked most efficiently in receiving information provided by Natasha, including keeping the group together - much UNLIKE the situation in the Louvre last August that was utter chaos.

Returning to our riverboat was a pleasant relief from the very warm day and huge crowds and we took the opportunity to rest before our early dinner at 5:00 PM in anticipation of our evening excursion (included) to see the ballet performance of "Swan Lake," departing at 6:30 PM.

Again, the heavy traffic slowed our approach to The Conservatory Theater, and again we were discharged from our bus quickly in front of the theater so that the driver could find parking elsewhere during the performance.

An older theater, The Conservatory of Opera and Ballet is uniquely interesting; we ascended the grand staircase to the second level where our reserved seats were easily found. Floors were of parquet wood and appeared to be quite old, as were the wood-framed seats, although comfortably padded. We were on Row 8, seats 22 & 23, on the main floor, directly in the center of the theater on the center aisle, which were wonderful seats. Two balconies were above and behind us.

The full orchestra began Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" promptly at 8 PM with the well-known overture and the three-act ballet was nothing less than brilliant. The lighting and sets enhanced the dancers' costumes and the entire production was an absolute joy. Intermission allowed a flute of champagne for me (100 rubles, about $3.50), and the performance concluded shortly after 10 PM. It was a unique experience to see such a high quality performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet in the city of his birth, death and burial.

Return to our ship at 11 PM was easily accomplished through very light traffic, although the sun was still low in the sky, and the full moon was just rising. A late supper was available to us but I was ready for bed! Today's excursion to Pushkin and Catherine's Palace leaves the boat this morning at 8 AM so I must end this and get ready for breakfast.

~~Rainy Morning at Catherine's Palace: July 15th~~

Well, it was bound to happen; our good luck with weather for the past two weeks finally came to an end this morning. As we were departing on our regular Bus #46 for Pushkin and our visit to Catherine's Palace (included), rain began to hit the bus' windshield and by the time arrived in Pushkin, the supplied Viking umbrellas came into use.

Of course, inside the Palace all was fine and dry - just a plethora of tourists, not just from our ship but from all of the several ocean cruise ships also in port. Fortunately our passage through the many spectacular rooms, heavily gold-leafed, went routinely. Security is now very extensive and all coats must be checked at the clock room, including our umbrellas.

Every room has a "sitter" keeping an eye on everyone in the room, insuring that no one touches any item nor leans against any column. Before entering the rooms, all persons are required to don stretchy plastic "over shoes" to protect the magnificent inlaid wooden floors; when we were last here in 2000, the "over shoes" were made of carpet scraps. Only in the restored "Amber Room" were photos prohibited.

Exiting Catherine's Palace, with umbrellas in tow, we then toured the beautiful grounds and gardens, viewing the special sections dedicated to different purposes. The rain then was only a slight drizzle but increased in intensity as we returned by bus to our ship for lunch.

Then at 1:30 PM we again got on our Bus #46 for the included afternoon city tour of St. Petersburg, and at first the rain poured down steadily. However, by the time we made our first photo stop, the rain had almost gone away and it was briskly pleasant.

One highlight of our afternoon city tour was St. Isaac's Cathedral and square, with the famous old Astoria Hotel just adjacent; Hitler had planned to hold his victory celebration in this hotel BUT, it never happened because St. Petersburg never fell to the Nazis. During our June 2000 visit to St. Petersburg, we had enjoyed an exquisite lunch in this landmark hotel.

There was also a photo stop at the Smolny Convent and also a stop across the Neva River from the Peter & Paul Fortress, burial place of the Romanovs - among others, including Peter the Great. Other highlights included the Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main street, as well as a "shopping stop" offering a complimentary shot of vodka and a cup of delicious brewed coffee; I bought nothing! It was the Russian equivalent of "Diamonds International" so famous in Alaska and Mexico, and heavily promoted by the cruise lines.

Then it was an excruciatingly long bus ride back to the ship through unexpected traffic congestion, due to an accident. Now it is dinnertime so that will be all for now.

~~St. Petersburg, Peterhof Palace and Yusupov Palace, July 16th~~

Our last day in St. Petersburg was for optional (surcharge) tours and our first was in the morning to the magnificent Peterhof, the Summer Palace of the Czars, Peter the Great's "Versailles by the Sea." Again it was raining lightly but our Viking umbrellas weren't needed until after our tour of the interior rooms, ablaze with gold-gilded ornaments, statues and frames. Near the center of the palace are huge windows looking out onto the Grand Cascade, made up of three waterfalls, 64 fountains and 37 statues, and a canal leading out to the sea. Its system of waterworks has remained unchanged since 1721, conveying water over a distance of nearly 12 miles without pumping stations. We then toured the extensive gardens with more fountains and statues along the scenic walkways until it was time to return to our riverboat for lunch.

The afternoon optional (surcharge) tour we chose was to the Yusupov Palace located near the center of St. Petersburg. A true aristocratic mansion, the palace's beautiful interiors are decorated in a variety of styles and showcase the family's immense wealth. The Palace is also famous as the scene of Rasputin's murder in 1916, which is recreated in a mock display in a basement room.

Our Farewell Dinner was held this evening in the Neva Restaurant, again featuring a special menu; my choice was the "Surf & Turf" - a medium rare steak with a broiled prawn for me that was delicious. Again, ice cream seemed to be the most popular dessert, as it has every evening of the cruise.

Sadly, this was our last opportunity for goodbyes to our favorite servers: Norman, Julia, Jefrena, Rommel, Sofiya, and others, in addition to the several guests with whom we had become closely acquainted. Many would be leaving the ship VERY, VERY early in the morning for their flights home. Luckily, our departure from the ship is not until 6:45 AM with our flight to Moscow at 9 AM.

And then it was time to pack, the most unpleasant task of any cruise. Having packed rather conservatively this trip in one suitcase and one carry-on, filling them with mostly dirty clothes went fast and it was to bed for the last time aboard the Viking Surkov; 5 AM would come early.

~~Homeward Bound, Sunday July 17th~~

Sitting here in the St. Petersburg Airport, I was curious about the availability of wireless internet; as you can see, it is freely available. I have received emails so now I will see about sending emails.

Our Aeroflot flight #830 on an Airbus 319 to Moscow departs at 9:05 AM and is only about an hour flight; it is now 8 AM and we are all checked in, awaiting our 8:25 AM boarding - enjoying a cappuccino.

When I checked us in last night on Aeroflot's website, where I was able to select our seats: 6A & 6C, and printed our boarding passes, it appeared that our flight would not be full - we shall see. The Airport is quite modern and new but seems very small for a city of 7 million.

On our river boat, the Viking Surkov, our luggage was to be placed in the hallway, just outside our cabin, at 6:15 AM to be carried off to the dock, and only we two departed the boat at 6:45 AM by private car to the airport, along with a Viking crew assistant - part of our transfer.

It was only about a 30-minute ride to the airport and we were through the TWO levels of security with little delay. So now it is almost time to go to the gate area. Making our way to Gate 2, we had to pass through a very long tunnel beneath the tarmac from the main terminal building to a satellite building; fortunately, the moving sidewalk was working, unlike the escalators.

"?? ????????, St. Petersburg!"

~~Last Hour in Moscow: July 17th~~

Yes, only another hour of wait here in Moscow before flying on to New York. We are now sitting in Sheremetyevo Airport, waiting for our Delta flight #31 to JFK, departing at 12:55 PM - loading at 12:15 PM, about an hour from now. The flight to New York is around 10 hours but we have upgraded to Delta's Economy Comfort seats, so it won't be so bad.

The Aeroflot flight from St. Petersburg was less than an hour, and was just fine. The Aeroflot flight attendants wear traditional uniforms with hats - in ORANGE! Very pretty, all of them.

In New York we have to pass through Customs so the several hours of layover will be well occupied. Then we fly nonstop from JFK to LAX, arriving tonight at 10:25 PM where SuperShuttle will meet us for the transfer back to Jim's apartment. It will have been a FULL day of travel.

~~"Live from New York! It's Sunday Afternoon!" July 17th~~

The free wireless internet in airports ended with our arrival here at JFK in New York. I am sitting in a large common dining area behind Starbucks and had to PAY $7.95 for 24 hours of access. We have almost 4 hours layover here before our 7 PM flight on the Los Angeles, but were lucky to get through Passport Control and Customs in record time, due a nice black lady official asking me if I needed special assistance; I guess I looked pretty exhausted - and OLD! She ushered us around the other 5,000 people into a short line, and we were out of there in no time at all. As it turns out, she is a Delta employee.

Time to find our Delta Gate 23 for the flight to LAX, where we arrive at 10:25 PM tonight, exhausted but drunk from the wonderful experiences we have enjoyed in Russia.

~~HOME! July 18th~~

Yes, I am now home; the word says it all. I found everything just fine after my two-week absence and now I just have to concentrate on returning to "normal" - biological clock, laundry, bills, mail, etc.

There were a few more journal entries that I have now included; I got way behind during the trip, so these will fill in the blanks.

~Ron

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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2011
A few years ago, as an advertising exec at a major corporation, I had lots of means but very little time for travel. Real quality vacations happened only every other year and never lasted longer than 10 days. My second career is teaching ... Read More
A few years ago, as an advertising exec at a major corporation, I had lots of means but very little time for travel. Real quality vacations happened only every other year and never lasted longer than 10 days. My second career is teaching school...time is abundant and the wife and I spend wintertime looking for bargains and, typically, two-week sojourns.

We are concentrating this decade on Europe and have taken land tours to Rome, London, and Dublin, but our favorite trip was a river cruise with Viking three years ago from Paris to Normandy. We traveled on the Viking Seine that has since been sold from the fleet. We absolutely loved the convenience of seeing several French towns (like Giverny and Rouen) without having to pack and repack and spend days in busses, planes and hotel check-in queues. We learned to manage our cuisine at the rich buffets and multi-course dinners the way we managed the tours...we skipped desserts and the crowded bus to Versailles and took a private car early in the day. We left Viking's guided tour at Giverny, found a quiet cafe for lunch and hiked two hours back to the ship down a series of shady lanes.

Our next travel target became Russia when Viking came up with an unbeatable fare for their "Waterways of the Czars", St. Petersburg to Moscow cruise (for about 25% of their published, full fare). We booked United miles on Lufthansa from Chicago to St. Petersburg through Frankfurt and grabbed a taxi to the ship. We learned when Viking books your airfare, you often experience more than one stop and very early, or very late, departure times. We returned from Moscow on Singapore Air through Houston on the best coach flight for service, leg room, and amenities, that we've ever experienced. Viking's guidebook tells you to not release your taxi from the airport to the ship until you make eye contact with the ship. This proved to be good advice since our driver almost dropped us a mile from our port. We might still be wandering Petersburg today!

The Viking Pakhomov had just been refurbished last winter and had the look and feel of a brand new ship. We were on the lowest level (Main Deck #200) with a window that looked over a "Crew Only" outside deck. The Sony 32-inch flat screen could not compete with the 36-inch window and the Russian countryside and was never turned on (CNN and BBC were available). Our stateroom was more spacious than the Paris cruise, especially in the bath and shower. We never felt cramped and experienced very little noise with a small gift shop and library just in front of our door. We stocked our in-room frig with a couple bottles of Chilean wine and stored my digital camera in the safe. Wireless internet was advertised, but was often incredibly slow or not available for periods of time. We travel with an AT&T iPhone with an international roaming plan and had no problems calling home from the Pakhomov.

The VIKING staff was terrific without exception. Christopher, the Program Director, when I told him I am a serious travel photographer, delivered to our stateroom a packet rich with information including detailed maps of each segment of the waterways, with descriptions and background information of the historic buildings, bridges, locks and dams we would pass on the variety of rivers, canals and beautiful lakes along the portion of our cruise between St. Pete and Moscow. It will make writing captions for all the photos I uploaded to my travel website much easier (www.mikerophoto.com).

Andrey, the Restaurant Manager, would accommodate requests for double entrEe portions, a vegetarian off-menu request, combining two tables together to seat four couples (two, four and six seat tables were the norm) and gave a great lecture on the cultural traditions pertaining to his native land's fascination with vodka. A nice Spanish red or white wine was complimentary with dinner and you could place an order for beer, special wine or mixed drink at lunch or dinner and charge it to your room. Our final bill at the end of the cruise was less than half what we spent for the shorter Paris cruise where wine was not complimentary at dinner.

The cuisine was incredible! Breakfast offered and buffet which featured fresh and dried fruits, yogurts, breads, lox, steel-cut oatmeal, a variety of juices, bacon and sausages, and waiters would take your order for a custom made omelet or other egg specialty. You needed to watch the daily schedule since times for breakfast varied a bit depending on the daily tour schedule. The wait staff that was recruited from Indonesia served coffee and teas dutifully. They are lively, friendly kids in their 20's with very good English skills who strive to memorize every passenger's first name.

For lunch we would peruse the salad bar first, choosing from leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, breads and at the end of the bar, the Austrian Head Chef Gunter would explain the pasta dish featured that day. For me I was usually done right there...but after you are seated, the menu would list the two or three choices of entrees that were served and you could always make a special request...and, of course, dessert. Crew members told me the menu formerly consisted of mostly Russian dishes but passenger feedback suggested a more European menu with occasional Russian options was much more popular. On a day cruising the beautiful, expansive Lake Ladoga, a special Russian meal was served on the sundeck and gave passengers a chance to nibble on several local delights.

Chef Gunter also offered a onboard cooking demonstration. Passengers observed the creation of pelmeni (ravioli-like dumplings), and had the chance to create their own and take home a recipe. We created a thinly rolled dough from flour, egg, water and salt and combined a filling consisting of meat, onions, garlic and herbs. We pinched the little dumplings into small "ear" shapes, cooked them in oil and served with our hand-made creations in sour cream. Yummm!

Dinner always seemed to sneak up on the passengers ("It's already 7 o'clock?"). Five or six courses: salad; appetizer (yes, often caviar); soup; main entrEe choices (frequently with a nice fresh fish option); dessert choices (peach ice cream covered with fresh blueberry sauce or Black Russian chocolate cake); and a cheese plate. If, by some chance, nothing caught your eye, the daily back-ups were sirloin steak or grilled salmon. After day two we determined seven laps of the sundeck equaled one mile of trekking and my wife and I planned off-ship land hikes just about every day.

St. Petersburg seemed to us like a surprising mix of terrific European-influenced architecture combined with quite a few disheveled structures. Adjacent to our river port we viewed a brand new 100-plus unit apartment complex right alongside a declining 10-story building sadly in need of tuck pointing and basic maintenance. The tours of the Hermitage Museum and Catherine's Palace (Pushkin Palace) were filled with hundreds of European treasures collected by the Czars (Picasso, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo), but we were surprised to notice they were not protected by any kind of glass or climate and humidity controls. The city was uncharacteristically hot and humid in July 2011 (85?) and we were thankful that Viking had us in the queues early and back on our air-conditioned busses before lunch. Local guides augmented the Viking tour leaders at these stops. Tonya was excellent with historical background information and seemed to answer every passenger question in detail.

We went on the included bus tour of the city but jumped off after an hour to focus on photos and a couple of nice cafes. Through connections in Chicago, we had arranged to meet a couple who had lived in the city their whole lives. We rendezvoused on Nevskiy Prospekt, the bustling avenue that serves as the focal point of the city. Each was a noted scientist, he with the Russian Space Program, and she as the head of a medical cybernetics laboratory. This dinner was a highlight of our journey and allowed us to skip the optional Viking-arranged home visit later on the trip. We skipped the optional "Cossack Show" performed in a building adjacent to the Viking dock.

We make it a habit to always sign up for a local in-city, river/canal tours (Saigon, Hong Kong and Paris stand out) and Viking had one on their optional tour offerings. This was an ideal photo and sightseeing excursion with the local guide giving us an abundance of historical background and the locals waving and smiling on every bridge we glided under in the city called the "Venice of the North". Don't miss this 1 ½-hour tour (€37).

We had our only real travel glitch of the tour when our bus air conditioner failed on the way to a ballet performance of Swan Lake (not quite the Bolshoi) at the Conservatory Theatre. The Viking tour team reacted nicely and delivered a replacement vehicle for the ride back to the Pakhomov.

We recommend studying in advance on the shore excursions between Petersburg and Moscow and making careful choices. We found the river-to-canal-to-lake cruising to be very relaxing and enjoyable. The first shore excursion out of Petersburg was the least compelling in my opinion. Mandrogy is billed as a "model of an old Russian village". The overall look perhaps, but besides the dusty "Vodka Museum", it featured a series of souvenir offerings with a few genuine craftspeople sprinkled in making jewelry or other items. The ubiquitous souvenir stalls along the tour route seemed to generally offer the same things. We found a few who offered genuine crafts and found the gift shop on board the Pakhomov to offer nice quality at decent prices. We still enjoyed a nice long walk around the park-like perimeter of the village.

When we docked at this type of riverside port, we generally pulled up alongside other river cruise ships and walked through their center lobbies to reach the dock. I overheard many Viking passengers favorably comparing Viking to Uniworld and local Russian line cruisers concerning dEcor and general cleanliness. The A/C on the Viking craft was never lacking and some of the others seemed a bit stuffy.

Everyone aboard the Pakhomov seemed to enjoy the stop at Kizhi, an island in the center of Lake Onega, that features a series of wooden structures including the amazing 22 wooden-domed Transfiguration Church that was originally built in 1714. This locally guided walking tour offered several unique photography opportunities including a few glimpses of long-ago Russian village life.

We docked the following day at the port of Kuzino and bussed a few minutes over to Kirillov and the Monastery of St. Cyril on the White Sea. Our guides described the history of the impressive buildings and we observed quite a bit of restoration work going on here displaying the importance that the Russian Federation seems to put on the preservation of their past and the economic benefits of the tourism industry. I also recommend a quick walk through the small village here to review and photograph Russian life outside the main cities and a bit away from tourist venues.

The city of Yaroslavl' on the Volga River boasts a population of 600,000 and offers an interesting example of life in a medium-sized city. Several nice cathedrals including the impressive Church of Elijah the Prophet and terrific river views from scenic parks made this a fun excursion. Viking sent the head chef to town to prepare a tasting of a variety of local foods at a large, sun-bathed indoor market. Take your camera, leave the flash behind, and capture the merchants in gorgeous environmental portraits with their colorful arrays of fruits, fish, meats and cheeses.

The city of Uglich with its lock and hydroelectric power station and quaint and colorful town (68,000 population) offers another interesting view of life in Russia. The key tourist site here on the grounds of their kremlin (this city's walled-in center) is another Church of the Transfiguration with its impressive green domes. I asked our guide for some local photo-opps and she directed me to an outdoor market packed with merchandise for the locals. It sits about four blocks from the Pakhomov's dock.

We shoved off from Uglich and later passed through a lock and sailed from the Volga to the Moscow Canal that opened in 1937 and connected Moscow with the five Russian seas. Sitting in a deck chair and watching the banks, swimmers and fishermen was an incredibly relaxing experience. The next day we would approach Moscow and dock at the North River Terminal on the periphery of the largest city in Russia (about 12 million).

Moscow was a pleasant surprise. It was huge and bustling, but the Pakhomov docked near the weekend so the famous traffic snarls were virtually nonexistent. The city was much more modern than we expected and there seemed to be a great deal of investment in the infrastructure, especially as compared to Petersburg. Work was underway throughout the city to refurbish the pedestrian sidewalks. There were crews laying attractive brickwork and removing cracked and worn out asphalt.

The night of our arrival in the capital city, we attended the included classical folklore performance in a nice, air-conditioned auditorium. It was very enjoyable and I purchased the optional CD to remember the night.

Even though we were tiring of the tour bus routine, we enjoyed the overview tour of Moscow city center with our local guide Tonya and were thrilled with Red Square and the Gum Department Store tours. The outdoor façade of Gum was covered in a fabric for renovation, but the interior was beautiful. Our Viking guide tipped us off to a quite section on the upper floor that afforded a nice view of the mall and its shoppers and a quiet cafe that offered affordable Carlsberg beer and an assortment of snacks.

The following day we declined the optional tours and decided to venture back to the city center on the Metro. There is an iPhone GPS app that can help you decode the Cyrillic alphabet read the directional signs for this incredibly complex and efficient subway system. The stations are not only clean, but many are architectural wonders featuring marble and decorative frescos. Outside Red Square we found pedestrian malls, quiet rows of cafes and shops, and generally friendly people. On the trip back to the ship we boarded the wrong subway line and a helpful, 30-something gentleman rerouted us with excellent English. The trip back to the Pakhomov port was about 30 minutes on the train and a nice 15-minute stroll through a local shopping area and park. The optional "Moscow by Night" tour is a must for serious photographers (tripod recommended, €37 for the tour). The iconic St. Basil's Cathedral nighttime image alone made the night tour worthwhile.

The final full day in Moscow featured the optional Armory excursion. Our Viking guide had us first in line at 9:30 at the Kremlin gate, and first to view the famous Faberge' eggs before the crowds got too heavy. After visiting the impressive Cathedral of the Assumption, our guide whisked us out to the plaza to get us in position to watch a military marching ceremony that included cavalry troops on horseback and about a hundred young, well-groomed infantry. I owe some nice "goose-stepping" soldier images to Tonya knowing exactly where to be for this exciting Saturday-only performance.

Even though we booked our own airfare, and transfers were not included by Viking, Chris, the Program Director, left us a reminder note and booked a taxi for us for our departure to Domodedovo Airport. Be certain to leave enough time. The river port is on the opposite side of the city from this airport (double-check your reservations to insure to which airport you are traveling from).

Overall, this was very close to a dream trip for us. We would not hesitate to book with Viking again. We have already recommended this journey to our friends and families. The average age of our fellow passengers was probably about 62. There were no kids or kid activities on board. They had a passenger play one night while cruising and just the right amount of other activities, including frequent slide show lectures that offered historical facts about Russia and its people. Some passengers attended the Russian language presentations, the food demonstration or the vodka lecture.

An American investigative journalist from Travel Weekly arrived for the cruise and posted several stories to their website while on board. These included an article about riverboat safety (the Bulgaria tragedy happened weeks prior to this cruise). You can check out Michelle Baran's reviews on travelweekly.com. Feel free again to take a glimpse at my images at www.mikerophoto.com and click on one of the four Russian Galleries.

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Sail Date: July 2011
What a wonderful river cruise in Russia. We started in Moscow, where we lived on the boat for 3 days and did local tours, then cruised for 5 days, with stops each day, then spent 3 days in St. Petersburg with local tours. What a fabulous ... Read More
What a wonderful river cruise in Russia. We started in Moscow, where we lived on the boat for 3 days and did local tours, then cruised for 5 days, with stops each day, then spent 3 days in St. Petersburg with local tours. What a fabulous experience. Room was comfortable, windows open widely to take in fresh air, the beds were a bit hard, WiFi very basic but worked fine for email, TV with news stations in many languages and movies. The ship has two bars, a sun deck, seating on all deck levels outside and inside, a very nice restaurant, 24-hour coffee/tea/hot cocoa bar. But we were so busy, little of it mattered.

The first day in Moscow we took a city tour where we were assigned our regular tour guide, and met a local Moscow guide. Wandered Red Square, rode the subway, and got oriented to the city. The boat is docked quite a ways out of town, and we spent a fair amount of time stuck in traffic. But never fear, Maria, our fearless leader, entertained us with Russian language lessons, poetry, history snippets, and always entertaining chatter. Subsequent days took us to the Kremlin (fabulous) and various optional tours.

Most of the cruising stops were wonderful. We visited Uglich, a small town; Yaroslavl, a medium sized city; monastery at Kuzino; wonderful wooden historical structures at Kizhi; craftsmen at Mandrogy. It was a good variety of activities to break up the sailing days.

And I can't say enough about St. Petersburg. Palaces, art, and canals - an unbeatable combination. Truly an embarrassment of riches. Very difficult to take it all in.

Food was generally very good, soups were excellent. Fellow travelers were all delightful and very experienced travelers. Lots of wonderful long mealtime conversations. We spent much of our free time up on the sun deck or seated on the outer deck reading and watching the scenery. Sun didn't set until about 11 p.m., so we had lots of time to look!

We had wonderful history lectures, and the guides were very honest and sometimes emotional about their lives in the transition to democracy. A very real, enriching, exhausting experience. We never thought we'd visit Russia. Thanks to Maria and all the Kirov staff for the best trip ever.

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Sail Date: July 2011
The Moscow to St Petersburg Cruise on Viking Kirov [now called Truvor] which my wife and I took cost us £6000 not including spends. We were impressed that so many excursions were included but these were all to tourist traps apart ... Read More
The Moscow to St Petersburg Cruise on Viking Kirov [now called Truvor] which my wife and I took cost us £6000 not including spends. We were impressed that so many excursions were included but these were all to tourist traps apart from the optional "home viisit" which sadly we missed but which we were told was superb. 90% of passengers were American which suited me fine better that having 90% Brits in my opinion.

many of the problems were not of Vikings making these were mainly caused by traffic particularly in Moscow. Our flight Heathrow to Moscow was 3.5.hrs. Coach from Moscow to Boat 25k or 15 miles took 4 hrs. Again not Vikings fault but not a good start. Traffic in St Petersburg was not so bad.

Russia does not have a good tourist infrastructure other that in Moscow and St P. HoweverThe Kremlin and Peterhof were highlights. Along the river there were only touristy villages and towns with endless dolls for sale. There were only churches/monasteries/cemeteries etc to visit along the river. I would have welcomed a trip to an Accountants Office for some light relief.

On board it could not have been better. Accommodation/Food/Staff including guides etc were superb. Especially Nadya and Julia but most of all the Cruise Director- a German lady with a brilliant sense of humour.!

This cruise is not for the unfit and there were plenty on board who could have benefited by missing out a few meals but the food was so good it was hard to resist.

Altogether a wonderful experience but hard work. Certainly bear in mind the Moscow traffic which can add substantially to the length and reduce the enjoyment of excursions. Some of the excursions are (as stated in the brochure which some obviously did not read) over uneven ground with steps.

The Cruise was just a bit overpriced considering our Visas cost £125 each and we had to add pre and post flight hotels.

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Sail Date: April 2011
This was a very different "cruise" for us - our first river cruise, after seventy-some ocean cruises. We had discussed this type of cruise for some time, and after perusing many web-sites, brochures, and travel writings, we decided to ... Read More
This was a very different "cruise" for us - our first river cruise, after seventy-some ocean cruises. We had discussed this type of cruise for some time, and after perusing many web-sites, brochures, and travel writings, we decided to choose Viking River Cruise. The itinerary would be their Romantic Danube, from Nuremberg to Budapest. We opted for Viking's air-inclusive and a two night post-cruise hotel package, in Budapest, which also included complimentary wine at dinner.

Pre-Cruise

Viking was most receptive and attentive to answering the many questions from a couple of neophytes. Their Customer Relations staff was probably the easiest we have ever found to deal with. As an example, after we sent in our original deposit, which went to their Woodland Hills, CA office, we were surprised to see a "Foreign Transaction Fee" charge on our credit card. Although Viking's U.S. offices are in California, the Company is based in Basel, Switzerland, and payments are converted to Swiss francs. We discovered this fact when we contacted their Customer Relations Department, to inquire as to why the fee was charged. It was an easy matter to have the Foreign Transaction fee refunded to us and we made subsequent payments with our "travel" credit card which does not incur Foreign Transaction Fees.

Our flights to Europe were via Lufthansa Airlines (Boston to Munich to Nuremberg). This was another "first", flying Lufthansa. The flight and service were excellent, in spite of the fact that Ray does not tolerate long flights very well. The large selection of viewing and listening entertainment helped in the regard, along with the complimentary wine and cognac. Upon arrival at the Nuremberg Airport, there were Viking representatives waiting for us, to take us to the ship (yes, they do refer to them as "ships").

Embarkation

Upon arrival at ship we were asked to "check in", which involved going to front desk handing in our passports and receiving our cabin key-cards. We were then directed to the lounge where there was a buffet lunch. There was then an announcement that cabins were ready for occupancy. We were met at front desk and escorted to our cabin, by our Cabin Steward. Viking also provided a shuttle into town for those interested. We opted to walk along the river path to take in the scenery and enjoy the nice weather.

The Embarkation and Safety Briefing was held in the Viking Lounge at 18:15, right in the middle of the Cocktail Hour (pretty sneaky, but everyone was there). So far, everything was fine - how long would this last? The Viking Lounge was the venue for each evening's Cocktail Hour (which was usually scheduled for 1 ½ hours), and was also the post dinner entertainment venue, and where various lectures were held.

Cabin 208

The Viking Legend has three passenger decks (Main Deck, Middle Deck and Upper deck) and a Sun Deck. Cabin 208 was mid-ship on Middle Deck, which we found to be a very comfortable and convenient location, and one we would choose again. All the cabins on the Legend (except the two Suites) are same size (155 or 170 sq. ft. depending if one believes the brochure, or web-site); there are also five Single cabins (120 sq. ft) we did not get to see any of these personally.

While this is a smaller size than we usually book it worked out to be more than adequate. The cabins on Middle and Upper Decks all have French Balconies, with sliding doors, which allow for a roomier "feel". The bathrooms were also adequately sized. We had more than enough storage space for all our clothes and "stuff". No need to remove the life jackets, extra pillows or blankets from the closet shelves and stuff them under the bed. The cabins on Main Deck had windows which were only slightly (1-2 ft.) above the water line. Other than that, they were identical to those on the other decks.

All cabins have a 26 inch TV, refrigerator, telephone, safe, hair dryer, and air conditioning/heater controls. The beds were full hotel style beds (not pull-outs) and very comfortable. They are high enough off the floor to allow for storage of most any size suitcase. Our Cabin Steward was outstanding - very friendly and most efficient.

Dining

The Viking Restaurant, located on Middle Deck was the primary dining venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At breakfast and lunch there was also some limited "Cafe" buffet offerings in the Viking Lounge. There was also an area outside the Viking Lounge (on Upper Deck) that had coffee, tea, and juices available around the clock (usually some delicious pastries also).

At breakfast there was buffet set out in the Viking Restaurant as well as additional items (eggs to order, omelets, Eggs Benedict) available from wait-staff. Anything on the buffet could also be ordered from the wait-staff. They also served fruit smoothies and other beverages each morning at the tables.

At lunch in the Viking Restaurant there was a buffet that had salads, some sandwiches, a pasta dish, cheese plates, and fruit selections. Available from wait-staff were a pre-selected appetizer, a soup, choice of two entrees, and desserts. Also the wait-staff would serve you items from the buffet, if requested, and beverages.

There was no buffet at dinner time, only service in the Viking Restaurant (single seating). This consisted of appetizers on the table (family style), starter course, soup course, choice from two entrees (usually one fish, one meat), and dessert. Of course the aforementioned complimentary wine (choice of red or white) was liberally poured, and refilled, by the attentive wait-staff. We found the wines of very good caliber. There was also a "stand-by" menu available each evening (chicken or salmon, unless one of them was on the featured menu, then a different fish or meat was available). Wait-staff did circulate about the restaurant with "seconds" (most if not every evening) in case anyone was still hungry.

Excursions

Each day there was at least one, sometimes more, included excursion. On some days there were also optional (price-added) excursions. Each passenger was assigned a wire-less receiver and ear-piece to wear whilst on excursions. The local guides on the excursions wore the transmitters so that each group would only hear their guide's commentary. This worked extremely well, especially for those who wished to separate from the group a bit to take photos. They could get their photo and still hear the commentary, as long as they did not stray too far afield. Each guest could set their own volume preference and did not have to suffer the crowding immediately around the guide. When one returned to their cabin they needed only to place the receiver unit in its charger, and they were ready for the next excursion. We did all of the included excursions and a few of the optional ones; almost all were excellent and worthwhile (one guide was mediocre and one bordered on poor). Each guest chose whom they wanted to tour with, and each time there was one or two groups that were designated as "moderately paced". Some of the walking tours did require extensive walking, but accommodations could be made if the ship staff was alerted beforehand.

For brevity's sake here, we will not go into detail on the excursions.

Entertainment

There is no theater on board the Legend. The main entertainment venue is the Viking Lounge. Each evening during the Cocktail Hour and most evenings after dinner there was an excellent keyboardist playing there. On a few evenings there was local entertainment brought on board. Of course there was always television, and there is a Library on board which also has a number of board games available. It appeared that most opted for the lounge, and we enjoyed many nice conversations over drinks and snacks.

Another form of "entertainment" was to go up on the Sky Deck and watch as we passed under some of the many bridges (some quite low), or passed through some of the many locks on the river. Some of the bridges are so low that the wheelhouse has to be lowered (it is on a hydraulically controlled platform. Most times one could also go up and chat with whoever was in the wheelhouse, unless it was the Captain who spoke no/very little English.

We were never bored or at a loss for something to do. Another nice aspect of this cruise was the paucity of announcements. Information was relayed in a timely manner, when necessary, but there were not myriad announcements and no "reminders" for Bingo or Art Auctions.

Miscellaneous

One aspect where Viking really has their act together is Service. We mentioned their pre-cruise availability and accommodation. Their on-board service and logistical operations are excellent and beyond reproach. Something as important as tracking who was on-board, or not, was easily accomplished. Whenever we left the ship, we turned in our cabin key-card and received a day-pass; when we returned to the ship, the process was reversed. Every request was answered immediately or within a most reasonable time-frame. We were amazed at how it seemed that everyone had more than one job to do, and everyone was helping out wherever needed. There may have been some "master plan" directing all this, but it was not discernible. Everything just "worked"; no one ever seemed grumpy, and everyone was approachable. Even the guys delivering that entire amount of luggage by hand (three long decks - no elevators or carts) seemed to be having a good time.

Post Cruise

As mentioned earlier, we opted for a two night post-cruise stay. Viking booked us into the Hilton Budapest, which is located on the Castle Hill of Buda, immediately adjacent to the famous Fisherman's Bastion, and directly across the river from the Parliament Building. The Castle Hill area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find many shops, coffee houses, restaurants, museums within easy walking distance of each other, and our hotel was just about in the middle of all this. The main (high ticket) shopping, the business district, the City Market, and late-night clubs are to be found on the Pest side of the river, which is very easy to reach, via the Chain Bridge. We spent time on both sides of the river and were extremely happy with our hotel's location. The accommodations and service were also top-notch.

Overall Perceptions:.

We enjoyed this cruise very much, and are looking to choose our next itinerary, most likely on Viking River Cruises, who has four new ships coming out over the next year, or so. They are also anticipating some additional ones beyond that time -frame.

We really enjoyed the ability to just stroll off the ship (usually right in/near the center of town) and wander about.

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Sail Date: March 2011
My journey started at Heathrow Airport, where I met up with several couples going on the same cruise (recognising the red Viking labels on their luggage).We soon got talking and had lots of things which we were all looking forward to ... Read More
My journey started at Heathrow Airport, where I met up with several couples going on the same cruise (recognising the red Viking labels on their luggage).We soon got talking and had lots of things which we were all looking forward to seeing and doing. Our flight over to Europe went in next to no time and we were met by the courier who greeted us warmly and then went on to the hotel for the evening (A1 Hotel) Day two was by coach and then walking to the Berlin Wall (Check Point Charlie) and the Brandenburg Gate (most interesting and informative as to what really went on during the last War 1939-1945. On joining the Viking Schuamann, our Stateroom was well furnished and spick and span, with an American couple in the opposite room who we paled up with After a lovely evening dinner In fact all the meals were excellent and nothing was too much trouble for the waiters and kitchen staff. Just ask and believe me you will get..All 5 star cruising. Our visits to Potsdam, Magenberg and Passau , all extremely interesting and the guides on the coach were helpful and informative. Wittenberg and Torgen (historic landmarks where Luther posted his 93 theses) and the Meissen Factory tour where we had a making and painting of the fine porcelain made there. Dresden - Visitinm the Castle and the Green Vault where the Saxon Monarch Crown Jewels are housed. Clinbing up to the Rock Towers with wonderful views of the River Elbe. On into the Czech Republic and Prague (City of 100 Spires). I did not want the tour to end, But unfortunately good things do have to come to an end, SO I am saving up to go with Viking again in the very near future. Well done Viking. Read Less
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