We stopped in Yaroslavl, an industrial city of over 600,000 people. Our guide explained the economy was built around heavy industry and their economy is suffering as a result of the global economic downturn. They have sought an acquired foreign investment to move their manufacturing base to what she described as “Consumer ready products”. The hope is that this investment will put them back as the third most prosperous area behind Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
It was Sunday morning so the hubbub of a large city was is absent. Yaroslavl is celebrating its 1000th anniversary thus there’s a lot of construction and restoration taking place. The national funding for these projects did not come in time to make it possible for the city to be finished with the renovations and the new park to coincide with their calibration. It actually looked like the Russian national government had given Yaroslavl the equivalent of TARP funds to keep the population working.
The most striking structure was a new church being built from funds donated by a Moscow business man; The Church of the Assumption. It donned on me that maybe things haven’t changed all that much. In the 10th through 16th century the czars built churches in their honor in the Moscow Kremlin, now the czars of industry are building churches in their home towns to honor themselves.
Back on the ship we spent the balance of the day cruising up the river. At first I found it hard not to be active but soon adapted to the forced relaxation. The people on board are rather homogenized; most about our age, ranging from poor to good shape, most with positive attitudes, enjoying good food, complimentary wine, good service, and a taste for adventure. Strategically Viking has left a catalog in our room and we are looking at the Amsterdam to Prague trip, but that will have to wait for at least another year, we already have plans for the balance of 2010.
Today we arrived at Goritzy in what looked like the middle of the Canadian forest. This is the equivalent of the American northwest; our destination was the Kirillovback-Belozetsky Monastery. Twenty minuets up the road we found a 12th. century monastery that sat on White Lake and looked like a Spanish fortress. At its peek it housed 200 monks and 400 soldiers, today it’s the home of 5 monks, a tourist destination, and a movie backdrop. Talk about a downturn in the demand for your product. The monastery was in a marginal state of repair which added to the appeal of walking through the massive structure. I could imagine it 800 years ago; 200 religious men surviving the bitter cold, the Till of the Hun, and the Russian bears beating at their doors. Our guide showed us part of their 17th. century arsenal of over 8000 muskets. This was not an easy life, even with God on your side.
We’re back on the boat at noon, time to eat again and back to my Steven King book ”It”, I could get used to this, even in a 90 sq. ft. room. 4:00 is Russian Tea, the chiefs have prepared a vast display of pastries for the hungry hordes. They do keep us fed.
Tuesday morning starts at 7:00AM as we enter another lock; we travel through 18 locks descending 150 meters on our trip from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. As our ship sinks into the lock chamber and I look back at the mass of water behind us held back only by a steel gate, I can’t help wonder what would happen if that gate gave way and that 500 miles of water behind us rushed into our chamber. But then they’ve done this before, several times a day I’m sure, let them do their work and go to breakfast. It’s time to eat again.
Our stop today was at the Island of Kizhi. The island is a museum preserving the
wooden architecture, the farm life and the culture of the area that dates back to the thirteenth century. The sighting of the old church with its 21 steeple onions, the bell tower and the outbuildings as you move up the Volga Baltic Canal peeks you interest to learn more about these magnificent structures; particularly located here where the winter tempetures average 34 below.
We were guided over the island by a young university student who is studying history at one of the Russian Universities outside of Saint Petersburg. He spoke excellent English, was extremely knowledgeable and very personable. We were not able to enter the main church because it has fallen to a poor state of repair and is being held up by an interior system of scaffolding. In addition the interior Iconostasis and decorated alter are deteriorating. We were told that because of the political turmoil within Russia and the economic problems of the country the necessary and needed repairs and maintenance of these structures is threatened, thus I feel lucky that we
were able to see this magnificent architectural structure.
The weather is unusually hot for this part of the country as we approach Saint Petersburg, thus the balance of the day consisted of afternoon showers, relaxed cruising, an international dinner and the day ended with our group of six celebrating the day with vodka shots in the Panorama Bar before heading off to bed.
Wednesday, we’re making our way closer to Saint Petersburg but today we are stopping at Mandrogi, a town that had been burned down in the war of 1941 to 1945, I don’t know why they don’t refer to it as WWII, but they don’t. In 1996 a wealthy Muscovite rebuilt the current Mandrogi. As I walked off the ship I smarted off to Nita “this is nothing more then a tourist trap”, with party pavilions a um-pa-pa bar and thaskii shops. As it turned out it’s everything that I thought it was but much more complex.
This rich Muscovite built a commune for artisans to practice their crafts, (pottery, glass blowing, painting, wood carving, blacksmith, weaving, jewelry making, mamushka making, everything a tourist could want and more) and market their goods to a steady stream of tourists coming off the river as well as offer an escape destination to the local surrounding population.
There are 150 people living in the commune, they have a school that includes summer overseas travel for the children and living quarters for the residents. They pool the revenues from their sales and provide for the 150 residents; this sounds like Communism, go figure. The quality of the merchandise for sale was the best that I’ve seen on the trip, they even had a Vodka Museum (I’ve learned that I really don’t like vodka) even though drinking and stealing is strictly forbidden among the residents.
We only spent two hours in Mandrogi, which was adequate, and then we were bake on the river in time for lunch. Dinner was the Captains Dinner which meant “dress-up” and picture night. I encourage all single men readers to check out our servers, all single themselves. The evening ended with the passenger talent show, there was a definite lacking of talent on this cruise. The show ended at 11:00PM; I shot a picture of the sunset as I went to my cabin.