this is the long one where i tell you about our trip. (part 1)

right. so are you ready?

first, just some details about the trip itself and the boat, etc. we took a river cruise thru uniworld which started in moscow and ended in st petersburg with stops in between. the brit and i researched different cruising companies and thought this one was the nicest. we have absolutely no complaints … everything was perfect and we plan on taking another cruise with them in 2013.

our rooms were lovely and very clean. people who have been on previous cruises with them said the rooms were quite small compared to the other uniworld boats but we couldn’t complain. we didn’t spend a lot of time in our rooms anyway. the private balcony was a bonus. we were on the top deck (next to the bar!). the rooms were incredibly clean and comfortable with plush linens on the bed and an endless supply of l’occitane bath products in the bathroom. every evening, while we were at dinner, or beds were turned down with chocolates left on the pillow.

this is the little bar next to our room. we hung out here most nights after dinner. there was a bigger lounge on the top deck but we preferred this one.

we had 168 guests on the boat and 100 staff so we were all well-taken care of. we had to pass through other ships sometimes to disembark and our boat was definitely the nicest. the servers and other staff on the boat were really good. they helped us with our dodgy russian and we helped them with their english. being a smaller boat, we pretty much knew everyone on the boat. it was nice. everyone was pretty cool. the food was really good too. breakfast and lunches were always buffets with four course dinners being ordered from a menu and served. wine and beer was free flowing.

we made friends with two guys and we hung out together with them for the meals and excursions. we also had gerry, a 79 year old man who said that the other people on the boat made him feel old. he was great!

day 1: arriving in moscow and boarding the boat
the qantas flight to singapore from melbourne was the best flight ever … probably because the plane was brand new and shiny. we got to helsinki at 6am and everyone seemed pretty grouchy and they were even grouchier in moscow airport. customs there was pretty much non existent and we waltzed through, half expecting to get stopped because we missed a checkpoint.

we were met at the airport by a lovely lady from the cruise company and the driver who heaved our luggage on to a van and drove us to the boat. i was hungry, exhausted and smelly by the time we arrived at the boat and even the accordion player greeting us as we boarded couldn’t make me smile.

after a long hot shower, we had an excursion with our cruise manager inna and our first (of many) buffets.

Day 2: Moscow city tour
this was a bus tour with our lovely tour guide sergei. he stopped at all the touristy spots like novodichy convent

and of course red square and st. basil’s cathedral. the queue for lenin’s tomb was super long so we didn’t do that.

i was excited about Gum Department store in red square (surprised?). i almost bought a bag at louis vuitton but then realised that it cost almost as much as our holiday. the brit was like “if you want it then get it” but at the same time had a pleading look in his eye not to buy it.

after the bus tour, we were driven back to the boat for lunch and we decided to go on the tour of the the metro and arbat street which is a famous shopping district (ie tourist trap).

the metro stations were amazing and very clean. not a rat in sight unlike new york or london. there were tons of marble and mosaics and stained glass and chandeliers. our guide was diligently protecting the old fogies on our tour from gypsies. and one point he said “gypsies behind you, watch out.” and all the oldies said “oooh” and started snapping pictures. sigh. i didn’t take pictures of the gypsies but here some pictures from some of the subway stations

ceiling of stationplatform

random statue thingy

the metro tour was one of my favourites. later that night was the captain’s welcome dinner so we got all dressed up and had lots of champagne and caviar (well, no caviar for me but i had lots of champagne).

Day 3: Moscow, Kremlin, Armory
our guide for this day was a little old lady wearing all purple and a wig. she was sweet. a little nuts, but very knowledgeable. this was the day we would be able to see the faberge eggs. apparently some people on our tour were looking forward to this part the most. after pushing my way through an asian tour group, i got a glimpse of the eggs. bling-tastic. and then we went through the rest of the museum and saw all sorts of cool weapons and stuff that peter the great wore. after the tour, some of us (including me, the brit and one other guy) decided to stay in the city longer and explore. we ended up at a nice little cafe and had some coffees (luckily, cappuccino  sounds the same in russian) and people watched. our meeting spot for the shuttle back to the boat was the statue of karl marx (not Richard Marx). here’s a cool picture i took of him with a pigeon on his head. it looks like he’s wearing a fascinator.

oh, and here’s a picture of the bolshoi theatre which is across from the statue.

back to the boat for dinner. there was an option to go to the moscow circus but we skipped that and opted to drinking vodka shots in the bar.

Day 4: Moscow, Great Patriotic War Museum
this was a great tour. we had sergei again as our guide and he was a walking encyclopaedia of WW2. I learned a lot and loved walking through the museum looking at the pictures. we walked into the hall of honour and this huge statue greeted us. the brit whispered to me “that looks so russian.”

we had to get back to the boat by 5pm that day because we were finally moving! at 5.30, we started cruising towards st. petersburg. all the oldies were out on the deck to watch the boat move. i think i was napping and the brit was in the gym.

later that evening, we had our first russian class where we learned how to say “thank you” and “hi” and then we had a lecture from a professor about the russian czars which was really interesting.

i loved moscow but was excited to see the other places. here’s a good picture i took of ivan the terrible indicating that he will be turning right.

Day 5: Uglich
If anyone from Uglich is reading this post, sorry, but Uglich reminds me of Detroit.

the four of us decided to break away from the tour group and go off on our own. the vodka museum was unfortunately closed but we found a vodka shop and a funny watch shop that sold watches with submarines and double-headed eagles on it. one of our friends got a watch for his brother and was disappointed to see “made in china” on the box. ha ha. oh yeah, there’s a church there too. St Dmitri. i think that’s the kid that boris gudonov supposedly killed (if i remember the opera correctly) so he could be tsar.

and there were russian buskers

then back on the boat and we set sail for yaroslavl. another lecture and russian lesson and tasty dinner.

Day 6: Yaroslavl
i think at this point we had been through about 8 locks and i still didn’t understand the point of them as much as they tried to explain them to me. i kind of understand them now … or i pretend to.

Yaroslavl is another Golden Ring City with (you guessed it) another beautiful church. the inside of this one was gorgeous.

after the tour, we were able to explore the little town which was waaay nicer than uglich. the oldies went off to the local market to buy more matryshka dolls and other tchotchkes.

once on the boat, we set sail for goritsy which i’ll talk about next time along with the rest of our trip.

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