Volga Cruise 2017

Kay and Ken's cruise down the Volga.

(from St Petersburg to Moscow)

Link to a Ships Portrait of the Viking Ingvar

Monday 04 September 2017

After our British Airways flight from Heathrow to St Petersburg, we were met at the airport by the Viking representatives and driven to our ship - the Viking Ingvar - moored on the River Neva  on the outskirts of the city.

Once unpacked and settled into our cabin, we made our way to the Sky Bar for a Welcome Briefing - after which we had our first dinner aboard before retiring.

The following is just a selection from the 2,000+ photos wot I took.....


Tuesday 05 September 2017

Following breakfast, it was onto our allocated coach at 8am for our shore excursion to Tsarskoye Selo (Tsars Village) to visit Catherine Palace at Puskin. Along with hundreds of other tourists, we donned plastic overshoes and were shepherded through dozens of rooms showing the magnificent splendour of Tsarist Russia, taking photos as we went - except for the famous Amber Room, where photography was forbidden.

Exiting the palce we wandered through the well-tended grounds listening to our guide explain the sights as we made our way back to the coach park.

Back on the coach for the trip back into the city and on board for lunch. The afternoon was taken up with another shore excursion - St Petersburg City Tour - by coach with the occasional stop and walk.

After returning to the Ingvar for dinner - it was time for yet another excursion at 9pm - a Cossack Folklore Show - in a large heated marquee on the coach park alongside our moorings - so not far to walk.

During the show I was 'invited' (dragged) onto the stage by a nice young Russian lady to take part in the show - I did my best to join in.

Unfortunately(?) no photographic record of the event exists.

Wednesday 06 September 2017

A late start today - so after a leisurely breakfast, we attended the Safety Instructions briefing - where we donned our life vests and assembled as instructed.

At 10:15 we boarded the coach for our shore excursion to the Hermitage Museum - where we queued patiently with the thousands of other visitors before passing through security.

Once inside, we toured the rooms aided by our Viking guide Valeria, who explained some of the exhibits through the crush of visitors.

We were at the Hermitage for around 5 hours - not near enough to do it full justice, but the visit was long enough for me (phillistine that I am!).

Back on board by 18:30, we had an early dinner and were treated to a short choral concert by members the Mariinsky Theater before being driven to the Komissarzhevskaya Theatre to see a ballet performance of Swan Lake - a very moving experience.

Arriving back at the ship at 23:00 the chef had laid on a bowl of delicious Goulash soup and late night snack in the restaurant.

Thursday 07 September 2017

An early start today - for our 08:30 departure by coach to the Peterhoff Palace and Park - designed by Peter the Great.

Called the 'Russian Versaille' it was built to impress visiting dignitaries - but due to the miserable weather and the disorganised crush to deposit or collect bags, we were less impressed.

The organisation at the palace was appalling - the same tight passageway being used for both entry and exit for the hundreds of visitors led to frayed tempers and lots of pushing and shoving - with one queue trying to get out as another tried to get in.

To top it all - photography was not allowed inside the palace!!!

After visiting the interior, it was time to go outside - so after spending ages in one queue to collect my jacket, I gave up on the second queue and left the Viking umbrella behind!!

Once outside we braved the drizzle (I purchased a thin disposable plasic mac) and wandered down the canal to the small harbour - before returning to the coach at the allotted time.

Not the best visit on the tour - although Viking were not to blame.

Back on board for lunch - the second excursion of the day departed at 14:30 into the city for a visit to the Church of the Spilled blood - before boarding our boat for a tour of St Petersburg on the waterways.

Due to the heavy traffic we got back on board at 18:30 - just in time for the Viking Ingvar to cast off at 19:00 and depart St Petersburg up the River Neva for our cruise proper.

We attended a 'Toast to our guests' by Captain Igor Stepanov and Hotel Manager Antonio Corona in the Sky Bar - before having a 'Special Welcome Dinner' laid on by Chef Joachim and Maître d' Daniel in the restaurant.

Friday 08 September 2017

A late easy morning as we sailed along the river Svir - between Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega

We arrived at Verkhnie Mandrogi (Upper Falls) - an open air museum of traditional, living Russian villages.

Going ashore at 12:30, Kay headed off to the souvenire shops, while I killed an hour wandering around taking photos - before heading back on board to collect my swimming trunks for our 13:15 appointment to take in the 'Banya Experience' - a traditional Russian sauna involving heated steam, a thrashing with birch leaves and a dousing in ice cold water.

After gathering in the sauna room, fit, lean Dmitri got us sweating before beating the four of us in turn with the birch leaves - in between pouring a bucket of ice cold water over our heads.

We then went outside to a jetty - where we were invited to leap into the ice cold waters of  the River Svir - the two youngest dived in but two of us elected to have ice cold water poured over us instead - after which we retired into the small hut for hot black tea and jam.

After cooling down and getting our breaths back, it was inside the steam room for a second session!!!

The experience was cleansing, therapeutic and unforgettable (at least that's what it says in the brochure!) - seriously though, I'm glad I did it..

We had to be back on board by 15:45, so, with another hour to kill, I wandered around taking more photos of this fascinating place.

Casting off at 16:00, we were invited to a 'Sail Away' cocktail on the sundeck and at 17:45 we took part in a 'Meet the Neighbours' event - where we all gathered in the corridor outside our cabins meeting and chatting to our fellow travellers - all made more enjoyable with a glass of champagne. 


Saturday 09 September 2017

An early breakfast before the Viking Ingvar arrived at the island of Kizhi on Lake Onega at 07:30.

Ready by 08:15, we went ashore and, in separate guided groups, we set off on our 2 hour walking tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Back on board by 10:15 - ready to cast off at 10:30 - we were invited to a 'Sail Away Party' on the sun deck with Champagne and caviar served by Hotel Manager Antonino - who was deftly removing the Champagne corks with a sword!!

At 11:15 there was a short Russian language lesson hosted by Program Director Sasha  in the Sky Bar - and after lunch I went on the 'Wheelhouse Tour' to see how it all worked.

The afternoon was spent cruising across the huge Lake Onega - with a presentation by Tour Escort Andrei on the Romanov Dynasty for those who wanted a bit of culture.

Leaving Lake Onega by the river Sheksna, we had dinner at 19:00 and, at 21:00 went to a fun 'Liars Club' event in the Sky Bar put on by Russian Program Director Sasha, Austrian Chef Joachim and German Maître d' Daniel.

They each gave a definition of the same obscure word and we had to decide who was telling the truth - it was a great laugh and the three of them were very funny - especially Daniel.
Sunday 10 September 2017

Lots of noise on board the ship woke us up at dawn - as the anchor was dropped. Rumour had it that we had run aground - but it turned out that we had to stop sailing due to the thick fog.

Nothing was moving on the waterway and by the time the fog cleared and we finally got under way, we were running over two hourse late - so the Cruise Director quickly re-jigged the day's programme and printed a revised list of daily events - which was delivered to our cabins.

After breakfast there was a presentation of 'Russian History 1917 - 1985' by Andrei and, after lunch, a second Russian Language lesson from Sasha in the Sky Bar.

Re-scheduled to 15:00 was a demonstration by Chef Joachim on how to make pelmini - a kind of Russian dumpling. Choosing two members of the audience to help, the Chef kept us in stitches as he instructed his helpers on what to do - all the while plying them with Vodka - with flour going everywhere and everyone laughing.

What he didn't reveal until the end was that his 'vodka' was really water!

We arrived at Goritzy at 17:00 (originally scheduled for 12:00) and went on a shore excursion to Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery - during which the Viking Ingvar moved to Kuzino - where we boarded at 18:45 having been transported by coach.

The Ingvar cast off from Kuzino at 19:00 for Yaroslavl and we had a Russian Dinner in the restaurant at 19:30.

We declined to attend the 'Vodka Tasting' taking place in the Panorama Bar at 21:00. 
Monday 11 September 2017

Another lazy morning - with a presenation by Valeria on 'Mikhail Gorbachov and Perestroika' at 10:00 - which we failed to attend.

Passing though the locks on the edge of the Rybinsk Reservoir, we sailed past the city of Rybinsk before arriving at our destination - Yaroslavl by 15:00.

At 15:15, we boarded the coaches for our 'Yaroslavl City Tour and Governors House', decanting from the bus to walk around the sights before going to the local market to taste a few delicacies.

We also took the opportunity to visit the local bank to use the indoor ATM - although it only dispensed a 5,000 rouble note due to operator error!!

The Russian lady teller just shrugged when I tried to exchange it for smaller denomination currency - the Russians don't do 'service'.

After the sights and the market we were taken to a concert hall to listen to some chamber music and classical dancing by two gorgeous young ladies and their escorts.

Members of our group were selected to join them - and, you guessed it, I was invited up by one of the young ladies. Now, I'm OK with the Twist and Mashed Potatoe - but I can't waltz to save my life - but I did my best and didn't trample on her toes with my size nines once!

Back on board by 18:45, the Viking Ingvar sailed at 19:00.


Tuesday 12 September 2017

An early start this morning with an 08:00 arrival at Uglich in pouring rain and the rumble of thunder - not looking promising!

Kay was feeling unwell and decided to stay on board in our cabin - while I went on the walking tour - and by 08:15 the weather was improving with blue skies forming.

We visited the Kremlin (simply a walled fortress) and were then taken in small groups by coach to visit a typical Russian family.

Our hostess was Tamara who made us very welcome with meats, salad and cold potatoes - plus the obligatory vodka and a cup of hot tea served by Nikolia her husband.

We were encouraged to introduce ourselves and ask questions - via our interpreter - and it turns out that Tamara preferred living in the Soviet times.

Back on board by 11:45, we cast off at 12:00 and went up onto the Sun Deck for 'A Taste of Russia' - a buffet lunch featuring typical Russian food - and beer!!


Wednesday 13 September 2017

After breakfast we attended a round table discussion in the Sky Bar at 09:00 about 'Russia Today' with all three tour escorts (Dmitry, Andrei and Valeria) fielding questions about life in Putin's Russia.

It started off OK - but got a little uncomfortable as the tour escorts and their (mainly) American audience couldn't agree on what 'Freedom' meant!!

At 11:00 we went to the Sky Bar again to listen to Sasha explain the following days excursions and events - plus a briefing on our disembarkation arrangements in a few days time.

Arriving at the Khimki Reservoir in Moscow at 13:00 hours, we moored at the 'North River Terminal' - a magnificent Soviet era building, now under renovation.

Of interest to me was the chance to photograph from a different perspective, the small naval museum on the opposite bank with a hovercraft, submarine and an A-90 'Orlyonok' ekranoplan on display. I had photographed it on previous trips to Moscow - but never from this side.

At 13:30 we went on our first 'Panoramic Moscow' tour starting with a trip on the Moscow Metro starting at the Dynamo Metro Station where we entered the metro and got out two stops later at Mayakovskaya to photograph the station. Back onto the Metro we got off two stops later at
Ploshchad Revolyutsii - with its bronze statues depicting figures from the revolution.

Emerging from the metro at Teatralnaya station, we re-grouped ready to attack
Krasnaya Ploshchad  (Red Square). Our Russian group leader tried to make us wait for those taking a comfort break - but there was a long queue for the ladies - so we insisted that we didn't waste any time waiting - and made off on our own to discover Red Square - agreeing to meet at a rendezvous point some hours later.

We took in all the sights - Lenin's Mausoleum, St Basils Cathedral, GUM department store - all the usual tourist attractions. Outside the Kremlin walls we braved the crush of (mainly Chinese) tourists as we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. 

Gathering under the statue of Georgi Zhukov at the appointed rendezvous time, we then walked in groups towards the Bolshoi theatre - where we boarded our coach for the trip to Sparrow Hills.

Kay was accosted by a trader who tried to insist that she paid to have her photo taken with one of his doves - very unpleasant.

Boarding the coach, we were driven to a concert hall where we watched the fabulous Russian Folk Orchestra (I didn't take my camera - but this is a YouTube clip).

Arriving back at the Ingvar at 21:30, we had a late dinner in the restaurant before retiring.


Thursday 14 September 2017

After breakfas at 07:00, it was onto the waiting coach at 08:30 for the long drive to Sergiev Posad - one of the largest monasteries in Russia.

The place was packed with tourists as we had a guided tour of the churces of Trinity Lavra and had lunch in the monk's refectory.

We were back on board by 16:30 - although one of coaches was an hour late, having got stuck in traffic.

After dinner at 19:00, it was onto the coaches again at 21:00 for a 'Moscow by Night' tour - including a visit to Red Square and a trip by boat past the Kremlin.

We didn't get back intil past midnight - but it was very worthwhile.


Friday 15 September 2017

The last full day of our excellent cruise was spent visiting the Kremlin, where, once past the tight security, we wandered around with our guide taking in the sights of the onion-domed churches, the cannon-that-never-fired and the bell-that-never-rang before exiting and boarding our coach for the drive back to the ship.

Once back on board we started to pack our suitcases ready for the following morning's departure.


Saturday 16 September 2017

On our last morning, the packed suitcases had to be outside our cabin - with a colour-coded label - by 08:00 ready to be collected.

We had to kill a few hours after breakfast before boarding our coach at 11:00 - having identified our cases to be loaded - for the long drive to Moscow's Domodedovo airport.

After boarding the British Airways Boeing 777 ready for departure at 16:05, we had to endure a delay of 3.5 hours whilst the engineers tried to fix a baggage door that would not close.

The cabin crew were great and the passengers mostly good humoured - a few grumbles from those who were missing connecting flights - and we finally departed Russia at 19:20.


Another great cruise in good company to a fascinating country - highly recommended. 

 Ken Duffey - October 2017