From 04 through 23 October 2012 (your grandmother's birthday), St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia, as well as Kiev, Ukraine, were primary destinations for your grandparents. Temporarily lodged aboard the M/S Rossiya, where food was plentiful and entertainment constantly provided, they were exhausted after each day's full schedule.
Your grandfather noticed many changes at once, although he never had visited St. Petersburg before. It was most obvious from the progress made over the past 20 years in Moscow: new buildings, restored and updated buildings, cleaner streets, and, above all, more cars... many more cars. And the cars weren't the small Moskvich brand known for breaking down regularly in the Communist days. They were Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Chevrolet and Chrysler, among many others. Unlike Cairo, where everyone honked horns all the time, the Russians drive in comparative silence, honking only in cases of emergency.
After a fitful start to their journey, whereby their 12:50 p.m. flight out of Raleigh-Durham was canceled at 5:00 a.m. "for weather" and their itinerary changed two more times before they were airborne, your grandparents finally reached the boat docked in St. Petersburg on the evening of 5 October. Tired and hungry, they enjoyed their first meal aboard. Food was always good and plentiful, and if one didn't like something on the lunch menu, there were always hamburgers and hot-dogs to be ordered. At supper, salmon and chicken were available as alternatives, and the salmon was very good indeed. Breakfast, your grandfather's favorite meal, was a buffet loaded with good things, including fruit, cheeses, different pastries and breads, eggs, jams and jellies and much, much more. The coffee agreed with Grandma and Grandpa's palates.
Cabins aboard the Rossiya were smaller than the boat on the Nile in Egypt, but they were adequate and very dark at night, which your grandparents much prefer. Laundry, however, was quite expensive. Because of weight limitations today on aircraft, your grandfather packed enough for 8 days, expecting to pay little more than he had on the boat in Egypt. What a shock when his first laundry bill reached over $65.00. After that he chose and counted carefully in order to have clean clothes to last the trip. Egypt was barely a 10th of that cost.
After several exciting days in St. Petersburg, the M/S Rossiya set sail for Moscow. Unlike the Nile boat, which was quite noisy when operating and, therefore, sailed only during the day when passengers were awake, the Rossiya was nearly silent and sailed both day and night. Along the way, the boat stopped at several locations, including a city that has remained much like it was in Soviet days, Petrozavodsk.
Finally, after sailing several different rivers and canals and going through numerous locks, the boat reached Moscow and docked in the northern part of the city at Rechnoy Vokzal (Riverside Station).
The first day of touring in St. Petersburg included a bus tour of the city and a visit to Peter and Paul Fortress.
After a light lunch of borsch and salad, the tour visited the Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace. Today the Hermitage is a world renowned museum.
The next day, October 7, included a visit to St. Isaac's Cathedral, the largest in St. Petersburg and the RCD -- "required church of the day," as our program director, Misha Smetnick called it, then lunch on our own. Grandma and Grandpa and their friend Rick Rogers had Russian-style hot-dogs, potatoes and tea at a little place off Nevsky Prospect.
In the afternoon they visited the beautiful Summer Palace (Peterhof), an hour from St. Petersburg. The afternoon clouds cleared and the waterworks, that have operated by gravity for over 250 years, were in full operation.
Day three of the tour took your grandparents to Catherine Palace and park. It was mostly destroyed during World War II and has been restored to its original glory.
On day four, October 9, your grandparents visited Yusupov Palace, the place where Grigory Rasputin was murdered by Prince Yusupov. Well, maybe... After being poisoned, Rasputin asked for more of the cakes. So, Yusupov then shot him several times. Rasputin disappeared and was later found outdoors. They ended up throwing him into the river, which was mostly frozen over. According to most history books, he drowned, but there also was a mysterious additional bullet hole in his head which only could have come from a British pistol. Look him up, you will be fascinated by the story of Rasputin, his influence over the Tsar and Tsarina, and his murder.
After lunch on day four, everyone visited a music school where children performed both solos and group music for the crowd. Some of the children are orphans and live at the school. They all sang and played very well, especially when one considers their ages.
The boat finally departed St. Petersburg the evening of October 9. The drawbridges beneath which it had to sail open only at night. The Rossiya made its way toward a remote village on the Svir River called Svirstroy. There on day five your grandparents walked around the village, bought a few souvenirs and had piroshki and tea with a village resident.
The following day the Rossiya docked at Kizhi Island. Unfortunately it rained and was cold, but most toured the old wooden church and other buildings, though some went fishing with the captain of the ship. In addition, sadly a lady fell and broke her leg. She returned home for an operation and missed the rest of the trip.
That afternoon the boat docked at Petrozavodsk and your grandparents attended a Karelian folk show, where they were entertained with music from old instruments as well as modern. Your grandfather bought a CD by the group.
On October 12 there was a tour of the city of Petrozavodsk. At the end of the tour, the local city guide, who also was the member of an opera group, sang for everyone.
By noon the boat was underway again, headed for Goritsy. In Goritsy on the eighth day, your grandparents toured the Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery, then it was all aboard to set sail for Uglich, a city on the banks of the Volga River.
After breakfast, October 14 began with a port talk about what to expect in Uglich. There was a walking tour of the town and everyone was back on board by 12:45 when the ship set sail for Moscow. It was in Uglich that Grandpa bought Grandma a beautiful lacquer box for her birthday.
The Rossiya arrived in Moscow the following day, October 15. After lunch, everyone had a bus tour of Moscow, including stops at Red Square and a ride on the famous Moscow Metro.
A couple days later your grandparents were taking the Moscow Metro on their own as they visited other museums. It certainly helped that your grandfather can read Russian.
The next day included a long tour of the Kremlin, including its famous armory (a museum) and churches within its walls.
On October 17, your grandparents and several others set off on their own to visit the Armed Forces Museum. Grandpa led the way, reading the Russian language instructions on how to get there provided by the hotel manager aboard the M/S Rossiya. The museum was nearly empty and both entry fees and photography permits were inexpensive.
Outdoors, behind the museum, aircraft and armored vehicles were squeezed into a much-to-small area, the museum probably not having thought far ahead in planning for an outdoor exhibit when it was founded.
The following day included a tour of the New Maiden cemetery, where Grandpa discovered the graves of many historic Soviet aircraft designers and test pilots, who you should know are of great interest to him. He tried to photograph many of those graves, but the cold rain caused his lens to be covered not only with the rain, but to be fogged as well. It was a once-in-a-lifetime visit and he sorely missed the opportunity for good photography.
That afternoon your grandparents listened to three elderly veterans of the Great Patriotic War (World War II to us) talk about their experiences. Your grandfather was pleased to be able to understand every word the woman veteran said and perhaps 80 percent of what one of the men said. The third man, a retired colonel in the Red Army, sounded as if he had bad false teeth and was very difficult to understand. Sadly for those present, the person interpreting often embellished what the veterans would say. Grandpa believes it may have been because she had heard the stories so often in the past and sometimes more was said then.
On Friday morning, the 19th of October, your grandparents and Rick Rogers took advantage of a free morning before their flight to Kiev and took the Metro to Victory Park and the museum there. Your grandfather had wanted your grandmother to see the famous murals of the war that are there.
The walk from the Victory Park Metro station took about 15 minutes in the fog. The museum was large and there was not enough time to see most of it, though Grandma did see all the murals.
They returned to Red Square, had lunch in the famous GUM (State Department Store) and departed for the airport and their flight to Kiev.
On reaching Kiev that evening, your grandparents were given a room at the Radisson Blu hotel that had a very prominent hum. The room otherwise was quite nice, but the noise really bothered Grandma. Upon inquiring at the front desk, Grandpa was told they would be moved. He was shown a very nice room that was quite quiet and that made Grandma Bert very happy.
Breakfast the following morning was a very large buffet with good coffee and omelets-to-order. Grandpa Roy always eats breakfast when he travels! Afterwards, the group, led by the wonder Misha, the Great Green Group program director, had a tour of Kiev and a visit to the famous St. Sofia Cathedral.
That afternoon they visited the Chernobyl Museum, which had a profound impact on your Grandfather for some reason. Chernobyl was the location of an explosion at a Soviet nuclear power plant and was one of the events that led directly to the downfall and break up of the Soviet Union and the separation of Ukraine from Russia after hundreds of years of being a single country.
After a tour of the museum, there was a speaker. The man went to work at the power plant after the explosion, not knowing it had happened. Right in the middle of things after he arrived there, he worked to shut down the rest of the plant. He lost several friends because of the explosion and the cancer it caused in many people afterwards. For some reason, he has never contracted cancer. For a while he was examined twice a year by doctors. Now it is only once a year.
Many villages had to be abandoned after the Chernobyl explosion. They still are abandoned today because of the radiation.
Following the Chernobyl Museum , they visited Babi Yar, a place where 30,771 Jews were murdered in one 24-hour period by the Nazis during the War. Their bodies were buried in a huge natural ravine. The number murdered is known because it was in the surviving archives that the Nazis had maintained.
Not too much further away is a memorial park to the thousands of Ukrainians who died in the concentration camp that was constructed by the Nazis near Babi Yar. The memorial says it was 100,000 people, but historians believe it probably was 200,000.
Dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant raised everyone's spirits and the following day the group visited the Cave Monastery. Grandma decided the tight quarters of the cave were not for her and turned around and fought her way out. Grandpa continued, but was disappointed by what they saw. He had expected something totally different than the short, tight walk through what was little more than a crypt for several old monks. The tour of the grounds before entering the caves was much better, he thought.
On Monday, October 22, your grandparents visited an open-air museum that revealed how Ukrainian Cossacks lived. After the tour, they visited a fantastic restaurant outside of Kiev for lunch.
That evening there was a farewell dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant outside of Kiev. Early the next morning, it was an early departure for the airport and the long, nearly 20 hours, trip home. It was your grandmother's 65th birthday.