The alarm went off at 3:50 AM as the bus for the airport was scheduled to leave at 4:45. There was a large group of us connecting in Paris, and it was only about a 15 minute ride to the rather small St. Petersburg airport. The flights were on time, but we did experience over an hours wait in line when we had to go through security again in Paris. The flight to MSP, about 9 hours, was good, but we were too tired to finish labeling our pictures and writing the blog (they kept us so busy in St. Petersburg that we didn’t have time). We arrived at MSP about 1:10 PM (10:10 PM St. Petersburg time) and it took about an hour to go through immigration and customs. We got to our condo about 2:30 and managed to stay up until almost our normal bedtime.
- The weather was perfect--we were pleased that we picked Moscow to St. Petersburg instead of the reverse trip.
- Viking does a very good job at providing well-organized river cruises and this cruise was an excellent cultural experience.
- While the complimentary internet service never did work on our ship, the Pakhomov, the service was very fast when we “borrowed” it from other Viking ships in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
- The complimentary wine with dinner was nice. The food was quite good even though some of it sounded strange on the menu (a layered salad with pickled beets and herring? delicious!). All dining room seating was open, so we dined with many interesting people from the U.S. and Europe.
- The Viking ships in Russia are quite small--ours had a capacity of 210 and we had 200 aboard our cruise.
- Our guide, Valera, had studied English in college, although today’s students can start with a second language as young as 2nd or 3rd grade
- The guides were all very open and frank about Russian history. They were critical of all leaders from the tsars to Putin and Medvedev. Most of the people seem to have put the Soviet era behind them and are looking forward to the growth of democracy and capitalism.
- Many older Russians are nostalgic about the Communist days when apartments, etc. were provided to everyone and they didn’t need to worry as much about making a reasonable living.
- There is a lot of construction going on in Moscow and St. Petersburg. We were pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness in all the cities.
- Although most of the Russian Orthodox churches we visited were turned into museums, many Russians are embracing religion again. The second most popular religion, after Russian Orthodoxy, is Islam.