First things first: I am a consummate waterbug. Put me anywhere near water and you won’t see me for a few hours because I’ll be in, next to, or on top of the water. My whole adult life, ever since I left the lush and fragrant South, I keep returning to places with water in my travels…the beaches in Spain, the tiny island of Malta, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Asian and European cities along the water: all of these places, filled with the fresh wetness of water, are invigorating, tropical, forested, and temperate places, and I adore them all. Though I’ve lived in the Sonoran Desert for the past seven years, a place too many assume (mistakenly, I’ll add) to be a dry and desolate arid land without plants, I dream of water, hike miles to get to water in the Catalina mountains, take extra long showers and eagerly await our monstrous and wonderful monsoon season, just so I can smell the sweetness of the mesquite and the brightness of the desert flowers after they’ve been doused in summer rains.
But I have never been on a cruise.
Second, I have also yearned to bring my mom with me on my travels for a very long time. All those years ago, when I started writing, I wrote for me, yes, but I also wrote for my mom and dad, to bring them along with me on my crazy rides, to remind them that I loved them, to have ears for my incessant stories, to keep connected to my home in some small way. Though I’ve never completely understood how they have time for this, my parents have read–and I do not exaggerate this–everything I’ve ever written. Not all the drafts and journals, but every school paper, every blog post, every published article, even, yes, my unwieldy and super heavy 300+ page dissertation. They are the only audience I’ve ever had who has literally seen me through everything, and for this, I am forever and eternally grateful. But there’s something that’s always nagged at me: How could I, the daughter who was set free into the world by her mom’s cajoling 10 years ago (thank you, mom!), fill up the pages of her passport while her mom did not even have one?
So when I learned that I had the chance to sail with Viking River Cruises this summer, and that I could bring one guest, these two worlds collided in a beautiful serendipity: I could have my water, and I could have my mom. When I called to invite her, the first thing I said to her was,
“Mom, you need to go get a passport.”
And she said, “Why? Where are we going?”
And when I told her Russia, I could almost feel her eyes bulge. “With me? Are you sure?”
Followed by my dad’s voice coming from the kitchen, “St. Petersburg! Doesn’t it stay light there all the time in the summer?” Leave it to dad to know something off the cuff about the weather in St. Petersburg.
And, three months later, here we are, two days away from our respective flights across the Atlantic that will take us to a country that spans nine time zones. A country I know little about save for what I’ve learned in history classes, popular culture, and popular movie and television renditions. It’s time to see what else is out there, to hear from the voices on the ground, to see those beautiful spires of Imperial Russia and to learn what it must have been like to live under Communist regime. To see what modern-day Russia looks, feels, sounds, and smells like.
In anticipation, I asked my friend Olga (who I met two years ago in Malaysia and who lives in Moscow) to help me prepare by teaching me a few important Russian phrases. Here’s what I’ve got in my little book so far:
- Spasibo-thank you
- Pozhaluista-you are welcome
- Kak dela?-How are you?
Hopefully, by the end of our two weeks together, I’ll have a few more words in my repertoire of Russian vocabulary.
Mom, are you ready for this? 🙂
The Lowdown: Where We’re Headed
The cruise is sandwiched between the two renowned cities of Russia: St. Petersburg to the north and Moscow to the south. Though I can’t wait to see these great cities, I’m fascinated by what lies between. Cities with names like Mandrogy, Yaroslavl, and Uglich….places that remain completely unfamiliar to me. In a lot of my research (and as you’ll see in the photos below that I snagged from Flickr’s creative commons), all I could find were monuments and buildings. And while monuments and buildings are surely important parts of a country’s living history, I would really like to know what life is like around and behind those structures.
What are the Russians talking about? What’s on their minds? What is a day in the life like? For instance, if someone came to Arizona and all they did was take back photos of the Grand Canyon and the red rocks of Sedona, no one would have any idea what people like me do everyday in our work and play time.
That said, I’m incredibly excited to have this unique opportunity to get up close and personal with these waterways and what these Golden Ring towns hold with their ancient monasteries and tiny river villages. My mom and I will be cruising together for thirteen long days, sailing for many of them and stopping over for a few nights in the major cities.
Here’s a little list of what we’re planning to do while we’re in each city. Of course, with the way I travel, this list will surely change with my whims 🙂
St. Petersburg, Russia (4 Days)
In our first few days in St. Petersburg, otherwise known as “The City of 300 Bridges,” we plan to see the 18th century rococco-inspired Catherine Palace (picture below); do an up-close walking tour, see a Russian ballet performance, check out the Peterhof Palace (I’ve heard it has amazing landscaped gardens!), visit a kommunalka commune, and take an evening boat cruise. In-between these outings with Viking, I’m going to have to squeeze in a side trip to the Russian Museum of Erotica, where I’ll be on assignment getting up close and personal with Rasputin. More on that to come 🙂
Mandrogy, Russia (1 Day)
We’re making a quick stop in this little village on the Svir River, and while here, I plan to don my bathing suit and try out a Russian bath house (also called a banya). If we have time, we might do a matroyshka doll painting class in the local craft village.
Kizhi, Russia (1 Day)
All I really want to see on Kizhi island is this magnificent church below–it’s both an UNESCO World Heritage Site and an architectural feat. It was built without a single nail!
Kuzino, Russia (1 Day)
Kuzino is rumored to have some beautiful monasteries and art work from the 12th century. Very excited to see some of these wooden chapels. We’re also planning on visiting with children at a local school, but I’m not sure exactly what that will entail. I’ll keep you posted!
Yaroslavl, Russia (1 Day)
One of the Golden Ring cities, we’ll be going to a farmer’s market, handicraft village, and visiting the church below, which apparently has incredible frescoes and Russian icons.
Uglich, Russia (1 Day)
Uglich will entail walking tours, a couple more churches (like this super cute one with the blue and gold-starred domes!), and an afternoon tea.
Moscow, Russia (4 Days)
Finally, Moscow. In our days here, we plan to do an up-close walking tour, attend a folklore concert, walk around the old city, take a Jewish Moscow tour to learn about some of the important sites of the Jewish people who settled here, visit with my friend Olga, and head to the famous Kremlin (see picture below).
Of course, any city trip–especially with my mom!–will entail lots of people-watching, trying new foods, and getting lost on side streets.
If you’re interested, check out the full itinerary here on Viking’s website.
Yours in travel,
All photographs from Flickr’s Creative Commons. I thank them for their generosity and I hope my photos turn out just as beautifully!