St. Basil Cathedral

In all my travels, I’ve yet to take a cruise. Living in British Columbia, it’s easy to get our fix of day trips (and I’m lucky enough to have lived on both coasts of North America). For my first proper cruise though, it’s gotta be Russia! I’m 1/4 Russian so in essence, I’m returning to my roots, to the country of my grandparents (on both sides of the family).

Viking Cruises offers just the right combination of big cities and small towns to explore on its Waterways of the Tsars cruise, and I’m excited to be on their sailing for the next two weeks (check our Instagram feed @Vancouverscape for updates and IG stories), starting in St. Petersburg and capping things off in Moscow.

I’ve often dreamed of those detailed, colourful spires and imperial palaces and now’s my chance.

My visa process was handled in Vancouver (a tourist visa is necessary; according to Russian Federation law, cruise passengers are the only category of tourists visiting Russia who are allowed to stay on Russian soil without a visa for up to 72 hours).

Yaroslavl St. Elijah Exterior
[Church of St. Elijah, Yaroslavl]

I look forward to capturing the essence of a land that grabs headlines for political drama and corruption, yet I know there’ll be so much more than what lies beneath the surface.

And that’s precisely what I hope to find: a country of varying landscapes, the modern mixed with the past, a chat with locals — and vodka.

This cruise winds its way along Neva and Svir Rivers, up to Kizhi and Lake Onega, back down through the Volga-Baltic waterway, along the Volga River itself and continuing south, to the Moscow canal.

I look forward to the sights and sounds of Russia and learning what a day in the life might be like as we visit a private home along the way.

Kizhi churches on the river
[Preobranzhenskaya Church, Kizhi]

While St. Petersburg and Moscow are obviously top draws, it’s the little towns sandwiched in between that also perk my curiosity: Mandrogy, Kizhi, Kuzino, Yaroslavl and Uglich.

The intimate nature of the cruise aboard a ship that holds just over 200 passengers will afford me a chance as a solo traveller to hopefully get to know and share these experiences with fellow travellers.

I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to experience this lifelong destination dream and share it with you all upon my return!

I’m only including a few photos in this post as I want to be wowed by all the incredible, majestic architecture that Russia is famous for.

13 days in Russia. 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 7 ports. Some vodka. Here’s how the itinerary breaks down.

Russia cruise map

In our first few days in St. Petersburg, otherwise known as The Venice of the North due to its many islands, canals and bridges, we plan to visit the 18th century Rococo-inspired Catherine Palace, see a Russian ballet performance, check out the Peterhof Palace, visit a kommunalka commune and enjoy an evening canal boat cruise.

While docked in Mandrogy, a small village on the Svir River, I aim to get crafty and try my hand at painting a matryoshka doll and visit a banya, a traditional bath house.

As we cruise through Lake Onega (Europe’s second largest), our walking tour will take in a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage Site: famous three-tiered, fairly-tale-like Preobranzhenskaya (Transfiguration) Church, constructed in 1714 without using a single nail!

Kuzino’s a typical Russian village where we’ll visit the renowned renowned Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, founded by Saint Cyril in 1397. I’ll have a chance for an optional tour to visit a children’s school in Kuzino, a local merchant house, or just unwind on the deck with lunch and views of the Volga-Baltic Waterway, a system of rivers and canals linking the Volga with the Baltic Sea.

matryoshka dolls

One of the Golden Ring cities, we’ll be touring a covered food market, get our fix of souvenir handicrafts and visit the Church of St. Elijah the Prophet’s elaborate frescoes and icons.

While in Uglich, we’ll take a walking tour through the village, visit the former Kremlin of Uglich as well as Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood (that name alone!). Our group will likely have some tales to share as we sit down for tea with a local family in the afternoon.

By the time we reach Moscow, jet lag will be so last week, as St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, the Kremlin walls and other gorgeous sights will fill our last few days on the tour. The metros are some of the most decorative in the world, containing mosaic vaulted ceilings, while marble and other eye-catching elements. There’s a lot of optional tours to consider, so I’ll be posting my final stops once back in Canada.

If you’d like to follow along, a full itinerary can be found here.

Vot tak! Here we go!

Top image by aAlok Khemka on Flickr.

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