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Russia THE GREAT Whether

Russia THE GREAT Whether roaming gilded palaces, exploring wooden churches or meeting the locals, a Viking river cruise allows you to explore Russia in novel ways, says Cassandra Wilcox 74 VIKING.COM EXPLORE MORE 2020

Stepping onto the platform at Moscow’s Mayakovskaya Metro station amid the throng of commuters, a beautiful interior greets us. Above the pink-and-white marbled floor, curved art deco columns of stone and stainless steel soar to the ceiling with the most wonderful mosaics, many of which depict someone or something in flight: a skier, a Soviet-style plane or a parachuting pilot. Our guide Larissa explains that during World War II, the station was used as an air raid shelter and the pictures of the sky helped take people outdoors—at least in their imaginations. At street level, St. Basil’s Cathedral—a vivid symphony of colors—looms behind me, and the imposing red brick walls of the Kremlin stretch along one side of the square, in front of which sits Lenin’s Mausoleum. Opposite is the historic GUM Department Store, which is as ornate as it is enormous. Consumerism faces communism, and you cannot help but wonder what Lenin would make of the fact that today Moscow has more billionaires than any other city in the world. Moscow is a stunning city. Whether it is the 322-foot-high statue of Peter the Great rising out of the Moskva River or the Kremlin’s golden-domed Archangel Cathedral, in which the Muscovite princes and first tsars of Russia are buried, every corner of the city dazzles like no other. Three days is plenty of time to explore, with just the right balance of guided excursions and free time to do your own thing. There was a tangible air of excitement as our ship pulled away from the dock and set sail along the Moscow Canal. Slowly, the outskirts of the city gave way to forests of birch dotted with wooden cabins or fishermen patiently waiting for a catch. And on a Viking river cruise, there is no shortage of time to appreciate the enchanting scenes as they roll gently past. Gliding alongside such breathtaking scenery calmed the mind, body and soul. It was bliss. Our first stop on the Volga River was Uglich and the extraordinarily beautiful Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood, built on the spot where Dmitry, the eight-year-old successor to the throne, was murdered— allegedly on the orders of regent Boris Godunov. Boris was one of the larger-than-life characters we THERE WAS A TANGIBLE AIR OF EXCITEMENT AS OUR SHIP PULLED AWAY FROM THE DOCK AND SET SAIL had been introduced to that morning in the first of our onboard presentations on Russian history. The tales of treachery and intrigue were riveting, and deeply enriched our understanding of the places we later visited. Our time in Uglich was made especially memorable by a spinetingling performance from a male TRAVEL Left to right: The elaborately decorated gold-domed Catherine Palace; a small section of Yaroslavl’s stunning St. Elijah fresco a cappella choir in a tiny historic church hall. It was the most wonderful surprise. And just when I thought the day could not get any better, on another excursion we met Tatjana, who took about a dozen of us and our guide Sasha to her home, where she served us traditional Russian food including cucumbers that she had grown and pickled herself, sourdough bread, a wonderfully light kind of sponge cake and, best of all, homemade vodka infused with local cranberries. Sasha translated our questions about Tatjana’s family, her work and life under Soviet rule. It was fascinating to learn what she thinks about her government’s policies. Afterward she showed us around her garden, which was full to bursting with vegetables and fruits of all kinds, all immaculately tended. The visit was a truly EXPLORE MORE 2020 VIKING.COM 75