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Left to right: Ten atlantes statues hold up the roof of the portico entrance to the Hermitage Museum; the magnificent Amber Room inside the ornate Catherine Palace 76 VIKING.COM EXPLORE MORE 2020

TRAVEL heartwarming and unique insight into Russian life and a highlight of the journey. Yaroslavl, the “City of Churches,” was founded by Prince Yaroslavl the Wise in the 11th century. UNESCO-listed, the city is also the center of culture and, after Florence in Italy, boasts the most important frescoes in the world. Standing in the revered Church of St. Elijah the Prophet, I was spellbound by the beauty of a painting of the Last Judgment. Outside, against the bright blue summer sky, swallows darted around the pitched roof of the 16th-century monastery and we ambled through town to the farmers’ market, where we were met with a feast of colors, fragrances and exotic foods and spices nestled between more recognizable fruits and vegetables. I bought packets of bright saffron, crystallized ginger and a selection of chocolate bars in gorgeous packaging. I tasted delicious smoked cheeses and meats laid out by Viking Executive Chef Joaquin, who explained their provenance and the different ways you can serve them. From here we strolled along an avenue of linden trees to the historic Governor’s Palace, where we stepped into a world of 19thcentury aristocracy straight out of a Jane Austen novel. Much of the house is just as it was 200 years ago, and as we were escorted through the beautiful rooms by our young guides, who were dressed in period costumes, we discovered what life was like in IN THE BALLROOM, OUR GUIDES AND THEIR PARTNERS DANCED A WALTZ FOR US AROUND THE PARQUET FLOOR past times. We learned the language of the fan—very useful if you wanted to send a message without words—and also the language of flowers. The tall regency windows were open, letting in a gentle breeze and the sounds of children as they played in the gardens below. In the ballroom of the house, accompanied by a trio of musicians playing the violin, cello and pianola, our guides and their partners danced a waltz for us around the parquet floor under crystal chandeliers and the gaze of portraits of Russian nobility. It was completely captivating. As we sailed farther north, the villages became more remote, with some inhabited by just a few elderly people. The sun was still shining but the air was distinctly cooler. Northern Russia has a short summer, lasting from June to August. Snow arrives in mid- October, heralding the start of winter. Seventy percent of the area is covered with forests in which bears, wolves, foxes and boars roam, and hunting is a favorite occupation. The landscape has a wild beauty all its own. From the rural village of Kuzino, we visited Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery on the banks of Lake Siverskoye. Founded in the 14th century, it became one of the largest Christian monasteries in the world. One of the places I was most looking forward to exploring was Kizhi, a small island on which the often photographed wooden Transfiguration Church proudly sits. This 17th-century church is one of a handful of important historic buildings that were EXPLORE MORE 2020 VIKING.COM 77