15 June -
This is a brief report on the summer trip to Russia undertaken by Richard Aria,
James Drummond, Micha Jelasavcic, and John Sloan, the author of these remarks.
We accompanied two musical groups on their river cruise down the Volga River as
arranged by the International Fine Arts Institute. In addition we had our own
special tour of Moscow for a few days before and after this group tour. Along
the way we skipped most of the group concerts in order to see more of the
cities. The IFAI had arranged special local guides and vans at each stop on the
Volga, and we had our well-known friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg for
guides. Of course we took many photographs, but since some of the towns, in
addition to Moscow and St. Petersburg, we also visited on other tours, many of
these photos are collected in Inernet web site folders for each town or palace
We departed Dulles two hours late due to heavy thunderstorms. The Aeroflot
flight was rather full, but surprisingly not uncomfortable. They use a AirBus
that has all the usual conveniences. The staff was attentive and food good. The
direct flight to Moscow is about 10 hours, which seems a long time in the air,
but beats the very uncomfortable layover in Frankfurt the other airlines
16 June -
We arrived at Moscow Sheremetov about 3:15 PM, late, due to the late start. But
the baggage retrieval system took forever, or at least well over an hour. For
one thing they unloaded a large number of huge cardboard cartons first.
Naturally our bags were the last on the conveyor. We passed through passport
control and customs quite quickly. They have greatly reduced the amount of
inspection and hassle in the customs procedure.
We were met at long last in the outer part of the airport by the two best of
the military historian guides we had engaged in 1992. They had been waiting in
the mob scene for 3 or 4 hours. The long drive to the Izmailovo Hotel took us
right through downtown - down Tver street clear to the Kremlin, then back out
Bolshoi Lubianka and Pervoi May. It seems it would have been shorter to cut
across town on one of the circular roads.
Right from the start during the drive it was apparent that huge changes are
taking place since 1993. Gone are the tanker trucks that used to sell fuel by
the roadside. Now brand new and modern looking gas stations are on every
important intersection and more are being built. Many have convenience stores
or even McDonald's restaurants co-located. Everywhere one looks there is new
building construction or complete renovation of existing buildings. Vehicle
traffic is practically at a stand still in long gridlock. Despite having one of
the finest underground metro's and extensive bus and trolley systems, Moscow
shows the universal evidence that individual freedom means freedom to drive
one's auto. Despite having an extensive railroad system, the expansion of a
more modern economy shows itself in the vast quantities of heavy trucks
carrying goods everywhere.
Our hopes to have time for sight-seeing and a visit to a book store that
afternoon were ended by the lateness of arrival at the hotel. We were barely in
time for a dinner. At the hotel we met the American hosts for the river cruise.
Then Alexei Nazarevski, one of my friends from 1991-93 arrived to discuss
business. He is now publishing a magazine devoted to the military reserves. He
had asked for information on hazing within the military in the West. This is a
huge problem in the Russian armed forces. He was delighted to receive the
information I had obtained from the INTERNET. He gave me copies of several new
Russian magazines on weapons and military topics and agreed to meet us again,
when we returned to Moscow on 4-5 July.
17 June -
We were up early, at 4:30, and walked across the park to the old
Romanov estate. The basic structure has
been preserved. It is a rectangle building with two gates surrounding a central
court. The sign indicates that this space was used for military parades. We
also took photos of the nearby cathedral dedicated by Feodor Alexeivich. It is
boarded up and shows no signs of an effort at restoration.
After breakfast at 7:30 we departed with our historians by van to the special
Uniform museum located on the eastern outskirts of Moscow. Since the hotel is
also in the far eastern outskirts I expected this trip would not take long. But
the driver soon got lost on the main highway to Vladimir. The result was we
drove around in circles asking local inhabitants for directions. Finally, we
arrived several hours late. The museum director was waiting on the steps for
us, who knows for how long. The result was that we were rushed through the
museum because the time for our lunch at the hotel had been set. Having a fixed
time for lunch or indeed any plan to eat at the hotel is something I try to
avoid and this case showed why. But the director again gave us as thorough a
guided tour as possible. We had many questions about the uniforms, saddles and
other aspects of the displays.
The museum was founded by Tsar Alexander II and its holdings reflect this. The
collection of uniforms from the reigns of Nicholas I and Alexander II are the
most extensive. But there is one display case with various items of uniform
from the reign of Peter I and a few items from the reigns of Elizabeth and
Catherine II. There is also an excellent display of military medals from all
over the world. Today the museum is part of the active Ministry of Defense
uniform production directorate and admittance is strictly limited. No photos
are allowed. The administration is even fearful that excessive publicity of the
museum's existence will generate an adverse reaction in high government circles
and its limited funds will be cut off. On the other hand the curator also
complained that some historic uniforms have been damaged when taken as models
for creating uniforms for the 'War and Peace' movie.
We rushed back to the hotel for lunch. After that we spent the afternoon
touring some of the monasteries in Moscow. We started with the Novo-Spaski,
then visited the Danilov and Donskoi and finally spent quite a while at the
Novodevichi convent. All are back in church hands and being renovated. This is
wonderful news, but for the tourist it poses some difficulties. In comparison
to Soviet times admission is now more limited and taking photographs definitely
curtailed, even when fees are paid.
18 June - We were up again by 5 AM since daylight is strong by then. However, I
stayed in the room to rest until breakfast at 8. The morning tour took us right
back on the Vladimir road and again the driver became lost, even though our
destination is right on the main road. We finally found the huge museum of
aviation at Monino, which I had visited previously. Here we met the director
and administration. We had an excellent, English speaking guide, a museum
curator and former fighter pilot. We took many photos both of the vintage
aircraft inside the buildings and of the more modern aircraft that fill a huge
field outside. The weather was very hot, but the excitement of being able again
to photograph this unique collection put the temperature out of mind.
This day lunch at the hotel was canceled per my request, to save time for
touring. Instead we simply stopped when we wanted to at a fresh, new roadside
restaurant on the main Vladimir highway. This was typical of the many new
private enterprises being opened all over Russia. The food was excellent and
much less expensive than in a tourist hotel.
From lunch we headed to the museum of the FSU - the successor to the KGB. In
other words we were admitted to the private museum of the "organs"
that is the secret services. Imagine our amazement to find that there was a
very large group of American tourists being shown through the place. They were
only to be in Moscow a short time before going on the typical river cruise to
St. Petersburg. But someone had charged them the same admission fee that we
paid, $40, they were indeed being taken. The museum displays were obviously
created as part of the education - indoctrination - program of KGB agents. The
walls were covered with the typical Russian displays of photographs of heroic
individuals and copies of documents relating to particular events. In
particular there was a large amount of devotion to the memory of Felix
Derzhinski, the first head of the infamous CHECKA. Other milestones in NKVD-KGB
history such as the breaking up of the "trust" in the interwar period
were lavishly extolled.
Although the displays were laudatory of the CHECKA-NKVD- KGB, the verbal spiel
of the guide was more reflective of current opinion. Nevertheless, the most
interesting aspect of the tour was the look of utter dumbfoundedness on the
faces of the late middle-aged or elderly American women who were wondering what
in the world they were doing in this place. I also had to wonder why I had
asked for this tour. Memo for the future, this is definitely not worth the time
or money to visit. We slipped out early and walked on Bolshoi Lubiyanka to see
some local churches. Then we drove to the Andronikov Monastery to have a
special guided tour of the famous Icon museum. The monastery buildings are
interesting in themselves. One of the churches is the oldest standing in
Moscow, dating from 1360's. Inside we found a priest and several women singing
a litany in prayer for the souls of the many people who were killed in this
monastery during the Stalin years. The museum is indeed impressive. But the
tour, as so often is the case, was too long and the explanations too detailed.
During the two days our Russian historians provided a steady stream of
information about the city and its history along with much camaraderie and
current jokes. We bid them a temporary good by until our return to Moscow on 4
July. At dinner we joined the large American musical groups with whom we would
be cruising on the Volga. The Americans were the Columbus Ohio Children's Choir
and the Columbus Village Singers, an adult folk singing group that specializes
on presenting American Civil-War-era songs.
19 June -
Travel with a large group always means delays as everyone is brought in to
line. In the morning we met the three Russian interpreters assigned to the tour
and Mr. George Gordon, the company representative in Moscow. I don't envy him
his job, as it entails making large groups of demanding Americans happy while
dealing with the multitude of Russian bureaucracies necessary to schedule such
complex tours. We finally got under way and went by bus to the Kremlin. The
group had the usual walk around tour of the Kremlin and some of the cathedrals.
Meanwhile Micha and I walked up Tver street to see and photograph the statue of
Yuri Dolgoruki and the city hall (former governor general's palace). Then we
walked through Kitai Gorod and along Kuznetski Most and various other parts of
Moscow near the Kremlin.
We were impressed by the extent of the repair and reconstruction work going on
throughout the area. Entire city blocks are being repainted and replastered.
The very fine modern shops are full of clothing and consumer items. The food
stores are bulging with meat and produce. We found many stores specializing in
materials for home improvement, not on a scale like Home Depot to be sure, but
still stores that didn't exist in 1993. We found a post office in the National
Hotel. This is one of the luxury hotels that cater to foreign business people.
The churches and monasteries in Kitai Gorod are being repaired in a major way.
We found the remaining sections of the medieval wall of Kitai Gorod. Most
amazing, the Resurrection gate church between the State Historical Museum and
GUM, that closes off one side of Red Square, has been rebuilt. There was
nothing on the spot in 1993. Now it looks like it was never torn down.
The churches and medieval buildings on Varvarka street are looking almost like
new already. Too bad the area will always be overshadowed by the monstrosity of
the Rossiya Hotel in which we subsequently stayed in 2005. (Not always, it
turns out the hotel has been destroyed)
We rejoined the tour group in front of St. Basil's and for the first time had
an opportunity to enter and climb to visit all the galleries and chapels.
Rather than continue our own explorations, we joined the group for a quick
lunch at one of the new McDonald's that are springing up all over. Then we did
the tourist thing and walked the length of the pedestrian mall on the Arbat.
This too has changed drastically since 1993. Most of the temporary stands are
gone, along with all the card tables and kids selling all sorts of tourist
stuff. Instead all that has moved inside, into quite well appointed and
expensive souvenir shops. Along the walk way now there are many up-scale
restaurants with outdoor areas and tables under awnings. Despite the fact that
we were about to spend two weeks traveling through the heart of Russian craft
making areas, quite a few of the tour group had to buy items at the first
stands they saw. I made a few photos of the rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the
Savior before the busses departed for the Moscow northern river port.
We found our ship, the Feodor Chaliapin, tied up with 6 or 7 other large cruise
ships. The crew was attentive and eager to insure that everyone was settled in
their cabins. We departed at 7 PM and had the first of many excellent dinners
on board. Cruising north along the canal we passed many Russians out for a late
afternoon swim. Ship traffic was light, mostly barges delivering sand and
building material for the city. We entered the first lock, number 6, at 2300.
It was still light enough to observe clearly how the lock operated. But having
seen to that, the hot shower beckoned. After that the bunk felt good after a
long and strenuous day.
20 June -
Up at 7 to watch as the ship passed through lock number 2 into the reservoir
section of the upper Volga River. Progress during the night was obviously slow.
After breakfast we entered lock number 1 at Dubna and were then sailing north
down the Volga River. During the morning there was a special sales event of
Russian crafts presented in the salon on the ship's upper deck. Again this was
swamped with business even though we were about the visit the very cities in
which these items were made.
It was late afternoon before we passed through the lock adjacent to the large
dam just upstream from Uglich. The view of this famous medieval town from the
river was perfect for a picture. The river was full of swimmers. We were met by
a local folk singing delegation and presented with the traditional bread and
salt. We docked and had several hours to explore the center of the city. We
tried to walk further to the two monasteries in the suburbs, but found they
were too far apart and there wasn't enough time. But we did manage to visit the
main cathedral and several churches as well as the palace where Dimitry
Ivanovich was murdered. Here too were some genuine bargains in wood carved
We reembarked and departed amid much gaiety. Supper again was excellent.
Cruising along the quiet Volga in the twilight was delightful. During the night
there was a very violent thunder and lightening storm.
21 June -
Awoke at 6 AM to find the ship was anchored in the river at Yaroslavl. The
purpose was to take on fresh food and supplies and transfer garbage etc. to a
lighter. We would visit the city on the way back. Underway again and sailing
mostly east, we had breakfast. We reached Kostroma around 10 AM. While the
larger tour group had a quick bus tour prior to their first concert, we had a
private van and driver to take us to historical sites. The main place to see
was the Ipatiyev monastery. There we found a historian- guide waiting. He lead
us along the walls and through the many towers, explaining all the way the
significance of everything. Unexpectedly we found a special exhibition to the
Romanov family. This took some time to tour, but it was worth it. The most
poignant aspect was the photographs of Nicholas II and his children and the
samples of their childhood drawings and colored pictures from school days. The
whole thrust of the exhibition was that this was a devoted and innocent family
that was brutally murdered without cause. Kostroma and the Ipatiyev Monastery
hold a special place in Romanov family history because it was there that
Michael Romanov was in hiding when he was elected tsar and the delegation of
the Zemski Sobor came to ask his mother to let the 16 year-old become the new
Tsar of all the Russias.
As a result of taking time to view this exhibition we were unable to see the
nearby outdoor museum of Russian wooden architecture. But I had taken many
photos of it in 1993. For lunch we had been given box lunches from the ship.
The driver took us to a small river tributary of the Volga and proceeded to
take a swim. Micha joined him. That was fine, but in retrospect it seems we
could just as well have eaten our lunch at the architecture museum. At any rate
we then drove to a large convent that was still not functioning as such in
1993, but now is quite active.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the central market square
marveling at the volume and quality of the produce and consumer goods for sale
and being bought at a brisk pace. Sunday is a major market day and crowds of
people are drawn in from villages throughout the large region. Since the
weather was quite hot, I confined my purchases to Cokes and ice cream cones. As
might be expected a can of Coke costs about .45 cents in a local grocery store
but .90 or .95 cents at a stand along the street. Along the way we watched the
crowds of well dressed Russian children, many with their parents, that were
streaming toward the main city concert hall for the free, American concert.
Finally we visited the church of - at which our group in 1993 witnessed a
wedding service and baptism. It was already 5 PM, but the church didn't open
for evening services until 5:30 so we had to content ourselves with viewing the
outside before heading back to the ship.
The next stop was PLYOS, just a few miles down the Volga and on the opposite
bank. We were there from 8 until 11 PM. It is on a very steep bluff, actually
three bluffs, but the medieval fortress occupies the central position with
ravines on both sides. The steep rampart is still evident. In addition I
visited two local churches, one inhabited by bats that were coming out in
swarms for the approaching night air. The other, despite looking decrepit from
the outside, was partially restored inside and fully functional. One of the
main attractions for Russians at PLYOS is the museum to Levitan, the artist who
popularized the village in the last century with his paintings. As we were
waiting on the dock for the last half of the group to return from the Levitan
museum the sky suddenly darkened and a huge thunderstorm boiled over the crest
of the bluff above us. Everyone made a mad dash for the boat under a downpour
and amid a scene made bright by the lightening.
22 June -
Awoke to find the ship was already sailing south, having passed the major bend
in the Volga. From the deck I made photos of several churches in small river
side villages. At Chkalovsk I photographed the fighter plane monument to the
town favorite son.
We arrived at the dam at Gorodetz at 10 AM and had to wait in the lake formed
between the upper and lower set of locks. It was not apparent what we were
waiting for. The upper lock is a larger double lock and the lower lock is
smaller. The dam is a huge earthen filled structure extending for several miles
across the river. There is considerable barge traffic at Gorodetz, mostly
carrying bulk building materials or oil. Pollution in the river is quite
apparent. We would stop and visit medieval Gorodetz on the way back.
Coming down the Volga one gets a spectacular first view of Nizhni Novgorod high
on the right bank just at the confluence of the Oka. The kremlin occupies a
central position with its upper wall on the crest and long side walls running
down the hillside to the river. Just to the right is the multicolored Stroganov
church. And near it the white walls of the monastery. Along the river front the
19th century commercial buildings form an impressive facade. On the other side
of the Oka is the main industrial part of the city, with many large cranes at
dock side. There also is the large building for the famous Nizhni fair. We had
a fine local interpreter as well as a special local historian guide and van. He
provided much interesting information about the history of the city and the
fortress as we walked through it. He is 85 years old and still going strong as
the chief historical architect supervising the restoration work of all medieval
and 16th century buildings. Among these is the spectacular Stroganov church.
The inside is filled with scaffolding to the ceiling of the high dome and
plaster dust is everywhere as evidence of the extensive repair work being done.
The architect explained also that major work was required to shore up the
building foundations. Among the special buildings I photographed was the
Arakcheyev cadet corps building.
We were caught in another rain storm as we walked around the kremlin walls. Our
guide took that in stride. Then we walked down the main pedestrian shopping
mall street and found some bargains in books, despite a second rain storm. Then
we stopped for a Big Mac at the local McDonald's. Again, the amount of money in
the hands of the people was impressive. The young folk were dressed in latest
fashions. The stores were full of consumer goods. And the shoppers were
carrying full bags. We departed Nizhni in the evening, recognizing that we had
spent all too little time in this very historic city.
23 June - I was up early again to walk on deck and look for scenic
places to photograph. The Volga at that point is extremely wide due to the huge
dam downstream. The right bank is much higher than the left and mostly
forested. At 6 we weren't very much further down the river than at 11 the
previous night. Evidently the ship has to proceed with caution due to the
shallowness of the river in many places. We passed the famous monastery at
Makar'evo, the site of the first medieval fairs. I tried to get some photos in
the poor light, but visited it on another cruise. The towns of Liskovo and
Prosek also looked interesting. The river makes many turns not shown on the
small map I had. At Vasil'sursk, the fortress built by Vasilii III, I tried to
get some photos. Then Kos'modemyansk shows its name in stone letters on the
high bank. We passed Cheboksarai around lunch time. We would stop for a visit
on the way back. At Zelenodol'sk there is a bridge and dam not shown on my old
Kazan, high on the left bank looks lovely as one approaches down the river. The
fortress towers on the hill top amid both church spires and the minarets of
mosques. Again the company provided us with excellent special guides. The first
stops were at two of the earliest remaining mosques. We learned the history of
the city and how the Tatars were expelled from the medieval town to live in
suburbs, where these mosques are located. We walked through the Russian
kremlin, built by engineers from Pskov on order of Ivan IV. The style of the
towers clearly reflects the Pskov architecture. One of the most amazing sights
was the huge, new mosque under construction within the kremlin. It truly is
enormous, much too big actually for its surroundings. It will accommodate 6,000
Outside the kremlin we visited the marvelous cathedral --- composed as our
guide pointed out of a convergence of western and eastern architectural styles.
We discussed the origin of the Kazan Tatars from the Volga Bolgars who moved
into the middle Volga river basin in the 6th -7th century.
The ship departed at 8 PM, giving us far too short a visit to this exotic city.
The evening concert on board presented by the Columbus children's choir was
outstanding. They learned to sing a program consisting of famous Russian songs.
24 June - At 5 AM we passed through the lock by the dam at Togliatti
(Stavropol') The weather was hot again. The children played games on the upper
deck led by the ship's activities director.
Samara (former Kuibyshev) is a huge industrial city now, stretching for some 35
km along the left bank where the river makes a sharp U bend. The town is
relatively new, being built as a frontier fortress in the 1580's. The city is
one hour east, ahead, of Moscow, but we kept ship time while there to insure
We had a very fine local guide. The main treat was a visit to the underground
bunker built secretly by Stalin's order directly under one of the Party
buildings. As the guide pointed out, no one in the city even knew of its
existence until recently. The purpose was to serve as a emergency command post
during World War II. There are blast doors. An elevator takes one down what
must be equal to several stories to the basement in which we visited the
command post and Politburo meeting room. That the majority of the government
and the foreign embassies were evacuated from Moscow to Kuibyshev was well
We also toured the central part of the city and visited a Catholic church, a
Jewish synagogue, and several cathedrals. We returned to the dock at the
appointed time only to find that the ship was not there. It was well downstream
refueling. We departed at 2300 headed back up stream for the second half of our
25 June - We passed Togliatti and back through the locks during the
night. At mid morning we arrived at Simbirsk (formerly called Ul'yanovsk after
Vladimir Ul'yanov). It is atop the exceptionally high right bank. We were met
again by an excellent local band and singers in costumes. Everyone had a lot of
fun dancing with these colorful folk. Then we had to trudge up the hill part
way to reach the buses. The road to the dock is too dangerous for buses.
We went with one of the Russian tour groups for a change. The guide simply
bypassed the museum and memorial to Lenin in the house in which he grew up. The
discussion focused on the large open spaces where the former cathedral and
other medieval buildings had stood before being destroyed by the Communists.
The view from the empty square on the high bluff is quite impressive. One can
only imagine what the cathedral looked like when seen from far off along the
river. All the old churches and cathedrals in the city were destroyed, the
monasteries too, in one of the more thorough Communist destruction campaigns.
One remaining 19th century building is the Goncherov museum, named after the
local son who was the author of Oblomov. It is actually the city
historical and art museum. On the second floor there is a very nice museum
containing paintings, if not by the most famous world masters, nevertheless by
talented artists. There are several portraits of individuals such as Catherine
II and Elizabeth Petrovna. But the special exhibit on the first floor was most
amazing. It was a large wax figure museum style display like Madame Tussand's.
Featured were the tsars from Ivan IV and his son and Boris Godunov through
Nicholas II and his family. All were dressed in sumptuous state robes. The only
missing persons were Anna and Nicholas I. I hope the many photos they let me
take will turn out.
We walked all over the central city observing once again the evidence of money
being spent on reconstruction, and consumer goods. Crowds of people were going
about their shopping. The stores were full of western goods. As we walked
through one large building into which many small stalls had been placed, we
noticed the large number of such small individual stands each with its separate
clerk for a relatively small inventory of goods. For instance, one stand might
have several dozen shoes, another 30 or more bras, another handbags, another
men's suits. Even though business was brisk, it is hard to imagine much profit
being made with such an oversupply of labor for the quantity of goods sold.
Returning to the very fine main city concert hall, we found a special display
of local arts and crafts for sale on the occasion of the concert. This was some
of the best goods seen during the trip. Especially nice looking were the lace
and embroidery and other kinds of handcrafted linen goods. We were taken into a
separate part of the building that doubled as a museum. There we saw an
exhibition for the 350th anniversary of the city. What a terrible shame. The
city trying to celebrate 350 years of history has no architectural history to
show. The walls of the gallery were covered with 19th century postcards and
lithographs and pictures of what the city looked like before the Communist
The American concert was excellent and very well received by the large Russian
audience. The preliminary program by local Russian singers and dancers in
costumes was fine as well.
By the time the concert was over another heavy rain storm was taking place. We
had to rush to the buses and then run down the hill for the last half mile to
the boat. The singers endured this even though the rain must have damaged their
costumes to some extent.
26 June - I was up at 4 AM to check the location on the river. I
checked periodically with my map in hopes of catching the time the ship would
pass Kazan and then Sviyazhsk, the fortress built by Ivan IV preliminary to the
siege in 1552. We passed Kazan very quickly, while I was resting in the
stateroom. But I was back on deck in time and managed to take some photos of
Sviyazhsk. In this section the Volga meanders between many islands and the
channel is quite full of zigzags. The usual fishing boats were out in long
lines. The ship was moving along briskly trying to make up for lost time. We
were late to Cheboksarai.
We reached the town right after lunch. On the south side the river was lined
with cranes for unloading building materials from barges. The river freezes in
winter, with the temperature down to 6 degrees Celsius, so all river operations
have to be completed between April and the end of October.
This is the capital of the Chuvash Republic and has a population now of about
500,000. The population of the republic is currently 68% Chuvash, 27% Russian,
3% Tatar, and 1.4% Mordva. We were met by the most colorful folk singing and
dancing group to be seen during the trip. The ladies wear very heavy
headdresses composed of hundreds of silver coins strung on cords. Such a
headdress was for sale in the local museum gift shop, but for many hundreds of
The town has been changed in recent years. A dam and roadway has been built
across the mouth of the inlet forming a lake behind and connecting the
riverside of the city on both sides. We had a special tour led by local
historians. We met first in the historical society headquarters and discussed
the ancient history of the Chuvash people and their ancestors, the Volga
Bolgars. The Bolgars were moving north from the Black Sea by the 1st century
AD. By the 7th century the had established themselves on the middle Volga, but
were still paying tribute to the Khazars. Then they split into several separate
political groups (states) with some moving further north and west. There were
three elements in local society by the 12th century, Chuvash, Turkic and
Great Bolgar was taken by the Mongols in 1237 and incorporated into their
empire as a tribute paying group. Later, they were incorporated into the Kazan
Khanate until that was destroyed by the Russians in the 16th century. They were
converted from being sun worshipers to either Islam or Russian Orthodoxy. The
Chuvash were given a Russian (Cyrilic) alphabet only in 1871. Originally the
Chuvash language was written in a runic script. Some Chuvash anthropologists
see similarities between their ornamental design and Aztec designs.
We were shown archeological artifacts and several interesting models at the
headquarters as well as a fine store featuring arts and crafts. Then we walked
through town, past a museum to the art of beer brewing, to the local ethnology-
historical museum. This is a fine museum for the education of local students.
The displays start with flora and fauna of the region then move to fossils from
an ancient seabed and then to the prehistoric - Neolithic era - ice age period.
Among the animals displayed in a natural setting are bear, (the Chuvash don't
hesitate to name him the Upa), ermine, elk, beaver, wolf, fox, and many birds.
Stone age weapons and tools are abundant. These were found along the Volga
river banks in locations where it exposed ancient camp sites. But now, with the
rise in the river level due to dams, these sites are mostly under water. The
exhibits show both actual archeological finds and illustrations of life during
the time man hunted the mastodon and other wild animals in the region. The
ancient people worshiped at a tree and left offerings of coins, grain and meat.
The museum has many pottery samples as well. A map of ancient trade routes
testifies to the early importance of the Volga many centuries before Christ.
Among the the cases show a great variety of artifacts and illustrations of life
throughout the middle ages and into the modern period right up to World War II.
There is a fine forge, spinning wheels, kitchens, and well built furniture. A
series of displays depicts events during the Pugachev rebellion including
torture of prisoners and drawing and quartering of those judged to be guilty.
We then rode around town with the local historian to visit several churches,
the renovated cathedral and reopened monastery.
The monastery was founded in 1565. Its church of the Cathedral of the Entry of
the Mother of God into the temple the walls were full of icons under glass and
gold. But the upper parts of the columns and ceiling were still ruined. Repairs
began only 6 years ago. There were cast iron, decorated, plates in the floor. I
was impressed by the beauty of the choir singing (chanting) an evening service
at 5 PM. I couldn't see any but the priest and a few of the faithful. The guide
informed me that there was indeed a trained choir hidden in a special place.
But even so it was the acoustics that magnified the sound and made it so
impressive, as they could not afford more than a few people in the choir. There
is also a church over the gate dedicated to Feodor Stalite.
Near the waterfront there is a monument to the local poet, Krivanov,
(1890-1915) whose poem about the tragic life of a young woman so moves the
people. It was designed and built by Kudryavtsev in 1952.
When Catherine II visited the town in 1767, a carpet was laid from the ship to
the house in which she stayed and to the Trinity Cathedral. The house was
furnished especially for her. And it still stands today.
27 June - I was awake at 4:30 in the morning light. I went out to look
at the river. There wasn't much to see in this stretch of the Volga, so I went
back to rest and went out again at 6 AM. We were near Leninski Sloboda, south
of Nizhni Novgorod. The usual lines of fishermen were at work. Generally one or
two men huddled in heavy clothes in small rowboats or rubber rafts. It was cold
and they must have been stiff from sitting so still for hours. There were also
fishermen using rod and reel from the banks. Occasionally there were cars
parked next to the water, although no road was visible. The villages along the
river are isolated. There are occasional ferry operations and a few hydrofoils
to move people and goods from one side of the Volga to the other.
The right bank is very high in this area. The only river traffic I saw here was
a barge with a large load of iron scrap. The lack of river traffic is a sign of
the depressed economic activity in the region and indeed throughout the Russian
Republic. There is high unemployment. One wonders all the more at the amount of
buying and selling of fine looking consumer goods in the many shops.
In this area the Volga makes several sharp turns. Actually there are many turns
throughout its course. My attention was drawn the first afternoon to the use of
navigation markers along the banks. Of course there are different shaped buoys
anchored to mark the relatively narrow channel. But to aid the pilot in keeping
a straight course, wherever there is a turn one finds on the bank two
triangular markers, one behind and higher than the other. The have lights as
well for nighttime visibility. While cruising along the straight stretch the
pilot only has to keep these two markers in a straight line to keep the ship on
course from one turn to the next. Upon making a turn he then picks up the next
pair, sometimes quite a few miles ahead.
Coming from the north, Nizhni Novgorod is the most impressive city on the river
as its medieval ramparts rise on the high hill and are visible for miles.
Coming from the south one passes several modern towns with white high rise
apartments on the right bank and only sees Nizhni suddenly close-up on the left
as the ship rounds a bluff. The ship makes several wide sweeps through the
islands and shoals then turns to the city. We stopped for 5 minutes to change
some Russian passengers.
North of town. First Kosino was in view. The river is narrow for a stretch with
low banks. Men using scythes on hay were visible. Balakhva village had
apartments - and aggregate and sand were being loaded.
We arrived at Gorodetz at 2 PM. The ship passed through the lower lock and
anchored by shore in the lake between locks. The main part of town is on the
high bluff down stream from the lower lock. There was a monastery here much
earlier, but the town got its name as 'Gorodetz' in 1171 when it was one of the
frontier forts established to protect his borders by Yuri Dolgoruki, the
founder of Moscow, Periaslavl-Zaleski and so many other outposts around the
We were met by a local historian for a special tour. First we visited the
embankment area where there is a fine monument erected in 1994 to Alexander
Nevski, who died in somewhat mysterious circumstances (possibly poisoned) in
his brother, Andre's, home here in 1263 on his way back to Novgorod from the
khan's court and Sarai . There we were greeted by the local dancers and singers
in traditional costumes. Nearby is another monument built in 1995 to
commemorate the 'affair of the brides'. This refers to the medieval custom on
special holy day each year when the eligible and future brides showed
themselves to the men. They were valued for their reason, modesty, shyness, and
ability as good housekeepers, as well as for their beauty.
We then walked through a special historical preservation district in which all
the wooden homes are kept in good shape to show off their elaborate carved
decorations. The medieval town was protected after a fashion by the extensive
forests on all but the river side. But the forest created soil unsuited for
extensive agriculture. So the town quickly became a center for woodworking and
wood crafts. At first this was executed in the decoration of wooden ships for
the river trade. Eventually that was superseded. The masters then liked to show
their skill in the decoration of their own homes. One home, we were told, has a
present value of 130 million rubles but is a special preservation house. It and
other homes are in catalogues of exceptional architecture. The whole city is a
special archeological preserve. No digging is allowed without supervision. Many
ancient and early medieval artifacts have been found including very rare armor
and helmets now preserved in the local museum. Another home was one Catherine
II wanted especially to preserve. She gave it to Yuri Orlov and then to Panin.
While it belonged to Panin his local manager wanted to put the owner's symbol
above the windows. This was to be two dd and a large crown. But the wood carver
made a fish instead. Another home has the symbol of Vladimir with two Rusalki.
The population in the 17th century became largely "Old Believers" and
many still are to this day. Thus they are pleased to try to live not only by
the old ritual but according to the old ways in their entire life style. At
present the town has 34,000 inhabitants and the region has about 90,000. This
makes it the second smallest, after Plyos, of the towns we visited along the
This museum is excellent. It displays the finest of local handicraft arts, wood
working and linen. Several rooms are devoted to display of medieval or early
modern home furnishings and the tools people used in their daily living. There
are also two excellent models of the medieval city ramparts and the wooden
fortress. There is a rare helmet from the 12th century found in someone's
We then drove to the location of a section of the first medieval earthen
rampart started in 1152. It is still impressive, even though now overgrown with
large trees and bushes. In the 12th century it was 15 meters high with a 9
meter deep ditch in front of it and a wooden palisade and block houses on top.
There were three gates. There were fortifications both for the Gorodetz
(ruler's fortress) and the posad (artisan and merchant town). That defense of
course was no match for the Mongols, who captured and fired the town in 1238
We rushed through a rain storm to a local store specializing in crafts. The
prices for embroidered linen goods (clothes and bed and table linen) were
exceptionally good. Returning to the ship we found the local gingerbread
factory had delivered a truck load of the special locally produced cakes. They
were doing a great business off the back, taking 10 ruble notes as fast as they
could. No wonder, as gingerbread pies and cakes is another famous speciality of
the town. We re-boarded the ship at 6 PM.
28 June - Awoke at 6 AM with the ship cruising north on a very cold and
overcast day. It passed Kostroma between 7:30 and 8 AM. Sailing is slow due to
the shallow depth of the Volga. We arrived at Yaroslavl late, at 12 noon versus
scheduled 10 AM. Again, the bank south of the main part of town is lined with
cranes for unloading aggregates and sand and cement. But not much activity was
in evidence, it being Sunday. There is also a large area for unloading oil
barges. Yaroslavl is a major refinery town. It extends for 35 km along the
We took a bus from the landing to the center of town, only a few blocks
actually. From there we left the tour group and spent the day walking around
the city from 1215 until 6:30. The first stop was a magnificent church in which
we were allowed to make photographs. These have turned out exceptionally well.
Next we visited the fortified -- monastery which is right on the main city
square. Yaroslavl was not reached by the Germans during World War II and was
relatively unaffected also by the Communist destruction campaign that wrecked
the medieval and early modern buildings in so many other cities. The city is
well known for the fine churches that were built by wealthy merchants in
rivalry with Moscow during the 16-18th centuries.
We stopped at a deli to buy some cheese and bread and cokes for lunch. Outside
at the awning covered tables we met five young Russian men who insisted in
buying vodka and engaging us in conversation limited by our language
difficulties. Taking even a sip of this potent liquid proved to be a major
We walked through very busy and well stocked markets, both indoor and outdoor.
The two story department store was divided into a maze of small stalls, each
with its special product from tennis shoes to bras to music CD's and
independent clerk. Western style clothes were much in evidence. We priced a
nice-looking men's suit at $35.00.
Continuing around the town we visited a number of the churches. In 1993 I
bought one of the finest lacquer boxes from Mystora in my collection from the
factory representative in the local craft sales shop. I was looking forward to
buying another and had refrained from purchases all trip for this reason. The
gentleman was still there this year and recalled which box I had purchased
previously. After a lot of discussion and evaluation of value versus price, I
settled on his recommendation of an original box by a well known artist whose
work is in many museums. When a new design for a lacquer box is created at the
factory the single, original box by the master designer artist goes for a much
higher price, if it is even sold, than do the numerous copies that are then
made by apprentices. So now I have a "Ruslan and Ludmilla" to add to
Then we walked along the high embankment above the Volga and visited more
churches located in the small area of the original kremlin. Unfortunately the
most important cathedral that enhanced this locale did NOT escape the
Communists. Nothing remains but a small park. But four other fine churches have
been returned to service and are being restored. We entered the Cathedral of
the Archangel Michael to listen to part of the glorious singing (chanting) of
the 5 PM service. We discovered from the display in the lobby that this church
was rededicated by the Patriarch, Alexis II, in an impressive military ceremony
and is now the "Garrison Church" of the Yaroslavl military garrison.
We arrived back at the ship early, around 6:15 and then made a few short forays
to local food stores and two churches nearby until sailing time at 8:30 PM.
Whenever a cruise ship is at any of these river towns the local sellers and
many children flock to the dock. This day they were treated because not only
was our ship 'in port' but also there was another cruise ship on the Moscow-
St. Petersburg run filled with German and English tourists there for half a
day. Obviously these folk were more eager buyers of souvenirs than our by then
somewhat jaded group.
During dinner around 9 PM we passed the -- convent that Micha had driven to
during the day. He alerted us to its significance with stories about its
current abbess. The photos turned out well. We expected then to pass the larger
monastery and town at Tutayev in another hour or so. The distance and speed of
the ship on the Volga were deceptive. We stayed on deck watching eagerly until
around 11 PM, when the spires and cupolas of the monastery churches on the left
bank and the larger cathedral on the right bank came in view just as the sun
had set. Amazingly, the wait proved not in vain as the photos taken with
telephoto lens at a very slow speed with ASA400 film turned out reasonably
well. The weather was cold and windy but the sunset above the river, that in
that section flows east and a little south, was quite lovely. (At that latitude
and time of year the sun sets well north of due west and rises likewise well
north of due east).
29 June - We continued cruising up the Volga having passed Rybinsk and
its large lock during the night. We passed this interesting town sometime
between 1 and 4 AM in both directions, so I never did see it. We were now back
on the upper Volga, above the immense Rybinsk reservoir. We passed Uglich and
its lock at 9 AM, during breakfast.
One of the Russian river cruise favorite pastimes is to anchor the ship at some
secluded spot in the middle of nowhere along the river just to have a
"green stop" and picnic ashore. We did this at a seemingly deserted
forest area. But it was obviously a well frequented location because on hand
were locals with horses for the kids to ride and fishermen selling what
appeared to be inedible fish. The usual 'craft' sellers were in force to, with
items found everywhere, such as nested dolls and wooden toys. The menu was a
barbecue shashlik (shishkibob) and salad. It was quite good as was all the food
prepared by the ship's chef during the cruise. The hyperactive social director
insured that the children had many games to play. We departed at 6:15. Then we
stopped to unload garbage at a special point before entering the Moscow canal.
Here on a decrepit dock not even in a regular town there were Russian children,
looking rather poorer than those seen on the docks in most towns. They were
delighted to receive whatever small items the American singers gave them.
30 June - We arrived at Tver before 8 AM. This city, founded in 1182,
is on the upper Volga rather than on the Moscow-Volga canal. It was renamed
Kalinin in 1931 after the Communist chairman of the parliament, who died in
1946. It was renamed Tver in 1990. It was the major political and economic
rival of Moscow between 1300 and 1500. Adjacent to the dock we found the 18th
century Voskresennia (Assumption) church. After breakfast we had a quick bus
tour of the river front including a fine craft store and a marvelous small
museum. At the embankment we found a monument to Nikitin Afanasi, a favorite
son who was a merchant explorer during the 15th century. On a voyage from 1469
to 1472 he reached India.
Despite two weeks of buying in many river towns we found some new items to
purchase in the store. The museum housed a special exhibition of toys, dolls
and puppets made by children. These were wonderful in their conception and
execution. Clearly the children have better imaginations than the professionals
who design toys. The museum also has a fine painting covering one wall that
depicts a winter battle between Prince Michael of Tver and Prince Yuri of
Moscow. The photos of this and the puppets turned out to be excellent.
After lunch on board we bid adieu to the good ship Feodor Chaliapin, its
attentive and excellent crew, and the other passengers who were to continue
overnight and into the next day on the ship back up the canal to Moscow. We had
to go directly into the city in order to make it to the night train to St.
The bus ride afforded a good opportunity to see rural Russia away from the
river as well as some of the towns between Tver and Moscow. All along the road
there were stands at which an entrepreneur had strung a clothesline from which
he hung the day's catch of fish. Obviously these would be bought by some
Russian or the sellers would not continue in this activity. In addition there
were all the usual stands selling all manner of soft drinks and garden produce.
But conspicuous by their absence were the previously (1992-93) much seen fuel
tanker trucks dispensing gasoline or diesel. In their place now there are
ultra-modern looking gas service stations built or being built at all strategic
corners. Building construction and renovation was much in evidence in most
towns. There were whole sections of new and expensive looking two story homes.
Nevertheless, in the smaller villages along the road the wells (including those
operated by a Russian version of a shaduf) and outhouses were ubiquitous. In
some cases the 1960's groups of standard Soviet high-rise apartments on the
edge of towns could be identified by the large, insulated steam lines running
to them above ground for miles from some central city power plant.
No doubt about it, the gap between urban and rural living is wider than ever.
In the cities, however, one does not find as many destitute people as in 1993
selling a pitiful amount of whatever in front of the metro stations.
Near Moscow the road became choked with heavy traffic. Just before reaching the
northern part of the outer Moscow ring road what should appear but a bright,
new McDonald next to one of the new gas stations. Also in evidence along the
Leningrad highway over which we were traveling were large new department and
speciality stores. I especially noted several stores with signs indicating that
they contained "everything for home repair". They won't reach Home
Depot standards for years, but this is one of the major categories of business
that I most noticed in absence in 1991 and predicted should be a early money
In Moscow the traffic was practically at a standstill. We arrived at the
Izmailovo Hotel about 6 PM, too late to do any further sight-seeing before
dinner and departure for St. Petersburg. We managed to divide our luggage into
items needed in St. Pete and those not and then check the latter in hotel
security to pick up when we returned. After dinner and a further wait we
boarded buses at 9 PM for the trip to the St. Petersburg station. We made it
for the 10:40 departure. I had a very heavy bag to lug since it was full of
books to deliver to individuals in two museums. We had a 4 to a compartment
arrangement, not the 2 per room that I always specified on previous trips.
Evidently this company was saving money. With the reduced amount of luggage it
wasn't too crowded for an 8 hour trip. The train personnel actually served a
decent box lunch.
1 July - We arrived at the Moscow station on Nevski Prospect in St.
Petersburg at 7:30 AM. There on the platform were Valentine and Natasha
Navarra, the best guides in the city. I never will forget how Valentine quickly
volunteered to take the overnight trains to Moscow and right back to deliver to
me my passport, that I had foolishly forgotten at the hotel in December 1991.
A short bus ride brought us to the Hotel Rus, right in downtown St. Petersburg.
It is not a fancy new hotel, but its location is ideal, within walking distance
of all important places. After a quick cleanup we had breakfast. My friend,
Slava, called Valeri Kudashkin, who immediately agreed to meet me at the
Artillery Museum. While the group took a bus tour of the city, I took a taxi to
the museum, cost 50 rubles. I quickly found Alexander Kulinski, the premier
curator of the cold weapons and small arms division of the museum and author of
important books on these topics. I delivered some of the books he had ordered.
My fractured Russian was not getting me too far until Valeri showed up on time
to interpret. Then we took the computer disks I had brought and showed the
museum staff how to view the photos of the collections from the 1992 and 93
visits. Then we had a meeting with Colonel Krylov, the museum director. He was
gracious as always, getting right to the main point, as is his style, and
wanting to know exactly what the museum could do for me. I asked permission to
make more photos of not only the open but also the closed sections of the
museum. This was agreed to, but required time over the following days, because
to open a section it is necessary to call in the specific curators responsible
for that department. So much of the museum is closed due to the limited budget.
Thus I did manage to photograph much of the artillery section, the engineer
section, a lot of the small arms, and especially the fine Kutuzov rooms, but
not the signal section, since its curators were absent on vacation. I would
have loved to photograph some samples from the archives and library of books
and the uniform section, but there was no time.
Colonel Krylov also asked me to find a publisher for a special book he has
prepared on the history of the cadet corps in Imperial Russia. This should be a
book of great interest to many historians and those interested in the Russian
army. He also agreed, in fact expressed his great desire, to host any future
historical minded tour groups I might bring, especially any interested in the
It was soon after 1 PM and time for Alexander's lunch. I had to get lunch at
the hotel, so Valeri and I started walking. In a few blocks we realized we
would not make it in time. So he hailed a cab. Cost only 10 rubles, which he
paid. I had time to outline to him the nature of special research projects I
and associates in the US are interested in. He agreed to accomplish them. Since
he had to leave shortly for Moscow, we weren't able to do more.
After lunch the group was to have its tour of the Hermitage. I rode the bus
over and then went to the administrative entrance in order to see Dr. George
Vilenbakhov, the deputy director. He was expecting me. We had a nice, short
meeting and he invited me back for Friday when he could spend more time. I left
some books I had brought for him and received some in return.
Back outside I walked on Nevski Prospect, shopped in some excellent book
stores, and visited inside the Cathedral of our Lady of Kazan, while waiting
for the group to finish their museum tour. St. Petersburg always was full of
western goods, at least along Nevski Prospect, so the contrast from 1993 was
not so noticeable. But there were quite a few buildings undergoing renovation
or painting. On the way back to the hotel Valentine made sure we would stop to
admire the renovated Cathedral of the Savior on the Spilled Blood. This was
built on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated. Most of the group spent
their time in the large flea market for crafts and souvenirs across the street.
After dinner Sergei Koval arrived to spend the evening. I had met him in 1991
and he acted as a fine interpreter then and in 1992. He is now mostly
self-employed doing translation work from and to French as well as English via
the INTERNET. We took Micha and Richard and walked for several hours through
the downtown. First stop was at the Catholic Church of our Lady of Lourdes. We
met a bright, very young Franciscan monk, preparing to be a priest. He formerly
was an officer from Sevastopol serving on nuclear submarines. He proudly showed
us through the inside of the church, saying such a visit as ours was not
"an every day occurrence."
Then we walked to Nevski Prospect and back up the streets by the canals past
the Sheremetov Palace to the Engineer castle, former palace of Tsar Paul, in
which he was murdered in 1801. On the way back to the hotel we discovered that
the church, former cathedral of the Preobrazhenski Regiment, was right in the
middle of a traffic circle only two blocks from the hotel. Thanks to one of my
Russian INTERNET correspondent's alert I was looking for this. One can
immediately guess it had a special past because the circular fence around the
small garden surrounding the church is composed of many large cannon stuck with
their muzzles in the ground and entwined by long heavy chains. However, the
young fellow on duty at the sales desk inside denied any knowledge of the
former role of the church even though it is still named the Preobrazhenski
2 July - Micha kindly gave up the opportunity to go with the tour group
to see Peterhof in order to accompany me on my return to the Artillery Museum.
We walked to a metro station on Nevski Prospect and took two metro trains to
reach the museum more quickly than by cab. On the way we were delayed, however,
waiting for a very fancy audio-electronics store to open so we could buy more
tape cassettes. This store had all the latest in cell phones, TV's recording
equipment and other electronics.
As always Micha's action as interpreter was vital. Alexander muttered
"Slava Bogo" when he found I had an interpreter with me. Not only did
Micha interpret, he also recorded on tape both the conversations and the text
of most of the information plaques on the walls. First order of business was to
photograph the special, closed Kutuzov exhibit. This has been greatly expanded
and enhanced since 1993. Then we visited the special, open exhibition of small
arms and cold weapons. Since most of the displays were under glass, It didn't
to photograph them. Then it was time to wait for Richard and Jim to arrive, but
they didn't show up until after we had given up on them. The reason was that
the group had delayed during the morning tour and didn't arrive back in town.
We spent some of the time while waiting by walking through the Peter and Paul
fortress. And we had a tasty giro at a new fast food, deli set up next to the
museums. So we went back in the museum and took more photos. The museum now has
a very fine, small store selling military models, miniatures and other related
items. They were doing a brisk business with eager young Russians. The
proprietor recalled our visit in 1993 during which I had urged him to open just
such a store.
Then we walked to the Peter and Paul fortress again and found Richard. He
agreed to leave the tour group to accompany us around the city. We went
shopping again and found more interesting books to buy than there was space to
carry them. Especially interesting was the entire section of one of the major
book stores devoted to Orthodox religious books, icons, and related religious
3 July - I had to skip the group tour to the Catherine Palace at
Tsarskoye Selo, which I most wanted to see, in order to spend another day at
the Artillery museum. This time Slava kindly agreed to act as interpreter. We
went by metro again. These Russian subways are a real marvel. At the museum I
photographed the engineer department, much of the cold weapons and small arms
department, and more of the artillery section. At lunch time I had a snack in
the court yard of the museum and then walked over to the Naval Museum. I was
disappointed that they didn't have any naval flags. I continued to the
Hermitage and waited until 3 PM for my appointment with George Vilenbakhov. He
gave me more books and offered to help me buy military miniatures. We had a
very good discussion and he offered to let me see anything I wanted in the
museum. Naturally my immediate response was to see the very special Scythian
Gold collection. This was arranged. Then I thought I might be even more
interested in seeing the medieval armor collection. So George called the
curator of that department to come and escort me. The most gracious curator of
arms escorted me through three cipher locks and armed guards with the special
pass Dr. Vilenbakhov had written. At the Scythian collection its curator was
waiting for us. What followed can't be described in words. None of the printed
articles and books containing color illustrations that I have seen can convey
the wonder of this exhibition either. Room after room have walls lined with
illuminated glass cases filled with exquisite jewelry made of gold and precious
stones. On the one hand some of the more often illustrated examples of the
earliest Scythian gold, rather primitive in design, are much much larger than
can be imagined from the printed page. On the other hand the examples of later
work, often of Greek masters on Scythian commission, are more intricate and
elaborate but in microscopic detail, so they can't show to effect on the
printed page either. To view these the museum places them behind powerful
Unfortunately the tour of this priceless collection took longer than the
available time, so I had to forgo the medieval armor collection. Its curator
most generously agreed to show it to me at a later date. At his office Dr.
Vilenbakhov also expressed interest in future historical tour groups. He asked
for assistance in obtaining an invitation to come to the U.S. again to conduct
more research on heraldry.
Outside the Hermitage I found Micha, Jim and Richard waiting for me. They had
managed at least a short visit to the Artillery Museum after returning from
Tsarskoye Selo. We took a cab back to the hotel. After dinner we had to pack
for the return train trip to Moscow. I found that my bag was as heavy as when I
brought it to St. Petersburg, due to the weight of the many books I had been
given or had bought. The train ride was similar to the first one.
4 July - We were met at the station by our military historians once
more with a different and better van. While the tour group returned to the
hotel to pick up their bags and head for the airport and flight to the USA, we
were going on a special excursion to Borodino battlefield. It was pouring rain,
but that didn't dampen our spirits. The guides gave a running commentary on the
sights in the city, the history, current events, and especially such a
multitude of jokes and stories that we were approaching Borodino before we knew
it, even though it is a long drive west of town.
Suddenly one pointed out the window and noted that at this point we were
entering onto the French line of march on the day before the battle. As is
their custom, the Russian officers had planned to give us a 'staff ride' and
had purposely circled west of Borodino in order to enter the battlefield from
the French army line of march. Soon we passed the monastery at which the
Russian rear guard had held up the French for a few hours and in which the
Grand Army had established its field hospital. Then we turned right to follow
the French columns as they veered right to attack the Russian forward position
at the Shevardino redoubt. Despite the rain, we clamored out of the van and
climbed the hill to stand on the redoubt. From there one quickly gains an
appreciation for its importance, as the fields of fire are excellent. It is
very clear that Napoleon had to divert his advance guard to eliminate this
position before considering deployment against the main Russian position. Back
in the van they drew out maps and discussed fully the first evening's action
around the redoubt. Then we went the short distance to the location where
Napoleon had established his command post during the main battle.
After that we spent several hours going from place to place, to the three
important Bagration fleches, to the fine museum located at the foot of the
Rayevski redoubt, and up the hill to the redoubt. To do this last action the
officers ordered the van driver to drive right up the narrow road to the
monument at the redoubt, despite the traffic sign showing no vehicle entrance.
Well we weren't through studying the terrain from the top of the redoubt, when
two local police showed up to cite the driver for his violation. The Army
officer historians managed to pull rank and talk them out of this. At the
museum we had a fine talk from one of the curators and managed to get some good
photographs inside. The photos of the battlefield, however, aren't as good as
those from 1992 due to the heavy rain and overcast. I bought some books but
didn't properly price some others that I should have purchased (thinking they
were more expensive than they were).
We then drove to Mozhaisk for a fine lunch in a local pub. In town we took a
few minutes also to look at the remaining church from what was once an
important monastery. Unfortunately all our peregrinations took longer than
expected, so we arrived too late at the gate to the Museum of armored forces at
Kubinka. It was already closed and the curator had given up waiting for us.
A bottle of vodka and many toasts kept our spirits up as we continued on the
road to make our appointment at the monastery in Zvenigorod. This was a
favorite of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich and was well endowed by him and his wife.
In 1993 there wasn't much to see but the 17th century fortress walls. Now the
renovation is proceeding well. Among the first buildings to be repaired and
reopened is the cloister in which the tsar's wife and court ladies stayed when
visiting the monastery. It is now an excellent museum depicting life there in
the 17th century. The small chapel in which the ladies worshiped also is now
mostly restored. The very high bell tower is open for visitors to climb.
Unfortunately the giant bell that once sounded from its height and could be
heard in Moscow was destroyed. The main cathedral is also open and now has
active services. The bell announcing this was pealing as we were about to leave
On the way back to the Izmailovo hotel the driver wanted us to stop at the
factory that produces the vodka, which we did. Fortunately Slava was waiting
for us at the hotel to insure that we were registered properly. We managed to
get our rooms and prepare for dinner, this time with a different musical group
just beginning their tour in Russia. What a change had occurred in the hotel
during our absence. Whereas the hotel lobby was patrolled by a few police
carrying sub-machine guns, when we were there before, now there were whole
squads of militia officers, first lieutenants and captains, manning security
check points, metal detectors and x-ray machines. The whole hotel complex was
surrounded by a high metal fence and there was no admittance to the grounds
without special pass. The local casino was closed as were most of the small
kiosks between the hotel and the metro station. All of this was in precaution
for the 1998 Moscow World Youth Games that were to start in a few days. Being
bored with nothing constructive to do, the militia officers were exerting their
maximum effort to check what few people came their way. That included of
course, us. Since we were to have dinner in a different part of the hotel than
our rooms, this meant passing through a special check point complete with metal
detectors. For some reason the hotel staff had neglected to inform the militia
that we were an authorized part of the musical group, so they flatly refused to
let us through. It took half an hour at least plus the direct intervention of
the interpreter assigned to the musical group and the hotel staff to open the
way. By that time Jim and Micha had given up so only Richard and I had dinner.
For breakfast and the rest of the meals the hotel arranged to circumvent the
militia by opening a cafe in the same part of the hotel in which we stayed, so
we didn't have to pass through that check point. We learned from the militia
that only 'athletes' were allowed in that side of the hotel.
5 July - We were by then too tired to venture out in the light rain
before breakfast, as we had on our first day in country. After breakfast we
took the metro downtown to the Kiev train station and then walked up Kutuzov
Prospect to the Borodino Panorama Museum. The reason we walked this long
distance was so we could see Micha's elementary school and the housing in which
he lived while his family was in Moscow. Sure enough both were still there and
looking much like they did in the 1970's. But the fallen trees in the
neighborhood showed us the results of the very severe tornado that had hit
Moscow during our river cruise.
Slava met us at the Panorama museum. The staff was very interested in our visit
and one of the department heads gave us her card and asked us to bring more
people in the future. The museum also will be eager to support a Napoleonic
history study group. In 1992 the museum was closed for repairs and we were
given special permission to see the great panorama canvas itself, but otherwise
the premises were empty. Now everything is back in place and looking great. The
many displays of Russian and French uniforms and equipment tell the story very
well. There are many portraits and personal items from participants. There are
maps showing the campaign. The museum could easily conduct a very educational
program featuring these items. The canvas itself is as magnificent as ever, but
now that it is open with the public in attendance it can't be photographed
during a normal, public visit.
From the museum we walked further on Kutuzov Prospect to photograph the
triumphal arch and then visit the new memorial museum to World War II. This too
is beyond descriptions. In the grounds there are Orthodox church, Muslim
mosque, and Jewish synagogue. The huge park also has many displays of military
equipment. But the center piece is the large circular museum itself. It is
composed of the finest building materials. Clearly no expense was too much to
complete it. On the lower floor there are a series of 180 degree dioramas
depicting specific battles and episodes in the war, such as, siege of
Leningrad, Battle of Stalingrad, Kursk, Moscow, and crossing of Dnieper. On the
upper floor there is a very large circular hall in which are displayed many
items from the war in chronological order from the eve of the war to the
Manchurian campaign. A major section is devoted to a favorable display of the
role of American Lend-Lease. There are also memorials to the dead and many
symbolic sculptures and other devices designed to evoke maximum heart wrenching
over the ferocity and destruction of the war.
From the museum we took the metro via three changes of train to the rebuilt
Cathedral of Christ the Savior. We noted the militia deployed at every station,
checking cars and harassing anyone who looked Middle Eastern or central Asian
or from the Caucuses. We managed to walk through the magnificent museum of
religious art in the basement of the cathedral before it closed. This contains
religious art from the earliest Russian icons down to remarkable works in a
variety of mediums done at the present time. We learned that the substructure
that held up the former swimming pool was so deep that the architects for the
rebuilt cathedral decided to incorporate it and build not only underground
garages but also monks' quarters and offices for the Patriarch under the new
cathedral. The mayor of Moscow is paying a billion dollars to build this
magnificent edifice. No one knows where he is getting the money.
We returned to the hotel in time for a final dinner.
6 July - After breakfast Slava arrived to accompany us to the airport.
Our guide was there with yet another van to take us. As usual the militia were
milling about trying to look busy. Although the flight wasn't scheduled to
depart until 3PM, we were advised to leave the hotel by 10 AM to insure we made
it through the grid locked Moscow traffic. On the way we stopped briefly at
Slava's apartment to meet his mother and father. We managed to arrive at the
airport at noon. So we had 3 hours to kill standing around. Surprisingly the
Russian customs again was quite quick and didn't bother us with a baggage
check. Finally we were on the airplane. We arrived back at Dulles around 6 PM.