Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 5: Cruising down the Neva


I am alive today!  I had such a good sleep because Syl put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door - and it worked.  I stayed in bed until mid-day and only got up when Syl came to collect me for lunch.  I didn't mind skipping breakfast because we have been living from one meal time to the next so I had a banana and a cup of tea.
We had a wonderful lunch - a salad buffet, sandwiches and a tortellini which I thought was lunch, but there was also a main menu to choose from!  The food here is above 5 star.
Our guide warned us that the visit to Mandrogy would be difficult but we decided to visit it anyway.  At 2pm we arrived at the 'cooked up village' with wooden houses, strange totem poles and tourist souvenir shops. There used to be a real village here but it was destroyed during WW11 and all the inhabitants moved away and settled in other villages. In 1996 Sergei Gutzeit, a St. Petersburg entrepreneur and patron of the arts, decided to revive the village and make it a tourist destination for the many tourists on the river cruises between St. Petersburg to Moscow and Kizhi. 
There were a few buildings I didn't go into - by choice - but I visited the main one with all the crafts and shops and it wasn't difficult for Syl to push me around the village.
When we got back to the boat we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Panorama bar at the front of the boat with windows all around so that we get this wonderful view of the river side villages and an occasional passing boat. After two teas, I decided to have a Bloody Mary - with Russian Vodka - which was much stronger than the Virgin Mary I had the other day.

Last night – or early this morning – I felt the boat start up and rocking as we sailed on down the Neva. Patty decided to have a pyjama day today so stayed in bed while I went to breakfast. After breakfast we assembled in the Sky Bar for a lecture on Russia given by our guide Mikhail. He referred to a large map of Russia and told us about the history, the people and their languages, geography, agriculture, trade and industry, politics etc. Russia wraps around almost half of the globe, with 11 time zones (there are 24 altogether) has 84 states but only 150m people. The bulk of Russia is made up of Siberia with the northern part being mostly un-inhabitable with no industries and few people. He spoke about the changes in the country, pointing out two sides of the coin. Housing, medical, education etc used to be free, now people pay. People can now own land and build their own houses or start businesses but very few can afford to do so. They can choose to use the government medical service or pay for private services (which are more costly). People can now travel extensively. Crime has increased because, in the past the KGB were the police, judge and jury and crime was practically unheard of. Now there is a lot of crime and many places that people find unsafe – especially in large cities and at night. He spoke about freedom of speech, association and religion. The majority of Russians follow the Eastern Orthodox church (not the Roman Catholic Church). There are Lutherans in the North West border with Finland, Islam in the South, and Buddhists on the border with China and even a few Hare Krishna’s. Michael said that he didn’t think the Krishnas would survive  because they shave their heads, wear thin cloth, don’t eat meat or drink alcohol! To survive in Russia you need to wear fur, eat a big steak and toast God with vodka!

After that talk, another guide gave a talk on Russian Souvenirs and what we could expect to find as we travelled down the river. Most of the souvenirs are made of wood – of which there is abundance. During the winter there is little to do and most souvenirs are crafted during the long winter months.
At 12h30 we went to lunch - all we do is eat, eat, eat! At 2pm we berthed next to the restored Arts and Crafts village of Mandogry where we saw typical wooden Russian houses, a pottery, art centre - where 4 young women were painting the little dolls we see everywhere, as well as a Vodka museum, and a souvenir shop.   Its a bit like Shakaland at home - a village re-created in the style of old Russia for tourists.
When we got back to the boat we went up to the Panorma bar and here we sit, sipping tea and hot chocolate, as we set off again, cruising down the Svir.
We heard that Mikhail had taken ill half-way through his second lecture on Russian History and that we would have a different guid the next day.

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