Russia with Amadeus Waterways

This item appears on page 54 of the October 2008 issue.

The ms Tolstoy was our home for a wonderful 2-week adventure in Russia with Amadeus Waterways (Chatsworth, CA; 800/626-0126,

Our cruise, Sept. 28-Oct. 10, 2007, cost $2,450 per person and included most of the tours. We spent an additional $800 for personal expenses, souvenirs, tips and optional tours. Our flight from New York on Austrian Air cost $993 per person.

The Church of the Spilled Blood — St. Petersburg. Photo: Arritt

The Tolstoy is a small riverboat, carrying 200 passengers and a crew of 100. The all-Russian crew and staff were some of the hardest-working people we have ever met in our travels. We once asked them if they ever slept. One said she would sleep in November.

Our small cabin promoted the term “space economy.” We managed, however, to make it our home. It was critical that one person remain in or on the bed while the other person moved about. Otherwise, cabin gridlock would result.

Our first full day in St. Petersburg was spent taking the required city tour, serving as an overview of the area. Our conclusion was that we would never venture out on our own, not because of concerns for safety but simply because St. Petersburg provides no sense of direction, and the signs, in Cyrillic, are no help.

It is, however, a visually stunning city with virtually dozens of magnificent Orthodox churches and, thanks to the Russian czars, buildings of great architectural beauty.

We attended the ballet “Giselle” at the Hermitage Theatre and, surprisingly, were enthralled by the experience. The ballet was performed by young, enthusiastic artists. The theater, which once hosted the czars and czarinas, is modest in size, allowing for a sense of intimacy with performers. We came away with a commitment to broaden our exposure to the cultural arts at home.

Eager to see more of the city but with fatigue being a factor, we sought the comfort of a boat ride through the many canals. Venice need not feel threatened. There are no gondolas and romantic songs, just simple electric boats. From the boats, there is a different perspective of this beautiful city. One amazing view is that of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the burial place of the Russian czars.

Later that afternoon, our riverboat glided away from her mooring and we began the journey toward Moscow. A sigh of relief was heard, as this provided an opportunity to take a deep breath after an intense three days.

The agenda involved stops each day in small villages such as Mandrogi, a bucolic village rooted in ancient tribal times, Kizhi Island, with its beautiful wooden Transfiguration Cathedral, and Yaroslavl and Kostroma, which are experiencing modern-day growth in a vibrant new Russian economy.

Late in the afternoon on day 11 we arrived in Moscow. Having such a short time to visit, we left right away for the city. The contrast between our docking place and what we were about to see was amazing.

Moscow is a city of 10 million people, and it appeared they were going somewhere all at once. The streets were bustling with people, and the traffic defined “gridlock.” Highrise buildings were everywhere and new construction was visible on every block. My head and neck could not swivel fast enough to take in the many sights and sounds.

Later that night we returned to St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. We were not disappointed by the scene. It seems the Russians believe in using as many lights as possible to make a statement. The illumination in the cold of night was dramatic and surreal. We returned to the quiet of the riverboat satisfied that we had experienced the drama that is Moscow.

It will be a while before we really digest all that we saw and experienced, but, for now, we are home once again and glad to be here. Russia will be part of our thoughts for a long time.


Coto deCaza, CA