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Published: October 16th 2019
They tell us Russians are schooled that smiling excessively is an indication of mental illness.
Expecting stern demeanours...dour Stalinist architecture and constant reminders of a cold war communist past as we dance through Putin's pastures.
A young couple...her long hair cascading...clasping close...his face snuggling into the nape of her neck.
We turn the corner...his head arching back...lips elasticising then telescoping to plant a kiss on her cheek.She smiles.
Can't forget the image of those telescopic lips.
Young people everywhere...laughing...smiling...enjoying life...even older folk doing it.
Where are the stern expressionless faces?
Has everyone forgotten their lessons?
A motorcyclist on Moscow's Sparrow Hill doing high speed wheel-stands past a police car.
Repeating his screaming wheel-stands six times...us waiting for police pursuit that never comes...me chatting to the Armenian rider after the police car drives away.
This is not the Russia I expected...man I love this country.
We answered an advert in the Good Weekend Magazine of the Sydney Morning Herald to join Traveller.com readers "on an exciting and insightful Traveller-designed journey from St Petersburg to Moscow, and the amazing places in between,"..."led by Deborah Snow, a Walkley Award
Waterways of the Tzars
Our Aussie Traveller 2019 Tour
winning investigative reporter and author from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age newspapers and notably, a former Moscow correspondent for the ABC" (Australian Broadcasting Commission)
during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Joining us would be Russian experts being a cosmonaut, an historian and an author.
Included were privileged access to the secure vaults of the Hermitage and the Faberge Eggs in St Petersburg and Moscow at Night and the Cosmonaut Museum among others.
This was to be a 13 day cruise from 3 September 2019 with a 2 day optional extension.
Russia had not been on our radar and Denise and I are not cruise people.
Our only previous river cruise was up the Niger River in a leaky boat on our way to the Festival in the Desert in the Sahara at Timbuktu. Mali IMAGES OF MALI...UP THE NIGER IN A LEAKY BOAT...MOPTI TO TIMBUKTU
where we ended up re-dedicating our marriage in our Tuareg Wedding Our Tuareg Wedding...Festival Au Desert...Timbuktu, Mali
But having blogged the Dutch Masters on loan from the Hermitage to Sydney Art Gallery The Dutch Masters...so the Dutch conquered Australia after all
, the inducement of the secure vaults of the Hermitage and being led by Deborah Snow that we had met following her book on the Lindt Cafe Siege...Now you
have our attention.
The dates kinda fit with the Uzbekistan/Turkmenistan trip I was in the course of planning.
So we dropped our plans for Turkmenistan and planned a Russia/Uzbekistan trip instead.
Each night thereafter studying my book of the Dutch Masters from the Hermitage...to view Paulus Potter's provocative painting "The Hunter's Punishment"
at the Hermitage in St Petersburg and to attend some Blues gigs in Moscow our "must do"
29 Australians as the Traveller.com contingent of the 200 passengers on the Viking Ingvar.cruise ship...our Russian guide Alexander the Great and driver's and buses just for us ...a formidable force with united purpose...so much easier than just being a couple trying to find our place among a horde of strangers.
And what an interesting Aussie group we were...many new friends emerging.
The Russian cosmonaut was a revelation...will be on the International space station for 6 months shortly...impressing us with the international cooperation of the USA, Russian, Japanese, Canadian, German & UK cosmonauts...training and study diligence off the chart...the sort of guy a daughter's parents would beg her to bring home for dinner. And to think the Russian cosmonauts had
Russian Cosmonaut Moscow
to learn English and the Americans had to learn Russian..super impressive.
Lectures on board our ship on Russian history from Alexander, Sergei, Sasha & ors...daily updates from the Cruise Director with an exuberant smile and ringing call, "from the one and only S a s h a from R u s s i a"
...vodka and wine tastings from Tim the Dutch Maitre di...wonderful cuisine from Joaquin the Austrian Chef...delightful staff...kinda cushy but hey....we might not be cruise people but enjoying good times have always been our forte.
And everywhere people liaising...magnificent singing and music...optimism in the air as Russia is prospering...beautiful landscapes...more onion domed churches than there are pastries in Paris... Stalinist brutalist architecture adorned with touches of flair lining wide streets...no sign of the communist past except in its history...not otherwise on anyone's lips...communism no longer in their vocabulary...people smiling, engaging, hugging and laughing...no sign of the distrust of one's neighbour that was endemic in their communist past.
As we travelled through Russia my eyes, ears and heart were opened...met all sort of folk as is our way...many of our perceptions of Russia swept away.
Gotta say the excesses of wealth of the Tzars blew
my mind...explains why the Russian Revolution was a "had to happen"
...pity the Bolsheviks were such a savage, cruel, heartless lot.
But that is all in the past...Russia is now a democracy (Putin style)...they say.
Let the adventure begin.
But first...may I introduce some of the smiling faces we met along the way.
Relax and Enjoy,
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