24 August to 5 September 2015 were our travel dates. We traveled from Moscow to St Petersburg. Having said that, because it was "Russia", I went with very few expectations other than it was going to be an adventure. Not only was it an adventure, it was one of the best trips I have ever been on.
We flew from Tampa to Moscow to start our journey. We were traveling on the MS Zosima Shashkov. It is an older ship, the cabins were tiny, BUT it was well maintained and immaculate. The ships staff were seasoned veterans of their trade who spoke very little English but the front desk and dining room staff were mainly college age men and women who were studying languages or hospitality and spoke passable to very good English. The food was good, plentiful and we even had our choice of beer, wine or soda with our dinner each day.
We used the ship as our hotel while in Moscow and St Petersburg, so we boarded and only had to unpack once for the whole trip. Both docking areas were convenient to public transport for our free time wanderings.
Tanya was our Tour Director. As with all Gate 1 Tour Directors, She was superb. Excellent English, a good sense of humor and a font of knowledge. She had two assistants from the ship that accompanied us on our tours as there were actually three groups of about 40 on board from Gate 1 and a smattering of local Russian Families and a German Group.
Our Itinerary included a Moscow City Tour with the Kremlin grounds and a day of leisure for self exploration. I took my rubles, the map that was supplied by the front desk staff and headed out to find a Russian grocery store and to do a tour of the Moscow subway's. What a great day! My tour of the Metro stations cost me 28 Rubles (about .50 cents at the exchange rate). Be warned though...there are very few signs anywhere in English.....and even though I had a map with the Russian Alphabet, some of the subway signs were in stylized scripts that were hard to decipher. If you are easily disoriented, take a tour.
After Moscow we headed north for the 1200 KM journey from an elevation of 123 Meters above sea level in Moscow to sea level in St Petersburg. In one location there were 10 consecutive locks within about a 20 KM distance. It was amazing to see the ship enter the locks and the water lower or raise us as necessary for our transit. Most of the transit through the locks is at night when you are sleeping, but there are enough during the day to really appreciate the trip.
Our first port was Uglich, on the Volga River. Uglich is tied to St Dimitry and "Ivan the Terrible". All the ports we visited but one were steeped in Russian history and our time in each was just right to see the sites as well as get in some shopping for the shopaholics. We next visited Yaroslavl City, one of Russia's oldest and visited the fortified Transfiguration of the Savior Monastery. Then on to Goritsy and the Monastery of St Cyril. But the jewel in the crown was our visit to World UNESCO site at Kizhi. The 16th century church is made entirely out of wood and had 22 "Onion Domes". Truly magnificent.
Our tour ended in St Petersburg...what a beautiful city. We started with a city tour and a visit to the Hermitage Museum the first day and then went to the Peterhof the second. Our third day was at our leisure and they offered and optional tour to the Pushkin or Catherine's Palace and the Pavlovsk Palace and a trip to see the Ballet Russ at the Hermitage, both of which I took. What a way to end a trip! The ballet was in the 18th Century theater of the Hermitage and we arrived in a Hydrofoil!
This was my 6th trip with Gate 1 Travel, which should tell you that I regard them as one of the best, if not the best, in the business. From the transfer from the airport to the ship and back again to the airport the trip was flawless. Considering we paid right at $2000.00 for the entire trip (airfare, cruise, transfers, tours, essentially everything). It was an absolute bargain! Especially since the "Viking" River Cruise ship shadowed us the entire way and they paid over $5000.00 per person for the same trip.