Wednesday, October 4, 2006
This is our first morning not rousted from sleep at an outrageous hour in order to get ahead of the unwashed masses beating at the palace gates, panting with envy as we swept past.
The view from the boat is quite pretty. The leaves have started to turn on what is primarily a forest of white birch.
A leisurely breakfast, we witnessed our first passage through one of the almost 20 locks on the various rivers and canals of our voyage. The lock system, while quick and efficient, is showing significant signs of wear and degradation from lack of maintenance.
It was quite cold - as you can see by my joyous expression!
This was a small overgrown eating area outside the power plant at this lock. I wish the detail of the friezes had come out better. Notice the Soviet crest on top of the building, apparently established in 1951.
This photo appears to be some sort of Communist equivalent to "Veni, Vidi, Vici" but from Lenin's perspective, instead of Caesar's.
Our cruise director, Birgitte, a tall, masculine, young woman, announced a surprise "green stop" at Mandrogy Island. This is a reconstructed artists' village, revived in the last few years by a Russian developer. Almost Potemkin-like, the island is primarily used by tourists from the river cruises during the summer. In winter, there are a number of rental/guest cottages used by Russian families who vacation and hunt in the area.
The artists that populate the island are selected through a competition and live there during the entire year. Artists are expected to work actively as the tourists come through to see and shop. Housing is provided, along with a salary. Profits from their sales are subject to royalties to the developer.
The construction and architecture of the cottages and businesses comprised a unique blend of what looked like Alaskan Native totem-style and Russia fairy tale ginger bread. (John took some photos here, but I haven't gotten copies yet - will update later.)
Our guides from the ship were quick to point out that this area was quite the tourist trap and to be aware of price vs. quality. Many on the boat were quite intrigued by the Vodka Museum there, which boasted more than 2,000 different kinds of vodka. The description I just gave is more interesting than the actual facility, which was basically a liquor store that sold shots and had lots of bottles on display.
I was thoroughly enjoying the ambiance of the island until a yellow jacket took an interest in me, sending me fleeing back to the safety of the boat. John returned to one of the artist's shops and struck up a conversation with a printmaker who did etchings and lithographs. John brought back a fount of information about the island, most of which I've shared above. He also spoke with an embroideress who makes most of her money from the Russian Orthodox Church, providing robes and vestments. All she sells on the island are ticky-tacky birds and flowers. One can never underestimate the lack in taste of the travelling masses. Perhaps I've said it already, but to quote my good friend, Noel Coward, "Why do the wrong people travel, when the right people stay at home?"
The rest of the afternoon was spent with Comrade Nikolai in a brief, but ineffective lesson in the Russian language. He provided several handouts, which I kept. Only one or two of them were of any real use or effect.