by Eric L. Stoddard, Co-Founder of Heart of Russia Cruises
Having just returned from an extensive trip November 12-21 2021, to Moscow, St. Petersburg and their local communities I can only say this: Emphatically yes. It is safe to travel to and visit Russia.
I had to have a COVID-19 test before I boarded the Aeroflot aircraft at LAX and before I boarded the aircraft in Moscow to return. I traveled by Aeroflot from Moscow to St. Petersburg. From St. Petersburg to Moscow I traveled by bullet train with speeds up to 230 kph and making only 3 stops between the two metropolises. Fast, modern, safe, and efficient.
Police in Russia are visibly lightly armed. Typically a policeman has a pistol, set of handcuffs, a radio and a baton. Only the baton is visible. I saw a policeman pull over a speeder with his baton. One doesn't blow by a cop in Russia.
Hotel staff all spoke English. Aeroflot staff spoke English. Museum guides spoke English. Restaurant wait staff spoke English. Many restaurants in both Moscow and St. Petersburg have both Russian and English menus.
It seems the US media is intent on creating winners and losers and not recognizing reality.
Other observations from my trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg:
1. Russians do what they are told. If the government says it's a problem, they
grumble but obey.
2. Everyone was masked all the time except when eating at restaurants including
the little town of Kimry where the MV Rossia was winter berthing.
3. Vaccination rates aren't high -- about 40%, but I heard little about it there. Mu understanding is vaccines are not mandated.
4. I was totally free to roam around in both cities; I suppose not FSB HQ, or some
DOD type facilities but I did not see any of those.
5. Russia is not under lock down or quarantine restrictions.
6. St. Petersburg Stake’s ward meetings are all on Zoom, but it has submitted their
plans to go live, awaiting approval from Area Authorities.
7. What was the attitude of people toward Covid? They have other fish to fry.
Folks these are my frank observations. I felt very safe, at liberty to wander about,
enjoyed the great Russian and Georgian food. Had some spectacular Beef Stroganoff.
So again I say emphatically -- YES -- it is safe to travel to Russia. Come on this trip. Our unique People-to-People program will be insightful.
See you aboard!
Heart of Russia Cruises LLC
By Mark J. Stoddard, Co-Founder, Heart of Russia Cruises
Bits & Bizarre Pieces of Russian History, Culture & Geography
Each month we'll give you a book we recommend reading before your trip. If you love history, Russia is ripe for discovering if you haven't already.
This month's book is "Russka" by Edward Rutherford. The summary below is from Bookrags.com This is a large book and will give you a great background for the places we'll visit on the cruise.
THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
Spanning 1800 years of Russia's history, people, poltics, and culture, Edward Rurtherford, author of the phenomenally successful SARUM: THE NOVEL OF ENGLAND, tells a grand saga that is as multifaceted as Russia itself. Here is a story of a great civilization made human, played out through the lives of four families who are divided by ethnicity but united in shaping the destiny of their land.
"Rutherford's RUSSKA succeeds....[He] can take his place among an elite cadre of chroniclers such as Harold Lamb, Maurice Hindus and Henri Troyat."
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Russka: The Novel of Russia Summary & Study Guide Description
Russka, by Edward Rutherford, is the story of eighteen hundred years of Russian history. He includes the story of the history of the people and the country along with the politics and culture. The focal point of the book is the small village of Russka, located in the Russian heartland, from its beginnings until modern times. Most of the main characters, such as the Bobrovs, Suvorins, Karpenkos and Romanovs trace their roots to the small village, even though they move around the country.
The book begins in primitive times with a small group of families living in huts. There are different tribes, with the Alans being the greatest of the warriors. These people become the leaders of Kiev and other cities. Their structure of government is based on succession passing from brother to brother and not from father to son. The result is a great deal of instability. The fact that there is no one strong central authority makes the country of Ru's susceptible to takeover from the outside. This is how the Mongols or Tatars are able to conquer the country in these years in the thirteenth century. The peasant woman Yanka flees from the Tatars. She is the ancestor of the Ivanovs.
By the middle of the sixteenth century, Moscow has become a strong city with a tsar that has conquered other cities. Tsar Ivan is fighting to throw out the Tatars, but the Tatars have a working relationship with the landowners and merchants, which make this a difficult task. Boris Bobrov, a young landowner, is a strong supporter of the tsar. The Cossacks are instrumental in the fight against the Tatars. One of them is Andrei Karpenko.
As the village of Russka develops over the years, an industrious serf, named Ivan Suvorin, begins a cloth business in the nineteenth century. The Suvorins have problems with the landowning Bobrovs over the years, but their cloth factories are very successful. The Suvorins finally gain their freedom from the Bobrovs and become very wealthy
industrialists. At the time of the revolution, Vladimir is one of the wealthiest men in Russia.
Throughout Russian history, the peasants were an oppressed class. Even though the laws changed regarding their status, they remain oppressed, yet when the revolution begins, it takes place in St. Petersburg and Moscow and not in the countryside.
Russka looks at the development of the country and the interaction of these four families and how they cope with the various situations. There are conspiracies, murders and romance over the years. During the revolution, Nicolai Bobrov is a member of the duma. When he becomes suspect by the Cheka, Vladimir Suvorin, who loses all of his wealth, helps him escape to Finland and soon follows. After the fall of the Soviet regime, two men meet at a trade fair. When Paul Bobrov travels to Moscow, he and Sergei Romanov visit the village of Russka.
The reader will enjoy this lengthy book. It is written in a style that results in quick and easy reading and will hold the reader's interest.
Watch "The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev full interview - BBC News" on YouTubehttps://youtu.be/qYVsKoQXATY
Mikail Gorbachev has been scheduled to appear on our ship on the August 20 sailing for an hour interview which all passengers will be able to attend. Also on that cruise will be his interpreter, Pavel Palazhenko, Gorbachev's confident, translator and adviser. He was there for the meetings between Gorbachev and Reagan and will give us some wonderful insights as well.
By Mark J. Stoddard, Co-Founder, Heart of Russia Cruises
1. Russia has 9 time zones, two more time zones than the USA...sort of. The USA has 7 from Maine to Alaska/Hawaii, but technically, the USA has one for Samoa and one for Chamorro, wherever that is.
2. Before the “putsch” or overthrow of communism in August, 1991, it was illegal to advertise, or to run a private business although thousands of businesses had already been started…quietly but profitably.
3. Viktor Kikol, one of the leaders tasked with writing the new Russian Constitution in 1991, freely admitted his template was from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
4. The USA and Russia are only 2.4 miles apart but 21 hours different. Check out the islands between Alaska and Siberia.
5. Tsarina Katherine’s closest adviser, Grigori Potemkin, wanted to make sure her expedition from the cold winters of St. Petersburg to the warm waters of the Black Sea and Yalta was filled with local peasant’s admiration for his tsarina. So, he built a series of phony village fronts, staffed with local peasants waving to the Tsarina as she passed by. From that came the name Potemkin Village. Sort of like Hollywood, “behind all that phony tinsel and glass, is REAL tinsel and glass.”
6. A serf in Russia was a slave in every sense of the word. When Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, that gave Tsar Alexander II his template for freeing serfs in 1861. It may have also gotten him murdered as well. Several attempts were made despite his liberalizing laws toward the “people’s will.” When the would-be assassins failed, Alexander II brutally repressed them, stoking more attempts that ended in a bomb killing him. The ornate cathedral, Savior on the Spilled Blood is one of the most spectacular interiors in the world and was built on the spot in St. Petersburg when the tsar was killed.
7. In the early 1990’s many cities the Soviet’s renamed to honor modern communists were changed back to their names under the Tsars including St. Petersburg to Leningrad to St. Petersburg, Volgograd to Stalingrad to Volgograd and Nishni Novgorod to Gorki to Nishni Novgorod.
8. To keep Soviet soldiers from surrendering, Koba (Josef Stalin), issued a decree at the Battle of Stalingrad that any Soviet soldier captured by the Nazis would be executed upon his return.
9. The Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War produced casualties of about 20,000 per day, for 3 days. Likewise, the Battle of Stalingrad produced casualties of about 20,000 per day but lasted 180 days.
10. Between World War I, Stalin’s purges, and World War II, the USSR lost 80+% of its 18-39 year old men. After WWII, Stalin issued a decree to the women of the USSR that it was their duty and honor to have many children. Baby boys were coveted. This may have led a decade or two later to a skyrocketing divorce rate. The boys were pampered by their mothers and the brides were in no mood to pamper them after marriage.
11. In September, 1990, the only radio station in the entire Soviet Union was TASS. In spite of the USSR’s official belief system being atheism and dialectic materialism, when I was interviewed on a nation-wide broadcast about business, their first question was, “How does your belief in God affect your businesses?” Their next question was, “How does your belief in God affect your family?”
1. In 1991, before the USSR collapsed, there were only 4 long distance phone lines in and out of Moscow. To place a call to the USA one had to make an appointment, in person at the telephone exchange to make a call to the USA. It was always at least the next day. You showed up 1 hour early and sometimes waited 3 hours before your name was called.
2. In 1991 copy machines required a government license to own.
3. In 1991 city maps of Moscow and St. Petersburg were illegal to own. Smaller towns rarely had maps.
4. During the Soviet era, doctors, street sweepers, teachers, factory workers and nearly everyone else were paid the same amount – about $200 a month. Officially there was no “gender gap” because everyone got paid equally poor. However, few women were ever found in upper leadership positions in government or business.
5. During the Soviet era, the KGB and the nomenclature and apparatchik (those who ran everything), had their own higher-grade hotels and restaurants, hospitals, doctors, vacation spots and cars. Reminiscent of Orwell’s The Animal Farm where “all pigs are created equal, some more equal than others.”
6. During the Soviet era, people would stand in line at stores like shoe stores and when they entered, they bought whatever was available – often a 1,000 sq. ft. shop may have had only 20 pairs of shoes. Armed with shoes that didn’t fit, the citizen used his new shoes to barter for goods other Soviets found in other stores. Note from Boris Leostrin, our Russian partner: “So true. I remember that. My mom always bought us clothing of a bigger size because ‘if you don’t buy it now, who knows if you’ll have a second chance’ and so that when we grow up we would have something to wear.”
7. One of the first legal private businesses in 1990 was a life insurance company that sold life insurance the same way Amway sells soap. Multi-level, meeting in people’s homes. Advertising still wasn’t legal then.
8. Lake Baikal, about the same length as Lake Superior, has more freshwater than all of the Great Lakes combined.
9. In winter, Lake Baikal usually is totally frozen over with three feet or more of ice. The Trans-Siberian railroad is rerouted in the winter to run rail tracks quickly installed ON the lake. Truck races are often held. It all breaks apart in one short explosion one day in spring.
10. The Lena River is the eighth longest river in the world, about 2,700 miles long starting near Lake Baikal and emptying into the Arctic Ocean near Tiksi.
11. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov’s participation in assassination attempts on the tsar earned him banishment to the banks of the Lena River. He loved it so much there that he changed his name in honor of the Lena River – Vladimir Lenin. Rumor has it he might have had quite a bit of royalty in his DNA adding spite to his banishment.
Here's a wonderful article and photos that will make your visit to Plyos come alive.
We've visited Plyos many times and it is a charming stop along our way that has remained one of our favorites. There's a path up a hill for those who enjoy a view and there are a few shops in town that might possibly be open when we arrive - no guarantees.
Ask your counselor to introduce you to some towns people, take a paddle boat out on the Volga, or sit and enjoy the history of this quaint village. If we're lucky the art museum will be open and we can see some of Levitan's work.
Check out the day-by-day itinerary and see when we will be visiting - you may be surprised by the charm.
Contributed by Elizabeth Stoddard
By Mark J. Stoddard, Co-Founder, Heart of Russia Cruises
Bits and Bizarre Pieces of Russian History, Culture & Geography
PART I of 4
1. According to legend, the large dish in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral off Red Square was used for:
a. Mass baptisms b. Mass executions c. Both.
According to various guides contradicting each other, the answer is Both. Welcome to legends of the tsars.
2. In 1991, when the USSR finally collapsed under its own weight, injection needles were cleaned with an autoclave; disposable needles were unknown.
3. Also, in 1991, President Boris Yeltsin’s office in the Russian White House, had a 3’x3’ table to the left of his desk. On it were 18 rotary dial phones, each a different color. That was his switchboard. (I saw it.)
4. When Boris Gudonov’s plan to execute Prince Dmitry, son of Ivan the Terrible, was carried out…although by Boris’s account the young man slit his own throat while having an epileptic seizure…the cleric in Uglich rang the large bell to warn everyone. In retaliation, Gudonov cut off the “ears” of the bell. (The “ears” hold the bell to the pulley system that makes it go back and forth.)
5. At the wedding of Nicolas and Alexandra, many people died trying to get to the buffet table.
6. Catherine the Great, born and raised in Germany, rarely, if ever, spoke Russian because her Russian had a deep German accent. French was the language of the court.
7. When Lenin’s communist party took over the government, one of their first acts was to “nationalize” all of the churches, then burn all of the Bibles they could find, melt the bells to make cannons, and use many churches as grain storage facilities.
8. When Nicolas and Alexandra and their 7 children were rounded up in the basement and shot, many bullets were deflected upon hitting the jewels they had secreted below their clothing. At least one version of their execution. But...did Anastasia really die?
9. The song, “Lara’s Song” made famous by the movie Dr. Zhivago, is NOT a popular folk song in Russia. It was written for the movie yet is very popular for balalaika performers today.
10. The virgin forests of Russia would cover the United States of America at least once.
11. During the Soviet era, Russia had a severe paper shortage.