This is a question on everyone's mind - especially if you want to travel this year. We hear this often and of course are very tuned in to what is happening in this crazy world that will impact the Russian adventures we are planning.
Today there are several updates worth considering and we thought you might be interested, so the following links are for your consideration. We will try to update this post from time to time as additional information comes to our attention.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb:
Covid wave in U.S. will move quickly, could peak in weeks Jan 3, 2022
England Ends All COVID Passports, Mask Mandates, Work Restrictions January 19, 2022
Why Russians SLEPT on their stoves Believe it or not, the most prestigious place to sleep in a traditional peasant household was not a bed, but was situated on the stove under the ceiling.
It’s difficult to imagine anything more sacred to a Russian peasant’s household than their stove. Massive, sometimes the size of half the house, the stove - or petch - was akin to a house within a house. They used it for making food, for heating the house, storing dishes, drying clothes and even to give birth on (and die on) - and, in certain regions, it even functioned as a bath. Last, but not least, it would also be used for sleeping on.
The stove was the most coveted sleeping area in the house. Not everyone in the family had access.
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NOTE: We find Russia Beyond to be a great source for background information on Russia. It's a fun site to explore and find unusual stories and facts that will enrich your trip to Russia.
After four or five standing ovations and encores, it began to dawn on us that our passengers were shocked by our entertainment program. We’d hoped what we’d drawn up was good, but at the start of the first concert aboard our Russia river cruise ship, the entertainment salon that could hold all 180 passengers was less than half full. In that we only have one dinner seating, we couldn’t blame the sparse crowd on the dining room.
I asked a passenger just entering if restaurant problems had slowed people from coming. This gentleman offhandedly remarked, “Naw. It’s just another ship entertainment program no doubt. Seen dozens of them and they aren’t worth running up here. But something to kill time.”
“But this is our first one of the cruise season. You haven’t seen our show.”
“Sure. Nothing ever changes. All cruises are about the same,” he said as he entered the salon to find his wife.
Then the program began. One of Russia’s premiere troubadours, Dmetri Schved, dressed in full tsarist military regalia, hit the opening chord. What followed was an intensely romantic rendition of a famous Russian serenade. He followed that with a stirring rendition of Kallinka and had the audience clapping and singing with him. Alexander Barrasoski stepped into the spotlight with our mistress of ceremonies, the famous Galena Gonsherova, accompanying the world famous tenor from the Bolshoi Theatre. The audience was stunned. By now the hall was full with standing room only.
Alexander traded off with Natasha, a stunning coloratura soprano gracing the highest of notes to perfection. They sang some together and were joined by a great baritone, Vasily Karkoshov – all in the amazing tuxedos and gowns they wowed people with at the Bolshoi Theater. They were on our ship by invitation because in the summer the Bolshoi is dark.
For a change of pace, master of the flute, balalaika, guitar and violin, Igor Vasiliev played a “fantasy” followed by duets with our troubadour, Dmetri Schved.
The mixture of the greatest arias and the most romantic and engaging Russian folk music had the audience repeatedly on their feet with applause of admiration.
We’d planned for a one-hour show, unsure of how our passengers would react to such a concert. We’ve been on enough Viking, Royal Caribbean, Windstar and other cruises to know we had something completely different. No lounge acts. No smarmy garish dressed singer feigning fake jazz and popular American music. No. Our show was top-drawer, best of the best of Russian music…some of the greatest music in the world.
But at the end of the hour, as our ensemble bowed to a standing ovation, the cries of “Encore, encore” rang out. We obliged. And obliged and obliged. For a full half hour. At that point we stepped to the microphone and thanked our guests. We then announced the entertainers needed sleep but they’d be back each night we were cruising with a whole new show. The passengers cheered. And we asked, “Normally shows are one hour. We don’t want to bore or tire our passengers. But it is up to you. One hour or one and a half hours?” The shouts of two hours dominated, but we let them know we had to stop after one and a half hour.
And we did just that. Every night. Great music. Unforgettable performances. Inspiring music and professionalism that one would have to pay $100 or more for a ticket. All included in our program.
The next night, the dining room quickly cleared. When I went up to the entertainment salon a half hour before the show, it was packed. That told me all I needed.
To add to the ship board entertainment we began the cruise departure with a large Red Army brass band playing farewell songs as our passengers lined the deck. In another port, a group of women who had lost their husbands at the battle of Stalingrad, sang just before dinner. Not a dry eye in the restaurant. During lunch, Igor Vasilieve played background classics and again at dinner.
We even had a folk dance troupe come aboard and stage a great open deck performance of energetic and amazing Russian folks dances as only Russian kick dancers can do.
We have insisted that our performers provide our passengers with a chance to buy their CDs and the performers are shocked when we refuse to take any commissions. We want our passengers to take their performances home and relive some great entertainment, over and over. Then tell their friends to join us on a cruise.
Rescued from Soviet Destruction
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NOTE: this article, written by Mark Stoddard was published by Meridian Magazine:
In today’s highly charged political environment where levels of government control are strongly debated, it’s good to explore whether or not communism and socialism are really all that bad.
Occam, a 14th century English cleric used a philosophy with such cutting precision that it became known as Occam’s “razor,” namely “give precedence to simplicity: of two competing theories, the simpler explanation of an entity is to be preferred.”
Explanations for seemingly complex matters, such as political/economic organizations, can indeed be simple. I appreciate simple so before tackling today’s incarnation and derivative philosophies of Karl Marx, first consider an authentic result of the Marxian reality:
Visiting the #1 Soviet Pediatric Hospital
While visiting the leading pediatric hospital in the USSR/Soviet Union in February 1991, the chief of the hospital saw the many large dish pack boxes of gifts for new mothers Americans sent with us. He was appreciative of the diapers, ones-ies, receiving blankets for the babies and very nice gowns for the Soviet mothers. Then he spied the box filled with medications.
He asked, “I know you’ve heard of hospitals here selling the aspirin on the black market and will understand if you tell me no, but would you trust me to distribute these medications to the mothers and children who need them?” I agreed.
That summer he came to our ship filled with Americans and our invited Soviet Russian guests for our 13-day cruise. He asked if he could address the group that night at our entertainment concert. He was our honored guest and I gladly included him. I quickly became embarrassed by him.
“I wish to thank Mr. Markem Stoddardem for saving the life of a young girl.” I turned red as St. Basils. What was this about?? “You see, a few months ago a 10-year-old girl fell from a 3rd story balcony. She was rushed to our hospital where we did all we could to save her. But her temperature was so high, and we had nothing that could bring it down. Then I remembered Mr. Stoddard’s box of medications and rushed to find what I needed. Yes, in a short time this girl’s fever broke. You saved her life.”
Confused, I asked him, “The medications we brought were all over-the-counter medications. Which one helped her? And thank these people. They were the ones that sent the donations.”
“Yes, I thank you all. The medication was Children’s Liquid Tylenol. We can’t get that here.”
Think about that. The #1 hospital in all the Soviet Union for children didn’t have access to Children’s Liquid Tylenol and had to sell donated aspirin on the black market to make ends meet. The USSR was the embodiment of socialism and its totalitarian extension, communism.
From Venezuela to Cuba to China
Venezuela once boasted an enormous oil surplus and made a fortune from it. The socialists envied the money made by those who worked for it and nationalized the oil industry. Today the country is starving with oil shortages. Reminds me of what I told the Soviets on my lecture tour in 1991. “If Lenin had been born in Saudi Arabia there would be a sand shortage.”
Sadly, I visited Cuba at the invitation of the government several times to lecture on how people could start businesses. It didn’t go well. All the students were too nervous to discuss anything, and the state police were everywhere. Poverty was rampant. At a cigar factory I visited, people handmade cigars while the politically correct official read aloud the day’s newspaper. Yes, they have literacy now, but as the first black millionaire in America in the early 1900’s said, “It’s not what you know that will hurt you. Just what you know that just ain’t so.”
My friend, Eldridge Cleaver, the famed founder of the radical Black Panthers, escaped America to the Cuban socialist haven. After six months he begged US authorities to let him come home. (Later he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But that’s another story for another article.)
Socialism, simply put, is the public ownership of the means of production. So said Karl Marx. He didn’t much care about degrees of socialism but only found total ownership by the state of the means of production to be acceptable. Communism and socialism are simply degrees of the poisonous fruit -- distinctions without much difference.
Fascism is simply State Socialism where the state decides if someone will be allowed to have private ownership. Obviously, that was Germany and Italy in the 30’s and 40’s. AND...it is China today. China is no longer a communist country but a totalitarian Fascist state. The means of production are often companies that are, at best, 45% state owned and the rest owned by American and European capitalist corporations. China tried communal or collective farms, aka, state owned farms. The people starved.
China had to dump that socialist dream. In the 1990’s I visited a dirt road village outside of the Hong Kong territories called Shenzhen. It was designated by the “communist” government to be a free-enterprise zone. On our cruise on the Yangtze we had several new entrepreneurs from Shenzhen. They were nervous about China’s commitment to capitalism but thrilled to be allowed to develop their companies. Today, Shenzhen rivals Singapore for the most shining skyscrapers. So many privately owned companies.
Morality. In all forms of socialism, the state eventually mandates or dictates moral choices and behaviors. It decides what is moral and what is not. What is politically correct. You don’t.
Capitalism is an amoral private financing and ownership of enterprises. Amoral because it is economics, not a system of morality. Ironically, capitalism best exists with moral people. No one invests in people they can’t trust.
It is best to show how these “isms” affect the lives of real people who lived in countries that embraced these “isms.” Anecdotes prove little but they bring to life realities.
As a teenager living in England in the 1960’s while my father was stationed there as a USAF officer, I saw firsthand the transition from the mildly socialist governments of Churchill England and prime minister Harold Wilson’s strong push to “nationalize” most industries (socialism is the state or nation owning the means of production).
Our little branch had a couple of teens my age and I became good friends with David Cullen. One evening at our home, he doubled over in pain. I knew enough to check his lower right abdominal area for rebound pain. Severe. We took him to the emergency room where they confirmed he had acute appendicitis. My mother asked how long the surgery would take but was told “we have no beds available. Bring him back in 3 weeks. We’ll give him some antibiotics that should help him.” Welcome to nationalized health.
This is reminiscent of what happened to Canadian hospitals in December 1993, much to the chagrin of 1st Lady Hillary Clinton who had been proposing her own step toward nationalizing health care. While predicting only rosy things for such government health care, Canada closed all hospitals except for extreme emergencies due to a shortfall of money. That took the steam out of Hillary Clinton’s efforts.
In 1991 I had dinner with a member of the Soviet Politburo -- the governing communist organization. He brought up the wonders of Soviet medicine and how it was superior to American medicine and how inhumane it was to treat people the way we did by charging them for health treatments. I let it go to avoid a conflict and changed the subject to a TV show on medicine that I was on in Houston, Texas. He jumped on that.
“I’ve been to Houston. Very nice city…” Then he told me all the things he had done there.
“Why were you in Houston?” I asked.
“Oh, I had heart surgery. They are the best.” Did I just hear Marx cringe?
My friends in Windsor and Calgary often tell me how impossible it is to get good surgeries in Canada and always go to the USA for their surgeries. Canadian health care is great, they say, for treating broken bones, and illnesses, but the waits are impossible for surgeries. They were shocked when they found out my hip surgery, at age 65, took place a matter of a few weeks after x-rays showed the left hip socket was bone on bone. My Canadian friends report that at my age in Canada, the surgery may not even be allowed. If allowed, the wait could be a year or more.
When we first went to the USSR, to celebrate us becoming the first Soviet approved private American cruise company, we wanted to buy mink hats. None fit. Why? Standard deviations dictated by the state didn’t make products for big-headed Americans.
We also found out only four or five colors of paint were produced by the USSR paint factories. One was not allowed to mix them lest it vary from approved colors. Another version of a woke culture promoting socialism.
Russia After Communism
Today, Moscow looks very little like the nearly empty street affair in 1990 when I was first invited to teach 17 supreme soviets, city councils, Yeltsin’s council of ministers (cabinet), and a prime minister or two how to move to a free market economy. They were clamoring to know how to get out of the socialist morass.
They’ve done ok with fits and starts when many of the state industries were made private but in the hands of the soviet leaders to feather their own nests. But freedom has a way of getting out. It’s contagious. Mafia groups were formed for their own gain -- and we had to contend with them when we first started holding cruises in the USSR and especially in the new Russia. Those gangs have been dramatically eliminated by the power of private ownership and the colossal new economy. Stores are full. When we first went there, a shoe store might have 10 pairs of shoes. Grocery stores were pathetic. Not today.
And it is far cleaner. Downside is traffic is often terrible. Car ownership has skyrocketed with increased disposable income.
The USSR was the perpetual model of wonder for socialism from 1920 to 1990 -- 70 years of socialist rule. It led to the deaths of tens of millions who would not obey the mandates. Services were terrible. In 1990 there were only 4 outbound international phone lines. To call the USA, I had to book a call for the next day, go to the post office and wait for my line to open, sometimes a wait of 3 or 4 hours.
When Mr. Gorbachev comes on our cruise ship in Russia August 20, 2022, you can ask him yourself. His translator and confidant Pavel Pahlazhenko will be on the entire cruise. They don’t mince words.
Again, anecdotal evidence is not proof, but it does capture the essence. The realities of socialism are as follows:
One last note. Don’t look to Sweden as THE socialist paradise now. They have rejected the high tax, low service model of socialism and are constantly privatizing every industry possible. It takes time to overturn foolishness, but they are doing great things. New Zealand once had mostly publicly owned industries, but by 1995 had privatized nearly every business, including public transportation. In doing so, their dollar strengthened, people’s wealth grew.
Freedom is key. Without that we do not have free agency. Without that, what’s the point?
The Bolsheviks abolished the old Christian tradition of celebrating Christ's birth and instead introduced a lavish secular celebration for New Year. But what was Christmas like before the 1917 Revolution?
Click Here to read this fascinating article:
How many ETHNIC groups live in Russia?
The world’s largest country has a wealth of ethnic diversity. But how many ethnic groups and peoples live there and who they actually are is a question that even its own citizens won’t be able to give a ready answer to. Millions of people in Russia call themselves “Russian nationals” and they certainly are - but without regarding themselves as ethnically Russian. A “Russian national” is a matter of citizenship; as for ethnic self-identification, things can look much more complicated.
According to the 2010 census, there are as many as 193 ethnic groups living in Russia. It sounds like a very high number, doesn’t it? And yet, Russia is not even in the top 50 countries with a high degree of ethnic diversity and it is considered to be quite homogeneous in terms of the ratio of ethnic minorities per capita (the world’s 20 most diverse countries are all located in Africa). Out of a population of 137 million who indicated their nationality at the time (the total population of Russia was 143 million), 80.1 percent of its citizens are ethnically Russian and all the rest add up to 19.1 percent.
Read more of this article at the following link: https://www.rbth.com/lifestyle/334417-how-many-ethnic-groups
‘A Christmas Bell for Anya’:
Read the beautiful Russian tale once shared at the Tabernacle Choir’s concert
This original Russian tale is a beautiful reminder that the Savior was born and He lives now.
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