The Volga is Europe's longest river. It flows 3700 kilometres from an elevation of just 225 metres in the Valdai Hills northwest of Moscow, connecting with the Rybinsk Reservoir. It flows east past Yaroslavl, Nizhny, Novgorod and Kazan. It then turns south past Tolyatti, Samara and Volgograd, flowing slowly until entering the Caspian Sea in a wide delta near Astrakham, 28 metres below sea level.
Known in Russian folklore as Mother Volga, it's connected with the Baltic Sea by canals. It carries almost half of all river freight in Russia, while numerous dams provide hydroelectricity and water for irrigation. It plays an incalculable part in the life of Russia, even though most of its length is frozen for three months of the year.
Our crew boarded the MS Sholohov in St Petersburg for the journey to Moscow. The first stop was Mandroga in the Podporozhsky district, 300km from St Petersburg.
There the River Svir connects two lakes Onega and Ladoga. The beautiful recreational village has some fine examples of buildings in the fine tradition of Russian wooden architecture. It also has a museum of Russian vodka and spirit brewing. The woods are beautiful and the Remeslennuyu Slobodu serves national dishes. Locals make visitors feel welcome.
After a night of drinking and eating with fellow passengers, the next stop was Kizhi Island on the northern end of Lake Onega. This is one of Russia's oldest inhabited sites and is UNESCO World Heritage listed. The island's centrepiece is the Church of the Transfiguration, built in 1744. It has 22 timber onion domes built without nails or anything metal. It was impossible to hold services during the fierce winters and the church became known as the Summer Church. A smaller Winter Church was built later.
The island has an open-air Museum of Architecture, which has been assembled from various areas of the country and restored to form a glimpse of the past.
A wooden farmhouse on the island is quite imposing. It was occupied by family members on the upper floors, with animals and farm equipment on the bottom floor. The heat from the animals helped heat the upstairs area. Also of interest is a 1920s windmill resting on a base that can be rotated so that the blades are always facing into the wind.
Goritsy is a tiny settlement of interest to those keen on Russian history. On the south of the White Lake are the remains of the Nunnery of the Resurrection on the banks of the Shaksna River.
Tsarina Euphrosyne, accused of plotting against the Tsar, was exiled there. She took her needlewomen with her and they passed the time by stitching. There is a holy spring on the site.
Between St Petersburg and Moscow.
Euroscape Travel has 10-night Volga cruise packages including twin-share accommodation, most meals and programmed tours starting at $1680 per person from St Petersburg.
Flight Centre has return economy airfares to St Petersburg and Moscow, valid for sale until October 31, 2005 for travel between October 1-November 11, 2005, and January 16-March 31, 2006. The dates for travel from Perth are between October 4-November 11, 2005, and again between January 17-February 24, 2006. Fares include taxes and conditions apply.
To book, call Flight Centre on 131 600.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
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