CAA Volga Cruise Reunion (August 21-31, 2018)
Travelog by Gerlinde Fenkart-Froeschl
This year`s Chase Alumni trip took us to Russia. Chase had been the first U.S. bank to open a Rep Office in Moscow, and we thought it would be a good idea to reconnect with the country.
We met on the M/S Rakhmaninov and spent 10 days onboard the boat, which transported the 30 of us along the Volga River from Saint Petersburg to Moscow.
As with the CAA reunion in Portugal, we had a great group of friends and had a lot of fun seeing all the sights. We also had Russian lessons (at the end we could ask for our keys in Russian) and consumed copious amount sof vodka and Russian champagne that quite exceeded expectations.
Monday, 20 August
Fifteen early arrivals met in Saint Petersburg for a lovely and quite unusual 11-course dinner at the Restaurant CoCoCo.
Tuesday, 21 August
In the morning, a bus picked up these early arrivals from our various hotels. Unfortunately, the weather was so stormy that we could not take the hydrofoil to Peterhof, the summer residence of Peter the Great. After the bus ride, we waited on line (long!), then had a tour through the palace. Fortunately the storm had stopped, and we were able to stroll through the park with its wonderful fountains and lovely statues, all spewing water. (It was meant to surpass Versailles.)
Our schedule was totally off due to the weather, but we still managed to get into the Yusupov Palace. It is one of the best restored palaces in Saint Petersburg, and the interior is stunning, especially the private theater. And of course the story of the murder of Rasputin, that took place in the Yusupov’s basement, is quite gruesome.
Time was running out, and we had to drive to “our” ship where we were welcomed with bread and salt, as is the custom. At 7 o`clock everyone participating in the trip gathered at the Panorama Bar for our Chase Welcome Cocktail–lots of hugging, laughter and, of course, drinks.
Wednesday, 22 August
The official program started with a guided bus tour, taking us to many of the important sights for which Saint Petersburg is famous: Isaak`s Cathedral, Peter and Paul Island (where all the Romanovs are buried), the battleship Aurora, which started the Russian Revolution with a gunshot, etc. We ended at the Hermitage in the Winter Palace, one of the greatest art museums in the world .
We rode back to the ship, changed, had an early dinner and then enjoyed a wonderful performance of the ballet Swan Lake in the famous Mariinsky Theater. Opened in 1860, it became the preeminent music theatre of late 19th-century Russia, where many of the stage masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov received their premieres. More recently, it’s where Anna Netrebko started her career).
Thursday, 23 August
After breakfast, off we went to the Catherine Palace with its famous Amber Room.The amber panels mysteriously disappeared at the end of WW II and were never found, but the room was beautifully reconstructed in the 1970s. This is an “endless” palace, room after room decorated in gold!
We returned to the ship and after lunch there was an optional visit to the Peterhof, but some of us, who had already seen it, explored the city by subway or visited the Faberge museum.
I felt that Saint Petersburg is a really stunning city, with its beautiful 18th -19th century architecture–a real living museum.
18.30 ALL ABOARD
Off we sailed (rather steamed). The Captain`s Welcome Dinner was also a welcome opportunity to sit on deck, sipping your glass of wine and watching the full moon rise.
Friday, 24 August
We had our first “Russian Language Survival Course”, given by our lovely Russian guide Valeria, who took such good care of us all through the trip.
The first stop to go on land was Mandrogi, a village quite touristy, but we enjoyed it. A number of us visited the local vodka museum with over 1,500 different vodkas. Wolfgang Fenkart-Froeschl and Paul Brandow enjoyed the Siberian vodka most, bought a couple of bottles and shared it at the barbeque with the others. It led to some of us dancing to the music, and the walk back to the ship was quite “happy”.
In the afternoon the Emergency Drill on board was a lot of fun, everybody in “Orange”.
Saturday, 25 August
Next stop was the island of Kizhi. It is an open-air museum where old wooden churches, windmills and farmhouses have been tranferred from nearby villages. The landmark is the Transfiguration Church (one for summer, one for winter). Unfortunately the Summer Church was being restored, and we could only enter the Winter Church.
A lovely, lovely place (and we were so lucky with the weather!), with its green meadows, the blue lake and everywhere these beautiful birch trees.
Afternoon: Russian class and a visit to the Captain’s Bridge.
Sunday, 26 August
After our Russian class, we arrived in Goritsy and visited the Cyril (Kirillov) Monastery, beautifully situated on Lake Onega. I was especially impressed by the beautiful frescoes and the walk around and through this huge ensemble of buildings.
In the afternoon, we had singing and dancing class with Irina (the singer on board) and Valeria to prepare our group for the “Talent Show”, competing against the Italian and Slovenian groups that were also on board.
After this – Vodka tasting --- five glasses of vodka for each of us! The secret is salty pickles, salted fish in between. I guess everybody slept well that night.
Monday, 27 August
We arrived at Yaroslavl. Unfortunately, I could not join the group, as “Montezumas Revenge” (in Russia they call it “Rasputin’s Revenge”) had me in its claws. (Quite a number of our group also met “Rasputin” during the trip.) Yaroslavl is the oldest town on the Volga, founded in 1010, and everybody enjoyed the walk through the town. My healthy friends especially enjoyed visiting the Church of Ilya the Prophet.
Afternoon: practice for Talent Show
Tuesday, 28 August
Uglich (and call it OOglich and not ugly-ch as our guide asked us) is a small village. We visited the Dimitry church and the Church of the Transfiguration, with its beautiful blue and star-spangled domes. We were treated to a concert by the local choir (now many in our group own their CD), but the highlight was definitely the visit to our local guides`s home. He showed us how a samovar functions and showed us his house and garden; he, his lovely wife and the two little girls were charming.
In the evening, after the Captain’s Farewell Dinner, was the Talent Show in the Skybar, and we were quite definitely the best of all the groups!! (hmm, hmm)
Wednesday, 29. August
After a morning of paying bills, doing the last gift shopping on board and an interesting “Round Table” talk with Valeria, where she told us about the life of a middle class family (her family) in Russia and answered our questions, we arrived in Moscow.
Our “come to me, come to me” guide picked us up and we drove to the Kremlin. Just to get in gave me almost claustrophobia, so many other tour groups! Once inside, it was very interesting to see the many different buildings (some modern, most old), churches, the park, the helicopter landing for Putin, etc.
After the Kremlin tour, we went to the Winzavod Art Centre to see several galleries featuring modern Russian art. There we met Dimitry Aksenov, a Russian oligarch, who supports modern art in Russia and uses Vienna, through the Vienna International Contemporary Arts Fair, to promote Russian and East European contemporary art in the West. Afterwards, we enjoyed a visit to the studio of artist Pavel Pepperstein, a very unconventional young man.
After rush hour, we went down into the Moscow subway, a unique experience. The huge halls are decorated in Soviet style, with paintings, sculptures and crystal chandeliers, and the subway trains – modern and sooo clean, unbelievable!
Thursday, 30 August
"Come to me, come to me"-guide took us on a city bus tour (the traffic in Moscow is horrendous during the whole day, not only rush hour). We saw modern highrises, buildings typical for the communist time, the university and even Barbara Bush`s gift to Moscow, the "Make Way for Ducklings" sculpture. The tour ended in Red Square. Unfortunately part of it was blocked of for a summer festival, and so the vastness of the square could not be experienced. We had lunch at a small restaurant outside the GUM (shopping hall, where you can find all the “big” names) and joined with the others at Raiffeisen Bank, where we had a wonderful cocktail and learned something about banking and culture in Russia.
The evening ended with last drinks in the ship’s Panorama Bar and a goodbye to good friends, and maybe with the idea of another trip, this time to Brazil, in about two years.
Friday, 31 August
Some of the “early birds” from St. Petersburg also prolonged their visit in Moscow. After checking into our various hotels, we met for lunch in a restaurant in Gorky Park, where Andrey Ageev, the General Manager of Western Union in Russia, gave us the opportunity to ask questions about life and living in Russia. He and his family had spent many years in New York before moving back to Moscow.
We took the subway back to the hotel (becoming quite expert). In the evening we walked to the Café Pushkin, a very well-known restaurant, and had a delicious (but a little sad) good-bye dinner.
NA ZDAR`OVIE !!
Photos by Jean-Marc Bara
Dues-paying CAA members can see more of Jean-Marc's stunning photos by clicking here.
(Below, his portrait of a Russian grandmother)