I took a Vikings River Cruise in Russia, and it was Nothing like I had Expected.

My family is the type that watches those old English series on Masterpiece like Downton Abbey. I’ve never been quite a fan of these shows but I’d still sit with them and watch. During commercial breaks there was always an ad for Vikings River Cruise, and I’d sit there making fun of it because it was a cruise for elder people. Ironically, this summer I found myself on a Vikings River Cruise in Russia. 

While this article isn’t an advertisement for Vikings River Cruise, I would recommend it. My family and I spent two and a half weeks visiting big cities and small provincial towns along the Volga River. We started our trip in Moscow and ended in St. Petersburg.

Rather than giving a day-by-day play of my trip, I’ll just mention a few of my favorite places. While both Moscow and St. Petersburg are beautiful cities ripe with a rich cultural history, my favorite parts of the trip were the small towns where we got a chance to observe the rituals of every-day Russian life. One of the stops we made was in a small town called Uglich, where we had a home visit in which a local family invited us into their home and shared with us some typical homemade Russian dishes and drinks. What I enjoyed most about this visit was the opportunity to become a part of this Russian family.

In another town, Kuzino, we visited a children’s school where we were showed around by a student who also answered any questions we had about school and general education in Russia. Did you know that in Russia school does not start until the age of seven? I certainly didn’t.

Two other villages we visited, while completely commercialized, were just as amazing. When I say completely commercialized, I am, by no means exaggerating. The village of Mandrogy had been completely destroyed and practically disappeared during World War II, but in 1996 an oligarch by the name of Sergei Gutzeit decided to reconstruct the village as an “open” museum. It was rebuilt in an almost gingerbread-type style, and there you can find a hotel, farms, and workshops in which artisans painted Russian Matryoshka dolls in front of our eyes. The scene was reminiscent of Santa’s workshop, with toys, dolls, and other trinkets decorating the walls of each shop.

Similar to Mondrogy, Kizhi Island is also an “open” museum. Here you can find an area of land that looks entirely as it would have in the 18th and early 19th century with a unique architectural style. The buildings were built exclusively of birch wood and included mills, peasant houses, barns and a beautiful church in the center of it all.

I definitely learned not to judge a book by its cover, or a trip by its ad. I may have been the youngest person on my cruise, but I definitely enjoyed every second and would do it again if I could.