Waterways of the Tsars - Chapter 1: The Ship and The Stroganoff
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Whilst I'm normally happy to breeze into most of Europe with just my notes from personal research, I somehow felt uncomfortable doing this on my first, much desired, visit to Russia. Perhaps it's irrational thoughts driven by watching too many Cold War movies but I wanted my introduction to the jewels of this vast country to be with a company that had a track record there and a reputation for excellence. Sprinkle in a little luxury, as it was part of our 30th wedding anniversary celebrations, and Viking seemed to fit the bill.
Booking was easy, the very helpful Martin did an excellent job of walking us through the options of dates, ships and cabin types. The flight aspect was a little uncomfortable, having to commit to the booking, then leaving Viking to get you the best flight they could, even if this wasn't direct. I think this could be better from a premium provider. As it turned out Viking secured us direct flights with British Airways so this wasn't an issue. The recommended Prima Visa were also impressive in securing the, somewhat expensive, Visa with the minimum fuss. I was particularly impressed with the very helpful telephone assistance when I had queries.
Navigation of Domodedovo airport was simple enough and the kind lady at immigration directed a few of us to use the quiet Diplomatic Channel to get us through passport and visa checking as quickly as possible. The Viking rep was waiting to greet us and we wheeled our cases out to catch the luxury coach to the Rurik, which would be our home for the next 12 days. Most passengers wheeled their own cases but Viking had sent a crew member to help one couple with their cases. So if you need help you should arrange it as part of your booking. The organised chaos at the airport led to heavy traffic and a ring road at a standstill, but that worked in our favour and our driver took us right through the centre of Moscow for our first glimpse of some iconic landmarks.
It took about 90 mins to get to the River Port at Khimki North West of Moscow, where an efficient check in and prompt delivery of our bags, allowed us to do a speedy unpack before heading into dinner. We had booked Deluxe (DX) stateroom 212 which was ideal for our needs (we didn't plan spending much time in our room), as it had all the necessary facilities e.g. safe, fridge, hair dryer and a picture window looking out over the river.
Dinner, served in the Neva restaurant, is smart casual and open dining. Beef Stroganoff was the recommended dish and the tender beef and German noodles was unusual but very tasty, This turned out to be the first of many meals we were to enjoy onboard, including a very thoughtful cake and champagne to mark our Anniversary. At that point I issued a potential clothes shrinkage warning, as wine at dinner is also included in the package.
It was time to head to the Sky Bar where our Program Director Christopher Swennen gave a very informative and interesting orientation of the ship, together with information about the included and optional excursions available whilst we were in Moscow. It was great to hear him consider those passengers with mobility issues, giving details on which excursions or attractions may involve steps (the Armoury has 73) or even that some may find the Metro a little claustrophobic and thus can stay on the bus and skip this part. This was a great help in choosing suitable excursions and indeed Chris’ briefings and daily updates proved to be an entertaining and invaluable source of information throughout the cruise.
That was the conclusion to a very long day and time to flop onto our comfortable looking bed. Our double bed came with single duvets which led to much disappointment when the clutch and roll manoeuvre, practiced over the last 30 years, still left Linda snug and toasty in her own quilt. Well where's the fun in that! Rested and refreshed it’s time to explore Moscow.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking River and Ocean Cruises
• Read Waterways of the Tsars - Chapter 2: Moscow and Monty Python
• Read Waterways of the Tsars - Chapter 3: Uglich and Yaroslavl
• Read Waterways of the Tsars - Chapter 4: Mother Volga and The Cool Table
• Read Waterways of the Tsars - Chapter 5: Jurassic Park and the Squirrel
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