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RIVER CRUISING


AMAZING KIZHI


One of the best places to see Russian architecture in its purest form is on KIZHI ISLAND in Lake Onega. This is Europe’s second largest lake (10,000sq km) with more than 1,300 islands, 40 species of fish and the purest water. It is inaccessible even by Russian standards, lying far to the north and only navigable from May to October, the lake being covered in metre- thick ice in winter.


Kizhi is an outdoor museum with a multitude of original wooden buildings, the most extraordinary of which is the Transfiguration Cathedral.


Built in 1714 to commemorate the victory of Peter the Great over Sweden and made entirely without nails, it includes 22 onion domes sheathed in 30,000 aspen shingles that shimmer like silver in the sun. With other timber buildings – barns,


farmhouses and windmills – it forms a UNESCO World Heritage site. But this windswept, remote island,


barely rising above the surrounding reed beds, has a magical atmosphere beyond anything man has built here. I was not surprised when one of the


crew mentioned this was a pagan site long before the first church appeared in the 11th century and people still come to experience its formidable spiritual force.


‘The old Soviet era HAS BEEN LEFT FAR BEHIND and the “real Russia” is staging A MAJOR RE-APPEARANCE’


out along the Volga for a very different kind of Russia. It gives some idea of the scale of this country that it takes seven days to reach St Petersburg and, when not actually visiting one of the little ports along the way, we travel at a cracking pace day and night. This is a vast and empty country. After Moscow, city soon gives way to a landscape of woods and water. There are occasional villages and towns, windmills and boathouses, the onion domes of churches rising above the silver birches and then – no sign of human habitation for miles on end, just a timeless, tranquil, primeval countryside. During the course of the next week, we travel through rivers and canals, locks and reservoirs, and the two largest lakes in Europe. The endless woods are one of the


country’s greatest resources. Most houses outside the cities – and quite a few inside – are built of wood and even those built of other materials imitate the style of earlier wooden houses. The famous onion-domes of the


churches were, according to legend, inspired by candle flames reaching up to heaven. They are, though, highly practical in a country that sees so much snow – it simply slides off them. The domes might be golden, green or blue and covered in stars with golden crosses above them. But they all take on the same shape of the original wooden churches, where the domes were covered in wood shingles. The crew – all Russian, from the


64 WORLD OF CRUISING I Winter 2011-12


captain to the chambermaids – were mines of information as well as suppliers of a remarkable level of service, from excellent dining to extremely comfortable staterooms, all with their own balconies.


T


here was plenty of on-board en- tertainment, too, from lectures by a professor of Russian history and


politics to the chef giving a lesson on mak- ing blinis, as well as Russian conversation classes, folk music concerts and the art of vodka-tasting. Ports of call included charm- ing towns, churches and markets, medieval monasteries and craftsmen’s studios. We were making our way steadily


towards St Petersburg, the jewel in Russia’s crown in every sense. St Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703


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