St. Petersburg, Moscow & Siberia
August 30 – September 17, 2003
This adventure takes us to Russia to explore St. Petersburg, Lake Baikal in remote Siberia and Moscow. In St. Petersburg, a city created by Peter the Great in 1703, we visit magnificent Italianate palaces of the tsars, ornate cathedrals, historical sites, and walk the broad boulevards, parks and cruise the canals. We see one of the world’s greatest art collections at the Hermitage Museum.
Next we fly east through five time zones to Lake Baikal located in Siberia near the border with Mongolia. Majestic mountains, quaint fishing villages untouched by time and shamanistic and Buddhist cultures surround this magnificent lake, the largest, deepest and oldest in the world. This remote and secluded lake is an ecological gem with hundreds of species found nowhere else in the world. Our tour begins in Irkutsk, an eclectic gold mining town founded by the Cossacks in 1651. Next we visit small picturesque villages along the west side of the lake and then head east on the Trans-Siberian Railroad past the southern end of the lake to Ulan Ude, the spiritual center of Russian Buddhists. The remote east side of the lake has a few small Siberian villages amid the wild taiga forest along the lake. We hike, fish, kayak, photograph wildlife and learn about the unique ecology of the area. We visit an authentic village of Old Believers (Russian Orthodox), a religious sect persecuted by the tsars, and learn about their lifestyle and attend a folk concert. We camp for two nights on the edge of the lake and spend three nights in private homes and have the opportunity to get to know a Russian family.
Finally, we fly back to Moscow, a city of nine million inhabitants and the political, economic and spiritual capital of Russia. Moscow is a captivating city, which has changed enormously in the last 10 years. We see all the major sites including Red Square, St. Basils Cathedral, the Kremlin, Russian Exhibition Center, Novodevichy Convent, and others. We visit the Pushkin Arts Museum, attend a performance at the Bolshoi Theater, take time out for a traditional Russian sauna, and go to a spectacular outdoor art fair. We also visit Suzdal and Vladimir, ancient Russian towns that have preserved 850 years of their rich architectural past.
Day 1. Saturday (8/30) Leave U.S.A. & Canada
Day 2. Sunday (8/31) Arrive St. Petersburg
Once you clear customs, you will be met at the airport and transferred to the Hotel Moskva, conveniently located at the beginning of Nevsky Prospekt in front of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. The hotel has several cafes, souvenir shops, a post office, business center and money exchange counters. We will have renovated rooms. After check-in you will have some time to relax before our welcome dinner. (D)
Day 3. Monday (9/1) St. Petersburg
In the morning we explore St. Petersburg, the former Russian capital, known as the “Venice of the North” due to its many enchanting bridges and canals. St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Our tour includes a brief introduction to the city center including Nevsky Prospekt and Winter Palace Square.
In the afternoon we visit the impressive Peter and Paul Fortress. After a stroll through the park-like grounds of the compound, we visit the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, considered the hearth of the fortress. On July 17, 1998 the remains of Nicholas II and his family were returned from Ekaterinburg and laid to rest alongside the other members of the Romonov Dynasty. In addition to the cathedral, the walls of the fortress house a notorious political prison whose inmates included some of Russia’s greatest radical thinkers and the members of the failed Provisional Government in 1917.
Next we visit the beautiful St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Topped with a classical gold dome, St. Isaac’s Cathedral is among the most beautiful churches in the world. Built on a massively grand scale, yet full of delicate details, it is a true wonder to behold. (BLD)
Day 4. Tuesday (9/2) St. Petersburg
Following breakfast we tour the world-renowned Hermitage Museum. Originally a small, private palace gallery, the Hermitage today houses the largest museum collection in the world. It was built in 1754-62 as the principal home of the tsars, and was later rebuilt in 1839 after it was destroyed by fire. Considered one of the world’s great art museums, it is housed in the Tsar’s former Winter Palace, with its 176 Roman god figures on the roof, and the adjoining Small, New and Old Hermitage buildings – all overlooking the imposing Palace Square. The collection started as a fine art collection for Tsarina Catherine II. One can spend many hours wandering around the museum’s 500 rooms and exhibits; to see everything allegedly requires walking 14 miles. There are entire rooms devoted to each of the Grand Masters. We have lunch in the museum cafe.
In the afternoon we explore the center of the city by boat on a cruise of St. Petersburg’s network of canals. (BLD)
Day 5. Wednesday (9/3) St. Petersburg – Irkutsk
Following breakfast we travel by hydrofoil to Petrodvorets, or Peterhoff, as it was called before 1944. It is located on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, 30 km from St. Petersburg. The estate encompasses several palaces and an extensive park, including a huge and impressive ensemble of gilded statues and fountains. The first of the palaces, the Grand Palace, was built for Peter the Great. It was completely destroyed by the Nazis during the war. What we see today represents an incredible feat of restoration.
After lunch, we travel by private coach to Tsarskoye Selo or Tsar’s Village (Pushkin), where we’ll visit Catherine the Great’s Palace, originally built in 1717 by Catherine I. The summer residence of Catherine the Great is now restored to its previous splendor after being completely destroyed during World War II. We return to St. Petersburg and go directly to the airport for our flight to Irkutsk via Moscow. The flight to Irkutsk is overnight due to the difference in time zones. (BL)
Day 6. Thursday (9/4) Arrive Irkutsk
Upon arrival in Irkutsk, we transfer to Hotel Angara, located near museums and other sites of interest. After lunch at a local cafe we will see the sights of this Siberian city of 600,000 people. For centuries, Irkutsk stood at the crossroads of the great trade routes where tea, silk, furs and other goods passes between Russia and China. The architectural style of this remote city is a rich mixture of neo-Classic structures and the original wood houses typical of Old Siberia. This afternoon enjoy a tour of Irkutsk, one of Siberia’s most colorful cities.
Though far from the cultural centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Irkutsk is nevertheless renowned for its intelligentsia class. Today we tour the restored house of Prince Andrei Volkonsky, now the House Museum of the Decembrists. The museum is dedicated to the group of liberally minded noblemen and officers, known as the Decembrists, who in December 1825 attempted to overthrow the czar. Their demonstration in St. Petersburg was quashed by Czar Nicholas’ troops, and those who escaped execution were stripped of their wealth and banished to Siberia. Many of the Decembrists settles in Irkutsk following their sting of forced labor.
Tonight we have dinner in a private home and experience traditional Russian hospitality and Siberian specialties! (L,D)
Day 7. Friday (9/5) Irkutsk – Listvyanka
In the morning we travel overland to Listvyanka, a small, charming lakeside village, a tranquil setting where life remains much the same as in centuries past. We take a boat excursion around the Angara outlet and stop in Port Baikal for a tour up to Lighthouse Hill.
In the afternoon we will hike around the area and enjoy a picnic lunch. We next visit the Lake Baikal Limnological Museum, the headquarters for lake research by the East Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Last, we visit the local Museum of Wooden Architecture. We will have dinner at a local restaurant in Irkutsk before we transfer to the train station for an overnight train ride along the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Ulan Ude. (BLD)
Day 8. Saturday (9/6) Ulan Ude
We wake up to find ourselves in the capital of the Buryat Republic, Ulan Ude. Upon arrival, we check-into the Hotel Geser, the most comfortable hotel in the city center located approximately two minutes walk from the main square. Previously a VIP Communist Party hotel, it is equipped with a good restaurant, 24-hour bar, satellite telephone and business center facilities, sauna, drugstore, hairdresser and laundry service.
Formerly called Udinsk, Ulan Ude was founded in 1649 by the Cossacks as a winter encampment on the Selenga River. The city later prospered as a major trading post along the tea route between China and Irkutsk. The indigenous people of the region, the Buryats, resisted frequent attempts by foreigners to infiltrate their culture and traditions. Today, the unique cultural identity, language and religions of the Buryats make visiting Ulan Ude an enriching experience.
We begin by exploring the city center, including a stop at the largest bust of Lenin’s head in the world. We will visit the local market with its colorful stalls of fresh produce and other household goods. Lunch at a local cafe.
This afternoon we visit the most impressive sites in and around Ulan Ude. The Ivolgin Datsan, a colorful Buddhist monastery with nearly 30 lamas in residence, is considered the spiritual center for Russian Buddhists. Dinner at a local restaurant. (BLD)
Day 9. Sunday (9/7) Ulan Ude – Turka – Ust Bargazin
Today we travel overland to the lakeshore village of Ust Bargazin. We stop in route for an authentic Siberian lunch in the small village of Turka. In the evening we arrive in Ust Bargazin and transfer to homestays for dinner and lodging. (BLD)
Day 10. Monday (9/8) Ust Bargazin – Chivurky Bay
Today we travel overland to Chivurky Bay, situated in the northern part of the Holy Nose Peninsula. Chivurky Bay is one of Lake Baikal’s most beautiful and picturesque bays. We will spend the next two days hiking around the area and enjoying the splendid beauty of Lake Baikal.
Upon arrival at Monakhovo, we will enjoy a picnic lunch and then hike north along the shore of Chivirkuy Bay to Kurbulik, the largest settlement on the bay. The three-hour hike will reward us with splendid views of both the Barguzin and Chivirkuy bays.
After Kurbulik, we continue hiking the east shore of the Holy Nose to Zmeinaya Bay, a beautiful location and excellent fishing spot. We arrive three hours later to a tent camp located in a beautiful sandy cove. Overnight and dinner in our tent camp. (BLD)
Day 11. Tuesday (9/9) Chivurky Bay
Today we continue our exploration of the Chivurky Bay region. We will enjoy fishing, hiking, and kayaking (weather permitting). Dinner and overnight in tent camp. (BLD)
Day 12. Wednesday (9/10) Chivurky Bay – Ushkani Islands
Today we travel by small boat to the Ushkani Islands, where we will search for the elusive and wondrous nerpa, or fresh water seals. This is the only place in the world where they can be viewed in their natural habitat. We’ll explore the forest-covered islands and the large rocks along the shore where over 100 seals often congregate.
Since fires are prohibited on the islands, we’ll have a packed picnic lunch on the shore while enjoying our surroundings. In the afternoon we enjoy hiking before returning to our tent camp on the western shore of Chivurky Bay for dinner and overnight. (BLD)