June 29, 2010

Lemme tell you, I have a whole new perspective on nunneries and monasteries after our stop, supposedly at Goritzy, but actually the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery.  It seems that the aunt of Ivan the Terrible, Efrosinia Staritska established a nunnery here and was eventually imprisoned in her own nunnery.  Other women were banished to nunneries (like Peter the Great's first wife), and died here.  Men were exiled to monasteries and died here.  I lost track of how many.  But Katerin had told us that this place was "in the middle of nowhere" and she certainly didn't exaggerate.  This is where we got off the ship.

There are actually a couple of buildings here, one a souvenir stand and one an almost-completed snack bar, both are new within the past month, Marina told us.  We stood there on the gravel waiting for buses to appear, which they finally did, in a huge cloud of dust--five buses from five different bus companies!

With guest guide, Tatiana, we drove about 10 km over a VERY bumpy road to the town of (I think it's spelled) Karolia.  I could be wrong about the spelling.  But anyway there is the largest monastery in Russia there, umpteen hundred hectares, consisting of lots of churches.  Now see, I always thought that "monastery" and "church" were kind of synonymous, but apparently not  Here, the monastery is the grounds and the church is a building inside.  There is an active nunnery here with 11 nuns (presumably none have been banished here in the 21st century) and an active church with, I think, 5 priests.  Apparently women are more holy than men, or at least more dedicated. 

Tatiana explained all the churches in infinite detail, but I didn't get much out of it, because I was trying to walk on the cobblestones without breaking an ankle.  I do know that St. Cyril was here and that St. Dyonisus was here.  One painted the other.  I think it was Dyonisus who painted icons of Cyril.  See what a great student I am?  I do remember (I think) that the buildings date from the 15th to 17th century...

With the one on the right below perhaps a bit newer.

We stopped inside one small church and heard a quartet sing a song.  Walt and I bought their CD.  It seemed the proper thing to do.  They also have another interesting way of raising money.  You can take pictures inside the icon museum, but you must pay a fee to do so.  Needless to say, my camera remained in my bag! I've never been a big icon fan, though our Ukranian friend Andrij and our Ukranian wannabe friend Bill loved icons.  However, some of the embroidered icons done by Aunt Efrosinia were lovely.  In Russian winters when you have been banished, you have lots of time to embroider!  I did learn more about iconostasises, though (like there is rhyme to their reason, or vice versa, which I never knew before.

When we returned to the ship we were in time for a Russian tea with an obscene assortment of pastries to sample and a lecture on how a samovar works, though I don't think that you're supposed to pour tea made in the kitchen into it! 

I think I had enough goodies to hold me over until dinner in 2 hours and the vodka sampling after that!

Last night, before dinner, there was a Q&A with (L to R) Dieter, the Captain, and Vadim the interpreter, led by Katerin, our Program director.

We learned, for example, that women aren't captains because they have to communicate with other captains and sometimes the language gets too rough for women to hear (lots of scoffing at that!), that it takes 350 bottles of red wine per cruise and something like 3,000 eggs and other such trivia that was really kind of interesting (and which I have now forgotten, of course).

Then Katerin did her nightly briefing, talking about the next day's itinerary.  At the end she invited us to taste something called Kbac (pronounced something like "kvass").  She said it is a typical soft drink of Russia and that it is made out of brown bread.  She said she would describe the taste, for her, as something between "not my favorite drink" and "awful."

She then invited the staff to pass out cups of Kbac for us all to taste and I would say that she described it perfectly.  It tasted like drinking thin, weak, carbonated brown bread.  It wasn't the best thing I had tasted.  It also wasn't awful, but definitely not something I'd be bringing home to share with the family!

We went down to Mike & Char's cabin after the briefing and helped ourselves to some of Mike's vodka, over ice, and one of the chocolates he brought back to the ship after his solitary excursion into St. Petersburg.  There was just enough time to finish all of this when it was time to go up to the next floor for our "Russian dinner."  I think the thing that made it a "Russian dinner" was that the wait staff all dressed in typical Russian costumes.  It seems to me that the menu each night is usually something Russian already!

But everything was wonderful from the salad to the borscht to the "meat loaf" (still not sure what that meat was...perhaps pork, but definitely nothing like any meatloaf I have had in the past) to the blini for dessert.  We ate with Bill and Barbara from Philadelphia, who were delightful people and who have lots of travel experience, though this is their first with Viking.

After dinner there was a George Gershwin concert up in the Sky Bar, which Walt and I went to.  Vladim Vinogradov, the ship's pianist, did jazz stylings of 9 familiar Gershwin tunes, but he "accompanied himself" on something that sounded like a harmonica.  This is what he looked like...

It was fascinating, and at times haunting (especially for "Summertime").  I took video, which I will post, along with other videos, when I get home, assuming I don't lose them between here and home!


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