Viking Surkov to Moscow

My wife and I started planning in the summer of 2005 to take one of the Russian ships of Viking River Cruises (5700 Canoga Ave., Ste. 200, Woodland Hills, CA 91367; 877/668-4546). We were interested in specific dates in 2006, in order to celebrate one of our birthdays and our anniversary. Our time slot fit the schedule of the Viking Surkov, with a departure from St. Petersburg on June 25 and arrival in Moscow on July 5.

We made our cabin reservation with Viking and then made our own airline reservations with United and SAS. The cruise and flights came to about $8,500, not including gratuities and four days in St. Petersburg.

In order to get over jet lag and also to see more of the city, we arrived in St. Petersburg four days ahead of the ship’s departure. Our hotel there, the airport pickup, tours in the city and to some of the beautiful palaces outside the city, ballet tickets to the Mariinsky, being delivered to the Surkov’s dock in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, the pickup at the pier and the dropoff at the SVO International Airport all were handled by Palladium Tours (Artilleriyskaya St. #1, Office 160, St. Petersburg, 191104 Russia; phone 7 812 5796644, fax 5796584 or visit

In the way that everything was taken care of, Palladium Tours was superb and can only be highly recommended. A small company, it handles only private parties and small groups and not anything having to do with tours from the large cruise ships.

They were up front with the charges for the category of hotel we wanted and the costs for their guides and drivers. They even trusted us and we did not have to make any down payments. After our arrival, we went to their office and paid with a Visa card plus 2½%. Excluding tips to guides, souvenirs and meals, we paid $1,840 for this part of the trip.

On the afternoon of our fourth day in the city, we checked into the Viking Surkov and quickly got adjusted to what would be our home for the next 10 days. The ship stayed moored there for two days, during which time a number of very interesting shore excursions were conducted. We had previously worked it out with Palladium that none of the palaces and places we would visit would be repeated for us with the ship’s tours and that worked out well.

The Viking Surkov is Norwegian owned and Swiss managed (!) and has a German chef. That turned out to be a wonderful combination and, oh, boy!, did we eat well, with 4-course lunches and 4- and 5-course dinners.

From St. Petersburg, we cruised on the Neva River, Lake Ladoga, the Svir River, Lake Onega, the Volga River Canal and on and on through more connecting canals, small lakes and many locks, finally arriving in Moscow. The total mileage was about 840. But it was not just cruising, as we also stopped in five very interesting towns along the way.

In Mandrogy, an arts-and-crafts town, Jan bought a small wooden angel. Kizhi, an island on Lake Ladoga, has old wooden churches, and that whole island is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other stops were Goritzy, Yaroslavl and Uglich. All were different, though basically each had a town center or kremlin (fort) and then some old and historic churches with walls upon walls of icons. Uglich, for instance, was an industrial town that was producing a lot of what Russia needed, from toothpaste to armaments.

When the ship was underway and between the different ports, the guides who normally accompanied us on the shore excursions would give lectures. These were on the Russian language, history and contemporary politics. These experienced guides were very proud of their country and especially the heroism shown by the defenders of St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) in WWII. Also, they frankly and fairly talked about their feelings toward their new system of government as well as on the pros and cons of the open-market system.

We did not like Moscow as well as St. Petersburg, but the whole area of the Kremlin (especially the Kremlin Museum) was very interesting. The wealth displayed in that museum is beyond description, but our admiration was somewhat tempered by the thought that while the tsars lived with such opulence, the masses were downtrodden serfs.

It was a very nice trip, one of the best that Jan and I have ever taken together.

San Antonio, TX