Friday, June 8
It was a very short night. This is the view from our cabin window at 3 a.m.
Today we sail most of the day, to reach the northernmost port on our journey, Kizhi, on Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe. The sailing day is packed with activities.
In the morning we gather in the 4th deck President’s Bar to make Pelmeni, little Russian dumplings. One of the chefs rolls pinches of dough into rounds about the size of gyoza wrappers. We are issued a pair of latex gloves, and offered the chance to make our own dumplings, Available fillings include potato and mushroom, minced beef and pork, or cherries. The staff has a couple of hot pots going to boil the dumplings. When finished, they look a lot like tortellini -- or at least some of them do. Shaping dumplings doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
Then we are invited to visit our captain, Boris, on his bridge. The bridge is very, very spacious. We learn some things about the M/S Rossia. She is 410 feet long and, at maximum, 54.8 feet wide, and her draft is 9.5 feet. She was built in the 1970’s in what was then East Germany, and is one of at least 50 boats of this design. Passenger capacity is 220, crew capacity 119. Her maximum speed is 14 knots, driven by three main engines, and she is steered with five rudders and bow thrusters. Boris has been her captain for four years; she underwent a complete retrofit in 2008, so presumably since then.
Then comes lunch, of course. I have skipped breakfast to do an hour of yoga, so for once I am properly hungry. The vegetarian lasagna, which Hubby and I share, is quite good.
In the afternoon there is a Blini party. Hubby makes one of these Russian pancakes, think like a crepe, flipping it like an omelet. The first, he reports, didn’t go so well. The second went fine.
We sail north on broad Lake Onega, finally arriving in Kizhi about 4 p.m. As we approach we see the ensemble of churches: a winter church, a summer church, and a bell tower. The architecture is striking.
Here again we have a local guide. We learn that Kizhi is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of three in Russia (the other two are Moscow’s Kremlin and Red Square, and St. Petersburg’s central area). We stroll along a boardwalk and then a graveled path to the "ensemble" of churches, the typical grouping in northern Russia of a summer church, a winter church, and a bell tower.
There are vipers on the island, so we are encouraged not to venture into the high grass. Once again it is warm and sunny -- and it was so cold sailing up the lake that we even had the heat in our cabin on! We are enjoying one of only about 60 sunny days a year in these parts.
The Church of the Resurrection, the summer church, is as tall as a nine-story building. It was built beginning in 1714, and is constructed of specially selected pine logs, cut only in winter and only with an ax, so as to keep as much of the resin in the wood as possible. No nails are used in the construction, all is notched and fitted. There are 22 domes, shingled with aspen, set atop curvilinear structures designed to drain the rain and snowmelt water away from the outer walls.
We can’t go into the summer church, as it is being renovated.We do go into the smaller winter church, small enough to be heated in winter. The winter church was built 50 years after the summer church, and the bell tower was added in the 19th century.
Next we visit a farmer’s house. “House” is sort of a misnomer, as it is a barn and workshop as well. In the winter the family lived in the downstairs rooms, where the walls were insulted by drifts of snow. In the summer they lived upstairs, where there are a main room for living and sleeping, with a hearth, and a “best” room behind. Also upstairs is a loft where the boats, nets, tools, and crops, were tended. The animals lived beneath this loft.
Families lived on what they could harvest from the lake and grow on the land in the short growing season. In the 19th century, there were three villages on Kizhi Island, which is one of a group of 365 islands in Lake Onega. The islands have been inhabited for at least 1000 years. Russians migrated here, bringing the Orthodox religion with them, converting the pagan inhabitants. Only 10 people live on this island year-round now.
There is more to see -- the Church of the Lazarus, a windmill, a carillon, another small church, more farmer’s houses. I walk to the end of the path and out onto the pier. Hubby elects to join the Captain for fishing in the lake. The fences are very interesting here; the cross-poles are placed at an angle and tethered to the uprights with some kind of vine or twig. It is unique.
Eventually I make my way to the fisherman. As I stand there, Hubby catches a fish. Yes, you can almost see it. Regardless of the size of his catch, he is applauded and awarded with a shot of vodka and a hunk of pickle. They will cook the fish for tomorrow night’s dinner, we are told.
Triumphant, we return to the boat, The King Contingent gathers in the Tsar Bar for beverages. I take a time out to post pictures for yesterday’s blog; when we are stationary, the satellite signal is much better. I just make it to the bar in time for a glass of Russian bubbly. Then it is dinner time. Tonight is a Russian buffet. This turns out to be a good thing, because we can be very sparing with portion sizes.
We soon set sail for tomorrow’s port, Petrozavodsk. A line of other cruise boats are following us as we head south and east down Lake Onega and onto the Svir River.