Russia! Dismal, gray, food lines, sullen babushkas.
The pictures in my head don’t change no matter what the guide books say. At Venice’s Marco Polo airport, the images are reinforced as we check in by the queue at the machine that dispenses sheets of sticky plastic for wrapping your suitcase to discourage tampering. Should we get in line? We decide to take our chances.
And, we’re traveling on Aeroflot. Will the cabin be heated?
We needn’t have worried. The attendants are beautiful and gracious and there’s more room for our legs than we’ve had for years in economy class. The taxi dispatcher at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport helps us into a cab and we’re off. After 20 minutes or so, the driver turns down a gravel road between rows of trees. All looks deserted, and fears return. We stop at a check point, are waived through, and then pass a large, once ornate but now dilapidated building. Where is he taking us?
Then we see the river – the Volga, and there, tied to the dock is the Viking Thor – our riverboat home for the next 13 days. We heave a sigh of relief as we’re greeted warmly by the staff and guided to our room.
Another sigh of relief when we open the door. It’s perfect – everything thoughtfully designed – Scandinavian in light woods and soothing colors. And we have our own balcony – though with October’s temperatures we won’t be spending a lot of time there.
We’re in need of rubles and set off, following a map that should lead us to a nearby shopping center. Half way there, in the middle of a park, the snow starts falling. Beautiful. A fitting welcome, we think. We find the shopping center. There are no lines, no empty shelves, no sullen babushkas. Music plays, the shops are stuffed, and friendly people, trying out their English, vie in helping us find the ATM.
Hmmm. Maybe the guide books were right.