Russia and Norway
Another great trip. We've returned from our three week trip to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Norway. We spent about 5 days each in Moscow and St. Petersburg seeing the sites. and 10 days driving/cruising around Norway. Each part of the trip had its own spectacular points.
Russia - Moscow, Sept. 4 - 9 and St. Petersburg, Sept. 10 - 14: The sites were amazing and probably the one thing that Alex, Harriet and I kept thinking is how modern and European looking the cities were. After hearing so many things about them from Gail, on the news during and since the cold war, and in all of those spy novels, I think we just expected it to be more dreary and scary than it was. As it turns out, they have been doing massive amounts of reconstruction and renovation to make everything look nice (and to absorb the maximum possible tourist and business dollars.)
In addition to seeing the obvious things, we had the chance to spend some time with some of Gail's friends and get a local perspective on things in Moscow. Andrei Melville joined us for cocktails one evening, and was kind enough to get us fabulous seats for the Bolshoi Ballet's Swan Lake. A couple of days later we had lunch with Leokadia Drobizheva and her son Sergei Drobizhev and their family at Sergei's home in Peredelkino -- we also got to visit Sergei's new house under construction nearby. The same day we visited Emil Payin and his wife for dinner, and saw their remarkable collection of folk art.
One of the strangest and saddest moments of the trip was watching the September 11 disaster unfold live on TV before dinner in our St. Petersburg hotel. We just happened to flip the set on to see the towers fall on CNN -- odd to feel safer in Russia than at home. If we hadn't been on the trip, I suppose Linda would have been stuck in Boston that week until flights resumed. Russia and Norway certainly didn't consider themselves targets of anything: even after the incidents, security was ordinary at best for our subsequent flights until the leg from Frankfurt to San Francisco.
Norway - Sept. 15 - 24: We ended up seeing a lot of Norway from the window of a car, train, or ferry. There aren't many roads in Norway, but we drove on most of them. The countryside is incredibly beautiful, and extremely varied -- from lush valleys to glaciated mountain moonscapes, from dense forest to glassy fjords. But the country is far too big to see all of in a few days; in retrospect, we would have spent more time in the fjord and mountain country south of
(around Geiranger and west), and less time driving north from Trondheim -- though the Lofoten Islands were spectacular as well. We were planning to drive back to Oslo from Narvik, but we decided to leave the car in
and fly back instead (driving is slow, due to low speed limits and all of the ferry crossings).
Compared to Russia (and even to the United States) Norway is a startlingly modern, efficient and wealthy country. You buy train tickets with a credit card from a touch-screen machine, provide nothing more than your last name to check into a hotel (so they can have a personalized greeting waiting on your TV screen when you walk into the room), and the most remote home in the most remote village is large, freshly painted, and has a big satellite dish on one corner. What Norway doesn't have is restaurants. If you're driving outside the five or six largest cities, carry food. A lot of food. You've been warned!
Just to give you an idea of our driving route in Norway, you can see the map below. Most of the ferries aren't depicted, except for the obvious one over the water from
for four hours. Most of the others were less than an hour.