August 22 - Helsinki to Moscow
Our airport taxi arrived at the hotel just as we were walking out to the curb at 6:20. It made one more stop for another passenger and then dropped us at the airport at 7:00. We had plenty of time to check in, go through security, have a small breakfast and board our plane at 9:00. The plane to Riga, our first stop, was a twin-engine prop plane. Seating was two-by-two so we both got to see the countryside when the clouds disappeared. We landed in Riga at 10:30, went through immigration and had a quick lunch. I tried to use the airport's wireless connection, but the WIFI service wouldn't let me charge usage to a credit card. In fact, there was no option to do so. It said that I needed to buy a prepaid card at a WIFI station, but there were no WIFI stations. Oh well, maybe I'll get connected at the ship in Moscow.
Riga to Moscow was on a much larger plane - Boeing 737. I was hungry again, so I bought a salmon and crab sandwich (one half was salmon, the other half was crab) and a cup of coffee. Ann had some sparkling wine which I managed to soak my hands with when I opened it. The plane was not full, so we had a row of three seats to ourselves. I was a little concerned when they said the flight was co-managed by Aeroflot, but the crew seemed to be Latvian so I stopped worrying.
We got to Moscow on time and breezed through immigration and customs. When we reached the lobby, we couldn't find the driver of the car service that we hired - Moscow Transfer Service Company . A freelance taxi driver helped me go to the information booth and have him paged. (Don't let anybody tell you that all Moscow taxi drivers are hustlers). Our driver finally showed up. At the same time, the Vantage tour person saw Ann and told us we could go on the Vantage bus. Vantage makes flight arrangements for their tours and includes a shuttle service to the ship. We made all of our flight arrangements ourselves because we went to Scandinavia first so we got a big price break from Vantage. That's why we hired a car service. Well, we took the car service to the ship and arrived in record time - way before the Vantage bus.
(After we got home, we had the impression that our car service hires independent drivers that don't necessarily have licenses for airport pick-up. We heard rumors that car service is tightly controlled by the government or other powerful individuals. That may be why our driver tried to be inconspicuous).
We were greeted by extremely friendly and helpful people when we boarded our river boat - the ms Nikolay Chernyshevsky. They got us checked in and to our room right away. Our stateroom is fairly small and compact - much smaller then our cabin on the ferry to Helsinki. We have two small beds separated by an end table under which is a refrigerator. There is an air circulation/cooling/heating unit, a closet that fits all of our clothes and a bathroom/shower combination. The shower is over the sink and our toilet kits are stored over the toilet around which is a shower curtain. It sounds strange, but it works.
After unpacking, we took a tour of the ship to see where everything was. Then we had a briefing by the staff about safety regulations, life on board the ship and what to expect on our daily city tours. Dinner was open seating; most tables are for six. We sat with a couple from Florida and another couple from Minnesota. It was pretty noisy in the dining room but we managed to carry on a conversation throughout the meal. We had a Greek salad, cucumber soup, beef Stroganoff (made without cream) and a sponge cake kind of thing with cream filling and a berry topping decorated with a tulip flower spoon.
After dinner, I took a shower and then we went strolling along the dock. We are tied up to three other boats whose passengers have to walk through our boat to get to the dock. Apparently this is a common arrangement on the Russian rivers. There were lots of other boats along the pier that is about a quarter mile long. We had directions to a store where we could go to buy some Russian vodka, but we didn't want to go there in the dark. The path to the store went through a park which was very dark and foreboding.
We settled back into our stateroom at nearly 10:00 PM.