The average Russian river cruise conveys travelers roughly 400 miles between the nation’s largest cities – St. Petersburg and Moscow. Our virtual journey with Context will be much more expansive, traveling through more than 20 remarkable towns and cities.
Our local historian will complement the five-week journey with video recordings and high-resolution photographs which capture the magic of an in-person experience. Each lecture will be devoted to the architectural, historical, and natural highlights of the principal stops along this route. We will cruise Europe’s longest river, the Volga, stretching through Russia for 2,300 miles.
We begin from Northern Russia, learning about the Solovetsky Islands located in Onega Bay – the site of the world-famous Monastery. Together we will journey from Kizhi Island to Valaam. Next, we discover Uglich, where the son of the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible was murdered in 1591.
We also pause to experience Kostroma, the city that gave birth to the Romanov dynasty at the beginning of the 17th century. Cruising further down the Volga river, we will disembark at Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Lenin, and then travel south to Volgograd–better known as Stalingrad. Our cruise concludes at the bank of the Caspian Sea.
Led by historian Vadim Malinovsky–who himself has visited all the sites he talks about during this virtual cruise-–will provide an understanding of the mythical diversity of Russia’s many regions from North to South and their historical roots. Designed to inspire curiosity and future travels, participants will come away with an appetite for Russia beyond Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Lecture One – The Northern Magnet of Russia:
During our first week, we will disembark in Petrozavodsk, Kizhi, Valaam, and Solovki.
- We will explore the Karelia region of Russia, starting from Petrozavodsk, the province’s capital city. Then we will head to Kizhi Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1990. Among Kizhi’s many treasures is the Transfiguration Church, an architectural masterpiece featuring five tiers of 22 intricately decorated wooden domes–built in 1714 without using a single nail.
- Then we will go to the Valaam Archipelago, a group of 50 islands in the north of Lake Lagoda, the largest lake in Europe. We will explore its central Monastery Complex, dominated by the majestic Cathedral of the Transfiguration–one of Russia’s most sacred Orthodox sites.
- The final site of the lecture will be the Solovetsky Islands (Solovki), where we will explore one of the most northers monasteries of Russia and the area where GULAG forced labor camps were started by Joseph Stalin.
Lecture Two – Between Saint Petersburg and Moscow:
During our second week, we will disembark in Tver, Uglich, Myshkin, and Yaroslavl.
- We will first explore Tver, which nearly became the capital of the Russian Tsardom.
- Uglich was a vital city in the 16th century, and a significant historical event took place there in 1591 when a 10-year old Dmitri, the son of Ivan the Terrible, was found dead. As Dimitry was the last scion of the ancient Rurik Dynasty, his death precipitated the dynastic and political crisis. In the next dynasty, Romanovs popularized Uglich as a town of pilgrimage.
- After Uglich, we will have a short stop in Myshkin, often a day-stop for river cruise ships. Myshkin retains architectural features characteristic of 19th century Russia and has some unique museums to explore –like the Museum of Smirnoff vodka.
- We will finish our lecture in Yaroslavl– one of Russia's most beautiful cities. With its incredible and inimitable architecture, it is indeed the jewel of the Golden Ring of Old Russian cities east and north of Moscow.
Lecture Three – Following the Volga River
During our third week, we will disembark in Kostroma, Nizhny Novgorod, Cheboksary, and Kazan.
- We will start in the town called Kostroma that used to be one of the largest commercial centers of Russia since the end of the 18th century.
- We will discover the Ipatiev Monastery founded at the beginning of the 14th century and rightfully considered one of the oldest in Russia. Then we will head to Nizhny Novgorod (colloquially shortened as “Nizhny”), an ancient Russian village that has grown into one of the biggest and best-developed cities of the country–including more than six hundred unique historical, architectural, and cultural monuments. UNESCO has included Nizhny Novgorod in the list of 100 cities of the world of great historical and cultural value.
- After Nizhny Novgorod, we will visit Cheboksary, known as the “pearl on the Volga.” Cheboksary is the capital of the Chuvash Republic, home to the Finno-Ugric Chuvash people. Cheboksary has a long history of rebellion and uprising, such as the Freemen of Stepan Razin and the Squads of Emelyan Pugachev. It is also the hometown of one of the most famous Red Army generals, Vasili Chapaev.
- We will finish the lecture with a short overview of Kazan, the capital city of the Tatarstan Republic.
Lecture Four – Down the Volga River:
During our fourth week, we will disembark in Bolgar, Ulyanovsk, Samara, Tolyatti, Saratov
- We will start with Bolgar that is Russia’s mysterious Muslim city. The “Memorial Sign,” a shrine to the adoption of Islam, houses the largest printed Quran in the world. The massive White Mosque is a reconstruction of its ancient predecessor, which was destroyed in the 15th century. The expansive complex is a true gem of Tartar architecture.
- Then we will virtually visit Ulyanovsk, a hometown of Vladimir Lenin, the head of the Bolsheviks. After Ulyanovsk, we will find ourselves in Samara. The city was off-limits to foreigners right up until the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. In 1935, Samara was renamed Kuybyshev in honor of one of the Bolshevik leaders. During World War II, it was chosen to be the alternative capital of the Soviet Union in case Moscow fell to the invading Germans, until the summer of 1943 when operations moved back to Moscow.
- We will also stop in Tolyatti (Togliatti), the town called after an Italian communist that is a cradle of the legendary “Lada” car factory. Our fourth session concludes in Saratov–a very important town for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
Lecture Five – The Gate to the Orient and the “Port of Five Seas”:
During our final week, we will disembark in Volgograd, Astrakhan, and Rostov-on-Don
- Our journey concludes in the south of Russia, with a pause in Rostov-on-Don. This port city boasts a significant industrial, scientific, and cultural presence.
- From here, we will head to Astrakhan. Astrakhan has a rich history; before being conquered by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century and thereby becoming part of the Russian Empire, Astrakhan was the capital of Khazaria the famed multinational Empire of the 8th and 9th centuries) and was a stronghold of the Golden Horde. In the 17th century, Astrakhan was used as Russia’s Gate to the Orient.
- We will finish our lecture in Volgograd (Stalingrad). Founded in the late 16th century, Volgograd has been known by many names. Originally named Tsaritsyn, then Stalingrad, then back to Volgograd, it has a history as turbulent as its name changes. The city is heralded for hosting a victory in the Battle of Stalingrad of WW2.
- The city was almost erased, and the Soviets transformed it, literally, into a symbol of victory and in the process, graced Volgograd with broad boulevards and buildings that show off an unmistakable Stalin imperial style.
Vadim is a historian (MA) who has graduated from Lomonosov Moscow State University. His focus is contemporary Russian history. He is working on a PhD dissertation on Stalin's national policy.
How does it work?
This is a five-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.
When will I receive the Zoom link?
Your link to enter the Zoom room will be the same for all five sessions. It will be sent to the email address used to place your order 30 minutes prior to each lecture's start time.
Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. These will be provided at the course's conclusion.
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.
How much is the course?
The course is $175 USD for five lectures.
Is a recording available?
Yes. All registered participants will be sent a recording link within 48 hours of each session's conclusion.Are there additional seminars, courses, and in-person experiences being led on Russian History?
Yes! Our Context Experts will be leading several virtual experiences in the coming weeks. Details are available here.
This conversation is suitable for all ages.
90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.