If Volga churns up dark images, Uglich is the light

Travel Weekly associate editor Paul Felt cruised the Volga River part-way from Moscow to St. Petersburg. His report follows:

MOSCOW -- While the end points of the popular Volga River cruise-tour programs -- Moscow and St. Petersburg -- are the main attractions, points in between can make for intriguing travel experiences.

As our cruise ship, the Nikolai Bauman, sailed the canal from Moscow into the Volga, we got a sense of the dark times Russia endured under the Soviets.

The six locks that made it possible for our ship to traverse the canal were built by gulag political prisoners.

Many of the reservoirs over which we cruised had been inhabited areas until the Soviets ordered them flooded, making no provisions for the residents, our tour guide said.

At one point, the belfry of what was St. Nickolas Cathedral in the town of Kalyazin protruded from the water, a sight that drew many of us to the ship's bow, cameras in hand.

An Orthodox procession in Uglich, Russia, a city along the Volga River. We found a warm welcome in our first port of call, the 10th century town of Uglich. Here river-cruise tour groups visit the 3-centuries-old Transfiguration Cathedral and Church of St. Dmitry-on-the-Blood.

St. Dmitry's was built in 1692 to honor the canonization of the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, Tzarevich Dmitry, who in 1591 was killed in Uglich amid much mystery.

A choir of monks sang for us inside the 1713 Russian Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral. Religious icon paintings, unobstructed by pillars, line the cathedral walls.

The shops sell locally made cheese, which I found similar to Muenster in flavor, and Chaika watches. My mother haggled over the price of the wind-up watches before buying three at a discount.

My big purchase, about $25, was a watercolor of farm women, in vibrant dress, dancing amidst brilliant fall foliage, a piece that defied the gray stereotype of rural Russian life.

It reminded me of an oil painting that had grabbed my attention earlier at the Tretyakov Gal-lery of Russian Art in Moscow.

Now, despite the great art and architecture of Moscow, which we enjoyed on our pre- and post-cruise tours of the city, I think most often of tiny Uglich, its people and its enduring Russian charm.

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