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Introduction. The Moscow - St. Petersburg river cruise had been on our travel agenda for at least five years. We first saw it in a Grand Circle Travel catalog, but when we finally got around to booking it with them, they no longer offered it. We had an old Uniworld catalog that listed it, so we called for a new catalog and wound up booking the trip with them. We had never used Uniworld before and weren't sure what to expect. It turned out to be an excellent tour, and the Uniworld people in Russia were great. And because Uniworld allowed our regular travel agent to handle all the contacts with them (at no extra cost), we didn't have that hassle, either.

Because of the long travel time from Washington Dulles to Moscow (16 hours from check-in to arrival), we decided to make the two-hour drive from our home in Massanutten, VA, to Dulles the evening before the flight. By using the motel's "Park & Fly "plan, the cost was the same as the cost of parking at Dulles would have been.

Friday, 12 July. We had a leisurely breakfast at the motel and caught the 1:00 p.m. shuttle to the airport. The 4:10 Lufthansa flight was right on time. They served a very good dinner at 6:00. There was a nice breakfast, too, but unfortunately it was at 10 p.m. EDT. Overall, we were very pleased with Lufthansa throughout the trip.

Saturday, 13 July. The flight was early, touching down in Frankfurt at 5:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m. EDT). Our 8:25 flight to Moscow, also on Lufthansa, was delayed slightly but arrived in Moscow on time at 1:30 p.m. It took a ridiculously long time getting through immigration and customs (our only complaint about the trip). There was a convenient ATM in the airport where I withdrew some rubles without even falling behind the other passengers.

When we finally emerged from the airport, it was a sweltering 90 degrees. We were happy to see the Uniworld representatives. They got us on a bus, and we arrived at the River Terminal, north of the city, about 3:00 p.m. There we boarded our home for the next 12 days, the riverboat "Tolstoy." Check-in was very quick and efficient. Since we all knew our cabin numbers, we went directly to them and the key was in the door. It felt great to relax for an hour or so because it was nearly midnight EDT.

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The Tolstoy
Our luggage arrived promptly, and we unpacked. The big advantage of the river cruise was that we only had to unpack once. In our view, that easily offset having a tiny cabin. The Tolstoy was built to serve high-ranking Soviet officials, so it's not one of the newest boats. But it is the most luxurious. Our cruise had only 148 passengers, about 40% less than most other river boats. The dining room can handled all the passengers at one seating, and every table has a large exterior window. There's also a large lounge, two bars, a library, a gift shop, a conference room, and even a swimming pool. But the cabins were still tiny.

At 5:30 there was an "arrival briefing" by our cruise director, Marina. We got to know her well over the next 12 days and found her not only very able and efficient, but also very amiable, with an infectious laugh.

We had dinner at 7:20 and were pleasantly surprised both at the quality of the food and its presentation. The Tolstoy employed an excellent French chef. There was open seating in the dining room. Since almost every table was for four, we got to meet many of our fellow travelers at meals over the course of the cruise. But this night our only thought was on getting some rest. We were in bed by 10:00.

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