I saw things in Russia, yes, but I saw them from a distance. I saw them either as they were offered to us through the refracted lens of our Viking tour guides, or as I gazed out with my own eyes from the decks of the beautifully appointed ship on which we journeyed through that vast country’s northwesterly parts.
From on deck I saw both swelling waters with pastoral landscapes….
….and intimate-looking villages such as this one.
On the one morning that I didn’t keep the light-cancelling stateroom drapes drawn and so woke fully up at 4am, I caught a spectacular sunrise and even at that early hour saw householders patiently fishing for their breakfasts.
I also saw from on deck this abandoned building, just between two other tidy structures, and I’ll admit that the contrast took me aback some.
Then this same juxtaposition was on display once again, on one of our long land days, when we spent time in the village of Uglich.
Near the end of our walking tour there, we were meant to take 20 minutes to enjoy the riverside vistas and ponder the local art. All I could do, however, was to study the burned-out house just across the street from the riverbank:
The contrast seemed so pronounced: On my right hand side, pretty awninged booths offering exquisite hand-painted jewelry boxes and delicate watercolor depictions of St. Basil’s Cathedral; and on my left, this scene of devastation.
What seemed especially strange to me was the fact that no official attention had been paid to these burned remains. It was as if the building was invisible to the people parking their cars here.
Here in the States you couldn’t even get near a place in this condition. It would be boarded up, and even the lot it sat on would be crisscrossed with yellow crime tape.
In the States you couldn’t so much as look inside such a building, but here?
Well, you can see for yourself: I could have crawled right in this window if I’d had a mind to (and if I were fearless and/or insane) for here it all was, open to its god as the saying goes, and open too to any interlopers bent on the scavenger’s task.
And so it was that on this day, fully halfway through my two-week visit to Russia, I began to realize that this whole Russian trip would be offering a study in contrasts. Tune in tomorrow for specifics and the decidedly darker chapters my curiosity had me turning to.