One of the many advantages of travelling on a cruise ship is that you get to stop off at some more remote communities. This could of course provide an income for a local community that would supplement their salaries or wages. Unfortunately this is only a seasonal flow of funds and one hopes the people do not become reliant on tourism and over time maybe lose their traditional talents and skills.

But our next stop was a wonderful opportunity for us to see the social side of Russian culture by stepping into a smaller Russian community. On arrival in Svirstroy we followed our on-board guides in small groups to the homes of local families. My group walked to the far side of the village and on arrival we were seated in their ‘summer room’ – a bit like a conservatory which was prepared with such care – fresh flowers from the garden and some needlework and icons on the walls. Our hostesses were two sisters from St Petersburg. Since they have retired they spend the summer months in Svirstroy with their children and grandchildren. We enjoyed the most tasty tea I think I have ever had. Strong tea is poured from the tea pot only half filling the tea cup and it is topped up with hot water from the kettle. The ladies added some mint leaves from their garden to the brew and had baked some traditional cakes. Not sure what they are called, but they are made from a sort of a doughnut tasting dough and filled with jam or cabbage. I loved the jam one and was very good to try the cabbage one, but I don’t enjoy cabbage generally and this was also cold. I was very polite and finished the cake trying not to offend my hostesses … my mother would be very proud of me.

We were given an opportunity to ask questions and the on-board guide translated for us. The questions ranged from heating their homes in winter, to the main professions of people in the village (they mostly work in the hydro electric plant) to gardening. It was a thoroughly charming experience, and with the gorgeous grandson popping in to see what his granny was doing and the son-in-law pottering away outside and in the hallway, it really felt like we were experiencing (as much as we could) something unique and very memorable.

Sadly the rain got quite heavy when we left and I am sure a lot less money was spent in the local market than would normally have been spent. I did support the local craft and economy by buying myself a necklace. Jewellery always makes me happy and I love that most of the pieces I own tell a story. This necklace will always tell a warm story of the Russian people and my time in a small village on the River Svir.


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