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SONG OF THE VOLGA BOATMEN

TAKE TO THE WATERS OF RUSSIA, EXPLORE ST PETERSBURG’S CANALS AND HEAD OUT ONTO THE VOLGA RIVER — DRINKING PLENTY OF VODK A AS YOU GO — IN SEARCH OF THE EVER-ELUSIVE RUSSIAN SMILE
IMAGE: GETTY

RUSSIA

The 22-dome Transfiguration Church on Kizhi island in Lake Onega; The Great Hall of the Catherine Palace at Pushkin, near St Petersburg
Fountain and church at the palace of Peterhof, known as the ‘Russian Versailles’
IMAGES: GETTY

I gor doesn’t smile. This is the first thing I learn aboard the River Victoria cruise ship, docked on the Volga River a few miles north of St Petersburg. With his neck tattoo, his almost-black eyes, his no less dark hair, Igor looks like a character in a novel by the 19th-century ne’er-dowell Mikhail Lermontov, whose Byronic, constantly dueling anti-heroes came to define

Russian Romanticism. He acts like one, too.

The bartender on the Victoria, Igor serves each shot of vodka with melancholy formality. He answers my questions curtly, without making eye contact, with a solemnity whose sincerity I can’t ascertain.

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About National Geographic Traveller (UK)

From ancient villages to stories from the locals, we uncover some of the Aegean Sea’s most gleaming pearls as we island-hop across the paradise idylls of Greece’s Cyclades. Elsewhere, we discover authentic Maori culture in New Zealand; wind our way along the Volga in Russia; and spend a long weekend in Tunis. Our urban highlights this issue include Istanbul, Lisbon, Mumbai and Bordeaux while our photo story introduces the freedivers of Jeju Island in South Korea.