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A half-day cruise beyond Uglich the Volga swings east and churns through the Rybinsk power station. We pass a statue of Lady Volga and continue north through a series of reservoirs on the Kovzha and Sheksna rivers that lead into Lake Onega and on to Lake Ladoga, the largest body of fresh water in Europe. Watching the shoreline disappear over the horizon I try to imagine how it was for the people of St. Petersburg during the WW2 blockade of their city, when the “road of life” across frozen Lake Ladoga was their only lifeline for provisions and medical aid. The 900-day siege of Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was called back in 1941, is a harrowing saga of starvation and disease that claimed the lives of at least a million people — more than the combined war losses of the U.S.A. and U.K. But no amount of reading had prepared me for the sense of isolation the people of Leningrad must have felt. Lake Ladoga and the vast empty land surrounding it are far larger and more remote than I ever imagined.
From Lake Ladoga a short cruise down the Neva River takes us through the industrial outskirts of St. Petersburg and on to the River Passenger Terminal on the southern outskirts of the city. Bus number 22 is waiting on the wharf and Victoria is ready to show us around her hometown. But that’s another story and another slice of Russian history.