Russian Program Director Violetta Balakireva (on left) enjoys sharing her country—with all of its beauty and controversies—with her travelers.
By Violetta Balakireva, Program Director, Russia
My name is Violetta Balakireva and I’m a Program Director on Grand Circle’s Russia Revealed: Moscow to St. Petersburg River Cruise. I was born in the most beautiful city in the world—St. Petersburg (which, at the time, was still called Leningrad).
Since I was born when the country was known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), I am a contemporary and witness to Khrushchev’s thaw and Brezhnev’s Communist party, Gorbachev’s perestroika, Boris Yeltsin’s troubled times, and Vladimir Putin’s democracy. I love my country with all my heart, and I enjoy showing all it has to offer to my travelers from various points of view—and with all of its beauty and controversies. It gives me an unforgettable feeling when my travelers say, “We have a completely different view of Russia and its people now.”
A lot of visitors tell me that Russians are not very open and hospitable because we don’t smile. This is partially true: Russians don’t smile at everyone they pass by in the street. For us, the smile is a window to our soul, and it’s difficult to let people in easily. However, once you ask them for help or show them that you care, Russians are very open and friendly.
This particular part of Russian culture was brought to life during one of my tours when my group and I had a unique experience on the Moscow subway—and one that I will never forget. Grand Circle travelers are very fond of learning and discovering things, so I wanted to help them discover “the Russian soul” on their own. I pretended I didn’t know how to get off at the subway station, so my group had to ask people in the subway car for help. In a couple of minutes, the entire subway car was aware that there was a group of lost travelers that needed help—and every passenger on that subway car responded.
First, people started smiling to show their support in any possible way. Some of the passengers also spoke English and were able to communicate with us. At least ten of the passengers helped our group out of the subway car at our station to show us where we needed to go. They accompanied us all the way out of the subway, and made sure no one was left behind. Friendly handshakes, bright eyes, and open smiles were the physical marks that helped my group discover the mysterious Russian soul.
Encounter Russia’s culture, history, and museums on Grand Circle’s Russia Revealed: Moscow to St. Petersburg River Cruise.