Russia From the Crows’ Nest

Cold War naval officer returns to journey the Volga

When Hugh Crow was on board on a submarine off the Russian coast during the Cold War, he could only dream about seeing the sights above sea level like the historical landmarks of Moscow and imperial treasures of glittering St. Petersburg—was just a dream. But after all the traveling he did as a U.S. Navy officer with his wife, Joanne, and three kids, he finally realized that dream last summer with Grand Circle Cruise Line on Russia Revealed: Moscow to St. Petersburg.

“My husband served on a nuclear submarine the first two years we were married, and then we lived in Korea for two years.”

Their subsequent relocations for his work—27, to be exact—left little time for pleasure travel, but the Crows have since made up for it in retirement. And needless to say, their quarters on the Volga much more chic than on a nuclear submarine. “The Tikhi Don was so comfortable and the crew was so friendly and the food was delicious. It was really just such a special time,” said Joanne.

“Moscow (above) is historic in the present time. It’s more of a working city… St. Petersburg is a place where the rulers began and you can see all of the beautiful things they built for them,” said Joanne.

The Crows were delighted by one of the romantic traditions that they witnessed in Moscow. Their Program Director, Igor Litvin, brought them to Luzhkov Bridge, where newlyweds and couples attach locks to trees and throw the keys into the river, to ensure that their marriage will be strong and everlasting.

The “trees” in this part of Moscow are iron, because so many hopeful couples attached locks that they ran out of real branches.

The Crows’ romance began in the early ‘60s, when they were twisting the night away to Chubby Checker at a party. “Do you ever smile so wide your teeth get dry? The night I met Hugh was just like that,” said Joanne.

Over the years there were lots more smiles through their world-wide adventures. Nine-time Grand Circle travelers, the Crows most recently settled in Gainesville, Virginia to be closer to their grandkids and two of their three children.

Joanne is active in her retirement community's photography club, and she has online albums for all of their trips, and shoots videos that posts on YouTube.

Joanne and Hugh made plenty of new friends in Russia.

She said that one of the most intriguing experiences during Hugh’s military service was a U.S. State Department-sponsored overseas diplomacy school to teach them how to assimilate in different cultures.

That training was helpful in Russia. “I really enjoyed going to someone’s house for a Home-Hosted meal and being welcomed for tea. You learn so much about the history of the royalty and the present-day (on Russia Revealed).”

Despite the frequency of their pre-retirement moves, the Crows are just as energized today about traveling. Especially after hearing the adventures of their son Scott, whose Navy and civilian job brought him to Russia’s overland gems before his parents had a chance to explore them. “We just want to keep seeing the world for as long as we can.”

Joanne’s camera has captured trips including France, Sicily, and The Great Rivers of Europe. But she said Russia Revealed, including the pre-trip to Tallinn was one of their favorites.

“We just loved it there (in Tallinn),” said Joann. “We were told that if you wanted to buy amber, you should probably buy it here because it’s much more expensive in Russia. I bought a beautiful necklace. We always love to buy one or two pieces of jewelry on every trip. It’s much harder to buy souvenirs for men!”

And while the cities bookending the trip were just as fantastic as the couple thought they’d be, the little villages in between were just as delightful. “The beautiful islands that we visited and the little houses were really something. I didn’t think we’d experience that.

For them, the highlight was Kizhi Island.

A woodcarver offered up a souvenir—and intriguing experience—for Hugh to take home.

“Our favorite place we went to was Kizhi Island. The color of the onion domes are darker, more vibrant (than in the city), and the air was fresh. I can’t believe how beautiful Russia is but Kizhi Island …. You’re out walking and it’s just exhilarating!”

The 22 onion domes of Kizhi Island were built without a single nail.

Other highlights included their optional Evening at the Russian Ballet tour, as the Crows are patrons of the arts and frequent performances at the Kennedy Center.

The Crows spent an evening at the Bolshoi Ballet in St. Petersburg.

They also greatly enjoyed the antics at the Moscow Circus, where Joanne captured a unique moment in time. “I loved seeing the circus, when the man put his head in the lion’s mouth. They don’t do that in the United States anymore!”

Adults enjoy the circus just as much as kids in Moscow.

As for their next trip, the Crows will likely be planning a "big one" to celebrate their 50th anniversary—possibly Essence of the Elbe: Berlin to Prague.

If you’d like to learn more about this trip from our travelers, check out this video featuring Grand Circle Cruise Line travelers like the Crows describing—in their own words—what made their experiences in Russia so memorable.