In order to sail down the Volga I needed to shorten my stay in Volgograd When I alerted the hotel reception they said no problem just present your self when you want to check out and we will do a refund.Years of battling Western hotels on similar itinerary changes made me doubt this.However on the day in question I went to the reception and explained what I wanted to do . After a few repeats to cover my language issues she explained it would be fine but unfortunately they did not have the 2,400 Rb (50 pounds)to give me could I come back in a couple of hours.I said no problem and did just that.By this time they had scraped together the money the issue was how to do the paper work .
It was agreed I would cancel my original reservation and they refund the payment.Then they would re bill me for the new shorter stay and I would be left with 2,400Rb!
The point being that the reception staff were never less than help full they just had to figure out how to beat the system. This sums up a lot of my experience systems and sometimes the people driven by the system have a long way to go on customer focus but in general they are trying.
When I got to Astrakhan I had a different problem ,other than the hotel that Lonely Planet recommend has changed name and a new one opened with the old name ,resulting in a little 2 and froing! The hotel said they had a room but when I presented my passport they said it was inadequate where was my itinerary , stamps by other hotels in my passport and my flight tickets out of the Country.When I explained that I had none of these they said they could not accommodate me. The issue for me ,other than being homeless, was if I was an undesirable how would putting me out help.However in the end I produced my invitation which shows points of entry and exit and hopefully that is OK. I know we are very near to Grozny with all the implications to Russia but again it is applying a system without understanding why.Incidentally this is the 1st time this has happened.
The 3rd incident was a piece of old Russia something straight out of Pasternak .I was sitting in one of Volgograd's many tree lined perdition walks ,awaiting the hotel having a whip round for my 50 quid, when there appeared this procession. It was led by several young men carrying crosses , 4 priests carrying icons including one of the murdered Imperial family .There were some 300 in the procession mainly late middle aged and old women but with a fair number of younger people. They were singing hymns and the priests praying .There was a substantial police presence not as in the past to arrest them but to clear their path of people and cars. I asked at the hotel what it was about but they did not know,however I caught the tail end of a news statement ( no sound just the Rolling Stones!!) which indicated it was some kind of commemoration or anniversary of the killings.
Now a few more questions:
Why is it that even in the middle of large cities Russians can buy direct from the grower superb in season fruit and veg at cheap prices?
Why when Russians go off for a pleasure trip they are happy to take grandad ,baby and a few aunts .Ensuring the family stays strong.
Why is it on a Sunday afternoon young fathers take their infant and wife for a stroll and ice cream in the park instead of abandoning them while they go down the pub to watch football.
Finally the trip down the Volga. The Alexander Nevsky is a quite large river ferry ,now a bit long in the teeth,no air conditioning not good in 35 deg high humidity when trying to sleep.
However enough carping the 20 hour over night sail was wonder full with the quiet of the river and the blackness of the night only broken by camp fires of fisher men and campers. The early morning similar with no one up and just the soft drone of the engine and the lap of the water.The scenery is not spectacular ,trees and low sand embankments but in the several 100s of miles we only saw a hand full of villages and no towns. I am relay glad I took the river route, and for the 1 st time I had a berth to myself.Lots of love john