Paul Wescott '53 was a senior history major at Colby when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin died. When Wescott heard the news he had one question: "What happens next?"
Wescott recalls the answer given by his Russian studies professor, Harold Raymond: "I have no idea."
That immense unknown, so emblematic of Russian history, has intrigued Wescott ever since.
Fifty years later,after the Cold War, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the introduction of democracy and capitalism,Wescott and his wife, Peggy, are on board the Novikov Priboy, a 425-foot passenger ship, cruising from Moscow to St. Petersburg. They have come on this two-week river cruise along the canals, rivers and lakes of Russia to witness a country in transition. And maybe to discover what comes next for Russia as it emerges in the 21st century.
From left, Paul '53 and Peggy Wescott, Joan Brenner (Bates '49) and other trip participants check ou the sights of Moscow with tour guide Julia.
"It's been such an important part of history in my life and is undergoing a sea change," says Wescott on deck as we pass the small dachas (country houses) that appear unexpectedly in the trees on the banks along the upper Volga River. "I wanted to see it."
He's not alone.
Among the 200 passengers listed on the Novikov Priboy's captain's log are 26 Colby, Bates and Bowdoin (CBB) travelers,alumni and two professors from the colleges, along with their companions, all venturing on a "Journey of the Czars." For two weeks in July we explore Russia by river, including St. Petersburg in full 300th-anniversary splendor. We view countless icons, walk through elegant palaces, see the tombs of czars and along the 1,300-kilometer journey share every meal, bus ride and photo op.
Few on the trip have met any of their fellow travelers before arriving in Moscow. And only a small number of us have taken a Russian studies course, which is fine because the trip essentially is one. All CBB alumni trips have an educational focus,in this case Russia's history and culture. In addition to the appeal of sightseeing in Russia, people have been drawn by the promise of lectures by CBB professors, the opportunity to travel comfortably by boat and what everyone hopes will be interesting and pleasant companions. As a group our only connection is having attended one of the three colleges or being affiliated with someone who has. Some might find that a tenuous bond, but it holds,and grows stronger.
"You grant that and you start to talk to people as if you know them in a way and it makes for more of an intimacy," says Jim Foritano '65.