McCarthy has been to Russia nearly 20 times since her first visit in 1965 as a student. That first trip also included a cruise on the Volga, although McCarthy traveled on a steamer with roosters, hens and goats riding along and fruits and vegetables piled high on the decks. Chatting with the farmers on their way to market remains one of McCarthy's fondest memories of Russia. Over the last four decades McCarthy has led various groups, from college students to seasoned museum patrons, on summer tours as a guide and interpreter. She and Antolini want to show us the real Russia. To "fight the communist menace, evil empire stereotype," as McCarthy says, and go beyond just being ushered from spot to spot.
Sheila McCarthy (center) talks with Susan (Schaeff) '63 and Paul Pineo '63 on the deck of the Novikov Priboy
Between the two of them we're in experienced hands.
Our first day in Moscow, a Sunday, Antolini offers a side trip to a Russian Orthodox Church service. This is not on our official tour schedule, which appears nightly on the bunk of each traveler. "It was wonderful because Tony knows so much of the liturgy and so much of the music and that's really one of the things that interests me," says Ridlon after returning from the service, which included a hand bell performance. "It was just wonderful to have that kind of access."
"People often don't know what to expect from Moscow, perhaps a gray dour place," says Marina, a tour guide during our three days in Moscow. "When they come they're pleasantly surprised."
"I second that," says Chan Coddington, husband of Jane (Whipple) '55, on our bus.
Many arrive in Moscow half expecting to see heavyset babushkas and poverty around every corner. But downtown Moscow feels prosperous and cosmopolitan. Stylish young women stroll by in fashionable clothes, Western brands adorn storefronts (and a glut of billboards), and Land Rover and Mercedes dealerships offer the latest models, adding to the overflow of cars speeding through the city's streets. (Drivers appear to be still learning the skill.)
"We wanted to see how much it had changed," says Barbara (Brent) Biedermann '43, who visited Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1972 with husband Mel. Then, "everything you wanted to see was restricted. You couldn't go in the Kremlin," she says. As if to emphasize her point, we are waiting in line with other tourists to enter the Kremlin, Moscow's ancient fortress at the heart of the city. Around us mill the ubiquitous souvenir hawkers, with their packs of post cards, T-shirts and fake military pins. "We didn't expect that Russia would have made this much progress. I am amazed," Biedermann says.