Time-travel your way down the world's rivers

Time-travel your way down the world's rivers
By admin


The sights come to you on a river cruise, as your bedroom sways with the tide, your luggage stays static and your window is parked in front of the emblems of religion, civilisation and war.

These are three river cruises that voyage through the stuff of history text books, from the exoticism of China's Yangtze River to the antiquities of Egypt's Nile River and the culture of Russia's Volga River. 

RUSSIA: VOLGA

Start: Moscow 

Before you board your vessel, you may want to get the lie of the land, literally. This may sound bizarre, but bear with me – if you lie flat on the cobblestones at the corner of Moscow's Red Square you will see the earth's curvature. Yes, it's that big. Another communion with earth is possible if you stand on the brass plaque set in the middle of the cobblestones. This marks the centre of the square and the symbolic heart of Russia. Look up from this spot to be enthralled by the cupcake domes that dominate the World Heritage listed square.

The Journey 

This is a country that has evolved from tsarist decadence to communist greyness and beyond. The Volga River is the longest river in all of Europe, and the perfect liquid avenue from which to make sense of the enigma that is Russian history. 

The Volga is crucial to the country's mentality and has been called the main street of Russia but you won't face any traffic as you float past the touchstones of the country's tumultuous political history. Citadels called kremlins sit beside communist era structures and wooden peasant cottages. The Old Russia is found en route at Yaroslavl, a golden ring city which dates back to the 11th century and feels like a lived-in museum. Street markets are book-ended by ancient churches and walkways are shadowed by the iconic onion domes. The uniquely Russian domes are also found in the ancient town of Uglich, marked by a sharp turn in the river where you can see the renowned architecture from the water.

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Finish: St Petersburg 

Called the Venice of the North for a reason, the European feel of this city comes courtesy of Italian architects who constructed baroque buildings around the network of canals. Renowned for its bohemian attitude, the best time to visit is during the white nights, when the sun never sets on the city. 

St Petersburg's Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood might sound grim but it contradicts its severe name with a gingerbread house design complete with confectionary coloured tiles. Inside the church decadent religious paintings cover every surface, even the supporting beams. 

CHINA: YANGTZE

Start: Chongqing

It's likely that your river boat will be shrouded in an oriental mystique as you depart this city that is distinguished by a frequent fog. Chongqing dates back 3000 years and used to be the capital of a Chinese dynasty in 316 BC. Steep staircases wind between houses in this mountain city which overlooks the end of the river, as the Yangtze meets the Jialing River. From this point you will journey upstream towards China's second largest city, Shanghai, with tapered mountains rising from out of the mist along the way.

The Journey 

Fengdu is a ghost city built 1800 years ago and filled with temples to the demon world. Two men came to Fengdu thousands of years ago to practice Taoism and they became immortal by self-cultivation, which sounds gory, but simply means an adherence to Taoist principles. 

The temples here are themed by the punishment of specific sins with names like ghost torturing pass, no way out bridge and river of blood. You'll be in need of a drink after facing the Chinese version of hell and your river cruise will be well stocked to accommodate this desire, rocking you to a sleep that is hopefully free from nightmares. 
Further along the river lies the Three Gorges Dam – a superhuman feat – and you are in the best place to view it onboard this river cruise. It is the world's largest power station, standing 185 metres high with a 600km long reservoir. 

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Finish: Shanghai

This pearl of the orient is the second city in China and it displays all the hallmarks of progression that have made the country the prosperous land that it is today. History can still be found in Shanghai however, if you head to the neighbourhood of long tangs; old-fashioned terrace style houses that hark back to the turn of the 20th century. 
Here, bicycles lean against narrow laneways and washing hangs overhead from power lines. It is easy to get lost here, but if you look above the stone archways and wooden doors, the steel buildings loom large, blinding you as they refract sunlight. The neighbourhoods are crowded but intimate with some residents relaxed enough to stroll around in their pyjamas. 

EGYPT: NILE

Start: Aswan

The little known departure port of Aswan is one of the most striking cities in Egypt. Ideally located on the banks that line the famous river, Aswan is home to the Nile cataracts – rock formations in the river that has sunk many a ship in its time. But for your river cruise captain these are a navigational piece of cake and you will learn how the obstacles made Aswan a natural fortress. Green islands flecked across the river add charm to a backdrop of sand dunes. Tombs of the nobles are lodged into the sandy west bank of the city and they date back to more than 2000 years before Christ. 

The Journey 

It's easy to argue that the Nile is one of the most iconic rivers in the world. Just the name conjures images of pyramids, pharaohs and sphinxes. The journey between Luxor and Aswan takes in palm trees that rise from the sand and breeze-blown feluccas – wooden sailing boats which channel the wind but won't match a cruise ship for speed. 

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This river enabled the ancient civilisations along it to thrive and prosper. The symbol of ancient Egypt, the key of life, represents the Nile with its loop at the top symbolising the Nile delta and the crossover representing the east and west banks. Most river cruises along the Nile have an Egyptologist on board to interpret the ancient sites and the boggling pictograms that are hieroglyphics. A highlight of the journey is the Temple of Horus at Edfu with its instantly recognisable black falcon god that was built in the time of Cleopatra. 

Finish: Luxor

Luxor has been dubbed the world's greatest open-air museum and 4000 years ago it was the ancient city of Thebes. The west bank of the city is often called the land of the dead, as it holds the Valley of the Kings and the Queens, where generations of pharaohs are entombed beneath deserts of sandstone and secreted doors. 

On the east bank are Luxor Temple and the Temples of Karnak, where the imposing Temple of Amun sits amid a bustling urban centre. Thankfully, you'll be smack bang in the middle of both drawcards on your Nile cruise. 

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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