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Russia - a different kind of trip

Hello all,

Just to give you a heads up - the Center for Citizen Initiatives are looking for US nationals to take part in their largest citizen diplomacy effort to date. The plan is to visit Moscow and a couple dozen regional cities and towns in September 2019. I've watched some of their videos and read some blogs from years past - and it looks like a unique opportunity to not only see some less traveled places, but also to meet the likes of Gorbachev and Pozner, to name just a few.

This is Travel as a Political Act on steroids :-)

Here's the link with more info:

Posted by
447 posts

Yup, my first question too.

Apparently, they start at $3,900 for a 14-day trip.
Given their itinerary and agenda, sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Don't bother downloading the official "trip flyer" - it's a two-page 18mb pdf download that takes forever and doesn't offer much info.

Email them with any questions - they are very quick to respond.

Posted by
138 posts

Diplomacy effort you pay for? I guess that should be some kind of a free trip. Keeping in mind the aims of that "political act" :)

Posted by
447 posts

Haha. And who do you think should be footing the bill?
I think you will find that any nonprofit "citizen diplomacy" programs will have some kind of price tag attached to them, be it local grassroot efforts (like Sister City programs) or highly competitive merit-based student exchanges (like Stanford's US-Russia forum).
Still cheaper than a cruise - and a whole lot more educational :-)
Not to mention an opportunity to visit places like Crimea...

Posted by
447 posts

Aand they're back :-). CCISF delegation back from Russia

Some of the locations chosen for a 2-week stay are quite unorthodox - okay, I get Crimea, Novosibirsk, and Kazan - but Torzhok or Barnaul??

I'd wait for the initial flow of more official reports to subside and see what the individual participants have to say.

I tried to convince some of my more sprightly relatives to give this program a try in lieu of their annual cruise to the Bahamas - but that was a tough sell. Well, maybe next year :-)

Posted by
846 posts

Thanks for the update. Sounds like such an interesting experience.

Posted by
4 posts

Many stereotypes are connected with Russia, but they are stereotypes, unique, kind and sympathetic people live there!

Posted by
7805 posts

Jonny Lee,
Agree. We did a Russian River Cruise with several days in Moscow and St. Pete, also Ukraine and the Baltic countries.

If you make a friend of a Russian they are the best.

Russians remarked to us that Americans always seem too friendly, smiling and such. They often view that is being fake.

I suppose if Americans lived through the difficult history that Russians have endured, we would not be a sunny.

Love Russian literature and their great classical composers. Saw Swan Lake at the Marinsky Ballet in St. Pete and it was fantastic.

Posted by
3 posts

Dear PerilsofP,

Thanks for your original posting about the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI) trip to Russia and your inquiry about people’s experience. Because of your original post, I signed up for the trip and joined approximately 45 fellow Americans on the 17-day trip to Russia starting in early September. Many fellow group members asked me how I had learned about the trip and I would explain how it was checking this forum and seeing your post that lead to my participation for which I am very grateful. One of the themes of the trip was citizen diplomacy and the power of individuals to make a difference and your post was a real example of how that worked in my own life.

The group started in Moscow on September 2nd and spent five nights there. We stayed in a wonderful hotel (Oskana Hotel) near the VDNKh Park and VDNK metro station. We had a tour of the amazing subway system in Moscow (over 8 million riders a day) along with visiting Red Square. Our main focus in Moscow was the chance to hear some valuable talks with a variety of speakers. Several of these talks are at the CCI website ( (see talks by Vladimir Pozner, famous Russian journalist on current Russian life, and Dr. Vladimir Kozin, senior Russian arms control advisor, on current status of US-Russian nuclear arms control agreements). We also heard talks on economics and technology which were fascinating. I hope to share more in a trip report that I am working on.

The group then traveled in small groups to different cities in Russia (from Crimea to Siberia). Our goal was to explore these cities, meet with local residents and then report to the entire group when we regrouped together in St. Petersburg. I traveled with another couple to Kazan where we spent three nights and then took an overnight train from Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod. Kazan was a remarkably modern city that I really enjoyed touring (Hayal Hotel was a great place to stay). CCI provided hosts for us in both cities who worked hard to make sure we enjoyed our visits. I would also recommend Oktyabrskaya Hotel in Nizhny Novgorod. At the link above, there is a video called “American Travelers Speak Out About Russia” that shares some of our experience and insights.
From Nizhny Novgorod, we took an 8-hour high speed train to St. Petersburg which was a wonderful way to see the countryside. We went through Moscow so we got a chance to see the many new buildings along with many historical buildings. We stayed at the Hotel Moscow in St. Petersburg which is a major tourist hotel. I will find a smaller place when I return. St. Petersburg was magnificent and I highly recommend at least a week to even begin to see all of the city. One of the St. Petersburg highlights was the magnificent architecture, especially centered around the rivers and canals which thread through St. Petersburg. I was also surprised by the great vegan restaurants that I found there. Café Ukrop II was great but Healthy Conscience (raw vegan) was superb in every way (food, service, atmosphere).

Overall, the trip was in the best tradition of Rick Steve’s Travel as a Political Act. We had a chance to see Russia as it is today and meet with Russians in different cities and gain a real sense of their hopes and concerns. Two of the group members have already published stories of their trips which I highly recommend reading:

CCI is putting together another of these trips for 2020 (see and I highly recommend the trip for those who want to travel with an interesting group of travelers and who want to better understand Russia and work to creating a better world based on citizens from each country gaining greater mutual understanding.

Posted by
447 posts

Thanks for the update - and especially the videos. Not too much footage of the group sightseeing - but I understand that's not what the trip was about :-)

I understand your group didn't get to meet Gorbachev this year, but it's good to see Pozner is still as sharp as ever - and he's what now - 85?

Posted by
3 posts

Unfortunately, Gorbachev's health (on dialysis every other day) was too precarious to meet in person. We did get a chance to meet with his longtime personal secretary (30+ years) who shared his own experience of the arms control negotiations. I had not realized how far beyond the recommended per-negotiated positions both Gorbachev and Reagan went in their final agreement. Plus, based on that agreement, 91% or 92% of all nuclear weapons in the world were destroyed.

Pozner was a very charismatic speaker (even at 85)! One funny anecdote was his arrival to the talk using a cane to assist with walking. It turns out he needed the cane to walk because he had injured his ankle two days before playing tennis!!

Thanks again to your alerting me to this wonderful trip!!

Posted by
3240 posts

This sounds like it was a wonderful experience. One that I would very much enjoy.

Posted by
447 posts

Like tmbohman said, CCI have started gauging interest for their upcoming June 2020 trip - you could drop them a line for a "no strings attached" application.

If you happen to live in DC area, there are several NGOs that offer similar travel experiences as an incentive for their volunteers working with their cultural exchange programs - not necessarily trips to Russia, but to some other post-Soviet and ex-Warsaw pact countries. While the lineup of speakers and dignitaries is usually not as impressive, other aspects of their trips are similar to those offered by CCI - you get to be shown around by alumna of the program and end up meeting real people and seeing less traveled places. Let me know if you need some additional info.