Kostrama was the most attractive stop on our Russian river cruise because it was large enough (250, 000) to have an interesting old town of classical buildings and old wooden houses but small enough that the streets were not clogged with traffic. After the included tour and lunch, I wandered the streets, and wish we had more time here. Prince Mikhail Romanoff lived here when a delegation from Moscow arrived and invited him to become Tsar, the start of 300 years of Romanoff rule. The last Romanoff Tsar, Nicholas II came to Kostroma in 1913 to dedicate the foundation of a great statue in the city park in honor of 300 years of Romanoff rule. The last Romanoff Tsar threw a handful of gold coins into the cement. The foundation now supports a statue of Lenin.
The spacious town square is surrounded by fine classical buildings constructed after a devastating fire in 1773 destroyed much of the ancient city of wooden buildings. The building with what looks to be a lighthouse on top was the fire station, complete with a fire lookout tower rising from the roof of the building. Also on the town square is the largest old city market (the arcaded building) remaining anywhere in Russia. The usual warnings about pick pocks apply if you visit the market.
15th Century St Ipaty Monastery at the confluence of the Volga and Kostroma Rivers, is the town’s principal sight. Close to the town square, the baroque Convent Church was the prettiest church on the trip. Face the fire station at the town square, and walk a couple blocks down the second street to the right.
Because of its military installations, Kostroma was a closed city in the Soviet Union. It was not shown on Russian maps until 1991. We ran a gauntlet of soupier stands between the boat and our bus. After the bust left, the merchants packed up and more the whole collection of souvenir stands to the parking lot at the St Ipaty Monastery to give us another chance to shop. The sellers were still there when we deported the Monastery for a walk through the neighboring open air museum of old wood houses. While we were doing that, the souvenir market packed up and moved back to the pier. Lace table cloths were impressive and prices were cheap (5 cents for a clod brew). We bought a couple very inexpensive small paintings of local sights. I used them to illustrate this Tip.
The city center is uphill a bit from the dock on the Volga River, The tour provided by AMA started with us walking up to the town square where we boarded busses for the trip across town to the St Ipaty Monastery. Most of the walk was through a large well shaded public park. Our tours were always led by a local guide, a ship guide, and our group was followed by one to three graduate students from the English Language Department of Russia's largest foreign language university. Walking through the park, I noticed a lot of Dandelions growing everywhere,. I pointed to them and asked the graduate students, "What do you call those? "
One answered, "Flowers. "
I said, "In American, those are considered weeds, and everybody kills them if they are near their house. " The Russians were visibly shocked that anybody would be so barbaric as to go around killing innocent flowers.
Once on board the buses, our first stop was St Ipaty Monastery. On the way to St Ipaty Monastery, we drove by the ancestral palace of the princely Romanoff family. St Ipaty Monastery was interesting, including a dubious restroom (at the time, about 12 years ago, most of the restrooms we encountered were concrete slabs with a hole in the middle which we dubbed, in deference to the ladies, squat toilets. Some squat toilets were very clean, some not so much). The Monastery visit began with a (squat) toilet break. Then we saw the richly decorated interior of one of the churches inside the Monastery, which included a short concert by the church's all male choir: 10-15 minutes for two numbers by the choir. The choir then rushed over to their souvenir stand where they sold copies of their three CDs.
Next we visited the famous front steps of the main church in St Ipaty Monastery where in 1613, Kostroma's Prince Michael Romanoff welcomed a delegation of Boyars from Moscow who asked him to assume the Russian throne, beginning Romanoff rule as the Tsars of Russia. Following the visit to St Ipaty Monastery, we walked through the parking lot where the buses waited to walk thorough the neighboring museum of old wooden houses. At the end of the street of old wooden houses, we boarded the busses for a trip back to the town square and a visit to then grand central market. The center of Kostroma's center city today was built of stone by Empress Catherine the Great in the Baroque style after a devastating fire wiped out the original old wooden buildings. The fire station is one of the high points of Catherine's city. As we walked through the park that is the main square of Catherine the Great's Kostroma, we came across an ice cream vendor, bought a couple of ice creams, and looked around for a place to sit. We we looked at park bench occupied by an elderly local couple who motioned us over to join them on their bench, which we did. Although we quickly established that communication was impossible, it was clear they were delighted to see foreigners enjoying their town. I can't think of ever having experienced an urban setting as pleasant as we had having Russian ice cream in Kostroma's central park under blue sky and surrounded by Catherine the Great's great Baroque building spree.
Some where in all that, we found our way to a remarkable Russian Baroque church, devoid of people. She rejoined the tour group to return he ship and I went exploring. My guide book recommended taking a certain street out of the town center as far as the movie theater, which I did. Then I returned to the ship by wandering through a neighborhood of old wooden houses that easily equaled the level of interest of the old wooden houses museum by the St Ipaty Monastery.
Our day in Kostroma was as good as a day of sight seeing gets, and here is the problem. We really lucked out in booking cruise that went to Kostroma. Most don't. You should go. Best of luck in finding a cruise. All Russian river cruises stop in Yareslaval, a nice place, but its no Kostroma. Kostroma is a full day and two nights side trip from Yareslaval. The river cruise companies seem to have decided not to offer that option any more. You might be able to find your way to Kostroma. And you should. Some land tours of the Golden Circle from Moscow include Kostroma.
A last reason to love Kostroma: there was a currency exchange office at the top of the hill we had to walk up from the boat dock. No lines, and the best exchange rate I found anywhere in Russia.