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A Summertime Cruise Through Russia's Far East
Russia likely brings to mind images of Moscow’s Kremlin and the onion domes of St. Basil’s, or St. Petersburg, with its canals and Italianate candy-colored palaces. But the world’s largest country extends for thousands of miles and its eastern coast, along the Pacific Ocean, has an entirely different look and feel. On Silversea’s 18-day Hokkaido to Seward cruise you’ll visit distant ports on the eastern edges of Russia, volcanic islands on the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire,” and rocky outcrops where no humans live but sea lions number in the thousands. The cruise continues on to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and concludes in Seward. 

In other words, if you’re a traveler who wants to venture where no one else you know has, an itinerary that includes stops like Korsakov, Yankicha Island, and Kiska Island is hard to beat. For Russians, the country’s wild frontier has always been its far east, and this cruise provides an unforgettable immersive introduction to it, as well as America’s frontier—the remote ports of Alaska. The timing of this cruise, which falls over the period including the summer solstice, helps assure you will be able to maximize your time. You’ll enjoy the longest and most sunny days of the year, bringing with them mild temperatures.
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    Day 1
    Otaru
    But first, Japan. Your journey along Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and eventually to Alaska actually begins in Japan, specifically the city of Otaru on Hokkaido, the northernmost major island. It’s an important port with an economy tied to fishing. Sights include Nishin Goten, a 19th-century mansion that served as both a herring processing plant and the home of a wealthy fisherman. It’s now a museum. If time allows, swing by for a visit and sample the local sushi before boarding Silver Explorer.

    Your ship departs at 5 p.m. and after a safety orientation, you’ll have an opportunity to meet your expedition team, which includes leading naturalists and other experts. You can then explore the ship, meet your fellow travelers, and have dinner in the open-seating venue The Restaurant.
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    Day 2
    Korsakov
    Your first stop in Russia will be at the port of Korsakov, at the southern tip of Sakhalin Island, hugging the east coast of the country. For much of its history, control of the port switched back and forth between Japan and Russia, though Japanese rule ended definitively at the end of World War II when it was ceded to the Soviet Union.

    Join one of several onboard lectures that will introduce you to local history and culture before setting out in the afternoon to view Korsakov’s principal landmarks. The Cathedral of the Resurrection, completed in 1995, was built in a traditional style complete with onion domes in gold while the Sakhalin Regional Museum resembles a pagoda, reflecting the fact that it dates from the Japanese occupation. At the end of your visit, you’ll head to Gagarin Park, where locals enjoy long summer evenings and you may catch a performance of traditional Russian songs and dance.
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    Day 3
    Tyuleniy Island
    Tyuleniy is the Russian word for seal, and you’ll quickly appreciate why this small island, less than a square mile in area, gets its name. Tens of thousands of seals and sea lions—by some estimates as many as 250,000—gather here each summer during their breeding season and you’ll be greeted by a cacophony of barks as you approach the island in a Zodiac during the afternoon. The island is also popular with birders. Among the species you may be able to check off on your list are black-legged kittiwakes, slaty-backed gulls, tufted puffins, common murres, and pelagic cormorants.
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    Day 4
    At Sea
    As you sail towards Yankicha Island, you’ll have a day at sea and time to enjoy the amenities of Silver Explorer. You can attend a lecture or seminar on the Russian Far East and the history of exploration in this part of the world before heading to the spa for a treatment or enjoying a cognac or cigar at the Connoisseur’s Corner. You can also borrow a book from the ship’s library to read on a sunny chaise on the deck, or a DVD to view in your suite.
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    Day 5
    Yankicha Island
    East of Sakhalin, a long chain of volcanic islands stretches from Hokkaido in Japan to the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula—part of the “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Ocean. In the middle of them is Yankicha Island, which you will visit today. This intriguing and beautiful uninhabited island is a flooded volcanic caldera, accessible only by Zodiac and only at high tide. Once you enter the lagoon, evidence of geological activity is all around you: fumarole fields, hot springs, and bubbles rising up from beneath the sea. The island is still an active volcano, though the last known eruption took place in 1884. The inhabitants you may meet are primarily crested and whiskered auklets, arctic foxes, and both arctic and Middendorff’s grasshopper warblers.
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    Day 6
    Atlasova Island
    As Silver Explorer continues north along the Kuril Islands, the next stop is Atlasova, the northernmost and also the highest of the chain of islands. A near-perfect cone, the volcanic peak rises dramatically above the sea. Over time, the volcanic rock has become the black sand found on the island’s beaches. 

    At one time a women’s prison, or gulag, was located on Atlasova. The women, many of them political prisoners during the Soviet rule, were sent here to raise foxes for fur. Peregrine falcons can sometimes be spotted flying above the beach, while buzzards, Eurasian wigeons, and tufted ducks have all been observed on the island.
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    Day 7
    Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy
    The Kamchatka Peninsula is part of the eastern frontier of Russia. Due to its close proximity to the United States, the region has played a strategic role in the defense of Russian territory throughout modern history. As a result, the territory was closed for many years to foreigners and Russians alike. Fortunately, the region's isolated position played a significant role in preserving and protecting its unique wilderness and rich biodiversity. With few roads, most regional transportation is by plane, boat, or helicopter.           

    This morning heralds your first stop on the mainland of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The port south of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy stretches for almost 10 miles and has long provided a shelter during storms for ships in this part of the Pacific. (Two shipwrecks near the port’s entrance were unable to make it to safety in time.) There is also a river that flows into the bay, used by ships to replenish their supplies. A Zodiac excursion will head up the bay and the meandering river, traveling as far as time and weather conditions allow.
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    Day 8
    Cross the International Dateline
    Today you will cross the International Date Line as you travel from the Russian part of the northern Pacific Ocean and towards Alaska. While some 45 hours will pass on the clock between when you depart from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy until you arrive on Attu Island in Alaska, only one day will have passed if you check a calendar. What better way to use an extra day then by enjoying the amenities offered on board Silver Explorer?
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    Day 9
    Attu Island, Alaska
    On a world map Attu Island marks the westernmost point of the United States. It is also the site of the only World War II battle fought on North American soil. Over two thousand Japanese soldiers lost their lives at the aptly named Massacre Bay on Attu’s southeastern coast. Today the island is an ornithologist’s paradise visited by an array of birds migrating through as they come or go to Asia with the seasons. Peregrine falcons, Lapland longspur and Aleutian Canada goose might be spotted in the summer months.
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    Day 10
    Kiska Harbor, Alaska
    Russian traders led by Vitus Bering in the mid-1700s would have been some of the first non-native explorers to visit Kiska Harbor on Kiska Island in the Aleutian chain. The Japanese occupied the island during World War II and relics of the conflict have been left behind in the harbor including a Japanese two-man submarine. The occupying force of 6,000 soldiers also left a Shinto shrine behind whose ruins can still be visited today. Ashore there are ptarmigans, Lapland longspurs, and bald eagles.
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    Day 11
    Sail to Seguam
    The Aleutian Islands include 14 major islands and some 55 smaller ones, extending for around 1,200 miles of the Pacific out from the coast of the Alaskan mainland. The islands cover an enormous distance and traveling along them is an impressive journey. Today you’ll spend a day at sea just traveling a portion of the chain: from Kiska Harbor near the eastern end to Seguam, towards the middle. It’s a perfect opportunity to stop and reflect on the sights you have seen or study up on the ports that lie ahead.
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    Day 12
    Seguam Island, Alaska
    Seguam Island is made up of several stratovolcanoes in the Andreanof Islands group in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. The island contains two calderas, one of them having erupted as recently as 1993. The mountainous oval-shaped island covers an area of just over 80 square miles. The stark beauty of this remote island is offset by the chilly surrounding waters known for occasional whale sightings.
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    Day 13
    Dutch Harbor, Alaska
    The crumpled peaks, and tranquil scenery, of Dutch Harbor belies its history as one of the few places on American soil to have been directly attacked by the Japanese - who bombed the significant US military base here during World War II. A visit to this Aleutian Island destination offers an introduction to its military history and extraordinary ocean scenery. Hike the volcanic, gloriously green landscapes, and look out for wildlife like bald eagles, as they soar overhead, surveying their surroundings.
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    Photo By Joseph
    Day 14
    Unga Island and the Haystacks, Alaska
    The Aleutian island of Unga is home to an ancient petrified wood forest and a more recent ghost town that was the site of a small gold rush in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The village was eventually abandoned in the 1960s and now has a somewhat somber appearance. Many of the houses have collapsed and are overgrown with brilliant fuchsia fireweed wildflowers. From a distance the church looks intact, but as you get closer, it will become apparent that the roof has fallen to the ground, and the walls of the building have completely collapsed.
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    Day 15
    Chignik and Aghiyuk Island, Alaska
    Chignik is a fishing village on the Alaskan Peninsula and home for just under 100 year-round inhabitants. Most of the houses in the community are connected by a boardwalk that runs beside a local stream and neighborhood kids can be seen riding their bicycles back and forth on its length. In the summer months the population doubles, as the fishing gets better and the town supports a couple of fish-processing plants. Chignik is a remote outpost at the doorstep of the Aleutian Island chain and offers up a true taste of Alaskan outback life.

    Later in the day, Silver Explorer will continue on to the dramatic rock formations of Aghiyuk Island, one of the Semedi Islands southwest of Kodiak Island. Along with Choiet Island, Aghiyuk is one of the largest islands of the group, all of which are uninhabited. Part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Aghiyuk is a great destination for spotting the beautiful black and white horned puffins.
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    Day 16
    Larsen Bay, Kodiak
    Larsen Bay is one of the hotspots of commercial and sports fishing on Kodiak Island’s western side. The village of Larsen Bay is home to one of the oldest standing canneries on the island. Situated in a scenic valley at the mouth of a narrow fjord, the small village lies within Kodiak Island’s National Wildlife Refuge, which covers the southwestern part of Kodiak Island, and is the starting point for scenic flights over the mountainous interior.
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    Day 17
    Kodiak, Kodiak Island
    Today, commercial fishing is king in Kodiak. Despite its small population—about 6,475 people scattered among the several islands in the Kodiak group—the city is among the busiest fishing ports in the United States. The harbor is also an important supply point for small communities on the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula. Visitors to the island tend to follow one of two agendas: either immediately fly out to a remote lodge for fishing, kayaking, or bear viewing; or stay in town and access whatever pursuits they can reach from the limited road system.
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    Day 18
    Chiswell Islands and Holgate Glacier, Alaska
    The Chiswell Islands are part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, and deservedly so. Small bays, inlets, and sea cliffs are populated by innumerable seabirds including black-legged kittiwakes, pelagic cormorants, horned and tufted puffins, as wells as guillemots, auklets, and murrelets. The Chiswell Islands are blessed with towering cliffs and sea caves offering spectacular scenery and a Steller sea lion rookery that bustles as the marine mammals travel to their feeding grounds, socialize, and care for their pups.

    Later in the day, you’ll visit the Holgate Glacier. Kenai Fjords National Park’s famous glacier is a spectacularly active river of ice. The surrounding glaciated landscape paints a dramatic portrait of the rugged mountains in contrast to the cold blue ice of the glacier. As you approach it, the waters leading up to Holgate Glacier may be peppered with bits of ice and the crackling noise of ancient air bubbles being released from small bergs. Periodically loud cannon-like blasts emanate from the glacier, and some are accompanied by calving events off the ice front.
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    Disembarkation
    Seward, Alaska
    It is hard to believe that a place as beautiful as Seward exists. Surrounded on all sides by Kenai Fjords National Park, Chugach National Forest, and Resurrection Bay, Seward offers all the quaint realities of a small railroad town with the bonus of jaw-dropping scenery. This little town of about 2,750 citizens was founded in 1903, when survey crews arrived at the ice-free port and began planning a railroad to the Interior.

    While you will have to say farewell to Silver Explorer and the new friends you have made onboard, you may wish to extend your stay in Seward to further explore this charming town or the rest of the state of Alaska.