Character Building: Psychopath vs Sociopath

In recent decades, storytellers through movies, novels and television have put two seemingly sexy and fascinating pop psychology terms into our popular vocabulary – psychopath and sociopath. Both of these are non-clinical or pop psychology terms for antisocial personality disorders. They are not well defined and can be confusing, however there are some similarities as well as differences between these two personality types.

Both of these antisocial types, the psychopath and sociopath, make for first-rate antagonists and villains in our stories. After all, we are talking about people with no feelings of guilt, regret, shame or remorse. They can do anything and feel nothing. They can be very dark and malevolent. They can go places and do things that most of us only dare dream of.

Both psychopathy and sociopathy are antisocial personality disorders and both are the result of an interaction between genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Psychopath tends to be used when the underlying cause is more hereditary. Sociopath is the term used when the antisocial behavior is a result of a brain injury or belief system or upbringing, i.e., environmental. Thus researchers generally believe that psychopaths tend to be born, while sociopaths tend to be created by their environment.

Both sociopaths and psychopaths demonstrate a pervasive pattern of disregard for the safety and rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are common features to both personality types and neither is necessarily violent, although both can be.

Psychopaths, in general have a hard time forming real emotional attachments with others. Instead, they may form artificial, shallow relationships that lend themselves to manipulation that will benefit the psychopath. People may be viewed as pawns to be used to reach their goals and they rarely feel guilt or remorse for their behaviors, even if others are hurt. Examples of psychopaths in pop culture – Dexter and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Sociopaths may tend to be more impulsive and erratic in their behavior than their calculating psychopath counterparts. The sociopath tends to be less organized and less able to form attachments to others. If they do engage in criminal behavior, they do so in an impulsive and unplanned manner with little regard for the risks or consequences of their actions. Examples of sociopaths in pop culture – the Joker in The Dark Knight and Alex Delarge in A Clockwork Orange.

Who is More Dangerous?

While both psychopaths and sociopaths can present risks to society, I would say, the psychopath is the more dangerous of the two because they are more manipulative and able appear normal, while experiencing little guilt for their actions. In other words, they can hide in plain sight. A psychopath also has a greater ability to dissociate from their actions, i.e., they have little emotional involvement to any pain or destruction they may cause to others. Many famous serial killers have been psychopaths.

But we should keep in mind that not all people that we consider to be a psychopath or sociopath are violent.

Here is a cheat sheet if you are building a character:






  • Tend to be male
  • Tend to be male
  • ~1% of general population
  • ~3% of general population
  • Lack empathy
  • Lack empathy
  • Can demonstrate disregard to social rules and behavior standards; fail to feel remorse or guilt; can be violent
  • Can demonstrate disregard to social rules and behavior standards; fail to feel remorse or guilt; can be violent
  • Origin of illness is innate condition. Studies on twins reared apart indicate condition is 60% heritable. They are simply “that way”
  • Origin of illness is likely due to environment and upbringing.
  • Likely to be educated and have a good career
  • Likely to be uneducated and unable to keep a steady job
  • Controlled behavior
  • Erratic behavior – rage and anger
  • Highly manipulative
  • Impulsive, spontaneous
  • Unable to form personal attachments
  • May form attachment to a particular individual or group
  • Takes calculated risks. Minimizes evidence
  • Crimes are typically spontaneous, hence tendency to leave clues and evidence.



Psychopath and sociopath are different cultural labels applied to the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. If you are building a character, it can be helpful to have an understanding of these two conditions.



    1. Differences Between a Psychopath vs Sociopath; John M Grohol, Psy.D.
    2. Psychopath vs Sociopath: What’s the Difference?; Natasha Tracy
    3. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition
  1. Stop Calling Sherlock A Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist; Maria Konnikova
Posted in Author Bill Powers, Bill Powers, Medical Mystery, Psychology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Synesthesia – A Superpower or a Curse

  • Synesthesia – The production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body
  • Synesthete – Individuals who exhibit Synesthesia capabilities
  • Mirror-Touch Synesthesia – A condition that causes individuals to experience the same sensation (such as touch) that another person feels.
  • Empathic Ability – exaggerated ability to understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions
  • Debilitating effect – Constant bombardment of other people’s feelings


Synesthesia is thought to be an extreme neurological condition that could be present in most of us in whom stimulation of one sense (such as sight, smell) can lead to an experience in a second sense.

Example – Growing up one of my jobs was to mow our lawn at home – it was ~ 5 acres and to mow the lawn at my Dad’s school, it was ~ 20 acres and I’m allergic to grass. I hate mowing the lawn, but I love the smell of fresh cut grass. A few months ago, I was reading something and it triggered an olfactory response. For a couple of seconds, I felt like I was standing in the middle of a field of fresh cut grass. I didn’t remember the smell of fresh cut grass; I actually smelled fresh cut grass even though I was sitting inside my house. That was a synesthetic response – my sense of sight (seeing a series of words) triggered my sense of smell (the smell of fresh cut grass).

Synesthesia was first described medically in the early 19th century, but in the early 20th century fell out of favor because it couldn’t be accurately studied. But in the late 20th century it began to be seriously studied again by psychologist.

It’s possible that most people have some capabilities related to Synesthesia, but because it’s considered weird or odd, it may be suppressed. Some think that up to 4% of the population have true synesthetic capabilities.

There are several different types of Synesthesia:

  1. Color Synesthesia – This is the most common form of Synesthesia, where letters or numbers are perceived as a color. For example when a person with Color Synesthesia hears or sees the number 5 or the letter A, they may perceive it as the color Red and so on.
  2. Chromesthesia – This is the association of sounds with colors. For some, everyday sounds such as a door opening, car horn or people talking can trigger seeing colors. For some, musical notes may trigger seeing colors. Many musicians are thought to have a form of Synesthesia.
  3. Number Synesthesia – where numbers appear in 3-dimensional space. Here, the number 1980 may appear further away than 1990.
  4. LexicalGustatory Synesthesia – This is one of the more rare forms of Synesthesia in which spoken or written words can cause individuals to experience a taste or smell.
  5. MirrorTouch Synesthesia – Another rare form of Synesthesia where individuals feel the same sensation that another person feels (such as touch). So if a synesthete saw someone being touched on their shoulder, the synesthete would also feel a tap on their shoulder. It’s considered a state of heightened Empathic ability.


It’s not clear how it occurs, but one theory is that regions of the brain that are dedicated to specialized functions may increase cross talk between regions. In some, Synesthesia can be debilitating, because it presents as a constant bombardment of sensations.

Mirror-Touch Synesthesia:

I found this type of Synesthesia to be most fascinating and came across a recent article about a doctor named Joel Salinas, a neurologist at Harvard, who has Mirror-Touch Synesthesia.

  • When he thumps a patients’ left knee with a reflex hammer, he feels it as a tap on his left leg – not a thought of what it would feel like, but an actual physical sensation.
  • If he sees someone slapped across the cheek, he feels a hint of the slap against his own cheek.
  • Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, or what is often called the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes. Well, Mirror-Touch Synesthesia is considered a heightened empathic ability.
  • Mirror-Touch Synesthesia is thought to occur in 1 – 2% of the general population and can be debilitating.
  • There is a constant intrusion – a bombardment of other people’s experiences. There are reports of people with Mirror-Touch who have seen a person being punched and passed out or just watching television becomes a sensory over-load. Some become shut-ins.
  • It can be a painful existence.
  • When Dr. Salinas performs a spinal tap on a patient, he can feel the needle going into his own lower back.
  • Salinas also has color-synesthesia – he sees letters and numbers in colors. And he associates those colors with personality traits and feelings. For example a person may “feel like a 5, which he sees as Red and associates with a strong personality” or a people he sees as 4s and 7s he sees as blue and soothing.
  • While other forms of Synesthesia have been studied for many years, Mirror-Touch Synesthesia has only been studied for about 10-15 years.
  • It’s also been observed that people with Mirror-Touch Synesthesia are better at recognizing facial emotions in other people – they are better at reading other people. They seem to be actual Empaths. They can actually share another person’s experiences and emotions.
  • And if that’s not enough, Dr. Salinas finds that his form of Synesthesia extends to inanimate objects – when he looks at a light pole, he might feel his body stretching and elongating.
  • Dr. Salinas has learned how to manage and control his Mirror-Touch Synesthesia; otherwise, it would overwhelm him.
  • No one really knows why some people have Synesthesia. In Dr. Salinas’ case, he did have a benign brain tumor removed when he was 22 and he and others wonder if this may have caused his brain to develop differently from others. But he is clear on one thing – he feels very strongly that his Mirror-Touch Synesthesia, because it makes him more empathetic, makes him a better doctor.


So that is a little peek into the world of Synesthesia. It sounds like science fiction, but is real. It fascinates me as both a scientist and a writer and I have decided to create a minor character in my next book who has Mirror-Touch Synesthesia.

Posted in Author Bill Powers, Bill Powers, Medical Mystery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Introvert’s Guide to Writers’ Conferences

A significant percentage of us who write for a living are introverts. Unfortunately, extroverts, who think they rule the universe, consider being an introvert the equivalent of having a third arm growing out of your forehead. It’s not. Introversion simply means, “preferring lower-stimulation environments”, but unfortunately is often interpreted as being antisocial. Again, it’s not.

Introversion is confused with shyness. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.

Many of our societal institutions, e.g., schools, businesses and yes, writers’ conferences, are designed mostly for extroverts and their need for constant stimulation.

So, what to do if you’re a writer and want to attend a conference – how can you get the most out of it?

  1. Yes, You Should Attend.

It may mean temporarily moving out of your comfort zone, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only temporary and the benefits can be well worth it. As an introvert, you may have to manage it differently. You may have to plan a bit more than most. Each day, plan to do at least one thing that requires stretching yourself, such as requesting an appointment with an agent or editor.

  1. Stop Apologizing.

Before you event arrive at the conference, just in general – stop apologizing. There is nothing wrong with you. If someone else doesn’t “get you” because you’re an introvert – that’s their problem. Set goals for yourself. They will help you push yourself when you start to get tired

  1. Take Advantage of Social Media & Volunteer

Most conferences use hashtags on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) before the sessions start to get folks talking – take advantage of that.

Also, most conferences are looking for volunteers to help. This is a great way of forcing yourself to interact with others and immerse in the conference.

  1. Carve Out ‘Me-Time’

You introverts out there know what I mean. We have to have our ‘me-time’! I attended a week long professional training meeting once, where we broke up into teams of 5 people. Out teams were together each day from 8:00 am to midnight. After dinner each day, our team would continue to work on our project. Wednesday evening was a ‘free’ period and we could do as we pleased. Some folks went out as groups. I locked up in my hotel room, ordered room service and luxuriated in my ‘me-time’.

Whether it’s quiet time in your hotel room, a half-hour in the hotel gym or a walk outside, make self-care a priority in your schedule. Manage yours at the writers’ conference; you’ll enjoy it better.

  1. Ask Questions.

In conference sessions, it’s a good way to get confortable. If you’re talking to someone and the conversation seems to hit a lull, ask a question. It can be any question.

People love to talk about themselves – their jobs, their writing projects, their kids, have they been to this or other conferences – you get the picture. Then you can sit back and listen.

Here’s a little trick: Rather than try to talk over the loudmouths (which probably won’t work), hold your hand or finger in the air as you speak, so you aren’t interrupted, and speak softly. This forces everyone to lean into you to hear, which lends authority to what you have to say.


So, all you writer-introverts out there thinking of attending a writers’ conference – do it! You can enjoy it, learn a lot and may even make new friends – and still be an introvert.

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Indie Author’s Writers’ Conferences and Resources

There are hundreds of writers’ conferences each year, each with a different point of view. But what if you’re an Independent Author? It may be harder to find a conference with a specific Indie Author POV. I find that even though Indie Authors are rapidly growing in numbers, most writers’ conferences still focus primarily on the traditional “agent-publisher” business model of writing.

In late 2017, I came across a writers’ conference that had a specific focus targeted towards Indie Authors. The conference was sponsored by Bookbaby, which is full-service publishing company that provides a wide range of services to Indie Authors that include editing, cover design, ebook and print book formatting, promotion and more. {Full disclosure: I use Bookbaby to publish and sell my books, but this article is not to be considered an endorsement.}

In November 2017 Bookbaby kicked off the first of what they hope to be an annual Indie Authors’ conference in Philadelphia. A team of successful self-published authors and industry leaders conducted over 20 workshops, presentations, and panels focused on publishing and marketing books as an independent author. There were over 400 attendees.

We heard talks on how to research your target audience. There were talks on the use of new technology for authors, for example manuscript-editing software such as Autocrit or Grammerly. There were several talks on the business-side of Indie Authorship, which most traditional conferences skip over. Some speakers focused on how to maximize tools such as Goodreads and Amazon Kindle or how to identify target readers and use of social media.

My key take-aways from the Bookbaby Independent Authors Conference:

  • As an Indie Author – it’s all on you. The writing, the editing, the research, the formatting, the publishing, the marketing, the selling – everything!
  • You can’t do it all yourself. Focus on what you do well (hopefully at least the writing) and find ways to get help with other parts of the job. You can barter for services, find low cost services, hire contractors, etc.
  • At a conference that focuses on Indie Authors, you will be able to network with other authors and also venders who can provide assistance in developing your product – your book!
  • The most important take away for me – to be successful as an Indie Author, you have to make your book look like, feel like and read like it came out of a traditional publishing outfit. In other words, it has to look professional.
  • You’re the boss! There is no gatekeeper. You have the key to the Gate!
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How To Get The Most Out Of Writers Conferences


Are you considering attending a writer’s conference? Overwhelmed with how to choose? If you are a novice, take your time to do some research about what you want to achieve. Conferences or workshops can be a great way to help you throughout your writing career, whether you are a beginner or have several books under your belt; there is something out there for you. Because there is always something you can learn.

  1. 1.Set a budget and stick to it. You should budget for all your author-related activities. Your writing is your business – treat it like one. Never spend money you do not have.
  2. 2.Identify your goals. What do you want to achieve by attending a writers conference? Talk to other authors. Read about what different conferences offer. Do you want to focus on the craft of writing, pitching to agents or editors or the business side of writing? Do you want to actually write and get feedback? In that case, a writing retreat may be what you need.
  3. 3.Local vs national or international: If your travel funds are limited, always look local. Chances are some organization will sponsor a conference in or near your state. Consider just attending part of a conference. Many conferences breakup into modules. Think about only attending a portion most relevant for you.
  4. 4.Resources: Writer’s Digest (magazine & website ); Publishers Weekly  writers groups, other authors and of course, Google.
  5. 5.Genre Specific vs General: Do you write thrillers, romance, mystery, science fiction? There are genre-specific conferences available. I write thrillers and find ThrillerFest sponsored by the International  Thriller Writers to be an incredible conference. Some of the top thriller writers in the world teach sessions and are very approachable and helpful to new authors.

To help you get started, here is a good listing of 30 Writers’ Conferences that you can take a look at  I have attended two, ThrillerFest and Writer’s Digest Conference – both I can highly recommend, however they are very different in focus.

There are a wide variety of writers’ conferences out there. Do your research and choose wisely. There are hundreds of writing conferences each year. Use Google to research your interest and look for testimonials from writers who have attended. Conferences are a great opportunity for you to learn, get critiques, meet professionals and make writer-friends. It can be a way to take your writing to the next level. Good Luck!

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The Winter Palace- St. Petersburg

The Viking Ingvar arrives at its final port early the morning of October 19th and we awaken in St. Petersburg. It’s not quite as cold as it was in Moscow, maybe 45° F, but there is something we have seen very little of in Russia – sunshine! It’s a lovely day, and it’s going to be a long one as well.

We had opted for a “Behind Closed Doors” tour of the Hermitage museum, which is housed in the Tsar’s former Winter Palace. It was a long day – the tour lasting 8 hours. Our guide informed us that if one were to spend one minute in front of each item in the Hermitage, it would take 11 years to complete your visit! But if you ever find yourself in St. Petersburg, go for it!


One of the many gilded staircases inside the main building of the Hermitage.






My daughter and me standing in front of the main building, keep in mind that this was once a palace – a home for the Tsar’s family!





After touring the main building that is open to all the public, we walk across the courtyard to the annex/archive and are shown into numerous vaults to see items that are not on regular display; such as dozens of royal carriages that were used during coronations, gifts that were given to Catherine The Great that she had put into storage, clothing, weapons and more.


We were exhausted by the end of the day, but there was more. That evening we had arranged to attend the ballet in St. Petersburg, a performance of Swan Lake at a small private theatre inside the Hermitage (formerly a private theatre for the Tsar’s family). Note the double-headed eagle on the Russian great seal on the curtain – so it could protect Russia from it’s enemies coming from both the east and west.



Two nights later, we went to see another ballet – La Sylphide at the Mariinsky Theatre.

A great experience, but there’s more – the last couple of days were even better!

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Snow in St. Petersburg!

We only have a couple of more days in St. Petersburg. As a young boy, I started reading Russian history and fell in love with the city of St. Petersburg. I read of the last Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina Alexandra and their children the Grand Duchesses Olga, Maria, Tatiana, Anastasia and the Tsarevich Alexi and their fate after the Bolshevik revolution. Now, I was to see where much of this history had occurred.







Above:  The Peter and Paul Cathedral located inside the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia is the first and oldest landmark in St. Petersburg, built 1712 and 1733 by Peter the Great. The cathedral houses the remains of almost all Russian emperors and empresses including those of Nicholas II and his family. The above photos show the tombs of Nicholas II, his wife and children.

If you are familiar with your Russian history, you may have heard of Felix Yusupov and his role in killing Rasputin.

The Yusupov family was said to be as wealthy as the Tsar. We visited the St. Petersburg Yusupov palace  (and the term palace is an understatement in this case), where Felix is alleged to have killed Rasputin. The St. Petersburg Yusupov palace was only one of 57 such palaces that the family owned.

The above photo is a scene that has been setup in the palace basement to reenact the events of Rasputin’s death.


The Catherine Palace in Pushkin – outside St. Petersburg – The Summer Palace at Tsarskoe Selo.

The Amber Room, created in 1701, was inside the Catherine Palace. It was looted and lost during World War II, but has since been recreated. Unfortunately photos are not allowed.


This is what the recreated Amber Room looks like today





Next a quick stop at the Fabergé Museum – Eggs anyone?






I have always wanted to visit St. Petersburg in the snow. It is said to resemble a “fairy-tale city”. On our last night, coming back to the hotel, it snowed! Not enough to stick, but I did get to see “snow in St. Petersburg” and make a dream come true!







Our journey was coming to an end, but WOW! A Trip of A Lifetime! Our last dinner in St. Petersburg was in a restaurant across the street from St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which you see illuminated in the background.

My daughter, in her Fox shirt, making one last toast to Russia!









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Storm on the Volga River

Our next stop was Kirillo-Belozersky, where we saw a monastery set on the shores of scenic Lake Siverskoye and toured a local school. Some of the students sang Russian folk songs (see first photo below) and one young man who was 14 and spoke excellent English was our guide. The Viking Ingvar was docked on Lake Siverskoye.

The next stop for the Ingvar was to be the Kizhi Island, however there was a large storm and we were not allowed to cross the lake. The boat moved to another small town – Vytegra Vologda, where we had free time to roam the town. Some grumbled because it was an unscheduled stop, but my daughter and I decided to make the most of it and see what was there.

There were no tours, so we decided to wander around the town in small groups. There was a 1950s era Soviet Submarine museum. It was in excellent condition both inside and outside – and surprisingly roomy inside

We saw log cabins under construction and went inside some. It was a tad cool and overcast. The locals were friendly, though no one spoke English.

When we were finally allowed to cross the lake that night, the waves were still high enough that we could feel the boat moving as we crossed the lake. But then, I liked that too!

Next stop – Saint Petersburg!














1950s era Soviet Submarine





My daughter taking “command” of the Soviet era Submarine!









A bridge across a canal in Vytegra Vologda






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Cruising Up the Volga River

After four days seeing the sights of Moscow (in the cold drizzle), the Viking Ingvar cast off. We were to spend the next four days cruising up the Volga River and through various lakes and smaller tributaries and canal locks. Each day we stopped in one of the small towns along the river, such as Uglich.

The big cities of Russia, e.g., Moscow are essentially like any other big metropolitan city.  If you were dropped off in the city of Moscow and could not see the Kremlin, you would be hard pressed to know what city you were in. But the daily stops along the river gave us a chance to contrast rural Russian life with metropolitan Russian life. In Uglich, we broke into small groups of maybe 10 passengers and a guide and then we were taken to the home of a host in the town for a meal. We were able to see how rural Russians live.

We were served a light Russian lunch of fresh and pickled vegetables, bread and a Russian “moonshine” – a homemade, strong adult beverage, emphasis on strong. In the picture below, the two large flasks on the table are the moonshine. There three toasts (lots of toasts in Russia) with three shots of moonshine. Fortunately, I poured three small shots.

Host family in Uglich.

Most of our cruising was done in the evenings or at night. The Volga River does not run directly from Moscow to Saint Petersburg and before the 1930s, there was no direct waterway from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. By linking the Volga with several large lakes and smaller rivers, the Stalin government created a waterway between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Unfortunately several small towns were in the way and were flooded to create the waterway.

In the photo below, you see the Kalyazin Bell Tower over the waters of the Uglich Reservoir on the Volga. The surrounding town was flooded and the 244 ft tower remains above the waters. When Stalin ordered the construction of the Uglich Dam in 1939 to form the Reservoir, several medieval structures were submerged under the reservoir’s waters.

We saw several similar structures during our four-day waterway cruise; towns now underwater with only tall church steeples remaining to mark their location.

Kalyazin Bell Tower

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Moscow – Hmn, It’s Cold Here!

We arrived in Moscow Tuesday October 10, 2017. It was about 46° F and cloudy – not too bad. Viking is exceptionally organized – they get us and our luggage on the boat and to our rooms. The first day is a series of welcoming briefs and information on excursions, followed by entertainment.

Wednesday was our first full day and we did a shore excursion – Moscow Up Close. Viking provided Russian guides for all our tours. Moscow is a large urban metropolitan city. It holds about 15 million people. We were told that some people can spend up to six hours a day in traffic. But it does have a very efficient subway.

Moscow was the capital of Tsarist Russia until Peter the Great moved the capital to Saint Petersburg in 1712. After the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, fearing invasion, Lenin moved the capital back to Moscow. Consequently outside of the Kremlin, the Bolsheviks destroyed much of the old Tsarist architecture in Moscow, whereas in Saint Petersburg much of the old architecture was spared and survives today.

The Kremlin is a 66 acre complex and inside, several of the buildings were destroyed by the Bolsheviks, but many still survive. There were dozens of Russian Orthodox churches inside the Kremlin walls. Some remain. But if you were to take someone and drop them in the city of Moscow where they could not see the Kremlin, they could be in any large global, modern metropolitan city. We got to take a Moscow by Night tour by bus and small river boat – the city is magnificent at night!

We got to ride on the Moscow subway. The architecture of some of the stations is beautiful. The trains are also very efficient – a train runs every 45 seconds.
One of the excursions was Sergiev Posad – the most famous Monastery of Russia. Another was a Treasures of the Kremlin Armory tour where we say literally acres of priceless relics and treasures of the Tsars and Tsarinas – think of the attic or basement of royalty!

The excursions kept us busy – we were usually out for most of the day and some evenings. One of the onboard activities I enjoyed was daily talks by the tour guides on Russian history. And I must say, you get a very different perspective on Russian history when you hear it from Russians!

On Friday October 13th, we cast off from Moscow for Uglich, a small historical town on the Volga River. More about being on the rivers next time…

Moscow Subway

Posted in Bolsheviks, Moscow, Russia, Sergiev Posad, The Kremlin, Uglich | 1 Comment