- Christine Maier
- I'm a 30 something who loves to travel. I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels. I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt. I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney. My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
Hotel: LDM Ulitsa Professora Popova
The bodies of Nicholas II's family were found in 1991 and were given a state funeral, by 1998 DNA testing showed a 98.5% chance that the bodies were Nicholas II, Alexandra, Tatiana, Olga, and either Maria or Anastasia. The bodies of Alexei and Anastasia have not been found.
At 11:40 we were dropped off near the Nevsky Prospect McDonalds and had free time till 1:30. Today we had KFC for lunch, the workers hear understood enough for us to order. We ended up with enough time to not really do anything other then walk down Nevsky Prospect a bit. Our 1:30 meeting today was for our tour of the Hermitage, which I was very excited to see.
The reason we went to the Hermitage today instead of yesterday is that yesterday there were 5 cruise ships in town and the place would be mobbed, this is the value of having a tour guide. As excited as I was I was literally falling asleep standing up and walking, that would explain why I was walking like a drunk and bumping into people. It was kind of bazaar, but I do remember seeing many of the rooms in the Winter Palace and some of the famous works of art throughout the museum, I'm glad I got a book on the Hermitage. From what I remember it was a remarkable place with all the formal gold and jewles you might imagine. After the tour I decided not to continue walking around the museum for obvious reasons. I decided to find the internet and write home instead. Well I waited on line for 15 minutes at a coffee shop counter to buy 20 minutes of internet. The guy in front of me complained to some woman who had cut the line, she just showed her Hermitage id, said she worked there and gave the look of death. When I got to the cashier I was told they couldn't sell anymore time because they were closing in 15 minutes, NIET NIET!!!!! I must have given her the look of death because she called over the manager who explained it again. I swear, I almost jumped over the counter and strangled someone. It made me very cranky for a while, but I was able to save other people from wasting 15 minutes of their time on line, at least there was that.
We walked around a bit, saw some brides (these were not the first brides we saw in St. Petersburg, we had seen at least one everyday we were here) and walked over to the Church of the Spilled blood and a miracle happened, I actually bought a matryoska doll, yea! I even bargained for it. She tried to sell me another one that wasn't as nice since it was closer to my price range, but I liked the one I picked out much better.
At 5:00 we were picked up and taken to two photo stops, St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral and the palace where Rasputin was assassinated. Rasputin became a fixture with the Tsar's family and many believed he was really controlling the Tsar's decisions, some thought he was the Tsarina's lover too. In December 1916 those loyal to the Tsar thought he had too much power and assassinated Rasputin. They tried to poison him, but that didn't work so they shot him. When he was still moving after being shot they clubbed him and dragged him to the Neva River and threw him in - the cause of death was drowning.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
When I think of St. Petersburg I think of Tsarist Russia: The Romanov Dynasty. I think to appreciate St. Petersburg you need to know a little history about St. Petersburg and the Romanovs', I'll have some blurbs throughout about the history.
Alexander III rounded up the assassins of Alexander II and had them hanged, and the reform that had recently come to Russia was over. Alexander III built The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood on the site of the successful assassination of Alexander II, hence the name.
Nicholas eventually gave in to the populous and created an elective assembly (the Duma) and a constitution. When World War I broke out Russia was dragged in, 8 million Russians were killed, wounded or captured. At the same time Lenin's slogan was "peace, land and bread."
On Feb 23 1917 bread lines turned to riots, Nicholas came home from the front and was forced to abdicate and give power to the Duma. The last European Monarchy had fallen. Civil War broke out and the Bolsheviks eventually took power. Some Romanovs were allowed to leave Russia, some were killed and Nicolas's family was moved around a bit. In July of 1918 the family was woken up in the middle of the night, taken to the basement, told to pose for a family photo and were killed by the Red Army. There bodies were soaked in acid and burned.
And so my first day in St. Petersburg went like this...
We left a little late this morning, since some people slept late and Maggy was being nice giving them a few minutes to get ready after waking them. Our first stop of the morning was the Peterhof Gardens at Peterhof Palace. We did not go inside the palace as we would be seeing other Palaces, but the gardens are breathtaking. The exterior of the palace is gorgeous and the workmanship and gold simply amazing, and to think of all the Russians who died building it and the Russians who died of starvation after it was built, yet all this wealth in one palace. The fountains are magnificent and you could see the great effort put into outdoing Versailles. Once we finished looking around we had a bit of free time to look around at the market outside the palace. I didn't know it at the time, but this was one of the places where you could get better prices on Russian souvenirs. I got a scarf for mom. But the most interesting thing was using the bathroom. I waited on line and had to pay 60 euro cent (or 40 rubles). The toilet paper was hanging on the wall outside the stalls under my favorite sign of the whole trip.
Several of the great world powers have tried to take Russia. King Charles XII and the Swedes tried during Peter the Great's reign, but failed and the great Swedish Empire collapsed. Tsar Alexander pretty much started a fight with the French (he aligned with the English) and Napoleon Bonaparte tried to take Russia. The Russians retreated from the French burning the land as they went, Napoleon followed deeper and deeper into Russia and finally met the Russians in Borodino, 75,000 men died and both sides claimed victory. The Russians retreated and left Moscow to the French, but not without burning the city. Napoleon ordered the retreat, but the Russian winter came early, they had little or no supplies and Russians attacked the retreating army. By the time they reached the Polish border the army had been decimated. On June 22, 1941 Hitler's secret plan for the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa began. The Russians were slow to respond and within 4 months the Germans were outside Moscow and laid siege on Leningrad. In 1942 Hitler went after Stalingrad (now known as Volgograd), but Germany's supplies lines were insecure and winter came early (early September). Stalin released restrictions on the church and appealed to patriotism to rally for the cause. In February of 1943 the German 6th Army surrendered. Leningrad had held out for 900 days, but never surrendered. By April 1945 the Red Army was in Berlin. There are a couple reasons for the Russian success: a large military was simply able to outnumber a better army; the scorched earth policy, where the Russians burned everything as they retreated leaving little for the advancing army; harsh Russian winters and long supply lines for invading armies; and well the Russians are used to hardship, there is more then one point in Russian history where it is believed that Russians resorted to cannibalism for survival, their own government treated them worse then any invading army could.And so we stopped at the Siege of Leningrad Memorial. Downstairs they have a museum, they showed a video without sound of the hardships the residents of Leningrad, but Anna explained everything in the video. The city was under siege for 900 days, and over 1 million people died, despite the fact that many people were able to leave the city. At one point the daily rations consisted of 175grams (a small loaf of wonder white is 340 grams) of sawdust laden bread people supplemented by eating pets, rats, birds, wallpaper paste, leather belts and eventually some resorted to cannibalism. Some days as many as 30,000 people died, many just falling over in the street. Despite the hardships they never surrendered and human spirit remained alive, including acts of kindness and performances by the philharmonic and the symphony.
When we were walking back to the bus Anna stopped to talk to a guy on the sidewalk and let us know that if we needed to exchange money to see this guy. The black market exchange guy, nice! At 2:00 we were dropped off at the Church on the Spilled Blood for 3 hours of free time. Almost everyone went to Nevsky Prospect for lunch. I had Subway with Kieren, Marie, Kate, Andrew, Donna and Stephanie. Ordering lunch wasn't too bad, the people working there understood meatball and pointing at bread, relief! After lunch a bunch of us went to St. Isaacs Cathedral for a view of the city. Then we wanted to go to the Kunstkamera Museum (the deformed baby museum or the Museum of Anthropology & Ethnography), but other people were coming from there, the line was 45 minutes to get in - there wouldn't be time to go. We went back the the Church on the Spilled Blood because there was a market there. I looked at the martryoshka dolls, but couldn't decide on one, but I did get a flask for my brother-in-law.
Dostoevsky is a famous Russian writer and apparently they love him here, they even have a museum about him. In the fall semester of school I read a book by him, Notes From the Underground, it was awful! I don't specifically remember all that much about the book, except that reading it was torture. I have a friend who is a Russian language student and she says his other stuff isn't any better. I would not spend my free time going to see his statue or museum.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The odd thing for me, was that being by myself I felt strange leaving my stuff at my seat to either go to the bathroom or to go to the cafe car. For some reason I've never felt this on a plane. Maybe it's because you kinda get to know your seatmate (at least they become your neighbor even if you don't talk), or because the passenger manifest has their name as being next to yours. Or maybe the fact that you get on the plane and everyone gets off as the same time makes it feel safer to leave your stuff. But on Amtrak people are coming and going at every stop. But I felt odd leaving stuff and that I was more likely to have something stolen. It's probably irrational, but it's how I felt.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
hey, can't we all just get along??? Play nice and be considerate travelers.
I'll just share my jetiquette story of a nice, friendly traveler I met along the way.
A year or so ago I was flying home from Pittsburg and earlier in the day had put my cell phone in my suitcase. I forgot about it until 1 minute after I gave it to screening as checked luggage - it was too late. Murphy's Law - my flight was delayed. I asked a nice gentleman seated near me if I could borrow his phone to call home and tell my family. I would like to say, naturally he let me do it, but I suspect there are people out there who wouldn't but my family and I appreciated it.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
Breakfast: 6:45 Bags to the bus: 7:15 Bus departs: 7:30
Today we were leaving Scandinavia, which meant a lot of different things. Firstly, we were leaving 19 people behind, which I was sad about. I was also sad to leave the relatively slow paced Scandinavia, where the sun was always out, people were nice, they spoke English and nature was abundant. I was going to miss this place. But we were exchanging it for Russia: dirty water, dirty cities, corruption, bad bathrooms, people who don't speak English, and the remnants of czarist and communist Russia, I actually was excited about this.
I got up early this morning, 5:30. I wanted to actually get a shower before going to Russia, St. Petersburg in particular, and I wanted to try and call home again.
I woke up Nancy when I got up, which I felt bad about since she had come in even later then me last night, but she would be one of the few to see us off this morning. I did get to talk to mom and let her know I wouldn't be calling from Russia and that I was ok. Then had breakfast and everyone made their way to the bus. Nancy, Leah B, Karl, Sara and Ash saw us off this morning. Later on I heard that a bunch of people from the Scandi part of the tour went to Estonia for the day.
The rest of us got an introduction from Maggy and Ash as we hit the road for Russia. We were also introduced to our day song - Rasputin, fitting for a trip to Russia. Our first stop was just after 10am before the Russia border. This was our opportunity to go to the bathroom, get money, eat and get supplies for Russia. It was suggested that we split a case of 4 large bottles of water with someone, that that would be a good start for Russia since the water wasn't safe to drink or brush our teeth with. Around Moscow it was realized that some people considered this community water, some people must have taken more then they purchased and we ran out, leaving some people screwed out of the water they had purchased - nice.
We left there at 11:05 and went out of Finland, the customs guy came on the bus, looked very grumpy and stamped all our passports, yea, I got a stamp. We drove through no-mans land to the Russia border. We were told to go in the building and get on line, apparently we weren't supposed to and were sent back to wait until 12:15. On line I got to talk to a couple people, Fraser and Brittany and some others. The line moved well sometimes and then other times one person would take a half hour. One person had a lot of trouble getting in - he had lost his passport recently and so there was something with either the new passport or the new Visa that was a flag - they even took him to another room. In the meantime Maggy couldn't find out much about what was going on. Everyone finally finished going through customs at 3:00 and we actually got into Russia at 3:30, then had to change our watches ahead 1 hour.
After all that Maggy gave us a bit of history about Russia and as interested as it was I still fell asleep. At 5:15 we stopped in Vyborg, which used to be part of Finland, and were told to use the bathroom and find the train to St. Petersburg. Well I couldn't find the train since I don't read cerilic and the bathroom is best described as a cultural experience. My cold and congestion (I had felt better for about 1 day and then felt sick again) were a good thing in Russia, it's good when you can't smell the bathroom.
On the bus Maggy spoke to us about the trip and what to expect. At the hotels they have "Niet, Niet Ladies," when you check in you give your passport to the hotel and they give you a hotel card (in place of the passport). When you come and go from the room you exchange your hotel card for your room key. By the elevator was the Niet Niet lady who exchanges the key for the hotel card. She's a grumpy lady and says Neit Niet to everything - she's the stereotypical old Russian lady. Niet Niet ladies aren't only in hotels, any time you need something you'll have to deal with a Niet Niet lady. At some point I looked out the front window and saw the infamous "death lane," we were in it and straight ahead you saw headlights. hmmm, I probably shouldn't do that again. In Scandinavia the cars were all very nice and well cared for, in Russia they were all old junky looking cars. The roads are lined with trash and the road isn't in good condition, and we were on "highways."
Before our next stop we were introduced to our wake up song - Wake Me Up Before You Go Go by Whamm. We got to our hotel at 8pm, LDM means "youth palace." Maggy had warned us that it was neither youthful nor a palace, she wasn't kidding. Just to emphasis this, Fraser got stuck in the elevator, most people ended up taking there bags up the stairs, thankfully I was only on 1, which was actually up 4 flights of stairs. We had dinner at 8:30, it was pork and rice and it wasn't too bad.
After dinner Anna, our local guide, took us on a Champanski Tour of St. Petersburg. We had stops at Decembrists' Square to see St. Isaac's Cathedral, Mariinsky Palace, the statue of Peter the Great (the Bronze Horseman) and the Astoria Hotel (where Hitler planned to have his celebration after he won St. Petersburg in the war). Our other stop was in front of the Central Naval Museum. We also saw the deformed baby museum (we didn't go in), Stroganov Palace, and Nevsky Prospect. We got back around 10:30 and Maggy set up Dodgy Serge's samples and took orders from everyone. It was a long day, but a good one.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
But the good news is that finding a flight there was MUCH easier to do then finding a flight to London and returning from Scotland. My choices for non-stop flights were Jetblue, Southwest and Delta. Jetblue won! Delta and Jetblue prices were the same, but the cheaper flights with the times we wanted were all on Jetblue, not Delta. Plus we can each check a suitcase without paying. Southwests flights were a bit more expensive and didn't have as good of a selection.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Hotel: Satakuntatalo Summerhotel
Breakfast: 8:00 Bags to the bus: 8:45 Bus departs: 9:00
I got up a little before my alarm today so I got a jump on getting ready. The bathrooms were cool at this campsite. Each stall in the bathroom had a toilet, sink and shower which made it a bit easier to get ready. On the bus I played Crazy 8's with Nancy, Karl, Cathy and Jacqui. We had one quick break, when they realized we were lost, and got into Helsinki a little after 1. After we got lost Dion and Che decided we should play Coach Olympics, since I was in the front of the bus and everything had to go to the back of the d? But apparently the other side of the bus had pretty much given up, I guess I didn't have to rbus I didn't do much. Until they wanted an ipod with Eye of the Tiger paused. OMG, that's me! So everything in my backpack went flying (poor Nancy was trying to keep my stuff organized), I finally found it then couldn't find the song, I guess I was a little overly excited. I was rushing like crazy because who wouldn't have Eye of the Tiger on their ipoush so much. We won the point and the game! Yea for cheesy music! On the bus we also did comment things about the tour and Che and Dion thanked us for a nice tour. Dion also told us that he had been lying to us, it was actually his first tour as a Super Cook, how cute. Well the other thing that happened is that my watch stopped, not a very useful watch now, why is everything breaking?
When we got into town we stopped for pictures at the Lutheran Church and at Sibelius Park. Then I had lunch with Kate, Andrew, Kieran, and Marie. We walked over the the Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Church), a church built into a really big rock. After that we walked over to Olympic Stadium from the 1952 Helsinki games, apparently Kate likes seeing the Olympic sites, I'm not the only one. I heard later on that you can go up the towery thing, but we didn't really have time for that anyway. On the way back we saw the statue to Paavo Nurmi, an Olympic runner/medalist. I was going to try and get my watch fixed before our 5:15 pick up, but in the end we ran out of time.
A couple people almost missed the bus to the Hostel. When we got there I got in the elevator with my bag, I knew where my room was, but I left Nancy to get the key, I just hadn't told her. So Dion let me store my bag in his room while I tried to find Nancy. By the time I got back downstairs Nancy had already gotten the key. But in the meantime I met a couple people from the Russian part of the tour and said a quick hello. On my way back up to the room the floors were all screwy, room 410 would be on the 6th floor, crazy. Eventually I found my room. There was a doorway that led to a set of rooms, about 6 rooms, which were all filled with people from tour. It also had two toilets, but only 1 shower - that would be interesting. Nancy was in our room and we had a balcony, with a view of construction, Yippy!
We had quite a while to get ready so I decided to find a place to get my watch fixed, since I didn't know how possible that would be in Russia. The front desk sent me a couple blocks away, I got a little lost on the way, but eventually found a mall. One of the first stores was a watch store and I waited a while to get helped. The girl said it would take 10 minutes, I went for a drink in the meantime. When I got back the girl was helping someone else. I left her alone for a few minutes but it started getting late so I had to interrupted her, either way I needed the watch back so I could get back in time for our Russia meeting. She quickly finished and only charged me half the price since it took so long.
I got back to the hostel with 10 minutes to spare before our Russia meeting with Maggy. I quickly changed and fixed myself up for our dinner and night out then went down to the meeting. Maggy introduced herself and Ash (the driver) and gave us a little basic info before taking the Russia group to dinner. She advised us to have a good time tonight, but not too make it too big of a night since tomorrow would be a long day getting into Russia. We still had a few minutes before going to dinner so I went back upstairs to properly get ready. Some people were very dressed up and I felt like I should do myself up a bit more.
At 7:45 we walked to dinner, we were eating (as was the other group that had gone a half hour before us) at Armadillo. I sat with Cara, AJ and Renae. Since this was our last night with the Scandi only group we took lots of pictures at dinner. After dinner we all met at some bar down the block. Later on I heard that the bar next to ours had an ice bar in it, a couple people had gone to it, but I didn't bother since I had been to the one in Stockholm. When we first got there I talked to some of the Russia tour people and had last minute bonding with the Scandi people. It was an interesting evening. Che had quite a bit to drink and Tania had an accident. She fell out of an elevator onto the floor, went unconscious and cut her head and was bleeding. It's a good thing Karl was with her (I'll leave that to your own imaginations), she had to go to the emergency room and get 10 stitches in her head. Later on I saw the pictures of her in the ambulance and she didn't look too upset.
I left the bar at 1:20 with Lis, Jilly, Kate and Andrew since the rest of the group was going to a club and I wasn't interest in that. Poor Kate's shoes were hurting her feet so much that Andrew had to carry her part way back. We ran into some others on the way, including Kevin who tried to get a ride on Andrew's back - only to get spun around, which he didn't seem to enjoy, but the rest of us did. When I got back I tried to call home one last time before going to Russia where my phone rates would be much higher, but I just got the answering machine.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Las Vegas at night, taken from the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris, the hotel, not the city.
Why I like this photo? I learned about shutter speed a week or so before this trip and this is the result. This is one of those pictures that was a new learning experience and it's a great picture of the strip.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
But this is a common theme when looking at travel reviews. Chris Christensen from the Amateur Traveler podcast and This Week In Travel once said that you learn more about people's trips in some hotel reviews then you learn about the actual hotel. It's true, and it makes it hard to find good information about travel things. For the airlinequality website I now just skip the reviews with a zero, they're pissed about something on their flight and are on a rant and I know that that person would probably fly with the airline again if it offered the cheapest price. I also suspect these are the same people who get up to the counter and yell at the person and get screwed. You then walk up right after are nice and the person gets you whatever you want. I know I don't think like that person.
Then of course there are the people who visit hotels and tell hotel owners that if they don't do something for them they will write a bad review on tripadvisor. Between those people and the people who complain in their review about every little thing, they walked in behind a tour bus and had to wait too long to check in or the sheets were scratchy in a $50 a night hotel who knows what to believe. Some reviews are entertaining, but not helpful.
So how to find good reviews? I personally like it when websites, though I can't think of any travel websites that do this, that allow readers to rate if the review was helpful or not. Short of that I avoid reviews that give the lowest review possible, this is usually the person who is mad and wants everyone to hear how horrible they were treated, but they don't offer information that is helpful in making a decision. This is especially true if there are a lot of high markings. Do they offer examples of what was wrong. "The room was dirty" is subjective. But, "there were stains on the carpet, and bedding," that tells me what was wrong and is useful in making my decision. I often don't spend much time on the 5 star ratings, they really liked I don't need to read too much about that. I like to concentrate on the middle of the road ratings.
In the meantime you should all know that you can't lie flat in Air France Business class, and you might have to contort to sleep. WHAT? In business class you can actually contort so that you CAN sleep, now that's worth money!
Monday, March 22, 2010
Here's my problem, picking an airline. I had originally thought I would just do the Scotland tour, but it's so short and I would miss the first couple days with tourmates, making it harder to get to know people, I know this because I've done the "join a tour late" thing already. With my original plan I thought I would try an economy plus ticket for flying, probably with British Airways. Obviously depending on the price, but it really didn't seem like that much more money and I would hopefully be better rested when I got to Scotland. But, to add on the England part of the tour is more then the cost of the upgrade of the plane ticket, so now I'm not sure if I'll just do economy or if I'll go with the economy plus.
So I started my search, and I'll admit that even the economy tickets are a little more then I expected for September, though it is early for plane tickets. But I noticed to take Delta/Air France was about $200 cheaper. So I looked, Air France does offer economy plus (but with a different name) and the prices were still reasonable if I decided to fork up the money. Problem - I have to fly through Paris.
The tour starts in London but ends in Glasgow but I was thinking of going back to Edinburgh for a day, maybe two to meet up with some other friends (though I'm not sure that will work out, it was a better idea when i was just doing Scotland).
Here are my route options -
with British Airways (American is the same except part American flight and part BA flights and not economy plus)
JFK to LHR (Heathrow)
EDI to LHR to JFK
JFK to LHR (no economy plus service)
EDI to Paris to JFK (Air France)
EDI to Amsterdam to JFK (with KLM)
JFK to Paris to LHR
EDI to Paris to EDI
EWR to LHR
EDI to EWR
Unless someone from outside of NY is coming with me, then I'm not going to Newark Airport, it's just too much of a pain to get to and to make someone take me to and pick me up from.
Lufthansa is also an option, but then I'm connecting through Frankfurt, and they are a bit more expensive then British Airways and Air France, but they are in a better alliance then Air France, one that I would like to earn some FF miles on.
With Delta, American/BA I get a non-stop flight to Heathrow, with Air France I have a connection both ways. All flights force me to connect coming home.
So questions I have to ask myself -
How important is economy plus?
Do I want to fly an American based airline?
Do I want to fly with Delta, an airline that's getting beaten over the head for poor redemption of miles and I'm not sure their alliance will help me much in the future.
Is $200 worth an extra stop over in Paris going to London?
I don't have the answers to these questions, but I think I'm getting a headache thinking about it. I hate to make my flight choice based on frequent flyer miles, but I do like the idea of knowing that my miles are going to a good alliance to build up miles so I can hopefully fly free one of these days, maybe even in first class.
I should say that I originally wrote this on a Thursday and went to do some editing after and when I looked at the flights, the prices were all a lot closer (within $100) between BA, Air France and Lufthansa.