RSS

Bucket list #17: St. Petersburg, Russia Part 3

And now the final entry on St. Petersburg. There was so much to see and do that I had to add multiple entries, and I have chosen to focus on the photos as the city was so beautiful, words could not describe it. So please enjoy this section on Catherine’s Palace, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and more…

Catherine’s Palace

Catherine’s Palace was the summer residence of the Tsars and Tsarinas, and was built in 1717 by Catherine the I, wife of Peter the Great. Their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, enlarged the palace and was infamous for her extravagance. As our guide noted “she was known to walk through the halls shouting More Gold, More Gold. When she died she left the country with around 13 000 dresses and a handful of rubles”. Not sure if this is accurate but it appears to be the general opinion of Russian tour guides. Catherine the Great was the next inhabitant and her additions were a lot less extravagant, focusing more on comfort.

Welcoming Commitee

Welcoming Commitee

Welcoming Committee

Welcoming Committee

Stunning exterior

Stunning exterior

Catherine's Palace

Keeping us entertained while we waited in line

Keeping us entertained while we waited in line

on the ceiling in the entry way

on the ceiling in the entry way

Original Delft tiles serve as exterior of numerous fireplaces used to heat the palace

Original Delft tiles serve as exterior of numerous fireplaces used to heat the palace

The gold rooms, 3 rooms one of the other covered in gold

The gold rooms, 3 rooms one of the other covered in gold

Stunning artwork everywhere

Stunning artwork everywhere

A slightly different style...

A slightly different style…

Catherine's Palace

Peterhof Palace or the Petrodoverts

The Peterhof Palace has been compared to the Palace of Versailles for it’s numerous fountains spread throughout the stunning grounds. All of the fountains are gravity fed, there are no pumps to be found at all. Here are a few of my favorites…

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace

We were exceptionally lucky with our weather, clear blue sky and temperatures just high enough not to need a sweater. It made the gardens of Peterhof downright spectacular. There is so much in St. Petersburg that I could write another 5 posts, everything from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Isaacs

St. Isaacs Cathedral

With it's stunning domed roof

With it’s stunning domed roof

To it’s impeccably clean underground/subway, the most common comment from the guests was just how clean and how “nice” it smelled compared to the underground in their city….

Stunning art at all stops, this one had chandeliers and crystal pillars

Stunning art at all stops, this one had chandeliers and crystal pillars


St. Petersburg Underground

St. Petersburg surprised me at every turn, glorious green spaces, incredible architecture and an amazing history, very unlike what you expect to see in a communist country… I hope to return with more time to explore!!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 2, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, RTW, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bucket List #17: St. Petersburg, Russia Part 2

Finally after way too long I have time to sit and write some more. So please enjoy the long awaited continuation of my journeys at sea, starting with part 2 of St. Petersburg…

The Hermitage

The Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace, was, as the name implies, the winter home of the Tsars and Tsarinas of Russia. It is now and acclaimed museum and houses over 3 million works of art, with everything from DaVinci to Van Gough, from paintings to stuffed horses….. this is a place that needs a minimum of a full day, preferably 5, to fully explore as it is spread over 6 different buildings.

The Hermitage is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and open to the public since 1852.

The Grand Entry

The Grand Entry

Even the light fixtures are works of art

Even the light fixtures are works of art

One of the throne rooms

One of the throne rooms

One of the many Grand Halls

One of the many Grand Halls

The generals who fought Napolean

The generals who fought Napolean

Some of the officers were quite good looking

Some of the officers were quite good looking

Stunning stained glass

Stunning stained glass

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great

Her "Hanging Gardens"

Her “Hanging Gardens”

The Grand Hallway, an identical copy of the one in the Vatican Museum

The Grand Hallway, an identical copy of the one in the Vatican Museum

Sculpture by Michelangelo

Sculpture by Michelangelo

Made of solid Malachite

Made of solid Malachite

Made of solid Lapis lazulis

Made of solid Lapis lazulis

Horses apparently from one of the wars

Horses apparently from one of the wars

I hope you have enjoyed this brief intro into the Hermitage… stay tuned for Part 3 St. Petersburg

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 28, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Apologies for the Delay….

Greetings and Salutations all, this is just a short note to apologize for the long delay over the last 5months or so… Time and internet availability on the ship is not always adequate for writing, however, I am back on dry land and the posts shall begin to flow…

Also some crazy exciting news, 6months ago just after arriving on the ship I met my now Fiance from Macedonia… It’s been a crazy ride this year and I can’t wait to share it with all of you, so stay tuned!

Trekker!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2016 in Travel

 

Bucket List #17 : St. Petersburg, Russia – part 1

When I was in high school we had the opportunity to go to Europe for 2 weeks including Russia. I am not even sure why anymore, but Russia was somewhere I really wanted to go to. I think it is a memory of this amazing church and the folklore and the dancing, it sounded so fantastic. Unfortunately the Russian section of the trip got cancelled and so I decided not to go.

Finally, quite a few years later…. ok 20yrs later….. I have completed this dream and what do you know I even found the church!

Church of Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg Russua

Church of Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg Russua

Below please find a photo essay of the amazing tour I did and the amazing places I visited…. truly spectacular and nothing at all like the communist Russia we always hear about…

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg

The Winter Palace aka the Hermitage

The Winter Palace aka the Hermitage


The Old Winter Palace of the Tsars is now the Hermitage containing over 3 millions works of art.

Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress

couples like these roam among the tourists trying to get money for a photo, I did a quick happy snappy of one of my guests

couples like these roam among the tourists trying to get money for a photo, I did a quick happy snappy of one of my guests

Inside the Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress

Inside the Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress

Peter the Great and his family

Peter the Great and his family

Remains of the Romanovs the last Royal Family of Russia

Remains of the Romanovs the last Royal Family of Russia

First view of Spilled Blood Church

First view of Spilled Blood Church


This church was dedicated to Alexander the 1st by his son, Alexander the 2nd. It is built over the spot where Alexander the 1st was assassinated, the main spire is 81m high (he died in 1881) and the 2nd highest is 69m high (he was 69 when he died). The entire inside from floor to ceiling is covered in mosaics, created with hand blown tiny glass tiles….

Church of Spilled Blood

Church of Spilled Blood

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

mosaics everywhere

mosaics everywhere

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

if you didn't know better you would think they were paintings

if you didn’t know better you would think they were paintings

inside the main spire

inside the main spire

all mosaics

all mosaics

canal

canal


St. Petersburg is actually built on a number of islands connected by canals and bridges. From late night to early morning all the bridges are raised for river traffic so you have to be careful to plan you evening out….

After a fabulous day out exploring the city we enjoyed an evening of Russian Folklore and dancing…. Now I remember why it always fascinated me!!!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beautiful costumes

Beautiful costumes

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Things Can Only get better….. right???

The hotel was the Crowne Plaza and pretty dang nice. I was in the executive suites and am just going to pretend that meant it was super nice vs just the ordinary suites. The room was very comfortable and clean and the bed looked like heaven, but first dinner with some of my newest friends.

so happy to see a comfy bed

so happy to see a comfy bed

calming soap and shampoo - just what I need

calming soap and shampoo – just what I need

Lufthansa had given us each a $35 food and drink voucher which allowed for a pretty decent meal of Korean Skirt Steak and a mango mojito. The company was great, even the Israeli/American guy who kept hinting we were going to have a good time and did I need a roommate for what sounded like a much nicer room, food was delicious and I was exhausted with a 6.30am wake up call waiting for me. So I headed out after paying, the restaurant had sneaked on an extra $5 charge for large party gratuity claiming Lufthansa was paying anyway…. Cheeky!

I got to sleep around 11pm and for the most part slept well waking up just before 6.30am. A continental breakfast was included on the 7th floor of the Executive Suites. Then onto the airport by shuttle.

I called Lufthansa on the way to confirm everything and ask about the bag and the very nice German man named Michael sounded horrified that United had charged me, immediately contacting his manager and giving me an email to send the receipt to and hopefully get reimbursed.

Things are looking up

At the American counter they confirmed I was allocated 2 bags even though their policy is 1, all they had to do was swipe my passport and print my boarding passes. Apparently the swipe part of my passport had been damaged and would no longer swipe, these caused a bit of confusion as they are not meant to manually enter information but that was the only way to print my passes. Eventually they went ahead, the bags were sent on to Lisbon and I headed for my gate.

Security was a breeze, although apparently the full body scanner felt my left sock was dangerous, must have something against Christmas and reindeer. Then onto the gate, charged my computer and watched another episode of “Being Human” (which I am now slightly addicted to) and sent off the email to Lufthansa about the refund. We will have to wait and see

Finally it was time to board and head to Philly then an hour and a half before Lisbon. My seat was at the very very back of the plane, and for a split second I thought I might have the whole row until Jason arrived. Really nice chap who works on pharmaceutical machinery all around the world. While he got settled I had a good chat with flight attendant Glen, about customer service and surviving flights. It was great having such a great seat mate and we chatted away for the first hour. I was just thinking about putting my feet up to get some shut eye when James walked up to our favorite flight attendant. He had the seat up front next to particularly rotund gentleman who kind of spilled into surrounding seats. He hoped there was another seat available. Feeling the camaraderie that comes from both working in customer service, Glen asked if I would mind if James had the middle seat. Of course I said yes, no problem, then remembered and double checked with Jason if that was ok. Not only did it turn out to be a great group to sit with, Glen was so thankful he offered us all a free sandwich with chips (on this flight you had to pay) and later gave a full tin of soda and extra cookies. Got to love being helpful.

…And then things just kind of plateau

We got into the airport a full 30 minutes early and then sat on the tarmac as our gate wasn’t cleared, the upswing is beginning to level out. Found a Starbucks on the way so finally got to use a gift card I had, woohoo. Made it to the gate with 25 minutes before boarding, all seemed well and Glen had promised that this leg would have great entertainment so I could finally catch up on my movies…. the plane was packed and looked like it was from the 80’s, it even had the the entertainment system that consists of single screens scattered down the center aisle… mmmmm. Of course the best choice of movie to watch on a tiny screen trying to see past the gentleman in front who keeps moving his head is “STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS”… yup definitely not in the up swing any more.

Star Wars.... I think

Star Wars…. I think

Luckily I survived my flight and even got both my bags! Score!!!!! Now just through customs and to find the wonderful agent waiting to whisk me off to the ship without any hassle…. that would be in the ulterior universe of course. No agent so stood in the very long taxi line. Finally get my taxi and the conversation goes like this:
Me: do you take credit card
Taxi: no
Me: I only have US dollars
Taxi: same thing
Me: oh, ok, I need to go to the Cruise Terminal, MSC.
Taxi: what?
Me: Cruise Terminal
Taxi: What?
Me: big ship
Taxi: ahhh ok
all bags loaded and in taxi
Taxi: do you know where? I know 3 different places
Me: hmmmm no, I only know MSC Opera….
Taxi: ok I think I see…

Thank heavens he had seen MSC and got me there for $31 after currency exchange. Finally make it to the ship and see an old friend from my first ship, a rather dashing Croatian. He hung out while his guys were washing the ship (seamen) and we were waiting for security to make up there mind. When they did they indicated the very long, fairly steep, step gangway… thanks! My friend and someone from housekeeping jumped in to help me, such nice guys.

MSC Opera  - home sweet home for the next 7mths

MSC Opera – home sweet home for the next 7mths

The Room Situation

Finally we get everything sorted and I get my room allocated which I have been told is vacant indicating bottom bunk availability. Well…. that was a lie, a lovely girl from the Bar beat me to the bottom bunk.

The room itself is one of the tiny inside cabins, my top bunk has no curtain, the air con is stuck on full arctic blast and my locker doesn’t have a door (the door is leaning against the wall). But the room is very clean! There is also a good chance I will either be moved to a porthole cabin if one becomes available or at the very least the girl from the bar will be moving in a few days so I can move down to the bottom bunk.

Meeting the Captain

Usually when one meets the Captain of the ship you want it to be a very good impression, one where he will think highly of you and appreciate all you do. But then again, there is me……my meeting went something like this:

I was working disembarkation on deck 6 sending the guests through security when security needed to change things up and prepare the metal detector for those coming back on board. They instructed me to send the guests to deck 5. Unfortunately, unbeknown to me, my French counterpart was sending guests up because of the queue on 5. The very first guests I send back got very angry and shouted a bit, turned out they went back down and shouted at my French counterpart, right as the Captain walked past, so they shouted at him to. He came upstairs:

Captain: why are you sending the guests downstairs??
Me; Security told me to
Captain: (barely controlling his anger) Do me a favor and only listen to the deputy not to security.
Me: Yes sir (wondering who the heck he is, maybe the Hotel Director???)
Captain then proceeds to yell at security and goes down to the pier and yells at the officers, all I hear is “something something Social Hostess, something Social Hostess, something something something Social Hostess”.
Me to Security: wow he is making a big deal who is he anyway?
Security: the Captain
Me: oh shit!
Later the Deputy (who I know from my first ship) looked at me and sighed stating “only you Kathy, only you”…….

Luckily I wasn’t in any trouble, but it still was a little awkward.

The next day we had a meeting with him in his rooms, he had watched some of the “Behind the Scenes” lectures and wanted to correct some information. Turns out he is a really great Captain with an excellent and unexpected sense of Humor. He also took us to the bridge to be sure we understood how things worked on our ship compared to the larger class. Unfortunately he leaves in a few days and will replaced with a new Captain, let’s hope he is as fantastic.

What a way to start the next 7 months….

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 14, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, RTW, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Return to The Sea

After leaving my last contract I was 99% sure I would never return to the sea unless it was in a small dive boat in a stunning tropical location. I even headed to Thailand and the stunning Koh Phangan Island to complete my Dive Instructor course. It was phenomenal with lots of hard work and stress, but pretty soon I was taking divers out and teaching courses. Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be one of the worst tourist seasons the island had seen in over 8yrs and also resulted in what little savings I had left after paying for my course to whittle down at a frighteningly rapid rate. In the end I opted to say farewell, head home for the holidays and accept another contract.

It felt surprisingly normal to tell people that I worked on a cruise ship and many showed interest and envy. I was excited and nervous about returning to the ships after having almost a year off. At first I was offered the same ship as last time in the Med, but then two weeks before departing they asked me to switch to a small ship (new to my collection) and Northern Europe. It meant another 2 months at home (much to the joy of my father knowing it meant 2 more months of home cooking) and on the small ships there was only 1 crew bar, smoking. But I had always wanted to do Northern Europe so I jumped at the chance.

Two months rapidly diminished to 2 days and then it was time to leave….

Things always come in threes…

Number 1

the trip started innocently enough with a usual check in at the United counter to fly to San Fran then onto Munich and finally Lisbon. The company had booked the trip through Lufthansa and all documentation stated that 2 bags were allowed free of charge. The first leg was Eugene to San Fran and was operated by United air. At the counter I was informed that I had to pay $100 for the second bag and take out 3 pounds (or pay $260, extra bag + overweight charge). I politely informed them that I had a seaman’s ticket allowing not only 2 bags but a few extra pounds… I was met with blank stairs… A manager was called over and she informed me that even though Lufthansa allows 2 bags the 1st leg was on United and they allow ONE! That will be $100.

After paying and heading through the gate I sat down and looked over the ticket information I had been sent and sure enough there it was : 2 bags allowed. I headed to the gate counter and asked there, the lady seemed very confused and tried to help, looking into the system. Unfortunately there was nothing she could do so she suggested I contact United Customer Service handing me the number.

So there I was sitting in the waiting lounge on the phone with United and the best response I could get was the following:
“ I am sorry Ma’am but since your first flight was on United we follow United policies despite the fact that it was booked through Lufthansa.”
“But my documentation clearly states that I should be allowed 2 bags”
“Ma’am perhaps that means that 2 bags are allowed but only 1 is free….”

I think she was starting to reach a little. Oh well lets hope that the company reimburses me or I am able to get Lufthansa to do so.

Number 2

Arriving at San Fran I headed to the international terminal checking my flight on the board. Since it was still 5hrs the board simply showed my flight as:
Gate = INTL (International). I asked the attendant there and she said it was still too long till the flight to have a confirmed gate… perfectly feasible I guess.

I found a great Japanese place and enjoyed a delicious meal of pork cutlet, rice and some green tea.

mmmm yummy

mmmm yummy

Then off to find a comfy chair to relax. I watched some movies and waited another 2 hrs (total of 3 1/2 hrs). Then I figured it must surely be close enough to the flight (now 2hrs away). Checking the board I noticed that my flight appeared to no longer exist, and double checking my alphabet and making sure i was spelling Munich correctly I tried my best not to feel that panic rise.

I went to the gate I had originally had on my boarding pass to find an agent already speaking in German with 3 others (heading home for wedding). Apparently the plane had been struck by lightening and had been forced to return to Munich. He informed us we had to go up and to aisle 4 to talk to Lufthansa, when we asked him what that meant he simply said “up and out then aisle 4 past aisle 3”…. Still uncertain where to go we asked at the United Lounge who said aisle 4 was outside security just passed a gate to our left. So out we headed.

As we rounded the corner we were faced with the other 100 odd passengers who had arrived to check in all standing inline and no one giving any information. I found a rep and he handed me some info and told me to stand in line and suggesting I call the number on the page. The other family had been rebooked and quickly headed back the way we had just come to catch the flight. I on the other hand had not received any emails or text messages because my flight had been booked through the company and was not linked to any of my info.

Luckily while waiting in line I was connected to a very helpful lady at the lufthansa customer service and she informed me I had been rebooked to arrive in Lisbon, via Philadelphia on American Airlines, Saturday morning at 8:50am. I explained the situation about trying to reach Lisbon in time to catch my boat and if there was any way to get me there any earlier, she said she would try her best and put me on hold while she searched. In the mean time I had discovered that the line I was standing in, the one that hadn’t moved in the last hour, was for the hotel voucher and not for rebooking, that was the line next to us. So I begrudgingly moved to the other line wanting to double check that a flight of some sort would be booked for me. The lady on the phone got back to me right before I got to the counter saying my only option was the trip the next day. I got to the counter and they confirmed for me again that I had been rebooked on American. I queried the bag issue, explaining what United had done and my fear that American may do the same thing. They were not as surprised at United as I wish they had been and, while not promising, they did say there was a chance American would honor the 2 bags vs their usual policy of 1 bag. Guess that’s better than nothing.

Number 3

They then informed me to just pop over to the other line with about 20 people in it, the line that had not moved, literally, to get my hotel voucher as they were only rebooking, oh fabulous.

We must have stood in that line for another 2 hours waiting for hotel vouchers with no one giving us any information as to why the line was not moving. Finally I asked if we could get some drink vouchers or something, leaning more towards the idea of “we all need a tequila shot”, but the very sweet Lufthansa lady named Marabel offered water. We could use that too I guess. People relaxed al little when the water arrived and information seemed to be flowing a bit but we were still exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel. Apparently Lufthansa was calling all the hotels and booking rooms and would only then give out the vouchers.

The family who had dashed off to get to their rebooked flight appeared from the other counter, they had just missed the cut off time to get to the gate, and were not allowed to board, so they were stuck with us waiting for a hotel and most likely going to miss their god child’s wedding.

We continued the query as to what happened and were told by the staff lightening strike, but by some of the passengers it was just a strike…. interesting…..

Finally at around 9pm, after waiting for 4hrs to get info added to the already 3 hours I had spent waiting at the gate we were handed hotel and food vouchers. All we had to do was head outside and pick up the shuttle…. turns out they had not called the shuttle, so that meant a further 30min wait in the cold.

little chilly

little chilly

All together !!!

All together !!!

Luckily when it arrived we were all able to squeeze on and had developed a great sense of camaraderie planning to meet up for dinner at the hotel…

But wait there is more….

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 14, 2016 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, RTW, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

When It All Begins To Feel Normal!!

In the Beginning

Back in school I was the epitome of nerd, I loved school, was president of the Wildlife club, in choir, participated in the speech and drama festival and if that wasn’t enough was Head Library Prefect/Monitor. In fact, I actually won a trophy for service to the school in my final year. As a result I was bullied and suffered low self esteem. Thinking back most of my fellow classmates, and the teachers too in fact, would most likely have expected me to be married and settled fairly soon after graduating or completing college. After being accepted into the Horticulture program at Natal Technical College it seemed like that was a likely path. However, Fate had other ideas by giving us the opportunity to immigrate to the USA.

Alter Egos

Four years at Oregon State University ended with a 2 month trip to the UK. I believe this was around the time my alter ego began to emerge. For years I had had a plan, to find a good job in the environmental field and… well… save the world… But suddenly I was starting to explore the world… and so my organized responsible side now had a sister, the world wide traveler…. 3 years teaching English in South Korea fed that alter ego with numerous trips around Asia.

My alter ego allowed me to feel free and more confident while abroad and seemed to thrive among different cultures and fascinating history.

On the contrary, my responsible side followed society expectations and parents always feel more comfortable when their kids have a good job and are settled.

However, social situations still made me uncomfortable and my inability to come to terms with my dual personalities constantly made me feel guilty about traveling and yet stressed over not taking the opportunity to explore more.

Sanity

Lucky for me I have a great friend, mentor and fellow traveler. He always seems to be online in my darkest hours, when I feel like a stranger in my “responsible” job, and… when I decide to buy a ticket to somewhere new. (I can help anyone else buy a ticket but when it’s my turn I am completely indecisive). If I owed him a beer for every time he has calmed my fears over letting down my responsible side I would most likely owe him an entire brewery. It is his advice that has kept me sane year after year, and as others have got used to the idea that I don’t necessarily fit any mold and they can live vicariously through me, they too have begun to keep me sane.

When It All Begins To Feel Normal!!

This past year has really been a turning point for me. For years people looked at me as this confident world traveler but inside I remained that bullied library prefect, and my two egos were constantly at odds. But, at the encouragement of amazing friends and my parents, I completed my PADI Dive Instructor course in Thailand last July. The moment I was told I had passed I cried, became weak at the knees, and said “does this finally make me cool??”. I don’t think I had ever realized just how much I had been affected by those long ago bullies, how I still considered myself as always that “nerd who won a trophy for service to the school”… my confidence began to grow…

Then, while at a hostel in Bangkok, fellow travelers, many abroad for the first time, seemed to be drawn to me asking my advice of where to go and what to see, and surprised when they mentioned a destination I had not yet been to… and my confidence grew…

Returning home, I decided to return to the cruise ships for another contract, and instead of feeling embarrassed about working on a cruise ship, a job many would think a joke, I found myself confidently stating the fact, “I am a social hostess on a cruise ship in Europe”. Never once was I faced with a sneer, but rather genuine interest and envy… and my confidence grew…

I am not exactly certain when I came to terms with the fact that travel is who I am, at least for now, when it all just became normal for me and everyone around me… But for now it has… I feel at peace and most importantly confident… that is until I need to pack for this upcoming contract…..😉

Dedicated to my amazingly patient parents, my phenomenal travel guru mentor and fantastic friends who have believed in me all this time …. I think I may finally have begun believing in myself!!!

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: