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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

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mosaics everywhere

mosaics everywhere

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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!!!!

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Beautiful costumes

Beautiful costumes

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

 

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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….

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

 

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Taking a Semi-Submarine in Curacao

Under ‘da Sea

Visiting Aruba was fantastic but the very next day we went to another of the Dutch Antille Islands, Curacao. This time I got the opportunity to do the Semi-Submarine excursion, my first time experiencing one of these.

Driving through the island we finally stopped at this beautiful resort and walked over to the boat.
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Stairs led down to a fairly cramped “submarine” area with windows along the side. Being the escort also meant I was an extra person and there was no space for me on the seats, so I squeezed into the stairwell and leaned forward to get a view.
Curacao

Even being a scuba diver I was amazed at the great views and the fish. There was so much to see, of course it also made me wish I could toss on some gear and jump in.

Coral formations

Coral formations

We were saddened by a net that was draped over some of hte coral, turns out some of the locals sneak in and fish at night, but often lose their nets. Turtles have been seen tangled in them in the past. The guests suggested a petition be started and have visitors sign it and write to the government to prevent or at least limit this beahviour. I felt rather proud of them for wanting to take a stand.
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Feeding Time

Heading upstairs to get some air I saw one of our deckhands gearing up to feed the fish, unfortunately they didn’t have an extra tank but did invite me to come diving if we were ever back in the area.
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Then it was time to feed all the pretty fishies…

preparing the food

preparing the food


Curacao (9)
Curacao (10)

After a great morning of staring at fishes we headed off to explore more of the island, in particular it’s contribution to Alcohol, free tasting included….
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Mmmmm Curaçao Liqueur

My favorite was the chocolate and coffee flavor

My favorite was the chocolate and coffee flavor

Curaçao is a liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit, grown on the island of Curaçao. A non-native plant similar to an orange, the laraha developed from the sweet Valencia orange transplanted by Spanish explorers. The nutrient-poor soil and arid climate of Curaçao proved unsuitable to Valencia cultivation, resulting in small, bitter fruit of the trees. Although the bitter flesh of the Laraha is all but inedible, the peels are aromatic and flavorful, maintaining much of the essence of the Valencia orange.

Curaçao liqueur was first developed and marketed by the Senior family in the 19th century. To create the liqueur the laraha peel is dried, bringing out the sweetly fragranced oils. After soaking in a still with alcohol and water for several days, the peel is removed and other spices are added.

The liqueur has an orange-like flavor with varying degrees of bitterness. It is naturally colorless, but is often given artificial coloring, most commonly blue or orange, which confers an exotic appearance to cocktails and other mixed drinks.

Some other liqueurs are also sold as Curaçaos with different flavors added, such as coffee, chocolate, and rum and raisin.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Time to Stroll through Willemstad

Luckily I even had time for a stroll through the port of Willemstad. I really liked this port, more so than Aruba. The multi-colored buildings and small streets felt like I was wondering the lanes of a Delft or Amsterdam.

On the bridge to Willemstad

On the bridge to Willemstad

I think I would enjoy visiting Curacao again, perhaps even a little more than Aruba…..

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Horse Riding in Puerto Rico

Excursions

I was supposed to have a ship visit and so was exempt from the crew drill planned for that day in San Juan, Puerto Rico. At the last moment the ship visit was cancelled, but I was still exempt. So after a quick scurry to chat to the tour manager I was lucky enough to be given the horseriding excursion. I was super excited as it has been years since I have been riding and it isn’t often we get to go on the excursions we hope for. A quick presto packo, to stick my jeans in my bag (technically we are not allowed to wear jeans when we are working, but horseriding in my excursion shorts was not going to happen) and I was off.

To get to Carabali Rainforest Park there is about an hour drive, so I sat back relaxed and snacked on the croissants I had grabbed in the mess (sshhh don’t tell anyone I took them).

Horse Dispersion

Once we got there I quickly changed and then headed over to the briefing. The guys from Carabali were fantastic, super professional and great fun. They sorted us into beginner and experienced (further separated into “been on horse at least 3 times” and “have a good idea of what we are doing”).
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I have done some lessons, back in the dark ages in University, and have some idea of what I am doing, so I was given “Tyson”. As I mounted him my guide told me “he is great but has an attitude, he doesn’t like to be in the back”. That was an understatement, it was me first all the way. But he was a super sweet horse and once I got used to his bouncy canter we were right as rain.
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Rainforest Trail

We rode through the edges of only true tropical rainforest in the territories of the USA.It was spectacular and reminded me a lot of where I grew up in South Africa. The main difference being, while we had vervet monkeys swinging through the trees, here giant iguanas sun themselves on the palms.
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Jungle Bananas

During the beginning of the trail our guide had us stop and he dismounted, then he started telling us all about jungle bananas. they are much smaller but taste like 5 bananas combined into one little mini banana. I had tasted them before in Ecuador when I worked in the Amazon (feel free to browse previous blogs from 2011 for those fantastic adventures), and remembered how good they were.
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Photo Stops and Face Painting

It was truly relaxing and beautful making our way through the jungle, chatting with the guests (usually as Tyson pushed past to get near the front) and the guides. We stopped in an open glade for a photo stop and then headed to the river.
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At the river we all dismounted and the guides corralled the horses. There were drinks available for purchase and we all relaxed next to the river for 30min.
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The guides told us more about the history of Puerto Rico and how the native people used different color rocks to make face paint. Of course we had to experiment with this.
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We also learnt what kind of leaves they used to transport water, they are completely waterproof.
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All in all a fantastic day and I loved every minute of it. I highly recommend anyone who is the general area of Puerto Rico to visit the Carabali Rainforest Park and go for a horse ride.
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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in Cruise, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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French Charter Cruise!!!

It’s All French From Here

Over the next four days we have the sublime priviledge of hosting 1400 Frenchies on a charter for the car company Citroen. The good news is, most of them got it for free and seem to be in a great mood about it, even to the point of forgiving my lack of French and inability at pronouncing it.

Embarkation

It all started on a day in Genoa, I was at my trusty table with my pile of safety flyers. Most embarkation days I am stationed here, usually I have 5 different languages for the safety flyer and a 6th flyer with all the languages explaining the safety drill. Each time a guest enters I greet them in English and hope they respond in their language so I know which flyer to give them. Every now and then someone pulls a dirty trick and greets me in Italian, only to end up being French or German….

On French charter embarkation we only had the multi-language flyer and the French one. So in an attempt at being efficient I just combined them together so that I could hand them to guests at the same time. Of course the first 1000 arrived at the same time and it was mad chaos trying to hand them the papers fast enough. Luckily they were patient and not rude and pushy like a group of Italians we had the cruise before who nearly ran me over in their attempt to get to check-in first. Once the snaking line filled up it was pretty slow going, just handing them out every minute or so and smiling and nodding. However, you will not believe how many people put the multi-language paper down or handed it back to me thinking it was in another language, only to have me point out the French paragraph at the very top….

Just for exercise, just for exercise, just for exercise….

2pm we had our usual safety drill, luckily it lasted about 10min instead of 30min as we only had 1 language instead of the usual 5.

The group was great and very amused with my demonstration, you got to make it fun otherwise people get bored and forget. My muster station is S, inside the casino, Lifeboat 8, in the far corner. A bit nerve racking I fear if a problem did actually arise as every other group is either outside or has an exit door near at hand.

Circles, lots and lots of circles

Our evening involved remaining in uniform and circling round and round deck 5 and 6 in case any one needed help. Luckily I understand words like “recepcion” and “toilette”. At one stage I was listening to one of the singers playing some phenomenal Elvis music and a guest grabbed me and started waltzing… again, I think this is going to be a fun crowd. I finished circling at 11pm and went to peel off my uniform that I had had the supreme joy of wearing for 15hrs straight 2 days in a row.

Surprise! Excursion!

At our meeting this afternoon to explain where and when we were needed, our boss told us we were on excursion. At first we thought he meant that we were the runners to take the excursions to the bus… but then it was clear that we were actually ON the excursion. Since we only have a few hours this is great news, but at the same time, coffee with friends and a nap had sounded awfully good this afternoon.

The excursion of the day was to the tiny medieval town of Erice up on the top of the mountain in Trapani. The weather appeared decent, perhaps a little wind but I figured my sweatshirt and sunglasses would be enough, as usual. The movement of the bus lulled me to sleep for part of the drive, also the droning of our guide in French helped. When I opened my eyes all I saw was rain and grey and mist. When we arrived, after an exceptionally windy, twisty drive up roads barely wide enough to accept a mini coup, let alone a giant bus contorting itself around hair pin bends while trying to avoid oncoming traffic, it looked like it was winter in the highlands of Scotland. The mist was so thick you couldn’t see for than 10 feet ahead. But it certainly added a kind of ambience to the place and really lended to the feeling of an medieval town.
MSC - Erice Sicily

MSC - Erice Sicily (4)

After a mad caper of trying to convince guests off the bus and then find them as they all made a mad dash for cover, the tour guide and I eventually corralled enough of them to be convinced of a full group. One of the tour guides looked at me forlorn and said “53 refused to get off the bus, I only have 8” Really people it’s just a little mist and rain and cold and fog other than that it’s a glorious day in Sicily.
MSC - Erice Sicily (7)

Holy Cannoli???

As we meandered through the streets, heading uphill on particularly slippery cobblestones our guide gave us a brief run down of the history. To be honest I wasn’t really listening, instead I was in awe of the place and all the little shops. As we reached the top we came across a large number of French eating cannoli’s and drinking some sort of warm liquer. I wasn’t sure if someone had started a strange pastry craze, but the heavens smiled as it turned out the cannoli’s, these glorious crispy pastries that wrap themselves round a stuffing of ricotta cheese, were part of the tour!!!! We all got lined up to enter and as I put my foot in the entry the tour organizer gave me the lollipop (the sign we hold up to get our group to follow us) and told me to stand outside. I must have given her a very pathetic look as her next statement promised to bring me a cannoli when she went to get hers.
MSC - Erice Sicily (8)

Standing on a foggy street corner in a medieval town eating a cannoli with one hand while holding the tour lollipop with the other and powdered sugar raining down all over you with every bite…. Heaven!
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I really can’t tell you what the rest of the tour involved as I was in a cannoli induced fog, there was a church though and a promise to take me to a famous marzipan bakery for some speciality cookies. That is until the tour organizer decided I had to go with her to make sure all the guests went the right way, which they were (she had the tendency of treating them like 5yr olds). The problem was 2-fold, I spoke no French so couldn’t tell them where to go and I had never been here and so couldn’t tell them where to go. Luckily she figured it out and we headed back the way we had come and I found my marzipan guide.

In the end I got a giant box of marzipan cookies which were rapidly inhaled by the photo team upon my return, don’t worry I made sure I got a couple of them. The bakery gave me a free espresso so I could bounce my way back to the bus, where I found myself trying to sing Alouette in an attempt to keep the guests occupied as we waited for the last few to find their way out of Erice and back to the bus.

View on the drive back

View on the drive back

White Night

The final night was a white theme, and all guests were given white fedora hats, which created a fantastic atmosphere. Everyone had a good time with a concert on the pool deck and despite the cold, were in high spirits. A few days later I managed to find a contact in the housekeeping staff who acquired one of the left over hats for me and my roommate.

All French Things Come to An End

All to soon, this rather fabulous group of Frenchies, had to leave and our new route for the next 5mths began…. What the future holds we will have to see, but for now I am enjoying the ride… or the cruise.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Uncategorized

 

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