Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 6 - A wooden church with no nails!


Last night we sat with a different couple from Germany. Richard joined our table and there was a bit of banter about the England team losing 4-1 to Germany.
Once again we had an excellent meal and didn’t get to bed until after 10:45pm. Patty decided that she wouldn’t go to breakfast in the morning.
We were woken by a 6h30 wake-up call and I made Patty a cup of tea before going to breakfast. We had to be ready early for our excursion on the island of Kizhi.
Dieter, the boat manager, offered to send a sailor with us on Kizhi as there were cobble stones and gravel paths.
 At breakfast I sat with a lovely Southern Lady from the USA.  We have been sailing about 150km northward on the second largest lake in Europe and at 8h30 our boat berthed on Kizhi island, one of the most ancient inhabited sites in Russia.
This small island – 6km by 1km - is now an open air architectural museum and UNESCO heritage site.  The magnificent wooden church of the Transfiguration and the nearby wooden church of Intercession were built in the early 18thc completely of wood with no nails.  The Transfiguration Church has 22 timbered onion domes. We were allowed into the Intercession Church and whilst there, three black robed monks sang a special chant. The walls are lined with magnificent Iconostas. I asked one of the monks to point out the Apostle Jacob and he showed me the Apostle Iakhov (fourth from left) and another Icon of Jacob, the father of the people.
The whole structure of the Transfiguration Church is under repair and the inside is held up by scaffolding. Our guide told us that without appropriate treatment the entire structure could be lost within ten to fifteen years. Other typically Russian wooden structures like windmills, bathhouse, chapel, bell towers etc have been brought here from other parts of the Onega Lake.  People living there wear peasant clothing aand demonstrate traditional farming, sculpting, carving etc. Patty and I managed fine on the boadwalks and Richard helped us when the path turned to gravel.
We went back to the boat for lunch and set sail again down the Neva. From 2pm to 3:30pm we could visit the Captain’s bridge and at 4:45pm attend a lecture on the Romanovs in the Sky Bar. This was a fascinating talk and many of the slides she used, showing the various Romanov’s, were taken in the palaces we have already seen.
What sad, tumuluous and in the end, violent lives they led.
I fetched Patty from the room at about 5:45pm and we sat with two Australian couples in the Panorama Bar until supper time. It was a Russian evening and the male staff members were dressed in red tunics with floral trim and the females in Russian folk dresses – rather odd for people from the Philippines!
Today we left Lake Onega and joined the waters of the Vytegra Canal via a lock, rising about 13m into the Vytegra reservoir. The 2nd lock, at the Belousovskiy Hydroplant took us up another 13m into the Belousovskiy reservoir. After dinner, at around 9pm we went through the 3rd lock at Novinkinskiy into the Novinkinskiy reservoir. We will rise from sea level at\St Petersburg to over 150m at Moscow. It is interesting that these rivers and canals are frozen during the winter months and are used by vehicular traffic. It’s hard to imagine trucks and cars zooming down the rivers!

 I didn’t go to breakfast because I needed to wash my hair and showering, drying, dressing and doing the hair takes forever. We had to leave the boat at 8h30 to visit Kizhi Island. Last night at dinner, our new best friend Richard offered to push me around the island to give Sylvia a rest. (We didn't need the sailor Dieter offered us).
He was there at 8h30 and so I had a new driver today. We saw the most incredible wooden Churches - but nothing like you have ever seen in South Africa or anywhere else for that matter. It was interesting that the larger church was the summer church and the winter churches are small. They can’t heat the large church in summer and the winter church – easier to heat - doesn't
have so many attending in winter. It get to -30oC in winter.
Syl has been taking photographs of all sorts of things that I can use for my painting - strange fences that I’ve never seen before, roofs on houses with very different styles, scenery as we cruise along the waterways – all very exciting! There were farm workers using scythes to cut the grass today – it looked like a medieval scene!
Back at the boat I sat in the library for while and chatted about art with the restaurant manager. Then Syl came to fetch me and I had a Bloody Mary in the Panorama Bar before going to dinner. Tonight I had a tomato and Basel salad, then a delicious Butterfish and a typical Russian soft cheese desert with strawberry sauce. We have
both put on weight because all we do here is eat!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 5: Cruising down the Neva


I am alive today!  I had such a good sleep because Syl put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door - and it worked.  I stayed in bed until mid-day and only got up when Syl came to collect me for lunch.  I didn't mind skipping breakfast because we have been living from one meal time to the next so I had a banana and a cup of tea.
We had a wonderful lunch - a salad buffet, sandwiches and a tortellini which I thought was lunch, but there was also a main menu to choose from!  The food here is above 5 star.
Our guide warned us that the visit to Mandrogy would be difficult but we decided to visit it anyway.  At 2pm we arrived at the 'cooked up village' with wooden houses, strange totem poles and tourist souvenir shops. There used to be a real village here but it was destroyed during WW11 and all the inhabitants moved away and settled in other villages. In 1996 Sergei Gutzeit, a St. Petersburg entrepreneur and patron of the arts, decided to revive the village and make it a tourist destination for the many tourists on the river cruises between St. Petersburg to Moscow and Kizhi. 
There were a few buildings I didn't go into - by choice - but I visited the main one with all the crafts and shops and it wasn't difficult for Syl to push me around the village.
When we got back to the boat we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Panorama bar at the front of the boat with windows all around so that we get this wonderful view of the river side villages and an occasional passing boat. After two teas, I decided to have a Bloody Mary - with Russian Vodka - which was much stronger than the Virgin Mary I had the other day.

Last night – or early this morning – I felt the boat start up and rocking as we sailed on down the Neva. Patty decided to have a pyjama day today so stayed in bed while I went to breakfast. After breakfast we assembled in the Sky Bar for a lecture on Russia given by our guide Mikhail. He referred to a large map of Russia and told us about the history, the people and their languages, geography, agriculture, trade and industry, politics etc. Russia wraps around almost half of the globe, with 11 time zones (there are 24 altogether) has 84 states but only 150m people. The bulk of Russia is made up of Siberia with the northern part being mostly un-inhabitable with no industries and few people. He spoke about the changes in the country, pointing out two sides of the coin. Housing, medical, education etc used to be free, now people pay. People can now own land and build their own houses or start businesses but very few can afford to do so. They can choose to use the government medical service or pay for private services (which are more costly). People can now travel extensively. Crime has increased because, in the past the KGB were the police, judge and jury and crime was practically unheard of. Now there is a lot of crime and many places that people find unsafe – especially in large cities and at night. He spoke about freedom of speech, association and religion. The majority of Russians follow the Eastern Orthodox church (not the Roman Catholic Church). There are Lutherans in the North West border with Finland, Islam in the South, and Buddhists on the border with China and even a few Hare Krishna’s. Michael said that he didn’t think the Krishnas would survive  because they shave their heads, wear thin cloth, don’t eat meat or drink alcohol! To survive in Russia you need to wear fur, eat a big steak and toast God with vodka!

After that talk, another guide gave a talk on Russian Souvenirs and what we could expect to find as we travelled down the river. Most of the souvenirs are made of wood – of which there is abundance. During the winter there is little to do and most souvenirs are crafted during the long winter months.
At 12h30 we went to lunch - all we do is eat, eat, eat! At 2pm we berthed next to the restored Arts and Crafts village of Mandogry where we saw typical wooden Russian houses, a pottery, art centre - where 4 young women were painting the little dolls we see everywhere, as well as a Vodka museum, and a souvenir shop.   Its a bit like Shakaland at home - a village re-created in the style of old Russia for tourists.
When we got back to the boat we went up to the Panorma bar and here we sit, sipping tea and hot chocolate, as we set off again, cruising down the Svir.
We heard that Mikhail had taken ill half-way through his second lecture on Russian History and that we would have a different guid the next day.

Day 4: Very expensive tea!

We could have gone on optional tours today to another palace – Peterhof - or a canal cruise – but decided instead to stay in and rest and catch up with the blog and emails. We stayed in bed until 7h45 and had a leisurely breakfast before taking our books and laptop to the Panorma Bar where we stayed until lunchtime.
At 3pm were boarded the bus which took us to the Arts Square in St Petersburg which is close to the main street, Nevsky Prospekt. The Lutheran church of St Peters in Nevsky Prospekt, which was used as an indoor swimming pool was returned to the Lutherans and is now being used as a church. It was raining again so I wore my Altus raincoat and Patty carried her umbrella. I took her to see the church of the Saviour of the Blood, one of the most famous onion dome structures in Russia. (Those are the domes in the header of this blog). The guide warned us not to have coffee at the Grand Hotel Europa because it was so expensive but we decided to give it a try and sit under the canvas canopies at their pavement cafĂ©. We had a pot of tea and hot chocolate with complimentary biscuits and meringues for 550 Roubles. Actually, I think we were had because she didn’t bring us a bill, just told us what the cost was and we paid, and gave her a tip. The guide told us that a pot of tea in a nice place usually costs around 100 roubles!
We got back just in time to shower and change and go up to the Sky bar for welcoming cocktails at 6:30pm. The captain, his first mate and the event manager introduced the crew and the head chef, restaurant manager, tour guides etc.   At 7pm sharp the boat set sail down the Neva, under the first bridge and past the city. For the first time we saw houses on the banks of the river, mainly summer homes. Dinner started late – at about 8:30pm and we sat with Richard tonight. Patty and Richard shared a bottle of Merlot so they were in fine form (I had water!).
It was announced that, because the level of the river was about 15cm higher than usual we wouldn’t be able to sail under one of the bridges so we would drop anchor and at 2am the road bridge would be raised so that we could continue on our journey. We only got to bed after 10:45pm.


The events guide woke us with an intercom message at 7h45 otherwise we would have carried on sleeping this morning. It was great to sit upstairs with no rush to get onto a bus or go on a tour this morning. The afternoon free time in the city was great too.
St Petersburg is beautifully laid out with wide boulevards and gracious old buildings. Syl took me to see the the church of the Saviour of the Blood. It was quite strange to finally see it for real because I have seen it so often in the books Shaun bought me and it was unreal to stand in front of it at last.
After sightseeing, we sat under the red canopies of the Grand Hotel Europe - one of the top 10 hotels in the world - watching the hoi-palloi walking past us while we had our very expensive tea - about R140 for tea and a cup of Horlicks. We watched smartly dressed men entering the hotel and fashonable young ladies struggle by on the cobble stones in 10” high heels.
 The Russians are very fashionable and the summer fashion seems to be dresses - very pretty, summer dresses.

When we got back to the boat there was a notice that the doll painting workshop had been cancelled due to a lack of numbers. (Sorry Di, I was going to bring you back some hand-painted dolls!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 3: Palaces and Saints

After getting home from the Hermitage museum yesterday, I decided not to try the theatre with no lifts so Syl went to the ballet and I was happy to stay in. It was a good idea because my oxygen machine played up during the night – I couldn’t get the belt battery to work - and the machine kept bleeping. At around 2am I noticed that the tube was bent and thought that the oxygen not getting through was causing the alarm. Syl had a brainwave and splinted the bend in the tube with an ear bud and elastoplaster (it looked very strange!) but the thing still kept bleeping so I had to go without it.
This morning we had a 6h15 wake up call, had to be at breakfast by 7am and on the bus by 7h45. Phsew – that’s a challenge for me! We went to Catherine’s summer palace in Pushkin (named after the poet). Pushkin is part of the metropolitan area of St Petersburg and is beautifully green with parks and gardens, lots of flowers.
Catherine’s summer palace – a huge blue and white complex of palace and buildings for servants and animals - does not have lifts so I had to slowly climb two steep flights of stairs to get to the reception rooms. I gave up after counting 30 steps! But, it was worth it. I have been looking at pictures of the palace for nearly 10 years and was determined to visit the rooms.
We then came back to the boat at 12pm for lunch and had to be back on the bus at 1h30 for a 5.5 hour tour of St Petersburg. We had a number of photo stops, a stop at a gallery with a souvenir shop and a 45 minutes stop where we could change money at the bank and visit the Church of the Saviour of the Blood.
Tonight there is an optional visit to a Cossack music and dance show but Syl and I both decided to forgo the ‘hop, skip and jump’ and have an early night. Not that early – dinner lasted until almost 9pm!
Now we are looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow morning, having a quiet day on board before getting the shuttle into town where we will do a bit of shopping and watch the St Petersburg world go by!


The WIFI connection on the boat is irratic and  temperamental and we’ve had problems getting onto Gmail, let alone the blog or Facebook.
Dinner last night was a bit rushed because we had to shower, change, eat and be at the buses by 7pm. We were taken to the Alexandrinsky Theatre where we watched Swan Lake. The music was stunning, the story charmingly familiar, the sets excellent and the dancing superb but there were times when I felt myself nodding off. One of the passengers said that it was the best production he had ever seen - sets, dancers, music etc. 
It was after 11pm when we came out of the theatre but the sun was still shining! St Petersburg looks beautiful in the late evening –much softer 
than it does in the morning sunlight. We got back to the boat just as the sun was setting at 11:25pm.  I crept into the cabin, trying not to wake Patty.  My head was still full of swans, dancing and music and when I heard a bleeping sound, it was part of my dream and swans were hooting.  But it was Patty's POC! She has told you about the problems with her machine and we had a fairly disrupted sleep until around 2:30am. We had to be up early and both of us were a bit moggy!

The weather forecast today was 19 – 22oC and 50% rain. As we arrived at Catherine’s Palace in Tsarskoe Selo (Pushkin) it started to rain. It took us an hour and a half to walk through the many reception rooms, one more heavily gilded than the next, and as we left, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Patty did very well, climbing up one staircase and then the next. In between, I pushed her in the wheelchair and she saw everything that we did. Mikhail told us that we wouldn't be able to walk around the gardens so he went off with the group and we found a way down into the gardens, walking with Greg and Kathy (who we first met on the bus in from the airport) and, hey presto! who do we run into but Mikhail and his group.  I think he just can't be bothered to find a way to accommodate anyone who needs a bit of help.
We got back to the boat just in time for lunch (more about the food in another post) and it was back to the buses for a tour of St Petersburg.
Today has been go, go, go and I don't think we are going to make the optional Cossack Folk Dancing that is being offered for tonight

The Hermitage can be seen across the river.

DAY 2 - Catherine's Palace - The Hermitage


Syl and I went on a little tour of the boat before dinner – thank heaven for the lift because the stairs are steep and sharp and I don’t think I’d have managed them without some serious heavy breathing!

I had a Virgin Mary (the works with no vodka) in the Sky Bar before dinner and Syl had a Russian Cranberry Juice. This is a bar at the back of the boat (stern) with an open sun deck beyond it. Most of the debriefings and lectures will take place here.    At dinner we sat with two ‘Brendas’ from England and an Australian couple. The menu was much better than we thought it was going to be and I over-ate as usual!
For Rene: Tomorrow I’m going to do all my Pushkins!
Today was a heavy breathing day and a ‘Rushin’ day – rushin from one bus to the next!
We were taken to Catherine’s Winter Palace, now the Heritage museum. The museum has over 1000 rooms and over 3m exhibits so we only got to do and see a very few of those. The art collection was amazing and there was even an exhibition of Picasso but we were not allowed to take photographs of those – such a pity.
We could take photographs in the general areas but  with no flash.

Tonight we can go to the ballet – Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky – but, we were told that the theatre is very old, doesn’t have elevators and we have to climb stairs. I’m still thinking about that one!
Dinner is early tonight (because of the ballet) so the boat is arranging for snacks at 11pm! Sunset is at 11:25 so I suppose that isn’t too outrageous!

We are going to go and have a cocktail now, and some more to eat!

The cocktail bars are up on the top deck. Cocktails of the day were ‘White Nights for €5 or a Matrioshka – non alcoholic) for €3. Most of the other drinks, soft or alcoholic were around €2.50 but the whiskey, brandy etc are a little more, from about €5 - €6. The dinner menu was good – a large salad bar for a starter (which was great for the three vegetarians at our table) and then every course offered a vegetarian alternative. I had a veg lasagne – not your run-of-the-mill lasagne, this was beautifully presented (wish I’d taken a photo – will start from now on) and the desserts were also presented with strawberry and cream decorations. The chef has been with Viking for nearly 8 years and his food presentation is superb.  Like this vegetable tureen with yoghurt-chive sauce.
Our cabin is very comfortable with two single beds, side tables, bedside lamps, dressing table with cupboards and drawer, a safe, small fridge, wardrobe and an en-suite shower, toilet, basin.
The wondows are large and can be opened (unlike sea going cabins that often have port-holes).
Our beds are very narrow and I warned Patty not to turn too fast in case she fell out of bed! The cabins are air-conditioned but they were so cold I turned it down before we went to sleep. curtains are lined with black-out fabric and just as well, as the sunsets here are only at 11.24pm!! If we’d come any later in the year we would have had the mid-night sun!
The Breakfast has two buffets – one with continental meats, breads, croissants, preserves etc and the other with fruits, yoghurts, cereals, eggs and sausages, bacon, toast etc.  You can also order extras from the menu like omlettes, grilled tomato, French toast etc. 
At 9h30 we attended a safety talk in the Sky Bar on what to do if the ship caught on fire or someone fell overboard. She said that the ship can’t sink – but that’s what was said about the Titanic!  There are life-vests in our cabin closets and we were shown how to use them. Patty said that if the boat catches fire I must just throw her overboard and save myself!

But, the water is never more than 15m deep so I suggested we take turns standing on each other's shoulders to get air! If the water doesn't get us the pollution probably will.

After lunch, before our bus tour, we were all given a picnic lunch box containing water, juice, banana, apple, two health-bar type sweets, packet of Lays chips, and a sandwich. There are 6 buses, each with its own tour guide and we have been allocated bus number 21.  Our guide is Mikhail (or Misha) who didn;'t look too pleased to have a wheelchair person on his bus and wasn't very helpful at all.  He was also rude to a couple on the bus and was sarcastic when they asked a few questions.  (We heard that they have asked to be moved to another bus).  Our visit today was to the Hermitage museum, the former Winter Palace of Catherine the Great. Mikhail told us that it wouldn't be worth taking Patty inside because the only lift in the building wasn't working. We decided to go in anyway and keep to the lower floor exhibits. When the rest of the group walked up the stairs we continued on looking through the rooms on the ground floor. And then we came to the lift - which was working! We went up to the first floor and walked through the never ending, interleading rooms.
 What an amazing museum – such opulence and excess. No wonder the peasants revolted against such wealth. I’ve never seen so much gold on ceilings with huge chandeliers and gold encrusted crockery, tableware, and furniture.  One room leads into the next and looking down the passageway is like looking at yourself in a mirror, reflected many times.
Many people told us that The Hermitage was on their bucket list and this is why they are doing the cruise.  Can you imagine trying to view all of the exhibits?  Just one minute looking at each one would take about 8 years!! 
We finally bumped into Mikhail who didn't look too surprised to see us and just said, "Oh, you found us!"  I don't think he can be bothered with people with disabilities.  Patty and I have decided that we will go on the excursions that are part of the trip and if she can't get into a building, so be it but we are not going to let us put us off.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


It is 4:30pm Russia time.  Two hours ahead of SA time.  Syl has put her watch forward.  The flight from Zurich was only 2 hours not 5 hours because of the time difference.  Everyone has been very helpful and all the way through there were people waiting with my hired wheelchair.
I'm sitting on the bed in our cabin with both feet up on pillows - they look like balloons.  We've got a very nice cabin with two beds - not bunks - and, wonderful - wonderful - our RSA two prong plugs fit into the wall sockets here!!  So, my oxygen machine will work perfectly! 
We've got a shower with shampoo, soap and other toiletriies.  We've got a safe, a large TV, a fridge - nogal - and free Internet access!
There is a coffee/tea and chocolate station upstairs where you can help yourself all day. 
Cocktail hour is at 6:30 - 7:30 in the Panorma or Sky Bar and dinner is from 7:30 to around 9pm. 
And this is for my Arty -Farty friends:  Guess what!  On Sunday 27th June, during our stay at Mandrogy, we can book a place at an art class doing Matrioshka Painting . The class will include 3 unpainted Matrioshka Dolls, paint, brushes and instructions from an artisan to create our very own, umique Russian Sounvenirs!!  Hows that?? Eat your heart out Di !!!!  When I have done my dolls we will take a photograph and post them on the blog.
So, the old birds are OK and we are looking forward to the two weeks cruise.
From The Viking Kirov - over and out!

The Mango cabin crew were all casually dressed in Bafana-Bafana shirts. Unfortubnately, none of the ground staff knew about Patty's POC so we had to produce the letter giving permission for her to take it on board.  The vibe in Johannesburg was incredible!  Many staff members had Bafana t-shirts on, there were vuvuzelas everywhere.  As we passed a restaurant on our way to International departures, people started cheering and dancing, porters shouting AYOBA! and others dancing and singing - Bafana had scored their first goal!  Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Brazillians, French, American, English - you name it - all were excited for the host nation!  We were on our way to the News Cafe when Bafana scored their 2nd goal. WOW!!  It was pandemonium with uluating chants, screams, jumping up and down!  What a pity there wasn't a third goal - but The Boys-The Boys did us proud.
Swiss Air staff were very helpful and everything went smoothly - no problems with Patty's machine, my vegetarian meals were great and it was a trouble free flight to Zurich. I'm sure though that the space between rows has got even smaller since I last flew on Swiss Air - hardly anywhere to put your legs. A very pleasant assistant wheeled Patty through the crowds to the train that took us to the correct terminal for our flight to St Petersburg. 
When we arrived in St Petersburg there were VIKING staff waiting for us with a Viking board and porters put our bags on the bus.  It took about half an hour to the boat.  The scenery was similar to most airport roads into a city - wide roads, trees, then high rise apartments, light industries and then the boat canal.  We passed a number of huge chimneys - not sure if they were nuclear or coal reactors.
Our boat is moored next to the Viking Surov which is moored next to another and another - all facing east. 
The crew and staff are a mixture of Phillipino, Korean, German, Russian.  Our Program Director is Katherin, executive chef Thomas Harder, who we met to discuss dietery needs (ie vegetarians etc), the restaurant Neva manager is Gunther Andriska.  The currency on board is a UNIT which equals 1 Euro and we can sign all on board purchases, drinks, etc and pay at the end of the cruise in euro, dollars or Roubles.
So, we will be having cocktails in the Sky Bar or Panorama Bar before dinner and then it'll be off to the Neva restaurant for our first meal on board.  We only leave St Petersburg on Sunday and have a full program whilst we are here.  Can't believe that we are in Russia!


Everything went well travelling yesterday.  Mango staff forgot us at the Assist waiting area, even though I reminded them at check in 3 times that we were waiting.  Finally they were calling our name when someone came to take Patty to the plane.  With SWISS air all went well.
Had a quiet flight. I watched Alice in Wonderland but keept dozing off so don't really know if they got the Queen of Hearts or not.
We were woken at 4h15 for breakfast and landed just after 6am.  We now have a 2 hour wait before we board our flight to St Petersburg where we will arrive at about 14h30.  The Alps were covered in snow when we flew over and it made me think of this time 4 years ago when our little group crossed the Alps from Switzerland to Italy on our way to Rome.

Patty is doing fine but her ankles have puffed up and her feet are swollen.  I've got her sitting in the wheelchair with her feet up on a chair reading her YOU magazine.  I also gave her a coffee - hopefully it will work as a diuretic and get rid of some of the fluid build up.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


PHSEW!!  11th hour clearance for take-off! 
It is 11am and we have just received confirmation from Zurich that SWISS Air will accept Patty's POC machine on board.  Yeee-haaa! We are all packed and ready to go!  Thank you Lisa from Flight Centre Pinetown who has worked through the night, many phone calls to Zurich, Johannesburg, Doctors, medical centres etc etc...

The POC (Portable Oxygen Concentrator) is a small (-2.5kg), handbag sized, battery operated machine that provides oxygen from the air.  It comes with a waistbelt belt battery that lasts for up to 8 hours.  For people with respiratory problems, it is an absolute boon.

Our flying schedule:
3pm - 4pm Durban to Johannesburg.
7:30pm from Johannesburg Zurich - arriving at 6h10am
9h20 from Zurich to St Petersburg - arriving at 14h20
Hopefully, after clearing customs, a representative holding a Viking River Cruises sign with the name of our ship will meet us and porters will then take our luggage to the transfer buses. Transfer to the ship takes approximately 45 minutes.
Viking advised that:
Sometimes, your transfer will wait for people arriving on other flights. The wait time for these guests is rarely more than 30 minutes, but could be as long as one hour.  If your flight to St. Petersburg is delayed or if you miss your connecting flight, call the transfer company or your ship directly with your new flight details. They will make every effort to meet you when you arrive. If you are not met due to a delayed or missed flight, follow the instructions for  On Your Own Transfers.

Syl and Patty - over and out!

Monday, June 21, 2010



I have always wanted to visit Russia but was beginning to think that I would never get there. Now, I only have one more sleep before my sister and I fly to Johannesburg, Zurich and St Petersburg but SWISS air are giving us a hard time about me taking my POC (Personal Oxygen Concentrator) on board. Mango have passed it but if SWISS air don't pass it we either don't go to Russia or they will have to provide oxygen on board the flight if I need it. Our travel agent is staying up all night to sort this out - at the last minute!
When I was living with my son in Johannesburg, he kept saying to me, "Go to Russia if you want to Mom, just go."  I used to think Yes, one day I will.
In 2002 he made me a special card for my birthday, cutting out a picture of a Russian stamp to put on the envelope. Inside, he printed a travel coupon in the value of RR53,806.14 (Russian Roubles - or R20,000) on glossy photographic paper complete with the Imperial Russian crest. The script he used made the 'S' look like a 'F' and the wording looked like "Ruffian Travel Coupon'!! I couldn't believe he would do that for me, but that is the way he was - always generous and supportive.
There was always some reason why I couldn't go. In 2002 rebels took 800 people hostage in a theatre - 120 people were killed.
In 2003 suicide bombers killed themselves, and many others, in attacks on towns, railways etc.
In 2004 a blast killed scores of people in the Moscow underground and the Beslan school was held hostage. 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children. Each time something like this happened my son said, "You are not going to Russia this year Mom!"
I moved back to Durban in 2007 after my son passed away and last year I told my sister that I really wanted to go to Russia - and that Shaun would have wanted me to go. So, we started making plans and even though there have been suicide bombings in Moscow and other parts of Russia, we finally booked with the airlines and Viking Cruises to go on my dream trip.  Now, we wait to hear whether or not SWISS Air will accept my little oxygen machine.
Please hold thumbs that everything is sorted out by tomorrow!

PS:  One can only do these cruises in the summer and there is a 3 - 4 month window so if we don't go now, we'll have to plan for next year!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


We start our Russian holiday in St Petersburg which is within spitting distance of Finland (actually, about a 5 hour train journey from Helsinki). 
St Petersburg was founded in 1702 – which theoretically makes it younger than Cape Town!
Jan van Riebeck arrived in 1652 to develop a way station and vegetable gardens to service passing Dutch ships.
Then in 1654 Asian ‘immigrants’ (banished to the Cape by the Dutch High Court) arrived and soon slaves from the east followed, no doubt to help build the Cape Castle and fort which was completed in 1679.

While this hive of activity was going on at the Cape of Good Hope, on the most southerly point of the African continent, 10 487.45 kms north east, Peter Romonav (soon to be Peter the Great) was born in Russia in 1672. When he was about 22 years-old, he cast his eye on a marshy, mosquito infected piece of real estate made up of over 500 islands in the mouth of the Neva River and decided that this would be a perfect place to build his naval port and Western style city. The result is a city that looks like the Venice of the North.
In 1710 he moved  his imperial family, lock stock and smoking barrels (from his new navy ships) and most of the government as well) from Moscow to his shiny new capital called ....  St Petersburg. 

It wasn’t always called that - you might remember it as Petrograd (1914 - 1924) or as Leningrad (until 1991) but now it has come full circle and is called St Petersburg again.  Our ship will be berthed at the Salt Pier, Oktiabrskaya Nab. 29, in the River Neva.  Will take photos to show you when we get there!

Monday, June 14, 2010

6 more Sleeps and Plan B!

We have got 6 more sleeps!! 

Patty and I have been buying pretty, floaty, little lightweight summer tops for our Summer Holiday in Russia.  And then I checked the weather forecast for St Petersburg - it is COLD!!  5°C and 15°C on Monday, 7°C and 16°C on Tueday!! 
Yikes!  That is Jossi's weather ........brrrrrrrrrr!   So, it is on to Plan B.

Plan B - a few long sleeve warm tops (to wear underneath the pretty little things), leggings, socks, scarves and jackets.  It is summer in Russia - well, early summer - and the temperatures look much like winter in Durban! Excepting for the sunrise and sunset times which are vastly different. In St Petersburg today the sun rose as at 04h35 and sunset will be at 23h24.

St Petersburg's daily temperatures range from 9°C to 20°C and Moscow, which is 650km further south, is getting warmer. By Sunday it will be 14°C and 26°C and next Wednesday 16°C and 30°C !! Lets hope we have some hot weather when we get there in two weeks time!

We have checked our tickets, vouchers, FOREX, necessary letters for Patty to fly and take her POC (Personal Oxygen Concentrator), We are still trying to sort out the plug adaptors for the POC battery charger and my laptop.
The map shows where the cruise - Waterways of the Tsars - begins in St Petersburg and ends in Moscow.  We will sail through the largest and second largest lakes in Europe, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, visiting islands and villages along the way.
The boat is the Viking Kirov and that is a graphic of our cabin. Unlike ocean cruisers, they don't have bunks or port holes so we should be pretty comfortable.
This is where I will post updates of our adventure so please visit us often!
Patty and Syl