Travel day joy!

Greetings!

We are now relaxing at beautiful LaGuardia with its many fine amenities (/sarcasm) awaiting our flight at 3:00 pm. This morning was the usual stress-free experience disembarking a huge ship. We got up at 5:45 am, just as the QM2 was docking in Brooklyn. We didn’t need an alarm, as our usually quiet and wonderful cabin 6005 (as opposed to the amazing vibrating cabin 4198) was shaken by the massive bow thrusters pushing us into the berth.

We got up, finished our preparations and proceeded to the King’s Court for breakfast. We had breakfast every day on the cruise at this massive buffet facility that is over half the length of deck 7 and has three different themed areas (the Carvery, an Asian buffet and an Italian buffet). However, we had not experienced this facility with virtually every other passenger there at the same time, jockeying for their last bits of eggs, bangers (sausages in British lingo), English bacon, grilled tomatoes and baked beans (I really don’t get that one) before leaving the ship. Some folks were leaving the QM2 to return home (like us), some were leaving for day trips into the city, and the rest were doing five-day hotel packages in NYC. The QM2 sails tonight for Boston, followed by a visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia, returning to New York on Tuesday to start another transatlantic voyage to Southampton.

We finally found a table in the King’s Court, ate quickly and went out on the promenade and were treated to spectacular views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Weather here is surprisingly cool, with partly cloudy skies.

Around 8:15 am, we were allowed to disembark, collect our baggage, proceed through customs and immigration, and head for the airport bus. Just as we were leaving the ship, we found out that there would be no porters to help us with our bags. A collective groan went through the crowd. “Welcome to America! Our fine unionized dock porters are all taking a well-deserved five-day Independence Day holiday and will not be there to help, despite the fact that one of the largest ships in the world is disgorging hundreds of elderly and/or disabled passengers. Have a nice day!”

So, gritting my teeth, I slowly pushed the wheelchair with two bags on board, dragging the third carry-on, while Steve handled the two large roller bags, while we walked the long distance from the terminal building to the bus. I must admit my language was not G-rated and I felt badly for many of the older passengers who struggled with their large bags. Shameful…

We finally boarded the bus, then sat and waited for more than thirty minutes before leaving for LaGuardia. Once we arrived here, we had to wait about 45 minutes to check our bags. My theory of radioactive dirty socks was validated, as two of our three checked bags exceeded the weight limit and we had to pay $100 per bag (we’re in economy plus on this flight so no free pass on overweight bags). However, on a bright note, one of the United agents that helped us was one the nicest guys we’ve met wearing a United Airlines uniform (seriously).

So now we’re passing time in a small pre-security area bar and restaurant; there are no amenities of note on the concourses. Even the Red Carpet Club is located in the main terminal. We will be very glad to get home and back on Weight Watchers!

A quick summation of the trip:

1) United first class to London - comfortable seats, lousy food and mediocre service.
2) London: Grosvenor House hotel was ok, steakhouse restaurant was spectacular. London Eye was fun. City looks pretty good!
3) Disney Magic: Many good and not-so-good points, as previously documented. Overall, it was a very memorable experience.
4) Oslo: So-so shore excursion to museums, gorgeous city and harbor and very friendly folks.
5) Copenhagen: Great shore excursion to Tivoli Gardens and on the canal boats (other than wheelchair hassles); another beautiful and interesting city.
6) Warnemunde: Excellent shore excursion to the abbey, on the steam train and visiting one of the Baltic sea resorts. A lovely day and quite relaxing.
7) St. Petersburg: Absolutely fascinating, absolutely frustrating. Ballet was great, city tour went around in circles and wasted lots of time at a souvenir shop, the Hermitage museum was fabulous. Lunch was ok. Somewhat turned off by the general unfriendliness of the citizens and the shabby Stalin-era apartments between the cruise dock and the main part of the city.
8) Helsinki: Our favorite port on the cruise. A beautiful city, gorgeous countryside, an excellent lunch, lots of interesting stops on the tour.
9) Stockholm: Good excursion around the city and at the Vasa museum. Not enough time. Amazing four-hour cruise through the islands on our way out.
10) Dover/Southampton: Interesting drive between cities. Pretty good hotel, but it had the usual bizarre English plumbing and no A/C. Excellent dinner at the White Star tavern.
11) QM2 transatlantic crossing: All in all, one of the big highlights of the trip. Service is very low-key, possibly bordering on unfriendly in a few cases, but the ship was magnificent and we were very grateful that the cabin problem was swiftly resolved. Food was adequate to excellent. We would do it again!

One other comment before ending this blog entry: Steve & I were probably responsible for dozens of new iPad purchases, especially by crew members who had money to burn. In fact, we would not be surprised to learn that several QM2 crew members descended on the Apple store on Fifth Avenue today, hoping to pick up an iPad. This gizmo was so wonderful during this trip!

We might post a photo or two later on and will end this journal with a “safe arrival” message from home.

Cheers!

Leave a Comment

An unfinished Michelangelo sculpture in the Hermitage

This unfinished Michelangelo sculpture was spectacular anyway. His attention to anatomical details was amazing.

Leave a Comment

Adventures in the Nation of Nyet

Dosvedanya! We are winding down after two fascinating and arduous tours of St. Petersburg, Russia, also known as Petrograd and formerly known as Leningrad (or maybe still known as Leningrad in some areas of town). We arrived yesterday (6/18) around noon local time, which is ten hours ahead of MDT. The Mouse docked at a huge and very nice, new port facility on the outskirts of town, sharing facilities with other large cruise ships like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Smaller ships, like the Regatta (Oceania Cruises) that we sailed on in March, can dock near the heart of the city on the Neva river. In fact, we saw Regatta today during our city tour; the Regatta is in the midst of a 14-day Baltic cruise.

Russia has very strict visa requirements, so we had to fill out a landing card and stay on an organized tour for our visits ashore. We decided to do two excursions, which we thought seemed extremely energetic, but many folks on our cruise signed up for four excursions, running ragged from one sensory overload experience to another. Sleep is apparently for the timid and weak!

Our first tour ashore began last night at 6:30 pm. We had tickets to the ballet in the Palace Theater, which hosts a local company that specializes in tourist-friendly productions of the classics, like “Swan Lake”; the theater is located in the heart of the city on Italianskaya street, one of the oldest avenues in St. Petersburg. We eagerly proceeded through the passport control at the dock, where we experienced our first encounters with the smiling, friendly populace of this historic city founded by Peter the Great. I say that with a wink & a grin, because the native St. Petersburgians were, with a few key exceptions, the most unsmiling, dare I say, unfriendly citizens we have met in a long time, and we have been to France and New York (which were both very friendly and smiling, actually). Must be the ~ 35 days of sunshine they get every year, plus the somewhat challenging times they have lived in for hundreds of years. We are fortunate, because we got two of those rare sunny days yesterday and today (well, sort of), and no challenging times or sieges, other than the barrage on my poor knees.

Our bus trip to the theater took us through the city streets labeled with bewildering Cyrillic signs and hampered by horrific traffic due to the International Economic Forum, plus the planned June 19th Crimson Sails music festival. Every 100 yards or so, there were policemen or army guards posted to ensure security for the forum. Many streets were closed, so we ended up walking a couple of blocks to the Palace Theater. The ballet (yup, it was “Swan Lake”, with a Hollywood happy ending) was quite delightful, with good performances and a great orchestra.

We finally made it back to the ship around 11:30 pm; it was still light outside and we had a late snack on the deck. It never really got dark all night and the sun was back before 4:00 am. We got about three hours of sleep, then sprang into action (hah!) for our day-long City Highlights and Hermitage tour.

This time, we brought the travel wheelchair, as my knees are now barking like the Dog Pound in “Lady and the Tramp”. This tour was advertised as “wheelchair accessible” on the Disney site when I booked it and I checked (twice) with the shore excursion staff and was assured that it was accessible. Sure enough, our unsmiling tour guide Alexandra (it seems like 80% of the population is named Alexander or Alexandra) told us that wheelchairs were just not possible in the Hermitage, as the monstrous four building museum complex only had one elevator. Well, I went a little funny in the head at this point and Alexandra was on the phone to the Mouse to discuss the situation. In the meantime, we meandered through the city streets, stopping to view landmarks and churches and even rolling by the former KGB building (creepy). Most of the photo stops required a lot of walking because of the closed street situation and the plethora of tour buses jockeying for position. We also had a 45-minute stop at a tourist trap souvenir joint peddling Matrushka dolls, Faberge eggs (yeah, right) and other assorted dust collectors. At every stop, Alexandra warned us about pickpockets.

We finally stopped for lunch at a restaurant right near the picturesque Church of the Spilled Blood, which is one of those onion dome marvels with gold and bright colors. Lunch at the “pectopah” (anglicized Cyrillic for restaurant) was served by an unsmiling staff who gave us a salad, borscht soup (very good), and chicken and potatoes. We washed this repast down with a free glass of Russian champagne & a shot of vodka.

When we got back on the bus, we headed over to the Hermitage. After getting into the building, Alexandra informed Steve and I that we would have our own private tour guide who would take us around to the highlights and allow us to use the the elevator. This turned out to be wonderful; our guide was a delightful, charming young lady named Helen who knew her art works, smiled a LOT, and guided us through many rooms to view the treasures and glorious architecture of the Winter Palace of the Czars. A great experience!

We’re now back on the ship, planning to skip dinner and go to bed early. Tomorrow we have a fairly long tour of Helsinki and Porvoo, Finland (hope I can walk). Steve has posted a few pictures. Thanks for the comments from Ken and Craig! A pleasant good evening to all from the Mouse!

Leave a Comment

Inside the Hermitage

The Hermitage is filled with treasures from all over Europe. This is a typical hallway in one of the five buildings, four of which contain art works (number five is a theater now). Barb and I got a private tour from a wonderful young lady named Helen, who was assigned to help us to the accessible parts of the museum.

Leave a Comment

White Nights: Sunset at 11:30 PM

At this Northern latitude, it never really gets dark during the nights near the Summer equinox.

Leave a Comment

A Night At The Russian Ballet

Swan Lake was incredibly well done. We saw the ballet at the Palace Theatre on Italianskaya Street.

Leave a Comment

We’re in Russia

We’ve just pulled into port in St. Petersburg, Russia. We won’t be able to update for at least another 36 hours, since we’ll be pretty busy on shore.

When we do get back to the updates, expect some incredible photos of the treasures of St. Petersburg.

Leave a Comment