A Travellerspoint blog

August 2007

St Petersburg in 36 Hours

Customer Service, Anyone? Anyone?

25 °C

From Cape Town, we flew through London (ok, well, arrived and then spent more than 2 hours in lines for a security screening and re-screening . . .) to St Petersburg. Our actual (non-line-standing) time in London Heathrow was too short to force down all the Brit treats I wanted to, and there wasn’t a decent English Brekkie on offer (I’ve been getting kind of used to them in the former African colonies!). But we got to St Petersburg on time, and checked into the Nevsky Inn, selected on the basis of its excellent location near to the Hermitage (and not its proximity to McDonald’s, no matter what Lloyd tells you!). The Nevsky’s manager, Elena, had been tremendously helpful with our Russian invitations (for the visas) and with the Trans Siberian tickets, so it was great to meet her in person.

When we first pulled up to the Nevsky Inn, we were a little concerned to be dropped off outside a dilapidated building that looked like it should be a candidate for destruction. But, happily, after a climb up three damp and dingy flights of stairs which incited fears of armed bandits at every corner, we found the Nevsky Inn to be clean and bright, and most importantly secure behind a heavy door that the Bank of England would be proud of. The only disappointment was that the advertised wireless internet was not available: indeed, it hadn’t worked “since last year”. However, we were allowed to camp out in the Inn’s tiny office (which also doubled as the laundry) and use the office computer to check email.

The weather co-operated for our short visit, and we enjoyed a full day and a half hitting most of the key tourist sites. The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (where Alexander II was fatally wounded in 1881) was an unexpected highlight, with more than 7,000 square meters of stunning mosaic, and onion domes worthy (if not more impressive) of St Basil’s in Moscow. The Hermitage was a staggering disappointment, however. We were in line for over an hour to view the largest art collection in the world. As non-Russians, we were – inevitably – charged more to enter, and yet there was practically no information provided to us in the English language. No guide. No map. No nothing. Now, we probably should have done our research and been better prepared for our visit, or maybe hired a private guide, but instead we wandered around for almost an hour on a fruitless search for something that would help us find our bearings.

Paint by numbers? Monet? Hmmmmm . . . . .

monet-close-up.jpg

So, we randomly strolled around, finding nothing particularly compelling (though to be honest, I was so frustrated that it may have coloured my impression somewhat). Overall, it felt as if quantity was more important than quality of presentation, or than educating museum attendees, and I was happy to escape. Not before we took our ‘Russian’ style photograph, however. We noticed that Russians adopt one of two poses for photographs: (i) highly provocative (usually reserved for scantily clad pre-teens, teens and twenty-somethings) and (ii) serious statuesque. Not qualifying for the first genre (Lloyd’s thong was lost in the laundry . . . thank goodness. Oh AND we’re too old!), we attempted the latter in the Hermitage’s grand stairway, as the photos below show.

hermitage-..ussian-.jpg

hermitage-..an-pose.jpg

St Petersburg is known as the ‘Venice of the North’, and on this front the city did not disappoint. We enjoyed an evening boat ride (it was still light as we departed at 10PM!) through many of the city’s waterways, revealing some less well known buildings not on the traditional tourist route. Unfortunately, a two-hour long search for the only English-speaking boat ride in town proved unsuccessful, so Lloyd was left trying to interpret a Russian guide who spoke about 500 words a minute at high volume and didn’t pause for breath during the entire one hour tour. By the end of the tour, her lips were so blue we thought she’d need CPR, but it just turned out to be the colour of her 80’s style lipstick. Matched her pink hair and Elton John sunglasses quite nicely.

lt-jdr-spilled-blood.jpg

jdr-peter-paul.jpg

And actually, we were surprised by the lack of non-Russian tourists at what must be the height of the tourist season. 90% of those in line with us at the Hermitage were Russians, and the lack of services geared to non-Russians highlighted the trend. Elena aside, we found most to be quite unfriendly. Whoever claimed that a smile will get you far in any language has obviously not been to Russia. To be fair, the rudeness is not solely directed at non-Russians. We witnessed Russians being disgustingly rude to each other, too. They just don’t have any concept of customer service and – as a result – Russia seems in general a pretty unhappy place to travel around.

It goes without saying that the Russian food we experienced in St Pete was appalling. I’m not quite sure how British good gets such a bad rap when there’s practically an entire continent of Russian food out here. We did eat the first night at the local “Tolsity Friar”, but I confess that one look at Lloyd’s dinner was enough to send me scrambling to the Golden Arches (Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!). With my promise to be a little more adventurous on the food front on this trip, Lloyd and I had a bit of a bet going as to who would crumble first. Officially it was me as I took us there. But in practice, Lloyd actually ate more than half of ‘my’ Big Mac, so I think it’s a draw. Weird note: the ketchup was considerably sweeter in McD’s Russia. And the Coke was smaller. But everything else was exactly the same. Expect for the customer service of course, “ Tek yer Beeg Myek ‘n gyet owt-uv-moy-vey!”

The next morning, we strolled around St. Isaac’s golden domes and found a lighter lunch at a local bakery that we wished we’d found before surrendering to the Golden Arches. Here, we DID enjoy some local cuisine: meat pasties (pirog) and sweet fruit pastries more than hit the spot before our mid-afternoon journey to Moscow to catch the Trans-Siberian (TSR), which is where Lloyd will pick up the story….

lt-st-isaacs.jpg

Posted by jacquiedro 17:24 Archived in Russia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

On Travel Sickness

storm 10 °C

Lloyd could probably fly in an aerobatic plane for six hours, and then sail for three days in the wildest ocean and still feel totally fine. As for me, well I obviously have some more, um, refined genes which means I have to be a bit careful about too much of the wrong kind of motion. The flight over the Okavango is a case in point. I loved the first ten minutes, but after that half of me was wishing the plane would crash just so I could stop feeling so bad.

On our last dive trip, we met some divers who claimed to have solved their seasickness with a wonder drug called scopolomine. The drug is administered via a patch that sticks behind the ear for three days at a time. With my track record, you can bet I was rushing to the Doc to get some for our RTW and particularly the 10 days on a dive boat scheduled for November.

Our shark-diving trip yesterday seemed like a good opportunity to test it out. So, I put the patch on on Thursday evening (you're supposed to put it on well before you actually expect symptoms), and went to bed confident that this would be my first symptom free boat experience. Hurrah!

I quickly discovered that there is something worse that seasickness. Seasickness medication! For all of Friday and Saturday, I was like a zombie that couldn't function normally. I was unbelievably drowsy and, when I couldn't lie down, nauseous. I lost my appetite. Lloyd wasn't quite sure what to make of it all, until he too put a patch on and experienced the same 'out-of-body' type sensations. Overall, I felt lousy (about a 6 our of 10), but told myself it would be worth it if I managed my day out at sea.

I didn't. Whether it was my normal sea-sickness, or the side effects of the medication, I felt terrible after about the first hour on the boat: nauseous and drowsy, and with a new symptom of dizziness thrown in for good measure. I couldn't wait to be back on solid ground, where we both ripped off the patches with glee and waited for normality to return. Almost 24 hours post-patch, I'm STILL waiting.......

Anyway, the reason I'm writing this is just to warn people of the possible side effects. I'm sure many people use it without any problems whatsoever. But for me, it wasn't worth the steep price paid in terms of the miserable side effects. Beware Transderm Patches!!!! I'll be burning mine, and relying on dramamine for the dive trip.

Posted by jacquiedro 18:47 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

“The Big-6”. Done.

White Shark diving off South Africa

sunny 19 °C
View The World 2007 on lloydthyen's travel map.

We’ve been on the African continent now for just under three weeks and seen just about every predator and type of prey you can imagine. In every case we were lucky and honored to witness the strength of nature and the amazing animals in its kingdom. Until yesterday, every encounter had been on land, and during none of the encounters was there ever a feeling real danger (ok, the lions almost jumping into the safari jeep after their little love-match got my adrenaline pumping and my hands shaking). However, slip into the cool waters off the southern coast of South Africa to entice Great White Sharks with tuna steaks and fish-chum soup (in which you are covered upon entering the water) and the sense of danger changes. Sitting in a small metal cage somehow doesn’t seem nearly as safe as an open sided safari jeep!

But to look at these prehistoric creatures as they swim up from the deep to take a “nibble” out of some fish, or glide past the cage and under your boat (some of the sharks seemed as long as the 30’ boat – though none were – they were nice and small, like 18 feet long . . . !) is to stare at an apex predator that knows no fear. Its only enemy is us, the human race, and even then, those empty black eyes just peer right through you with little or no interest.

While I was only able to catch a fleeting glimpse of one white shark as it passed our cage (we sat in 60 degree water in ill-fitting, already damp and stinky 5 millimeter full suits – Jacquie just missed its swim-by to chomp on tuna) I consider myself lucky to have even had that encounter. Adding her to the Big-5 of African predators (hence the Big-6!) only seems to make sense – yet somehow I would enhance the status for the great white. You could be gored, stomped, or bitten by any of the big 5 on land, but the sheer shredding ability of these huge magnificent creatures is astounding. Beyond any concern was our genuine astonishment at their size, grace, and agility. Definitely one of the wild animal encounters I will count at the top of my list.

shark-cage-lt.jpg

shark1.jpg

shark2.jpg

The great white will most likely be killed off by us humans unfortunately. This may have been our one and only opportunity, and like many we have had on this trip, we are continually thankful to have been lucky to see these many wonders in their natural environments. As we said to ourselves a couple weeks ago, and was re-iterated by a nice retired couple from South Carolina whom we met just this morning, “We’ll never be able to go to a zoo again.”

Posted by lloydthyen 15:03 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

(Entries 19 - 21 of 21) Previous « Page .. 2 3 4 5 6 [7]