Monday, August 31, 2009
CruiseCritic is the TripAdvisor.com for the cruising industry. You can go there to learn all the scoop about what other people are saying about their voyages. Everything from the food, service, ports, to the excursions are evaluated in detail by other travelers.
We booked this Princess cruise because it went to St. Petersburg. And it was to be the absolute highlight for us. It wasn't until after we were locked in that we discovered how difficult it was to get into Russia from the boat - you must have a tourist visa which is expensive and difficult to obtain. The Princess Excursion will conveniently get one for you if you sign up for their 2 day Grand Tour for the bargain price of ~$600 apiece...oh and Connor counts so that would have been $1800! Gulp. Ummm. No thank you.
There had to be another way. We just knew it. Kirk referenced this CruiseCritic website to investigate. Sure enough there are private companies that do this for a fraction of the price and no charge for Connor - you just have to research and pull back some layers to find them. With the added bonus of being in very small tour groups instead of the ship's behemoth sticker-wearing mass. (It was Kirk's goal NOT to have to wear a sticker identifier anywhere we went on the trip!)
Alla Tours and CruiseCritic helped match us with 2 other couples who coincidentally were in our age bracket and also seeking a way around the Princess pricetag. They were all very patient, friendly and engaging with Connor. We did the "strenuous" 2 day trip in St. Petersburg and had an absolute ball!
The best part was that even before we left home we had exchanged numerous emails of anticipation and excitement with our new friends....John & Abbey and Brian & Rebecca. In Copenhagen Brian and Rebecca happened to even be staying in our same hotel and we received this sweet note from them as we arrived. What a bonus!
Morale of the story - there is always an answer out there when something seems too expensive. We definitely had more fun, saw more sights and paid maybe a third of the cost for our St. Petersburg tour.Thank you CruiseCritic!!!!
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Here is a photo of the famed annual December dinner in the "Blue Hall" followed by some shots of the empty room. The Golden Room shimmers warm and brilliant. This got me thinking...who are our most recent Nobel winners? Who are those movers and shakers of the academic world? Here is the list I found by Nobel Prize category for 2008. A good reminder of how globally linked we are in all areas of life - the arts, sciences, and efforts for worldwide peace:
*** Peace - Martti Ahtisaari (Finland) - for mediating and resolving international conflicts
*** Physics - Yoichiro Nambu (USA, 1/2); Makoto Kobayashi (Japan, 1/4); Toshihide Maskawa (Japan, 1/4) - for discovery of mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics
*** Chemistry - Osamu Shimomura (USA, 1/3); Martin Chalfie (USA, 1/3); Roger Y. Tsien (USA, 1/3) - for discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP
*** Medicine - Harald zur Hausen (Germany, 1/2); Francoise Barre-Sinoussi (France, 1/4); Luc Montagnier (France, 1/4) - for discovery of human popilloma viruses causing cervical cancer and discovery of human immunodeficiency virus*** Literature - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (France) - author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization
*** Economics - Paul Krugman (USA) - for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity
PS - Al Gore won the PEACE prize in 2007 for his work on man made climate change. Interesting that it would be the peace prize. Although I guess as the world's climate is more "hot-ly" debated it could and likely will come to that.
Click here to learn more about the Nobel Prize - its origins, previous winners, and lots of other cool stuff. Stuff, what a descriptive noun --- yeah, look out Mr. Nobel and the literature prize - here I come.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Once we pryed Connor from the pool we skampered off the boat and took the public ferry immediately over to the Djurgarden island, which was used 400 years ago as the king's hunting grounds - but today houses some great tourist picks. Our first stop was to Skansen, Europe's original open-air folk museum founded in 1891. It's a huge park gathering more than 150 historic buildings (homes, churches, shops, schoolhouses) transplanted from all corners of Sweden. It was a kid-friendly way to kick off our day as Skansen not only had incredible architecture but also had a zoo interwoven throughout. It was a hot, sunny day yet we were delighted the crowds were minimal while we took in maximum fun! I would probably spend an entire day at Skansen if we had more time. It is much more of an all day event than the 2 hours we allowed."MOOOOOO!" says Connor (see her lips!)And the Moo Cow answered back with a "Moo!" of her own.Skansen's biggest hit was the "Bears Taking a Bath!" Connor loved watching the baby bears wrestle and frolic around in their "bath." Doesn't it look like the front one is looking right at us?!?Swedish phone booths are colorful and made me smile with the double half doors, the green wood and the red top!From Skansen we walked to the nearby Vasa Museum. Considered a #1 must-see spot in Stockholm, we made sure not to miss it.This glamorous but unseaworthy warship sank 20 minutes into her 1628 maiden voyage when a breeze caught the sails and blew her over. After 333 years at the bottom of Stockholm's harbor she rose again from the deep with the help of marine archeologists.The Vasa, while not quite the biggest ship in the world, had the most firepower, with two fearsome decks of cannons. The 500 carved wooden statues draping the ship - once painted in bright colors - are all symbolic of the king's power. Painstakingly restored, 95 percent of the wood is original.Here is a model of the ship in its pint size glory...We found the Vasa ship fascinating. The photos really don't do it justice since it won't all fit in one picture. And the 3 enormous masts poke through the roof of the building giving perspective on the size. It all felt very much like the "Goonies" pirate ship images to me.We walked from the island into town. It was a lengthy journey but it gave us the opportunity to experience Stockholm harbor-side. We found many beautiful buildings that made us do a doubletake.