Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wrapping up the trip

After the sidetrip to Poland, previous post, we had one half day left in Prague and that would be spent mooching around the hotel and leaving for the airport for a stay in Amsterdam awaiting the final and last leg - the flight to Toronto.

The way back
Easyjet landed in AMS in the afternoon and after a 30euro taxi we arrived at the B&B. This was chosen because the way back was supposed to be more relaxing than the usual airport hotel but having experienced the IBIS on the first day we did think why did we go anywhere else on the way back? Fears allayed the B&B was cheaper and cosier than any IBIS. The only drag was that the weather was rain and walking was limited. No problem the restos were only 200 yard down the street. Problem was only one place was open - we had arrived after lunch and before dinner. However we found a grill/bar that had lunch and was willing to cook fish and chips even though it was a dinner item. Wonderful but being in Holland, expensive.

Back to the airport in a shuttle ordered at the B&B, we wondered at the time why the rate was cheaper than a taxi, which was hefty. The B&B was the shuttle in their car, very convenient. With the check-in counter already open the lineup was already a long one, well the more time spent there was less spent waiting at the gate. Amsterdam was the most modern of all the screening operations we had been through, Doreen had her bag isolated for what they thought was a suspicious object - an umbrella. Waiting at the gate I flipped through the AirTransat app to discover that the flight was delayed by 35minutes, the info boards never showed it but we did take off 45 minutes late. 

  • Travelling with carryon bags was no problem, we checked a bag on the Prague leg, we probably didn't need to but better safe than sorry
  • We needed more time in Prague, taking two days out of it, was a bit much.
  • St Petersburg was spoiled by the weather.
  • Lineups at the attractions were a pain
  • Everything was according to plan no screwups in the agenda or hotels or timing
  • Always have some local currency, the money exchanges advertise 'no commission' don't know if that is true but you lose less money there than at shops and restaurants.
  • Airport travel was not the drag we thought it would be; allow half a day for 'travel time'.
  • Wifi was good in most places.

A side trip to Poland

The main gate to the "Museum"
As we planned the European trip my co-pilot said to me, "If we are going to Prague don't think we aren't going to "Auschwitz!" She obviously had realised that the Camp was only a five hour drive from Prague. So booking a car on-line and arranging a B&B in the village it was done - a two day side trip to Poland. 

We picked up the car first thing Monday morning and we were on our way after about thirty minutes of paperwork, waiting and inspection. The route had been well spec'd out with various mapping programmes and an app had been installed on the phone - thank you Sygic. It performed well. The big surprise seen motoring down the freeway was the number of 'enroutes'; roadside service stations, many of them hosting the usual multinational franchises - McD, KFC, BurgerKing. We used a Mickey Ds to get a reliable cup of coffee after three hours on the road. 

After five and a half hours on the motorway Sygic led us to Oswiecim, the village that is the home of the Camps. Auschwitz actually consists of two Camps, the smaller camp of Auschwitz, which everybody refers to as the "Museum" and the larger of the two - Birkenau. Getting settled in at the B&B the receptionist gave us a map and said that the Museum was only a ten minute walk. It was and getting free tickets with a time stamp of 4pm - another thirty-five minutes to go, it was suggested we visit Birkenau first and then come back at about five. 

Birkenau - a vast place
A free shuttle took us over, a ten minute ride, but finding the bus took that long, no signposts. Birkenau is HUGE, and seeing it all took an hour of walking but we did see it all. There are many camps, the first was built in brick and the rest were wooden and the camps were built in sequence to accomodate the growing number of Societies that the Nazis had decided to eliminate. Consequently most of the wooden camp side is now foundation but a few huts have been reconstructed. The main screening building - one of the larger buildings is still intact and a walkthrough can put you in the shoes of the unfortunates who came here.
The ruins of the crematoria
Finally at the end of the camp the ruins of the crematoria - II and III can be seen. As the Allies approached the Camp the SS guards blew up the buildings and the ruins are still there, next to the International Memorial to the Victims of Fascism.
The railroad tracks - "The Ramp"
Walking back to the bus and the Main Entrance one has to walk past the railway tracks - all three of them - where the prisoners would be unloaded and selection for immediate death or prison took place. The vastness of the place, the Camps, cannot be imagined until one sees it, and it is hard to imagine 100,000 prisoners in the place in the dead of winter! 

 So back at the Museum we entered, after being screened for metal, into the smaller camp of Auschwitz, the camp has been maintained as a complete complex but not all the buildings are open to the public.
This room, one of three in the building housed 
200 prisoners, that slept on straw mattresses.
The buildings that were open, contained exhibits showing various aspects of camp conditions. The most gruesome were in the basement of the building that housed the Justice Section where prisoners, mostly political prisoners of the Gestapo, were housed before summary trial and execution by firing squad.
Again it is hard to imagine the fact that seven hundred people would be caged in the buildings, but it happened. 

A pic of the ovens taken from Wikipedia
The gas chamber, the room on the left
housed the ovens.
The original gas chambers and crematoria have been reconstructed as a monument to the fact, but on seeing them one was impressed by just how small the facilities were, to kill as many people as they did the ovens definitely had to work around the clock. Leaving the place in a sombre mood we both had only one thought, get some food and relax. 

The meal that night was not very good, in fact the worst of the trip. An early night in a very nice B&B made up for the five hour drive and an excursion to two death camps! On the road again we decided to return to Prague on smaller roads, we had been on the motorway all the way to Oswiecim. Travelling through the countryside we could see more. The GPS app - Sygic - performed admirably and as a data package had been purchased before leaving Canada the mistakes we made, missing a critical ramp twice, were immediately rectified, yep this app was worth the money. Filling the fuel tank twice the price of fuel in the Czech Republic was more expensive - about $1.50cdn a litre, but the car used less of it. 

Back in Prague for the last night, both of us whacked out, all we could do was to cross the road and get a meal. Refreshed and ready to go for the next day; we checked out, jumped into the waiting airport taxi, 21 euros to the airport and entered the most expensive airport we have been in so far. Remember the the exchange rate ripoff I wrote about before, well it got worse in the airport; coffee shop. Two coffees and a bottle of water should have been 12 euros we were charged 16. One thing we were glad we did when we had the chance - paid a little extra for 'upfront' seating, that gave us speedy boarding and extra baggage allowance - a good deal for not much extra cost. Landing back in Amsterdam, no free shuttle this time, a taxi was needed to go the last hotel of the trip.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Days in Prague

Arrived in PRG half an hour late the takeoff in LED was late for whatever reason. Again the boarding was a bit chaotic, certainly not called by row numbers. The shuttle was there to meet us and the trip into Town was picturesque and smooth - not a lot of traffic.

The Atlantic Hotel is reasonably modern and well located in the old Town easy walking to all sights. We signed up at the front desk for a Dinner Cruise tomorrow - Doreen's Birthday, and the usual hopon hopof tour. The wrinkle this time is that the buses are smaller. We will see how crowded that gets.

We arrived at the hotel at 5.30 pm and immediately needed to eat. A very good looking Italian resto was two doors down and we entered to encounter the first shock of Prague. The Czeck Republic is a member of the EU but not a member of the eurozone so it uses its own currency - the Krown. So asking if the resto took Euros and being assured it did we sat down and ate a magnificent spread of Pasta and Goulash. When the check arrived it was written in Euros and Krowns and doing the calculation discovered that the exchange rate was 21 Krowns to the euro not the 25 Krowns to the euro we were expecting to pay. Moral of the story always ask for the exchange rate so there are no surprises.

Up early to discover that the breakfast at the hotel is a buffet and a big to boot. We walked to the place where we could exchange our bus vouchers for tickets and start the ride and found that at 9am we were almost the only people on the street - late risers!! Spending one full day on the bus and boat we now think we now where all the sights are. All we need to do next is decide which ones to see.

The first day we did get off at the number one sight in Prague - the Castle. Actually the Castle isn't just a Castle but a complex. Comprising a Palace, a Cathedral, a couple more small churches and palaces and a garden. Taking a look at the lineup to the entrance of the Cathedral and remembering back to the torture of the line at the Hermitage - once bitten twice shy - we passed.
Walking the  length of the of the complex we once again saw Brides, this place was obviously a magnet for wedding photogs.

The bus ticket also allowed us to board a one hour River Cruise, so we did. Just a ride up the river, turn around and come back, the buildings look different from the water side so everything was new. Changing buses for the other bus ride we were transported around the suburbs, if I had to guess it was a ploy to attract ridership from hotel guests staying in the larger swankier hotels that are not located downtown, as we stopped at all the major hotels and little else. So the day was spent on an overview of the City.  small walkable and clean City.

Next day, today, and still 24 hours on our  bus passes the question was "how do we use them today if we saw the sights yesterday?" Easy we rode the bus to the other side of the river and walked back to the hotel through Lesser Town, the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square and past the Music House, back to the hotel.

This walk took a couple of hours and we saw the sights, didn't go inside all but did go inside Saint Nicholas's Church. Unfortunately it was being reno'd and scaffolding obstructed the views.. A coffee break was taken in the Old Square, where we told ourselves that we glad not to be on a guided tour and stuck in the crowds in the pic on the left, we were actually sitting below the house that Franz Kafka lived in for many years - pic on right, and then we meandered back. Before we did we were attracted to a vendor selling potatoes and ham. Asking for a portion of each the vendor proceeded to load up a plate of the potato mixture (sauerkraut, bacon and pots) and cut a huge hunk of greasy, fatty ham from the hock. Weighing the portions and being charged by the weight he asked for 700 krowns (13 euros) we just looked at him. I told him I only wanted a small piece of meat he told me, very rudely, "Those are the sizes we sell!" I told him to stick it and because we wanted to eat only took the potato mess. That was so bad that after we struggled to eat as much of it as we could, it was very vinegary, we stopped a bypassing bum and asked him if he wanted a meal - he did. well only one ripoff a day isn't that bad. But in future avoid the meat vendors in the Square.

Our other culinary experience has been wonderful. There are shops and booths that sell a pastry shaped like a cone, in the UK they are called 'cream horns'. Pieces of dough rolled  into strings and wrapped around a skewer then roasted over charcoal. The roaster in the pic shows the dough being roasted vertically but most of the machines roast horizontally. However they do it they result is sublime. Yesterday we had one with a cream filling, today we had one with ice cream in it -  a foodie masterpiece however you design it.

Tonight there is a Dinner cruise  and tomorrow we are off to Poland for a couple of days.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Another walking in the rain day

After breakfast, the usual Continental coffee, cheese and yoghurt, we decided that a shopping day might be in order. After all none had been done yet and it looked like a rainy day. The largest indoor mall in SP was a ten minute walk away so we set off. The pic in the left is an exterior shot. Inside there are five floors packed with the usual mall stores. Honestly all the same stores as the Oshawa mall. But being on five floors was interesting. Connected by escalators the largest and swankiest stores were on the bottom floors, the junkier the higher. The pic on the right is an interior shot - looks just like Yorkdale!

Staying about an hour and a half, the last thirty minutes in a Costa Coffee shop on the third floor we rested our feet and prepared for the next sight - a peek at the Railway Station.

A crowded place, one of the events going on here in SP is the Confederation Cup, a FIFA soccer competition and one of the moneymaking relentless International rounds of soccer play leading up to the World Cup, which means that loads of people come to SP every time there is a soccer match, and most of them come by train. If one purchases an entry ticket to the Stadium one can also get free train travel to the venues. The station (pic on left) is an imposing building and set inside the Square of Hero's, pic on right.

Walking back up Nevsky Prospekt we recognised all the stores and cafes we had been passing for the last three days. We were on our way to the Museum of the Defence of Leningrad. a twenty-five minute walk in intermittent rain was bearable but the biting wind was quite bad. The museum was a bit of a disappointment as it was only in one floor of a small building but considering its own history we were lucky to see it - Stalin destroyed it in 1953 and it has only been rebuilt as a collection since 1988. the artifacts are quite moving but sparse. Leaving the place, it was once again raining and we made it as far as a local cafe before we had to hide from the rain. The hotel was some twenty minutes away and we were doorway hopping for a bit of the time, but the trusty umbrella, which was never separated from us really did come in handy. Saint Petersburg tip - NEVER come without an umbrella!

A late lunch and an early night; off to Prague tomorrow

Walking and Waiting

Walking/waiting the watchwords for today. On the sidewalk and prepared to walk to the Hermitage Museum, 2.3 kms away. Unfortunately the rain was intermittent and we needed the umbrella. It took thirty minutes to get to the Palace Square and we saw a lineup outside the Hermitage entrances when we arrived. Getting in line we waited. ten minutes later the gates opened, at 10am. Why they did this when tickets do not go on sale for another thirty minutes is beyond me - rules and Russia. There are automatic ticket machines just inside the gate and yet they are ignored by the absolute majority of people - stupid. We stepped out of the line to use them why don't the rest of the people in line?

Anyway we were still wet when we finally got in and braced to fight the masses of people, as Rick Steves - the travel guru, says about the place, "Be prepared to spend three hours at the hermitage - two to see the place and one to fight the crowds!" We did and it is almost as though the waves of groups just keep coming at you - like fighting the Russian hordes - they just keep coming.

Beside watching out for people one could only stand amazed at the opulence and fashion of all of the rooms. Most of the rooms contained paintings produced by the Great Masters and collected by Catherine the Great and her successors. It is hard to imagine the wealth of these collections.
What is more amazing is that when the Nazis attacked Russia the curators and Citizens loaded trains full of the masterpieces in the collections to safety. So most of the collections emerged intact for the reconstruction after the war.

It is easy to lose direction as one just cannot keep going in a circular direction as the rooms meander as most of the original rooms are intact and they were once apartments for the Royals. But smaller rooms do lead into bigger rooms and most of the smaller rooms are furnished with original 19th Century pieces, of the highest quality. As we left after ninety minutes of being pummeled by the sights we have the images stamped into our consciousnesses.

Emerging into the Palace Square we encountered a line that was three times the length it was at 1030. How the people at the end of the line would get in by closing time was the question. Even more so the question was why they didn't use the ticket machines? 

Moving out of the square, and still fighting wind and rain with only one umbrella the Kazan Cathedral loomed into view. An imposing structure, modelled on St. Peter's in Rome, the Russian Monarchy really liked to copy other people's civilisation, and we entered for free. Entering for free is a rarity here as all Museums like to charge. The Hermitage being the most expensive so far 700 Rubles each ($17). The Cathedral is a memorial to the might of the Russian Military through the ages and especially commemorates the wars of the 18th/19th Centuries. As it was a working Cathedral worshipers mingled with tourists and the lineup to worship, pray and kiss the Icons on the Altar panel was moving and surprising considering that Russia had been a secular State for so long, well at least since 1917.

One more museum to go and we called it a day. Again, on the walk to the hotel along the Nevsky Prospekt, the last one beckoned. The Strogonov Palace/Museum is an imposing pink stone structure and for only 300 rubles apiece we were in. Again the same setup as the Hermitage - impressive rooms, most without furniture and some with but the decoration of the walls and trim was the attraction to most visitors.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A rainy day

A day of buses and boats, we had to get to the Peter & Paul Fortress complex today and we did it by using our hopon hopoff tickets purchased yesterday. Well that's what we thought. Unfortunately we only bus tickets not a combo ticket, so we had to buy a boat ticket to get to where we wanted to go.

The Fortress complex contained many museums and the Cathedral that contained the tombs of most of the Tsars and members of the Romanov family. Another place of interest was the Prison that housed criminals prior to the Revolution and political prisoners after. A grim place. The cell in the pic was filled with one prisoner prior to 1917 but crammed with up to twenty when the Bolsheviks ran the place. It was finally closed in 1924.

Rushing around to see all the spots and get back to the boat, in two hours was a rush but we managed it. The next stop was a visit to the Cruiser Aurora, a National Monument moored on the embankment. It was inexplicably closed
but we did see a St. Petersburg tradition - that of a bridal party rushing around Town to get their pics taken in as many as ten locations. The other sight at this spot was the Cabin of Peter the great - it too was closed, and we spent time waiting for the next boat in a bazaar.

Onto the next stop we alit at the Faberge Museum. Home of the famous collection of Faberge eggs collected by the Tsars it also housed an exhibition of some Salvador Dali pieces and many displays of Russian silversmithing, Mainly traditional tea services and intricate they were too. Take  a look at the punchbowl in the pic on the right.

Calling it a day at about 4.30 pm we walked back to the hotel in the intermittent rain.   

Out later that evening we finished up by having dinner in an Italian resto contained inside a three storey traditional building - you have to see what's behind these facades to really appreciate the extent of the post-war reconstruction.

Monday, June 19, 2017

First full day in St. Petersburg

This one of the 'must-see' sights here in SP - the Church on the Spilled Blood, and blood was nearly spilled this morning as we tried to find the hopon hopoff bus company's office or at least a marked bus stop.

We had a voucher for the bus ride, booked online a few weeks back and silly us thought that this company would be like every other bus company in the world - inundate the sidewalks with markers and salespeople. Nooo. We walked for two hours looking for a bus and never found one. By this time we had already found this sight and looked around. By the time we found a place to stop one half the day had gone and the clock was running on the voucher. Finally found it and rode around the City. The commentary was surprisingly good on the bus and we identified most of the sights to see tomorrow. Unfortunately the biggest site - the Hermitage was closed on a Monday, well there's always tomorrow.

But we did see St Isaac's Cathedral and the place to get on the boat for tomorrow's trip to the Peter and Paul Fortress. Capping the day off with a visit to St Isaac's Cathedral and a stroll down Nevsky Prospekt. Not to mention the mushroom pancake for lunch. The pic on the right is a panel in the Cathedral.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Day in Budapest

Up early, skipped breakfast and waited for the van to pick us up at 0645. Dropped off at the Opera House we had just saved a fifteen minute walk. Naturally we got on the wrong bus at first and then took the last two seat on the right bus. Discovering an intermittent wifi on the bus we settled into a two and half hour ride to Buda, Pest was the second stop!

Riding through the flatlands of Central Europe we saw few livestock and plenty of wheat and market gardens. The guide warned us that we would only be inspected at the Border - as we enter Hungary - on the way back, so the journey was very calm and settled. Crossing the Border we did notice that Hungary, although a member of the EU appeared to be a poorer and grimier state than Austria, but only in the suburbs and countryside; the City was spotless.

The first stop was the touristy Castle and the church of St. Mattias. Everything looked new and rebuilt, but to original sixteenth century architecture. That fact was not surprising considering that Budapest has been rebuilt after every invasion or revolution - perhaps every fifty or hundred years or so. The last rebuild after WW2 but the revolution of 1956 did produce a boom for the trades too. Anyway, as in Vienna the streets are spotless, very little litter on the streets, if none. But the 'taggers', as in Vienna; more so in Vienna, have produced marvellous graffiti art.

We didn't have time to enter any of the buildings, but naturally we were taken to, what we call "the brother-in-laws" knick-knack store to waste fifteen minutes - the perils of the guided tour! Back on the bus to gaze out of the windows at the sights o Buda and crossing the river Danube we entered the larger Pest. Older and kitted out with wide boulevards this City had been laid out by one of the Emperors in the eighteenth century obviously trying to keep up with Paris during the height of the Hungarian Empire.

This City has all the attributes of an Empire - Opera House (not as large as Vienna's) War Memorials and Museums. None entered but plenty seen! At last after five hours we were taken to one of the famous restaurants  overlooking the winter ice-rink, on a lake, but we were assured that the ice in the winter can be as thick as forty centimetres, for a lunch from a genuine Hungarian menu. Great lunch even better dessert and supplemented by three quarters of  a litre of good Hungarian beer. Sufficiently sated we were then taken past a few more sights and dropped off at the edge of a large shopping promenade. For this part of the trip we were given two and a half hours. Probably not enough for a serious shopper but good enough for us we were done in ninety minutes and decided to wait out the hour in a genuine Hungarian Cafe. Should mention that the Hungarians, although a member of the EU, do not use the Euro. This creates a bit of a problem for the casual shopper. One store did take the money but in the Cafe they converted the bill into Euros at an exorbitant rate. An additional four euros disappeared in the transaction, cost of goods fifteen euros, final bill twenty!! Moral  of the story always use the change bars even for a small change, the commission will be offset by the potential ripoff.

All in all a good day, our good luck with all forms of transit is still alive, the Border crossing didn't even happen we were waved through. Hitting the nearest resto near the hotel, we had eaten there the night before and loved the place, we picked up a burger to go. Massive and not so well cooked but still good at the end of a long day. The last order of business was to arrange the carry ons for tomorrow - the leg to St. Petersburg.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Second full day in Vienna.

Thanks to the Vienna Pass for the opportunity to save big euros. This pass allows one to access over sixty sights in the City for a reasonable price (two days for 71euros). Considering that the hopon hopoff bus is worth 25 euros and the admission to the SISI museum is 20 euros the savings add up very quickly.

So today was the second day on the bus and we travelled the Red Route, the one that circles around the Old Town and hits most of the big sights. We passed the Hofburg and the Museum District and alit at the City Cruise. This ninety minute boat ride provided the calm needed to slow us down. A wonderful trip that took us to the lock that enters the Danube, turned around and sailed some more. Believe it or not the buildings in the pic are a power complex, another view of it in the pic on the right. An energy from waste plant looks really spiffy doesn't it?

Relaxed from the boat ride we then came back into the "ring" and  walked to the Hofburg, a huge Palace complex that houses, amongst many other attractions, the Spanish Riding school and the Royal Apartments. The Sisi Museum is dedicated to the life of Empress Elisabeth, the wife of Franz-Joseph the great Austrian ruler of the 19th Century. The museum was crowded and hot but due to the fact we picked up audio devices the narration made up for that by being so informative. One cannot fail to be impressed by the size of these complex as well as the amount of work done to restore them after the damage suffered in WW 2.

From the Hofburg it was on to the Cathedral, again getting in for nothing - thank you Vienna Pass, another audio device led us around this edifice, impressive again. This place was packed the walking tours really do take a lot of people to the same sights on the same route and this part of the City - Graben - was jammed.

Enough of the crowds and we found a table in the Cafe down the road but it was packed too.

Using the map function on the phone which told us that the hike back to the hotel would be another 25 minutes we allowed ourselves a small reward. The pic on the left.

Up early tomorrow we have a bus ride to Budapest starting at 0645 hrs.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

First full day in Vienna and the big sights done

This is the biggie in Town and the crowds tell you that. It's the Schonbrunn Palace, the Summer palace of the Hapburg's. A massive complex of gardens, buildings and walkways and gazebos, even a maze. The authorities only allow so many people in the building at any one time, so although we had Vienna Pass's we still had to wait two hours to get in. To kill time we visited a couple of the gardens and the Carriage Museum. After getting in we followed the route and inspected each and every room for signs of authenticity - the place oozed it. 

Back on the bus, we were on the hopon hopoff bus, the only way to see any place on the earth in the quickest possible time. This company may be the biggest in Town but still needs to up its game. The canned commentary was not as good as could be and lacked a lot of detail about the buildings as we passed.

Next stop the military Museum and as such it was very good, a lot of exhibits and the Museum certainly did not hide its WW2 alliance with Germany, with a lot of WW2 exhibits. Showing its prowess off as a manufacturer of rifles this collection was complete from the first age of gunpowder. My exhibit covered we now moved onto the next big Palace complex the Belvedere.

This complex has two palaces separated by acres  of gardens and fountains. The pic shows the Upper Belvedare fronted by a fountain at least 500 metres in front of it. The lower palace is as far away to the rear. An amazing setup, one can just imagine the hordes of gardeners needs in the 17th Century to maintain it. Built for Prince Eugene of Savoy it has been declared a UNESCO site.

Back on the bus and to the hotel, problem is that's another 17 minute walk. With the walk taken to find a supper place we put in over 18,000 steps. No wonder we are going to bed early tonight, besides the TV has no English channels so what do we need to stay up for?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

First Flight

Arriving at Terminal 1 three hours early gave us plenty of time we never really needed. Printing the boarding passes ten hours earlier mad it easy to sail through the initial process - actual check-in - passport check and baggage weighing. Onto the screening and personal search, usually a long line up and plenty of people trying not to get annoyed at the first unknown - will my bag pass the Xray. Tonight no line up and few illegal bags. It was the fastest screening we have had.

Terminal 1 has a system of restaurants around the terminals and most of them are actual boarding gates. Approaching many tables, with ipads for menus and few actual airport seats is intimidating if one doesn't want to eat. But many signs instruct passenger to feel free to sit at the table without ordering, but most at least buy a coffee so it pays off in the long run.

Finally boarding time and we watch as the wheelchair people go first, then the families then the club class and finally the rows at the back of the plane - that's us. We're on, again in record time. Perhaps an omen of difficult times as we are having an easy time now?

Six and a half hours and a tailwind is all it takes to get us to Schipol (Amsterdam). Apart from the crummy food and the most annoying passenger behind the screaming kid - the farter, the time spent wasn't that bad. two movies, a little nap and then a piece of bread for breakfast and we are ready to get off.

Landing into yet another speedy deplane and immigration clearance, but the wait for the airport shuttle was a thirty minute one but hey we waited in the sun and it was free. Ten minutes later the hotel heaved into view but we knew all about the location because the bus had a TV screen with an active GPS location on it - very hightech.

Doreen is thinking of buying
new shoes
Walking around a bit, we really wanted a coffee, and found one, the first one at European prices - 3euro ($4.50cdn) for a run of the mill machine drip ground. We enjoyed a sunny interlude watching planes land and buses coming and going.

Back to the room for a needed nap, after all we hadn't seen a bed for thirty six hours. Napped dreaming of the Dinner, prepaid before arrival on an internet special. A three course a la carte for thirty euros ($45 cdn each).

Back in the room well fed. I ordered spare ribs and expected a quarter rack, two small half racks appeared - thirteen ribs in all and didn't have to fight with any of them, the meat just fell off the bones. Now all we have to do is navigate the 'extended' buffet in the morning and we can say "we pigged out in Amsterdam!"

Off to Vienna in the morning - take off at 1330 land two hours later, next post then!

Monday, June 12, 2017

We're off!

Well not yet another eight hours before we get in the car and head to the four nothing one and Pearson. Printed the boarding passes though. Weighed the luggage and it's under the limit - that's a good sign. Heading out of muggy humidity into nice 22 deg C weather.

We will be posting on FB and here, if I get time to write. So keep checking in for news.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Eight more sleeps!

Bags half packed, final plans looked at many times, airport shuttles arranged, electronic gizmos all tuned up and packed and we are ready.

The foreign currency has been obtained, the Russian Rubles purchased and ready to be spent. Using small bills, for as we all know local purchases need small bills, the small bills worth $500 are an inch thick.

The last arrangement was to buy a roaming pass for Europe for the phone. Usually I buy a sim card but as we are going to three countries no one sim card can do all three so the easiest way is to buy the roaming, international, pass - $60 for 30 days.

Another super deal was the ParknFly discount - almost a 50% discount: $274 down to $170.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Planning, more planning and then a lot more planning

This trip started as a trip to Russia and then morphed into the big European adventure that would celebrate Doreen's birthday. Getting into Russia is not easy but not as complicated as one would think. The Visa is a necessity and can only be obtained through an agency. Fill out the online application form, take the form to the agency, after obtaining an appointment, have the forms checked, pay $172 for each visa and then wait a month. But the important piece of paper that is needed to complete the application is a form called "the invitation letter". Issued by the Hotel that one would stay in it comes via email (the wonders of the internet!).

Anyway back to the itinerary. The cheapest flight into Europe flies into Amsterdam. So off to AMS for a day (we are now slowing down a bit and the airport days need a one day layover instead of hanging around airports waiting for the next leg), and then on to Vienna. The decision to go to Vienna, and Prague, was developed after realising that that the original plan - visit St Petersburg - was too expensive, time-consuming and short. That idea was to go Helsinki and cross to St P on the ferry. A five day visit on the ferry doesn't need a visa. But the price of that visit was prohibitive so changes had to be made. So we asked each other the question, "What do you want to see?" Vienna and Prague came up. So the travel costs sealed the deal and now we fly into St. P from Vienna and out to Prague. Add on the trip to Auzswitch ("I'm not going to Prague without a visit to Auzswich" - Doreen) and the total trip is now seventeen days long.

Flying around Europe on low-cost airlines is easy - go the website, book and then print tickets. But as another decision came into play. We had decided to cut airport waiting times down by not checking baggage. But each airline has its own rules about carry-on. The need to have two pieces of carry-on became problematic. On the two EasyJet flights we had to upgrade to the next grade of seat to get two pieces in the cabin. But that was cheaper than paying for a checked bag. Who would have thought that the size and weight of a carry-on would be a killer?

Anyway with forty days to go we have finalised all of the forseeable plans - right down to the airport shuttles and major sightseeing trips.

So this is what the plan looks like:

Now all we have to do is plan the packing and decide which devices and clothes to take and keep them under twenty pounds for each bag.