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Machu Picchu!!

IMG_1154_SmallThe ninth day of this trip finally got me to Machu Picchu which is the only reason anyone really goes to Peru! What really stood out to me about MP is that hardly anything is roped off.

Perfect relief spot - on the way to the Inka Bridge entrance

Perfect relief spot – on the way to the Inka Bridge entrance

Just like in Egypt, you can touch whatever you want (even though you shouldn’t) and you can even manage to pop a squat in a semi-secluded area without getting caught by the guards! (Note to Peru: you really should put one bathroom somewhere in MP – perhaps by the entrance of the Huayna/Wayna Picchu) Another side note: I can understand the logic of not putting in a bathroom that would destroy historic land and also that if you have to pee, you will leave MP and free up space for other visitors, but come on! Have some humanity! 🙂

 

 

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Even llamas tour MP!

I definitely advise getting on that first 5:30am bus to MP. If you go later in the morning, you will miss out on the typical tourist pictures that you know you want to get. Also be aware of the outdoor café at the base of MP; count your change and demand service. They seem to be slackers and thieves.

As for MP itself, of course it is amazing. When you first get there, the hike is up a ton of stairs. The rest of MP is completely manageable. The views are worth it. This is the first tourist pic you will get when you climb up most of the stairs from the entrance.IMG_1047_Small

 

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Chinchilla....I think

Chinchilla….I think

 

Inca Quarry Trek

Time for our hike to Machu Picchu….that didn’t end up in Machu Picchu! Started the day with a “quick” hike which was steep (there were so many steps that I lost count) and

The stairs up

The stairs up

straight up a mountain to some ruins where sacrifices were made. We put 3 coca leaves together and each of us made a wish. Then we headed onto a longer hike which was all uphill. The views were great, but I do advise getting into serious good shape months before you make this trek. For me, the trek was pretty boring because my group hiked together and I had to hike by myself. One is a lonely number 😦

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Yup, hiked all that and then some

We reached camp around lunch time and had a feast, then napped and played cards. The food was cooked by a chef that traveled with us and all the food was gourmet and plentiful. The night overall was good, the tent was warm, the sleeping bag was cozy, and the toilet was set up in its own little tent which was better than I expected.

The second day of the hike started with a 6am wake up. We were served coca tea at our tents. We packed up and had a great breakfast then hiked uphill again which was exhausting, then we had rolling hills after lunch and all downhill at the end of the IMG_0829 (Small)day. The downhill was very steep – one of the many times I was happy I had my walking stick. We saw snow-capped mountains and played cards at lunch. The second day’s hike was slightly easier than the previous day. Along the way we saw random flowers, cows, chinchilla, horses, dogs, chickens and random children. We hiked through two mountain passes. The first one was 4500 meters high and the second was 3800 meters high.

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Nighttime brought a clear sky so we were able to see the bright stars but I could only identify Orion’s Belt as usual. We were also able to IMG_0976 (Small) see Victoria Mountain which was one of the 3 snow-capped mountains that we could see from our campsite. It was really pretty. Even though it was technically summer in Peru, nights were very chilly. I wore 3 shirts, 2 pants and extra warm socks and was still cold.

Day 3 of hiking – Camp to Quarry to Aguas Caliente:

Our last day of hiking started off at 6am again. We hiked to the quarry which I didn’t hike up because it was all rocks and straight uphill. IMG_1011 (Small)We then hiked in the hot sun. Fortunately, it was an easy trail except for the fact that the tour leader let the group end up so far apart from each other that I basically hiked alone – even over a big rock jump and three unclear paths. At least the views were pretty. We ended at a small suspension bridge, then uphill again through a town where they left me behind again (seeing a pattern yet?).

Our last trek of the day was the train to Machu Picchu. The train provided good views and they even gave us a snack of banana chips and chocolate. We played cards during the 1.5 hour ride. After disembarking, we walked through a market, over other train tracks to our hotel. From the hotel, the river sounded very loud and strong. As expected, the town was very touristy – meant only to stay there for your tour to MP.IMG_1009 (Small)

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Travel here, Travel there, Travel everywhere! (Jungle to Cusco to Ollantaytambo)

Woke up early to get on a plane to go from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco. Be prepared to show your boarding pass as you exit the plane….because, ya know, that makes a lot of sense. We then took a bus to our hotel, Posada del Abuelos (my own review to follow).

We met our Machu Picchu tour guide but already the MP trip started to have issues. We didn’t get our camping duffel bags and were unable to reserve our camping gear through the proper channel. Eventually it got worked out, but you would think they would have their sh*t together by now.

For dinner, we went to Pucara, which randomly seems to be a huge hit among Japanese tourists. The food was good and as recommended, we drank lots of coca tea. I’m not sure if the tea actually did work to cure my faint signs of altitude sickness or if it was just a placebo effect. It tasted fine though, especially with a bunch of sugar so I recommend drinking it…….unless of course you will be drug tested upon your return home, in which case, maybe you should pass!

The next day we got to sleep in – all the way to 8am! It was another travel day: Cusco to Ollantaytambo. During our visit to the jungle, we heard about a place where you could see condors up close. We had to pay an extra 50 soles to the driver in order for him to take us to the Ccochahuasi Animal Sanctuary which was BS because the sanctuary was not even really out of the way. The sanctuary rocked though. We saw turtles, deer, macaws, parrot, puma, and condors flew overhead. We also saw bobcats and some other random animals. The place sold really nice alpaca things but everything was expensive, yet admission was free.

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Cut the person out, but you get the point

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Hoping my turtle never grows this big!

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Afterwards, we drove to a Sacred Valley overlook which was pretty and of course, had ladies selling their wares. We had lunch in someone’s home which was pretty tasty. They always seem to have 3 course meals here – an avocado appetizer, soup, then rice and

Sacred Valley

Sacred Valley

veggies. We also saw a demonstration on how pottery is made and at another location we saw how chocolate is made. At a third location we saw how corn beer is made – it was not yummy and only has 2% alcohol, so I don’t know why they drink it. They also make a strawberry variety which tasted slightly better. We then played a coin toss game called Sapo. Next, we went to a market (which these tours love to drop you off at) but didn’t buy anything as it was raining and also we were told we had limited space to carry stuff.

Lastly, we headed to our hotel in Ollantaytambo. After settling in, we then went for a “walk” which turned out to be a hike/ rock scramble up a huge hill which was exhausting but had great views from the middle which is where most of us stopped. I think it was called Pinkuylluna. Later I was able to check email and got notification that the US had put a ban on travel to Cusco and Machu Picchu which of course was the next stop on the trek. Screw the warnings! I had to see one of the 7 wonders of the world!

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These ruins were at the middle of the trek

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View to the left

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View straight out

Peru Jungle Lodge – No lions, tigers or jaguars…oh my!

Boating in the dark

Boating in the dark

Day 3 of tour / Day 2 of Jungle Lodge – We had a 4am wake up call to go see birds and otters, but we didn’t see any otters.

So lush!

So lush!

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We sat around in the boat for a long time and barely saw any birds but it was a pleasant trip anyway.

On the hike back, we saw a ton of monkeys and got some awesome pictures. They were everywhere and were so close to us.

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Back at the lodge, we had a snack of bread and cheese rolls, and then we went on a hike to the lake where we saw a ton of Macaws. We had to sit in a hut and look thru these tiny windows and be really quiet, but it was really awesome.

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IMG_0580 (Small)Afterwards, we had an afternoon snooze, then headed out to see the medicine man via hike and boat. It was slightly interesting, nothing exciting. The rain poured down on us but even though most of us had ourIMG_0571 (Small) ponchos, we still got pretty wet. We learned about how they find these leaves and bark and cook them for different lengths of time and they supposedly cure different diseases or things. We got to try three different medicines – one to make you happy and see crazy things, one to cure or prevent cancer and one to make you either horny or work like Viagra. Go figure!

IMG_0584 (Small) On the way back via boat we saw a double rainbow in one direction and then a beautiful sunset in the other. We got rained out of a night hike so hung out and had a few IMG_0590 (Small)drinks instead. Unfortunately, the Contiki tour group arrived to the lodge that same day so our quiet time was interrupted by crazy young people – when did I get old???

Life……..it’s all about the pictures!

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First day in the Jungle – Posada Amazonas

Day two of the tour was really the first day of our Peru adventure – we trekked to the amazon jungle. First via plane from Lima to Cusco then Puerto Maldonado.

Interesting facts: you can bring whatever liquid you want on Peru domestic flights and you don’t have to take off your shoes or take

Martini Glass!

Martini Glass!

your laptop out of your bag. You board outside using a stairway to the plane. The flight gives you a delicious sandwich even though the flight was only an hour and then candy on the second 30 minute leg of the trip. For a view of the mountains, sit on the right side of the plane and you’ll also be able to see a martini glass that has been carved into the grass on the mountainside. It was a bumpy and foggy ride with only 150 seats on board. When landing it appears that you are about to land in the middle of the jungle.IMG_0118 (Small)

Next we got on another bus to the Posada office where we switched our big luggage to our little bags and left our big luggage behind. We just needed clothes and items for 2 days in the jungle – flashlights, toiletries, sandals, poncho and bug spray. All of which I got used in the few hours of being there!

After another trek on a bus and canoe, we carried our luggage uphill for 10 minutes. There’s no need to bring soap or shampoo as they ask you use their free eco-friendly supplies. You also don’t need hiking shoes because they supply giant waterproof boots.

They have Wi-Fi and electricity but only in the lobby and dining room from 1-2 pm and 5-9 pm. It’s a nice touch to have that luxury. They also have netting over the beds which they set up for you when you are away. My netbook also fit in the safe in the room so that rocked. There are no doors or windows and candles supply light. Just curtains but we also had a hammock in the room but because of the bugs, it wasn’t always comfortable to use. Warm showers topped off the amenities of the room.

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Looks scarier in person

After settling into the lodge, we promptly went on a hike. We saw lots of interesting trees and even found Brazil nuts to crack open and eat. We climbed some random man-made tower that was super high and nerve-wracking, but when you got to the top, the view was amazing, and it wasn’t so scary anymore. It started to rain as we hiked but that’s what the ponchos were for!IMG_0197 (Small)

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View straight down from the top

View from the top

View from the top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner was good – lasagna, salad and pumpkin soup, some flan for dessert but it was weird and I didn’t like it. Drinks were good and were reasonably priced. The sounds of nature were amazing but it was quite warm in the bug netted bed. I’ll take hot over bugs any day, though!

Peru – Lima & Miraflores – Day 1 of tour

My first full day in Peru accomplished a lot. After having a mini meltdown back in my hotel room when I couldn’t manage to hail a cab to take me to Miraflores, I put on my big-girl panties and hailed a cab easily on my first try (second try?) by walking to the left of the hotel and standing on the corner by the church for all of thirty seconds before a cab flashed his lights at me and picked me up. However, I didn’t negotiate a fare and paid twice as much as I should have to get to Parque Kennedy in Miraflores – twenty soles. I was just happy to get a cab and didn’t feel like arguing. The ride from the hotel to Miraflores was much longer than expected – we had to take a highway and went through another ghetto to get to the better area of Lima.

I walked thru the park which is just a normal park with some statues and flowers and continued on my way down Larco Street to the beach. You just walk all the way down until you hit the beach. Easy peasy!

Some of the shops at Larcomar

Some of the shops at Larcomar

Right in front of you is the shopping center that has all these stores and restaurants tucked into the sides. It is very nice. I had breakfast overlooking the ocean- well at least trying to overlook the ocean. It was very foggy and you couldn’t see anywhere but down; at least I got to see the semi sand / rock beach and waves crashing into the land. Breakfast was good and I grabbed some water and then continued on my way to the north (to the right if you are facing the beach).

The real beach down below

The real beach down below

As close to a "beach" as I got

As close to a “beach” as I got

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first hit a random park where I met a Peruvian guy on a bike and then we went together to

Lovers intertwined

Lovers intertwined

IMG_0048 (Small)Parque del Amor where there is a huge statue of lovers entwined. Supposedly people go there to hook up or get engaged or something. There are nice mosaic tiled walls and it’s a great place to sit and read or people watch. However, I had no time for any of that; I had places to go! I took advantage of the park’s free Wi-Fi and got my GPS to pull up directions to Huaca Pucllana which is old ruins right smack dab in the middle of the city. I had to wait for a 45 minute English tour but it only cost 12 soles which was great. The guide was interesting and easy to understand.

Huaca Pucllana

Huaca Pucllana

To get to the ruins from Parque del Amor, you just walk away from the water to Grau, then left onto Grau which turns into Elias Aguirre and the ruins will end up being right in front of you. You just continue along the right side of the ruins to the entrance!

After the ruins and getting hit on by yet another guy (I guess Peruvians like the gringas!), I tried to get a taxi back to the hotel, but they wanted to charge me 30 soles so I said no and walked two blocks to a main street where I found a cab for 10 soles. He didn’t know where he was going so he had to ask for directions 4 times; still was well worth the price.

Future travelers – become acquainted with the streets near your hotel and if possible, have a map on hand to show taxi drivers; most of them have no idea where streets are in Lima.

I finally got to the hotel, then had to switch rooms right away from a single to a double with my roommate. Met up with the group – great people and only 6 of us. Met our guide Bobby, did orientation and then a tour of downtown Lima. Saw the president’s house, bishop’s house, library, church, catacombs and ate a yummy empanada and churro. Overall, the tour was less than interesting but it was better than sitting in a hotel room.

Other than getting a sunburn, it was a really decent day. Afterwards, we came back to the hotel, rested for a few then had dinner at the Bolivar hotel which was really nice and tasty and reasonably priced for how fancy it was. Came back to the hotel early and got ready for our trip to the Amazon Jungle the next day.

First pisco sour - not a fan

First pisco sour – not a fan

Getting to Peru

My 2 week trip to Peru in February 2013 definitely had a lot of ups and downs. Fortunately, I think the ups definitely won in the end. I met some really great people and will have memories to last a lifetime.

I booked The Sacred Lands of the Incas tour with Intrepid Travel. This itinerary almost exactly matched what I wanted to do in Peru. I will try to review them and the tour details separately.

Living in New York, I had several options of airports, airlines, dates and times of when to fly to Lima. I chose an afternoon flight out of Newark direct to Lima on the day before my tour was to start. This United Airlines flight got me into Lima around 10pm. I have mixed feelings on United Airlines – the counter agents at Newark were less than helpful and seemed to hate their jobs. You check yourself in at a kiosk at the counter and then stand around twiddling your thumbs until they decide to end their personal conversations to assist you with taking your checked baggage. Also the security people at Newark were at the same level of helpfulness. They seem to just like sending people back and forth between different security lines – just because they can. After that, I bought a disgusting sandwich from a shop outside my gate which was very disappointing……my trip was not starting out well.

However, after all those little annoyances, things immediately started to look better! I requested a new seat from my gate agent and she promptly upgraded me for free to a Premier Economy seat all while making really friendly chit-chat and even showing concern that I was traveling to Peru all by myself. My seat had a ton of room and even an outlet for me to charge my electronics. There were no crying babies on the flight either so I was ecstatic!

Upon arrival in Lima, getting a taxi at the airport was easy. I stepped out of customs, outside of the car rental area, and BAM! Green Taxi person asked if I needed a taxi. Sure! Let’s go! Done! I tipped the driver which is not the norm but he was a good guy so I felt I should. He thought I was weird for it. 🙂

The Intrepid tour had us staying at Hotel Inka Path which is in the middle of Lima’s city center / downtown – not an awesome area. The cab driver advised that I go inside the hotel and stay inside for the night. The room was just fine – TV, bathroom and fan. It was warm but not too stifling the first night; however the shared room the second night was almost unbearably hot, even with the balcony doors open and fan on high. There is free Internet but it doesn’t really work very well. Also, Peruvians seem to not understand that not everyone wakes up at 5am so it is very loud after that time.

Hotel Inka Path’s counter staff is not very helpful. I don’t know if it’s just a language issue or if they truly don’t care about their customers.  For more than one or two nights, I would recommend staying elsewhere.

Pre-Peru

Being unemployed has its perks. I am about to embark on a 2 week tour of Peru with Intrepid Travel. I know Peru is one of the easiest countries to travel without a tour company, but I am being lazy. I don’t want to have to think about Rockland Luggage Vision Polycarbonate Three-Piece Luggage Set (bought from Amazon)what to do next or where I’m staying or how I’m getting there. If I was traveling with someone, I would plan an awesome itinerary, but just for me, I would rather just plod along with a small group and get the most out of my time there.

I am determined to pack for 2.5 weeks in a carry-on bag – not that I can actually carry it on because of all the liquids I am bringing, but I hate over packing. I also will bring a backpack for hiking Machu Picchu and a small messenger bag to carry my netbook and magazines on the plan

packing list4Normally for this short of a trip I wouldn’t pack so many clothes, but because Peru has very varied weather, I am trying to plan for outfits I can layer. The temperature is going to go from a high of 85F in Lima and the Amazon Jungle to a low of 40 at MP and Puno. I am also concerned with getting clothes very dirty in the jungle and at MP. I have no issues with wearing my clothes over and over (why I bring Febreze) but if the clothes get wet and muddy, then I want to be able to have an alternative outfit.

Most people will also say “why bring your laptop?”. I am bringing it because I like to journal my experiences along the way (I also bring a small pad of paper and pen for when I just want to jot something down) and I like to backup my photos as I go. I am very paranoid about losing memory cards or even the camera itself. I love looking back on my pictures later as I have a terrible memory, so losing pictures would be a big heartbreak for me.

I also get questioned on why I bring physical magazines with me….well, I like to read them and then leave them behind for others – either flight attendants, other travelers, or even people in the country I am visiting. Most people that I’ve met in other countries really love to read American magazines. They love the gossip and tips and they also use it to help them learn English.

For other downtime, I have movies and TV Shows on my laptop and phone and also use the Kindle app to download free books. I rarely get to use all of these things I prepare, but I like knowing that if there is a flight delay, I am prepared to occupy myself.

I currently use MetroPCS as a cell phone service provider. They don’t have service in Peru (and barely anywhere else for that matter!) so I downloaded an app (Sipdroid) that will allow me to make calls via Wifi if need be. Normally, I don’t call home to check in but I do like to send emails just to confirm I am okay and give my mother peace of mind.

Lastly, I also like to exchange money while I am here in the US. The convenience of arriving in a country and not having to worry that a taxi will not take US dollars is amazing. I hate arriving somewhere (for Peru it will be at 10pm) and having to find an ATM or a money exchange at the airport. I want to just get off the plane, hope to find my luggage, and go!

Stay tuned for updates along the way………….

Contiki – Russia & Scandinavia Trip Report (Best Trip Ever!)

Carlsberg Brewery

See my summary trip post on my blog here.

My original trip website is here.

Day 1 – June 25th – Flew into Copenhagen and took a taxi to the hostel (4 girls to a room, 14 sharing one bathroom). I met up with some people who had already arrived and we took a bus into town. On the main street, we saw an Erotica Museum which was new and interesting to all of us so of course we stopped in and broadened our horizons. We continued on the longest pedestrian only street in Europe, had lunch and wandered around.

After taking the bus back to the hostel, we met up with more tour mates who had already started the drinking festivities (practically a requirement on any Contiki tour). We imbibed for a bit then continued on to the group dinner which was edible but barely so. We ended the night by hopping on a train to the city and went to an Irish Pub – pretty silly considering we were in Denmark!

Little Mermaid

Little Mermaid

Day 2 – June 26th – First day of touring with Contiki – Visited the Opera House, Dragon Claw, Royal Palace and took pictures with the guards who can’t talk to you but just walk back and forth, Geffion Fountain (virgin goddess), Little Mermaid, Carlsberg Brewery and rice horses.  We went on a river cruise and I went to a section of town called Christiana with the hottie I liked from the tour. Christiana is basically the hippie-land of Denmark – full of free love and drugs. Twas a very interesting spot!  On the way to Christiana, we went to the Round Tower and walked up a bazillion stairs to get to the top.  It was kind of scary; it just got narrower and narrower and you were on the edge but we got some great pictures and no one else did it so it was cool that it was something different from the group.  I highly recommend this detour from the same old Contiki tour.

Nighttime activities consisted of more drinking and a game of “I Never”. It was a fun night and a great way to get to know the people you were going to spend the next 3 weeks with.

Day 3 – June 27th –   Late start to the morning at 8am. We hopped on a ferry to Sweden then spent the day driving and playing card games on the bus. We stopped for lunch at Ikea – yes, the furniture store and then stayed at Angby Camping where we had tiny cabins but was not bad at all. You had to pay for the showers but they were roomy and clean and the water was hot and strong. There was a group meal in town but after the last group meal, some of us decided to walk around town and found delicious crepes instead. The sun stayed out very late so it was hard to get into “sleep-mode”.

Vassa Museum

Vassa Museum

Nose & Finger

Day 4 – June 28th – Toured Stockholm and Town Hall, saw the changing of the guard which was long and boring, went to the Vassa Museum which is a boat that sunk on its maiden voyage and was salvaged from the ocean floor in 1965. It was originally built in the 1700s. Some of us went to dinner on a Viking boat cruise. It started to rain a bit but I think that made it more fun. Afterwards we wandered and saw the giant nose and finger in the water (you have to see it to understand) and listened to a jazz concert in the park. Lastly we hit the Ice Bar which I believe is one of the original bars where everything is made of ice including the bar, tables, chairs and glasses. You must wear a silver parka and big gloves to hang out there. Now these Ice Bars are everywhere and I think they’ve lost their uniqueness.

Day 5 – June 29th – Free morning in Stockholm which meant we had to kill time until we could move onto somewhere interesting – an overnight cruise to Helsinki a.k.a. The Love Boat. The boat certainly lived up to its name 🙂

Day 6 – June 30th – Spent the day wandering around Helsinki then met up with another Contiki tour that had taken the longer tour through Norway and was now a part of our group. Overall this was one of the least memorable days of the trip.

Day 7 – July 1st – We spent a good portion of the day driving to Russia.  At the border, we all had to get our passports checked and stamped.  It only took an hour and a half which was much less than everyone thought it was going to take.  A tough-looking man got on the bus after we all got back on and walked up and down the aisle checking us again.

Folk Lore Show

Folk Lore Show

We stopped in Vyborg for lunch and then we drove to St. Petersburg.  We picked up our tour guide, Anna, and had champanski at the beach which was right across from our hotel; then we went on a tour

Champanski!

Champanski!

of St. Petersburg.  We got upgraded to a 4 star hotel which was wonderful – especially since we were staying for 3 days.  We went out to dinner and had finally had the Russian vodka we had been hearing so much about and then went to a Folk Lore show which was hysterical.  The pictures won’t do the show justice.  During intermission, they served vodka, champanski and caviar; it was pretty cool.  There was an annoying Japanese tourist there who kept trying to be part of the show, but he was pretty funny too.  We got back to the hotel around 11pm and it was still bright out like it was the afternoon.  We ended the night by hanging out at the bar in the hotel where prostitutes were picking up men.

Day 8 – July 2nd – We got up early and went to Petrodvorets Palace which was about an hour and a half away. Our Russian tour guide

Shell casings as wall decorations

Shell casings as wall decorations

told us about the history of all this but I just kept falling asleep – these tours are really exhausting!  At the palace, we saw nice gardens

Underground shop

Underground shop

and fountains and did some street shopping.  I picked up some wooden stackable dolls.  We went to the Leningrad Memorial where they had 900 shell cases lit all around the walls to signify the 900 days of the siege.  People were taking wedding photos at the memorial which I found very strange.  Later we went to the Nevsky Prospect then went to an underground shop with dodgy, Serge, where people could buy bootleg cds and dvds.  I bought Russian porn – hey how can you pass that up! For the record it was terrible and I threw it away 🙂

We went out to dinner as a group to a place called My Mys which has a story of a dog that was killed then drowned with a brick or

MyMy

MyMy

something. They have the real dog or a replica hanging on the wall like a carpet.  Very strange.

Day 9 – July 3rd – Did a city tour of St. Petersburg again, saw St. Isaac’s Church, Hermitage, Rasputin’s death site, and had free vodka and coffee.  Saw fighter jets playing in the sky which was really cool.  They actually woke us up in the morning and I thought maybe Russia was under attack which would just been my luck!  The Hermitage was huge and I got bored very quickly – Lots and lots of art.  I can’t imagine anyone going through the whole thing.  We had dinner at the hotel  and then it was off to the Kiroff Ballet to see Swan Lake.  It was very

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

nice but I kept falling asleep during the first act.  The second act was better but the third was boring too.  I just can’t interpret dance, I guess.  The first act was an hour, then 30 minutes, then 15 minutes so it wasn’t horrible.

Day 10 – July 4th – Roamed around the city in the morning then about 12 of us took a boat ride in the river then got Subway sandwiches (eat fresh!) and had to hustle to get back to the bus on time.  We drove to Novgorod.  Took about 3 hours.  I believe this was the town that a tour mate got harassed by the police for his papers. Always be on guard when out of your own country. Later we saw the Kremlin

Kremlin

Kremlin

(one of many) – one of the oldest churches in the world.  Also a nice beach with hottie speedo guys – not.

Day 11 – July 5th – Drove to Moscow, had McDonald’s, and met our guide, Galina, who brought us to the Red Square and we took our DSC00549group picture.  Went to the bar next door and got drunk on vodka – shocking, I know.

Kremlin Moscow

Kremlin Moscow

Day 12 – July 6th – Did a tour of the Metro and stopped at several different stations to see the architecture and artwork.  Their Metro is 10 times the size of Rome.  After that we took the Metro to the Red Square where we saw Lenin’s embalmed body which was encased in a glass tomb.  We had to stand on a long line and be very serious.  We had to trust Galina to watch all our bags which we left lying on the street.  We went to see the Kremlin and St. Bassil’s Cathedral.  Afterwards I took the Metro to Aleksanorovsky Sad which is a famous drinking and eating street where I ate borsch.  It actually wasn’t bad.  Went to a strip club next door; I hear clubs in other countries are better.

Day 13 – July 7th – Took the bus to the Russian Military Museum which had lots of artifacts but I didn’t find it interesting.  A bunch of us skipped the Revolutionary museum and came home on the Metro.  We managed to find our way from a station we had never been to by asking a minimal amount of directions. We were very proud of ourselves as Russian doesn’t even have letters like ours so we had to match up character to character.  We took a nap and awoke to find out London had been bombed – Five tube stations and two busses were bombed at the same time.  Supposedly it was due to the GA Summit or something like there where the important world leaders come together and talk about the world.  London also was just awarded the Olympics in 2012 so it came at a “convenient” time.  Anyway then we had dinner and went to the circus.  We bought flashy light swords and bracelets and I got rabbit ears and a mohawk. At the circus there were some weird clowns who did acts that the Russians found funny but none of us understood.  There were trampoline people who kept screwing up and not completing their act.  There was a girl who twirled on a string, monkeys who did tricks. There were also birds who did tricks.  Overall I had a great time at the circus but others just didn’t get it.  They seem to only be interested in drinking and making out with each other – couldn’t we do that anywhere? 🙂

Day 14 – July 8th – Did some early morning shopping at the covered markets by the hotel then it was off to Yartsevo where we stayed

Strippers

Strippers

at the Hotel Oasis.  We stopped at Boradino which is a memorial up a hill with Napoleon and the Russians and we ate cup a noodles at a shack nearby.  At the hotel we ate dinner then watched a dance show then saw a stripper.  It was very entertaining.  Then some of us took turns playing stripper on the pole.  We all got very drunk because we had to finish spending all of our Russian Rubles.  It was a very good night.  We all danced and got crazy and then were able to just go upstairs to bed.

Day 15 – July 9th – We went on a tour of Smolensk which was green and had lots of gold.  It had lots of beggars all around and was kind of really ugly – kind of spooky also, so we left quickly.  Then we went to another memorial with nice gardens where 100000 people were killed.  We crossed the border into Belarus then we stopped for lunch at a hole in the wall on the side of the road and we were brave and pointed at things and then ate them.  The food was actually good.  Afterwards we went to another memorial where 690 villages were destroyed by Nazis and a bell tolls every 30 seconds to symbolize how often a Belarussian was killed.  It was a very nice memorial.  They had taken dirt from each of the villages and set up a space for them there.  We drove to Minsk and exchanged our money into Belarussian Rubles because heaven forbid any of these countries use the same type of money.  Next we went on a city tour around Minsk with a tour guide that was pretty boring even though she tried to make jokes and tell stories.  We went for dinner in some government building and then we went to the supermarket to get lunch for the next day.  After that we just went to our hotel.

Day 16 – July 10th – Today we left our hotel at 7:30 am and headed toward the Belarus / Poland border.  We stopped for a quick pee in the bushes and some people got stung by prickly itchy things a.k.a. stinging nettles.  Then we went to Brest memorial which stood for people who died in the great patriotic war a.k.a. World War II.  There was a statue like Mount Rushmore of a very angry man and nasty bathrooms which were just a hole in the floor with flies that smelled terribly.  It was hard not to puke while you peed.  Then it was off to the border which was supposed to take hours.  We played with a soccer ball for an hour, then sweated and sweated.  Oh and we ate lunch on the bus with no air conditioning which made us all smell very pretty.

Day 17 – July 11th – Had a buffet breakfast at the hotel then went on a tour of Warsaw – saw the ghetto World War II memorial, did afternoon shopping all the way from the clock tower to central station.  Had McDonalds for lunch and lasagna for dinner both of which I was craving so badly.  Met back with the group to listen to a Chopin concert which was really beautiful and we had champanski at intermission.  We went back to the hotel and took quick showers because it was really hot and nasty out, then we met another Contiki group and took the bus to an underground red light club with stripper poles and stolen memorabilia.  We all danced and had a great time.

Day 18 – July 12th – We spent most of the day traveling to Berlin.  We stopped at a part of the Berlin wall just to have a rest

Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

stop and arrived in Berlin in time for dinner. We went to the hostel and most people went to the bar.

Day 19 – July 13th – Had a morning walking tour of Berlin. It was very hot and we walked a lot but we did see a lot.  We stood on the spot where Hitler’s bunker once was.  Now it is all caved in and just a parking lot.  It is where he committed suicide with his bitch, Ava and their poor little dog.  We went to the Berlin wall and stood on where the wall used to be which was cool because you were in East Berlin and West Berlin at the same time.  We went to Checkpoint Charlie and saw the Karl Marx Statue.

In the afternoon, a couple of us managed to navigate the subway system

to go back to Alexanderplatz  for lunch, then we took the tram back to the hostel.  We just hung out in the room until it was time to get ready to go club / bar hopping.  The hopping was cool.  We started off at a beach bar, then went to three more regular bars which were all very hot – like steamy, sweaty hot.  We ended the night at a dance club which played decent music and a good time was had by all.

Day 20 – July 14th – Drove all day back to Copenhagen – Arrived around 5pm. A lot of people went and played with the ball on the field.  Overall uneventful and depressing night

Day 21 – July 15th – Lots of sad good byes but memories to last a lifetime…….and then some!

Overall this was the most amazing trip ever. The notes above do not do the trip justice. Names and super personal events have been removed to protect the innocent (or not so innocent!) but those are the parts that made the trip fabulous. Looking back at my pictures brings back a flood of memories that always make me smile and brighten my day. I couldn’t have asked for better tour mates – people who will be lifelong friends.

I can only hope that our reunion trip will be as fabulous!

Until we meet again……..

Contiki – European Discovery – September 2005

After being laid off from my job earlier in the year, I booked a Contiki tour to London for September. I later booked an additional Contiki tour to Russia & Scandinavia which took place earlier in the summer and is discussed in a different post.

This was my third tour with Contiki and it certainly had a lot of positives and negatives. Of course, coming off of my fab-u-lous Russia tour, I’m surprised I thought this tour had any positives at all. My trip started off with a 40 minute delay and a very snotty

Big Ben

Big Ben

immigration officer. Fortunately, the trip started to look up after that. I braved the Underground (I am from New York City after all!) and got to the hotel within an hour. Their Underground seems more simple than the NYC subway system, but it is also not as complex and has way less people using it every day.
A great part of this trip was that I got to meet up with a girl I met on my last tour and spend the day with her. Things I noticed were that people in London seem to dress better than NYers but the rest of the city is similar.

Amsterdam Shoe

The following day we went to Amsterdam where we went on an unlimited booze cruise and ended up in the red light district. Of course, we had to see a sex show and surprise! I got chosen to perform in it!! These things only happen to me 🙂 Afterwards we hit a few sex museums but really, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all – well, except for the one in NY which is just really artsy and boring. The next day we did more touristy stuff like Anne Frank’s house. Seeing and reading her story really makes me appreciate everything I have in life.

Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest!

Inside the tent

Next we headed into my Germany where the legal drinking age is 16 – I can’t imagine how much trouble I would have gotten into if I had lived there in my teenage years! After visiting St. Goar and the Black Forest, we drove to Munich for Oktoberfest. I’m surprised I remember any of that town considering how much beer was drank. Fun times!

Playing games on the bus

Playing games on the bus

Our next stop was Austria where we only saw one little down and then went to the hotel for our “white” party. Most of us had to buy white clothing because we didn’t know about it ahead of time. It was a good time though.

St. Mark's Square

St. Mark’s Square

Afterwards we finally drove to Italy; first stop, Venice. Did the typical St. Mark’s Square and a gondola ride. What’s interesting is because the canals are really their sewage system, the city puts

Gondola

Gondola

tablets in the water at night to make the water green – it still smells terrible, but when in Venice, it’s a requirement to ride a gondola! Second stop was Rome so we saw the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica which had really long lines even though we went there really early. I got yelled at in the Sistine Chapel for taking a picture – oops! We also visited the Coliseum and the Forum ruins. While riding the public transit system, some little kid tried to steal whatever was in my pocket but fortunately I was smarter than him and had nothing in them. Pick-pocketing seems to be a huge problem in Rome. Our last stop in Italy was Florence. I only bothered to see the fake David statue as you had to stand on line to see the real one and you can’t take pictures so why bother?

Coliseum

Coliseum

 

 

 

After leaving Italy, we continued on to Switzerland which was a very long bus ride. We took a cable car up

Cable Car

Cable Car

Mount Stanserhorn but it was foggy, so the view was not great. We also did some white-water rafting which was amazingly fun. The guides were great and the rapids were fast enough to have people

White-water rafting

White-water rafting

fall out of our boat! Afterwards we headed on to Lucerne to spend the night before we hit our last country, France.

Traveling to Paris was another long bus ride. We got there late so we did a night tour and managed to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle which was beautiful – thankfully it’s beautiful at night because during the day it really is kind of ugly. We were going to go to the top, but someone was trying to jump off of it so police closed it – yup, most

Sparkly Eiffel Tower

Sparkly Eiffel Tower

countries seem to have many of the same issues as the US. We also saw where Princess Diana died and the outside of the Louvre.

The following day we were able to take the elevator up the Eiffel Tower which was pretty cool – it goes up on an angle. I paired off with one other person and we traveled all around on the Metro. We made a quick stop in the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, then headed to Notre Dame, Saint Chappelle and Arc de Triumphe.

Snuck a quick pic of Mona List without flash - sssh!

Snuck a quick pic of Mona List without flash – sssh!

We ended the tour with a trip to Musee Eroticism, shocking, I know. This sex museum was more like the one in NY – more artsy, less fun.

My last night in Paris (is that a movie?) consisted of lots of partying. First we saw Moulin Rouge and then hit up a club or two. The next afternoon I hopped on the Metro to the airport, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Signs are terrible, areas are unclear, security is a pain. I was very

Metro

Metro

happy to make it on the plane and head home. Au revoir, Paris!

Contiki – Russia & Scandinavia Tour – 2005

In 2005 I was in between jobs and wanted to make the most of my time. I had traveled a bit in the past but nothing too far. I had gone on a Greek Island Hopping tour with Contiki a few years prior and enjoyed it enough to give them another shot. This particular tour to Russia & Scandinavia was 3 weeks long. I wanted to take the longer tour that included seeing the Northern Lights but was chicken to be away from home for so long.

To date, this was still the most amazing trip of my life. I made forever-lasting friends (at least so far!), fell in love with a guy (for 3 weeks at least) and saw unparalleled sites that I will never come across again. When I think of why I travel, the memories of this trip are all I need to get me planning my next adventure. That being said, trip-mates make the tour. I give Contiki credit for the itinerary, but without the incredible people I met on Day 1, my views would be very different.

Click here for the site that I made back in 2005 when I came home and was missing everyone and everything I left behind on the other side of the Atlantic.

The random things I remember from this trip aside from the people are:

  • Bathrooms so full of maggots and disgust that we had to take care of business on the side of the road in sticky bushes – trust me it was way better than dealing with the smell and nastiness of the shack on the side of the road. That being said, I can handle my biz  almost anywhere so this had to be bad!
  • Seeing the “zoo” at the gas station – lions and bears in cages put there for the sole purpose of donations to God knows what
  • Being told repeatedly “It’s not wrong; it’s just different” for everything in Russia…..um, no. So much was wrong, yet fascinating.
  • Eating lunch at the Ikea cafe because there was nothing else around for miles.
  • Hanging out in the lobby of our Russian hotel with the prostitutes

Cheers to a once in a lifetime trip that I hope to match someday………..