David S. McCahan
Number of Cruises: N/A
Cruise Line: Uniworld
Sailing Date: August 9th, 2001
Itinerary: Russian River Cruise
CRUISING THE RUSSIAN WATERWAYS
This trip report was initially written as a single document covering the planning and execution of our month-long trip, which began with a Baltic cruise on the Crown Princess and was followed by a Russian River Cruise on the m.s. Tolstoy. If you are interested in all the planning that went into the whole journey and in what happened on the front end of the trip, please see the Crown Princess MEGA Review .
If you are interested only in reading about the actual execution of the Russian portion please read on. However, some things which might be unclear to you could be cleared up by reading the beginning of the Crown Princess report as well as that portion of the report which deals with the Crown's stop in St. Petersburg, our first of two such stops in that city on this trip.
We were to board the m.s. Tolstoy in Moscow on the 9th of August, 2001, and disembark in St. Petersburg on the 21st of August. The ship was chartered by Uniworld and its itinerary was:
August 9: Board the Tolstoy at the Northern River Terminal in
Friday, August 10: City tour in the morning, afternoon free, Moscow State Circus in the evening
Saturday, August 11: Kremlin tour in the morning, afternoon free, Russian Folklore show in evening
Sunday, August 12: Free day, sail at 5:30 p.m.
Monday, August 13: Cruise to Uglich and do shore excursion there
Tuesday, August 14: Cruise to Yaroslav and do shore excursion there
Wednesday, August 15: Cruise to Goritsy and do shore excursion there
Thursday, August 16: Cruise to Lake Onega and Kizhi Island and do shore excursion on Kizhi
Friday, August 17: Cruise Svir River and visit Svir Stroy
Saturday, August 18: Arrive at SPB at 8 a.m., do city tour in morning, visit Pushkin in afternoon
Sunday, August 19: Hermitage in the morning, afternoon free, ballet in the evening
Monday, August 20: Free day
Tuesday, August 21: Disembark
On to Moscow
After we disembarked from the Crown Princess in Copenhagen and spent five nights there, we were ready to continue our journey to Moscow. We'd left a suitcase and some expensive jewelry behind in the Globetrotter Hotel to be retrieved on our return through Copenhagen, we'd done a prior recce at the airport to see when we needed to be there, and we were ready to go. Getting to Moscow was a piece of cake. We had been warned that getting through Immigration in Moscow was a lengthy process but it proved to take only 25 minutes. However, it took an hour for our bags to arrive. The only flaw in our arrival was an American (I assumed from all that was visible to me that he was a college professor taking students and young marrieds to Moscow and showing them the ropes) who made a major queue jump, thereby setting a wonderful example for his followers. I challenged him directly on it and he chose to look the other way. Our Russian adventure was ready to begin: we were now going to turn over the next 12 days of our lives to Uniworld and the staff of the m.s. Tolstoy.
Prado formulated the 80-20 rule. You're all familiar with it and know that it applies in 80% of the cases). For example, 80% of the problems in any group are caused by 20% of the people. Prado must have had the Tolstoy in mind. We were to be 158 passengers (the ship has a capacity of 160) who were mostly from the United States. We had three couples from Australia and a few Brits. Uniworld makes a specific point of chartering ships that cater only to English-speaking guests. There were some Canadians on board, a couple of small family groups, and one group of 40 traveling together from Florida. Most of the people there were pleasant, agreeable, and reasonably well-traveled. You won't hear much about them in this report and I'll try to confine myself to the most egregious behavior in my descriptions. When you read some of these transgressions it should not be too hard to imagine that people capable of behaving in this manner are likely to behave very badly in many situations. They did. And, I have to tell you, it made for some major challenges. We learned early which people to avoid and were able to do so most of the time. The truth is, however, with that few people, only six buses, and a small dining room, that could become very hard to do. So, my disclaimer is this: when I generalize (all generalizations are false including this one) about bad behavior I am really only talking about the 20%.
Was it a Cruise?
Years ago when I participated in the Prodigy Travel Bulletin Boards, some of the regulars on the Cruise Board used to get their knickers in a twist whenever anyone referred to a river trip as a cruise. We boarded a boat, which was to become our home for twelve nights, we traveled on water, and we took shore excursions. If you don't wish to call that a cruise, so be it.
Uniworld made major efforts to precondition all of us to the fact that Russia is different. They asked us to be flexible and understanding. They also cautioned us, in very strong terms, that anyone traveling in a wheelchair should expect to encounter numerous difficulties. For example, there are no elevators aboard their ships. This makes it very difficult for anyone in a wheelchair because the dining room is on the third deck and the gangway is on the second deck. More on this later.
Our Floating Hotel in Moscow
Uniworld, unlike Princess, knew exactly where their ships dock. The bus driver taking us from the airport found it without difficulty and got us there in about 30 minutes. We were docked at the Northern River Terminal about 45 minutes to an hour from central Moscow just off the Leningrad Highway (Yes, it is still called that). Reasoning that we were going to be together quite a bit for the next couple of weeks we set about introducing ourselves to our fellow passengers and saw immediately that it was going to be a mixed bag. Rednecks and rubes was one of my early assessments. It not only didn't change, it got reinforced repeatedly (remember my disclaimer).
"Capitalism on the waterfront.... The Buts shops for last-minute bargains before reboarding the m.s. Lev Tolstoy in search of even more shopping opportunities downstream."
Lodging Look at the deck plan of any river boat operating in Russia and you will find they all appear to be stamped from cookie cutters - for very small cookies. The standard cabins are tiny. If The Buts and I had to share one of them for two weeks it would put a major strain on what we both think to be an excellent marriage. If you'll remember the requirement that we made for this trip, that we have a double cabin, our judgment proved to be remarkably prescient. The double cabin was a delight. We had one complete sitting room with a couch and two overstuffed chairs. Our bedroom was setup with a queen bed and we were more than comfortable. As there were only six such cabins on the ship, all the other folks were in broom closets. Perhaps that accounted for some of their poor behavior.
Note: We have read accounts from other people taking river cruises in Russia. A lot seem to dwell on the all-in-one bathroom, which combines the shower space with the toilet space, apparently similar to those found on some Amtrak trains in the US. Uniworld proudly tells you that they have separate shower stalls and, indeed, they do. What no one tells you is that the toilets are intolerant of accepting anything except human waste and, I do mean, anything. We were cautioned, admonished, and warned in very clear terms that no toilet paper was to go into the toilets. The penalty for ignoring this request, we were told, could be as many as four hours of a completely clogged system on the entire ship. Use the little trash cans with the swinging lids to dispose of all toilet paper. They provided air freshener and promised to empty the cans frequently. Talk about having to be retrained!
Note that I did not entitle this section "Dining." The less said about food on this ship the better. Breakfast was the highlight of the day because it had a lot of fresh fruit, there was always porridge, and we could get yogurt and assorted breads. In addition, an assortment of ham, salami, and cheese was available. The chef also offered a hot dish each morning. The menu would say, for example, Omelet OR Vienna Style Sausages (emphasis mine). One of our waitresses, about which more later, would open her eyes largely and repeat, "Both?" when we expressed that desire. Such profligacy. By the way, one such hot plate with both offerings would scarcely equal even half of a typical American egg and breakfast meat plate. And, let's not even talk about quality or taste.
Lunches were four courses of mediocre offerings. Various "interesting" things were done with vegetables including radishes, cucumbers, and onions. Soups were "different" and generally benign. The meat was quite often pork and the fish not something I would rush out to buy. Desserts were pretty basic and tasteless. Dinner was a repeat of lunch but with one more course. The chef is an Austrian who has lived in Moscow for ten years. He took great pride in what he served and was highly visible in the dining room. Ruth and I both believe strongly that Uniworld could have charged a mere $50 more per passenger and upgraded the food dramatically. They chose not to do this. But, then, we didn't go to Russia to eat, did we?
One passenger had taken to heart Uniworld's suggestion about bringing along snack food. Her lunch most days consisted of peanut butter crackers brought from home supplemented with Cokes from the bar. About the middle of the cruise we started making ham, salami, and cheese sandwiches at breakfast to have for lunch. We bought Diet Pepsi and Diet 7-Up on shore at kiosks and kept them in our room fridge. So, with some yogurt from brekkie and some pretzels from the bar, we actually had pretty good lunches and reduced irritation from some of the adam-henries who always seemed to infiltrate our space.
Note: We bought not only soda at the kiosks but also beer for The Mister. Baltika makes about eight different labels of beer. I found that I could buy the label they carried on the ship for the equivalent of fifty cents a bottle or pay $3 per bottle on the ship. A beer in the late afternoon helps with the napping process.
Let me hasten to say that we met some charming and delightful people on this trip. One younger couple (the ages of some of our grown children) was particularly pleasant and made for great conversation and sharing of observations. They shall be known in this report as the YC. Another couple had the double cabin next to ours and were as nice a pair as one could ever meet. We have maintained contact with them and will see them in Florida next February. A couple from Australia offered us some excellent travel tips for when we get to Melbourne, which is where they live. And, numerous other folks were just plain nice. But, boy, there were some weird folks on board as well.
Uniworld's brochure states that breakfast and lunch are open seating. "Dinner is assigned seating." Once again, Uniworld's use of English is quite different from mine. (For the full significance of this statement, it is necessary to read the companion review to this one in which I describe Uniworld's description of their shore excursions). Just as "All shore excursions are included" means ALL to me, assigned seating means to me that I will be assigned to a table. Wrong. What it apparently means to Uniworld is that we will be assigned to either the first seating or the second. Tables were up for grabs at each meal.
Fortunately, the dining room was rather large and the self-division of passengers into first and second seating meant that one could often take meals a deux rather than have to make nice with others. We learned that the four tables along the stern (back of the ship) and the two closest to them on the sides were apparently too far from the buffet to suit some folks. In addition, if we got there early enough we could invariably get one which we could occupy solely. The extra bonus was that the two waitresses working those tables got to know us and we them. It made for far more pleasant meals than that which we noted at many other tables.
Note: By eating alone one does miss some golden opportunities to learn more about others. At lunch one day we were joined by two women traveling together. We got on the subject of lobster and the one said that she had been married for 30 years and that she had never cooked lobster at home for her husband because he wouldn't eat Maryland steamed crab. You gotta love it.
Our cruise staff comprised young Russian women whose command of English was quite good. I had heard from another passenger that many of them were school teachers on summer break but, based on the length of the cruise season, doubted that. Rather, I had heard that some of the tour guides on shore were teachers. The cruise director, unlike those we have found on Princess ships, was competent, knowledgable, and caring. She had to have the patience of Job to do her job properly as she was being tested continuously and, at the outset, even by me.
She introduced the members of her staff and gave us a good sense of what to expect. She was also compelled to tell us that the Uniworld brochure statement that self-service laundry facilities were on board was wrong. And, although we had been told, again, in the brochure, that we could charge everything on board, we could not charge our laundry and doctor's services. Neither of these issues was a big deal because same-day laundry service was available and inexpensive and the doctor's bill wouldn't have made a huge dent in anyone's cash supply (my own experiences with the doctor are recounted below). Nevertheless, if Uniworld is going to send out a pre-embarkation package tailored to our specific cruise (which they did, in fact, do), why in the name of common sense couldn't they have included these two little bits of information as well?
Our Private Plans for Moscow
As described in the companion cruise review, prior to leaving home we had contracted with a private individual in Moscow to provide us some personalized touring. The first of these two tours was to take place the afternoon of our first full day in Moscow following the ship's city tour and lunch on board. Marina had told us, via her excellent e-mail communications, that everything was in place for Maria to meet us at the ship at 2:30 p.m. on Friday and take us on a tour of the Moscow Metro. We were to be back at the ship by 6:30 p.m. Marina has given me Maria's e-mail address and phone number. She had also given me her own phone number. Marina suggested that I should call Maria on arrival aboard the Tolstoy just to confirm. I told Marina by e-mail, copy to Maria, that I would certainly try to call but could not offer any assurance that I could do so. How right I was.
After the cruise director had conducted her welcoming briefing I approached her and told her I needed to call Maria. The CD told me there were only two ways to make such a call: I could either use her cell phone (the only phone on the ship which worked and which it was clear she did not want to happen for reasons that I understand and bear no grudge) or I could go to the River Terminal building and use a public phone. She agreed, reluctantly, to make the call for me. I furnished her Maria's cell phone number which she dialed. We tried multiple times and got a series of results including no answer and various messages including one which said the party phone's phone was either switched off or they were outside the calling area. The messages, interesting to note, were in English.
The next morning we tried again with the same mixed results. I finally got through to Maria's number and it was apparent that I had awakened her. I identified myself and she hung up obviously not caring who it was. I redialed and got no answer. The CD dialed Marina's number for me and handed me the phone. I spoke to the person who answered and she allowed as how Marina wasn't there and hung up.
After our Tolstoy city tour, described below, we returned to the ship and had lunch. I then went down to the gangway to await the arrival of Maria, ever the optimist. At 3 p.m. it was obvious that she wasn't coming. The Buts and I walked over to the River Passenger Terminal and bought a phone card and tried again. There were two different phone systems in use in this building and the phone card worked in only one of them. At least, it was supposed to, but didn't. We had been told by Reception on the ship that we had to go to the Metro station to use the phones there. We walked the half-mile or so to the station and found that the phone card I had wouldn't work in any of the phones there. An old Russian guy wandering around saw me trying to use my card and motioned that I had to go into the Metro station to use a phone in there. I thanked him, bought a token, and entered the station. My thorough search of the place yielded no phones. Back to the River Passenger Terminal.
At this point you are no doubt asking, "Why bother?" Because we had contracted with Marina/Maria for two things: this afternoon's outing and a full-day's outing with car and driver to Zagorsk. If they weren't going to show up for the second outing we still had a chance to sign up for the ship's "optional" excursion, hang the cost.
Total failure again with a confusing and erratic phone system. Back to the ship where the CD called one more time. This time she got through to someone at Maria's number and asked if she could speak with Maria. "No, you may not," was the answer followed by the phone being slammed in her ear. We agreed that the CD would send an e-mail to Marina and Maria calling off any subsequent arrangements and she did. The CD also arranged for us to take the ship's "optional" excursion to Zagorsk which as, in fact, available at a quite reasonable price and will be described shortly.
Note: When I got home I sent an e-mail to Marina and asked for an explanation of the bizarre reception we had received. It will not come as a surprise to you to learn that no reply has ever been received. I'll not publish Marina's website but should have a need in this area, feel free to check with me.
Moscow City Tour et al
We went off on an excellent tour of the city on another gorgeous day. Every tour guide whom we were to meet thanked us profusely for bringing with us such beautiful weather. They told us how much it had rained the prior week and how unusual the weather was for August. We beamed.
To get into town for our tour on this Friday morning our buses had to join the rush hour traffic into central Moscow. Wow! I was totally unprepared for the mass of vehicles which was moving with at least four lanes in each direction. Discipline was almost non-existent and the center lane got occupied by whomever got there first. We watched the cops ticketing one guy in the center lane and another guy taking advantage of the fact that the cops were occupied to use that illegal lane himself. All of my images of Russia were of the Soviet Period when private automobiles were almost nonexistent. Quelle difference!
We noticed that there was no parking permitted on Tverskaya Street. Apparently that didn't apply to the sidewalks where people would just drive up, get out, lock their cars, and walk away. Our guide said that the New Russians (see below) didn't worry about such things.
Our tour guides throughout the trip were competent, pleasant, and anxious to please. In a country where the average monthly wage is $100 and the pension for retired folks, regardless of profession, is $40 per month, these ladies had found cash cows in us tourists. The guidelines for tipping were $2 per person per half-day tour for the guide and $1 for the bus driver. Even taking into account the cheapskates, and, believe me, there were some, this was pretty good money. They earned it.
Note: We enjoyed thoroughly all of our guides. A member of the cruise staff went on board each bus or with each group just to assure continuity but the tour guides carried the load. We had women guides in every case and, for the most part, they were women in their 40s or older. Thus, they had the perspective of age and of different economic and political environments. A favorite target of their humor was The New Russians, those who have literally capitalized on the economic situation and are, rightfully so, the subject of great derision. Olga told us that Lenin's tomb is closed on Friday, that Friday is Lenin's "day off." She said that two New Russians approached the tomb on a Friday and were told it was closed. They offered the guards $5,000 to let them in. The guards conferred and said, "Listen, for $5,000 you can go in or we can bring him out."
Any "good" shore excursion has to have a shopping stop. Such stops help to supplement the incomes of the tour operators and perform the useful function of providing clean restrooms.
Note: When we visited the Ukraine a few years back we noted the total absence of toilet seats in all of the men's restrooms and quite a few of the women's. In Moscow we observed the same thing. I asked Olga about it. She smiled, tucked her tongue squarely in her cheek, and said, "We Russians love the outdoors, the bushes, the fresh air. Toilet seats are unnecessary."
As noted in SPB, each of these places also offered free vodka. Some of us were gathered outside the shop waiting to reboard the bus when the guy I had already dubbed NN (my reference to the almost-certainly numb portion of his genitalia) came out proudly waving a pint bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka. As Ruth had purchased a liter bottle on the Crown Princess for $7.50, I was mildly curious as to what he had paid for it and asked him. He said, to my utter amazement, "Eight dollars. I tried to Jew her down but she wouldn't move." My jaw dropped and I replied, "What did you say?" To my further astonishment, he hesitated not for a second in repeating himself verbatim. Another fellow whom we had already met looked at him and said, "David's the chief rabbi in his home town." NN turned red and started to sputter, stutter, and otherwise shrink into himself. His apologies began and went almost nonstop as I just stared at him. Finally, in dismissal, I said, "I hope to God we don't run into any Asians. God know how you'd refer to them." We went to great pains to keep large distances between him and us. When we went out to board buses for tours we would always check to see which one he was on and board another.
Note: I dubbed his wife WW for The Witless Wonder. She seemed to follow him around with a loving and adoring look on her face.
As one more note on NN's behavior, we were entertained on-board late one afternoon by a Russian Folklorico troupe comprising 22 people in full costume with balalaikas, domras, and other instruments. The theater in which they performed was so small that performances had to be done by dinner seatings and, at that, extra chairs invariably were squeezed in to fill the aisles. As luck would have it, NN came in late and was seated next to me on the front row on one of the extra chairs. He turned to me and asked, "Is this the ship's crew?" Get a clue, mate. Do the arithmetic. Ask who is seating us, serving us drinks. Look at the costumes and instruments. After about three numbers he leaned over and whispered to me that we ought to give them a standing ovation. By his demeanor it was clear that now was the time for that to take place. I ignored him. When the concert was over several people did rise to give the group a well-deserved standing ovation. NN almost lifted me up by my elbow.
Note: During a prior lunchtime conversation with the YC, we had described NN's behavior. They wondered if perhaps he wasn't the same person they had dubbed "The Mayor." They were seated beside us at the concert and confirmed that he was one and the same. During the same lunchtime chat with the YC they told us that the prior evening they had been enjoying Russian music in the lounge. The ship carried with it a three-piece orchestra which was quite adept at folk tunes and traditional songs. To the YC's consternation, the rubes and rednecks insisted on Glenn Miller.
So, on our first day, we did the city tour in the morning and had a busted afternoon. For the evening's entertainment we went to the Moscow State Circus and had a delightful time.
The Uniworld sales brochure advised prospective passengers that anyone in a wheelchair would be severely challenged. Further, those same warning words were repeated in the pre-embarkation package. They were quite specific with regard to wheelchairs. There are no elevators on the Tolstoy. The gangway to shore is on the second deck, the dining room is on the third, and the theater is on the fourth. Further, anyone with the slightest awareness of the world surely has to understand that many countries outside the United States have not made as much progress as we in making accommodations for citizens with physical limitations.
When we first came on board we were astonished to find a man pushing his wife in a wheelchair. It was obvious that she had suffered a stroke and was unable to walk unassisted. We couldn't for the life of us imagine how anyone could travel in such circumstances. We found out quickly. They did it at the expense of all the other passengers; the crew; the cruise staff; and the tour guides. The only parts of this report, which was written generally in a 'flow of consciousness" mode, which I've excised are those where I allowed my outrage over their unreasonable demands and imposition on others to show.
The placement of this section is relevant in that there were two major situations during our first full-day when the cavalier attitude and behavior of this pair had direct impact on us. The cruise director appeared to be fully aware of the effect these two were having on others and on the ship's staff. She was very politic in her public address announcements prior to certain shore excursions in pointing out the access and mobility difficulties which would be encountered in visiting some venues. This couple seemed to have hearing defects as well. It was also interesting to see some how protective and concerned some of the other passengers were of these two, especially since the protective ones seemed to be among the rudest I observed in their treatment of others, passengers and Russians alike.
The Kremlin and The Arbat
Because it was Saturday when we visited the Kremlin the traffic getting there was relatively light. That gave us an opportunity to join an exceptionally large queue of tour groups and private citizens waiting for it to open. It was a hot and humid day. We raced through the Armoury but, to her credit, Tatiana was able to give us a good tour. It took patience, maneuvering, and some treachery mixed with guile, but we did it.
"The Buts in front of Lenin's Tomb on Lenin's day off. She has just offered the guards $5,000 and is waiting for them to bring Lenin out."
We struck out on our own for the Arbat, the famous pedestrian mall in Moscow. What a cheesy collection of tourist junk and trashy Muscovites that was. Next, the obligatory stop at McDonald's to satisfy The Mister's curiosity, and, finally, the Metro back to the ship. The Metro was efficient, noisy, and jammed with people. Whatever beauty existed in the stations was lost in the jumble. And, the unhappiest, surliest, and most unfriendly people I have encountered in years seemed to be assigned the task of selling tokens. Spasibo, my foot!
Metro stations were major commercial sites. In addition to stores and kiosks we also found various sidewalk vendors including little old ladies selling flowers. We stopped at one of the shops and bought a big bouquet of flowers which we then used to grace our cabin. They lasted for days and days and brightened our digs. The Buts had done this in Buenos Aires and I found it a very nice touch.
Sergiev Posad or Zagorsk
Our primary purpose in going here was to get out into the countryside outside Moscow. The monastery is about an hour's bus ride from the ship and we enjoyed the diversion. It was Sunday so there were lots of locals enjoying their day off as well. We were not to be alone either at the monastery or on the roads. The weather was not as favorable with clouds overhead and a sure promise of rain.
The first thing that struck us walking from the bus to the entrance was the large number of old women begging. Of course, there were the limbless men (their military attire apparently intended to have us believe they were innocent victims of the war in Afghanistan and Chechnia) and crippled infants. But, the old women were the most pathetic of all to me. Many offered little bouquets of weeds.
Once assembled in the inner courtyard where our guide had to procure camera passes for those wishing to take pictures, some of my fellow passengers again proved what endearing and charming people they were.
While we milled about one of the old women came up to a couple about our age accompanied by their married daughter and son-in-law. The woman's intent was clear to anyone. Her paper cup could have served as a useful clue should one be truly inattentive. The older man made a big show of saying to her, "I'm sorry. I don't speak your language. I don't know what you want." Then the four of them and a few hangers-on laughed uproariously at how clever he was. Think about it just for a moment: Isn't it bad enough that this is the way she had to live? Was it necessary for her to be further humiliated as well? Gosh, and we really seem to have a problem understanding why we Americans aren't loved everywhere we go.
In the second example it's necessary for me to tell you that many places in Russia are very happy to have you take pictures their churches and museums. They just want you to pay for the privilege. There is one price for still cameras, another for videos. If you don't want to take pictures, some places you have to check your camera. Other places you can merely hide it or simply not use it. Each place sells passes and it was the practice for the tour guide to ask how many needed passes, collect the money for them, and then buy them as a convenience (and, a major convenience it was considering the lines and the language issues). On this occasion Tatiana took the count, collected the money, and bought the tickets. When she had finished handing out the tickets she was three short. Just imagine this: three different people actually took camera passes for which they had not paid. And, those who had paid were left without them. Tatiana had no choice but to go pay for three more only, this time, it was out of her pocket. The YC and we shook our heads and they told us they had overheard one couple saying they thought it was ridiculous to pay $3 for a camera permit. They believe that couple simply helped themselves as a form of protest. We saw this same behavior repeated at the Hermitage.
Note: The prices we paid for our double cabin were relatively inexpensive. We did, as you know, our own air arrangements. People traveling in coach using Uniworld's air fare and opting for standard cabins really got good value for their money. Then, if you skimp on tipping tour guides and bus drivers in addition to ripping off people on camera passes, you can really do this trip cheaply.
Just after we had been inside the principal church we were reassembling in the courtyard. The monastery required their guides do the presenting and our guides did the translating. The monastery's guide was furious and was really venting at Tatiana about the behavior of one or more of our people inside the church. Ruth said that while she was in the church she glanced over at the monastery's guide who just stopped short of ripping a baseball hat off of someone's head when the guide realized the hat was being worn by a woman. We have no way of knowing if this was what had set off our guide. When our group was nearly fully assembled the guide still kept ranting at Tatiana. Tatiana turned to us and smiled saying, "We were just discussing the foundations of Christianity."
We got back from Zagorsk mid-afternoon and sailed at 5:30 p.m. right on schedule. As we were so far north it was light enough for us to observe our progress through the first lock we reached at 9:30 p.m. We were to transit something like 19 locks on our almost 1400 kilometer (about 800 miles) trip. A friend who has taken this trip generously loaned us her copy of the book Russia by River by Howard Shernoff. It is an invaluable guide to the journey and is written such that you can use it regardless of the direction of the trip. >From SPB to Moscow, read down, from Moscow to SPB, read up. We tried to get our own copy ahead of the trip without success. To our great pleasure, a copy was sent to us by Uniworld with our pre-embarkation package. Nice to have one of our own. Using Shernoff's book we were able to trace our journey literally kilometer-by-kilometer.
Note: Our travel agent had told Uniworld we were leaving well in advance of the Uniworld portion of our trip and had emphasized the necessity of getting our documentation to us early. They really didn't seem to care. Only after repeated follow-ups did it arrive. As noted elsewhere, they changed some of the itinerary forcing us to make last minute changes which we did not appreciate.
We were scheduled to arrive at this first stop at 4 p.m. and depart at 7. We actually got there at 3:10 p.m. and sailed at 6. Not a big deal. This was to be a walking tour. We disembarked and were formed into six groups and provided local tour guides. The day had started with cool weather and a forecast of rain. By the time we landed it was a beautiful day and the rain had already visited the town and gone. We visited two local churches and a mansion, did some shopping, and reboarded. At the second of the churches we were to be entertained by a male vocal quartet a la Peter and Paul Fortress. Ruth told me later that they were not monks but, rather, professional musicians. They were quite good and did a brisk business in selling CDs and tapes.
Whilst The Buts viewed still more icons (there is a limit to icons in my humble opinion) I went outside to sit on the steps and people watch in the sunshine. Two Russian couples came up and greeted me and my new best friend, Victor, sat down beside me and put his arm around me. He chatted most amiably with me almost knocking me over with his boozy breath. His three friends tried to drag him away without success. When one of our fellow passengers came out of the church with a camera, he insisted that she take our picture which she did. The one-way conversation continued for a while and he finally gave up and the two couples started to leave. Imagine their surprise, and mine, when my photographer friend addressed them all in fluent Russian.
There were no public facilities in my sight so, while The Buts was running the gauntlet of shopping booths set up along the walkway I asked one of the local guides about the loos. She started to walk with me back toward the churches and I told her not to trouble herself, just point the way. No, let me show you, it's hard to find. She took me to a building and pointed to the door marked for men. Then, she asked if I would mind terribly carrying her tour guide sign back to the ship. Of course not. Nothing for nothing. This particular toilet didn't have a seat either. But, it was also unique in that the entire toilet bowl was set into the floor as opposed to being on top of it as we're accustomed. It was also filthy.
While I was propped up on a fence post while the Missus shopped, another local tour guide wondered if I would be so kind as to carry her sign back to the cruise director. Of course not. By the time we got back to the ship I had managed to collect three signs but not a single tip.
We were scheduled to arrive at the ancient "village" of Yaroslavl (population 650,000) at 9 a.m. and leave at 2. We actually arrived at 8 and left at 1. The visit was pretty much the standard one of a drive-through town (in this case, multiple drives-through, it seemed as though we were going in circles to kill time), some churches, and the obligatory shopping stop with a Russian musical ensemble performance.
The most exciting thing that happened here was when I sat next to a couple of yentas (with whom I had shared a bench the prior day) at the monastery whose major interest was trying to determine the ethnic background of one of our fellow passengers who is of Philippine extraction. The lady in question, having been born in the US and whose family had been here for who-knows-how many years, spoke English better than these two who guessed among themselves Japanese and Chinese before settling on Korean. Yeah, I can see that.
This is the port from which trips to the monastery at Kirillov originate. We arrived a half-hour early at 10:30 a.m. but kept to our original departure time of 2 p.m. As at other stops along the way, we docked side-by-side with river boats similar to ours. Some were heading our direction, others the opposite. When you're the outboard boat you get to walk through the others to get ashore. When you're next to the dock, others get a glimpse of your boat. The Tolstoy certainly appeared to be cleaner and crisper than any of the others we saw including some which we knew to be carrying large numbers of Americans, e.g., the Kirov. Guards were stationed on each boat to help direct people properly and, presumably, help to assure there were no unwelcome visitors on any of the boats.
We took a ride into the country and got yet another tour of yet another monastery. They had spent a great amount of money redoing the museum part of this one and the walls were clean and bright with excellent lighting. The day had started out foggy and cool but turned sunny, then hot. After the museum visit, most of the group took a walking tour of the monastery. I sat outside on benches with other folks who were similarly iconned out and we traded lies. One fellow and I got to talking and I commented to him about the visit to Zagorsk (he had sat beside us on the bus and had slept the whole way out and back). He told me that he'd signed up for Zagorsk for the same reason we had: to see the countryside. However, he was jetlagged and had taken an over-the-counter sleeping remedy and couldn't stay awake. These are the perils of long distance travel. He must have still been groggy because he referred to the acrylic alphabet, then corrected himself and identified it as the Cyrillic alphabet.
It was now Wednesday afternoon and I had signed up for a massage with the ship's doctor. He is a fully-certified doctor who has also discovered the cash cow that these vessels represent. His fee was $10 for a half-hour massage, $20 for an hour. His bedside manner left a little to be desired. He bade me enter, asked me nothing about what kind of massage I wanted or whether I had any particular concerns. He told me to get undressed and he'd be back. He stepped out of the room long enough for me to take off my shirt and shorts and came back in. I said, "I am David." He said, "Okay, lay down." He gave me a reasonable massage but never had me turn over. 50 minutes later he told me to sit up and left the room. I figured out that he was finished. He was. He returned, took my $20 plus tip and I left feeling refreshed.
Lake Onega and Kizhi Island
When I woke up the next day my back was out and I was in a fair amount of pain when I got into certain positions. Clearly the doctor had done me a mischief. He was not able to see me until after we returned from Kizhi Island. We docked at 4 p.m., an hour ahead of schedule, and went ashore. This is an all-walking trip as there are no commercial vehicles on the island. I went less than half a mile and dropped out. I strolled around the shopping areas and waited until The Buts returned. We reboarded the ship and I went to see the doctor again. One of the cruise staff was with the doctor serving as interpreter for a woman passenger who had injured her finger. The cruise staff member asked if I wanted her to stay and interpret. Yes, thanks, I did. I explained my problem to her. The doctor listened to her translation and told her that he knew, that he would stretch me out and that would fix it. How did he know? Was my cabin bugged?
The good doctor gave me essentially a repeat of the massage from the prior day. At the end he stretched me out rather gently. I undertook this not without some small trepidation as I have an artificial knee and an artificial hip. I was fully prepared to stop him should I sense even the slightest concern. When I left him I didn't feel improved at all but I didn't feel worse. To conclude the back episode, later that evening and the following morning my hip joint felt as though it had suffered a minor dislocation. Of course, there is no such thing as a minor dislocation but I was terrified. Gradually the joint settled down and my problems disappeared before we got to St. Petersburg.
Note: At some point, if you haven't done so already, you'll realize that you're not being provided a detailed description of the sites we visited. Those are available out of any guide book with far better information than I could provide. What I'm trying to give you is the human side of the travel.
Svir River and Svir Stroy
The small village of Svir Stroy sits on the Svir River and is really just an excuse for people to sell things. There are no monasteries, no city tours, nothing but a diversionary stop. We were scheduled to arrive at 1 p.m. and leave at 4. Instead, we arrived at 11 but still departed at 4. If weather permitted, the ship's crew was supposed to do a shashlik picnic on shore. It did not. It was cloudy and windy and would have been unpleasant. We strolled down one street and back the other. Of interest to us were the above-ground steam pipes connecting each house for heat. A small decorating and gardening challenge.
During our cruising we had crossed parts of the two largest lakes in Europe, Ladoga and Onega. There were spots on the water where you simply couldn't see a shore line. All of the waters we crossed were smooth though we were told some can get quite choppy. Other places we were astonishingly close to river banks. We had great scenery, interesting (and different) locks, and huge expanses of water. My notes say that parts of it were British Columbia without mountains.
St. Petersburg Redux
We arrived on Saturday morning bright and early and had another wonderful weather day available to us. We took the ship's city tour although much of it was more of a refresher course. We had left the afternoon open deliberately and took the occasion to walk to the Metro station and do some window-shopping. As in Moscow we found that the area immediately surrounding our Metro station was a major shopping site. We also replenished The Buts's supply of Stoly. Imagine, $2.75 for a fifth. Had I been inclined to speak to NN I would have told him about it.
A comment about the kiosks we saw in Moscow at the Metro and on the Arbat as well as in St. Petersburg: each seemed to cover every inch of their display space with sample products of many types. Yet, when I would ask for something the answer would often come back "nyet." In one case I identified one brand of Baltika beer and asked for four bottles. Same answer. Was it that they didn't have four or that they weren't going to sell me four? I either had to reduce the number I wanted or change my request to something else. These were neither friendly nor helpful people.
Note: My request for four beers being denied reminded me of Bermuda when we went into a KFC shop in Hamilton and asked for all white meat. (In every KFC I have ever been in, they are happy to provide this for a premium.) This young woman refused to accommodate my request and said that if she sold me only white meat others would not be able to buy it. Let's get that Economics textbook out and review it one more time, shall we?
We enjoyed the time lollygagging about and people-watching and were happy to have an afternoon and evening free of hassle.
The Hermitage Squared
Uniworld's last-minute rearrangement of our itinerary deprived us of a free full-day so we had to make alternate arrangements with Dmitri. The new schedule called for Sunday morning to be free with the tour of the Hermitage scheduled for the afternoon. This was not desirable because it put a limit on the amount of time one could spend there. The original schedule calling for us to go in the morning was ideal because you could leave the group and spend the entire day inside if that was your wont. Ruth had done some reconnoitering and had learned that it might be possible for us to see more than we had thought originally if we played our cards right. Obviously, it would become necessary to get with the right group.
We chose our bus carefully and entered the lobby area where we learned we would be further split into two groups. While assembling we saw yet another case of some cheapskates stealing camera passes which had been paid for by their fellow passengers. We studiously avoided the couple with the wheelchair and all the problems attendant with them. When we broke into the smaller group we found there were about ten of us all looking to be fairly fit and agile. We started off and two of the ones in the other group, though exhibiting mobility problems, decided to try to keep up with us. It was off to the races again.
Our guide was, as with all the others, very good. She moved us in and out of the crowds on this very busy sunny Sunday and helped to assure that we saw all the major highlights. She used her knowledge of the layout to overshoot crowded areas, then bring us back to them when they were less crowded. Ruth then applied her new-found knowledge to ask about the Impressionists. They were, we were told, on yet another floor with more stairs. To go there would reduce the shopping time. Bugger the shopping, let's go! (The Buts obviously was not nearly so crude as I so it is more likely that she said something like, "Yes, please.") At this point our ladies with the mobility problems dropped off (along with me and a couple of others). Ruth and her small group had a delightful tour and she did get to see everything for which she had come.
I amused myself by with a combination of hanging about the exit and watching the vendors work and by walking around the huge square. We don't take pictures inside museums and I had left my camera on the ship. Pity, because the square was brilliant and would have made for some great slides. The vendors were equally brilliant. They have learned, when they hold up etchings, watercolors, and small paintings, to say, "This is my work" whether it is or not. One hanger-on walked around with a vendor practicing saying the phrase over and over again. In some cases I know it was the vendor's work because he spoke knowledgably about it (in Italian and Spanish, no less) with a couple from Mexico.
Note: Ruse or not, we bought several etchings from people whom we believed to be the artists. One was in Yaroslavl. The piece I bought from her was, in fact, dated 1992. Another was on the Arbat and we believe his representations to be true but it doesn't matter in any case. They are pleasant works and we enjoy them.
Uniworld had arranged a private performance of the ballet Giselle for us in the Hermitage Theatre that evening. As I recall, the place seats about 300 in a semi-circle. There were to be about 160 of us so it would be comfortable and intimate. The theatre was commissioned by Catherine the Great and it was Great fun to sit there and imagine her entertaining heads of state and other dignitaries. The spell was broken when a fellow passenger behind me, Mr. Double Knit, whistled across the theatre and waved his hands at a young woman selling programs on the opposite side. The actual transaction took place, regrettably, right beside me as I was sitting on the aisle on the side at the front (great seats). The young woman had a sign saying the programs were 50 rubles (30 rubles to the dollar at the exchange rate extant). Mr. Double Knit couldn't be bothered with rubles so he wanted to know how much that was in dollars. Well, I guess the program sellers in the Hermitage didn't carry around a supply of US coins so someone must have decided to simplify the process and just sell them for an even two dollars. He paid it without comment. Then his friend, halfway down the row behind us, yelled, "Hey, Bill, get me one." Bill then proceeded to try to negotiate a quantity discount. When that failed he berated her for trying to make a killing by overcharging in rubles. I just looked at him and said, "So, pay her in rubles." He paid her the other two dollars and sat down wisely choosing not to engage me.
Note: The episode with Mr. Double Knit (Double knit clothing can be just fine and functional. Unfortunately, he reminded me of my father with his pastel double knit trousers which were always too short.) was not our first negative encounter with him. He was one of the people we tried to avoid at all costs. You know who he is: he's the one who doesn't know how to say please or thank you in any language and just talks louder if he's not understood when speaking English to foreigners. On one of our bus tours he and his wife had started to reboard through the open back door. He looked in and saw that another passenger was standing in the aisle chatting with someone. A simple "excuse me" has always worked for me in the past. Not so for him. He put his hand around his mouth as though making a horn and, at the same time, apparently trying to disguise the source. He then said in a very loud voice, "Someone's standing in the aisle." At first, I thought he was playing a joke on one of his buddies. Wrong! The offender moved and Mr. Double Knit and his wife breezed by without so much as a boo, hiss, or go to hell. Class act, this one!
Our destination in the morning of our final full-day in Russia was Catherine's Palace at Pushkin, a magnificent building in the countryside. The day was, ho hum, sunny and brilliant and we enjoyed the drive through the country slowing down at the spot which marked the farthest advance of the Nazis against St. Petersburg. We were not alone. Every tour ship in the Baltic had multiple tour groups here this day. I counted people from at least seven groups on a Celebrity cruise alone. Ruth did the full tour while I took the opportunity to stroll in the gardens, people-watch, and give my back a little respite from standing. The most popular place on the grounds was the mens room. There was the usual queue for the ladies loo and the babushka in charge shepherded women into use the stalls in the mens. Zehr praticsh, neh? My God, you would have thought that the end of the world had come. Men were consoling their shaken wives that it was okay, women were tittering, and the men and women were standing about outside with this the only thing they could talk about. And, based on accents and demeanor, most of this large group of Celebrity cruisers came from the New York metropolitan area. I finally said to one guy, "You don't get out much, do you?" Get a life!
Note: The group of 40 on our ship was led by a very alert woman. When she saw the line outside the ladies room do you think she hesitated a second heading for the mens?
Back to the ship for sannies in our cabin and off for the afternoon with Katherina and Sergei. (On our Baltic cruise we had arranged for a private guide with driver to meet us in St. Petersburg to maximize our time ashore. To learn more about them and how we made contact with them initially, please see the companion review.) Right on time they appeared and we caught them up on what we had been seeing both in and out of St. Petersburg. We fixed a plan that called for us to go, first, to the monastery at the end of Nevsky Prospekt. The grounds there contain a couple of cemeteries including one of our musical heroes, Tchaikovsky. We would then go the Church on the Spilled Blood for a detailed and leisurely tour inside, as well as make a few other stops including, time permitting, the Railway Museum.
We did all of the above as well as visit the exterior of the Artillery Museum which was, unfortunately, closed. This was a great afternoon with two accomplished and knowledgable people.
As we were pulling away from the circular drive in front of the entrance to the monastery I saw a militia man grab a drunk by the arm and shout at him. The drunk didn't resist in any way but simply took whatever abuse he was being given. The militia man then whacked the drunk on the knee cap sharply with his baton and shoved the guy away from him. Knees are especially sensitive things to me with my history of orthopedic problems. What possible excuse can anyone have for behavior like this?
Note: Katherina and Sergei enjoyed my story about Rimsky-Korsakov which many of you have likely heard. His father was so much in love with Rome that he appended the Russian word for Rome to the front of the family name of Korsakov. One pundit wondered if his father had been in love with New York whether the family name would have become Newyorksky-Korsakov.
The tipping convention was different from that to which ocean cruisers are accustomed. We were told by Uniworld that our tip of $9 per person per day would be shared by all cruise members and would cover "restaurant staff, kitchen staff, cabin attendants, ship's crew and Uniworld cruise staff.." We were also advised that the tipping did not "include bar service, laundry service, beauty salon or masseuse." From other sources we had heard that there is a "Tip Jar" into which you could place your contributions. There was no way in the world that I was going to place our tip money anonymously into a jar.
Note: When we were traveling up-country in Thailand with a small group of mostly Germans and Swiss, group members asked us what we intended to do about tipping our guide. It was a delicate situation as all tipping is. I explained that we had asked our guide to do a couple of extra things for us and that she had done them admirably. Therefore I felt we should give her a little more than others for whom she had done less. Some of the people's attitudes toward tipping were quite mean compared with our more generous American viewpoint. I told them they should give what they felt was appropriate to their circumstances. They got back at me by suggesting that we should consolidate all the tips and have me make the presentation (my German was good enough for the guide and our fellow travelers to understand me) jointly. In this case others got credit for our generosity and that is, to my mind, not playing the game.
Fortunately, Uniworld gave us envelopes on which we were asked to supply our cabin number. We chose to follow the guidelines for the group tip but also tipped our cabin attendant, the dining room wine servers, and our waitresses additionally. In the case of our two primary waitresses and our cabin attendant, we had brought from home a number of things which we judged to be welcome gifts. Both of our waitresses were very appreciative of the money and the gifts and, based on their reactions, of our mutual appreciation of them. The one blushed with both surprise and pleasure when we gave her a little package on the last evening. The other, whose English was much better, gave us a delightful little speech the next morning. The cabin attendant, whose English was practically nonexistent, never acknowledged either the money or the gifts.
Uniworld had organized our airport transfer in Moscow flawlessly. They were to do the same in SPB. The procedures were covered both in writing and orally over the loudspeaker system which was piped into our cabins. We were invited to gather in the two lounges the morning and early afternoon of our departure. To assure that we weren't bored, they invited the on-board Russia lecturer, Professor George, to sit with us in one of the lounges and take our questions ad hoc. The professor is retired from both his job as English Literature professor at Moscow State University (not the one in Idaho) and as a publisher. To see him for yourself, watch the movie, Russia House, which we revisited when we got home. The professor's lectures were excellent and gave us a lot of his insight into his country and the world. The last day's performance provided a lot of additional insight. For example, I asked him about the incident with the militia at the monastery. He said it proved the Russian rule of always, always keeping a great deal of distance from the militia. His description of their training, extremely poor salary structure, and other reasons for their antagonism towards all helped to explain a lot.
Our arrival at Pulkovo II was done in short order and we cleared the check-in and all formalities in short order. We now had almost four hours to wait without benefit of a Red Carpet Club. When I had booked this flight the best SAS could offer me in getting back to CPH was a flight to Stockholm with a 35-minute connection. They assured me that in Stockholm this would be no problem. I wasn't terribly concerned because there were multiple flights between Stockholm and CPH. While we were sitting at Pulkovo we noticed there was a nonstop flight to CPH leaving two hours before our connecting flight to Stockholm. Too late to do anything about that because of the complications surrounding immigration, customs, and luggage. Plus, based on the number of people waiting it is doubtful there would have been room for us.
So we sat and waited. The aircraft arrived late and made up no time in the turnaround. We arrived in Stockholm with 15 minutes between flights. Not a problem, we thought. Piece of cake. Little did we dream that we would have to go through Immigration just to change planes. But, there were the cages and out came the passports. There were three lines: two for non-Shengen passport holders, one for Shengen and EU. What the bloody hell is Shengen? Obviously we weren't or it stood to reason we'd know it. So, the Shengen window stood devoid of clients and the other two were queued way back. I went to the lady at the Shengen counter and held up our US passports and she took them with a big smile, stamped them, and passed us through. Just as we rounded the corner to head down the final stretch to our flight two American airheads had stopped dead in the middle of the narrow corridor to chat. One had put her Louis Vuitton carry-on bag on the floor so as to block the passage completely. I pushed it aside with my foot and started through and she said, "My, aren't we the impatient one." I told her that I was not about to break my leg over her bag and continued on. Ruth went ahead and managed to get to the gate in time to assure our boarding. We knew our bags wouldn't make it but didn't care.
Note: When I got home I looked up Shengen. It turns out that there is a place in Luxembourg called Schengen (sic) where some European Union countries reached an agreement on travel within their collective borders. What it says essentially is that the first Shengen country admitting a non-Shengen traveler through its borders is assumed effectively to have met all the immigration requirements to allow that non-Shengen traveler to enter any other Shengen country. Thus, when we went from AMS to CPH, the folks in AMS cleared us for all of Scandinavia as all of Scandinavia is Shengen and the folks in Stockholm, in turn, cleared us for CPH. How much do you want to bet that agreement went in the toilet on September 11, 2001?
In the Copenhagen airport we went to check on our luggage and, of course, it wasn't there. We filled out the report and they promised to contact us when it came in. They were confident that it would be there soon as there were at least five more flights due in from Stockholm that evening. It did show up and, after our dinner at the Hilton that evening we were walking over to the terminal building to catch a cab back to our hotel when we ran into Elizabeth, the woman at Luggage Services who had helped us on both our trips to her department. She was getting off work and was happy to chat with us about lots of things. It was a serendipitous meeting. By the way, the dinner at the Hilton was another success.
A little ahead of myself, let's go back to our return to the Globetrotter where we were to stay one last night before heading home in the morning. The weather was, if anything, warmer than on our first visit. The only rooms they had were, in spite of my confirmation for a queen bed, a "twins-together" smoking room or a "twins-apart" nonsmoking room. When we inspected the former the smoke smell was intolerable. "Twins-apart" it was. Unfortunately, the beds are apart because there isn't space in the tiny room for them to even be side-by-side. We got out the table fan and turned it on, opened the window, and left the door open to the hallway just to try to get some air moving. The receptionist sympathized but there was nothing she could do. Clearly we couldn't leave the door open all night. Neither of us got much sleep.
Note: When we got home I wrote to the president of Radisson. The hotel refunded our money for this last night based on the problem above and the problems we had experienced with our first visit. Take time to document your difficulties, folks. It usually does pay off.
The Last Travel Day
In and out of CPH in a breeze. Off on time in clear weather. When we got to Heathrow Terminal 3 we had to walk for what seemed like a mile. We were only stopping there long enough to connect with our United nonstop flight home, also in Terminal 3. But, nothing is easy. We were forced to join a queue which is there solely to assure that people coming in on one airline and leaving on another meet Heathrow's screening standards. I certainly had no objection to this (and it was well before September 11) because Pan Am 103 had apparently been lost just because of laxness in the transfer process. No Shengen here. But, the thing to which we objected was that, at 11:45 in the morning on a very busy travel day, there was one person doing the screening which consisted of checking to see that each person in line had a valid ticket or boarding pass. There were two very long lines, which merged into one, stretching around two corners. On the other side of this one person were two x-ray scanning points each staffed by three people. Obviously they had a different skill set from that needed to screen tickets so no help there. And, there were those travelers who do not accept queuing as a normal practice. Had we not exercised both verbal and physical control over our space we might still be standing there.
At last, into the safe haven of the Red Carpet Club. Among the joys of travel these days is that of being able to hear (notice I do not say "overhear") many one-sided conversations being participated in by cell phone users who have no concept of personal privacy, theirs or ours. One young woman called someone and chatted socially for 20 minutes (who pays their bills?) Fortunately, she had the decency to keep her voice low. Her place across from me was taken by a very important American bidness person who took one of his subordinates through a step-by-step tutorial on how to interview a person for an opening in their organization. His tone was so demeaning that it offended even me. Imagine his subordinate's thoughts. He talked in a loud voice with no regard for me at all. Finally, my glares got through to him and he began the cell phone wandering process taking turns annoying others in the club and allowing his rudeness to be spread amongst us all.
The final insult came when we decided to go to the gate. As we were walking down one of the clearly-defined corridors in the club we came across two young sisters, about eight and ten, with their magazines spread open on the floor and completely blocking the passage. To get around them we would have had to back up and walk at least 30 feet out of our way. Ruth stopped and looked at them and said, "Ladies, that's not a very good place to play." They moved truculently and slowly. Their parents had been sitting near them reading and the man troubled himself to look up from his magazine and say, "You'll get over it." Who imbues these people with the right to behave in such a manner?
Our flight home was pleasant and on time. It was nicer to be back from this trip than many others because of all the unpleasant people we met along the way. New and different places to visit? You betcha! Worth it? Of course! But, we ain't rushing back.