My holiday started with flying into St Petersburg, spending four nights there with my brother, followed by four nights in Moscow.
The hotel we selected in St Petersburg couldn’t have been better located – it was on one of the many man made canals, within a short walk of the Hermitage/Winter Palace and the Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood. I’m not sure I was aware of this, but after checking in, I decided to go for a walk around the nearby streets and discovered these wonderful facts! My brother’s flights weren’t due til around 10pm, so I had some hours to kill.
The hotel was also generally lovely – they realised they’d put the two beds together and called to say ‘when you go out, let us know and we’ll change it’ and then when I went to reception to let them know, they knew which room I was in (from sight, and this hadn’t been the lady I’d checked in with!). Their service, the little we used it, was exemplary. We noticed that others asked a whole lot more of them, and I can see why – they would not be disappointed!
The room was rather ornate, and the exterior was of the similar style to most surrounding buildings, ornate. Peter the Great’s city was built to strict guidelines, including no gaps between buildings. That meant our building, and others, had driveways into the heart of them, and interior courtyards. Inside the room, I was impressed by the level of style and detail. Curtains with two fabrics and a decorative trim between them. Mirrored wardrobe, and the mirrors were bevelled and in a criss cross pattern. Lovely wooden floors.
Below is my thoughts at the time:
So both emirates flights have come with moisturiser and the like in the bathroom, but on the Russian flight they are secured down so they don’t disappear. The plane to Russia is 3-4-3 configured but pretty empty behind the segment I’m in. And business class is empty by and large for a day time five hour flight.
Emirates offers a meal voucher for the five hours or so I was in transit – circus given that everyone has them and for limited venues but a nice touch nonetheless.
Whilst lounging I played the “could that person be a passenger on my flight?” Game. Russia is a large country but I did well in my guesses. There’s lumpy scowling old ladies, with often loose scarves over their heads. There’s a certain group of women who need to wear every pieces of jewellery they own. There’s very aryan looking younger people and then there’s the Asian/middle eastern tinge. I say in the lounge beside an Iranian guy who was planning to travel to somewhere else but his age and country of origin meant it was too hard and Russia it was. He offered me smarties. I’m not yet dead. I did see him open the package. Living life on the edge. We agreed smarties are better than MnMs. Not clear if I should feel complimented that he thought I may be Russian.
My first leg was about 14 hours. There was an older parent couple with a nineteen month old blond girl. Adorable (yes even after an hour or two of listen to her grizzle about bedtime). Lucky the kid was small for her size she was as long as the bassinet! The parents ended up tying two blankets together to cover the bassinet and the blankets looped around the common screen. Suspecting one parent maybe a closet engineer! They were headed for Dublin. The (African black) girl to my right was off to Zambia next I think? Certainly isn’t anywhere Emirate doesn’t fly to (Edit: except Sarajevo/the Balkan cities I might have wanted to fly from)! A kid in the airport had Iraq branded sports gear. Heard flights called for Rio followed by Oslo. First flight crew was 21 nationalities and 27 languages, the latter was 11 and a paltry 15 I think. First crew had an Irish woman – wonder if her language is “English too accented to still call English?”
Disappointed not to enjoy the luxury and civility of the business class lounge in Dubai. Having got about nine hours sleep though, I’m doing relatively fine compared to possible other alternatives.
Interestingly for the tech nerds, Emirates now had wifi and phone roaming connections on all a380s and most 777s, ie the planes I’m on. Talk about adapting to trends. I doubt either is cheap, but part of why I go away is to be a little less connected to devices. That being said, leaving on a Thursday meant I did have work emails. Filed most of them, to keep the inbox tidy.
The alcohol mini bottles are out in force on the Russia flight!! Value for money evidently bring sought. And nerdy me just liked that mango juice was an option with lunch!
Smiling seems no longer fashionable – shame cause it’s usually a great way to non verbally communicate in strange countries. One old dude has spoken to me in Russian so I don’t look too foreign?!?
Seems it’s customary to greet arrivals with flowers – often unwrapped. Taxi driver seat belt – optional. Like Sydney taxi drivers tho, the mobile phone calls are obligatory.
Checked into my hotel, and it’s to my standards and a few hours and Rory will join me
When I wrote this, it was our second last day in the US, we hired a car to tide us to our 10pm departure tomorrow. It’s a pretty smart way to handle our luggage as we’ll have ‘checked out’ of our Airbnb. The travel took us to Sauscilito, then south to Palo Alto and Moutain View. To tech nerds, those are the homes of Facebook and Google.
I think I geeked out more than the BF and took lots of photos of the Google bikes and the general sites of what is possibly one of the biggest game changers in my adulthood. Ten or twenty years ago, there were googles you swam with and a Google was a large number. Now, it’s a verb.
The campus is much like a lot of the US – low level sprawl. Many building but none more than a few stories. Our return to San Francisco was between 5 -6pm, so we got to see a fair bit of traffic. It made me somewhat hopeless about how American ‘is’. This highway nation – things so spread out. It’s just incredible to think people make these lengthy, congested commutes every day. I can’t believe the level of industry I drove past – not heavy industry, but this medium level for the developed world – strange centres, huge hotels in the middle of an urban nothingness. I feel lucky to have travelled to and seen so much of Europe and know that they present a slightly more balanced approach to life and work, and consumerism. I know it’s not all rosy in Europe, but I just feel like they work harder to balance the pros and cons of everything.
I suppose my melancholy isn’t aided by my current reading, a book I found in the Airbnb and am racing to get finished before we check out called Fast Food Nation. I’ve been sickened by the accounts of how mega companies have lobbied government and got away with murder. quite literally. There are meat packing plants that operate such that people have limbs amputated by machines, or have respiratory problems from cleaning everything with hoses at scalding temperature and bleach. These cleaners are lower than the low that are those people who work in slaughterhouses, often illiterate, if not illegal migrants too. And then there’s the inevitable infections and problems of spoiled meat – in a hurried production line, it’s bound to happen that fecal matter when removing a digestive tracts can spill and mix with meat. Meat we eat. However, despite E. coli being found as the cause for illness or death in people there’s not legal obligation for companies to publicise the recall (it could hurt their business too badly). Furthermore, there is often such delays and hand wringing, that by the time the announced tainted meat is known, much of it is consumed. Oh, and of course the meat distributors are the least likely to spoil their contracts by disclosing where meat has been on sold to – such as public school lunches in a time when the government seeks the lowest bidder. It makes me sick to think how business and profits manipulate regulations, that effectively skirt so many responsibilities as HUMANS. The ‘best’ meat, by and large, goes to the buyers who are big and demand it – sadly, the McDonalds is likely to have better tested meat from a better processing plant than a school lunch. It just beggars belief. I’m not really looking at the hamburgers as intently as I have previously! That being said, I’m under no illusion that chicken farming, or fish farming is widely better! However, it’s so hard to know how to thwart the greater hands at play here – I’m mindful green washing of products is just as prevalent, and adds a surcharge that may often be pure profits.
What are your thoughts on the ‘greatest nation in the world’?
I’ve never cared much for the US political system, though lately I have been reading The Economist more, and found myself in the US at a critical (probably one of many) time in the race to the presidency. I bought an Economist magazine prior to leaving Australia which meant I was ‘up to date’ once I arrived, and slotted straight into CNN’s Republican debate Thursday week ago. (sorry, I tried to queue this up unsuccessfully)
As a mildly engaged person in this electorial race, here’s my thoughts
Trump is definitely charismatic – he speaks to the Everyman and that’s proving to be VERY powerful
Trump gets ‘attacked’ by Rubio and Cruz for being a supporter of left policies – socialist health care, pro choice etc. I can see this being part of his appeal, as he puts himself as the fence sitting candidate, or the more moderate right voters.
I feel all the Republicans are woefully lacking in understanding the threat that North Korea is (maybe I am – but the place seems so poor that it’s ability to threaten the US seem unlikely)
I bemoan the families in politics. The Bush family. The Clinton family.
I do appreciate the overall diversity of three of five of the strongest candidates – a woman, and two candidates with Latino names. And then there’s Dr Carson (an AFRICAN AMERICAN) in the Republicans! I commend that!
So much time and energy is spent on selecting a leader and all the rhetoric, but in reality everything will need to be approved by Congress or similar. Compromise is what government is about – so no matter what pledges they make, it’ll be diluted over time.
I hate fear mongering: the dole bludgers, the illegal migrants ‘stealing’ jobs. The whole argument is as bad the name calling. So rarely is it based on facts, but instead on emotion. And what annoys me about emotion? That only ‘certain’ emotions are acceptable.
It seems that money drives how many candidates stay in the race. This just seems ridiculous to me – the endless fundraising! And honestly, no matter the policies, I have every assumption that there’s ‘no such thing as a free lunch’.
I took the time to do a quiz on which candidate I would back. It didn’t surprise me that I was 94% for Sanders – the Socialist candidate. I was surprised to see myself making qualifications for some of my more generous or open minded ideas. I’m not sure if that’s due to three years with the BF who is a strong business advocate, or my role in ‘management’. I may not like the idea of the nepotism, but I can’t be sad to see a left learning candidate that is a female leading the US. And if I was asked to vote to the right, my thoughts would probably go towards Kasich – from the tiny amount I’ve read about him! He seems compassionate, experienced and reasonable. But in the CNN debate, he hardly had a moment to shine – it’s was a Trump show, and when others were speaking, it was often to attack Trump.
Overall, I don’t feel like the USA is the strongest nation. It can’t be strong when it has such an under paid and under supported working class in fast food restaurants, or cleaning hotels. I worry about a country whose allowed companies far too much power, how can it be ok to list ‘artificial and natural flavours’ and leave it at that? How can companies opt out of Workplace Health and Safety? How can states NOT have income tax? I even rile up that the price of something isn’t what’s marked – tax is added later, and then if it’s service based, then there’s tipping – it feels like businesses opt out of structuring their business in a way that can pay their staff a wage. I do agree it can improve service (but it’s still not always as good as it could be), but it’s like bumping the livelihood of someone onto the whim of peer pressure to tip!?
On the other hand of all my negative thoughts, I am heartened by start ups and new technologies. We used uber and lyft countless times – it was simple, it didn’t feel any less safe, and I feel like it allows disruption the status quo.
Seeing more of my readers are not Americans, what are your thoughts out there, fellow Aussies, Canadians and other readers?
I may have alluded to a secret in my last post. Not that I *know* my young brother reads this blog (I know R does, but I’m not sure about S), but I was adamant to surprise my brother, S, who moved to LA in Deceber 2015.
The BF was offered a work trip in Chicago, and some possible meetings in San Francisco. Initially I was luke warm on joining him, as I have been to both cities. But then I thought ‘why not?’. I have the money, and the time. But the thing that pushed me over was the possibility of surprising my brother a week after his birthday! So, to set it up, I made sure his girlfriend kept the weekend free, which she did, though there were many a check in, so she made sure it was OK for her to work on Saturdya morning and things like that.
The actual surprise was comedic! So… I had his address as 236 Main Street, but in actual fact, that’s the join between a huge pet store, and a huge grocery store. Definitely no one living in that joint compound! Alas, he was at 235 Main St, which we confirmed by the BF asked his GF what their address was as the ‘courier was asking’. See, something Dad ordered for S’s birthday hadn’t arrived on time for his birthday, and there’d been many an email to try and sort it out between me (who’d placed the order for Dad), Dad, and the two LA dwellers! Alas, we found the right address, and then… The inter phone or buzzer was broken?! It seemed to play a Mexican radio station or nothing. Or course, my brother’s girlfriend is saying to my BF ‘just get the courier to call S’! In the end, I stepped back and from the curb, took a gamble and hollered out my brothers name to an open window. And he appeared!
So many things went wrong, and could have continued to! What if that wasn’t his apartment? But it was!
We spent the weekend together, and then flew to Chicago on Monday. I was so pleased we got a snow storm (something the BF hadn’t experienced) and it was quite intense – snow blowing practically horizontally! But it was just one day, so that was nice. The hotel was selected by the BF’s company, which was the Hard Rock Hotel in the old Carbon and Carbite building, which was beautifully ornate. The rooms were a touch quirky, and it was well located to Michigan Ave, known as the ‘Magnificent Mile’ of shopping… More on that later, for sure
We then headed back to California on Saturday, for the far more temperate San Franscisco which I was in just over a year ago. Due to plans being very up in the air, we ended up going for an Airbnb, cause lemme tell you SF is not a cheap city, especially on a Saturday night. So many places were sold out too!
We leave on Thursday, so some of my posts will have to wait til I get home (and I’m yet to master a way to get photos from an iPhone to a work iPad to WordPress – it might be beyond me! Suggestions in the comments are welcomed)
As I mentioned in my annual goals post and my bucket list – I want to visit much of Eastern Europe – Russia, Romania and Bosnia.
Russia is one of the BIG national powers. I loved Paullina Simon’s books, particularly the Bronze Horseman, and I am in awe of the majestic religious buildings, particularly in a communist country, which in other nations has totally destroyed religious buildings. I used to think the ‘cold war’ was over – having just watch The Bridge of Spies, but then I applied for my visa and I’m not so sure. It was incredibly thorough!
(this routine was in the film, and I can guarantee they match! Though the film’s music was even more emotive)
Romania is definitely off the ‘usual’ tourist path. Since 2006’s trip was cancelled whilst I live in France, it’s been on my ‘one day’ list. The first reason for Romania is my fanatical interest in Nadia Comenici – when mum had to go into school on school holidays, she used to put this on to keep us kids quiet. I am not one for learning to rote a movie’s script – but this film (Nadia) I can! The film is SO old I have a copy on VHS! It doesn’t exist in DVD or anything new fangled like that. The second reason is that I made a very close friend in first year university who was Romanian, so I’m curious to see his home town. In 2006, I booked flights to Romania, however it wasn’t part of the EU and required evidence of USD100 per day! As a young student, I didn’t have that sort of cash sitting idly (I was working as an au pair)! It was just too hard to get a visa, so at no cost Air France let me change my fare and I went to Rome, which was memorable and delightfully crisp. To ensure I wasn’t just a dreamer, I’ve read two books set in Romania recently – one at a beachside town where they defect to Turkey. Another was an American based in Romania with a few other shady characters, trying to survive in the communist state that was slowly dis-assembly all relics of the past.
Bosnia is probably best described as ‘trauma tourism’ or similar. The same things that draw me to Holocaust memoirs and visiting Jewish museums interests me in the war. And… I have an ex boyfriend who is Bosnian. He shared so little of his culture, but I was always incredibly curious about him and his childhood, having migrated at the age of 12. Again, I’ve tried to read to ensure I have a better idea of what I’m visiting, and I’m incredibly curious to see this junction of ‘East meets West’ particularly as we’ll now also visit Turkey, which has similar parallels.
So, to date, I’ve booked the long haul flights, in addition to accommodation in two cities of Russia, a flight to Romania, and accommodation in both Bucharest and Sarajevo. It’s a solid start and I just need to keep chipping away at booking for air travel and hotels. Thankfully my younger brother is a champ, and happy to go along for the ride. I bet he ends up knowing all sorts of quirky historic facts, cause he’s that type 😉
For those readers who have blogs, most will know I’ve been in Bali for a week. I try to limit ‘advertising’ my holidays prior to going, you know, just in case I have a crazy maniac stalker and all.
My younger brother of the two has been teaching in England for nine months. (Oh, if you have any ‘9 month’ jokes none would be as poetic as the fact my BF’s ex is pregnant… alas, his London sojourn means he’s not the father). Anyhow, a year ago my parents suggested a family holiday in Bali in Sept 2015, no matter where they and their kids had scattered to.
Sadly, one brother didn’t make it, but it was great from the littlest to fly 16 hours to join us for a few days in our uncle’s villa in Bali. The BF and I flew Friday evening, and were offered an upgrade a week out, which we jumped on! My parents flew the same flight a night later. The brother came on Tuesday and then we all left on Saturday – my parents for Singapore to London to ‘visit’ the brother, my brother to Doha then London and we had a direct flight to Sydney.
It was an incredibly lazy holiday – the villa’s pool was well shaded when needed, and meant lily skinned Sarah didn’t get burnt. Things were ridiculously cheap. I did plan a ‘crazy adventure’ but my mother had recently had her students present on a canyoning disaster, which was the activity I’d been keen to do. In light of that, we didn’t do it, and instead will try it in the Blue Mountains, complete with Australian health care nearby.
Bali is known as a cheap destination for Australian families, but also backpackers. From Perth, our Western city, it’s only a 3 hours flight, so closer than flying to the East coast of Australia. From Sydney it’s about 6 hours.
I feel somewhat uncomfortable about getting massages, pedicures and the like overseas. I always feel like it’s an exploitation of the cheaper labour rates. And they are hardly ‘nice’ service tasks to do for others. Nonetheless, I had two foot massages whilst away.
What else? Here’s a shot of our in house pool:
This was the re-screen right before boarding. For reasons I cannot understand, Aussie flights get a second screen, manually. No x rays. Perfunctory pat downs of women only. Oh and a reinforcement of the LAG rules (no more than 100ml etc) even though you’ve passed passport control, immigration etc. We spent $5 on two waters, to then have to skull them. There wasn’t even a fountain to refill the bottle I BYOed. Tired and cranky – grr!
Bali was steamy and tropical – much like recent trips to Japan, Vietnam and Thailand. I’m hankering for another wintery or chilly trip next. The US was a lovely cool reprieve from the Aussie summer.
Massages in Phuket are about 300THB or AUD$9. The quality varies A LOT, between ‘stores’ but also between masseuses, as we both went to a place twice, and had totally different massages despite asking for the same thing!
However, we walked past a ‘first world’ swanky style massage and spa place. So we took a brochure.
They had massages at 1200THB, which seemed OK, and so I committed to going on our last night.
I decided I wanted a compress massage, which I thought I’d seen in pictures… When they put hot face washers on my feet, I thought face washer = cold compress to some people? Alas, that was just a red herring. The massage was what I had originally thought!
Before using the compress, which I never saw and therefore didn’t photograph, she warmed her hand with it, and pressed it to my bare skin. She slowly repeated this up a limb or section of my back, before using the compress.
If you’re wondering, the air was scented lightly with lemongrass. There was air conditioning, a pleasant noise for a massage in Thailand, and traditional Thai music.
They’d thought of everything… there was a safe for my stuff. And a disposable g string too! Not the the massage was a ‘dirty’ as an oil one was another night.
The place was just immaculate. I almost wish I hadn’t gone the last night, and splurged on another!
All loosened up, I went and met the BF at the place with the 100THB cocktails… we then went to dinner, and then another (cheap) massage. Oh, and some souvenir buying!
For the last 8 days, none of your sneaky internet people broke into my house and stole my laptop with a broken hinge OR my favourite blue glasses. Thankful, really I am, cause you know, the internet these days, anything could happen whilst a gal and a guy are in Phuket, Thailand!
So we flew Air Asia X. This is the same low cost carrier we used to fly to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam last year. Thankfully, since then they’ve upgraded for a cattle shed terminal in Kuala Lumpur to the world’s most elaborate low cost carrier terminal. This thing is seriously ginormous, and connected by a super high walkway so planes can slip underneath.
We didn’t miss out KL connection like when we went to Vietnam. I’m not sure I ever mentioned that 😉
Crossing off bucket list items like a keen adventurer: Zorbing, white water rafting, ziplining and ATV riding!
Having countless mojitos, the odd pina colada and even a Brandy Alexander to mix things up. Even better was finding somewhere that did them for 100THB, or AUD$4
I did NOT get sunburnt. I got a little pink on the shoulders on day after a long pool session of Connect 4, but it didn’t linger or peel!
Beating the BF occasionally at Connect 4. This is a guy with 9 poker hands/screens on his laptop as I write this, he’s a demon on counting cards too – and so a simple game like connect 4? Genius! Til I beat hi 😀
Many massages, and the most ‘luxurious’ one at a true spa? Just AUD$60! I took all the photos, so I can see a whole post coming on!
Packing awesome sunscreen, that both worked, and never felt oily once applied. I never believe the marketing sctick, but this was TRUE!
Our hotel had free wifi in the lobbies and the restaurant, but you had to pay more to have it in the room. I post this as a ‘good’ cause we’re both likely to go down the rabbit hole of internet-nerdage, so it meant we had to plan our online time, and it was usually with less air conditioning, so it was a real balance of priorities!!
It was sweltering heat most of the time we were there – in the high 30s with high humidity. I’ll admit, the lure of 20C in the air conditioning often won out, as did the National Geographic channel, BBC World News and two French channels. The BF often had more sun lounger time, which I would optimise by watching French TV, often with no “sous-titres”. Yay me!
I know I’m an adventure activity fiend, but I was TERRIFIED of ATV riding. Why? Well a broken shoulder many years agos from a scooter accident still gives me grief. And a friend broke a collar bone ATV riding at a buck’s night. And then there’s the perpetual fear of horrendous sun burn (yep, one year I got it so good, I couldn’t stand for the pain of burnt thighs for about a week!). After being one not-so-cool-cucumber after our laps of the yard alone on ATVs, one of the three guides ‘passengered’ me, and I was right behind the first guide. This meant I got every instruction and tuition on accelerating and braking. In the end, I became confident and had no trouble. I especially loved the nearby guide, who told me all about the plants we rode past. I’m a fiend for that info, so I’ll share it with you
rubber plantations – these are EVERYWHERE! They get sapped at night, or at least cut, in diagonal lines, and they work down a face of a tree, and then change faces, year on year etc. We even drove past the village collection point for rubber/latex, and rode past many trucks to collect it. It collects in little coconut half shells, or plastic pots.
pineapple – as it takes rubber trees seven years to mature, and have a thick canopy, the intermediate seven years allows for other crops to be planted. Pineapple was one of them. Did you know that pineapples grow about of the spikey leaves? I thought, as a Sunshine State girl, everyone knew this – not so!
ginger – I recognise ginger plants as they often have similar species for flower growing purposes, and with lots of floristry experience, I know them.
bananas – we had banana trees within our hotel/resort. Tiny, petite little bananas, not like the ones you buy in grocery stores here. They were also inter planted with the rubber.
papaya or pawpaw – there is no fruit I could dislike more (see other foods I dislike) but alas it grows, though not in huge quantities like bananas or rubber.
palm oil palms – these are large, thick trunked, squat trees that offer immense shade. The BF told me that Malaysia had a financial incentive to make palm oil and they generated more than the world’s demand! Thankfully, Thailand isn’t so oversaturated.
Weirdly, Thailand also serves a lot of water melon and dragon fruit and we didn’t see that growing!? For those in the northern hemisphere, you may never have seen such a cool looking fruit as dragon fruit (which google taught me is also called Pitaya!)
Every restaurant had free wifi – so whilst it was good it wasn’t in our room, it did interrupt dinner times! That being said, some of them wanted a pint of your blood for access – like your ID document numbers!? Sometimes I just CBF’ed! I did READ all your blog posts, but I struggle to comment with a smart phone, so that’s how the rest of my Sunday might proceed 😉
OK, not really ‘bad’, but I bought a handbag AND stuffed up the conversion rate :s It was still reasonably priced, and I love it, used it on the way home. But, consumer!! I also bought a dress the BF liked and a $3 lime elephant key ring after a few cocktails. Oh and a pair of loved shorts copied with my own fabric ($20!!!)
Well let’s just say my ballooning weight was tipping the lower end of the scales of women’s weight in our resort! It appears our hotel appealed to the Thomas Cook and similar tour companies, who likely fill charter planes and then deposit the whole load at our resort. Many people had ‘full board’ which is something I could hardly fathom doing for a whole week – it’s like choosing to return to boarding school! Anyhow, there were some clinically obese and overweight people there, and largely (ha!) women. Not that one of them shied away from bikinis – they were EVERYWHERE.
Speaking of weight, I must set a plan in place and follow it, as I’ve weighed myself since the holiday indulgences, and the scales don’t like/lie! Cough…
Well there’s the first pass of a sleepy (night budget flight) intrepid traveller…