Oct 072017
 

Another great night of sleep, and despite being go go go on this vacation, one thing I was managing to do pretty well was catch up on sleep. Now, that might be due to the tremendous amount of walking I was doing in general, but either way, it was actually feeling like a vacation!

My rate at the W included breakfast, so made a point to partake in that before heading out. I would rate it pretty middle of the road as far as hotel breakfast go, but there were plenty of choices including eggs and porridge cooked to order, so it was more than enough to get a start on the day.



After fueling up, it was time for a walk! I had highlighted some of the sights I wanted to try and see, so the plan was to head out and see how much I could do before I got absolutely exhausted from walking. First stop near the hotel was the Fountain of the Admiralty:

Plan was to head over to Nevsky Prospekt and head east-southeast before heading back north and eventually crossing the Neva River. First major site was the Stroganov Palace, and yes, that’s the family that beef stroganoff was named for. Since I only had one full day I opted to walk around and see as many sites as I could from the outside, without spending the time in line for tickets and exploring the inside. Stroganov Palace:

a little further down Nevsky Prospekt was the Kazan Cathedral:

Statue of Field Marshall Prince Kutuzov of Smolensk:

At this point, the grey weather and walking was catching up with me, so I stopped at Starbucks for a large iced coffee and a sandwich. After resting up a bit, I continued the walk. Crossed Nevsky Prospekt, and passed the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood:

Very impressive up close, and swarming with tourists:

Best part about tourists? All sorts of souvenir stands. I was pretty disappointed they only had this shirt left in a small size, because I totally wanted to buy it:

I did, however, managed to find a whole bunch of awesome magnets:

From this point, back to Nevsky Prospekt to catch the metro up to Finlandsky Station and continue my walk on the north side of the Neva River.

Finlandsky Vokzal, you can see how dark and heavy the clouds got, but it never did rain.

Two reasons for coming to Finlandsky Vokzal. First was to see where it was so I knew where to go for my train the next day, and second reason was the giant statue of Lenin. Looks especially ominous against the clouds:

The fountains in front of the train station made a nice contrast. I love this shot with the bright reddish-orange brick, the dark greyish-blue sky, and the contrast of the bright coats the pedestrians are wearing.

Finally figured out where/how to cross the tributary of the river, and a great view of the Nakhimov Naval Academy with the cruiser Aurora docked in front:

Another shot downriver with the Aurora:

The Aurora was closed to tours today, but that didn’t stop the large groups of Asian tourists from milling about and taking pictures:

Close-up of the Aurora:

Bit more of a walk, and the Peter and Paul Fortress:

Kept walking…and walking…and eventually passed the Yubilyeni Sports Palace. Wait, is that an ad for a pre-season hockey game…tonight? Even better, a bit of googling, and it appeared absolutely free. Registeted on the website, and very quickly my free tickets were e-mailed to me! Score. I had planned on a relaxing evening after over 10 miles of walking during the day, but how could I pass that up!

Given the game was less than two hours away, I cut my walk a little short and took the metro back to the hotel to change clothes and rest up a little bit. Only had about 30 minutes to rest before I had to catch the metro right back to the arena for the game. It was open seating, and appeared 25% full at most:

Let’s get a little closer to the ice…now these are great seats!

Cheerleaders and dragon mascots:

Old Soviet National team memorabilia on display:

It was nearly 9pm at this point, so I opted to skip the third period and head out to get some food and drink before it got too late. On a recommendation from a friend, I headed to Craft Pub to have a bite. Keeping in the theme of the day, a delicious beef stroganoff and a few great beers to wash it down:

Unusual decor in the restaurant…what would the Singapore First Class lounge think of this?!

One final local imperial stout to close out the evening:

With that, more than 10 miles walked and a hockey game, I think I made a pretty amazing dent in seeing St. Petersburg given the extremely limited time I had there. Now, it was time to get to bed so I could enjoy my train ride the next day…and my final stop: Helsinki.

May 202014
 

I wasn’t really expecting this daytrip to leave at 6:30am…it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know that in advance, or I might not have booked it.  I was beginning to seriously run on fumes by this point in the trip, but hopefully seeing Lake Titicaca would make it all worth it.  I had to admit, though, as anyone who wasted time watching Beavis and Butt-head as a kid, every time I hear Lake Titicaca I still think of the Great Cornholio…lol

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Anyways, enough stupidity. Got to the lobby of my hotel at exactly 6:30, and there were no signs of life stirring yet. There was, however, a petite Bolivian looking lady wandering the lobby looking puzzled, so I asked who she was looking for. Yes, she was my guide…and the driver was on the way. This was all in Spanish, because up until this point she seemed extremely reluctant to speak English. She eventually warmed up, and we were underway.

It was about a 90 minute drive to Huatajata where we would pick up the hydrofoil across the lake.  Although this was scheduled to be a group tour, there was nobody else booked from La Paz today, so I’d have the van to the hydrofoil all to myself.  Additionally, the hydrofoil ride would be all alone, and we would pick up a large group of…you guessed it….Swiss tourists coming from Peru in Copacabana for the second part of the trip.

We made it Huatajata on time, after a long drive through the sprawling expanses of El Alto.  Once there, there was a “museum” to see before starting the trip.  When I was booking this, I discussed with several Bolivians I knew, and they all recommended to make the booking with Crillon Tours.  Seems they had built much of the tourist infrastructure on the lake, including the hydrofoils, and had all the connections to make the trip the best possible.  They’d even built a museum on Huatajata telling a bit of the history around Lake Titicaca, both before and after the arrivals of the Spanish.  I was given 20 minutes to check out the museum while my guide got everything sorted for the hydrofoil. First highlight of the museum, a burial mummy:

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…followed by the arrival of the Spanish:

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Manco Capac, the first Incan incarnation of the Sun God, and his sister and Mama Ocllo in a traditional boat….

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Outside the museum were some friendly alpacas (or are they llamas?)  just hanging around….

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Feb 052014
 

Got to the hotel, no problem with check-in, but the only oddity was that the only rooms with queen or king beds were the suites…and “they are all taken by the Royal Air Maroc crew.” Uh, ok. So two twin beds pushed together would have to do. Kind of strange for a resort hotel, no?  Since the TAAG crew had ate all the nomz, I was starving…and yes, dinner was still available…for 5 more minutes.  Ran to the hotel bar, ordered a sandwich and some wine to my room, then went to crash.

Got up in time the next morning to check out the breakfast, which was included in the room.  It was slightly below average, but there were some meats and cheeses, plenty of breads and pastries, along with a selection of juices.  I think there might have been eggs made to order too, but there were some hard boiled ones and that did the trick for me.

Jordan’s hotel was supposedly about a 15 minute walk away, so I set out to meet him and explore the city a bit.  View on the walk to his hotel:

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Mural on a building next to his hotel:

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Some buildings in the centre of town:

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Jan 262014
 

Right around noon, the taxi dropped us at the only hotel we’d managed to find online, the Hotel Maiombe. Now, “find online” didn’t mean it appeared bookable anywhere, and when I tried to call the only number I could find online it just went to a dead end. So, we were hoping it was there, and not too absolutely depressing.

When we got there, yes, they did have rooms, and the lobby area didn’t look too bad, a corner filled with local crafts for sale, and a very festive sitting area:

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The rooms?  Well, I was less than impressed.  Air conditioning was barely functional, standard rooms only had twin beds, and yes, there were suites with a queen bed (but not much more space) for $50 more.  The suite also felt a little cooler, so I decided to go for it.  Not sure if it was a worthwhile choice or not, but… At least things appeared mostly clean, and the rooms were functional, albeit a bit spartan.

Biggest downside was, it was a complete ripoff.  About $160 for a two star (at best) room, or around $210 for the suite.  Also, no internet in the rooms at all.  Thus, we hung out in the hotel bar/lounge in the evening, which did have internet and very affordable drinks.  Around $4 for huge beers, so all in all, it wasn’t bad.  Just a total ripoff for the price paid.

Just one other comment on the hotel:  when I went to bed around 11 or 12, it was warm in the room – very warm.  The small air conditioner was putting out a little cool area, but only enough to cool the area right underneath it.  So, I slid the bed right underneath it, and ended up sleeping face at the foot of the bed to get a little cool air – it was finally enough to make the room good enough to fall asleep.  At least there were no mosquitos in the room!

So, the minute we checked in, the clerk demanded payment up front – in cash.  He spoke no English, but we finally managed to communicate we’d head to the ABM, and be back in 10 minutes.  Fortunately there was no shortage of ABMs in Cabinda, and it was easy enough to take care of.  Everything sorted with the hotel, we headed out to explore for a bit.

Mission one, find lunch.  We headed to the first restaurant Jordan had found, which was billed as a local sports pub that was “popular with expats.”  There were precisely two people inside, and one dish on offer, and it just seemed off.  Bonus though, it was next to the local football club, which had a cool statue of their mascot outside:

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So, we kept walking.  There was another restaurant down the road, so we kept walking:

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