Sept. 20, 2014 — Four ports later

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 6.03.12 PM photo-5

photo-4  Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 6.02.55 PM

Four ports later, I’m jumping back into the blogging game. It’s crazy to think I’ve already been to six new countries…the journey is flying by! It’s been so hectic that I haven’t had much time to write posts, but I have been journaling, so the details aren’t lost yet.

Tonight we had an interesting and sad experience on ship, as we had to say goodbye to the first student to leave. His passport was stolen on a train from Paris, and because he’s from Egypt, he would need a new visa for every country we would visit. That process would take a few months minimum, so very unfortunately, he has to go home. He gave a really beautiful speech saying goodbye, sharing what he’s learned on SAS, and teaching us a bit about his country, culture, and religion. His words definitely reminded me of the true purpose of this trip, as well as how fortunate I am to be here. It also really brought the shipboard community together, though I wish it could have been under better circumstances.

So with that reflection in mind, I’m backtracking to my (unexpectedly) favorite country so far. I had zero clue what to expect when we arrived to Gdansk, Poland, but I could not have enjoyed myself more. During our pre-port information session, a professor on board spoke about his parents experiences in World War II as Jews living in Poland. We learned how utterly destroyed Poland was during the war, which left me with a heavy heart debarking and an uncertainty in regards to what people would be like. After all, their country had been through so much. But everyone we encountered was so friendly, warm and eager to interact with us.

We toured an amber museum, went on another Ferris Wheel (I can never resist), visited many beautiful churches, had DELICIOUS sausage, sauerkraut, smoked salmon and cider, and found a new home in an always empty underground restaurant at the end of the main strip.

We went back there four times in the two days we were there, and made friends with the bartender to the point where it was sad to say goodbye on our last visit there. One morning we came across a farmers’ market with the most delicious, colorful fruits I’ve ever seen. We tried kiwis, strawberries and nectarines…boy were they good. The next afternoon we had hot wine…much better than it sounds, I promise!

Read More »


Aug. 30 – Sept. 1 — St. Petersburg, Russia

Starry Night     Ch of Split Blood

                 Van Gogh pop-up exhibit                                Church of the Spilled Blood

Peterhof        On the Neva River

                           Peterhof                                                        On the Neva River


                 Hermitage Museum — Russia’s version of the Old Well?  #gdtbath 

As I type this blog, the MV Explorer is on its way to Gdansk, Poland!! The last three days were incredible, and already a bit of a blur, so forgive me if I get a bit longwinded here. St. Petersburg was absolutely beautiful – I really had no frame of reference for the landscape prior to arriving, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much water there was! It’s similar to Venice, with canals and bridges everywhere, and the port always nearby. The buildings by the port were so colorful…pinks, greens, blues, I loved it.

Some streets reminded me of any other big city (London, New York) with high-end stores and lots of traffic, but then I would turn a corner and see a massive cathedral, palace or museum and be struck by the history and beauty of the city. We explored a lot, roaming around attempting to make sense of the maps while dealing with the language barrier, and got lost once or twice, but it definitely added to the fun of being in a completely foreign city. The people were so friendly; even though the majority of whom we stopped on the street to ask for directions did not speak English, they pointed us in the right direction and would trace on the maps for us exactly where to go. To be honest, we were all a bit nervous when we initially stepped off the boat…we had heard Russians think Americans smile too much, for one thing, and weren’t sure how we’d be received, but almost everyone we came across was very kind and helpful.

On Saturday, our first day in port, Shannon and I made our way to an awesome Van Gogh pop-up exhibit that we found in a hotel tour book. It was held in a huge tent and had a dozen or so movie-size screens with Van Gogh’s work projected on them, as well as quotes from letters he had written and music playing to go along with the different periods of his life. The Starry Night and Almond Trees sequences were by far my favorite!

Other highlights of our few days…the Hermitage, which we toured with SAS, was insanely beautiful and grandiose. Also called the Winter Palace, it was built by Peter the Great and is room after room of gorgeous architecture, artwork and chandeliers, thrones, artifacts, clothes, you name it. We walked through it for maybe three hours and still only really saw a small fraction of it. Everything inside is original, including paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo sculptures. Crazy!! Interesting fact we learned…during World War II, the Hermitage served as a hospital. We also visited the Peter and Paul Fortress, Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood, and St. Isaac’s Cathedral…all larger than life and crazily ornate, to say the least.

Read More »