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Navigating the seas to Russia

Want to visit Russia? It may not be the easiest place to go, but with a little planning the opportunities are limitless.


View Baltic Capital Cities on darrenesl's travel map.

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The next stop on the itinerary is St. Petersburg, Russia. Growing up during the Cold War, Russia has always been on my must-visit list. Traveling to Russia can be a challenge. There are hurdles in place that one must overcome in order to enter the country for those coming from the United States, there are two basic options.

The first is to obtain a visa.
Entry Visas: To enter Russia for any purpose, a U.S. citizen must possess a valid U.S. passport and a bona fide visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. It is impossible to obtain an entry visa upon arrival, so travelers must apply for their visas well in advance.

The second available option is through a tour company if you are on a cruise ship.
Cruise ship passengers can currently visit Russia on visa-waiver scheme provided the stop in the port of call doesn't exceed 72 hours and tourists stay overnight on board the cruise ship. Cruise passengers may disembark from the ship without a tourist visa if they participate on tours organized by cruise companies.

The steps to obtaining a via in Russia can be quite lengthy and require a trip to either San Francisco or Washington D.C. The costs is approximately $300USD give or take a bit depending on whether you are wanting to expedite the process or if you have the patience to let the process run its own course.

Our original plan was to get a Russian visa and experience the country on our own; however after weighing the pros and cons of the overall process, we decided to go the route of the organized tour. While the cruise ship always offers shore excursions, the inflated prices and the cattle car experience that is often provided on these tours is not for me.

Looking at other options there are 2 major companies that many past visitors have reviewed and numerous smaller companies that offer similar 1, 2, and 3 day tours in St. Petersburg. Looking at the two major companies, SPB tours is one option and Alla Tours is the other. Both offer similar tours with the groups being maxed out at 16 people, still too big for my taste. So we reached out to both requesting a private tour for six people for two days with a one day trip to Moscow with a group of 16 people in between the two private days.

Alla Tours was by far and beyond the better of the two companies when it came to response, personalized customer service and overall pricing. Because of the high level of service, we decided to go with Alla. Here is a look at what we will be seeing.

22 June 2016 Day 1
8:30 Meet at the ship. City highlights drive tour with short walks and picture stops.
Subway ride.
10:00 - 11:30 Excursion in Yusupov palace incl. Gregory Rasputin exposition
11:30 - 12:00 Travel to Peterhof via hydrofoil.
12:00 - 13:30 Tour of the Lower Fountain Park and Upper gardens.
Lunch time
13:30 - 14:30 Travel to Tsars Village (Tsarskoe Selo)
14:30 - 16:00 Excursion in Catherine palace incl. Amber room and walk through the park
16:00 - 17:00 Travel back to the city
Payment for the tour
17:30 Onboard
19:00 Optional evening program

23 June 2016 Day 2

6:00 Meeting on the pier
6:00 - 6:25 Transfer to the train station.
6:45 - 10:40 Sapsan train to Moscow.
11:00 - 14:30 City introduction tour incl. KGB headquarters.
14:30 - 15:30 Lunch in a local restaurant
15:30 - 17:30 Excursion to the world famous State Tretyakov gallery
17:30 - 18:30 Continuation of city introduction tour with picture stops.
18:30 - 19:00 Tour of subway stations
19:00 - 19:15 Transfer to the train station.
19:45 - 23:30 Travel back to St Petersburg by train.
00:00 Onboard

24 June 2016 Day 3
7:30 Meet at the ship
8:30 - 9:30 Boat ride: City tour from the water angle
9:30 - 12:30 Excursion in Hermitage museum (early entry)
12:30 - 13:30 Lunch time
13:30 - 14:30 Excursion in Church on the Blood
14:30 - 15:30 Excursion in St. Peter and Paul Fortress incl. inside visit to Cathedral
15:30 - 16:30 Excursion in Saint Isaac Cathedral
17:00 Onboard

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Choosing to go to Moscow was a no-brainer for us. The opportunity to see the city that plays such a prominent role in history is one that we just couldn’t miss. One drawback is that the Kremlin is closed on Thursday’s, however a trip to the Tretyakov gallery will help make up for not being able to enter the storied Kremlin.

The great thing about taking a private tour with Alla in St. Petersburg is that we can adjust our schedule as we desire, If we see something we want to go to or would like some more time at a particular attraction, we have that ability.

Have you been to St. Petersburg? Let us know the destinations you loved and any stops we should avoid. We want to hear from you share your comments with us below.

Posted by darrenesl 11:16 Archived in Russia Tagged churches moscow cities st. vacation city cruise holiday petersburg silhouette baltic capitals planning cruising celebrity darrenesl tljohnson tlwforgiven darren_johnson terri_johnson family_vacation 2016 Comments (2)

The most beautiful city in the United States

Many cities will claim the title, but only one can be truly named the most beautiful city in the U.S.

What is the most beautiful city in the United States? Some would argue New York City, while others would choose Miami, and some perhaps will argue that Denver, Colorado takes the prize. However in all my travels throughout the 50 states, one city certainly claims the title for me. San Francisco, the “City by the bay,” has it all. Stunning water views, iconic towering landmarks, hills, a great Warf, and the list can go on and on.

Coming across the Oakland Bay Bridge at night is enough to excite even a librarian. The lights may be bright on Broadway; however San Francisco has its own Broadway. Murals adorning the buildings of the Height Ashbury district tell the stories of those looking for free love and an escape form the issues facing modern America in the 1960’s. A prison on a rock is filled with history and legend. The painted ladies that overlook a park with children playing are the houses that American film and television have made famous worldwide. And who can ignore the curves of Lombard Street, where flowers adorn the median and tourists flock to capture the curviest street in the United States.

All of these and more led us to choose this location to visit on our next edition of wanderlust. We’ve decided to road trip it from San Diego on up the coast and enjoy some of the great items our home state has to offer.

Starting in San Diego we will head up to Camarillo, spending the night there to get the journey going. From there, we can choose to head up to the hills of Ojai, or to the beaches of Ventura and Santa Barbara. Having lived in Oxnard, the area does have some hidden gems including the Channel Islands and fresh farm stands that provide fresh goods along Pleasant Valley Road.

After a day there, we will end up in Solvang. Spending a whole day and two nights there should provide enough time to fill up on food and Danish fun. A trip to Hearst Castle San Simeon is a must on the itinerary and has been included. Designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951, the castle is now maintained by the California State Parks commission and provides insight into the man and his life.

Leaving San Simeon, we will be traveling up CA-1 along the coast and ending the day in Santa Cruz. Staying on the boardwalk that inspired scenes from the movie, “The Lost Boys,” this stop provides a good break before heading into the bustling city of San Francisco.

After that we will have 5 days in San Francisco, with one day in the Napa Valley where I spent my college years. Based out of the Union Square district of San Francisco, we will be walking and taking public transportation to get the most out of this unique city.

We’ll be sharing photos and the story of our trip here. Several great restaurants and activities have been lined-up, but we also have plenty of time to just get lost in the City. If you have any special spots that you think we should include on the itinerary, let us know in the comments. Share your experiences from the City or any of the places listed on the itinerary with us in the comments below as well.

Posted by darrenesl 15:36 Archived in USA Tagged bridges buildings cities coast shopping city san francisco fun santa castle cruz central solvang hearst darrenesl tljohnson tlwforgiven darren_johnson terri_johnson 2015 ca-1 Comments (0)

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