After identifying and reviewing all of our options, we decided we’d like best… given our budget and schedule to take the cruise to St. Petersburg, Russia… that way we’d at least get a glimpse of a portion of what we’d looked forward to seeing in Russia… the next step was to lay it all out on a calendar so that we could then begin to consider the “excursion” options… one option of course was to forgo the cruise excursion packages and just “do it ourselves”… that’s OK for most of the European countries, but not Russia… it’s a little more challenging.
Please note, I absolutely LOVE Russia and everything Russian (especially my darling daughter-in-law and 3 gorgeous grandkids)… I’ve known of Russia my whole life, in fact some of my first books were biographies of Russian nobility. But no matter how much one loves Russia or Russian people, one can not just pack a bag and go to Russia… and Russians like it like that, and I don’t blame them.
One must either:
- have a Russian Visa OR
- be part of a shore excursion.
There’s one exception to the above. There are a couple of local tour operators such as Red October and Denrus with special certification that entitles them to carry passengers without a visa — though we’d have to register and show our ship a copy of our confirmed tour receipt before we could debark.
I contacted one of the above, and found that for slightly more than my entire excursion budget I would get a private car, private driver, and a separate private guide for two whole days. While I would love to do that, as I’m sure I’d get to spend more time in the places that interest me most, with less crowds, I still wanted to see a bit of the other countries on our itinerary too, so we decided not to do that, leaving us with the two options listed above.
When my grandson was here last summer he said, “Grandma, you have to learn Russian so that when you come to Russia to visit me you can talk to me.” I looked at him and said, “But you speak perfect English Darling.” He replied, “Not in Russia Grandma.”
He’s soooooo cute, I, of course adore him…. and I am learning Russian… but I’m not there yet…. and it’s an incredibly language oriented society… not every one there speaks English… so we decided to do the cruise provided excursions in St. Petersburg. Also, a Russian Visa costs roughly $300 per person for all the paperwork, it can cost more if you need everything immediately.
Back to planning… now that we decided where we were going and when, my next step in this process was to use a normal calendar layout with one month per page. It has the days of the week across the top and squares for each day with the numeric date in the corner of the square. I printed out one for August and one for September. I entered “to Europe” on the day we’d fly to Europe and then wrote where we’d be for each day. “Copenhagen”, “Set sail”, “at sea”, “Stockholm”, “Helsinki”, “St. Petersburg”, etc… This approach has several benefits… Primarily, it enabled me to see the big picture. While we want an exciting vacation, we don’t want to be needing a vacation from our vacation upon on our return. (I don’t think that’d go over well at work.)
The next thing I did was create a spread sheet that had the dates across the top, with hours going down the left… on this I then blocked out with color coded blocks where we’d be when. This let me see when I was flying versus when we’d be in Copenhagen, at sea, Helsinki, etc.. This let me have the whole time on one sheet of paper. Having the hours was very helpful, when I started laying out nail appointments, excursions, versus just laying around time.
I really wanted to start thinking about clothes. But, before I could truely lay out clothes, I had to know exactly what type of clothes I’d need and that is totally dependent upon activities…. consider that one does not really lay around the beach on the Baltic in September… well not this Southern belle anyway….. the weather during our time there is on the average 55-60 F….
For a change I’m not talking about THE beginning… as in… “In THE beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” Why not, you ask? Because He didn’t have to plan… He already knew.
Me on the other hand… well, I really don’t have a clue… about much of anything… so, I plan things to the nth degree… it’s the Project Manager in me… it’s that part of me that likes being prepared… not having forgotten anything… truthfully though, I sincerely enjoy the anticipation of an event… planning… it helps me… to, well… to anticipate.
For example, I give “teas”… real ones… with tea (of course), roses, savories (finger sandwiches), tea biscuits (like scones) and petit fours (or some other luscious desert)… Part of the fun for me is in the planning… Ordering the roses, selecting the kinds of sandwiches I’ll make… setting a pretty table… and making my guests feel special…. Planning is fun, but seeing a plan come together is even better… when I err, oh I hate that… but when it comes together well… ohhhhhhhhhh… now that truly tickles me.
So… back to my vacation story… we planned… to go to Russia… waited to find the right time… got our leave approved by our bosses… bought our tickets… oh but wait… a wrinkle… the people we were going to see (our son and his family) won’t be there… they’ll be here… now what?
Well, we already had our tickets… couldn’t we… go anyway? But, what would we do there?… Oh, come on… it’s Europe… a whole world away.. that we’ve never seen much of (I’ve only been to Siberia before once, and my husband spent a few years in Germany 30 odd years ago).
Once we started talking about it… it didn’t take us long to realize… here we are on the edge of Senior Citizenry… (when we retire our income becomes… fixed)… and we’ve never seen much of the world, never in our adult lives been anywhere that didn’t involve going to see our kids (we have 5) or other members of our family… that’s what we always did if we went any where… Here’s a unique concept… we could, perhaps, take a trip… just for us… what a selfish thought that is… I’ll just have to get over it and live with myself.
Once we cleared that hurdle… we began investing in Amazon for books on Europe in general, Germany in particular… one of the books on Germany talked about cruises down German rivers… which naturally led to thoughts of cruising…. anywhere that started in Europe… Italy’s in Europe… St. Petersburg’s in Europe… Barcelona’s in Europe… after all, we could either continue our flight to Moscow and proceed from there or we could change the tickets… and when we talked to our travel agent we found that it is more cost effective to change the ticket and pay the fee than to buy additional transportation to some other city… Now the hard part… making a decision… where do we go for this wonderful, only for us, vacation? Italy, Germany, Spain????
We had to reach back to our dreams… dreams we’d had during which we’d experience fleeting “I wishes…” over the years, decades… eons… thoughts of, “oh… I’d like to see that…” So, what is “that”… and exactly what are our options?
The internet…. (William Tell Overture playing in the background) …. to the rescue… research… what’s to see in Germany?… car rentals?… hotels?… gas prices (ouch)!… Do you know a gallon of gas in March cost nearly $8 in Europe? And with our American dollar deflating, it doesn’t go as far as it used to… Quite frankly that’s one of the reasons we like the idea of a cruise… today’s dollar, with no gas… no hotels (except before and after the cruise) and we get to see as much or as little as we’d like.
Tours?.. Land? River? Baltic Sea? Cruises?.. what are our options?… within our timeframe and budget?… Well, we found two…. one 10-day cruise of the Baltic, and one 12-day cruise of the Mediteranean…
In James 4:13-17 it says,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Therefore, God willing… my husband and I will be taking a trip later this year… and God willing… it’ll be the trip of our life time… we plan to go to Europe… we were going to see our son who lives in Siberia, but his plans have changed and he’s coming stateside for a year… that’s a blessing in itself… to be near to him, his wonderful wife, and 3 of our grandchildren… dare I say it??? .. YIPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
After a great deal of thought and indeed, prayer… we’ve decided to go to Europe anyway… we already had our tickets… while we’d originally planned to bring son & family to meet us and spend a couple of weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia… we really didn’t want to do that without them… so we had to come up with Plan B.
Our time frame is fixed… time off from work scheduled… and one son getting married in California at the start of our vacation… we only have 3 weeks total… Our budget is fixed… we’ve saved for this for awhile… sorry kids… no inheritance
We considered just renting a car and driving around Germany… my Great Grandfather was from Germany and his mother was from Poland…. but we were concerned about the Euro vs the dollar, and the high cost of gas… after some additional research we settled on a cruise of the Baltic….
I’ll be blogging much more about this in the coming days and weeks… the planning process and pictures and stories we upload during our trip. First things first… “God’s will”.. that’s the most important thing…
I don’t want to be outside of His will for me… why?… because He’s got the whole picture… me? … well I just “see through a glass darkly”… and a very small glass at that… His way leads to the least damaging “bumps”… any bumps in that path are meant for my own good (Romans 8:28). And He loves me… MORE… much more… than even I love myself…. He made me… He restored me to a relationship with Him through His own death on the cross… I am His!
He knows the thoughts that he has towards me are for good and not for evil. I can rest and trust in that!