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|May 2013. Playing on Stalin's Billiard Table Sochi. "Wish you were here" - texted image|
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|Overland across Russia by car or motorbike|
Some recent emails and
letters from past clients.
Our trip to China and Mongolia was a great success.
I wanted to thank you for all your help in organising our air and train travel, accommodation and transfers.
Everything worked like clockwork. The transfers you recommended in Ulan Bator were fantastic. It was pouring with rain when we arrived and the driver was dutifully waiting with a soggy sign.
He then arrived promptly to take us back to the station on the morning of our departure. I didn't even realise it was return transfer so it was a welcome bonus.
The hotel you booked for us in Beijing on our return from UB was just across the road from the train station. We could see it as we came out of the terminal. It was great to be able to walk there with our bags rather than fight for a taxi.
It was always a pleasure to deal with you. Your knowledge, professionalism, and attention to detail are impressive. And your warm and generous manner on the phone made the whole process an enjoyable one.
On top of that, I really appreciated your kindness and sensitivity in helping us book flights at short notice to travel to London for a funeral. You are a great credit to your company.
I look forward to dealing with you again and will be recommending you highly to my friends, colleagues and family.
Just a short note to say we have returned safe and sound and to thank you for your efforts in organising our itinerary. We had a wonderful time and things went very, very smoothly.
The highlight was clearly the Trans Siberian trip (or trans sib as we seasoned travellers call it). This was an absolute hoot in spite of taking 10 hrs to cross from Russia to Mongolia and almost as long to get back. We also participated in a carriage revolt against a pair of provodnitsas who refused to open one of the toilets. The just and righteous prevailed, however, and the toilet was eventually unlocked.
All the guides, with the possible exception of the young man at Kazan, were good and in many cases excellent. The home stays were excellent and I would recommend this form of accommodation to anyone. It really gets you into the real world.
Once again Helen, Alison and I both thank you and your company for your efforts.
Cheers Dick Wellard
Hello Paul - back 3 days from trip to Canada and St. Petersburg. Thank you for arranging my flights and the travel plans, hotel and guide and program, in St. Petersburg.
All flights, transfers and baggage went without a hitch. I would not choose to fly 14 hours non stop again though ! 10 hours seems manageable. I liked Cathay Pacific - plenty of leg room and slightly wider seats which cannot be lowered backwards, but are still comfortable enough to sleep.
Our hotel in St. P, Nevsky Grand, was comfortable, with the advantage of a dining room if we chose to use it for dinner etc. I would stay there again, and recommend it to others.
Our tour guide, Pauline, and driver Vladimir were professional and very capable. I felt safe with both drivers, Viktor was at St. P. airport on arrival, and explained monuments and other landmarks on the drive into the city. Pauline is very knowledgeable, and gave the human story associated with the sights we visited, as well as factual information. Of course we saw the key sights - all very beautiful and impressive. St. P itself is a fabulous city - alive and energetic, with crazy traffic ! Through our walking and driving around, and my reading, and sightseeing I know much more about the city than I did 10 days ago.
I have copied Maria, and Pauline into this email. Thanks again Paul. My holiday was great, and the 4 and a half days in St. P. very short, but very enjoyable, and I will urge others to go, and would love to visit again myself !
The following email rates as the nicest gesture considering the delay in critiquing our arrangements
We are at the end of our journey in Edinburgh we trained it all the way from Beijing to here except we flew from Helsinki to London. 10000 kms It was the greatest experience and a wonderful time, the two Mrs Sheridan turned out to be (Miss sisters .) and we teamed up and all looked after each other. The St Petersburg extension was well worth while as we saw Swan Lake at the Hermitage theatre and our guide Lucy was spectacular !!!
Thanks for all your help and I would recommend this trip to every one I know.
I know this is long overdue, but thank you for the great job you did with my Trans Mongolian and Russian trip in June/July, and getting my visas on short notice. All went well and ran smoothly and I got the Belarus visa in Moscow with no problems.
All your partners over there were very efficient and helpful, and I am recommending you to all my friends so you may get more business from Brisbane. In Mongolia I ran into two other satisfied customers of yours. I can't recall their names (maybe Hamish) but one was a Chinese doctor from Brisbane. They were singing your praises as well.
Just a quick note to say thanks for arranging our trans-mongolian trip. We added a couple of weeks in China, and returned home a few days ago.
All the stopovers were good, everybody met us when they should, and Sergei (in St Petersburg) and Anna ( in Moscow) were really good guides. Apart from getting some baggage stolen in Ulan Baator everything went really smoothly, and we had a great trip. We will probably come back to you in a year to try and organise the silk route and Tibet!
Thanks again to everyone concerned
This email is
about the remote BAM route.
I am back after the Russian trip. It went well, a bit difficult and lonely at times. Overall I renjoyed it, but I must say the organisation in Russia was veruy good. I was always picked up on time, the train was always on time and the people were friendly. No many other tourists on the BAM though, only a couple of Swiss travellers. So thank you for a well organised trip. The best accomodation and meals were in Listvyanka at the chalet. The most beautiful place was a day trip to Baikalskoe near Severobaikalsk.
As you can see I am back with hotmail
I want to thank you for the considerable help you gave us in organising our trip on the Trans-Siberian railway recently. Our trip went very smoothly and we had a great time. We loved the train trips and it was very helpful to have people met us at every station and to get us back on the train. Our homestays were a highlight of the trip too and a great way to get to know local people.
Sherryl and Patricia
How do you respond to a marriage proposal after a few vodkas on the transiberian? Very carefully, when it is from a sizeable Russian and on the first night of a 3 day rail journey.
Although not as passionate in quite the same way as my large Siberian friend, the Muscovites and locals of St Petersburg spoke vigorously about their country, its history and its future. The Kremlin guide proud of his city's beautiful old buildings declared of Stalin's buildings that 'Russia had the stupidest communists in the world.' Although he viewed Stalin nonetheless to be a 'humble' criminal, given the simple Kremlin building he chose to reside in.
In St Petersburg our guide Sergei spoke with great emotion of his family's tragic losses from starvation during the city's siege in WW2. His grandmother dragging the body of his grandfather on a sled and burying him with her own hands, a task she was too sick to perform when her mother died soon after.
The fervent patriotism and pride of the Russians was evident too in the painstaking restoration and reconstruction of their stunning architecture. The unbelievable wonder of the Amber Room at Catherine's Palace, the landscaped gardens full of elaborate fountains and sculptures at Peter's Palace, and the soaring majesty of the Church of Our Saviour Cathedral in Moscow (a swimming pool during Stalin's time, and where I was inundated with holy water during a morning service), spoke of grandeur and wealth. A wealth which appeared, and we were told, belonged only to the very few, such as the mafia of St Petersburg in their Hummers, Mercedes and Ferraris. Obvious on the city streets not so much by their Italian suits but by the armed personal guards accompanying them.
Russian passion was also evident in their art, especially at the Fine Arts Museum in Moscow, their haunting music and their adoration of their literary greats, such as Pushkin. It is less evident in their customer service; the menu on the transiberian appeared comprehensive until you understood that most of the dishes had nyet hope of appearing on the table. The delicious still warm meat pastries bought from a Babushka on one of the many station stops, the culinary highlight of the rail trip.
The entire restaurant car full of Russians joining me in a stirring vodka toast to the Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave duet that was playing the funniest moment. The saddest moment undoubtedly was a couple of Russians predicting a revolution of some sort in the future, as the gap between the poor and wealthy widens. We were told that in some rural areas basic services such as electricity have now disappeared with kerosene lamps back in use.
From the passionate Russians, via the stylish Finns of Helsinki, now in the big exciting metropolis that is London.
Second day here in St Petersburg - really enjoyed the drive out to the palaces - sensational, especially the Amber Room in Catherine's Palace.
My ePostcards to friends have already
elicited a couple of queries from people wanting to do the same
tour. (ePostcards follow - please excuse the typos. I am an
ex-journo but never done any travel writing so excuse the quality
Does a few glasses of Great Wall red wine help or hinder when using Chinese toilets in the middle of the night whilst the bogies are being changed on the train at the Mongolia border? The jury is out, although the second bottle was definitely better than the first shared with a couple from Perth in the restaurant car.
It was the night the bogies change went badly as it was 3 extra hours of whistle blowing, fiddling with the bogies and the train going back and forth before we finally crossed the border into Mongolia at Zamyn-Uud in the wee small hours.
We left behind the country where they talk like they're singing and write like they're painting. The Forbidden City in Beijing and the many treasures over 800 palaces held included beautiful scrolls, some as ancient as 260 AD.
Across the jam packed 12 lane road (that I talked my uncle out of an attempt at hurdling the barrier and jaywalking) where luxury European cars jostled with bicycles and the odd rickshaw, at Tiananmen Square everything was massive in scale. The surrounding buildings of Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People, and the Monument to the People's Heroes made less of a political statement at night when lit up and filled by families strolling the warm, humid night and flying kites.
The stern faces of guards posted outside heavily secured government buildings contrasted with the smiling faces and young lovers embracing on the wide wide pavements. A dozen people astride plus the odd motorbike and car were accommodated on the pavements of the huge city blocks that took many minutes to walk.
Preparation for the Olympic Games next
year were visible everywhere including signs in shops to change
local behaviour (translation via a 3rd party):
The streets and the impressively clean and English signposted subway were filled with the young and the fashionable many of them able to speak English to some degree. However, when labouring up the steep path to the Great Wall at Simitai, it was a tiny, wizened 62 year old farmer who gently took my hand for the treacherous parts (that our guide had told us several tourists had plummeted off the side), and fanned me with an ornate fan - that naturally he tried to sell to me. Beijing was a beguiling mix of the new and young China with its rich cultural heritage, whilst also the showpiece of Mao. The old and bleak poor farming areas of China were visible from the train yesterday as were several kilometres of the Great Wall (but no rabbits). Today the vast, desolate plains of the Gobi Desert with the odd small group of camels, goats, sheep and ponies pass by the restaurant car window. I'm enjoying the local Mongolian Lager under a very serious bow and arrow set that decorates the wall of our restaurant car.
How do you end up on the local TV news in Siberia? Walking along Lake Baikal, a huge inland lake holding 20% of the world's fresh water supply, an ACNT TV crew stopped to ask about our impressions of the area as tourist. I hope we were translated correctly and they edited out all my laughter at our tour guide's attempts at directing us. Not 100% comfortable about participating in a media without free speech. The transMongolian train disembarking at Irkutsk involved a lot of hugging and kissing of new friends. I hope the four actresses - an Austrian, Swede, Spaniard and Pom - travelling in the compartment next to ours, do visit Australia as discussed.
The Lake Baikal area in Siberia was virtually unscathed by Soviet architecture. The Listvyanka village was filled with traditional log houses, with carved and brightly painted window frames. The gardens filled with chrysamenthems, daisies, and dalias, and the bakeries chocker with the most divine pastries - banana, chocolate, cabbage, meat and fish. But little reminders of where we were popped up occassionally ... the soldier in combat gear with an automatic rifle slung casually over his shoulder who strolled into the guesthouse restaurant at lunch. And a fellow traveller who visited the parents of one of the local guides - gobsmacked to find they lived on a nearby military base with nuclear warheads.
Then it was 3 days on the famous trans-siberian train - number 9 - and here in Moscow .......
Many thanks for organising my flights with Asiana.
From: Margaret Flanagan
We would just like to express our appreciation of you and your organisation's efforts in providing such excellent arrangements for our Trans Mongolian Train trip experience. It was without doubt definitely a major highlight of our extended journey. Our initial fears of not making contact with our guides at each of our stop-off points were quickly dispelled and were without foundation. The high standard of professionalism of each of our guides (with one exception) was much appreciated. We would also recommend the home-stay segment of our trip to any of your future clients - as long as these clients did not expect anything like 5 star accommodation. The positive home-stay benefits/experiences/education we gained far outweighed any minor inconveniences. It should also be noted that your future clients should be warned that they need to have a strong bladder when making this crossing, for it took from 10.30 - 11.00am until 3.00pm for the single carriage of tourists to be processed by the Russian border officials. During all that time we were instructed to remain in our rail carriage compartments. The Russian officials nevertheless bent over backwards and took pains to put at ease and be pleasant to us and our fellow tourists entering Russia. As you would know we did experience a small hick-up with having to pay for our entry tickets to the Kremlin in Moscow. Please be advised that after the Moscow organisation clarified the situation with you, we did in fact receive a full refund. Needless to say we would have no hesitation in recommending your organisation to any of our friends.
Thanks once again for an experience of a lifetime,
Margaret & Denis Flanagan
To: Helen Fuge
Subject: Thanks for the BAM
How right you were ,the BAM route is a extraordinarily scenic vast area of Siberia.
Acres+ acres of golden autumn trees with a backdrop of ruggard snow dusted mts.
There were so many extras which surprised us, a cruise on that wonderful body of water, Lake Baikal,
Giselle at the Hermitage Theatre, cocktails in Ivan the Great Bell Tower. etc
We were lucky enough to have many different nationalities on board which was so much fun.
The journey was perfect so a big thankyou to you for you imput and travel expertise.
With best wishes Marion Gyaw.
From: Anne Maree Ridley
HI. QUICK NOTE TO SAY THE SERGI (DRIVER) AND TANYA (GUIDE)
WERE GREAT. VERY
These following comments are interesting as they address several issues, Hotels we use, Winter Travel in Russia, crime/honesty in Russia and homestays (some people can consider this type of accommodation a negative).
From: Pat & Eileen the New Zealanders!
Subject: St Petersburg
Have just returned from UK so thought I'd let you
know that we had a great time in St Petersburg. The Hotel Oktyabrskya was excellent. It
has all been re furbished recently and everything was very good. The breakfast was
excellent, both in the amount and the choice. In fact we met a man who regularly goes to
St. P .on business and he said he now stays at this hotel as it is now of a better
standard than some of the 4 stars.I thought you may like to know it is highly recommended.
It is most convenient being at the bottom of the main street and near to all the buses,
trams and metro.
From the Dutch and Australians
Thank you for the opportunity to provide some feedback. Inge and I had an excellent holiday with Russia being absolutely amazing. We are heading back to Holland for two weeks in October for Inge's best friend's wedding, and we are already saving for our next big trip - probably the year after next. Firstly, we were most impressed with the professionalism and organisation of yourself and your company. A lot needed to be done without the benefit of personal contact, and because of Inge's residency application, we did not give you a lot of time in which to arrange everything for us. Definitely a big thank you! Throughout the trip everything happened as it was supposed to happen, in terms of our transfers, accommodation, flights and car. At the St Petersburg end we were most impressed with our driver and our host. He was friendly and engaging and gave us a potted tour on the early morning drive from Moscow station to our homestay. He also contacted us during our stay to make sure everything was okay and to see if there was anything that he could arrange for us. Our hostess was also very nice, friendly and helpful. Overall, we loved the trip and would recommend Russia to anyone, especially in the winter time. Your efforts helped to make this possible!