Russia Cruise Review by Yvonne

russia river cruisesChecking our bags in at the Huntsville airport, seven female friends and I began our long and tiring flights to St. Petersburg, Russia at 12:40 PM on August 28.  We connected in Charlotte, NC where I wanted to deplane to wait for the beginning of the Democratic convention!  But I knew that I had too much financial and social investment in this Russian River cruise to change plans; I wouldn’t really trade the friendship of these ladies, some of whom I have known for more than 40 years for a political meeting, even one to nominate President Barack Obama for a second term!  So onward we flew into the night and the next morning, landing in Munich, Germany at 7 AM local time.  We were accompanied throughout the night by a sleepless barking dog in the hold below.

We had a much too brief but otherwise lovely visit at the airport there from a beautiful young friend, Sabine Fischterlere Wednesday; I have known Sabine’s mother for about 30 years and Sabine since she was a teenager.  She reissued our connecting tickets so that we sat 2 passengers on a 3 seat side with an empty seat between us, an arrangement which really helped after our long overnight flight squeezed cheek-to-cheek in a full plane.

We were met at the  St. Petersburg airport by a representative from the cruise line who,with a helper, loaded our many large suitcases on a trolley and walked us to our waiting bus.  Along the route to the cruise dock, she gave a running commentary on sites of interest.  We received our cabin keys, and were reunited with our luggage in time to make the dinner schedule.  Dinner is only so-so but breakfast is bountiful and varied with cold cuts, salads, cheese, cereal, rolls, jams, honey, boiled eggs, mixed fruit, and watermelon; the buffet also has a hot service with porridge of some kind (one day oatmeal, another rice, the third grits), eggs, sausage, pancakes, etc.  We haven’t had lunch on board yet as the first two days were so jam packed with tours that we had no time to return to the ship but had a packed lunch box to eat in one of St. Petersburg’s many lovely parks.  The weather has been perfect – sunny, about 65 degrees in the day time with about 50 at night.  And I always really enjoy the passengers on river cruises; they are older, mostly active, well educated and well traveled retirees.  We have other Americans, English, Scots, Australians, Germans, Russians, and Canadians on board.

Our first full day was just that; in the morning, we had a drive-by tour of St. Petersburg, the former capital of Russia.  It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, located on the banks of the Gulf of Finland, in the delta of the Neva River.  There are 65 rivers and canals flowing through the city, as well as 42 islands.  Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703 and it was the capital of the Russian Empire for over 200 years. It is the second largest city in Russia, with five million “official” citizens or about 6 ½ million total inhabitants.  Because of its many canals, bridges, and architectural beauty, St. Petersburg is known as the “Venice of the North’ but it features elaborate golden Roccoco instead of Byzantine style.  Driving down Nevsky Prospect (main street), we saw St. Isaac’s Cathedral with its many vari-colored domes, Kazan’s Assembly Church, the Admiralty Building, Palace Square with the residence of Russian Czars known as the “Winter Palace”, the Bronze Horseman” monument to Peter the Great, Smolny Monastery, the cruiser Aurora, and the fascinating bridges over the Neva river which are raised every night to enable passage of ships sailing to the Baltic Sea.  A very demanding walking tour of Peter and Paul Fortress, the burial site of Russian Tzars, ended the tour on a high note.  We then ate our box lunch in a lovely park and had a few minutes to window shop some typical souvenir stores.

At 1 PM, we were admitted to the Hermitage, one of the world’s finest and largest museums; its amazing collections of over 3 million artifacts including originals by Van Gogh, de Vinci , Gauguin and Picasso, are displayed in 365 large rooms of the 1,000 room Winter Palace.  Had I not walked through the Peter and Paul Fortress this morning, I would have enjoyed the Hermitage more although I had previously been to this museum but one could not see all of it in a lifetime.  Our guide said if one looked at each item for only 1 minute, it would take seven years of 24 hour days to see everything! But its entry staircase with 4 sets of long, steep stairs is a killer for guests with bad knees!

We returned to the ship to dress and eat dinner, then went back to the Winter Palace to attend the ballet.  Swan Lake was beautifully presented, accompanied by a full orchestra, in a 250 year old theatre with unbelievable decoration and acoustics, a chandelier equaling the one in Phantom of the Opera.  Of course, the entrance was another 4 sets of extremely difficult stairs with no hand rails so I am getting some painful practice for Machu Picchu in November.

Our second full day was equally demanding but with absolutely gorgeous gardens and palaces, another perfect sunny day and  delightful people.  Our guide, Galya, has been with this company for 11 years but has several more years of experience in the business, is very knowledgeable, patient, and energetic.  We first went to Pushkin, the former village  of Russian royalty where we visited the enchanting gardens of Peterhof with its 115 fountains powered not by pumps but only by the forces of gravity with water from the Baltic Sea.  With extensive manicured lawns and thousands of flowers, several garden houses, and a magnificent view of the Baltic down an avenue of fountains, it is a most impressive sight.  Peter the Great’s dream was to outshine the Versailles of the Sun God of France with his palace and gardens and he did it!

After shopping for amber in the markets outside the palace, we ate lunch and continued to the summer palace of Catherine the Great, the most opulent of theTsars’ dwellings whose Hall of Mirrors is more impressive than that of Versailles but its most famous feature is the Amber Room, a complete room covered in precious amber!

Upon returning to the ship, we attended a cocktail reception to meet the captain and his crew.  The boat/ship, the Vasily Surikov, has 140 passengers and 70 crew members aboard, has small but clean cabins with sparse furnishings because of its size.  We have no television, no internet or cell phone service on the river, but the staff provides language lessons, arts/crafts lectures, a blini tasting, a caviar and vodka sampling, a river side barbeque, and other activities.  So I shall continue to write my daily journal and try to transmit it from the next town along the route.

Sailing away from St. Petersburg, we compared stories of our two days there, everyone commenting on how spotlessly clean the city is.  We asked our guide how a country this large teaches its inhabitants to become litter free but she ascribed the spic-and-span condition to the hiring of many additional street cleaners; indeed, we had observed several people manually sweeping the streets.  I related how when I was here previously that the city was dirty, the streets were full of pot holes and the traffic was unmanageable.  I inquired if the fact that President Putin is a native of SP had anything to do with its renewal, knowing, of course, that it was a rhetorical question.

During the night, we cruised along the Neva River and into the southern edge of Lake Ladoga, the largest lake in Europe which resembles a sea rather than a land-locked lake. We were delayed by heavy fog this morning as we meandered toward Mandrogi, a re-created typical Russian village of wooden houses which operate as hotels, restaurants, and shops, even one as a vodka museum with 2,500 kinds of vodka!  After another heavy breakfast, we attended our first Russian language lesson taught by our tour director, Galya, who made the class very entertaining with her examples of vocabulary and pronunciations.  A presentation on Russian arts and crafts featuring the pretty lacquered boxes and Matruska nesting dolls followed and then it was lunch time.  The promised riverside barbecue was changed to an onboard lunch because of our late arrival due to the fog.  A trio of musicians played during lunch which featured pork kabobs, cabbage slaw, small diced potatoes, a clear soup, and a cherry pastry.  After such a late breakfast, lunch was anti-climactic as I think dinner will also be tonight since we have had no real activity today.  But we needed a slow day after two such hectic ones.

When I called Paul today, he told me that I should call Ginger because she wasn’t feeling well.  When I reached Ginger, she told me that she had a high temperature and chills, had slept for 20 hours, ached all over, and that Paul advised her to go to the doctor to make sure that she doesn’t have tick fever.  I tried to reach her again later but we were in the middle of the second largest lake in Europe, Lake Onega,  headed for the island of Kitzi and had no cell service.  This inland sea is fed by more than 50 rivers and 1000 streams but only one river, the Svir, originates here and joins it with Lake Ladoga.  Both are quite spectacular, smooth as glass, with little traffic despite featuring 1,300 islands within its banks.

One of the islands in the northeastern section is Kitzhi, an outdoor museum of old Russian life with fascinating wooden architecture including churches, houses, barns, granaries, chapels, bell towers, windmills, and bathhouses.  Although Russians settled the island in the 11th century, the most remarkable building is the 17th century Church of  Transfiguration with its 30,000 shingles on 22 separate cupolas situated on 5 tiers built with only chisels and axes and without a single nail or piece of iron!  Legend says that the builder, Master Nester, threw his tools in the lake upon completion of the church saying, “There is no church like this in the world and there will never be one again!”  The island entered a period of decline in the 18th century as increasing numbers of craftsmen left to work in St. Petersburg and it has never recovered although it is very beautiful and extremely interesting.  Because it can be reached only by boat, however, it will probably never regain its prominence.

Today, Labor Day, was an appropriate one to learn the Russian holidays and traditions, one of the lectures offered on board the MS Vasilyli Surikov.  Following our buffet breakfast, we studied the Russian language, my favorite activity on the cruise.  We have studied the Cyrihlic alphabet with phonetic pronunciation, Russian numerals, common greetings, everyday expressions, meeting people, shopping terms, the names of foods and how to order eats and drinks.  We had a test today on about 50 words and Monika and I, the first to turn in our papers, made 100!  It’s  so much fun!

After lunch, we docked at Goritsy, another very small village with 300 inhabitants, about that many houses or buildings, 3 shops, an elementary school, a junior high school, a post office, a doctor’s office and a historic convent.  Founded in 1544 byMoscow Princess Yefrosiniya, the wife of the son of Ivan the Terrible. the Convent became her own place of exile when it was discovered that she was plotting to kill Ivan the Great to install her son on the throne.  After executing his own grandson, Ivan sent Yefrosinia to the convent and, when he tired of her pleas for release, he sent a ship to Goritsy to “free” her to the middle of the Sheksna River where she was downed according to his real orders.  Tonight, we enjoyed participating in a hilarious version of a BBC program called The Liars Club in which 4 volunteers told outlandish meanings of 5 words from which we had to choose the real definition.  Our group won the certificate by default when we failed to select the correct meaning of any of the words!  Closing the day were a blini tasting with vodka shots and a classical music concert.

Continuing toward our final destination of Moscow, we sailed through the Rybinsk Reservoir, another huge lake created by Joseph Stalin’s plan to dam the Volga and Sheksna rivers.  Over 700 villages and 4000 hectares of farm land were flooded by the forced labor of the GULAG prisoners who were forced to dig out the reservoir shovelful by shovelful, a project which was kept secret because of the mass destruction, human displacement, and ecological damage it caused.  The Volga River, the central artery of Russia’s vast river network, with its canals and tributaries, connects to all of the country’s 5 major seas and is the longest river in Europe at 3,688 kilometers or about 2,200 miles.

Yaroslavl is among the oldest and most well known of all Russian provincisl cities on the Volga River.  Founded in 1010, it is older than Moscow, and is famous for 17 magnificent churches which may be seen from one overlook in the city.  We were privileged to hear two songs performed just for our group by a quartet in the most beautiful of these churches, St. Elijah the Prophet.  We had about an hour of free time here to shop, have a cup of coffee, and to use very scarce automatic teller machines!  Back aboard, a scavenger hunt, Russian song and dance class, educational bingo, and another Russian language class with a second homework assignment provided entertainment and education for the rest of the day.  After dinner, where I had my first (and last) cabbage schnitzel, a concert of popular music was presented.

Today, Wednesday, September 5th, we arrived in Uglich, a small town on the Volga, established in the 12th century.  After reaching its peak in the 15th century, it was almost completely destroyed by fire and two sacks by the pesky Mongols!  The most famous event in its history occurred with the murder of Ivan the Terrible’s only living heir, Dmitry.  Uglich, contrary to the incorrect pronunciation of its name, is a very beautiful city which became a destination of religious pilgrtimage due to the founding of the Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood, built to honor the slain tsarevich, who has since been canonized.

Upon returning to the ship, our guide, Galya, gave a most interesting and personal account of her life under communism.  We sat, fascinated, for two hours simply enthralled with her stories of the infamous KGB, the endless lines for bread, the trading between neighbors and friends of necessities held by one and desperately desired by others.   We did not want her story to end!  But we had to vacate the conference room so that the “talent show” participants could practice (which they really needed as we saw later in the real performance).  Following a farewell drink with the captain and a Gala dinner, we attended the talent show.  I do not have enough adjectives in my vocabulary to describe that hilariously entertaining event; everyone in my group took part in some way, even the invalid (me) as a groupie for the stars!  Teresa, Diana, Mary Lou, Betty, Paula, Susan, and Monika sang and danced in a couple of numbers.  Teresa was really the star of these as she tried to outshine her sister, an actual choral teacher!   Then the 4 Decatur, AL girls performed their much requested special number “Sweet Home Alabama” with their own original lyrics substituted for those of Lynerd Skynyrd. With my cheerleading help, they were a real crowd pleaser.  Another original comic number based on a Shakespeare play was dramatically read by a very precisely spoken English guest.  A couple of funny skits, one loosely based on a children’s story of a turnip being pulled from the ground acted by the Russian guests, and another about Sir Jasper, a lecherous old man, pursuing a sweet, innocent proper young woman and trying to get her between the sheets, had us nearly falling out of our chairs.  One of the guides, Katya, read a “journal” which had “accidentally” been left in a former guest’s cabin in which he related every day’s shore excursions which always included a 17th century cathedral, a statue of Lenin with either a pigeon or a sea gull on his head, and a merchant trying to corral him to sell some item. Two skits by the guides and cruise director also got a boisterous response. The finale was the familiar tale of the damsel in distress but in an adults-only version; this slap-stick performance drew rousing laughter from the crowd.  Turning in our homework, we received the third lesson and homework paper.

We arrived in Moscow, the capital of Russia, situated on the banks of the rivers Oka and Volga, on September 6.  A metropolis of some 10 million people, Moscow today is notonly the seat of the Russian government but also home to many world renowned attractions which we shall visit during the next two days.  But first we had breakfast, attended another lecture about modern Russian history and life in today’s Russia.  We also enjoyed a preview of the video of our trip made by the on-site videographer during the entire cruise.

Now I must share with you the most exciting time of our wonderful River of the Tsars

Trip – our graduation from Russian language school. All members of our group were presented with a diploma “for extraordinary linguistic abilities and awarded the Honorary Russian Bachelor with the right to work as a cruise guide and to teach in kindergarten”.  After much applause and congratulations from our fellow language students, some who just like every teacher knows, were derelict in their studies and, therefore, jealous of us  scholars and unable to understand the importance of our awards, sat in sullen silence!  Then they were really pissed off (didn’t learn that expression in Russian) when Monika and I received an additional award certifying that we were “employed by Global Tours & Cruises to work as a cruise guide on board the MS Vasily Surikov on the Russian Waterways cruises with a monthly pay of 2,999 Rubles.”  This valuable paper described our job thusly:  “irregular working hours, serving very early morning coffee, counting passengers every hour, carrying sticks with a Global Tours & Cruises sign, giving lectures on any subject, answering all questions, chasing lost luggage, producing 1,000 hand-outs per day, and entertaining passengers”.  I could swear that I have had this same job before!

After all of this fun, we boarded a bus for our guided city tour of Moscow which featured Moscow’s major sights including the humongous Red Square, famous St.Basil’s Cathedral, and the impressive Kremlin.  Afterwards, we saw another famous Moscow sight -  its daily 2 hour traffic jam to drive about 20 miles back to the ship!  It was worse traffic than any I have ever seen in Rome, Paris, London, Beijing, Athens, Los Angeles, NYC, and other major world cities!  But we were impressed with the new sleek expensive brand name autos – Mercedes, BMWs, Hummers, Volvos, etc., which we saw in the traffic.

After dinner, many of the guests ventured out again for the tour of Moscow by night and a trial of its Metro system which is one of the most impressive in the world, fast, efficient, cheap, and crowded. Having done this tour 10 years ago and fearful that I would fall during the subway tour, I stayed on board this time. The Moscow Metro has 186 stations and its route length is 308.7 kilometres (191.8 mi). The system is mostly underground, with the deepest section 84 metres (276 ft).  Some stations were supplied with tight gates and life-sustenance systems to function as nuclear shelters in the event of nuclear war.  The Moscow Metro was one of the USSR’s most extravagant architectural projects. Stalin ordered the metro’s artists and architects to design a structure that embodied svet (radiance or brilliance) and svetloe budushchee (a radiant future).  With their reflective marble walls, high ceilings and grandiose chandeliers, many Moscow Metro stations have been likened to an “artificial underground sun”.  This underground communist paradise[10] reminded its riders that Stalin and his party had delivered something substantial to the people in return for their sacrifices. Most importantly, proletarian labor produced this svetloe budushchee.  The metro design’s emphasis on verticality was a reinforcement of Stalin’s deification. He directed his architects to design structures which would encourage citizens to look up, admiring the station’s art (as if they were looking up to admire the sun and—by extension—him as a god Another aspect of the apotheosis propaganda was the metro’s electrification; the Moscow Metro’s chandeliers are one of the most beautiful and technologically advanced aspects of the project.  The average daily passenger traffic is 6.6 million. Ridership is highest on weekdays (when the Metro carries over 7 million passengers per day) and lower on weekends.

The next day, I also stayed on board the ship to do such mundane tasks as catch-up grooming and packing while most passengers enjoyed tours of the Kremlin, Moscow’s huge fortress, and the Armoury, their museum featuring the riches of the country.  Again, I had done these tours earlier and remembered the many steep steps involved.  But I did go with the tour Friday night to see a stupendous performance by the Russian National Dancers.  Expecting folklore dances, I was pleasantly surprised to see a fabulous display of everything from gymnastics to ballet, extravagant costumes, talented performers, beautiful sets, and superior choreography.  It was truly a night to remember! Finally have internet access after 12 days of deprivation; I feel like an alcoholic with a beer! Have had a wonderful trip in Russia, enjoyed it so much more than last time. We disembarked from the MS Vasily Surikov after 11 days on the Tour of the Zsars yesterday AM. My friends in Moscow picked us up at the pier and took us on a more personalized tour of their city. After a nap, a REAL shower, and dinner, we went to an incredible show in Red Square for which my friends had obtained VIP seats!  We saw over two hours of  precision marching, all kinds of instrumental and marching units or orchestras from 30 countries – 50 orchestras in all. The military tattoo was in celebration of 200 years since their War of 1812, with the overture played at intervals, fireworks, gun salutes, cannons with the Kremlin as the backgound and facing St. Basil’s Cathedral. Exhilarating, spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, nursing home memories! After a great night’s sleep from all the excitement and breakfast fighting off the Chinese tourists, we are fortified for 3 more days spent with our friends, Ilya and Irini.

On Sunday morning, Ilya drove us about 4 hours outside Moscow to Yaroslavl, a town with 17 cathedrals of 17th century vintage, visible from one overlook!  Amazing, shiny gold and blue cupolas topped huge white cathedral complexes; we visited in a couple of them which showcase colorful wall and ceiling murals, all aglitter with rich gold and deep colors.  Ilya and Irini had arranged a meeting with Ilya’s boss, her husband, and another colleague, also named Irini, to serve as our English speaking personal guide.  This was such an impressive itinerary which my friends had planned that I shall never be able to return their hospitality.  While they have previously stayed with Paul and me in Russellville, and my friends, Mary Lou and Lisa, have helped me to host them when they visited for their niece, Svetlana’s wedding, can you imagine what meager hospitality that was compared to their showing, at their quite considerable expense, Monika and me some of the richest sights in the world?   I am wordless when trying to express my gratitude for such largesse!

While in Yaroslavl, we were given a private tour of the city’s modern hockey stadium by its public announcer; the tour included the memorial, held two days earlier, to the team’s 37 national championship players and coaches who lost their lives two years ago in a devastating plane crash.  We even toured the penalty box and the locker rooms and watched young ice skaters practicing their skills.  That night, we enjoyed a dinner in a period restaurant just a few steps from our spacious, elegant room in one of the city’s finest hotels.  I have to try to describe the feast we shared with Ikya, Irini, and their friends.  First, we tasted about half-a-dozen starter dishes aligned down the center of the table; these included caviars, herring with potatoes, toast points with eggplant caviar, green onions, olives, tomatoes, hare’s kidneys, etc., each bite toasted with vodka shots, and, for me, a beer large enough to baptize a baby!  Second, we had a variety of salads, mine the freshest Greek variety, others with meat, poultry, or fish.  Third, I had a salmon steak, fresh, grilled, assorted vegetables, and a variety of sauces, and dips, while others enjoyed steak or chicken, still accompanied by vodka shots.  Fourth, various, typical Russian desserts and coffee followed.  Ilya then walked Monika and me back to the hotel from which he rejoined his friends and Irini until about 1 AM while we contentedly snoozed!

On Monday, after breakfast and a later start necessitated by the previous night’s imbibing, we drove another 4 hours to the next village they had selected for us, Suzdal, called “the pearl of the golden ring”.  Along the route, we saw many of the historical, colorfully trimmed wooden cottages, the centuries old dachas, vacation/country houses of the area. These gingerbread houses had elaborately carved gables and window and door lintels and shutters, all trimmed in contrasting colors to the painted houses themselves.  Then we checked into another amazing hotel, constructed of huge logs reminiscient of some American log houses but with the chinking covered by twisted hemp, making them warmer and more attractive.  After a short rest, we toured a couple more elaborately rich 17th century cathedrals and their museums, again full of religious relics, richly painted murals, and huge chandeliers.

Suzdal, an architectural jewel first mentioned in 1024, has been preserved by the bypassing of the 19th century railway.  Life simply moved along unhurriedly while its inhabitants earned their living by horticulture and market gardening, much still in evidence today.  By the way, we were there during mushroom season, an annual gathering about two weeks duration, which produces a large amount of fresh, varied mushrooms ranging in size from buttons to salad plates!  Ilya explained that the on again, off again sun and showers for several days produce this bounty.  Now Suzdal, never industrially develooed, is supported by tourists and travelers.

One of the town’s oldest monuments, the Kremlin, presented an opportunity to learn that the term is used for many fortified towns, not just by Moscow’s The Kremlin!  Another lesson we learned is that much of Russia’s history and architecture stems from its religious practices and that one aspect of that is that Russians worship by standing during the long service rather than complaining about hard pews!  There are no pews or seats in their churches!  The Cathedraul of the Nativity was built in the 12th century, replacing another built a century earlier, has five domes, and is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.  A particularly interesting 17th C relic in the cathedral is the Canopy of the Jordan, used in cross-processionals for the blessing of the waters, known from time immemorial in Russia.  The canopy is a special beautifully decorated item carried to the  frozen river where people watch as a priest immerses a cross into a cross-shaped ice hole called “the Jordan”.  The canopy is 8.5 meters tall, has the shape of a 5-domed church, and rests on 4 round carved pillars.  It is the only one which has survived from the 17th century to present day Russia and is carried on Epiphany Day, January 6.  Another monument in this museum village is the Monastery of our Savior, containing a belfry with 17 bells of different sizes which are played every hour.  I have such befuddled memories of these two towns in my mind that only Shakespeare’s description is adequate:  “Oh, how full of scorpions is my brain”

Returning to Moscow via another 4 hour road trip on Tuesday, we checked into our airport hotel around 7 PM, hopefully enabling Ilya to make his rail journey to St. Petersburg on time after taking Irini home, we ate our last dinner in Russia before retiring to bed for about an additional 4 hours of rest before our return flight on Wednesday, September 12th.

To the Moscow Domedouro Airport, one of three in the city, we took the hotel shuttle on its first run at 4 AM.  Because my knee problem now requires me to have wheelchair assistance in order to make the distance and short connection times in airport concourses, we were able to make our 5:50 AM flight to Munich on time.  There, we parted as I continued to Charlotte while she went on to Zurich and will stay another two weeks in SW Germany.  At Munich, the attendant told me that it 4.8 KM to my connecting gate so I was really grateful for his assistance.  I shared travel stories with my Greek seatmate during the flight, arrived in Charlotte on time, received assistance again, and boarded about 15 minutes late, then sat on board while two tires were changed on the nose cone, then departed for the final leg.  I arrived in Huntsville at 7 o’clock, apologized to my attendant that I was in such a hurry that he practically flew me through the airport, found Whinet waiting outside security, claimed my bag, and was in Ginger’s waiting car by 7:15.  Then the three of us were in our seats at Von Braun Center at 8:00, just in time to see Elton John start his rousing 3 hours, without a break, performance and, then, a perfect ending to a WONDERFUL trip when I saw Paul (my beloved husband), Muffin (my dog) and Izzy (my cat), at the kitchen door at 1:30 AM yesterday, Thursday.

Home after a fantastic two weeks in Russia, culminating with 4 days of unimaginable generosity and hospitality of my friends in Moscow, Ilya and Irini. They really went “all-out” in showing us the big city lights of Moscow and then the quiet but beautiful small village life. Delicious food, incredible sights, lovely hotels all shared with two super nice, intelligent, interesting people!

Stayed awake all day yesterdaychecking about 3,000 emails, FB posts, and reading the accumulated newspapers which Paul saved for me, I was saddened to find obituaries for three friends/colleagues – Dr. Bill Foster formerly of UNA, David Wright and Sylvia Graves, both former Russellville City Schools’ teachers.These were, unfortunately, sad reminders that according to Trip Advisor, my various postings of places visited reveal that I have seen about one half of today’s glorious world.  And while age and infirmity, if not wisdom, may impede my ability to see the rest of it, I am still determined to make the most of my philosophy of life expressed in CARPE DIEM, hopefully continuing in November with Machu Picchu!

I hope my “old” email friends, as well as those recently acquired on this memorable trip, will enjoy this long epistle of our days together.  I have never met a more intelligent, friendly, interesting group of people; thanks for making the trip even more special!

With deep gratitude to my friends, colleagues, travel companions and, especially, my brilliant and supportive, loving family…

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