110827 Moorea 27 August

7:00am is an early start when you are on a cruise.  The Photographer’s workshop group left the ship by Zodiac to do a field trip to some of the spots our facilitators had chosen.  The reason for the early start was that they had gone to a lookout location at 3pm last year and the light wasn’t suitable for taking great photos.  They were right.  One of the facilitators has an iPhone app that when you point the phone in any direction it will show you where the sun is going to cast shadows at any chosen time of the day.  Very helpful!

One of the locations took us up some very hairy roads and hairpins to the top of a knoll looking out over the lagoon where our ship was anchored.  Well worth the Tahitian style of driving.  However, they say that Tahitian ladies are better drivers than the guys.  She did well.  One of the locations was at the Agricultural College where we could photograph fruits and beautiful tropical flowers.

While I was on this venture, the others either stayed on the ship or went ashore to visit the Hotel Les Tapaniers where they snorkeled and lay on the white sandy beach.  Not a lot of fish but colorful coral.

As we were leaving the ship at 4:00am and our baggage need to be outside our room by 11:30pm, we spent the afternoon packing ready to go for the morning.  There was a Captain’s Cocktail Party at 5pm, dinner at 7pm and a Tahitian concert at 9:30pm so we had to keep out ‘dress-up’ gear from our luggage – have to follow dress protocol on board ship, they tell me.  At the Captain’s Party, they auctioned off a navigational chart.  The raffle proceeds go to the crew welfare fund, which has enabled them to install DVD/TVs in all the crew quarters, bikes to use on land and various other things to help make their time off more eventful.

Our wake-up call happened at 3am and we were here at the airport at 4:30am for our 7am departure.  This has to be the slowest airport to exit – and we are only tourists!  Our group has been a good group with no one giving anyone problems.  The only real problem was that our transfers from ship to airport hadn’t been included in the fare.  At Auckland we start parting ways; Leo and Darlene to Sydney, Rod & Earlene to Brisbane, I stay in Auckland for 2 days and the other 7 are back to Melbourne.

All have had a great cruise; the food was great, the crew was perfect, accommodation was A1, no complaints at all.

I hope you have enjoyed these blogs each day (the pictures will be online within a week), so until next trip (have you made your booking with Lyn?) Au Revoir!

110825 Moorea 25 August

We arrived at Moorea at 7am this morning after a rather rough rolling transfer from Bora Bora.  Lyn made quite it well through the storm with me having to put up with her puffing and snoring during the night; lucky devil.  I lay awake for 5 or 6 hours.

Upon arrival to Moorea Island in the heart of French Polynesia, you will immediately be awestruck by its natural beauty.  Its jagged peaks, cloaked by lush greenery and encircled by the deep blue of the ocean and sky are everyone’s dream of Polynesia.

Over millions of years the island has eroded into cliffs and jagged peaks.  Perhaps the most famous peak to be seen on the island is that of Mouaroa, better know to many at Mitchener’s “Bali Hai”.

After Tahita and Bora Bora, Moorea received the greatest number of visitors, not only tourists but also inhabitants of Tahiti who enjoy spending their weekends and vacations on its white sand beaches.

Moorea is delightful!  We stayed on board during the morning and enjoyed the deck next to the pool.  I went to sleep while I had my left arm up around my head and ended up with some burnt flesh under my arm.  It is rather tender now.  Those who didn’t ‘do the deck thing’ managed to get in some trivia, American style.  Would you believe there weren’t many correct answers?

After another delightful lunch, we took a ‘yellow bus’ ride around the island.  The colors of the ocean were just glorious.  It is interesting that so many resorts have closed down since the Global Financial Crisis.  So if anyone wants to buy into the Tahitian Resort system, quite a few are on the market.  It is a pity really because these islands have so much to offer tourists.  Let us know if you wish us to organize another group next year to do a similar itinerary.

This evening was Polynesian night and so the meal had a Polynesian style to it and the evening show was performed by some of the locals from Moorea who provided lots of hip movement and drum noise.  It got a bit repetitive after a while.  We were nodding continuously and so when the end of the show arrived, it was straight off to bed with no dancing and skylarking.

Some of you have asked, “where’s the photos?”  Well, both Lyn and I have been taking lots of photos but the cost of the internet on the ship is $35 for 100 minutes and it gets used up quickly.  While I am in Auckland for a couple of day on my way home, I will try to set up a bit of a slide show for you and post it as a blog.

110824 Bora Bora 24 August

Slept well and woke to a grey day.  Not worth getting up at 5:45am, as we have on the earlier mornings, to take sunrise pictures, so stayed in bed until after 7:30am.

Bora Bora is a little jewel of an island set within a wide barrier reef.  It is part of the Leeward Islands, and is the eroded cone of an extinct and extensive volcano.

Captain James Cook was the first westerner to sight Bora Bora in 1769.  The London Missionary Society arrived in 1820 and most of the islanders converted to Protestantism.

During WWII. 5,000 American troops were dispatched to the island (poor things) to establish a supply base for materials enroute to the Solomon Islands.  During that time they built a wharf at Farepiti and the airstrip on Motu Mute.

“Anyone who has ever been there wants to go back”, James Michener wrote of Bora Bora.  The first glimpse of Bora Bora is love at first sight.  Countless sailors, poets, adventurers, honeymooners and other romantics have claimed this little island as their own.

Today has been a rather slow relaxing day, with Sharlee, Lorraine, Brenda & John taking a ‘le truck’ tour of the island; a group played scrabble with Darlene winning hands down.  I sat in the sun on the pool deck taking in some more sun while reading the Australian and New Zealand news sheets which we receive at the door each morning.  Each nationality receives local news sheets of their location.

In the afternoon, some of us went out to an island to enjoy a dip in the ocean in some teal/turquoise water.  Very relaxing and to be in warm water is a treat after Melbourne’s cold winter.

As we departed Bora Bora for Moreea, the captain announced that the 15 hour trip will be quite windy with 3 metre waves between 12 mid night and 2:00am with high winds of force 10 (whatever that means).  Lyn has taken sea-sick tablets to combat the rolling effect – she hopes.

Tonight at 6pm, I had another photographers’ workshop.  The subject was using photoshop to ‘do’ up your photos after ‘a day out’.  Interesting!  One of the teachers has a business where he takes the photos and his wife, Helen, does graphic arts and design for corporations who need to re-do their ‘look’ and maybe all the upholstery needs upgrading or whatever.  I think they do VERY well.  We all had dinner together on the pool deck.

Tonight, we were entertained by the ship’s crew.  They are made up of mainly Filipinos with a dozen or so Tahitians and a few French who are the officers of the ship.  It was good.  The juggler had trouble with the leaning ship and ended up giving up trying his skills.

The ship is rolling around now, so I had better sign off and get to bed – try to sleep through the storm.

110823 Bora Bora 23 August

The entertainment last night was the piano player.  He is from Argentine and with the band from the ship, Filipinos who do a really good job, he sent both Lyn and I to sleep.  So we choofed off to bed very early.

With beautiful sunshine and warmness in the air, our group separated for the morning; some to a small island, some for a walk up the street of Bora Bora, others on a truck ride around the island.  I went on our first photographers’ four-wheel drive excursion up into the hills around the island, looking for that perfect shot that all photographers admire.  We found a few and have been given hints on what sort of shot makes a good black and white and how to make the picture more appealing by where the subject can be located within the frame to make a ‘different’ shot.  One tip which I picked up was to take a landscape shot in a portrait frame with the subject down the bottom with lots of say, blue sky and cloud above.  Rather inviting shots turn up.

After a great lunch we sat around the deck getting more sun waiting for our jet boat ride into the sunset.  It was a jet boat but there were no seat belts and so we new it wasn’t going to be the jet-boat ride which you get in New Zealand.  It turned out to be a gentle ride to the outside of the reef with a chance to feed fish with bread, and along came numerous sharks.  The guide dived in and a guest from Italy followed.  The sharks are so well fed, they are not interested in the humans that often invade their territory.

We have had some great comments from the group about the cruise:

“The trip has been brilliant, the weather has been perfect and the food has gone on well.  The staff ratio of 1 staff to 1.5 passengers has been quite obvious with the service at the top of anyone’s list.”  Darlene

“I would agree with my wife – it pays to.  Everything has been very professional.” Leo.

“It’s been good to have so much ice-cream”, Rod.

“Absolutely fabulous, the small ship is much more personal than a large ocean liner”, John & Brenda

I have to say that we are all having a great time.  Except for Lorraine leaving her camera at the Radisson at Papeete she is also enjoying a different type of group trip that we have done together.

Tonight’s show was a fabulous event with our Tour Director performing her night-club act; great songs and great band backing her.  At the end, the band wasn’t allowed to stop playing, as the guests that stayed on wanted to dance to some great 1960’s rock-and-roll.  So we had a late night after our evening ‘sitting on the deck’ wind-down.

It’s great not to hear much about the politics of Australia.  The Tahitian way of life is a much better replacement.

110822 Taha’a 22 August

Yesterday afternoon, while I was at the Photographers’ workshop, Lyn and a few of our group joined an organized tour to a Pearl Farm.  It was a good thing Lyn forgot to take her wallet as the pearls were also for sale.  We had had problems with our credit card in Papeete as we had forgotten to advise our bank that we would be overseas for a few days and to allow charges from overseas to our card.  It is a good thing we get on well with our Bank Manager in Yarra Junction.

It was organized for us to go to a smaller restaurant for the evening meal for Lyn’s birthday party.  Of course, the meal was another ‘over-the-top’ affair but enjoyable.  To say “No” to the desserts is very hard so we all obliged with the waiter’s suggestion.  Almost all the waiters and room service persons are Filipino and they do a very acceptable job.

In the afternoon, the children and youth of Raiatea put on a traditional dance show.  The youngest was 6.  And then in the evening, the older Tahitians performed for us.  Colorful headpieces, wobbling hips,and yes, James, boobs in coconut shells. (I bet James is the first to ask to see the video).  Truly a great performance.

This morning, Lyn and I were up on the top deck for 5:45am to enjoy the tropical sunrise.  It did not disappoint us.  Breakfast on the deck at 7:00am and then Lyn enjoyed a 90 minute massage which the ship gave her a discount on being her 60th birthday.  Lots of other good gifts came to her, including a lovely picture book of Lyn’s group tours that Lorraine had been on with her – it brought a tear to the eye.

At 11:00am we went over to an island that the shipping company owns for ‘a day at the beach’  – delightfully warm water and full sun all day.  For lunch, we had a BBQ.  Now we are showered and ready for the evening activities.  I have another photographers’ workshop before dinner at 7:00pm followed by another evening of entertainment.

This cruise is by no means rushed; so relaxing with hardly any travelling.  Each day, the ship is anchored and you are given at least 5 options to enjoy.  Last night was spent in port at Raiatea, and we moved for 90 minutes to the island of Taha’a.  Taha’a is enclosed within the same barrier reef as Raiatea.  Only 4,470 inhabitants live tranquil lives, fishing and raising livestock.  Taha’a is often called the “Vanilla Island”, for its numerous plantations of “black gold”.  The main tourist attractions is the string of beautiful motus (islands) along the northern reef edge.  In 1822, the first missionaries arrived in Taha’a, at which time the island came under French control.

While we were at Motu Mahana today we enjoyed a Grilled Buffet Barbecue Lunch, snorkeling, Local Mamas and Papas selling their trinkets, souvenires and local vanilla.  The young Tahitian girls showed us how to tie on pareos or sarongs, and also how to paint on the fabric for a pareo.

Yes, we are still enjoying this great cruise – save up and come join us next year about the same.

110821 Raiatea 21 August

We are on Board – our first cruise on the ocean together.  Lyn has done a few cruises over the years and last year we did the River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest.  So this is a new experience.

After a ‘day at the pool’ yesterday, we were collected at 3pm from the Radisson and transported to the ‘Paul Gauguin’ by bus.  Luckily, we were amongst the first to arrive at the ship to fill out forms and become regular cruisers of the ship as it does take some time.

We had a very sumptuous dinner in the main dinning room while awaiting the final guests to arrive from USA.  A large number of guests come from USA but there are a few from Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.  We departed Papeete at 11:50pm and watched the lights of the town as we left for a great cruise in the islands of Tahiti.

We have travelled overnight to Raiatea.  Raiatea means bright sky.  It was the starting point for all the migration to the Hawaiian, New Zealand and Easter Islands.  Raiatea was famous thoughout the Polynesian triangle and long double canoes came from distant Hawaii and Aotearoa, the old name for New Zealand, to pay their respects.  It was here that Captain Cook first had a glimpse of Polynesian navigational acumen.

The surrounding reefs and motu offer excellent diving and great snorkeling opportunities.  The chief town on Raiatea is Uturoa, administrative centre for the Leeward Islands.

We were having breakfast as we arrived at 9:00am so we had a great entrance to the port from the dining room.  There are 5 places to dine on the ship  Our program today includes Tahitian Legends, and “Children of Raiatea” Show.  This is a traditional show of the color of the Tahitian Islands.

While most of the guests are out snorkeling and experiencing what Raiatea has to offer, I commence a Photography Workshop taken by a couple of famous photographers who have exhibitions at Smithsonian and the Louvre in Paris.  I am looking forward to it as it is my birthday present from Lyn and I do enjoy photography.  I hope the workshop will improve my presentations – somehow.  We do 2 field trips, one on Bora Bora and the second on Moreea.  Included is a photo shoot of a model – wowowowow!

It is Lyn’s 60th birthday today, which is why this cruise idea was first mentioned.  She had a special birthday cupcake at breakfast brought to her by the Filipino waiters.  Lyn forgot to do the most important thing before leaving – apply for her Seniors Card, but that can come I suppose.

Must get going and enjoy the day.  All the best to all.  If you want send an email, please send to spain@cdi.com.au

121017 Saint Petersburg 17 October Wednesday

Today is not as cold as it has been but it is still cold enough to warrant warm clothing.

After ‘another’ Scenic breakfast, we board the coaches and head for what we could call ‘Palace Day’.  Fortunately, the trip to Catherine’s Palace is about an hour away and I manage some sleep-eye.  We arrive, before opening time, in misty fog and take a walk around the beautiful gardens.  There is only one thing wrong with the gardens; there are no flowers in it as preparations have been completed for winter and they are just waiting for the snow.  Autumn leaves are covering the ground and workers are raking them up, perhaps to be used as compost.  This is where Catherine the Great used to spend her ‘free’ time.  It is mainly a summer palace but she chose to visit in the winter as well.

During the war, the Germans destroyed much of the original building. We have to put ‘booties’ over our shoes so as not to damage the fancy floors.  All palaces have grand staircases – this one is exceptional.  As we enter the Great Hall, the timber carvings everywhere have been covered in gold leaf.  With the numerous mirrors on the walls it looks immense and for the wealthy.  Rooms go on and on.  There does not seem to be a hallway as there are enormous doors at both sides of the room.

The celebrated Amber Room, its walls lined with panels of amber (6 tonnes), gold leaf and mirrors, was dismantled during the Nazi occupation and taken to Germany where it vanished in the chaos at the end of the war.  After more than 20 years of painstaking restoration work, thanks to the financial contribution of the German government and using black and white photos of the original, it has been completely re-created and was reopened for the tricentenary of St Petersburg in 2003.

Our lunch is at the Podvorie Restaurant.  The local food is rather ‘hot’, salty and spicy, and I don’t eat too much, although they do cook up a salt-free ‘hash brown’ for me.  The live music is performed by a group of 5 in custom folk dress.

Our second palace visit for the day is to the famous Peterhof Palace.  This is 32 km west of St Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland and is the brainchild of Peter the Great.  Peterhof was severely damaged during World War II when it was occupied by the Germans, and was completely gutted in 1944 when they blew it up as they retreated.  The German invasion happened very quickly and so the sculptures were buried to protect them rather than store them in another location.  Pre-war photos and drawings were of invaluable help during restoration, which took several decades but has finally been completed.  The magnificent chandeliers and paintings are originals, where were carried away into safekeeping during the hostilities. The 150 fountains in the 1000-hectare park have been drained for the winter and so we will have to revisit the Palace at another time to enjoy their splendor.  Peterhof was just a summer palace and so there is no restored heating here, and it is being prepared for the winter with all the sculptors around the fountains being covered in timber devices to protect them during the severe weather.

On our return to the ship, we get our ‘marching orders’ for tomorrow as we depart this interesting country.  To travel on a ship for 11 nights with a load of travel agents has been interesting.  I often wondered if I would buy travel from some of the agents, (“are they ‘really’ travel agents?”).  We leave the ship at 9:00am and after 4 hours of free time in the city; we will be taken to the airport for our departure back home.

I hope you have enjoyed our quick trip to Russia and you have been somewhat ‘educated’, as we have been.  Next trip? – Africa in 2013.  We already have 17 confirmed travellers so just 3 more for the inclusion to Kenya and up to another 10 to do Africa and Victoria Falls.  Give Lyn a call.

121016 Saint Petersburg 16 October Tuesday

Our memories must be failing – it seems a very long time since leaving Moscow.  We have arrived in Saint Petersburg after being delayed by heavy Artic fog during our cruise down the waterways of Russia.  Today, we are able to keep to the original timetable and all is back to the way things are usually done in Russia.

While having another Scenic breakfast, we dock some 40 minutes from the city center.  Coaches are ready to take us to what Saint Petersburg is famous for.  Our ‘No 2’ ambassador is a local and has had vast experience tour guiding in his city and enjoys comparing Saint Petersburg to Moscow and how the traffic here is less chaotic.

Saint Petersburg has had several names, the most recent being Leningrad.  After the fall of the USSR, the locals wanted the name to revert to the name Peter The Great, the founder, had given it.  The temperature is not as cold as it has been in the north.  Our morning tour is through ‘The Hermitage Museum’.  In many ways, I am reminded of the tour through the Vatican; great tapestries and artwork.  Some of the halls are enormous and gold leaf is a plenty.  There are crowds of people and we are told that this is just a 5 out of 10 in intensity of tourists.  The summer crowds are usually 9 out of ten and so we can make it through the museum in less than 4 hours.  Not being racist, we are reminded that Asians want to do and see things immediately and it is better to ‘let them through’ than to try and keep order.  There are 5 buildings that make up ‘The Hermitage Museum’; we manage to tour part of 4.  The fifth is a concert hall, which doesn’t contain anything of significance.

Lunch is taken in another historically significant restaurant, but the cake shop on the way has my interest.  (Mmmm must return during ‘free-time’)  Being vegetarians, the salmon steak is not too inviting, but the cheese soup is a good take.  When we come to having tea and coffee, we ask for milk and are told that it is not included in the meal (Wish I knew where the local MacDonald’s was so I could get FREE milk).

After viewing the Cathedral of the Spilt Blood, we are shown where various touristy spots of interest are and are set loose on the town.  The two gift shops we are directed to, have some very nice local souvenirs in and we eventually find some pins of the Russian Flag to attach to our vests with the other flags of countries we have visited this year.  The amber jewelry is noticeable.  Of course, the matryoshka dolls are a plenty.

Some of the department stores are very swish.  The clothes on display are winter stock – not good for us coming into summer – so we save a lot of money, yeah!  Yes, we find ‘that cake shop’ again, and enjoy some chocolate cake decorated with interesting cream swirls.  However, they do not have hot chocolate.  We find a coffee club shop to satisfy that desire.  The chocolate is so thick, you can almost stand the spoon upright in it.  Has anyone tried hot chocolate with pancakes? Not bad, not bad!!

This evening, we are treated to an hour of the Russian Ballet.  It is held in a theatre which was built by Catherine the Great for private entertainment and has a grand staircase at the entryway.  The 25-piece orchestra accompanied 9 ballerinas, and whatever the word is for male ballerinas.  It was just enough for many in the group as the end of the day often sees them kipping on the side.

The evening meal is welcome after arriving back at the ship at 9:45pm.  Not many stay up to dance into the wee hours of the night tonight, for tomorrow is a packed full day of visiting 2 palaces in the outer suburbs.

121015 Mandrogi 15 October Monday

This fog thing certainly has changed things with the tour.  We have had to miss out on two ports and gained one.  It is quite cold without wind.  When the fog lifts, we move towards Saint Petersburg along the Svir Waterway, a canal between Lake Onega and Lake Ladoga.

We are two hours behind our original schedule for today so the program is moved around a little.  The judging of the matryoshka doll painting continues for the full day.  During the ‘Round Table Discussion’ many questions are asked of the Cruise Director and Scenic Ambassadors about how the political changes over the years have affected their lives.  We are told that they have free speech and that there vote is counted, but it’s the way the votes are counted that matters to the ‘elected’ party on the day.  Each of them has had good university education and some have been to USA for additional university education.  To help fill in the time, we have ‘port talks’ for both Mandrogi and Saint Petersburg.

We arrive at the little village of Mandrogi at 2:00pm and, after being divided up into three groups, make our way to separate eating houses to experience local food and eating/drinking customs.  Much vodka is consumed as people think of different things to ‘drink’ to; our health, our travels, our families, our parents, our … our … anything to get another swig of vodka.  Us tee-totalers can tell some are taking in full glasses of vodka when ‘short’ glasses would pass the ‘enough’ stage.  We are not sure they will make it back to the ship after lunch.

Mandrogi is a sort of holiday rest location with water sports on the canal.  The houses are a large log cabin well done up, both inside and outside, and very warm.  The first course includes some ‘hot’ cabbage.  Lyn leaves that to the side of the plate.  The second course is beetroot soup.  I find it rather good and, of course, warming.  There is also a main course – steamed rice and pork.  I get through the rice and leave the pork on a stick thingo.  We are entertained by some of the locals with old-age musical instruments.  One has a wooden flute and a strumming type of zither.  A second has a little bird shaped piece of wood that sounds like a high pitched little bird.  Then there is a woman that has a very strong deep-throated singing voice.  Without having the berry-pie dessert, I move outside into the misty rain to take video and photos of the Canadian-type landscape.

I check out the gift shops and a few of the other buildings before returning to the ship, not knowing that the departure time has been delayed 30 minutes.  Oh well, the cabin is warm and comfortable.

The rest of the afternoon is free time.  If you ever come on this cruise, Lyn and I now can say that the panorama room is the way to go.  We can see what’s up ahead (during the daytime), and have been able to get some great shots and views.  Our journey takes us into the large Lake Ladoga.  Our ship starts to rock and roll a little so Lyn is off to the doctor for a seasickness tablet again.

This evening is the Captain’s Farewell Reception and so all the crew are dressed in white.  We have ice-cream cake for dessert – and I get to stay to my three courses maximum this meal without duplication.  The entertainment tonight, after the announcement of the winner for the ‘painted doll’ competition is completed, is a surprise package.  There has been a ‘Russian Choir’ formed from the language sessions and they sing a few new songs to us – with some Russian folk dancing thrown in.  The hotel staff often find things that travellers leave behind after the cruise.  Our hotel manager reads out a ‘left behind’ diary.  Oh the stories people write about on a cruise is mind-boggling, and when people get tipsy, they laugh at anything, and the rolling movement of the ship accentuates their belief that they are going to have a late breakfast tomorrow.

Lyn and I ‘retire’ at 10:30pm to watch some TV before dozing off.

121014 Vytegra 14 October Sunday

We awake to another very heavy fog and a stationery ship.  If we are to move in a fog, the captain receives an appropriate fine for putting lives at risk, so we stay put.  Our program is altered and we cannot make it to Kizhi, a small island at the western side of Lake Onega.  Other activities planned for the afternoon are moved to the morning.  The visit to the Captains Bridge is interesting as our ship is the most modern ship in Russia and is the first ship registered in the country in 25 years.  Finally, at 10:30am, the fog is lifting and we can start to edge our way westward.

After going through 5 lochs, we call in to the village of Vytegra at 3:30pm.  In some ways, it is very much the outback village of northern Russia.  The town is not expecting a shipload of 90 tourists so there is no coach to meet us to show us the lifestyle of the village.  We walk through the ‘country’ lanes of the village to get a ‘rough’ idea how the people live.  The houses are very basic, and often not painted.  One has a satellite disk attached to a nearby tree. You can tell that winter is intensely cold.  Each house has a large wood stack to take them through coming freezing conditions.  There is evidence of snow damage to the road surface with many potholes.

We wander through the quaint town taking photos.  Most of the leaves have fallen ready for another intense winter.  This enables us to see through the trees where the 15,000 inhabitants reside.  There is an abandoned Russian submarine close by the wharf to view and inspect.

When we get back onboard, the sun is low and is shinning into our suite.   It is very comfortable watching the final of the Ladies tennis match in Linz, followed by the World Cup weightlifting for ladies.  Soon the sun sets, and we are treated to another northern sky as we enter Lake Onega.

One of our ambassadors gives us a 90-minute talk on modern Russian and the effects each leader has had on the country since 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution.  Lenin, the start of the communist party, Stalin, Troski, the second World War, Khrushchev, the second World War, Kosigan, Gorbachev, the drunkard Boris Yeltsin, Putin; all have had marked effects on the country.  Russia has had a tough time in the past negotiating with many other nations.  Despite its forced autonomy, it joins the ideals of the west.  Mention is made of the catastrophic nation debt of over 100 billion.  (I mention to Vadim later that Julia has increased national debt to over 250 billion and he is horrified.)

After another 4-course dinner (I have reduced my meals to a maximum of 3 courses – some can be duplicated, of course, and I’m not saying which one) we enjoy some social time together.  This includes a ‘Liars Party’ and a ‘Mister Cruise’ competition.  We make it into bed again around 11:00pm.

We have had no internet access for over 48 hours and so you are receiving two posts close to each other.

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