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Mathieu Oct 27th, 2009 11:57 AM

Hello from Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and England.
I'm about halfway through my long awaited trip and just wanted to provide you with an update on how things are going since I promised many that I would, and update others who were kind in providing recommendations and suggestions for accommodation and dining, now that I've experienced them.

I don't plan this thread to develop into a trip report (no time to write while on the road - having way too much fun !) so I won't include too much detail, but will post a proper TR once I'm back home after Nov. 10th.

Everything so far is going swimmingly well.
First stop was St. Petersberg for 5 days and it was just amazing ! What a lovely city. My positive experiences there were largely due to a wonderful guide, Alex, on the recommendation of rhmkk, and the staff and location of the mini hotel, 'Nevsky Inn' that made it possible to get to many of the major sites quickly and easily on foot from the hotel and back. Great location.
Gosh, between all the palaces, churches and museums - all more elaborate than the one before - I'll not complain if I never see another palace or gothic church for the rest of my life. I think Lincasanova said the same in her recent TR and I completely agree. The ultimate in excess is the summer palace of Catherine the Great, who has single-handedly taken the phrase "Over The Top" to new heights. Its a beautiful place/palace no doubt, but one can easily tire of it after about the 3rd room (and theres about 2 dozen to see). The floors however are exquisite, with their beautiful inlays of rare and precious woods from around the world. The famed Amber room was a bit of a LOL moment for me however ! See this site first before any others in St. P.
The Hermitage was fantastic, and my favourite palace ? Yusopov, where Rasputin was murdered. Lots of other fun things done in St. P including charting out a running route at 2.00am (!), enjoying a Georgian feast and a visit to a banya. All the people in encountered in St. P were friendly and helpful.

Karlovy Vary was pretty as a picture. No,actually prettier. Decked out in Autumn colours, the smell of wood smoke and fire in the air and wild boar and duck on almost every menu, this lovely spa town in the Bohemian hillsof the Czech Rep. did not disappoint. As in all tourist places, there are always two halves: the one half that everyone flocks to see and the other half where the real residents live normal lives. Both these sides of KV impressed me. Kwoo, your recommendation of the Romance Pushkin was spot on. I throughly enjoyed my time there. As I did my visit to the Castle Spa steps (literally, and steep ones too) from the hotel door. I'm not a spa person but this one was quite different. Did you get to experience the special visual and sound show during your visit ?

I'm now in Prague and and am just wow'ed by this terrific and beautiful city.
I had made particular plans to find a personal guide for a day with special instructions that we would cover the special parts of the city and surroundings not usually visited by tourist groups, and boy did we ever. We spent 8 hours today hopping on and off trams, buses and subways climbing up to secret rooms and exhibitions not on the tourist route, in ancient bell towers now converted into restaurants, learning about secret signs and codes embedded in walls, artifacts, streets and exterior decorations, observing the clock chiming the hour in old town square from a small window right up beside the clock itself while hundreds below looked up at the clock (and us), and downing a few pints of first rate Pilsner along the way in ancient Czech pubs with trestle tables and benches amongst wisened locals who never knew my name. Not to mention walking up and down miles and miles (seemingly) of very steep cobbled streets. My feet may be shredded and I'm exhausted, but it was everything I'd wanted. In a few minutes, I'll be heading off for an Absynthe in a tiny store that sells nothing but ,in colourful little bottles/flasks, that I discovered just 3 doors from my hotel.

In all locations, the weather has ranged in the daytime between 8C and 17C with sun and cloud and a few showers here and there but nothing to interrupt plans, and cooler at night. In short, a beautiful European Autumn. Next stop Budapest for 4 days and then England for 9. I'll let you know how it goes.



maitaitom Oct 27th, 2009 12:23 PM

Have a pivo in Prague and put it on my account. If the weather is ok, go up to the Bellavista patio above Mala Strana for a dark Urquell Pilsner on tap. Great view of the city. I can still taste the beer.


cambe Oct 27th, 2009 12:50 PM

Brilliant Looking forward to more

AnselmAdorne Oct 27th, 2009 01:10 PM

Mathieu, I remember your speaking of this trip at the Toronto GTG. I'm delighted to hear that it is working out well.

Looking forward to hearing more ...


JulieVikmanis Oct 27th, 2009 03:22 PM

Sounds terrific. I love Karlovy Vary. Saw it in the Spring. Now I know I must go again in the Fall. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

teacherCanada Oct 27th, 2009 06:39 PM

Mathieu - Wonderful news from you. I am so glad things are going swimmingly for you. I, too, remember your enthusiasm at the Toronto GTG for this adventure. St. Petersburg (it was Leningrad when I visited) offers some absolutely stunning opportunities for adventurous travellers like you. Please enjoy our best wishes as you continue your travels. We will look forward to more details upon your return.


p.s. Watch out for the absinthe - it has after effects that are hard to imagine!

Mathieu Oct 29th, 2009 04:45 AM

Thank you all for your encouragement and kind wishes.
Right now I’m exhausted and exhilarated and very sleep deprived. But I suppose that’s the price to pay for too many consecutive nights up until 2.00am in cities with great night life and cheap booze ! All in all, a really good and fun time.
I do have tons more stories and anecdotes to tell but will include them on the eventual Trip Report when I get back home after Nov. 10th. For now I’ll just continue with brief on-the-spot updates from wherever I am and whenever I can.

Tom : Yes indeed, I have run you up quite a Pivo tab - thank you for offering ! Not however at the Bellavista, though I did visit it for the excellent view. In fact it was just a few minutes walk from my hotel (apartment) in MS and so was the first stop with my guide on our walking tour. You know just how high that place is so you will appreciate all the walking up and down more than once a day, from resting place to adventure. I was glad that I run regularly. All the beer we drank was in charming very local bars, where a thirst quenching pint never cost us more than Ck40 and often less. So your tab may be lengthy, but in good shape.

Cambe and Julie : I promise more detail in the TR which I hope you will find useful. Julie your Croatia TR was an invaluable resource in the planning of my own trip there in 2004.

Anselm and TC : Thank you for your very kind and genial wishes. I couldn’t ask for anything better from 2 nicer guys whom it has been my pleasure to meet a few times now and get to know. When it comes to Trip reports, I have some Claude Hoppers to fill in light of the detailed and interesting tomes from both of your hands, and MaitaiTom’s too. But I will persevere.

About the Absinthe, TC : Probably as a result of spending more time than was healthy at the interesting Kafka museum, I was inspired one evening to honor the environment I was in and dressing in dark clothes, donning a long coat, plonking myself down in a bar, maybe even draping a leg casually over a chair arm and drinking absinthe. After all, where better to act Bohemian than in Bohemia itself ?
Whether this all came to pass (I know, bad choice of words) exactly in this manner I’ll never know for I don’t remember much of anything after about the 3rd shot ! That dripping flame from the sugar cube seemed to be telling me something as I stared transfixed at it more than once. Probably saying that it was about to leap from there and into my tummy where it planned to stay for a few days, oy vey !

By the way, I’m writing all this from an ASUS Eee netbook (8.9” screen) purchased a few days before departure. With all the free WiFi available at airports, hotels and restaurants in Europe combined with it’s compact size and minimal weight , it’s been very useful.
Internet Explorer has been my nemesis, shutting me down no less than 5 times while typing messages and losing all content. It’s taken me 3 shots alone to post this message. Arrrgh !

Until the next dispatch,


teacherCanada Oct 29th, 2009 06:27 AM

Mathieu - It is wonderful to read of your adventures. I very much look forward to reading a more detailed version upon your return. Maybe we can even arrange a mini GTG to see some pics. Anyone else interested in pursuing this? (no pressure here Mathieu)


Mathieu Oct 29th, 2009 01:15 PM

tC, great idea and I'll be more than happy to host it.
Also have lots of pictures and will try to send you and Anselm some if I can pull up your adresses from the GTG e-mails.

When I get back I'll send an e-mail to the gang to see who's interested in a travel evening with pictures, tips and stories. Thanks for the suggestion !

I'm now in Budapest and I just got back from an evening run along the Danube and across 2 of the bridges spanning it, all lit up and reflected in the water. Really beautiful.


Kwoo Oct 31st, 2009 08:54 AM

I am so happy you enjoyed the Romance Pushkin as much as we did. The location is perfect and the breakfast buffet is superb!!! Yes, we did experience the sound & visual show while we were in the pool. It was funny! We weren't expecting it. I love your description of Karlovy Vary during the autumn season. I guess we'll just have to return some autumn. Our first trip to Prague was in October 2003 & we loved seeing it at that time of year. We drank many hot wines that we bought from outdoor vendors. Splendid!!! And sitting outside was comfortabel with the heaters.

Mathieu Nov 1st, 2009 02:26 AM

Hi Kwoo,

Yes, thew b'fast buffet at the Pushkin was very good, and the staff really pleasant and helpful. I also had a diner there and enjoyed it very much. And yes, the hot mulled wine is out everywhere. No gut-cleansing water in my sippy cup ! LOLones

The weather in Budapest has been excellent, making my 4 recent days here and 2 earlier one very pleasant and conducive to exploration. Sunny, with daytime temps of 14C to 18C and nightime range of 6C to 10C. I'm no stranger to this lovely city - its one of my favorites - so each visit is a combination of new discoveries and re-visits to old ones. New discoveries included The Mammut Shopping Mall and the West end Shopping Centre and especially the areas in which they are located, the Raday Utca restaurant street and the off-shoots streets for great meals, climb up to the citadella, the Budapest National Theatre and the Budapest Dance theatre with a special Halloween show. Revisits were many, but included visits to the Oktagon area, Vaci Utca (quick walk through), coffee andncake at Gerbeaud Kaffehaus, visits to the Gellert and Rudas Gyurgyfurdos (Thermals), numerous walks and runs along and across the Danube and dinner at one of my favourite bars/restaurants the "For Sale" bar, where the food, beer and atmosphere are great and the live music on Fridays and Saturdays really good. Lots of live music arouns Budapest and everyone in a 'getting ready for winter' mood. There is a lot of construction going on in the city but even for the 6 days that I was there I was able to see big projects completed and new ones begun. Details of all these and more in my Trip Report.

Right now I'm stuck at Budapest airport awaiting my flight to London. I was originally supposed to be o the 8.15am flight getting me to London at 10.00am Accordigly, my relative there planned a luncheon get-together involving others travelling some distance. Just discovered yesterday that due to - we think - a ticketing error with my travel agent, I'd been booked on the 12.55pm flight and could not change to the earler one. Its just been announced that that flight has now been delayed by 90 minutes, only getting me to London at 4.30pm So I'll be missing a party for me ! More disappointing is that I'll miss seeing relatives and friends dear to me who will have to leave on their journey home before I can get there. Such is life.

teacherCanada Nov 1st, 2009 07:43 AM

Mathieu - how disappointing to miss the chance to meet up with friends and relatives in London. Moments like those are maddeningly frustrating. Your time in Budapest sounded absolutely energizing. I hope you enjoy your time in England.


Elizabeth_S Nov 2nd, 2009 04:51 PM

Mathieu - thanks for posting these updates! We're both enjoying them and look forward to hearing more upon your return. Best

Liz and Richard

tedgale Nov 2nd, 2009 04:59 PM

Reminds me that I shd write up my own trip report from southern France (Oct 5-20). Not nearly as exotic nor as varied as what you are experiencing though.

I know and love Budapest and have visited Prague but have yet to visit Russia.

Increasingly, I am thinking that St Petersburg shd be on our short-list. We'd both like to see it. (My spouse was there on school holidays in....1960!!! If we went in 2010, it cd be a half-century commemorative trip!!)

kodi Nov 3rd, 2009 07:31 AM

Mathieu, it's so good to hear from you, and I'm glad Moolyn let me know you had posted ( I don't go to the Europe forum as often as I should).

I'm really enjoying reading about your wonderful experiences.
Your private tour in Prague sounded fabulous. SO much more it it than just the 'normal' old town tour. I would have been one of the tourist looking up at you in the window.

Looking forward to reading more...
And yes I really would like a mini gtg/travel evening. Please include me... I would not want to miss it.
Hopefully we can get together before Christmas. One of us is going away!

Keep enjoying yourself...and stay safe.

kodi Nov 3rd, 2009 07:36 AM

HI mathieu... please contact one of us when you return regarding an evening..
It is a great idea.

Mathieu Nov 5th, 2009 12:48 PM

Kodi, great to hear from you. I have already been in touch with Moolyn and will coordinate an invitation to the group through her.

Well, the good news was that my family and friends extended their stay to include my arival in London and I was able to meet with them for an hour. I was so pleased and very touched. Needless to say, it was just great to see them all, including new babies and and others newly wedded into our family.

We've just returned from 3 days in the beautiful, wind swept Gower Peninsula in South West Wales. This was my first time visiting a beach in the British Isles and while not exactly the time of year to visit a seafront, it didn't disappoint. The endless vistas of cliffs and wide brown sandy beaches, with a silver grey Atlantic licking the shores, all viewed from high above was breathtaking. We had high winds on our second day, and while perhaps not ideal (not that it stopped us or anyone else !) to walk steep hillsides, it meant that the surf was up and the surfers who enjoy these conditions were in their element.

We helped pick winkles in the low tidal waters and enjoyed cockles for breakfast, as well as laver bread, the latter definitely an acquired taste, even for food adventurers like me !

Next on to London for 3 days before heading home and putting this excellent adventure to bed, sadly...

teacherCanada Nov 5th, 2009 05:42 PM

Mathieu - Your last word says it all.


bratsandbeer Nov 5th, 2009 07:55 PM

Your adventure sounds wonderful. Makes me want to go back and see it all over again. We were in Prague and Budapest last fall - loved both places. I remember you asked about Bulgaria when you were planning your trip. Sorry you aren't making it to Bulgaria this time. Maybe next time.
Have fun in London.

lincasanova Nov 9th, 2009 01:09 AM

Great report! Your trip must have finished by now.. right? Glad you were able to take such advantage of it all. Sounds wonderful.

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