Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

Archive for July, 2014

Moscow, Russia

July 20, 2014 7:20 pm

Moscow, Russia – July 2014

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In Moscow, we started off by visiting the Kremlin.  Since the fall of communism in Russia, the Kremlin has been opened to the public giving access to what was unseen for over 70 years.  The Russian word “Kremlin” indicates “walled fortress” and many Russian cities have Kremlins.  The ancient walled Kremlin of Moscow has been the traditional seat of Russian Power since the capital was moved there hundreds of years ago, and it houses the State Armory (actually the country’s oldest museum of royal gifts and items of value and historical significance) and Assumption Cathedral, as well as State Parliament and Government buildings.

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We also toured Moscow at night, including our first visit to Red Square (Red meaning Beautiful), which we could not visit in the day due to a Formula 1 race taking place there.  The Square is lined by the Kremlin to one side backing the Tomb of Lenin, and the huge Gum Shopping Center/store on the other, with St. Basils Cathedral at one end and the Historical Museum at the other.  We also toured the a Nunery, Tretyakov Art Gallery and took the Metro to Arbat Street to explore the local shops.  Our final day there left us free to explore the details of the city at our leisure.

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Overall, Russia was as amazing as we had always thought it would be, and we found the people friendly and hard working.  We did note that, although support for the Russian Leaders and Putin was uniformly strong across generations, the acceptance of free-market economics and adaptation to the rapid changes in their culture and economy is much more strongly supported by young people than the older generation who had always had a “safety net” under the Soviet leadership.  The only thing that was clear is that Russia is in for many more changes over its near future.  For our part, we wish them “the best” and very much appreciate what we saw and learned during those two weeks.

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MS Leo Tolstoy River Cruise Russia

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MS Leo Tolstoy river Cruise, Russia – July 2014

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After 5 days we boarded our ship, the Leo Tolstoy!  This Riverboat was originally designed for the Soviet Leadership, but after the fall of communism, was privatized and owned as part of a fleet by Vodohad Company, although this particular boat was recently retrofitted and modernized and was being leased to Vantage.  The ship was very comfortable with reasonable cabins and plenty of common space, including the Restaurant, a Library, Theater/Meeting Room, Lounge with Bar, and even an indoor Swimming Pool with Bar.  Meals were excellent and the ship was clean and friendly.

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We began our 7-day trip up a series of rivers, canals and lakes, including the River Svyr, Lake Ladoga and to the craft village of Mandrogi.  We then proceeded through Lake Onega to Kizhi Island which has preserved the historic wooden structures from the area that were constructed 100-200 years ago.  We eventually entered the Volga River to finish our journey to Moscow, but not before visiting the towns of Goritsy, Yaroslavl, Roston and Uglich.  These towns allowed to to see Russian life outside of the city, and gave us a chance to visit some historic sites, (Church of Elijah the Prophet, Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker, Yaraslovl Governor’s Mansion, St. Jacob Monasery), as well as visit local school children, local families, and even have tea with a local school teacher.

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The ship’s cruise ended when we arrived at the port terminal outside of Moscow.  There, we transferred to the Grand Marriott Hotel on Tverskaya street.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

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St. Petersburg, Russia –  July 2013

With only 38 days’ notice, we decided to take advantage of an excellent offer from Vantage to visit Russia, a place that has long been our list to explore.  This trip started with flights from the USA to Frankfurt, Germany, and on to St. Petersburg for 5 days in the city and surrounding area.  We stayed at the St. Petersburg Radisson, which was excellently located on Nevsky Prospect in the heart of the city.  Our exploration of the city started with tours of Peter and Paul Fortress where many of the Romanov Family are interred, and where Peter The Great first founded the city in 1703 in response to Finland’s expansionistic hopes.  When the Bolsheviks took over the country in 1917, the city was renamed first Petrograd, and then Leningrad, but its original name was returned at the end of the 20th Century.  We went to the Palace Square and toured the gilded halls, and visited the Church on the Spilled Blood, built on exactly where Tsar Alexander II was murdered by extremist for attempting to abolish serfdom.  Our evening concluded with a ballet presentation of Swan Lake.

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The next days were spent with city and other nearby excursions, and personal exploration of the city by walking.  Key highlights included touring the Hermitage (museum) where fantastic collections began by Catherine The Great include art and historical mementos from the ruling families from over 3 centuries.  We also toured the city via riverboat, as the city might be considered very similar to Amsterdam or Venice as it is situated on a series of islands divided by canals and waterways.  We took in evening shows that included heritage and folk performances and dancing.

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We also took excursions out of the city to Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin and toured its halls and extensive gardens, and to Peterhof Grand Palace and Gardens on the shores of the Baltic Sea.  Both were magnificently restored from the devastation of World War II, and are now all available as National Heritage Museums.

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Rafting the Grand Canyon

July 19, 2014 8:28 pm

Grand Canyon Rafting      June 2014

We met in the Desert Rose Lobby at 5:00am to begin our journey to the Canyons shores.  It started with a bus trip to the local airport and a flight (two planes) back to Lee’s Ferry where we picked up supplies (beer and wine), loaded our gear onto the rafts and were introduced to our guides.  Our group (now at 14 people plus our two guides) took one raft, and we were teamed-up with a second raft to travel the week together, for safety purposes.

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It soon became obvious that the trip was going to be characterized by “hot” weather (90 – 100 deg. F) and cold water (47 at the beginning to 53 at the end – deg. F)!  Our first half-day on the water was minor rapids (Level 1’s) and “riffles”, and we all began to get comfortable with riding the raft and camping on shore.  The next morning we rode our first real rapids (Levels 5-6) and everyone did well and was having a great time, alternating freezing (while wet) and roasting (while dry).

 

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Our guides were R.D. and Grace, experienced Canyon Runners with a wide range of skills, training and college education.  The provided us with safe maneuvering down the river, detailed information on the history and geology of the Canyon, gourmet meals, and anything else that we could possibly need.  In short – they were amazing. Days were typically breakfast early and rafting all day, with shore stops for lunch and side-excursions.  The side excursions were sometimes strenuous, but always exciting, and included exploring old caves and mines, hiking to ancient civilization’s granaries, swimming in side canyon’s rivers, streams and waterfalls, and a ½ day on the Little Colorado River.  Evenings we put ashore, set up cots and sleeping bags for a comfortable night’s sleep and enjoyed typically amazing meals provided by our guides.

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The Little Colorado is much warmer than the Colorado, and carries dissolved minerals that make it a turquoise blue.  We hiked upstream to an area where we could swim and “slide” down the natural “sluice” created by the river – truly an amazing day.

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The last couple of days of the week long trip saw the most adventurous of the rapids (Level 10’s).  They shook and threw people around, but by this time, everyone was an old-hand at riding what the River could throw at them.  The trip ended with a helicopter ride out of the Canyon (5-at-a-time) to the Bar-10 Ranch for a shower, lunch, and an air flight back to Las Vegas.

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That night while cruising down the Vegas Strip, the excitement around us there seemed no match for the past 10 days that we had all experienced.  Adventures with friends are always so much better, and this one delivered a highlight that rivals any of our others.

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Grand Canyon North Rim

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Grand Canyon North Rim      June 2014

After the day at Bryce Canyon and another well-deserved night of rest, we set off south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Most visitors of the Grand Canyon approach it for viewing from the South Rim, but the North Rim is 1000-2000 ft. higher with spectacular views of the Southern Rim and Canyon Vistas.  We spent the day exploring different viewpoints, visiting the Canyon Lodge and making short day hikes into the edges of the Canyon.  At key viewpoints, we could see the mighty Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon, over 1 mile below us, where we would soon be floating our way along our next 185 mile-long adventure.

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The next day, we traversed our way to the bridge crossing over the Grand Canyon near Lee’s Ferry, the only river crossing for vehicles until one would reach Hoover Dam.  From the bridge, we watched the majestic Condors that nested there among the Canyons steep walls.  But then, it was time to return west to Las Vegas, and prepare for our Rafting Adventure

 

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Bryce Canyon National Park

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Bryce Canyons National Park        June 2014

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After a great day in Zion Park, we proceeded to Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce is characterized by geologic formations referred to as “Hoodoos” – a remnant of ancient beliefs that the vertical rock formations were fossilized ancient people that some form of “voodoo” cast to stone.  The softer rocks are simply “capped” by harder rocks, and the eons of water and wind erosion has made for an unbelievably beautiful set of canyons, which we explored with hikes along trails to the extent that we had the time.  Standing in the shadows of the canyon walls and watching the setting sun’s changing light of the formations provided an ever-changing romantic glow of oranges, reds and yellows.

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Zion National Park

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Zion National Park June 2014

Our Canyon Adventures began with a flight to Las Vegas and an overnight stay at the Desert Rose Hotel just off the “strip”.  There we met up with friends and family from across the country and from across the globe.  The entire excursion was planned and organized by our friend Cliff Crowe, who applied his expert geologic training to set us on a 2 week exploratory journey.

Our next morning, we (18 of us) boarded 3 SUVs and headed to our first park excursion – Zion National Park in Utah.  After arriving in Springdale and checking into our motel for that night, we ventured into Zion National Park where we hiked through ankle-to-knee-deep water upstream in “The Narrows” to a point where spectacular water carvings hollowed out the local geology.  We could have pursued even narrower upstream locations, but we retraced our steps to explore other parts of the park.

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While most went to Emerald Pools, 5 of us decided to attempt to climb to “Angel Point”, even though we barely had 2 hours of daylight left.  The ascent was ~2000 ft. through mostly a well maintained trail, although composed of steep switchbacks.  However, the last ½ mile was scrambling over ancient dunes, climbing rock faces with the help of rail-chains, and tightrope-walking narrow ledges.  The views from the top were indeed spectacular and worth the effort.  With now time to waste, we made it down in just under 2 hours, just before darkness settled, and in time to catch the last park bus and make dinner.  It was an exciting but tiring day.

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