Author: vishwajit patel
Date of Trip: June 2015
A review on the trip to Russia Scandinavia
First of all let me introduce myself. I am Vishwajit Patel, a second year international business management student. My family had been long planning a trip to Russia and Scandinavia. However due to passport problems, we couldn’t make it.
Finally after the passport issue was resolved, I was assigned the task to plan the entire tour with a travel agent. Preferring to travel alone as we usually did till date, I went to various travel agents to discuss the itineraries for the tour. Each and every agent advised to travel along with a group rather than privately. After comparing various travel agents, I selected to travel with Thomas Cook. They issued me a checklist of all the required documents which were submitted by me well in time. However I must mention, the service network of Thomas Cook especially in India is very poor. The lads fail to respond immediately, lack an urgency in communication, etc. I was told that I would receive my passports with the visas on them at the day of departure at the Mumbai airport. The lad who was supposed to bring the passports switched off his cellphone to avoid responding to us. The Thomas Cook office failed from time to time to give any status update regarding the visa. All we were told was that the Norwegian embassy was taking too long to issue us a visa. However, finally the lad bought our passports just 5 minutes prior to the time of closing of departure gates. All we had to do was rush to the departure gate and we somehow managed to do that.
Here we go. Etihad flight from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi. And a connecting flight from Abu Dhabi to Moscow. As we entered Moscow, a Thomas cook tour manager greeted us. And this guy literally changed our mindset regarding Thomas Cook. I would like to mention his name, Mr. Prafull Gangurde. He took us from the airport to the hotel. We were allowed adequate rest in Moscow to overcome jetlag. The hotel we were allotted in Moscow was Holiday Inn- Sushevskiy. The hotel was well equipped with basic necessities such as a bar, swimming pool, wifi, smoking area, souvenir shop, etc. the first day was spent in leisure.
Day 2:- had us see all the major attractions in Moscow such as the st. basil’s cathedral, red square, kremlin, etc. A fact I observed was all cars on the road had to keep their headlights on during day as well as night.
Day 3:- we had an unplanned visit to the metro in Moscow. The Russians have definitely made a masterpiece of metro stations. Anyone travelling to Moscow must definitely visit the metro stations. In the afternoon, we headed to st. Petersburg, via train. It was a speed train and as the name suggests, the speed was approximately 300kms/hr. we reached st Petersburg in 4 hours!! The train compartment in which we were seated had a Russian family of a grandmom and her 2 grand daughters. Language is a great problem in Russia as the Russians don’t accept English and a very few of them speak English. But we did have a English to Russian translator on our phone which helped us communicate with the small family. It was some fun time as both my family and the other family enjoyed. We had a sandwich, chocolates, tea/coffee and a few biscuits on the train which were amazing. And yeah, the train journey was completely scenic!! As we reached st. Petersburg, we had our time off at the hotel. The hotel was Holiday Inn moskovskie vorota. This too had the same amenities as the first hotel. However a major drawback was that the wifi was available only in the lobby . and st petersburg gifted us with 3 punjabi friends from our Thomas Cook group. We became well acquainted and started roaming around.
Day 4:- we had a city tour of st. Petersburg which included a lot of attractions. The afternoon was kept for boat ride. The boat ride experience truly brought a lot of meaning to the name “st. Petersburg- venice of the north”. That night, Thomas cook arranged for a special surprise- a night tour. This was simply amazing and I am grateful to Thomas Cook for arranging it.
Day 5:- we had a visit to a village named pushkin which housed the Catherine palace. After lunch in st Petersburg, we headed to Finland by road. The road is scenic as well. The immigration officials were friendly and quite quick in their work. A group of 21 immigrated into Finland within 10 minutes! We reached Finland in the evening and had another 31 people joining our group there on. The entire 52 members had dinner together and headed to the hotel, scandic grand marina. Our tour manager, as grateful we can be to him, allowed the kids to roam around Helsinki, the capital of Finland at night. As rightly said, Scandinavia is also the land of midnight sun, we didn’t see darkness at all. Its safe at the highest level as the cops patrol 24×7.
Day 6:- we roam around Helsinki and visit a village named porvoo. I would recommend it as a dream retirement place!!! The afternoon was at rest after lunch. At 5pm we boarded the silja line(a big cruise) to head to Stockholm, Sweden. The cruise had everything that one can expect in it. 12 storey huge, it had an entire city in itself. The grand buffet for dinner was one hell of its kind with delicacies from all over the world. It would actually take 2 whole days to explore the whole gigantic ship. However we had only one night.
Day 7:- we arrived into Sweden. By the day, we visited the ship museum and were more than done with the cathedrals. After visiting the city hall in Stockholm, our kind tour manager allowed the kids to visit the amusement park. It had a few extremely worthful rides. The visit to the amusement park also bought with itself the chance to explore the city in a taxi. The taxi driver was a huge fan of Indian actors such as Amitabh Bacchan, Om puri, etc. which amused us. The taxi took us to our hotel- quality globe. It’s situated next to a football stadium which bought a huge smile to my face as I am a huge football fanatic. The hotel was a typical 5-star.
Day 8:- after having our breakfast, we headed to Norway, which is by far the most beautiful pace on this planet! A small halt at Karlstad for lunch which was a very beautiful and peaceful place. We reached Oslo, the capital of Norway, that day late in the evening. Checked in the hotel scandic holberg. Situated in the middle of the city, we got an opportunity to roam around the city on bicycles. The weather here was mind boggling.
Day 9:- a city tour of oslo followed by an amazing evening in downtown. It was a Sunday and the downtown was crowded. There was a party going on for which we were invited by the localites. However due to age restrictions, half of our group members couldn’t make it and we decided against the party. We visited a cemetery to experience what peace actually feels like. As we headed back to the hotel after dinner, our guide mentioned about the next day’s plan. We were supposed to be ready by 6am for the most beautiful journey of our tour!- Norway in a nutshell.
Day 10:- as we all gathered in the lobby to leave oslo, I collected some information from the internet about Norway in a nutshell. It included a 3 hours journey by road, a 2 hours train ride, and again 3 hours by boat to see the mystic fjords. The fjords are high mountains and deep valleys with breathtaking views. As we began our journey, narrow roads, huge mountains, deep valleys and the sea summed up the scenery for a perfect start to the day. Our lunchboxes were packed by the humble staff of the hotel in oslo which we ate at the train station. Onto the train, waterfalls, valleys, snow clad houses, frozen lakes welcomed us. At the waterfall, a few mystery Norwegian girls danced to music. The train dropeed us to a harbor where we boarded the boat. “Drop dead gorgeous” are the only words that come to my mind. Be sure to spare extra camera batteries for the boat ride. Seagulls flied along us for some distance. The boat had a cafeteria. We reached Bergen by the boat. We had covered Flam, Gudvangen, Myrdal and Voss in this amazing journey. Into Bergen and all the entire group wanted was rest. So we headed straight to the hotel, Thon Bergen airport.
Day 11:- we had a city tour and boarded a funicular to the top of Bergen. Again, Norway never disappoints in terms of scenery. The afternoon after lunch, we headed to the airport to fly to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. A 1 hour calm flight with business class facilities. Denmark proved to its billing as the “world’s happiest nation”. We headed to our hotel, Bella Sky which is an engineering marvel.
Day 12:- a city tour of Copenhagen until afternoon and then a visit to Tivoli- the birthplace of Disneyland. As this was the last day of our trip, we put it to full use. The hotel has a sky bar on the 23rd floor which offers a view of the entire city.
Day 13:- after breakfast, a hotel shuttle dropped us to the airport to board our flights back home. Again a peaceful emirates flight with a stop at Dubai!
A few tips:-
1. Carry at least 2 extra batteries for your trip.
2. The weather is pleasant in June but do carry jackets and sweaters.
3. In Russia avoid travelling privately.
4. In Russia, AQUA MINERAL means soda while BON AQUA means water.
5. Always have a handy offline English to Russian translator on your smartphone.
6. It is safe to roam around the cities at any time as the police patrol the cities 24×7.
7. When flying to Copenhagen, insist on booking Bella Sky hotel only.
8. Each country has different currency which can be converted at the airport.
9. Converting currency outside the airport in Denmark proves to be a costly deal.
10. Make sure to carry a debit/credit card as there are many pickpockets roaming around.
11. Make sure to collect your tax refunds before leaving a country.
12. When travelling in a group, follow the instructions of the manager as they have good as well as bad experiences about all places.
Travelling with Thomas Cook:-
Though the booking process was hectic and a big letdown, the planning and organization of the tour was fantastic.
The food was delicious and had veg and non-veg options. The buses were clean and the drivers were good.