Another week and our hearts go out again to victims and residents of St. Petersburg, Russia, which was struck by a terrorist bombing on its subway system that killed a dozen people and injured scores more.
Always considered the most European of Russian cities due to proximity, style and attitude, St. Petersburg is also the most tourist-friendly in the country, boasting amazing sites like the Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress.
For all this, my most outstanding memory of the city – from a visit in the early ‘90s – was having my toothbrush stolen by a hotel maid, no doubt due to a shortage of dental hygiene products in the country during the early, crazy days of glasnost. This might have proved a rather significant problem (think about it!) ahead of a week-long tour had an American member of my Intours group – knowing they were next to impossible to get in Russia – not brought a bag of them to hand out as gifts. He didn’t expect his first recipient to be me.
Similarly, I recall a visit to a nightclub, which oddly insisted that all shoes be removed before entering. Fortunately, we were warned that they would be removed permanently should we follow the protocol, so everyone kept their toes tucked into their footwear.
Even upon departure, St. Petersburg offered a memorable parting gift. Set to travel overnight to Moscow, our bus arrived late in the evening at a station that was home to a chaotic gypsy encampment, stereotypically lit only by blazing bonfires like the James Bond film, To Russia With Love. The only thing missing were the exotic dancers. Our luggage was brusquely loaded into a tractor-drawn farm cart for transfer a couple of hundred metres to the station, but not before members of the group were ordered to run along side it to ward off any attempted theft. I can say, this was the most frightening situation I’ve experienced while travelling, though today it merely makes up part of the colourful mosaic of memories of my first visit to St. Petersburg.
Soon enough we were off to Moscow, but that’s a story for another time.
Catherine Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia
This & That
- The Spring trade show season kicked off Tuesday night with an epic TravelBrands gala in suburban Toronto that attracted more than 500 guests. The show, which featured educational seminars, food, prizes and more than 70 supplier booths, moved on to Montreal Wednesday and will roll into Edmonton and Vancouver next week. Later in the month, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Canada Vacations similarly bring their brands to the trade.
- Helping save elephants in India is an added bonus for clients booking any TravCorp brand (Trafalgar, Insight, Contiki, Uniworld, etc) on April 22, as $1 from each booking will be donated to Wildlife SOS – India.
- Alitalia has unveiled its new lounge concept – Casa Alitalia – in Rome, Milan and New York. Designed to reflect the style and hospitality of an Italian home, guests can experience twice-daily live cooking demonstrations, and more.
- Destinations like Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Madrid, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sydney (Australia) are now a little closer for WestJet frequent flyers, who can now redeem their WestJet dollars on an enhanced network of Delta Air Lines Delta SkyMiles Members can also redeem miles anywhere WestJet flies.
- It took Air Canada Vacations fully 160 pages to detail its Europe program for the year, with destinations from Iceland to Italy and a host of touring options on both land and water, many of them aligning with Air Canada scheduled flights. EBBs are available through April 30.
- The Crane Luxury Resort, which famously overlooks one of the world’s top beaches in Barbados, is offering travel agents special rates and a bonus night (based on a seven-night stay) from April 22 to Dec. 23. Rates start at US$185 for a junior garden suite. (firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-235-9091)
- The only thing better than a holiday in the Cayman Islands is a holiday there for 45 per cent off, which is precisely what is available at select hotels and condos booked by June 30 for travel June 1-Sept. 4. Check out the Summer Only in Cayman promotion and participating properties at visitcaymanislands.ca.
- Twenty years ago, the former British territory of Hong Kong became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China and to celebrate its tourist board is introducing a discount coupon book for visitors with deals – many of them featuring the number 20, such as 20 per cent off – on hotels, attractions, transportation, sightseeing tours, dining and shopping, and more. The books are available in HKTB Visitor Centres, local hotels and travel agencies. A full can be found on line. http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/plan-your-trip/latest-promotion/smart-deals.jsp
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, in response to the new checks for U.S. visa applicants and the fear that new administration regulations, in general, are scaring visitors away:
"The travel community has been deferential to this new administration, whose charge it is to keep us safe. So now we respectfully request public acknowledgement of our nation's interest in welcoming legitimate travel. Mr. President, please tell the world that while we're closed to terror, we're open for business. Imbalanced communication is especially susceptible to being 'lost in translation'—so let's work together to inform our friends and neighbours, who could benefit from reassurance, not just who is no longer welcome here, but who remains invited to… vacation here."