During the past few weeks, my newsletters and blog posts have been less meticulous than usual. One blog post turned up twice with different titles. Blog announcements on social media didn’t turn up on their usual schedule, and normal postings didn’t happen. All fell victims to . . . summer vacation.
It was a bucket list vacation without a research trip attached. It was a holiday without regular access to internet. It was a true mental refreshment that was also educational, with my mind whirring to keep up with an influx of new sights, sounds, foods, and information.
Since leaving the academic cloister, my travel bucket list is filled with places I invited my students to enjoy during the required world history class. I’ve been able to visit Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and China — all magical places. This year my bucket list target was St. Petersburg, Russia.
Logistics included how to get there with the least disruption to my travel companion and without having to go through the visa process. I settled on a Baltic cruise as the most convenient option. For some people the cruise itself is the vacation. I’m a person who will only take a cruise if it’s the best way to get where I want to go. My last cruise was to the Galapagos Islands.
A number of cruise lines, large and small, are active in the region. But only one, Oceania, had three days in St. Petersburg. [The others had only one or two.] And, by taking two consecutive cruises, I had six days in the city. Visas were included with organized tours. In addition to St. Petersburg, the cruise introduced me to charming cities I wouldn’t otherwise visit.
I went to Copenhagen and realized a childhood desire to visit the Tivoli Gardens. I went to cities in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. I stopped in seaside towns in Sweden and Norway. Starting with St. Petersburg I’ll share photos and memories over the next few weeks.
DID I FOLLOW MY OWN ADVICE?
Now that I’m home, I revisited two blog posts about travel preparations to see if I followed my own advice. In The Benefits of Travel, I wrote that travel can make us healthier, relieve stress, enhance creativity, increase empathy for others, and make travelers appreciate the benefits of home. In Packing and Travel Hacks I wrote about organizing for travel, packing, and even concealing emergency funds in a chapstick tube. So, how did I do at following my own advice?
On the Travel Hack List:
- I managed to keep track of my passport, tickets, and medications.
- Due to various weather possibilities, I took more clothing than I normally prefer and three pairs of shoes: official walking shoes ? for support over cobble stones, light shoes ? for dinner on the ship, and a pair of quasi tennis shoes for lighter walking treks.
- I squashed my clothing into quart sized zip-lock bags which made it easier to find.
- I didn’t hide emergency cash in a chapstick tube, though I still think it’s a novel idea.
I found the list of travel benefits very accurate.
Did I receive the purported Benefits of Travel?
- Am I healthier? I certainly walked more in fresh air and sunshine wearing sunscreen and appropriate shoes. This probably had a good effect.?
- Is my stress level lower? Once I was on the departure plane, my stress fell significantly, because anything I forgot no longer mattered. On the other hand, being half way around the world when Hawai`i experienced two hurricanes was stressful and somewhat bizarre.
- Did the journey enhance my creativity and cognitive flexibility? Hmmmm. ? I’m going to say it did. So many new experiences led to a mind explosion. Days without a settled routine or set goals left my mind to wander anywhere it wanted to go. I’m still waiting for it to return.
- Did the journey enhance my empathy for others? Absolutely. Meeting and listening to people who experienced the Soviet Era, and those born after it made me realize the constant pressure people lived with every day. Hearing a guide in St. Petersburg joke about the KGB listening in on our audio receivers brought home the reality of life in a police state — a state the guide had lived under.
- Some things, as this sign from Kristiansand, Norway demonstrates, don’t need a translation.
Just for fun, let’s have a photo contest. Can you guess the location either of the pictures below? Leave your answer in the comment section. Correct answer reveal next week.
Photos by Author.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth is available as an audiobook.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.