Saint Petersburg Day 2

After a very long first day, we had a bus tour of Saint Petersburg where we could stay on the bus and not have to do anything. Both my son and my daughter were asleep on the bus 10 minutes after we pulled away from the boat. I was not paying attention to whatever the guide was saying on the bus, either. We all were exhausted.
I must have been paying attention at some point because the tour guide was excellent, and we learned a few new things on this tour. We stopped several times, but I honestly don’t remember getting out except once. I know we got out when we visited the Spilled Blood Church, which was amazingly beautiful. I believe I was the only one to get out of the bus on this stop. As usual, you had to be very wary of pick-pockets.

We came back to the ship, had an hour to chill out, and then had to be back off the boat for a cooking class. As we exited our ship for what seemed like the 10th time we were greeted at our tour bus with a familiar face- Katya, who was our private guide the day before, was our guide for the cooking class. We were so excited. The bus dropped us off at a restaurant which was already set up for a bus-load of people.
The menu item was something called pelmeni, which is a typical food amongst the Russian people. A pelmeni is a stuffed dumpling of sorts, usually stuffed with ground beef and seasonings. We had it served with a couple of finger foods, which included caviar on toast and pickles. The chef demonstrated how to make the pelmeni from scratch, and then he invited us up to the tables and made them ourselves. After making the pelmeni, the chef cooked them in boiling water, and we ate them afterward. They were good, but nothing special. After we ate the pelmeni that we made, the kitchen staff brought out pelmeni that the chef made in advance. The difference was noticeable, but I think he cheated because they tasted like they were sauteed in butter. Everything tastes better in butter. Now, throughout this whole time, we were treated to 4 different types of shots of vodka. One was spicy pepper vodka, and several of the others were of different alcohol content. I honestly thought they were all incredible.
Since my wife drinks hardly at all, she barely tasted each one and then gave the rest to me. After a total of 8 shots, needless to say, I couldn’t feel my face. Thankfully I didn’t make a fool out of myself, like falling up the steps of the bus when leaving. I’m not sure, but I think we went back to the ship after that.

After reflecting on it, we had such a wonderful time at the cooking class. I think it was my wife’s favorite excursion. We got back to the ship just in time for our late dinner and were looking to retire to bed early. We had another early morning in Helsinki, Finland.

What are you waiting for?

Can you imagine it? Can you dream it? Can you believe it? These are all questions you may ask yourself if you were in my shoes less than a year ago. I started to dream again after 40 plus years. I began to imagine myself doing things I didn’t dare think about for the last umpteen years, and I loved it. I was filled with hope, purpose, and a sense of being.

Taking your kids to soccer while other dads are still at work

I looked forward to every day and the possibilities. After you are on cloud 9 for a while, you begin to descend to earth and realize that there’s work to be put in….lots of it. But is it worth it? You bet it is! Is it worth it to have your own business you can be proud of so you can spend your mornings with your kids as they go off to school instead of racing around like a madman before the sun gets up to go to work? Or like I was- sleeping all day, seeing your kids for dinner only and then tucking your kids into bed, then kissing your wife goodnight as you truck out into the middle of the night to join your co-workers. Ten to twelve hours later, drag your sorry-ass home exhausted so you can shove some cereal in your mouth then go to bed again. Is all the work you put into owning your own business worth it? Bet your ass it is! It’s better than what I used to do. So tired, I fell asleep mid-sentence reading to my son one evening before his bedtime.

I’ve always been drawn to small business owners

I have been performing jobs that are not precisely fulfilling but pay the bills. Jobs that I don’t exactly bounce out of bed in the morning to go to. Mainly because I have chosen to move around a lot, but also in part, because I never had the guts to open my own business or finish my schooling, I finished high school and had several attempts at college, but I hated it. I hated it with a passion. So really the only course of action for me was to open my own business. I’ve been friendly with business owners since I was a kid when my parents took me downtown in the 1970s. I’ve always been drawn to small business owners because they’re a different breed. Usually a lot friendlier than most people for obvious reasons.

But what you do is your purpose- or at least supposed to be

My motto has always been, “It’s not what you do; it’s who you do it with.” Meaning who you work with is more important than what you do. But what you do is your purpose- or at least supposed to be. I still believe that to be true to some degree. I know a firefighter in New Jersey, a very fulfilling job, but his admission to me was he works with a bunch of assholes. So his career is fulfilling, but at the same time, he doesn’t like it very much because he hates his co-workers. I want my job to matter, don’t you? If it does already to you, then great, you’ve found your niche. But for the rest of us still looking or still getting by with a job that pays the bills. Wake up, pay attention to what your purpose is. Don’t know what your purpose is, great you can work that out while making money online.
Get started through my website by hitting “Start here.” Email me directly at or contact me through Facebook- Lynn Van Zant. Comments or questions much appreciated.

Saint Petersburg, Russia Day 1

St. Petersburg was only recently founded as a city around 1703 A.D. It is named after Peter the Great Tsar of Russia at the time. St. Petersburg has been renamed several times and most recently changed its name from Leningrad back to St. Petersburg. But we are told people who lived there when it was called Leningrad still refer to it as such. It’s situated on marshland and has a great maritime history. It is a desperately cold and dreary most of the year. That is why some of their buildings are painted in bright colors.

We arrived in St. Petersburg with great anticipation. I was looking forward to this port most of all. Our ship was in port for 2 days, and we were going to make the most of it. We had a total of 4 excursions for both days planned. My wife had met a family, from Toronto, on Facebook that was looking for another family to fill their private excursion. The wife’s parents had to back out of the entire cruise for medical reasons, and they had to try to fill this excursion. We met the Martins face to face briefly before the actual tour. The Martin’s, Todd and Tanya, had two teenage daughters Olivia and Charlotte, were scheduled to meet us early Sunday for our excursion. We thought the families would make a good match; their daughters were 16 and 14 years old while our kids were 14 and 12 years old.

The Van Zant’s and the Martin’s inside the Faberge Museum

We met our charming tour guide, Katya, promptly after we got off the ship and after we went through a passport control area. (Russia was the only stop on our cruise where you couldn’t get off the ship by yourself or without a guide unless you had a Visa). Since it was a private tour we could go wherever we wanted- although this was Russia so you really couldn’t go WHEREVER you wanted. Katya suggested we go to the Hermitage Museum first before it officially opened, but it would require a $10 per person extra fee, which we all readily agreed to. After the museum opened it would become so overcrowded it would be hard to see some of the exhibits.
When we arrived at the museum, there were hundreds of people already standing outside in line, but Katya said there were 4 entrances, and the lines become ridiculously longer later in the morning. Also, the museum was closed the following day, Monday. We spent a total of two hours inside the Hermitage, which is a series of 18th-century buildings, including Catherine the Great’s winter palace. The buildings were unbelievably massive, over 600 hundred rooms in total. I think the kids were ready to go long before the end of 2 hours. The number of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts were indeed dizzying.

After, the fantastic tour at the Hermitage Museum, we made a stop at the Spilled Blood Church, which was the site where Alexander II was assassinated. We then stopped for shopping so we could pick up some Russian vodka and other gifts for the people back home. We wound up buying matryoshka (LINK) dolls and put some bottles of vodka in them to give as gifts.
Lunch was at a restaurant that Katya recommended called Tsar. I, along with everyone else, ordered a typical Russian dish, beef stroganoff, potato pancakes, but I did not order borsch, which is beet soup. We tried a drink which was made from a Russian ‘pinecone’ which you could eat because it had been soaking in the juice for many hours or days. It was different, and I think everyone liked it except, of course, the kids.

After lunch, we went to the Faberge Museum. My wife and I had sat for a lecture about the famous Faberge eggs earlier on in the cruise. I found it to be interesting loaded with history about Karl Faberge. We didn’t have a lot of time in the Faberge museum, but that was more than fine because it was a tiny museum. They only had 11 of the famed Faberge eggs while 14 were in private collections in the United States. The rest of the 54 eggs are scattered throughout the world in other collections, and several of them are still missing. Afterward, we were escorted back to the ship and had to go back through passport control and.

Our tour guide, Katya, was terrific with her fantastic knowledge of the buildings, the paintings, and the culture of Russia. Everything we saw and drove past, she knew about. In college, she majored in Museum studies and then picked up English as a hobby, whereas most tour guides do the opposite.
Later that evening, we had a canal cruise from 7-10 pm. Coincidentally we had a friend from Denver who just went on the same canal cruise the week before. My wife spoke with her briefly while we were in Copenhagen, and she mentioned that the canal cruise was not very good. Probably a lot of you reading this have been on one of these types of tours before, and they are usually just so-so. But I was pleasantly surprised to say that we had a fantastic experience. We sat upstairs on the boat in the fresh air while there were seats downstairs with the tour guide with a very dry sense of humor. After a while, the tour guide invited everyone downstairs to enjoy the folk show with singing and dancing. So, my son and I decided to sit downstairs and were treated to a very animated woman and man dressed in traditional Russian costumes singing Russian folk songs. I, of course, got picked to dance with both of them, which made the trip very memorable.

We got back to the boat around 10 pm and were pretty beat. We would get up early again the next day and have another full day ahead of us.

Travel now, life is not guaranteed

Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I remember my mom used to say this to me all the time when I was a kid. Of course, she was talking about the famous board game Monopoly. My parents and I used to play board games a lot. I actually hate that board game today, but that’s a different story. My point is, do not wait or put off traveling and seeing the world until later or someday because someday may never come. I don’t mean to be morbid, I’m just being truthful.

You don’t have to travel to Rome…..

I remember when I worked at Metlife Insurance in Denver, you would hear about real people who retired then 3 days later he or she is dead. I heard that several times. In some cases, we had an individual who died right before they retired. I, myself don’t think you should go into massive debt to go traveling, especially since my wife and I find all kinds of ways to save money when we travel. But I think if you work hard all your life, then wait to travel when you retire – you’re never guaranteed tomorrow. Do it today, do it now and most of all do it for yourself. Take yourself or take your kids on that trip to chilly Nova Scotia or scenic Vancouver or somewhere out of your country. It doesn’t have to be Rome, Paris or someplace exotic like Tokyo. It can be a long car drive out of the country, but just make sure you take it before your too old and maybe not able to travel, or your kids are not interested in going on family vacations anymore.

Epcot in Disney World does not constitute traveling abroad

My family took me on trips to South Missouri, mostly. Until finally I begged and pestered them enough they took me on a trip to Disney World when I was 13. This brings me to my main point – my parents were never able to afford to take me anywhere crazy or exotic or at least they never tried to my knowledge. My 9 to 5 job I work with people who are lucky to afford a roof over their heads and food in their belly. They don’t have the luxury of traveling anywhere out of the country. I take these beautiful trips abroad and regale them with details, and they’re dumbfounded and amazed I’m able to go to these places. The sad part is, is they work as hard as anyone I’ve ever met. I work with very talented hard-working and smart people. They’re just caught up in trading time for money like most people.

If you ever look at people’s spending habits

How do you afford to take a trip abroad? It’s all about priorities. You have to make it a priority. Example- my wife has a friend who has her daughter and her daughter’s two kids living with her. The daughter had a travel agent/friend plan a trip to Disney World for all of them. They spent around $20k of the mothers’ money. My wife spoke to the mother and told her she could get them a better deal on a hotel than they were getting with the travel agent/friend. She could have saved them many thousands of dollars. Nope, instead she didn’t want to upset her daughter by using a different person to book hotel reservations. But that was the mothers’ money. She had absolutely every right to tell her daughter that she was going to use a different travel agent that could save them thousands. (Shameless plug) Yes, my wife is a travel agent, and yes she could have saved them thousands! Just on the hotel!
My long-winded point is, if you put saving money as a priority, you can travel abroad. People love to cry poverty. But if you ever look at their spending habits, it’s criminal how they spend their money.

I wish everyone could see the Eiffel Tower. I hope everyone could visit the Parthenon someday. But sometimes someday never comes.
I get it, traveling to Paris isn’t your thing. My father-in-law has no interest in traveling overseas. My friend, Dave, back in Missouri is the same way. My first boss never ventured out of Missouri except when he went to Denver when he was 16 years old, only ONCE!. My first boss when I knew him was 80 something years old. (Yes you read that correctly my first boss was over 80 years old). Some people are good ole’ boys and girls who have no desire to travel. I feel sorry for these people. Yes, I said it. They’ll never get to meet the wonderful woman my family got to know for 10 days from Ukraine, Oleksandra. They’ll never see the vast knowledge of our tour guide in Saint Petersburg, Russia when we went through the Hermitage Museum. To experience the fantastic breakfast we had in Disneyland Paris at the Disneyland Hotel with the plethora of croissants and danishes that were on display. The insanely beautiful sights of Vancouver, B.C. The art gallery in Gastown in Vancouver full of vibrant and beautiful Native American art. The exciting tour guides I got to meet when we went hiking in Alaska. My family was zipping from Ashford, England to Disneyland Paris on a train going over 100 mph.

I could go on, but I think I’ve went on long enough. As you can tell, this is something I feel passionate about. I think everyone should travel and anyone that doesn’t, well it’s their freakin’ loss and their stupidity.
The moral of the story – don’t wait, and god whatever you do don’t say someday. (Another shameless plug). If you find yourself wanting to travel abroad, look up my wife, Laurie Van Zant. You can find her on Facebook, or you can contact her or 609-618-1887. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait. No one ever said, ” Gosh, I wish I never took that trip to the Pyramids.”

Tallinn, Estonia

I remember when we saw the ship’s itinerary, I noticed the stop before Saint Petersburg we were going to a place called Tallinn, Estonia. I didn’t know anything about Estonia except it was under Soviet control until the fall of the USSR. I don’t think we ever expected much out of Tallinn but, like liquor-filled chocolate, it was surprisingly unique and were very pleasantly surprised.

My family picked a Best of Tour through Disney for our excursion. When we got off the boat, we met our guide who was a rather tall, blonde gentleman with an accent that wasn’t too hard to understand. (I’m terrible with names I forgot all of our tour guides’ names except for one in Saint Petersburg). We stopped in Old Town Tallinn, where we entered a medieval built church and listened to a quick concert. We also walked around the Old town a bit, did some shopping. We also stopped to take pictures of a Russian Orthodox church which of course was, elaborate and beautiful.

Next, we stopped for lunch, our entire tour was kind of crammed into this one area of the restaurant. I think everyone was very hungry at this point. I remember the food, a juicy chicken dish with sauteed vegetables in a mushroom sauce being delicious. But when you’re starving most food is really good.
After lunch, we went to an outdoor concert venue where they have the world’s most massive stage, made for 30,000 singers. On a side note, there have been many famous musicians and bands that have held concerts at this venue. Tallinn hosts its own song festival every 5 years, which fills the stage with singers. We visited the Governor’s Garden, also known as the Palace Garden, we walked around a bit and took pictures.

Tallinn is a special place located on the Baltic Sea, founded in 1154 A.D. with narrow streets that was built in the 13th century and some in the 17th century. It was a pagan culture until taken over by the Danish and shortly after that the Finnish, the Germans, followed by the Russians at the beginning of the 2nd World War. They recently became an independent nation after the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1991.
When people ask my wife, what was one of her favorite places that we stopped was on our cruise she said, Estonia.