Wednesday, July 12, 2017

To see Russia on the cheap and easy, take the St. Peter Line ferry from Helsinki

    Getting a Russian visa is one of those things that makes most Americans just not go. A single-entry visa costs $123 and involves the cost and hassle of getting an official letter of invitation. A multiple-entry visa costs $303 and lasts for three years. Both require a lot of patience or the use of a visa processing agency.
    One exception to Russia’s strict visa rules is for visitors who arrive by ship, who get 72 hours visa-free. So those not wanting to spend a lot of money and effort on a visa can just buy a cruise! Except that’s not a very economical option, either. And cruise lines hold their passengers hostage to only taking official ship tours – nothing is worse. I like to see places on my own, not surrounded with a bus load of other people.
    We decided to try the one cheap option to visit St. Petersburg, which is to take a ferry operated by St. Peter Line. Our round-trip from Helsinki to St. Petersburg on the “Princess Anastasia” cost a total of 380 euros for the four of us and included a very small four-person cabin each way. Travel time was about 18 hours each way, but we spent quite a while in port in St. Petersburg on each end, turning that into about 24 hours, as the ferry holds you on board to make sure no one violates the 72-hour rule. The Russian visa-free rules require the purchase of an official “tour,” an obligation we satisfied by purchasing a 25-euro bus ride from the ship to and from the center of town.

    I’m not sure what image a “ferry” conjures in the typical traveler’s mind, but at one time the thought wasn’t too appealing. The fact is, however, that there are some pretty nice ferries out there. Think of the “Princess Anastasia” as a bottom-of-the-line cruise ship, with decent restaurants, bars, a show or two, and even kids' entertainment. Our stateroom was incredibly small, but since it was for such a short trip we survived. One travel tip: Pack everyone’s toiletries and a change of clothes in a separate bag so there will be no need to access each suitcase; there isn’t room to open them all up at once. There are, by the way, larger and more luxurious staterooms, but we were traveling on a budget.
    It's always easy to bust a budget. The ferry has some budget dining options as well as a couple of nice restaurants. We ended up eating at the nicer places, thus running up our tab, although I should note that dinner at one of the "nicer" restaurants with a couple of glasses of wine cost $85; so the food wasn't unreasonably priced. I think a beer or drink cost about $4.50, which is less than on the typical cruise ship.
    We had absolutely no problem navigating St. Petersburg on our own. We rented a very nice and large two-bedroom apartment through Booking.com for about $450 for three nights. A data sim card for my mifi hotspot cost four dollars for five gigabytes (I kid you not!). Food and drink were reasonable and Uber rides cost about $1.50 each. Everyone loves America and our president.
    For our return journey we de-boarded the ferry at Tallin instead of Helsinki; this cost an extra 10 euros each and allowed us to sleep until 11 a.m. Tallin is worth a visit, too, but I’ll leave to another day or another blogger.
    The best way to book is on the St. Peter Line site. The company does sell “cruises,” which I don’t recommend. Instead, book a ferry trip with a return three days after arrival. You are allowed exactly 72 hours in Russia without a visa, so don’t be late on your return.

The bars were like those on a cruise ship

Almost a kid's club!


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Delbert Hosemann's poke in Donald Trump's eye may prove costly in next election

    Love him or hate him, but Donald Trump has rearranged the political order of both parties. The old politics simply aren’t going to work any more.
    Trump has appointed an Election Integrity Commission to investigate the rampant voter fraud that has been taking place in virtually every state and national election for years. How could any honest person complain? Obviously those with a vested interest in promoting voter fraud don’t want to cooperate.
    Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann responded to the Election Commission’s request for information by telling them to “Go jump in the Gulf.” There was a time when a response like this to a federal demand would earn a Mississippi politician an easy ride in the next election. I think Hosemann is going to learn that the rules have changed. Most Mississippians support Donald Trump and want to put an end to voter fraud.
    It’s important to note that all of the information requested by the commission is public record or information the government already has. For example, the federal government already has our social security numbers – there’s no need for the state to withhold these.
    Whether intentionally or not, Hosemann has thrown his support behind those who want to rig our nations elections. In 2014 Hosemann did everything he could to prevent a proper investigation of the Thad Cochran-Chris McDaniel senate race, which was a giant fraud-fest. The bottom line is that by both word and deed Delbert Hosemann supports voter fraud.
    Hosemann will find out soon enough that Donald Trump has more support in Mississippi than he does. My hope is that his political career is over.