First, let me thank you for making our "Grand Trip" one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.
We had planned to do this "Grand Trip" for a number of years and when we finally made the decision and had
the good fortune to contact you and Optima Travel everything fell into place.
Although we left before the final arrangements where in place (our decision) Tatiana Lastovkina and Optima followed through
and continued working on our adventure.
Hotels were booked,tours arranged, and tickets delivered to us in Bejing on time.
As a former Minister of Tourism for the Province of British Columbia, Canada, I know how difficult these arrangement can be
especially when we where not available and in transit for weeks at end.
Now for the "Grand Trip"
We left Bejing on and boarded the train for Ula-Batar,a long and arduous journey,especially the 6 hr. border crosssing
and train carraige (wheel) change). We were met at the station by our guide BaBa who deliverd us to our Hotel Edelwies.
Excellent accomodation and food were provided and the hotel was in easy walking distance to attractions, restuarants and
The tour to our Yert (Ger) was again on time and took into consideration our age with stops along the way for stretching our
legs and sightseeing.
The Yert camp was very nice and offered us a chance to see and meet "real" Mongolia". Although I believe we might have
hiked and travelled a bit more than our guide BaBa might have imagined for people of our age.
The food had to be complimented on.We were totally amazed at the breakfasts,lunches and dinners. Not only the quality
and taste, but the prepration. We had to ask to meet and speak to the cook. Who was a young Mongolian chef who
recently returned to her home country for the Czech Republic where she got her education and worked in a major hotel there.
On to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal,were we again greeted at the station by our driver and taken to the Hotel Victory in downtown Irkutsk.
The tour guide Anna was on time and we had a pleasant day with her. She was very knowledgeable and spoke excellent english.
She even help in negotiating with our purchasing of gifts.
I have to mention that the driver was late picking us up the day of our departure. He claimed it was the traffic, but we made the train
with only 3 minutes to spare.
The Trans-Siberian is a long-long-long train ride the compartments are very comfortable and the passengers in our section all foriengers.
So we got to meet a lot of interesting people from around the world. Even some from Canada.
Even though we did not request it and was not part of our agenda, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Tatiana had arranged for us
to be met by a driver at our our stop in Omsk. He took us to our Hotel Mika and also drove us back to the train. This time with lots of
time to spare.
Omsk is a compact city, in transformation into the "New Russian" the church of the Catherdral of Assumption was just completed and is spectacular.
We were surprised to learn from a wonderful woman who did her best to speak with us in her limited english and take us into the
locked basement of the church to show us the reconstruction process and to learn that the city and state had contributed to the
We got back on the train to Ekanterinburg and were once again greeted by our driver at the station "Alexander" who took us to our "City Hotel 2"
and we had a pleasant walk around the downtown area which is full of parks, theaters,and to Florence's delight shops.
The next day we were greeted by our guide (Maria?) and driver Alexander and given the royal tour of the city and surroundin area.
Statues, parks, churches, and to our pleasant surprise the top of the Urals. Where Europe Russia meets Asia Russia.
Some distance out of the city, and to our greater surprise Alexander pulled out a bottle of Champagne and some chocolates
I discussed "OUR" favorite sport HOCKEY and the Vancouver Canucks recent defeat. We were so impressed with his kindness
that on our return I purchased a Vancouver Canucks jersey for him.
On to Moscow, we had left the agenda (other than the hotel) for this part of the trip open and for ourselves. An adventure and hopefully
I had not been to Moscow for 20 yrs. and my previous trip had been with my then 19yr. old son. I was looking foward to seening what
had traspired in those 20 yrs. And what peristroka had accomplised.
Moscow is a modern, vibrant and somewhat expensive city. With amenities and a cosmopolitism to rival any city in the world.
The Hotel Izamalov was on the by the 1988 Olympics site. You remember the one that most of the world boycotted because Russia had
"invaded" Afganistan. If only the west had second guessed that one. The hotel was right by the famous Moscow Metro and very easy to
access and understand. We used it exclusively to navigate around Moscow. From the Kremlin, to the fabulous Moscow Circus, to the
We used the travel agency located in the hotel to book the "fast train" to St. Petersburg. Relatively new and comfortable we enjoyed the trip
but had miscalculated the time. Having originally planned on the overnite to St. Petersburg and therefore arrived a day early.
The Hotel Petrovsky was able to accomodate us, but on the 5th floor with no lift and in 30D weather with no air conditioning.
And dispite promises to move us to our original disiganated room, they had all kinds of excuses not to. There was no phone
in the room. On the last day there we were not allowed back in our room till 4PM. No explanation and when we did arrive the sheets
and towels had not been changed. We got the impression this was punishment for our complaints.
The hotel was downtown and within easy walking distance of every convienience and attraction. But this did not offset the discomfort
and rudeness of the staff.
St.Petersburg has changed in 20yrs. There are now over 5M visitors a yr. And every attraction has been spruced up and made accessable
for a modern traveller. The highlite is of course the Hermitage and one can easily spend a week there.
Surprisinly the suvenier shop at the Hermitage is in most cases a cheaper and more affordable place to shop. Offering better quality and prices.
We also walked to the Optima Travel offices in St. Petersburg and booked at the "last minute" a flight to Amsterdam to visit my home country
of Holland and relatives and friends.
Again our thanks to Tatiana and Optima for their arrangements. We recommend that anyone planning a visit to Russia contact Optima and Tatiana
(who lives in New York and is planning on becoming a Doctor).
Gerard and Florence Janssen
Qualicum Beach BC
(former Minister of Tourism,Prov. of British Columbia)
For some months now I have been meaning to write to you and to say thank you for your excellent service you will have forgotten and to say how pleased we were that everything worked out perfectly. And for that matter to add what an excellent time we had in Russia. Travellers throw themselves on the mercy of people like you and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. When it does we are grateful.
My warmest wishes.