Sunday, June 5, 2011

I have been busy...but not claying

Hi Everyone,

I've been incredibly busy the last while, but nothing much related for clay. Work requires longer hours this time of year and when I do come home I've been planning my mother's cruise and what to do. I've probably spent close to 100 hours on this project and it's finally come to an end. Mom's only real criteria was that the cruise have a private balcony and that they spend two days in Russia.

Her husband's criteria was that he would prefer to see Rotterdam.

That turned out to be a miscommunication which I learned only after I booked the cruise. He thought he had been told that Rotterdam had direct flights that he could use his air points for. It would have been so much easier if that had been the case.

Sounds simple, eh? Not so much.

I really, really, enjoy planning trips, and, according to my husband, it's something I'm pretty good at.

But it's harder when you're planning it for someone else then for yourself, particularly your mother who you feel very protective of. Her husband? Not so much - he's younger, much bigger, and not likely to get taken too much advantage of. He's been an Indian chief and a prime negotiator in multi-million contracts. Don't get me wrong, he's been a part of my life for more than 30 years and I love him, but I don't feel as protective of him.

This was very much an up and down project from despair to not getting it right to wanting to high-five anyone I could find on the street because I was so impressed with myself for what I had come up with (through the help of many, many others).

I finally think it's perfect so I'm in high five mode at the moment.

What I researched:
  • Which cruise line and which departing port
  • Which company to give a tour of St. Petersburg, Russia
  • What they should do before and after cruise
  • Where they should stay before and after their cruise
  • What they should do during cruise
  • How to get them to places before and after cruise
  • Best flights and locations to fly into

They're flying into Brussels to take a cruise out of Rotterdam. I spent days looking for a place for them to stay in Rotterdam and wasn't happy with any of my choices. I use tripadvisor as a bible for my choices and Cruise Critic is also becoming my new best friend. Finally I found the solution through some help on many different fronts. Instead of Rotterdam, they're touring a bit of the Netherlands.

They are going to Delft, first, then The Hague. The cruise has stops in Copenhagen, Berlin, Talinnin, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and Stockholm (though not necessarily in that order). After that it's a trip from Rotterdam to Brugge (Bruges, Belgium) for three days and then finally on their way home.

To start, they're getting picked up at the airport and transported to Delft where they basically get to pass out after an overnight flight. The next day they've got a private tour of Delft and The Hague through The Dutch Travel Advisor (also based on feedback from Cruise Critic). Edwin has been great to deal with and if his tours live up to his service via e-mail I'm sure Mom and her husband will be in for a real treat.

During the cruise, I've organized a private tour for them in Russia based on feedback from Cruise Critic. It'll be just the two of them with a guide for two days. The company I chose was SPB Tours and so far the responsiveness and the care they put into their answers has been wonderful. So much so that I used the same company for their tour of Berlin. I hope it lives up to expectations but I can't see how it won't because for the life of me I've been unable to find anything negative about them. Much easier than booking a tour through the cruise line which would have required that my parents give up their passports prior to the cruise to get Russian visas.

My last despair from yesterday turned into joy today based on a suggestion from RonaldoC on tripadvisor which turned the light on for me by suggesting that they don't stay in Brussels and go to Brugge. Right now they're on their own in Brugge, which I chose over Brussels for the intimacy and quiet but are staying at a lovely combination of B&Bs called The Huyze Hertzberge and the Cote Canal which I just confirmed about an hour ago. The owner, Caroline, gets rave reviews on her service so I don't feel bad about leaving them on their own under her care.

I probably put more effort into planning their trip than I would have my own. I chose quality and service over cost for them. I turned down several highly ranked places that had iffy service.

I love the contrasts that I've chosen for them and here are a couple of pictures of the places that they're staying.

Day 1, Delft, Hotel de Emauspoort, ranked #1 by TripAdvisor and I'm so thrilled for them to be here, they're staying in the Vermeer room. Renata and I spoke over the phone so that I could get some answers to some questions and I immediately fell madly in love with her voice and kindness. They've endeared me forever in how they're going to try to accommodate an early arrival and they sound genuinely interested in making sure that my parents are taken care of.
Hotel de Emauspoort: The de Emauspoort Hotel

Day 2, The Hague, the Steinberger Kurhaus hotel, ranked #9. It's got a casino which will be fun for Mom. I don't have any personal interaction with the hotel, Edwin is arranging it, but with a picture like this, how can it go wrong?

Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel: Den  Haag 2004: Schebingen - Kurhaus

Quite the contrast in day 1 and day 2, eh?

Anyhow, that's what I've been up to the last several weeks. Now I've got some household stuff to work on and then maybe I can get back into claying.

Now just to keep my fingers crossed and a huge great big monster thank you to everyone who helped me with everything.