Friday, July 17, 2015

Viking to Revive Ukraine Cruises

Next year Viking River Cruises ( will bring back its Ukraine cruises along the Dnieper River and through the Black Sea to Odessa. And if you book soon, you can get free air fare even from Canadian gateways, which would offset to some extent the fact that cruise prices were quite a lot lower before the recent hostilities in Ukraine.

The minimum price for an 11-day cruise now is $4099 per person, a hefty sum. I sailed with Viking along the Dnieper and to Crimea and Odessa in July 2010, and you can read about that trip by scrolling back to posts from August and September 2010. It was a fascinating voyage to a region I had long wanted to see. It was relatively affordable because the old ship Viking used then had tiny but totally adequate single cabins.

The 2016 cruises will be quite different--a new deluxe ship that lacks single cabins, and no port stops in Crimea, now controlled by Russia. Instead, there will be four nights in Odessa, and several stops along the Dnieper south of Kiev. For travelling couples, the free air fare offer could, to a large extent, make up for the higher cruise price.

There is no question that river cruises tend to be costly. However, they also usually include many land tours, all meals and free wine or beer with meals as well as on-board entertainment. And the pleasure of not having to pack and unpack frequently makes them a popular option, especially with older travellers.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Air BnB Competitor

If you enjoy homestays but for some reason don't like, the elephant in the private accommodation room, consider This is a newer competitor that guarantees your host will be there to greet you when you arrive at the homestay, and will be there during your stay.

Some people apparently own several places and rent them out through airbnb, turning the homestay into a more impersonal experience. On the other hand, booking a place through airbnb seems to be quite easy based on the Website. You just enter your destination and dates, and can browse through listings available for those dates with prices in U.S. dollars.

On, it wasn't clear at least to me exactly how you would book as a guest. Perhaps my computer is too old to work well with their Website. And for the listings I could find, prices were listed in local currencies usually, which adds an extra step for the user. And not all prices were low--a homestay in Playa del Carmen, Mexico costs $100 per night for one person. is a start-up, so it is unlikely to have as many members as its big competitor. But if you want to be assured of a personal experience and are willing to jump through some hoops, it could be a good choice.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Trois Rivieres, a Remnant of New France

Sometimes you don't have to go far for an interesting travel experience. I've lived in Montreal for many years, but only recently visited the city of Trois Rivieres for a day. This is a very old settlement on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, about half way to Quebec City, the provincial capital. It is a fairly industrial town, but with a vibrant old city dating from the era of New France.

It's not widely known in the U.S., but New France used to include much of the interior of the U.S. At one time it stretched west of the Appalachian mountains to far beyond the Mississippi River. Prior to the American Revolution, France controlled the Ohio territory which stretched as far as Minnesota. In 1803 the U.S. purchased the Louisiana territory in the interior south and west from France. Today the only remnants of New France in North America are the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, an overseas department of France off the coast of Newfoundland.

 The old part of Trois Rivieres is easily covered by walking, though you may have to pay to park near the Musee Populaire--$9 for the day. The Musee Populaire itself is a modern building with rotating exhibits and many kid-friendly activities. At the moment there are items relating to Quebec strong men such as Louis Cyr, 20th century toys, and the history of a French-Canadian family that lived on an ordinary street in the town. Exhibits are labelled in both French and English.

The most fascinating though creepy part of the museum is a prison tour. The prison next to the musem was active from the 1820s until it was closed in 1986. A guided tour, available in both French and English, will show you where inmates lived during their usually fairly short stays, and where a few of them ended their days by being hanged. Conditions were appalling, so it is fortunate that few prisoners stayed more than a year or two.

Admission to this museum costs about $20 Canadian, so be sure to time your visit to coincide with a prison tour if you want to get the most out of it.

Another museum, and totally free, is the Manoir Boucher de Niverville. It is the refurbished home of the Seigneur who controlled the land around Trois Rivieres under the old regime. Seigneurs were similar to European nobility, and were given land grants by the king of France to help in the settlement of the territory. Exhibits here show how the privileged class lived in the 17th and 18th centuries.

If you have any concern with church architecture, don't miss the Cathedral of the Assumption, a neo-Gothic building with beautiful stained glass windows. I was surprised to learn that the windows date only from the period of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, though the church is a lot older. Its size and beauty are a potent reminder of the strength of the Catholic Church in Quebec until the 1960s. Nearby, you can see plaque marking the birthplace of Maurice Duplessis, Quebec Premier during the period of the 20th century many people call "La grande noirceur" or the Great Darkness.

I had just one meal, lunch, in Trois Rivieres at an Irish pub-style restaurant called Le Trefle. A club sandwich with french fries and coffee came to about $18 with tax and tip.

For more on Trois Rivieres, consult