My time aboard a Russian Spy Ship.

One of the greatest trips I ever took for Get Lost Magazine was through the Northwest Passage aboard the infamous Akademik Ioffe research vessel. Such a unique trip kicking off from Sisimiut, Greenland, traveling through the frozen Arctic, navigating by the seat of your pants to eventually hit Northern Canada. Aboard you have a team of scientist, academics, and artists to help you understand and answer any possible question you might have about this alien world you call home for the next three weeks. It’s like sailing with a live wikipedia, that has a fully stocked bar and hot tub.

I was welcomed on board by the crew and my liason told me that if I had any questions whatsoever to not hesitate to ask, except, do not talk to the crew.

“I’m sorry, why am I not allowed to talk to the crew?”

The crew was Russian, from St. Petersburg. The ship itself was Russian, and commanded by a decorated Captain (who for various reasons will remain nameless), and I was instructed that I was not to interview or communicate with any of the staff. They were there simply to run the cruise.

Of course this became one of my main objectives.

Over the next few days I became friendly with a deckhand, a young kid named, yes, Sergei, who would eventually take me on a clandestine tour of the guts of the ship. The massive desiel engines, the hidden wheelhouse in the back of the boat, and of course the extrodinary sonar radio transmitters that made this vessel very unwelcome in American waters.

Not shortly after my liason knocked on my cabid door.

“The Captain, he, uh, wishes to see you.”

I wont lie, I was afraid. I’m from NYC. I’ve been to some very bad places (ever found yourself in Chatanooga after 9pm?) but this, this was different. At the same time I thought “if I were to die … it would be epic to be killed on a Russian spy ship in the Arctic Ocean” and would at the very least make a great opening to a euligy.

I dressed in my finest shirt, and even brought a small bottle of good Scotch I was saving for a father-son moment at the trip’s end. I knocked on the door and the Captain, in full uniform, opened the door.

“Please. Come in.” he said emotionless with an almost comical Russian accent. You may not believe this but he looked like a young Putin, put together perfectly and absolutely prestine in his navy blues. His stateroom wasn’t lavish, but it was a Captain’s room; lined with dark wood and a wall full of well read books that have crossed the sea many times.

“Sit. Tea?”

Sure. Tea. Vodka would have been better for my nerves. I sat across from him as he served tea, we both declined sugar. I picked my poison and sipped, or at least pretended to sip. I’ve seen too many films.

Across from me the Captain stared. A blank page. He looked down for a moment, then gently began, “you are a journalist, yes?”

“I am, a travel writer actually.”

“Yes. From an Australian magazine, yes?”

“Yes. Get Lost Magazine.” I had written for years, and each time I said it out loud it always made me laugh.

“But … you are American?”

“Well, Italian,” I said … how many time’s I was Italian I could not say, but it was definitely more then I was American to foreign people. If that isn’t telling I don’t know what is.

“Ah. Ok. Yes. Italian. From America.”

There was a long pause. We both sipped the tea. For real this time.

“You wish to make interview with me?”

“Yes. Very much.”

“You wish to know if ship is spy ship, yes?”

My heart stopped. He asked with no emotion on his face. I couldn’t tell what was happening. Was he about to unload some secret information on me, was I about to have some Snowden-like, wikileaks madness come into my life? Was I ready for it?

Before I could reply his right hand slipped into his inner lappel, for a second I thought he was reaching for a gun, but then I saw it, the thin white envelope being retreaved from the deep blue wool of his jacket.

He put the crisp envelope flat on the pine table. His hand rested atop of it. He then slid it across the table, like a torpedo, directly at me. I reached out to take the letter, like a marathon runner being passed a baton. As I went to pull it towards me his hand came down firm and stopped the motion. I frose as he looked right into me.

“Top secret.”

Holy fucking shit. This was fucking happening. As a writer I’m always making shit up, always dreaming up stories always finding the way truth mirrors classic adventures, and amping up reality so that it electrifies and entertains. This however was the real deal and I had to do nothing to see that I was in way over my head.

Slowly I pulled the envelope to me without taking my eyes off the Captain. I hadn’t taken a breath in about 8 minutes and my forehead was more wet then the tea in my cup. I cautiously slipped a finger into the fold and pulled out a few pages of a stapled document. Unfolding it I clearly read the title “Akademik Ioffe: Fun Facts”

“Just kidding I pulled it off internet.” The Captain said with a great smile. That sonovabitch, wow did he get me. Played right into my little drama as if I had wrote him to do so. It was nothing less than fantastic.

The trip was one of the best of my life. The Arctic is unlike any place on the planet, and to see it surrounded by people who have dedicated their life to understanding it is an experience that resonates in every other experience you have after. What’s more, to have this moment happen on board a ship as amazing as the Akademik Ioffe with a crew so epic as this one, was just perfection at sea.

You can read the final article here, and get all the juicy inside information about this notorious Russian spy ship cruising through paradise on Earth.

Exploring the NorthWest Passage

One of the greatest trips of my lifetime was exploring the NorthWest Passage aboard a Russian research vessel with One Ocean Expeditions. I was there on assignment for Get Lost Magazine, and had never been that far North before, well above the Arctic Circle. We left from Greenland, and traveled across Baffin Bay, visited abandoned RMC outposts, Inuit towns, and saw plenty of amazing wildlife, even a hungry polar bear.

The crew was comprised of a team of specialists, from glaciologists to botanists to historians, so it was like talking to living encyclopedias. Any question you had about that fascinating world could be answered over a scotch in the galley. It was a magical trip, unlike any other I ever took.

I was mainly there to take photos, but did take these little 5 second moments so I could remember the sounds and sights a bit better if my memory ever fades. Glad I did.

Here is a little drone film of the arctic and the ship:

Lots of photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/serrini/albums/page3

And you can read the article on my site:https://robertoserrini.com/travel

#oneoceanexpeditions #arctic #cruises

Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Not for the faint at heart.

Edinburgh, Scotland. August. Fringe Festival. Amazing. This is a little guide/taste of what fringe is like in Edinburgh. It’s fun, silly, serious, insane, intense and pure delight. It’s when art takes over an already artistic city and puts it into overdrive.

There is performance happening in every single corner of this town, from large concert halls, to bathrooms inside of chip joints (no, really, we saw a show in a bathroom and it was wild.) Not just theater, its music, comedy, and pure performance. If you do go, keep an eye out for Richard Templeton’s “The Piece”  – it is not to be missed.

Crowded? Yes. Fun? Hell yes. It’s kind of like Burning Man, except you dont need drugs and you are never more than 5 minutes from a cold beer or a shower. So not like Burning Man at all but still a lot of fun. Go. https://www.edfringe.com/

 

 

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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

The last trip to Edinburgh yielded simply the best place to drink Scotch whisky in all of Scotland, The Scotch Malt Whisky Societyin Leith, Edinburgh. This place is everything you want it to be, secretive enough not to be overrun by uncouth tourists, accessible enough to feel at home not knowing as much as you should about Scotch Whisky. Located a short ride from downtown Edinburgh in the seaside port town of Leith, the society is tucked away in a majestic stone edifice, and while you need a member to give you access, becoming one is a no brainer if you are any sort of lover of whisky.

Once inside you realize you have arrived in a holy land dedicated to malted liquor. Rich wood paneled walls and soft leather davenports greet you, as does a staff so knowledgeable about the hundreds of bottles behind them it will make you feel like you are in the Oxford of mixology.

While the appointments of the room and the sophistication of its caretakers are formidable, the true magic is actually how the society presents each variety of whisky. The process is nothing less than sublime; casks are purchased directly from the finest distilleries around Scotland, then, when the society deems each whisky properly matured, they bottle them and add their own unique label. The labels are a bit of poetry in themselves, often with fun names or poignant meanings, that are meant to capture the spirit of the spirit within. Other then the age of the whisky, no other information of it’s pedigree is given, meaning, that the whisky is only judged by its quality in the mouth, not by the distillery it comes from or any other superficial precedent.

In this manner you are truly leveling the playing field when it comes to your desires and tastes, and are judging the spirits solely on their merit to you, the consumer. It’s a really beautiful sentiment, and a fine way to not only enjoy the true drink of Scotland, but a fine way to look at life in general as well.

Another added perk is that because the whisky is purchased by the cask and matured by the society, you can often sample brands that would normally cost you an arm and leg in a regular pub. I had a few whiskies older than myself and can only say that I get much better in time.

When you are done running the gauntlet, making new friends, and learning everything you ever wanted to about this amazing mouth treat, you can take home a few bottles for not only a fraction of the cost, but from a place so special you’ll flash a smile every time you pass the bottle on your shelf for sure, even after it’s long been emptied by delightful gluttony.

Edinburgh Travel Guide. Where to Eat, Drink & be Merry.

 

Edinburgh, Scotland, is such a perfect travel destination with world class food, amazing nightlife and killer culture that will leave any traveller wishing they had more time to explore. This city is a pleasure center, full of amazing museums, fantastic oddities like the Camera Obscura, killer hikes up to Arthur’s Seat, and the food, dear Lord the food is so good. No longer is it just known for Haggis (although we did have that, but in croquette form with lingonberry jelly) there are Tacos, and pizza, and amazing Halal all for the taking. Obviously the Scots prize a good drink, and while the bar and nightlife scene is up to 11 here, there are special places to do it a bit differently. Perhaps try a Gin themed escape room at Pickering’s Distillery, or, for the refined crowd, head over the Leith to check out the Whisky Scotch Society to try the golden nectar that is older than you. Not only will you be schooled by aficionados who can teach you a thing or two about this amazing liquor, but you can try some very rare breeds for a fraction of the normal cost. Its amazing.

Unsilent Night: NYC most weird & wonderful holiday tradition.

Unsilent Night is by far my favorite (and surrealist) holiday activity. Phil Kline composed a song in 1992, and each year he comes out to Washington Square, with a bunch of boom boxes and cassettes to meet up with hundreds of people.

You can download the song or grab a cassette (yes, cassette) and everyone starts the song at the same time. Because of the beautiful humanity of it, the song isn’t ever perfectly in-sync across the sea of people, and the resulting sound is a cacophony of bells, chants and holiday cheer. From the square we walk across the village to Tompkins Square, in complete silence, taking in the city as a slow moving, unrelenting serpent, drowning out the normal chaos of NYC with our haunting procession.

Passersbys watch slack jawed not knowing if they are witnessing a silent protest, a cult suicide or a pure form of holiday reverence. It’s powerful, simple, weird and wonderful just like the holidays should be. Much love to Phil who does this just for the love of doing it, without charging a penny, or requiring an email address or a like to a Facebook page. It’s purely about magic, and pure NYC. #unsilentnight #philkline #nyc

Papeete – hotel and mountain tour.

Just a quick peek into my favorite place to stay in the city of Papeete, Tahiti, and this great little jeep tour that explored the inner beauty of the island, with waterfalls, tall mountain peaks, and lush valleys. The Hotel Tahiti Nui is a great place to stay, very centrally located, super modern, safe and quiet. If you’re looking for something close to downtown and minutes from the cruise lines, you really can’t do better. http://www.hoteltahitinui.com/

And if you have an afternoon free you should definitely give Marama Safari tours a call. They’ll pick you up right at your hotel (their driver is adorable;) and cart you up to some of the most beautiful locations on the island, that you simply cannot reach without a guide or 4×4 truck. We even got a little impromptu class on how to make a traditional fern crown from our local guide. So sweet. http://www.maramatours.com/

 

Bora Bora drone aboard the Aranui 5.

Do I have your attention? Bora Bora? Drone? Aranui? Good. Listen up.

The Aranui, half cargo ship half luxury liner, is one of the wildest cruises I’ve been on, visiting some of the most extraordinary places in Polynesia, like Bora Bora and the remote Marquesas.

It’s a fantastic vessel, with 5 star accommodations, an incredible kitchen, lively lounges and divine communal spaces, but really it is the hosts that make the experience heavenly. The attention to detail, the high level of service while still being familiar and friendly, and simply the way they help you slip into island life is nothing short than other-worldly. I hope you enjoy this little drone peek at one of my most favorite ships in the sea, and if you are interested in cruising French Polynesia, seeing Bora Bora or the amazing Marquesas, check out one of my other videos aboard the Aranui, or hop over to Get Lost Magazine to read all about the adventure! #aranui #borabora #boraboradrone

ARANUI FAREWELL PARTY! Goodbye Tahiti, Marquesas and beautiful Polynesia!

You want to talk about epic trips? This was one of them … cruising around for 10 days aboard the crazy Aranui 5 through some of the most remote, beautiful, idyllic islands of French Polynesia was an adventure and a treat. And this party the last night aboard was the bomb. A feast unlike any I’ve seen before, with dancing, partying and just all around good times with some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. So glad I got to have this one of a kind experience with such special, lovely people. Thank you Aranui and of course, thank you Get Lost Magazine for giving me experiences that I could never have wished for in my wildest dreams. So grateful.

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The Aranui 5: Life aboard a cargo/luxury cruiseliner in Tahiti.

The Aranui is a very special cruise ship, part cargo, part luxury liner, and all love. The dual nature of the vessel allows it to travel to some very unique destinations that most cruises do not service, mainly, the remote Marquesas Islands. The fact that you can visit this lost paradise island chain, free of commercialism and tourists, is a dream to the seasoned traveler looking for something a bit more unique.

Onboard the Aranui you are part of a family. The rooms are finely appointed, the lounges swank, and the parties lively. There’s all sorts of activities, from hulu dancing, traditional weaving, cooking, and even fashion shows. What’s more, there is music all around, either in big dance parties, or impromptu jam sessions from the crew at the bar. It’s never a boring moment and always a lovely break from the intense relaxation the cruise provides.

This was a trip for the ages, and definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a novel way to see a slice of paradise. You can read about my entire experience at Get Lost Magazine, or, check out one of the other videos I’ve done highlighting the individual islands. Paradise awaits.

 

 

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