From Russia to Finland

When we awoke on Sunday morning, we had left the European Union behind and entered a country that most of us couldn’t have dreamed of visiting even ten years ago: Russia. Nowadays St. Petersburg, which sits at the mouth of the Neva river and the Baltic Sea, is a popular port of call for cruise ships. We were one of at least four (at my count) ships docked at St. Petersburg when we arrived.

Perhaps to make those countless stories about Russians waiting in eternally long lines hit home, every entrance and exit from our ship onto Russian soil required waiting in a line, usually a pretty long one. Clearly this was a different country than any I’ve visited before, a point hammered home by the Cyrillic writing on the signs and the still-clear signs of 70 years of Communist rule. (To see all the photos that go with this blog entry, visit Mac Mania 3.5 photo gallery 3.

Still, St. Petersburg is full of dramatic sights. As a city on several rivers, there are lots of waterways spanned by lots of bridges, and it seems that there’s a canal around every corner. Shiny gold onion domes top Russian Orthodox churches. And hordes of capitalists at every turn, trying to make money off of busloads of western tourists.

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When minutes matter

The danger of blogging, as we are, about this technological—though pampered—life on the high seas, is that readers may question the motive of the writer. Is it the author’s sincere intent to entertain and inform or, as some baser souls may suspect, simply gloat? (My understanding is that Bill Bryson is constantly haunted by this issue.)

Allow me to assure you that though treated well, we aboard the Westerdam have our burdens to bear as well. I believe, for example, that on the overnight passage between Tallinn, Estonia, and our current port-of-call, St. Petersburg, Russia, the boat briefly canted a little over three-quarters of an inch from port to starboard, disturbing my shallow sleep enough that I had to roll over and rearrange the four fluffy pillows provided for my cranial comfort.

I mean, honestly .

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Getting wireless in Estonia

Two full days in, and we Mac Mania cruisers have packed a lot of excitement into those days, both on-ship and off.

Friday was the only “sea day” for the MS Westerdam, as we steamed from Copenhagen, Denmark, east to Tallinn, Estonia. And it was a full day of Mac Mania sessions. I stopped in to a crowded conference room to see Chris Breen and David Pogue take turns at two keyboards: the typing kind and the playing-music kind. Their GarageBand session attracted about 25 conferencegoers, who got to see two expert writers and accomplished musicians design several compositions using Apple’s music-creation program.

A little later in the day, I gave my first of four presentations during the cruise, “Tiger Primer,” a guided tour of the new features in Tiger. I’ll admit that, up against David and Chris, I was afraid my session would turn into “Tiger: Jason’s conversation with himself for an audience of none.” But instead, I managed to get a lively audience of about two dozen cruisegoers, who were very polite as I talked on about Spotlight queries and Dashboard widgets and the like for an entire hour.

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Macs at sea

More than 100 Mac fans and their families set sail this evening from Copenhagen, Denmark, for seven Baltic Sea destinations as a part of MacMania 3.5, a cruise operated by Geek Cruises and co-sponsored by Macworld .

In the next 10 days cruisers will spend time learning how to better use their Macs thanks to sessions from Mac experts including Macworld Mac 911 columnist Christopher Breen, New York Times technology columnist David Pogue, broadcast tech guru Leo LaPorte, and even this humble blogger. Even more exciting, we’ll be doing all our Mac stuff in the down time between our ports of call, which include stops in Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark.

Tonight Geek Cruises “captain” Neil Bauman, who plans and operates MacMania, welcomed the Geek Cruisers onboard in a special reception on the ship's bow just as it pulled up anchor and steamed out of Copenhagen’s harbor and into the Baltic beyond.

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