What could be more enjoyable than five weeks of good company, great food, and lots of fun things to do? Patty Wilson of Cedaredge found something that was more enjoyable, and more interesting, entertaining, and educational than all of those together.
This summer she combined all of the above with a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to historic cities on Northern Europe’s Baltic Sea coast which culminated in a tour of the reconstructed Russian city of St. Petersburg — the old empire’s one-time “window on the West.”
Along the way of her three-leg journey from New York to England, a tour of the Baltic states, and then a cruise back to New York she saw the sights of the Old World while enjoying all the comfort, luxury, and fun of a modern day floating resort. She also got the chance to visit some relatives who live in New Jersey.
Patty’s friend and table tennis partner, Joan Murphy of Sierra Vista, Ariz., had arranged for the trip but needed a travel companion for the tour. Patty was glad to step in when offered the chance.
Ports of Call included South Hampton and Bath in England; Brugges, Belgium; Gdynia, Poland near Gdansk; Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Oslo, Norway.
The history-rich continental leg of the journey began at Brugges. Patty related some highlights of the trip.
They sailed on two of the classic Cunard ocean liners — the Queen Mary II on the two stateside/Britain legs, and the Queen Victoria on the Baltic Sea coast tour.
“Our room was small but we were not there except to dress and sleep. One night they had a masquerade ball and I painted my face and made ears from my scarf and went as a cat.
“There were several pools with hot tubs on board. If you paid a little more money you could use the inside spa. There were lots and lots of fun things to do on board.”
Lost in Brugges
“The earliest clans were Germanic. The Celts were well established in Flanders by the time the Romans arrived in 57 BC. Roman society lasted 500 years.
“An adventure during our day tour was when we missed the guide at the meeting place and kept asking people where the buses were parked. They kept directing us in a circle. We were worried about having to get another form of transportation to the next docking. Lucky for us we found another tour group who were waiting for their lost people and we joined them. After that we were a little more careful on noting where the pick up spot or the buses were located that went back to the ship.”
“Many historians mark the German capture of Gdansk as the real beginning of WWII, and by all accounts Warsaw and Gdansk suffered the most bombing of the war. Poland was taken over by three different countries, and at one time there was no more Poland. The town has been completely restored. Some ruins still remain. They got their independence from Soviet domination in the ‘90s.”
“Estonia’s history parallels that of neighboring Latvia. Estonians and Finns are related to each other, and to Hungarian people. Other regional nations do not share this ancestry.
“The Germanic Goths ravaged this place as well as most of Europe in the first century AD. In 1976 the nationalists wrote a letter to U.S. Congress formally protesting Soviet rule. On August 20, 1991, Estonia declared its independence.”
Grand St. Petersburg
Perhaps the grandest and most impressive stop on the tour was Russia’s old imperial capital built by Tsar Peter the Great.
The entire city was rebuilt after being almost completely destroyed in WWII, known at that time as Stalingrad.
The most impressive sight was Catherine the Great’s palace, built in the early 18th Century. It is a showcase of art, architecture and landscaping.
“Helsinki is a well-planned and spacious city noted for its parks, squares, and magnificent sculptures.
“We visited a market, where the fish mongers line up to sell their wares in their boats. As we walked to the market along the Escalade which had many modern and famous stores, we crossed into the park where there were great statues.
“The town has a lot of Russian influence, including the Uspenski church. It was built during the time when Russia owned Finland (1862-1868).”
“Birger Jarl founded the city in 1252. The name refers to the “town between the bridges.” This town and many others, after fires, began building with brick.
“The narrow streets and high buildings still look medieval. The German influence is evident.
“Stockholm became the capital in 1634. It is the site of the Swedish national government, the parliament, and the official residence of the Swedish monarch.
“The central parts of the city consist of 14 islands. Sweden is located on the east coast where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic Sea. The Vikings lived on these waterways until 1050. Sweden exports a lot of iron.”
“Wonderful Copenhagen brings to life the fairy tale world imagined by one of the city’s most famous sons, Hans Christian Anderson.
“The famous Little Mermaid sits on a rock in the harbor. Edvard Eriksone created the statue and his wife was the model.
“We had not a care in the world at Copenhagen, but maybe by this time we were getting a little tired.”
“We went to a Viking museum. When a Viking of importance died they would roll his ship onto land and bury it and the person together. Can you even think how long it would take to shovel a hole big enough for a ship?
“We visited the Kon Tiki museum. The ship Kon Tiki was built from balsa wood by Tor Heyerdahl and sailed it on a voyage proving that early man could have crossed the Pacific.”
“I really had a wonderful time,” she said, holding the dozens of photos, through which she will relive those wonderful times with many more times in the future.