Thursday, June 5, 2014
Traveling the Baltic
As our trip comes to an end, I'm finally able to post. We never were able to connect to the internet on the ship and ended up canceling our internet contract. The Baltic Cruise was beautiful, but with 8 ports in 7 countries, it was also exhausting. We often were off the ship by 7:00 a.m. and back on it just in time for a late dinner. We visited Oslo, Norway; then Berlin, Germany; next Tallin, Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden. Some highlights were the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo. Others include what's left of the Berlin wall has become a place for public art which is often stunning. We also visited the Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. There is a stone garden of the Jewish Museum. If you look closely you can see trees growing on the top of the stones. We also saw the new synagogue which is now a museum. Next came the old town of Tallinn, Estonia, one of the "best preserved medieval cities in Europe." St. Petersburg was beyond words. It's known as the city of art and culture in Russia and it lived up to it's name. The Hermitage Museum and the Peterhof Palace were beyond description with the art collections and the gold on staircases and in the rooms. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and St. Isaac's Cathedral were surprisingly beautiful. Finland was lovely and Sweden was filled with surprises. As we sat on a park bench, suddenly music played and soldiers on horses came marching in. It was the time for the changing of the guard in front of the Royal Palace. Something amazing happens when you travel. As you see new sights, you are forced to confront your old beliefs and understandings about life. Travel helps you grow. My ancestors left Russia, the Ukraine and Eastern Europe in the late 1800's because of the Pograms, violence and anti-semitism that were directed at the Jews. There was no love of Russia or identification as a Russian among my family. I grew up during the cold war when Russia was our enemy. My feelings about Russia were complicated and I had no identification with the country. My knowledge of Russia was limited to the samovars and the nesting dolls that my Grandmothers had in their houses. Our guide, Anna is an interpreter for dignitaries and reporters in St. Petersburg. I shared my Russian ancestry with her and she asked when my family left. "That was a long time ago," she said, and we both realized that my family was spared the suffering of Russians in the 20th century. When I asked her about seeing a Samavar, she suggested there might be one in a museum that we could find. I grew up thinking I was the only one I knew who had such white skin with such dark brown hair. In St. Petersburg, I saw many people who looked like me. I remembered other Russian influences in my life such as the borsht my Grandmother's served or Ms. Sybil, my Russian ballet teacher with whom I spent many years taking ballet lessons. When we watched a Russian Folk Group perform on the ship, I remembered the Russian Club at my high school and the balalaikas they played on. Our whole tour group became close to our guide, Anna. We took up a collection and offered thank-you speeches to her. We all felt the similarities in people far outweigh the differences as our time together had just proved. When it came time to say goodbye to Anna, she kissed Mary Lou and I goodbye on both cheeks and hugged us. She said that she could tell that I had Russian in me, and I felt proud. So traveling opens up our lives, helps us learn and in my case to even learn something new about myself. The final picture shows us with our friends Jan and Phil from Sydney, Australia. We met them last year on our cruise of the Western Mediterranean. After our first night on the ship, we missed them and wished they were with us this year. A few minutes later, as we were looking at photographs taken on the first day of the cruise, we bumped into them. Jan and Phil were on our cruise! We hadn't talked with them in a year, hadn't made any plans but had somehow ended up on the same cruise a year later! All four of us were thrilled and we spent the rest of the cruise having dinner and going to the shows together. This time we made sure to exchange addresses and promised to keep in contact. As we prepared to say goodbye, we marveled that although half a world away from each other, we shared so much in common. The world is becoming smaller as we transform into global citizens.