Our ride to the airport was filled with anticipation. Sharon and Linda turned out to be quite nice, and we enjoyed getting to know them. They’d be on the ship for the first segment of seven days, disembarking in Copenhagen, but continuing on in Europe for a few weeks afterward. Stylish and practical, they each managed with a single small suitcase, which I envied as we wrestled our three huge bags out of the van.
Almost the entire ship turned over in Stockholm. I think only three rooms did not disembark, so the check-in queue was pretty long. In true Seabourn fashion the line shuffled along quickly and efficiently, and we soon found ourselves standing in front of an agent. “I’ll be with you in one second” she announced, turning away while she fiddled with some papers. Out of nowhere we heard a familiar voice “Mr. Graham and Mr. Merker!”and we were reunited with a smiling Belindah. Belindah worked in guest services and was promoted during our last trip. We were delighted to see her. (Last week she was promoted again—we felt like her good luck charm and beamed like proud parents when we heard.)
There are several staff members and other guests we knew from our World Cruise, so in some ways it was like returning to summer camp; we knew our way around and the routine, but we were still excited to be here and looked forward to enjoying the whole experience.
The first week flew by. We only had one sea day that first week, so those lazy long days of slow sailing would have to wait a while.
Our first stop was Tallinn, Estonia, and we were not sure what to expect. George’s former colleague has a cousin living there, so we agreed to have lunch. It’s always good to see a place through the eyes of a local, so we purposely kept out afternoon free so we could meet.
We filled our morning with a bicycle tour. While there isn’t much to see in Tallinn, it was fascinating to hear our tour guide talk about what life was like under the USSR and how it is today. He never complained about the occupation, and did not regret being drafted into the Soviet Army. Yet he clearly believed Estonia is better off independent and worries that it may not last. He pins his hopes on NATO ensuring that Russia will be held to her boarders, but I got the distinct impression he was concerned.
Our lunch date had a similar reaction. He’s an American who did well in Russia, but realized the current political and, therefore, business climate is not really tenable. Luckily he fell in love with a lovely (and brilliant) Estonian woman and is happily living in Estonia now. I think he enjoyed discussing American politics with some fellow Americans, exploring many of the nuances lost in the media. He agrees with me: our primary system is ridiculous—we’d be better off with a national primary all on one day, closely followed by an election by popular vote. Why do we allow Iowa and New Hampshire to have so much influence on who ultimately runs? It doesn’t make sense.
St. Petersburg, Russia, was our next stop and, luckily, we would have three days to explore. We managed to squeeze in Peterhof (aka The Summer Palace), Catherine’s Palace, Alexander’s Palace, Pavlovsk Palace, and The Hermitage (aka The Winter Palace). It was a whirlwind, we easily could have spent two weeks here–there is so much to see.
When the communists took over, they wisely decided to preserve some of the opulence, mostly so the common person could witness the disparity between the rich and the poor. Of course they only preserved a few, and World War II devastated what was left. They are still restoring them—I’d love to go back in 10 years and see the results. If you’re interested, there is a great book about the work called Saving the Tsars’ Palaces.
Our tours were able to get us into some sites an hour ahead of the general public, so we could enjoy the more popular stops, like the Hermitage and Catherine’s Palace, before the unwashed masses arrived.
We attended a performance of Swan Lake—how exciting to actually see it in Russia. Even though it was a production which catered to tourists, the Principle Dancers and the Orchestra were fantastic. The rest of the cast seemed unenthusiastic, hitting their marks with facial expressions that seemed to say “I have to remember to pick up cat food on my way home from work”.
Here are my pictures. I apologize, on some devices some pictures are sideways, but when I fix them they are sideways on other devices. Click any picture to enlarge.
©2015 Kyle Merker