Saturday, July 20, 2013


I never would have thought I’d end up cruising through the Baltic, let alone have it be free for my husband and me.  This post is part two of my report on the experience.   If you missed the first one, it can be read here:

We’d visited London for a few days before hopping on the ship, meandered through Belgium for the beer and Rostock in former East Germany. I’d already taught “Have a Great Story to Tell?” and “Writing Your Life” to eager cruise guests. My husband and I had taken up daily Zumba, become regulars on the ballroom and pop dance floors, and had gotten used to the norovirus-restrictive dining. It was DAY SIX, time to visit Stockholm.

We saw cathedrals that all became a blur, a palace, and the building where the Nobel Prizes are awarded. Then we lucked into a prized spot to watch the changing of the guards. 

DAY SEVEN we docked in Helsinki. We had little time to do much beyond taking photos of Senate Square, the Rock Church, cathedrals, and museums. But we found time to taste their famous rye-battered tiny fish and reindeer meat accompanied by horrendous room-temp 2% local beer. From Belgium forward we’d decided try a local beer at every stop. Exploring the nooks and crannies of new cities is more fun with a bit of a buzz. Starting our search for souvenirs, we skipped over reindeer pelts Wen had eyed, figuring hometown Boulderites would sniff it out. Every thing was very expensive when converted to Euros. And many of the smaller items were made in China.

We’d barely caught our breath when we woke too early on DAY EIGHT and DAY NINE to join a large group on our VERY EXPENSIVE 2-day excursion to Russia’s St. Petersburg.  If you arrange for a visa yourself ahead of time it is $300.  If you take a $370 excursion it is tucked inside that cost.  So double that and you can see that it was the biggest cost of our trip – since frequent flyer miles got us to and from the ship in Southampton.  It was worth every penny. 

Though our guide was painfully political, bashing Germany every other step, she knew all the hot places to go and got us great spots standing before two DaVincis in the Hermitage – the largest museum collection in the world. Then there was the remarkable Church of Spilled Blood.

One of my favorite indoor places of the whole trip was the amber room in Catherine’s otherwise gold-gaudy baroque palace.
  In honor of that amazing room, I brought back amber souvenirs.  After all, the ubiquitous nestling dolls were mostly made in China.       
Another must-see was the Peterhof with its grand fountains overlooking the Gulf of Finland.     Looking back, that excursion was eye opening. The USSR was enemy number one when I was little, one reason we learned to file down to the basement of our schools then duck-and-cover… not only for the Missouri tornados. The Cold War made me fear all things Russian.

I no longer fear it.

I’ll continue with my writer’s journey through the Baltic in the next post.  Stay tuned!


  1. Interesting, Karen! Among other nationalities, I'm part Russian AND German. Wonder how your tour guide would have handled that. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great tip about about taking an excursion to Russia and saving on having to get a separate visa. So awesome you got to visit the Hermitage, too!

  3. Karen, another wonderful post, and I'm dazzled by your photos, especially of those in St. Petersburg! Also appreciate your comment on learning not to fear all things Russian. I studied Russian for six years, a beautiful language.