How does one visit 9 countries and 11 cities in 14 days? Unless you have a science fiction space transporter, a Seven Seas Voyager cruise is your answer. It’s always been touted that vacations are about the journey and maybe not the destination. I take issue with that, as the tales of travel woes makes good cocktail conversation, but it makes for an unpleasant life. I do believe that the ease of cruising gets you the biggest bang for your travel buck. You can see more with comfort in less time than any other form of travel. Choosing your itinerary is a start, and then finding the ship that meets your standards and choice of ports of call comes next.
My unfulfilled bucket list of cities contained St. Petersburg, Russia, with its treasures of the Imperial age, and Berlin, with its classical museums and iconic Brandenburg Gate. Both of these were sampled on my Baltic cruise along with old friends of London and Amsterdam, and with introductions to Sweden, Latvia, Estonia and Denmark.
Requesting your tours well in advance of embarkation usually assures you of getting your preferences. While trying to decide what tour fits your whims from the many choices offered by Regent is a challenge that must be met. Most all tours are included in your cruise price but there are a few premium tours (usually including a meal) which require a small added fee. This expense is well worth the payoff, when you experience the extras.
One such premium tour I grabbed was the “Grand Imperial Evening of the Tsars.” It sounded like a make believe step back into time, pretending to be in the court of Peter and Catherine the Great. And it was. We were bussed to Pushkin and the Catherine Palace. (This was not the palace built for Catherine the Great but for Peters’ wife, Catherine.) We previously toured this Palace with hordes of other cruise ship tourists during the day, where we were elbow to elbow as we waddled through the rooms with vast portraits and period furnishings. It’s wise to remember that the Palace was devastated during the Second World War, where only a shell of the building remained. Today it has been restored, and if one had not seen the devastatingly sad photos of the ruined palace, one would never have conceived of such a renovation. Being relatively newly renovated the blue and gold of the palace makes a stunning impression. Its current glory is dazzling, enhancing your experience of time travel to what once was.
Our evening began with an additional tour of the Carriage museum where period opulent but tired royal carriages were housed. We then were treated to the small and amusing Royal Guards brass band who escorted us musically to the entrance to the Palace with welcoming fanfares. Upon entrance our group again walked through the palace chambers but this time were permitted all the flash photography we wanted. This brings into question why it is forbidden during normal tours. It’s Russia; it is better not to ask such things.
We were then welcomed in the grand ballroom with a glass of champagne and a chair while we listened to chamber music. Soon a costumed Catherine and gentleman came to greet us, and then there commenced a period costumed couple to display dances of the times. We adjourned to walk through the court yard accompanied by our brass band, to an another building where we had a pre fix dinner accompanied by a quartet of Russian singers and musicians. The evening ended with a brief rain shower and a satisfying bus ride back to our traveling home on the Seven Seas Voyager.
Another tour highlight was the Berlin experience. While the Regent offered a variety of tours to the highlights of Berlin, I wanted to visit the Pergamon and National museum with their classical artifacts, not available on a pre packaged tour. I opted for the “Berlin on your Own,” which consisted of a 3 hour bus ride to and from Berlin and 6 hours in the city itself, “on your own.” This fit me perfectly, as I checked off my bucket list the Pergamon Altar, the Ishar Gate and the famous wooden bust of Nefertiti. I then took a cab to the Brandenburg gate where I paused at the Aldon Hotel, made famous by the Michael Jackson dangling baby event, and had a self congratulatory cocktail at their outdoor cafe while pondering eclectic Berlin.
Other memorable Baltic experiences were walking through medieval Visby, Tallin and Riga, complete with winding narrow streets of the preserved past, with an over abundance of round and parallelogram cobblestone streets so typical in Europe. There is nothing like getting out and mixing with the locals to see and get a true sampling feel of an area, even though everyone knows you are just a tourist. The only low light of the tour was missing the famous bronze mermaid statue in the harbor in Copenhagen. She was on tour in China, but her admiration could be seen on a real time video screen in her place in the harbor. This was no disappointment for Regent Passengers, as we had been alerted to her absence in an on board lecture about the city. It seems Regent thinks of everything.
Whether it’s an organized pre planned tour or an excursion on your own, the Baltic ports of call offer amusement, awe and education, for the taking. Check out this and other cruises at: http://www.rssc.com.