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The MS Westerdam in the harbor at Warnemünde, Germany
This cruise had a couple "firsts" associated with it, starting with the cruise ship itself. The MS Westerdam was Holland America's newest ship in June, 2004, and we sailed on the second segment of her maiden voyage from Venice. And, this was our first visit to the Scandinavian countries and Russia.
We flew in comfortable United Airlines business class seats from Portland, Oregon to Copenhagen, (thank you, Mark!) enjoying the access to United's "Red Carpet" lounges at our stops in Chicago and London's Heathrow Airport.
The highlights of the trip?
First, and foremost was the opportunity to see St. Petersburg, and its Hermitage State Museum. Having lived through the Cold War era, it seemed amazing that we were actually being welcomed to Russia! Within the Hermitage, we were able to have a special tour through their "Treasure Gallery" filled with gold art objects from the 5th century B.C. and other early "treasures." Our visit to Peter the Great's lavish "Summer Palace" left us very impressed by the architecture, fountains, and gilded interiors. Then we learned that the palace had been occupied by the Germans during the siege of St. Petersburg in World War II. The beautiful building had been gutted by the time the Russians reclaimed it. The restoration of the palace was largely done with volunteer, unpaid labor by St. Petersburg's citizens. At that revelation, we were REALLY impressed.
Art and history seemed to be the prevailing themes of our excursions in each country. The Viking Museum and stunning sculpture of Gustav Vigeland in Oslo, Norway made lasting impressions. In Rostock, Germany Barbara was able to see sites where her ancestors once lived, studied and even governed and defended the city. Most of the other cities we visited had an "old town" and we survived some wicked cobblestone streets.
We chose this particular time of year because we would be in these northern latitudes for the longest days of the year. The sun set about midnight, and dawn broke at 3 a.m. After two weeks of these "white nights" we realized we could add sleep deprivation to the usual tourist complaint of sore feet and knees, but we thoroughly enjoyed the dawn and twilight views of the beautiful Baltic scenery from our cabin verandah.
Another way to describe much of this cruise would be "wet." Coming from Oregon, we thought we knew all about rain, but Copenhagen's downpours proved us wrong. We toured under soggy skies in Tallinn and Helsinki as well--making us appreciative of the days when the sun DID come out.
With time to relive our trip through our pictures, we both agreed we were grateful that we had this opportunity to sail the Baltic Sea and visit many of the cities lining its shores. A fine addition to our memory bank!
Salem, Oregon, July 25, 2004
A "picture album" for each port we visited is just a click away.
Portland to Copenhagen, Denmark
Stockholm, Sweden and Tallinn, Estonia
St. Petersburg, Russia
Warnemünde, and Rostock, Germany
Arhus, Denmark | Oslo, Norway | North Sea to Portland
And, if you REALLY want to know all about a Baltic cruise, here's my detailed trip log.