Renaissance V in the Baltic. Summer 1995
For a short while our favorite cruise line as Renaissance of Ft. Lauderdale. They had four ships all the same. The capacity of these little jewels was only 104 passengers. There were 32 suites, all with balconies. The entertainment was limited to a dance band (Polish) that also managed the tour busses when in port. Birgitta and I developed a ritual. Every night after dinner we went to the bar, had one cocktail and danced one dance. We limited ourselves for a very good reason. The band, if they played a waltz a foxtrot or anything else it came out a Polish Polka. Charming in small doses. But we stopped most very day in a port so we were tired. On this voyage we started in Copenhagen, went to the Swedish Island of Visby, then to Helsinki, St Petersburg, Tallinn, and were scheduled to end up in Stockholm. The highlight of the trip was St Petersburg. The Renaissance was small enough that we got to sail up the Neva River right into downtown docking within sight of the Hermitage. This was so interesting. Transiting the river we passed a Russian Shipbuilding Center several large military vessels, cranes, hundreds of structures all covered in rust. Thick, thick coats of rust. Two submarines with vast holes cut in their sides where the power plant had been removed. It was like something out of a science fiction movie. The Russian Juggernaut exposed before the world. There were no signs of life. It was an eery experience. Several places along the way standing on the pier was a shiny large coil of wire. I later learned it was titanium wire recovered from the ships reprocessed for resale because of the high price it demanded.
We visited too many places to cover here but two stood out. The Hermitage with it’s 3 million treasures that they rotate on display.
It was breathtaking. Birgitta could have spent a month. I need to check this artist but there was a full room displaying Matisse.
Birgitta oohed and awed over them. Most were his early work. To my uneducated view I have seen better drawings from a kindergarten class. I was immediately told off. Classless!!!
The other thing that really impressed me was we were treated to a private showing by several of Russia’s top artists. Opera singers, Bally Dancers, a gigantic orchestra all in a small palace theater decorated in Gold. It was here that the Russian Peasant
Robesperrie was fed the poison that killed him. His body was thrown into the river just outside the front door. We also saw many items of Russian Military equipment and uniforms for sale in a flea market environment. I bought Terry a Russian Colonels Cap.
Our next stop was Tallinn and we had a full day of things to see. That night we were having dinner at the Captains table. I had gotten to know him after I learned he had a brother at Alitalia and I had met with him on occasion. The weather was terrible. A very large storm was beating down on us and continued to get worse throughout the day. At dinner the captain told me he had just been fired. The sea to Stockholm was extremely rough. He had refused to make the last leg of our trip. He, a year before, had made the same crossing and he told me every piece of glass on the ship had broken, The passengers were all ill. The ship was too small for such a sea. He would not do it again. At the end of the meal he stood and announced to all that we would be staying another day in Tallinn and that an aircraft was coming to take us to Stockholm. He broke out the champaign for the ladies and several bottles of Cognac for the men. I never found out if he was fired.
We had a very full day laid on as we waited for our flight. They really rolled out the red carpet. Performances by small bands and children dancing for our pleasure. It was a joy to behold. When we arrived at Stockholm Birgitta and I were scheduled to leave the tour here. We were asked if we would mind spending the night there in the Grand Hotel as our baggage was mixed with everyones and had not arrived. Birgitta was thrilled. We had a wonderful dinner in the Grand ballroom under the crystal chandlers. The following morning she asked for a tour of the hotel, She would pay of course. We’ll we certainly got the grand tour and the history of every antique and chandler in the place It was a four hour tour. After we retired to the Bar at around 4PM and it was packed. No room for us I thought. But I should have known better. Birgitta had spotted a lone man with two empty chairs at his table. Of course he would be happy to share. He was American and a toy salesman who was selling American made toys that included Vermont Teddy Bears which have reentered our lives recently. (Again another story.) I offered to buy the drinks, Birgitta had a white lady, he was drinking McCallum, 18 year old. Ok I thought, I’ll try one too. Big mistake. It has become my favorite, Not the 18 year old stuff I settle for the 12. Later in a trip through Scotland we visited the factory, where Birgitta found out that the Scots do not wear anything under their kilt. But that too is another story.