MY TRIP TO THE BALTIC
by Maureen Halsall
On Tuesday, May 14, 2002, I was picked up at 5:45 p.m. for transfer
toToronto's Pearson International Airport, arriving at Terminal 1 at
7:10 p.m. After an hour of standing in a long check-in line and rather shorter security line, finally there was a chance to sit down in the
crowded departure lounge. Boarding for Air Canada 862 was on time
at 10:15 p.m.; but then there were two delays on account of baggage mis-loading: first the wrong baggage was put on board; then a
baggage container was placed in the wrong position in the cargo bay. Finally, we took off an hour late at 11:15 p.m. The rest of the flight proved uneventful and we made up half of the time lost.
On Wednesday, May 15, we arrived at London-Heathrow at 11 a.m.,
just half an hour behind schedule, only to be obliged to circle in a
holding pattern until 11:30 a.m. and then --with no gate available-- disembark onto the tarmac at the perimeter for transfer by bus to Terminal 3. There we encountered enormous Immigration queues.
Finally free to collect my suitcase from the carousel, I caught a cab
into Central London. The drive seemed to take forever, what with
lane closures on the overpasses and an interminable hold-up on
the Mall approaching Admiralty Arch on account of road works in Trafalgar Square. Fifty pounds sterling (plus tip) poorer for my cab journey, at 1:15 p.m. I reached my club in Pall Mall, where my sister
was waiting to join me for lunch and an afternoon of chat. In the
evening, I walked over from the Reform Club to the Haymarket for
a light supper, followed at 8 p.m. by a performance of Lady
Windermere's Fan at the Theatre Royal, featuring Vanessa
Redgrave and her daughter, Joely Richardson (the latter proving
almost inaudible because she kept lowering her chin and addressing
the stage floor ).
On the morning of Thursday, May 16, I walked over to the Royal Academy of Arts to see the splendid exhibition of Buddhist sculptures, dating from 386-1126 A.D., unearthed at Quingzhou, China in 1996.
Bodhisattva, Northern Qi (550-577).
Buddha, Late Northern Wei (386-534)
At 11 a.m. my sister arrived and we took a cab to Somerset House, where we saw the most recent of the exhibitions on loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, this one entitled "The Genius of Caspar David Friedrich: German Romantic Art for Russian Imperial Palaces 1800-1850" (below, Friedrich's On the Sailing Boat, 1818-20).
While at Somerset House, we also toured the Gilbert Collection of
decorative art and visited the King's Barge House. Then, following
lunch at a Thai restaurant in the Strand, we went by cab to the
Gielgud Theatre for a matinee performance of The Humble Boy,
with the always-excellent Felicity Kendall and Simon Russell Beale
in the main roles of mother and son. Afterward we walked up the Haymarket to the Reform Club for a leisurely dinner; and shortly
after 8 p.m. my sister set off for her home in Richmond.
On the morning of May 17, I made my way by cab to the Millennium Gloucester Hotel to join guests being transferred to Dover, fortunately arriving in time to get my suitcase onto the luggage van about to
depart for our ship. Later, at 12:30 p.m., we too set off by coach for Dover, reaching the cruise terminal by 3 p.m. and soon after boarding
the Marco Polo, where I found my suitcase already in cabin 466.
At 4:30 a ship's tour was offered, with only a handful of passengers in attendance. Then at 6 p.m. there was the compulsory lifeboat drill, followed immediately at 6:30 by the "First Sitting"dinner in the Seven Seas Restaurant. There I met my table-mates for the twelve days of
our cruise: Jack and Kathy (Lancastrians now resident in Southend-
on-Sea), Shirley (another Lancastrian from near Blackpool) and
Leonard and Susan from Minneapolis. Like a considerable number
of our fellow-passengers, this last couple had been on board for two weeks, embarking at Civitavecchia on April 3 and visiting various
ports in France, Spain and Portugal enroute to Dover. After dinner,
at 8:30 p.m. I dropped into the Ambassador Lounge to sample the Variety Show, but left early--being somewhat tired, and also not
finding the entertainment very much to my taste. Turned in by
11 p.m., first advancing the clock by one hour.
On Saturday, May 18, the Marco Polo docked at Amsterdam a little
late, but the gangplank was down by 9 a.m. Since the weather was
chilly, wet and windy and also because I remembered the city well from my October visit, I did not go ashore until the afternoon. The time was spent getting tickets from the Shore Excursion Desk for optional tours
in all the ports where we were scheduled to dock, picking up
dramamine from the Medical Centre in case the North Sea should
prove rough that night, and selecting a novel from the Library to while away the rest of the time.
At 2 p.m. my first optional excursion took a group of us by bus to the
dike village of Zaanse Schans, set in typical Dutch polderland
reclaimed from the sea and protected by dikes built as early as the
13th century. The village proved rather crowded on this Whit Sunday weekend. But we managed to make our way around, viewing the 17th and 18th century houses and windmills relocated to this site, watching
the workings of one of the still-functioning windmills and visiting a
cheese farm for an explanation of the cheese-making process.
Leaving Zaanse Schans, we headed for the seaport of Edam, famous
for the cheeses brought there for export from the inland villages.
Edam is one of the best-preserved towns on the former Zuidersee,
with charming canals, weirs and lift-bridges, and merchants' homes
and shops that boast beautiful stepped-and-coffered facades.
Returning to the ship at 6 p.m., we were just in time for the 6:15 bell, summoning us to dinner. Eschewing the evening entertainments
offered, I settled for one of the T.V. movies, Kate and Leopold, and
was asleep by 11 p.m. The North Sea proved quite smooth, so my slumbers remained undisturbed and no dramamine was required.
Sunday, May 19 was spent traversing the Kiel Canal. Rising at 7 a.m.,
I watched the river pilot board from a catamaran at 8:15 a.m. to take
us up the Elbe River. As we approached the Kiel Canal, more pilots boarded from the tender Lotse to guide us on our 97 km. journey
from the Brunsbuttel Lock on the Elbe to the Kiel-Holtenau Lock,
leading into the Kiel Firth and the Baltic Sea.
Since the change in water level is far less than with the Panama Canal, the locks are fewer in number and also simpler in structure (with a
single gate that slides across the lock entrance, rather than mitre gates swinging closed in the middle). Once through the Brunsbuttel Lock,
we began our eight-hour traverse of the canal, passing through the flat countryside of Schleswig-Holstein, where the fine weather had drawn
out numerous families on bicycles.
After lunch, I looked in on the Art Auction, attended an Enhancement Lecture on various future ports of call and took tea in the Palm Court
at 4:30 p.m. Not feeling attracted by the live Showtime offerings,
after dinner I read for a while, then watched The Bone Collector on
TV in my cabin, and was asleep by 11 p.m.
On Monday, May 20 we awoke to find ourselves securely tied up at
Warnemunde, the port of Rostock, which is the largest city in north-eastern Germany. Located on the Warnow River, Rostock
was well situated for ship-building and trade; and the red-brick architecture of the mediaeval Old Town reveals how exuberantly
the city flourished as a member of the Hanseatic League.
Departing from Warnemunde by bus at 9:30 a.m., we soon were in
the centre of Rostock at Universitatsplatz, standing by the Fountain
of Happiness and looking at the the facade of the oldest university in Northern Europe (established in 1419 A.D.). Nearby in the park is
the memorial to Field Marshall Blucher von Wahlstatt, Rostock's
most beloved military hero, who helped defeat Napoleon at the
Battle of Waterloo.
Next we visited the Convent of the Holy Cross, established in
1270 A.D. by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, shown below
obtaining Papal permission for her foundation.
From here we walked to one of the two remaining gates of the old city walls, the Kropeliner Tor, then down Kropeliner Strasse with its 15th
and 16th century burghers' houses (one splendid specimen now
housing the city library) to Rostock's pride and joy, the 13th century Marienkirche.
The Marienkirche's 12-metre-high astrological clock (1470-72) is
behind the main altar. At the very top are a series of doors, through which at noon we watched six of the twelve apostles march out onto
a semi-circular platform to parade around Jesus. The lower section
has a disk that tells the day, the date and also the exact day on which
Easter falls in any given year. These disks are replaceable and
accurate for 130 years, the current one expiring in 2017.
We returned to the ship by 12:45--one of the interesting aspects of the
excursion having proven to be the chance to listen to the guide, who
had been a young girl in school when the Berlin Wall fell, describe how
her world was turned upside-down within 24 hours: "Everything you believed to be right one day was wrong the next day." She gave quite
an even-handed account of the pros and cons of the two very different ways of life she has experienced.
After lunch, The Count of Monte Cristo was shown in the Ambassador Lounge; and following dinner I attended a concert by the Concerto Strings Trio: a group of young Romanians performing selections by Mozart, Schubert, Lehar, Monti, Offenbach and Strauss on the double bass, piano and violin.
Tuesday, May 21 was spent at sea. I spent most of the morning
seeking a quiet spot in the public rooms to read, and finding myself chased out by the noisy organized activities. After lunch there was
an Enhancement Lecture on St. Petersburg, followed by a film on the
last czar, Nicholas II, and his wife, the Hessian princess Alexandra (whose reliance on the monk Rasputin to heal the haemophiliac heir
to the throne was to prove so disastrous for the Romanov dynasty).
At 5:15 p.m. the Captain held a reception, where he amused us by describing the antics of the pilot who was supposed to steer us
through the Kiel Canal. After the pilot almost slammed the ship
against the side of the first lock by throwing one engine into forward
and the other into reverse, the Captain insisted on taking over.
His summary, "You know what they say about pilots: you can't live without them, and you can't kill them!" Went to bed early, so as to
see the beauties of the Swedish Archipelago next morning.
On Wednesday, May 22, I rose early at 5:30 a.m. Unfortunately,
the Swedish Archipelago--attractive as it is--proved no novelty to me,
bearing a strong resemblance to Georgian Bay. At 8 a.m the ship docked in Stockholm, and by 8:50 we were setting out on a city tour.
Along Fjallgatan, with its simple wooden houses from an earlier era,
we stopped for a panoramic shot of Stockholm, then proceeded onto Gamla Stan, passing such sights as the Royal Palace, as we circled
round to Djurgarden and the new Vasa Ship Museum, where we
could just see the masts of the ship emerging through the roof of
When the wooden warship Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage in
August 1628, she was intended to become the pride of the Swedish fleet and a terror to the enemies of King Gustav II. But, even before
reaching the mouth of the harbour, this 64-cannon man-o'-war was
caught by a sudden fierce gust of wind and sank. Discovered in 1956,
the fragile ship took five years to raise and place under temporary
cover (which is where I first saw her in 1987). Finally, in 1988 she was moved to a stunning new climate-controlled building, where not only
the history of the ship and its reclamation but also the life of contemporary sailors are portrayed by means of exhibits and videos.
You will note in the following photographs that, while many of the sculptured ship-ornaments have been left as found after more than
300 years beneath the sea, others have had their original brilliant
colours painstakingly restored.
After lunch there was a second tour of Stockholm, this time by boat, beginning on the waterway between Skeppholmen and Gamla Stan.
We saw the Vasa Museum building again, from a different perspective where we could clearly observe the reconstructed ship's masts
thrusting up through the roof of the museum. Sailing through Carl
Johan lock into Lake Malaren, we passed Riddarholmen and Stockholm's beautiful City Hall, where the Nobel Prize receptions
are held. Finally, we left the lake by way of the Hammerby Lock
and returned to the pier.
That evening, the sinus problems, sore throat and cough, that I (along with many others on board) had been developing over the past few
days, grew so severe that I went to the ship's Medical Centre. There I received US$236.50 in treatments and prescriptions, which eventually
before the cruise was over produced a satisfactory result. Went to bed by 11 (first advancing the clock by one hour); but awoke frequently in
the night, coughing up phlegm.
On Thursday, May 23, our ship docked in Helsinki at 8:30 a.m., and
by 9 a.m. we were off on a city tour.
Founded in 1550 A.D. at the command of King Gustav Vasa of Sweden (to which Finland belonged for many centuries), during various Russo- Swedish wars Helsinki several time passed into Russian hands, until finally in 1809 Finland was annexed to Russia as an Autonomous
Grand Duchy. Soon after (in 1812), Czar Alexander I made Helsinki
the capital of the duchy. Just before this, a fire destroyed many of the city's traditional wooden buildings, making it necessary to build a new city centre. The German-born architect Carl Ludwig Engel, who also designed much of St. Petersburg, was entrusted with the project, and, thanks to him, Helsinki has some of the purest neoclassical
architecture in the world.
The heart of neoclassical Helsinki is Senaatintori (Senate Square).
On the north side stands Helsinki Cathedral, completed in 1852--after Engel's death in 1840, but according to his plans. In comparison to its facade, the cathedral's interior is startlingly severe, except for the altarpiece and organ and statues of Martin Luther, Philipp
Melancthon and the father of written Finnish, Bishop Mikael
Agricola. On the south side of the square is the Town Hall, on the east side the Council of State. One of the loveliest of the buildings flanking the square is the yellow and white main building of Helsinki University (1832, shown below) which is pure Engel. Much later than the
buildings themselves (in 1894), an extremely self-important statue
of Czar Alexander II was erected to serve as the focal centre of the
square, which, being deliberately modelled on St. Petersburg, often
has been used to shoot films supposedly set in Russia.
While our city tour took us past many imposing structures--such as the Uspenski Cathedral, the Parliament Building, the National Museum
and Finlandia Hall--and also took us past various parks and
residential areas, we stopped only five times: at Senate Square, at the Olympic Stadium (where we admired the statue to Paavo Nurmi, who between 1920 and 1932 set 20 world running records), at the silver Sibelius Monument in Sibelius Park, at the Temppeliaukio or Rock Church (built directly into the rock cliffs of a small hill in Toolo) and finally near the Central Market on the South Harbour, from where
(past piers, lamp-posts and a box-like modern building) I got my best shot of Uspensky Cathedral.
Returning to the ship in time for lunch, at 1:15 p.m. we headed east
for an excursion entitled "Mediaeval Porvoo and the Horse Country".
Located at the mouth of the Porvoo River and once an important
trading centre in the Middle Ages, Porvoo is the second oldest town
in Finland (founded in 1346 by the Swedish king Magnus Eriksson). There we walked through delightful lanes with wooden houses and
shops and visited the majestic mediaeval cathedral, built in 1418 A.D.
Afterward, we headed out into the picturesque surrounding countryside
to visit Savijarvi Manor, a horse-breeding farm run by an extended
family who live both in the main manor-house and in other nearby
houses on the property. The owners welcomed us into their home for a sort of Finnish "high tea" consisting of coffee, cakes and wild berries. Then we were shown some of the breeding stock and treated to an exhibition of pony-riding by one of the grand-daughters of the owners.
Returning to the Marco Polo just in time for dinner at 6:15 p.m.,
we watched the ship sail at 6:30 for St. Petersburg. Still suffering
from a sore throat and a cough, I went to bed early--first advancing
the clock by a third and final hour, in recognition of the three-hour difference between Greenwich and St. Petersburg time.
This account will be continued as My Trip to the Baltic, Part Two at: