The Baltic cruise continues

| October 1, 2011
A bridge in Riga, Latvia.

A bridge in Riga, Latvia.

We sailed up the Daugava River into Riga, Latvia, “the Pearl of the Baltics” and saw a bridge that looked as if famed architect Calavera designed it among several of Riga’s modernistic towers.

We docked and headed into town, which is a UNESCO designated World Heritage site. It has a breathtaking range of architectural styles in the historical center – from baroque to classicism, from Renaissance to art deco, from Romanesque to romanticism.

Riga is a modern city with a developed infrastructure and a variety of activities and entertainment. It has an excellent opera, several world-class choirs and outstanding classical orchestras not to mention all of the popular music.

We headed for the local marketplace, which is in the five original hangers built for dirigibles. What a display of homegrown fruits, vegetables, spices, honey, amber, beautiful brassieres with appliqueed flowers (haven’t figured out how or where to wear them, maybe Walmart!), felted wool slippers and loads of other treasures.

Wonderful blue art nouveau entrance in Riga, Latvia.

Wonderful blue art nouveau entrance in Riga, Latvia.

Then we went into the heart of town where we found an open-air tram that took us around the town. At the end of this ride, we walked over to the majestic Dom Cathedral, which was founded in 1211 along with its monastery. The square bell tower topped by a golden cockerel rises to 285 feet. A late-Romanesque brick construction, it has undergone several alterations and bears traces of Gothic, Renaissance and baroque additions.

The cathedral is also renowned for its organ of 1884, one of the largest in the world with 6,768 pipes. We were fortunate to walk in just as a concert began in the enormous church. The organ music was magical.

A vaulted gallery links the cathedral to the cloister, a masterpiece of Baltic Romanesque (early 13th century) architecture. In the cloister there is an outdoor museum of centuries of iron weapons, cannons and such, along with exquisite iron work in the church courtyard.

Just after lunch the next day, we docked in the Lithuanian city of Klaipeda, the country’s third largest city. The city’s history has been complicated by the fact that it has been controlled by so many different entities. It was incorporated into Lithuania while that country was part of the USSR and remains so today as a part of now independent Lithuania. Klaipeda’s is strategically important because it is a Baltic port that is usually ice-free.

Since we had no formal tour scheduled, a short walk from the ship into the old town square revealed an area with enormous architectural charm. The ever-present amber merchants’ carts were all around the perimeter. You want to buy it. There is so much amber in this part of the world, that it all begins to be too much, and it is tough to tell the real and the fake. Not unlike jade in the far east.

The test for amber authenticity is to touch it with something very hot. It has to smell like incense to be real, but this test doesn’t win friends at a merchant’s shop. That said, it was a nice place to visit briefly. Soon we headed back across a revolving foot bridge over a lovely boat canal and back to the Seabourn Pride, our home.

The next day we sailed into Gdansk, the beautifully restored Northern European Polish city on the Baltic. A thousand years of history and architecture have added the final touch to the city’s charm. It has a complex political history with periods of Polish rule, German rule and self-rule being a part of modern Poland.

Gdnansk’s historic buildings and open air sites ring with life. The eye-catching architecture of Gdansk combines Gothic austerity, Renaissance elegance and rococo splendor. It was shaped in the times of the city’s Hanseatic flourish and “golden age’ (the 16th and 17th centuries). Each street has its own distinct atmosphere. The ancient three- and four-story houses are all beautiful.

The city was destroyed in 1945 by the communists, but they have moved heaven and earth to restore their houses and businesses. They are beautiful and look like the 17th century again.

The office of Lech Walesa in Gdansk, Poland.

The office of Lech Walesa in Gdansk, Poland.

The city was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement which, under the leadership of political activist Lech Walesa, played a major role in bringing an end to communist rule across Central Europe.

After leaving Gdansk, we were scheduled to go to Bornhelm, Denmark, but the seas were too rough and the stop was scrubbed. So we went on to Warnemunde, Germany, and arrived there in the evening.

Warnemunde is a seaside tourist haven for the Germans. We were there 20 years ago, and it hasn’t changed. It is famous for two things: a nude beach and a lot of expensive gifts shops with lots of useless trash.

Many of the passengers made the three-and-a-half-hour trek by bus into Berlin. We had been there before, so we took the opportunity to take a 20-minute train ride from Warnemunde into Rostov with our friends Lisa Culver and Fanny Katz from St. Louis. They are both seasoned travel agents, world travelers and good sports. Fanny is Marilyn Glattstein’s aunt.

We had a grand time looking at St. Mary’s Cathedral an historic Lutheran Church and shopping in the main plaza of Rostov. There were quartets of old men in uniforms singing in the streets for donations.

Brad had a bratwurst on the street and was a happy camper! The trip back to Warnemunde on the train was a bit like the Katzenjammer Kids, but we made it back to our ship.

During dinner, we sailed toward the entrance to the Kiel Canal. We arrived there at 7 a.m. and entered the Holtenau Locks to begin our transit of this very busy canal. The Kiel is so busy now that it had been widened to allow two large ships to pass at the same time. It is fascinating to see the farmhouses, large estates and wind farms.

Dinner was delightful. Our hosts had invited a couple from New Zealand. He is a farmer and expressed great concern that the population is growing so fast that the world will not be able to provide fodder for animals and food for people. And there was what I thought was going to be a stuffy stockbroker and his wife from Palm Beach. He turned out to have a great sense of humor, and we had a rollicking good evening.

Street chorus in Rostov, Germany.

Street chorus in Rostov, Germany.

The next day we were out of the canal and headed for Dover. The ship did its signature gargantuan “Galley Buffet,” which they do once each cruise. There are food stations all over the kitchen, pantries and dining room. All of the cooks made different dishes native to their cultures.

We had a last meal with Marnie Quinn from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Many of you will remember Marnie who lived in Anchorage years ago and was an executive with Ford. She is still fun and extremely attractive. She was getting off the ship in Dover, England, and is headed for Munich.

In Dover, we are looking forward to spending the day with Paul and Anne Babb from London. Longtime friends, they are coming to take us around the countryside and for lunch before we sail at for Rouen, France.

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Carla Sue
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.

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