June 2014 Destination:
Baltic Sea Embarkation:
My wife and I booked the Baltic cruise in order to travel with a family member who we promised to go with a few years ago. We expected the worst and were not disappointed. There were a few thousand geriatric travelers, mostly from Britain and America, which made it something akin to a floating nursing home. It was hard for me to believe that these people were my peers, people that were young during the rebellious 1960's. The furnishings of the ship were extremely tacky, the staff overly pleasant and uncomfortably obsequious (they probably detest the passengers who have nothing better to do with their money). The passengers seemed mostly the type that live in the suburbs or in gated communities, bourgeois that is. In Saint Petersburg, the few thousand tourists from the ship were herded like cattle into waiting buses, which took us to the signifcant palaces, churches and museums where we were led like sheep bumper to bumper with other tourists. As if I went to St. Pete to see a Titian More
or a Rembrandt or an amber room or some of the other extravagances that my peasant family had to suffer for. We were informed in detail about the Czars and Czarinas and shown the opulent palaces and expected to stare at appropriately dumbstruck at their beauty. The last 100 years of Soviet history was remarkably absent from the narratives. It was all Catherine this and Peter that, Nicholas this and Elizabeth that, to the point of asking for mercy. We went on a number of tours and on each one we spent our time with other tourists in palaces, churches and museums (as if they alone were the essential fabric of the country). The only somewhat non-painful days (no, they too were painful) we really had were the ones where we walked about cities pretty much at random and did not go on tours, but rather used public transportation. But still, we had to return to the prison of the ship in a few hours time in order to not be left behind. The towns of Gdansk and Tallinn, specifically have been restored beautifully, but it is tourists that you will be spending your time with there. In fact, all the tours had something of a Disneyland (where I've never been) quality about them (fake that is). The food was adequate and plentiful, although I wouldn't think that a reason to travel, especially since the chef made no attempt to provide the national dishes of the cities we visited. Really, I can't figure out why anybody would waste their money on a cruise or on the frivolous tours that accompany them. It was all so boring, inauthentic and aseptic. But that is probably why people do choose to cruise and tour. They want a sanitized edition and history of the countries they visit. They have no desire to walk the streets or mingle with the actual people of these "foreign" places. These people travel to see tourists. So all in all, the trip was miserable. It even ended miserably when you are treated like a suspect at the airports, all due to the foreign policies of America and the western European countries. I should mention that we did not go to a single lecture or show, rather spent our time in our tiny cabin reading. I am not condemning people that cruise, it simply isn't our thing. Less
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