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Home > Virtual Cruises > Birthday in the Baltic on Oceania's Regatta
Birthday in the Baltic on Oceania's Regatta
Day 1: Dover
Day 2: Brugge and Amsterdam
Day 3: Kiel Canal and Warnemunde
Day 4: Copenhagen
Day 5: Gdansk
Day 6: Helsinki
Day 7: St. Petersburg
Day 8: St. Petersburg, Day 2
Day 9: St. Petersburg, Day 3 and Tallinn
Day 10: Stockholm
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Regatta ship review
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Day 5: Friday, Gdansk
GdanskFantastic weather (clear blue skies and lots of sun) and a quiet, lazy morning were mine to enjoy before Regatta was to reach Gdansk. Breakfast on the Terrace would have been a natural for a day like this, but I ran into my new solo friend Michelle -- the one who is traveling on Regatta, like me, because she has had a birthday with a 0 in it (a few decades less than mine, by the way) -- and we decided to go to the special brunch being held in the Grand Dining Room.

When I found Michelle, she was with Leslie Jon, Regatta's Cruise Director, and another member of his entertainment staff, Christopher. All of the staff, including busy Leslie, go out of their way to ensure that single travelers don't feel alone, don't want for anything. I took Christopher's seat when he left to monitor a Table Tennis tournament, joining a small group including a mother and daughter traveling together.

Leslie, who had been the Cruise Director on Regatta when I had sailed on it five years ago, talks about where Cruise Directors end up when they retire. Because they are primarily entertainers, many choose Los Angeles or New York. Leslie is thinking about Las Vegas for when that day arrives for him. I hope it is none too soon so I have the opportunity to travel with him again. He's funny, engaging and terribly smart. During his talk every morning he throws out trivia-type questions that are pretty difficult to answer without doing research -- tough on a ship, unless you want to spend thousands on Internet use. Questions like: "Connecticut is one, what is the only other state that cannot be spelled in Scrabble without using the blank?" The answer: Kentucky. Scrabble has only one K. (Although, if we want to get technical, it is a trick question as proper nouns are not allowed in Scrabble!) Or, "Who was the only person to have played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Texas Rangers and the New York Knicks?" Whoa, even I know that the first two are baseball teams and the last is basketball ... and I know that Deion Sanders played both football and baseball, but this one really had me stuck. The answer is, and I suppose I should have seen it coming, the organist. Sheesh.

Just before 11 a.m., Ian McCormack, the expert who held the enrichment lecture on Faberge, also has a talk on Baltic amber. We missed a portion of it since we were still enjoying brunch, but I got the important gist of it: how to discover if the amber you are considering buying is fake. Amber is a lightweight stone made from ancient petrified tree sap, and certainly easy to replicate in plastic. Gdansk is a premium spot for picking up Baltic amber, either loose or in jewelry form; it's harder and more durable than amber from around the Dominican Republic.

I learned three important things from Ian's talk that any cruisers serious about buying amber on a Baltic cruise should know. One: If it has a nice bug in it, it's probably fake. Amber pieces with good bugs are already taken. Two: When you hold real amber in your hand, it should get warm. And three: If you lick it, it should not have any taste. Plastic tastes like, well, plastic.

We actually arrived in Gdansk a bit early and berthed at the dock in the actual city rather than in Gdynia, several miles and lots of traffic away, as the larger ships generally have to do (and did today -- there were several in port that day, disgorging approximately 7,000 cruisers into this ancient city on Poland's Baltic coast). One benefit to us being on Regatta is that because of the ship's small size, we were able to take advantage of narrower and shallower ports that larger ships just can't navigate.

For Gdansk I selected an overview tour with a walk through Old Gdansk. Other tours offered included trips to a concentration camp and to the Polish countryside. I wanted to see Old Gdansk, which I had heard was charming, and had great shopping! As a first-timer, I wanted the broadest overview of the city possible without the potential to get bored if there were too many details or too long of a historic perspective.

As we drove to the city's center through its green and leafy surrounding suburbs, we saw Westerplatte, where the first shots were fired to start World War II, and the current home of Lech Walesa, Poland's former president, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the original voice of the 1980's trade union, Solidarity, that helped bring down Poland's Soviet rule. The traffic mid-city was amazingly heavy; we learned that there is a great deal of road work going on because the city is to be host to some football (soccer) championships in 2009/2010, and that Gdansk will also be the seat of several important European Union council meetings during the same timeframe.

Small, narrow, cobbled streets with burgher-style houses fill old Gdansk, with most now having been made into stores or restaurants. Carts with amber line the little avenues and pedestrian passages. I looked at several pieces of jewelry that I found interesting and was shocked at their expense. Even more, I was shocked at how many of them seemed to be plastic ... no, I did not lick them, but they seemed to have mold marks on them. And they didn't seem to get warm when I held them. One shopkeeper seemed alarmed at the fact that I closed my hand over the piece; I am sure he thought that I would spirit it away without paying for it. He didn't understand when I explained that I was trying to see if it got warm.

I also looked at other items for sale, like some hats that a lady made herself out of crocheted hemp, and an artist's small carved pieces of wood, but nothing appealed to me or seemed to be the right price. I decided to sit down for something to drink and a light lunch since I hadn't had anything since my brunch with Michelle.

There are several cute, fun-looking restaurants along the promenade on the river. I chose one that had comfy cushioned seats on the outside patio and settled in for a nice break. I ordered a Coke, beet borscht soup with beef dumplings and a small salad. I thought I'd just enjoy some pastoral people-watching time but alas, a pre-teen with a cell phone and an accordion decided to busk right in front of me. If it had been even slightly musical I probably would have loved it, but she played the same off-key three notes again and again and again. The couple at the next table was from Celebrity Constellation (moored in Gdynia) ... together we contemplated offering her money to just stop playing altogether. Yes, it was that bad!

Although Poland is part of the European Union, it has not yet switched from its currency of zlotys to the euro, hoping to avoid some of the inflation issues that have plagued other countries when they switched too quickly. Although I had had no idea how much it would be when I ordered it, my mini-meal ended up costing $8 U.S.

One of the most fascinating sights to see here is the Crane, a 15th century contraption. It was a human-powered device with two round wooden cylinders, each maybe 15 feet in diameter and about 20 feet above ground. The cylinders resembled hamster wheels, and in effect, that's what they were, for humans. According to our guide, four people were put in each wheel and used their leg power to walk or run and make the crane work. In the 1400's! Amazing.

We were a bit early leaving the city, so we got to stop for a few seconds at the Solidarity Monument and the gates of the Gdansk Shipyards where modern Poland was born in the 1980's. Some 19,000 ship workers went on strike, demanding humanitarian considerations. The political party of Solidarity emerged from the trade union's demands and nearly one third of all Poles joined the organization. Its leader was an electrician, Lech Walesa, whose passion and grit helped fuel the fall of communism in Poland and several other Eastern European countries. Walesa went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and was later elected president of Poland. He served one term but was not re-elected; only 1 percent of the voting population selected him the second time around. According to our guide, he had no formal education, was not well-spoken and didn't have the skills to communicate well with other world leaders. She also said that the rest of the world thinks much more highly of Lech Walesa than do the citizens of Poland, for whom he is largely forgotten.

Tonight, back on the ship, suite guests were treated to a special outdoor dinner. I spied the area while taking an evening stroll. One side of Deck 9, the area called The Patio, was set up as an outdoor kitchen and seating area -- under cover, but the weather was terrific still, so it was a perfect venue and a perfect night for an outdoor soiree. Pascal Lesueur, the Executive Chef for the ship, arranged the dinner on an outdoor stainless steel contraption as complete as any in-home kitchen I have ever seen. The suite guests had the opportunity to enjoy a few of Chef Lesueur's favorite appetizers, soups, and main dishes, including sea bream and roast pork loin, in an elegant, secluded atmosphere available only to them.

Next time around, I'll try to book early enough to snag a suite, which often sell out as fast as an itinerary is posted.
Day 4: Copenhagen red arrow Day 6: Helsinki

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