Category Archives: Oceania Marina

Oceania Marina Baltic Cruise Review

Oceania Marina Baltic Cruise Second-Rate Despite Fine Itinerary

 The Oceania Marina is a fine new ship, in service since 2011, with little signs of wear to its fixtures.  Our stateroom, as mentioned previously, was first-rate and so are most of the public areas. But after completing our Oceania Marina Baltic Cruise, we won’t book Oceania for another sailing.

Even considering our lengthy history with the cruise line going back to the R-Ships, breaking up is not that hard to do. We decided never to sail Oceania again in the finals days of our Baltic cruise. It was a surprise decision, something we never imagined. Oceania was the cruise line we’d always told others was “our favorite.”  We tell them a different story now.  It’s not as good as it was, that they can sail most of the same itineraries for far less.

What did we find so unsatisfactory we won’t sail Oceania again?  Based on our expensive experience, Oceania has become a second-rate, lower quality version of its former self.  Oceania wasn’t operating like an upper premium  cruise line should. (This link suddenly no longer works. Why? Answer at  the end.) Perhaps the most obvious example of its decline is our blog describing how our cruise began in Stockholm, Sweden.  The Marina was the only cruise ship not docked near a terminal and the Marina did not offer any sort of shelter for its arriving travelers. As a result, a good number of passengers were forced to stand in the rain, waiting in line to board. Not the kind of treatment you would expect from an upper premium class cruise line, (Thankfully, we were lucky enough to board before it rained.)

This blog will deal more with day-to-day concerns. And it should be pointed out we were not the only ones dissatisfied with Oceania last summer.

Oceania Marina Main Dining RoomOceania Main Dining Room meals are as subdued as the decor

The travel agent who booked our cruise is with one of the country’s largest agencies. After we returned home,  he asked about our experience on the Oceania Marina. We told him how much the dining had deteriorated. He wasn’t surprised, saying “Other passengers had said the same thing, that the food had declined and that they were cutting back on quality.”

Our poor Oceania experience was not out of the ordinary.

Marina  Dining Hit or Miss   

Dining is one of the most important aspects of any cruise, but particularly on one like Oceania which touts “The Finest Cuisine at Sea.”   

That was not our overall experience in the main dining room or Terrace Café. While we were served numerous picturesque dishes, many were bland, tasteless and totally forgettable. Imagine being trapped on a ship dedicated to the current cuisine fad favoring presentation over flavor, of feeding the eyes and ignoring one’s taste buds. Such frou-frou sometimes resulted in unappetizing combinations. One night in the main dining room, I couldn’t find an appealing appetizer or salad.  That was a remarkable kitchen accomplishment.

Some other passengers avoided the main dining room for a different reason. One Canadian woman explained once there was enough for her because  “It’s just too pretentious.”  Pretentious is a term you don’t often hear, so I was surprised to hear the same term from several American couples at separate times about the pompous attitude in general of the cruise staff and particularly at public functions. Grandiosity definitely did flow at the cocktail party for past Oceania passengers, but that silliness  didn’t really concern us.

The poor dining did.  For breakfast, the only place we visited was the Terrace Café because service in the main dining room was sometimes slow. The waiters there did their best but it was obvious they were understaffed, especially in the evenings.  With the Marina visiting a new port almost every day, we didn’t want to waste time waiting to be served breakfast. Although the dining room might offer more variety than the buffet, in our experience most cruise lines vary their breakfast buffet from day-to-day to prevent monotonous selections.

Same Food, Always Lukewarm

Breakfast in the Terrace Café, however, varied little. It did become too repetitive.  A single new egg dish might appear every other day while pancakes and waffles  were infrequent. What also never changed was how the buffet warming pans were poorly heated. The way to avoid lukewarm/chilly eggs was forego the buffet pans for the Terrace grill where they could be freshly prepared. A similar option for heating other “warm” buffet items did not exist. Too bad there wasn’t a microwave available. As for breakfast pastries, they were nothing to look forward to. Many were unusually dry, somewhat crumbly and with negligible taste. Bread was the safest bet.

Oceania Marina Jacques French Bistro Specialty RestaurantJacques French Bistro was sometimes open for lunch

For lunch, you will not go wrong at the outdoor Waves Grill. Wonderful sandwiches made fresh to order with no effort to dumb down their taste. The selection was large enough for a new sandwich every day for a week.  The Waves Grill was a viable lunchtime option for the Terrace Café which started out strong but gradually deteriorated.

The Terrace Cafe at both lunch and dinner was consistently reliable for its sushi and its salads, especially the individual Caesar salads made to order quickly. In the evening, its  grill also was dependable for steak and  lobster. Adjacent to the grill you could have a freshly prepared different Asian wok dish most nights; those were usually excellent. Regardless of the quality of its specialty stations,  the Terrace Café’s primary flaws remained at all meals: semi-warm/cool  bland buffet foods that too often wouldn’t match a Golden Corral all-you-can-eat restaurant.

The Terrace Cafe will be remembered for the worst lasagna Linda ever tasted.  And the slice of semi-petrified apple pie with dehydrated  fillings that must have been in a freezer for a long, long time. Should have taken a photo of that.  But the dehydrated pie also explained why the breakfast pastries were so dry as well as cookies in the concierge lounge. They’d all been trapped in the same freezer.

Room Service Poor & Limited 

Room service was available virtually anytime. With the exception of its breakfast options, the menu was small, basic and never varied during the cruise. We didn’t dare request breakfast room service after making our one and only order for a simple late lunch: sandwiches and salads.  The sandwiches,  made of unusually dry bread and minimal, flavorless ingredients were left mostly uneaten.  The salads weren’t quite as bad but hardly up to Terrace Café standards. Both  sandwiches and salads tasted as if they were made days before and then shoved into a refrigerator. A good hotel would never dare offer such lousy room service fare.

Yet operating a superb room service is not beyond the ability of other cruise lines. Some gladly deliver anything from the ship’s  lunch and dinner menus while the main dining room actively serves those meals. Not on Oceania.

We cannot imagine an extended cruise on the Oceania Marina. We once spent 35 days on Holland America’s Maasdam and found the dining not only varied but exceptionally good. After 12 days on the Oceania Marina, we were eager to eat elsewhere.

Linda and I are foodies.  See our posts on cruise dining aboard the  Maasdam and  National Geographic Endeavour.  Those who praise Oceania for its  fine dining may  base it on the specialty restaurants–which, regretfully, are not open for three meals a day.  And are not representative of Oceania’s  ordinary dining venues.  

The Exceptional  Specialty Restaurants

The saving grace at dinner was the four specialty restaurants: Jacques (French), Toscana (Italian), Red Ginger (Asian) and Polo
Grill .

Our meals matched  the high standards we recalled from previous cruises.  All of the Marina’s specialty restaurants do offer some of the “finest cuisine at sea.”  Unfortunately, a shortage of  dining room waiters sometimes spoiled an otherwise perfect evening.

Oceania’s no extra-charge specialty restaurants are much sought-after by passengers ravenous for quality cuisine. Except for Jacques, open for lunch on occasion, the specialty restaurants serve dinner only and require  advance reservations, which limits their access.

The specialty restaurants demonstrated the Marina could serve flavorful meals. When it chose to.

Oceania Marina Red Ginger Specialty RestaurantRed Ginger’s flavors are as pronounced as its colors

The most popular restaurant on our cruise seemed to be Red Ginger with its spicy Asian menu.   Red Ginger lives up its name. so if you don’t appreciate a pronounced ginger flavor, this isn’t the restaurant for you. We dined there twice, when all reservations were booked. Yet we noticed quite a few tables without place settings when other passengers wanted to be there. Were the restaurant’s three cooks working in view at the back of the room unable to accommodate any more diners?  Or did the vacant tables reflect a lack of servers? Or more cutting back?

Our favorite of the four restaurants was long reliable Polo Grill featuring high-grade steaks, lobster, chicken, pork and lamb. The only time we could book this restaurant was for the last night of the cruise.   This will sound exaggerated but it’s true: when I tasted the garlic mashed potatoes accompanying my entree, it was a jolt to my system. I realized how starved I was for garlic and every other flavor. This was the first and only time on the 12-day cruise I tasted any distinctive seasoning except at Red Ginger.

Our long-awaited Polo Grill evening  turned into a disaster due to understaffing.  Thirty minutes after receiving our dessert menus we still were unable to order. A group of eight had arrived just as we were handed our dessert list. Our waiter and his helper were so busy attending to the new group they didn’t take time to scribble down our short order.

Tired of waiting, we left our table. We mentioned our situation to the manager, who consulted the table chart showing the tables our server was assigned. He said, “But he’s only serving 12 people. I don’t understand how this could happen.” Maybe because the arrival of eight was monopolizing his time?

Although the restaurant manager wasn’t doing anything in particular, he didn’t call for anyone to assist us or even consider helping us.  Perhaps he missed the memo about providing  “upper premium class” service?

The Moody Marina  

With the exception of The Polo Grill manager, the cruise staff always was helpful and acted friendly yet something felt off, not quite  right. Linda and I can’t put our finger on precisely what it is. We think back to other cruises.

“These people don’t seem happy.”

Indeed, they didn’t. Waiters did not joke with or act especially friendly toward passengers they saw every day. We noticed very few of the staff going out of their way to interact with passengers. Exceptions were the cruise director (he does his job well), all of the room stewards on our floor and the concierge lounge staff. They couldn’t have been nicer or more efficient.

Otherwise, whenever passengers were not gathered together, the Oceania Marina often felt like an abandoned ship.

Oceania Cruises Sold To NCL

The very day we disembark the Marina, it was announced that Prestige Cruise Holdings– parent company of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises—had sold both cruise lines to Norwegian Cruise Line. No wonder Oceania crew members were unhappy. They had to be wondering their futures under new ownership since rumors of the impending sale must have been well known.

Reading the NCL press release confirmed our impression that the dining had deteriorated noticeably.  As our travel agent later pointed out, Oceania probably cut back on dining quality in order to increase its profit line before completing the sale to NCL. Cutting costs would also account for the chronic understaffing we encountered..

The PR release also stated NCL would pay Oceania’s parent company “a cash consideration of up to $50 million to Prestige shareholders would be payable upon achievement of certain 2015 performance metrics.”

Oceania Cruises performance metrics should place customer satisfaction near the top.  Our Oceania dining experience lowered our satisfaction with Oceania from 10 to 3 or 4. Whatever happens with NCL/Oceania in the future, for better or worse, we won’t be back to find out.  It would be too costly a gamble and, frankly, there are too many other good cruise lines to choose from less pretentious, less expensive and more dependable.  We know not to care about Oceania anymore.

This is the slowest blog in history because we  never wanted to get to where we shout “the king has no clothes!”  Ironically, Oceania’s recently updated website lacks any previous claims (dead link above)  of   its “upper premium class” status  that I can find.   New owner,  new  reality?  The latest corporate description of Oceania is of a comfortable, upscale cruise. Yet the prices remain premium class.    

Exploring Gdansk Old Town

Gdansk Old  Town Full of Unusual Surprise
By Linda and Tim O’Keefe

To continue exploring Gdansk Old Town, we depart the High Gate, the entrance through which the Polish king passed when visiting Gdansk (pronounced “ɡə dænsk”).  From the High Gate it’s a short distance along the Royal Route to the arch of the Golden Gate, the entrance to Long Street . Constructed in 1512,  the Golden Gate is built of white stone and decorated with gold trim.  Eight statues atop the wall represent  traits varying from piety to wealth.  The Gdansk coat of arms appears just above the archway.

Inside the gate’s arch, we have a perfect view of Long Street (Dluga on the city map), Old Town’s historical heart offering a showcase of museums, architecture and some of the city’s best photo opportunities.  We make an unexpected tour from Long Street when Tim is attracted by several ornate spires on an avenue to our  left. The impressively ornate building is the Great Armoury built in the early 1600’s to hold the armor and weapons of the city guard.  Many armories of today may be featureless blocks of concrete but the Great Armoury reflects the 17th century Gdansk tradition that every building should be pleasing to the eye.  Made to blend in with its surroundings, the storehouse is designed in the shape of four attached brick apartment houses. Instead of armaments, the building now houses the Academy of Fine Arts

Town Hall and Poseidon Statue

Returning to Long Street, we’re soon standing beside the imposing town hall dating back to the 13th century.  A fire in the 1500’s created an opportunity to expand the town hall and to change  its architectural style to Dutch/Flemish mannerism.  The town hall is a grand building, five stories high and topped with a 272 foot-high tower.  No longer the seat of local government, the town hall is home to the Historical Museum of Gdansk. A  tour of the  building and its magnificent halls isn’t possible today. Not enough time.

Town Hall Old City, Gdansk, Poland Enormous Town Hall in the Old City

A short distance beyond the town hall where Long Street changes into Long Market Street we find the famous Neptune Fountain from 1633.  Now the symbol most identified with Gdansk, the Neptune Fountain was built to emphasize the city’s dependence on sea trade. Linda points out no one is throwing coins in the fountain.  Maybe that’s due to the legend that Neptune grew so angry when people threw golden coins in his fountain he slammed his trident into the water with such power the gold coins changed into small golden flakes. Those flakes have been fluttering around a long time, said to still shine in the local vodka Goldwasser.  Every bottle of the vodka contains small thin flakes of 22 or 23 karat gold, based on the belief gold has medicinal benefits. Whether gold is good for you is uncertain but at least the vodka’s tiny flakes won’t hurt you.  Goldwasser purchased in Gdansk isn’t a great souvenir since it’s been made in West Germany for the past several decades.

The Green Gate and Motlawa River

At the end of Long Market Street we arrive at the Green Gate, a building intended as a residence for visiting royalty. A wasted effort since only a single visitor appears to have used it, a woman stopping here briefly on her way to marry King Ladislaus IV. The Green Gate—named for the color of stone used in its construction—is managed by the Polish National Museum and houses numerous exhibitions and galleries.

Motlawa River bridge with Gdansk Old Town in background, PolandBridge over Mohawk River with Old Town in Background

Passing under the Green Gate arch brings us to the banks of the Motlawa River which allowed  Old Town to become the center of Poland’s sea trade. Walking down Long Market Street we noticed something rising into the sky behind the Green Gate but we couldn’t  determine what it was.  Now,  across the Motlawa River,  it towers bright and shiny before us : a giant white Ferris wheel carrying very few riders. The modern contraption doesn’t really fit in with the Old Town scene. We linger on the bridge crossing the river to the Ferris wheel, viewing the boats on the Motlawa.  In 1687, a ferry service began carrying  passengers across the river and it still operates today. What a tradition, going back almost a century before the
American Revolution.

The Old Town river bank is lined with stores and popular outdoor cafes.  Sticking out like a sore thumb is the mid-15th century medieval loading crane known as The Zuraw. The largest crane in Europe at the time, it could transfer loads up to 4400 pounds as well as install masts. The crane’s double towers make it the largest and most distinctive of Old Town’s waterfront gates. We wind our way past the river bank stores to the behemoth crane to take an inside look at the immense wooden wheel used to power the machine. The wheel was turned not by water power but by men  literally walking  inside the wheel, a job that must have been back-breaking.

Amazing! Not Your Typical European Churches 

After inspecting the guts of the crane, we go partway back toward the bridge next to the Green Gate, turning right at narrow cobbled Mariacka Street. Stepping back into the Old Town, we wander the street known for its narrow three-story townhouses that feature individual front terraces, a rarity in Old Town.  Mariacka Street is our gateway for visiting gigantic St. Mary’s Basilica.  Constructed over an extended period from 1343 to 1502, the length of the church’s full name–the Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary–rivals the building’s colossal scale.

One of Europe’s largest brick churches, St. Mary’s interior is immense,  supposedly able to hold 25,000 people comfortably. Overpowering in its dimensions, the ginormous building and its soaring ceiling makes us feel totally insignificant. Light fills the whitewashed interior through 37 huge windows, some seemingly as large as an apartment building.

With so much bare wall space,  the church at first appears surprisingly empty.  We soon realize it is handsomely decorated with crystal vaults and, closer to ground,  numerous works of Medieval and Baroque art.  Among the items not to miss are the high altar, the stone Pieta from 1410 and the large astronomical clock by Hans During.  We’d like to climb the bell tower to enjoy its panoramic view of Gdansk but the price—400 steps–is too steep.  Not us, not today.

St. Mary’s was so overpowering it’s hard to imagine another church could interest us. But off to the right a few blocks away an old building catches our eye. Is it another church?  It’s strange the exterior  of such a large ancient building would be so darkly dreary,  very uncharacteristic for Gdansk. Whatever it is, the inside is likely a dump but why not take a quick look?

Unexpected  Highpoint of Our Cruise

Entering the unknown building through a small out-of-the-way door, we find a  small room where a woman mops the floor.  At first surprised to see us, she steps back with a little bow,  then points toward a small set of stairs  leading to another door.  This is odd. Is she sending us to some poorly lighted cellar?  Well, it’s still light out and this isn’t Transylvania. We head downstairs into who knows what.

At the most unexpected times the universe decides to bless you with something extraordinary.  Opening the downstairs door, we pause, stunned at what we see. An old building that outside appears so dull and depressing contains possibly the most beautiful  church either one of us has ever entered.  By blind luck, we have found St. Nicholas Church,  founded by Dominican monks in 1348.

St. Nicholas Church organ, Gdansk Old Town, Poland  St. Nicholas Church Organ with Ornate Decoration

Not only is St. Nicholas one of the city’s oldest churches, it is the only church to escape damage in central Gdansk during World War II. How it remained unscathed  is something of a miracle. Some say Russian bomber pilots refused to destroy the church because it was named after Russia’s own patron saint.  Or that they spared  St. Nicholas because the Russian Orthodox church had declared Tsar Nicholas II a saint after his assassination?  Or was it pure chance the bombs missed, while an estimated 90 percent of the city around it was destroyed?

Regardless of what happened during the bombing runs, once Russian troops were on the ground, they did not loot or burn St. Nicholas.  Perhaps the church was left intact for the same reasons it wasn’t bombed.  Or it was due to quick action by the church priest  who reportedly bribed the soldiers with alcohol reserves from the church’s cellar to spare it.

Somehow, the church and all of its 17th century contents survives untouched. Which means that for the first time in Gdansk, everything we see is original and not a reproduction. This is an amazing sight. The mostly Baroque and Rococo interior of white marble interspersed with dark marble and deeply polished pews somehow harmonize to give the church a solemn and impressive air.

Memorable decorations include a magnificent chandelier crafted in 1617, gold-framed paintings from the 15th to 18th centuries depicting the life of Christ,  a Byzantine icon of the Madonna and an elaborately carved multi-level  high altar. Linda feels she has stepped into a part of history that has been lost. She says the beauty here is overwhelming.

Strangely, we are the only people present in the church. It’s been deathly quiet the entire time here. So we’re slightly spooked when the great organ behind us unexpectedly explodes into a loud hymn. Turning around, we look upwards at the 17th century organ encased in  Baroque and Rococo decorations. The hymn resonates throughout the building, humbling us.  How lucky are we to have wandered in here during organ practice?

As we leave, another couple wanders in, undoubtedly through the front door.  We depart through the same side door, never seeing the front of St. Nicholas church. It is a shock later to see the church’s bright red exterior in online photos. It’s such a remarkable contrast to our drab entrance we wonder for a moment if we’d really been inside St. Nicholas. Online pictures of the interior confirm we were. We still find it strange so little tourist information about St. Nicholas was available in Gdansk.

Solidarity and Fall of the Soviet Eastern Bloc

Leaving Gdansk, our cab navigates the traffic with no difficulty, which allows us time for a quick stop at the famous Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers located  just outside the Gdansk shipyard gates.  The memorial of three tall steel crosses rise 42 meters above the square to commemorate the deaths of 42 shipyard workers killed during a 1970 strike.

Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers Gdansk Poland Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers, Gdansk 

The monument was erected in 1980 to satisfy demands of shipyard union leader Lech Walesa and his 17,000 member Solidarity Movement, the first non-communist union in Eastern Europe. The memorial was the first monument to victims of communist oppression ever erected in a communist country. It is credited as marking the beginning of the end of communist control in Eastern Europe. Of all the historic places in Gdansk, this is perhaps the most meaningful to Westerners.

Our driver returns us to the Oceania Marina with time to spare. It’s been a good day, though just a few more hours in Gdansk would have made it better. For us, Gdansk is the prettiest city we have seen so far. And, since it will rain at our remaining ports in both Germany and Denmark, Gdansk will be the shining reminder of our Oceania Marina Baltic cruise

Next: Why we will never sail on Oceania again.

 

Oceania Marina Visits Poland

Sopot and Gdansk A Hurried Day
by Linda and Tim O’Keefe

Due to the Oceania Marina’s schedule, we have limited time in Poland. The ship docks at the port of Gdynia at 8 a.m. and will depart at 4 p.m.  That’s pushing it since we want to see Gdansk, a thousand years old and the largest city in northern Poland.  But it’s about a 45-minute drive from the port to Gdansk’s colorful Old City.

Among the first to leave the Oceania Marina, we search for a taxi.   As in Klaipeda, we’re bypassing guided tours to wander around on our own.  We like setting our own pace, spending time in a place that interests us and leaving quickly from those that don’t.  And we like the ability to return to a spot when the photo light is right.

Six taxis wait near the Marina. The drivers have a  set price of US$200 to take us to Gdansk, wait while we explore the town and then return us to the ship by 3:30, our all-aboard time.  We assure one driver we’re definitely interested but wait a few minutes to see if we can find two others to share the cost.  Before long, we find a couple agreeable to sharing the cab. The four of us strike a deal with the taxi driver and we’re off.

Unexpected Visit to Sopot

Our driver seems a nice fellow but he wants us to follow an itinerary he thinks is more rewarding than going straight to Gdansk.  Uh-oh, what have we gotten into?  The other couple doesn’t object so we say nothing.  We’re skeptical that our first stop, the seaside resort of Sopot, although our driver assures us Sopot is very popular with tourists. Tim and I look at each other: the Baltic Sea temperature today is 60 degrees, not exactly ideal beach conditions.  Hopefully this won’t be a waste of time.

The driver gives us 25 minutes for a quick look around Sopot. The natural thing for a Floridian to do is check out  the “popular” Polish beach.  We’re astonished to discover Sopot Beach is spectacular, one of the best beaches we’ve ever seen anywhere.  Its soft fine-grained silky sands put it near the top on our list.  By comparison, the beautiful sands of Florida’s panhandle seem rough and drab.  No wonder almost two million people visit Sopot annually, whose sheltered waters are supposed to be warmer than those of other Baltic beaches.

Beach at Sopot Poland Baltic Sea                 Sopot Beach is a lot more impressive when you stand on

Understandably, Sopot has been a favorite destination of Europe’s rich and famous for decades.  Walking along the beach, we come across the palatial-looking Sofitel Grand Hotel, perhaps the area’s most famous place to stay.  Built in 1927, the hotel has accommodated guests ranging from Adolf Hitler and Charles de Gaulle to Fidel Castro.  American leaders apparently have yet to discover Sopot.

From the Grand Hotel we walk quickly to Sopot’s pier, the longest wooden pier (1,676 feet or 511 meters) in Europe.  It is used not only by fisherman but as a ferry dock and a vantage point for watching windsurfing and sailing championships.

We’re running out of time so  we return to the taxi via Sopot’s main street, Bohaterow Monte Cassino Street, which is packed with pubs, coffee cafes, restaurants and galleries.  Unlike those at most beach towns, this street is well shaded but not by trees.  The tall buildings bordering it provide the shade as they also  hide any view of the beautiful beach.

Sopot Poland Monte Cassino Street with American KFC and Subway storesA taste of home on  Sopot’s main promenade  

Side Tour to Oliwa Cathedral

Our driver’s next destination is Oliwa Cathedral, a mix of architectural styles including Romanesque, Gothic and Rococo dating from the 13th century.  Oliwa Cathedral also is Poland’s longest church.  This is another good choice by our driver, who quickly takes us inside the cathedral by a side door and urges us to sit in the last row.  It turns out we’re just in time for a  20-minute organ concert.

The organ, made up of more than 7,000 wooden pipes, has such a wide range of pitch and sounds it can mimic everything from animal noises  to human voices.  The elaborately crafted organ is also celebrated for its moving wooden cherubs and trumpet-playing angels.

Sitting in the last row is  perfect for viewing the moving figures.  The concert of hymns is stirring.  The last selection, The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, gives Linda goose bumps.  Enjoy the impressive sound of the Oliwa organ concert here.

Gdansk Old Town, Finally! 

By the time we reach Gdansk it’s almost 11 a.m., much later than anticipated.  Fortunately our driver has a special parking place near Old Town’s main street.  The spot happens to be conveniently located across from the public facilities.  Linda is ready for a break and determined not to repeat the long toilet hunt at St. Petersburg’s Peterhof Park.

As at every other Baltic port city, we must pay to use the facilities.  An attendant is always ready to make change but the process still is a nuisance when you need different currency day after day.  The Euro is accepted in many places, although in St. Petersburg only Russian rubles were taken.  Dollars have no value in some places.  Polish banks in Gdansk won’t even convert them into Euros.

We need to be back at the cab by 2 p.m. in case heavy traffic delays our return to the Marina. Gdansk will have to be one of our fastest city tours ever.  We start our walk on the wide pedestrian street called the Long Market.  The architecture here looks like a time capsule from the medieval ages.

Yet  almost everything that appears old is actually new.  World War II started on the outskirts of Gdansk after a German battleship fired on a Polish artillery unit.  By the end of the war, Gdansk was devastated from both German attacks and allied air strikes and Poland belonged to the  Russians.

Gdansk Poland Old City buildings architectureA restored section of Gdansk that reminds me of Aruba

Knowing how much the city suffered in the war makes its striking appearance today all the more amazing.   Walking toward the city’s High Gate, we notice how Old Town’s historic buildings and houses all shine with vivid colors ranging from dark green to dull red, from burnt orange to gleaming white and gold.  Reconstruction that  took decades didn’t leave an imperfection anywhere, making Gdansk more attractive  than most cities with an equally long history.  The Old Town literally is picture perfect, one reason it’s become a popular cruise destination.

We walk to the High Gate (or Upland Gate), a massive structure that’s the  only remaining part of the city’s medieval walls.  The gate served as the entrance to the Old City,  the beginning of the Royal Route where local officials greeted visiting royalty and escorted them into the city.  Linda wonders what it was like as a royal during the 16th century.  Tim suggests it might be better to consider the life of a peasant. (Why is it that every girl wants to be a princess?) Besides, he points out, we have more riches than they ever did; including deodorant.

Next: Exploring Gdansk Old City

 

Exploring Klaipeda Lithuania

Klaipeda’s Clock Museum and Magical Statues
By Linda and Tim O’Keefe

Exploring more of Klaipeda, Lithuania, takes us to the Dane River, which separates the Old Town from the more bustling commercial area of New Town. Crossing the Dane River by the Birzos Bridge, it’s impossible not to notice the mast and glowing white sails of “The Meridianas,” a tall sailing ship built in Finland in 1948.  For a time the ship was used by the Klaipeda Navigation School for training. Afterwards, “The Meridianas”  turned into a derelict vessel, left to rot at its anchorage. The ship was saved by a prominent lawyer who purchased it for the equivalent of $1. He restored  it and turned “The Meridianas” into a floating restaurant. The ship is now one of Klaipeda’s proudest landmarks.

Klaipeda Lithuania the tall ship "The Meridianas" on Dane River       The “Meridianas”  tall ship on the Dane River

Across Birzos Bridge is the new  “Arch, Monument to the United Lithuania,” a garden with a large granite formation marking the 80th anniversary of the Klaipeda Region joining with Lithuania.  Small red granite columns represent the country’s various regions. One stands apart from the others, representing the status of the Kaliningrad Region of Lithuania, now part of the Russian Federation.

A little more than a block from the bridge is Liepu Street,  the 17th century home of city merchants and aristocrats.  Many elaborate buildings remain in such architectural styles as neo-Gothic and Jugend, a 19th century art nouveau style also  popular in some other Baltic countries. Jugend buildings feature a curb roof, vegetable-type ornaments, gargoyles  and  other decorative details.

Discovering Time at Klaipeda’s Clock Museum

With map in hand, we turn right onto Liepu Street, looking for the Clock Museum, a little known place Linda read about in a guidebook. She is interested in the engineering behind how things work, such as our grandfather clock back home. Unfortunately our local tourist board map lacks building numbers, making this search more difficult than necessary.  With strip clubs sandwiched between stores and office buildings, Liepu Street may have changed a bit since the 1700’s.

We pass one of the city’s most stylish buildings, the Old City Post Office in a red-brick neo-Gothic palace from 1893.  It’s now known for the carillon of 48 chromatically tuned bells playing a 30- minute concert here every Sunday. It’s not Sunday and we continue looking for the Clock Museum. The map indicates it’s just beyond the post office.

We know we’ve gone too far when we reach Sculpture Park on the edge of a heavily forested area. The park has more than 116 sculptures, some located atop an old cemetery. We retrace Liepu Street but still no Clock Museum.  A local who speaks English explains the Clock Museum entrance is up a staircase and the museum sign is visible only across the street from it.  Not the easiest place to find and no effort to make it visible.  Makes you wonder if they care about visitors.

The museum is well worth the trouble. This fascinating and historical showcase of clocks shows the evolution of the essential but little considered necessity that manages our lives.  Examples of sun clocks, water clocks, fire clocks and sand clocks are on display. Multi-language information sheets at the entrance of each clock display room contain excellent explanations of their history and how they work. We have more respect for our grandfather clock and whoever came up with the idea of such an impressive precise time that works so well decade after decade.  Worth the visit alone is the  imaginative and brilliantly colored stained glass window near the tour end.  Leaving the museum, we take the Birzos Bridge back across the Dane River to the Old Town and toward the Oceania Marina.

Klaipeda Lithuania clothing store sign in English                               Klaipeda store appealing to cruise passengers

Klaipeda Old Town’s Magical  Cat and Mouse

We are determined to find two of Klaipeda’s more famous magical sculptures, a cat and a mouse supposedly able to grant anyone’s strongest wish. They’re among the better known Old Town magical sculptures which include the Old Town Chimney Sweep (he grants luck for a full year to anyone touching his coat button on New Year’s Day) and the Old Town’s Post, a column for residents to drop letters containing  wishes, useful suggestions or ideas which actually could be granted. These letters go to prominent local business leaders, the movers and shakers, who have the power to make dreams come true. You have to admire Klaipeda’s quirky attitude about wishful thinking.

Our map is worthless for finding any specific location. When we ask about the cat and mouse statues from a man passing on the street, he seems mystified we want to find them. He provides some general directions and off we go, feeling somewhat confused. If these statues are  so noteworthy, why can’t we find them?  And why did that fellow seem to think we’re crazy to be interested in them?

Following his directions, we turn the corner of the next street over where the Old Town Cat with a face of a gentleman should be. Sure enough, in the front yard of an apartment building on Blacksmith Street, struts the elusive magic cat. We both have to laugh, feeling a little foolish. The cat is smaller than our three-year-old grandson. It’s claimed that if you rub the cat’s magic tail, your wishes will come true. This cat’s upright bronze tail has been rubbed shiny.  After photographing the cat, and feeling every bit the dumb tourists, we start down the street seeking the magic mouse.

No, we don’t rub the cat’s tail. It seems some Klaipeda sculptors like to instill their creations with magical powers to attract attention to them, and legends about their statues’ powers spread over time. That publicity stunt has to include the cat and mouse.

The cat can’t be too far from the mouse; that would spoil the game. We stalk back down Blacksmith Street looking for the rodent. Two teenage girls walk the street in front of us, going in the same direction. Two men behind us have an adorable black dog. The taller man gives the dog a hand signal. It starts wagging its tail and barking, running up to the girls. They think this dog is the cutest thing they’ve ever seen! The guys talk to the women who, after a minute or two, continue down the street without the guys. Linda cannot help laughing out loud. She thinks this is one of the best pickup tricks she’s ever seen.

Klaipeda Tourists Are Peculiar Creatures 

One of the men, named Budrys, speaks English and overhears us discussing his dog. He laughs and walks over and we begin talking. He doesn’t understand why we bother to visit Klaipeda. “All, we do is walk here, walk there, then walk back. The same every day. There is nothing to do here!”

We confess we’re looking for the magic mouse. We’ve already found the cat. Budrys laughs uproariously, shaking his head, exclaiming, “Jesus Christ, you come all the way here from America to see a f***ing cat and mouse? Do you tell your friends you take a cruise to see this cat and mouse! They must think you’re crazy!”

Klaipeda Lithuania tourist whispers to statue of a mouse that grants wishesKlaipeda’s “magic mouse” draws tourists

Put that way, it’s hard to disagree. But this foolishness is a good icebreaker for starting a wide-ranging conversation about life in Klaipeda, politics, Putin, spies and drones. We sit with the two men on a low wall across from the magic mouse statue. The mouse may be all of 8 inches tall. An Oceania tour group arrives to see the mouse.  We watch how they react to the mouse.  It’s more fun to be spectators than unsuspecting tourists.

Legend has it if you whisper into the mouse’s ear, your wish will come true.  That echoes words inscribed on the collar on the bronze cat: “Convert your ideas into words–words will become magic.”  We laugh with Budrys and his friend as  tour members proceed to whisper wishes into the tiny mouse’s ear. Some women kiss it (not a requirement) perhaps for added good fortune.

We enjoy the company of Budrys and his Ukrainian friend but it’s late in the afternoon and we have early dinner reservations with others . We need to start back to the Oceania Marina.   Budrys accompanies us. When we reach the town square, he explains why the statue of Ann from Tharau disappeared during War II World. He says Hitler gave a speech from the steps of the Drama Theater.  But the statue faces away from the building and Hitler was so outraged at  speaking to the back of a sculpture he had it removed.

We turn down an invitation from Budrys to buy us a beer. It would be fun but we need to get back to the ship.  Klaipeda, however, is famous for is its beer, Svyturys, and Linda talks Tim into stopping at a pub near the ship. Besides enjoying  the quick taste of a new brew, it is another chance to see more of the locals while discussing our day in an interesting city we never knew was there.

Oceania Marina Visits Klaipeda, Lithuania

Exploring  Klaipeda Old Town  on Foot
By Linda  and Tim O’Keefe

Today the Oceania Marina visits Klaipeda, Lithuania’s oldest city and largest port. Considering the total rainout yesterday in Estonia, it’s a relief to see the sun return.  Lithuania is a country neither Tim nor I know much about except, like most Baltic countries, it was under Soviet rule from World War II until 1991.The Marina’s stop here is one reason we chose Oceania’s Viking Trails cruise.

Klaipeda (pronounced “kli-pe-de”) was founded in 1252 near the Dane River, which flows directly into the Baltic Sea.  The city’s name translates as “bigfoot” with a good story there.   According to legend, the name originated when two brothers set out to find a location for a new city. One brother chose the longer route down the river while the other took a shorter route through thick marshland, where he died.

When the first brother located the body, he discovered the print of an “enormous” (klaika)  “foot” (peda) beside it. He decided to name the town Klaipeda “bigfoot”  in honor of his sibling, using the killer’s description instead of his dead brother’s name; which seems the strangest part of the story. In Klaipeda’s Old Town, we will search for the steel sculpture called “dragon” which recalls this legend.  The less imaginative claim Klaipeda’s name comes from “klaidyti” (obstruct) and “peda” (foot) due to the area’s once boggy terrain.

With the Old Town just a 10 minute walk from the cruise port, we bypass the guided tours to explore on our own. A map of Klaipeda shows it should be an easy afternoon’s ramble.   Klaipeda’s Old Town looks surprisingly familiar, as if we are in Bavaria or Switzerland. It’s due to the distinctive half-timbered style of several old warehouses built in the mid-1800’s.  Known as fachwerk construction, the buildings are framed with heavy timbers arranged in horizontal, vertical and diagonal angles with white plaster filling the spaces between.

Klaipeda Lithuania bilingual directional signs in English and LithuanianDirectional signs in Lithuanian and English

It takes only a few minutes to walk to the heart of the city and Klaipeda Square, also known as Theater Square after the Drama Theater bordering one edge of the plaza.  The square’s other three sides are lined with vendors in colorful stalls selling small trinkets and souvenirs.  In the middle of Theater Square stands a sculpture of a woman known as Ann from Tharau. The monument is in fact dedicated to Simon Dach, a German poet born in Klaipeda in 1605. Dach fell instantly in love with Ann when he saw her for the first time. Unfortunately, it happened at Ann’s wedding and she was marrying a minister. The love-stricken poet dedicated a poem to her entitled Ann from Tharau.

Dach’s poem turned out to be extremely popular.  It was translated into several languages and eventually became a well-known folksong in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  In 1912, an artist from Germany came to Klaipeda to create the statue of Ann which also contains a small bas-relief of Dach.  During World War II the sculpture was carted away by the Germans but recreated in 1990.

Before exploring more of Old Town, we need to cash a few dollars into Lithuanian litas but we’re unable to find a bank that will do it. So we visit the casino across from Klaipeda Square. They not only are happy to change dollars into litas, they change our litas back into dollars later.

From the square we walk heavily cobbled streets in search of the Dragon statue. Along the way we find a street lined with more fachwerk style buildings occupied by art galleries, boutique shops and small restaurants. I am beginning to fall in love with this town and its charm.

Our map provides little help in finding the Dragon, supposedly nearby. We locate it in an unanticipated place. It’s not a big statue dominating one of the small city parks as we imagined. Instead, it’s hidden inside an old narrow street and the Dragon actually is the end section of a long drain pipe hanging from a building. Hardly what we expect.

Klaipeda Lithuania statue of mythical dragon that gave city its nameArtist’s vision of Klaipeda’s  “bigfoot”  

Although the dragon certainly looks fierce and dangerous, it’s only about three feet long. This is as much of a fairy tale as Klaipeda’s bigfoot legend. You’ll never see this dragon belch fire but its mouth will gush plenty of water every time it rains.

More satisfying is the large and impressive is a section of the old earthen fort built in  the 1700’s to defend the city.  As a port city, Klaipeda held considerable strategic value and the ramparts reaching almost 12 feet high emphasize its importance. As at fortifications elsewhere in Europe, ditches were dug around the walls to create a moat, with the Dane River providing it a ready water supply. Although the complex network of irregular shaped walls (called bastions) was considered on par with many great castles, they were soon neglected, allowed to fall  and crumble.

In the 1990’s, a section of the fortress was restored on Jonas Hill at the end of Turgaus Street.  We view the surviving  bastions from a high vantage point. The moat beneath the grass-covered walls, filled with fresh water from the Dane River, resembles a small lake. Overall, the complex looks like an appealing park.

It’s time to move on to what some call Klaipeda’s New Town with its main business district.

 

Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg


Where St. Petersburg Originated

Although yesterday afternoon was  cloudy, it was still good weather. Now on our third and last day, we have drizzling rain and a sky so dark it feels like twilight.  We identify with a favorite St.  Petersburg saying about summer weather: “Nine months of expectation, three months of disappointment.”

Our morning excursion is called the highlights of  St. Petersburg, which includes brief a drive-by of two of the cathedrals we visited yesterday.  Our main interest is the city’s oldest landmark,  the Peter and Paul Fortress constructed in the shaped of a six-pointed star on Rabbit (Hare) Island.

Our guide admits that although St. Petersburg may be a splendid city now, when the Peter and Paul fortress was built– the first structure built here–no Russians wanted to live in the area.  If the low swampy terrain and pesky summer mosquitoes weren’t bad enough, there was the added problem of wolves attacking and eating people. So, she continues, most of the early residents were forced to live here, including the nobility. No wonder many of their  descendants find it difficult to smile.

Peter and Paul Fortress St Petersburg, RussiaPeter and Paul Fortress on a dreary St. Petersburg day

As our bus approaches Peter and Paul Fortress, I scan the sand beach near the fort wall. It’s deserted today but on a sunny day this beach can be packed by those eager to soak up the sun when temperatures  may seem uncomfortably cool. But for those who experience  only 20 hours of sunlight in  December and January and whose daily high temperature  from November through February stays several degrees below freezing , these hardy people have a different understanding of what it means to be cold. There is an obvious irony that the average winter low here is 15 degrees, when in St. Petersburg, FL, it’s 74 degrees.  Florida’s St. Petersburg   was named after this Russian city, in 1888, by Russian railroad builder Piotr Dementyev (Peter Demens) who was born in  frosty St. Petersburg, Russia.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Peter the Great began construction of the Peter and Paul Fortress   in 1703  to defend the city from attack during the  Russian war with Sweden (1700-1721) . When the stronghold was completed in 1740, the Swedes were long subdued and Peter the Great was dead. However, the fort did not sit idle during this time. As early as 1720, it was the  barracks for the city’s garrison  as well as a place to store political prisoners.

The fort’s main attraction is the Cathedral  of Saints Peter and Paul. The cathedral’s towering 400-foot high golden spire is one of the city’s most noticeable landmarks.  There are other attractions besides the cathedral:  exhibits about St.  Petersburg’s history and Russian space flight and  a tour of the once dreaded prison cells of  Trubetskoy Bastion.  Following a tradition originated by the  Tsars, the fort fires a cannon at noon each day.

Peter and Paul Cathedral interior                                    Interior of Peter and Paul Cathedral

Our tour is limited primarily to the Peter and Paul Cathedral, not that the weather would allow us to spend much time walking around outside. The cathedral alone could consume a good part of a morning but we have half that time.  The cathedral may be several hundred years old but it  obviously was maintained well by Russian nobility and apparently by the Soviet government.

In fact, the radiant  golden iconostasis   with its 43 icons appears so new it could be recently installed.  The paintings have been refurbished regularly, which explains why they are so bright, and deteriorating items such as the church doors were replaced.

An unusual feature of the church is its pulpit, used only a single time. That was to excommunicate the great writer Leo Tolstoy from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. Tolstoy, however, had already openly excommunicated himself from the institution. (In recent years, Tolstoy supporters have requested the church to reconsider the writer’s status. Tolstoy remains excommunicated.)

Crypts of the Tsars

Almost every Russian Tsar from the time of Peter the Great  rests in Peter and Paul Cathedral. It is easy to locate the marble tomb of Peter the Great among those of the other tsars,   A bust of the Tsar is on the fence surrounding his marble tomb. People still place flowers on the grave; some are present today.

The crypt many westerners most want to see is that of  the last tsar, Nicholas II, who was forced to abdicate in 1917.  Nicholas II and his family were kept as political prisoners in St. Petersburg, then moved to Yekaterinburg, a major city 900 miles east of Moscow.  On the orders of Vladimir Lenin, the family was executed when it appeared  that Russians rebelling against Bolshevik rule might be able to rescue them.

To make the corpses unrecognizable, they were burned and doused with acid. Then they were buried at a secret location so Romanov supporters would not turn the gravesite into a shrine.  The tragic story of the last tsar captured many people’s imagination, nourished by stories, books and films like 1971’s Nicholas and Alexandra  based on the 1967 book of the same name still available from Amazon.

In addition, from the time of the tsar’s death, rumors persisted that one of the tsar’s children had survived.  It was an international sensation when a new mass grave was uncovered near Yekaterinburg and DNA tests identified the bodies of Nicholas II, his wife but only three of the children.  In 1998, those  remains were brought to Peter and Paul Cathedral and  buried in the small Chapel of St. Catherine there.

In 2007, yet another grave near Yekaterinburg yielded the DNA-verified remains of the missing two children. The bodies of Crown Prince Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria were transported here to join their family.  But they have no marble tomb like the other tsars, only ones of imitation marble.  Supposedly because there isn’t enough money for real marble.

After viewing the royal crypts, it’s time to return to the Oceania Marina. The gloomy day outside corresponds to my mood after this regal display of death. It seems so contradictory that Nicholas II and his family would be brutally exterminated, yet the numerous tombs of  Romanov royalty in the cathedral apparently were never violated. Churches were plundered but never demolished  during the godless days of communism.

Where did all the Bolshevik violence lead? Nicholas II and his family are considered saints by the Russian Orthodox church, an honor about as high as any mortal can attain.  Lenin, too, became a sort of saint of Russian communism.  Lenin was embalmed after his death in 1924 and put on public display in a glass casket under Red Square. He’s still there on display, like some deceased holy man. (Photo of Lenin under glass)

According to Lenin’s widow, the revolutionary wanted to be buried next to his mother in a simple cemetery plot. She made this request of Russian authorities: “Do not put up buildings or monuments in his name.”

Weather Forecasting Upcoming Ports

Our final St.  Petersburg tour  scheduled for the afternoon is a canal cruise along the Moika and Fontanka Rivers to view the historic architecture. The weather turns so foul we decide not to bother. It’s a disappointing end  for our last hours in St. Petersburg.

Yet we’ve been fortunate to enjoy good weather until today. The concierge advises me that rain is frequent in the Baltic after August 15. He says numerous ports were washouts the previous week.  So there could be more bad days ahead.

I decide to check the weather forecast for tomorrow’s stop at Tallinn, Estonia, a place we’d like very much to see. I go to the only  weather site that gets it right most of the time: yr.no.   Americans unfamiliar with  yr.no  should keep it in mind for any European travel. It is a Norwegian website provided by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The forecasts combine Norway’s  weather information with data from other meteorological organizations around the world, allowing yr.no to provide forecasts for an astounding seven million locations.

I discovered yr.no last year while touring Ireland, where weather needs constant checking. Yr.no was superior to any of my usual sources, Weather Channel, Weather Underground and the like. The only drawback of using yr.no  is converting the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit. But the site is hard to beat for overall forecasting accuracy in Europe and sometimes back home.

The wireless speed on the Oceania Marina is surprisingly good. But  yr.no’s  next day forecast for Tallinn is miserable: significant rain for the entire day. This is one time I’d like yr.no to be wrong.

Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St. Petersburg

A Night of Russian Entertainment and Patriotism

This evening we attend what the Oceania Marina describes as a private performance of Russian song and dance by a large troupe of talented singers, dancers and musicians. That’s a vague description, which means it could be really good or terribly bad.  If happens to be a play performed in Russian, it would be incomprehensibly bad. On the other hand, if it’s a folkloric song and dance show, it should be pretty good. Russia is known as the land of the triangular-shaped instrument known as the balalaika, the well-known folk song “Kalinka” and Cossack sword dancing.

We have another new guide, who explains that the men and women performing for us are in the Russian military. She says they were given the choice to sing and dance or be sent to the Russian front (that would be the Ukraine). So I expect they will be singing and dancing their hearts out.

We caravan to the theater in three Oceania tour buses, the largest tour group I’ve seen to date. After we’re parked in a restricted area in the middle of an intersection, our guide says the bus will remain here and easy to find after the show: the theater is just down the street and right around the corner, less than 10 minutes away. And we must remember our bus number when returning: No. 1.

At the theater, we discover getting to the auditorium requires a bit of effort. Just inside the entrance door is a long ornate staircase leading to an open landing. From there, we must climb two more sets of lengthy stairways to reach the auditorium.  It’s quite a climb: 123 stairs in all according to someone’s count.

The large auditorium easily absorbs our three busloads, with hundreds of empty seats still left. As the first here, we sit wherever we want. (During the performance, a Royal Caribbean group quietly files into seats behind us.  We don’t realize they’re present until the intermission.)

Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St PetersburgMale soloist sings a Russian patriotic song

The show is better than most of us probably expected. We finally learn the performers are called the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St. Petersburg. The core performers are the male chorus and orchestra, whose roots trace back  to the first official Russian armed forces choir–the Red Army Choir– created early in World War II to help inspire the country’s morale. Although a dance ensemble was added to the choir, the chorus remains the essential component.

The Red Army Choir

The Red Army Choir has an impressive history. It was formed and led by the legendary Alexander Alexandrov, who during World War II also composed the official Russian national anthem . (Hear the Red Army Choir sing it,)

Today the Red Army Choir performs all over the world and is considered the world’s most famous military choir.  Within just the past month, the Red Army Choir had a viral video shown on most U.S. network news shows: see “Happy” featuring a dancing Russian traffic cop on the streets of Moscow.  In 1994, the choir appeared with the cult Finnish rock group Leningrad Cowboys at the 11th annual MTV Music Awards singing “Sweet Home Alabama.” They also stole the opening night of the 2014 Sochi Olympics singing Sex Bomb.

Although St. Petersburg’s Russian army song and dance ensemble may be the minor leagues compared to the Red Army Choir, they’re still very good. The choir’s powerful, patriotic songs, especially those by soloists, draw genuine applause, not polite clapping. Understandable since I think many Americans enjoy an honest display of patriotism since at home we keep ours hidden until something like 9/11.

Song and Dance Ensemble of the Russian Army, St PetersburgThe women dancers add considerable color and flair

The real entertainment comes from the men and women of the dance ensemble who perform a series of entertaining folk dances while dressed in the traditional costumes of different Russian nationalities. Several male dancers perform a series of amazing acrobatic dance feats. Most memorable is the Cossack Calvary dancer who crossed the stage in nine rapid dance splits, an achievement that still hurts to think about. The brightly costumed women were standouts in the traditional Russian dances that are much livelier and more amusing than their names: such as the  Soldier’s Dance and the  Sailor’s Dance, in which the women take the lead.

For me, the energetic song and dance ensemble performance is the most enjoyable part of our St. Petersburg visit. Best of all, Linda now understands why occasionally I like to listen to Russian songs even if I don’t understand a word . Not surprised to see she’s enjoying this as much as I am.

Russian Champagne Tasting

During the intermission, I make the trek to a lower floor to use the facilities. Few other passengers make the descent, unfortunate since a refreshment room was set up for us there.  To fortify myself for the trek back upstairs, I visit the refreshment room and a table with small glasses of Russian champagne. I’m curious to see if it tastes the way I remember it. Hmmm…first glass doesn’t hold enough to tell. I need another sip or two to decide. Hmmm…think Russian Champagne really has improved. Trying the champagne is an unexpectedly uplifting experience, as someone directs me to a hidden elevator to the auditorium.

After the show, outside the theater we find the human equivalent of breadcrumbs: tour guides spaced along on the sidewalk with their arms pointing to the left to lead us back to the buses. Each of the three buses has a number next to its entrance. We find bus No. 1 where we left it and settle in for the ride back.

Our guide pops through the door and asks, “Is anyone missing?”  How would anyone know?

“Are you sure you’re on the bus you came on?” she queries.  We’re all sure. She takes a passenger count. Darting off the bus, she announces, “Well, someone is missing!”

We wait as the other the other buses take census. Our guide climbs back on the bus, with a huge grin. “Can you believe it?” she says, laughing. “They’ve lost a tourist!”  She shakes her head in disbelief, wondering how this could happen.

Linda and I look at each other. Yeah, we believe “they” can lose a tourist. It’s eerily familiar. But tonight it’s not me! This time, they make a real effort to sort it all out. Our bus starts up and we head back to the Oceania Marina. Seems that tourist still is MIA but since it’s not anyone from our bus, not of our concern.

I suspect the missing person may have used the first floor restroom, took too long and the guides were no longer in place. Or perhaps he discovered the champagne room and lingered.

With three busloads of theater goers and some of us still believing a passenger went astray at night somewhere in St. Petersburg, I expect that at some time there will be an announcement of the person’s return. No need to give their name, of course. Have heard them on other cruise lines under similar circumstances . Possibly there is such an announcement that we don’t hear.

There are few announcements ever on the Oceania Marina, which I usually appreciate.  Still, the Marina seems an unusually silent, impersonal ship. That could be one of the reasons we’re feeling so little attachment to the Marina, the last thing we ever expected. We’ve  treasured Oceania for so many years.