Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Claudia Moore of Springfield, Va.
Where, when, why: This fall, I took Vantage’s Imperial Russian Waterways: Moscow and St. Petersburg cruise. I included the six-day pre-extension to the three Baltic capitals — Vilnius, Lithuania; Riga, Latvia; and Tallinn, Estonia. I love cruising and wanted to see all these destinations.
Highlight and high points: We watched diplomacy in action as the Baltic guides honestly discussed their countries’ past domination by the Soviet Union in front of our Russian tour leader. These countries were devastated by both the Nazi Holocaust and Soviet oppression. Those horrible years led to the astonishing feat of 1989: the 2 million people who formed a human “Chain of Freedom” for 370 miles from Vilnius to Tallinn, signifying that the Baltic peoples wanted their freedom. It ultimately led to their independence.
Cultural connection or disconnect: Vantage makes every effort to help its clients understand local culture, both formally and on a person-to-person basis, and we had many such opportunities. Visiting local grocery stores showed us day-to-day life. Formal culture came in the art galleries, seeing the ballet “Swan Lake” and enjoying a fantastic evening of Russian folk dance and music. Our guides arranged for us to visit two Russian homes where neither the hosts nor the hostesses spoke much English, but we understood some of the details of their lives. Friendship doesn’t require language. In the tiny Russian town of Goritsy, we toured the community center and the adjacent local school, with about 150 students in 11 grades. It’s small and in an old building, but three-fourths of their graduates last year went on to further education. Some of the tots sang for us.
Biggest laugh or cry: My biggest smile came upon seeing and hearing about the Cat House of Riga. As legend has it, the owner had statues of two cats, with arched backs and raised tails, placed on top of his house to tell the merchant guild across the street exactly what he thought about its refusal to admit him to its membership. Although the statues have now been turned around to face the guild, they have been on that roof for more than a hundred years.
How unexpected: Almost like life in Washington — the traffic, but in St. Petersburg and Moscow, it’s worse. It felt like Washington at 5:30 p.m. on a snowy day. Thank heaven, we stayed in hotels near the major sights.
Just like life in Washington — being stuck in traffic waiting for a dignitary to pass. In this case, we had to wait for Putin’s helicopter to leave Red Square after the Olympic flame went by.
Fondest memento or memory: Churches in Russia are alive and slowly growing. We saw many, mostly Russian Orthodox, but there are others. The Russian government is donating billions of dollars annually to rebuild churches that were destroyed in the Soviet era. And yes, the churches really have that many domes and they really are that colorful.
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