I hired a guide for old town Stockholm. Jenny knew a great many things about Stockholm and it’s history. But the tour was just not that great. Number one problem, her cell phone. Tip: If you are giving a tour to people who have paid you very well, pay attention to them, not your phone.
First stop on the ship was Helsinki, Finland. Our guide was not outspoken, but did relate her feelings about Russia and Putin’s aggressive stance. She told us that 900,000 Finnish reservists were sent letters telling them to be prepared to be called to service. Considering their past with Russia, it is easy to understand their concern.
Then on to St. Petersburg. My Aunt Mari gave me the name of her St. Petersburg tour guide. When I contacted her, she was booked but referred me to a travel agency she works with. Long story short, I booked a two day tour with Natalia and a driver for Mike and I. What a wonderful experience. We visited the expected places, The Hermitage, Peterhof, Catherine’s Palace, St. Isaac’s Church and The Church of the Spilled Blood. All of those visits were great.
But the best part was the ongoing conversation between Natalia, Mike and I. We talked politics, Putin, Stalin, history, social programs and so much more. Natalia was quite open and willing to share her opinions. She likes Putin. Her 25 year old son doesn’t always agree with her. A good number of her adult years were difficult ones in Russia. She sees Putin as one who has helped to stabilize the country. She is now comfortable, so it is easy to see why she likes the economic changes. She is also very nationalistic. Losing the countries that used to be part of the former Soviet Union has clearly been difficult for many Russians. She feels that the Ukraine IS Russia. In any case, we didn’t always agree, but we agreed that none of us hear the whole story from our news reports or governments.
And then, from Russia to Tallinn, Estonia. Our feisty little guide had quite a bit to say about the Russians and Estonia’s independence. We stood on the town square and she told about watching the Estonian flag being raised after Estonia gained its independence. The guide and her mother watched with tears in their eyes. As our guide related her experience she was quite choked up.
In Gdansk, we again had a very patriotic guide that became very emotional about Poland’s change from a communist to a democratic country. Lech Walesa is a hero to her. We rode by the shipyards where he worked. She, too, had a lot to say about Russia and her concern was apparent.
We skipped the three hour ride to Berlin and went to Warnemunde and Schwerin Castle with Tours With Dave. Ha, sounds funny, but we had quite a nice time. It was a relaxed tour. Dave was sick so we had Christian as a tour guide. It was a very relaxed tour. Even so, politics again was the topic of discussion. East/West Germany, Communism, concentration camps….
In the Maritime Museum in Stavanger, Norway we talked politics with a young Norwegian woman, probably about 25 years old. She knew more about United States history than many Americans. We were talking about a woman finally making it on a US bill and she knew all the women, including Wilma Mankiller. The scenery and the architecture have been amazing, but equally wonderful have been all the discussions we have had with the people we have met.