In late afternoon on Tuesday, July 11, 1995 the Song of Flower
sailed out of Tallinn, Estonia and headed for Visby, Sweden. A few hours later
Tony Sher, cruise director, escorted Jerelyn White down the deck seven hallway
and into the ship's glass-enclosed observation lounge. Jerelyn was wearing a
white dress and a veil and carrying a bouquet of flowers. She was married to
Spencer Schantz by the ship's captain, Halvor Schia. The other guests, whom
the couple had known for just about a week, might have been lifelong friends.
There was scarcely a dry eye in the room as the captain performed the nuptials.
Tammy Heath, social hostess, read from the Bible and Andy Heath sang ballads
while accompanying himself on the guitar.
Said Schantz, CEO of U.S. Controls Corporation, "This was the real wedding.
(To satisfy the I.R.S. the couple was married again by a judge in suburban Milwaukee
where they live.) For second weddings you don't want a very large group, but you
do need the energy of witnesses. The ceremony met our spiritual objectives."
When a ship is small (172 is capacity), dining room seating is open and only one
or two buses take groups out on excursions, people get acquainted easily, fostering
a friendly atmosphere. Moreover, there was a sense that the staff worked overtime
to get to know every passenger and to see that their needs were satisfied.
People choose the Song of Flower for many reasons. Some like the no tipping policy,
which does not detract from the first-class service. For its size and age (it was
built in 1986), the ship has good facilities, such as an outdoor pool and hot tub,
golf-driving range, library, gym, sauna, casino and a restaurant on deck for breakfast
and lunch, along with the Galaxy Dining Room where all three meals are served.
Food is excellent and liquor and wine–California and French–are part of the all-inclusive
Also onboard is a Steiner hair and beauty salon, hairdresser by appointment
to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. There's dancing to a five-piece orchestra and a new show
each evening in the nightclub featuring dancers, singers, instrumentalists and comedians.
Rooms are not overly generous in size. The cabins in category C, the best non-suite
category, measure 200-square feet. Forty-five percent of the staterooms are twin-bedded,
consisting of a single bed and a couch that opens at night. They are stationary and
cannot be converted into a double bed. By the end of the year these cabins will be
refurbished. All staterooms will be set up so that they can be rearranged using a
configuration of two singles or a double bed.
Passengers to whom we spoke were pleased with the product. The shore excursions
got high marks and some people participated in one in each port. Charles A. Collat,
Chairman of the Board of Mayer Electric Supply Company, Birmingham, Alabama, and
his wife, Patsy, took many tours and were quite happy with them. Only a shopping
trip in St. Petersburg bombed and Trudy Mockford, the knowledgeable travel manager,
was quick to admit it. We felt that she did not push the ship's half- and full-day
tours and was helpful to those who wanted to explore on their own.
Great Cities of the Baltic began in Copenhagen, ended in Hamburg
and made eight stops in between. For passengers wishing to see the sights alone,
rather than signing up for the bus tours, here are some suggestions about how to
make the most of the time in port.
For an overview of the city go on the 50-minute double-decker bus ride, departing
hourly from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. in front of the Opera House, a 20-minute walk from
where the boat ties up. The bus travels along the highway that parallels Lake
Malaran and passes the fashionable diplomatic quarters. A Swedish- and English-speaking
guide points out important buildings, including the famous City Hall where
Noble Prize award dinners are held. A purchase of a combination ticket will add an
hour of sightseeing on the city's waterways.
Ferries depart frequently from the pier near the Grand Hotel to Djurgarden,
site of the Vasa Warship. Wrecked in 1628 and salvaged and restored after
333 years on the ocean floor, this intricately carved wooden vessel is the apex of
one of the city's best museums.
Save time for wandering around Gamla Stan, the Old Town, with its narrow
medieval streets, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Or take the one and one-half
hour Gamla Stan walkabout (11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) to discover the courtyards and
lanes that visitors sometimes miss.
Head into town, about a 10-minute walk from the dock. Along the way you pass Market
Square, a good place to stop, browse and shop. You can buy anything from a dried
salted fish to a fur hat. Harbor tours leave from the Market Square marina.
At the city tourist office, to the right of Esplanade Park next to Market
Square, pick up a self-guided walking tour. Start at the Esplanade and continue on,
passing Stockman, the country's largest department store. Visit the Senate
Square and nearby places of interest, such as the University, Lutheran
Cathedral and Town Hall.
Or take the 45-minute London Transport Round Helsinki sightseeing tour
leaving from Esplanade Park at 2 p.m. It goes through the center of town and down
to the waterfront where you see many interesting sights like the Masa Shipyards
and people washing rugs by hand and tending to their boats. You must pay with Finnish
money. If time permits, sit in an outdoor cafe near Stockman or stop at the Esplanade
and listen to the bandstand concert.
Song of Flower spent two days in St. Petersburg. Although this is not nearly enough
time to see all the major sights, if you plan in advance you can hit the highlights.
Passengers who take the tours are covered by the group visa. To see the city by yourself,
you must secure a visa in the United States. Some visitors are deterred from going
about alone because of the rise in crime. By exercising the same caution that you
would in any large city, you should have no difficulty. Russians are friendly and
eager to give directions to foreigners.
|Canal, St. Petersburg, Russia (credit: Edwin Fancher)
The Hermitage is, of course, St. Petersburg's premier attraction. Fortunately,
the wharf is close to it. The ship's tour permits visitors to enter one hour earlier
than the official opening. However, at that time the museum is crowded with other
groups, too. We suggest that you go on your own, allowing a half-day to see it.
Petrodvorets, the summer estate of Peter the Great, is another lavish St.
Petersburg landmark. Situated some 18 miles from the city on the Gulf of Finland,
it is a series of gilded palaces, fabulous gardens, playful fountains and monumental
cascades. The best way to reach Petrodvorets is by hydrofoil, which affords
a grand view of the main palace overlooking the sea. We went on a Sunday and particularly
enjoyed watching the groups of families on a weekend outing. In spite of the crowds,
we liked observing the Russians at play. The hydrofoil leaves from the pier in front
of the Hermitage Museum.
The Peter and Paul Fortress is on the other side of the Neva
River and is reached by trolley or on foot by crossing the Trinity
Bridge. Peter the Great built the spired main fortress in 1703 to 1704
to fend off a Swedish invasion. There are several other buildings on the grounds.
Recross the Neva and walk along the Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg's
boulevard and main shopping street. It stretches three miles long and is another
place to peoplewatch. Visit the Alexander Pushkin Apartment Museum where
the poet lived until his death in 1837 and which has been restored to its former
St. Issac's Cathedral, also popular with tourists, is easily accessible.
Crowned with a great gold dome, its interior is opulent and filled with icons, precious
stones and marble. For a panoramic view of the city, climb to the top.
The shore excursion desk planned a night performance at the Yusupov Palace.
It is highly recommended for it is not possible to make individual arrangements for
such an event. The palace was owned by one of the richest Russian families in the
18th and 19th centuries. The infamous Rapsputin was killed here. The tour included
a guided introduction to the palace's many ornate rooms and exquisite furnishings
and a champagne and caviar reception in the ballroom. The evening continued with
a performance in the family's private theater. Designed like an 18th-century opera
house, guests can chose to sit in the orchestra or balcony. A classical concert by
performers dressed in 18th-century garb included many selections from Mozart, the
composer for whom the group is
named. A buffet of classic Russian dishes and folk entertainment by local artists
followed on board.
Hermitage, 36 Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya. Tel. 311-3420. Open Tuesday to Sunday,
10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Monday. If you prefer a private guide, contact
St. Petersburg Travel Company, St. Issac's Square 11, St. Petersburg 190000. Fax
011-7-812-312-2558, tel. 315-5129.
Petrodvorets, Ul. Komintera. Tel. 427-9527. Great Palace open Tuesday to Sunday,
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Grounds stay open later. Closed on Monday and the first
Tuesday of each month, but open to foreign tours.
Peter and Paul Fortress, Trinity Square. Tel. 238-4540. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed
Wednesday and last Thursday of each month.
Pushkin Apartment Museum, 12 Nab. Reki Moika off Nevsky Prospect. Tel. 311-8001.
Open 10:40 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesday and last Friday of each month.
St. Issac's Cathedral, 1 Issakieveskaya Ploschad. Tel. 315-9732. Open 11 a.m. to
6 p.m. Closed Wednesday.
Shuttle buses operated from the pier to the center of town every half-hour.
Because Tallinn, Estonia's capital, has been
faithfully restored, the aura of the 14th and 15th centuries survives intact
in the jumble of medieval walls, turrets and winding cobbled hills that make
up the Old Town. The city is built on a hill and is essentially two parts,
the lower town and Toompea, the upper part. A one- and one-half hour
walking tour of the Old Town leaves from the Town Hall Square at 2 p.m. There
were only six of us in the group. We ascended the hill to look at the wonderful
views and the red-roofed towers, as well as to see Toompea Castle, now
housing the Parliament of Estonia. An informed guide told us some of the history
of Estonia and talked about a few of the important structures– the Cathedral,
Long Herman Watchtower, Peter the Great's cottage and the Town
Hall. Although the Old Town is small enough to walk about alone, we found
the tour worthwhile. Visit Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, Vene 24, on
your own as it is not covered on the tour.
We had an inexpensive lunch of regional food at the city's oldest restaurant,
Geslitall, The Donkey's Tail, Dunkri 4/6 near the main square.
Visby, the capital of Gotland, a Swedish
island is another enclosed medieval town where you enjoy yourself most by taking
a short introductory tour and then walking the streets and paths. A vacationer's
haven, Visby can be compared to New England's Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.
A mini-train meets every cruise ship and offers a 25-minute trip around
the wall. A short train ride is also available on the hour from Gotlands Turistservice,
|Visby, Denmark (credit: Edwin Fancher)
Stop at the main tourist office, 1 Donners Plats, and the receptionist will map
out a walking tour for you. The route takes you inside the wall past Almaden,
the old Hanseatic harbor, now a beautiful park and "Kruttornet,"
the powder tower. Then stroll through the Botanical Gardens and continue to
the crenelated western end of the wall, following the information signs that tell
about each spot. Stop at the St. Nicholas Church ruin and go on to Kyrkberget
to the Cathedral Sancta Maria. From the hill you can see most of the village.
Visit the big square, Stora Torget, where a variety of wares are sold in the
outdoor stalls, and Strandgatam, the old Hanseatic main street.
On selected days the tourist bureau operates bus and walking tours.
St. Nicholas Church, Vene 24
Gydnia, Gdansk and Sopot
form the Baltic's largest and best known tri-city. Song of Flower docked in
Gydnia within walking distance of the tourist office in the Orbis Hotel. Although
Gydnia is a pretty town in which to stroll, Gdansk, formerly Danzig and nearly
1000 years old, is the real jewel among the three metropolises. If you choose
to spend the day in Gydnia, go to the top of Stone Hill to take in the
lovely harbor. Have lunch on the terrace at the elegant Restaurant Major.
|Motlava Quay, Gdansk, Poland (credit: Edwin Fancher)
There are several ways to reach Gdansk. The cost of a half-hour taxi ride from
the wharf is negotiable. A catamaran leaves frequently from an adjacent berth
and stops at Sopot, a seaside resort; Westerplatte, where World War
II began in Poland; and Gdansk. You can also take the 40-minute commuter railroad
to Gdansk. Trains leave every 12 minutes.
To orient yourself in Gdansk board the mini-train sitting at the foot of
Dluga Street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare, just inside the wall at the
Golden Gate entrance. Hour-long rides are conducted in English and other languages
and depart when the cars fill up. Then wander along Dluga Street, stopping
at the 14th-century Town Hall, now an art museum, and the Church
of the Virgin Mary at the other end near the Green Gate and Motlava
Quay. Walk down the Quay for two blocks and you come upon Gdansk's most romantic
street, Mariacka, where the amber and silver shops are found. The quality is high,
the selection is vast and the prices are reasonable.
In summer in the Gdansk suburb of Oliwa organ concerts are held in the Holy Trinity
Church (Oliwa Cathedral.) Concerts are free and include selections from Bach.
In June they take place at 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 3 and 4 and in July and August
hourly from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pod Lososiem Restaurant, ul. Szeroka 52/3. Tel. 301 76 52. Gdansk was founded
in 1598 and was renovated 20 years ago to restore its 17th century look. It
has a costumed staff and is and the atmosphere is old world. Moderate.
The Grand Hotel at Sopot, Powstancow Warszawy, 12/14, 81-718 Sopot. Tel.
(48 58) 551 00 41. Seven miles from Gdansk, is situated on a wide, sandy beach.
You can lunch in the hotel's beautiful dining room, use the changing rooms and
the beach and walk on the boardwalk. Moderate.
Unless you rent a car by calling Avis or Hertz in advance, we advise taking
the shore excursion in Ronne, capital of the tiny Danish island,
Bornholm. Although the city with its crooked, cobbled streets and half-timbered,
one-story, painted houses is charming; the most interesting sights are out-of-town.
The boat's shuttle bus takes passengers to the Big Market, a pedestrian
mall, where the stores are geared to the locals. The welcome center, Ndr. Kystvej
3, is nearby.
|Osterlars Church, Bornholm, Denmark (credit: Edwin
Ronne is home to a working ceramics museum, Hjorths Fabrick, and the Bornholm
Museum, which focuses on the history of the island's clockmaking and displays
ships, costumes and toys. On the day we were in port a band from Copenhagen arrived
to give a rock concert.
The smoke house in Hasle, a 20-minute taxi ride from
Ronne, is well worth the trip. Outstanding smoked herring, the specialty, mackerel,
salmon and other fish and extraordinary Danish potato salad are featured here.
If you do venture out on your own, here is the best route around Bornholm: After
leaving Hasle, continue north to Hammershus where the magnificent ruins of
a 13th-century castle stand on a rocky coastal slope. Drive eastward and stop at
Sandvig-Allinge, a resort town, to browse in the local arts and crafts
stores. Follow the road in a southeasterly direction to Gudhjem, a picturesque
fishing village filled with steep, cobbled streets. A harbor feast, complete with
many vendors, takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in warm weather. Baltic
Sea Glass Blowing Factory, selling modern crystal and glassware, is also located
in Gudhjem. Bornholm is famous for its round churches. The largest one, Osterlars,
is built of stone and wood and has a tower providing a breathtaking vista of the
surrounding area. It is a few miles south of Gudhje.
Hjorths Fabric, Krystalgade 5
Bornholm Museum, Mortengade 29
Svendborg, situated on the southern part of the Danish island
of Funen is much like other Baltic villages in that it is filled with
half-timbered, thatched-roofed cottages lining cobblestone streets. Tourist
offices are near the pier and in the commercial area, close to City Hall.
If you remain in Svendborg visit the Toy Museum.
We stopped at the outdoor market and then sailed on an old wooden steamship,
M/S Helge, through the enchanting Funen archipelago to the island of Täsinge,
site of the magnificent baroque Valdemars Castle. After admiring its elaborate
rooms and grounds we travelled to Troense. The hamlet is reached by reboarding
the Helge, walking about 45 minutes or telephoning for a cab.
Odense, Denmark's third largest municipality, in the center of Funen, is
the focal point of most tours. Trains to Odense leave from the Svendborg station,
a five-minute walk from the wharf, at 27 minutes past the hour. The railroad passes
through the countryside's beautiful fields—this is the garden island—and villages.
The Odense station is is not far from the birthplace and childhood home of Hans Christian
Anderson and the museum of the same name.
Egeskov Castle, built in 1550 on a bed of oak piles rammed into a lake,
is another recommended attraction. It is about 10 miles north of Svendborg. To visit
both the castle and the Anderson Home and Museum, you must sign up for the
shore excursion or rent or a car.
Toy Museum, 1B Nicholas Gade, Svendborg
Hans Christian Anderson Home, 3-4 Munkemollestraede, Odense
Han Christian Anderson Musuem, 45 Jensen Straede, Odense
Svendborgsund Restaurant, Havnepladsen 5, 5700 Svendborg. Tel. 62 21 07
19. Inexpensive. www.restaurantsvendborgsund.dk
Hotel Troense, Strangade 5, Troense, Taasinge, DK-5700 Svendborg. Tel. +45
62 22 54 12. overlooks the bay and is a perfect spot for a superb lunch of openfaced
Danish sandwiches. Troense. Moderate. www.hoteltroense.dk
Song of Flower, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, 600 Corporate Drive, Suite 410,
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334. Tel. 877-505-5370. www.rssc.com/home.jsp