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One Woman's Opinion

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Baltic Sea Passage, Part 6

Urbanna, Va.—With newly-discovered sunny Baltic Sea weather to lead the way, we headed south to the island of Visby, once home to the mighty Vikings.  Known for their exceptional courage crossing the seas in tiny boats, the Vikings sailed to far away places in the North Atlantic, up and down the coastline of Europe, and even to the Mediterranean Sea. They raided and pillaged wherever they went.

Visby is a fascinating port to explore because it has existing 11th-century fortification still in tact, with its medieval town still surrounded by the original stone wall. It boasts a history of maritime trade going back to the Bronze Age.

We walked through a botanical garden in the center of town that was in full bloom. The flowers were spectacular probably because of cold summers. Especially the English rose garden was of note with every specimen abloom. A Roman Catholic cathedral stood in ruins, of the order of Tintern Abby in Wales, and it told  of the Protestant Reformation when Catholic lands were seized and Lutheran churches replaced them.

The late Dr. Brockett Muir
It was a surprise to see an Anglican cathedral, St. Mary’s, in the heart of town. Two little grey-haired English ladies greeted us cheerfully at the door as they are so apt to do. We lit a candle for Dr. Brockett Muir of Saluda, who had just passed away and gave thanks for his life of caring for others, and the Anglican Communion around the world that offered such welcome so far away from home.

That night was the Black and White Ball on board the ship. We joined our neighbors, Jim and Jewel Ray from Urbanna, and three other couples from Richmond in the Crow’s Nest on top deck for a special Virginia toast. The passengers were made up of Americans, Australians and Europeans, and the mix was extraordinarily congenial.

Warnemunde, Germany, with its marvelous stretch of sandy beaches (where female swimmers did not necessarily think that the top part of a two-piece bathing suit was a necessary part) was our next port of call. Jewel and Jim Ray headed for a day in Berlin while we took a tour to neighboring Rostock. Both cities had once been part of East Germany, and our guide told us they were still economically behind the west.

She kept mentioning the terrible bombing in the city during WWII. “Have you seen what the Nazis did to Catherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg?” I finally asked. No, she had not. She had never traveled anywhere. It is probably hard for some of the German youth to understand why their homeland was so badly bombed by the Allies.

She also totally ignored a large photograph exhibit in a cathedral that we visited. “Who are those people? I asked. “Oh, just people who were lost in the war,” she answered.  My husband, who had studied German, read that the photos were of local Jews who had been murdered by the Nazis.

 The highlight of the day was a river trip on the Warnow River back from Rostock to the “Prinsendam” waiting majestically at dock. It was fun sitting on the top deck with the sunshine pouring onto our neck and shoulders and sampling the local German beer.

“Beautiful, beautiful Copenhagen” was next. It is too beautiful. We took a pleasant walking tour along the harbor enjoying the many exquisite bronze statues including the famous “Little Mermaid” that was perched on a rock overlooking the harbor. Next to the park was a military fort that was still in use where Hitler had stayed for two months when German troops had captured the city. The courageous Danish people are world famous for their magnificent effort sneaking out Danish Jews to Sweden in an effort to save them from certain death.

Next to the fort was another Anglican Church. More English ladies to greet us at the front door. “We are the only Anglican Church in Denmark,” one said proudly. “We were commissioned in 1875 and all the royalty of Europe showed up for the big event.” The cathedral is home to many in the city who claim English roots.

Two monumental things happened in the Anglican Church. My husband Chip and I lit a candle and gave thanks for our 45th wedding anniversary, and we finally found what every tourist is looking for all over this world—a restroom.

Oslo, Norway, was the next port, home of the Nobel Peace Institute, which stood in the center of town. We toured the old fortress with its commanding view of the harbor, the home of the Resistance Museum. The Norwegians put up massive efforts resisting Nazis. They battled so hard that Hitler had to send 400,000 German troops to get these rugged people under control.

I learned at the Resistance Museum of the day in 1940 that the Nazis had come in a multitude of simultaneous strikes in a surprise attack of Norway. In Oslo, however, defenders were able to sink the lead German ship as it entered the narrow entrance channel. This temporarily stopped up the channel giving the King, Queen and Exchequer time to escape to England with all the gold of Norway. Thus, brave Norway never conceded defeat to the Germans.

For our return to Amsterdam, the sun was out but winds picked up to gale force at 30 knots. The “Prinsendam” churned right through the rough seas. It was an exhilarating 36-hour passage through the Baltic Sea with the wind whistling day and night. In all, we steamed 3,000 miles on top of a 2,000 mile air flight, a tremendous adventure that I highly recommend. But take your umbrella.

My last thoughts on my Baltic Sea Passage centered on the last email that I received from my muse and mentor, the late Dr. Brockett Muir. “Dear Mary,” he wrote. “Write, dammit, write. You’re in the big leagues now.”

I never knew what Brockett meant by “big leagues.” He died before I could ask him.   Thank you, Old Dear, for your last words; your constant encouragement of my work, even to the end. Conclusion ©2008.

posted 10.15.2008

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