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The Baltic Countries: A Trip to Remember

MY THOUGHTS - Before I start this week’s column, I want to say a few words about my late departed friend CW Publisher, Ken Draper. 

He had been ailing for some time but was as feisty as ever when last we spoke.  I had planned a vacation trip to the Baltic Countries, and he told me that it would be interesting for CW readers to get my opinions…not on the biggest Church or the most picturesque streets, but impressions of the people since I was so close to Russia and to “stay safe.”  I didn’t realize how close to Russia we were but wished him well and asked him nicely not to die while I was gone. 

As usual he didn’t listen to me and the very Monday, I was winging my way across the sea, he passed away.  I know I included a comment in the great article Jim Hampton CW Editor wrote about him, but from my personal point of view, Ken Draper was an unsung hero and to me personally… a critic, cheerleader, colleague, friend and on occasion a pain in the neck.  After my absence from CW during the pandemic (when I had nothing to say) he made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.  I could write a column every other week and would not be censored by management (him).  The proviso would be “my thoughts”, and as my family, friends, and many of you are aware… I have many thoughts and opinions. 

He gave me a new lease on life.  Aside from walking my dog there was reason to get out of bed in the morning, but my news antenna, which I thought was dead and buried, resurrected itself.   For that I will be forever grateful.  The icing on the cake was your positive reaction to my return. 

So…this will not be a travelogue although it will include some highlights. 

The first question I’m sure you are asking is 1) why the Baltic countries and 2) what are the Baltic countries?  I caught Covid Delta in Amsterdam last year and was quarantined in the lovely Hotel Pulitzer for ten days, and some may have thought I was a glutton for punishment.  This time I made it home with nary a sniffle. 

Like many of you who have more years behind them as there are in front of them, traveling (the act of getting from home to other places) is not easy.  I was fortunate to have my luggage arrive at the same time, no cancellations and return home intact. 

Gone are the days when I used to zip around the world for a long weekend, an invitation to a celebration, an exposition, conference or trade show.  Now when I can, I prefer to travel by ship.  I hate packing!  I hate having to be at the airport three hours ahead of time.  I hate unpacking.  If I sound like a crotchety old lady… I am. 

I had visited the Scandinavian countries previously, but the countries, which were part of the Soviet Union until 1991, were intriguing.  

Embarking in Copenhagen, each day, except for Sweden where we stopped at two different Islands, we visited a different port City in Latvia, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Brussels and ended in the UK.  I think St. Petersburg was originally on the tour but cancelled for obvious reasons.  Different languages and alphabets, different governments but most had a Prime Minister and a ceremonial President.  Many were headed by women with a good gender balance in country legislators and county or state offices.  What they all had in common, except for Poland, was no litter, no graffiti, and no homeless pockets.  The cleanliness, the number of green areas with trees and flowers for their citizens to enjoy, was remarkable. 

All the Cities flew Ukrainian flags.  All had accepted thousands of immigrants and in Gdansk there was a large collection area for clothes and other household goods for the immigrants.  Along with cobblestone streets, sixteenth century architecture and even older churches were the remains of Soviet control.  Huge, ugly concrete apartments with small windows were recognizable as Soviet Architecture.  The “old cities” were original or refurbished and at the same time gleaming skyscrapers and interesting architecture were everywhere. 

There was lots of visual support for the Ukrainian efforts, but one could tell they were fearful the same thing could happen to them.  The ones that belong to NATO…less so. There was self-interest along with altruism.  All the Baltic countries had been invaded by Russia, Germany, Denmark and the Norseman.  Each had belonged to other countries. They had been known as Prussia, Soviet Union, part of Germany etc.  From what I could surmise 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union was the first time these countries could claim a language and an identity. They wanted to keep it. 

I asked some hard questions because, several of the countries had contributed to the horror of the Holocaust.  I had mixed feelings about my visit to Poland.  My maternal Grandmother and her family had immigrated from Poland to the UK in the latter 1800’s.  I wondered if I would have any feeling of familiarity, of wanting to explore more of my heritage.  I didn’t!  The people were friendly everywhere and people we engaged with were very glad Donald Trump was no longer U.S. President.  I think that my feelings of resentment because of the Holocaust wiping out my family, may have had something to do with my attitude. 

There is one area that I would like to share because it really made an impression.  Everyone was so damn nice and particularly helpful.  Maybe it was a highlight because of the atmosphere in this country is so gross.  People are horrible to each other, especially if you have a different political, religious or social point of view.  I would have liked to bottle the spirit of the passengers and staff on the Ship Regent Voyager, I don’t usually do commercials and I didn’t get a discount to say nice things.  When so many companies really don’t care about their customers it’s nice to compliment.   This was an all- inclusive trip. Everything was covered including tips.  One would think this would lessen the motivation for service on the part of the staff.  It was the opposite.  Nothing was too much trouble, and you never heard the word “NO”. 

This was a financial themed cruise.  Both Forbes Magazine, and the Oxford Club sponsored tours.  The ship was half full so probably 35% of the passengers were interested in where the economy and stock market were headed (ouch).  Subjects like future industries and monetary subjects were very popular.  We had two all day seminars with expert speakers and they were well attended.  What a great way to learn.  In our group there were several international Club members and Americans from Washington State to Clear Water Tennessee.  There were Conservatives and liberals and middle of the roaders.  Everyone was friendly and interested in learning about each other.  I spent some time with a real live Texan who referred to me as his sparring partner. 

Most of us, regardless of our political affiliation, want the same things out of life.  Clean air and drinkable water are not political, its human.  We want our children and grandchildren to grow up healthy and able to make their way in the world.  Sure, that Soccer trophy or Dean’s list designation is great but it's not the only thing for a full life.   Surely, there must be a lot of climate change believers after the summer we have had.   We may differ on the various ways of achieving these desires, but it is never a reason to try and obliterate the opposition.  

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist and a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected])