A surprise voyage back to the Nordic continent was truly refreshing and exciting. After the sweltering sultry tropical months, it was worth the long flight to a cooler, invigorating climate. The temperature levels ranged from 120°C on cool clear nights to 260°C with glorious sunny days.
A few years ago, a similar voyage had been cloudy, rainy and cold during the same month. There were only a few days of sunshine. One could not go to some of old towns because of the heavy rains.
Occasionally, the sun would peek through the clouds and the landscape would light up like an enchanted tableau.
It was almost surreal, returning to the same places but being able to see the other cities and experience them — this time in perfect summer weather.
Each city has maintained her distinct characteristics — language, cuisine, people, and zoning. But there are ongoing construction and restoration work in some areas. The medieval towns have remained frozen in time bubble — well-preserved and protected.
In Copenhagen, the royal botanical gardens, parks, and sidewalks were abloom with thousands of flowers, trees and shrubs. The mermaid on the rock is always the star attraction. The Tivoli gardens at night are enchanting. The rock and rap concert drew thousands of young, gorgeous blonde fans. The Danish Royal Ballet performs there in autumn.
Bicycles were used everywhere. Some bikers had rolling prams that could carry four toddlers. The cars, buses, and taxis were strictly limited and regulated. It felt safe to walk and to breathe clean air. However, the difference was the presence of some wandering, disheveled gypsies poking through the bins.
An important destination was historic Berlin with the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the monuments and museums. Finally, there was the long-awaited visit to the Brandenburg gate and the famous wall that divided the city and families. There is a section where well known artists have painted on the eastern side surface. It is street art at its finest. This city is special because of the gracious hospitality of Berliner friends.
The picturesque Tallinn is a Heritage site. Its cobbled stone streets and pastel colored buildings have colorful and unique doors, window ledges that hold red blooms. The cobalt blue sky has streaks of white and silver — airplanes that crisscross above. The quiet tranquility clears the mind.
Finally, one sees the fabled city of St. Petersburg, the cultural center and home of the tsars on the Baltic. This encore trip was truly serendipitous.
One has the chance to retrace the steps to magnificent palaces and see the mirrored ballrooms with chandeliers, the amber wall panels, the fragile porcelain collections and delicate furniture, paintings, tapestries, antique desks and clocks.
The best architects designed the structured, symmetrical French gardens reminiscent of Versailles. The spectacular fountains have golden sculptures. The water flows from the mountains and these are run by gravity, just like the Roman fountains.
The ancient forest is filled towering pine trees, evergreens. There were brilliant tulips, roses, irises and flowers and birds. In summer, the tsars lived in the small royal villas overlooking the Baltic.
The rival of the Louvre in Paris is the Hermitage. It is probably the largest museum in the world. The five interconnecting palaces contain hundreds of thousands of artworks. If one could spend a minute admiring each painting and sculpture, it would take about seven years to accomplish. Only a small fraction of the collections can be displayed.
A new blitzkrieg 5-hour tour of the masterpieces of the Renaissance and the Impressionists, the Fauvists, Cubists was even more impressive. The Impressionists are housed in a separate palace with modern lighting and walkways. Catherine the Great (originally a German princess married to the ill-fated Peter II) had started the vast collection centuries ago. One can only have a quick glimpse of the cultural treasures that go back to ancient Egypt.
The Orthodox basilicas with golden domes and intricate mosaic artworks. The exquisite painted icons of gold on wood, the ornate altars, golden chalices and delicate stained-glass windows are indescribably stunning.
It was awesome to watch Swan Lake by the Kirov Ballet. A live orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s music. The experience was breathtaking. Odette/Odile and the Prince were outstanding graceful performers. The corps du ballet fluttered their arms like swan wings. They danced with near perfect precision and discipline. The former minimalist set of shimmering shades of blue has been updated to a more elaborate backdrop with a video for special effects. There are no superstars. All the lead and alternate lead dancers were excellent. There were three new dancers from Asia who blended well in the ensemble.
At midnight, the sun sets, and the blue sky turns to silver indigo. In June, the legendary “white nights” grow longer. It is a prolonged twilight. Then the sun rises at four o’clock. People are happy because they rarely have sunlight during the winter months.
The skies were ablaze with fireworks to celebrate the 315th birthday of St. Petersburg founded by Peter the Great. The city is called the “Venice of the North” because of its numerous islands and drawbridges. There are motorized boats that take people around. One has a different perspective seeing the city architecture from the water.
It takes time for the mind to store and digest all the overwhelming images. Soon the imagination will transform the magical moments — fiery sunsets, seascapes and skies — into new dreamscapes.
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.