Summer’s Wonderful Baltic Cruise has History Lesson

My wife and I, along with 3 other couples, all dear friends, cruised the Baltic Sea this past July. We had 12 days of ideal weather and enjoyed all the ship’s amenities (Celebrity Cruise lines – highly recommended). Our ports were Amsterdam, Rostock, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Talinn, and Copenhagen. All were beautiful and really opened my eyes to much of the culture and history of northern Europe. However, what most struck me was the role royalty/nobility played in the history of the region, and of all of Europe and much of the rest of the world. Our nation was founded on the desire/need to escape the bonds that royalty/nobility held over a population. We teach that, but I often wonder how much we really understood it. I could now go back to my classes having a much greater and more genuine understanding of how the colonists were moved to rebel against the crown.


Most striking in all of our stops was St. Petersburg. First, Peter the Great’s Window to the West was one of, if the not the first, planned city. It shows in its streets and beautiful canals. The city was obviously a step up from other cities in Russia and in much of Europe. The Hermitage and the many accompanying buildings were simply incredible. On our second day in St. Petersburg, we visited the Summer Palace and then the Peterhof Gardens. These were beyond description in their beauty, in the immensity, and in there engineering. But what struck me most was that these were constructed on the backs of the common population, the serfs who paid for every brick and every hour with their labor, their taxes, their lives. Royalty truly saw the people as simply a vehicle for their own pleasure, their own purposes. And this is a lesson that I often did not genuinely understand in my own teaching.


I always taught my students that “History happened to people” and that we need to understand that they ached, they were emotional, they got sick, they got silly, they got drunk, they got angry, they got…all of the human pieces and traits that we have – they have been present throughout all history. With that realization, the beauty of the palace and the gardens and the city took on a new and different sense of wonder for me. Rather than simply being blown away by the beauty and engineering of the places we visited, I was also blown away by the human costs. It made our own War for Independence all the more powerful for me.


History lessons aside, the cruise was fantastic. Cruises always have great facilities on board, great food, and great entertainment. We enjoyed every bit of all of that. Looking for something to do next summer, and something that also may help you come back to class with a bit more insight and energy? I highly recommend this cruise (and many others!)

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