Baltic Adventure Baltic Adventure, 2014

Marguerite's Baltic Adventure, August 2014

From August 16 through September 3, 2014, Marguerite went on an Overseas Adventure Travel trip to Eastern Europe. There were twelve travelers including Marguerite's Vanderbilt friend, Gretchen Turner (this trip marked 50 years that they have been traveling together!), three other Atlanta friends, Renee Walter (the mother of Rob Walter, Gar's friend since they were 12) and a travel buddy from Denver. We were also joined by 5 people we didn't know beforehand but got to know well during the trip. We visited 4 countries, traveled about 1000 miles by bus, averaged about 7000 steps per day on walking tours, and had a marvelous time!

Please note that this website represents just a sample of the things we did and saw during the trip. Marguerite took 580 photos during the 19 days she was traveling, so these few are only a "smattering" of the highlights of the trip. The map below illustrates our trip.


Veronica Thighe (AKA Queen Victoria) from Denver by way of England, Marguerite, Renee Walter, and Gretchen Turner at the welcome dinner.

We began our trip in Vilnius, Lithuania after about a 20 hour trip to get there. The next day we participated in OAT's "A Day in the Life" experience at Darguziai village. The group had lunch with two Lithuanian families in their homes. The lady hosting Marguerite's group had lived through "Soviet times" (1940-1991) when Lithuania was under Soviet rule and she was very happy to now live in a free country. She and her family had a small farm and raised vegetables and livestock. During Soviet times their farm was nationalized and was part of a collective farm.

Next we went to a cheese house where we learned about making cheese (and sampled some!) and ended the day at a local restaurant where we ate potato dumplings (they were very sticky, heavy, and we did not like them at all!!)

The next day we visited Trakai, considered the de facto medieval Lithuanian capital. After a short boat ride to visit the Trakai Castle, we had a bit of time to shop! Marguerite bought felted wool hats for herself and her sister, Betsy. We then went to a small restaurant where we learned about making traditional Karaite pastry specialties.

KGB Museum and Memorials

One of the most moving parts of the trip was a visit to the Museum of Genocide Victims, commonly called the KGB museum because it occupies the former KGB headquarters. For much of the 20th century Vilnius was under brutal, communist Soviet occupation, both before and after a 3-year Nazi occupation during World War II. The museum serves as a memorial to the victims of the atrocities that took place, including the prison where KGB held dissidents and freedom fighters.

Later we visited an elderly woman whose family had been sent to Siberia during WWII. We heard about the horrible conditions and were amazed that she survived. Much of her story is told in a book called "Between Shades of Grey" that most of the travelers had read in preparation for the trip. There was also interesting artwork. She showed us one of the train cars where over 60 people were transported to Siberia and an example of a Yurt people built there to survive. This was an extremely moving and sad experience. The blonde woman in several photos is our Tour Leader, Aida Cepiene, from Lithuania.

Klaipeda: Amber, Hill of Witches, Hill of Crosses

Klaipeda is the gateway to a coastal stretch known as the Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a brief ferry ride to the Nida Peninsula we spent a few minutes hunting for amber (known as Baltic gold) that washes up on the beach. Then we hiked to the "Hill of Witches", a forested path through the dunes filled with more than 80 unique wooden sculptures based on Lithuanian folk legends.

On our way to Latvia via bus, we visited the Hill of Crosses, a grassy double hillock blanked by several thousand crosses. The tradition of planting crosses may have begun in the 14th century, and the area has long served as a place of peaceful resistance for Lithuanian Catholics. Despite several Soviet attempts to bulldoze the hill, determined locals would quickly rebuild the cherished place of pilgrimage.


Riga is the capital of Latvia. Riga experienced radical change under occupation by the Soviets and Nazis (1940-1991) who attempted to "cut the head off" the thriving city with a prominent upper class. During Soviet times, being rich was considered a crime and all property was taken away from people by the Soviet regime. Riga survived the occupation and in the last 25 years has returned to a thriving, prosperous city.

Enroute to Riga we visited Rundale Palace built in the 1730's. It is a large Baroque residence with lovely gardens that is now a museum.

We also visited a local market in Riga with absolutely gorgeous produce and fish, and visited the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia -- 1940-1991. Later in the day we visited an Art Nouveau Museum that had been the home of a prosperous family. During Soviet times over 20 people from 6 different families occupied the first floor. We then visited the Salaspils concentration camp memorial where over 25,000 people were killed during a 3-day period in WW II.

En route to Tallin, Estonia, we visited the Guaja National Park where there are ruins of a 13th century castle built by the Knights of the Sword. Marguerite did a little shopping with a woman and her three children whose father makes jewelry.


Estonia's capital and largest city, Tallin, sits on the Bay of Finland, directly across from Helsinki. There are both Scandinavian and Russian influences in Estonia. Estonia is considered one of the most "internet savvy" cities in the world. Skype was invented in Estonia. Tallin is also a cruise ship terminal. We were pleased that there were not many cruise ships in port while we were there as the "cruise ship tourists" seriously overcrowd the streets, restaurants, and shops! There are also beautiful buildings, churches, and many cobblestone streets.

Tallin was the site of Estonia's "Singing Revolution" -- a series of protests in the late 1980s where thousands gathered and sang for independence from the Soviet Union. After four years of singing and other acts of protest, Estonia achieved something remarkable -- independence from the Soviets through a relatively bloodless revolution. They also participated in the "Human Chain" -- in 1989 between one and two million people lined up and held hands over 650+ kilometers beginning in Tallin, going through Riga, and ending in Vilnius. This human chain is another example of the strong national pride and efforts toward freedom for the Baltic people. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the "Human Chain" peaceful protest. Every 5 years they also hold the Tallin Song Festival in a large stadium. Thousands of participants sing together to celebrate freedom and independence.

Saint Petersburg, Russia

After a long bus ride, we arrived in Saint Petersburg, Russia. We checked into our hotel and settled in for three days in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Marguerite had been to Saint Petersburg with George in 1996 on their first cruise together. The cruise included a visit to the Hermitage and a bus tour to see the dachas (small garden plots) and city, but did not provide for the in-depth visit we experienced this time.

Saint Petersburg was built at the mouth of the Riva Neva early in the 18th century by Peter the Great. It was also designated the capitol of Russia at that time. Saint Petersburg's name was changed to Leningrad during Soviet times. Before the monarchy was overthrown in the Russian revolution, beginning in 1917, the tsars and tsarinas of the empire lived the high life in St Petersburg. The Hermitage was the winter palace; Catherine's Palace was the summer palace. They built colorful, opulent palaces, inspired arts and architecture throughout the city, and created a virtual soap opera of betrayal, Faberge egg collections, and tidily handled peasant rebellions (quoted from the OAT Itinerary book). Saint Petersburg is called the Venice of the North and includes many islands, canals, and bridges.

The first morning in Saint Petersburg we visited the Peter and Paul fortress constructed in 1703. Part of the fortress is a large cathedral with a lovely spire and Baroque interior. This is the final resting place of most of the Russian tsars including the last Romanov family -- Nicholas II, Alexandra, and their 5 children who were murdered in 1918.

The Hermitage and the Siege of Leningrad

The afternoon was spent at the Hermitage. There is more gold leaf in this museum than in many national treasuries! It is easy to see how the peasants could view this opulence and support a revolution! The Hermitage was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and is now one of the world's largest and oldest museums, boasting a massive fine art collection. During WWII the treasures of the museum were stored in the basement and many people who worked in the Museum also stayed in the basement during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad. Stories of some of these people are included in a book, "The Madonnas of Leningrad" that was read by most of the travelers. The Siege resulted in the deaths of over 1.5 million people, mostly due to starvation, and the evacuation of over 1.4 million people, mostly women and children, many of whom were sent to Siberia or concentration camps.

Russian Folk Show and Saint Isaac's Cathedral

After the visit to the Palace, many of us attended a Russian Folk Show. It was quite interesting with singing and dancing by a variety of people dressed in local costumes. We also visited Saint Isaac's Cathedral, one of the landmarks of Saint Petersburg. We also went by a large statue of Peter the Great that was erected by Catherine the Great.

Catherine's Palace

The afternoon was spent at Catherine's Palace, the summer palace for the Russian royalty. The palace was built in the early 1700s by Catherine I (wife of Peter the Great) and added to by their daughter, Elizabeth. This grand palace was modeled after Versailles in Paris and also contains so much gold it makes your eyes hurt!! We also saw the legendary Amber Room -- a re-creation of the original Amber Room that was destroyed during WWII.

Farewell Dinner

The group celebrated the completion of the trip at a lovely local restaurant. Martha, Cheryl, and Karen left us the next morning, but the remaining 9 travelers and Aida, our Trip Leader, continued on by plane to Moscow.

Front row: Gail Riba, Aida Cepiene (Trip Leader), Veronica Thighe; Second row: John Doellinger, Karen Byrne, Gretchen Turner, Jane MacGtregor, Renee Walter; Third Row: Marguerite Dill, Al Bennet, Jayne Bennet, Cheryl Parlato, Martha Sheperd

Moscow, Russia

We arrived in Moscow mid-morning and checked into our hotel. The hotel is state-owned and a very nice property, although not fancy! On a brief walk, we found a McDonald's and other interesting shops. We then embarked on a city tour of Lubyanskaya Square, the Kremlin Embankment, and the Red Square. A large celebration was going on in Red Square so we were not able to visit Lenin's tomb . We had an ice cream at a huge shopping center, complete with a watermelon fountain! In the evening many of us attended the Moscow Circus. It included outstanding performances by aerialists, clowns, jugglers, acrobats, and truly celebrated this Russian tradition.

September 1: Marguerite's 71st Birthday Celebration in Moscow

The group gave Marguerite lovely cards and best wishes for her Birthday and the hotel provided a bottle of wine and fruit! It was a lovely birthday and included lots of interesting sights and experiences.

The city tour included a visit at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, one of the world's largest Russian Orthodox churches. They were having a military celebration there. Next we stopped at an old cemetery that included graves of many famous Russians as well as Soviet military leaders.

The Kremlin

The Kremlin is a historic fortified complex in the heart of Moscow with Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square to the east. It includes several palaces, many churches, and the Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. It previously was used for the government of the Soviet Union (USSR: 1922-1991).

The Kremlin Armory includes some of Imperial Russia's finest treasures. The former arsenal of the tsars from the 16th to early 20th centuries, the Armory was later turned into an exhibit hall for the public. It includes coronation regalia, ceremonial weaponry, and the world's largest collection of Imperial Faberge eggs. There were about 40 of these eggs produced and this museum has 10 of them. At the end of the trip we went to the top of a hill for a panoramic view of Moscow.

The trip concluded with another farewell dinner and very early flights home. Marguerite and Renee left at 2:30 am to get to the Moscow Airport for a 5:45 flight to Vienna. Marguerite then continued on to Newark and San Diego; Renee went to Dulles and Phoenix. The trip was a wonderful experience and we learned a great deal about Eastern Europe.

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