In the summer of 1970 I went on a school cruise to the Baltic region encompassing Denmark, USSR, Finland and Sweden-I always wanted to visit Norway, but never got there.
On our visit to Copenhagen we were taken into the beautiful Tivoli Gardens and I had my first taste of Danish ice cream; the ice cream was larger than the cone supporting it. Another thing which struck me was the vast amount of tobacco shops, to a small schoolboy it appeared every other shop sold either pipes or tobacco products.
Next stop was Leningrad and this stop left the biggest impression on me and to this day the vision haunts me, every time I hear somebody from the UK or anywhere wish they were a Communist- I worked with one such person in Bristol Museum. He had a steady well paid job and two cars, and yet claimed to be a Communist supporter-OH YES!-and I was born in Lancashire.
When we got off the boat, we were greeted by Russian school children who gave us bars of chocolate for tin badges which were so cheap we were told to give as many out as possible. Here we were been offered chocolate,which was a luxury item back in 1970 for a tin badge which any 10th grade student can make in art with a basic metal press for $0.20c.
One of our stops was the Kirov ballet house http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariinsky_Theatre
As I stood outside, awe-struck by the majesty of the building and the vast money it must have taken to fund it, I couldn't help remembering the poor children at the docks, begging strangers for badges. The social differences were even more blatant inside. Families lived in poverty, fighting for a loaf of bread or a chance to get a job and yet here in the theatre we sat on plush comfortable seats surrounded by the trappings of the filthy rich. Please remember as much as I like Russian opera, music and literature-I have witnessed communism first hand and have no wish to be a communist.
The trip to us next to Finland and possible one of the coldest groups of people I came across-not surprising as they have a border with Russia. My only memory of Helsinki is a little bit embarrassing-I was in a high rise cafe and was taking my tray to a table when I caught my foot in the carpet and went flying, food and drink went everywhere.
The final port of call was Stockholm in Sweden, the Swedes are a friendly people always willing to help a stranger-not unlike the Dutch-but the lasting impression I had was of a city packed bumper-to-bumper with cars and not enough room for a squirrel to get through.