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Norwegian GETAWAY Baltic Cruise: Part V

July 18, 2019

My nine day Baltic cruise on the Norwegian GETAWAY was all my friends and I hoped it would be. Every stop was a place I hadn’t been before and the piece-de-resistance was the chance to spend two days in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Those two days didn’t disappoint.

The ship sailed from and returned to Copenhagen and we spent two wonderful days there before boarding. We took a canal cruise, walked for hour’s window shopping, people watching and eating some great Danish pastry. On the recommendation of a friend who works at the State Department I booked a dinner reservation at NIMB Brasserie overlooking Tivoli gardens for our last evening. We ordered the four course set menu that came with wine matched to each course and began with a champagne toast. Three hours later we all agreed it was one of the best meals we ever ate.

NCL GETAWAY (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) NCL GETAWAY

On boarding the GETAWAY we got a nice bonus. It had recently undergone a spectacular total refurbishment. Much of the carpeting, floor tile and marble reminded me of the beautiful NCL BLISS which I had been on during its inaugural Panama Canal cruise. The specialty restaurants all looked very upscale and the theater had new seats and lighting enhancing the experience when watching the shows. 

I arranged in advance to meet with General Manager Mario Markovic, until recently his title was Hotel Director, and got a rundown on what I could expect on the cruise. I had some added fun when I spent time with the Cruise Director, Vincent Teschel, who clearly loves his job and after listening to passengers talk it’s clear both are doing their jobs superbly. 

Our first stop was in Warnemunde, Germany and my travel companions spent the day in Berlin. Having been there before I spent a couple of hours wandering the port town which is really quite beautiful. Then headed back to the ship and went to the well-equipped gym which I had all to myself. We all met again for the LGBTQ+ happy hour scheduled each evening for the Sunset Bar. There weren’t many other gay people there the first night but as the cruise went on more and more showed up for the scheduled happy hour each evening. We were served by a bartender we knew from a previous cruise who took good care of us. We had dinner reservations at Cagney’s steakhouse, one of the specialty restaurants. Service was great and the filet mignon was excellent. One thing I have learned is dessert often looks better than it tastes.  

Day three was a pleasant surprise. We booked a three hour tour of Tallinn, Estonia but it was the two hours we walked around the old town which made us realize how beautiful Tallinn, a walled city with much of the wall still standing, is.

Nobel Prize Museum (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Nobel Prize Museum

Then on to Saint Petersburg, Russia for me the highlight of the cruise. We had arranged for a private driver and guide for four of us and they met us each day at 9:00am on the pier and returned us to the ship at 6:00pm. The Hermitage where we spent hours the first day is incredible. Catherine the Great put together an amazing art collection and today there are 3 million pieces in the Hermitage’s collection. From the grand staircase to so many of the rooms in the original palace there is gold guilt everywhere. The intricate inlaid wood floors throughout are quite amazing. We arranged to see the two separate treasuries, the diamond and the gold, and the treasures there were mind boggling. Diamond and precious stone encrusted sabers and watches and crowns of gold. Many gifts to the Czars some from archaeological digs over the years. For what remained of the day we toured a number of churches and parks and went on a driving tour of the city. Our guide was great and gave us a running history lesson.

Vasa Ship (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Vasa Ship

Day two began with a trip to the orthodox synagogue which we had asked to see. We arrived while services were going on. It is a very beautiful Moorish style building. The plan was to spend the afternoon at the Peterhof Palace but first we went on the Metro and took it two stops where our driver again met us. The Metro is unbelievable with sculptures and mosaics in each of the stations. Then it was off to Peterhof about a forty-five minute ride from the city. The Palace was built after Peter the Great saw Versailles and having been to Versailles I think he out-did even that. The fountains and gardens are incredible and the palace rooms are so opulent in some ways you understand why Russians overthrew the Czars who lived like that while the peasants were starving. But as a museum there is nothing like it. 

From Russia we sailed to Helsinki, a beautiful City and then to Stockholm where the Vasa Museum, the wooden ship reclaimed and rebuilt with original timber after it sank in 1628, is worth the trip alone. I hope to go back to both cities one day.  Then it was back to Copenhagen and my nine day Baltic cruise on the Norwegian GETAWAY was over. It was all I had hoped for and recommend it to everyone.

Helsinki Harbor (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Helsinki Harbor


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Michael Urie Hamlet For The Ages at Shakespeare Theatre

July 15, 2019

The king of Denmark has been murdered and his son Hamlet comes home from school to deal with all the craziness of his family’s situation. Some think he is going mad, and this is a madcap play with plenty of humor. His school friends and family are all spying on each other as they try to figure out what is going on.  Casting Michael Urie as Hamlet may not have seemed the thing to do when Michael Kahn first did it but Urie has proven to be a Hamlet for the ages. Urie has been called a brilliant comedic actor and we all know him from his roles in ‘Ugly Betty’, his brilliant one-man show ‘Buyer and Cellar’ at the STC, and his recent rave reviews in New York for ‘Torch Song’.  But Kahn said he always wanted to do Hamlet with Urie since having him as a student at Julliard. When I first saw Urie in the role it was immediately evident it was an inspired choice. Just listening to him deliver the soliloquy “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!” you knew he was going to be brilliant in the role. 

Madeleine Potter and Michael Urie (Photo by: Scott Suchman) Madeleine Potter and Michael Urie

In his return to Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual FREE for ALL Urie has only gotten better in the role if that is possible. The play this time is being directed by Craig Baldwin, who was Michael Kahn’s assistant director in the original production, and he keeps a steady hand. 

Kahn has said about his original production “As I return to this play, I’ve found myself thinking about its complexities—public and private, political and familial—not in new ways, necessarily, but with an altered center of gravity in the world of 2018. First, we must remember that, beneath the diplomatic emissaries and complicated political plotting, Hamlet is at root an intimate family drama about a son deeply in mourning for his dead father and disturbed by his mother’s sudden remarriage. The family relationships that lie at the heart of Hamlet are crucial to the piece.”

So if you keep Kahn’s thoughts in mind when you go you will revel in this modern day Hamlet understanding it stays true to what Shakespeare wrote. From the security desk and computer screens in the opening scene to the smartphones the cast uses to text each other, it all works. If you have seen or read Hamlet you will get insights into the play you might not have had before; if you are new to Hamlet you will become a fan and understand how great a play it is. . For those who question the modern dress I would remind you when it was originally performed it was also in modern dress of that time. 

Joining Urie again is a star powered cast including Madeleine Potter (Gertrude), Hamlet’s mother, who shines with a commanding presence particularly in act two. Keith Baxter is back again as (Ghost/1st Player/Gravedigger), the oldest member of the cast by far, reminds you with every scene he is in why he has had such a great and long career.  Federico Rodriguez (Horatio) is a winning friend to Hamlet and Robert Joy (Polonius) again returns to STC after his brilliant performance as King Charles in Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III. He is equally brilliant here. In this production Paul Deo, Jr. is a totally believable Laertes. The entire company do themselves proud. 

Keith Baxter and Michael Urie (Photo by: Scott Suchman) Keith Baxter and Michael Urie

This production is again enhanced by all those incredibly talented people behind the scenes including scenic designer John Coyne, costume designer Jess Goldstein, lighting Yi Zhao, and sound and original music Broken Chord. Together they and the cast make this production of Hamlet a memorable night in the theater no one should miss.  

Each summer, with the help of a group of community-minded sponsors, the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) presents two weeks of FREE performances of a Shakespearean classic. Hamlet will be at Sidney Harman Hall through July 21st.

Get your FREE tickets here and enter the lottery. The online lottery is open for entries between 12:01 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. the day PRIOR to the performance you are interested in attending. All entrants are notified via email of their ticket status about an hour after the lottery closes. Two tickets per person and all seating is general admission. Or you can just get in line. Every day STC will make at least 200 tickets available to the public in our ticket line at Sidney Harman Hall beginning two hours prior to curtain. Limit is two tickets per person and all seating is general admission. Remember to get there early! The line usually starts forming about four hours before curtain up. Either way you do it know you will have a great time in the theater.  


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Norwegian GETAWAY Baltic Cruise: Part IV

July 11, 2019

There are a few things a ship needs to make it a great cruise ship and the GETAWAY has them. One is of course the Captain. Then there is the General Manager who is responsible for literally everything from food and beverage, all the cabins, swimming pools and in general providing the great ambiance you want and Mario Markovic, the General Manager of the GETAWAY does all that. Last but certainly not least is the Cruise Director. He/she works from early morning to late at night, always smiling, ensuring the great entertainment and in general making sure each passenger always has a smile on their face.

Norwegian GETAWAY (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Norwegian GETAWAY

 

The Cruise Director during my time on the GETAWAY was Vincent Teschel and he did all that without breaking a sweat.  I had the chance to chat with him for a short time and considered myself lucky as he was literally always on the go. He oozes charm and what’s more that charm is backed up by a wealth of knowledge and experience. Vincent has been with NCL for five years and aside from the GETAWAY has worked on the Pearl, Sun, Star, and the Pride of America. Prior to that he worked on land at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, and was a traveling performer for ten years. The performing background is immediately visible when you meet Vincent as he is always performing in his job and that is a positive thing. He is entertaining people and does it superbly. 

 

He was born in Pensacola, Florida and that is where he makes his home when he is not onboard ship. He is also clearly a young man with a big heart and is currently taking care of his elderly parents who live in Pensacola. I asked him what is the most fun of his job and he said he really believes if he is having fun all the time everyone else will be having fun. He says he tends to try to live on the lighter side of life and always looks at things from a positive perspective. That helps when you have a job like his with 150 people reporting to you and thousands depending on you to make their cruise memorable. 

 

Vincent is thirty-three and once you get to know him a little better you realize more and more how his acting training adds to his ability to do his job. He went to college in the Circle in the Square in New York for Musical Theater and got his BFA in Music with a minor in Opera and Dance from Jacksonville University. He has traveled to over thirty-eight countries on five continents. On his own time he loves the Mediterranean and enjoys going back-packing where he can get off the grid. He finds that helpful and centering after always having to be on at work. He is also into yoga and goes to an annual yoga retreat. His contract with NCL like most of the staff is for four months on and two months off. But remember during the four months there is not one day off. I met Vincent toward the end of this current four month tour but you would never know that from watching him and talking with him. 

Vincent Teschel (Photo by: Courtesy of Vincent Teschel) Vincent Teschel

He has actually developed his own brand and he loves that. He is proud of being a fashion plate and owns twenty-seven suits from wild plaid to pale green and they are all with him onboard sharing his cabin. He has them made for him by a tailor in Colorado. I asked him what was the weirdest question anyone asked him and he laughed while answering. He said an older lady on one cruise came up behind him and grabbed his behind and said she was only checking if he was wearing any underwear as she couldn’t see a panty line.  I actually didn’t ask him what his answer was but from watching him around the ship surely many more men and women would like to do that test on him.  

While his great sense of humor and perpetual smile can sometimes belie how serious he is about his job if you watch him for any period of time you know he gives total attention to even the smallest details making sure every show, every act, all the games, come off without a hitch and leave passengers smiling. He is a consummate professional and NCL is really lucky to have him. 


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