A Memorable Cruise Of The Baltic

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Photos courtesy of Ken Brooks

We enjoyed a 14-day visit to the Baltic nations aboard the good ship Discovery. The ship offers a club-like atmosphere.

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The Eastern Orthodox cathedrals of Russia are treasures for the eyes.

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St. Petersburg, like Venice and Amsterdam, is a floating city, crouching on the water, crisscrossed by rivers and canals.

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The great manor houses of England and Europe, with their magnificent gardens, are a must-see for travelers, and make for a quiet delight in often frantic, fast-paced days of touring.

It has been my good fortune to have cruised to many areas of the world. For me, it is the easiest vacation one can experience. Once onboard your ship, you unpack only once and leave the driving, cooking and cleaning to those who run the ship. It is sheer vacation! You select the area of the world you wish to visit, examine cruise line brochures and perhaps consult a travel professional for their advice and assistance in booking your cruise along with air reservations. It’s that easy.

This cruise was a memorable 14-day visit to the Baltic nations. We selected a cruise line we have enjoyed several times in the past, Voyages of Discovery and their good ship Discovery. This ship offers club-like atmosphere not found in many of the giant ships sailing today.

The Discovery accommodates only 600 guests in classic comfort. The ship is British owned with British officers and a great Filipino service crew. The food is fantastic with a Continental menu to please everyone. We particularly enjoy the distinguished speakers who provide wonderful insights into the various ports of call prior to each visit. Also scheduled are speakers who talk on various subjects of interest during your days at sea. On this cruise, one chap had been a British Ambassador to Spain, Sweden and several other countries. He related interesting experiences regarding his time as an ambassador and the parties involved in diplomatic diplomacy. Another spoke on famous naval battles in the Baltic area over the past 300 years.

Then, there are the necessary talks on available shore excursions you may wish to take part in when the ship is in the various ports. The shore excursion office books the tours you wish to take and sends the tickets to your cabin. I relate this detail because you may not have had the opportunity to enjoy cruising to date. Cruise fares have been lowered by many cruise lines this year and if ever there was a time to “jump in” this is it.

We sailed from Harwich, England and enjoyed one day at sea giving us time to relax and get re-acquainted with our ship. The itinerary for this cruise included Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Gdynia, Poland; Warnemunde, Germany; and a seven-hour sail through the Kiel Canal before returning to England and our flight home.

The second morning we sailed into the lively Danish capital, Copenhagen that is home to a fifth of Denmark’s 5.4 million people, as well as the oldest-established royal dynasty in Europe, headed by the popular Queen Margrethe II, who has reigned since 1972. It spreads over two islands linked by bridges, the greater part being on the eastern coast of Sjaelland Island. Straight modern highways cut through the city, but close in are winding streets, little shops and stucco houses which gives a fairyland quality to some, enhanced by a skyline of 17th century green copper domes and spires. There are numerous parks and friendly people with smiles. Some of the streets are reserved for pedestrians.

A canal tour gives a different perspective. The Christianshavn district is practically built on water. We cruised on some of these canals during early evening hours and watched as people were having dinner in sidewalk restaurants while others were tending to their pleasure boats tied up to the docks. We also cruised past the famous “Little Mermaid” statue and witnessed the many ferry boats departing for overnight sailings to other Baltic ports. The dynamic Opera House along one of the canals is fairly new and very modern. Interesting is the fact that every seat is specially angled to exactly face the stage. If you are into castles, one tour visits several with spectacular gardens and is great for photo taking.

This is Hans Christian Andersen country and also the home of Carlsberg Brewery. Commuter busses are everywhere as are streetcars transporting people around the beautiful city. Copenhagen can be seen by taking sightseeing tours arranged by the ship, or just hike out on your own. The city is safe and fascinating.

Another day was spent at sea, and then, early in the morning we sailed into Stockholm, Sweden. This is one of the prettiest cities in the Baltic. Known as the Island City, and today, the city is not only the seat of the national parliament, but also the country’s financial and business center with a population of over one million. Dramatically sited where the cobalt blue waters of Lake Malaren meet and merge with the darker hues of the Baltic Sea, the city enjoys a splendid setting. This is the royal and political capital of the country. The city gracefully spreads over 14 islands and neighboring peninsulas, connected by no fewer than 40 bridges.

The different islands and districts that make up Stockholm are often so unlike one another that they create the illusion of a series of miniature cities, only distantly related. Each has its own charm and mood. Nowhere is far from water.

You will see palaces, commuters going and coming, interesting shops, fine restaurants, snack shops, parks and many fascinating water ways. The city center of Stockholm, Norrmalm, is where the business, banking, retail and entertainment facilities are concentrated. Since the 1960s it has been almost entirely rebuilt in an array of architectural styles and materials. A gigantic glass obelisk rising from a fountain will tell you when you have reached Sergels Torg (the square), focal point of the new city center.

There are museums of various interest, palaces, and just interesting walking through a wonderful and friendly city. There are several interesting sightseeing tours that can be enjoyed if you do not want to go out on your own. This is also the home of Alfred Nobel, famous for the Nobel prizes awarded each year.

Stockholm is clean, beautiful, safe, and many people speak some English.

On to Tallinn, Estonia. This is a country that for many years has struggled for its independence. Once in the hands of the Danish, Germany, and Russia, it finally gained complete independence in August of 1991.

Here, I would suggest taking an organized tour. Several are offered. We chose one that showed us the city of Tallinn, both old and new sections, then drove out into the country for 60 miles to visit some old former German manor houses, a national park of great beauty and enjoyed lunch in an old pub with thatched roof.

The local food was great and we particularly enjoyed dining with locals who had come into the country to enjoy the woods, the nearby beaches and have a relaxing time out of the city. We also stopped at an old town and had time to walk the narrow streets to see the small shops and the articles that were for sale.

The city of Tallinn is a major trading port along the Baltic and home to several theaters and its song festival arena. The country joined the European Union in 2004.

The main reason we booked this Baltic cruise on the Discovery was the fact that it spent a full three days in St. Petersburg, Russia. Many ships visit this major Russian city, but most spend only two days for the visit. There is so much to see here that even three days has to be crammed with tours to see most of the major sights.

St. Petersburg, like Venice and Amsterdam, is a floating city, crouching on the water, crisscrossed by rivers and canals, sewn together by hundreds of bridges. The principal waterway is the River Neva, leading eventually to the Gulf of Finland. The river is wide with its banks containing museums, theaters, palaces, apartment blocks and memorials. This is the second largest city in Russia and is home to some of the greatest art treasures in the world. These riches are housed in former palaces and homes of the past royal families.

It has a vast history dating back to the 18th century and was established to give Russia access to the Baltic. It began as St. Petersburg, and then, during the Communist take over in 1917 it became Leningrad. After the fall of communism in the late 1980s the population was able to vote if they wanted to continue with the name of Leningrad or revert back to the former name of St. Petersburg. The population wanted to return to the name of St. Petersburg.

Next week we will begin with the sights of one of the most fantastic cities in the world.

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