Baltic Sea Cuise
By Sierra Michaels
It’s amazing to see so many different countries and cultures in such a short time, including Estonia and Russia which were previously limited to western tourists. I’m glad we took our Baltic Sea Cruise a few years ago when tension between Russia and the EU wasn’t as it is at the moment. Russia and Estonia were bustling with commerce and a great economy.
Copenhagen, Denmark was our departure point for a ten-day journey on the Baltic Sea aboard the Holland America, Eurodam. We arrived in Copenhagen after a long flight from Miami to Düsseldorf, Germany, and since we had an eleven hour layover we decided to explore the city along the Rhine River. The quite town in the morning turned to bustling mid-day just about the time jet lag and lack of sleep overcame us. The solution… a few beers and a cruise along the Rhine with the hopes of snuggling on a bench or even better a couch without interruption.
Eagerly greeting Copenhagen the following day we had no agenda and a basic knowledge of popular sites. Map in hand we walked around the city. Our hotel was directly across from Tivoli Gardens so we paid the pricy entrance fee, strolled around the beautiful grounds, and had lunch. Pretty, yes. Worth the $40 per person fee without the overpriced lunch, no. We soldiered on, stumbling upon open markets, the changing of the guards at the royal palace, historic churches, sand castles, town hall, the Little Mermaid, and my favorite Nyhaven street. We hit up the famous Andersen’s bakery where I bought a delicious Danish and my husband splurged on a devilish fudge filled chocolate. Divine. The streets were bustling with pedestrians, tourists, and bikers. Bicycles are more popular than cars and both exist in harmony. We scheduled a bike tour for the following morning and had an easy dinner, adapting to the late sunsets occurring at 11 p.m.
Our first day on board was one of the few full days at sea so we settled into our verandah suite and then explored the ship. The vessel was a good size without being a floating mall. Perfect for my taste. At one point the fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than a few feet below the balcony. A bit eerie as the fog horn blasted every few minutes.
The following morning we arrived at our first port, Tallinn, Estonia. I was excited to explore this ancient city as it was the only port during this trip that I hadn’t visited in my youth. We scheduled a walking tour of the old medieval fortified city which had been dominated by the Soviet Union in the 20th Century.
Our guide, Olga, was a bright-eyed, vivacious Estonian with a gift for storytelling. Only eight years old when the Soviets left she remembered playing with food stamps needed to purchase necessities. Her grandparents, like many families in Estonia, were relocated to Siberia. Under Soviet rule it was an attempt to silence the educated. One out of every five families in Estonia was affected by the exile.
Walking along cobblestone streets and alleys we got a good feel for the quaint historic, yet lively, atmosphere of Tallinn. In the evening we hung out at the casino and neighboring bar, retiring to bed past midnight when the sun was still looming on the horizon.
St.Petersburg welcomed us in the morning. We passed through immigrations finding our tour bus among a sea of others and hopped on board to listen to Olga tell us about Peterhoff Palace, our first stop. The crowds were already immense at 9 a.m. but we were pre-warned. Equipped with an audio-guide that would allow us to hear Olga throughout the tour, we set off in our group of twenty-five.
The place was built for the first Czar’s daughter, Elizabeth, and improved upon and taken over by Catherine II. It was very bit spectacular and grand including the canals and fountains that alone attract thousands of visitors. Afterwards, we walked through the royal park crowded with locals on weekend picnics. A hydrofoil transported us back to the city and our bus for a tour of St. Petersburg.
The city had changed from my first visit in 1991 when the buildings were dilapidated and the streets empty. Now it’s a lively, vibrant metropolis and the tenth most expensive city in the world in which to live. The “Temple of Spilt Blood” was especially rewarding as we explored its art, history, and grandeur. We decided to do a bit of self-exploration by sneaking away to the black market for a quick ten minute shopping spree prior to re-boarding the bus.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat on the ship, then joined our next tour, “An Evening at the Hermitage.” It was a great way to visit this world-class museum as it is nearly unoccupied at night. The visit was offered exclusively for our ship. We saw famous works by Picasso, Cezanne, Monet, DaVinci, and Michelangelo to name a few.
The following day we did an easy river cruise followed by a visit to Yusupov Palace made famous by the murder of Rasputin. Seeing this beautiful city by boat was exquisite and relaxing. In an area plagued with cold weather we were blessed with a ninety-degree day. My husband and I slipped away with our rubles to buy a bottle of local vodka prior to setting sail.
Many thanks to Sierra Michaels
Sierra, thank you for allowing us this peek into your travel diary. Your Baltic Sea Cruise sounds lovely.