St Petersburg was definitely on our ‘bucket list’ so what better way to see this interesting, cultured area, than to go on a cruise to the Baltic.
Our journey started in North Shields, on board the Cruise and Maritime Voyages ship, the Marco Polo, a ship that began its life in 1965 as the Alexander Puskin. Its cruises feature a wide variety of itineraries from the Baltic and Norwegian Fjords to the Amazon, the Canaries, and the Mediterranean.
The Marco Polo is an affordable cruise ship and has proved very popular with the over 50s. The ship is one of the smaller cruise vessels, and is aimed at those looking for exceptional value, who enjoy a small, friendly cruise rather than the larger, less intimate cruise lines.
We journeyed across the North Sea to the Kiel Canal which links the North Sea to the Baltic sea. 250 nautical miles are saved by not going around the Jutland Peninsula. It is a busy ‘lock’ and is used by many ships and cargo boats, it is fascinating for ‘engineering buffs’ and very interesting for everyone taking the transit. It is an amazing time saver for the ‘traffic’ that use this way through to the Baltic Sea.
Our first stop was Warnemunde, Germany. We decided that we would like to go to Berlin from here and a three hour coach journey did not put us off going. The coach journey passed quickly and we soon arrived in Berlin and picked up our city guide who was interesting, and entertaining. We started by going on a river boat on the river Spree to see the many sights from the waterways of Berlin. Lunch and wine were provided. Our next stop was the world famous Check Point Charlie. How many stories of the ‘Cold War’ have been set around this iconic sight? We visited the Brandenburg Gate, towering above us, an iconic symbol, and the last remaining city gate in Berlin. Then on to the remains of the Berlin Wall, which is quite a surprise. It ‘wiggles’ through the city, not a straight line as one would expect, but the position of it is concreted into the pavement to show just where the wall stood. In walking distance from Check Point Charlie is the largest remnant of the Wall. Another stop was Gendarmarie Square, for a visit to two Cathedrals (one is now a museum) and a rather lovely chocolatier! Our journey back again took three hours, but for the pleasure of seeing Berlin it was well worth it. This was only a ‘snap shot’ of Berlin, and I hope one day to get back to savour more of this wonderful city.
Onward to our next stop which was the delightful city of Tallinn, Estonia, a beautiful preserved medieval city of castles, moats, red-capped towers. It is within walking distance from the port, but if you have walking difficulties then a tour around the city can be arranged. The main Raekoja Plats (Town Hall Square) in the centre of the old town is full of bars and restaurants. We had Elk soup in the Three Dragons Bar, candle light set the scene and the soup was excellent. We visited the Dome Cathedral, the oldest church in the city and witnessed a celebration service of an old priest who had been held in a prison camp in Siberia. It was a moving and exceptional privilege, to be at this event. The city is colourful and very interesting and full of surprises, a lovely place to visit for a long weekend.
St Petersburg – ‘bucket list’ ticked. The city is vibrant, interesting, something around every corner, a city crisscrossed, by wonderful bridges and rivers that give us the feeling of being in a rather large Venice! It has beautiful buildings and wonderful churches. Don’t miss the Church of Savior on the Spilled Blood, it is a wonder to behold. Go to the Hermitage Museum which incorporates the Winter Palace, walk past pictures by Renoir, Picasso, Gauguin. The collection of paintings and art work is phenomenal – 3 million pieces, but be aware of all the crowds, it is a very,very busy place, and pick pockets love the crowds.
Catherine’s Palace is not to be missed and is an insight into how the royalty lived in pre-Revolution Russia. The Gold Room, one of 1,000, is spectacular, but the pride of place has to go to the Amber Room, it is stunning. The grounds are beautiful and if time is available on your tour, they are well worth a visit. We went to the Ballet in the evening. There are a lot of theatres putting on performances for the tourists; they are anything but amateur, they are very well performed by amazing dancers that will leave you with a big smile as you drive back to the ship. Two days was not enough time to soak in the atmosphere of this vibrant city and one day I will return.
Our stop in Helsinki coincided with a day off for the town – Sunday – but the market by the quayside was on and it was a really good insight as to how the town’s people live and eat, yes, eat. Wonderful sides of salmon, cooked to mouth-watering softness can be eaten with vegetables out in the afternoon sun, but watch out for the gulls. The Church in the Rock is well worth the visit and it is an ingenious, impressive building. I would advise a Red Bus tour as this is a large city to cover on foot.
Stockholm is famous for ABBA, but it has a lot more to offer than the ABBA museum. Go to the old town and wander at your leisure, have a river cruise and see the wonderful Palace and the busy shopping streets, take a visit to the Nordic Sea Hotel, for the Absolut Ice Bar, dress up and ‘taste’ the wonderful experience of drinking in the Ice Bar. It’s not cheap, but worth it for the experience. Take a Red Bus or have a boat trip to ‘save your legs’, as this is a large city with lots of interesting sights, but can be very tiring.
Our final stop was Copenhagen, and as the song goes it is wonderful, wonderful. Walk from the ship to see the Little Mermaid statue – and yes, she is little! But, such an iconic sight can not be missed. Take the Red Bus and enjoy the commentary of this lovely city, fountains, palaces, river side cafes, wander down the canals and have a drink at one of the many bars, catch a tour boat that shows you the city from the waterways. This is a cosmopolitan city that takes a lot more time than was allowed on our trip, but we will definitely try to return to.
The cruise took us to see many beautiful cities, but as on any cruise there is never enough time, only a chance to see a ‘taster’ of each destination, but if I don’t have the opportunity to return, I have at least been and enjoyed. Now, the ‘bucket list’ is getting longer! Time to start planning my next trip.