While on a Norway Coastal Voyage, I fell in love with Scandinavian countries' gorgeous scenery. After reviewing Holland America Line's (HAL) six-country Baltic Gems cruise itinerary, I was hooked.
Stockholm's beautiful island scenery — Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens and canal cruises, Tallinn's cobbled streets and high-tech energy, Helsinki's park concerts, St. Petersburg's fine arts museums and Germany's bucolic countryside — sounded appealing.
My husband, Rob, and I spent two pre-cruise days in Copenhagen where we enjoyed a scenic canal cruise, a city tour and a Tivoli Gardens visit. With a little help from friendly English-speaking Danes, we took the train from the airport to Central Station then walked to Tivoli Hotel.
Embarkation on the Eurodam went smoothly. After a delightful dinner in the Pan-Asian Tamarind Restaurant ($15), we listened to classical music in the Explorer's Lounge. Next we enjoyed a performance by Eurodam singers and dancers. The grand finale was yet to come.
Leaving the theater at 10:15 p.m., everyone stopped to watch nature's finest performance. The western sky was filled with a glorious sunset unlike anything we had ever seen. That's why I love to cruise and will do so as long as I can.
Tallinn, Estonia, was our first port call. This small friendly city has a medieval appearance but is very technology savvy. Known for decadent chocolates, marzipan treats, plus knit scarves, hats and sweaters, Tallinn's cobbled Old Town streets are lined with beer gardens and charming cafes purveying coffee drinks and ethnic sweets.
The Eurodam spent two days in St. Petersburg, Russia. During "white nights" in June when the sun does not fully dip below the horizon and many ships are in port, this city of five million becomes congested.
Because Russia's stringent immigration discourages individual visits, we bought a SPB Tours package. A small bus took us to Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral, the onion-domed Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (on the site of Czar Alexander II's assassination) and the summer residence of the Russian Czars.
We rode a hydrofoil boat across the Gulf of Finland to the massive Peterhof summer palaces and surrounding gardens filled with lavish fountains and colourful flower gardens.
A highlight was the State Hermitage Museum, the world's second largest museum housing three million artifacts in five buildings. Founded by Catherine the Great for her personal art treasures, the Hermitage gets 18,000 visitors per day, six days a week during summer months. We saw only a small portion and had to stay close to our guide.
Most tour operators went to the same sites, creating huge crowds. At every stop, our English-speaking guide warned of highly skilled pickpockets.
In Helsinki, Finland's capital city of 590,000, we rode a bus to the City Center, then a tram for a self-directed city tour. On a sunny Saturday, streets were filled with Finns shopping. Many sat in outdoor cafes people watching while enjoying live music from nearby parks.
During summer months, Baltic countries can have up to 22 hours of daylight. At 2:45 a.m., I awoke to a gorgeous pastel sky. As I watched with awe, an early Baltic sunrise painted the sky delicate shades of yellow, gold and pink. Gradually some of the 30,000 islands and islets comprising the Stockholm archipelago appeared. Sweden's beautiful capital city is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges.