We spent a fantastic nine-day cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, the Getaway, around the Baltic Sea in October. We were accompanied by four other couples.
We were blessed with relatively fantastic weather, with some minor exceptions, for this time of year in the Baltic region. We saw some of the most amazing European and Scandinavian cities, the highlight of which was a two-day visit to the former czarist capital of Russia, St. Petersburg.
Our cruise began in Copenhagen, Denmark. Our first stop was in the northern port city of Warnemünde, Germany. Many of the nearly 4,000 passengers took excursions to Berlin. It was a 3-hour train ride each way, so we opted to enjoy the historic city of Rostock, just a couple of kilometers from the port. We had decent weather that day and sampled a former East German city and its medieval Old Town, feasting on Wiener-art Schnitzel (a pork cutlet) and other German specialties at the Braugasthaus “Zum alten Fritz” Restaurant.
Our second stop was Tallinn, Estonia, a quaint Baltic seaport and Estonia’s capital and cultural hub. We had a rainy day in Tallinn, but we still were able to visit its walled, cobblestoned Old Town, to include its Gothic Town Hall and the St. Nicholas Church, both constructed in the 13th-century. We escaped the rain and had a fantastic lunch at Oliver Restoran (restaurant), the dining room of which seemed to be an underground medieval dungeon.
Our next two days were spent on a private tour of St. Petersburg with near perfect weather, albeit a bit cold…but it was Russia! It is a major port city on the Baltic and was the imperial Czarist, pre-communist Russia capital for two centuries, having been founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. It remains Russia’s cultural center.
The sites were amazing; most all renovated after World War II when the German and Finnish armies surrounded and sieged the city, literally bombing most of the medieval palaces into near oblivion. The Russian government has made a significant effort to restore the major palaces and churches to their original states.
We visited Fountain Park which is also known as “the Russian Versailles;” Tsars Village which is filled with lavish, imperial palaces, Catherine Palace which is the home of the legendary Amber Room; Hermitage Museum, which is one of the largest museums of art and culture in the world; the Church of the Spilt Blood which is a marvelous Russian-style church; St. Isaac’s Cathedral; and the Faberge Museum which has the largest collection of Faberge works in the world including some of the famous Imperial Easter eggs.
It was an amazing two days. It highlighted the extreme abuses that the former royalty inflicted upon the normal Russian people which led to the communist revolution during World War I. And to the contrary, it also revealed the savagery of the communists as they took power and murdered millions.
We saw evidence of the severe poverty and rampantly poor architecture of the Soviet regime. Apartment buildings from that era literally falling apart just a few blocks from the lavish palaces and churches from the Czarist times…truly a worthwhile lesson about the tragedy of socialism/communism. The Russians are clearly working to recover from the communist times, but they also have a long way to go.
In Helsinki, Finland, we learned that Helsinki is actually about the same age as the United States. Finland switched back and forth from being a part of Sweden and Russia for centuries, only becoming an independent country in 1809.
Stockholm, Sweden, was our last port of call, and it was extraordinary…as was our weather that day! On the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus and boat tour we visited was the Vasa Museum, a maritime museum, in which is displayed the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged. It was a 64-gun warship that actually sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 right in the Stockholm harbor.
Upon the conclusion of our cruise, we stayed two days in Copenhagen. We spent a fun first evening at Tivoli Gardens, which is an amusement park right in downtown Copenhagen. The park opened in 1843 and is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world. While we were there in October, we were able to enjoy Tivoli’s special Halloween-themed extravaganza! All of the rides were open and the entire park was decked out with all sorts of Halloween decorations.
The next day, we visited Christiana, also called “Freetown Christiania,” an intentional community and commune of about 850 to 1,000 residents within the city of Copenhagen. It is a former military compound, which in 1971 was taken over by squatters and organized into a separate enclave for, let’s say, a group of very non-conformist people, who wanted to create a self-governing society exclusive of Danish laws and regulations.
We really loved our entire trip. Of all the locations we visited, Corey is adamant that we must return to explore Copenhagen in more detail, especially Tivoli. We also feel like we need to return to Stockholm to continue our explorations.