Cruising Baltic Style

Posted: July 29, 2015 in Family, Travel, Vacation

We gave Jake several options for a trip to celebrate his graduation. When he chose a Baltic adventure, we were all thrilled!

After our good friend Bob drove us to the airport on Friday afternoon, we were off to Stockholm via Iceland. Our evening flight over Greenland was beautiful and we were hypnotized watching the ice flows. Landing on Iceland’s volcanic tundra, in daylight, just before midnight was surreal. Taking off, still with natural light, was just as impressive.

We rolled into our hotel in Stockholm Saturday morning to find our rooms available and showers very enjoyable. From there we explored the old city, took the ferry to Djurgården to see the amazing Vasa Museum, and enjoyed a historical canal tour by boat before finding a traditional Swedish restaurant near our hotel and sampling herring, reindeer, elderflower schnaps, and more.

On Sunday, we enjoyed the Hotel Reisen‘s vast buffet before a final stroll and a taxi to the cruise port where we’d meet the Serenade of the Seas. We’d actually sailed on the same ship back in 2006 so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. We found our upgraded balcony cabins and settled into life at sea!

Monday was our first stop – in Helsinki, Finland. We rode a shuttle bus into the city and enjoyed our explorations. We strolled the Esplanadi and enjoyed its open air performers, crossed the Senate Square and climbed the stairs at the Helsinki Cathedral, strolled the waterfront and viewed the magnificent Uspenski Cathedral, and shopped the open air market before lunching at the Kappeli Cafe back on the Esplanadi, shopping a bit more, and returning to the ship.

Tuesday and Wednesday were devoted to the centerpiece of the cruise, St. Petersburg, Russia. We met up with our local guide, Kseniya, and our driver, Anatoly, who would spend the next two days showing us their home city. Anatoly’s English vocabulary consisted of “Vodka” and a few choice phrases, but Kseniya spoke fluent English and taught us all about the Russian Czars, the history of the city, and even told stories of her parents and grandparents. They were a great team.

We toured the city including the Rostral Columns, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Saviour of the Spilled Blood Cathedral, before driving to Peterhof, snacking on Russian calzones, and returning by hydrofoil to tour The Hermitage. Though we had plans for dinner in the city, the day was too much and we returned to our ship for a little rest.

Rested and ready, we started the next mornign at St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral and then took a tour of the incredible Metro System. We emerged to tour a farmer’s market before snacking on meat and fish pies and driving to the amazing Catherine Palace. We finished up at The Peter and Paul Fortress and Cathedral before, exhausted, returning to our ship.  Just wow.

Our next stop was the medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia. After a brief walk from the pier, we were immersed into the high walls and cobblestone streets of the old city. We strolled the market squares, St. Nicholas’ Church, and the 12th century St. Olaf’s before stopping at an outdoor cafe for local treats including wild boar stew. Though crowded with the cruise boat passengers, we loved the charm of this small ancient town.

Our final port was Riga, Latvia. Docked at the cargo port, we took a shuttle through stacks of wood and coal to reach the city where we rented some bicycles to tour the local monuments. We rode around the city and then found a midtown cafe for lunch (including Sea Red Mullet and Mussels in green curry for John!) and people watching. We finished with a stroll around the old city and a visit to the local churches including the Riga Cathderal, the magnificent St. Peter’s, and the awesome ceilings of St. John’s.

Want to see more?  Here’s a ten minute video that gives a taste of what we saw!

If you still haven’t had enough, even more photos can be seen here.

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