The Hutchinsons were united in choice of holiday, an unusual occurrence, a Baltic cruise appealed to us both. We looked at a number of cruises, and agreed, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ itinerary was first choice.
We selected a shore excursion programme, to include the best of Baltic cities and countryside.
Embarking on Balmoral you immediately feel at home by the enthusiastic welcoming from the staff. First port of call was Copenhagen, Denmark; our tour to the rural fishing village of Dragor, characterised by small yellow painted houses on cobbled streets reflect its quaintness; here we enjoyed Danish pastries.
In the city, we visited the iconic Little Mermaid, despite a number of injuries she sits serenely on a bed of rocks. Legend has it, it will be 195 years before she enters the human race, but would she want to? We took in Copenhagen’s sights ending at the 17th century Nyhavn Canal waterfront, surrounded by coloured houses, chic bars, restaurants, and wooden boats moored; it’s a perfect setting for relaxing with coffee or something stronger!
To reach Stockholm, we cruised the Swedish Archipelago which has over 30, 000 islands. Balmoral seemed to glide through this scenic four -hour passage; A natural part of Sweden’s countryside.
In Stockholm a panoramic tour included the highlights; we then meandered around the oldest district Gamla Stan, where we absorbed the heart and antiquity of this city, and watched the colourful changing of the Palace Guard.
We arrived in Helsinki, Finland, and were driven along winding country roads descending into a wooded picturesque valley, ablaze with wild flowers and a natural lake. Welcomed by host Harriet into her traditional Finnish home, she provided a spread of delicious Finnish treats. We then trekked through the forest where spruce, birch and pine trees’ aromas filled the air, tranquillity only broken by sweet bird song.
In Helsinki, we admired the Lutheran Cathedral and stylish buildings, designed by Russian, Swedish and Finnish architects, along with floral parks.
I could hardly contain my excitement entering the River Neva, gateway to St Petersburg, Russia. Three names are synonymous with this extraordinary city, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the Romanov family.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines put together a two-day itinerary. Our first visit, the Hermitage Museum, houses a collection of over three million exhibits; we gazed in awe at masterpieces by Da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and many more. You can’t fail to appreciate such beauty.
Next, the Church on the Spilled Blood; both an historical monument and work of art, its five domes and mosaics shimmer in the morning sun, whilst inside is almost entirely covered with mosaics, one of the most unique collections in the world.
In a traditional restaurant we enjoyed a delicious four course lunch, naturally with vodka.
Refreshed, we visited the impressive Yusupov Palace, Catherine the Great’s Palace, and Peterhof Palace, home of Peter the Great. Then St Isaac’s Cathedral and Peter and Paul Fortress; here you immerse yourself in the history of St. Petersburg. In Peter and Paul Cathedral, are icons, wood carvings, canopies, and under decorative ceilings are the tombs of the Imperial Royals, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the tragic Romanov family who rest with dignity.
My expectations were high, but they were exceeded.
Tallinn followed, with a trip to the village of Nomme where we were invited into an Estonian home, set amongst pine trees. Then the city’s UNESCO-listed old town: its red turrets, high ramparts and cobble streets, give it a fairy tale charm.
Our final experience was Oslo, Norway. City highlights included the National Opera House, Nobel Peace Centre and Royal Palace. Leaving the city we went to Vigeland Sculpture Park where a unique collection of statues to reflect the circle of life.
This cruise was perfectly balanced, inspirational days and memorable nights.