This summer, my husband and I joined some dear friends on a Baltic Cruise (and beyond) for a 2 week plus vacation. Taking such an extended getaway was probably a little out of our comfort zone but, we are so glad we took the time and started to see more of the world.
I had been on almost a dozen cruises through the years, but those had all been Caribbean or Bahama cruises. Basically, it was traveling from one beach to another with not much variety or cultural change. The Baltic itinerary was packed full of cities and countries that I had never yet explored.
We began our trip in Amsterdam with a visit to the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum; definitely two must-sees when you are there. The city was beautiful, with flowers blooming in window boxes and colorful buildings and architecture. The canals were fascinating and the people were just lovely and friendly. It’s definitely a place I would visit again. Our pre-cruise road trip took us to Brugge, Belgium next. We loved this charming Medieval town, also built on a series of canals. We ate our share of Belgian chocolates and the requisite Belgium waffles!
Our 12 day cruise then set sail and we headed first to Germany. We docked in a port quite a distance from Berlin, which was our destination for the day. After a long train ride, we arrived in Berlin and set out to see the many historic sites and learn more about the history of the city. As we traveled through what used to be East Berlin, sections of the Berlin Wall still remain. What’s left is now covered in artists’ colorful paintings. Checkpoint Charlie is basically a tourist-y novelty but, of course, we had to see it!
We next stopped in ports in Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia and then headed to St. Petersburg, Russia. We were fortunate to have two full days in St. Petersburg and this was our favorite stop on the cruise.
Our private tour guide led us through the city as we visited palaces and churches and even a trip on the subway! I have never seen such an immaculately clean subway. The St. Petersburg subways are furnished with marble columns and crystal chandeliers! It was all such a wonderful experience as we explored the city and experienced an entirely different culture. We sampled authentic Russian foods like kasha and borscht (beet soup), blinis and, of course, vodka! The city was very modern and cosmopolitan and not what I had imagined. You could definitely see a difference in the old, Stalin era buildings compared to new construction. Driving down Nevsky Prospekt (similar to Michigan Ave. in Chicago), you’ll find American and European chain stores.
We had two more cities to visit before we headed back to Amsterdam: Stockholm and Copenhagen. Both were lovely cities with friendly locals. We had so much fun at the ABBA museum in Stockholm and the hours spent at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen were delightful.
What made this the BEST vacation was that it really opened my eyes to more of the world and gave me the travel bug for sure. Yes, I love living on our beautiful suncoast and having all my familiar things on a daily basis. Experiencing the culture from these countries was something you just can’t get from a book or video. I wonder where the next trip will take me!
Photos by Heidi Schild.