Exploring the Baltic
The Baltic Sea and its surrounding countries have always been on my personal wish list in which to travel. I’m fascinated by the beauty and culture of the Scandinavian countries, curious about St. Petersburg, Russia and willing to explore most anything by cruising!
Earlier this month I was fortunate to sail on Azamara’s ship, The Journey, on their 12-day voyage from Stockholm, Sweden to Southampton, England. I loved seeing this region by cruise ship because transportation between these countries would typically involve flying, or really long boat rides. It allowed me to travel easy, only unpack once and experience several small port cities that can be adequately seen in one day. (Luckily, we spent more time in Stockholm and St. Petersburg because those are larger areas that command more time!)
The cruise route took us into ports including Helsinki (Finland), St. Petersburg (Russia), Tallinn (Estonia), Copenhagen (Denmark), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Zeebuge/Bruges (Belgium). I was most surprised by my love of Bruges, Belgium. I was really struck by how enchanting the town was everywhere we went. The Medieval Town is incredibly well preserved and lived-in. Also, the Belgian chocolate and waffles were really worth the trip! I need to buy a new waffle maker after eating there. I still think about them. Delicious!
A couple of my favorite experiences included:
Experiencing the Canal Cruises - Whenever possible, I did these short (usually one hour), scenic local cruises. We were also fortunate to have wonderful local guides on every one. My favorites were Copenhagen (it was a warm, sunny day and the scenery was particularly beautiful) and Amsterdam, where we had the funniest, and most memorable, guide.
Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg - The Palace was amazing, and I most particularly loved the gardens. There were unique elements throughout, including the impressive fountains. They even have a number of "joke" fountains that could be accidentally set off and get the bystander wet. Someone had a sense of humor adding those.
After the cruise, I spent two nights in London where I was able to scout several hotels that we like to use for our travelers. One of my favorites was The Stafford. It has a fabulous wine cellar and a preserved area that was used as a bomb shelter in World War II (guests can visit upon request). I personally stayed at the Rubens at the Palace (located across the street from the Royal Mews at the back of Buckingham Palace).
While I had been to London before, this time I was able to go back to some of my favorite places and see some new ones, including Windsor Castle, the Royal Mews (to see the Royal Carriages and horses), walk by Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Westminster, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Piccadilly, South Kensington and St. James’s Park.
A highlight in London was watching England play Croatia during the FIFA World Cup with a group of enthusiasts from across the world. The energy was everywhere. The city as a whole was nearly shut down during the game and the roads were unusually empty. Only pubs and restaurants were open (and were packed with spectators). It was a great time to be there!
One of the things I appreciated the most about my Baltic cruise on Azamara, was the fact that it was noticeable that we were consistently in the boat slips closest to the center of town. It saved us valuable time in transit so we could explore longer on land. We often sailed right past larger ships who had to tender into port, or dock much further away (as noted in the photo below of the other ships much further out at sea!).
I would highly recommend Azamara for their ocean cruises. My experience in the Baltic and Jim Bendt’s (Pique Travel owner) recent experience in Cuba were both notable. Their staff is friendly, well trained in customer service and knowledgeable about the region.
Want to learn more about the Baltic, Azamara or other cruises? Email Liz at LizM@PiqueTravel.com.