The highs and lows of a Northern European cruise
Ten years ago if you had asked if I had any interest in visiting Scandinavia, I would have said “pass.” I’d always had more of a desire to visit countries in the Mediterranean region or Eastern Europe. And yet, ten years later I have now set foot in all of the Scandinavian countries, something when I stop to think of it is pretty cool because they’re all hugely fascinating with rich histories and cultures unique to each of them.
As is my custom, I’ll be sharing countless in-depth write-ups on the excursions I went on and other posts related to a Northern European cruise in general in the coming weeks and months, but for now I thought I’d share the highs and lows of my week cruising in the Baltic Sea.
My Estonian food tour in Tallinn
I think it’s safe to say that many people are not familiar with the tiny Nordic/Baltic country called Estonia. I know I was definitely included in that demographic. So going on a food tour in the capital city’s beautiful and preserved Old Town seemed like the perfect fit. Not only would I be introduced to a cuisine I knew nothing about, I’d also get a primer on the country’s history and culture. The foods and drinks we tried were quite interesting but I truly enjoyed the non-food aspect too including learning that many older Estonians can understand Finnish due to the fact that during the Communist era (Estonia was once part of the former USSR), Estonia was cut off from the West so the people would watch Finnish television as a way of learning what was really going on in the outside world. And I fell head over heels in love with the Old Town; it ranked right up there with places like Charleston and Prague (if not more) in terms of sheer beauty. I’ll be writing a full post on the food tour in the coming weeks.
The private tour and concert at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
When I discovered that Disney Cruise Line offered a port excursion which included a private visit and concert at the world renowned Hermitage Museum, I booked it. Sure, it was insanely expensive but how often does one get to Russia? I also found it appealing since then it wouldn’t cut into the already quite busy eight hours of touring I had already allocated for other sites in St. Petersburg. Well, once there, I knew I had made the right decision. I didn’t have to stand in an hours’ long line to get inside, we just walked right in. There were no mobs on the Jordan Staircase in the Winter Palace (the Hermitage comprises multiple buildings) which meant I could actually pose for a photo, of just me. Sure, I didn’t get to remotely scratch the surface of this MASSIVE museum, but I got a wonderful introduction to it, passing through many galleries and seeing absolutely stunning works of art. And as a classical music lover, the concert in the Italian Gallery was divine. The orchestra played a selection of five pieces. My favorite might just have been Johann Strauss’ On the Beautiful Blue Danube.
As I didn’t make it to Tivoli, the beloved Danish theme park, on my last visit to Copenhagen, I knew I would need to make it happen this go round. Even though as I’ve gotten older, I don’t have the same fervor and passion for amusement parks as I did when I was a kid, I have to say, visiting Tivoli was truly a delight. (Minus the smoke; Europe, you’re so progressive and then you’re so behind when comes to cigarettes.) Unlike at American theme parks, none of the ride lines were crazy long, stuff just comfortably flowed. I enjoyed going on the rides that I did but more just enjoyed visiting a theme park in a foreign country and observing all the cultural differences. My favorite ride was undoubtedly the swings. You were hoisted up to an insane height but then rewarded with the most stunning 360 view of the city.
Feeling rushed in St. Petersburg
Even though on my particular cruise, the ship docked in St. Petersburg for about 15 hours, on my private tour I still felt rushed. I know I probably tried to pack in way too much in terms of what I wanted to see and do, notably visiting Peterhof (the Russian Versailles) since it’s nearly an hour outside of St. Petersburg so that was almost two hours “lost”sitting in a car. And while I got to everything I had asked to visit, the individual visits were short and rushed, especially the two churches I saw (St. Isaac’s Cathedral and Church of the Savior on Blood). Needless to say, I’d very much like to return to St. Petersburg one day, be land based, and just explore at my leisure.
The weather in St. Petersburg
I know I know, one has absolutely no control over the weather but I was really disappointed that on the entire cruise, the weather was the worst in St. Petersburg, the city I was most looking forward to visiting. And by worst I’m talking depressing gray, gloomy skies and then at one point, a sheer downpour. It can’t be helped but sad still that my photos couldn’t be travel guidebook beautiful.
Feeling “gypped” in other ports from a time perspective
I didn’t necessarily feel rushed in Tallinn since our food tour covered a lot. But in the ports of Helsinki and Stockholm, I really felt like we barely had any time there. For instance, in Stockholm, we could be off the ship by 9AM and all aboard was 4:30. It just doesn’t seem like nearly enough time when visiting a major European capital city. A long time in port was allocated for St. Petersburg, which yes, is the reason many people (myself included) book a Northern European cruise, and yet I feel less time is then given to the other port cities to make up for this.
Overall, I truly enjoyed my Northern European cruise and am grateful I saw and became captivated by a new region of Europe.