After almost two years we finally were able to cruise again on Royal Caribbean. The 11 day Baltic cruise started in Copenhagen on August 10. We got to Copenhagen on the 7th to see the city before the cruise. This cruise
was a makeup for a canceled cruise in 2020. We picked the Baltic for the cooler weather, and it included countries we had not been to before. Most Americans will never go to Gdansk, Poland or Riga, Latvia for example. One of the other factors in picking
this cruise was it included 2 days in St. Petersburg, Russia. When the invasion of Ukraine occurred, this stop was canceled, and others added. Despite this disappointment, it was very good cruise. Great ship, perfect weather and interesting places
Our ship was Voyager of the Seas. This is one of the bigger ships in the fleet, which includes a lot of extra attractions and space compared to the more traditional mid-size ships. She has a capacity for 4,400 passengers
but we were about half full which greatly added to our cruise experience. The service and food was five star all the way and we had no complaints at all except for the roulette wheels in the casino not hitting my favorite numbers enough! I have
included some pictures in the photo tab that should give you an idea of how nice Voyager is.
Our itinerary included Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark; Gdansk in Poland; Klaipeda in Lithuania; Tallinn in Estonia; Riga in Latvia and Stockholm
and Visby in Sweden.
Copenhagen is the capital and most populous city of Denmark (800,000). Copenhagen is separated from Malmö, Sweden, by the strait of Oresund. Originally
a Viking fishing village established in the 10th century, Copenhagen became the capital of Denmark in the early 15th century. I remember Copenhagen history in another way. We studied Lord Nelson’s 3 most famous victories at the
Naval Academy, The Nile, Trafalgar and Copenhagen.
We were there for 3 days before and then part of the day on the 21st when the cruise ended. That gave us a lot of time to walk about and rent bikes to see inside and outside of the city.
The downtown areas of Copenhagen are very modern and quite plain, and it reminds me some of Stockholm in that is very flat and surrounded by water. Our hotel, 25Hours, was one of the most off-beat hotels we have ever stayed. The building was originally a porcelain
factory and then a university. Our room was very small with no closet or dresser and decorated with odd artsy objects. The lobby area included a love room and a vinyl room for playing classic records.
The harbor areas are full of sailboats and nice
places to walk and eat. We did find more than enough of the side streets with old cobblestone pavements, very historic but not great on the bike. On the last day we biked up to the harbor entrance to see the iconic Little Mermaid statue which was much closer
to the riverbank than we expected.
Aarhus (pronounced Ohuus) is second-largest city in Denmark (282,000), located on the eastern shore of Jutland (where the famous WWI sea battle
derived its name). Aarhus dates back to at least the late 8th century, founded as a harbor settlement at the mouth of the Aarhus River by the Vikings. The first Christian church was built here around the year 900 and after the Viking Age the town
became a religious center, building several churches and a Cathedral during the early Middle Ages. The town has a growing harbor area to support ever increasing international trade and a large university, where students account for a large portion
of the population.
We did a guided walking tour of the town, which has kept some of its very old structures and streets much the way they were in the middle ages. Our guide gave us a good deal of local history to think about during our pleasant walk.
The chief tourist site was the Cathedral, built between 1190 – 1300.
Gdańsk is Poland’s major seaport with a long and complex history. An important shipbuilding port
and trade point since the Middle Ages, it has had periods of Polish, Prussian and German rule, and periods of autonomy as a free city-state. From 1918 to 1939, Gdańsk (Danzig to the Germans) lay in the disputed Polish
corridor between Poland and Germany. The Post WW II city was shaped by extensive border changes, expulsions and new settlement. In the 1980s, Gdańsk was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement, which played a
major role in bringing an end to Communism in Poland.
Our guided tour began with a kayak trip in an around the harbor which always gives you a unique perspective of a town or city. The better part of the tour was an extensive walk through
the old parts of the city. Our guide was excellent and was direct in his comparisons of Gdańsk and Poland before and after communism and the Russians. Visits like this one are very important to see first-hand parts of the world impacted by such terrible
history and then their recovery with pride and optimism. The city was mostly destroyed at the end of WWII and the restoration since is very impressive. The photos show how all the buildings around the main plaza and along the river and harbor have
been restored to look like they did before the war. Gdańsk was full of tourists and seemed to be a vibrant and progressive city.
Klaipéda is the only seaport for the small country of Lithuania.
The port has had long historical importance because it is an ice-free passage to the Baltic. In the 7th century Baltic tribes founded the first known settlement at this site. At various times, it was a part of the Polish–Lithuanian
Commonwealth, Prussia and Germany until the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Even the name of the city has changed over the centuries. From 1252 to 1923 the city was officially named Memel. From 1939 to 1945 both names were
in official use, and then changed to only the Lithuanian name of Klaipėda. In the aftermath of World War II almost all the new residents came to Klaipėda from Lithuania, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, replacing the former German-speaking
population. Now the majority population is Lithuanian, but with a very large Russian speaking segment.
We did a tour of the harbor and city on our own with great weather to make it a quiet and relaxing walk. Impressive sites included the
remains of the castle and fort from the middle ages and city hall, an impressive building from the 19th century and the temporary residence of King Frederick William III of Prussia. The best part of the tour was near the harbor where
we found some side streets with older and colorful houses and picturesque canals. One surprise on our way back to the ship was waiting for a small hand operated swing bridge to reconnect the main harbor to the cruise piers (Katherine took a video, in
the photo tab).
The capital of Finland, it is the world's northernmost metro area with over one million people. It was the venue for the 1952 Summer Olympics and is considered one
of the most livable cities in the world. Early settlements went back as far as the stone age, modern Helsinki was established as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550, as the town of Helsingfors.
We did a guided bicycle tour to
see Helsinki. We had a good bike run around the city and in the harbor area. We saw one of the beaches (with real sand), the Olympic stadium and several of the big parks and part of city center which included the Lutheran Cathedral, Parliament and Helsinki
University. We found Helsinki to be fine but thought that Stockholm was much more impressive.
Tallin is Estonia’s capital on the Baltic Sea. Around 1050, the first fortress was built and
in 1285, Tallinn, then known more widely as Reval, became the northernmost member of the Hanseatic League – a mercantile and military alliance of German-dominated cities in Northern Europe. During World War II, Estonia was first occupied
by the Red Army and annexed into the USSR in 1940, then occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. After the German retreat in September 1944, the city was occupied again by the Soviet Union. In 1991, the independent democratic Estonian
nation was re-established and a period of quick development as a modern European capital ensued.
We again decided to not do a ship excursion and just walk through the city on our own. Tallin retains much of its walled, cobblestoned Old Town as
well as a 15th-century defensive tower. Its Gothic Town Hall, built in the 13th century, sits in the main square which is surrounded by many cafes. I discovered something better than a café; a Baskins Robbins! I suggested that we can get Estonian
food anywhere, so Banana Splits was our choice for lunch. The oldest part of Tallin has kept a medieval look. After lunch we found the 13th century St. Nicholas Church and some winding side streets to explore.
Riga is the capital and largest city in Latvia. Riga began to develop as a center of Viking trade during the early Middle Ages, the current city traces its founding to 1201 and, like Tallin, is a former Hanseatic League member. Over
the centuries, Riga and Latvia were part of Swedish, Russian and German empires. And, like all of the Baltic states, suffered Russian and German occupations during WWII followed by assimilation by the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union Latvia
became independent in 1991.
We really enjoyed the guided walking tour. There are many examples of the old medieval city still visible. Some of the original walls exist along with one of the gates (stone portals) into the city from 1201. The
tour was particularly good because of our guide. He was old enough to have lived through the Soviet era and gave his personal account of what it was like living under a brutal authoritarian regime. He told the history of the town as he brought us to important
locations. He also told us of the current conflict in Riga (and Latvia) between the now majority Latvians and the remaining Russians. Riga was a very good tour.
We had spent
4 days in Stockholm in June, so we didn’t plan on leaving the ship on this stop. We did reconsider and thought about going to the city to have lunch at our favorite place, Meatballs for the People but it turned out it was long and expensive
cab ride to get into the city, so we stayed onboard.
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, encompasses 14 islands and more than 50 bridges on an extensive Baltic Sea archipelago. The modern city was founded in 1252 and became the center of the Swedish
empire. For several hundred years, it was the capital of Finland as well, which then was a part of Sweden.
When we visited in June, we saw most of the major sites and took advantage of this bike friendly city to rent electric bikes on two
different days. Stockholm is a very impressive city. The architecture of the large buildings along the waterfront stood out as well the boulevards along the rivers. The cobblestone streets and ochre-colored buildings of the old town are home to the 13th-century
Storkyrkan Cathedral, the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum (the Nobel Prize).
Our hotel, the Kung Carl, was perfectly located and over two hundred years old. Like Norway, Stockholm is expensive, especially alcohol. Even so, our impression was
that the bars and cafes were full and open late into the night. We actually had meatballs for all four lunches in Stockholm. The previously mentioned Meatballs for the People was rated the best.
The Aaba and Viking museums were
good visits, but the very popular Vasa Museum was the best. The museum displays the only almost fully intact 17th-century ship that has ever been salvaged, the 64-gun warship Vasa. This massive ship had several fatal design flaws which caused
her to sink in the harbor on her maiden voyage in 1628. The Stockholm photos were taken during our June visit.
Our last port of call was Visby, a town on the Swedish island of Gotland.
Settled around 900, It's known for its well-preserved city wall built in 1300, and as the best-preserved medieval city in Scandanavia. The town's churches include the centuries-old St. Mary's Cathedral and the medieval ruins of St. Nicolai and
Again, we took advantage of a knowledgeable tour guide to look back in time to early Scandinavia. The complete ring wall is impressive as you approach the old town. We found many old narrow streets and colorful stone houses. It
was built on three tiers up from the sea and offered great photo opportunities. After seeing church ruins and an organ recital inside St. Mary’s we got to the main square, Stora Torget, with all cobblestone streets lined with cafes and restaurants. Our
guide did a good job with her stories connecting the town’s long history to the existing buildings and houses. It is easy to see why Visby is a very popular tourist destination in Scandinavia.