Cruising Scandinavia & the Baltic Sea Trip Log: June 8–17, 2022
June 7, 2022 | Arrival in Copenhagen
Our guests arrived for our wonderful tour of the Baltic Sea region and checked into our luxurious hotel located on the main canal of Copenhagen. Many of us chose to take a stroll either along the banks of the canal or into the old town, which was all of 10 minutes from our hotel, while others chose to rest following the long journey from home.
June 8, 2022 | Copenhagen
Following a breakfast of local specialties, we divided into two groups for our walking tour of the old town. Our guides described the many old buildings as we walked along through this beautiful city. We passed Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, the huge red brick train station and many shops, towers, and buildings of various architectural styles. We then walked to the famous old canal lined with houses from earlier centuries, all painted in diverse bright colors. Our guide informed us that this was the old red light district formerly frequented by sailors, now a major tourist site. Our guide surprised us by taking us to an ice cream parlor where we had our pick of anything we wanted, courtesy of our A&K hosts. From that point we boarded a local canal ferry that took us back to near our hotel. Along the way, our guides described the many modern towers visible from the boat alongside former factories, and we appreciated the juxtaposition of ultra-modern style with the traditional buildings of the old town.
Upon arriving back at our hotel, we had a snack and then boarded buses to take us to our soon-to-be home away from home, ‘Le Champlain.’ Along the way we did a bit more sightseeing, stopping at the royal residence to learn about its history before boarding the ship. At check-in, we were escorted to our various cabins and then met in the lounge where our staff was introduced to the group. After a delightful dinner, we all settled into our cabins for our first good night’s sleep.
June 9, 2022 | At Sea: Copenhagen to Gdansk
We set sail this morning on our cruise from Copenhagen, Denmark to Gdansk, Poland. The sea was absolutely calm, which allowed for smooth sailing and a thoroughly relaxing day. Our enrichment program began with Professor Ron Wixman, a specialist in cultural and political geography, presenting a talk on the three major Scandinavian people, the Danes, Swedes and Norse peoples. He also talked about the role of the Vikings in the establishment of a great trading network where skilled craftsmen, makers of weapons and all sorts of skilled crafts developed.
After a break and some treats, our other lecturer, Gosia Wnuczko-Dominguez, presented a fascinating talk on Sweden’s social system, its economy and the attitudes of Swedes toward their society. She then went on to explain how these attitudes catapulted Swedish intellectuals, scientist, businessmen, and thinkers to become so prominent in the world. With so much to digest, we all went for lunch.
In the afternoon, we were treated to a fascinating talk with photos by our photo specialist Andy Coleman titled “An Introduction to Photographing in Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea.” His photos included human subjects, various individuals as well as herds of animals, sceneries from around the world, and seascapes. He explained to us the importance of placement of the subject, the angles to use, how to frame the main subject of a photo as well as use sunrise, sunset, midday, and various angles to make the images far more interesting.
As a break we were furnished with a delightful formal afternoon tea. Suzana, our Expedition Director, then stepped in and gave us a briefing on our choses of excursions for tomorrow in Gdansk, Poland. Shortly after this, Gosia gave a second talk entitled “The Sustainable Nations,” which highlighted the relative place in the world of Denmark and Norway as among the leading countries in the movement toward the use of wind power, alternative sources of energy, and the green movement. Gosia spoke with great pride about Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who became a world leader of a student movement to save the planet.
Today was a serious intellectual day for our passengers, sparking numerous conversations among guests about the various topics presented. To top it all off, this evening brought a cocktail party with introductions of the ship’s staff, followed by a fabulous dinner. As if that wasn’t sufficient, Paul, our cruise director, arranged for a wonderful performance of songs and dances. Afterward we sat, chatted, had drinks and went off to sleep in our comfortable cabins.
June 10, 2022 | Gdansk, Poland
After breakfast, we broke into three groups for the day’s excursions. The first group to leave the ship went to Malbork Castle. Built by the Teutonic Order of Knights, this restored 13th-century castle provides a stunning example of medieval defensive architecture. After a lunch of local specialties, we returned to the old city to see some of the major monuments and get a feel for the beautifully restored city.
Our second group explored Gdansk’s World War II heritage, beginning at the Westerplatte monument just outside Danzig, a site marking the September 1, 1939, Nazi invasion of Poland and the official outbreak of the war. At the Museum of the Second World War, we took in exhibits framing the war’s impact on past, present and future generations. After lunch, we paid a solemn visit to Stutthof, one of the first Nazi concentration camps built during the war.
Our third group embarked on a walking tour of Gdansk’s iconic sites, entering through the city’s Golden Gate to reveal a courtyard ringed by magnificently restored houses. We snapped photos of Neptune's Fountain, City Hall and St. Mary’s, the world’s largest brick church. After sampling Polish pastries at a local café, we strolled along the Motlawa River, taking in the passing boats and the riverfront’s iconic wooden crane. At lunch, we learned how to make traditional Polish pierogis while sampling some local vodka. Our free time was spent browsing the streets or shopping for amber.
Back aboard the ship we were treated to a chocolate-themed afternoon tea. Ron Wixman, our cultural and political geographer, offered insight into the Soviet/Nazi pact of 1939 and its impact on the people of Western Europe during and after World War II. Taking in all of this history had given us a more meaningful perspective on the day’s explorations. We reflected, grateful that this special corner of the world has endured despite its tumultuous history.
June 11, 2022 | Klaipeda, Lithuania
After skirting the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, we arrived in Klaipeda, Lithuania. Here, we broke into two groups for walking tours of the old town, most of which had been reconstructed after massive devastation at the hands of the Soviets. At the town’s small but poignant World War II museum, we took in exhibits exploring life before and during the war. We then strolled amid the old town’s reconstructed houses and central riverfront, pausing to take in a lovely statue depicting a barefoot young girl, a symbol of the town’s enduring spirit. At the outdoor market, we watched as locals proudly presented their finest produce, meat and baked goods for sale. One group ended their tour with appetizers and drinks at a local café, while the other group raised a toast at the city’s renowned brewery.
Reconvening aboard the coach, our guide pointed out highlights as we made our way through the new part of town. As we arrived at the pier, an orchestra of young locals greeted us with traditional Lithuanian music.
Back on board, we gathered for two enrichment lectures. Ron discussed the Vikings’ influence in the creation of the Hanseatic League and the subsequent role this commercial institution played on the rise and spread of Protestantism throughout the Germanic and Scandinavian worlds. After tea, our cultural lecturer Gosia explored Scandinavian social and economic systems and how they impact the lives of the people living in these “Happy Nations.” After such an enriching day, we were quite happy ourselves, retiring contentedly for another inspiring day ahead.
June 12, 2022 | Riga, Latvia
Leaving the Baltic Sea, we sailed up the Daugava River to the enchanting town of Riga, its old town dazzling us with its phenomenal architecture. Parts of the town were built by German knights in the 13th and 14th centuries, others by the wealthy merchants of the Hanseatic League, while still others date to the art nouveau period.
We split into three groups. One group focused more of their time exploring these art nouveau buildings and the elaborate floral plantings of the local parks. A second group drove through the art nouveau district, disembarking to walk the narrow, winding streets and alleyways of the old town. The third group set out on a bicycle tour of the city’s old town, art nouveau area, moat and local parks. We were particularly taken with the ornately adorned Old Guild Hall and the cavernous Riga Cathedral, where we enjoyed a private organ concert.
After this exciting morning, we broke up for time at leisure. Some of us went back to the ship for lunch on the back deck, while others dined in local restaurants or explored the streets of Riga on their own. In the late afternoon, we departed across the Baltic Sea toward Stockholm. Once underway, we savored a relaxing tea followed by a lecture from Gosia. She introduced us to Finnish sauna culture and some of the more obscure aspects of the nation’s history. Primed with this knowledge, we were excited to go ashore tomorrow and explore for ourselves.
June 13, 2022 | Stockholm, Sweden
We awoke this morning as ‘Le Champlain’ made its way through the stunning Stockholm archipelago, a swath of small rocky islands covered with dense forest and dotted with the colorful summer homes of the locals. En route to Stockholm, Ron gave a lecture on the Rise of Modern Nations.
After lunch, we boarded our tender and disembarked in the center of Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stann. One of our groups walked Gamla Stann’s cobbled lanes to reveal a 14th-century cathedral and the oldest public square in the city. After a stop to sample some of Sweden’s famous cinnamon rolls, we continued on to tour the magnificent Royal Palace, the residence of Sweden’s king and queen.
A second group embarked on a culinary tour. At Saluhall Market, they sampled Nordic fare including moose, reindeer and a variety of local cheeses. They then tried some local fish stew, followed by cinnamon rolls for dessert.
Our third group toured the iconic Stockholm City Hall, one of the largest architectural undertakings of the 20th century and host to the annual awarding of the Nobel Prize. Built from some 8,000,000 bricks, the hall’s interiors boast huge mosaics, frescoes and statues depicting a modern version of Swedish history. Afterward, the group enjoyed an elaborate High Tea at the Grand Hotel.
‘Le Champlain’ was anchored a short distance from the quay, making it easy for us to dine ashore or explore the old town after dinner on board. The clear weather and 10 p.m. sunset made for an exceptionally pleasant evening.
June 14, 2022 | Stockholm, Sweden
This morning we split into two groups, with one touring Drottningholm Palace and Theater, and the other exploring the artwork of the Millesgarden Museum and Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde.
Those of us touring the palace began with a boat ride. Arriving at 17th-century Drottningholm Palace, we were awed by the lavish decor, beautifully painted ceilings and fine artworks. After a stroll through the gardens, we returned to the ship for lunch.
The second group embarked on a short drive to the Millesgarden Museum, where we explored the former home of sculptor Carl Milles and his wife, artist Olga Milles, as well as an art gallery and a sculpture park. Surrounding the home were beautifully kept gardens with rhododendrons in full bloom. We then transferred to Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, the former home of Crown Prince Eugen, an interesting royal who became one of Sweden’s most famous artists.
After lunch on board, two optional excursions were offered to us: an escorted tour of the old town and Royal Palace, or a visit to the Vasa Museum, its main exhibit featuring the sunken and recovered 17th-century flagship of the Royal Swedish Navy.
Back on board, we were treated to a delightful vodka and caviar tasting as we sailed back through the Stockholm archipelago. With the moon rising on one horizon and the sun setting on the other, we slipped into the open waters of the Baltic, the ship headed toward Tallinn, our next destination.
June 15, 2022 | Tallinn, Finland
As we cruised the Baltic this morning on our way to Tallinn, Andy Coleman presented some expert photography tips, and our political geographer Ron discussed the Russian and German influences on the Baltic States.
After lunch, we broke into three groups. One group visited Estonia’s Kakerdaja wetlands, where they donned rubber boots and gaiters to hike amid mirror-smooth pools, quiet hollows and springy peat bogs. A second group visited two of the oldest manor houses in Estonia, touring the manor gardens in golf carts and glimpsing the former opulence of the ruling German nobility. On returning to the ship, these first two groups had the option to explore the old town of Tallinn or have dinner back on board.
The third and largest group embarked on a guided walk around Tallinn, exploring the former residences of the high German nobility, the Estonian parliament building, the Teutonic Lutheran church and a scenic overlook, as well as the old town’s central square, battlements and gothic buildings. At a medieval inn, we were served local fare paired with spiced beers.
Many of us chose to stay in town and enjoy the ambiance, while others returned to the ship. Back aboard, a troupe of local dancers capped off our evening with a spirited performance.
June 16, 2022 | Helsinki, Finland
Today, we had a choice of two tours. One group embarked on a panoramic morning tour of Helsinki, while the other explored the village of Porvoo and Haikko Manor.
The Helsinki coach tour highlighted two magnificent churches commissioned by Russian Tsars, the Lutheran cathedral, Senate Square, the open-air market, the new opera house, the National Museum, Finlandia Hall, the Rock Church and Sibelius Park’s iconic pipe organ wind chime. After returning for lunch, we enjoyed an afternoon at leisure to explore Helsinki on our own.
The other group made the hour drive to the village of Porvoo, traversing beautiful, forested countryside en route. Porvoo’s old stone church crowns the top of the hill, with winding streets meandering below it. We spent an hour strolling amid the numerous shops and cafés of these cobbled lanes with our guide, eventually breaking off to explore on our own. We continued on to Haikko Manor, the former residence of a wealthy Swedish merchant. Here, we were welcomed with a local blackcurrant drink and guided to the terrace for stunning views of the river and surrounding forests. We were offered a variety of choices for lunch, all of which were delicious. We then drove back to Helsinki for a boat tour around the harbor, spotting several Finnish icebreakers and a former Russian fort.
After returning to the ship, we reconvened for our final recap, a slide show of our journey and the Captain’s farewell dinner. We shared stories with our new friends and dreamed of future trips together. We concluded with a wonderful concert entitled An Evening with Sibelius, a Finnish masterwork from the late 19th century — a fitting way to end the trip.
June 17, 2022 | Helsinki, Finland
Today, we said goodbye to our fellow travellers and transferred to the airport to head home or continue on our respective journeys. We returned with plenty of stories and memories, as well as a newfound understanding of this special corner of the world.
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