Cruise Diary ~
Finland & Stockholm, Sweden
"Hail" to Finland and a Royal
What a greeting! Seagulls
swooping above, below, and all around our stateroom balcony as we
arrived on a lovely sunny, Sunday morning. Not too cold, not too
warm--the weather seemed "just right" and we set off to
At the foot of the gangway I got
directions to the nearby Tourism Board office and we headed there
for maps and information to guide us. Unfortunately, the
"blond" (me) was reading the map... I might also point out
that the lady in the tourism office did point us in the wrong
direction. However, after a nice walk with a bit of window-shopping
as a bonus, we managed to make our way to Senate Square with its
lovely neo-classic architecture. I've seen several references made
that refer to this central square as "reminiscent" of St.
Petersburg but I couldn't disagree more. It might have served as a
setting for Gorky Park and Reds, but nothing in
Finland reminded us of Russia. Where St. Petersburg was dour and
dirty, Helsinki sparkled.
Once in Senate Square, we consulted
our walking tour booklet and map and were contemplating our next
move when our "confused tourist guardian angels" appeared.
Helsinki's tourism board has a squadron of young people, all in
distinctive attire and sporting name badges indicating the languages
they speak. They suggested we catch the 3T tram for a
"tour" of the city. We could get off and on as many times
as we wanted within an hour for one low fare. It sounded like a good
idea so we got on and the driver gave us a map that described the
stops and points of interest (they also appeared on an overhead
lighted board as we approached them).
A few of the sites sounded
interesting but we decided to stay on the tram when the sky opened
up. Our morning sunshine disappeared as rain fell in sheets,
followed by hail! Talk about changes in the weather... by the time
the tram approached the harbor, the sun was again shining but the
day had turned windy and cold. We left the tram and headed for a
cafeteria and a sampling of Finnish pastries and coffee. Then we hit
the Market Square, an open air market where you can buy everything
from strawberries to reindeer pelts.
For a wonderful city panorama, we
walked up to the Uspenski Cathedral, the city's Orthodox cathedral
built in 1868. From its terrace overlooking the small craft harbor
and Katajanokka Casino (a restaurant with a summer patio) we had a
beautiful view of the heart of Helsinki.
Seagulls and a brass band bid us
farewell as we sailed from a city we enjoyed immensely.
It seemed as though the seagulls
and brass band followed us from Helsinki to greet us in the capital
of Sweden. I wonder how many cities are dubbed "Venice of the
North" because of their waterways and canals? Stockholm
certainly came closest in our estimation. Mel and I split up for the
day. He joined fellow passengers on a local bus to the city center
and the Old Town to take in the sights--the Royal Palace (Europe's
oldest and largest still in use), the Royal Cathedral, and other
impressive landmarks. Mel declared Stockholm his favorite port of
call because of the warmth and friendliness of the people.
I took a shore excursion to
Drottningholm Palace, the residence of the Swedish royal family.
After a bus ride past the city center and famous NK Department Store
and along the posh Strandvagan (where Ingrid Bergman lived at #1 and
Bjorn Borg's digs are at #9), we boarded a boat for a picturesque
cruise past the summer cottages that dot the shoreline of Lake
Malaren to Drottningholm. The royal family preferred it as a place
where their children could grow up amid lush parks and in privacy.
While official functions are usually held in the Royal Palace in
Stockholm, Drottningholm is a haven of tranquility where the family
uses about 20 of the palace's 220 rooms.
Surrounded by lush gardens, the
18th century Baroque palace with its charming interiors seems almost
modest when compared to those occupied by the Russian Tsars and
Tsarinas. We didn't see the King or Queen of Sweden strolling in the
formal gardens; however, we did spot a member of the royal
household... "Bingo"--the family's Golden Retriever.
Packing it in...
Thankfully, we'd folded up and
packed things away all during the cruise so we merely had to gather
up what was left. We accomplished the majority of the serious
packing after leaving Helsinki the previous evening and wrapped
things up before a final festive dinner with friends.
All in all, our cruise through the
Baltic Capitals was a delight. Such contrasts from country to
country! The major highlights for me were my Norwegian homeland and
the Russian White Nights. The European royals had nothing on us...
on a cruise, we were catered to and waited on for two glorious weeks
in comfort and style.
Back to the Baltic Capitals Cruise