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Helsinki, Finland & Stockholm, Sweden
"Hail" to Finland and a Royal Sighting!


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 explore.

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 Diary index

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