Baltic cruise

In May of this year, I took a 12 night Holland America Baltic cruise on the 1600-passenger ship Rotterdam and it was a great opportunity to visit several cities that have been on my bucket list. The cruise left from Rotterdam, Holland and visited Copenhagen, Tallinn, Berlin, St Petersburg, Helsinki, and Stockholm. I took hundreds of photos and it has taken me this long to whittle them down to one per stop for this blog article.

I will post one representative photo and a short comment about each city.

Copenhagen, Denmark was clean and bright and one thing that struck me as unusual was that people just left their bicycles (and they use them a lot) unlocked without fear of having them stolen. This says a lot about the people who live there, don’t you think?

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Copenhagen, Denmark

Tallinn, Estonia was a delightful small city to roam in or climb the streets up to the top of the hill for a great view. It would be an ideal place just to hang out for a week, soaking up the ambiance, reading books and drinking coffee.

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Tallin, Estonia

Berlin, Germany was a 2 hour drive from where we docked but well worth the effort. A vibrant city with lots of parks and trees and recent history. The city is very open about acknowledging with a certain amount of shame, but more determination not to have it ever happen there again, the horrors and trauma of WW2 and the Nazi regime.

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Berlin, Germany

St Petersburg, Russia was certainly interesting visually but the glitz became almost too much. Much of St Petersburg (previously Leningrad) was destroyed during WW2 so, although the buildings like the Palaces and the Hermitage were impressive, they really were reconstructions, not the originals. Ostentatious comes to mind.

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St Petersburg, Russia

Helsinki, Finland seemed a bit drab after St Petersburg. Russians go there to shop. I spent the day there taking a ferry to a nearby island where there were no cars and lots of opportunity to walk near the sea. A refreshing change and I actually walked over 20 kilometres that day, not something you might expect on a cruise vacation.

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Helsinki, Finland

Stockholm, Sweden was a photographer’s delight. The old town on the island was very wanderable with colorful alleyways and streets at every turn. The city also has a lot of canals and waterways that made a hop-on-hop-off boat trip a must.

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Stockholm, Sweden

Rotterdam, Holland, where the cruise both started and ended, strikes me as a city with a shipping port/industrial past that is gradually gentrifying and becoming an interesting destination, not far from Delft and The Hague as well.

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Rotterdam, Holland

Taking a cruise like this is an excellent way of seeing these spots. It is so good to have all your things in one place for the trip and have a “hotel” room that moves with you.

Where would I return? I would gladly go back to spend a few days in Berlin. Lots of culture, history, museums, parks, restaurants, coffee shops. And Stockholm was also somewhere I could hang out for a few days.

 

Will I become a cruisaholic?

The idea of a cruise as a holiday never appealed to me in the past and it was on a bit of a whim that a friend and I took an Alaska cruise in May.  It was such a good holiday that to escape the cold January Canadian winter weather I signed up for a week on the Holland America ship, Rotterdam, sailing to four ports in the Gulf of Mexico.  I now find myself wondering what cruise is next!

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I took the Gulf of Mexico cruise on my own and, although the single supplement is often double the shared twin price with most cruise lines, the holiday is an excellent choice for a solo traveler.  IMG_6165 3I enjoyed having my own cabin with lots of space and privacy but I could also readily immerse myself in the other activities either on ship or at a port, where there was ample opportunity to chat and get to know other travelers, all of whom are in a friendly holiday mood.
I love being able to unpack at the first of the holiday and have my hotel room (and food and transport) move with me throughout the week, avoiding the hassle of checking in to new digs every night. Our Alaska cruise visited three ports during the week, all with the opportunity to explore on land for the day. The Gulf of Mexico cruise had four stops at Key West, Roatan, a little port in Guatemala and Costa Maya Mexico. In all those ports I was able to wander, go to a tropical beach and even snorkel.

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img_6659I was worried before I went on the first cruise that I would feel claustrophobic ( I remember a holiday in Bermuda in 1986 when I thought the island wasn’t big enough for me – more a function of my being able to sit still than the island) but the ship is like a small city with a large theatre, casino, several lounges with live music in the evenings, a gym, two pools and three hot tubs and a sun deck. I was easily able to get in my 10,500 steps, even on days we were at sea. In the week I walked 78 km and climbed 188 flights of stairs!

Then there is the food. Lots of it and good quality. My preference was to eat in the Lido Restaurant – with a huge selection served up cafeteria-style – but there was the opportunity to also to indulge in even more upscale service in the fine dining room. I managed to restrict my weight gain to about 2 pounds on the last cruise by insuring that I was physically active every day and limiting my desserts to one a day. See the quick “cruise” past the dinner offerings in the Lido restaurant on the 8th floor of the ship in the video below.

 

I had less luck limiting my Martini consumption as I ended up meeting a couple from Oklahoma at the Mix Bar every night at 6 when the bartender offered up three different martinis every night for $4 each.

As you can see, I am hooked on this kind of vacation, whether I do it with a friend or on my own. I will append videos with photos of both cruises. Where will I cruise next? Stay tuned, already working on that.

The high seas continued…in 2017

Just as I have trouble imagining conditions of the trip my great grandfather took across the North Atlantic 162 years ago, he would not have believed the experience I had this past week on the Volemdam cruise ship where the biggest hardship seemed to be prohibitively expensive satellite WiFi.

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Our room on the Volendam.

The Volendam is a 785 foot long, 63,000 ton Holland America Lines ship that cruised to Alaska along the inner passage and in the North Pacific.

With 1400 passengers and 620 crew, this ship offered a relaxing week with tons (literally) of food, a casino, pool that sometimes had waves in it as the ship waved from side to side, several dining rooms and bars, a 500 seat theatre with nightly entertainment and a deck boardwalk that allowed me to walk my 10,000 steps every day.  In fact, over the past seven days I have, according to my phone pedometer, walked over 75 km and climbed 125 flights of stairs.  IMG_1399.JPG

We stopped at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan and spent one full day cruising around Glacier Bay.  Photos of those excursions will follow. But for today, the photos will be of the boat itself.

Grandfather Porterfield, who likely ate salted meat, beans and rice for five weeks would have been astounded by our ships kitchen and the incredible selection of tasty food available to us.

All in all this was a very pleasant week of relaxation and decadence and I can only say good things about the Holland America Lines ship, crew and holiday experience.

I wonder how my great grandchildren will travel?  A space station vacation, perhaps?

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The elevator mats always reminded you of what day it was.  Otherwise it was hard to tell!

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