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Treasures Of The Baltic - What Will You Find?

23rd May 2014

There are not many days that pass without me thinking about being at sea, and after someone asking me this week where my favourite cruise destination is, it lead me to reminisce about my time in the Baltic.

Beautiful Baltic…

The word 'Baltic' to some people instantly evokes thoughts of a frosty chill, but these are two words I refuse to put together in a sentence when talking about the Baltic.

A sense of travelling to the unknown is a feeling common to those who embark on a Baltic adventure. Home to some of the world’s best kept secrets, it exploits mystical wonders and intense beauty.

Showcasing the most captivating cities in the world, it is a treasure chest of history-enriched culture, fascinating architecture and stunning landscapes. Immersing yourself in this dynamic part of the world will mesmerize you at every turn.

A place where cathedrals stand higher than surrounding mountains, colours illuminate small towns, and coastlines are as beautiful as the friendly locals. The Baltic truly took my heart.

Where is the Baltic?

The Baltic Sea is the area located between Central and Northern Europe. The main countries visited on a Baltic cruise are Russia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Sweden.

One of the reasons I love this area so much is how the striking coastlines act as runways up to breath-taking cities. All the countries that border the Baltic offer something different, which is why a cruise to this region offers such a diverse and unique experience.

A Baltic Surprise…

I believe the Baltic region can most thoroughly be explored on a cruise. Sailing past the dazzling coastlines, before stopping in these endearing regions, allows you to delve into a different culture every day, all on the same holiday.

I could talk about my favourite Baltic regions forever, but the below are my top highlights that should not be missed:

St Petersburg, Russia

Evolving from a swamp, St Petersburg has grown to become one of the most inspiring cities in the world. From its rich history, lavish architecture, and enchanted atmosphere, it has every ingredient for a memorable trip.

St Petersburg has an intriguing way of alluring every single visitor during their first few steps here. The city is an exhibition of delights, and stands ready to entice anyone.

There is no shortage of incredible sights here, from museums, architectural marvels, and street opera groups serenading you as your eyes ponder where to turn next. This is one place you will definitely not want to forget your camera.

A city tour is a great way to see all of what St Petersburg has to offer, although just taking yourself on a stroll will put you on an unimaginable journey of discovery. Stand in awe at the iconic Church of the Savior on Blood, be taken back by the Kazan Cathedral, or explore the famous Hermitage Museum. There is so much to do here that many cruise lines have started to stay overnight.

The mysterious white nights allow you to spend evenings at the ballet, dining alfresco, and watching as the colours from the Church of the Savior on Blood illuminate the city.

When can you cruise here: Normally between May – October

Cruise lines that stop here - Royal Caribbean, Azamara Club Cruises, Fred Olsen Cruises, P&O Cruises

My highlight: Azamara do an AzAmazing evening at the ballet in Mikhailovsky Theater - incredible experience!

Look out for: The fantastic street entertainers that perform around The Church Of The Savior On Blood

Helsinki, Finland

In my eyes Helsinki is underrated and is not shouted about enough. Easily one of the most intriguing cities I have visited, it is somewhere I could definitely go again and again and discover something new each time.

Named 'The Daughter of the Baltic', the city is like a year-round winter wonderland. Its vibrant character invites you to explore its many wonders, and likes to show off its beauty.

Although Helsinki has a quintessentially Scandinavian flare, its graceful buildings and spacious boulevards differentiate it from other Baltic regions.

The locals of Helsinki love nothing more than the outdoors, and their connection with nature is evident; no matter what the weather, they are outside. The winter sees them wrapped up head to toe, fishing in iced covered lakes, and summer sees coats retired to hooks and outdoor bars and cafes heaving with smiles.

Although it is a fairly large city - home to over 600,000 - it still exposes a small Nordic town feel that welcomes every visitor with open arms.

When can you cruise here: Normally between May – October

Cruise lines that stop here: Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, P&O Cruises

My highlight: The Helsinki Speedboat Blast Excursion

Look out for: Locals preparing fresh fish at the seafood markets

Tallinn, Estonia

A mixture of contemporary modern city life combined with a medieval old town makes a visit to Tallinn a unique experience that cannot be had at many other cities.

Surviving a turbulent history, the quaint city of Tallinn is a story that waits to be read. The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site that showcases some of the most beautiful old buildings I have ever seen. The winding cobbled streets lined with quirky shops and cafes create a scene that takes you back in time. People watching from a sidewalk café is an event in itself!

Art and architecture play an important role here, and is apparent in the unusually designed buildings that stand out around you. Ancient cathedrals, century-old houses, and iconic monuments are all features that are sure to fascinate you when walking around.

With so much to see it is hard to plan your time - especially if you only have a day here. Explore the Lahemaa National Park, discover the history behind the Estonian Maritime Museum, or be amazed by the Valaste waterfall. Simply spending the day exploring on foot is also a great option, and you never know what you are going to discover next.

When can you cruise here: Normally between May – October

Cruise lines that stop here: Cunard Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Azamara Club Cruises, Princess Cruises

My highlight: Walking around the Lahemaa National Park (honestly like something from a fairy tale!)

Look out for: The Town Wall

Riga, Latvia

Latvia is the Baltic’s best kept secret, and is rapidly becoming a cultural favourite for tourists and holidaymakers. Although the love for Riga is growing, it hasn’t lost its untouched charm, and its historic wonders are what still makes it a unique destination.

Its historic importance is displayed everywhere you turn - most of the architecture is centuries old, and every building appears to have a story to tell. Situated at the mouth of the Daugava, its entrance is an amazing sight to capture, perfect when sailing in by cruise.

Home to one of the largest collections of art nouveau in the world, its 17th century streets are bursting with personality that entice you from the minute you start your Latvian adventure. Wandering around is a brilliant activity in itself, as every corner you turn presents a new mystery.

The local Latvian women are unarguably glamorous, and spend hours strolling around the stylish boutiques that line the cobbled streets. Why not embrace the atmosphere and enjoy the Latvian way of life, starting with eating fresh pastries in cafes on a daily basis.

Riga has one of the most vibrant nightlives in the Baltic, and past 6.00pm the city comes alive with lively pubs, exciting cocktails bars, and cosmopolitan nightclubs.

When can you cruise here: Normally from May – October

Cruise lines that stop here: Star Clippers, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, MSC Cruises

My highlight: The view of Riga from St Peter’s Church Tower

Look out for: The Freedom Monument

Stockholm, Sweden

One of my favourite cities in the world - not just the Baltic - Stockholm is a haven of picture-perfect scenery that looks better than any postcard.

Its stunning approach is only a taster of the adventure to be had here. Stockholm lies where the Baltic meets Lake Malaren, making it an awe-inspiring sight to sail in to, and even more incredible as you sail out in the evening.

A necklace of canals bisect parts of the city, adding to its individuality. Strolling around Stockholm is unlike walking around any other city - it creates a serene feeling that makes everything appear almost unreal. With boats sailing up the river one side of you, and rows of lavish cafes the other side of you, it showcases the best in Scandinavian lifestyle.

Although walking around Stockholm is exciting and full of fun discoveries, my advice would be to make time to explore some of what the city has to offer. Stockholm Palace stands boldly with its striking design, and you might even be lucky enough to experience the changing of the guards. Explore the Vasa Musuem, put your dancing shoes back on at the ABBA Museum, or take a glass-topped boat along the canal to get the best views of Stockholm’s enchanting architecture.

When can you cruise here: Normally May – October

Cruise lines that stop here: P&O Cruises, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises

My highlight: Eating lunch al-fresco in Stortorget Square

Look out for: The changing of the guards at Stockholm Royal Palace

Vikings and Jazz - The Fascinating Festivals of Norway

23rd May 2014

A cruise alongside Norway’s dramatic fjords is the trip of a lifetime. With their raw, astonishing beauty, they push away thoughts of the modern world and reconnect you with what our world is capable of creating. Norway, ancestral home of the Vikings, is the perfect place to bask in this feeling. Its most popular festivals will take you back in time, then home to the present to enjoy some of the best music in the world. From Karmøy’s time-travelling Viking Festival, to the world-class music and food festivals which can be found across Norway during the summer months, cruising visitors will be hard-pressed to choose where to go and what to see here.

Viking Festival, Karmøy

The coastal municipality of Karmøy, found in the northwestern region of Norway, had a reputation as a sailing community even during the time of the Vikings - in spite of the stormy and dangerous seas off its coast. It was said that Thor, the god of thunder, waded the straits at Karmsund each day on his way to Yggdrasil. This heritage is evident by the Viking remnants and ruins to be found here, and at the beginning of June Karmøy celebrates its long and storied past by recreating the lives of the Vikings.

The festival, which takes place at Karmøy’s reconstructed Viking settlement, is a treat for history buffs of any age. There’s no feeling in the world like standing in a place of history and watching that history unfold around you in a stunning and fascinating way. Wander through the vast “Viking Market” at the center of the festival, watch actors recreate living history, and take in the reconstructions: massive wooden boats, a blacksmith exhibit, storytelling of Norse myths and history, horse shows, archery, weapons demonstrations, and much more. When you’re ready to dig your hands in yourself, you can take part in a wide range of activities that have been put together to pull you deeper into authentic Viking life. Once you’ve learned the ins-and-outs of plant dyeing, learned how to start a fire, tasted the herbs used a millenia ago, and competed in games, you’ll begin to understand Norway better than you ever could before.

To finish your time at the festival, you can either purchase food, or grill up your own barbeque on communal barbeque pits - either way, you’ll want to sit back, relax, and listen to traditional Norwegian music while you eat. As the sun stays high in the sky long into evening, you’ll watch the jugglers pass by and thank Thor that you’re in Norway.

Summer Music Festivals

Of course, Norway is also a modern country, and its music scene has produced many exciting festivals. No matter your taste in music, you’ll find something here to keep you dancing: classical music, jazz, acoustic, folk, blues, rock, and indie are all well-represented at different festivals throughout the summer. Of these, the Molde International Jazz Festival and Øya Festival are two of the most popular.

Held each July and founded in 1961, the Molde International Jazz Festival is the longest-running in Europe. Drawing both Norwegian talent and top performers from across the world, this festival is a must-see for jazz fans, but also a great way to spend the day for everyone else. Over the course of five days, over 100 concerts - many of them free - are held across Molde, giving visitors the chance to see jazz greats in person. Herbie Hancock and Jamie Cullum have both performed here, and the 2013 list included Bryan Ferry & The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, John Legend, Jason Moran, and many more. No matter what you think of jazz now, this festival will re-ignite your passion or introduce you to the complexity and brilliance of modern jazz.

Image: fulya atalay /

Øya Festival, Oslo’s largest outdoor music festival, is held at the beginning of August each year. Even among rock and indie festivals, Øya is unique; despite hosting some of the biggest names in the game, Øya retains its green roots (with environmentally ethical standards and 100% organic food) and provides a chance to see top acts without the crush of people found at most major festivals. In recent years, featured acts have included Queens of the Stone Age, Robyn, Kanye West, Iggy Pop, the Arctic Monkeys, and Lily Allen. If you’re cruising through Norway this summer, there’s no question that Øya is the place to be.

Gladmat Festival, Stavanger

When you think of what Norway offers, you might not think of delicious food - but Gladmat Festival aims to change that mistaken way of thinking. Drawing 250,000 people to Stavanger (on the northwestern coast) every year in July, the Gladmat Festival is Scandinavia’s largest food festival, and gladly welcomes everyone from top chefs, to the curious visitors in search of a nibble or two. Local, fresh, and seasonal ingredients are featured, but classes are held on cuisines from across the globe, and tastings are available for everything from chocolate to beer.

Eat your fill of local shellfish, listen to talks by famous and established chefs (Gordon Ramsay was the guest of honor in 2010), and wander through the vendors in search of something delicious to eat there, or to take home to your friends and family. Whether or not you consider yourself a pro in the kitchen, it’s well worth taking the time to attend some of the classes. Taught by some of Norway’s best chefs, these deal with everything from how to cook seafood, to how to brew your own beer - just watching these masters at work is a great opportunity itself. This is a festival which rewards day-long visitors as much as it does those who stay for the entire celebration, making it the perfect day trip during your cruise. Not only does it give you a literal taste of what Norway has to offer, but it will provide you with plenty of delicious memories to take home with you.

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