Cruising The Baltic on Crystal Symphony
Stockholm to Hamburg with Berlin Extension
By Linda Walker
I had the privilege of serving as the Signature host on the Crystal Symphony sailing The Baltic from Stockholm, Sweden to Hamburg, Germany. The ship overnighted in Stockholm, which Crystal often does on many of their itineraries. In fact, we had several overnights on this itinerary in addition to Stockholm…2 nights/3 days in St. Petersburg, Russia and an overnight in Copenhagen, Denmark. These overnights allow much more time to experience the destination than the typical arrival in the morning and departure in the late afternoon.
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is a beautiful city. We decided to explore by using their “hop-on, hop-off” BOAT…a fantastic way to get around. You can get off in the Old Town (Gamla Stan) and wander the narrow cobblestone streets with shops and cafes or visit the Royal Palace. Another stop brings you to the Vasa Museum where you can see the flagship Vasa which sank in the harbor during its maiden voyage in 1628, where she stayed for 350 years before being raised and returned to her original condition. There are also many other museums to visit in Stockholm such as the Nobel Museum where you can learn all about the life of Alfred Nobel, the found of the prize, the National Museum which houses works from Rembrandt, Goya, Degas, etc. and the Museum of Antiquities, to name a few.
Summer in Stockholm is wonderful with its long days which last well into the evening, a great time to stroll the streets, relax in a beautiful park or an open-air café or dine in a waterfront restaurant. All too soon it’s time to leave, but the sail-away as you leave Stockholm is also lovely with islands dotted all along the way…quite beautiful!
Next we visited Helsinki, Finland. Unfortunately, it was a national holiday the day we visited, Midsummer Eve (one of the biggest holidays in Finland), so most of the sights were closed or closing early. However, on a typical day Helsinki is one of those ports where it is possible to see the sights on your own. In fact, the tourist office has developed six “walks” which are outlined in their “See Helsinki on Foot” brochure which you can pick up at any tourist office. Highlights are the Kauppatori Market Square, the neo-classical Town Hall, Senate Square, Rock Church or perhaps a picnic in Sibelius Park.
From Helsinki we headed to St. Petersburg, Russia. With so much to see here, it was perfect to have 3 days/2 nights to explore this magical city. On our first day we took an orientation excursion of the city with Crystal. It was a great introduction with some free time to get out and see sights such as the Church on the Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the 3rd largest domed church in the world. Other sights to see are the Peter & Paul Fortress along the banks of the Neva River, the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum, which houses nearly 3 million pieces of art.
On our second day we arranged a private tour through Esperance Travel in St. Petersburg, to Peterhof and the Grand Palace of Peter the Great. Touring the palace provides a glimpse into the daily lives of the how the Royal Family lived. The palace overlooks the magnificent grounds below with the Gulf of Finland in the distance. As you walk around outside the palace, the Lower Park grounds provide a striking resemblance to Versailles with over 150 functioning fountains, with the main water cascade decorated with gold and marble statues of gods and heroes.
On our third and final day in St. Petersburg we took an excursion to Catherine’s Palace with Crystal which is located outside the city proper in Pushkin. The architect of the palace was commissioned to create something on the scale of St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace as evidenced by the 1,000-foot long façade painted in a beautiful blue color. This palace is a site to see with its beautiful rooms and grounds. Today you can even rent one of the spectacular gold and mirrored halls for your own wedding or celebration!
Our next port of call was Copenhagen, Denmark. With two days to explore this wonderful seaside city, we decided to take advantage of the “hop-on, hop-off” bus to get acquainted. We also saw Copenhagen from the water by taking a canal tour. Copenhagen’s most famous resident is The Little Mermaid, fashioned after Hans Christian Anderson’s most popular tale. Visitors to Copenhagen can see her perched on the shores of the harbor. Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world, is also a must see!
Our cruise ended in Hamburg, Germany where we boarded a high-speed train to Berlin, arriving 2 ½ hours later. It was a beautiful ride through the countryside. Our home for the next two nights was the Regent Berlin, a Signature property in a great central location. We hit the ground running with a private afternoon tour with our guide from Culture Trip, one of Signature’s Destination Specialists in Germany. This was a great orientation to this fascinating city incorporating the past, present and future of Berlin through its architecture, monuments and memorials. There is so much to see from World War II and Third Reich sites such as where Hitler’s bunker stood to Cold War sites like the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and remnants of the Berlin Wall. That night we enjoyed a traditional German meal at a great restaurant, Lutter & Wegner, just a short walk from our hotel.
The next 1 ½ days in Berlin, before heading home, were explored again by taking advantage of their “hop-on, hop-off” bus as well as a boat tour. The Berlin Wall Monument, as well as the Holocaust Memorial, were quite moving. We also visited the Jewish Museum, where you could easily spend a full day. All too soon it was time to head home, but we felt very fortunate to have been able to visit some truly fascinating and beautiful places during our time in Europe!