We just got back from a great, week-long cruise through Scandinavia with both our sets of parents. It was a really nice vacation and felt more relaxing than most of our other trips. It was nice to have one home-base (the ship) throughout the trip and not to be living out of a backpack. There are many pluses and minuses to taking a cruise, and I’ll try to hit on some of those points throughout the blog posts. And I say posts in the plural sense because Doug and I are breaking up each cruise port stop into a different post and we’ll be alternating who writes each post.
Our cruise itinerary started in Copenhagen, but we didn’t really explore the city until after we returned to Copenhagen at the end of the cruise, so that blog post will come last. The rest of the stops were Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland; and Stockholm, Sweden. Doug and I haven’t explored any of the Northern European countries, and definitely haven’t explored Russia, so this was a great way to see a lot of them in just one short week.
Like I said earlier, both of our parents made the trek over from the States to enjoy the cruise with us. We really appreciate them making the trip all the way over and it was really nice to see them because we haven’t seen them since last summer. Unfortunately, my parents had really bad luck in their travel plans. They were scheduled to fly Houston → London Heathrow → Copenhagen. They were even getting to Copenhagen a day early (Friday) so that they would have plenty of margin to not miss the cruise ship that departed on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, they landed at Heathrow on the same day that a BA flight had to make an emergency landing because of an engine fire, thus shutting down all the runways for multiple hours (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-22652718). This also caused my parents flight to Copenhagen to be cancelled. I feel really bad for my parents because after their 10 hour flight from Houston they proceeded to stand in a queue for another 10 hours trying to reschedule their flight. My mom, who hadn’t really ever heard the word “queue” before (we say “line” in the States), now profoundly exclaims that she hates queuing and all things associated with it! She even hates the word itself! I guess she will never be one to queue for Wimbledon tickets! Anyway, BA were not able to get my parents to Copenhagen in time for the cruise, even though it was still a day away. This meant that my parents had to miss the first two days of the cruise (the Copenhagen departure day and a day at sea) before meeting up with us in Tallinn, Estonia. Although that was a struggle, the positive was that they were stuck in London and that’s where the rest of us were! Doug’s parents, Doug, and I were all flying to Copenhagen very early on the Saturday morning out of Heathrow, so we had booked an airport hotel for the Friday night. I guess of all places for my parents to be stuck, it was the perfect place so that they could spend the night with us!
Luckily, the rest of us made it to Copenhagen without any problems. AND we got to enjoy the Star Alliance lounge because Doug has gold status and we were flying on SAS! I was happy to finally experience the lounge since we missed out on the chance last Christmas when flying to Munich.
We didn’t do much in Copenhagen except make our way to the cruise terminal. Oh, and get a beer of course.
The first two days on the ship were just cruising, so we did a lot of eating, drinking, and sleeping. This was why I say it actually felt more relaxing than most of our other trips where we don’t get much down time. It was actually a really nice break and change of pace.
The first full day at sea was really rubbish weather. They even closed the top deck of the ship due to high wind and rain. It was cold, foggy, and wet. I felt like I was back in the UK. I was really worried that the rest of the trip was going to be like that. Luckily, when we woke up on Monday morning, we sailed through the fog to arrive at sunny Tallinn. It was really as if the fog lifted just as we came into port.
I didn’t really know what to expect about Tallinn, as I had never really heard much about Estonia before. I vaguely had some idea that it used to be controlled by Russia, but that’s all I really knew. And from the port, the view wasn’t too impressive as it was very industrial, but at least it was a sunny day, so we were excited to start exploring. It was a pretty short walk from the port to Tallinn’s old town, so we walked along with the droves of other people getting off the ship. I think whenever a cruise ship is docked, the old town just gets bombarded with tourists. There was no hope of trying to blend in, so we just had to go with it.
Luckily, we had Rick Steves as our guide, so we didn’t have to join the numerous tour groups. The old, medieval town of Tallinn was actually really impressive. It has well intact walls, and a great central square. I think it is one of the most intact medieval, walled cities that we have seen. And the central square reminded me of Prague’s, but on a smaller scale.
Estonia just began using the euro in 2011, and about a quarter of their population is of Russian descent. Tallinn is the capital city and also the biggest city. Outside of the old town walls, we could see quite a few ruined factories and old structures in disrepair – most likely remnants from the communist era. At any rate, the old town was nice, picturesque, and kept us busy for the day until we had to be back on the ship in the late afternoon. We wandered around, had lunch, and wandered some more. It was really nice to have pleasant weather for a change. In fact, I think we were actually hot at times, which has not been a theme on many of our trips.
The old town of Tallinn is divided by a wall because it used to be two different, feuding medieval cities. We toured through both and didn’t really see a reason to feud over one place or the other. The upper town was situated on a hill and had a nice Russian Orthodox Cathedral, while the lower town had the picturesque Town Hall square.
It was free to go in the Orthodox Cathedral, so we stepped inside for a bit, but pictures weren’t allowed. It was very ornate, and the walls and ceilings were decorated in turquoise and blue, so I liked it a lot!
We also peaked inside the Dome church, which is a 13th century Northern Gothic church, and is still working as a Lutheran church, although only 14% of Estonians are religious (which means most churches have other uses other than worship). The interior of the church was covered in hundreds of coats of arms and they were really cool looking, but unfortunately no pictures were allowed.
Overall, Tallinn was a nice city, and a great stop on the cruise. I don’t think I would have needed more than a day to explore the town, so a stop on the cruise was a perfect way to see it.
Finally, I’ve got the food collage below. Most of the food we ate throughout the trip was on the cruise ship. This was both a pro and a con of going on the cruise. It is a pro because you are guaranteed decent food, and the food is all included in the price of the cruise, so you don’t have to worry about what you order (or how much you eat for that matter). Scandinavia is very expensive and prices are very high for shopping, accommodation, and food as well. So therefore, not having to buy food in the port cities definitely saved us money. However, the downside is that we didn’t really get to experience the local cuisine, which I feel is one of our favorite ways to get to know about local culture and regional specialties. Tallinn was one of the few stops where we actually ate a meal, so that food can be seen in the bottom left square photos of the collage below. The rest of the food pics are from the cruise ship.
Anyway, that sums up our Tallinn, Estonia stop. Next up is Doug’s post on Russia!