The outlook from the aft decks of our cruise ship 'Discovery' was sublime. This was the start of a 13-day cruise to the Baltic and St Petersburg. I had booked with 'Cruise and Maritime Voyages' and had acquired an excellent deal on a solo occupancy twin cabin.
I had done the macro-planning for the holiday – house security, utilities programming, getting to the port and parking. I had also done the micro-planning for the trip remembering to take items like packing a suit, bow-tie and black shoes for formal nights. My digital camera battery was fully charged and health insurance, passport and debit card were to hand – all with checked dates of validity and expiry.
After the swift and efficient embarkation procedure, it was good to be escorted to my cabin by a friendly member of the crew and to find my luggage already outside my door. Time to unpack and settle in and lay out your paperwork on your bedside table so that excursion tickets, city maps and info are to hand when you arrive in a new place. I make diary notes too. The daily information bulletin is well worth archiving for future recall of memories.
First stop was Copenhagen, a beautiful clean port full of architectural and cultural interest. The weather had been fine and sunny on the approach and after rounding the tip of Jutland earlier we had enjoyed excellent views of Elsinore castle. I had opted to explore Copenhagen on foot independently. After viewing the 'Little Mermaid' sculpture, I watched the changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Palace. I met some fellow passengers and we walked to the 'Church of Our Saviour' with its spiral tower and paid a small ticket price to climb up the 400 steps to gain a breathtaking overview of the city. There followed a very sociable drink of a well-known lager, probably the best in the World! - at a harbour side venue in Nyhavn. Thence we walked together back to our ship after a wonderful day in the Danish capital.
Our next port of call was unusual for a Baltic cruise. We visited Turku in South-west Finland. The approach through the Archipelago Sea was stunning and once ashore, the Cathedral and Castle and riverside walk were splendid. If you ever visit, be sure to see the 'Harmonia' whale-fin sculpture and the giant metal daisy. Most cruises call in at the capital Helsinki instead.
On the 'Discovery' there were social gatherings for solo travellers like myself; interesting lectures; and very entertaining musical shows. During the sea days, many daytime activities were on offer. The ladies, in particular, enjoyed the crafting sessions. You may feel that you already know a lot about your ports of call, Nevertheless, I recommend you attend the illustrated 'ports-and-destinations' talks as they are a 'mine of information' giving a really good preview of the places on the itinerary. Evening mealtimes aboard ship were always excellent occasions to discuss the days' adventures with fellow passengers. The varying choice of food on the menu was good; and the waiter service prompt and polite. We had three 'formal nights'. Couples, in particular, took the opportunity to be professionally photographed in all their finery against a themed backdrop for a lasting memory of the cruise.
Tallinn in Estonia was next. It is a very pretty and historic place. Here a free shuttle bus from port to town; and big coloured maps were provided.. Be sure to walk to the Toompea district of town for stunning views over the towers and spires and city walls of Tallinn.
We were lucky with fine weather for our visit to St Petersburg. Be sure to take the City Highlights 'coach and photo-stop' tour; and try not to leave Russia without visiting the spectacular Peterhof Palace and Gardens. There had been three clock changes – put forward one hour – on our way from the UK to Russia; and there would be three reverse clock changes on the way home – giving even more time to relish that leg of the voyage.
Another unusual port of call was next in line – Gdynia in Poland. Many folks took the excellent excursion to see the splendours of Gdansk. I took the free shuttle bus into central Gdynia and enjoyed a very pleasant walk along the esplanade and on to the sandy beach. A tall-masted schooner was in port; and there were tempting forest trails in the woods behind the beach for the more energetic.
Next day, Warnemünde in Germany. I took a harbour cruise. The commentary was in German but the information sheet was multilingual. It was good to enjoy a coffee; and German sea shanties played over the Tannoy. Back ashore I climbed the lighthouse - up to the observation platform. Later I sat in on an open air concert playing songs like 'The Summer Wind' and more. I spent the last of my Euro coinage on a tall cool orange drink with ice. Heaven! There was a superb sunset at sailaway that night. 'Discovery' was alive with music as usual to suit everybody's taste. Needless to say, areas of peace and quiet could be found if you sought it!
From 4.30 am the following morning until 3.30 pm in the afternoon – a transit of the Kiel Canal. It was a very clear sunny day and a great experience. We passed under several bridges including a 'Transporter bridge' for cars. After the wooded bit – there were thousands of wind turbines in the landscape. I had an interesting chat with the Captain and other passengers as we waited to exit the lock into the Elbe estuary.
Finally, ‘home’ at the end of a marvellous holiday.