Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Cruising the Baltic capitals with Fred. Olsen on board the Balmoral
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Standing in the magnificent ballroom inside the Catherine Palace south of St Petersburg, it was easy to imagine it filled to capacity with elegantly dressed courtiers and guests back in the 18th century. Built as a summer palace for the Tsars, more than 100 kilograms of pure gold were used to gild the 300m long turquoise and white façade and sculpted figures, plus a substantial amount more inside.
What we see today is actually a reconstruction. When the German forces retreated after the siege of Leningrad, they destroyed the palace leaving only the hollow shell. Prior to WWII, a fair amount of the interior had been documented including the famous Amber Room, which proved invaluable when restoring the palace to its former glory.
We were on the third stop of our 14-night Baltic Capitals cruise on board the Balmoral with Fred. Olsen cruise lines. After leaving Rosyth in Edinburgh our first day was spent getting to know the ship while crossing an incredibly calm North Sea. The Daily Times, left on the pillow in our cabin every evening with a chocolate treat by our stewardess, told us about the next day’s entertainment programme, as well as talks, on-board activities, spa treatments, shopping and excursion departure times for port days.
First port Copenhagen
After two very comfortable nights’ sleep in our well-equipped junior balcony suite and some excellent food our first port of call was Copenhagen, where the famous Little Mermaid statue was a ‘must see’. Smaller then envisaged she has suffered much over the years with two beheadings and a sawn off arm as well as being blown up and painted red and blue and white. Highlight was the canal cruise, part of Fred. Olsen’s organised City and Harbour Tour, which gave a great overview of the Danish capital in the small amount of time we had in the city.
Then onto Tallinn in Estonia; an overnight stay in the port gave us two days to explore the Old Town at our own pace. First day was spent in the Lower Town dominated by the Town Hall Square, heart of the city for some 800 years. Look out for a bizarre figure nick named ‘Peeping Tom’ high up in Pikk Street. Why the monocle-wearing man gazing down was placed here has several theories; the most amusing is that of a jealous wife trying to break her husband’s habit of spying on the ladies as they practised ballet in the upper floors of the guild hall opposite. The next day we climbed up Toompea Hill, home to the onion-domed orthodox cathedral, it rises 30m giving wonderful views over the city.
Two-day Grand Tour of St Petersburg
Another excellent night’s sleep and the next morning we arrive in St Petersburg where we are to stay a further night in the port. Excited to be exploring the Russian city, we booked Fred. Olsen’s two-day grand sightseeing tour which took in many of key sights apart from the Fabergé Museum, which we are saving for our next visit. Highlights included the Hermitage, Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was murdered, the gardens at Peterhof Palace, renowned for their splendid fountains often referred to as the Russian Versailles, the Spilled Blood Church and of course the Catherine Palace. Two long but fascinating days, well worth the early starts and thoroughly recommended.
Stunning views awaited us the next evening as the Balmoral cruised through the vast Stockholm Archipelago on her way to the Swedish capital. Book a table for dinner in the Poolside Restaurant and watch the thousands of islands slip by as you dine; with calm seas and clear skies we watched the sun sink over the trees at dusk. The steaks freshly cooked to order on the grill were a treat.
As a smaller ship the Balmoral moored up in the heart of Stockholm near the Gamla Stan Old Town. From here we were tendered ashore before joining Fed. Olsen’s excursion to the Vasa Museum. Salvaged and beautifully preserved the colossal Swedish warship sank in Stockholm’s inner harbour minutes after setting sail on its maiden voyage back in 1628. Some 333 years later the great ship was recovered.
After a stop at the World Heritage Town of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland we cruised back past Copenhagen towards our final port of Oslo in Norway. Another day at sea gave us a chance to book a table in The Grill, Balmoral’s fine dining restaurant, on one of the three formal evenings, where we indulged in some delicious food and wines to match.
Oslo – last port
Reaching Oslo, the Balmoral moored alongside the city’s imposing 13th century fortress. We explored this small, walkable city in our own time; first stop was the twin-towered City Hall. Built in 1950 to mark Oslo’s 900th anniversary, it’s here the Noble Peace Prize is awarded every year. After a pre-booked English guided tour of the Royal Place, working home of the Norwegian royal family, we joined the tourist throng and walked up the granite roof of the iconic Opera House. Designed to resemble a floating glacier in the watery inlet it is a truly engaging piece of Scandinavian architecture costing around 500million Euros.
Afterwards it was another day at sea enjoying a magnificent fish and seafood buffet lunch ahead of our early arrival the next morning at Rosyth, when it was time to say farewell to new friends. We are already planning our next cruise with Fred. Olsen – this time to the wonderfully scenic Norwegian Fjords.
Although our departure point was Edinburgh, Fred. Olsen operate cruises to Scandinavia and the Baltic on their four ships from various other ports around the UK including Dover, Southampton and Newcastle with varying itineraries.Take a look at their website for more information www.fredolsencruises.com/destination/baltic.
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Fred Olsen Cruise Lines