Sunday, March 13, 2022

Armchair Travel: Serene Scandinavia

While the world continues to open up to travelers, some corners of the planet remain difficult or impossible to visit. But one corner of the planet has always been more challenging for Americans to visit:  Scandinavia. 

A Norwegian coastal village. 
With fewer access points than Continental Europe, smaller cities, a lower population overall, and higher prices, the region, as a whole, can be daunting to visit. While over the past few decades I’ve had several trips to this quiet corner of the planet, one of my favorites involved a cruise. 

Typically, a cruise isn’t high on my list of ways to travel. I prefer to settle into a place and experience its streets and moods in the morning for breakfast, at cocktail hour as daylight fades, and after dinner when lights twinkle. I like to stay in a city for more than a day and ideally for a week. And by design, cruises force a traveler to superficially sample, but never linger in a place. 

So what’s the pay-off of a Scandinavian cruise? 

For me, the advantage was being able to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time, and to visit some spots that are more difficult to reach (I'm talking about you, Estonia!) 

And for those who don't have unlimited money, a cruise is vastly more economical, particularly in Scandinavia, which tends to be a pricey part of the planet.  

St. Petersburg's Church of the Spilled Blood (never mind the name, it's worth a visit--if and when it's advisable to visit Russia again.)
To cover these same cities and countries via separate trips would be costly—in dollars and time. And many cruises actually sail the Baltic Sea and may include even more difficult to reach ports such as St. Petersburg (Russia),  Gdansk (Poland), and Riga (Latvia).  

The cruise also enabled me to visit an infrequently visited historic and architectural gem: Talinn, Estonia. With its intact, towering medieval wall and cobblestone streets, Talinn offers off-the-chart charm. I’ve visited countless Continental towns, villages, and cities, but Talinn was truly unique.

Many cruises start or end in Stockholm. I’m glad mine started here because our departure made for one of my most memorable travel experience ever. As we set sail from the Nordic city’s deep-water port in the middle of summer, I sipped a glass of wine as we glided through an archipelago inhabited by  summering Swedes and their brightly colored wooden vacation homes. From the ship’s deck, we could see scores of summer-loving Scandinavians on holiday—perched on porches, lounging on lawns, docks, and rocks, and splashing in the clear sea. The backdrop? Pine and birch trees, patches of brilliant wildflowers, cottony clouds, small sailboats skimming across the glittering water, and waves reflecting the golden, early evening sun. 

I wanted to pull into one of those islands and spend a few hours enjoying the view from one of the lawns or gently-aged wooden docks. And that’s the disadvantage of a cruise—there’s no opportunity to linger longer in special spots such as these. Still, I experienced the idyllic islands up close and watched as Swedes celebrated their short, sublime summer. For a time, I was provided a glimpse of another world and another way of living. And isn’t that what travel is all about? 

Stockholm's idyllic harbor. 

TIP: If you book on Silversea or similar, most cabins have balconies. As we pulled into Helsinki and Copenhagen, I was treated to views of the cities, nearby islands, and harbors from the privacy of my balcony—while enjoying breakfast. 


Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Seabourn Cruises

Viking Cruises

Bergen, Norway.

A Swedish summer home. 

Stockholm, Sweden. 



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