Words by David McGonical
Waiting. Waiting. We are standing on the marble balcony of Peterhof Palace outside St Petersburg in anticipation of the immense fountain below us firing up. Powered by gravity, it takes a while after the taps are turned on before water reaches the display. When it finally bursts into life, it is well worth the wait.
Despite our drab arrival through dilapidated shipyards, St Petersburg is grand: the crowning cultural achievement of Peter and Catherine – ‘the Greats’. The three million artworks of the vast Hermitage Museum began as Catherine’s private collection. A long day touring the Winter Palace reveals that even masterworks by Michelangelo and Rembrandt are outshone by the Amber and Malachite rooms.
Three days in St Peterburg is just one highlight of an 11-day journey that begins in Amsterdam and ends in Stockholm.
The ship stays overnight in each destination, so we use it as our city hotel – in Copenhagen a welcome homecoming after walking through Strøget pedestrian mall from Tivoli Gardens to Nyhavn. At our port of call in Stockholm, we divide our time between walking around Gamla Stan (or ‘Old Town’), singing our way through ABBA The Museum, and marvelling at the Vasa, the ornate 1668 warship that was too overdecorated for its own stability and sunk when launched.
In between the mainstays of the Baltic, we voyage to Warnemünde, Germany for a day train trip to revitalised Berlin, plus Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia. Unique and quirky Helsinki is small enough to walk everywhere, preferably while eating sweet, juicy strawberries from the waterfront markets. Walking into the walled Old Town of Tallinn is like stepping through a time portal to 600 years ago, with its maze of cobbled streets and quaint ancient buildings.
I’ve concluded that the indicator of a great cruise is one that schedules at least one sea day to enjoy the ship. For us this occurred between Germany and Finland. The very elegant Crystal Symphony rewards every moment on board with plenty of space (and crew) for her 848 guests. It boasts of six-star service, and most drinks, some excursions, gratuities and great restaurants are included in the fare. After excursions, our preferred dining option was Nobu’s Umi Uma and Sushi Bar. But our sea day gave us time to indulge in grand afternoon tea in the Palm Court, then a (pre-booked) Northern Italian dinner at stylish Prego.
The Baltic’s sheltered waters are home to a wealth of history and some of the world’s most admirable cultural hubs. Our ship augmented the refinement: a Baltic Treasures voyage indeed.
1. If you wish to explore St Petersburg other than on one of the ship’s excursions (or some pre-booked local tours) you’ll need to obtain a Russian visa before leaving Australia.
2. The Finnish language is related to both the Estonian and Hungarian languages.
3. In Stockholm you can visit the City Hall, where the Nobel Prize banquet is held on 10 December each year.
4. This vyage visits six of the nine states that front the Baltic Sea (seven when Gdnyia, Poland, is added in 2020).
5. TheSmörgåsbord (Swedish ‘bread and butter table’) first came to the attention of the world at the Swedish Pavilion of New York World’s Fair in 1939.