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Starting Planning in Sweden and Finland

A look at the planning process for the first leg of our journey.


View Baltic Capital Cities on darrenesl's travel map.

Here is a look at the Baltic Capitals itinerary.

Date Port/City Activity
Day 1 Stockholm, Sweden => Docked All Day
Day 2 Stockholm, Sweden => Docked - Depart at 3:00PM
Day 3 Helsinki, Finland => Dock at 10:00AM - Depart at 5:00PM
Day 4 St. Petersburg, Russia => Dock at 7:00AM
Day 5 St. Petersburg, Russia => Docked All day
Day 6 St. Petersburg, Russia =>Docked - Depart at 6:00PM
Day 7 Muuga (Tallinn), Estonia => Dock at 7:00AM - Depart at 5:00PM
Day 8 At Sea
Day 9 Warnemunde, Germany => Dock at 7:00AM - Depart at 9:30PM
Day 10 Copenhagen, Denmark => Dock at 12:00PM
Day 11 Copenhagen, Denmark => Docked - Depart at 3:00PM
Day 12 At Sea
Day 13 Amsterdam, Netherlands => Dock at 6:00AM

On the Baltic Capitals cruise you can expect a very port intensive cruise. That fits our travel style perfectly. When traveling overseas, Terri and I prefer to take night trains in order to maximize our travel time and have the daytime available to dig into the local culture and sights. While we enjoy going 100% while on vacation, many others do not and that is what helps make a cruise a good option for a multiple couples. Each couple can decide what they want to do while in port, or if they even want to leave the ship on a certain day or not.

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We have decided to travel to Stockholm on the Thursday before our ship is scheduled to board. Once we board the ship, it will be treated as a hotel until Monday when we depart at 1500. One of the tricks that we discovered in our planning was that if you purchase your accommodations in Stockholm during the down season, 6 – 9 months before the date we will be staying, we were able to get half-priced lodging compared to pricing 90 days or less prior to travel. However, for those that may want to avoid the hotels, www.AirBnB.com has a good number of deals available in Stockholm. We chose to stay at the Best Western KOM hotel due to its proximity to the central train station and Gamla Stan.

For touring Stockholm, we will be using suggestions from friends and as always Rick Steves and his Northern European Cruise Ports guidebook. In addition to the guidebook, Rick offers an app for both iOS and Android platforms called Rick Steves Audio Europe. With this app you can listen to history and interviews prior to your trip, but the best feature is the ability to download “audio walking tours” for several cities throughout Europe. These are downloaded so they do not use data or cellular service, only a bit of your battery is used to play these. I would also recommend a Y-splitter and two pairs of headphones so that you can share it with your traveling companion.

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One of the issues with Stockholm is the distance from Arlanda airport to the city center. If you are a solo traveler or couple, two great options are the Arlanda Express (you can pre order discount tickets) or the local bus will take you into town if you don’t mind taking your luggage on a metro bus. If you have four people, a better route to go is to use Uber to get a comfortable ride while meeting a local. Since the Cruise is departing from Frihamnen. The same thing is true when it comes to heading to the ship, Uber is a better value and more convenient than a taxi.

Some of the must see activiites in Stockholm that are on the list include:

  • Vasa Museum, a Swedish warship built between 1626 and 1628. The ship foundered and sank after sailing about 1,300 m (1,400 yd) into her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628.
  • Skansen the world's first open-air museum, founded in 1891. Here you can stroll through five centuries of Swedish history, from north to south, with a real sense of the past all around in the histori­cal buildings and dwellings, peop­led by characters in period dress.
  • The famous changing of The Royal Guard at the Royal Castle
  • Gamla Stan
  • And several other great sites

Finland will be a short stop. Considering there is only on day in port, the best bet seems to be a city walking tour. There are some really good resources online, some on CruiseCritic.com that local Helsinki residents have put together and once again, Rick Steves has a great walk in his materials as well. Because we like to get into with the local culture and also love food, we are looking at supplementing the walking tour with a stop at a world renowned restaurant serving Finnish Tapas styled dishes.

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As you can see, these cities are both very walk-able and public transit friendly. That is one of the great things about this cruise’s itinerary. However, once you get to Russia, things change up a little bit. Due to the visa requirements for Russia, it is much more convenient to take an organized tour.
Our next posting will share our thoughts on choosing a tour company and navigating the travel planning for Russia.

Do you have any tips or experience in these areas? We’d love to hear your comments, share them with us below.

Posted by darrenesl 14:39 Archived in Sweden Tagged trains stockholm helsinki travel train sweden silhouette europe travels royal planning celebrity darrenesl tljohnson tlwforgiven darren_johnson terri_johnson 2016 Comments (0)

Do Widzenia

A trip to the Milk Bar ends with good bye

sunny 20 °C
View Eastern Europe on darrenesl's travel map.

The first full day in Poland has been incredible so far. The day started with a 5 am jet lag induced wake up at our hostel? Why 5 am? Probably because we laid down to read and write last night and promptly fell asleep. So when the sun started peeking through the windows of our room and curtains, we found ourselves ready to begin the day.

Starting off after breakfast we rode the rush hour packed metro to Centrum again. The Warsaw metro during ruch hour could possibly rival the Washington D.C. during their commuter hours. Packed in with no room to move, the trip provided for some prime people watching. Upon arriving at Centrum stattion, we made our way to the TI for some needed maps and to find out about any special events going on.

With the news that free tours were offered in old town, we decided to continue with our plan of taking the Royal Way to old town Warsaw and the square. Turning on to Nowy Swiat, we ventured down it until we came upon A. Blikle pastry shop. Blikle is known for their paczki (rose flavored jelly doughnuts) that are famous inthe area and were seen on the Amazing Race.

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After a doughnut with rose jelly filling the world certainly looks like a brighter place. Or perhaps it was just the extra-strong espresso like coffee that is called Americano Kawa. We headed off to see several magnificent buildings, monuments, and unique sights. One of these is the Church of the Holy Cross where composer Ffryderyk Chopin's heart is inside one of the pillars in the church. Also in this building is a memorial to Poland's 22,000 POW's massacred by Soviet soldiers in 1940 near, Katyn, now a village in today's Russia.

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After a couple of more sights, we meandered over to Pilsudski Square. Once home to a torn down Russian Orthodox church, later named Adolf Hitler Platz, here now there is a stark reminder of Poland past and present. A plaque commorates the place in the square where in 1979 Pope John Paul II returned to Poland and spoke to the people. Also here is where the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in Poland. In 1981 under the communists, when martial law was imposed, the citizens silently protested here by filling the square with a giant cross made of flowers. Today a cross is still here with the words, "Let thy spirit decend, let thy spirit descend, and renew the face of the earth -- this earth." This was one of Pope John Paul II's favorite sayings and a subtle dig against the communist regime during his visit.

Capping off our Royal Way journey was a hike up 150 steps to the top of St. Anne's Church. The sweeping views from the top of this tower give a birds-eye view of downtown Warsaw and beyond. It provides a stark contrast between the old and new city and the changes that have occured.

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For lunch we ventured into a local establishment translated into English as a Milk Bar. A milk bar is a government subsidized cafeteria filled with locals seeking a cheap meal. A true cultural artifact and an experience we will never forget.

We chose Bar Mleczny Familijny. The menu, completely in polish was posted on the wall. None of the titles appeared in our guidebook, and no WiFi connection was available. We were unable to find a friendly local that could speak English to help these tourists out, and the little window you ordered from looked like a small confessional window with no hope of pointing to the dish we wanted.

As we turned to leave and look for another milk bar an elderly lady with two canes entered and we held the door open for her. She said thanks in English and that provided the chance. This kind elderly Pole helped us find a chicken dish on the menu, as well as boiled potatoes and a cooked beet dish that was out of this world. All this totaling 25 Zloty for two or about 8 USD. She explained to us that she had been coming to this milk bar since she was in college and it was still the same. The place was extremely clean and efficient, with some solid Polish cuisine. She told us that it invoked memories of her past and held a special place in her heart. Our encounter with her was too brief as we longed to hear more from her and learn what it had been like during communism. As she left she made us repeat after her: Do Widzenia or as she taught us Good-bye.

A fitting way to end our first experience with Warsaw, and its charming scenes. After this encounter, we are ready to speand more time exploring the city.

Posted by darrenesl 09:29 Archived in Poland Tagged warsaw way holy cross bar milk royal kawa paczki mlechzny Comments (0)

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