24th Apr 2015
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Cruising the Baltic
Author: Max Williams
Cruising the Baltic

Max and Jenny are finally on their way – cruising the Baltic. As one of the most popular river cruises in operation, what are the standout sights?

Our first port of call is Warnemunde/Rostock in Germany – part of the old German Democratic Republic (DDR). Warnemunde is a quaint fishing village on the mouth of the river Warnow – a seaside resort with a vast windswept sandy beach at one end of town. The beach area is riddled with 19th century invention, strandkorbs – basically wicker basket chairs, with cushions, shades, footrests and storage to prevent your gear being blown away.

The town is very attractive with a mix of old colourful timber dwellings of traditional German architecture and modern hotel complexes. The maritime atmosphere is enhanced by hundreds of screeching seagulls along the touristy picture-postcard river promenade. It has an abundance of fishing boats of various sizes, as well as restaurants, cafes, ice cream stalls, chocolate shops, souvenir and boutique shops, and I could just imagine the buzz here during the summer regatta season. Even in the quieter seasons, with three cruise ships in town and the sun shining, the place is certainly alive. We can’t leave this place without tasting the local speciality – fischbroetchen – sandwiches of fried fish. Many from our cruise opt to go to Berlin – which can be reached by train in a few hours from here – for the day.  More than six hours travel for a one-day port stop – not for us!

Instead, we decide to go to 12th century medieval Rostock, a 20-minute train ride from Warnemunde. Some of the old buildings were destroyed during WWII but, nevertheless, the remaining gates, towers, walls and restored buildings give this university town a special feel. It’s not difficult to be impressed by the architecture during a leisurely stroll around town. Sadly, it’s Sunday and most of the shops are closed. However, the standout feature of this town is the astronomical clock at St Marienkirche church and it’s certainly worth exploring. The clock, which dates back to 1472, is very elaborate and still works. It is the oldest remaining piece of its kind and can predict phases of the moon with absolute accuracy.  

We are supposed to head to Stockholm the following day but, alas because of strong winds, which might have prevented docking, the destination is cancelled. The backup port is Helsinki. Finland only gained its independence in 1917 after Swedish and Russian occupation from the 12th century. We have been to Helsinki before for an overnight stopover and didn’t think much of the place. However, this time we take a city tour (ship excursion @ $85 each for three hours) and after a number of stops at iconic locations, learning more of its history, we see much more of this city to consider it worth visiting. The final stop iss Senate Square and a walk around the nearby shopping region reveals an upmarket and rather expensive side of Helsinki.

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