SOMEWHERE IN THE BALTIC SEA, July 1 – It is near midnight, or at least that it is what my watch tells me. The sun and sky suggest otherwise. The bright orange orb hovers over the watery horizon, casting a reddish-yellow glow on a cloudless sky.
My (then) wife and I stand on our stateroom balcony waiting for the sun to dip below the horizon. Our body clocks are out of sync, six times zones east of our home (we’ll lose two more hours as the clock moves forward one hour on each of the first two nights of our cruise from Copenhagen).
The sun seems that it will never set, even as the clock ticks – and ticks. What a mysterious and enchanting region of the world. We are cruising at the same latitude as the Alaska Panhandle, yet aside from the midsummer sky that hardly darkens, the Baltic Sea’s similarities to Alaska are few. For starters, we will visit not one but six countries during our cruise. Our ship will disgorge us in some of the world’s most fabled cities.
On the Baltic Sea’s eastern edge, at the head of the Gulf of Finland, we will explore Peter the Great’s St. Petersburg – for two days. No less impressive is the Baltic Sea’s western edge, marked by Elsinore, Denmark, which lays claim to Kronborg Castle, the setting for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
In between and along the shores of the Baltic are fairy tale lands. Copenhagen gave the world Hans Christian Andersen, Sweden gave us Astrid Lindgren, creator of “Pippi Longstocking.”
Indeed, having inserted ourselves into the comfortable fuselage of an SAS jet to travel across the Atlantic and step out on Danish soil seven hours later felt like a fairy tale. It still amazes me that I can leave a small city in America and wake up the next morning in Europe.
Our days were sunny and hot (not once would we pull out the fleece we had packed). And though we had not a single day of rain on our cruise, precipitation throughout the Baltic averages 24 inches annually. By contrast, Ketchikan receives 150 inches of rain yearly.
While we would see no snow-capped mountains or glaciers, we would stroll wide pedestrian streets free of cars, sip coffee at charming outdoor cafes, suck up nearly 20 hours of sunshine each day, marvel at world class museums, stand among opulent palaces and walk along well-preserved medieval town walls.
For two weeks (a 10-night cruise combined with four nights in Copenhagen), we would live a fairy tale in these enchanting lands. Our fairy tale began in Copenhagen, where we popped out the front door of our hotel (The Phoenix, near trendy Nyhavn) and smack into a procession of toy-soldier-like sentries making their way to the Royal Palace for the changing of the guard at noon. Here, I told my children, lives a real queen. They looked up at me with mouths agape. It was the first of many surprises for them during our blissful Baltic cruise.
Next Stop, Tallinn, Estonia