Sailing up the north-most parts of Europe fills your lungs with fresh air and your mind with vivid scenery. Which way do you go? Join us in conversation with cruise journalist Jane Archer to find more about Norway and Baltic cruise opportunities. Enjoy the show!

 

 
 

Margaret Manning:

My guest today is Jane Archer. Jane is an award winning travel writer. She is a cruise journalist who spends most of her life on ships cruising around the world.

I’m very happy to have her here today, because I know a lot of our women in Sixty and Me love to cruise. So, Jane, are you ready for some questions?

Jane:

I certainly am. Thank you for having me along.

Margaret:

I’m specifically happy for this particular talk because I know nothing about the Baltic and Norway. There are a lot of cruises up there these days, so please tell us more about that area of the world. What cruises are available?

Jane:

The interesting thing is that the Baltic and Norway tend to be lumped together as one thing. Actually though, they are like chalk and cheese.

If you do a cruise in the Baltic, it takes you through history, culture and big cities. If you do a Norway cruise, what you’re introduced to is scenery. You are going to the Fjords and the majestic peaks. So they are two very different things lumped together.

When you do the Norway cruise, you can also go a bit further up to Iceland, which is very much about scenery and adventure. Then you can go up to Greenland, and that’s much more on the adventurous side.

All of these trips tend to be lumped together as Northern Europe, but they are all very different.

Margaret:

I’m very glad that you made this distinction. When you go on a cruise line’s website, you go to Northern Europe cruises and that includes the Baltic and Norway. Sometimes the Baltic cruises include the Norwegian ones, too.

Jane:

It is certainly confusing. Let’s start with the Baltic first. If you do a cruise around the Baltic, the cities you are very likely to visit are Stockholm, which is in Sweden, Helsinki in Finland and Tallinn in Estonia.

You are likely to go to Warnemunde, which is a little port in Germany that serves as a gateway to Berlin. It’s quite a hike to get to Berlin, but you can do an excursion to Berlin from there. Then, chances are, you might also visit Oslo which is in Norway.

You get to visit all of these major capital cities, and they are beautiful. But I think the icing of the cake is St. Petersburg. It is the most wonderful city, and practically every cruise line that goes there stays at least two or three. There is just so much to see there.

It is a magnificent city, absolutely beautiful, and I love it. I’ve been there many times, and I get bowled over by it every time I go. The history and the culture, the magnitude of the place. It is absolutely enormous; everything is on a grand scale.

Copenhagen, which is the capital of Denmark, is likely to be the starting point of the Baltic cruise and the Norway cruise. When you go on the Norway cruise, you go to the Norwegian Fjords, and Bergen is going to be the big city there.

Then you’re going to be off into the Fiords, into the Geiranger fjord, the Hardangerfjord. You will also visit Tromso, which is a big city by Norwegian standards, and it’s not like the big cities we know and love.

So, to summarize, this is a completely different experience. On the way there you are looking at the scenery. You are admiring the deep Fjords, the snow-capped peaks, maybe sailing up close to glaziers.

Margaret:

So, Copenhagen is the stepping off point of both cruises. You can go one way up to Norway and the Fjords and have the more dramatic nature experience. Or you can go the other way to Stockholm and Oslo and then to the beautiful culture and arts of St. Petersburg.

I’ve been there once, and I agree with you. It is one of the most majestic cities in the world. The colors that you see everywhere, the river that goes through St. Petersburg—everything is just amazing. It’s a beautiful place.

Jane:

The grandeur, the size of the buildings, the palaces, it’s breathtaking every time I go there.

Margaret:

Do the cruises go down to Moscow from there? Is there such an option? I know the fast train can take you there if you want.

Jane:

You can certainly take the train, and some cruise lines have a daylong excursion to Moscow. But it is a long whole day to go there, and you don’t have a huge amount of time in Moscow, unfortunately.

It is a bit of a fast-paced whiz around Moscow. There is another way to do that trip, too—via river cruise between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Margaret:

You can do a river cruise? I didn’t know that.

Jane:

There is a river cruise that takes you sailing first on a canal, then a river, and finally, you’ll be going across several lakes. It’s a patchwork of waterways that take you between the two cities. Practically, every itinerary has at least two or three nights in Moscow, at one end, and the same in St. Petersburg, at the other.

You have plenty of time to see the two big cities on either end of the cruise, and you also get to sail through the heart of Russia between the two of them.

Margaret:

And you probably see the little houses along the river.

Jane:

It’s fantastic. I should warn you though, there is a lot of scenery, so you should probably love nature and trees if you go on this cruise. The cities that you visit though are fantastic. The history and the culture of these places is phenomenal. One is Uglich in Yaroslavl.

If you go with a company like Viking, they have guides from Russia who travel with you. They would take you on an excursion through the cities, then during sailing times, those guides give talks about the history of Russia.

They might do a couple of language and cuisine lessons as well. It’s a fantastic way to really immerse yourself in the Russian culture. This year is a 100-year anniversary since the Bolshevik Revolution so what better time is it to go?

Margaret:

Wow. Thank you for this valuable information. I didn’t know that Viking do a cruise between St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Jane:

That’s where Viking started 20 years ago.

Margaret:

That’s interesting. You know so much about cruises. How long have you been a cruise journalist, Jane?

Jane:

I think I’m probably also celebrating my 20th anniversary in this career path.

Margaret:

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What a life. I think we covered the Baltic cruise. You mentioned places that I’m fascinated with, like Estonia, for example. I’ve never been to Helsinki either, so these are incredibly interesting places.

Jane:

They are beautiful places. The bit of Estonia that you will see during the Baltic cruise is a small part of Tallinn. It’s the medieval center of the city, which is definitely worth going to.

Helsinki is fabulous as well, because it’s so quirky. It is a Finnish city—what else can I say? They have a little harbor market that is very colorful. The stalls are selling the most wonderful, quirky souvenirs. It’s not like going into a souvenirs shop in London.

In London you buy “I love London” or “I love New York” t-shirts. Here you will see all absolutely individual stuff, it’s fantastic. It costs a lot of money mind you, but you are going to buy something of quality.

Margaret:

We have some women in our community from Finland, and I’ve been able to notice how unique their culture is.

Jane:

You are right. They are wonderful people who live this fantastic life. I really love the place.

Margaret:

It’s incredible that you’ve had so many experiences in your life. Let’s explore the Norway cruise next. Start with Copenhagen, and take us up through a typical Norwegian cruise.

Jane:

Norwegian cruises depend on the night-count. A seven-night cruise would probably take you to Burgen and perhaps, as far as Olden. Maybe you would go to Geirangerfjord or somewhere like that, but you are not going to go very far in seven nights.

Margaret:

Do you go to Greenland from there? Are there cruises that go across the Northern route? I think there are some that go to England and the Shetland Islands.

Jane:

Absolutely, but people living in the UK can cruise from the UK instead of going to Copenhagen. You can cruise from the UK to the Norwegian Fjords or up to Iceland, for instance. You can also go up to the Shetland Isles and go through the Orkneys.

SAGA have cruises from the UK, and they would take you up to places like Greenland and Spitsbergen. You can do some amazing cruises from the UK, but then you are talking of at least two weeks. If you want to go a bit further and see a bit more, we are talking two and a half weeks.

If you are going to start your cruise at Copenhagen, then you would be going up to Bergen and Stavanger and up through the Fjords. You can go right up to Kirkenes as you go to the North Cape. You can go and stand on the North Cape, which is the very top, the north-most point of Europe.

As we are talking about the Norwegian coast and Fjords, another company you can do is Hurtigruten. It’s a Norwegian company with ships going between Bergen and Kirkenes every single day. As one ship leaves from Bergen, another one leaves from Kirkenes, so they will cross on the way down.

This goes on every single day of the year, though it might not happen on Christmas day. They are stopping at somewhere around 20 ports on the way because it’s a working ship. They are picking up cars and passengers at ports all the way up and down, but their ships go into some of the remote Fjords and that’s a fantastic experience.

Those ships are built for seeing the coast. They have got an observation lounge from where you can see and watch the coast as you go through some of the narrow areas.

So, there is a variety of options to see the Norwegian Fjords. You can go from the UK, from Copenhagen, from Bergen. And with Hertigruten you can do one way, Bergen up to Kirkenes, or you can do Kirkenes down to Bergen. You can also do a round trip from Bergen to Kirkenes and back down to Bergen.

Margaret:

Honestly, I don’t know how you can remember everything. But Hertigruten sounds so happy, it makes me want to check out their website.

Jane:

They have some wonderful cruises. They also have cruises that go around Spitsbergen, which is right up in the Svalbard Archepelo, again a part of Norway. But, there you are talking snow, polar bears, ice and a completely different experience, it’s not just going up and down the coast of Norway.

Margaret:

Would you see the Northern lights up there? Would you see the Arora Borealis?

Jane:

Absolutely, yes, and they have Norwegian lights cruises which are specifically designed to take you to see the Northern lights.

Margaret:

That’s one of my goals. I would love to see them.

Jane:

I’d like to mention that at the moment they have an offer in place where if you don’t actually see the Northern lights, they will give you a free seven-night cruise.

Margaret:

Is this Hertigruten?

Jane:

There are all sorts of terms and conditions attached, I must emphasize that. But it’s definitely worth looking into if you want to see the Northern Lights.

Margaret:

I think the Baltic and the Norwegian cruises are really coming into popularity right now. I suppose it’s partly because they are new and different. Many people have done the Mediterranean cruises and this is a completely different experience. Would you recommend it for older women?

Jane:

Traditionally, the Baltic has always been seen as a destination for older people. It’s also great for families if you get on the right ship. I’ve taken my daughter there many times, and we’ve had a great time together. It definitely suits older people, particularly those who are interested in history and culture, for the Baltic and those who are interested in scenery, for the Norwegian Fjords.

Margaret:

One position that our community maintains is that we love being around people of all ages. We don’t want to live in retirement homes, we want to experience the world. You have painted for us a picture of cruising as a mature, fun, adventurous opportunity that lets you learn about culture and history. It’s a cruise with a bit of class, culture and adventure.

Jane:

I think one of the most important things to get across is that there are an enormous number of cruises out there. They come in all kinds of different styles and sizes to suit different people. The mantra is, “There is a cruise out there to suit everybody.”

There are cruises for families, and there are cruises for people who love to do nothing and just want to relax. There are cruises for people who want to see the world and discover new things and learn about history and culture.

There is so much opportunity for adventure. One of the big misconceptions that everybody has is that every cruise is the same, but it really isn’t. There is a cruise for everybody. You just need to know what you want and find the one that suits you.

Margaret:

Thank you so much for sharing all this with us, Jane. I had a wonderful time chatting. I know that women in our community are going to love learning from you and getting signed up on some of these great trips you’ve told us about.

 

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