Scandinavia has been on my list of places to visit for many years. A few months ago, my dream of visiting that part of the world come true when my travel colleague Nancy and I took a Baltic cruise on the Regal Princess, aka “The Love Boat.” Over the course of the 11-day cruise, we got to hear the familiar “Love Boat” theme song while entering and departing the various ports, each place unique in its language, architecture, culture and cuisine.

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Nancy Hamilton

Not only did the adventure include the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden but stops in Russia, Estonia and Germany. After a transatlantic flight via Lufthansa, we arrived in Helsinki, Finland, and spent a delightful Sunday afternoon walking around Senate Square and the iconic Lutheran cathedral (built 1830-1852). We met up with Helsinki friend Eero who showed us around the city, including Market Square and the harbor, where you can catch boats to neighboring islands and countries. After a much-needed rest at the GLO Hotel, we took an Uber to the cruise port and boarded the ship, already loaded with passengers who had begun the journey in Copenhagen. We woke up the next day in St. Petersburg, founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and Russia’s elegant capital until 1918. Many agree the city’s greatest treasure is the State Hermitage Museum, which includes works by DaVinci, Rembrandt, Titian and other masters. Established by Catherine the Great in 1764, the Baroque winter palace was home to several rulers before it became the Hermitage.

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Nancy Hamilton

During a Russian Roots cooking class we learned to make Pelmeni (meat pies) and sampled several kinds of vodka, the national drink for over five centuries. We also visited Kupevs, an Art Nouveau grocery store, which dates to 1897 and sells tea, caviar, handmade chocolates and more. After spending two days in Russia, we sailed to picturesque Tallinn, the capital of the now-independent Estonia. We opted for a walking tour of the old Hanseatic city, the home of the Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, St. Mary’s Cathedral (circa 13th century), and the Great Guild hall. We found the amber jewelry in Tallinn shops dazzling and the sounds of street musicians compelling! Berlin was a tour option (six hours round trip) from the delightful seaside town of Warnemunde on Germany’s northern coast, but we chose to visit Wismar in the province of Mecklenburg, known for its golden fields of canola and modern windmills. England’s Queen Charlotte was born in Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1744.

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Nancy Hamilton

Our next stop was Oslo, Norway’s capital, where our walking tour included the impressive City Hall, where Nobel Prize winners are announced; the National Theatre, where Henrik Ibsen’s plays first appeared; and the Royal Palace, summer residence of Queen Sonja. Oslo is also known for its Viking museums, 1958 Olympic ski jump and Vigeland Sculpture Garden. From Copenhagen, we toured North Sealand country, Frederiksborg Castle, and Kornberg Castle, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” though the playwright never set foot in Denmark. We made a cursory picture stop at the Little Mermaid statue. 

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Nancy Hamilton

In Sweden we docked at Nynashamn and took a bus to Stockholm, though trains are also a popular option. Our Hop-on Hop-off bus broke down in the rain, but we still had time to visit the incredible Vasa Museum, which houses the world’s oldest fully preserved ship (1628). Stockholm is also home to the Nobel Prize Museum. We ended the cruise in Helsinki and left our Love Boat friends and staff members who had guided passengers through painting Yakulus nesting dolls, Tango lessons, cooking classes, Effy jewelry sales and more. Back in the Finnish capital, we visited the Ateneum Art Museum, a showcase of Finnish art and a great place for coffee and cinnamon rolls; the monument which honors Sibelius, Finland’s most famous composer; Stockmann’s Department Store, which has a great rooftop bar; and Kosmos, one of the city’s oldest restaurants. All too soon, our adventure came to an end (800-774-6237 or princess.com).

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Nancy Hamilton

Mid-Atlantic tours

As the weather gets cooler, some of America’s great cities may be best explored on foot. The “Philadelphia: Founding Fathers Historical Walking Tour,” which departs from the Religious Liberty Statue, southeast corner of 5th and Market streets, explores the neighborhood where so much history took place in the 18th century. The guided tour includes a visit to the home of Betsy Ross, who is credited by her descendants as creating the first American flag; Independence Mall, the National Constitution Center, and the U.S. Mint; and the home where Presidents Washington and Adama lived while in office (from $39, getyourguide.com).

“Baltimore: Fells Point Walking Food and History Tour” focuses on the history, architecture and culture of the Fells Point neighborhood and features five different food stops, including two with alcohol. The guided tour begins in Thames Street Park on the east side of Fells Point and ends at the last food stop on the west side of the neighborhood (from $85, getyourguide.com)

The “Georgetown” guided walking tour is a great way to see Washington’s Historic Georgetown, where John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie lived before he became President, and where George Washington and other colonials conducted business. A number of historic properties in town are open to the public. The Georgetown guided tour begins at the park at the intersection of 28th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, and ends in the town’s trendy shopping and restaurant district ($20, washingtonwalks.com).

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Nancy Hamilton

Get the inside scoop on the nation’s capital during the “Hamilton Tour D.C.,” which begins at the Foggy Bottom Metro Station near the bust of George Washington and ends near The Hamilton restaurant and bar, where you can order a “Hamilton Mule” and “raise a glass to freedom” ($20, washingtonwalks.com).

“Hamilton: The Tour” focuses on the life of Alexander Hamilton in New York City and the Tony Award-winning “Hamilton” musical which links historical sites with songs from the hit Broadway show. Sites include King’s College, Thomas Jefferson’s house, Trinity Church, and the Federal Reserve (from $59, viatour.com).

The “Richmond: Downtown Walking Tour” covers the history of River City, from its beginnings to the present day, with stops at the Virginia Capitol Square and Thomas Jefferson’s State Capitol, Jackson Ward, Broad Street, Monumental Church, plus information on the current food scene, and the city’s best-kept secrets. The guided tour begins at the Virginia Visitors Center and ends at the Valentine Museum (from $20, including museum admission, viatour.com).

Best Lists

The August issue of “Travel + Leisure” features the magazine’s Best Lists of cities, islands, airlines, airports, hotels, resorts and more. Charleston is rated the No. 1 city in the United States, followed by Santa Fe, New Orleans, Savannah, New York, Chicago, Nashville, Asheville, Austin and Honolulu. The top 10 Islands in the continental U.S. include Hilton Head Island in South Carolina; Mount Desert Island, Maine; Cumberland Island, Ga.; Golden Isles (Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and St. Simons Island), Ga.; Mackinac Island, Mich.; Nantucket, Mass.; Amelia Island, Fla.; Outer Banks, N.C.; and Kiawah Island, S.C. The top five domestic airlines are JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at ctimblin@gmail.com.

 

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