For the first time since we started our Baltic expedition, the rain and wind made an appearance as we arrived in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Despite the rain, we enjoyed several walks to observe the city’s Art Nouveau style, the forests that the Finns love so much, and, of course, the gastronomy and the city’s star fish: salmon.
Nowadays, Helsinki is a vibrant city full of surprises, like the Ferris wheel with a sauna that was in front of our ship! Undoubtedly, we have done well to stay one more day to explore more deeply.
The first full day on our Baltic Sea voyage began with a calm, sunny Zodiac entrance into the Danish island of Bornholm. We disembarked in the colorful little town of Gudhjem, home to 700 people, a lovely ice cream shop, and the landing for the ferry to Christiansø, our afternoon destination (although we get to travel on a nicer ship). We didn’t stay in Gudhjem long, but instead took a coach ride across the island to the glorious hilltop ruins of Hammershus Castle, the largest castle ruins in Northern Europe. After wandering through the remaining pieces of Hammershus’s mixed brick and stone walls and the impressive Mantle Tower, we carried on exploring two more monuments of medieval architecture: Bornholm’s round churches. These buildings, unique to the island, were built as both churches and fortresses. There are many theories as to why these whitewashed granite and limestone churches were built in a round shape, including inspiration from Jerusalem, ease of defense, and simple stylistic preference. Whatever the case, they are truly impressive structures, made with two concentric exterior walls filled with gravel and soil, an interior circular core, and two fortified upper floors accessible only via a narrow stone staircase. After our morning adventures, we reunited for lunch with the other guests, who had traveled to a nearby sea buckthorn plantation to sample the citrusy orange berries local to this area. Our afternoon began with a fascinating and timely presentation by special guest Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark and Secretary General of NATO. He spoke on the history of the Scandinavian and Baltic region and its current political situation. Guests asked incredible questions about the war in Ukraine and kept the conversation going until we had to depart for our second destination of the day, the tiny Danish islands of Christiansø and Fredericksø. Staff led photography, nature, history, and fast-paced walks exploring the islands, which are home to about 120 permanent residents but many daily tourists, who we just missed as the final ferry departed. We dressed up for the Captain’s welcome cocktails to meet Captain Peik Aalto, who gave a hilarious presentation to introduce himself, and then enjoyed our evening sailing to Poland for another busy day planned in Gdansk tomorrow.
We spent the last day of our Baltic adventure in Öland and Kalmar, located in the southeastern part of the country. Some guests spent the day on the island of Öland. They explored its fortifications and storied past while strolling through Ottenby, one of the most famous birdwatching spots in all of Sweden. Other guests visited the castle and the town of Kalmar, which was built in the 12th century. They relaxed by strolling through streets and visiting Kronan, a famous museum of a 17th century shipwreck. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. At 16:00, we had to start heading towards Copenhagen. We enjoyed the navigation while sharing memories and photographs taken during the trip, a beautiful sunset, and a final night of cocktails during which Captain Yuri bid us farewell. We all hope to see each other again soon. What a wonderful expedition!
This morning, we arrived early to the beautiful city of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland. We had the incredibly well-conserved medieval town center all to ourselves. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and the city was steadily warming up as we wandered through its narrow cobblestone streets to our first stop of the day: the Gotland Historical Fornsal Museum. Focusing on the Viking and medieval heritage of Visby and its surroundings, the museum displays some incredible treasures, including an entire room of carved standing stones, hordes of silver coins and glass beads, and a reconstructed medieval merchant’s cellar. The museum also tells the story of Visby’s heyday as one of the early trading cities of the Hanseatic League, a medieval confederation of merchant guilds. Visby’s great success in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries allowed its wealthy traders to build a protective ring wall, fifteen churches, and a crowded center of merchant houses. But more importantly for modern-day visitors like us, it is thanks to Visby’s decline beginning at the end of the fourteenth century that it has remained the historic gem it is today. Visby is sometimes known as the ‘City of Roses,’ a well-deserved title we witnessed for ourselves along the Fiskargränd, a street of tiny, rose-adorned houses that some of us recognized from the 1969 film adaptation of the famous Pippi Longstocking children’s book series. Visby has also been called the ‘City of Ruins’ for the twelve church ruins that project from its skyline. One of these even has intact passages running through its walls that the bravest of us explored for some excellent views. After lunch, we received an exceptional treat: a presentation by our special guest Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark and Secretary General of NATO, on the history of the Scandinavian and Baltic region and its present-day political situation. We followed this with a second remarkable experience: a private choral concert by the Visby Vokalensemble in the ruins of St. Clemens Church. On our walk back to the ship, we stopped to admire the wooden houses recently recoated in tar and to smell the blooming lilacs. We later found the same lilacs garnishing our dinner, which we enjoyed during our sail to Öland, the destination for our final day on National Geographic Explorer . Those of us with remaining energy were wildly entertained by naturalist Eduardo Shaw’s stories about his experiences with Lindblad dating back to 1975.