PREPARING TO GO
Before I left home I got books from the library and made good use of the boards and forums at Cruise Critic
and Trip Advisor
. One thing I learned was that even though I was traveling in deep summer, the weather in northern Europe was fickle. It could rain, it could be sunny. It could be sweltering and it could be really, really cold. It could be windy and freezing one minute and the next be still and hot and humid. So taking the advice of the guidebooks and the experienced travelers on Cruise Critic's Northern Europe boards, I brought layers, purchased a rain poncho in a lozenge-shaped packet that fit nicely into my tote bag, and a similarly-sized umbrella which turned out to be too small to have any value. I brought a denim jacket, a couple of sweaters, some long-sleeved T-shirts, and short-sleeved T-shirts. I brought thick socks, closed-toe walking shoes, lightweight Reebok sneakers and sandals too. I wore the entire wardrobe range on the same day, several times.
Another thing I discovered before I left was that Scandinavian cities, which are very, very expensive for Americans, slow down in the summer and hotel rates that are prohibitive much of the time go down about two-thirds during July and August. I was able to find that several good hotels in Stockholm which, during the rest of the year, might range from USD $250 to USD $350 were available for as low as USD $65 per night, including breakfast. Cruisers who originate or end in Oslo and Copenhagen would find the same thing during the summer months. It's an ideal way to extend your time and to visit a city more deeply than a shore excursion would allow.
INTO THE BALTIC SEA
Everything went perfectly from my flight to London, bus ride to Dover, boarding the ship and the first two stops in Bruges and Amsterdam, except for the weather. It was just terrible, very cold and windy and rainy. OK for museum visits, not ok for walking around like a tourist. I made the most of those first two stops despite the rain and just prayed that the weather would improve before we arrived at cities I had not yet visited.
I had been looking forward to the trip through the Kiel Canal because it was one of only two sea days on this voyage but at the same time, not exactly “at sea.” Under usual conditions, the staff of Regatta puts on a top-rate deck barbecue but of course on my trip the weather wouldn't cooperate. It was stormy and rainy through the entire canal until nearly sundown, which in that part of the world in summer is close to 11 p.m. Just as we got adjacent to the city of Kiel, just as we ended our trip through the canal and were about to enter the Baltic Sea, the sun decided to treat us to glorious streaks of pinks and golds and mauves. It was too late to enjoy the transit, but it did portend lovely weather for the following day.
Northern Germany's Warnemunde and Rostock are co-cities on the Baltic Sea and for cruisers are the gateways to Berlin. Warnemunde, a charming seaside village that's basically a vacation spot for Germans and Danes, is about 6 miles from the more commercial Rostock. Baltic ferries weave in and out of the channel into Warnemunde all day long, going to Copenhagen, Malmo and Stockholm as well as other, more far-flung, Baltic destinations.
Most of the cruise ships that stop in Rostock/Warnemunde stay until very late in the evening, usually 8 or 10 p.m. because it's such a long way for people to get to Berlin, the highlight of this port stop. I chose not to go to Berlin because it was a Sunday and Germany is fairly rigid about its Sunday laws; in other words, there would be no shopping, no beer, and limited dining options. I didn't feel like taking a three-hour train ride (each way) for that, nor did I feel like sitting in a coach for most of the day on an organized shore excursion. Yes, of course I wanted to see Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie, the remnants of The Wall and the Bundestadt, but I just couldn't justify doing it on a Sunday.
I anticipated a quiet day onboard, with perhaps a walk around the seaside village of Warnumunde and maybe a train into Rostock to gawk at the Hanseatic architecture, but guess what I found out? Seaside resorts are immune from the Sunday laws of Germany. In Warnemunde I could shop and have a beer; if I had gone into the city of Rostock I could even have gone on a brewery tour. As it was, I enjoyed wandering around the sweet little town, weaving in between families walking with their dogs and kids, going into boutiques and shops along the way, sitting down for a big steaming cup of coffee and a herring sandwich on brown bread.
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