Avid cruise enthusiasts, Bob and Amy Sharak share shopping tips and other insider secrets from their Wind Surf Baltic Delights voyage.
To say that we started planning this fabulous cruise as soon as we stepped off of our last Windstar cruise would not be an exaggeration. Last summer, my husband Bob and I sailed with our friends Paul and Nancy, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary on Wind Star in the Greek and Turkish Isles. This summer we had no milestones to celebrate, but knew we wanted to sail Windstar again!
Nancy and I are avid shoppers. We realized if we chose Windstar’s Baltic 8-day itinerary, this wasn’t going to be our usual shopping vacation. Historic? Yes. Shopper’s paradise? Probably not. But the destinations looked so intriguing we knew we had to go.
About this time, I started correspondence with a recently found sibling in Norway. As an adoptee, I was searching for (and found) members of my birth family. When I mentioned that I would be taking this trip, we decided that it would be a great opportunity for us to meet in person. After all, Stockholm is only about 7 hours by car from her home near Oslo. Much closer than I would likely ever be again. So now, this trip was going to have even more meaning than I thought. It was going to be a milestone trip.
Our trip started in Stockholm where we quickly found our way to the City Hall (where the Nobel prizes are given out) for a guided tour. After a bit of city touring, Nancy and I found our way up to Ostermalm where we stumbled upon (not really … we had it all planned out ahead of time!) some lovely shopping areas. Dinner was at Rolf’s Kok, a small restaurant serving modern classics such as braised ox cheeks (delicious!).
The next day we visited the Vasa Museum. It’s a “must see” in Stockholm and my advice is to get there early to avoid long lines to enter the museum. After the Vasa and then strolling past the Abba Museum, we were anxious to board our ship so we hailed a cab. Taxis are not regulated in Stockholm, and you’d be surprised to find how much discrepancy there is in their fares. A cab driver actually cursed at us when we questioned his fare (thankfully we had not gotten into the cab yet)! Stick to cabs with the Taxi Stockholm or Taxi020 logos on them to get the most fair service.
Wind Surf had a slip in the most accessible port in Stockholm, right in the Old City of Gamla Stan. With a small window of time to fill before the ship sailed, and with the Wind Surf so close to town, Nancy and I took the opportunity to check out (what else?) another shopping area, this one in Sodermalm. Then back on board, starting our journey, listening to Windstar’s memorable Sail Away music by Vangelis (“1492: Conquest of Paradise”).
After a relaxing day at sea, we arrived in St. Petersburg. We would need all of our energy for the next 72 hours in this incredibly historic city. We visited all the “important” sights. There were a few unexpected yet notable stops. The first was our lunch at Lindfors which is a chain of luncheonette type establishments that serve traditional Russian soups and savory pies. Also, dinner at Teplo where you enter into a labyrinth of small rooms, like someone’s basement gone awry, was a good choice. One morning, before touring St. Catherine’s Palace, we went to Pushkin Village and had lunch outdoors at Podvorye Restaurant. While the food was lovely, the bees were not. My advice: choose the indoor seating! Toward the end of three days of sightseeing, we asked our guide to take us for a stroll down Nevsky Prospekt. What this really meant, was that Nancy and I wanted to shop on St. Petersburg’s most renowned boulevard. While the actual shopping along this street did not live up to my expectations (yes, my expectations were pretty high!), it was a fun way to end our time in this spectacular city.
The next day found us in Helsinki, and we had two incredible experiences. The first was the shopping (time to amend my pre-conceived notion of shopping in the Baltic)! Helsinki has an impressive Design District. My favorite store of the day was Via Minnet, a collection of leather goods such as bracelets, belts, and hair accessories, all made by a local artisan. Also worth noting, is the outdoor market with an abundance of furs, food, jewelry, souvenirs, etc. While I was snapping up bracelets in the Design District, my husband was buying a reindeer pelt in the market! Everything was within walking distance from our ship. It was so convenient. Which was good, because we needed to get back to the ship in time for BBQ night!
This was our second incredible experience. I need to point out that the meals aboard Wind Surf, each and every day, were really above and beyond my expectations. But, BBQ night was really impressive. From lobster tails to lamb chops, you thought you could be in a formal 5-star restaurant. But here, the food was served right from the grills by our smiling Windstar culinary staff. What a great way to end the day in a great port!
Tallin was our last new port and we spent the day just walking around this pretty little medieval town. There is no shortage of cafés to enjoy when you need to sit and rest. We happened upon Cafe Mademoiselle where my husband had a truly delicious tart made of local berries, and a cup of cappuccino, for about $3 USD.
We were back in Stockholm the next day where we, having seen the tourist sights already, made one more pass at shopping. Then it was time to meet my birth half-sister who traveled from Norway to see us. She and I led separate lives for over 50 years, neither of us knowing the other existed. I’m so glad Windstar was part of our reunion.
It was another spectacular vacation aboard Windstar. I’m already missing the friendly crew, spectacular meals, and fun entertainment (Coco in the Lounge and Rain in the Compass Rose bar). And, once again, I’m wondering where our next adventure will take us, and I’ve only just begun to unpack from this one!