Exploring the Land of the Vikings
Located in the most northern parts of Europe, including the Germanic tribal lands, north into Russia and Scandinavia, home to the Norsemen, this region has more documented history spanning many thousands of years — than most places in the western world. Yet today, it is not overly developed and therefore the visitor sees natural views that are among the most picturesque in the world. A vacation to one or more parts of this land will surely remain in your memory for many years to come.
The region retains its original look and feel — including the short period of time known as the Viking era. In fact, when one visits the Baltic and Scandinavian regions, one learns about how civil and modern the Vikings were — how they treated their fellow villagers and family members, and how resourceful they were. Most know about their plundering days (which was a short period of time in human history). What most people do not know is how much of an impact the Vikings made to human development. Their impact to Northern, Eastern and Western Europe, the British Isles, Iceland and Greenland — was huge. As they became experts in terms of sea travel –they added their wealth of knowledge about the sea and how to make things and survive brutal weather — to humans that lived wherever they pulled up on shore.
Should you have a meal at one of the many outdoor restaurants in Copenhagen, for example, you will be impressed with how many locals still have the fair-skin and light blond hair associated with the Vikings. It was the lack of sun in winter and the difficulty in getting ample supplies of vitamin D from the sun, that prompted human development to modify so that more sunshine and vitamin D could be absorbed and stored.
It is a region with many secrets and unique beauty, not found anywhere else in the world. In fact, it is one of my favorite places to visit. And the region has limited overdevelopment and pioneered the use of renewable energy resources, including wind energy, as you pass by the many wind turbines that are planted in the sea near their homes. Walk through a real Viking cemetary, that was discovered just a few decades ago. You will find that the Vikings buried their dead in civil ceremonies that match the way we bury our loved ones today. It is utterly amazing.
And how did the Vikings survive what was then much colder winters than today? Well that story is also told in some places with restored structures that you can visit — to allow you to see how they did it. Living with their village mates — sometimes 20 or 30 to a “long house” — AND their animal herds kept in these houses –they developed ways to make and save the heat they needed to survive some of the coldest of winters in Europe. Their long homes were covered in insulating sod — and they developed heat transfer systems that circulated heat from end to end of their residences.
I guess the Vikings excelled because they were adept at growing lots of healthy vegetables during the very long days of summer — as this is the land of the midnight sun of course. But they also had this unlimited amount of vitamin rich fish to eat. The fish they caught — as weather permitted — was rich in vitamins and omega minerals that enabled them to grow very tall and muscular, often surviving into their 70’s. Disease was nearly non existent.
The Vikings were cleaner than most other people of Europe. It was the women that ruled the roost and demanded that their men (and kids too) comb their hair and bathe regularly. Their intricate combs made from fish skeletons have been found in architectural diggings, along with their intricate clothing, shoes and other items. When the men went off on fishing expeditions — one or more appointed women would take over all of the leadership responsibilities for the tribe — and then they made rules and regulations — met with the heads of other local villages — and basically took over all of the responsibilities of men. It is this arrangement, and other things, that enabled the Vikings to survive and become a dominant force of Europe for many centuries.
Explore Scandinavia and the Baltic on a Luxury Cruise
One of the most enjoyable ways to explore the historic and ancient lands of Scandinavia and up into the Baltic states is via a luxurious cruise. There are so many to choose from.
- Viking Ocean now has 5 new amazing cruise ships that are totally all inclusive. Some port in Iceland, Greenland, and the Arctic Circle
- Oceania, Silversea, and others offer amazing voyages to all points in Northern Europe with excursions that include St. Petersburg, Russia and other cities.
- Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America, and other lines like Costa Cruises also offer great itineraries at great prices throughout the region.
Embarkation ports include South Hampton, England; Copenhagen, Denmark; Bergen, Norway, and others. Most voyages last 10 days to 2 weeks. Cruises are clearly a best value!
Bergen offers picturesque views of the ocean and bays combined with the tall mountains that surround this old fishing village. Today, Bergen offers lots of very interesting shopping, restaurants, and local entertainment. Stroll the central plaza markets and wind your way down to the restored 1700’s dwellings, now turned into shops and restaurants. This old fishing village is a definite photo opportunity. In summer the temperatures are cool, but when the long summer sun shines, it is very pleasant. You will find plenty of Viking memorabilia and crafts along the plaza to take home. But the big bonus is the sail out to sea as you pass century old farms with low and green hills that sit high up on ragged cliffs. Yes, you will take take many pictures because each view is better than the last one you just saw.
Typically a Baltic cruise offers you overnights in some of the cities along the way including cosmopolitan Stockholm and St. Petersburg, Russia. You will also explore charming historical regions like Tallinn and Gdañsk. You’ll visit Helsinki, Berlin, Copenhagen, Bergen, Oslo, as well as the crown jewels that include the breathtaking scenery of the majestic Norwegian fjords — the Vikings ultimate homeland. Some cruises go up into the Arctic Circle where the sun never sets in summer. Its a stunning opportunity to enjoy being at the top of the world.
In Stockholm, Sweden checkout the archipelago that is situated on picturesque Lake Malaren, where the Baltic meets the ocean. This amazing city is spread over 14 different islands with 13th century buildings and German influenced architecture. The Vasa museum is not to be missed, where a totally preserved 16th century vessel was brought up from the mud below the harbor and restored to all its glory. See exactly what the ships of that day looked like. It is absolutely amazing.
Helsinki, Finland is a smaller city, but just as beautiful. You can spend the day shopping or touring the “white city of the north” and view the Uspenski Cathedral with 13 magnificent green and gold domes or tour the nearby town of Porvoo which is a charming medieval town with cobblestone streets among the many wooden buildings. The 18th century Suomenlinna Fortress, one of the world’s largest is spectacular to see. There is ample shopping throughout the downtown area, with modern restaurants and unique boutiques that offer a huge variety of souvenirs.
The crown jewel of any Baltic cruise is your two or three days spent in St. Petersburg, Russia. If you have never seen the milk sky that is the “White Nights” of summer, you are in for a treat. This experience is unlike any other — with a sky that is literally milky white during the month of July.
From the morning you arrive until the end of the next day, there is so much to see and experience. There is St. Isaccs’s Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Vevsky Prospekt with a multitude of unique shops and restaurants and let us not forget the Hermitage Museum that might include an evening private concert and more.
St Petersberg was built on a swamp, the idea coming from Peter the Great who wanted to build a shipping port to rival those of Western Europe. In order to fill in the swamp, Peter the Great offered peasants one penny for each load of dirt they could carry in their dresses and pants. Eventually the swamp was filled in with canals, rock and land fill, and the building of St. Petersberg began. Today the city is known as the Venice of the north.
Typically you will overnight in St. Petersberg giving you time to visit the amazing palaces of the Csars including Peter the Great’s and Catherine the Great’s residences. Peterhoff and Catherine’s Palace, all fully restored to their original architecture are extraordinary in design and size. Very few structures in the modern world can compare to these amazing places. How the Csars lived is so interesting, and the huge treasury trove of Russian museum pieces and preserved original structures and art is not to be missed. The fountains of Peterhoff, built in the early 1800’s, are world known for their amazing beauty. The water is actually driven from lakes via natural gravity (using no man made energy). The lakes are located over 40 miles away and this was designed and engineered by Peter the Great himself.
In Tallin you will want to stroll through the meticulously restored medieval 14th and 15 century streets of the old town. You will feel as if you have stepped back into history. This is a walking town and cars are not allowed. Ample shops, cathedrals and restaurants out on the town square are available for you to enjoy your long summer day’s visit. Check out the colossal Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built in Russian Othodox style or explore the Baroque Kadriorg Palace, intended as a summer residence for Catherine the First of Russia. It is now an art museum.
In Gadansk, Poland — you will visit what was once considered to one of the richest cities of Europe. A stroll down the old down, tremendously destroyed during World War II, has been meticulously restored. A stroll will take you back 1,000 years in history but now offers unique shops, restaurants, outdoor plazas with entertainment, and unique residences open for view. Malbork Castle, the world’s largest brick castle is not to be missed and is a World Heritage UNESCO site.
Many cruises to the Baltic will include Berlin, Germany. However, Berlin is located about a 2 hour train ride from the ports along the Baltic Sea. But cruises will park for up to 12 hours or more to allow cruisers to conduct their excursions to Berlin. There you will see the Berlin wall, with its Checkpoint Charlie. Today, Berlin, which was totally destroyed during World War II, has been restored as a modern city with its chain department stores, restauants, and old cathedrals and parks. Some of the largest and most extensive structures survived the war and have been restored. The government center remains as well as the Alexanderplatz Square, and the Reichstag with the Kafer restaurant situated high above the city.
Checkout the many itineraries that are available to the Baltic. Not all cruises go to all of the cities in the regions. If you want a more cosmopolitan cruise, then a cruise up into the Baltic Sea may be more to your liking. If you are looking for more of the natural beauty of the region, then a cruise that heads toward the fjords of Norway and up into the Arctic Circle might fit your bill.
Baltic cruises can take you to the cities of Copenhagen, Alborg, Stavanger, Eidfojord, and of course Bergen, Norway. Here you will alternate between modern city life, unlike what is seen in other parts of Europe and the USA, to country life, some of what has not changed in many centuries. Copenhagen offers lots of shopping and is a great walking city. Alborg offers the visitor a place to see what was built in the early 900’s. Today trendy shops line the streets just off the main port. Stavanger, Norway is an old shipping port, and this city has the highest number of wooden buildings, that can trace their construction back to the 1600’s. You might even catch an off shore drilling rig or two because Norway, once a very poor country, is now one of the richest, having discovered oil in the 1960’s off their shores.
One of Europe’s most famous natural landmarks is the Pulpit Rock that juts over a cliff over 2,000 feet high. But do not forget to check out the world famous waffles found in this region, which has been a local tradition for hundreds of years.
Finally the high point of your cruise are the majestic Fjords that can be found in Eidfjord, Norway. It is one of Norway’s most scenic regions and Europe’s largest mountain plateau. You will find sweeping views of the epic Nordic landscape and its largest national park. You will also have a chance to see one of Europe’s only remaining glaciers. Marvel at the 550 foot waterfall, one of the largest in the world, and the nearby canyon. Nearby are the gorgeous fruit orchards or tour Europe’s largest hydroelectric plant. The plant is totally enclosed in a mountain, so it is not visible to the naked eye. However, the spectacular mountain views around this area rival the Alps and are not to be missed.
No matter what cruise or land tour you plan to take in this region, you could spend weeks trying to see it all. Rather we recommend that you plan to take one trip and then go back later to see other parts of the area. That way you can absorb it all, take amazing pictures, meet amazing people, enjoy the food and culture and come away with memories that clearly will last you a lifetime.