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Here & There

Frank McGinity: Cruising the Baltic Reveals Unique Features, Secrets of Scandinavia

From London to Copenhagen, a voyage is filled with fascinating people, sights and treasures

The Oceania cruise line’s Marina was the ideal vessel for a recent voyage around the Baltic Sea. Click to view larger
The Oceania cruise line’s Marina was the ideal vessel for a recent voyage around the Baltic Sea. (Frank McGinity photo)

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Globalization, they say, has made many cities the same. Hotels are similar and restaurants can follow a global pattern. Apple iPhones and Coca-Cola are available on main streets in any country.

On a recent cruise to Copenhagen from London aboard the Oceania’s Marina, we sought out unique features of the marvelous cities we visited. What follows is a potpourri of our unique experiences.

We started in London, and what better unique location to visit than the Churchill War Rooms museum. The Churchill name to this day is prominent throughout London, and the Nazi bombings, which started in 1939, are embedded in the minds of all Londoners.

Perhaps there is no better example of leadership and inspiration than Winston Churchill during these trying times. The Churchill War Rooms museum brings this period alive. A large bunker was constructed beneath the city to house the British prime minister’s command post. He would sleep here and had his senior staff here. The war was fought from these rooms.

Le Havre in France was another example of how World War II is still never far from the surface. More than half of the city was destroyed when the Allied Forces recaptured the port from the Nazis in 1943. More than 40,000 residents were killed and 12,000 buildings were destroyed.

Today, Le Havre looks somewhat like what you would expect in Russia, with similar, square five-story buildings throughout the city. One of the few churches to be spared in the middle of the city is Le Havre Cathedral, or Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Havre, which dates back to 1575.

We moved beyond the war years with our next stop in Amsterdam. This city, with all its canals throughout, is sometimes called “The Venice of the North.” The canals define the city and the historic houses that line the banks are a unique feature.

But watch out for the bikes. There are more bicycles than people, and biking is a predominant means of transportation.

If you have time, don’t miss the famous Aalsmeer Flower Auction. Here, 20,000 different varieties of flowers and plants are auctioned daily using the “Dutch auction” formula in which the auctioneer begins with a high asking price that is reduced until a level can be found that clears the market.

Our good ship, the Marina, pushed further north to the port city of Oslo, Norway. The numerous pine-clad islands and the high hills that surround the city on three sides give the area a distinctive charm. Add 340 lakes to make it even more captivating.

A unique feature of Oslo is its massive ski jump area, which you can see from the harbor. Called Holmenkollen, it was used during the 1952 Winter Olympics and now is a popular resort area for the athletic Norwegians.

We found the Munch Museum particularly interesting. Edvard Munch was a renowned Norwegian painter known for his painting entitled “The Scream.” The special exhibit during this period noted Munch’s influence on the paintings — also on display at the time — of Jasper Johns.

Gothenburg, Sweden, was our next stop, and rather than taking a city tour, we opted for a sail on a 65-foot sloop. We explored the islands and sea topography of this beautiful port.

The Scandinavians are avid sailors, as evidenced by the thousands of boats in the harbors. Many have summer homes out on the myriad islands that they visit during their 30 days or more of annual vacation time. It’s a nice way of life.

Included on our cruise were also stops at Hamburg, Germany, and Bruges and Antwerp, Belgium. We arrived at our final destination, Copenhagen, Denmark, after 10 days. It was an opportunity to spend extra time in Copenhagen before flying home to Santa Barbara.

We stayed at the 71 Nyhavn Hotel, an old renovated boathouse along one of the many canals.

As in Amsterdam, the scenic boat rides along the various canals are a highlight. Life in Copenhagen seems like a continual party with so many restaurants along the canals. We also enjoyed the Tivoli Gardens with its restaurants, entertainment and fun rides.

Our lasting impression — particularly of Oslo, Gothenburg and Copenhagen — is that their countries are well organized and residents appear to lead happy and well-organized lives. But it was now time to get back to the helter-skelter life in California.

— Frank McGinity is a Santa Barbara resident. The opinions expressed are his own.

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