by Chris Hutchinson

EMBARKING on Fred.Olsen’s Balmoral you feel immediately at home, which is down to the enthusiastic welcome from staff.

First port of call on our Baltic tour was Copenhagen, Denmark, where we visited the iconic Little Mermaid statue. Despite a number of injuries she sits serenely on a bed of rocks. We took in other Copenhagen sights, ending at the 17h century Nyhavn Canal waterfront; a perfect setting for relaxing with coffee or something stronger!

Next in Stockholm a panoramic tour included the highlights, then we meandered around the oldest district, Gamla Stan, and watched the colourful changing of the Palace Guard.

Arriving in Helsinki, Finland, on our orientation tour of the city, we admired the Lutheran Cathedral and stylish buildings designed by Russian, Swedish and Finnish architects, along with floral parks.

I could hardly contain my excitement entering the River Neva, gateway to St Petersburg, Russia. Three names are synonymous with this extraordinary city, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the Romanov family. Fred .Olsen Cruise Lines put together a two-day itinerary. Our first visit, the Hermitage Museum houses a collection of over three million exhibits; we gazed at masterpieces by Da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and many more.

Next, the Church on the Spilled Blood; an historical monument and work of art, its five domes and mosaics shimmer whilst inside is almost entirely covered with mosaics, one of the most unique collections in the world.

At a Traditional Russian restaurant we enjoyed a delicious four-course lunch, naturally with vodka!

Refreshed, we visited the impressive Yusupov Palace, where the notorious assassination of Grigori Rasputin took place. We stood in the small basement room where he was poisoned and shot; an intriguing visit.

Our first day ended with a river trip, gliding under ornate bridges absorbing majestic sights and landmarks of this astonishing city.

Arriving at Catherine the Great’s Palace, its turquoise, white and gold facade dazzles. From the grand entrance, room after room reflects Catherine’s passion for fine art and furniture. We then strolled round the manicured gardens.

We continued to Peterhof Palace, home of Peter the Great. From the palace terrace we had a breathtaking view of the grand cascade of 64 fountains and three waterfalls fed from underground springs, watched over by 37 gilded statues. The beautiful flowered gardens stretch to the Gulf of Finland.

In the city centre is St Isaac’s Cathedral, dominating the skyline. Its striking decorations of coloured marble, sculptures, frescos and mosaics is beauty to behold.

Our last visit was Peter and Paul Fortress; here you immerse yourself in the history of St. Petersburg. In Peter and Paul Cathedral, are icons, wood carvings, canopies, and under decorative ceilings are tombs of the Imperial Royals, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the tragic Romanov family.

On days at sea there’s a variety of activities and lectures, and you can indulge in traditional afternoon tea with white glove service.

Evenings on Balmoral are occasions to savour. Pre- dinner, enjoy the Martini Experience then mouth-watering five-star cuisine, followed by enjoyable theatre shows.

In Tallinn we strolled through the enchanting old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fairytale charm. At the atmospheric Town Hall square you’re entertained by Troubadours and wandering Minstrels, in authentic dress. Its restaurants offer medieval cuisine.

Our final port of call was Oslo-Norway; highlights included the National Opera House, Nobel Peace Centre and Royal Palace.

This cruise was perfectly balanced, inspirational days and memorable nights. We certainly experienced the treasures of the Baltic cities.

* Fred. Olsen’s 14-night ‘Capital Cities of the Baltic’ cruise, L2019, on board Balmoral, departs from Newcastle on August 2, 2020. Prices start from £1,999. Visit