European history 101 on the high seas

CanWest News Service
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The first piece of advice I was offered on my cruise to Scandinavia and the Baltics was to be prepared for any kind of weather. It certainly is changeable.
The ship I am on is the Celebrity Constellation out of Harwich, England and at 1,900 plus passengers it's the right size for getting on and off at each port. The passenger list is made up of about half from the U.K., a third from North America and smaller percentages from Spain, France and even Asia.
In the past, cruising out of Britain meant using many of the fine homegrown lines. Over the past few years that has changed and now the British have more choice as lines such as Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, NCL, Holland America and others have been adding ships at a rapid rate.
I'm not surprised. Year-over-year, double-digit growth has shown the British have an avid interest in cruising. They also like to use their home ports such as Harwich, Dover and Southampton. The 2008 cruising year showed that 23 per cent of British cruise travellers sailed out of British ports. Southampton just opened two more piers to accommodate the growing demand.
The Mediterranean is still the favourite destination for cruises out of the U.K., but you couldn't convince those on board this ship. Most are on this cruise for the opportunity to visit some of Europe's most historic cities: Amsterdam, Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin through Warnemunde, Tallinn in Estonia, Copenhagen, and finally the one that everyone has every minute of the day booked: St. Petersburg. It's like European history 101.
Some are using public transportation to get around as we visit each city. An example was our first stop, Amsterdam. A 10-minute walk from the ship brought you to the Amsterdam Central Station which is the hub of all transportation around the city and is where you catch the canal buses as well. From the station, you have easy access to the Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank's house or any other points of interest you could squeeze into your visit, which in our case was six hours.
If you are travelling on a riverboat across Europe most are berthed even closer to the Central Station than the ocean-going vessels.
The euro is accepted here and the tram drivers are not only helpful, but they offer change and tell you where to stop, at least mine did.
St. Petersburg is the one city where most are avoiding public transit and have booked shore excursions through the ship or privately. Make sure if you are not taking a tour offered by the ship that you get a Russian visa in advance.
I am attempting to take public transportation most of the way on this trip when I am in port. If you want to find out how I am doing, you can log on to my blog (blogs.portsandbows.com), which I will update every day.

Organizations: Amsterdam Central Station, Van Gogh museum

Geographic location: Harwich, Scandinavia, England North America Spain Europe Asia Amsterdam Britain St. Petersburg Stockholm Helsinki Berlin Tallinn Estonia Copenhagen Central Station

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