On to a shore thing
Our band of seasoned sailors reveal their favourite cruise ports
A journal note from my last visit to Stockholm, the final stop on an itinerary from Helsinki to St Petersburg: ‘‘The most stunning cruising of the trip is at 5am on a Wednesday in the creamy light and mists of the Swedish archipelago.’’ Clearly I was a little excited, but who can blame me?
The Baltic Sea entrance to the Swedish capital is a stunning jigsaw of about 30,000 islands covered in forests and crayon-coloured cottages. Instagram is superfluous here; no filters could enhance the extravagant beauty of this archipelago.
Stockholm itself is a city that rarely disappoints, regardless of its mood. In stormy weather it is gothic and broody; in summer its sun-warmed stone and sparkling canals cast a cheerful spell. And its citizens are some of the most polite and helpful you’ll meet in any big country town. Because, despite its grandiose streetscapes and exquisite urban airs, Stockholm does feel somehow provincial. Ingmar Bergman put it best when he said Stockholm is not a city but ‘‘simply a rather large village, set in the middle of some forests and some lakes. You wonder what it thinks it is doing there, looking so important.’’ More: crystalcruises.com.
Aboard RMS St Helena:
Aboard MS Fram:
A security blanket bobs in the glistening Atlantic, a lonely link to the world. The presence of the vessel RMS St Helena, billed as ‘‘the world’s last grand mail ship’’, is comforting but next day it sails away, portending a week’s isolation before returning from Ascension Island to collect those who’ve stayed.
Grouped with Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, pinprick St Helena is Britain’s remotest colony.
Some among the 4000 islanders — of African, Asian and European descent — work in the Falklands. Their tavern-of-the-seas home, once a place of exile, is where Napoleon died, his grave now a tourist attraction. Just beyond a two-prisoner jail is Jacob’s Ladder: 699 steps to comparative modernity. No new construction is allowed within Jamestown (pop. 800), a well-preserved Georgian village wedged between cliffs. Main Street and nearby thoroughfares seem plucked from provincial England. I stroll past historic hotels, B&Bs, serviced apartments, shops, cheery pubs and three restaurants (among which Anne’s Place is renowned for seafood). More: rms-st-helena.com.
The name in Greenlandic means icebergs, which sums up the dramatic appeal of this fishing port on Disko Bay. Its claim to fame as a UNESCO World Heritage site is a gigantic ice fjord, creaking and groaning with the world’s fastest flowing glacier. It regularly calves icebergs bigger than Sydney Opera House, and is believed to be the cradle of the one that sank the Titanic.
The town is a bustling place with eco-adventure out- lets and souvenir shops stocked with traditional Inuit crafts. A good place to view the evanescent beauty of ice cliffs in the still waters of Jakobshavn glacier is a hillside a few minutes’ walk from town, where I was adopted briefly by a pair of husky puppies.
An excursion in a fishing boat led to a close encounter with a couple of bigger locals — humpbacks cruising and blowing on the surface.
Ilulissat is the home town of the Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen, who memorably captured the ethos of the place: ‘‘Give me winter, give me dogs, and you can have the rest.’’ Artefacts from his expeditions are on display in the museum. More: hurtigruten.com.
I first sailed into Victoria Harbour as a young journalist in the early 1960s aboard P&O’s old Arcadia. I had seen the 1955 film Love is a ManySplendored Thing and headed to the locations where US war correspondent William Holden wooed Eurasian doctor Jennifer Jones.
The former colonial Repulse Bay Hotel was a must and as my ship was in port overnight I had dinner, like the star-crossed lovers, at the Tai Pak Floating Restaurant (now part of the Jumbo Kingdom) in Aberdeen.
I have visited Hong Kong many times since and find it as exciting as day one, with the best shopping in the world. But many things have changed. The Repulse Bay