A trip to the Baltic Sea in the style of Gatsby

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“Bummel” isn’t a word you come across a lot but, after spending 10 days chatting across the Baltic Sea on the right Marina ship with Oceania Cruises, I think it’s worthy of a wider audience .

Many people will have heard (if not read) of Jerome K. Jerome’s comic novel Three men in a boat (published in 1889), but few will know that there was a sequel called Three men on the Bummel.

Three men in a boat is the story of a disastrous boating holiday on the Thames while the sequel brings the trio back on a bicycle tour through Germany.

Bummel, it is explained by the narrator, is a journey in which, “We nod and smile at many as we pass; with some we stop and talk for a while; and with some we walk a little. We were very interested, and often a little tired. But, overall, we had a great time, and we’re sorry when it’s over.”

Which pretty much sums up my feelings when the Marina docks in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, at the end of its Northern Realms cruise and we are forced to disembark. Behind us are Copenhagen (our starting point, in Denmark), Kiel (Germany), Bornholm (Denmark), Visby (Sweden), Klaipeda (Lithuania), Riga (Latvia), Tallin (Estonia), Helsinki (Finland), Kotka (Finland) and memories of a whole lot of salted herring, pig’s tongue, reindeer meat and smoked salmon soup. And that’s without the five-star food on the ship itself.

After the Atlantic Ocean winds its way past Norway and Sweden and negotiates the Jutland Peninsula and the archipelago of 443 islands that make up modern Denmark, it becomes the Baltic Sea. About 1600 kilometers long and 193 kilometers wide, it is bordered by Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

Naturally, we let Russia pass – although the shore excursion to the town of Kotka on the Gulf of Finland brings us within reach of Vladimir Putin (there are road signs in the town pointing to St. Petersburg, only 270- kilometer tank trip).

Northern Realms may seem a bit game of thrones-like but, oddly enough, none of the places we visit hosted GoT or Dragon House, the prequel is currently making the rounds. I say weird because if you were to blow up a medieval village or township with a fire-breathing dragon, those would be the starting points.

The Marina is what is called a small luxury ship, with a capacity of 1238 passengers (half the size of the Titanic), a length of 87 meters and a tonnage of 66,084. It was “born” in 2011 and will undergo a well-deserved facelift in 2023.

I don’t know about you, but when I get on one of these ships, my first impulse is to run around my accommodation (penthouse suite, I don’t know, with the accompanying butler) touching everything and turning the lights on and off before rushing to the public spaces and getting a deck-by-deck layout of the pitch.

First impressions? If you squint hard enough, there’s a touch of Great Gatsby to the place. And not the anemic 1974 version with Robert Redford, but Baz Luhrmann’s glamorous, glamorous extravaganza singing and dancing from 2013.

Mainly, it’s the fault of the two elevators that face the pool as they go up. Every time they open to reveal their silver and black geometric floor patterns and art deco flair, I’m surprised Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t standing there in a tuxedo, carelessly offering a glass of Krug or a very dry martini . Very disappointing, that.

La Marina is a slice of old-world elegance and sophistication that gives a subtle nod to a bygone era, but with plenty of 21st-century technology for good measure. This gracefully understated style can be seen in the grand two-story Lalique staircase amidships, the attentive service of the white-gloved waiters in the large dining room, the leather chesterfield chairs in the comfortable library, and the use of wood paneling and beveled mirrors.

Some details in the public areas look a bit worn – the gorgeous but chipped silver and rhinestone bar stools in the casino’s funky, purple-lit bar are one example – but the upgrade of the year next one will undoubtedly take care of it.

There’s a spa and gym, of course, and a handful of gourmet restaurants where you can fire up all the work you’ve just done in the spa and gym. And you will, trust me.

The worst of the lot, in my opinion, is Red Ginger, a sultry red and gold pan-Asian opium den on deck 5. And by that, I mean the best of the lot – and an opium den only in how easy it is to become addicted. I ate everywhere at least once, but went to Red Ginger a second time to make sure I got out of the spicy duck and watermelon salad I had heard so much about. And it was a night when I also had reservations for dinner in the large dining room.

Although that pales in comparison to the day I took a cooking class – gravlax and cucumber salad, crispy Copenhagen-style pork, Helsinki-inspired cinnamon cakes – I ate it all then went straight dine at Toscana, the posh Italian on deck 14 (lobster pasta that didn’t touch the sides).

Earlier in the trip, there was a wellness event in the gym called “Secrets to a Flatter Stomach.” I didn’t go because I was trying the smoked salmon soup on the quayside in Helsinki, after which it seemed rude to me to pass up the plate of lappish reindeer and follow up with a dessert of a reindeer hot dog.

Amidst all that excess, there was also a bit of stopping to look at stuff and places. Every day, in fact. This is not one of those cruises where you get a day at sea forced to do nothing or maybe learn acupuncture or play bridge or discover the secrets to a flatter stomach. No, we’re on our ass, after all.

Of course, you don’t have to get off the ship – and you could easily miss Kiel if man-made canals aren’t your thing – but when could you see so many Baltic/Nordic states in such a short time, and so easily ?

Colorful Ronne on the island of Bornholm is a delight (there’s a castle, of course) and, in Latvia, Riga’s Old Town is not only creepily charming, but also offers a shady bar with a cornucopia of local beers, canned moose meat and a local specialty of fried gray pea dumplings.

The highlight, however, has to be the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Visby in Sweden. Beautifully preserved, the bustling town center is surrounded by a three and a half kilometer long and largely intact medieval wall.

Anytime would be amazing, but we are lucky to arrive during medieval week (the 32nd week of the year) when people dress up in medieval costume, camp outside the walls and generally live a medieval life authentic. Started in 1984, it has grown into a cool and fun extravaganza with medieval fairs, markets, jousting tournaments, archery and sword fights.

That night, I’m having dinner at Jacques, Marina’s upscale French restaurant, and as incredible as my Provençal roast loin of lamb is, there’s a part of me that craves a whole haunch of venison and of mead served in one of those Norse drinking horns.

THE DETAILS

CRUISE

Cruises similar to the Northern Realms itinerary are available in 2023 and 2024. Oceania Cruises’ 10-day Scandinavian summer cruise departs London June 21, 2023 aboard Marina. It visits Skagen (Denmark), Kiel and Berlin (Germany), Bornholm (Denmark), Visby, Stockholm and Karlskrona (Sweden), Copenhagen (Denmark) and ends in Oslo (Norway) on July 1. Starting at $5390 per person for a Deluxe Ocean View Cabin. The price includes all meals from the specialty restaurant, free fitness classes and 24-hour room service. Through September 21, Oceania Cruises is offering a deal that includes a free tier upgrade, free prepaid gratuities, and one of the following: six free shore excursions, a free beverage package, or $600 onboard credit ( per cabin). See oceaniacruises.com

AFTER

traveller.com.au/cruises

September marks Cruise Month for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), celebrating the return of cruising to Australia, New Zealand and around the world. See cruising.org.au

Keith Austin traveled as a guest of Oceania Cruises.

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