Yvonne Bradshaw recounts the 12 days that she spent on the Balmoral cruising through spectacular waterways with guided walks in five very different Swedish towns on Ramblers Cruise & Walk Swedish Waterways. (Book now for 16 May and 20 July 2018)
Twenty excited Ramblers and our leader Nigel boarded Balmoral, and we were immediately impressed by this fine ship. After a slightly bumpy crossing across the North Sea, our first port of call was Lysekil. On disembarkation we were given a map of the area, specially printed for Balmoral’s visit – a visit from a cruise ship is not a usual occurrence. Our first excellent guide met us on the dockside. We then spent a most enjoyable day exploring the town and then the nature reserve, having coffee and local buns and cakes on the quayside, and our packed lunch on the rocks in the nature reserve.
Food featured strongly in this holiday - the packed lunches, the wonderful meals (and afternoon teas) on board Balmoral, and the local buns when we were out on our walks.
After some scenic cruising our next port of call was Helsingborg. Here our local guide took us on a bus to the Sofia Palace, which is famous for its rhododendrons and azaleas, and we could see why. After the obligatory coffee and buns, a little more exploring and then our packed lunch, eaten in these marvellous gardens, we returned by bus to the centre of Helsingborg.
Our local guide then took us along the promenade by the beaches and quays and around the town, up to the Kärnan Castle Tower. Most of the group managed to climb to the top and enjoyed the spectacular views, photographing those of the group who had decided not to climb the tower who were photographing their partners who had! As we boarded the shuttle bus back to Balmoral, locals in traditional dress presented the ladies with a rose, a lovely touch which we all appreciated.
The following morning we dropped anchor in Karlskrona harbour. A short ride on the tender and we were greeted by a reception committee of locals dressed in historical costume and our guide for the day. We walked to the bus station, having the history of the development of the town explained to us as we went, and seeing the town square and other notable buildings and features.
A bus ride took us to Jämjö, a village outside the town, to walk through a Nature Reserve with three local volunteers to explain how they have recovered this area and restored it to its natural state for the locals to enjoy. When we arrived back in Karlskrona our guide then took us around parts of the town we had not visited on our way to the bus, explaining about the importance of the dockyard and shipbuilding to the town.
Next day at sea – we were all ready for a rest and a day to relax and enjoy the facilities on board Balmoral, and of course the food. After a lovely cruise up the Stockholm Archipelago we moored on buoys in Stockholm harbour, a five-minute ride on a tender from the old town, Gamla Stan.
That evening the group went into the old town for an initial look at the Royal Palace and then our leader Nigel found an excellent Irish pub, which welcomed us all and quickly rearranged tables for us to sit together outside to enjoy a drink, insisting on giving us some nuts and chips to accompany them. Just what we needed after a five-course dinner! Whilst there, it started to rain – the first of the holiday.
The next day started wet and our local guide was using his umbrella, not to guide us, but to keep dry. After a tour of the old town we travelled out to a National Park, using three types of public transport, the Metro, a train and a bus, and by the time we arrived at Tyresta National Park the rain had stopped and we had a lovely walk through the forest and eating our packed lunch by a lake. The bus only ran once an hour, and as we completed our circular walk it became apparent that we had taken longer than planned. Not to worry, our leader overtook us all and ran to the bus, which arrived just as the first of the group had the terminus in sight, and negotiated for it to wait for the whole party to arrive, including the local guide, who had the tickets. By then the sun had come out so we were rather warm after our rush for the bus.
The highlight of our last morning in Stockholm was the visit to the Vasa Museum. Our guide met us again as we got off the tender and took us on a local ferry over to Djurgärden. He then took us around the museum, explaining about the ship. After time to explore he then led us around some of the areas on the island, hidden behind the funfair, that the tourists do not usually visit.
We then cruised back through the Archipelago and had a day at sea before some scenic cruising in the morning and a half day in Gothenburg. Our guide there again explained the history of his town and walked us around the areas of interest, finding time for us to visit the fish market, the main market hall and, most importantly, a local coffee shop, where we could sample the cinnamon buns that Nigel had been promising us all the holiday.
As Balmoral prepared to set sail back to Newcastle a marching band and dancers appeared on the quay side to play us on our way, our last memory of Sweden as we went into dinner. But our holiday was not yet over – we had another day at sea to enjoy the ship’s facilities and our formal afternoon tea. This was an opportunity for us to thank Nigel for being such a superb leader, always ensuring that we were off the ship as early as possible to meet our guides and have as much time as possible ashore. It was also a time for reflecting on the wonderful local guides who, at the same time as leading us on excellent walks, had shared so much knowledge of their local area, the history and the current issues under discussion in Sweden. The happy faces on our group photograph, taken at our afternoon tea, show how much we had all enjoyed our holiday.