The Baltic region has many faces, and you will find new joys and unexpected delights in each one. The romance of Copenhagen is found in not only its meandering canals but also its centuries-old palaces, including the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a grand castle just north of the city. Riga’s reputation may be intertwined with that of the former Soviet Union, but as a historic Latvian city, it has become one of Northern Europe’s crown jewels.
Brimming with traditions, mythology and plenty of enchanting forests and storybook landscapes, the Baltic region has long captivated travelers with its distinctive blend of bucolic beauty and cultural treasures.
Ever wonder how these quintessential Christmas soldier-dolls came to be? Calling to mind sugarplum fairies, the magical ballet performance and the festive holiday season, nutcracker dolls trace their origins back to German mountain villages in the 17th century – they were made alongside wooden toys in German workshops in the Erzgebirge region. Initially, they weren’t linked to the holidays at all, though they were often given as gifts and were considered a symbol of protection and good luck.
A cultural icon, a vibrant folk art tradition and one of the most classic Russian gifts, the colorfully painted Matryoshka has fascinated people for ages. Many are familiar with the iconic image, but few know the true story of how the dolls originated. Recognized worldwide as a symbol of Russia, the traditional Matryoshka features a pear-shaped woman dressed in traditional Russian clothing with a head scarf and an apron that often depicts a Russian fable, flowers, a city or landscape. The doll can be separated into two pieces to reveal another doll, which is also hollow and nests another inside and so on. The number of dolls usually ranges from 3 to twelve, and the smaller dolls represent future generations, symbolizing hope and the value of the family.
A stunning view at 2 a.m. in Honningsvaag, Norway (Photo courtesy of Gair O’Neill)
On a recent voyage exploring the North Cape, Oceania Cruises Sr. Director Gair O’Neill experienced the fascinating phenomenon known as Midnight Sun in Honningsvaag, Norway’s northernmost city, a period of time during the summer when the sun never sets in locations north of the Arctic Circle. Below, Gair shares a few of his impressions on this unique destination and experience.
Talk about the land of the midnight sun–how about the land of the 2 a.m. sun?! Sunset at 2 a.m., sunrise at 2 a.m. – the sun really just hung over the sea for a while and then started going back up again.
Honningsvaag is buzzing with life in the summertime, and the people, the sights are all just so nice. We spent the day on a spectacular crab safari for Norwegian King crab (think Alaskan King crab on steroids – the biggest I have ever seen!). We went out and helped pull up the pots and to retrieve the crab, then they showed us how to cook them, clean them and then…well, they didn’t have to show us how to eat them! And were they good! I’ve never eaten so much in my life.
Our next stop was an ice bar in town, built from blocks of ice harvested from the local lake during the winter months. They build chairs, tables, glasses – everything from the ice – and place reindeer skins on the chairs so you can comfortably sit down and relax inside. There’s a local custom to take part in after you have a drink from an ice glass: after making your way outside, make a wish and throw the ice glass into the harbor where it melts.
Honningsvaag is not a big place, but that’s not what you visit for. It’s the natural beauty of the surroundings and the people – that’s really what Norway is all about.
Experience the unique culture of Honningsvaag and the unusual phenomenon of the Midnight Sun yourself aboard Nautica’s Great Northern Lights voyage, departing July 19, 2015.