I was busy planning my trip to Croatia, a country I had no real connection to and didn’t know that much about. I thought it sounded slightly exotic and I hadn’t been there yet. Not a good reason, but it was all I had. After all, I worked for an airline and could fly anywhere. I could throw a dart at a map of the world and go wherever it landed. Such freedom! So spoiled!
And then it dawned on me, “I’ve never been to Scandinavia, my ethnic homeland, so why am I even thinking about going to Croatia?”
So, less than a month before departure, I began researching Norway and Sweden and found that traveling in those countries is VERY expensive, especially during June when the days are long and the weather is beautiful.
Then I stumbled upon an incredible deal on a Baltic Sea cruise, departing from Copenhagen and arriving a week later in Stockholm, stopping in Estonia and other interesting places I had never considered visiting. I booked the cruise and 3 weeks later I jumped on a plane to Copenhagen instead of Dubrovnik and began an adventure on the Baltic Sea…
…and a Cruise Ship Romance that could’ve been written by sappy romance novelist Danielle Steele.
Chapter 1 – Baltic Cruise
Shortly after our ship sailed out of Copenhagen, I strolled to the front deck and planted myself at a comfortable table right next to a very large pot of hot coffee. The 12-hour time change from Hawaii was killing me and I sipped my coffee while studying brochures for our first stop – Tallinn, Estonia. I had no idea what I’d find in Estonia, a country I’d barely heard of and knew nothing about.
I noticed a good-looking silver haired guy who, like me, seemed to be a coffee addict. Our eyes met and he sat down to chat. He was an Italian guy from New Jersey, with confidence bordering on cockiness, and totally not my usual “type”.
I learned he was cruising with a small group of friends and family, a Christmas gift from his sister intended for him and his wife. Sadly, she died unexpectedly a few weeks after Christmas – a brain hemorrhage resulting from a car accident. His cockiness was replaced by an unexpected openness and I was intrigued as he shared his sad story.
He had just lost his wife and had 2 teenage kids at home, so I was pretty confident that he wasn’t looking for anything. Our conversation was easy with no expectations as we sipped our coffee and talked about life – about his time in the Peace Corps in Niger and our shared love of travel. It was an interesting conversation with a random stranger on a cruise ship on the Baltic Sea…and then we went our separate ways.
But it was a long cruise and a small ship…
That evening I dressed for dinner, not sure which seating I was assigned to since I’d booked the trip at the last minute. I arrived at the dining room for the first seating and was turned away, told I was assigned to second. So I wandered into the bar, killing some time sipping a cold Amstel Light and wondering just how uncomfortable dinner with a table full of complete strangers might be. (Wondering if I should maybe invent an alter-ego and become a character in a novel…)
I glanced toward the door and spotted the silver-haired stranger passing through the bar on his way to dinner. He was sporting a stylish blue suit, his silver hair slicked back and just the right amount of “scruff” on his face. He cleaned up well and vaguely resembled a cross between George Clooney and Richard Geere (or maybe it was the Amstel Light talking?) He grabbed my hand and led me to the dining room, politely asking the wait staff to set another place at their table. So I sat, joined his group for dinner and became attached to them for the entire week at sea.
We got lost and found in Tallinn, Estonia, wandering through the old cobblestone streets with a Rick Steves guidebook in hand. In St. Petersburg, we explored Russian art at the Hermitage Museum and toured beautifully ornate Russian palaces.
We attended a performance of White Swan at the Russian ballet and were awed by the architecture of the stunning Russian churches. In Helsinki, we broke away from the group and explored the city by tram, finding cool side streets with interesting and quirky Finnish pubs.
After a magical week on the Baltic Sea, our ship docked in Stockholm and our blissful, “Danielle Steele – Baltic Cruise” chapter was over. We said goodbye with loose plans to meet up the following week in Amsterdam – coincidentally, both scheduled to be there on the same days. We went our separate ways – he with his small posse while I continued on alone.
I wandered through the streets of Stockholm, alone for the first time in a week and it felt strange. The locals spoke to me in Swedish and I answered them with a blank stare. I missed him.
Chapter 2 – Norway
A few days later, I worked my way toward Norway, trying to stay on schedule for our Amsterdam rendezvous the following week. My plan: take the train from Oslo to Bergen, spend a day there and then return back to Oslo. “Norway in a nutshell” was the name of the tour and it definitely was a “nutshell” tour of my ethnic homeland. I tried to soak in the beauty of the Norwegian landscape but Amsterdam was on my mind.
The train from Oslo connected in Myrdal to the famous and incredibly scenic Flam Railway. Killing time in Myrdal on my brief layover, I wandered into a pizza joint, grabbed a tray and was pondering my pizza choices when something grabbed my butt! I turned to see the smiling blue eyes of the silver-haired stranger. He was heading in the opposite direction, returning from Bergen to Oslo! We only had a moment before going our separate ways. Again. (Weird coincidence? Small world? Or serendipity?)
A few days after that unexpected meeting in Myrdal we found each other in Oslo. We spent time touring the sculptured gardens, wandering through the city and bonding with my “Norwegian people” (although for some reason I felt more connected to the Swedes than the Norwegians).
Chapter 3 – Amsterdam
Our story continued in Amsterdam a few days later, where he showed me around a city he was already very familiar with. We hung out at the infamous Dutch coffee shops, wandered through the canal-lined streets and dined at his favorite place – “The Supper Club”. Fate had brought us together in this small corner of the world and we took advantage of the extra days together in Amsterdam.
A few days later, the European chapter had to end and we reluctantly returned to reality. He returned to New Jersey to repair the fragments of his life as a widower with his two children and I went back to my peaceful life in Hawaii.
Chapter 4 – The Rest of the Story
But the “Danielle Steele Romance” novel wasn’t quite finished and the story continued to evolve over the next two years. We met in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Hawaii, New Jersey, Saint Maarten, and even had a brief, romantic rendezvous in Paris. Brief escapes from our real lives into a story we made up as we went along.
Our story eventually ended, but that Baltic Sea Adventure opened my eyes to a world full of interesting people. By saying “yes” to a spontaneous adventure and trusting that old saying that “people come into your life for a reason…“, the most amazing random strangers become characters in your life’s story. Maybe not forever, but just for a season. A really wonderful season…
Do you believe in serendipity?