I have recently returned from a fortnight spent floating around the Baltic. Because of global warming — which seems to be making the Mediterranean very hot — and cheap air travel (which seems to be making it very crowded) I have long suspected that the correct thing to do in high summer is to go north. So this year our whole family departed from Dover on a cruise to St Petersburg and back. This was not a universally popular decision. There was opposition from my daughter who wanted to know why we couldn’t go to Barbados like normal families. But off we went.
One of the greatest pleasures of a holiday afloat is also the most obvious: it is wonderful just looking at the sea passing by. For almost all of the two weeks we were away we sailed along in a shining world of water and sky. Our itinerary didn’t take us quite far north enough to see the midnight sun. But sunset became — instead of the usual fleeting affair — a prolonged experience stretching on for hours. Then there was a brief interval of twilight before dawn came up, and that again lasted for ages and ages. It’s very nice looking at nothing — just light, air and sea. Nothing is in fact one of the great subjects of art — what else did Turner paint?
Many places are better approached by sea, because the sea is the reason that they were built there in the first instance. Of nowhere is that truer than Stockholm: dull when you drive in from the airport, almost supernaturally scenic when you sail in through the thousands of islands of the archipelago. On each there is at least one Swedish holiday house loyally flying a flag. Helsinki is another superbly sited town. Once there, I led the family straight to the railway station, a magnificent example of Nordic Art Nouveau — an interest of mine. Stone giants sprout from its fa