Whether it's a ferry crossing, a sightseeing excursion along a lake or river, or a two-week cruise to famous ports of call, you can experience another side of Europe by spending time on the water.
Europe is the fastest-growing destination for Americans who like to take cruises, with more ships and more berths sailing to more ports than ever before.
In Europe, cruise ships bring their passengers to great centers of culture, history and art; there's always so much to see and do on land.
Cruise ships serve as floating hotels, restaurants and entertainment centers, so passengers know most of their vacation costs in advance. Cruises also eliminate time spent packing and unpacking, and checking in and out of hotels.
There is a basic division between north and south itineraries. Southern itineraries focus on the Mediterranean, including sailings to the Greek islands (Athens' port of Piraeus is a major cruise center) and to Cyprus and Turkey; voyages out of Nice and Venice; sailings to Dubrovnik and the island of Korcula; and cruises of Iberian waters from Lisbon to Spain's Balearic islands.
To the north, the choice is among Baltic cruises that visit Scandinavia, Germany, Poland and Russia; and cruises that take in the Norwegian fjords and journey to the North Cape. Copenhagen is an important center for both; Stockholm is building a new cruise-ship terminal.
In Holland, Rotterdam opened a new cruise ship terminal in 1997; Amsterdam's new terminal opens in 1998.
Most cruise lines offer packages that include round-trip airfare and optional stays in cities before or after the cruise. Many offer special shore excursions such as cooking demonstrations, classical concerts set in ancient amphitheaters and even hot-air ballooning.
Ferries & Hydrofoils
Ferry service is frequent between Britain and English Channel and North Sea ports on the Continent. Trains from London connect with ferries and hydrofoils. New, faster boats compete with the Channel Tunnel. Ferries also link Bilbao and Santander, Spain, with Portsmouth and Plymouth, England (about 29 hours).
Regular boat service connects major ports in the North and Baltic seas; the big ferries sailing between Stockholm and Helsinki (15 hours) resemble cruise ships with elaborate entertainment and dining facilities. Similar boats operate from Oslo to Denmark and Germany.
Iceland is connected by regular ship service to the Faroe islands; Bergen, Norway; and Esbjerg, Denmark.
The Mediterranean is crisscrossed by ferry routes, with frequent service to its islands, including Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Malta. On the Adriatic, hydrofoils run between Venice, and Piran/Portoroz in Slovenia, and Porec and Rovinj in Croatia. Ferries run between many ports in Italy, Croatia and Greece, often overnight. High-speed catamarans, like those on the BrindisiÐCorfu route, can cross the Adriatic in less than 31/2 hours.
In Greece, there is inexpensive ferry and hydrofoil service from Piraeus to many islands, including Cyprus. From Cyprus you can take boats to Israel and Egypt.
Turkey also operates coastal ferries (including Black Sea service) and runs boats to Greek islands and to Italy. Steamers connect Bulgaria's Black Sea resorts with Istanbul.
Special trips in Switzerland include summertime voyages on Lake Lucerne in a paddlewheel steamer. You can take an excursion steamer from Stockholm to Gteborg through Sweden's Gta Canal, which connects the large southern lakes.
Luxury barge cruises through France and Britain offer leisurely exploration of different regions. In Ireland, vacationers can float along the River Shannon. From March through November, river cruisers sail northern Portugal's scenic Douro valley. Savonlinna is an embarkation point for sightseeing cruises through Finland's vast lake district.
In Holland, cruises tour the Rhine and Maas rivers and the canals of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Maastricht and Giethoorn.
Steamers (and hydrofoils) are scheduled daily along the Danube in Austria and Hungary from June through September- some boats travel downriver as far as Bulgaria. Compact ships cruise Croatia's many Adriatic islands from mid-May through September.
In Germany, river cruisers ply the Rhine, Moselle, Elbe and Main rivers. The Main-Danube canal, open since 1992, makes it possible to sail 3,500 miles from the North Sea to the Black Sea through the middle of Europe.
Broad sea straits have forever separated the Danish islands and the Scandinavian peninsula from the Europe to the south. But this necklace of steel, rising from the white caps, begins to change that.
The East Bridge is the most dramatic element of the $8.5 billion Store Baelt (Great Belt) crossing project. Its center span leaps a full mile, pylon to pylon, exceeding Britain's Humber Bridge by 700 feet and New York's Verrazano-Narrows by 1,000. Only Japan's Akashi Kaikyo will be longer.
Crowds of celebrating Danes are to walk the bridge June 2-5; Queen Margrethe II opens it to motorists June 14. Trains already make the trip in a parallel undersea tunnel opened in 1997.
The crossing shrinks 90-minute ferry voyages between the islands of Funen and Sealand to 15-minute drives, and sets the stage for a historic final link- the 10-mile Øresund rail-and-auto bridge between Copenhagen (on Sealand) and Malmö, Sweden.
The Øresund work is underway. When it opens, perhaps in 2000, Sweden and Norway will be dramatically closer to the rest of Europe.
The Store Bælt exhibition center is in Korsør; the Øresund center is near Copenhagen Airport in Kastrup.
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