Ships, Planes, Trains and River boats taking us through Asia, Middle East, Africa, Baltic, England, Paris and Amsterdam through to Budapest...

Saturday, May 31, 2014

55b Ryndam Food

Food  -  It was very good.  In the Lido Buffet the selections were excellent with different stations set up for different things... my only complaint about the food in the Lido was that full breakfast did not start until 7am ( we had some early ports ) and there were times that you could not get anything at all during the day.  When you came back onto the ship after a long port day sometimes a bowl of soup would just hit the spot... nup... you can get sandwiches or salad... or be greasy and have a hamburger from the grill...
The dining room food was excellent and it was very rare that we did not like what we chose.   The selection was not as varied as princess over the 3 weeks, but I would have to say quality far outweighed quantity... Princess might have had a lot of different meals over time but not all were good...  Also top marks for presentation, would rival any top star restaurant.
Service is another issue altogether.   This was more miss than hit...  Holland America seem to have far less staff than princess do..  We have sat in the lido for over an hour and still be surrounded by our dirty plates...  Funny thing was I watched the one steward clean every table around us and with hardly anyone else in the restaurant the plates still stayed.  Eventually after pushing our plates to very end of the table they were collected LOL.
Dining room in general was much better, though once again it was those finishing touches that Princess out shone HAL.  I never forget the first night we sat at our table and once the appetisers were served Garry and I sat back and waited and waited and waited... Everyone else started eating... we looked at each other and we looked around and you know,  the pepper shaker on the table should have been the clue...  they don’t pepper your food!!!!   I know that sounds fickle but we have just spent 50 days of it.... that pepper, that smile, that Bon appetito  is your cue to start eating  LOL......  So, we got used to that ...  Then came Lobster night.... out came the beautiful surf and turf... lobster tail sitting on the shell looking scrumptious..... we waited and waited and waited... we looked around not a waiter to be seen...... What we have to remove our own Lobster .... what will we do with the shells LOL.....  Too spoilt with Princess...  Once we got over these initial shocks of self service our two waiters did really well.
Drink Service – We purchased a wine package for around $230US (includes 15%) for 7 bottles of wine... Now once again HAL do it different and not well.  They have one drink waiter for each section of the dinning room.... basically he ran from table to table, he would take your order then you would wait and wait and wait and eventually during main course you would get your wine.... He also was in charge of re filling your glass, your food waiters didn’t handle drinks at all.  Best service was when you had wine left over and it would be at your table when you arrived.  Lido buffet was worst as I think there was only 1 drink waiter doing that whole area....
Once we learnt how to work the system things ran smoothly (we would take a glass of wine with us to dinner).  Probably the best thing all cruise we did was move off anytime dinning to traditional.  Each night our table would be set up with our wine and our waiters knew exactly how we like things. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

55c The Rest


55c The Rest cont

Shore excursions – we didn’t do any but we liked the way the Shore excursion  Manager gave a talk about each of the excursions giving passengers an overview of what they should expect and their activity level and as I said before their port information book was lovely and very professionally put together. Interesting thing about ports... once we arrive they make a point of not making any disembarking announcements unless there is change... This meant that people would start to gather around the gangway even before the lines are tied.... I think just one announcement to let everyone know when the gangway is open would work really well.
Entertainment -   This was pretty good on ships standards....  The theatre is more of a showroom so there were tables on the dance floor,  a couple of rows of bench type lounges radiate behind them, then padded chairs forming the back rows.  Upstairs the bench seating is a little uncomfortable as the backs are low so you feel like you are waiting for a bus, not watching a show.  Viewing is actually better downstairs.  The production shows were more like Stage Shows that told a story as opposed to Princess whose show are based on a theme. We didn’t see a lot of the entertainment as our cruise was very port intensive and we were either back late or very tired..
They had activities to fill in your day like Computer  Classes  in the purpose built workshop and  cooking classes and demonstrations in the Culinary Arts Centre which also doubles for the movie theatre and venue for talks and lectures.
Disembarkation -  So easy there is nothing to write really.  It works the same as all other companies  and basically we just walked off at our allocated time... no customs  just grabbed our bags and ran.
Overall thoughts.... we liked our Holland America experience and would sail with them again if the  right cruise was on offer.  We would miss our Princess perks though.  They also have a loyalty plan with some pretty good onboard discounts.  When I compare Princess and Holland America I would say that they are on par as they both have their really good points and both have their bad points.  If Holland America can improve its service level then they would really shine.  Then again with all these beverage cards given out to American Cruisers as benefits to book, you can see why they slow down the drinks serving process.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

54 Aarthus, Demark

Today is our last port for this cruise Aarthus in Denmark.  This port of call is only for a few hours as we arrived at 8 am and departed at 2pm.  Aarthus is Denmark’s second largest city and today is a public holiday so there was not much open today.  We decided to visit Den Gamel By, an old town like Skansen in Stockholm, where they have brought together old houses and businesses dating from the 17th century to the 20th century. These came from all around Denmark and were relocated in an open air museum.  Most of the houses were open and displayed what they were used for.  Occasionally you would see someone dressed in period costume walk past.  We spent a couple of hours just walking around taking in the sights, heading back to the ship and to the last sail away for this cruise. 


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

53 Stockholm, Sweden Day 2

Today we planned to go to Skansen on the island of Djurgarden.  By the looks of it, this is where to go in Stockholm for a day out.... All within walking distance of each other you will find the Tivoli Grono Lund (amusement park), the Vasa Museum and the Nordic Museum.  If you are in Stockholm for the day it would be easy to fill in your day there....

When we got up the weather looked ominous... no rain just grey and cold.... well, the grey went away but the cold didn’t . We readied ourselves for the chill and did the 30min walk back into town.

Just in front of the old town, in an area known as Slussen, there is a ferry Terminal clearly marked “Djurgarden Farjan”.  You buy a ticket for 45kr, or 30kr if you show them your pension card... this is only one way.  This will get you on the ferry marked Djurgarden that comes every 15 minutes.   You can also do this on the No 44 bus or the No 7 Tram which are cheaper options.

One thing that we have noticed is that here in these Nordic and Scandinavian countries are the amount of children that seem to be out on excursions; and I am not just talking about School age but a lot of preschoolers.  They travel in small groups hanging onto a rope and dressed in their yellow vests.

It doesn’t take much time at all to get around to Djurgarden, and once there you just head off in the direction you want.  Skansen is the world’s first open-air museum. This is where they have brought old dwellings from all around Sweden to create this park.  They have set it up to look like little villages.  In the Town Quarter you will find the glass blower, potter, baker and many other trades you would find in this era.  People are dressed up and talk and behave as they would if they were living in that time.  In one particular section we came across a couple of women cooking some of their traditional flat bread... We watched her roll it and roll it until it was thin enough to throw into the very hot wood fired oven.  She then turned it and turned it until it cooked.  She pulled it out and then let us try some.  Yum especially when you added the butter.

They also have a zoo there where you can see elk, brown bears, bison and wild boars.

We were starting to tire by now and we started to make out way back down the hill, back onto the ferry again, and that long walk back to the ship...

By this time the wind had picked up and so did the wind chill factor making this one of the coldest days we have been out in.  If only the kitchens would realise that all we want when we get back on the ship after a long day is a nice hot bowl of soup.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

52 Stockholm, Sweden Day 1

We woke up early to be up on deck to watch the sail in through the archipelago that makes up Sweden. What we assume are the summer houses that dot the shores as we sail in ... some look like they have been built on their own private islands.
We were reminded of our journey along the Suez Canal as we looked out the back of the ship and saw that we were in a convoy of 4 ships making our way to Stockholm.
To make things easier for us the Captain arranged for us to Anchor just off the Old Town so we could tender straight in, then later in the day they were going to move the Ryndam to her berthing position for our second day in Stockholm.
We had the last of our TJ travel tours today, only around 18 of us but we were lucky to have a big coach to take us around.  Blonde haired, blue eyed Christoff was our guide today; he couldn’t be more Swedish.  He was an excellent guide as he corralled us through each of the attractions we visited.
First he took us to a view point where we could look out over the old town of Stockholm.  Stockholm is actually built on 14 different islands and you move from one island to another by road or ferry.
We then went on a tour of the Town Hall visiting the rooms where the Nobel Prizes are awarded and where the banquet takes place.  We had to move quickly through each of the rooms as today there was a large amount of tourists in town.
Next we drove onto the island of Djurgarden to the Vasa Museum.  It is the most visited museum in all of Europe.  Here is a 17th century warship that has been perfectly preserved after it sank on the first day it set sail.  As beautiful as the ship was it was too top heavy and toppled over when it set sail – after 20 minutes!  The museum is set out showing you different aspects of the ship and what life on board would have been like.
Travelling back onto the main island we were dropped off at the Kings Palace.  The royal family do not live here now only work here... though the royal family are leaders in name only.  From the palace we walked into the Old Town with its cobbled stone streets, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Here our tour finished – and with a flourish, Christoff gave us a rousing Swedish drinking song to send us on our way!  We stayed on longer to wander around.  We stopped for some traditional Swedish meatballs and mash potatoes and I couldn’t go past the seafood pasta they had on offer.  We took this time to catch up with home with some free wifi.
It was getting close to the time they were going to move the ship as we were starting to tire, so we decided to catch the tender back for the night....  Once we were settled in waiting to head back, word came that the as the wind had flared up the ship need to be moved into its berthing position as soon as possible.  The ship had moved dragging its anchor and you could see her tethered to a tug boat to prevent her from moving any further...
They told us we had to hop off the tender until the transfer was done.. not sure why and in the end they said we could stay on but we could be sitting there for over an hour.  We decided that we might as well start walking to our pier as it was starting to get colder.  The walk was going to take us about 30 minutes; we got about half way and the ship was still preparing for the move.  We decided to stop for coffee while we waited for her to move. It may have been an outside cafe but at least they had heaters, blankets and free wifi.
It is a funny feeling to be sitting there watching your ship sail by .... even funnier when 10 minutes later you see the tender  chugging along behind her.  We took this as our cue to get up and continue our trek to reboard.  We were frozen right through by the time we arrived and after a hot shower Garry decided that he was going to hop into bed and order room service and watch whatever movie we could find on tv.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

51 Helsinki, Findland

Poor Helsinki.... you knew it was doomed when it was to follow St Petersburg.  We were docked a fair distance from the city and in an industrial area. There was a makeshift terminal with a few souvenir shops setting up.
We had a short TJ tour today which was probably long enough as there is not a lot to see in Helsinki.  Our highlights tour included a trip to see the Sibelius Monument, which is a sculpture dedicated to Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. 
The Temppelicaukio Church (Rock Church) is a unique church that has been carved out of solid rock.  It has been built in a circular shape with a ceiling made of copper and the walls are just stacked rocks.  The acoustics are excellent inside so the church is also used for musical concerts.
We then went into the old part of the city where we visited Senate Square to see the Helsinki Cathedral and the other significant buildings that surround it.  It was here that we escaped from our tour and wandered down by the water front around all the market stalls, selling both crafts and food.  We did walk a little further along to find another Russian Orthodox Cathedral which we always like to visit.  As I am Greek orthodox I also like to like to light a candle while I am in there... 
Just below the church there was a bridge, and it seems a lot of cities have what is known as the Bridge of Love and here you will find masses of padlocks, some engraved and others just written on with texta names of lovers for good luck.....
We managed to fill in a little extra time walking around the streets, but we soon gave in to the weariness and caught the shuttle back to the ship.

Friday, May 23, 2014

50 St Petersburg, Russia Day 2

Our bus load of passengers was watching out for us as we hopped on this morning seeing if we survived our night of vodka...  Although it was a late finish we were bright eyed and bushy tailed, for now anyway!!
First thing on the agenda this morning was a boat ride along the rivers and canals of St Petersburg.  Here were got to see the beautiful buildings from a different perspective.
With a bit of time to spare before our appointment at The Hermitage we visited a famous Russian Warship whose name escapes me right now.
The Hermitage is the largest art museum in the world; it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852.  It is made up of 6 buildings joined together by walkways filled with art from such artists as Monet, Van Gough, Picasso, Rembrandt and C├ęzanne.
Some rooms have been restored to show how they used to be, and others filled with lots of art and sculptures.  They say if you were to walk and spend at least one minute at each exhibit it would take you over eight years to cover the whole museum.  We spent nearly 3 hours and really only touched the surface. But it was hard to concentrate on the art when the building alone was spectacular to look at.
We then went to a little restaurant for another traditional Russian meal.  The restaurant was in the same block as St Isaac’s Church, and as you would have read from yesterday, a major concert was on today and the streets were all blocked.  Just to reach lunch we had to go through security.  We lunched on a Village Salad, Beef Stroganoff (A meal developed specially for a very rich man called Stroganoff.  He was getting old and toothless so his chef created a meal with thinly sliced meat so he wouldn’t have to chew).  Dessert was yummy crepes with strawberry compote.
As we walked out the concert was just finishing, and as its finale, they let loose hundreds of helium balloons in the shape of white doves.
On our day we also visited St Peter and Paul fortress.  Within this fortress there is a cathedral where you will find all the Tsar’s and their families buried.
One last visit was to Yusupov Palace. We were not allowed to take photos here, but its claim to fame was that the infamous Rasputin was murdered here. Rasputin’s relationship with the Tsar was deemed unhealthy by many during that time.  A plot was put together to murder him and after what seemed like a comedy of errors he was finally shot dead in the gardens..... or was he... everyone has a different story.   This palace was a good example of a home of the rich and famous of the time.  It is also a good example of how money was saved during this time with sculptures and reliefs made from paper mache to give the look of richness at minimum cost.
Now that the two days of tours were coming to an end, all that was left was to pay for them.... we were taken to a souvenir shop where TJ had a table set up to collect payment... This is really where they were let down.  All of the TJ buses turned up at the same time and as only one person was trusted enough to collect the money - it was probably the longest queue we had to contend with during our whole stay in St Petersburg.

49 St Petersburg, Russia Day 1

When we planned to visit St Petersburg little did we know what a marathon it was going to be.  Now we know why visits to this city are always overnighters...   In order to leave the ship you had you have your own visa, or let those who you were touring with sponsor you with a temporary visa.  TJ did all that for us and about 3 others bus loads... and that was just our ship.  There were groups of around 16 which were a very manageable number.
Our guide Elizabeth did a wonderful job keeping us together and getting us in and out of each of the attractions. As we drove around the city we were amazed at the architecture and how beautiful a lot of it was.  Our first stop was to photograph a couple of Egyptian artefacts on display along the banks of the Neva River that weaves it way around St Petersburg.
Next stop was St Nicolas Church, a splendid blue and white naval Church. It is topped with five glistening golden cupolas.  There are many paintings inside that convey the history of the Russian Navy.  We then went to an intersection where the canals crossed over. From this point we could see seven different bridges.   Our next stop might have you wondering why, but we had a ride on the subway!!  The only way you would even know there was a subway below is because of the blue M that is on display on the top of the building.  You are even more amazed when you travel the long escalators down to the platform... Then you can be forgiven for thinking that you have actually entered a palace, not a station... Each station is decorated with marble, sculptures, ornate chandeliers and other decorations along the walls.  We rode along 2 stations just so we could get a glimpse of how different each of them are.
We then had forty minute drive out to Peterhof to visit the spectacular summer palace of Peter the Great built in 1710.  Once there, we walked through the amazing grounds of many, many fountains and gardens.  They were so spectacular and crowded.  There was even a section of trick fountains.  When you walked past them, or sit on a seat near them, they would spurt out and wet the unsuspecting victim.
Once we left there we stopped at a Russian version of a fast food cafe and lunched on coleslaw, soup, meatballs and pastry.
From here we travelled to Pushkin Town to Catherine Palace....  yes Catherine the Great who was married to Peter III, but one day he came to an unfortunate end, they say on the command of his dear wife who thought she could do a much better job at running  Russia than he was.  She did accomplish a lot in her time, except in improving the lot of her poorest subjects, who continued to suffer.  This palace was an example of her extravagance, like of the Russian palaces we have seen, so ornate and opulent.   After the fall of the Russian Royalty all these palaces have been restored and turned into museums just to show how they lived, whilst the rest of Russia struggled to survive, hence justifying the Revolution.  Once particular beautiful room is Catherine’s Amber Room, a reconstruction of how it looked at a cost of 8 million dollars.  The original walls have been lost, said to be somewhere in the hands of the Germans who pilfered many of Russia’s treasures.
Next we headed to St Isaac’s Cathedral.  Today as we arrived we found that in front of the church there was a huge stage set up and they were rehearsing a concert that was being held the next day celebrating St Petersburg Day.  We made our way through the scaffolding and entered one of the most beautiful churches, rivalling St Peters in the Vatican.
Soldiering on, we visited our last highlight for this tour, which was the Church on Spilt Blood.  A colourful and beautiful church built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated.
It was a very weary bus load of passengers that was taken back to port, but we quickly had to revive ourselves as we had arranged for another tour called A Russian Experience to give us a taste of Russia Today.
This evening tour was a little more modern than we had anticipated.  Arriving at Palace Square we were walked down Nevsky prospect.  Here you will find old buildings filled with new shops... a very busy street as everyone was just finishing for the day.  
We were then taken to a small restaurant where we were able to sample three different types of Vodka’s.  Our glasses were filled, and we were shown how we should “shot” our vodka.... nup can’t do it in one go.....  Tradition is, after every quick shot you follow it with a snack.. a hors d’ oeuvres of herring, meat or vegetable....
Finally back on the ship at around 11 pm and it is still daylight outside... it feels like we have not seen a night sky in so long... apparently this is the period of “white nights”  where even when the sun sets it is only just under the horizon so it hardly gets dark at all.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

48 Tallinn, Estonia

“What Country are we in?”
“No, what Country are we in?”
“But what Country are we in”
“Is that a country?”
Yes that was a conversation that I had with a fellow passenger before our tour started.
Welcome to beautiful Tallinn... well not beautiful yet as the surrounds of the Terminal are not the prettiest.  There were 4 ships all in a row ready to invade the small old medieval town of Tallin.
As you walk off the ship you pass through a make shift cruise terminal that is lined with souvenir shops.  As we had a little bit of time before our tour was to start we wandered through each stall checking out what would be on offer....
Today was another tour with TJ Travel and most on the tour were the familiar faces from yesterday.
Our small van took us to the upper part of the Old town where our guide walked us through showing us the best sights.  We visited St Olaf Church, the Dome Church and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.  We wandered in and out of the many souvenir shops that line the cobble streets of the town.  Although the place was heaving with people there seem to be a great atmosphere about the place. 
After the tour finished Garry and I stayed on and sat for a well deserved drink and retraced some of the streets we had covered.  We then decided to take the long walk back to the ship which got us back in time for one last look at all the stalls and then onto the ship...  A very nice place to Visit.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

47 Rostock - Berlin , Germany

We docked in Rostock at 6 am this morning..... and no we didn’t get up for sail in this time.  When we did go out we found ourselves very much in the middle of an industrial / cargo area.

Today was going to be a long full day as the drive alone to Berlin was three hours.  We booked a package with TJ Travel of Russia which gave us 6 tours in 5 of the ports we were visiting (two in St Petersburg).  You book with them and they make up a group from other passengers that book as well.  Today we had 16 people joining this tour.

The Mercedes bus looked nice and new and probably seated around 22 people...   That is of course if they were all the same size and height as me.  For someone like Garry long legs were a problem.  The aisle down the middle was very narrow and the overhead lockers were very low so you had a real sense of being in a confined space.

There was a young girl that took a roll call and made sure we were all on the bus, then left us under the care of the Bus Drivers who knew enough English to say “toilet, back here 10 minutes”.

The drive into Berlin was long but easy as it was all Autobahn.  The countryside was very much like ours with timber plantations and crops of what I think is canola (you know the yellow flowers)... It was very lush and green all the way.  Now the man who invented those wind turbines must be a very rich man, as every port that we have been to seems to have them..... you will even find a plantation of them growing out of the ocean at some places.  Here it seemed like every farmer has them with their crops growing right up to the base of the turbines.

About halfway into our trip our drivers got to practice their English with a toilet stop, which everyone was ready for.  At least there were not shops so everyone was back on the bus on time.

As you drove into the outskirts of Berlin you could not help but notice how leafy the city was.  Our first stop was at Charlottenburg Castle.  This is a palace dating back to 1695 by the king, and built for his wife who he named it after.  Here we met our guide Polly, who was very knowledgeable and gave us a great history on how Germany and Berlin were divided, and what happened after reunification. This is where we thought that it is a shame that a guide was not provided right from the start as this information could have been given to us during the 3 hours drive into Berlin, and not have 45 minutes spent in one spot with so many things to cover in Berlin.

This is when we realised that the bus was really too small and inappropriate for the type of tour we were doing.  Berlin’s highlights are large and spread out over a great area.  You cannot stop so a lot of the sights were just drive by’s... now that is ok if it was on your side of the bus.  If the highlight was on the other side, the windows were so low and seats so high there was no way you could see around the other passengers to get any view out their window.  She would say “look at the lovely church” on your left and all you could see was the foot path... no use looking out the back windows as those seats covered them, and the funniest part was “look out the front”  - if you tried to look out the front window all you could see was the backs of the front seats.

So we have some lovely pictures of all the sights that are on the righ hand side of the bus....

Most of the touring was in the Eastern part of Berlin which was under control by the Russians. This is where the old town was. Finally we have a stop and luckily it has a few sites that are all walkable.  First we saw the Reichstag, the German Parliament and then over to the Brandenburg Gate.  You can tell where the wall used to be as two rows of the coble stone foundation have been left along the roads.  In this square we also saw the Hotel Adlon, made famous by the late Michael Jackson when he decided to dangle young Prince over the balcony when he was just a baby.

It was amazing to hear how East and West was always separate but you could still freely move from one side to the other... Problem was the repressed young and educated easterners wanted more,so they would cross to the west where the Americans offered them a new life if they agreed they did not believe in Communism.  The Russians didn’t like this so they decided to place a barbwire fence on the boundary to prevent people fleeing .  Now Berlin is in the middle of the east but within Berlin it is still divided into its own east and west... so people would just cross over and the Americans would fly them out....  Then literally overnight a new barrier was placed in Berlin blocking all access and eventually the wall was built.... the rest is history...

Across the road from here there is a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.... now this memorial has not avoided controversy... firstly some Jews were uncomfortable that there were many atrocities and that many others should also be acknowledged.  Then there is the design itself which actually looks like a grave yard with the blocks of many sizes arranged symmetrically within the square.  Then there is the controversy over the coating on these blocks... Being prone to graffiti they decided to protect them by coating them with a substance that prevents the paint from sticking to the surface.  The company that was to supply the paint turned out to be the same company many, many years earlier that manufactured the gas that was used in the chambers.  Well you can imagine the uproar.  This company said hey that was  a long time ago and under a different management, and probably at a time that there was no choice.  They compared other companies that also had involvement such as Siemens for building the Gas Chambers, Adidas who made the boots  or IBM who created the system that catalogued the names of the Jews sent to concentration camps... the list was endless.... In the end the paint was still used, and as restitution, the company supplied it free of charge.

We passed many points of interest, some we saw, some we didn’t, but regardless we found Berlin to be a very interesting place once its history was put into perspective.

For lunch we stopped at a Bier Haus for a typical lunch which included schnitzel, and beer of course.

One of the final stops was checkpoint Charlie, the point where you crossed from Russia to the US controlled section of the city. Here they have recreated what the checkpoint would have looked like, complete with US soldiers and all.... well not real ones and rather camera shy until they saw the colour of your money.  The next stop was in an area where a section of the wall was rebuilt as a reminder of what it was actually like.

Here we bid farewell to our guide and we were back on the road to Rostock.  Today’s tour ended with mixed emotions we enjoyed what we saw and disappointed on what we missed... If there is a next time maybe getting to Berlin and driving around in a more custom built bus like the Ho Ho would be better.  Docking at 6 am and leaving at 10 pm makes the option of training it in more appealing.

We arrived back at the ship for an Oktoberfest. The Lido Deck was decorated with bunting, balloons and long tables set up.  There was a German Brass Band and more sausages and pretzels than you could poke a stick at... There was suckling pig, salads and sauerkraut and the German beer flowed, at a price of course!!!...

Finally at around 10pm the ship slowly started to glide away from the pier passing our partner in crime, the Norwegian Star, who was parked in our original spot in Warnemunde.  Now we have another day at sea to regroup and ready ourselves for Tallinn Estonia.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

46 Copenhagen, Denmark

It was a late sail into Copenhagen and we were in good company; NCL’s Norwegian Star and Celebrity’s Constellation.  With maps in hand we headed off, but all we needed to do was to follow the masses... First stop was a very large Mermaid Statue ... which the males seem to prefer... then just a little further around the marina, we found the famous little mermaid sitting out on the rocks looking out over the ocean.  The light was bad and it was really crowded so we decided to come back later.
We followed the water around till we reached St Albans Church, a cute little Anglican church but the Fountain outside of it was magnificent.   It was not till later when we were at the palace that we realised that this fountain is the start of the road that leads right there.
The trusty map lead us around the streets past many beautiful and ornate buildings.  We eventually ended up at Frederickskirke (Fredrick’s Church).  The Church was modelled on, and intended to rival St Peters in Rome, and it ended up with one of the largest domes in Europe. Very beautiful inside and attractive with its gold trim on the outside.
Walking down the street in front of the church leads you into Amalienborg Square.  This is the site of Amalienborg Palace which is the official residence of the queen and her French prince.  The Palace is actually made up of four identical baroque mansions, each connected by galleries or underground passages.  We arrived just before the changing of the guards which takes place at midday only when the Queen is home.
Just like in Norway, beautiful gardens adorn the city with stunning flowers in bloom and statues all over the place... you can imagine our amazement when we walked back down to the waterfront to find a replica of Noah’s ark.
Nyhavn is a cute street that has a canal running down the middle.  One side of the canal is lined with restaurants and bars where you can either enjoy your drink at the table, or get your beer to go and sit by the waters edge and still watch the world go by at half the price.  On the other side of this street is where Hans Christian Andersen lived and there is even a little shop named after him.
We strolled through the city passing many other beautiful builidings including Charlottenborg Palace which houses the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, the Royal Theatre and Christiansborg Palace which is home to the Parliament, Supreme Court and Prime Minister’s office.
Then we managed to stumble across The Straget, a major pedestrian street lined with many of the well known brand shops we have at home, and like most places, you have the high end as well as the lower more affordable end... if there is one here in the Baltic.  At the end of cheap end there is the City Town Hall and square.  Just across the road you will find Tivoli Gardens, with the claim to fame as being one of the very first theme parks.  Time was against us and to go in would give it the high entrance fee justice. 
We were getting tired now and we had a bit of a walk to get us back to the ship so we kind of retraced our steps, but I was a little confused now so Garry took over the map reading.  As we were walking back via Nyhavn we decided that we would treat ourselves to a beer and wine at one of the small cafes, so we stopped for a rest and listen to the buskers just out the front.  In Australia we reward our buskers with a coin or two ... here people would order them drinks or give them a can of beer for their troubles.
Regaining some of our energy we set off again, calling past the little mermaid to get a few more pictures now that the crowds had died down.  Back on the ship, we had dinner and literally fell into bed ready for our next big day in Germany.

Monday, May 19, 2014

45 Another Day at Sea

The first day out of Dover is a sea day.  Once again for the first 48 hours of our cruise they are serving food in the Lido Buffet.  But there is something different... the service seems so much better with waiters hovering to clear plates with a friendly smile and ready to have a chat.
It was a bit of a slow start for breakfast as we had a little sleep in.  But we made our way over to the Crows Nest Bar for our cruise critic meet and greet.   Holland America did a great job with a Tea and Coffee station set up complete with cookies.  Several of the staff turned up and actually gave a good talk about what was currently happening on the Ship....
We just spent the rest of the day reading and pottering around.
That night it was formal night and dinner was excellent in the dining room.... much more up to the standard that we are used to...  all we need to do is teach them to go round and grind the pepper and it will be the icing on the cake.
Another thing that I like that they do is not only does the Destinations person give lectures on the ports but the shore excursion manager gives a talk about the shore excursions.  Now as you know we are not big on ships tours, but there are those who are, and this is a good opportunity to find out what each tour offers and how they work....
Well Well Well.... before this went to press we have just found out that the Ryndam and the Statendam are re-badging and joining P & O Australia.... I think it is a shame that they are not staying with HAL....  HAL like Princess, have a loyalty program.  It will be interesting what they will take out of the ship to make it aussiefied.... like the culinary Arts Centre...  anyway time will tell... I would be happy to cruise on this ship again no matter what company take her over....  But keeping with tradition these 2 ships are two of Holland Americans oldest...
BTW I have managed to get a few more photos up onto the blog.... if you go back you will see that I have added them as an extra entry just before each of the ports.

44 Dover Take 2

This cruise is actually made up of two itineraries.   The first 7 days was an  around Norway cruise and now we are starting the Baltic sector.  As both cruises start out of Dover we found ourselves back here to fill in our day.  I decided it was time fill in those grey roots again so we were going to make a bee line for the hairdressers.
The previous night they gave us envelopes with transit cards to use when we disembark in the morning along with our passports.  Well we walked off with no problem... not even sure if there was an immigration set up... there was not one when we first embarked a week earlier.  The only thing on offer to get us into town were a few taxis or a shuttle to take us a few metres to the port gates.  It was then about a 30 min walk to get us where we wanted to go.  Whilst I had my colour Garry went in search of free wifi. 
When I finished we walked up to White Cliffs of Dover.  It was a long and gradual climb up to the top passing the castle that stands high on the hill behind us. First you reach the visitors centre, comes complete with toilets, cafe and of course souvenir shop.  We then walked further along the cliffs till we got to a point when we had to remember we had to walk back again.
On the way back we stopped at the visitors centre for a spot of afternoon tea which included fruit scones, jam and the most delicious cornish clotted cream. The walk back down was easier and we headed to the supermarket to pick up some wine and bottles of coke.
Getting the wine back on board was not a problem and no one question us at all.... We had about half an hour to kill before it was all  aboard for the muster, so we went back out into the terminal geared with the lap top to catch up with the emails
Sail away compared to last week was like chalk and cheese.  The seas were calm the sun shone and many us spent the next couple of hours in the sun sipping on our sail away cocktails.... well one anyway.
We have arranged to change over to traditional seating for dinner.  Already feels a lot better..... We get to sit upstairs with the grown ups..... lighting is so much better and we know the names of our waiters..... Joseph and Ari.....  We have organised our drink waiter so we are expecting our wine glasses and wine to be waiting for us at the table when we arrive.... so we are happy....

44 Ryndam after 7 days.

We really do like this ship and Holland America has a really good product here ... Garry attended all the Microsoft digital workshops and I all the culinary shows.  The production shows are different to what we are used to.  “On Princess” the shows are created around the songs they sing , where on here, the shows are more like Stage shows with each production telling a story from start to finish. 
The two performers brought on have been very good. John Courtnay was a comedian ,pianist and singer and had us all laughing and wanting more. The second was Jonathon Clark, comedian and impressionist who we have seen before on the Voyager of the Seas out of Sydney.... Same show... entertaining but not as funny as the first time we had seen it...  Over hearing some of the Brits in the lift, they just didn’t get him.....
Our room steward Arie has been great. We haven’t seen him much but if we leave him a note everything gets done promptly.  We love the cabin, and yes, we get towel animals each night.  Being spoilt with our Elite status on princess, we have taken up the offer of unlimited laundry. For the 21 days it is costing us $150..... The fact we don’t have to visit the laundry is benefit enough...
The one thing that is letting HAL down is the Dining Service.  This past week we have been on anytime dining and we really don’t like it.  We have arranged for traditional dining on the next sector of this cruise so I will be able to report if it has improved.
In the dining room each table is assigned a waiter, he takes the orders and brings you your meal.  If you want wine or a drink from the bar you have to wait for the drinks waiter to come to you .. Now I think there are only 2 or 3 of these servicing the whole floor.  It can be up to 15 – 20 minutes before you get your first drink.  Once you sit down you have to wait for him to be called over by your waiter.  Then you order or he goes off and finds your wine from the previous night..... so you wait and wait and wait.... It just doesn’t seem right to be eating your appetiser and still not have a wine in front of you ....  Table waiters also seem scarce as you seem to wait an eternity before they even take your order.  Now normally this wouldn’t be too big an issue but you don’t even have a glass of wine to mellow you out and forget about it....
The funniest thing happened last night... there were eight of us at our table, it was formal night, it was lobster night.... both Garry and I ordered it as did others at the table.  They brought our meals to the table, Garry and I sat there and waited and waited.... Everyone around us started eating... we looked around, not a waiter to be seen anywhere..... We have to remove our own lobster from the shell!!.....  I know I know it sounds fickle, but we are so used to it being done for us.... If you are not going to remove them.... don’t give them to us still attached to the shell...
Anyway we are hoping that once on traditional we will be able to build a rapport with our waiter and our wine will be delivered to our table before we arrive.
Where the service has failed the food has excelled - everything we have ordered has been excellent.  The choices and the layout up in the Lido Buffet are fantastic and waiting around is at a minimum.
We played trivia everyday as it is on at 6pm and we have won once.....  They have a different pin every day.
We even tried our luck at the Black Jack Tournament... after a little prompting from the peanut gallery behind me I managed to finish with the highest score but unfortunately I had used up all my luck and came in third in the final.
So that is the end of the first sector of this cruise.  Tomorrow we get a changeover of passengers and a much more active group of cruise critic members .

Sunday, May 18, 2014



43 Ulvik, Norway

When we woke up this morning and headed up to the Lido Deck for breakfast we had already arrived in Ulvik.  Ulvik lies deep in the Hardangerfjord, and what a surprise we got when we saw that we were surrounded by snow capped mountains.  Being higher up in Norway it was much colder here.
There is not a lot in Ulvik, and it really only serves as a gateway to travel out to other places to see the sights...  We chose to stay close so it took no time at all the see the highlight, which is basically the Church and graveyard.
To reach the town you have to tender. The tenders drop off right in front of what looks like Ulviks Brakanes hotel ... It boasts a lovely lounge area with views out to the bay and one of the two souvenir shops in the town.  Luckily we ventured out as early as we did, as the weather just got worse and worse as the day went on. We followed a map that took us up along the Fruit and cider walk.  It was a long walk and all up hill.  The first farm we came to, Ulvik Frukt & Cideri, didn’t want to know us... wouldn’t even be interested unless there were 10 of us... Even at the steep fee of $30 each, the six of us couldn’t even tempt him.  We walked further up to another farm called Syse Gard and the lady there was lovely.  She took us into the shop and offered us free samplings of cider, well apple juice really.
As we trudged back down the hill the rain got heavier and heavier, and even though we had umbrellas,  the wetter we got the colder we got.  We stopped at the old wooden church with its very nautical theme (complete with ship hanging from the ceiling) just to make the most of the warmth inside.
No McDonalds in Ulvik so we had our $10 Coffee early at a small bakery & cafe called Dros... and yes they had wifi...
We tried to stretch out this visit as long as possible but the weather was against us, so it was not too long after 1pm that we made our way back to the ship, had lunch and finally sat down and caught up on all these blogs.
At around 5pm the Captain Gru... oops I mean Timmers... pulled up anchor and we slowly sailed back out of the Fjord.  As it was now a decent hour the ship gave a commentary for this scenic part of the sail out.
It all reminded me of sailing within the sounds of New Zealand, snow capped mountains and waterfalls cascading from the top right down to the waters edge.  It is just such a shame that the cloud cover just kept getting lower and lower.