As you might detect from the time, I couldn't sleep due to jet lag so I sat down instead to record what has happened in the last few hours since we left Los Angeles.
It was looking like we might not get a real vacation this year. Sandy's work schedule was unsettled and unpredictable. We had to cancel out of a scheduled Alaska cruise in May with her family because of critical work activities that were scheduled to go on at that time. It turned out that those activities were delayed, but others, equally as critical, took their place. Then an odd thing happened. An RFP that was expected earlier became delayed until mid July and Sandy really didn't have all that much that needed doing for a period of a few weeks prior to that date. We grabbed the chance and scheduled a cruise. My work schedule was more flexible, there was no good time for me so that any time was equally bad. In our lines of work, there rarely is a "good" time to take a vacation that can be planned in advance. A spot usually opens up with little warning. This was the case here. Cruises usually take a little more advance planning, but we lucked into a Baltic cruise that wasn't completely booked that ended at the right time. We took it. We also decided to add a few days before the cruise to get acclimated. Sandy had been to Amsterdam with her father on a previous trip and wanted to bring me there as well. We also elected to spend a few days in Berlin before we headed to Copenhagen where the cruise would start on July 2nd. We booked the cruise through a travel agent in a period of about 12 hours after we decided to go and then added air fare and the first hotel reservation over the internet.
Our itinerary is as follows:
The cruise ends in a different port than where it starts because the ship's cycle is from Rotterdam to Copenhagen via stops on the coast of Norway, and then from Copenhagen back to Rotterdam (the cruise we are on). There are over 100 people onboard who are doing the whole 24 day cycle. The ship does this cycle six times for the season and then goes to the Mediterranean for the winter. Cruising here in the winter would be a little chilly.
Flashing back to LAX.....
We left our house at about 1630 and left our vehicles in a secure parking area near the Marine Green Line Station and rode the train to the Aviation stop where we caught a shuttle bus to LAX and checked in. All this went pretty smoothly. We got to the gate about 2 hours ahead of the flight. PDAs and Solitaire kept us busy until the flight left for a scheduled 10 hour flight to Heathrow. We have a roughly 3 hour layover scheduled there and then its on to Amsterdam. We had stopped at Guilano's for some sandwiches because we figured that we would not be fed much on the flight so we had dinner at the gate.
We're about 6 hours into the flight and just got over the coast of Canada. The flight took us northeast over Las Vegas, the Dakotas, the southern part of Hudson Bay. The flight had been somewhat bumpy most of the way, but by the time that we passed Hudson bay, it got as bumpy as any flight I had ever been on. We are seated at the very rear of the Boeing 777 and most of the movement seemed to be sideways as the rear of the plane seemed to be wiggling around. I would assume that strong unsteady crosswinds were kicking the airplane around. Then we got vertical bumps too and I was REALLY hoping that the Boeing stress and dynamics engineers had done their homework. The plane and passengers were getting punished. As we passed over the coast of Newfoundland Canada, the bumps stopped and the flight was pretty much normal from then on.
They had fed us dinner just after we left and then showed some movies on the seatback video screens and then darkened the cabin so that people could sleep even though it was by now light outside. I had slept some but my butt was majorly sore. Long flights are an actual pain in the backside.
We're waiting in Heathrow. Since London is still 8 hours ahead of PDT, I assume that they are on the equivalent to Daylight Savings Time as well and not really GMT. In any event, by this time I had reset my watch.
We got off the flight and walked a maze of hallways leading the "airline connections." We then got on a bus that took us from our arrival terminal 3 to terminal 4 for the British Airways flight to Amsterdam. We had plenty of time. The bus seemed to drive us over most of southern England getting from one terminal to another. Heathrow must be one pretty big place. Terminal 4 was a combination of airline gates and a shopping mall. Sandy went shopping for stuff that she saw there before but didn't buy.
end of flashback...
Our flight to Amsterdam was delayed but we eventually got on an Airbus A321. It was raining pretty hard and the captain warned us of more turbulence, which fortunately did not materialize. By the time we arrived in Amsterdam, it was mostly clear, about 85°F and humid. Our bags has apparently come over on a different flight because we had some initial problems locating them, but we did get our stuff. We changed some money ($0.78 to the €) and headed for the train station at the airport for a short ride to the Amsterdam City Center station. This was easily the smoothest train ride that I had ever be on. The rail was in exceptionally good condition.
We got off the train at the Amsterdam Central City station and proceeded to try to find our hotel. We are booked at the "Botel" which is a barge anchored in the "Oosterdok" or east harbor only a few hundred yards from the train station. However we didn't know in exactly what direction. Sandy had her PDA with a Bluetooth GPS device, mapping software and western Europe maps. It promptly led us in the wrong direction so we got a walking tour of the area near the train station. After it finally led us up a back pedestrian street full of small shops (sex and drugs seemed to be a recurring theme) we realized that it was all messed up. It would tell us to go a certain direction and then to make a U-turn. We turned it off and made our way back to the train station. At that point, we couldn't get it to work at all so we shut it off again and then found the Botel in one pass by dead reckoning.
It's been about a half hour since I started writing this diary from notes that I had taken on my PDA and I'm still here writing. Sandy has gone back to sleep. I think a thunderstorm woke us up, it was pretty intense for a short while. We had called home and Katie answered so that we could get status...all was well. The thunderstorm is still going on and off and it is warm and muggy. The hotel is not air conditioned so it not too comfortable.
Out plan for Saturday is to tour downtown Amsterdam on foot and otherwise just get a feel for the place.
We are back from our morning activity. It went mostly as planned. We wandered around for a bit on foot and then decided to take a canal tour. For €16 each, we could ride the Canal Bus tour boats until noon on Sunday.
This a good spot for a map of Amsterdam. The Botel is about halfway between the spots marked "E" and "G" just above the green line. The colored lines are the canal routes of the tour boat. The infamous red light district is in the region just below the train station. We took the green and blue boat tours which consumed most of the morning but it was worth it because the narration was in English and we saw the places that we wanted to get back to. It was a good introduction to the city.
After we got off at the stop marked "E", we wandered back into town in search of lunch which we found at a sandwich shop. The sandwiches were extremely good, it cost us €8 for both of them.
As we made our way back to the Botel, we cut across the city center and ran into the red light district. Prostitution is legal in Holland and these women sit in the window in the front of their shops advertising their wares.
When we got back to the Botel, I downloaded the pictures for that morning and Sandy abruptly crashed. I should do the same because I didn't sleep very well last night (nor on the plane coming over) so I running a serious sleep deficit...but I'm not sleepy.
Yeah...right. I turned on the TV to catch CNN while Sandy napped and about 3 hours later I woke up. So much for not being sleepy.
Sandy and I went out on a walk to get dinner and find an internet cafe so that we could make hotel reservations for Berlin. We wandered up and down many streets looking for food and passed up dozens of places. Finally, we stumbled onto an internet shop and bought an hour of time for €2.50. I checked my email and Sandy cruised the net before we selected a hotel in Berlin about 1 km from the Berlin Zoo train station. We marked the internet shop on the map because we didn't use our whole hour and the rest of the time is good for 20 days. Then we went looking for dinner.
We found a Chinese place not too far from the main train station and had a good dinner there for €20. Our plan was also to tour the red light district at night but it wasn't dark yet and it was getting cold. I didn't have a jacket so we walked back to the Botel to wait until dark.
Holland is pretty far north so that it stays light very late in the summer. It won't be really dark until after 2300. Further, the night life in this town seems to go on virtually all night. Last night, there was a steady stream of pedestrians walking on the dock outside our room all night long. We'll be going even further north later in the trip. Helsinki is only a few hundred clicks from the Arctic Circle.
Amsterdam is densely populated area, there are streetcars, busses and some taxis, but very few private cars. There are literally thousands of bicycles chained up on every fence and guard rail all over town. Most people apparently get around by public transit, bicycle or on foot.
The city center of Amsterdam is an old town. As the town grew due to trade, the city dug more and more canals. The town is literally one of the oldest master planned communities anywhere. The canals were planned carefully to deal with the growing population. The canals provided transportation and were also the sewer system. Sufficient fresh water is continually run through them to keep them flushed out. Before locks were built in Amsterdam harbor, the tides and storms often caused flooding of the canal system so that locks were installed in 16 places where the canals met the harbor to keep out the tides. When the harbor was equipped with locks, the canal locks were only used to direct the flow of fresh water in the canals to keep them clean(er). These locks are used in this way to this day. Because of the locks at the harbor entrances, the entire harbor is also "fresh" water.
Most of the buildings in the city center are old, many of them 400 years. Many of the newer buildings are built in the style of the older ones so that it is hard to tell which are really old except by the construction dates on some of them. All of Amsterdam was once a swamp so that the ground is very soft, hence there are few really large and heavy buildings. The older buildings were built on wooden pilings. These would often rot and allow the buildings to sag. Some of them are obviously leaning or settling. It is nearly impossible to jack them back up so that they stay that way until they fall down. Since the houses are built in rows, adjacent houses will often hold up ones that are sagging. Newer construction is built on concrete pilings and should be more stable.
We left for the red light district at about 2300. It's only 5 minutes walk from the Botel. This time, I knew where to find it. It's wrapped around a very large church. I'll bet that this really irritates somebody. This photo was taken from the dock next to the Botel.
The place was packed with people. There were also maybe a hundred or more windows accented with red lights with a lady inside selling something or other. Business seemed to be pretty good. The going rate appeared to be €35 and a slice of pizza according to some negotiations that Sandy overheard. Also while walking around, we continually ran across a sweet scent of some kind or other of a burning herb. It seems that cannabis is legal here as well.
I don't have any pictures from inside the district because cameras are not allowed. We got back to the Botel just after midnight but the party in the red light district seemed to be just heating up.
The plan tomorrow is to take the red line Canal Bus tour before our ticket expires at noon. It'll end right at the train station so we also plan go there to buy our tickets to Berlin. Then we plan to walk east on the Oosterdok pedestrian walkway (the one that goes right by our hotel window) to the Nemo science center and the maritime museum. The balance of the day is open.
Since most of the places that we want to go this morning don't get going until mid-morning, we just got up and got breakfast in the hotel. The breakfast is complementary (i.e. paid in the room rate). Its a pretty elaborate spread for a European breakfast, bread, sandwich meats and cheese, salad, hard boiled eggs, bacon, sausage and juice. We've elected to sit in the restaurant and write until the time comes to go about our day's plan. The weather today looks to be excellent, it's clear and about 70°F.
We're now on the train to Berlin. The DB train left Amsterdam Center City station spot on time. Figures, its a German train. It'll be about 6 hours to the Berlin Zoo station.
Yesterday, we got back on the Canal Bus for the red line trip, the only one that we hadn't been on. It went back around on more or less the opposite path as the green line. The lines used to be full circles, going in opposite directions but construction of a new subway line at the train station has broken the circle. The weather was perfect, bright, sunny and warm. When we got to the end of the ride, Sandy wanted to go again back on the green line to where we got on so we did. We got 4 boat rides for our €16 each. At the end of the boat ride, we got some take out sandwiches at a shop near the station and went back to the Botel to eat.
Then it was time to make our train arrangements for the trip to Berlin. We walked to the train station and, with some difficulty, found the ticket counters at the very far end of the station. They gave us a number, 825, and asked us to have a seat. The number board was showing service at number 755. This immediately reminded me of a scene in the movie Beetlejuice. It was an hour and 20 minutes before our number was called and we selected the 1113 train to Berlin for €88.80 each.
We had planned to go the the Nemo exhibit and Maritime Museum at Oosterdok, but the extra boat ride and the stint at the station consumed most of the afternoon. We did walk to the Maritime Museum and got there at 1600, an hour before closing. The museum mostly had VERY elaborate ship models, nautical artifacts and maps.
There was also a display of a royal canal barge, circa 1818. This is a pretty elaborate skiff just to run about in. It's good to be king.
There was also a reconstruction of a large Dutch sailing ship floating at a dock next to the museum. The hold was huge with something like 8 foot ceilings. However, the rest of the ship was clearly built for short people. Some of the ceilings were less than 5'. The officer's bunks couldn't have been even 5' long.
By the time the museum closed, we were pretty tired and it was about a half mile walk back the Botel. Just for grins, Sandy fired up the GPS and let it take us back. It chose a different route back than the one that we came out on, but it was about the same distance and it did get us back to the hotel. The problem before was that is was apparently set to pedestrian only mode and it couldn't handle the mix of streets and pedestrian walkways. This time we let it route us on any kind of street, including freeways. We found out later, than when you do that and then walk against traffic, it gets all confused. The thing works pretty well for driving, less well for walking.
When we got back to the hotel, I downloaded and archived the day's worth of photos and Sandy took a nap. Later we went out to use the rest of the internet time and get dinner and some munchies for today's trip. We ended up at a pizza place (marginal) and bought some baguettes at a bakery and went back to the Botel to crash.
We did a lot of walking in Amsterdam but that is the easiest way to get around in that town. If you should go there, get a hotel in the city center (there are very many small ones) so that you are right near the action.
We are about a half hour out of Amsterdam on the train and we are running through farmland broken up by rows of trees and small patches of forest. The train is probably running about 60 mph and is hitting every station in Holland spot on time.
We've reached our hotel, the Intercontinental, near the Berlin Zoo Gardens. We used the GPS this time to find it but it got a little confused because we were walking down the sidewalk on the side facing traffic and it thought we were driving in the wrong direction and wanted us to make a U turn.
This is a very nice place if not a tad expensive. We called home on Sandy's cell phone, all is well. Sandy has crashed, I wanted to but couldn't sleep.
The train ride was uneventful except that it was running a little late. The German Customs Police pulled somebody off the train after we entered Germany and that took a little time. We were also delayed by other rail traffic. This delay obviously upset the train crew and the conductor apologized profusely for running 12 minutes late. He promised that that they would make up the schedule and they did, by a minute or two at every stop. The train arrived in Berlin spot on time.
I think that the plan for this evening is sleep. Tomorrow, we'll formulate our plan for getting around town and what we are going to see.
I've picked up a bunch of tour literature and we've selected a walking tour of WWII sites for tomorrow. We also went to a Greek/Romanian/German restaurant across the street and had an excellent meal for less than €5 each. We then walked up the street to an internet shop near the train station and signed up for enough time to last us 4 days for €6 as opposed to the hotel rate of €20 for 24 hours. The hassle with the internet cafe is the German keyboards. They've swapped the y and z keys and all the punctuation is moved around. At least it isn't as bad as the keyboards in Italy where MOST of the keys moved.
We're back from our walking tour and walk we did. I scaled our route on the map and we totaled 7 to 8 kilometers. The tour started at the Zoo Garden Station where we got on the S-bahn (the elevated rail system) and rode a few stops to the Berlin Haupt Bahnhof station. We walked from there south past the German Chancellery building and the Reichstag. We continued south through the east end of Tiergarten (a very large park) to stop at the Soviet era war memorial near the Brandenburg gate. We then went further south to the former Wehrmacht building. This was the German Army headquarters during WWII.
Then it was back east to a still standing segment of the Berlin Wall at the sites of the (now gone) Gestapo and SS buildings. We had a snack at the Sony building and then walked the Wilhelmstrasse past the former headquarters of the Luftwaffe and then by the site of Hitler's Chancellery building. The tour ended around the corner at the site (now a parking lot) of Hitler's bunker. We then walked back to the Mohrenstrasse U-bahn (subway) station and got off near our hotel at the Wittenburgerplatz station. However, we weren't done walking. We wandered back in the direction of the Zoo Garden station to look for a grocery store. It was a while before we found one. It was then about 500 meters back to the hotel. We were both beat. Sandy immediately crashed and I downloaded photos and worked on this diary.
The plan for tomorrow is to revisit some of the sites that we went by today but couldn't stay long enough to look them over. There is a museum dedicated to the German war resistance in the Wehrmacht building (about 1.25 km walk from our hotel) that we both want to see. This museum commentates the individuals who attempted to end Hitler's rule from the inside and paid with their lives. Another kilometer further there is an exhibit at the Berlin wall segment that looked interesting. Just a block away is Checkpoint Charlie.
Last night, after my last entry, we went out to dinner pretty late, it was at least 2100. This is the Kaiser Wilhelm Church that is near the Zoo Garden Station. The "remodeling" is courtesy of the Royal Air Force during WWII. The Germans elected to leave the remains of the church as they were as a reminder of the bombing.
We at at Joe's Beer Garden across the street from the church. I asked for a glass of ice water and was told that "in a German restaurant, it is not possible to get tap water." So I ordered a bottle of water but neglected to ask what it cost. I was pretty irritated when they charged €8 (about $10) for 1 liter of water. I could have drunk beer for less. The food was pretty good though.
We stopped by the internet shop down the street and checked our email and then went back to the hotel to sleep.
The next morning, we set off on our tour. We took the U-bahn back to Potsdamer Platz and walked to the site of the SS and Gestapo headquarters and went though the display in detail. These people played pretty rough.
We then walked down the street to Checkpoint Charlie which was a main border crossing into East Berlin from the American (southern) sector before the wall was torn down. A reproduction of the original guard shack is there but it has been moved south slightly. We also went through the private museum at the site. We then walked about 1.5 km back to the Wehrmacht headquarters building to go through the German Resistance exhibit in detail. We then walked another 1 km back to the hotel. By this time, I was pretty walked out. We still need to formulate a plan for our activity for tomorrow.
Berlin mostly a new town. much of it was bombed into rubble by the Royal Air Force with some help by the US bombers and Soviet artillery. Further, the Soviets cleared wide swaths for the wall in many areas. This left lots of room for new construction. The town is especially neat and mostly new. There are bike lanes on most sidewalks that are laid in different stones than the pedestrian areas. The Germans get especially irritated at pedestrians that walk in the bike lanes. If you hear a bell behind you, you're about to get run over by a bicycle. Unlike the Greeks and Italians, the German drivers seem to be well behaved and predictable even if they drive a little fast at times. Unlike Amsterdam, there are lots of cars in Berlin although not nearly as many in Los Angeles. Many people ride bicycles are take public transit. In LA, almost everybody drives.
This is our last full day in Berlin, tomorrow we fly to Copenhagen. However, we needed to book a hotel so we walked to the internet shop and found one in downtown Copenhagen, right near the train station. We then got on the S-bahn and rode to Friedrichstrasse station which is near the Unter Den Linden. This is the main drag in the former East Germany that leads east from the Brandenburg Gate. The wide median of the street is planted in linden trees, hence the name. This street has existed as a promenade since 1647.
At the west end of Unter Den Linden is the Brandenburg gate. This was a favorite spot for armies to march through for hundreds of years. This gate was just in the east zone during the cold war. It was very badly damaged in WWII but it has been rebuilt.
Just northwest of the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag. This is the German equivalent to the US Capitol building. The lower house of the Bundestag meets in this building. Tourists are usually not allowed through, but they are allowed in the observation dome on the roof. There is a spiral walkway that winds around inside to a viewing platform at the top.
From the Reichstag, we walked back to the hotel through the Tiergarten, a very large forested park right in the middle of Berlin. There was all sorts of construction activity going on and as we got closer to the Victory statue roughly in the middle, the commotion became obvious. Live 8, an aid concert for Africa, was being set up. This caused us to navigate through the back trails of the park because our planned route was blocked. By the time we got back to the hotel, Sandy was beat and she crashed immediately.
We've made it to Copenhagen, but not without incident. It was drizzling when we left the hotel. We stopped by the internet shop on the way to the train station and checked our email. Katie informed us that her computer had died. We got some food and then got on the X9 bus (€2 each) to Tegal airport to catch our Maersk flight to Copenhagen. Just as we entered the airport it started raining very hard.
The airport was set up a little weirdly and we couldn't figure out how to exchange our e-ticket for a real ticket. We had over 2 hours of scheduled wait. We found the gate, and then before they started checking in, the gate changed to the very furthest part of the airport. We got there and waited and when we tried to check in, we found that we had to walk back to near the first gate to the ticket counter that was marked with a very small sign.
Then we had our first problem. Sandy dropped her PDA. It seemed to work after we put the battery back in (it had popped out). We didn't know it at the time, but the microdrive that she keeps in it was toast.
We walked to the ticket office and got our tickets and then walked back and finished checking in. I failed the security screen and they searched us pretty well. Something in my shoes was tripping their metal detector. They X-rayed them several times before passing us on. Then the flight was 2 hours late. I ran the PDA battery down playing Solitaire.
The flight itself was no problem, nor was the train ride to Copenhagen. However, as we were leaving the train station, my pocket got picked. I detected it quickly and ran the guy down. He dumped the wallet on the ground. He hadn't had enough time to take anything out of it. We couldn't find any police there and the guys got away. We did find a police officer outside and gave him a report.
This is when we found that the microdrive was toast as it wouldn't load the maps. However, our hotel is only 100 m from the train station and we found it quickly.
Copenhagen is supposed to be one of the 10 most expensive cities to live in. Our $130 hotel room is very small and basic but it's our room for one night. Tomorrow, we find the ship at the Freeport pier about 3 km north of here. We can get there on the train but we'll be more careful about pickpockets this time.
We just got back from dinner at the Copenhagen Hard Rock Cafe near the entrance to Tivoli Garden. The food was good, but the service was terrible, it took a very long time to get in (they had empty tables all the time, but we still waited nearly half an hour. It took more than another half hour to get our order served. I had to run down the waiter just to get the check. I would have tipped zero except that the tip had been included in the bill. My chicken sandwich and Sandy's hamburger cost about 89 DKK each, or about $15. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a 7-11 and bought enough for breakfast. A 1.5 l bottle of Coke Light, a bottle of apple juice, some cookies and a yogurt cost 70 DKK, or about $12. This is indeed an expensive town.
With the near loss of my wallet and the loss of Sandy's microdrive we weren't having a really good day. We were also so paranoid of pickpockets that we decided not to push our luck and to cancel the planned stroll through Tivoli Garden (€9.50 each) and stayed in the hotel room instead.
We've made it to the ship, whew. This is our stateroom, number 3417 on deck 3, the Lower Promenade Deck.
We checked out of our hotel at about 0930 and walked the one block to the train station. After purchasing tickets for the "S" line, we got on a train and headed north four stops to Nordhavn. This is the stop for the Freeport pier. As soon as we walked to the shore side of the elevated tracks, we spotted the MS Rotterdam. In total, it was about a 1 km walk from the station to the boat.
Check in took about an hour and we boarded the ship, but the staterooms were not yet ready so we went up to the Lido Deck for lunch which was excellent. I had Kung Pao chicken (considerably lacking in the "pow" department but it was good anyway), some fish and some fruit. Sandy had prime rib, some pasta and fruit. When the staterooms became available at 1300, we went there but our luggage didn't arrive until much later.
I set up the desk for business. We got an outlet strip so that we could plug in all of our toys for recharge so we are now set for power. We went to a shore excursion talk for Tallinn Estonia and then got ready for the lifeboat drill.
We've been on the road for a week and are wearing yesterday's clothes so doing the laundry and then a shower are the first orders of business. I bought a roll of quarters at the purser's desk to feed the washer and dryer.
One of the rituals of a cruise is the mandatory lifeboat drill. Before the ship leaves port, all passengers don their life jackets and make their way to a designated lifeboat. The instructions are posted on the inside of each stateroom door. Sandy looks lovely in aviation orange.
We have left Copenhagen. The ship backed out from its berth, made a 90 degree turn while backing and then proceeded straight out of the breakwater. With the help of a crew member, I found the way to the foredeck on the bow. The MS Rotterdam is a slightly larger and newer ship than the Ryndam and Statendam and the foredeck access was arranged differently. It looked like a crew only area when I originally found it, but passengers are allowed there so I went up as the ship left the dock. However, it began to rain so I didn't stay out there for long.
The captain has put the pedal to the metal, yet there is little vibration. It might even be soothing during sleep, we'll see.
Sandy is off attending to the laundry, it might be done by now. We have the 8 PM dinner seating, we may try to change it to an earlier seating as we normally don't stay up late and I would prefer to digest my dinner before I go to bed.
The MS Statendam and MS Ryndam that we've on cruised on before were sister ships and as such were essentially identical. The MS Rotterdam (shown here on a postcard) is 60 ft longer, 4 ft wider and 5,000 tons heavier than the slightly older ships.
We crossed yet another time zone. We have the late dinner sitting and we were there for something like an hour and a half. Another half hour of touring the ship and an hour time change and its very late already. Dinner was outstanding. This cruise line does a excellent job on the food. As I scanned the dining room, I figured that Sandy and I (in our 50's) are in the youngest 5-10% of the passengers on the ship, and this includes the children, of which there are a few. Holland America does tend to attract an older, quieter crowd.
The ship has satellite internet access that seems to work. On our last cruise on the MS Ryndam, the internet had just been installed and it basically did not work. Here, I was actually able to download about 50 email messages (half spam) in a minute or so on line. I went off line immediately because the per minute rate is $0.75. I responded to the messages that I wanted to off line and I will upload the responses tomorrow morning in one quick session and log off again.
I did my obligatory video tour of the ship (which won't show on this web page). The ships deck diagrams are shown below starting from the lowest passenger accessible decks. The only deck that can't be used to walk the length of the ship is Deck 4. The kitchens fill the region between the dining room and the rest of the ship.
We attended an hour long history lesson on Russia that went from the first recorded history from about the year 700 through the start of the Romanovs in about 1650. More lectures are schedule for other sea days on the cruise. This was presented by a PhD historian (probably retired and having more fun than when he was working) and was quite interesting. Then there was another talk given on the ports of Warnemunde and Rostock.
This day of sleeping late, eating, and lounging around has been so strenuous that it was then time for a nap. Our dinner has been rescheduled (by request) to the 6:15 seating. Tonight is formal so I will be wearing a coat and tie. The recommended tuxedo is not in my plans.
Tonight was a formal dinner. I did go in jacket and tie. After dinner, we checked out the NY Times on line (which is free in the internet lounge/library). I was especially interested in the NASA Deep Impact mission which should whack the comet Tempel 1 tomorrow about noon our time. We won't see it because we'll be on the wrong side of the world and it will be daylight at the time.
Tomorrow we dock in Tallinn, Estonia. Its a 14th century town, not very large but well preserved. We won't go on an organized tour, it's close to the dock and we'll either take a train or walk in. The whole town is only about 0.5 by 1 km in size.
We brought with us an amazing array of electrical toys, most of them battery powered and in constant need of recharging. My carry on bag was mostly filled with toys and it weighed 20 lbs NOT including the iBook which we carried in Sandy's padded backpack. Someday I'm going to have to figure out how to travel lighter.
On request, the ship supplied a six way 110 V outlet strip to extend the one 110 V outlet in the room and we've virtually filled it up. I even had to use a regular extension cord (which Sandy had packed in her "kit") to increase the number of usable outlets because some of the stuff blocks adjacent outlets. We could plug in up to three more 110 Volt things before we'd have to ask for yet another outlet strip.
The iPod photo, Sandy's Pocket PC PDA, my Palm PDA, the GPS receiver and the iPod shuffle can all charge from USB with appropriate cables/connectors (which we have). We have three USB charging sources, the iBook, the Apple USB brick and a generic USB brick. All this stuff can run from 220 volts as well except the AA battery charger so we were able to recharge almost everything in our hotels as well (which had no 110 VAC). Sandy couldn't find the charger for her Dana Palm PDA before we left so it is running on AA batteries. You might note that between the two of us we have one laptop computer and three PDA's.
The Apple power bricks can use an Apple supplied power connector and I used one in the hotels. We also have two "gender bender" adaptors that adapt most worldwide power sockets to most kinds of plugs. They don't do voltage conversion, but now most power bricks run from 100 to 240 volts anyway. You just need a way to plug them in.
Before we left home, I ran some tests on most of the USB stuff to be sure that we had ourselves covered. The results from the tests can be found at USB Charging Tips.
Today the ship stopped at Tallinn Estonia, a very old medieval city dating from around 1300. The old medieval town is partly surrounded by its old fortification walls. Outside the walls, a newer part of Tallinn has grown, partly soviet style drab structures and partly newer western style structures. The medieval part of town is divided into three parts, the "old town", the "lower town" and "Toompea hill." Toompea hill isn't much of a hill, but it does have a very impressive wall around it (20 to 40 ft high) and it is higher than the average terrain.
This is the view from a part of the wall around Toompea hill looking northwest over the old town. Two cruise ships can be seen way in the background, just to the left of the large steeple. The MS Rotterdam is the right most one. A somewhat larger Celebrity ship is moored next to the Rotterdam. We took a shuttle bus to a point near the old town and walked around inside. The streets are all cobblestone and in some places very worn and steep. Sandy stopped in many of the gift shops looking for something in particular but didn't find it. After a couple of hours, we made our way back to the ship. Sandy crashed and I spent some time in the hot tub and pool.
Even though we're not actually the next time zone, I've converted to Moscow Standard Time. We just got back from our 4th of July barbecue dinner, it was quite good. Baby backs, chicken, New York steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, beans, corn, fries, and more stuff that I didn't even take. Actually, I didn't eat all the stuff I listed either. If there is one thing that is totally frustrating about cruising is that there is more food than one can possibly eat. One cannot even sample it all at any given meal.
When we got back from dinner, we found an elephant on the bed. The night before, it was a peacock. It would seem that our room steward is having a little fun. This guy is taking really good care of us. We have ice all the time, are room is kept neat (slobs that we are) and he leaves fruit for us. He's going to get a pretty good tip.
The sea is again smooth, there has been no perceptible roll, pitch or yaw so far during the trip. We only had a little rain at the moment that we left Copenhagen. It's been shirt sleeve weather every day and according to the weather forecasts, it will tend to be that way for at least the next five days. It was pushing 80°F in Tallinn today. We heard one of the Estonian tour guides complaining about the oppressive heat. It would seem that this weather may be a little unusual for this area. These people are accustomed to a little crisper climate.
We spend the next two days and one night docked at St. Petersburg. We've actually booked some shore excursions. The ship organized tours tend to be expensive, but in Russia we have little choice. To go ashore requires a Russian visa. With the ship's tours, we use the ship's visa. To get one's own Russian visa takes months of preparation, time we did not have. There is absolutely no way to get one here. Also, the Russian visa application requires a significant amount of personal information be provided to the Russian Consulate. This is information that I will simply not provide to the Russians. We were told by other passengers that the consulates also charge over $150 for a visa.
When I looked at our tour vouchers, I realized that they were messed up. Both tours were scheduled for the same day even though I had not booked them that way. The shore excursion desk indicated that their computer didn't follow their own rules and messed up lots of tours. They rearranged our 2nd day tour to actually be on the 2nd day.
On the first day in St. Petersburg, we will get on a bus and drive to Catherine's Place and Pavlovsk. This will take all day. On the 2nd day we go to see part of the Hermitage Museum and the Golden Room. We have the 2nd afternoon free. To get to the Russian shopping areas, one has to get by the Russian Immigration office. We can do that with the tour and then stay and shop (or so we are told). Once we come back to the ship however, we cannot get back. We are told to expect lines and delays as St. Petersburg is a popular port and virtually every cruise ship in the Baltic stops there for two days.
Today, we went on a shore excursion to the Catherine's Summer Palace and her son's (Paul 1st) palace nearby at Pavlovsk. We got a bus ride through St. Petersburg out to the countryside to the summer palace. There is a larger winter palace (including the Hermitage) in St. Petersburg. We see part of the winter palace tomorrow. The summer place is seriously ornate. Not much of it is original, it was shelled heavily and looted during WWII but much of the interior had been removed at that point and kept from the Germans. The whole place has been rebuilt to be as it was.
The whole place is floored in inlaid wood so everybody wore booties to protect the floor from the visitors shoes. This is the grand ballroom which is seriously over the top in terms of gold leaf. Everything is either mirrored or covered in gold. This was done to make the place lighter. The palace wasn't used much in the winter as it is not built with thick enough walls to hold out the cold. The winter palace is much more substantial. The summer palace is merely Catherine's dacha in the countryside.
This is a detail of the ballroom decorations. Note that the partially naked female forms adorn virtually every room, often in many places.
One of the big draws of the place is the Amber Room which is walled in amber. The original panels were lost. They have been rebuilt along with the rest of the place. This is a copy of a postcard that shows almost the whole room.
Photography is not allowed in the Amber Room but Sandy took this shot from outside the Amber Room looking in. Each panel is made up of thousands of pieces of amber of many shades and colors.
Catherine and her son, Paul I, had a falling out. He eventually succeeded her after her death, but in the meantime he built his own palace nearby. It is not quite so ornate, but actually more impressive inside. It was also heavily damaged in WWII and has also been substantially rebuilt. The statue is of the big guy himself. I don't know if the statue was there when he lived there or was added later.
The interior was ornate in a more subdued fashion than the summer palace. This was a sitting room with the original inlaid wood floor in half of the room. Half of the floor had actually been recovered from Germany after the war and the other half was made to match it. The other parquet floors in both palaces are not original.
We had another fine day. The sky was clear and the temperature was about 80°F. The Russian guide again complained about the oppressive heat. She also noted that St. Petersburg gets only 30 to 40 clear days a year, this was one of them. We had a light lunch in a restaurant next to the summer palace and then headed to other palace. By the time that we left Paul's palace, it had clouded up rained a little and there was some thunder rolling in the distance. As we walked the gardens, we occasionally felt a drop or two but nothing serious happened.
Back at the ship, the internet was still out. It hasn't worked since we left Tallinn. According to the guy in the internet lounge there is interference. However, they also warned us that there may be outages in St. Petersburg depending on which pier at which we docked. I suspect blockage due to the low angle of the geosynchronous spacecraft and the structure of the ship.
Today we toured the Hermitage. This is a Russian national museum which is, at least, partially, enclosed within the Winter Palace. This museum consists of the art collections of several Russian Czar's with some stuff added after being "borrowed" from eastern Europe after WWII. This is the main stairway that is part of the winter palace. This stair and the adjacent large hallway were used for grand entrances and introductions. Much of the interior is decorated in a similarly ornate fashion.
We had another day of excellent weather, about the same as yesterday but without any rain. We've therefore been here for 7% of the sunny days this year.
The Czars built this place for their winter home. It gets pretty cold here and this building is better insulated that the summer palace and was more livable in the winter. One of them, I can't remember which one, started buying up art in Europe and they just kept it up until the collection grew huge. The guide said that there are 6 million pieces in the collection, much of it is in storage.
This room is virtually paneled in gold leaf. However, it is not the famous "gold room." We did tour the gold room which is a collection of gold jewelry and other antiquities dating back up to 2700 years.
This place is huge. The guide commented that there are 1054 rooms and you could walk 24 km going through all of them. That sounds like a lot, but it is a really big place. You'll notice that there are no people in these photos because they are postcards (not copyrighted). We got there early and the crowds weren't too bad, however by noon, it was difficult to walk in some places due to the crowds. The guide commented that 6 million people a year tour the Hermitage, mostly in the summer.
This room was used by the ladies of the court for changing their clothing. At the right rear of the room is a "secret" door that leads to the private quarters. One of men on our tour commented that it looked like a New Orleans bordello. By the time that the tour ended, I was done with art. I had seen so much that none of it sunk in.
On the way out of the place we were attacked by street vendors. I bought a Russian fur hat for $10 after I kept insisting that it was too small. He originally wanted $15. It fits well. I have one that I bought in 2001 in Anchorage Alaska but it is a little too small. Sandy bought some stuff as well for a pretty good price. After the bus dropped us off at the ship, I carried the loot in while Sandy stayed at the gift shop just the other side of the stern looking customs officer's station. If she came in then, she would not be able to get back to the shop.
Sandy got back in about 1500 and we went up to the Terrace Grill for lunch. The regular buffet had closed, but the taco/pizza bar was open. At 1815 the ship departed St. Petersburg headed for Helsinki. At that moment, the Russian Bizarre opened. This was sort of a ship sponsored flea market on board. They mostly had the same stuff that was available from the gift shops and street vendors for a small markup over the street price for most items. Sandy spent some serious time there after dinner.
Our room steward has been busy again. I've been trying to figure out what this is. Sandy suggested a rabbit, I'm guessing its a crab.
The international weather forecast on CNN shows that the very pleasant weather that we have been experiencing may hold up for another day to two. Right now, we about 30 miles out of St. Petersburg and I can still see it off the stern. There is a rainstorm north of the ship and there are about 30 freighters sitting out here, probably waiting for clearance into St. Petersburg. Almost all of them have there bows pointed north, into the wind. Actually, except for a little rain and wind, it is still quite pleasant outside. We lose an hour tonight going back to Eastern Europe Time.
Even though we've left St. Petersburg, the internet is still out without explanation. Sandy's cell phone didn't work in St. Petersburg either, it said that service to our home number was not available. We'll try the cell phone and internet again from Helsinki.
We've picked up an hour since St. Petersburg. The internet was back on line so I uploaded the web page and dealt with my email. After sleeping in a little and breakfast we headed out. Life on a cruise ship is pretty rough.
None of the ship sponsored tours of Helsinki really lit our fire so we just took a shuttle bus to the downtown area and walked around. This is a pretty typical street scene in the city center area. This was the only street strung with EU banners. There were several young people standing around wearing "tourist information" banners. They were handing out maps and advice. The place is highly organized to take care of tourists. The city also appears to be very clean and in good repair. The Finns can take some pride in their well kept city.
Our actual target was a flea market down by the docks. I expected a typical bargain basement street vendor scene, but this was a little different. There were primarily three types of vendors, fresh vegetables, cooked food and souvenirs. Fresh peas, strawberries, cherries and root vegetables were available by the ton with a few other types mixed in. The cooked food vendors were primarily a combination of rice and fish. The souvenirs tended to be upscale with firs and jewelry in great abundance. I was looking for cheap Soviet era stuff, there was none of that. I did find a really nice fur hat for €180. This was a little more than I was willing to pay considering I bought a Russian hat in St. Petersburg for $10. Maybe not the same quality, but the price difference made up for that.
We did stop into a souvenir shop that advertised Russian items. There were only a few and they were overpriced. They did have a nice knife with a Soviet hammer and sickle, but a combination switch blade and cigarette lighter probably would have caught the attention of the TSA.
We walked around the town center for a bit and then walked back to the bus stop where a Stockmann store was. Stockmann is a department store that covers much of two city blocks. We went into the bookstore section which covered four floors. Sandy got some quad paper books and a couple of paperbacks.
Then it was back to the ship for lunch and relaxation. Sandy has crashed yet again. Afternoon naps are a pretty normal part of the routine here. The weather was cool and overcast. It drizzled a little while we were at the market but that cleared up pretty quickly. We're going to stay on the ship for the balance of the day.
After lunch we both took naps until about 1600. We wandered up to the Explorer Lounge (internet and library). Sandy read all the back email from the kids that had accumulated during the internet outage in Russia and composed replies. I then logged on, uploaded all the new outgoing messages, looked for new email (none), uploaded an update to this page and downloaded a page from SpaceFlightNow.com on the Deep Impact mission so that I could read it after I logged off. All this took 2 minutes and 42 seconds.
We've been underway for about an hour and a half and are back from dinner. We have a new towel sculpture, a turtle this time. I saw the steward in the hall and asked him what the animal was last night. Sandy was right, it was a rabbit.
Food on a cruise ship is the least of anybody's worries unless one is especially concerned about what kind of food one wants. Basically, it's all you can eat all the time. The question really revolves around the formality of the meal. Tonight was "informal" which means that the dress code in the main dining room required a jacket for men. The Lido buffet is less formal, however shoes and shirt are required. For even less formality there is the Terrace Grill out by the pool but it closes at 1700. At the higher end of the formality is the Pinnacle Grill (reservations, cover charge of $20pp for dinner and $10pp for lunch and formal attire required). This is the place that serves the 1" thick Porterhouse steaks. We've not eaten there on any of the three Holland America Line cruises that we've been on.
The quality of the food is generally outstanding. Sometimes the selections in the dining room are a little fancier than our tastes, but I can eat almost anything that doesn't have horseradish in it. The "spicy" food really isn't very spicy and this line does mexican very badly. I don't bother with it. Fish, however, is another story. One can get salmon at any meal, often prepared in several ways. Other kinds of seafood are available as well. Last night I had crab legs. Most places serve whole legs so that it takes time and trouble to crack them. This tends to slow the whole process down. Holland America serves them already cut lengthwise and with the proper utensils so that it is easy to literally fill up on them. When crab legs are offered, they are all you can eat...and I can eat a lot.
On Holland America, beverages are generally extra. Other cruise lines treat beverage services differently. All bar services (mixed drinks, wine and beer) are charged per each and are pretty expensive. Wine by the bottle is recommended on the dinner menu, but this stuff runs $35 to $70 a bottle. I wouldn't know it from vinegar such is my taste for wines. The selection of sodas is limited and costs about $2 a can unless an unlimited soda ticket is purchased at $48 for the 12 day cruise. Coffee and iced tea are available with any meal. Juices are also served with breakfast. My personal favorite, ice water, is available for free with any meal or at any bar at any time. Bottled water is $2 per liter. Our room steward also keeps our ice container in our room filled up.
We just got back from a half mile walk around the Promenade Deck (3.5 laps = 1 mile). It is still quite light out due to our latitude of 60 degrees north. Even though it is late, the temperature is still around 70°F. It doesn't get really dark, even in the middle of the night and the sun rises again at around 0400. The Gulf of Finland is fairly shallow and the deep shipping lanes are narrow. This means that at any given time, many other ships can be seen. This is also the first time that I've seen any significant ocean swell at all, it might be a foot. Occasionally one of the swells will break into a small white cap. There is still no obvious ship motion, just a steady slight vibration at a maybe two cycles per second.
Tomorrow, we dock at Stockholm. We've decided to find our way somehow to the Vasa museum. Around the year 1600, a large man-of-war, named the Vasa, was constructed by the Swedes. The thing was so top heavy that it capsized in the harbor even before it could get to it's sea trials. It was well preserved by the cold oxygen free water and was raised in about 1960. After being carefully dried out, it was put on display. The photos show it to be complete. We'll get a better look tomorrow.
The ship pulled into the dock at Stockholm at about 0600. At that point, we had no firm plans for the day. At pretty much the last moment, we booked a shore excursion to ride a bus around town and to tour the Vasa Museum. It would be a "three hour tour" but we got back ok.
This is the Royal Palace as seen from an adjacent island. The Royal
Family doesn't live there anymore, they have another palace outside of
town. Stockholm is pretty much another european city. It is quite clean
and organized. The city is built on a collection of islands, I believe
14 of them. We've been told that there are 24,000 to 30,000 islands in
the Stockholm region.
A big draw is the Vasa which was an overly large wooden battleship built. Launched in 1628, the Vasa sailed a grand total of 1300 meters for about 20 minutes before capsizing in Stockholm harbor were it rested on the bottom for over 300 years. It was found again in 1956 and raised in complete condition in 1960. The ship was just too big and too top heavy so that it was fundamentally unstable. A gust of wind tipped the lower gunports into the water and the ship foundered and sank on nearly the same spot that the MS Rotterdam is docked now.
After years of restoration work, the complete ship was placed on display in its own museum. The lighting is pretty dim in the museum to protect the very old wood so that photography was difficult.
We were planning to walk back to the ship from the old town after doing some shopping but decided to ride the tour bus back. I am developing a sore throat and Sandy was tired. The walk back would have been close to two miles in the warm sun. The heat has returned, it is over 80°F and clear, again highly unusual for this area.
When we got back from dinner, we found a stingray on the bed. We left Stockholm at about 1800 for the four hour slow trip through the Stockholm archipelago. There was a line of at least six ships moving toward the Baltic at about 10 knots.
This is a sea day while we are on our way to Warnemunde Germany. We slept in late and then got a light breakfast. While we were eating, we noticed this stuff in the water which I interpret to be plankton of some kind. It stretched for as far as we could see and we sailed through it for hours. You can also see that the sea is dead calm, the ripples that are there are our own wake. The outside temperature is about 70°F. Our good weather is holding up. The USA Today here in the Explorer Lounge indicates that the weather in Germany will be nice as well. We've got nothing much that needs doing for the day. It's a tough life, but somebody has to do it.
My sore throat is still there, but it is getting better and other than my bloodshot eyes and feeling a little tired, there are no other problems. I probably picked up a virus. There certainly have been enough people around to catch one from. I guess that I'm going to recover from this without too much grief.
I think that the animal dejour is a bird.
We didn't do much today, we just kicked back. We walked around the deck several times to work off some of the food. The total distance was more than a mile. Sandy found a good book in the library, I watched "The Phantom of the Opera" on the TV. By the time for dinner I was really dragging. My sore throat had developed into a cold and I felt really tired, but I dragged myself to dinner anyway. Dinner was formal, Sandy had Chateaubriand, I had grilled prawns.
Tomorrow we dock at a small seaside town named Warnemunde. We'll take a train about 5 miles to Rostock and tour/shop there. There will be a beer fest on the Lido deck tonight with a German brass band. Many of the passengers will be touring Berlin, 3 hours away by train. The ship will leave very late, about 2230 to allow these folks to get there, do something and get back. We've been to Berlin so we'll be staying close.
When we got up this morning, the ship was completely fogged in. However it was still fairly warm and I could see the sun through the fog so it looked like it was going to burn off. It did. We had another clear and warm day. My cold symptoms had pretty much evaporated over night, to my great relief, and I was ready to go out.
Warnemunde is a seaside resort town near the port city of Rostock. Both of these towns were in the former East Germany. We elected to walk into Warnemunde and get on the train to Rostock because we figured that the shopping would be better there. Wrong. It was Sunday and the town was closed up tight.
The train fare was €3 round trip including an all day pass on the streetcars and busses in Rostock. When we got there, we found a transit map and planed a route that would take us through the oldest part of town and then lead us on the main shopping street. This all worked as planned except there was nowhere to shop. A sign on a shop said that the temperature was 34°C (93°F) but it was not that warm.
This is one of the main squares in town. Note the lack of people. About the only ones that were there were part of tours from the Rotterdam. The main shopping street was virtually closed up as well. Only a few cafes were open. Sandy was really bummed because she had some specific shopping plans for Germany. We didn't do much shopping in Berlin because we were under a baggage weight restriction for the flight to Copenhagen. She had planned to do her Germany shopping in Rostock but it was clear that it wasn't going to happen. About noon, we took the train back to Warnemunde took a short walk through the small town. This is where it was happening. There were throngs of people and virtually every shop in town was open. We had lunch on the ship and then Sandy went out again with renewed purpose. She found the stuff that she wanted and was satisfied. Then it was back to the ship to kick back for the rest of the day.
The ship hosted a beerfest for dinner this evening. They were selling "cheap" ($2.50/glass) samples of the local Rostocker brew and serving sausages and the very best pretzels that I have ever had. Sandy had a glass of Rostocker this morning. I tried a sip and it wasn't all that good. There was German brass band playing for dinner. We sat and listened for quite a while before turning in for the night.
Tomorrow we stop at Århus Denmark. We're trying now to figure out what we are going to do tomorrow. From the video that is running on the TV, it looks like we're going to walk and look for Viking related stuff.
Today was warm and mostly clear again. This is pretty unusual for this area. The MS Rotterdam docked right near the old town so we just walked about a half mile to the center of the old town.
There is a bank right next to the cathedral where Viking artifacts were discovered as the basement was being excavated. The site was carefully investigated and then the bank was built. However, there is a room in the basement where some of the artifacts were displayed. There is stuff dating back to 800 AD. We also toured the Dom Church or main cathedral. I am still suffering the effects of a cold and I was running out of gas. Sandy stayed in town to do more sightseeing and shopping and I dragged my sorry backside back to the ship.
Sandy rolled back in a little later after spending most of her Danish Kroner. This cold had really done a number on me, it took me two hours to recover from a 90 minute walk.
It was warm and clear again today, perfect weather. The sea is like glass right now. For this whole cruise, I've not felt any roll or pitch at all. We might as well be on solid land except for a continuous rumble of the machinery which feels a little like a continuous minor earthquake. It's a long way from Århus to Oslo and the ship sailed 90 minutes earlier than normal. We'll also get in a little later than normal, about 0800 tomorrow. Even so, the ship has to maintain 20.5 knots the whole way. Since he won't be able to maintain that average speed in the Oslo Fjord, the captain has the pedal to the metal now, hence the rumble. On other legs where he had to maintain only 15 knots, we didn't feel the rumble at all.
Last night, no towel animal. Tonight we have a snail.
I tried to upload the web page updates and check email this evening, but the internet connection was so slow that I could do nothing. Mail couldn't send or receive and Fetch couldn't find my server. I gave up after a couple of minutes. This happens about half the time. I'll try again later.
Our plan for Oslo is to see the WWII resistance museum on a hill near the port. If still have time and energy, we'll catch a bus or ferry to Bygdoy to see the Viking museum.
When we docked, realized that the museum and castle were RIGHT next to the ship. We crossed the street and wandered up to the only castle in Norway. This has been the residence of the kings of Norway on and off since about 1300. Two of the more recent kings are buried there.
The Norwegian Resistance Museum told the story of the Nazi occupation of Norway between 1940 and 1945. It was pretty well done with displays in Norwegian and English. The castle tour was interesting as well. This castle is not nearly as ornate as other european castles, but it did the job. It was intended to defend the king and it did. There were 12 separate attacks on the castle, none successful. The most recent was in about 1750.
Again, the weather was excellent today, clear and about 80°F. We got a late start and we spent so much time in the castle that we decided to skip the Viking Museum which was some distance away. Sandy elected to shop instead and did considerable damage.
Tomorrow will be another sea day and Thursday we arrive in Rotterdam for the end of our cruise. It doesn't seem like we've already spend 10 days on the boat but we have.
Syam, the cabin steward, has been busy again while we were at dinner. I believe that this is a butterfly.
It took about 3 hours to sail out of the Oslo Fjord last evening. Just about the time that we left the fjord, the sea became a little choppy and the ship started to feel like a ship. We didn't get the heavy roll and pitch of a large ocean swell, instead, the ship sort of wobbled around in a random fashion. It has kept this up until this morning where it has flattened out again. The sky is mostly cloudy but there is good visibility toward the horizon.
A crew member who has been sailing the Baltic for several years commented that this is the best stretch of weather that he has seen here. He also commented that the locals indicated that this has been the best weather seen here in 50 years.
I've been running through my recent memory and I find that the various european city memories tend to run together. This may be because there are very many common features to these cities. They have older structures, narrow cobblestone streets that go every which way and buildings that, at least in the case of the pre WWII buildings, tend to be no more than four stories tall. All of them had complete streetcar systems. Most have few cars and lots of pedestrians and bicycles. St. Petersburg and Berlin were exceptions with lots of motor vehicle traffic.
There are reasons for the low structures. As buildings get taller, they get heavier. Many of these towns, especially those south of the Baltic, tend to be built near rivers and the soil is not particularly firm so that the heavier buildings could not be supported until more modern construction techniques with deep concrete pilings were implemented. Those living on upper floors have to haul everything up to those floors, including themselves. With the advent of indoor plumbing, it takes a lot of water pressure to pump water that high. Only newer structures will have the pumps needed to get water to the upper floors. Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo are built on glaciated granite and have firmer footing but the older structures are still not very tall.
Most european towns were built over time from a collection of huts to a full sized stone town. The streets tend to be sort of random. I assume that the current streets followed paths that were used before. These tended to go around the locations of the huts. Amsterdam and St. Petersburg are exceptions. Amsterdam was built in phases following a planned expansion. St. Petersburg was built from scratch as a national capital and was planned on a grid with long straight streets. Except in St. Petersburg and Berlin, I didn't seen the american icon, a gas station. However, we were mostly in the old cities so this is understandable. There were plenty of MacDonalds, Burger Kings and Pizza Huts. In Denmark, we also found 7-11.
We've had breakfast and are back in the stateroom. Sandy is fretting about how she is going to pack all of her loot. From the pile on the bed, it would appear that she has been busy. She's now going through it recording the prices on her PDA and calculating the value in US so we can fill out the customs form.
The cruise is clearly winding down. There have been announcements for the disembarkation talk and we've reviewed our statement. We didn't charge all that much to the shipboard account. Most of the entries are for automatic gratuities.
We've settled our shipboard account at the front desk, about $550 worth and that is with no booze. A little less than half is gratuities, the rest was shore excursion or on-board purchases.
Every morning that I had eggs, I had to ask for a bottle of Tabasco. The staff always found one, sometimes after an extended delay. I realize that if they cooked to my taste, maybe only three other passengers and most of the crew would eat it (the food service crew is Indonesian) so I need some additional heat. I spoke with the Food Service Manager about the overall lack of hot sauce of any kind. He indicated that he could put out 60 bottles a day and they'd be gone because the crew would use so much. They keep the stuff in a locker so that the crew won't grab it all. In any case, this is something that they have to fix.
We discovered from other people on the cruise that we paid less than 2/3 than those that had booked the cruise early. If one can schedule and book a cruise at the last minute, the prices really come down substantially. Our actual cost (not including air fare, on board purchases and gratuities) was about $100 per day per person. Considering that a first class hotel (which this ship represents) will cost about that much not including food, this is a deal. It also takes you places. Maybe not exactly where you wanted to go or for long enough at each place, but is also very low on the hassle index. Cruises are a great way to unwind.
We had booked the lowest class inside cabin, that is with no window. However, somewhere along the line we got "upgraded" to a view cabin even if the view was obscured. All of "large" (i.e. standard) cabins are exactly the same. The only difference is the location. There are larger and much more expensive cabins on decks 6 and 7. The moral is that if one's schedule is somewhat flexible as to time, cruise destination and cabin location and one is willing to book and go, a considerable sum can be saved by booking at the last minute.
I was concerned that our cabin near the stern would result in more vibration from the screws or engines, but it didn't seem to be the case. There was more engine noise amidships and the vibration, when it existed, seemed to be about the same everywhere on the ship. Since the ship uses diesel electric propulsion, the diesel engines and generators can be located anywhere. On this ship, there are five of them.
The cruise has ended and we've made it back to the Botel in Amsterdam. It's hot and humid here.
Later in the day yesterday the sea flattened out again and the famed North Sea was just a big lake for the balance of the trip. It did cloud up and get cooler, but there was no rain.
Packing was an exercise considering the quantity of loot that Sandy collected. Her suitcase was completely full of it. The clothes were relegated to a carry on bag.
I had a serious cough the last night and it drove Sandy nuts and even though I was taking cough medicine, it didn't work really well.
We pulled into Rotterdam in the early morning. Since we had no flight to catch that day, we were assigned a disembarkation number that got us off the boat nearly last. While we were eating breakfast, we could see the luggage being collected and lined up on the pier below. A drug dog was being lead around and allowed to sniff each suitcase. When we finally got off the boat at about 0930, we couldn't find our luggage. It was there, there was just some confusion about the coding of our luggage tags and we got directed to the wrong area.
There were supposed to be gobs of taxi cabs at the terminal, but by the time we got there, hundreds of people were waiting for NO cabs. This was not looking good. The folks on the ship said that the only way to get to the train station was to take a cab. However, the Rotterdam map (provided by the ship) showed "M" figures near the dock and at the train station. It turns out a block away is the subway that goes directly to the Rotterdam Central train station. For €2.40 each we avoided a nonresistant €15 cab ride. Tickets to Amsterdam Central were €12.40 each and from Amsterdam Central back to Schiphol airport was another €3.40 each. The train was packed so we did the roughly one hour ride in jump seats in the vestibule of a car. The train was also delayed at the Schipohl airport station for about 20 minutes due to signal problems up the line and when we left, we went pretty slow for quite a while.
We got to the Botel about noon, but check in time was 1400 so we checked our bags at the hotel and went out in search of lunch, some internet time, diet coke and something to eat for breakfast tomorrow morning. Our flight leaves at about 0950 so we'll be up pretty early to allow time to get there and check in.
We got lunch in, of all places, a McDonalds. We had salads and I also had a McCrocket. I don't know what this was, even after I ate it. It had a breaded patty of something goopy and some sauce on a bun.
After 1400, we made our way back to the Botel and checked in. Our room is similar to the one before, just down the hall a little way. Since it is much warmer today than it was three weeks ago, the lack of air conditioning is a real issue. However it is only for one night. Sandy promptly crashed and I worked on this journal until I got sleepy enough for a nap myself.
It was too hot go out again in the afternoon so we waited until it got cooler. About 1930, it was pretty nice so we went out for dinner. We found a cafe nearby that had some good sausages and a very good hot sauce, the first I found in europe. Sandy had a beer and it clearly affected her. We made it back to the McDonalds so she could get another McFlurry. We then walked back to the Botel to call it a day.
It was a long trip home. We got up at 0500 to make a 0955 flight. The airport wasn't far away but we wanted to leave plenty of margin to get there even if we waited hours at the airport, which we did. We left the Botel at about 0600 and walked to the train station. I lost the train ticket that I purchased the day before so I had to buy another one for €3.40. We had a little help from someone that barely spoke english but I successfully figured out the Dutch train ticket machine. We waited about 20 min for the train and rode in yet another vestibule because we didn't want to drag our bags up or down stairs in the bi-level cars.
Upon arrival at the airport, we found that our bag weights were ok. I was surprised because Sandy's was pretty loaded with loot including many books. We cleared security at about 0715 and had a 2.5 hour wait for our flight, just as we planned. The BAE flight to Heathrow as no hassle but we had to change terminals again and we got driven back across southern England to get to the other terminal. Then we had another 3 hour layover at Heathrow. The plane left about 20 minutes late. Our route back was similar to the one out except that we may have taken a route a little further north. We crossed over Godthab Greenland and just north of Winnipeg. The plane landed at 1700 at LAX and it took us 2 hours to clear immigration, customs and get out of the terminal. All this went smoothly if not slowly except that we didn't realize until later that Sandy didn't have her camera. She probably left in on the plane. Hopefully, the cleaning crew will find it and we'll get it back. Her photos, however, had been downloaded except maybe the last day's worth. We got home at 1900 and I headed straight for the shower. After all that eating, I gained only between 2 and 3 lbs.
So ends yet another vacation. We're already thinking about the next one. The concept of going back to work on Monday in not pleasant.
This page has been accessed times since July 15, 2005
© 2005 George Schreyer
Created June 23, 2005
Last Updated July 17, 2005