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Catlover54

NOT LIVE, MS EUROPA Travemuende-Hamburg, UK, 8/11-8/25/18, blog, PHOTOS

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I was happy to rejoin the MS Europa for this two-week garden cruise around the UK, my third cruise on this ship and fifth on the Hapag Lloyd luxury cruise line which mostly caters to German speaking pax, though all frontline staff also speak English. I had just left her 2 months ago after a solo classical music cruise, the Ocean Sun Festival, which was fantastic, Nice to Bilbao, and posted a long blog about it on this forum as well as a long official CC review describing the ship and port experience. I will try not to repeat too much about the ship.

This time I went with a German friend I planned to meet in Hamburg 2 days before the cruise. The original plan was that we would rendezvous, dine and overnight in Hamburg and then the next morning, head up to Travemuende, the embarkation port, to enjoy the seaside town and sights for 24-30 hours. As you will see below, my pre-cruise adventures got a bit complicated.

All photos posted were taken just with my iphone 8-plus, and I am not a photographer by trade, so they will win no awards. But I hope to give people not too familiar with the area, i.e., many from North America, a chance to get a feel for the general ambience.

After a rough start, I can definitely say that I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise, the ship, the ports, and the fantastic gardens this area of the world has to offer. There is so much its citizens can be proud of. It rained every day in varying amounts, but I loved it anyway, and the coolness was conducive to longer walks as I easily overheat. I hope to return with DH (and his better camera equipment and photo skills ) in the near future to see more of the UK, Scotland and Ireland.

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This was the itinerary over two weeks, with a sea day at the beginning and end:

 

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Day 0, pre-cruise travel mess (a reminder to allow a large time margin!), Part I

 

I had a surprisingly relaxing overnight flight form northern CA to LHR on British Airways (BA), with friendly and professional stewardesses and a quiet cabin with mostly sober working or sleeping ( not simultaneously) businessmen.

I felt upbeat and looked forward to writing a favourable review of BA , after all the nasty things I had read about BA and the frustration I experienced 3 months ago when BA cancelled my carefully chosen flight itinerary less than a week before departure for my cruise, presumably due to mechanical problems.

 

I needed to connect from LHR to Hamburg where I thought the biggest problem would be a tight connection due to coming in a bit late to LHR. But what should have been a quick transfer and a one hour 15 minute connecting flight turned into a 24-hour ordeal. (Skip this next part if you don’t want to read about travel problems, and scroll straight to the cruise report at Day 1, Travemuende).

 

After a long and slow-moving security process, BA announced the flight to Hamburg was delayed an hour, and they were going to bring in a new plane, as the first one was apparently broken. After waiting, we stood a long time on a humid bus waiting to board the new plane, but we couldn’t actually get on as it turned out caterers had not made it yet. Then we had to wait for a new flight crew to arrive, as they were also apparently delayed. Finally, we boarded, but then sat in stifling heat in the plane at the gate waiting for personnel to fix a computer part that would not interface properly enough with the landing gear to allow take-off. We heard the cheery and apologetic blow by blow of how hard they tried to fix things, including the pilot's reporting at a later stage that some “minions” (sic) had been sent to get a new part.

 

Finally after 2 hours of unpleasant steaming, during which I had stripped down to my thinnest camisole and ran a portable battery-operated fan to keep cool enough not to pass out, we were told BA could not fix the problem after all, so all pax had to disembark, get back on the stuffy bus, and then go through UK passport control interviews and customs while BA figured out what to do with us. No BA flights were available for rebooking, and another local airline had a strike so they could not put us on its flights either. We also had to pick up our unloaded luggage from baggage claim and then just sit with it, or haul it to put it into left luggage with a plan to get it back once we knew what flight we would be rerouted on. Not having slept almost 30 hours, feeling very hot, and loaded down with two rolling 4-wheeled but heavy suitcases plus my carryon backpack and a big purse, it was getting dark, I was exhausted, and was not thinking too clearly.

 

BA then distributed vouchers for an Econobox lodging hotel a few miles from the airport where we were supposed to wait until we heard via text when our reroute the next day would be. We were to ride and connect on 3 different airport trains and buses to get there, without driver assistance use of baggage carts which I was told would not be allowed. That was physically impossible for me to do in my current state of health with all my cruise luggage, so thinking I would likely be rebooked on an early morning flight by BA, I instead went to an online hotel booking site and found the Hotel Sofitel at my terminal (Terminal 5) which had an overpriced but relatively conveniently located room where I knew the mattress would not be rock hard and there would be enough pillows for me to relax, plus a bath tub. Once I actually physically found it, (which was a challenge due to poorly marked signs), I had a long check-in wait because the apparently very well-to-do and entitled gent in front of me was being very fussy about getting a room with a view of the airport that also otherwise met his needs.

 

It was still unclear when/if my flight would be rescheduled by BA. All I wanted to do was get a flight in any class (including overhead compartment) on any airline that would get me into Hamburg ASAP, even at extra cost, and at a minimum with enough time to get to the cruise to embark one day later. I thanked myself and people who give advice on CC for having allowed a couple days margin to get to my cruise on time. I have learned to always anticipate visits by Mr. Murphy when traveling, who seems to follow me around like a rabid dog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 0, pre-cruise mess, Part 2

 

Late in the evening I got a text that my flight the next day was not departing until early afternoon, and internet showed there were no open earlier flights.

All were on board for the next day flight, Econobox-hotel rested, when round two of the frustrating BA comedy commenced. Personnel announced there were no baggage handlers to load our luggage, as they were too busy. To my chagrin I also watched the clouds roll in and rain suddenly pelted the plane's foggy windows, The next thing we were told, again while we were sweltering in the hot plane just like the day before, was that though the baggage was finally loaded, meanwhile visibility had become poor, so we had to wait at least another hour.

 

An hour later we were told all flights going south and east were stopped completely at LHR due to weather, and we were told LHR was" in chaos", so the pilots were working on an alternative plan to get us out of there. I texted DH and I used the word “European” to describe something I wrote, but instead the iPhone auto-correct decided to turn it into a message that said “You’re a peon” . I certainly felt like one!

 

Finally weather partially cleared, and we got clearance to go, but the new issue meanwhile was that there was no tug to back us away from the gate, so they were looking for a tug.

We were allowed to use our phones while still at the gate.I had started panicking thinking we would once again be offloaded and given another round of Econobox vouchers. I researched how to again change the already changed timing of my prearranged car ride from Hamburg to Travemuende and how to get to Hamburg if I could not fly out of LHR. All of a sudden an ad popped up on my phone saying, “Muslim and single? Call ____.” I am neither Muslim nor single, am not even a Labor party member, so I must have been selected for such a solicitation simply because I had been at LHR. I received no other new ads other than to fly BA. I started feeling a bit punch drunk.

 

In case we would be booted off the plane yet again, I researched trains, a rental car (driving distance from LHR to Travemuende BTW is shown as 11.5 hours, some of which would be on the “wrong” side of the road and while jet-lagged) and even what the price of a short-notice private jet chartering would be, so determined was I not to miss the cruise. I was reminded of the silliness in the old movie "Trains, Planes and Automobiles.”

 

Fortunately we finally got the go ahead to fly and at last I arrived in Hamburg, though a bit frazzled and perspiring from the hot plane. However, there was now no driver to meet me, although my friend was indeed there with a luggage cart as she had texted she would be. I called the car hire company and they tried looking for him and could not find him, and said they’d call me back. They did not call, but my friend went hunting for him while I stayed with our luggage. She found him lurking behind a big pole looking bored, invisible to arriving pax, with a very obscure sign with my name on it pointing down, as was my mood. News was that I had to pay a big extra surcharge for him to get us to Travemuende, as he claimed he had been held up the whole day waiting for us even though I had notified his company and the driver in the early morning in a text not to come until many hours later.

 

Moral of the long pre-cruise story: ALLOW PLENTY OF TIME, and time to spare, with backup options to get to your embarkation port.

 

 

 

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Day 1, Travemuende

 

The little inn in Traemuende where we had a room reserved was getting ready to lock its doors as we drove up, but the friendly proprietress had waited for us to arrive. There were now three flights of stairs to negotiate with no lift, there was no AC, and the bathroom seemed narrower than my body (which was not too wide, as the cruise had not yet started). But at least we were in the town of sailaway just a couple miles from the ship quay and odds were good we would make the cruise start with no further incident! Yay! We left our biggest cases downstairs and, as planned, just took the small ones up with us.

 

We were too tired to go out to eat so instead ate simple sausage and cheese sandwiches my friend had bought at Hamburg airport just in case, and downed a bottle of local rose wine the inn had for sale, on the room’s terrace ( I would have preferred something stiffer at that point but had nothing, and the wine did go well with the food). From our room we could see this view:

 

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Travemuende is a pleasant seaside town neither of us had been to, so once adequately "rested", we enjoyed an hour stroll on the boardwalk after a late sunset, followed by a fortifying cocktail (finally) at one of the seaside bars.

 

The next morning the sun was shining and things were looking up, as they often do when there is light and one has been, like a horse and other large organisms, watered, fed, and rested. So after my friend swam in the sea, and I swatted a couple bees who had made their way into the room, ( my friend assured me they are harmless) we decided to at least take time to walk into the hub of the colourful old town for browsing and hopefully a fresh fish lunch with what remained of our little time in this port. ( boarding was not until 3:30) :

 

 

 

 

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We were pleased to see the MS Europa waiting for us at the East Prussia quay:

 

 

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Amber is sold quite a bit in this area. You can even buy an amber dog or cat collar to help keep ticks away!:

 

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It rapidly started clouding over ( a common theme on this voyage), but the lighting was just right for a few more pictures:

 

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We checked out an interesting old maritime and sailor’s museum :

 

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In the museum was also an exhibit showing the fate of 13 million ethnic Germans who were expelled from various different countries in eastern Europe into the western Allied zones, which included what became West Germany, between 1944 and 1950.

 

 

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The Potsdam agreement signed by Roosevelt and Churchill with the Soviets/Stalin, who wanted them gone from the Soviet occupation zone to either western Germany or anywhere else, sanctioned this. Many of the expelled did not even speak German and had lived in those regions of eastern Europe for generations as citizens of those countries. The Soviets appropriated all the ethnic Germans' land, almost all their belongings, and some of their men as slave labor for a few years after the war, as part of war reparations. Many died in the mines and camps.

 

Between 1-2 million civilians, most of them women, children, and old men, fleeing westwards, reportedly died during the expulsions, from exposure, starvation, disease, and Soviet revenge attacks including brutal rapes. These are unfortunately the kinds of things that can happen when lunatics with big armies start wars, invade other countries, kill millions of people, and lose.

 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rm-douglas/expulsion-germans-forced-migration_b_1625437.html

 

My friend’s in-laws had been farmers in East Prussia (Soviet Union/Russia since WW2, near Koenigsberg, which became Kaliningrad under the Soviets, when they were expelled, and the women, children and old people were then attacked by Soviet planes , many were killed or drowned in collapsed ice as they fled westward with horse carts and crossed the northern ice , hoping to find safety not far from Travemuende.

 

 

 

We were getting ready for a lunch stop but first decided to check out a colourful sale of nautically oriented jackets nearby. I grabbed a bright yellow seaman’s slicker and all of a sudden felt a severe, sharp, unrelenting pain on my index finger. Though I did not see anything causing it, I had probably just been stung by a bee or wasp who had either been squatting in/on the colourful jacket and whose domestic peace had been disrupted by my rude grasp. For the rest of the day and that night, despite icing, assorted topical treatments and ingestion of appropriate pills, I had ongoing very sharp stabbing pains in my hand, but fortunately no anaphylactic reaction that would likely have led to missing the cruise.

 

It abruptly started pouring rain while I was hunting for ice for my hand, and of course neither of us had brought an umbrella for our walk as we’d left the inn with total sunshine, so we quickly got soaked and then decided to cab back to the hotel before all cabs were taken. We opted to go to the cruise terminal early though not yet time to be allowed to board, before anything else could go wrong, because if it could, the way my luck was running, I felt it would.

 

Day 1, Travemuende embarkation

 

I started relaxing with glasses of complementary Duval-Leroy champagne and tasty canapés which greeted us at the terminal, while fighting off ongoing pains from my presumptive bee or wasp sting.

 

Captain Knopf, a traditional Hapag Lloyd mascot, amused a few of the kids of all ages who were waiting to board (there were 35 kids on the cruise, and with one infant exception, all were well-behaved, out of 383 pax:

 

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Finally, we were on the ship and we got ready for muster. I had trouble getting the velcro straps of my life vest on with my sore stung hand, and before I knew what was happening a hurried stewardess grabbed my bare arm to quickly shove it into the life jacket and unfortunately rubbed the rough velcro down its length, creating skin tears which later turned into big bruises plus an infection (I have thin, friable skin, mostly from medication, so do not tolerate rough handling). It is in part for events such as this that I carry a small pharmacy with me when I travel.

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After a 45-minute muster ( first pool deck, then lounge), we finally sailed away, the sun peeking out periodically to tease us, a local band sending us off, many people waving, and another complimentary cocktail:

 

 

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Ten minutes after cleaing the harbor the skies suddenly opened up again and we dashed back inside, but not quickly enough to avoid getting soaked a second time that day.

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sorry to read all the unpleasant delays on BA and all the other circumstances - London Heathrow is nearly always a chaos :evilsmile:

 

i do not know your departure airport however with the combination United - Brussels Airlines over Brussels you can avoid London for flying to Hamburg

if you do want avoid Frankfurt , Munich is a lot easier !

 

 

ex Brussels the flights i took this year only had a delay of maximum half an hour and returning from Hamburg the worsest was 45 minutes ( 3 flights done this summer )

but the service on Brussels airlines is very basic and poor even in business ! during the week there are 3 flights Brussels Hamburg

 

if you do fly business the lounge at Brussels is not so bad at all

 

i think due to European law if it did happen the other direction Hamburg - US , you were eligible for a very serious dammage ! in some cases up to 600 €

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Looks like your route had quite a few different stops than ours. Good to hear that all worked out after the initial stress. :o

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The first evening, the MDR was bustling. We had been assigned a small table for two one in from the window, so we had a decent water view (the same one I had on my last solo cruise, as I had requested). You can typically start your dinner any time between 7 and 9:30. Alternatives were the buffet indoor/outdoor Lido, or reservation only small Italian or gourmet Dieter Mueller venues.

 

 

Food was very good, as before, but service attentiveness was a bit lacking, very unlike before on prior trips. Crew were dashing about a lot, definitely not dawdling, but seemed to spend most of their time at the 8-seat tables which kept them hopping with discussions about wines, food details, etc., while we sat waiting for wine to come before starting food. Understaffing seemed to be the issue. Fortunately the problem was resolved after a day or two, as I really did not want to fuss.

 

My delicious first evening entree, with tender meat, truffles:

 

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Day 2 — at sea

 

A gourmet 9-course breakfast was offered the next day, as is often done on sea days, plus a buffet option both in the MDR and the Lido.

I ordered only 3 courses (small portions of beef tatar, then fried goose liver, and then Canadian pancakes with maple syrup) plus helped myself to fresh little crispy breads, “Broetchen” and fruit from the buffet. Again the food was excellent, but service was marginal. We had

a fairly sullen ( unusual on the Europa) overworked waiter who forgot the cream and sugar set-up for the coffee and seemed to resent being politely reminded, after ten minutes, to please bring it. He also brought the hot second course after I had just started on the first one and there was no room at the tiny table to set it down. He was not happy when I politely told him it was too early and I was not ready for the second course as I was still working on the first one. Instead of taking it away, he pushed things around to make room for it and then ran off. The rest of the meal he ignored dirty plates and empty coffee cups, did not check if we liked our food, did not offer coffee refills, or otherwise provide expected luxury service. I started wondering if my last two wonderful dining experiences on cruises on Europa had not been representative, or if the less then luxury undrstaffing these first two days was the anomaly. Fortunately by the third day all was well and back to luxury standards, so the first two MDR meal services were indeed anomalous, for unclear reasons. But it showed me even the Europa can have problems.

 

 

My friend swam and also participated in a morning fitness session, offered each day around 8, varying types, not many participants.

This shows the layout of the pool, which can be covered or partially covered in inclement weather. It is heated to 28C, 25 meters long:

 

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For a fee, personal training was also available, and the gym was up the stairs on the picture and overlooked the pool.

 

There were also lectures with slides about Scotland and about the gardens we were going to see, but note that talks were only in German, though the speakers were also English speakers, sociable and approachable. Contrast with the Europa 2, where port lectures are delivered in both English and German.

 

I had been on a hiking trip to Scotland in the Inverness area and highlands about ten years ago when I was healthier and had loved it, (even though I did not find Nessie :)so looked forward to seeing more, and had been trying to read about Scotland’s complex history, including about the “Clearances” where farmers were forced off land they had lived on for many years ( a common theme in history). I struggled to keep all the battles with the English and the clan intrigues straight.

 

We then went to afternoon tea in the “Belvedere” observation lounge:

 

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I had them put big globs of extra whipped cream, “Sahne,” ( the real stuff) on my mandarin cream cake. Service here was very civilized. The cruise pianist played soft tunes, and then at the end as a bonus, a very talented young girl around 10, one of the passengers, just came up and played Vivaldi and Mozart for us on violin! She apparently attends a famous music high school and is known in competitions. The rest of the cruise I periodically saw her serious face at other classical performances, listening intently, but at other times, as is often the case with child prodigies or geniuses, she was just like any other little kid. Her mom, likely Polish born, alternated talking Polish and German with her, and also seemed to encourage her to practice her English with guides and bus drivers.

 

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Edited by Catlover54

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On-board entertainment started up. During the cruise we had, in decreasing order of my preference:

 

1. “Trio-R’ange” — an octet of classical wind instrument musicians (2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 2 bassoonists, and 2 French horn players, one of whom was an American from Colorado).

 

One of the bassoonists, who also read short introductions to the music pieces:

 

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The Belvedere Lounge ( observation area, not used much most of the time) in which they did their three performances:

 

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2. “Pianotainment” — two very talented classically trained virtuoso pianists who did brilliant humorous improvisations of many classical pieces, and during one show also presented beautiful pictures of their travels to 100 countries over the years. A camera highlighted their finger acrobatics in case you had a less than optimal seat.

 

3. Adam McThomas, who did two shows, playing bagpipe, piano, and guitar, and sang Scottish songs ( I would have liked him more if he had not translated some songs into German)

 

At the Gatsby’s bar and lounge:

 

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4. “The Rat Pack”, a tribute trio who performed Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammie Davis Jr. songs ("Dean Martin" also had his English-speaking mom with him on the cruise) . The guy who was Sinatra, Thomas Ward, had an uncanny resemblance in appearance, voice and style to the real one.

 

5. Irmgard Knef — a cabaret cross-dressing humorist I think only Germans could enjoy because of some German local and political jokes. The performer, a middle-aged man, pretended to be an over 90 long lost twin sister of the famous German chanteuse Hildegard Knef. My friend and others who came were practically rolling in the aisles at the jokes. I only went to his first show as I did not care much for his making fun of old people ( complete with Parkinsonian mannerisms) as much as he did in the first one.

 

The eight person German on-board band (including two lovely lady singers, saxophonist, trumpet, trombone) was also quite talented, “Heavens Club,” and their repertoire in various venues ranged from lounge lizard soft tunes to rock n roll, pop and dixieland jazz. Most songs were English language known tunes.

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 3, Leith (Edinburgh), overnight

 

Military Tattoo performance

 

This popular and expensive evening event ( procedes go to charity but also stimulate 80 million in local revenue for Edinburgh), at the Edinburgh castle esplanade, was a mix of hundreds of bagpipers, international military bands and performers, plus an odd assortment of non-military performers. Mexicans in huge sombreros played guitar and sang what is considered stereotypic Mexican music ( and would therefore be frowned upon in my neck of California as politically incorrect). The Mexican dancers also performed expected traditional dances, ladies with swooshy colorful skirts.

 

Women from the Edinburgh girls’ school in Malawi, plus some men from Malawai colorfully dressed as primitive natives, then happily and rhythmically ran across the stage without much more, with no military theme. The young people performing seemed to be having a wonderful time.

 

We also saw a spry non-military Czech dance troupe, some camels with stern-looking women in head scarves from Oman beating on drums while sitting on the camels, and other women from Oman playing other instruments.

 

The show was a bit of a hodge podge with a ‘we are a happy and diverse world’ theme, alternating with traditional military parade style performances from U.S., Switzerland, France, and of course UK. But I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. It is done annually for decades, over a three week period of performances, though as I understand it the inclusion of non-military dancers and singers is relatively new and when first implemented was controversial.

 

The enthusiasm was infectious. The beginning of the well-organized show included folksy welcomes to various travel groups, people celebrating anniversaries and birthdays, and a roll call of people from different countries cheered as their country was called. Interestingly Russia was not called, but China was, as were very small countries. There were also clearly other cruise ship excursion attendees with expected huge contingencies from U.S. and UK.

 

 

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Tattoo competes with the interesting looking Fringe Festival, which sells a million tickets a year and was also ongoing in the streets at the same time, but we had no time to check it out as we had a different excursion booked the next day.

 

The Tattoo has nothing to do with dermatologic artistry. Rather, it is a term that evolved qs a refernxe to the last call of the day to military duty, when pubs would close.

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The Swiss group, at this year's Edinburgh Tattoo, is a favourite of mine, the Top Secret Drum Corps:

 

 

 

Yes, they were definitely crowd favorites, though at first I did not understand why they yelled “Top Secret!” as they left the stage.

 

I would not mind coming to see the Tattoo again, but on a land trip with DH, and his cameras and long distance lenses, and where I could also enjoy more things in Edinburgh while staying in a local hotel. I did not even tour the castle, in anticipation of coming back with him to do that.

 

I would bring a better umbrella, however, for the streets ( none allowed in the stands, everyone was in ponchos) and frankly for all of UK. I am so used to the majority of days in California having sun that your gray, grayer, and grayest weather took some getting used to. This is why so much is so green!

 

I was glad the seats had backrests and the toilets were abundant and relatively clean, unlike at the Monaco Grand Prix “luxury” excursion with Silver Sea a couple years ago.

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Day 4, Edinburgh

 

We slept late and lazy ( HL has a lot of “late risers” excursions and you can have a late breakfast from 10-12 if you like in Dieter Mueller), and then did an excursion to an old estate manor house in the country, Hopetoun House.

 

First my friend had done her laps in a pool to herself:

 

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Hopetoun had broad manicured lawns and expansive rooms full of historical paintings, in a style most people in the UK are very familiar with but most Germans and Americans who have not been to UK are not, other than perhaps through Downton Abbey on TV. Our group then received tea with exceptionally delicious unusual home-made scones, abundant clotted cream, and jam, plus other treats, which were all very good, a meal in itself.

 

 

Sorry this was through the bus window:

 

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Who spent time in here?

 

 

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Please sir, I’d like some more!

 

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Sailaway when we got back, (with free drinks, and the band played on deck)

 

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Catlover54,

 

You were unlucky with the weather as this year we have had, at least in England, the hottest summer since records began in 1910.

 

 

 

With regard to Tattoos, you may care to have a look at, a favourite of mine, The Basel Tattoo.

 

https://www.baseltattoo.ch/index.php/english

 

 

In 2016, one of the highlights for me was a Japanese University marching team:

 

 

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Fun video, EV!

 

 

 

After sailaway from Edinburgh, this was our night we had made reservations to dine in the small ( 26 seat) Dieter Mueller restaurant (he is a Michelin rated German chef, who sometimes also travels on the ship), where one set menu is served, changed once a week. This was Mediterranean week. Food and paired wines were terrific, as was service. We had seven reasonably sized courses, with five high quality wines paired with them and all was verbally described in detail ( the enthusiastic waiters can do both German and English descriptions if needed). There was no extra cost for the restaurant, but there was reasonable extra cost for the wine pairings.

 

 

 

 

There were little cards describing each course set at the table. Here is the German description card of this green-looking course ( green from the leek) which included octopus, king crab, and salmon, plus the obvious caviar:

 

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My lamb entree:

 

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All the vegetables on this cruise were flavorful and perfectly cooked.

 

All in, I still preferred the ambience and food choices of the MDR, and also that tables are further apart.

 

BTW the Prunier French caviar retails for about $350 per 125 grams.

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Day 5, Ullapool (tender)

 

Sailing into Ullapool, a usually cool temperature northern UK tip town of 1500 with many outdoor activity options, including various kinds of hikes, drives to view spots, and geology explorations:

 

 

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Before leaving for a garden excursion, we fortified with a tasty Bedouin salad ( perhaps using the prior day’s remaining lamb?)

 

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After a long distance in a bouncing bus on a very narrow low traffic road, ( looked great for motorcycling), we arrived at the impressive Inverewe Gardens. There, the on-board doctorate in gardening ( who had in part trained in England) pointed out details of all the varied impressive flora, while we maneuvered our umbrellas up, down, and then up again on this overcast and sometimes raining day. From giant rhubarb to California redwoods, this collection had it all.

 

If you come here independently, I recommend allowing at least a half day to be there, preferably in the morning before crowds, so you can walk the whole length of the soothing gardens at leisure. I do not garden due to physical limitations and know little about it, but I enjoyed the variety of colours, textures, and plant creativity displayed here. I even enjoyed the coolness and light breezes, it was conducive to easy walking, but not the actual rain.

 

There is a decent gift job with facilities that were suboptimally maintained, and that unfortunately had lines in the limited women’s area, and I think should be expanded and cleaned more often so people can spend more time in the gardens. You can also get silly and buy things like this:

 

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Day 6, Isle of Mull, gorgeous Tobermary (tender)

 

This town is tucked away in the Inner Hebrides on the northern tip of the Isle of Mull:

 

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Our suite was just above the tender boarding area. I awoke to crew testing out the tenders:

 

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Weather was crazy in this picturesque little port (and beyond), cool rain alternating with hot sun. Umbrellas were essential, as were layers. Jacket on, jacket off, repeat. But it was beautiful:

 

be35c4d2a5be3f3e5ef33bc0e7aad9dc.jpg

 

 

There are some very nice shops with quality local products including quite a bit of crafts made out of antler horns, as there are abundant red deer on the island.

 

We ate at an old pub near the pier crowded with locals that served fish, where portions were sailor-sized.

Unfortunately taste was minimal on the fish, ( I asked for tartar sauce), but it was worth a try to experience food as locals might eat for a meal out.

 

We were too early for other Scottish or British food restaurants, as they did not open till 12 and we had a garden excursion coming up. This one looked promising, especially the Hagis spring rolls with malt whiskey and honey spring rolls:

 

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There was a church converted into a cafe, and perhaps that explained this sad statue, with a museum donation solicitation sign:

 

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We also checked out the local aquarium:

 

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and so did this little Scot:

 

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Tobermary is a good port to explore if people just want to walk around, hike, and/or look at shops, and have food and drink in a scenic setting with friendly locals, without doing excursions, though we also saw a sign for a local taxi, as another option.

 

We loved Tobermary, but clearly someone did not and decided to share her views on a toilet wall ( am pretty sure the culprits are not Hapag Lloyd cruisers, who were gaga about this town):

 

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Apparently Tobermary has a crime problem, as there was also a sign reminding not to steal the entire toilet paper roll, and that it is a criminal offense to do so.

 

 

 

 

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In the afternoon, we were off on another bumpy ride on another difficult narrow road, (though another potential great GS motorcycle road), to the small but unusual gardens of

Lip Na Cloche on the south coast, in a most unlikely isolated location. There, Lucy Clip, who was also born on the Isle of Mull, showed off the unique hillside plant arrangements she has created over the last 12 years:

 

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Video of Lucy showing her gardens is available here:

 

http://www.lipnacloiche.co.uk/lipnacloichegarden.html

 

 

We were served casual tea and cake in her charming cottage, which also has two B&B rooms, (with private bath and wifi) and then bumped back to the ship for an hour.

 

 

On the way back, I caught a rainbow image through the bus windows, that lasted almost ten minutes as we rode:

 

44248524c1732b1bf3ec2ebb9614ebb0.jpg

 

 

That evening after another wonderful dinner, Tri ‘Orange, the classical octet, performed opera excerpts, to finish off a wonderful day.

Edited by Catlover54

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Day 7, Friday August 17

 

Douglas, Isle of Man (tender)

 

Until this cruise I did not know that Isle of Man is an independent country, and it has a fascinating history. I had mostly just heard of it from a couple friends, including a jovial Irishman, who had participated in the annual island motorcycle race.

 

It has only 80,000 residents, very low personal income tax (max 20% personal) , with a low absolute cap, at least compared with U.S., which has no absolute cap on amount you can be forced to pay, and most of Europe, 0% corporate tax, low property taxes, and no national speed limits ( posted numbers are just “suggestions” for sensible speeds) . If not for frequent robust winds, unpredictable weather, and strict personal immigration controls ( we were told you have to be self-supporting for five years before you can officially reside there as a citizen) I suspect more people in financial need would try and come to the Isle, as they allegedly have a comfortable lifestyle, low crime, and excellent social welfare support, (just not paid for with huge national taxes) . Certainly many corporations choose to be based here, and the guide reported finance and on-line gambling are key revenue sources.

 

Residents such as our guide are called Manx, (Manx Gaellic is a dying language) and they like to poke fun at themselves:

 

 

https://www.buzzfeed.com/davidcolby/everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-the-isl-au9n

 

Here was an example of fine art in a toilet area:

 

144877ee0958be9c70e2717744f07410.jpg

 

 

 

Of course its military defense comes from UK/NATO, so there were no independent reps from them at the Tattoo :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We were supposed to take a historic Victorian steam train excursion, but it was raining again, so nothing was steaming as the rain caused wet coal.

We were in a compartment with some jolly Bavarians and one of the hosts, a middle-aged man whose hobby is working on model trains, and who dreads the day when someone refers to him as a “grandpa” based on age of appearance. There was also a young hostess whose job is to translate what British guides say for Germans on the cruise who do not understand guide English (about half). It became pretty clear later that when she did not quite understand the English guide either she would just wing it as good enough.

 

After over a 1 hour delay, when we were all wondering if we’d have to get out and start pushing, things finally got going when enough coal dried out to burn and raise the pressure. Fifteen kilometers or so later we reluctantly steamed into our destination, Castletown. In between gusts of cold wind and rain, our small foldable umbrellas repeatedly turning inside out but huge Europa umbrellas holding up, we made best efforts to hastily visit Rushen Castle, one of the best preserved middle age castles in the UK. Unfortunately remote views were mostly greyed out.

 

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Most shops were understandably closed in this intemperate weather.

 

A confused and friendly tuxedo feline who seemed well-fed and had a nice long fur coat, for unclear reasons sat out in the rain instead of crawling into some warm and dry place as she should have. She proved that not all Isle of Man cats have no tails:

 

 

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It was pretty clear that both man and beast on the Isle of Man need to be hale and hardy to put up with all the wind and rain as they enjoy their prosperity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 8, Saturday August 18, Liverpool port ( Chester trip)

 

We traveled on an excursion to the scenic town of Chester where, among other sites, we toured the magnificent, huge, and unusual cathedral, which is easy to get lost in with its multi-chambered layout.

 

A bit from outside:

 

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The inner courtyard was interesting, and the organ massive:

 

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It is a colorful old town, popular with tourists, and of course has extensive British and food options. But I did not want to risk another piece of soggy bland fish for a late lunch, and did not want Asian food as I am inundated with that at home. So I researched on my iphone and then headed for a pleasant French food lunch nearby, Chez Jules on Northgate Street, in an old building:

 

49baffa5d3e5d64c9f300be89c493e2b.jpg

 

Prices and service were both good as was the food, , with fast lunch specials, e.g., beef bourgignone, and a colorful light appetizer before it:

 

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Decent wine list, they also offer dinner multicourse pairings.

 

 

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Or we could have skipped the restaurant and had little pies, pasties, cheap:

 

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or cheeses:

 

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or eaten outside:

 

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Ye olde clock:

 

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This man must have lost his iphone:

 

7f71be99e5a7b51b4102597a6a62d082.jpg

 

A very old British house, where you can get one of the British national specialty dishes curry, with a drink, here for 7.95 pounds, and whatever that fried glob on the right is ( fish?)

 

b41f1afac1c459fd31e0c23d893230c4.jpg

 

Back in Liverpool, we had three more hours for a quick walk around the port:

 

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As it was a Saturday and the sun was out, many locals ( local Liverpoolians are referred to as “scousers”) were out with their kids enjoying county fair type raucous rides, excellent fudge, generic snacks, and assorted play areas. The dock area was hopping but not with the kind of activities I am interested in.

 

I also saw this sign and was not quite sure what it meant:

 

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We investigated the rest of the touristy Albert docks area , where we found a Beatles statue, and unsuccessfully tried to get into the general atmosphere.

 

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An art piece of a feline made of recycled milk cartons was probably the most interesting part of our walk:

 

 

160f3ca585d50aea9bc36fc1646a8503.jpg

 

There was a similarly styled piece depicting a rat.

 

Liverpool itself was my least favourite city on this cruise, ( I might feel differently if I were keen on visiting all the Beatles sites and trails).

But in fairness, as I spent so much time this day in Chester instead of Liverpool, I only saw a tiny bit of it, including the nearby bland but bustling multi-level shopping area which had a lot of American and conglomerate chain stores. I definitely understand their value for many people, but do not personally enjoy shopping in them while cruising unless the ship’s laundry monster has eaten all my socks, or my luggage was stolen pre-cruise.

 

I understand there are other things to see here ( e.g., I later enjoyed ship’s video of Stanley Park), including some museums ( which were closed or closing), but as it was, we were ok with sailing away as it started drizzling.

 

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That night after dinner was a pool party with free-flowing Duval- L. champagne and snacks. Around half the pax were out on deck drinking and watching people dance to American and British pop and rock music played by the ship’s band.

 

The band played and sang everything, mostly in English, from Country Western to Rolling Stones until well past midnight. Older Germans who probably could not find West Virginia on a map and would not likely care much for it if they visited, enthusiastically danced and sang along to “Country Road, Take Me Home”. Many younger people, including a few gay and lesbian couples ( HL is very LGB and yes also T friendly, both with pax and hiring, no discrimination), plus a couple bold solos, some geriatrics, and crew, danced enthusiastically for a few hours off the southern coast of the UK as we slowly sailed for the Scilly Islands.

The crew of course see this same predictable dancing scene, more or less, every cruise, on average every two weeks, but they kept up their enthusiasm.

 

Some kids also danced, with very good sense of rhythm, others just hopped around totally out of synch with the beat of the music ( I speculated they would grow up to become silicon valley millionaire computer nerds). But all seemed to be having fun.

 

Fortunately the rain remained just a light mist, so hiding under blankets as we watched from the higher deck was enough to prevent getting wet. With my various health issues, there was no realistic possibility of joining in, and my friend was too chicken to dance solo.

 

The pax on this cruise were definitely livelier, younger on average, less stern, and also a shade friendlier overall ( definite exceptions), than on my Europa cruise in the spring. Perhaps people were more upbeat because there were some kids and teens, (part of multi-generational families), reminders of innocence, and of the future.

 

 

 

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as usual great pics !! many thanks for posting

i never did such a cruise - i always found the cruise tickets on various companies too expensive !

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Catlover54,

 

'the fried glob on the right' looks like fish and chips and mushy peas.

 

 

The humped zebra crossing is a 'right of way' pedestrian crossing on a speed hump.

 

'Belt & braces' to ensure traffic stops for pedestrians.

 

Although given the slang connotation of the adjective I can imagine some of the comments being made.

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I didn't realize Chester has a street that looks like a movie set.

I am glad you were able to go to all the ports. A good while a go, I was following a thread for an Oceania ship that had to skip several because of very stormy weather.

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Vistaman, if you are interested, next August the Europa is doing a similar garden cruise, though a slightly different itinerary ( starts in Kiel instead of Travemuende and the ports around UK are similar but not identical).

It is popular, and worth the price for most as it sells out early ( but as you know, people often cancel during low penalty periods).

We alternated gardens with castles/manor houses, and just being lazy playing tourist. At all but one port there were many alternatives for what to do ( other than enjoying the ship), the time is rarely enough.

 

Floridiana, it does sound like we were lucky not to have had any port cancelled, despite daily rain.

Chester does indeed look a bit like a movie set, and the local council likely knows it is in their financial interest to keep up the charming image that attracts visitors. Isn’t there something like a “best village of the year” contest?

 

EV, LOL, thanks for clarifying the mystery about the mundane definition of “humped zebra crossing.”

As we had just looked at a cat and rats made of milk cartons, and other odd art, plus Liverpool was described to us as a very libertine city, my friend and I were not sure if this was also local stylish humor or art or perhaps locals were making fun of international tourists using local slang. So, we conjured up alternative images of both camel-shaped and humped but black-white striped creatures plodding across the road, or thought perhaps we were near a zoo, and of cruisers in striped seaside clothing bent over either due to carrying shopping bags, or old age , or bith, and of course also of two regular zebras engaged in — you see the problem.

 

You Brits theoretically speak the “same” language as Americans, but not really!

 

In hindsight my German friend, who also speaks English, ( she lived in the U.S. for a year as a student, where she had learned quite a bit of slang, as students often did before they started reading assigned books like Lord of the Flies), should have picked up on it, because “Zebrastreifen” —- zebra stripes — is the German term for crosswalk. But they usually have no humps on the German roads as added security like you do, so I can excuse her confusion. I had also learned that German crosswalk term but I do not use it on a regular basis like she does at home in Germany , so I have an excuse :)

 

 

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