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Seek Timeless Treasures with Bill & Mary Ann - 2019 World Cruise -131 days

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We were leaving Lisbon this morning for Evora and waved at the lovely Amsterdam and its' passengers as we passed by.

 

We came over fron Barbados on Seabourn to tour Portugal and Spain for two weeks and are having a great time heading inland.

 

Enjoy the rest of your voyage!

 

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Report #92   Cadiz, Spain   April 20, 2019   Saturday   Partly cloudy & 68 degrees    Part #1 Of 5   80  Pictures

 

Our port of call for today was one of the oldest inhabited cities of the Iberian Peninsula – Cadiz.  Located a short distance from the Straits of Gibraltar, Cadiz has been home to the Spanish Navy since the 1800’s.  It lies on a narrow stretch of land, like a peninsula island, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on three sides.  It also happens to be the main port for the city of Seville, an 1½ bus ride from here. 

 

The old town is surrounded by ancient walls and filled with historic architecture.  Winding cobbled streets are lined with small shops, bakeries, cafes, restaurants, as well as some modern boutiques you would find in the larger cities.  Not to be missed are the cathedrals, museums, parks, and bars where the Flamenco dance is performed.  Monuments are everywhere as well as squares and markets.  It is a most walkable city where it is easy to get lost in the maze of narrow alleyways that all look much the same.

 

The Amsterdam arrived  to the harbor quite early, but we were not docked until 7am.  The great news is that we were right in the center of town, the closest vessel in the harbor.  Other ships here today were the Mein Schiff I, the former Celebrity Galaxy, launched in 2009 with a total capacity of 2700 passengers.  Again this is a German-speaking crowd, and it is all inclusive.  The other ship was the MSC Meravigilia, a larger vessel, but no current info on her.  The third ship was Oasis of the Seas, but it was empty of passengers.  This was the ship that recently sustained damage while dry docked in the Bahamas.  It was sailed here to Cadiz for repairs.  Lucky for us, otherwise they could have had up to 6000 guests on this almost 223 gross ton ship.  A big WOW.

 

Shore excursions here are some we have done in the past, except for the ride to Seville.  There were three tours there, along with a few city tours in Cadiz.  One trip we loved was to see the sherry capital of the world – Jerez de la Frontera, where we sipped Tio Pepe.  A visit to the Andalusian School of Equestrian Arts was the best while on a Seabourn cruise.  At that time, we were able to see a practice run of the real horse show in the ring.  What a thrill, as this is not done anymore, we have been told.  Another fun half day tour was to see the Flamenco dance in a tapa bar in Cadiz, as is was up close and personal.  Other out of town tours went to the White Villages and an Andalusian fishing village. Still wearing shorts and layering up with jackets, we knew the day would warm up.  Think positive, we always say.  Just in case, we threw in the umbrella for good measure.  Never needed it.

 

Directly across the street, we followed a path we always take…through the plaza to the Town Hall, a neo-classical structure built in the late 1800’s.  Across from there is the start of several street-side cafes, already full of morning pastry eaters and coffee drinkers.  From here we headed to the Cadiz Cathedral, the Baroque church housing jewels and precious artifacts from the New World.  Glad we have toured the inside years ago, because there was a long line to get inside. 

 

By the way, the grandstands were set up with the folding chairs here and  along the parade route for the upcoming, once a year Holy Saturday procession of the silver icons that reside inside the cathedral.  We have seen it close-up more than once, and it is quite a moving spectacle as full orchestras follow each heavy silver platform carried by several men wearing tall cone headdresses complete with full masks.  So bizarre.  Perhaps we may see this event before we have to be back onboard.

 

From the cathedral, we headed straight up to the upper part of the peninsula and the old wall that faces the Atlantic Ocean.  The best part of walking up here is being able to spy on the “cat city” down below on the concrete pylons that protect the old wall.  It’s quite a drop to the sea below, but it has become home to a number of feral cats.  Probably providing a service of ridding the city of rodents, these cats are given a number of make-shift boxes or real cat carrier boxes to keep out of the weather.  We did learn that a few years ago every young cat had been neutered to prevent an increasing population.  That must have been successful, because we did not see hundreds of them.

 

The walkway on Calle Campo del Sur, the main road here, is the best place for folks to ride bikes, or use razor scooters. You have to keep watch not to get run over, especially today because it is a holiday weekend with many people everywhere.  Rounding the corner, we saw San Sebastion Castle, situated far out on a point in the ocean.  We had time, so taking the long walk on a cobbled causeway seemed a good idea. It took us about 15 minutes to walk it, but discovered that the castle was closed due to renovations.  It was a good opportunity to take photos from that angle for a change.

 

Continuing up the road, we came across the La Palma Spa, and a popular beach area.  There was even one brave person swimming in the surf here.  And because the tide was out, many locals were fishing in the tide pools and in the ocean as well.

 

There was another fortress and castle named Castillo de Santa Catalina, a 13th century castle with gun turrets too.  These days there is an historical exhibit all about the city and the surroundings.  And there is also a public restroom there.

 

A bit further up the road was Parque Genoves, a pleasant area with gardens, a pond with fountains, a small  playground for the kids, and plant and tree specimens from all over the world. In the center is a pigeon coop, but the owner of the birds was not there today.  We have met him a few world cruises ago, and talked all about flying racing pigeons.  Very interesting. 

 

Rounding another corner, we came upon the Museo de Cadiz, but it was closed for the holiday.  Plaza de Espana is another lovely park like setting with decorative tiled plazas with fountains and tiled benches.  There is an important monument there dedicated to the signing of the first constitution of Spain.  Across the street from here were museums and another church. 

 

We figured we had better head back into the center of town in order to locate the restaurant we always dine at.  We were not recognizing the street we needed to find, so ended up going back to the Cathedral, and back-tracking. We did come across  Mercado Central, the oldest covered market in Spain. The crowd was overwhelming with folks buying food for Easter Sunday tomorrow.  When we saw Calle Columela, we knew to turn right and head downhill to the cross street of Rosario.  Turning right we found the café we love for pizza, of course. The best thing we like about this place is that mostly locals eat here.  We were the only tourists there.  The maximum capacity is 30 or so people, with a few more tables set up outside.  So we ended up ordering two different pizzas, draft beers, and a shared dessert.  Food here in Cadiz was the best value for the money since we left home in January.  The time flew by as we lingered enjoying the beer, but we needed to watch the time.  All aboard was 4pm. 

 

Going back up this main shopping street with many European clothing stores and international ones too, we went to the flea market in one of the squares.  The big purchase of the day was a 5 euro waist purse in denim blue, a practical way to carry valuables. There was one last stop we wanted to make, and that was at a bakery to purchase some shortbread cookies.  Locating a tiny shop, we waited in line with the locals to buy 10 delicious large cookies to snack in our room.

 

On the way back to the ship, we realized the folding chairs were being set up for the procession.  We bet that it would begin after 5pm.  We did make it back to the ship close to 4pm, and were ready for the mandatory emergency muster drill beginning at 4:15pm.  Hope this is the final one, but who knows?  Right after the drill, Captain Mercer said the procession was beginning in town, and we might be able to photograph it from the higher decks on the ship.  There were a few late buses coming back, and we had to wait for them.  Worked out great, because we went right up to deck nine, and did get pictures of part of the procession’  From this distance, the photos came out much better than being right in the middle of the crowd.

 

The sail away gathering was once again in the Crow’s Nest, but many people came to the Seaview Pool to watch our exit.  Shortly after we left, the MSC vessel followed us.  We did stay until the wind drove us inside.  It sure looked like it  was raining in the distance, but we lucked out today, and it stayed warm and dry.

 

Dinner ended with a special treat of a pineapple upside down cake with Happy Birthday Bill on the top.  Heo and Greg had never eaten this old-time dessert, and they were pleasantly surprised.  And naturally, a big group of waiters, head waiters, Ronald and Phillip, the bosses, gathered to sing the birthday song.  This was delayed since the five of us had not been together for the last two days.  Great way to end a most busy day.

 

Tomorrow we will be in Lisbon, Portugal, the first of two stops in that country. 

 

Bill & Mary Ann  

 

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Report #93   Lisbon, Portugal   April 21, 2019   Sunday   Partly sunny & 64 degrees    Part #1 of 4     80 Pictures

 

First of all….Happy Easter to everyone, as well as Happy Passover!!

 

Ready or not, we are in Lisbon, Portugal today.  The country of Portugal, with a population of about 11 million, can be described as a slow-paced, siesta-fueled, place that relaxes in the Iberian sun.  There are palm tree lined plazas, brightly painted houses, ivory white domes, making for a very beautiful country.  The capital, Lisbon, can be described the same way, but we can add that we discovered a city of tangled cobblestone streets trimmed with stylish boutiques, edgy bars, and loads of dining hideouts. 

 

Lisbon is older than London, Paris, and Rome with history dating back to 1200 BC.  However, many of the historical buildings were destroyed in a massive earthquake and tsunami in 1755 that killed around 30,000 people.  So what we are seeing in the way of cathedrals, museums, and monuments may not be original.  One area, Alfama, is still intact. The most familiar sites associated with Lisbon, happens to be The Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, and the Monument to the Discoveries.

 

Outside the major cities, you’ll find medieval castles, white-washed villages, wine estates, and groves of cork trees.  Also in the countryside, you’ll see granite mountain peaks, lush river valleys, and virgin forests.  There is a passion here among the locals for family, food, and music.  As for dining, they love their seafood stew or seafood and rice.  The most favorite drinks are the various table wines, and the best port wine ever from the Douro Valley.

 

Trademarks include Fado (music), football, salted cod, cork, and wine, specifically port. 

 

We were not alone today since the MSC Meravigilia followed us from Cadiz.  One Costa ship was in port, the Favolosa at 114,500 gross tons launched in 2011.  She holds from 3100 to 3800 passengers. It is described as an upbeat Italian-decorated ship for family cruising. Be prepared for a series of announcements made in six languages.  They are Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.  Last but not least….English.  A Ponant vessel, Le Champlain, is possibly 11 thousand gross ton, a baby by comparison, and may hold 260 passengers.  Berlitz says it exudes French ambience.

 

The Amsterdam arrived to the port early with a scenic sailing into the River Tagus.  We had not realized that Lisbon rolls were being served on some decks, along with orange juice and coffee.  The ship was docked by 9am more or less.  As always, the guests had lined up to be first off, and the gangway clogged with folks getting off for organized tours.  Hamish announced for people to wait, but when we attempted to come down the stairwell to access our room, the stairs were full of a few impatient people, who would not move.  Thinking we were cutting the line, they deliberately blocked our way.  Sometimes this happens towards the end of a very long cruise….a few folks begin to get cranky.  Sure would not want to be on an excursion bus with those people.  Been there, done that.  No thanks.

 

Then we heard an unusual request by Hamish, our cruise director.  He announced that unless you were able to go down the gangway without the assistance of a wheelchair or electric scooter, you could not leave the ship.  Hamish put the blame on the local port authorities.  Funny thing was they had just escorted one lady who was not able to walk on her own, but had to be helped down the gangway with a lot of help.  Not sure how people that had booked tours, then were told they could not debark, would take that information kindly?   Expect World War III.

 

Sleeping in a little later than usual, we were about the only ones in the dining room for breakfast this morning.  Our breakfast meal is a simple one, not taking a lot of time to prepare, so we did not hold anyone up.  We were reminded it was Easter Sunday when we saw the beautiful flower arrangements in the dining room entry, along with some large chocolate Easter bunny treats on the reception counter.  Reminded us of the old days, when Easter meant the Grand Buffet with the tables full of delicious food and decorated with dozens of chocolate Easter bunnies.  We saw the last of those buffets a couple of years ago, and all we have now are the photos that it really happened.  During the morning, the Easter bunny had delivered two boxes of Seattle’s Best candy bars along with an Easter greeting card to everyone.

 

We waited before we left the ship to avoid the back-up.  Although we have been to Lisbon once in 2008, we had taken an eight hour tour to Sintra and Cacais with a lunch and a stop at a seaside resort on the way back.  We never saw the city of Lisbon.  So today, we planned to follow the ship’s port guide to navigate our way to the main sights.  Well, It was a good thing that we picked up a tourist map in the terminal, because the ship’s map was nearly useless.  This was a day of how to get lost in Lisbon.  If we had the time to watch Ian’s talk on what to do and see here, it may have helped.  But every time we turned to the channel to watch it, something else was on.

 

Heading straight uphill on the cobbled winding alleyways, brought us to the imposing Church of Santa Engracia, a 17th century church that has been converted into the National Pantheon.  It was closed, but we still got good photos of the structure from the outside.  From here, we continued working our way up the narrow cobbled streets, steeper than those in San Francisco.  We discovered that once we were traveling the narrow streets, it was difficult to get our bearings.  The river was not visible, nor any of the major structures were out of sight. Going through the arch at Campo Santa Clara, we ended up at the Se Cathedral, the oldest city church built in 1150.  It was locked up tightly, even though today was Easter Sunday.

 

Our best bet was to follow either the numerous tuk-tuks, or continue in the direction of the tram tracks.  By the way, most of the tuk-tuks had seating that would not have cooperated with stiff knees, so we nixed the idea of hiring one.  As for taking one of the trams, that was not the best idea, because people were jammed like sardines in those trains too.  What an opportunity for pickpockets. We did come across the historical Opera House, then found the nice square across from a firehouse to sit and study the real map. Realizing that the map had street names, but it reality, not one of these streets were labeled, as were none of the buildings or houses.  So we ended up heading in the wrong direction, like sort of lost.

 

What we had been looking for Avenida da Liberdade where a Hard Rock Café was located.  Not to eat lunch, but we wanted to buy a city tee shirt.  We found out later that it was closed for Easter Sunday anyway.(Reminder: check this out online before searching.)  So we asked a young mom for directions, who was waiting for a bus with her child.  She spoke not one word of English, and since we do not understand Portuguese, we could only rely on hand signals.  Laughing the whole time, she indicated for us to go downhill on a cross street.  In this area, we did see locals out and about in small cafes, doing daily shopping. Also, it was interesting to see how many buildings used tile on the front instead of painted concrete.  The older the buildings, the most tile was used.

 

By the time we navigated all the way downhill, we found out where we were by stopping at a map stall with the hop-on, hop-off bus maps.  The young Indian girl spoke perfect English and indicated where we were on the map.  And by going downhill, we would end up at the major hub in the Baixa District, full of shopping and dining opportunities.

 

This area was full of locals and tourists, and just the place to look for a suitable lunch venue.  With all of the ships in port today, most all of the eateries were full to capacity.  However, there were a few tables empty in one of the alleyways, and the food looked really good. So a waiter handed us menus, complete with photos of their food, and we took two seats in their center patio.  The name of the café was Taberna 90, and within minutes, we had two large Caneca draft beers, one chorizo pizza, followed with a slice of moist chocolate brigadeiro cake.  Relaxing for over an hour was most welcomed.  One thing we took note of immediately, was the fact that the waiter pulled our handbag way under our table, and not next to the walkway.  They know how quickly the purse could have been swiped.  Sad, but always a factor in a big city worldwide.  On our way here, we had passed by an incredibly long line of folks waiting to use the elevator by the name of Santa Justa Lift that took them to the higher streets.  If we had the time to wait, we could have toured the famous castle, Castelo de Sao Jorge at 360 feet high.  But our time was limited.

 

Continuing our walk, we checked out all of the old shopping area with souvenir shops, European clothing, and listening to the street artists.  One fellow was playing a saw…..a real saw, creating a weird out-of-this-world melody.  Many souvenir tables were located here, and we purchased a novelty necklace with blue and pink stones.  Then we passed through the Arco da Rua Augusta, a massive arch that is a symbol of triumph for Lisbon, that was reborn from the ashes of the 1755 earthquake and tsunami that killed over 30,000 people.  This impressive structure took 100 years to complete.  This led to the Praco do Comercio, the gigantic public square overlooking the River Tagus.  In the center was a statue of King Jose I posing on his horse.  Had we known it would have been easy to access this site a mile from the ship, we could have begun here earlier in the morning.  Oh well, now we know.

 

Walking the waterfront brought us back to the ship in time for the sail away after 6pm.  Going to the Seaview Pool, we got some great shots as we left the river, seeing the major monuments and the suspension bridge, Ponte Salazar Bridge built in 1966.  It resembles the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in color only.  It was designed by the same person that created the Bay Bridge, also in San Francisco.  Once we entered the Atlantic Ocean, we turned north for our next port for tomorrow in Leixoes, Portugal. 

 

All of us were present for dinner tonight, enjoying the Easter decorations and the waiters dressed in pastel-colored vests and ties.  We found it odd that the chocolate Easter bunnies in the entrance were still wrapped in cellophane.  No one will eat these, so why not display them without the coverings?  Greg and Heo had purchased two boxes of nata pastries while in town today, and shared them with us for dessert.  Since we had not seen these on the menu in town, we were pleasantly surprised to taste this little pastry that is famous here.  They were similar to mini custard cups in a flaky pastry shell.  On our way out, the chocolate bunnies were missing, so maybe somebody will be eating them.

 

The show tonight was Dance, performed by the dancers and singers of the Amsterdam.  These kids are very talented and fill the lounge every performance.  

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Over the years we have found that some of HAL's port maps were useless.

 

Many years ago we were on a South American cruise and there 6 children on board.  The chef made 6 large special chocolate eggs each with the children's name on it.  They were placed around the Lido food area.  Within a few minutes of the Lido opening for breakfast, 2 adults stole 2 of the eggs -- people tried to stop them but they ran fast for the stairs.  It was the talk of the ship about those grinches.

 

Love how you people like to walk and explore places and find places to have lunch off the ship.

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Great pictures of Cadiz.

 

I would have been tempted to eat one of the Valencia oranges.

 

How nice you were able to see some of the parade from the ship.  We have seen Mein Schiff ships in different ports but I do have to say that the back end of that one is little different.

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Report #94   Leixoes, Portugal   April 22, 2019   Monday   Scattered showers & 63 degrees    Part #1 of 4     80 Pictures

 

The next port of Leixoes, Portugal, snuck up on us..…again.  During the accumulating amount of printed port info on our desk, the port guide for this city was lost.  The only info we noted was that the intended stop here was really for the city of Porto, the second largest city of Portugal.  The population is around 250,000 residents, but if the surrounding areas are taken into the mix, there are up to two million people.

 

The Leixoes cruise terminal was created in a most modern design, and opened in July of 2015 at the cost of 50 million euro.  And as the port regulations forbid pedestrian traffic, a shuttle to the terminal gate was provided.  From there, we would be on our own to take a taxi or a bus to the city of Porto, a 5½ mile ride to the center of town.

 

The Amsterdam arrived to the pier at 8am to overcast skies, and much cooler than yesterday in Lisbon.  It sure reminded us of the weather in San Francisco.  All aboard was 3:30pm, so that would not give us a lot of time to explore.  Of course the ship offered tours, most around 4 hours.  Many were tours in Porto, with a few taking a ride to the outlying areas.  And because today was Easter Monday, it was likely that many establishments would be closed.  Since we had such a long and vigorous day in Lisbon just yesterday, we decided we would stay local to see what Leixoes had to offer.  And during breakfast, we chatted with friends Mike and Nancy, who gave us some valuable tips on how to find the info people at the port gate.  They intended to also explore locally, and we thanked them for the good directions.

 

Getting to the terminal via a tunnel exit from the ship, we entered the ultra-modern structure that is called the terminal.  It was quite spacious, but left us with an empty feeling.  It seemed to be designed to move many cruise passengers in an orderly manner.  On the upper level there was a minimal shop of souvenirs, but down the escalator, we did find a desk with very helpful people with good maps.  One was of Porto, and the other was a detailed map of Matosinhos, a little bit of an old fishing village, and an area of beaches and hotels.  More of a vacation destination with restaurants and apartments with a view of the Atlantic Ocean. 

 

The info girl was most helpful, circling the areas we should walk, but warned that  not everything would be opened.  The best part of this map was that every street and avenue was labeled, and the same was true with the street signage…every alleyway, avenue, or street was well marked.

 

The part of town we entered from the shuttle stop was like a real fishing village with row and row of eateries.  Fresh fish were being wheeled in carts to the cafes.  Talk about fresh. 

 

We made our way through the narrow streets to the local Mercado (market), but it was closed today.  The only places opened were tiny coffee shops, but for the most part, the streets were empty.  It was much more of a holiday here than it was on Easter Sunday in Lisbon.

 

The original harbor cut into the city, but was connected by a drawbridge named Ponte Movel.  The river, Rio Leca, flows into the harbor at the far end. Crossing the bridge, we made our way to the long stretch of beach where we spotted huge waves of the Atlantic with surfer braving the cold water.  This Avenida da Liberdade was designed somewhat like the Great Highway in San Francisco, but with added wide walkways and a great bike path that is separate from the walkers or runners.  And it is scenic as well.  On the ocean side, we passed by a series of tidal pools between the rocky shoreline and the ocean.  It must be used during the warm summer months.  There were some waterfront cafes and bars along this stretch, but not opened today.  We had not intended to go too far, but there was a huge lighthouse at the end, and we figured we had the time…let’s do it.  One of us ventured further up to see a historical chapel facing the ocean, with a tea house next to it.  That was closed also.  At this end was a tribute to a local poet.

 

Walking back, we noted that the entire avenue was lined with apartment buildings and perhaps some hotels with a killer view of the mighty Atlantic.  The lower level of these buildings were filled with boutiques, small businesses, cafes, bars, and restaurants. 

 

Back where we began, we circled around the restaurant area, but found nothing open.  We did see the ruins of a fortress called Forte de Nossa Senhora Das Neves and Largo do Castelo.  The name was bigger than the actual structure.  Across from that was the marina and sailing clubs. 

 

Passing the original Cruise Terminal North, we discovered that the Ponant’s Le Champlain had docked alongside there.  Crossing back over the bridge, we began hearing alarm bells going off.  Even though we did not see a waiting vessel, eventually the drawbridge did rise up vertically.  Fun to watch, but had we been stuck on the opposite side, we might have had a 20 minute wait.

 

Our hopes of having lunch or even a beer were dashed when we saw the number of locals crowded into those restaurants we had passed earlier in the day.  Each café had glass enclosures to serve about 25 diners outside on the sidewalk.  Every seat was filled with a line of a dozen folks waiting.  The big draw?  Obviously, it was the fresh grilled fish we had seen earlier.  Most cafes had barbeque grills outside the diners, and openly grilled the fish.  Guess you could say fish to plate.

 

Back at the shuttle stop by 3pm, ate a quick Lido lunch, then spent the rest of the afternoon working on photos.  Tonight was a special one for the President’s Club members.  Eight new inductees, having achieved the required 1400 pure sea days sailed, got their coveted pins at a 5pm cocktail party held in the Piano Bar.  Each of us were greeted by the  President of HAL, Orlando A, and posed for a photo with him.  The remainder of the receiving line included Captain Mercer, Gerald B, the Mariner Director, along with his assistant and more reps from Seattle.  Several officers ushered us into the Piano Bar, where we were offered a drink of our choice.  Except for one of us who prefers a good scotch.  That had to be OK’d by someone else we guess.  Eventually Twinkle the assistant beverage manager, came by and within seconds, she had the drink….and it was a double.  With this growing group, we think a better venue would be in the Explorer’s Lounge, as this place has cubby holes where some folks were not part of the group it seemed. 

 

Anyway, the pins were handed out with another photo op with the head guys, and by 5:45pm, we were invited to make our way to the Pinnacle Grill for dinner.  Seating was assigned with everyone having their name card where they wanted you.  We lucked out being seated with Barb, Don MacD, and Captain Jonathon and Karen as our hosts.  Later in the evening, Karen made it clear that she and Jonathon had requested the four of us as their guests.  We considered that a nice compliment. 

 

The meal began with flutes of Dom Perignon champagne, no less.  Ice cold, we toasted to another successful world cruise, thanking the Captain for keeping us safe.  Conversation flowed easily, since we all know each other well. The  napkin rings had been specially created for this event by duplicating ones that had been used in days of old.  They will be gifted to us in sets of two later in the cruise.  The menu began with the pouring of white wine from New Zealand, Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc.  Starters were baby fennel panna cotta with Sevruga caviar.  Lobster salad with a black truffle, Dutch potato confit, white asparagus, sea fennel, and baby lettuce followed.  One of us was served a mushroom dish in place of the seafood.  Next was a smoked tomato and coriander soup.  The wide bowl was spanned with a strip of a crispy chip with dots of crème and micro greens. 

 

Then we had a choice of beef tenderloin, black cod loin, or a baby beet ricotta tortelli.  The fish won for first, followed by the beef at or table.  A mango panna cotta with mango sorbet and gel ended the ample meal.  During the main course, a red wine, Silverado cabernet sauvignon from California was freely poured.  The more wine that was consumed, the more we all laughed with some hilarious subjects being discussed.  Even when the party began to break up by 8pm, we all stayed for another hour. 

 

The clocks had to be set ahead an hour tonight, which we do not prefer.  However, tomorrow will be a day at sea, and we plan on doing as little as possible. 

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

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Leixoes, Portugal sounds like a wonderful port.

 

Sorry that so many of the restaurants and shops were closed.

 

Wonderful dinner with the other President Club members -- nice to be recognized.

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Great pictures of Lisbon.

 

Love the various art work on the buildings.

 

I could eat chocolate cake all day.

 

Love your little "stow away" -- lady bugs are considered good luck -- don't kill her.

 

Beautiful cake for Bill's birthday.

 

 

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Report #95   Day at Sea   April 23, 2019   Tuesday   Partly sunny & 63 degrees   Part #1 of 1

 

Finally, a day at sea, and time to decompress and catch up on info from days gone by.  When we went to the dining room for breakfast, we were surprised to see the waiters dressed in their evening black slacks and vests.  And the chair covers were on like they are on gala dinners.  Then we remembered there was the continuing Mariner Appreciation Days with a special lunch today.  The invitation to this affair was only extended to those guests with the minimum of 500 to 899 pure sea days.  This group would occupy the lower dining room at both 11am and 1pm.  Those passengers with 900 and more sea days, were invited to deck five.  However, those who were under the 500 day level, had no invitation today.  And for the first time, there were two different menus for the lower and the upper dining rooms.  Greg and Heo attended the lower dining room venue, and reported that the fish entrée was about the best they have ever eaten on an HAL ship.  Checking out the menu on deck four, we probably would have preferred the short rib beef entrée.  Since Barb and the two of us had our special dinner last night, we were not invited today.  Although, Josephine, the dining room greeter, did say we were most welcomed to attend this affair if we wished.  We chose our usual Lido lunch, mostly because having lunch at 11am or even 1pm is too early for us most days. 

 

The weather was mostly cold, windy, and rainy today.  Last night, Captain Mercer mentioned that he intended to outrun a storm, which he did, but could not guarantee we would not get rain today.  He was right on both counts.  If it was rough last night, we never knew it, since we slept like logs.

 

At least once a month, maritime law demands that a drill has to be held for crew training purposes only.  Most times, these drills occur at 9:30am, and are always written in the daily newsletter.  Nobody likes to hear the loud whistle go off several times, especially in the passenger rooms.  But it is necessary to make sure everything is working.  They don’t last long, and we have become used to hearing them.  This subject would come up later today.

Ian gave his talk on Cherbourg, Zeebrugges, and Amsterdam this morning.  Three ports will arrive in a row, so it is best to take notes now.  Something that can be done in advance of the cruise, is downloading port info to bring with you.  It would be more up-to-date and a good source of correct info.  The port guide maps are about the worst we have ever seen…better than nothing, but not always correct or current.

 

Since many folks will be headed home in Amsterdam, the Grand Activity Voucher Redemption took place for those guests to get Amazon gift cards.  Barb mentioned that these 10 cent vouchers will not be any good after this cruise is done.  She said she will be lucky to have enough saved for a $5 Amazon gift card.

 

The biggest event of the day had to be the special presentation and questions and answers with Orlando A, Gerald B, and Beth B, the revenue management and global deployment VP from Seattle.  Captain Mercer and Henk M will join that group for the questions.  For at least an hour, the presentation included latest news from the ships and the company.  Part of Orlando’s speech was all about the recent christening of the new ship, the New Statendam.  He announced that another sister ship in the Pinnacle class will be built called the Ryndam.  Then the highlight of the speech was the announcement of the 2021 Grand World Voyage.  The exact itinerary has not been cemented but the general direction will include Ft Lauderdale, the Amazon River to Manaus, back to the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal, north up the Central American coast to Mexico.  From there, the ship (Amsterdam) will head towards Hawaii, Japan, China, and Hong Kong to Singapore. He mentioned Dubai and we think Abu Dabi.  There will be no Africa, but another trip through the Suez Canal with stops in Israel, Turkey, and Greece.  The map of the proposed trip went off the screens, so we missed the rest.  The total days will be 128 and the Captain will not be Jonathon Mercer. After being at sea over 50 years, the 2020 world voyage will be his final sailing.  That was met with sad faces in the crowd, but he is ready to enjoy retirement.  During dinner last night, Captain Jonathon said it is possible that another British captain will take his  place in 2021. 

 

The questions were varied afterwards, but there was one about the internet problems.  The pat answer to most everything asked was, “We’re working on it.”  This is a statement we have heard quite often, and it can mean anything.  Then the question regarding the emergency crew drills came up from a disgruntled passenger who did not like the disturbance in his room.  Captain Mercer said it was not a choice to make, it was mandatory, and for everyone’s safety onboard. When asked if another larger ship would ever do the world cruise, he said no, mostly due to the fact a larger ship could not get into all of the ports we like to do.  The guest’s questions went on for over an hour, until Orlando called meeting adjourned…it was time for dinner.  And he added that the printed version of the complete itinerary would be sent to us when they have decided on all of the proposed ports. 

 

Dinnertime came swiftly, and we found all five of us were back.  It was the theme of Moulin Rouge Dinner, and although not gala, the dining room was decked out with those annoying strips of red lights.  The waiters were dressed nicely with red vests and matching red or black top hats.  Each one of us also got a bowler hat to wear or take home.  Gosh….that makes about 6 hats already.

 

Tomorrow, we will be in France, and at a new spot for us – Cherbourg.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

PS   We did make a mistake with the square kilometer conversion on Gibraltar.  The size of Gibraltar is equal to 3 square miles, not acres.  Makes a big difference.

 

 

 

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Interesting that they had 2 different menus for the Mariner brunches.

 

Can't believe that Captain Mercer has been sailing for over 50 years.  We met him many years ago -- it was either on the Maasdam or the Ryndam.

 

Have been to Cherbourg -- many, many years ago.  Enjoy your day there.

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Report #96   Cherbourg, France   April 24, 2019   Wednesday   Chance of showers & 59 degrees     Part #1 of 4    80  Pictures

 

Another day, and another country.  For today, Wednesday, the country is France, and the port is Cherbourg.  Often described as a place of unfaltering romance, a Gallic goliath, super-stylish….well that is France.  With a population of 64 million, and a capital of Paris, no less, this is a culture that produced some of the world’s greatest philosophers, artists, and musicians.  Other comments include an attitude that the French live in the best place on earth, but don’t we all?  But it has gained them a reputation of being snooty, arrogant, and opinionated, but in an appealing way too.  Everyone agrees about the fine food and wine you’ll enjoy while there.  Their favorite food has to be crepes, and the best drinks are cider in Normandy, pastis in Provence, and red wine in Burgundy.  Trademarks are baguettes, cheese, cafes, red wine, designer fashion, and cabaret.  Also Tour de France.  Random fact:  some inventions include the first digital calculator, the hot-air balloon, Braille, and margarine.  Who knew?

 

Our one and only stop here is Cherbourg, mainly for Normandy, chockful of World War II history.  This port of Cherbourg has a history of being a naval base with the main purpose of protecting the country from British invasions.  Now in modern times, the city’s port is home to many ferries arriving from Ireland and England, and cruise ships like oours. This city was most important in the liberation of France during WWII with the Battle of Cherbourg after D Day in 1944.  It made this city one of the first to be liberated despite sustaining heavy damage.

 

As far as this cruise is concerned, the major attractions are not here, but in the surrounding areas in Normandy.  Ship’s tours included 8 hour trips to D Day landing beaches, Omaha Beach, and museum and the infamous cemeteries.  Mont Sant Michel, a UNESCO World heritage Site of a 10th century monastery, is a 2¾ hour drive each way.  These tours ran from $170 to $180, and none of them included lunch.  Shorter tours went to closer outlying areas, with only one touring locally.  Most of these were priced right and were up to 4 hours.

 

The Amsterdam arrived to the dock on time around 8am.  However, the rain was coming down rather hard, especially when we left the ship after 10am.  Dressed with lightweight waterproof jackets, we took the umbrellas too.  This is the city that is famous for their umbrellas ever since the movie, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, came out many years ago.  There is even a factory that produces them in town.  There is an 8 euro fee to take a tour of this factory. 

 

This is the first time we have been here, so exploring town was in the cards today.  A shuttle bus was provided to take the guests to the old town, no more than a 10 minute ride.  There was no restriction with people walking in the pier area, so in hindsight, we could have walked if the weather was better.  Greg and Heo have visited this city before, and told us what to see.  The most interesting center of the old city was the place to see.  It was like stepping back in time with all of the medieval structures built ages ago.  It gave this downtown area a feeling of being in a place of what France looked like centuries ago.  Of course, these days the narrow winding streets are full of cafes, bakeries, chocolate shops, fish and produce markets, and small boutique clothing stores.  Major historical sights included the Basilique Sainte-Trinite, the Museum Thomas Henry, now an art museum, Place de Gaulle, a huge fountain in that square, and many scattered old stone houses with rows of chimneys on their red-tiled roofs.  Hotels lined the waterfront and faced the marina.

 

The restaurants specialized in seafood, and the most shellfish we have seen in one place.  Due to the strongest tides in Europe, the scallops, oysters, mussels, crabs, and sea snails are abundant.  Other shops we saw were butcheries selling beef, ham, rabbits, pork, and chickens.  One of the best shops sold cheese products, along with baguettes and snacks.  Normandy also produces other dairy products like butter and margarines.

 

We made our way through the whole inner city, looking for the basilica.  It’s funny, when you are buried in the buildings, you cannot locate anything on the map.  Once again, the local map was well labeled with street names, but hard to find marked on the corners.  After crossing paths with Heo and Greg, they gave us the general direction of the church, and we did find it.  That’s when something strange occurred.  Walking around the back of this very old structure, originally built in 435, we briefly heard organ music being played inside the closed church.  But looking for an entrance, we could not find any door opened.  In fact, scaffolding was erected in the front, with the peak of the main roof covered with blue tarps.  It will remain a mystery since no one was around to inquire about it.

 

Walking around the waterfront, we passed dozens of cafes and restaurants, some of which were closed. Most of these eateries were intimate and tight with the space.  Being able to dine outside at tables with some room was not going to happen today because of the continuing rain showers.  Besides the fish entrees, the next top meals included either hamburger or pizza. Beer sounded good, but once again, finding a good place that was not jammed with people was almost impossible around 2pm.  So we boarded the shuttle to go across the harbor to the other option.

 

A more modern area across the harbor was Les Eleis, a mall with 75 boutique shops and restaurants.  Carrefour, the main marketplace here, was the largest in the entire city. Since it was still raining, we decided to skip seeing it, and went directly back to the ship.  Lunch would be in the Lido, which was OK with us. 

 

Also, next to the pier was a place called La Cite de la Mer, part aquarium, a maritime history museum, and an interactive science museum.  A large exhibit of the Titanic, which stopped here before their fate-filled sailing, is included with the fare of 18 euro.  The brochure from the tourist info center recommended 4-5 hours to see this exhibit. It was ideally located within steps of the Amsterdam.   An easy tour was available with the train-like 45 minute ride around the town for 6.50 euro.  They had a pick-up at the ship, or one in the center of town where the shuttle drop-off was located.  This tour probably took folks to the top of the cliff where Chateau des Ravalet was built in 1575, complete with 30 acres of beautiful gardens.  If the weather had been nice today, we may have ventured up there since gardens are up our alley.

 

All onboard was 4:30pm, but there were several buses late in arriving back from all day tours.  The ship left about 5:30pm, with only a handful of brave folks watching from the Seaview Pool.  With rain starting to fall lightly, it was darned cold when we sailed past the old fortresses of the harbor and headed north in the Atlantic Ocean once again. 

 

Dinner was great again, with all of us sharing our day’s exploits.  We all did something different.  Some favorites were on the menu like lamb shank, chef salad, and chicken cordon bleu.  Mahi mahi was the fresh catch of the day. The soups were perfect for a rainy day, and the alternate shrimp cocktail is always a good choice. Sharing a small slice of chocolate cake with coconut filling sort of made up for missing the French pastries today.

 

Showtime featured a comedian and vocalist, Jo Little.  Described as small in stature, huge in personality and talent, we will rely on the guy’s opinion tomorrow, since we were way too tired to attend.

 

Another day, and another country tomorrow…..Belgium.  This is becoming like…..work.

 

Bill & Mary Ann 

 

 

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I enjoy reading the descriptions of each port and what is available for tours.

 

When we stopped in Cherbourg (on an NCL cruise many years ago), we did the all day tour to Normandy.  Lunch was included at a golf course.

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Report # 97   Zeebrugge, Belgium   April 25, 2019   Thursday   Scattered showers & 59 degrees      Part # 1 of 4   80  Pictures

 

Compared to their neighbors, Belgium is not a huge country.  With a population of 10,500,000 people that speak Dutch, French, and German, there are few places that one feels more in the heart of Europe like Belgium.  Here are Flemish Dutch-speaking people in the north, and French-speaking folks in the south.  In fact, there was an official line drawn through the country in 1962 between the Dutch Flanders and French Wallonia.

 

The weather can turn on a dime with sun in the morning and rain in the afternoon.  But to sweeten up the dreary and wet weather, Belgium produces the finest chocolate in the world.  The best time to visit are the summertime months from May through September. 

 

There is so much to see and do here, and since we only have this one day to explore from the port of Zeebrugge, the medieval Bruges, or a ride to the capital of Brussels is a good plan.  It is recommended to get ”gooey” over expensive and extraordinary pralines and truffles by prized chocolate maker Pierre Marcolini.  Making a beer trips to try Westvleteren trio brewed is Belgium’s best.  Their favorite meal is a steaming cauldron of mussels cooked in white wine with mountains of frieten or frites (fries or chips).  Be sure to add Trappist beer brewed by monks. 

 

Trademarks are chocolate, beer, café culture, the EU, and the Battle of Waterloo. 

 

The average temperatures this time of year are from 50 to 60 degrees, with about 12 days of rain in the month of April.  And that is what we had today, cool and some rain.  The port of Zeebrugge was a very large and busy one with commercial ships, ferries, and cruise ships coming and going.  The intended city for here was nearby Bruges, but you needed a way to get there by taking a tour, a taxi, or take the train.  Taking a ship’s transfer was $80, a taxi was around 50 euro, and a train ride on your own was about 8 euro.  Guess which one most folks did?  Yes, the train won out.

 

While we’re on the subject of excursions, there were two 7 to 8 hour trips, one to the capital of Brussels, and the other to Flanders Fields with World War II history.  The rest of the tours mainly went to nearby Bruges, the medieval city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or to Ghent filled with scenes from the Middle Ages, 1 hour away.

 

There was a complimentary shuttle bus taking guests to Blankenberge, just south of Zeebrugge.  The bus stop in town was close to the Railway Station, but also close to the sites here.  The  train ride from here to Bruges only took 13 minutes for the seven mile ride inland.  We chose to stay in this quaint seaside resort, and see the sights here, as many people did as the bus was completely filled. 

 

By the way, the Regal Princess was docked in front of us.  That ship, a sister to the Royal, is 141 gross tons with 3560 to 4610 passengers and was launched in 2014.  The level of their lifestyle onboard is rated as standard.  The Amsterdam is rated premium, while Seabourn, for instance, is rated as luxury.  But then the prices for the varying sailings are much different as well.  We did notice that the shuttles taking the Princess passengers to town cost 10 euro, while we had the transfer free.

 

We were dropped off near a church, which was almost the center of town.  There were maps of Blankenberge on the bus, and it was easy to follow.  BY following most of the people, we easily found our way to the shopping area, which was a grid of cobbled streets lined with so many businesses.  Here and there, we did see medieval structures like churches, an old town hall, and alleyways like we saw yesterday in Cherbourg.  Monuments and statues were dotted throughout town as well.  None of the shops were geared to tourists.  We did not see one souvenir store or street vendor here.  Boutique shops were small and offered everyday clothing and shoes.  Every other store was a bakery, a chocolate candy shop, or a café.  Very little was high end from what we saw.  Larger restaurants and bars were mainly opened for dinner, but some were already opened for breakfast and lunch.  Besides seafood, which is abundant here like mussels, there were burgers, hot dogs, Italian, and pizza….lots of pizza. 

 

After visiting two churches, and walking the shopping lanes, we made our way up to the palisade and beachfront.  This is where the 10 story apartment buildings and hotels face a sandy beach and the North Sea.  The wide way was like a playground for adults and kids.  On one end, there is a beach club, and the Belgium Pier, a circular building with a wide promenade that sits out in the ocean on a long pier.  Under every apartment complex were stores, cafes, and restaurants.  Below on the sandy beach were fenced off sections of extended restaurants with chase lounges and bars with playgrounds for kids.  These complexes went on for at least a mile.  In many sections of beach, we saw rows of small huts which we think are used by the summer crowd like a mini cabin.

 

Also on this walkway was a Serpentarium, a zoo-like places filled with spiders, snakes, frogs, and lizards.  Surely an unlikely thing to find in Belgium.  The casino nearby was expected, but not the reptiles.

 

We walked all the way to the end of the promenade where the entrance to the marina was.  A lighthouse marked the entrance for the sailing and fishing boats.  Making our way around the corner, and past some new apartment buildings going up, we found we were on the backside of these tall buildings. This side faced the scenic marina, and even more cafes and restaurants.  It was already 1pm by now, and we did need to relax and find a suitable spot for lunch.

 

So right across from the marina, we ducked into a small restaurant called Smash Café.  Sitting inside for a few minutes did not work, since it was way too hot in there.  The outside tables inside the glass enclosure was a better spot.  Lucky for us, no one was smoking, and unlike yesterday, this area was much more spacious.  We shared a croquet monsieur, a fancy name for a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. It came with a small side salad. A side order of wedges, fried potatoes, went well with the Stella Artois beers.  Sharing a slice of delicious appeltaart with vanilla ice cream was perfect.  The nice thing was that only locals were in this restaurant, and we appeared to be the only cruise folks in there.

 

Right across the street from this row of cafes was Leopoldpark with some flowering trees, a mini golf course, and a track for little kids to pedal small race cars.   In the center was another restaurant, which was not opened.  Facing the marina was a unique structure called the Paravang.  It is tiled roof covered seating area with a windbreaker of glass in the middle.  We have never seen anything like this before.

 

Time to head back, we went back to the beachfront promenade, and eventually went back down to the old shopping town.  Our job for the way back was to purchase some chocolate.  There was a store that reminded us of a See’s store we have in the US.  The name was Confiserie Moeder Babelutte, where we found a bag each of milk chocolate and dark chocolate candies with nuts. They set us back 8 euro and will be savored slowly.

 

On the way back, it began to rain lightly.  The bus was waiting and we got the last of the seats once again.  Back at the pier, we had to be dropped off at the terminal building, where our room key cards were checked.  Then we went out the back door, and boarded a smaller shuttle back to the gangway.  The xray check was done on the ship, and they were still collecting any bottles of alcohol, possibly using the code “candy” to confiscate the bottles.  Of course, most everyone had real candy, but that was OK.  No $18 corkage fee. 

 

It was not long before it was time for sail away around 5pm.  The Captain announced that 86 guests were still coming back from tours, so our sailing would be delayed.  This sure has happened often this cruise.  The rain had stopped, but it was really chilly out on deck eight aft.  Our usual suspects were there with cameras in hand.  We lasted about an hour, but chatting more than taking photos.  Eddie’s knit hat had blown over the back railing, so we hope he was able to find it, as it got caught up the railings three decks down.  We have seen this happen so many times….one reason we don’t wear hats back there.

 

Worth mentioning, recently all of the elevator “day of the week” carpets have been replaced with new ones.  And according to a note we all received, several guests had asked if they could buy one or more (cleaned and wrapped).  Really???   So, this afternoon, one such carpet will sell for $50, or a 7 day set will run $300 (a  bargain).  The positive thing is that the money will be donated to the crew fund, but really?  This subject came up at our dinner table at the President’s Club affair a few nights ago, and even the Captain had a chuckle about it, saying it was not his idea.  Perhaps those guests that have unlimited luggage shipment on decks six and seven may be tempted, or else they will be offloaded with your luggage wherever you disembark.  There was a total of 80 of these “used carpets with character” to purchase.

 

We are now heading for Amsterdam, a very special place in the world for this ship.  And it will be a most special day for everyone onboard.

 

Dinner time was fun as always, as we caught up on everyone’s exploits of the day.  Our food was good, with some different items offered for entrees.  Ever heard of veal meatballs without the marinara sauce and no spaghetti?  They were most delicious, as was the flat iron steak meal.  The rest enjoyed the cornflake-breaded fish and the white wine steamed mussels for appetizers.  

 

The entertainer for tonight was a lovely young lady, Iris Kroes, the winner of Holland’s “The Voice” harp, singer, and song writer category.  Very impressive.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Great report.

 

Veal without the Marinara sauce -- yes -- but it was over plain pasta -- very dry.  Had it on a cruise where supplies were very low.

 

Love the dark chocolate from Belgium.  Bought a couple of pounds of it but it didn't last long.  I am a chocolate aholic.  

 

No way would I be interested in buying one of those rugs with the day of the week on it.  I never liked them as I don't like being reminded what the day of the week it is when I am cruising.

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Report #98   Amsterdam, The Netherlands   April 26, 2019   Friday   Cloudy & 63 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80  Pictures

 

Today is Friday, and the country we are visiting is The Netherlands with a population of approximately 17 million people.  The capital is Amsterdam, same name as the ship on which we are residing right now.  The Netherlands has beautiful old cities like this one, as well as Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, Utrecht, The Hague, and Rotterdam to name a few.  The Dutch are excellent at making the best of what they have, creating a comfortable modern country out of swamps and shallows.  With constant northern winds, the power pumps keep it all dry.  It is one of the world’s best places to ride bikes along the numerous canals. Contrasting this scene are the notorious Red Light District and the marijuana-legal shops and cafes open to the public.  However, it has been noted that the Dutch are the least likely consumers of the product.

 

The best time to visit is April for the tulips, and May through October for the café-friendly weather.  Amsterdam is one of Europe’s best preserved great cities with canals, 17th century vistas, and an incongruous mix of neighborhoods.  Bicycle your heart out, but pedestrians….watch out.

 

Best things to eat here are crispy fries doused with their mayo.  Yes, it is different from what we have in the US.  Favorite drink can be rich ales, like Palm, rather than the bland best-selling lagers.

 

Trademarks are:  bikes, dykes, windmills, clogs, tulips, red light district, pot smoking, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, canals, and tall people. 

 

Random fact:  Twenty percent of the Netherlands is underwater such as canals, lakes, and marshes.  Another twenty percent is below sea level, but protected by 2400 km or 1490 miles of dykes.  The average temps in April are from 50 to 60 degrees with 12 days of rain in the month.  Another interesting fact is that Amsterdam gets 3.5 million visitors yearly.  And most of them seem to be here today….the beginning of the King’s Holiday this weekend. 

 

The ship began scenic sailing at 6am.  Even the promise of Dutch pastries would not entice us to get up in the darkness of the chilly morning to watch.  We did turn on the TV channel to watch and listen to Ian’s commentary.  By 8am, we were alongside the Passenger Terminal, about the same time we went to the dining room for breakfast.  Lucky for us, they did have the Amsterdam pastries, which Gan called apple empanadas.  They were equally as good as the Panama rolls.  Gan told us that the bakers had run low on flour, and that was why they made pretzels for dinner last night.  Hope they make more, since we love them.  Big loading from many containers would take place today.

 

And of course, there were some ships tours here.  There was only one 9 hour trip to Delft with lunch.  All the other tours were no more than 4½ hours, one to see the tulip fields, and one to see windmills, clog-making, and the village of Edam.  The last three tours did Amsterdam highlights with museum visits to the Van Gogh and Hermitage.  One included a trip to the diamond area.  Canal boat rides and the hop on, hop off buses could be booked on your own. 

 

Today was also the end of another segment, and only a few folks were going home.  About the same amount of new people will be joining the ship today. Strolling around the lower promenade deck, we saw several river cruise boats docked all around us.  This is one type of cruise we have never done, preferring sailing the seas and oceans by far.  But it was interesting for us to see these river boats up close.  From what we saw, it became apparent that it is the destination that comes first, and not the boat experience as much.  It is a wonderful option for many travelers, but not so much for us.  But who knows, we may change our minds one day…..also watching the activity of various boats on this waterway was mesmerizing.

 

We left the ship around 10:30am, bundled up because it was only 50 degrees outside, and very cloudy.  Should have known that it would warm up later on, but we layered, and could remove some layers if needed.  Yes, it was needed. 

 

It has been twenty years since we have been here, starting a Celebrity Baltic cruise.  At that time, we spent a few days in Amsterdam, taking tours out of the hotel.  We did see Anne Frank’s house, the historical sites, and did a canal boat ride.  Although not much has changed here, much of the city was unfamiliar to us.  Of course, walking it instead of riding in a bus is a whole different story. 

 

The cruise terminal here is a two story building with the gangway connecting us to the second floor.  We came out into a modern holding area with a center mini-marketplace of souvenirs.  There was even a welcome group of mature male singers.  Down on the ground level via an escalator, a desk with tourist info people gave us maps and circled where we should walk to see most of the highlights in the center of the action.  The young Dutch info fellow also told us that the city was hopping with excitement with many people preparing for the big King’s Holiday starting tomorrow.  Wow, good or bad timing for our visit, depending on how you look at it. 

 

He was so right….the streets and sidewalks were so crowded, it was like entering a nest of angry red ants.  And the cyclists – they belong to another breed of speeding bullets, not giving way to anyone.  You take your life in your hands stepping one foot into the designated bike lanes without looking both ways – twice.  Even more dangerous, were the number of motorbikes that also used the bike lanes.  Add the cars, trucks, buses, and trams, your head will spin within five minutes of leaving the terminal building.  But then, we have to consider we are in the heart of the “tourist” area, such as Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, which is always an extremely crowded area without the volume of bikes.

 

Using the most impressive Central Station as a guide, we navigated our way around canals, waterfront cafes and restaurants, and to St. Nicolas Basilica.  A line of tourists were going inside , so we joined them to take a quick stroll through it.  Glad we did, as it was most impressive.  The celebration of Mass was going to commence soon, and it would have been great to stay, but we did not have that much time.  Sidewalks are impossibly narrow in this part of town, and with the large number of organized tour groups, we found it difficult to even walk around them.  It was obvious that we would not be getting very far today.  So the plan was to wander the smaller side alleyways to find a suitable place for lunch.

 

There were so many options, with various cuisine appealing to a myriad of travelers and locals as well.  More like international cuisine.  Some cafes and restaurants were serving breakfast, while other were not opened yet.  But we had no problem studying the food photos as we passed dozens of options.  The bakery displays kept bringing us back to their windows, but we would come back to one of those after lunch.  Most every establishment posted menus with pictures, and the one we chose was The Corner, on the corner, of course, buried in an alleyway of shops and cafes.  Thankfully our waitress spoke good English, and we ordered a cheeseburger with fries to split and two Heineken draft beers.  The mayo was different in that it was slightly sweet with a touch of mustard mixed with it.  Lastly, we added what they call a pancake, which was a dinner plate-sized crepe with sliced strawberries, drizzled with a strawberry syrup and topped with some whipped cream.  So, so good.  And there was a restroom, but to access it, you had to go down a flight of very steep stairs.  Once again, there were no public restrooms anywhere that we could see.

 

A must stop before heading back was at a bakery.  There were dozens of them, but one had some cookies with our name on them.  Extra-large almond cookies were 2 euro each, and it was a great way to use our coins to buy 4 of them. 

 

Just by luck, we happened to be close to the Henri Willig Dutch Cheese and Gift Shop, where we saw how the cheese was made into the giant wheels that they had displayed in their windows.  This was cheese heaven.  Wanting to use the rest of our euros, we found the perfect combination of a smoked cheese log, one small gouda cheese wheel, and a tiny bottle of honey mustard. It all came on a wooden cutting board for 17 euro.  We added a tin of mini waffle cookies for a total of 25 euro.  What a deal.

 

Happy campers, we made our way back to the terminal slowly, like salmon swimming upstream.  Back to the ship, we took photos from deck nine of the surrounding canals, river traffic, canal riverboats, and the town we just explored.  Many of the officers had family onboard for the day, especially the Dutch ones. We understand that there was an express Mariners Lunch in the dining room at noon for all of the new guests and the invited guests as well.

 

We had to be ready by 5:30pm to meet with our fellow President’s Club members for an early 6pm coach transfer to the BIG special event of this world cruise.  But first, we had been advised to have an early express dinner in the dining room, which went totally open seating.  It began at 4:30 and ended at 8pm, because the affair this evening was strictly complimentary drinks and desserts.  Some fruit and a little chocolate candy from Belgium was enough for us prior to leaving.

 

We met up with Barb and Don and other buddies to fill one coach for the 30 minute ride in bad traffic.  For those that needed it, a wheelchair van was used also.  It was good to see more sights we had missed earlier in the day.  Once we arrived at the museum, our driver seemed confused as to where the drop-off was located.  He ended up jumping a curb, turning right on a one-way street, and getting stuck between two bike stands.  Eventually, he backed up carefully, and got us there safely.  Later on, we found out that a couple of buses were not so lucky, having one accident with a tram and a car involving police, and another bus had taken out two light poles near the museum. 

 

An Evening at the Rijksmuseum was the theme for this grand after-hours private event.  We understand that the closing of this world-renowned museum for a private affair is seldom done, so for our group of 48 or so (not all attended) to be welcomed ½ hour ahead of everyone else, was really appreciated by all. Directed by our crew members in orange caps, we were led into the museum by Gerald B, the head Mariner Director, after the four us of being greeted with handshakes and hugs. We were supposed to show our room keycards, but that never happened.  Certainly, we went through an xray scan, but now it is all a blur if we did.  Considering the state of the world these days, security is of upmost importance. 

 

So here is the exact description of what we were going to see. “This is a very special opportunity to experience the museum in a private setting.  All exhibits will be open, including for the first time in its history, a display of all of the works by Rembrandt in their collection in a single exhibition called All Rembrandts.  You can see as many as 22 paintings, 60 drawings, and 300 engravings, which includes one of Rembrandt’s most celebrated masterpieces, the Night Watch.”

 

In the center of the rotunda, we were greeted by Orlando A and Hamish, with the ship’s photographer, although our photos were not taken.  Just as well, we have enough already.  Something close to champagne was served, then our group including Barb, Don, Ginger and Bill, were escorted up a flight of stairs to the upper level and the entrance hall to the exhibit. Yes, there ws an elevator, but it was not offered to us. There was a bar set-up with tables full of assorted desserts for our small group. The only thing was before entering the hallway of paintings, we had to leave the beverages behind, or drink up quickly. 

 

The two of us had the honor of being the first to enter the display, starting with the smaller paintings, and working our way to the main room that housed among other things, Rembrandt’s most famous work of the Night Watch.  Free to photograph all the works of art, we most certainly did (without flash).

 

Now we can divide the entire group of passengers into three categories.  There were those that know-it-all, those that enjoyed seeing the exhibit, although perhaps not knowing-it-all, but willing to learn, and those who honestly admitted it was not their “thing”.  Nothing wrong with any of these categories, because we can relate to all three.  In our humble opinion however, those who grandstanded with being over-dressed and supreme authorities on the fine arts, were the most annoying.  Just our opinion, as it was an eye-opener. For the most accurate descriptions, 20 “ask me” guides and art experts were there, and self-guided tours could be down-loaded with their museum app.

 

By the time we exited the room, we spent some time enjoying the wine and Heinekens with Barb.  Gerald happened to stop for a chat, and we bent his ear about some of our specific concerns regarding some PC benefits that have been changed over the last two years.  Whether he really listened or not, we felt better after being totally honest with him. He said he would “look into it” and get back to us.

 

Back down the stairs, or the elevator we discovered,  we joined the rest of the party where everyone was enjoying the live band and singers entertaining the crowd.  It was nice to see that a large table had been set up full of sugar-free desserts.  Besides drinks of wine and beer, there were numerous types of juices and bottled water as well.  The museum shop was held open to give guest an opportunity to purchase merchandise with a 20% discount.  We visited with many friends before we left the museum.  This affair would last until 10pm, but we did want to catch the sun setting as well as take more photos from the bus on the way back.

 

Turned out we had a good coach driver who gave a mini tour on the way back.  Passing many houseboats on the canal, he said that they cost between 300 to 400 thousands US dollars, but getting insurance on them was steep.  His story was that in the past, some of these boats sunk when some drunken sports fans jumped on the roofs of the houseboats , and literally sunk them.  We passed by the Heineken Experiment building, where earlier there had been a huge line of young folks waiting to get inside.  Now that looked like fun.

 

Tomorrow for King’s Holiday, a number of folks will set up blankets in the parks to sell stuff like in a flea market.  Festivals, parades, and music groups will be everywhere throughout the city.  Assuming our ship was overnighting  here, he warned about pickpockets that would among the crowds. Not to worry, we were gone shortly after midnight.  Passing the Amstel Hotel, our driver said it was the most elegant in the city, housing guests like Madonna and Beyonce.  We also drove by fancy apartments that surrounded an old zoo, which became smelly during the hot summer months.  Coffee shops can be “weed” shops or legal marijuana vendors.  The dock area was once used for storehouses, but now have 1 ½ million dollar apartments.  That same amount of money would buy you a large country home with lots of surrounding property.  That’s where we would live, for sure.

 

Back at the terminal and our room, we ordered some food for a late dinner, the first room service we have had.  Salads, a bowl of soup, and a shared beef panini were perfect. We were surprised that it arrived in less than 20 minutes.  Boy did we sleep good tonight, but did wake up briefly to see the ship leaving for our next port in Denmark in two days.  What a day we had in Amsterdam!  And another outstanding set of gifts were waiting for us.  We each were gifted a Tiffany & Co. pewter round jewelry box, complete with an engraved Rijksmuseum building on the lid.  The 2019 Grand World Voyage was printed on the lid as well as Amsterdam on the bottom.  How appropriate.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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You certainly did have a wonderful day in Amsterdam.  We have been there many times.

 

The party at the museum sounded wonderful.  Know what you mean about some people being "know it all's" and others who could care less about anything.  We would be among those who want to learn about everything.

 

Glad you had the bus drivers who didn't get into any accidents.

 

Love the Tiffany gift!!

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Glad the food trucks arrived with new supplies.  We have passed by those river boats and they have no appeal to us.  The geraniums are beautiful.  Love those chocolate pastries.

 

One time we went to a cheese making place and were also able to buy wheels of Edam -- which we did.  The sunflowers are really doing well.

 

The church is beautiful.  Great pictures in the museum.

 

Love the napkin rings.

 

Great pictures of Amsterdam.

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Report # 99   Day at Sea   April 27, 2019   Saturday   Partly sunny & 63 degrees

 

Mostly cloudy and only partly sunny, we doubt the temps ever rose much above 50 something.  The further north we have sailed, the more light fog has developed, bringing a chill to the wind.  We found one fellow on a lounge at the aft section of the promenade deck, but wrapped with blankets.  Other walkers?  Well you could count them on one hand this morning. 

 

All the activities happening today inside the ship had to do with King’s Day….Happy Koningsdag to all.  Everything “orange” was the theme as it is the official Dutch color we have been told.  So things for King’s Day began with a street market, or Lido Poolside shop sales, King’s afternoon tea, King’s Day bar hop, Orange party in the Crow’s Nest, and the King’s Day Orange Dinner, gala, of course.  You’ll never guess the suggested color to wear this evening?  Orange of course, to match the orange seat covers and orange lights for special effects.  All in good fun.

 

We spent the majority of the day catching up on three things………photos, reports, and relaxation.  Also a good chance to listen to Ian talking about Copenhagen and Oslo, the next two ports coming up very soon.  We have been to both fabulous cities at least twice, but it has a long time, and never on a world voyage.  We needed some refresher info to stir the memories, and with his suggestions and maps, it did come back to us. 

 

The current guest speaker, Brian Stoddart, lectured twice today about the Scandinavian, French and Dutch empires.  Valerie Mock continued the theme with info on Vikings as raiders or traders.  And to tie into yesterday’s “art day”, the movie, Girl with a Pearl Earring, was shown in the Wajang.  Although there were a few Vermeer paintings in the collection at the museum, this particular painting was not there. 

 

Lunch with Barb in the dining room was pleasant as always. The menu for lunch today had everything we liked…..hard to choose just a few items.   We seem to talk well past the 1pm closing time, because we left the room around 2:15pm.  Our most kind waiters had to set the tables for dinner and put on those orange chair covers before they could take a break. If we lingered much longer, we would have to help them.

 

As we mentioned, it was gala night, one of the last ones, and we had guest hosts.  The new staff captain, Johan, and his wife, joined the five of us for this festive meal.  They are both Dutch, and live close to Amsterdam, so we learned much more about living in the Netherlands.  And they learned more about California and Sydney too.  Most of the menu was geared to seafood, as you might expect, but there were some other choices.  Dessert was a Dutch cream puff filled with whipped cream and covered with a rich chocolate frosting.  Naturally, we shared it.  Slam also brought four plates of small chocolate biscotti cookies.  A wonderful evening was had by all.

 

The Flyrights did an encore show tonight in the Mainstage.  Soul, Motown, and Swing were done with such high energy, they left the audience breathless, even more than they were.  Songs and dances by the trio brought back tunes we know well……Nat King Cole, the Drifters, and twisting.  Remember that dance?  Probably contributed to the knee and hip problems some folks have these days.  Not the Flyrights, as they appeared to be made of rubber with their gyrating dance routines.  Very entertaining, and so not-the-usual singers we have been used to in the past.  A big improvement.

 

Back in our room, we found some gifts of odd-looking plastic eye glasses and two tubes of something orange.  What the straws were, we haven’t a clue?

 

Tomorrow we will be in a beautiful country – Denmark.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Relaxing on King's day or any sea day is always great.

 

Orange isn't my color but we would follow the rules and wear something orange.

 

Oh I remember the twist and Chubby Checker.

 

Have been to Copenhagen and Oslo many times -- love those ports.  Even stayed in Copenhagen for a few days before a couple of our cruises.

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Report # 100   Copenhagen, Denmark   April 28, 2019   Sunday   Scattered showers & 59 degrees    Part # 1 of 4    80 Pictures

 

The country for this Sunday’s visit happens to be one of our favorites….Denmark.  Not only because it is the land of the Vikings, but also because one of us happens to be quarter Danish on a grandfather’s side.  Although not a large country in size, there are about 5.5 million people living here.  The capital is Copenhagen, and our destination today.

 

The term fairy tale can be used freely in Denmark from its literary writers to their castles and palaces.  They get it right  with old fashioned charm to futurist design.  They have been called the happiest nation in the world.  You’ll discover, like we have, that locals have camaraderie, contentment, and a cozy way about them, even though they have learned to live with very high taxes. 

 

The best time to visit is from May to September.  Places to see are Legoland (born here), Viking ships, museums, and Copenhagen.  The biggest rock concert event happens here called Roskilde Festival that attracts 80,000 visitors.

 

What’s to eat?  Open faced sandwiches, Danish meatballs, pickled herring, and Danish pastries are a must.  The favorite drink is beer, especially Carlsberg and Tuborg.

 

Trademarks are beer, designer furniture, Hans Christian Anderson, fairy tales, Legos, Vikings, and the Little Mermaid.  Hot dogs, crepes, and waffles from street carts can be quite tasty as well.

 

Random fact:  Denmark has no downhill skiing, as the highest point is 173 meters or 568 feet in elevation.

 

Once a small fishing village, the city of Copenhagen had one big church, a couple of wells, and a large estate in the 11th century.  Today the high rises have overtaken most all of the ancient palaces, churches, and castles.  Becoming an industrial power through its harbor activity, these days find this city a central hub for the rich and famous, high-tech science, and up-to-the-minute media.  Tourism has to be utmost important since many cruise ships come here mainly in the high season of summer. As for us, we have been here four times now, but the last visit was in 2006.  It would take some refreshing to roust our memories.  And we did notice some changes in this city of old.

 

Starting at 6:30am, Ian gave a commentary on the scenic sail in to Copenhagen.  This would be broadcasted to the Crow’s Nest, atrium (deck three), and outer decks.  The better place would be watching it on TV and getting the commentary while staying in our warm and cozy bed.  Since we have watched this sailing before, that would work just fine.  And besides, at that time of day, the temperature outside would be in the 40’s for sure.

 

The ship was alongside the pier around 8am, and we were cleared by 8:30am more or less.   There were a total of seven tours sold on the ship, five of which stayed locally.  Two took people out of the city to see castles or a fishing village.  For those who are experiencing their first visit here, the best way to see the historical  section of old Copenhagen is by the hop on hop off coach.  These buses were waiting outside the gated docking area….very easy to purchase tickets on the spot.  By the way, the name of this docking port is called Langelinie, and there was no terminal building.

 

The new Ocean Pier Cruise Ship Terminal area has designated buildings with shopping.  One other ship was docked there, the MSC Meraviglia, the same mega ship that has shared ports with us in the Mediterranean recently. This terminal is located quite a distance to the city center, and we wonder if they were given a complimentary shuttle to town?  If not, they could not easily walk there, like many of us did.

 

We were off and running by 10am and were able to pick up one of the ho-ho bus maps, as well as a walking map.  The bus map was far more helpful with the names and pictures of each major building or district along with street names.  Tickets for the various shuttles were sold on the spot (credit cards accepted), and some of them included entrance fees to some of the major attractions like Tivoli Gardens, the Icebar, Ripley’s, and the Guiness Factory.

 

It was going to be a chilly day since we never saw sunshine.  So we layered up, but within 20 minutes, one of us had to shed the too warm sweatshirt.  As long as we were walking, the crisp breeze was tolerable.  The first sign of souvenir shopping appeared with a row of mini shops along the waterfront.  We would check these out on the way back.

 

Our destination was the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen’s iconic statue of bronze that sits in the water along the rocks.  Most visitors remarked on how small she was, and they were correct.  This statue was donated by one of the original brew masters back in the early 1900’s, and a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Anderson enhanced her charm over the years.  A bit further up from the famous statue, we were surprised to see a pair of white swans at the shoreline.  The female was sitting on a large nest, asleep, while the male stayed close, busy getting more sticks and stones to reinforce the nest.  They sure are a beautiful bird as seen close up.  Across in the moat of the fortress, another pair were half hidden in the reeds, also sitting on a nest.  There were a few ducks swimming here, but not many of them.

 

Strolling this part of the harbor is most scenic and can really only be done on foot.  Following the map, we made our way to the impressive Gefion Fountain, depicting the Norse goddess Gefion and her four sons who she turned into oxen.  Next to this scenic fountain was St.Alban’s Anglican Church, small by most standards, but equally charming.  Behind this church was access to the Citadel, a well preserved 17th century fortress, where an old windmill and the Swedish Church are located.  We would explore this on our way back.

 

In a little park on this waterfront was a craft fair with a band setting up for this afternoon.  We learned later that it was a Japanese Festival, explaining the oriental costuming we saw on some young folks. 

 

Passing other iconic buildings, we found our way to the entrance to the square of the Amalienborg Palace and the Marble Church at the far end.  This is the winter home of the Danish royal family, and also the square where we have witnessed the formal changing of the guard at high noon.  As the time was only 11am, we took many photos of the standing guards and the surrounding ancient stone structures.  Groups from organized tours were already gathering to stake out the best spots to see these guards marching.  We did not have the time too spare waiting, so we continued forward.

 

Almost directly across the harbor was the Opera House surrounded by old shipyards and waterfront.  On our side we saw the very black rock monument of Queen Mary of Denmark and one out-of-place statue of Michelangelo’s David, the original residing in Florence, Italy.  A bit further we passed by the Royal Danish Playhouse, which was near the next iconic area of Nyhavn.  This is a canal district lined with brightly colored 500 year old step-gabled houses that are the most photographed and artist’s painted row of houses in Copenhagen.  The narrow canal was lined with historic wooden ships, bars, restaurant, and cafes with Danish food, beer, and more.  Since it was close to noontime, many of these establishments were full of people already enjoying either coffee or Danish beers and snacks.  And most everyone, whether local  or tourist, were using some type of wifi device.  This has to be a worldwide addiction or new pastime.  Who would have thunk???

 

A new footbridge was added here to make access to nearby Christianshavn possible.  There were many locals riding bikes throughout the city today, but nothing in the volume we saw in Amsterdam.  And none of the riders we encountered were boldly taking the right-of-way, as they were much more cautious.  Come to think of it, the heavily cobbled streets did aide in slowing up the foot and bike traffic as well.  You had to be most careful where you walked, and if anyone plans on following what we did, be sure to wear the most comfortable and thick-soled shoes you have.  And while we were passing by the numerous pier side eating venues along the canal, we figured this could be a wonderful spot to have lunch….if you can find room.

 

A most famous pedestrian shopping street here is called The Stroget.  It is located very close to the end of Nyhavn Canal, and one of our destinations for today.  Many years ago in the 1990’s, we discovered this area was typical Danish, with a mix of modern stores, but filled more with Danish specialty shops.  Trying to find the delis or bakeries proved difficult, because most of them on the main street were gone.  Of course, it was possible we wandered off of the main street to a side alley, but even that proved fruitless.  What we saw today was an avenue filled with high end boutiques and very large department stores carrying many European brands.  And pricey.  Hoping to purchase some Danish cheeses or bakery goods never happened.  Strolling through the main squares with fountains and street artists was enjoyable. 

 

Time was flying by all too quickly, and our objective was to locate the Hard Rock Café in hopes of buying some city t-shirts.  Although we had scoped out a few possible lunch cafes along the way, they were already filled to capacity.  When we did find the HRC at the end of the Stroget, we found there was one table seating for two left, and we gladly took the high top table.  Sharing a BBQ cheeseburger and crispy fries, we sipped ice cold Heineken draft beers too.  The t-shirts were easily purchased, and we were ready to go after a much needed relaxing time. 

 

Backtracking, we searched for those food shops, but never found what we were searching for. What we did find was a small kiosk selling the creamiest ice cream.  We shared a scoop of chocolate and strawberry cheesecake gelato while we slowly walked back towards the Nyhavn area.  By now, there was standing room only, and we were glad we didn’t wait until this late to have lunch. 

 

We had saved the Kastellet near the Little Mermaid to walk before entering the pier area.  This is a nicely preserved 17th century fortress that appears to still be active with military guards present.  While one of us relaxed on a bench in the compound, the other explored the top of the moat and the windmill situated there.  The different sizes of the cobblestones made walking difficult here, so we were glad to get to the sandy pathway and finally to regular street walkways. 

 

As we planned, we checked out each mini-shop on the Langelinie pier, but found nothing of interest to buy.  The remainder of the Danish krone will have to be changed to the Norwegian krone to spend tomorrow.  But this will be best done in Oslo, because on the ship, they will convert it back to the US dollar, then to the foreign money.  You end up losing on both ends. 

 

Sail away was supposed to be around 5pm, but shortly before the all aboard time, there was a medical emergency called on the PA throughout the ship.  Someone on deck seven was in trouble, and had to be debarked to the hospital in an ambulance. We watched from deck nine as the man was brought out on a stretcher, and taken away with his wife in the front seat.  Once again, this was a much better place to be taken off for hospital and doctor care, as opposed to being out to sea with few options.  Hope he will be OK.

 

Dinnertime came quickly, finding the five of us back and sharing stories of the day.  As always, we all did something different, and all of us were equally exhausted.  For that reason, and the fact that we really don’t do jugglers, we missed the show.  Sleep is becoming more precious as these ports are coming way too close for most everyone.  Tomorrow, there will be yet another scenic commentary beginning at 6:30am.  Yikes!

 

Bill & Mary Ann    

 

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Sounds like you had a wonderful walking day in Copenhagen.  We have been to Legoland, eaten at one of the restaurants in Tivoli Gardens and walked many places.  There is so much to see and do in this port.

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