Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 – Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Copenhagen to Amsterdam: 572 Nautical Miles

Total Voyage: 2,971 Nautical Miles

The Constellation has returned to Amsterdam

Got up at our wake up call and had a quick breakfast in the Ocean View Café.  Most everything was available even though it was disembarkation day.  Even better – it wasn’t that crowded so we could relax and enjoy the breakfast. 

We assembled in the Theater for our 7:30 AM exit and soon we were going through Passport Control.  In Amsterdam, if you are on a Celebrity Airport Transfer, you do not have to pick up your bags in the terminal.  Your bags are loaded onto your bus and you are reunited with your luggage at the airport – a great system.

The bus ride to Schipol International Airport took about 30 minutes.  We got our bags and headed for the KLM Terminal.  The self serve kiosks were not able to scan our passports (the same story as at O’Hare) so we found a roaming KLM agent (in KLM royal blue) who said we had checked in; she used the kiosk to print out our boarding passes.

We checked our luggage using a very hi-tech, automated system (installed since the last time we were here).  You scan your boarding pass and the terminal prints out luggage tags.  After tagging your bag, you place it on a scale in a capsule type cabinet.  Once weighed, a wall comes down and when it goes up, your bag is gone. Hopefully, on its way to your plane. 

Our flight is scheduled for 12:40 PM so we have a few hours to spend at the Airport. Schipol has free Wi-Fi but the connection is limited to 30 minutes.  We each used our free sessions but it was enough to get caught up. 

At this airport, there is no central security check – each gate has its own scanners and metal detectors. Once you enter the gate area, I am not sure you can leave so we stayed in the common area until boarding time.

Schipol Airport is a great airport but it has essentially no power plugs in the waiting areas.  They have very nice seats with banks of power plugs but they are not connected to a central power source.  Following the approach of one passenger, we plugged into the only source of power – a plug located on the portable emergency fire system.  This allowed us to charge up on personal electronic devices prior to flight time.

We ate lunch and bought the obligatory Coke Light (a bargain in Amsterdam at only 1.8 Euros).  Rounding out the lunch were all natural chips made from special potatoes (picked seasonally for chips – what?)

KLM announced a departure delay and gate change for our flight.  The delay was less than an hour and the gate was pretty close. 

We eventually went to the gate and through security (I did get my usual pat down).  The good thing was that the 747-400 scheduled for KLM611 was at the gate and getting all set up for its flight to Chicago.

20130731_KLM611 ready to go -1

KLM611 Prepping for Departure

On this flight, we also have “Extra Comfort Seats” (9A and 9B) so we board with the Elite Passengers.  The seats are bulkhead so there is plenty of leg room and I can fit in the window seat.  The plane sits three across on the outside so Ellen is in the middle.  A passenger did show up to claim her aisle seat. 

The plane took off pretty much at the new time.  Our pilot, who looks exactly like I think a Dutch pilot should look like – 6ft 3 and blond – apparently does not believe in the “Seat Belt” sign.  Even though the flight was pretty bumpy most of the way, the sign was off until our approach to Chicago.  You had to play a game of “guess when the bumps are coming” in order to rush to the washrooms. 

20130731_over the North Sea 30 min in air

Over the North Sea (30 minutes in the air)

20130731_n of Manchester

North of Manchester, England

20130731_Manchester England-1

Manchester, England

The food on the flight was pretty good. What I really liked was the freshly warmed rolls that were passed out with meals. KLM does not charge for beverages so I had the attendant make me a White Russian – he had not heard of it but he did a good job based on my instructions. 

The plane ran into serious chop off the coast of Greenland – the seat belt light was still off.  The skies looked pretty calm so the chop must have been due to crosswinds.

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Off the Coast of Greenland – in the Choppy Skies

The cloud cover persisted until we passed over over the coast of Newfoundland. 

20130731_approaching newfoundland

Approaching Newfoundland

When the clouds broke, I got a very interesting picture of the Sun reflecting off the ice in the waters off the coast – visible even at 39,000 feet.

20130731_sun and ice atlantic near newfoundland

Sun Reflecting of Sea Ice (near Newfoundland)

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The Shore of Lake Huron

20130731_river near Montreal

River Near Montreal

Because the Midwest was under a cloud layer, I couldn’t see anything on approach to O’Hare.

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On Approach to O’Hare

Once through the clouds, the approach was smooth and the landing was so soft, I couldn’t feel the wheels touch down.  Our pilot, Thor, did a great job.

It took a while but our bags actually did arrive on our plane.  They had food sniffing dogs in the baggage area – looking for agricultural products.

Immigration at O’Hare had instituted a new system since our last trip through here.  They now have a self serve system, whereby you scan your passport, have your picture taken by a low resolution camera, followed by the terminal printing out a document with an almost unrecognizable picture.  You take this document to an Immigration Agent to proceed to the final checkout.  Because of a limited number of agents and no clear direction where to queue up, the lines were long and the tempers of the passengers short. 

I liked the old system where you just got in one long line, showed your passport, got your “Welcome Back” greeting from the agent, turned in your Immigration Card, and re-entered the USA.  This new system is a step backwards despite the hi-tech gloss.  Maybe it just needs to be tweaked.

It was a great cruise but it is always nice to get home.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - At Sea (Baltic) – Partly Cloudy – 72F

We are heading back to Amsterdam but we have a beautiful final day at sea ahead of us…

20130730_at sea 1

A nice breakfast in the Ocean View Café followed by R&R for the rest of the day.  The best place to be, of course, is in the temperature controlled Solarium.

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Solarium Girl

I knew from checking out the Celebrity Today last night that I would not be giving my fourth talk today.  Instead, I am scheduled for a Q and A Session at 3:00 PM in Michael’s Club.  I called Mark to make sure that AV had a mic in the room and he said all was set. 

We had lunch in the Ocean View Café (did I mention that their tuna salad was quite good). 

I decided to go Celebrity Theme Casual to the Q and A so I wore my “Celebrity Life” Tee along with my slacks to the session (I did not wear my Crocs although I was tempted). 

My expectations for the turnout were low since similar Q and As on past cruises – Celebrity and other lines – have not been all that successful.  On one Celebrity Cruise, only two people showed up (at least they did have some questions to ask).

We headed to Michael’s Club about 10 minutes early (to check the AV and all).  When we turned the corner near Michael’s Club, we could see that the place had lots of people sitting around and chatting.  My first thought was that they had changed the venue for my Q and A and I had missed the telephone call.  I went in and it was clear that these folks were indeed here for the Q and A.

The place was full (Michael’s Club hold 90 people).  Some people were standing so Ellen called Mark to get some more chairs brought in.  I estimated the final attendance at just over 100 passengers.

IMG_20130730_Michaels club Q&A

IMG_20130730_ Michaels club Q&A 2

Q and A Session – Michael’s Club

I started things off with a very brief summary of what was in the final talk (Copernicus, Earthquake McGovern) and then asked for questions.  I got some very good questions including the anticipated ones on OJ Simpson, which led to a discussion of “Double Jeopardy” Laws.  The usual question about “Universal DNA Databases” came up and I gave my opinion about that.  A passenger wanted to know what type of Hemophilia Alexei Romanov had.  I wasn’t sure but we did discuss his situation and the transmission of that defective gene through the Royals of Europe.  The session ran past its allotted hour but nobody was in any hurry to leave.  When the questions and comments finally stopped, I thanked everyone for being a great audience.  Applause followed.  It was great.

I wanted to have one more dip in the Solarium Hot Pool (even though it meant packing semi-damp swim trunks).  After about an hour in the pool, we had a last dinner on board at the Ocean View Café – I had a very nice made-to-order pasta and Ellen had some freshly prepared fish and we both had an excellent view of the Baltic Sea.

Tonight’s show was a variety show featuring past performers.  We stayed for the Dizzy and Janna part and then went to the room to pack.  We also have an early transfer to Schipol in the morning and wanted to take it somewhat easy tonight.

Ellen is a great packer and both our bags were outside our cabin well before the 11 PM time.  In fact, they were both gone within a half hour of placing them there. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Partly Cloudy – 72F

Tallinn to Copenhagen: 751 Nautical Miles

Local Information:  Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and located on the Eastern Coast of Zealand.  Almost 2 million people live in the Copenhagen Metro Area.  The Øresund Bridge connects the city of Copenhagen to Malmo, a large city in Sweden.

A very nice day in Copenhagen, Denmark

We are both up early because we have all day tours today.  Our tour day starts in the Celebrity Theater waiting for passengers to get their tickets and bus stickers.

 20130729_waiting for tours (Small)

Ellen at Tour Central – Celebrity Theater

I am on the “Copenhagen City Highlights and Castles of North Zealand” tour (my tour guide is Sofia, who speaks perfect English and is very pleasant).

The bus is comfortable and soon we are on our way out of Copenhagen and into the beautiful Danish countryside.  There are many different types of homes in the suburbs but the ones that I found most interesting were those with the thatched roofs (they only need to be replaced every 60 years).  Roofing companies would never allow that in the States.

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Thatched Roof Home

Our route takes us along the the Øresund, (Sound) which separates Denmark and Sweden.  At one point (below), the Sound narrows to the point where Sweden is clearly visible on the opposite shore.

IMG_20130729_Sweden across the way (Small)

Our first stop is Kronborg Castle located along the the Øresund, in Helsingør (Elsinore).  The Renaissance Castle was built between From 1574 to 1585.  The Castle was fortified and played a role in the levying of “Sound Dues” by Danish Kings on ships entering the waterway between the two countries (the other side then controlled by Denmark as well).  In the late 18th Century, Kronborg was no longer a Royal Residence and in 1938, it was opened to the public.  It’s major claim to fame is that it is the Elsinore Castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. 

The town is replete with beautiful gardens and statues and, as might be expected,the site of the Annual Hamlet Festival.

20130729_Flower garden near Kronborg Castle (Small)

Park near Kronborg Castle

20130729_ Kronborg Castle 4 (Small) 

Approaching Kronborg Castle

Our tour is not scheduled to go into the Castle so we are given time to wander the grounds and take photos.

 20130729_ Kronborg Castle 2 (Small)

Another View of the Castle and Wall

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Town of Helsingør and a Danish Swan

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Entrance to the Castle

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Cannons Guarding the Øresund

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Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”.

Even though the Castles of North Zealand likely have majestic arches, the Golden Arches are also a familiar sight in this region.

20130729_McDs near Frederiksborg Castle-1 (Small)

We left the farthest tip of North Zealand for out next stop, the magnificent Frederiksborg Castle

Frederiksborg Castle was built by its namesake, Frederik II in 1560 but the Castle owes it’s architectural style to King Christian IV, who oversaw the construction of the present castle between 1602 and 1620.  It is the largest Renaissance Castle in Scandinavia.  After the death of Christian IV, the Castle was used for coronations (Note:  It seems that Danish Kings were either named Christian or Frederik).  The Castle is now a Museum of National History.

The Castle sits on three small islands in the middle of Castle Lake in the town of Hillerod.

20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle 4 (Small)

Entering the Castle Courtyard

20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle moat (Small) 

Water Separating the Islands of the Castle

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Bridge to the Courtyard

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Neptune’s Fountain (two above)

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Above – the Central Courtyard of the Castle

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Sofia – the Guide – Guiding

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Entrance Room

The Castle Chapel has been the site of Royal Coronations of all Danish Absolute Monarchs between 1671 and 1840 (with one exception).

20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle chapel 1 (Small) 20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle chapel (Small)

Royal Chapel – Frederiksborg Castle

Sofia describes the life and times of the most famous of  Danish Kings, Christian IV (below).  Christian IV is shown in the painting.

20130729_King Christian IV (Small) 20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle grounds (Small)

Baroque Gardens

20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle great hall (Small)

Knights Hall

20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle great hall fireplac (Small) 

Great Hall and Fireplace

The Castle is a Museum and one of the rooms had portraits of some famous Danes.  Couldn’t help but take a picture of one of the most famous Danes, Hans Christian Andersen.

20130729_HC Andersen (Small)

Many in the group were curious as to the current Danish Monarch.  She is Queen Margrethe II.  She was the first female Danish Monarch crowned under the new Laws of Succession.

20130729_Queen Marguerite II and Sofia (Small)

Queen Margrethe II

One of the rooms in the Castle was the Marriage Bedroom – but this room was just for show and not used as a bedroom.

20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle bedroom (Small)

The Marriage Bedroom  

Guarding one of the alcoves of the Castle was a knight (at least the armor) in full regalia (below)

20130729_ Frederiksborg Castle armor (Small)

The Castle Tour was very interesting.  It was a challenge keeping everyone together and, because of the number of visitors and the ambient temperature, it was a bit warm in the Castle.  Otherwise, very picturesque and informative.  Bonus:  Everyone was accounted for when we got back on the bus.

Our next stop was lunch.  The Lunch venue was a restaurant in a condominium complex (more like a country club complex complete with golf course).

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The Grounds at the Lunch Venue

Lunch consisted of a buffet containing a wide variety of food items.  Although I was unable to identify the breaded fish by its description, I tried some of it with homemade tartar sauce.   I also had two types of herring – one in standard wine sauce and one in a yellow sauce.  They were both very good.  Also available – along with various types of meats and cheeses – was a red cabbage salad (very good) and bread.  Various drinks – sodas, beer, and wine – along with a very good cake completed the menu.  All in all, a very good lunch.

20130729_herring and more herring (Small) 

Lunch Buffet

After lunch, the tour proceeded back to Copenhagen.  On the way, we only caught a glimpse through the window of the bus of the Fredensborg Palace.  The Palace, which is the Royal Family’s Spring and Fall Residence, is the most used of the Royal Palaces.  When we visited this Palace in 2001, we got as far as the front gate – this time, only the parking lot.  

20130729_Fredensborg Castle (Small)

Fredensborg Palace

The ride to Copenhagen was relatively short.  The architecture of Copenhagen is always interesting as seen below.

20130729_Copenhagen Centrum (Small)

The route took us by a recreational lake, that can be used for ice skating when everything freezes over in the Winter.

20130729_city center lake (Small) 

At the far end of the lake, there was an interesting building, that, according to Sofia, was used as a place to warm up and drink hot chocolate after a skate.  That was back in the day – now it is a Disco,

20130729_hot cocoa to disco (Small)

Hot Chocolate to Saturday Night Fever

We only caught the gate of famed Tivoli Gardens.  The Amusement Park, opened in 1843, supposedly served as a partial inspiration for Disneyland (Walt Disney visited here before he opened his park).  The two parks are quite different nowadays.

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Tivoli Gardens

20130729_Copenhagen City Hall (Small)

Copenhagen City Hall

Copenhagen’s most congested (people-wise) area has to be the Nyhavn (“New Harbor”).  Wall to wall restaurants and wall to wall people make this the go to destination in the city.  When we walked this area last, the food looked good but the fare was pricey.  Still the views and people watching would be worth it.

20130729_Nyhaven 1 (Small) 20130729_Nyhaven (Small)


Our next stop was the Amalienborg Palace, located near the Harbor.  This Palace, completed in 1760, is the Winter Home of the Royal Family.  Before heading over to the Palace, we got a nice look at the Royal Opera House (below).

20130729_Royal Opera House (Small) 

The photos below are all of the Amalienborg Palace.  There were no flags flying on the buildings indicating that members of the Royal Family were not at home.

20130729_Queen not at home no flag (Small)

The building below is the “Royal Kindergarten” – where all of the Royal cousins, etc. start their education.

20130729_Royal Kindergarten Amalienborg Palace (Small) 20130729_palace guard (Small)

Royal Guard

King Frederik V was responsible for the development of the district now home to the Amalienborg Palace.  A statue of the monarch on his horse recognizes this contribution.

20130729_Frederik V (Small) 

King Frederick V

Physical evidence that I was really at the Palace is shown below.

 20130729_Frederik V and me (Small)

After the Palace, I went back to the harbor.  I thought the pillar below was interesting in a techno-art kind of way.

 20130729_column art harbor (Small)

The gnome guarding the Gift Shop looked kind of familiar – we had seen his cousin when we cruised the Arctic Circle last year.

 20130729_troll looks familiar (Small)

Moving through the harbor area, we passed the Gefion Fountain.  Gefion is the Norse Goddess of Agriculture and Fertility, and usually associated with the plow.  The mythological basis for the statue is related to a bet that Gefion made with the King of Sweden.  The King said Gefion could have all the land she could plow in one night.  Being a goddess, Gefion turned her four sons into bulls and they plowed the land that is now Zealand.  Never mess with a goddess.

20130729_Norse goddess Geschwind (Small)

The Gefion Fountain

Our final stop would be the statue of the Little Mermaid found in Copenhagen Harbor. The Little Mermaid, an iconic figure since 1913 and based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen, sits quietly on a rock in the Harbor.  The most amazing thing about this picture is the lack of people all over this poor little mermaid.  Got lucky, I guess.

20130729_Little Mermaid (Small) 

The Little Mermaid

There is another statue in the harbor area I like to call the Big Mermaid.  She is shown below.  She doesn’t get the publicity of her little sister perhaps due to her less than optimal location.

20130729_Big Mermaid (Small)

The Big Mermaid

It was then back to the ship.  Bottom Line: A great tour.

Tonight is the last Formal Night so we are dressed up so we can get our Formal Night Photo.  This may be the only picture of us together on this cruise.

20130729_Formal Night (Small)

Forman Night 3

The sail away was a bit dreary but the sunset later on was terrific.

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Tonight’s Showtime was “The Land of Make Believe”, the third Production Show and a combination of Wicked and Alice in Wonderland.  We have seen it before so we are spending this evening in the Library reading and relaxing.

Final Sea Day tomorrow…

Pedometer: 6840 steps; 3.2 miles; 377 calories; 1:13