Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Friday, July 27, 2018 – Warnemunde, Germany – Sunny – 86F (and humid)

Warnemunde, Germany – founded in 1200 - is a seaside resort on the Baltic Sea. It sports about two miles of white sand beach. It is also popular  - due to calm waters - for water sports and boating. The village has a population of almost 8500 residents. Edvard Munch, Norwegian artist famous for “The Scream” lived in Warnemunde for a short time (1907-1908).  Warnemunde is the 44th busiest cruise port in the world welcoming about 750,000 passengers annually.

Did not sleep well. Don’t know why.

No tours today.  We have been here a few times and opted out.

We are joined at port today by the Costa Fascinosa.  Today, our two ships will nearly double the population of the village.

IMG_20180727_Costa Faciosa docked

I had my first breakfast up in the Oceanview Café – they had waffles (cooked perfectly), cottage cheese (Euro version), sour cream (also odd), and packet jellies. I had a little oatmeal to start – the breakfast was really good and bodes well for the rest of the cruise.  I went up after a lot of the passengers had departed for the Berlin excursion so the Café was not very crowded.

After breakfast, we grabbed our sea pass cards and passports (yes) and walked to town – you have to cross over a bridge that spans the Alter Strom (Old Channel)

IMG_20180727_Warnemunde channel

Alter Strom

then under the railroad tracts to reach Warnemunde. I sort of remembered what the town was like but it seemed bigger and brighter today. We were looking for a drugstore to get some meds and lotion (we found one at the end of our journey through town). The people behind the counter did not speak much English and seemed annoyed with the tourists – ironic as tourism is the number one industry in this town.

As we made out way through some of the residential areas on our way to the beach, we found a Thai Massage Spa – a rare site in such a small town - but the owner only had one room and wanted us to come back at 1 PM. That would not work out in this heat especially with the long walk back to the pier.

The town has a very neat lighthouse and a terrific beach, which, on this day, was filled with folks. 

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Warnemunde Beach

The lighthouse was built in 1897 and stands approximately 121 feet high.  Near the lighthouse is de Teapott (teapot), built in 1926 in East German Bauhaus Style.  The structure burned down at the end the war and was rebuilt with a curved roof in 2002.  We noted lots of eateries in the Teapot.

IMG_20180727_Warnemunde lighthouse

The Lighthouse

IMG_20180727_Warnemunde lighthouse from beach

De Teapott and Lighthouse

In the heat, the walk back to the ship seemed interminable but we did make it.

Lunch in the Oceanview Café consisted of the three salads, tuna, egg, and potato along with a green salad.

I am now reading “Night School” (a Jack Reacher Novel) by Lee Child. Since my Kindle went on the fritz, I have been using my phone. The phone screen is just a little smaller than that on my Kindle 6 so reading is easy on the eyes. Our new favorite place is Deck 14 aft, where the comfy couches are. There always seem to be couches available and except for the incessant music track, Aft 14 is a good spot. I was able to get some very nice shots of Warnemunde from this location.

IMG_20180727_Warnemunde from Deck 14 aIMG_20180727_Warnemunde from Deck 14

Warnemunde from Deck 14 Aft

A lot of people are off ship on the Berlin excursion so getting a seat in the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room was a simple matter (Table 416 again). I had the Tomato/Chick Pea soup and the mushroom appetizer. They were serving trout (Ellen liked it) but I went for the veggie tart (which I didn’t like all that much).

The performer tonight was Ollie Mulkeen, a vocalist – trumpet player from Manchester, UK. Because many folks were still not back from Berlin and some competing folkloric entertainment, Ollie performed before a minimal audience (100 – 200). He did a good job – very entertaining.

After the show, we went up to the Lawn (Deck 15), where Paul Delaney (our Astronomer) was going to describe the total lunar eclipse.  Before the Eclipse, we had a chance to enjoy the lawn and the views – for some reason, we never go up to the lawn.  BTW, the grass looked in great shape.

IMG_20180727_on the lawnIMG_20180727_thunderstorms over BalticIMG_20180727_Warnemunde sunsetIMG_20180727_Warmemunde from Lawn

Thunderstorms, the Alter Strom, and Sunset from the Lawn

The eclipse – not visible in the US – turned out to be a bit of a dud. It was a very dim eclipse made even dimmer by the persistent cloud layer near the horizon. I did get a shot of the event – our first ever cruise eclipse.

IMG_20180727_lunar Eclipse over Germany

Lunar Eclipse from the Eclipse

Late sail away – hope the thrusters don’t wake us.

Thursday, July 26, 2018 – At Sea – Clear – 70s

Smooth seas and a quiet night.  The usual Solstice-Class ship noises were handled by earplugs and our neighbors, while returning to their cabin late in the evening, tended to retire at a reasonable time.  There were also no early risers so that helped.

It’s a beautiful day at sea – a bit breezy on the open decks – with hardly a cloud in the sky.

IMG_20180726_at sea(2)IMG_20180726_at sea

We both ordered room service (6:30 AM delivery) due to the early start of Talk 1. The food came right on time and was good.  I usually get pancakes and eggs (the menu has several varieties of pancakes).

Giuseppe is pretty liberal with the speaker dress code but I decided I would go with dress shirt and tie and no jacket. Comfortable but professional.

When I got to Celebrity Central at 8:30 AM, there were four people in the venue. I expected a pretty good turnout because the talk was prominently mentioned in the Program.  Because passengers are not sure where Celebrity Central is, I stood outside and directed guests to the venue.  I guess guests on this ship are late arrivers, because when the program started the room was about 70 percent full (NOTE: Celebrity Central capacity 208; Eclipse Theater 1113).

“Forensics and History: The Mystery of the Romanovs” seemed to engage the audience – a good round of applause and some very nice comments followed the talk. The presentation ran about 50 minutes.

All three BTP Speakers were on today – I was just too tired to go see them – I do plan to.  I was reminded again that the theater is booked every day so all presentations will be in Celebrity Central.

Lunch consisted of a veggie burger and fries from the Mast Grill (Deck 14 Midships) and salad from Spa Café. The burger was OK but I think it was better on the last cruise on the Eclipse.  If you can get a seat at the Spa Café, this is the best place to eat  - quiet with a view of the water and no screaming muzak lady in the background.  The Spa Café also has some interesting items on its buffet – my favorite is the tuna salad – almost like a pate.  And of course, the breadsticks are addictive.

Having an early talk has its perks – you have the rest of the day off to hang out in the Solarium reading books or whatever you choose to do.  Ellen worked on her needlepoint in one of the private seats in the Solarium.

IMG_20180726_needlepointing Solarium

We had the best table in the house (#416) for dinner. Tonight I had the anytime Salmon and a baked potato. I also had a custom green salad (may not get again) and Corn soup (very good). For future reference, Ellen did not like the Cobia.

Before the show, I was able to catch a beautiful sunset off deck 14 aft.

IMG_20180726_post sunset rear deck

Tonight’s Entertainment was “The Flyboys” – four UK guys singers and dancers. The guys all had some West End experience and/or other theater venues. West End vocalist Aimie Atkinson was scheduled to perform tonight but something happened and these guys went on instead. I thought we had seen this group before but they had a similar name to another group. Flyboys did a lot of harmony – not my favorite – but they had good voices and were entertaining.

Seas are calm.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018 – Embarkation Day – Mostly Sunny–Warm – 80s

An interesting note about on-line check in surveys: Our hotelier seemed upset with me when she saw my initial impression of the hotel sent to hotels.com (I didn’t know your name was attached to the review). I actually did not complete the review (just the check in part – I mentioned that there was no real lobby or check in desk but I did say that the people were welcoming.  I did say that the place was very warm, which it was) but she was really annoyed with me and became very surly and unfriendly. Not very professional. Now, I’m annoyed with her and the hotel. Works both ways.

Again, a quiet night and pretty good night’s sleep.

Another warm day in Amsterdam.

The breakfast was about the same today – we came down at 7:30 AM, which also seemed to annoy our innkeeper. We weren’t the only people down there but she seemed to direct her darts at us. From now on we are going to be The Ugly Early Breakfast Americans.

And to add more annoyance – my Kindle Fire froze and wouldn’t reboot. I did a factory reset and now it won’t complete the boot – the “Fire” logo stays on until the battery is drained. I thinks it’s taps for this Kindle.

The cab – a very nice late model luxury sedan- came a little late (traffic) and the driver (decked out very professionally in a shirt and tie) apologized for his tardiness. The ride to the pier was a bit roundabout (due to construction) but only ran 16 Euros (gave him a 20 no change).

Celebrity Eclipse was the only ship docked today in Amsterdam. We walked into the terminal and got tags for our bags and then handed the bags to porters, who put them on conveyor belts. There were no huge crowds and those big baggage carts piled with suitcases – all very clean and efficient. We went upstairs to the check in and went to a special desk for guest entertainers. Check-in was easy and we boarded the ship.  It should always be like this.

We had a quick lunch of Salad and Pizza in the crowded Oceanview Café –and then went to the room – 3519 – to drop off our bags.

On this voyage, the Cruise Director is Chris Sweets and the Activity manager is Giuseppe Moschella

The other speakers on this ship are: Paul Delaney, Astronomer; Steve Diggs, Pop Music Historian. There is no Destination Speaker – those presentations will be handled by ship staff. We met Steve Diggs during our check in for the ship.

I met with Giuseppe at 6:30 PM in the Entertainment Office to go over the lecture schedule. He has me scheduled for one talk every sea day. The first talk with be at 9:00 AM tomorrow and all of the following talks are tentatively scheduled for 10 AM. The presentations will all be in Celebrity Central because the theater is in use for rehearsals every day.

Instead of filming a Q and A with Giuseppe, I filmed five “commercials” for the talks – a first for me.

Shooting commercial for talks

The videos ran about one minute and I was standing in front of a green screen – the final version will have me talking and the name of the talk and location along side of me. It’s a very neat set up.

We attended the Lifeboat Drill and saw the Celebrity Spy movie again.  I hope people get the safety points in the movie instead of seeing it as a movie.

We watched the sail away on the River Ij from the Sky Lounge.

IMG_20180725_Amsterdam Port view 1IMG_20180725_Amsterdam Port viewIMG_20180726_Amsterdam Sail Away 1IMG_20180726_Amsterdam Sail AwayIMG_20180726_Amsterdam Starboard view

Amsterdam Sail Away

It take a few hours for the ship to make her way to the open sea. The ship went through a set of locks before entering the North Sea. The locks looked like they were a ways from being completed – lots of cranes and building materials were present at the locks.

We got in the Celebrity Select Dining line and got a table for two in the Moonlight Sonata Dining Room – Seared salmon and mushroom soup (both OK). I had the Cesar Salad and Beets and Feta cheese appetizer (all OK).

The Welcome aboard show was a little different this time around.  Instead of introducing the Entertainment Staff and previewing the singers and dancers, there was an actual show, which featured “Junnk”, a multi instrument group from the UK – like Blue Man group without the paint. They performed percussion heavy numbers using all sorts of items. They were pretty entertaining.

IMG_20180725_Junnk Musical GroupIMG_20180725_Junnk

Junnk Performing

Hoping for a quiet room and a smooth ride.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 – Amsterdam – 87F

The room was quiet even though we did have neighbors on our floor. I was so tired, I slept about 8-9 hours straight. Even so, I was still a little jet lagged. Breakfast at the hotel started at 8:30 AM. and again involved a treacherous descent and, even worse, ascent on those stairs.  Not a spectacular breakfast – corn flakes and milk, cheese, homemade dark bread (the best part of breakfast), and apple strudel of some sort – the coffee was weak and not very hot.  For what we are paying for this hotel, my expectations were higher.  We were the only people having breakfast at this hour.  

Yesterday, we just wandered around the city but today, we would be more organized. I had done some checking on line so we had a walking route planned. We would once again catch the sites and also look for the area of town sporting all of the spas (by taking Vizjelstraat, which turns into Rokin street, which leads to Dam Square.

IMG_20180724_Dam Square

Dam Square, Amsterdam

We were able to find our way via the directions but it was still so hot that walking was difficult. That was a shame because that area of the city is teaming with activity and shops.  We did, however, find enough shade to get good views (and pics) of the Royal Palace and the Nieue Kerke.

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Royal Palace

IMG_20180724_Royal Palace and Nieue Kerke

Nieue Kerke across Dam Square

This seemed like a good vantage point to take a panoramic shot of iconic Dam Square.

IMG_20180724_Dam Square Panorama

The centerpiece of Dam Square is the National Monument, a 72 foot high marble tower, which commemorates the casualties (both military and civilian in WWII and since).  The monument is replete with symbolic figures and urns (containing soil from killing grounds).  The structure was completed in 1956 and, in our previous visits to the city, had been draped for repairs.  Today, it is pretty much totally viewable.

IMG_20180724_Dam Square Monument

National Monument

To get away from the heat, we went inside Magna Plaza, the huge mall behind the Royal Palace. We went to a little food place called “Sissy Boys” in the lower level.  The AC was working nicely, the couches were comfortable, and the place was relatively quiet. The store was manned by two young Dutch girls who spoke perfect English. We nursed a Blueberry Smoothie and Decaf Chai Latte for over an house while using their WIFI and munching on snacks we brought with us. As is the European Way, no one bothered us and encouraged us to move along.  Not only, that but we got the code for the washrooms, which really was important.  We stayed until our batteries were running low and then made our way back out into the heat.

We did find spas (and there were a number of them in the area) but they all looked too warm inside so we passed. We walked down to a marina and could see the Central Station across the way.

IMG_20180724_Amstel and Central Station

Central Station in the Distance

Retracing our journey home, we had an early dinner at an Italian restaurant – “Bella Regina”.  Unlike the pasta place yesterday, this restaurant was open to the street so it was noisy and adorned with flies.  And it was hot.  We ordered salmon and fettuccine again (this time with alfredo sauce) along with a mixed salad and a beer. The food was only marginal and the local beers are served in mini bottles.

We headed back home to our hot room and fan.

We asked the owner to call us a cab for 11:30 AM.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Celebrity Eclipse – Scandinavia – Russia Cruise / British Isles (back to back) – July 25, 2018 - August 19, 2018

Sunday, July 22, 2018 – Travel Day

We are on a very convenient flight - United Flight 909 – departing ORD at 5:55 PM.  On this trip, we got a ride to the airport – we were at the airport at 4 PM. We used the kiosks to check our baggage (easy) and then hiked half the length of Terminal 1 to the TSA pre-check line. Pre-check was very fast but travelers in the regular security lines snaked around the whole terminal – looked like a long process. We crossed under to Concourse C and our gate C21 was just a few steps away. We found seats and waited.  The good news was that our plane was at the gate and being readied for flight.


United 909

Boarding was orderly – we had priority boarding (Group 2) and got on the plane and settled in very quickly.  Our aircraft is a B767-300 (2-4-2 configuration). I had opted to buy pricey ($145 and $175) premium seats 19K/L for the 8 hour plus flight to Amsterdam.   (NOTE: They were both supposed to be $145 but after I bought the first seat the second seat jumped to $175; not only are United premium seats pricier than American but this stunt with the prices is annoying)   Despite the price gouging, the seats were great and would certainly make the trip more bearable.

On time takeoff – our flight plan took us over Newfoundland, just south of Greenland and Iceland, over Ireland and England and into AMS.

IMG_20180722_ORD Takeoff


IMG_20180722_ORD above the clouds

Above the Clouds

IMG_20180722_2 hours out

Sunrise – Two Hours Out

IMG_20180722_England 40 min out

Over England – 40 minutes Out

IMG_20180722_Netherlands coastline

The Netherlands Coastline

The flight was smooth with the seat belt sign on for a short stretch (false intel – no chop). Our Kosher meals (pasta with meatballs – new caterer) were very good. This supplier 86d the crappy cole slaw and also included some chocolate mousse for dessert.

Our pricey seats were indeed roomy and comfortable. You could watch movies on your pads or on the seat back screens (both high quality). There were lots of movies but I opted for “Lara Croft”, which I liked.

Monday, July 23, 2018 – Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Our flight arrived 30 minutes early (tail wind).  The trip must have been longer than I thought because the flight computer had us traveling 12,500 miles, more than half way around the world.  Wow.  Actually, an amusing computer glitch.

IMG_20180722_how many miles did we fly

Passport control was quick and easy. Our bags arrived in a reasonable time. The plan was to take the train from Schiphol to the Central Station and then the tram to the hotel. We bought train tickets at the kiosk with our ATM card (a PIN was required for our credit card) – 5 Euros pp – boarding the train is very difficult with heavy bags.

At the Central Station, we followed confusing signage for the trams.  I recalled that the trams were just outside the station. After a lot of searching, we found the waiting area for tram number 2 (3 euros pp again with a debit card) to the hotel. Again, hoisting our suitcases on the tram was not easy and the tram moved so fast and made such sharp turns that you had to hold on for dear life (while also hanging on to your bags). We got off at Keizersgracht Stop and walked one huge block to 618 (every number in the 600s belongs to a house) and the Keizerhoff Hotel.

IMG_20180722_Keizerhof Hotel entranceIMG_20180722_Keizerhof Hotel

Our Hotel

The hotel is family owned – we were met by two women – the owner and her mother - and were told that the room would not be ready for an hour. There was no check-in area – just a large room with seats and couches. It was very warm and the only cooling was with a fan. The hotel does not have room number but rather it uses movie star names. We were in the Rita Hayworth Room.  You can tell that by the picture on our hotel room door.

IMG_20180724_our hotel room

Hi Rita

IMG_20180725_Our room top floor

Our room at the top – Center of the Three

Our room was on the third floor – this is Amsterdam so no lift – just 50 winding and low clearance steps. The room was big enough but very hot (Sun facing) with no AC (the price you pay for an historical hotel) – we had our bags brought up (impossible for us) and borrowed a large fan from the hotel for the room. The temp outside was about 86F and about five degrees warmer in the room.  Humidity came along with the heat.  Note to self:  No historic hotels next time.

The room has a nice view of the garden as well as the neighbors across the way.

IMG_20180724_view from Rita Hayworth(1)

We took a look at the garden and it certainly is a beautiful space – somebody has to work hard to keep this looking good.  We thought about sitting on the couches out there but it was really hot.

IMG_20180725_Keizerhof Hotel Garden

The Garden

Someone nicked a street sign and it now hangs on the back wall of the hotel.

IMG_20180725_sign on Hotel garden wall

After our mini-tour of the hotel and grounds, we left the hotel to shake off some of the jet lag and walk around Amsterdam.  I did get a nice picture of Ellen alongside the Keizergracht Canal next to the hotel. 

IMG_20180722_ET Keizergracht Canal

it was very hot and humid and we were soaked in no time. The main street to take to the City Center is Vijzelstraat, which runs to the Muntplein. The street crosses a main canal, the scenic Herengracht Canal.

IMG_20180722_Herengracht Canal

On the way, we stopped at a spa given to us by the hotel lady but it was too warm to get a massage because the spa (and others we found) had no AC.

The Muntplein is home to the Munttoren or “Mint Tower”


an interesting tower that has a spire and cross. It is called the “Mint Tower” because coins were produced there in the 17th century.  The tower was also part of the medieval city wall serving as a gate.

We continued our walk and arrived at Rembrandtplein or Rembrandt Square.  The square, renovated in 2009, displays a statue of the artist (ca. 1855) and a bronze version of one of his paintings, “Night Watch”(2006).  This installation toured the world but returned in 2013.

IMG_20180722_Rembrandt Square 1IMG_20180722_Rembrandt Square

We had dinner at Pasta Place – we ordered fettuccini and salmon in a cream sauce (the order got mixed up and it came in tomato sauce) and mixed salad and beer – the waitress, who was from Israel, tried to fix the dish by recooking it with some added Alfredo sauce but that didn’t really help. The bill – paid by credit card – came to about 25 Euros.

It was too hot to continue walking so we went back to the hotel.

Dutch TV is pretty much the same as TV around the rest of Europe (although, I think HGTV was available). 

Another thing, there were insufficient plugs for our electronics.  The plugs themselves were not in good shape.

We were able to stay awake until 10:30 PM.