Travel: How to get the best VALUE

My company is Pilkington Travels, LLC, and I would be honored to help you plan any trip, large or small, so that you get the best value and have the best experience. Feel free to contact me using form below, visit my website, find me on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram.

We all want a great deal, and I understand that! I am very thrifty in many aspects of my life so that I can afford to travel. I don’t really like the expression, “you get what you pay for.” Sometimes you pay for a little and get a lot, or sometimes you pay for a lot and get little. It isn’t necessarily black & white, especially with travel.

Here are a few ways I think you can guarantee the best value for your time and budget!

  1. Use a travel advisor! Travel is PERSONAL, and our job is to help you get the best value and be sure you have an itinerary that is customized just for you. A good travel advisor has partnerships around the world to ensure that you are getting what you want. We also have access to special pricing and special amenities that add extra value to your vacation. As a Virtuoso advisor, I have access to highly vetted partners to ensure that you get exactly what you pay for. You also have an advocate from start to finish to help things go smoothly, make wise choices, and help if anything doesn’t go smoothly. If you haven’t used a travel advisor, or if you are afraid of paying more for your travels, I really suggest you give it a try!
  2. Try an ocean cruise! Before I went on my first cruise, I was very skeptical and had no idea whether I would love or hate the 7 days on board. By day 7, I wanted to LIVE on a ship. It was the most carefree, fun vacation I had ever had. Since meals, accommodations, and transportation are part of the trip, there are no worries. You wake up when you like, eat when you like, etc, and you get to explore several interesting, new ports. Cruises have a bit of a reputation for nickel & diming you, but with the assistance of a travel advisor who knows how that works, you will be sure to enjoy the value of a cruise! By the way, most of my experience is with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and I love them. I can help you find the best fit for you!
  3. Try a river cruise! Enough with the cruise talk! No, never! I have to separate the ocean cruising from river cruising because they are a totally different ballgame. River cruises are a bit more expensive, but probably not as much as you might think. Of course, you still have the meals, accommodations, and transportation that are part of the cruise, but other things are included as well. River cruises usually include 1 free shore excursion per port, and they include wine & beer at meals. Although you have to fly to Europe, they also often offer free or discounted flights. They are also a smaller and more intimate experience. I am particularly a fan of AmaWaterways, but Viking, Uniworld, and Avalon Waterways, among others, are wonderful. Booking through a Virtuoso agent gets you even greater value!
  4. Try a tour. I’m sure this makes some people cringe and gives you visions of being on a charter bus with 60 people. Ick! This isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of providers that offer small group tours and groups various sizes, even private tours. Your travel advisor knows the reputable companies! If you are traveling solo (solo but not alone), or if you like to meet people when you travel, this can be a great way to go. Also, the added value of a tour is that you probably have a guide, all of the planning is built in, and the cost is probably reasonable since it has been negotiated by the tour operator.
  5. Choose your destination wisely. This may seem obvious, but some places are more expensive than others. Norway is amazingly beautiful, but it is quite expensive. Locations even vary in price. For example, the Dominican Republic is a great value right now because of the bad press. If you’re afraid of dying, you really should fearing that. This article, along with others, discusses how the deaths were unrelated, as well as how the media created too much hype about them. Also, Mexico is a relatively inexpensive place to visit, but it’s no less wonderful! Again, your travel advisor can help you find the location that gives you the best value!

P.S. I forgot to mention all-inclusive resorts, but they can also be a great value. In this post, I compare all-inclusive with cruises.

I would love to hear from you!

UPDATE Sing at Sea 2020: Singing & Wellness Cruise

I am a travel advisor and voice teacher with almost 20 years of teaching experience (bio at the end of this post), so I am combining my passions into one fun and exciting opportunity!

SING AT SEA!

Come and commune, relax and revive, on land and at sea where your wellness will thrive!

If you enjoy singing, want to be a better singer, or think you can’t sing and want to try it out in a safe environment, then this cruise is for you! If you enjoy travel, then this cruise is for you! If you love food, fun, and community, then this cruise is for you! Contact me below.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady, June 7-12, 2020

  • Fly to MIA (on your own, or I can arrange)
  • Cruise leaves from Miami
  • Pre-cruise hotel optional (and highly recommended). If you do this, we will have a pre-cruise dinner to get acquainted and get the party started! (I can bundle flight & hotel)
  • Embark on a 5-day cruise to Costa Maya, Mexico and Virgin’s FABULOUS “Ibiza Inspired” exclusive beach club in Bimini, The Bahamas
  • Enjoy all of the amenities of a brand new cruise ship, including meals, entertainment, and accommodations.
  • Participate in daily singing and wellness activities, including private lessons
  • Fly home a happier, healthier person because of the experience of singing, travel, wellness, and community.

The Itinerary:

  • Day 1 Miami – Departs at 07:00 PM, Depart 2 hrs before
  • Day 2 Sailing
  • Day 3 Costa Maya – 09:00 AM, local time
  • Day 4 Sailing
  • Day 5 The Beach Club At Bimini – 09:00 AM, local time
  • Day 6 Miami – Arrives at 06:30 AM
Scarlet Lady!

Since I am starting this small, anywhere from 3-10 participants will be ideal. Each participant will have private voice lessons, group classes, and discussions over dinner. No matter what, I will ensure that there is plenty of time for FUN!

The estimated cost for participants should be $2000 or less (plus flight), depending on the cabin chosen. Non-participants may join you in your cabin for a reduced rate. Also, Scarlet Lady has solo cabins, which means that solo travelers don’t have to pay double!

Please contact me with your interest and availability, and I will answer any questions you might have.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Beach Club at Bimini
Jonathan Pilkington’s recent solo engagements include Verdi’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Haydn’s Creation, Handel’s Israel in Egypt, Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and Orff’s Carmina Burana. He sang the tenor solo in New York premiere of Mendelson’s Humboldt Cantata and was the tenor soloist for Elliott Carter’s The Defense of Corinth with the National Chorale at Avery Fisher Hall. He was a guest soloist at the 2014 Bassi Brugnatelli International Conducting and Singing Symposium in Robbiate, Italy. Additional performances include concerts with Lyric Intermezzo in Augusta, GA, a recital appearance at Reinhardt University, and solo recitals at Piedmont College and Winthrop University. In early 2017, he completed a tour of concerts with Karen Sigers, piano, featuring the songs of Samuel Barber, including a performance at Spivey Hall in Atlanta. In October 2018, he toured California to promote an album of songs with classical guitar, including transcriptions of Schubert’s Winterreise. Pilkington has performed many major choral works with the New York Philharmonic, American Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and others, and has been guest lecturer in vocal pedagogy for University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, the Sautee Chorale, and St. Bartholomew’s Church in Atlanta. With degrees from Shorter College (B.M.), Westminster Choir College (M.M.), and the University of Georgia (D.MA.), Pilkington, formerly Assistant Professor of Music at Piedmont College, now teaches at The Lovett School, United Music Studios, Perimeter College-Georgia State University, and The Galloway School, in addition to his own private voice studio. As a dedicated voice teacher, he has participated in the highly selective NATS Intern Program and competed further training at the LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™ at Baldwin Wallace University, and he serves as the NATS District Governor for Georgia. He also serves as a staff singer at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.

Intentional Work in Music & Travel

You might say that I have entered the “gig economy” in my own way. I am a freelance voice teachersinger, and travel advisor. I love all of the things that I do, and that is important to me. Without the security of a full time job, a bit of stress can enter in, especially when things that I thought were going to happen don’t happen. It is easy to feel mistreated or misunderstood and to be motivated by stress, fear, or money.

I’m quite certain that those things are not going to lead to success, so I have to remind myself of what I realized at the end of July. As I was leaving a week of training for both singing and travel, I began to put some things together. I was wondering how the two careers I’ve taken on will work together, and it started to become clear as I made my way home.

As a singer I believe that I can make a difference in the world by affecting the audience members. They might not go solve climate change because of hearing me sing, but they might be kinder to the person who cuts them off in traffic on their way home. It’s a small change, but who knows, it might save a life!

My high school voice students sometimes say that they don’t want to major in music because they want to do something that makes a difference in the world. I understand that they mean, of course. They want to work biotech or in a non-profit and make a big, tangible difference. That is wonderful, and I respect that! If someone believes they can be happier and more fulfilled doing something other than music for a career, then they should do the other thing. 

I do hope (and believe) that my teaching makes a difference, though, even if it is not realized until years later. Maybe I make someone aware of a postural issue that could have developed into a bigger issue later in life. Maybe the tedious work of vocal technique makes a difference when a former student is a heart surgeon. Maybe the study of voice remains with the student who goes on to become a lawyer, and singing is the only thing that brings them joy.

In the travel business, it would be very easy to get caught up in trying to sell the most high-end, luxury  hotels, resorts, and cruises since more money is made from them. Honestly, I hope the find the clients who can afford those things, and I don’t see any harm there. However, I must come back to what inspires me about travel. Mark Twain’s quote sums it up best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I’ve said it before, but each time I travel, I learn something else about the world and the people of the world, which makes me a better human. I want everyone to be able to travel, in whatever capacity is best for them, so that they will have similar experiences.

The other side of travel is seeing amazing (natural or manmade) sights of the world, and John O’Donohue’s words sum that up: “Beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive.” This quote is in my email signature, because it applies to singing and travel. First, I think our minds have to be set on seeing and recognizing beauty, then the beauty of music, or of people, places, things, and experiences, will make us feel more alive, thus making us better people and making the world a better place.

For the “cherry on top,” I must mention my other favorite quote, which really brings everything together. While it may sound religious in nature, I hope that even an atheist can see the value in the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon: “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Music and travel ultimately make us more alive and more human, so this is the world-changing intention that I have for my work. I’m putting it writing and making it public to hold myself accountable to it!

Blue Hill at Stone Barns!

Sometimes an experience is so monumental that a picture being worth a thousand words is still inadequate. An attempt to capture the experience of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in words and pictures is truly futile, but it will help me to remember the experience and share it with those who might be interested.

Our dinner reservation was for 8:30 pm, and they suggested arriving around 30 minutes early to walk the grounds and possibly have a drink before being seated. We arrived a bit after 7:00, because we didn’t want to feel rushed. Stone Barns was the Rockefeller’s dairy farm at one point, and I believe I remember correctly that it was donated to Blue Hill for the restaurant. Further research might be needed.

Once we parked, we weren’t quite sure where to go, so we wandered around the gorgeous grounds a bit until we ran into a very helpful young man. He was so perfectly pleasant that he was almost Stepford-esque. Unfortunately, we didn’t get his name. I’ll call him Nigel. He suggested that we look at the vegetable gardens, the walk around to see the greenhouses, where we might see some sheep and chickens. Finally we should wrap back around an make our way inside to the bar. Nigel said he would meet us there.

We weren’t exactly dressed for walking around a garden, or really for walking anywhere. Bree was wearing heels, and I was wearing new shoes that were starting to give me a blister on one foot. We suffered, though, and made it look good.

There were some young tomato plants and some peas growing. I’m sure there was plenty other produce growing, but that is as far as we ventured into the vegetable garden. On our walk over to the greenhouses, we took a few photos, and we also saw the chickens. As we approached a door, which we hoped led to the right place, someone (not Nigel) offered to take a picture of us. As we entered, we were greeted by Nigel, who instructed us to make ourselves comfortable, and someone else found out our names so they knew we had arrived for our reservation.

Nigel brought us a turmeric spritzer, along with a towel for our hands. We looked at the drink menu and felt it was necessary to order one of the creative cocktails. Mine was called “Rhubarb Reviver,” and Bree’s was “Bad Reputation.” I wish I had taken a picture of the cocktail menu! We requested to go outside, and Nigel escorted us out there. That is the last we saw of him, unfortunately.

The sun was setting as we sat on the patio overlooking the farm. Over to our right, someone was grilling things. We had not yet had a bite to eat, but everything was so perfect.

Right at 8:30, someone found us and took us to our table. The dining room was beautiful. The lighting was perfect, and a long table with an amazing floral spread was in the center of the dining room. I would estimate that 50 people were there. On our table was a booklet, a napkin, a flower arrangement, and a birthday greeting for Bree. It was explained that they would start bringing us food soon and that there was no silverware on the table. Silverware would be provided when they thought we needed it.

I tried taking notes about the courses as they were brought to us, but I missed some of the details. The first course was baby vegetables. They were lightly dressed/seasoned with something, and they were delicious. We experienced the true flavor of each vegetable.

Next, a server came by with a vase holding fennel fronds and said “a flower delivery.” We each took a frond and ate it. The stalk part tasted like fennel, as one would expect, but the frond part was quite sweet.

Next, we were presented with turnips with peach something (a description I missed). The person who brought it dusted the plate with poppy seeds as if he were sprinkling glitter.

Around the same time was a plate of pickled stuff (also missed the description). By this time, I think we were beginning to be simultaneously overwhelmed, amused, comfortable, and having a great time. Each “course” was presented by a different person, who placed it in front of us, pleasantly recited the description, and walked away. It was never a stuffy or pretentious experience, and everyone was so kind and charming. If we had a question, they were happy to answer.

I almost forgot the wine. Instead of the doing the “Unconventional Pairings,” we asked if they could give us two glasses each throughout the evening that would work well with the food we would be served. We first had white and later red. For each glass, we were given a taste of two different wines to see which we prefer, then a glass was poured. I could have done that all night long, and next time I might like to have the experience of the unconventional pairings.

Moving on with dinner, we were served kohlrabi (another missed description). Around about the same time, we each got a small cone of beef tendon popcorn (kind of like pork rinds).

We were also served weeds (on the arched structure), which came with a dressing for dipping. As the weeds were presented, it was explained that many weeds that grow are actually quite tasty.

Along with the weeds, we were served duck feet. Duck feet! The closest thing I could compare them to is crispy chicken skin. We also got some grilled fava beans.

We’ve now come to a highlight of the whole meal, which was pork liver with chocolate. Although I’m pretty adventurous, liver always scares me a bit. This was heavenly!

Finally, we were given silverware, which was wrapped in a satchel. Amazing.

All evening we had observed someone walking around the dining room with what appeared to be a branch from a tree. He finally visited our table and explained that what he was carrying was knotweed, which is apparently related to rhubarb. What arrived next was a knotweed spritzer. Perhaps this was a palate cleanser, because it seemed to be a turning point in the meal.

What came next was bones, asparagus, and cheese. The asparagus was what they called asparagus tartare with strawberry compote. What made this particularly interesting is that the server showed us three different egg yolks on a tray. One was from the typical egg that is raised on the farm, the other was from chickens that had been fed red peppers (the yolks were red). I actually can’t remember what the other variety of yolks was. We were to choose a yolk, and the server would grate a bit of it on top of the asparagus dish. This is one of my few minor complaints about the whole dinner. It would have been better if we could have tasted each yolk to decide which we wanted. There wasn’t really enough grated on the dish to taste it, so the idea was really interesting but I feel that the experience could have been more fulfilling.

The bones were very interesting. A white bone and a black bone were placed on our table to explain how bones are recycled. The server explained that the black bone had been carbonated in their carbonizer. These bones are used as charcoal for the grill. They are also used in aging the cheese that we were served. They called it bone char cheese, and it was so lovely with the oat bread. It looks like brie, and that is how it tasted, except a bit better.

The other very interesting thing about the bones is that a scientist from Philadelphia is studying the difference between bones from animals raised on their farm versus bones from animals raised in less ideal conditions. He makes bone china from the bones and has found that it is significantly stronger. The cheese and bread were served on this china, and I believe other courses were as well.

Next up were two courses that really made me laugh. The first was described as “joy choy with last year’s sardines.” Joy choy is related to bok choy, and it was not explained why last year’s sardines were used instead of this year’s sardines!

Bathroom break:

Following the joy choy and old sardines was “duck from recent slaughter.” It was served on top of some stones and was absolutely divine! This was served with a bit of asparagus stew. At this point we had also moved on to our red wine selection. I wish I had made notes on the wine, but there’s only so much I can do!

The lady who seemed to be our main server appeared and instructed us to gather our silverware satchel so that we could go on a little journey with her. She put our wine glasses on a small tray and escorted us out to the dreamy “shed” we had seen earlier in the evening. On the way there, she asked where we were from. She was interested to know that I am from Atlanta and mentioned that one of the other servers is from Atlanta and talks about going to Staplehouse, where I recently had an amazing dining experience.

Back to the shed! She told us that we would be served a course there, so she left us alone for a while. Then, a few minutes later, someone else brought us “the first of the peas with pullet egg.” It was delicious, and this part of the evening was especially magical. It’s hard to imagine how they coordinate the timing of everything so that everyone gets a turn in the shed. After we finished there, she took us on a short walk to show us some things, such as the herb garden. She explained that they were waiting for the chamomile to be ready so that all of their teas could come from the garden.

Soon after we returned, someone came by and took our “flower” arrangement and replaced it with orchids because they were going to cook the other one for us. It was an arrangement of “Christmas tree” (spruce or fir?) and asparagus. They also changed our candle. Also, the person from Atlanta ca,e by for a nice little chat.

What came next was most interesting. Simply put, we were served tacos that we had to assemble; however none of the ingredients were “normal.” First of all, the meat was a fish head. Then we had a lazy Susan with pea guacamole, bacon salsa, cream, greens, and a seasoned salt. The tortilla shells were made from something interesting too, but I have forgotten. This was all explained very quickly. However, despite the weirdness and lack of instruction, it was delicious and fun. There was a surprising amount of edible flesh available on the fish head. I truly wonder who got to eat the rest of the fish, though!

Following the fish head tacos was a plate of pork. It wasn’t really explained at all, but we definitely had pork belly and tenderloin. Also, our asparagus was served on top of the Christmas tree sprigs! They had grilled it for us.

Following that was a salad of experimental greens. I believe there was also duck involved in the salad. What made this particularly interesting was the dressing. The server arrived with a small copper pot. She explained what was in it, such as balsamic vinegar, etc. She took our candle and poured the melted stuff into the pot and said, “Don’t worry. It’s not wax. It’s beef tallow.” Melted beef fat was the fat portion of the salad dressing! She then poured the dressing onto our salads. Fascinating and delicious!

Along with the salad was served bone marrow. I find bone marrow to be delectable and disturbing at the same time.

Finally, around midnight, it was time for dessert. They brought out a tiny birthday cake for Bree. I believe it was a cheesecake.

Following that was the real dessert, which was a dollop of ice cream (scooped at the table) on top of slivers of rhubarb. They also poured a small amount of a chocolate sauce on the side of the ice cream. It is barely visible. This dessert was very nice and not very sweet. The rhubarb was tangy, the ice cream was creamy and not sweet, and the chocolate provided the most sweetness.

Alongside the ice cream was a small soufflé in a glass cup. It was amazingly delicious. The soufflé and the ice cream were both made from the same cream, which I believe they described as reduced milk, or something along those lines.

Just when we thought we were finished, we were served one more course. There was honeycomb, strawberries, cherries, and rhubarb needles in a haystack. Two of the strawberries were pickled and were quite tasty. The rhubarb needles were fun, but I did not find them particularly good to eat. Along with dessert, we also ordered a green tea and a latte.

This is why I couldn’t just post photos of the meal. I think they needed explanation. Believe me, it was not the quantity of the food that made the meal amazing. It was the creativity, inventiveness, and the overall experience, along with the flavor of the food that made the meal mind-blowing. As we left the building around 1:00 am, we were encouraged to return during another season. There are so many other restaurants in the world to explore, but I truly do hope that I will dine at Blue Hill at Stone Barns again, especially since I learned just before writing this that it has been named the #12 restaurant in the world. Congratulations to Chef Dan Barber on winning Chef’s Choice Award, which was awarded by his peers.

What a night. What a place. What a meal. I’ll never forget it!

Day 12: Just look at the pretty pictures

This is the time late in my trip that I don’t feel like writing about every detail, and you might not feel like reading them either. 🙂 I’m going to post a bunch of photos and make comments when needed. It was a good, full day of squeezing in as much as possible in a sort period of time. The main thing is that I absolutely love this city and the people here, and I definitely need to return to explore more of the city and the rest of the country!

The morning. A stroll through Vondelpark and The Van Gogh Museum:


The Heineken Experience. Like Guinness in Ireland, Heineken is very important to Amsterdam. They did a lot to build the city and make it what it is today.


Lunch at a place recommended by someone at my hotel. It is a place where locals go to hang out. They don’t even have English on their menu, and I didn’t hear anyone speaking English. I loved it!!

I read that the Dutch love this thing called “gezellig.” It is sort of just hanging out in a cozy, warm place, and I think this place is very typical of that.

Friends waiting to surprise someone for a baby shower
My table
Salad with quinoa, beets, and feta. It was delicious!!

A few other things from the walk before or after lunch:

Really interesting architecture!
People boarding a river cruise. #goals

I had free admission to The Eye Film Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they happened to have a huge Martin Scorsese exhibit. Kind of odd to see that in Amsterdam, but it was very interesting. Scorsese was definitely involved in putting this together, since many of the things are just his personal belongings:

The museum is the oddly shaped building on the left
The family’s dining room table from Little Italy
Dress from The Aviator
Boxing Shorts & Gloves from “Raging Bull”
Some of Scorsese’s record collection
On the ferry from The Eye, going back to Centraal
Really famous ice cream place. It was time for a snack. Only 1 Euro for a small cone!
It was described as “unbelievably good vanilla ice cream.” It was good, but I thought it was sort of like Chic-fil-A’s Ice Dream or Dairy Queen Ice Cream.
Last stop before nap time
There are hooks at the tops of gables for hoisting things up to the top floors!
Pigeons near my hotel

I was overdue for a nap, so I returned to the hotel. I wasn’t sure where to go for dinner, but I remembered that Amsterdam has a pretty new Food Hall. Just like I am a sucker for a rooftop, I am a sucker for a food hall (Ponce City Market & Krog St Market!). My hotel friend confirmed that it would be a good place to go, so that’s what I did! After that, I decided to take a canal cruise, which was for free with my iamsterdam card. Finally, before going home for the night, I got some fries. Fries with mayo are a big thing here, so I needed to have some. I actually walked about a mile to find a place that was supposed to be the best, but they had closed at 5:00 (I was there at 10:00). Oh well…

A few more pictures from my evening:

The house boats were amazing!

Day 11: Hamburg to Amsterdam

Today I woke up around 6am and got ready to leave for my 9:45 train from the Hamburg Hauptbanhof to Amsterdam Centraal. Re-packing my suitcase is a pain because of the way I pack, but it works. Basically I pack my clothes like a burrito. They’re very compact and have minimal wrinkles. I had four water bottles to return to the grocery store, which got me 90 cents back, so I got a salad and a bottle of water for the train ride. The weather was a bit misty, so I decided to take the metro to the train station. Again, I wasn’t quite sue which platform to go to, but it wasn’t too much trouble to figure it out. The train route oddly went sort of around Hamburg with only one stop between HafenCity and Hauptbanhof, but it only took about 10 minutes. I was the only person in my car, so I sang a bit along the way. In addition to keeping my body in shape while I travel, the other thing that concerns me is my voice. It is certainly well-rested when I travel, but I need to vocalize occasionally when I am in a place where I won’t bother anyone. I was pleasantly surprised at what came out at 8:30 in the morning after a few days without singing.


There was an exit at both ends of the train platform, and neither one said where I needed to go. I just chose one, and when I got to the exit, I was outside and across the street from the train station. I’m not sure if I could have done better but at least I got a nice photo of the station. It’s a nice looking station, although it’s kind of dark. Once I got inside, it was pretty easy to figure out where to go. My train was to leave from platform 14 at 9:46, and there was another train scheduled to leave at 9:24, so I had some time to kill. I went to one of the shops in the station and bought a pre-lunch snack for the train ride.


I had bought a first class ticket, and I found out that I needed to go to the far end of the platform to be in the right place when the train arrived. There was a Spanish or Italian group next to me who asked if I spoke English, and we all confirmed that we were basically in the right place for the train to Osnabrück. We would have to change trains there for the rest of the journey to Amsterdam. When the train arrived, we boarded, and I found my compartment pretty easily. the compartment has six seats, three facing forward and three facing back, with a table in the middle. It’s very nice and comfortable. A family, who appeared to be French Canadian joined me in my compartment. I gathered this because they were speaking French that didn’t quite sound French, and they had maple leaves on their luggage tags. I wasn’t away enough to attempt conversation. I typed the previous day’s blog, had my snack, and went took a lovely nap. As we approached Osnabrück, they started to seem a bit worried that we were about to stop, but they weren’t sure if we were at the right station. The older man asked in German if I was going to the same place, so I said, “Yeah, I’m American.” We all sort of laughed and then had a nice conversation about where we were from, where we’d been, and where we were going. We finally arrived at the station and sort of walked together to the correct platform for our connecting train. We waited together until we boarded the train, and then they were in a different compartment. Since it was about noon, I had my lunch of a Greek salad, which was pretty tasty and healthy. I got a cappucino from the food car, but I still fell asleep again–not a problem. As I awoke, we were soon in the Netherlands. The conductor came on over the loudspeaker and welcomed us. The landscape and architecture changed, as well as the language of the conductor. I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually heard someone speak Dutch, but it sounds more like the Swedish chef than German, which surprised me.

Things I noticed are huge, double-decker bike racks at the train stations, canals, and lovely gardens. The landscape was also more flat, as one would expect.We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal at 3:00, and with a bit of trial & error, I figured out where to go and what to do. I tried the ticket machine for public transportation, but it wouldn’t work for me. I gave up and walked outside. Then I spotted the iamsterdam booth. The iamsterdam card is the sort of thing that gets you public transportation and entry to a bunch of museums for one price. Someone had suggested it, so I bought one for two days. I then found that the tram I needed to take to my hotel was just outside, so I went to the stop and get on. It was about a 30 minute ride to the hotel, and then a 5 minute walk. I checked in and went to my room, which was very nice, especially the strawberries and chocolates left for someone. Maybe I should have called the front desk, but I didn’t. I just hope Mr. & Mrs. May got their welcoming gift.

I had made a reservation for a place called Ron Gastrobar for dinner at 6:00. I read in more than one place that it was a great place to go. The chef has some sort of recognition by Michelin, and everything is 15 Euros or less, or something like that. It was a 20 minute walk there, and I got there right on time. Rather than explaining every detail, I will just say that the service was fantastic. The server was so friendly and guided me through each thing I ordered. I was there for 2.5 hours and had no idea that much time had passed. All of the food was interesting, creative, and delicious. The thing that really blew my mind was the dessert! This is what I had:

Pickled onions, caramelized butter with bread

Squid ceviche with passion fruit 

Halibut with curry and apple & chicory tarte tatin

Pan fried goose liver with apples, rhubarb, and Madeira 

Coconut with black pearl caviar and white chocolate foam


I had also read about the Sky Lounge near the Centraal station, so I worked my way back there for a great view of the city.

And a few more pics as I was on the way back to the hotel: The busy, touristy shopping area

some of the famous “red lights”
One of the main town squares
Canal near my hotel

Day 9: Hamburg & Elbphilharmonie Ticket!

The view directly off my balcony.

When the sun rises around 5 am, it’s hard for me to sleep much longer. When it sets around 10 pm, it’s hard to go to bed around that time. I guess if I lived here, I would have really good blackout curtains! I went up to the buffet to get some of the muesli and fruit for breakfast again and took it to my room to eat leisurely and enjoy the room as long as possible. I did a short run on the treadmill  in the gym also, and got myself ready to meet Otto on deck 7 for priority disembarkation. When I was there around 9:15, he was there directing a small group of people to the exit. The priority part of this was the fact that we had a shorter distance to walk, and he shook our hands as he said goodbye to us. It was a nice touch, and it might be hard to go back to being a normal second class citizen on my next cruise!

There was a very short line for stamping passports, and then I was in Hamburg! Our port was by a fish market, which also had a number of shops and restaurants. Fortunately, although nothing was open, I was able to go in the market area and get some wifi to update my map and get directions to my Airbnb. It was about 2.5 mi away, and I had 2 hours to kill until I could get into the apartment where I was staying in the Hafen-City part of town. This walk basically took me from one end of town to the other, along the Elb River. Here are a few of the sights along the way:

My first view of the Elbphilharmonie
Alexa, play that song with the words “boy come back soon”
Fancy hotel up on a hill
The Finnish Church
The Norwegian Church, next door to the Finnish one…

HafenCity, where I was staying is sort of the place to be right now. I’d say it’s like living along the Beltline in Atlanta. It is a redevelopment of an old industrial part of town. http://www.hafencity.com/en/overview/the-hafencity-project.html

As I approached HafenCity, it looked like I expected. Since it is a revitalization of old warehouses on the water, it’s kind of like a newer version of Venice. The buildings are right on the water and connected by a bunch of bridges. When I got very close to the Airbnb, I still had about 30 minutes to kill, so I wandered into a grocery store. I always love a grocery store in another country! I just needed a liter of water, but here are some other fun things I saw:

I just translated this, and “Katzenzungen” means cat tongues?!?!

Yvi, my Airbnb host, left very detailed instructions for how to let the key to her apartment. She left a lockbox on her Volkswagen, which was parked right outside her building. I got it very easily and made my way inside, and I believe I passed the previous guests as they were exiting the building. Perfect timing! As I rested a bit and posted one of my blog posts, it got very dark outside and began to pour. Fortunately, I noticed that Yvi had left an umbrella with a note saying that you’re welcome to use it, and if you want to keep it, you can leave 10 Euros. The rain seemed to be a passing thunderstorm, so I took the umbrella and went out for lunch. When in Deutschland, you go to a Biergarten, right? There was one nearby with good ratings, so I walked in that direction.

Walking with the umbrella
 

When I arrived at around 12:15, I was the only person in there, but a very nice lady helped me it out. It was good that I was the first customer, because what to do was a bit confusing. First, she offered me either kleines oder grosses bierchen, and I chose kleines (small). I then looked at the menu, and she explained that I needed to go to the counter with her to choose what I wanted. Certain items would be weighed (meat), and others were served by the serving size (vegetables). I was really trying to have a light lunch, and I think I did the best I could in this location. The things I didn’t have include, meatloaf, pork belly, and roast pork. 

This really is small…probably about 6 oz
Sausage with curry sauce
Sauerkraut, which had to be ordered from the kitchen. It’s warm

By the time I left, quite a few more people were there, and the poor server was the only person working. She was pretty stressed trying to fill orders and take care of new people who were coming in. To add to the stress, they didn’t accept credit cards under a certain amount, and my lunch was way under that amount (around 9 Euros). Since I didn’t have any cash yet, she took my card.

I then decided to venture into the historic part of town and possibly do a walk that was suggested by the Google Trips app. Like TripAdvisor, you can download the information for a city ahead of time and then use it without internet connection.The walk suggested starting at the Hamburger Kunsthalle (art museum), so I walked through town to get there. Along the way, I stopped in a church and at the Rathaus (city hall, I think), which is a beautiful building and sort of sits on the main town square.

Inside the Rathaus.

I eventually made it to the Kunsthalle, which was an enormous building, but I forgot to take a picture of it. I did take a picture of some beautiful roses growing on it, though. I also took a picture of the main train station (Hauptbanhof). 

Here are a few things inside the museum:

The pipe is attached to a gutter, so rain water slowly drips to form a stalagmite. They plan to have this installation for exactly 500 years–from 1996-2496!

It was about 4:00, and I wanted to go back to the apartment since it was now my actual check-in time. I walked back by that church and took a picture of the door, a model of the church, and a painting that I loved in an art gallery:

I took a quick nap and did some research on what to do for dinner. I seriously wanted a light dinner and didn’t want to spend much. money. I had noticed a placed called Dean & David Fresh To Eat, so that is where I decided to go. It’s a place that I assume is a chain but serves salads, soups, sandwiches, etc. I ordered a shrimp & mango salad and sat in the window to eat it. As I was sitting there, it began to pour again. Fortunately, I found some wifi, and I. looked up what concerts were happening at the Elbphilharmonie. I noticed that they were doing something called “Konzerte für Hamburg” at 7:30 and 8:30. I decided that I would try and get a ticket for the second concert. The rain stopped, and I figured ou that I could get to the hall in about 18 minutes by public transportation. I had to figure out a new system, in another language, quickly, but I did it. First, I went to the wrong platform and missed one train, but I corrected that easily and got on the right train. It was very clean, and the ride was very smooth. As we approached the hall, I could tell that other people on the train were also going there. There was a steady stream of people coming from the hall, so I made my way upstream to the hall. I found the box office and saw a short line. Although no one was speaking English, I figured out that it was a line for people hoping to get tickets for (all concerts are sold out for a long time). We were told that we had to wait about 20 minutes, and right at 8:00 the agent started selling tickets to lucky customers. When she sold a ticket to the person just before me, she said “es tut mir leid…” meaning that she was sorry but that was the last ticket. At that exact moment, a young guy in a suit showed up with a ticket in his hand and said that he was giving away a ticket. This had happened once before, and I missed that opportunity since I didn’t immediately understand the German. This time, I didn’t waste any time, and I took it!! I couldn’t believe it! He gave me the ticket for free. These concerts were not very expensive to begin with, as the highest price was 18 Euros, but it was still like being given the golden ticket!

Everyone scans their tickets to go through a turnstile and access the escalator. The escalator itself was an experience. Not only was it beautiful, but it was a very long ride, and it didn’t go straight up. I don’t know how to describe it, but there was a curve in it, as if it was going over a hill. This might be the best selfie/photobomb ever:

Once at the top, you had to show your ticket again and were directed to the correct entrance. I was asked whether I wanted to take stairs or elevator, and I said I would take the stairs. There were about a million of them, which I didn’t realize. Oh well, I needed to walk off those potatoes! I finally got to my seat, which was the most comfortable concert seat I had ever sat in, by the way. The hall is so large but so intimate. I felt like I had the best seat in the house, and I could really feel that the architecture had a very comforting affect. Although I had been a bit stressed about getting a ticket, then excited about getting one, then rushed up a million stairs to my seat, I was quickly relaxed. 


The orchestra came out, tuned, and the concert began. The first piece was a trumpet concerto by Bernd Alois Zimmermann (new to me). The title was “Nobody knows de trouble I see..” I must admit that I am rarely excited about orchestral music, but this piece was amazing. It engaged me from the beginning. It had elements of jazz and had moments that were very dissonant and disjunct. The soloist was fantastic too. The piece was about 15 minutes long, then the conductor came back out and made a brief explanation of “PIctures at an Exhibition,” which was the other piece to be played. Again, wasn’t too excited about hearing it. I’ve heard it before. I like the music but never found it to be all that satisfying. Well….in this hall, with this orchestra, conductor, and audience, it was a different experience. Other than the fact that every orchestra member was clearly engaged fully, and the conductor was conducting beautifully, giving and taking control (never too showy), one thing that really stood out to me was the dynamics. The soft moments were so soft and beautiful, and the loud moments were very rich and full but never overpowering. The end of “The Great Gate of Kiev,” the final movement, was so powerful. It gave me big chills, which rarely happens anymore. I was not alone. The entire audience loved it. There was not a cheap standing ovation like we see at home, but there was very enthusiastic applause for a long time, and it kept going until it was clear that there would be an encore. I think the conductor said that it had to be short so that we could get out of the hall, but they were going to play something from “Lohengrin.” It was also fantastic, and then it was over. To make it even better, this programming was fantastic. There was a familiar crowd-pleaser with “Pictures at an Exhibition” and something unfamiliar and a bit more challenging with the trumpet concerto. Also it was only an hour long, which is my type of concert. Leave the people wanting more–not wishing it would end!

There were many people taking photos and even discreetly taking video, so I made a short video of the end of “Great Gate of Kiev.”​

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​Here are a few more photos as I was leaving. The sunset was AMAZING!!


My plan was to find an ice cream and call it a night. However, there was a restaurant and brewery in the hall. I decided to look in, and I noticed that people were having flights of beer, so I thought I would try one. The server was pretty slow coming, so I asked the people next to me (communal table) how it worked. They then helped get the attention of the server, and I ordered my tasting. Every one was really quite nice. I also had a very nice conversation with the man next to me as well as his daughter’s boyfriend, who was visiting from Munich. A nice lady also sat next to me, along with her husband and another friend. We also had a nice conversation, but they left pretty soon. After we had all paid, the guys next to me asked if I’d like to walk around the building again. Mark, the older man, gave me his card and said that I should get in touch so that the next time in German we can meet again. My impression is that Germans are very friendly but keep their distance, so I feel that it is an honor to have made friends with these people. My apartment was a pretty short walk from where we parted ways, and when I got home, I had a nice conversation with Yvi, who I learned had just done a big road trip from Washington, DC to Miami, including Savannah & Charleston. She said that her favorite place was Siesta Key in Florida, which I have never heard of. Another place to add to the the list! I finally went to bed at around 12:30!