New Year’s Day on AmaMagna

Everything had a bit of a delayed start on New Year’s Day, but I was up, as usual. I had my early breakfast, did a bit at the gym, walked around the ship, watched us go through a few locks, and had lunch. We arrived in Melk at around 2:00, where the big tour of the day was Melk Abbey. That involved a short bus ride up the hill to the Abbey, a tour of the Abbey, and a walk back down the hill and through the town, on our own. Here are some highlights of the day:

As a friendly reminder, I am a travel advisor/agent and can organize these same experiences for you!

Entering a lock on the Danube
Approaching the bridge. Will we make it??
Just made it under the bridge!
Panoramic view from Melk Abbey
Photos are not allowed in the Abbey 🤫
😍

Linz, Salzburg, & NYE on AmaMagna

This marks the time in a trip when I don’t really have time to write, but I will share more pictures and give a few highlights. On Dec 31, we arrived in Linz, Austria early in the morning. We could either go to Salzburg, Cesky Krumlov, or stay in Linz. I opted for the full-day Salzburg tour because I made plans to meet with John Thomasson, my college voice teacher, who is now teaching at the Mozarteum!

The tour left at 9am and made a stop in Mondsee a town in the Lake District where the church is from the Sound of Music wedding scene. It was a beautiful town with an equally beautiful church. That stop was about an hour into the bus ride and about 30 min from Salzburg.

Once we reached Salzburg, we had an 1 hour walking tour of the highlights. At the end of the tour, I met Dr Thomasson, and we saw some other sights, had some lunch, and caught up. It was a great visit!

I met the group again, and we boarded the bus to go back to the ship for the New Year’s Eve celebration. This was a great opportunity for a nap. We got back in time to get refreshed for dinner, which was a special menu for the occasion. Fireworks had been going on all evening, by the way. After dinner, the party started in the lounge. Then, at about 11:45, many of us went outside to see the fireworks. They were the coming from every direction, on both sides of the Danube, and we were told that they were just people in town shooting off their own fireworks. The city didn’t actually have fireworks! It was the most amazing show I’ve ever seen, and it seemed to never stop!

After midnight, there was a beautiful spread of party food in Al Fresco!

HAPPY NEW YEAR from AmaMagna!

AmaMagna Journey Days 1/2

After sleeping for almost 11 hours (unheard of), I woke up at almost 8am took a quick shower, quickly threw my things in my suitcase, and enjoyed the most beautiful breakfast in the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost. Now I am on the train and have time to write a bit about my journey here and my day in Munich!

Sunrise from Sofitel Munich Bayerpost

My direct flight from Atlanta to Munich was at around 6pm on December 27. For some reason, I got to the airport around 2:30. I usually enjoy hanging out in the airport lounge, but this was excessive. Oh well, I was through security in about 30 seconds and in the lounge a minute later! It was packed! I found the quietest spot I could find and just relaxed until about 5:00. I walked to my gate, and the flight boarded on time and left basically on time.

The flight was so pleasant that there’s not really much to talk about it, except for Delta’s new “elevated” main cabin service on international flights. Things were a bit delayed because the air was a bit bumpy as we started, but once they started serving us, it was lovely. It began with a hot towel and a menu. The menu had choices for appetizer and entree. The appetizers were caprese salad or a salad with shrimp, and entrees were chicken Marsala, grilled chicken salad, or ravioli. Before they came through with food, they gave everyone a bellini (peach purée with champagne)! It wasn’t the most amazing drink, but it makes you feel a bit like they care, rather than treating you like cattle (although cattle should be treated well too)!

Dinner was pretty tasty! Dessert was Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, and you can’t go wrong there! I watched a bit of the movie “Coco” before going to sleep, and after sleeping pretty well, thanks to my new “turtl,” I finished the move just in time to land. Once we landed, we were taken by bus to the terminal and immigration. That was all very easy, and I got on the Lufthansa Express Bus, which was a 45 min ride directly from the airport to the Munich Hauptbanhof for 11 Euros. The best deal!

The Sofitel Munich Bayerpost is right next to the train station, so although it was 10am, I went to see if I could check in. I couldn’t, but I was allowed to check my bags and use the spa for the sauna, steam room, pool, and showers. This was the best thing possible! I stayed there until almost noon, and then I walked to a classic Bavarian beer hall that I had heard Rick Steve’s mention. As I approached, there was a group of men outside smoking and wearing Lederhosen. I was afraid they might be a group of silly Americans, but since I sat near them, I saw that they were just a bunch of German guys hanging out. I should have taken a picture of the menu, but I had some sort of boiled beef with mixed vegetables. I thought the menu said sauerkraut, but it turned out to be freshly grated horseradish! It was all just what I wanted, except that I actually wanted sauerkraut.

I walked back to the hotel and found that my room was still not ready, so I decided to keep walking (to stay awake) and went to Old Town. Ah, this was what I wanted to see, because the hotel & train station area was more grungy & modern. I would compare this to the area around Penn Station vs Greenwich Village. There was a small Christmas market still going. I tried getting a Glühwein, but they only took cash. (Side note: I couldn’t find my debit card, and I still don’t know where it is. Therefore, I don’t have access to an ATM!)

I continued walking, just seeing what I could see, and I ended up at the Viktualenmarkt, which was wonderful. While it’s always there, I felt like I was getting some of the feel of a big Christmas Market. I wanted to get back to the hotel to check in at 3, so I figured out the public transportation and took the subway to the Hauptbanhof. My room was ready!

I got to the room, which was great. It was on the 7th floor (out of 8), which meant it was above part of the building and allowed for a great view. I was waiting for my bags since they insisted on delivering them to my room. After a while, there was a knock on the door, and it was not my bags, Instead, it was 2 people delivering champagne, a fruit bowl, and a bar of chocolate. How nice!

Finally, my bags came, so I was able to charge my phone and put on clean clothes before going out to find dinner. I walked back to the OLD TOWN to see what I had missed, such as the opera house, Hofbrauhaus, and to experience the Viktualenmarkt with some money. I saw a soup place there, and that was exactly what I wanted for dinner—Goulasch! It was delicious and really helped to warm me. I walked around a bit more and finally. Had my gluhwein, which was delicious. It’s basically just mulled wine.

Glühwein
Munich Opera House

I went inside one big hotel because I saw a rooftop bar from outside. Once I got in, I decided I didn’t want to go, although I’m sure the view would have been great. As I left, though, I noticed a shrine to Michael Jackson. WHY?? I started walking in the direction of my hotel and took the train back to the station since it was cold, and I was tired!

MJ Shrine

I went to bed just before 10pm, and just as I had turned off the light, there was a knock on the door that said it was housekeeping. They must offer a turndown service? 10pm seemed late for that, though! I “yelled” at them from bed and told them that I was in bed. I slept well until about midnight, and after reading for a bit, I slept until 8am! I suppose I needed it!

Magical New Year’s Eve Danube River Cruise?

AmaWaterways Ship New Year's Eve Fireworks

Ama means love, and who wouldn’t love to be on a river cruise? Truly, I can not think of a way I would rather ring in the New Year than on a river cruise on the Danube. The thought of experiencing Christmas markets in European cities after Christmas, then enjoying a gourmet dinner onboard, followed by viewing fireworks from the ship at midnight, sounds like a dream come true to me! Read (or skip) to the end to see details on the AmaMagna New Year’s Eve Cruise, and contact me for more information!

Budapest, Hungary

A river cruise is such a great value! Also, on AmaWaterways, the single supplement is less than 150%! Here I highlight some things that are above & beyond what is typically included on an ocean cruise:

  • 7 nights luxury accommodation in an outside stateroom (most with twin balconies)
  • Computer for internet access
  • Entertainment-On-Demand in all staterooms featuring free high-speed internet access, movies, a music library and English language TV stations
  • Mini-fridge, desk and sitting area
  • Bottled water replenished daily
  • Wellness Program with a dedicated Wellness Host leading various exercise classes as well as discussions on healthy eating and relaxation techniques, both on board and on shore.
  • Internet and Wi-Fi access
  • The Chef’s Table specialty restaurant
  • Welcome Cocktail, Welcome Dinner, La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner, Captain’s Cocktail and Gala Dinner
  • La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs exclusive dining experience
  • Unlimited fine wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner
  • Unlimited sparkling wine and fresh juice with breakfast
  • Sip & Sail Daily Cocktail Hour with complimentary wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks
  • Immersive tours in every destination
  • Bike tours and hikes
  • Knowledgeable guides
  • Personal headset for easy exploration

ROMANTIC DANUBE
7-NIGHT VILSHOFEN TO BUDAPEST CRUISE

December 29-January 5 on the AmaMagna
» Countdown to midnight amid the mesmerizing display on the
Ars Electronic Center in Linz
» Enjoy colorful New Year’s fireworks in the sky above at midnight
» Visit charming villages like Passau, Germany and Dürnstein, Austria,
still dressed in their holiday finery
» Explore Vienna, the “City of Waltzes”, from the Imperial Palace to
magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral
» Attend the exclusive New Year’s Eve celebration on board

AmaMagna Ship Tour

5 Helpful Travel Products

This is a brief one! I am highlighting 5 products that have been useful in my recent travels. Feel free to contact me below or visit my website!

When the handle broke on my old carryon, I did an Amazon search and found that they are now selling their own line of luggage. I love the way this suitcase looks and the way it rolls. The orange also stands out if you have to check it. I hope you’ll choose a different color, though, so our bags don’t get confused! 🙂

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These Keens are SO comfortable for walking! I bought them for those occasions when you need to wear closed toed shoes but don’t want to wear shoes or socks.

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I wanted a functional, inexpensive backpack, and this one is working out very well for me. It’s not too large and bulky, but it holds what I need it to hold!

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A Kindle is probably an obvious travel accessory, but I haven’t always had one. I love this one because it can either be lit or not. If you’re reading in a well lit place, you can turn off the light, or you can turn it on as dim or as bright as you want it!

These luggage tags are great! When you go on a cruise, you can always print out your luggage tags before the cruise, so you print them, cut them out, fold them, and stuff them in these tags. They have a very tough zip-lock seal at the top, so your tag is safe from any water or rough treatment.

Highwind Cruise Luggage Tags 8 Pack

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 10: I chose chocolate over Brahms

This will be one of my less exciting days, in case you were thinking I needed a break! I woke up way too early, with the sun, and I took my time in the morning writing the previous day’s blog and getting ready for my last day in Hamburg. When I walked out of the apartment, I thought I was going to walk in the direction of the Johannes Brahms Museum. I had learned from teaching music appreciation that he grew up in Hamburg, he was not rich, he practiced piano in piano stores, and he made money at night playing in “stimulation bars,” as the textbook put it. However, there doesn’t seem to be any big celebration of Brahms in Hamburg like you see Mozart and Haydn in Vienna, for example. I am not denying the genius of Brahms, and I love his Requiem, but he is not among the composers I absolutely love. All of that is to say that as I started walking, I didn’t feel like walking the 1.5 miles to the museum. I had looked up public transportation, and there wasn’t an easy route, so what I decided to do instead was check out the Miniatur Wunderland, which seemed to be hugely promoted, and my Airbnb host also recommended it. I saw some of it on a Rick Steves show, and it looked pretty fun–like a huge model train exhibit. 
When I arrived, I was told that there was a 90 minute wait and that I could buy a ticket for later in the day if I didn’t want to wait 90 minutes. I decided that a 3:00 ticket would be good. That would at least give me time for lunch and a nap before doing it! 

I then roamed around a bit and went in a church that I had been seeing but had not gone inside. The steeple was unusual, and the exterior looked very old; however, inside was very modern. I found out that St. Katherine’s church was built in the 14th & 15th centuries and that it had severe bomb damage in 1943-44. That explained the contrast in styles.


I then decided to walk to the Chilehaus, which is a building that I kept hearing about as somewhere that I needed to go. Apparently it is a huge landmark in Hamburg and is a great example of 1920s Brick Expressionism. I didn’t know that was a thing, and if I just looked at the building, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. If you know that it is known as something special, then you look at it differently and try to appreciate it, so if you look closely, you can see that the brick work really is unusual and beautiful.


Chilehaus is just an office building with a few shops and restaurants in the bottom. What also drew me to the Chilehaus was its proximity to the Chocoversum. This is basically a chocolate museum. I had previously looked online and knew that there was an English language tour at 1:45, so since I was there, I decided to inquire. It seemed clear that you had to take a tour (90 minutes!), so I bought a ticket for that as well!

Although I really hadn’t done much, it was about time for lunch. I wanted something inexpensive and healthy. I had seen people setting up some food trucks/booths at a plaza near the apartment, so I thought I would check that out. There was a produce stand, a place with vegeterian wraps, a place with fish sandwiches, and a few others. I decided that I didn’t want any of them. I had also noticed an Asian place with a lunch special for around 9 Euros. That seemed interesting, so that’s where I went. It was actually a buffet, but the food was delicious, particularly the Tom Kha Gai. I ate a little bit too much, but at least it was mostly vegetables.


After lunch, I had an amazing 15 minute nap and awoke feeling ready to make it to my afternoon appointments. First stop was the Chocoversum. There was a group of about 20 people there, and the rush to the start of the tour felt like entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. After scanning our ticket and going through the turnstile, we were given a small waffle. This was a small, crispy waffle–sort of like a large communion wafer. The guide told us that we would use it in the next room, and when we entered the next room, we encountered a chocolate fountain that would dispense warm milk chocolate onto our waffle. It was quite delicious and a fun way to start the tour.


We then were sent into the next room, where we were told all about harvesting cocoa beans. The guide had a real cocoa bean that was split open, and she gave a spoonful of the pulp and a seed for 3 people to taste. They said that it tasted ok but nothing like chocolate. She then explained that the pulp and seeds are then fermented for a period of time and then dried. The dried beans are then roasted. The roasted beans are cracked open, and the cacao nibs are separated from the shell. We each got a roasted bean to open up and eat the nibs. I have eaten cacao nibs before, but these were much more delicious. Maybe it’s because they were freshly roasted or because it is better quality.

We then learned the different ratios of cacao to sugar and dried milk for making dark chocolate and milk chocolate. White chocolate was also mentioned, and only cocoa butter is used in white chocolate–no cacao. 


She then showed us the three different machines that are used in making chocolate. We got to taste it at every stage, which was interesting and always tasted great.


Somewhere along the way, we went in a room and created our own chocolate bar. We chose either dark or milk chocolate, and we were given a mold filled with melted chocolate. Then we were supposed to take a small paper cup (like the ketchup cups as Wendy’s) and fill it with three different ingredients. The ingredients ranged from raisins to sprinkles–about 16 different things to choose from. I chose dark chocolate with coffee beans, hazelnut brittle, and cacao nibs, with a few sprinkles. I also sprinkled a bit of cinnamon and chili powder on top.


After we finished the entire tour, we were given our bars that had been sitting the refrigerator for about 45 minutes. We had to unmold our chocolate and put it in a cellophane bag, and then we were released. The whole thing was very informative but not exactly fun, outside of learning about and tasting chocolate. The pace was a bit slow. This isn’t necessarily a complaint–more of an observation. I think we all enjoyed the tour, and I felt like I should have a diploma or certificate of completion after it!


After Chocoversum, I walked back to the Miniatur Wunderland. With my ticket, I was able to walk right in. It was very crowded, and I made my way through as quickly as possible. It was pretty fun but not my thing, and I left after about 30 minutes, when I felt that I had seen everything. Here are a few pictures:


I wanted to go back to the Elbphilharmonie to spend a bit more time on the plaza, so I walked over there, which was not a very long walk. I found the ticket machine for getting free tickets onto the plaza, and then I made my way up the escalator. This time, without the huge crowds, I was able to see the curve in the escalator. I also read that it is the world’s first curved escalator, and the entire trip takes about 2.5 minutes. I took a few pictures and walked to some places that I hadn’t seen the previous night. I also walked into the Westin Hotel lobby, which is also part of the Elbphilharmonie. On top of the concert hall is where the hotel rooms are, so the view from them must be amazing. From what I found before my trip, the cheapest rooms are about $400/night. All I could see was the lobby, and I wasn’t able to go to the top floor without having a room key. I did find the elevator down, though, and that took me to the very bottom to the exit. 


I walked over to the grocery store near the apartment, where I bought a water, a yogurt for the morning, and a small plate from the salad bar. That was my dinner since I thought I would just relax in the apartment before going to the opera.

I walked over to the opera, which is about a 20 minute walk and is just past the busy shopping part of town. The opera house is a large, impressive, but I didn’t think it was particularly beautiful inside or out. Actually, I found what I thought was my seat, until a lady came and informed me that it was my seat. I showed her my ticket, and she pointed to where I should be. It was nearby but not quite as good of a seat since the view was slightly obstructed. When I found my seat, the hall was mostly empty. The Germans were all out at the various bars/cafes in the lobby eating and drinking, etc. They all sort of came in suddenly, just before the opera was to begin. I mainly bought this ticket because I wanted to see an opera in Germany, but also the opera was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Benjamin Britten. It is one of my favorite operas. Now, I knew that I was going to be seeing it in Germany, but I didn’t know whether the singers would be native English speakers or Germans. Also, Germans I know are generally very concerned with language and speak English as well as any American. The opera begins with a children’s chorus, and I couldn’t understand a single word. This concerned me a bit, but I thought that maybe the children were local and had not been coached in English diction. Then Puck came out, and I could understand his English a bit better, but not every word. When some of the singers sang, I truly could not tell what language they were singing. This made the opera very boring and frustrating, and with the typically European lack of ventilation (warm & stuffy), I had a very difficult time staying awake. Sometime during the second scene or second act (not sure which), I woke up a bit, but I was still bored. Although the finale is my favorite part of the whole opera, I left at intermission. I could not imagine sitting through another hour being frustrated that they didn’t take greater care at singing well in English. I don’t think I’m wrong about this, but I think Americans (and other English speakers) go to great lengths to sound as native as possible when singing in other languages. I’m not sure what happened here, but they definitely needed more work on their English.


I strolled through town. It was about 10:00, so the sun was nearly set. Most businesses were closed, other than restaurants, and the buildings were becoming illuminated for the night. It was lovely. What I really wanted was a scoop of ice cream, though. I actually could not find an ice cream stand open anywhere between the opera house and the apartment. I even stopped in front of the Apple Store for wifi and googled ice cream, and I found that all of the shops were closing at 10. I made my way back to the area near the apartment, where everything was also closed, and I decided to call it a night. I had a few pieces of chocolate to satiate my slight hunger and somewhat satisfy my cravings. I did some research for Amsterdam before going to sleep, including looking at the menu for the restaurant where I have a reservation for Saturday night. It is a Michelin rated restaurant where everything is €15 or less, so before I left home, I decided that I needed to try it. We’ll see what tomorrow holds…..

Day 8: Sea Day!

Again, I slept pretty well, although I woke up a few times. This time, though, I slept until 7:30, which was 8:30 since we crossed a time zone! I had placed a room service card for breakfast on my door the previous night, and it was supposed to arrive between 6:30 & 7:00. I suspected that something had gone wrong earlier, because it was gone about 2 minutes after I put it there. As I was leaving to get breakfast at the buffet, I noticed that it had somehow fallen into a cubby by my door. Oh well, I think I actually made better choices at the buffet. I had an odd assortment of granola, muesli, yogurt, and fruit. I took it back to my room, along with a small pack of Nutella. This, along with coffee from my Nespresso machine and an apple, made for a lovely breakfast on my sofa. I then did my typical, full yoga routine, which my body thanked me for. It was nice to have time time and space to do it, accompanied by piano tunes on one of the tv channels, which featured such favorites as the theme from “Ice Castles.”
I thought it was kind of cold outside, so I finally ventured out to my balcony, where I discovered that the temperature was pretty nice. Over to the left, I saw a ship, along with what looked like some windmills, in the distance. 


It was time for the hot tub. I’m not normally a huge fan, but with the cooler weather, it sounded perfect. It was quite nice, and the pool deck was beginning to fill up with people fully dressed and sun bathing. After I got out of the hot tub and sat in a chair, I was a bit cold, so I decided to go play $10 budget bingo, which was scheduled for 11:00. Of course, they tried to sell me the $30 package with more cards, but I stuck with $10. At 11, they announced that the game was canceled because there weren’t enough people there. They were giving everyone more cards, though, and we could play at the 4:00 game, which would have a larger jackpot. 


Oh well. I took my cards to my room and discovered that there would be a bouillabaisse demonstration in the atrium at 11:30. Bouillabaisse, shower, lunch, more hot tub/sun, sounded like a good itinerary for the near future. 


I wasn’t sure which place to try for lunch, but I thought I’d try the same place as yesterday since I liked the server. Unfortunately, they had the exact same menu, so I decided to try the main dining room. I wasn’t too excited about their entrees, so I ordered two salads: the crab salad and the arugula and shrimp salad. 


My thinking was that I would then check the systems and see if I’d like to have a main course in another restaurant. I got the NY Strip with Parmesan truffle fries on my mind that I had seen on the menu at Cagney’s, so that’s what I did. It was great, but I only ate half of it. 


Just a side note about the music that was playing. It was lovely and non-intrusive, but I really have a problem with instrumental arrangements of vocal music, unless it’s something like a Liszt arrangement of a Schumann song. They were playing a piano version of “Tell me on a Sunday” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I was probably the only person who noticed, but I did. It didn’t actually bother me so much, but if I put on Pandora and ask for classical piano music, that is not what I want. Just give me some Chopin!

After Cagney’s I went up to the buffet/pool deck to check out desserts. I found a small serving of apple strudel and had it with a small bit of vanilla ice cream and warm caramel sauce. Yum. I then returned to my room and had a 10 minute nap on my left side in the sun on the balcony. Now, that, followed by an espresso, was heavenly. 


Post-nap, sun and hot tub seemed appropriate. The breeze on the pool deck was stronger and colder than on my balcony, but as I stayed in the sun, I got warmer. I stayed in the sun for about 30 minutes and then got in the hot tub, which was great after the dry, chilly wind. It was so relaxing. I roamed the ship a bit and went back to my room, where I found a lovely cheese plate waiting for me. 


Too bad they didn’t include a glass of wine with that! Well, I went out and found my own. I brought it back to the room and had some of it and some of the cheese on my balcony. It was so nice, I stayed for a bit more time in the sun, which sort of doubled as another nap. Yes! 

It was then time for the 4:00 bingo game, which I found out was also canceled. However, this time, they were going to refund the cost of the cards and play one game for a prize. That was about 20 minutes of unbridled fun until someone won! 😜

I went back to the room, showered again, and slowly made my way to dinner by about 5:30. I went to Alizar, which is the other main dining room on the ship. It is smaller, and it is also the one where you can wear shorts instead having to wear pants. Interestingly, I had a better experience in Alizar. In the past, I’ve had better experiences in the dining room that was more formal. Oh well! The server and other staff were friendlier, and the meal was generally paced better. Everything was very good, from the spring roll and papaya salad, the butternut squash soup (odd combination, I know), and the seafood hot pot entree. 


Just to clarify, I generally think cruise ship is good, but would not say it is anything to write home about. I’m sure that will change for me if/when I’m able to go on a fancier cruise line. 

One of the bad singers. 👎🏼
 
I went from the bad singer to this show, which was quite fun and woke me up!
And that’s how the day ended. By the way, this was taken at 10:10 pm!