German Bight, Dogger, Tyne

We would spend today crossing the North Sea in the famous shipping forecast areas, hence the title of today’s blog.  We would try not to get too depressed that this was the last day of our fantastic cruise and tomorrow afternoon we would be back at work!  ☹

In the Ballindalloch I enjoyed a substantial breakfast of egg, bacon, sausage, mushroom and hash browns.  Then we ventured out on deck to see what the weather was like; the North Sea was amazingly calm, barely a ripple and certainly no cresting waves.

At 10 o’clock we went along to the Neptune Lounge to listen to a presentation about the Vikings in northern Europe, where they settled and how they shaped the future.  Then we stayed in our seats for the following talk, which was called “Tales from the Thin Blue Line” and featured personal anecdotes given by a retired policeman with 30 years in the force, who was one of our fellow passengers.

This took us nicely to 11.45am, so we decided to go along to the Morning Light pub and have a couple of pre-luncheon drinks before the Captain’s noon navigational announcement.

It was pleasant in the Morning Light as we sat on stools at the bar and passed the time with our fellow cruisers, some of whom we’d got to know.  That is what we enjoy about smaller vessels; the fact that you can make new friends (and sometimes meet old ones!) rather than travel on these gigantic mega-ships with 6,000 passengers and never come across the same people twice, as they are swallowed up in the anonymity of the crowds.

At around one o’clock we pondered whether or not to go to lunch, but we’d eaten a good breakfast so we decided to give it a miss and have some roasted nuts and Twiglets to nibble on with our drinks instead.

In fact, we didn’t really do a lot else today.  Looking out of the window we could see that the sun had come out, so rather than waste it by being inside, we went up to the Marquee Deck and took advantage of the lovely weather and gentle sea breeze, enjoying some cold cocktails whilst turning our faces to the sun.  Ah… this is the life!  😊

We sat there for most of the afternoon, just watching the world go by and making the most of Fred Olsen’s all-inclusive drinks package.  Then, as the afternoon progressed into early evening, we reluctantly made our way back to our cabin to get sorted out for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party at 5.45pm.  How the time had passed quickly!  How could it be the ‘farewell’ party already?  A nine-day cruise is far too short.

Nonetheless we pottered around and started tidying up and putting the odd bits and pieces in our cases as we had the chore of packing to do later on.  Then we made our way to the Neptune Lounge for the usual cava and canapés, to listen to the excellent Balmoral Orchestra and watch the ballroom dancers.

Then along we went to the Ballindalloch restaurant and table #76 for the ‘last supper’. All six of us were there tonight; Roy and Joanie and Alex and Marian and us.  We had a tasty meal as usual and lingered over our coffee and liqueurs at the end, so much so that the waiter gently had to usher us out so they could get the table ready for the next sitting!

Tonight the Balmoral Show Company were performing their original show, “Rainbow Cascade” which, as its name suggests, featured songs about colours, such as Yellow Submarine, Paint it Black etc.

We finished the evening by going up to the Observatory for the quiz, but we completed our duck this cruise by not having a single win.  Then we just stayed together talking and laughing and enjoying the music of Adam Reece on the piano.  Slowly the Observatory emptied out as, one by one, people went back to their cabins to finish their packing.  We were reluctant to go back as it would officially be the end of our cruise.  In any case, we would gain an extra hour tonight as the clocks went back to British Summer Time.

Eventually, around 12.45am, we said our goodbyes to the members of ‘table 76’ and returned to our cabin, where we just threw everything into the suitcases and put them outside the door to be taken ashore tomorrow.  Then we settled down for our final night on board the Balmoral.

In the morning, we found ourselves back where we’d started, in the Tyne.  Another very interesting and varied holiday had come to an end.  Can’t wait until the next one!  😊

A ‘Grimm’ Time in Bremen

We got up around eight o’clock this morning as we were booked on a half-day tour of ‘Panoramic Northern Germany’.  In the Palms Café we said good morning to Roy and Joanie, and found out that Joanie hadn’t gone to bed until 02.45 this morning!!  So it was surprising that they were up this early to be honest.  😊

At 9.00am we disembarked the Balmoral and boarded the coach ready for our trip.  We were leaving behind the bustling city for the morning and venturing out to the more rural parts of the area.

We soon joined the autobahn and the driver put his foot down, as we sped through the towns, villages, commercial districts and farmland.  As we travelled through the less populated areas, the landscape and buildings grew prettier, with lots of trees, fields and flowers, as well as gorgeous little houses, some with thatched roofs.  We stopped at a place called Worpswede and the coach parked up so we could all get out.

Worpswede is a municipality in the district of Osterholz, in Lower Saxony.  It is situated in the Teufelsmoor, northeast of Bremen.  The small town itself is located near the Weyerberg hill.  It has been the home to a lively artistic community since the end of the 19th century, with over 130 artists and craftsmen working there.  Looking at the very individual designs of the buildings and gardens, it was easy to see evidence of the many crafts.  There were also a couple of art galleries.

We walked for a short way through some woods and saw some very distinctive buildings and sculptures designed by architect and sculptor Bernhard Hoetger.  Many of the buildings featured rounded corners and acute or obtuse angles (rather than right-angles).  There was also a hint of native American design about them, such as totem designs or roof projections meant to resemble tepee tops.  The gardens were manicured and there was a lot of lush green lawns as well as flower borders.

We saw a few more individual thatched houses and cottages and an old well.  We then briefly visited an Evangelical church and walked around its grounds.  The sun was shining by now, so we enjoyed the lovely scenery and the fresh air.  We saw a field with a couple of horses placidly cropping the grass; we were amused because the horses were wearing coats in a zebra striped pattern, as well as mesh masks to keep the flies away from their eyes.  I joked that the horses must have been robbers because they were in disguise and had stockings over their heads!  😊

Soon it was time for us to go for some refreshments.  We went into this lovely old hotel, full of oak beams, old heavy furniture, china ornaments and dressers with plates and old-fashioned lamps.  It was dimly lit inside but it added to the hotel’s immense character.  We enjoyed some strong German coffee and a couple of pieces of butter cake; the cake was very rich and sweet and was coated in a crunchy layer of sugar (most of which I scraped off).  Because the cake was quite substantial, we decided we wouldn’t have any lunch.

The guide then rounded us all up for the return journey to Bremen.  It took a bit longer to get back because there was a big traffic tailback on the autobahn, so the driver decided to take a different route; it was longer, but quicker than being stuck in the traffic.  On the way, the guide told us the very apt Grimm fairy tale of The Bremen Town Musicians.

Arriving back in Bremen, we had a brief stop in the city centre to allow is to see the Town Hall, the impressive Bremen Cathedral (dedicated to St. Peter) and, of course, the statue depicting the donkey, the dog, the cat and the rooster that make up the “Bremen Town Musicians”.  Bremen town centre looked absolutely amazing, so we decided we’d come back this afternoon and explore further.

The bus took us back to the Balmoral, where we waited outside the dock gates for the shuttle bus back into town.  We had a wait of about 10 minutes, then another ride of about half an hour through the traffic for the seven-kilometre journey, dropping us off at the Radisson Blu hotel in town.  We now had the afternoon at leisure to do our own thing.

Bremen is a really fascinating city; the buildings are so interesting and there were so many shops, cafés and bars.  We decided to buy some postcards and sit and have a beer while writing them out.  We found a lively open-air bar in the market square and we sat down at a table under a sun-shade and ordered a pint of Beck’s beer each, as Beck’s is brewed in Bremen.  The beer was cold and thirst-quenching and went down a treat as I wrote out the cards, sat and relaxed and people-watched.

Once our beers were finished, we asked directions to the post office and took the cards there to get stamped and posted.  Then we had another wander around and window-shopped before returning to the Radisson hotel and joining the queue for the shuttle bus back.

Back in cabin 4137, we got ourselves showered and primped and preened because, once again, tonight was formal night.  This time I wore a black velvet and lace dress with a red velvet bodice; the skirt was shorter at the front and cascaded down at the back.  I teamed it with a short black velvet bolero with a mandarin collar, fishnet tights and black stiletto shoes with 5” heels.

As we hadn’t had any lunch, we were good and hungry for dinner.  We enjoyed the usual delicious four-course meal, washed down with chilled wine and finished off with coffee and a glass of Grand Marnier.  However, one of us was missing from table #76 – Joanie had not been well (some gastrointestinal issues) and so had been confined to her cabin for 24 hours as a precaution.  Roy said he thought her very late night last night had a lot to do with it!

Walking back through the restaurant on our way to the Neptune Lounge, my unusual Gothic outfit received a lot of compliments and comments.  😊

Just after 8.00pm, feeling the increased vibrations coming up through the floor, we looked out of the window to see that the Balmoral was slowly making her way down the river Weser towards the North Sea again.  We felt quite sad because it meant “bye bye” Germany; the next time we’d set foot on terra firma we’d be back in Newcastle.  ☹

Tonight, the Neptune Lounge featured the Balmoral Crew Show, so we made sure to get good seats as these traditional folkloric shows are always very good.  We saw singers and dancers from the Philippines and Thailand, all wearing colourful costumes they had sewn themselves in their ‘spare’ time.  It was a heart-warming show and they all got a huge cheer at the end.

Then it was just the usual – the quiz in the Observatory at 10 o’clock (we didn’t win!), after which we spent some time talking and drinking and enjoying each other’s company while the hours winged by and midnight came and went once more.  By now the Balmoral was in the open sea, but all was calm and the ship’s motion was barely discernible.  Once again we slept very well after a very full, very interesting day.

Bound for Bremen

Early this morning the Balmoral departed Hamburg and set off back down the Elbe River to the North Sea bound for Bremen.  We were not due to arrive until around eight o’clock tonight, so once again we had a relaxing day on the water.  😊

We didn’t really do much today to be honest.  We just spent some time wandering around up on deck looking at the pleasant scenery passing by, then I took my Kindle into the Morning Light Pub to read before the morning quiz at 11.00am.  This time it was just Trevor and I participating, and we scored 15/20.  The winners got 16.  ☹

We enjoyed a couple of pre-luncheon drinks then made our way to the Ballindalloch where they were serving a traditional Sunday roast at the carvery.  Trevor enjoyed a beef dinner but I just stuck to some cold cuts and salad; we each washed it down with a glass of chilled rosé wine.

Afterwards we just returned to our cabin and caught up on some sleep after all the late nights we’d been having.  Then we just read, watched TV, did some of this blog then got washed and changed for dinner at 6.15pm.  Sometimes it feels we do nothing else on a cruise other than eat and drink!  😊

Once again, we enjoyed the usual delicious and perfectly-served meal in the convivial company of table #76.  Then it was off to the Neptune Lounge to get some good seats for tonight’s performance by the Balmoral Show Company, called “Ministry of Rock”.

The show was excellent.  The cast were all dressed in the punk/New Wave/rock style clothing of black leathers, ripped jeans and wild hair styles of the 1970s and 80s, and featured the music of Queen, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams etc. as well as high-energy dancing.  Of course, they were accompanied by the superb Balmoral Orchestra.  Everyone said it was a fabulous show and we all agreed that the entertainment on board FOCL ships is original and high-quality.

Then we took part in the quiz at 10.00pm up in the Observatory.  By this time we had docked in Bremen and the lights of the buildings and shops shone outside the observatory’s panoramic windows; we could see a Primark and TK Maxx.  No need to tell you the resultof the quiz!  But we had the chance to redeem ourselves later as they were holding “Name That Tune” in the Lido Lounge, and music tends to be my forte in quizzes.

There were 15 questions but each question was worth two points; one for the song title and one for the artiste.  We scored 28/30 and were hopeful, but another team scored full marks!!  So we were robbed once again!  ☹

It was late when we went to bed, around 1.30am, and we left Joanie who was happy to remain in the Lido Lounge.

Back in cabin 4137 all was quiet once again as we settled down to sleep.  We looked forward to exploring Bremen tomorrow.

A Day of Mixed Emotions

We were up at eight o’clock this morning as we were leaving for an excursion at 9.00.  But maybe “excursion” isn’t the right word for it, for it certainly wouldn’t be a pleasure trip.  Today we were booked to visit Bergen-Belsen, the notorious Nazi concentration camp.

Of course, the actual camp buildings don’t exist anymore, as they were all burnt down after the liberation of the camp in 1945.  But we would still see many sad and sombre artefacts as well as the truly horrific mass burial mounds, and lots of memorial stones and many preserved documents and photos which keep alive this eternal memory of Germany’s shameful war record.

The bus journey to the village of Bergen, on the outskirts of which the Belsen camp was based, took about one-and-a-quarter hours, then we alighted from the bus and found ourselves at one of the most notorious addresses in Germany.

Belsen was a Nazi concentration camp in what is today Lower Saxony in northern Germany, southwest of the town of Bergen. Originally established as a prisoner of war camp, in 1943, parts of it became a concentration camp.  Initially this was an “exchange camp”, where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of exchanging them for German prisoners of war held overseas. The camp was later expanded to accommodate Jews from other concentration camps.

After 1945 the name was applied to the displaced persons camp established nearby, but it is most commonly associated with the concentration camp. From 1941 to 1945, almost 20,000 Soviet prisoners of war and a further 50,000 inmates died there. Overcrowding, lack of food and poor sanitary conditions caused outbreaks of typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and dysentery, leading to the deaths of more than 35,000 people in the first few months of 1945, shortly before and after the liberation.

The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945, by the British 11th Armoured Division. The soldiers discovered approximately 60,000 prisoners inside, most of them half-starved and seriously ill, and another 13,000 corpses lying around the camp unburied. The horrors of the camp, documented on film and in pictures, made the name “Belsen” emblematic of Nazi crimes in general for public opinion in many countries in the immediate post-1945 period. Today, there is a memorial with an exhibition hall at the site, and this is what we had come to see.

The first thing we arrived at was one of the horrific mass burial mounds.  A simple stone in front of the mound read “HIER RUHEN 1000 TOTE – APRIL 1945” which translates simply as “Here lies 1000 dead” followed by the date.  There were several of these mounds; 2000 dead, 5000 dead and so on.  All of the memorial stones had little mounds of stones and pebbles placed on them by members of the Jewish community and this is a mark of respect as stones do not wilt and fade the way flowers do.

As we walked around the site, our guide explained what we were looking at and showed us pictures of the camp as it was before liberation.  The sheer numbers of those who died here was staggering.  We also saw the Jewish memorial which reads:



15TH APRIL 1946
14TH NISSAN 57061


In addition to the mass graves and memorial stones, there were also individual stones placed by relatives and descendants of those who died there, including one for famous teenage diarist Anne Frank and her sister Margot.  Walking around these sad relics was a moving and sobering experience.

Inside the memorial hall, we saw many papers, identity cards, index cards and other documentation relating to the inmates, as well as the infamous striped ‘pyjama’ uniforms the inmates were required to wear.  Many photos had been loaned to the site, by relatives of the survivors, showing the camp and life as it was then.

For me, the most horrific part of the visit was seeing actual cine camera footage taken by the British Armed Forces in 1945. Many contained interviews where those who witnessed the horrors of seeing thousands of emaciated people, dying and dead, said it was the worst thing that they had ever experienced.

The distressing footage showed skeletal corpses, in naked indignity, being dragged along the ground and thrown in a heap into ready-dug pits, as well as bulldozers literally shovelling them in their thousands into the mass graves.  Several scenes had me gasping out loud and clapping my hand to my mouth at man’s inhumanity to man.  I noticed it was completely silent in the room where the film footage was being shown; everyone was equally stunned.  Horrific and upsetting as it was, however, I think it is something everyone should see and know about, to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

When we’d seen as much as we wanted, we came out of the exhibition hall and slowly made our way back to the bus for the return journey to Hamburg.

Just over an hour later, around 2.30pm, we arrived back at the port, but Trevor and I didn’t go back to the Balmoral.  We had another place to visit as we wanted to end the day on an “up-note”.

We walked into town and, as we hadn’t had any lunch, we went into one of the many little cafés and snack bars for a sandwich and a bottle of beer each.  Then off we went as we had tickets to the world-famous Miniatur Wunderland model village and railway.

Miniatur Wunderland boasts the longest lengths of model railway tracks in the world, totalling 15,400 metres with 1,040 trains.  It is operated by 50 computers, took 760,000 hours to construct and cost 20 million Euros.  It is growing and being added to all the time, and the exhibition is over three floors.

What can I say?  Miniatur Wunderland is an amazing experience for visitors of all ages.  Its attention to detail is breathtaking.  We saw many very-realistic railway viaducts, tracks and stations, with little people waiting; trains arrived and departed while vehicles travelled around the periphery, some of them even showing their headlights and indicators.  Throughout the visit, the lighting would change to show the model villages by daylight, sunset and evening, when lights would twinkle in the windows of the buildings.  Several famous places such as Rome, New York and Paris were reconstructed in miniature.  There was a football stadium, containing cheering crowd and showing the big TV screens at either end, also an outdoor “benefit concert” which even had the flashes of cameras coming from the miniature crowds!

We saw fairgrounds and ferryboats, motorways and mountains; campsites and car parks and even a protest march and a team of fire engines putting out a church roof fire.  Everything was planned and painted to the tiniest detail; it was amazing.

Best of all was the airport.  Aircraft were taxiing along the runway, lights flashing, and queuing up ready to take off.  Then they would speed down the runway, making all the realistic sounds, before lifting off the ground.  Planes coming into land would make their way along to the arrivals gates, and along the perimeter road airport vehicles such as luggage carriers and fuel tankers busily made their way to and fro.  Honestly, this place has to be seen to be believed.  😊

We spent a couple of hours in there before leaving around 5.30pm and starting to make our way back along to the ship.  A brief and sudden shower of rain took us by surprise; the sun came out immediately however and resulted in a beautiful very bright and double rainbow, showing all seven colours against a steel-grey sky.  We took some photos and saw lots of other people doing the same.

Back on board the Balmoral we got washed and changed and went to the Palms Café for our dinner, as we were too late to go to the restaurant.  It meant, however, we were out in time to go and grab a good seat in the Neptune Lounge to see tonight’s treat, which was a visit by the German mariners local Shanty Choir De Tampentrekker.  It was really excellent; there were lots of ex-sailors dressed in nautical uniforms and singing old-fashioned sea shanties all in harmony.  What a great show!

Afterwards we made our way to the Observatory and met up with Alex and Marian, Roy and Joanie, still all hoping for the quiz win which had so far eluded us.  However, we were still unlucky – no win.

We finished off the evening in the Lido Lounge where the entertainments team were running Prize Karaoke; everyone who got up to sing would win a prize.  Quite a lot of people put their names down, so I only got the chance to sing once.  I did my usual Nothing Compares 2 U and won myself a Fred Olsen branded bottle opener keyring. 😊

We stayed in the lounge fairly late, talking with Joanie (the others had gone to bed) and enjoying a couple more drinks.  Then it was off to bed, after a very full day in which we’d experienced the full gamut of emotions.  We slept very well.

Kiel Canal to Hamburg

At 7.00am this morning the Balmoral entered the Kiel Canal again, for our return journey to the North Sea.  We got up about 8.30 and enjoyed a good breakfast before going out on deck for a look around.  Although the weather was dry, it was fairly dull and cloudy and the brisk breeze still had a bit of a nip to it, so it wasn’t comfortable outside without a jacket.

As the Balmoral slowly steamed her way past houses, factories and the occasional camping site or holiday resort, we passed many other craft large and small, passing by on either side of us.  Several of the canal-side houses looked large and well-appointed, and had that individuality we had come to associate with Northern Germany.  One thing is for sure: they would have had fantastic views of the many vessels sailing up and down, and several times people would line the bankside and wave to us on the Balmoral as we glided past.

At 10.30am we went back inside to cabin 4137 to start getting ourselves ready for the Oceans Club cocktail party at 11.15.  The Oceans Club is the loyalty club for Fred Olsen Cruise Lines; you are given one point for every night spent on board a FOCL ship and the total number of nights determines which level of Oceans membership you have from Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond.  We are currently Gold members and will have 143 points after this cruise; we have to have 250+ before we move up to Platinum.  The cocktail party is only for members of Silver grade or above.

I dressed a little more smartly, wearing a purple lace dress with nude-colour sparkly stilettos.  We went along to the Neptune Lounge and enjoyed some hot and cold canapés along with a couple of glasses of the gratis fizz (more drinks!)  Captain Victor Stoica briefly left the intricacies of guiding the ship through the Kiel Canal so he could make a presentation to the passengers who had the most Oceans points this cruise; there were a couple who had over 500 nights, so they received a bottle of Lanson’s Black Label as well as a bouquet of flowers and their photo taken with the captain.  He then bid us good morning and returned to the bridge.

We remained in the Neptune Lounge until a voice over the PA system announced that rehearsals were due to start so guests were asked to vacate the lounge.  We therefore went along to the Morning Light pub and I did some of this blog while we watched the banks of Kiel Canal slide past on either side of us.  We also enjoyed some more drinks and passed the time pleasantly with our fellow passengers before returning to cabin 4137, getting changed, then popping along to the Palms Café for a spot of lunch.

Afterwards we wandered around on deck, watching with interest the passing scenery and looking at the other ships in this busy canal.  We didn’t really do a lot else today; the time passes surprisingly quickly when you aren’t doing very much but it is always relaxing and enjoyable and certainly better than being at work!  😊

At around 4.30pm the Captain announced that we would be entering a lock, as we were nearly the North Sea end of the Kiel Canal.  Down in our cabin on deck 4 I had a great view of the workings of the lock and it was fascinating to see the lock gates closing, the Balmoral slowly going downwards as the water either side of the lock gates equalised, before the second set of gates opened and out the Balmoral sailed once again into the North Sea.

For an hour or so the increased movement of the Balmoral told us we were undoubtedly in the open sea once again, but then it wasn’t too long before we entered the long and winding Elbe river on our way to Hamburg.

Hamburg boasts a Hanseatic League heritage harking back 700 years and has an infectious maritime spirit.  The ‘Hansa’ was formed as a trading union, started by the Northern German merchants and then spanning nearly 200 towns from England to Russia.  The Hanseatic League was most active during the 12th to 16th centuries but, although the last official meeting of Hansa was held in 1669, the League was never officially dissolved and several cities – Hamburg, Rostock and Bremen for example – still proudly call themselves Hansa stadt.

We had been to Hamburg before, on the Queen Victoria, for the Christmas Markets in December 2007 (nearly 10 years ago now) so we were really looking forward to seeing this lively and stylish town again in the summer.  We were not due to arrive until 10 o’clock tonight, and we’d have the next two nights in port.

After dinner, during which we all regaled each other with what we’d been up to today, all of table #76 made our way to the Neptune Lounge to get the seats for tonight’s show, which featured comedian Andy Rudge.  He was pretty good I suppose; we’d heard some of the jokes before (particularly those based around cruising) but there were a couple of laugh-out-load moments and, on the whole, we found his show an amusing interlude.

Then we just spent the remainder of the evening in the usual convivial company, listening to the resident musicians, doing the quiz (still no win!) and making the most of the all-inclusive drinks. 😉

When we went to bed tonight our cabin was quiet and still, and we settled down in the comfort and the darkness with the lights of Hamburg twinkling outside our window.  Tomorrow we had a very full day planned, so we wanted to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Lübeck and Marzipan

Today we woke up in Wismar.  We had to be up early this morning (at 7.00am) as we were due to go on an all-day tour to the pretty little town of Lübeck, on the River Trave.  So after enjoying our breakfast we assembled in the Neptune Lounge to await the call for our excursion bus.  The weather once again was on our side, blue skies and fluffy white clouds, and a gentle breeze.

Off we went through the local bustling streets before our bus joined the autobahn and the driver put his foot down.  In Germany there is no speed limit on their motorways and I found it a tad disconcerting that we would be flying along and a big Mercedes or BMW would pass us in a blur, some of them easily doing well over 100 miles per hour.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed looking out of the window at the passing scenery and, in a little over an hour, we arrived in Lübeck, where we were to take an hour-long riverboat cruise.

Lübeck is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is almost an island with the river surrounding it like a moat; it is joined by many bridges to the town proper.  We saw the symbol of Lübeck , the Holsten Gate, as well as the distinctive twin-steeples of St Mary’s Church, and the tower of St. Peter’s Church in the background.

We took our seats in the riverboat and set off at a sedate pace, gliding through the water edged at both sides with gorgeous little houses and gardens that looked like something off a chocolate box.  The houses all seemed to be tall and narrow, and several of them had those distinctive turrets and gables that are characteristic of German architecture.  The houses all looked different and appeared to have been built long before any town planning was in existence, but their uniqueness and individuality was what gave the villages their charm.

Several times our craft passed underneath low bridges that only barely skimmed the roof of the boat.  Joggers and dog-walkers passed by either side on the grassy banks, and occasionally we saw anglers, casting their rods hoping for a bite.  Ducks and geese glided along and the whole effect was relaxing and picturesque.

All too soon, our hour’s cruise was up, and we disembarked the boat ready to commence our city walking tour.  We saw lots of entrances to alleyways and our guide explained that there were 88 alleyways in Lübeck, because of the way the town had been built and added-to over the years.  We went into one of the alleyways and saw the tiny little higgledy-piggledy houses either side of the narrow passageway.  It reminded me of the nursery rhyme:

There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

After we’d walked around the market place (our guide told us it was very pretty in the winter when the Christmas Market was on) it was time to go to the famous Café Niederegger.  Lübeck is famous for its production of marzipan, which came about as a result of a famine in which there was a shortage of flour.  Almonds were therefore used instead, ground to a powder and mixed with rosewater and other oils and lo and behold, marzipan was formed.  We were therefore spending half an hour in Café Niederegger, to sample their speciality Marzipan Nut Cake and a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

The cake was absolutely, mouth-wateringly scrumptious.  It consisted of a sponge base, then it was filled with fresh whipped cream containing flaked almonds, and covered with marzipan and topped with a whole hazelnut in cream.  I could very easily have managed another piece!  😉

Afterwards he had about an hour and a half free time, for us to spend as we wished.  We wanted to find a card shop as today is Alex’s birthday.  There wasn’t a great deal of choice as most cards were in German (obviously!) and we didn’t want to get one when we couldn’t understand what it said.  So we just got a fairly plain card with “Happy Birthday” on it, as well as a lollipop containing the same sentiment.

We wandered around in the sunshine a bit more before it was time to go back to our bus for the return journey to the Balmoral.  We arrive back at about four o’clock and had a couple of drinks sitting up on deck in the sunshine, before getting ourselves ready for this evening.

Tonight it was “Red, White and Blue” (or British) Night so I dressed in white trousers, a blue t-shirt and a Union Jack jacket, whereas Trevor wore a Union Jack waistcoat and bow-tie.  Off we went, along to the Ballindalloch Restaurant, where our outfits attracted many comments.  When Alex and Marian arrived we gave Alex his card and lollipop and wished him a happy birthday.  😊

When we went along to the Neptune Lounge to bag our seats for the evening’s entertainment, we were each given a flag to wave as well as a song sheet for the British Sing-along.  This features on all the Fred Olsen ships, and everyone sang with gusto songs such as There’ll Always Be an England, Rule Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory.

The show tonight was called “British Invasion” featuring the best of British music from the 1960s upwards and starring the talented Balmoral Show Company.  It was a colourful, high-energy singing and dancing routine made up of music from bands such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Take That, The Spice Girls and other famous British names from the music industry.  It really was an excellent show, and original too.  We all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Then we finished the evening as we always do; off to the Observatory for the quiz (still no win) and enjoyed a couple of drinks, then down to the Lido Lounge to listen to Fourth Dimension, the resident band, while enjoying a couple more drinks (!).  As ever, it was getting on for 1.00am before we went to bed after a very full day.  Tomorrow, however, we could have a lie-in as we would spend the day transiting the Kiel Canal on our way back to the North Sea.

The Baltic Coast & Laboe Naval Memorial

When we woke up this morning we found ourselves about to dock in Kiel, Germany.  We hadn’t been here before so we were looking forward to exploring.  We didn’t have an excursion until this afternoon, so our time this morning was ours to spend as we pleased.

After breakfast we went up on deck to take in our surroundings.  The sky was clear and blue and it looked as if it would be another fine day.  There was another ship in port next to the Balmoral; it was called Mein Schiff 3 and was a massive, ugly behemoth that towered over everything like a floating block of flats.  People on the aft decks were waving down at us from their elevated position, and as we watched, another ship called Color Magic (that looked more like a ferry) cruised down the river and docked over at the other side.  Other smaller vessels journeyed up and down, and Kiel looked to be a busy, bustling port.

A skywalk (like they have for aeroplanes rather than ships) was erected, leading passengers from Deck 6 to the cruise terminal.  We returned to our cabin and got our cruise cards, credit cards and Euros and decided to go into town and have a look around.

We passed lots of shops, pavements cafés, restaurants and charming little houses.  There were a lot of trees and grass and cobbled streets, as well as a lovely pond on which ducks and geese glided placidly along.  We ambled along and browsed the shop windows, then I spotted a shoe shop which had a sale on.  😉

In we went and had a look around; there was a sign saying that all shoes were 15 Euros.  I therefore bought a pair of gold glittery sandals with 4” heels; no doubt I would be wearing them at some point in the cruise.

Around lunchtime we made our way back to the Balmoral and enjoyed a light lunch, pottered around up on deck for a while, then made our way to the Neptune Lounge at 2.00pm to await the call for our excursion.  This afternoon we were taking a tour of the city before our hour-long ride out to Laboe, on the Baltic Coast, where there is a famous Naval Memorial.

We enjoyed looking out of the window as our guide, Bjornen, pointed out places and buildings of interest along the way.  Here and there in the distance we could see the blue of the Baltic Sea between the buildings and trees.

We eventually arrived at the distinctive 85-metre high tower that marks the Naval Memorial.  This commemorates all seafarers (originally just German sailors, but later changed to remember all nationalities) who died in the service of their countries.

Inside, there were lots of wreaths and memorial ribbons in the colours of the countries’ flags.  We spotted the red, white and blue of the Royal Navy amongst them.  The walls on each side were decorated, floor to ceiling, with the silhouettes of the ships and submarines which had been sunk; the left wall showed vessels from the 1914-1918 war, while the right side showed those lost in the 1939-1945 war.  The number of stricken vessels, and ultimately lost lives, was staggering.

Afterwards, we walked across a courtyard in the sunshine and entered a cool and dimly-lit building before descending some steps into the cellar, which was set aside as a quiet place, for reflection and remembrance.  A man in our party had brought with him a wreath, and he walked to the centre of the rounded room, placed his wreath, took a step backwards and bowed his head before joining the rest of our party.  We later learned that his father was from Bremen, and served in the German Navy, so for this guy coming to the Naval Memorial had a special meaning.  It was all very moving and dignified.

We had a look around for a while longer, and saw a huge scale model of the famous German warship Bismarck, as well as other relics from battleships, such as propeller screws, cannons and a ship’s bell, as well as a huge mine.  Other memorial stones were set in manicured lawns and flowerbeds; one of them was entitled “Still on Patrol” and was dedicated to all the US submariners who did not return home after the wars.

We decided we’d go up the tower to the viewing platforms above, to give us an excellent birds’ eye view of the Baltic coastline and rolling green countryside below.  There were no queues for either of the two lifts that would ascend 72 metres, before allowing us to walk up the stairs for the remaining 13 metres.

Out on the viewing gallery we had views in all directions, and we could see the waves lazily lapping the Baltic sands.  In one direction the skies were blue and the sun shone; in the opposite direction the scudding clouds looked almost backlit as the sun shone towards them.  Far below us we could see the crescent-shaped Hall of Remembrance, and tiny-looking people walking around below.

Once we’d seen all we needed to in the museum, we walked down the road and crossed over to where there was a real, actual U-boat, numbered U995.  We were allowed inside it, and the cramped and claustrophobic conditions were unbelievable, particularly when we were told that between 44 and 60 men served on the submarine; they would all work together, live together, eat together and sleep together.  Indeed we saw their narrow, close-together bunks; some of them were situated right underneath the torpedoes and were almost coffin-like.  We dreaded to think what the conditions must have been like with all those people in the heat and the narrow confines; the smell must have been horrendous, all the more so when there were no baths or showers in evidence.

We had about half an hour to spare before we had to be on the bus, so we wandered down to the beach where there were a few little shops doing a roaring trade.  One of them was selling bratwurst, ice-creams and beers, so we got a bottle of beer each and enjoyed them on the beach.  A few holiday-makers (or perhaps locals) were making the most of the rare sunshine and had set themselves up on the beach with sunloungers and windbreaks.

We enjoyed our beers, watching the pleasure craft coming and going, as well as children and dogs paddling in the surf.  I was tempted to go and do so myself, but couldn’t be bothered with getting all the sand off my feet.  In any case we didn’t have that long before we had to make our way back to the bus.

The ride back took about 40 minutes, and we arrived back at the Balmoral at around 6.30pm.  It was too late for us to go to the Ballindalloch for our dinner, but it didn’t really matter because there was an Asian buffet on in the Palms Café.  So we got washed and changed and made our way up there instead.  😊

We shared our table with the Port Authority representative, a pleasant German man who lived in Kiel.  We passed the time talking about different ports and ships, and he said he may be joining us again later in the cruise, in Hamburg.

After a delicious meal in which we sampled various Asian culinary delights, we went along to the Neptune Lounge to bag our table for tonight’s entertainment, which was a couple of Latin and Ballroom dancers.  They were very good; the girl’s costumes were spectacular, and the enthusiasm and passion they had for their dancing shone through in their energy and the synchronicity of their movements.  A good show, and something a little different.

Afterwards we did what we always do, that is, adjourn to the Observatory for the evening’s quiz, where we met up with Alex and Marian.  We changed our minds about a couple of the answers (which we had correct to start with) so we lost a couple of points, but they wouldn’t have been enough to win anyway.  ☹

We then had a nightcap and spent some time in desultory conversation before returning to cabin 4137 to settle down for the night.  We’d had a full and interesting day.

North Sea to the Kiel Canal

We awoke this morning to a flat-calm North Sea with the sun tentatively peeping out from fluffy white cumulus clouds.  We were up at 8.00am, and off we went to the Ballindalloch restaurant for our breakfast.  As tonight is a formal evening, we found the usual bottles of cava next to the fruit juices, so we could start our day with a breakfast Buck’s Fizz (or several!).

I enjoyed a platter of fresh fruits with smoked salmon, washed down with a couple of glasses of the chilled fizz.  Then we went outside to have a walk around the decks and take in some fresh sea air.  The weather was pleasantly mild as the Balmoral glided smoothly through the calm waters.  It is rare that I have seen the North Sea as flat as this; there wasn’t a single crest breaking.  The North Sea is fairly shallow, so its state is apt to change very quickly, and indeed we have even experienced a crossing in a Force 12 gale; certainly something we won’t forget in a hurry!  😊

We spent the morning just relaxing and wandering around the ship, passing pleasantries with our fellow passengers on the way, and sitting out on the upper decks on a sunlounger just watching the world go by.  Several times we saw oil rigs, their distinctive iron bulks rising up seemingly out of nowhere.

At lunchtime a burger and hotdog stand was set up on the aft decks, so we enjoyed a bite to eat washed down with another chilled glass of cava.  Then we returned to cabin 4137 for an afternoon power nap, to try to catch up with the hour we lost last night.

At 3.00pm I went along to the salon to have my hair shampooed and blow dried ready for the Captain’s Cocktail Party at 5.45pm.  The lady did a good job of my hair, making it look as if it had loads of volume.

Then it was time to start getting glammed up.  Formal evenings are among my favourite things about cruising; the chance to wear a gorgeous evening dress and fabulous shoes and accessories, something that we don’t get the chance to do very often at home.  A lot of cruise lines have now done away with any dress code, and to my mind that is a real shame, as the formal evenings are such a traditional part of cruising.

Tonight I dressed in a stunning purple and black Gothic dress with a voluminous net underskirt which made it look almost like a crinoline.  The bodice has a sweetheart neckline and laces up the front, and the long purple velvet sleeves have another layer of heavy black lace over them.  I completed my outfit with a black lace choker and a pair of black studded shoes with sky-high heels.  Thus attired, off we went to the Neptune Lounge to meet Captain Victor Stoica and his officers, and we enjoyed some more (free!) cava along with a couple of tasty canapés.  Predictably, my gorgeous dress attracted a lot of compliments and comments, and we stopped off on the way to the restaurant to have our formal photographs taken.

Once again we partook of a superb dinner in excellent company with Alex and Marian, Roy and Joanie.  We had to wait after dinner before going to the Neptune Lounge because the second-sitting people were still having their cocktail party, so we went out on deck and watched a glorious sunset.  As there had been a brief shower of rain there was also a lovely rainbow over the Balmoral’s bows.  What a beautiful evening!

We were eventually allowed into the Neptune Lounge, and all six of us from table #76 sat together for the evening’s entertainment, which came in the shape of brilliant comedy magician Mark Shortland.  We have seen Mark twice before; on the Boudicca in 2008 as well as previously on the Balmoral in 2012.  His show is very entertaining, and the others enjoyed his performance too.

At around 9.00pm the Balmoral slowed down considerably as we entered the Kiel Canal, the stretch of water that joins the North Sea to the Baltic.  We have transited the Kiel Canal once before, on the Caronia in 2002, but then we did it in the day time.  Tonight, however, we’d miss most of it and wake up tomorrow in Kiel.

The Kiel Canal was constructed between 1887 and 1895 and was then subsequently enlarged.  The canal is 98 kilometres long, 103 metres wide and 11 metres deep.  The canal shortened the distance between the North and Baltic seas by about 322 kilometres and eliminated the difficult passage around the top of Denmark.  An average of 80 ships (excluding small craft and sporting boats) used the Kiel Canal last year.

At 10 o’clock the six of us adjourned to the Observatory for tonight’s quiz, which we didn’t win once again.  After Alex and Marian left we stayed in the Observatory talking and drinking with Roy and Joanie.  The time flew by until it was after midnight, and we then realised we were the only ones left in the lounge, so we said our goodnights and made our way back to cabin 4137 for a good night’s sleep.

Tynetastic Cruising!

Take time to see the wonders of the world, to see the things you’ve only ever heard of.

So sang the Human League, in their 1981 hit The Things That Dreams Are Made Of.  But indeed we are hopefully going to see some more wonders in our latest cruise, to the German Waterways, departing from the Port of Tyne on M/S Balmoral, a fantastic little ship on which we’ve cruised twice before, in 2012 and in 2016.

Yes! It seems ages since we were away in March, so it was with excitement that we woke up this morning ready to embark on our latest nautical adventure.  Trevor put in half a day at work and was home by lunchtime, so after a light bite to eat we set off for the half-hour drive to Newcastle.

Check-in was very quick and efficient; in fact from closing our front door to going up the gang-plank of the Balmoral it took little over an hour.  After happily making our way to cabin 4137, we dumped our bags and set off to the bar at the aft decks, to enjoy a pint of beer each in the (rare!) Newcastle sunshine.  😊

We are travelling all-inclusive which only costs a supplement of £10.00 per person per day, so after a couple of rounds of drinks the rest is, effectively, free!

At 4.30pm the bars closed temporarily for lifeboat drill, which seemed pretty perfunctory compared to most drills we’ve attended.  I think it was because most of the passengers are seasoned cruisers and know the procedure off by heart (seven short blasts of the ship’s whistle followed by one long blast etc.).  We were, however, surprised to see quite a lot of children on board; in general Fred Olsen cruises tend to attract the 60+ crowd, but I suppose it is the middle of the school summer holidays, after all.

At 5.30pm the increased vibrations coming up through the decks announced the departure of the Balmoral, as she slowly moved away from the dockside and started to make her way down the Tyne towards the North Sea.  We returned to cabin 4137 where I had time to get changed and a wash and brush up before going along to the beauty salon at six o’clock for a pedicure.  In the salon they were also giving away free prosecco, so I enjoyed a couple of glasses of fizz while having my feet pampered.  It was lovely and relaxing, lying in my reclining chair, watching the banks of the Tyne gliding past as we started our cruise.  Just then, the Balmoral gave three blasts of her foghorn, which to me is the symbolic start of any voyage.  😊

Trevor, meanwhile, had gone along to the restaurant and ordered my meal for me, as I knew I would be slightly late.  Turning up at the Ballindalloch restaurant, I made my way to table #76 and met our table-mates who would be our dining companions for the nine-night cruise.  They are Alex and Marian from Norfolk and Roy and Joanie from Middlesbrough.  They all seemed very pleasant, and we enjoyed a tasty meal in excellent company.

Afterwards we were joined by Joanie in the Neptune Lounge, where the cruise director Jennifer Daulby introduced us to the entertainments team.  We recognised one of the mail dancers, Julian, from our cruise on the Boudicca last year; he is an excellent dancer and we would look forward to seeing more of him later on in the cruise.

We finished the evening off by going up to the Observatory lounge for the quiz, where we were joined by Alex and Marian from our table.  We scored 12/15, not enough to win.

We didn’t stay too long afterwards, as we had to put our clocks forward an hour to German time, so we would lose an hour in bed.  We therefore returned to cabin 4137 and settled down, where we slept soundly.