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.