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NOT LIVE, MS EUROPA Travemuende-Hamburg, UK, 8/11-8/25/18, blog, PHOTOS

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I was happy to rejoin the MS Europa for this two-week garden cruise around the UK, my third cruise on this ship and fifth on the Hapag Lloyd luxury cruise line which mostly caters to German speaking pax, though all frontline staff also speak English. I had just left her 2 months ago after a solo classical music cruise, the Ocean Sun Festival, which was fantastic, Nice to Bilbao, and posted a long blog about it on this forum as well as a long official CC review describing the ship and port experience. I will try not to repeat too much about the ship.

This time I went with a German friend I planned to meet in Hamburg 2 days before the cruise. The original plan was that we would rendezvous, dine and overnight in Hamburg and then the next morning, head up to Travemuende, the embarkation port, to enjoy the seaside town and sights for 24-30 hours. As you will see below, my pre-cruise adventures got a bit complicated.

All photos posted were taken just with my iphone 8-plus, and I am not a photographer by trade, so they will win no awards. But I hope to give people not too familiar with the area, i.e., many from North America, a chance to get a feel for the general ambience.

After a rough start, I can definitely say that I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise, the ship, the ports, and the fantastic gardens this area of the world has to offer. There is so much its citizens can be proud of. It rained every day in varying amounts, but I loved it anyway, and the coolness was conducive to longer walks as I easily overheat. I hope to return with DH (and his better camera equipment and photo skills ) in the near future to see more of the UK, Scotland and Ireland.

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This was the itinerary over two weeks, with a sea day at the beginning and end:





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Day 0, pre-cruise travel mess (a reminder to allow a large time margin!), Part I


I had a surprisingly relaxing overnight flight form northern CA to LHR on British Airways (BA), with friendly and professional stewardesses and a quiet cabin with mostly sober working or sleeping ( not simultaneously) businessmen.

I felt upbeat and looked forward to writing a favourable review of BA , after all the nasty things I had read about BA and the frustration I experienced 3 months ago when BA cancelled my carefully chosen flight itinerary less than a week before departure for my cruise, presumably due to mechanical problems.


I needed to connect from LHR to Hamburg where I thought the biggest problem would be a tight connection due to coming in a bit late to LHR. But what should have been a quick transfer and a one hour 15 minute connecting flight turned into a 24-hour ordeal. (Skip this next part if you don’t want to read about travel problems, and scroll straight to the cruise report at Day 1, Travemuende).


After a long and slow-moving security process, BA announced the flight to Hamburg was delayed an hour, and they were going to bring in a new plane, as the first one was apparently broken. After waiting, we stood a long time on a humid bus waiting to board the new plane, but we couldn’t actually get on as it turned out caterers had not made it yet. Then we had to wait for a new flight crew to arrive, as they were also apparently delayed. Finally, we boarded, but then sat in stifling heat in the plane at the gate waiting for personnel to fix a computer part that would not interface properly enough with the landing gear to allow take-off. We heard the cheery and apologetic blow by blow of how hard they tried to fix things, including the pilot's reporting at a later stage that some “minions” (sic) had been sent to get a new part.


Finally after 2 hours of unpleasant steaming, during which I had stripped down to my thinnest camisole and ran a portable battery-operated fan to keep cool enough not to pass out, we were told BA could not fix the problem after all, so all pax had to disembark, get back on the stuffy bus, and then go through UK passport control interviews and customs while BA figured out what to do with us. No BA flights were available for rebooking, and another local airline had a strike so they could not put us on its flights either. We also had to pick up our unloaded luggage from baggage claim and then just sit with it, or haul it to put it into left luggage with a plan to get it back once we knew what flight we would be rerouted on. Not having slept almost 30 hours, feeling very hot, and loaded down with two rolling 4-wheeled but heavy suitcases plus my carryon backpack and a big purse, it was getting dark, I was exhausted, and was not thinking too clearly.


BA then distributed vouchers for an Econobox lodging hotel a few miles from the airport where we were supposed to wait until we heard via text when our reroute the next day would be. We were to ride and connect on 3 different airport trains and buses to get there, without driver assistance use of baggage carts which I was told would not be allowed. That was physically impossible for me to do in my current state of health with all my cruise luggage, so thinking I would likely be rebooked on an early morning flight by BA, I instead went to an online hotel booking site and found the Hotel Sofitel at my terminal (Terminal 5) which had an overpriced but relatively conveniently located room where I knew the mattress would not be rock hard and there would be enough pillows for me to relax, plus a bath tub. Once I actually physically found it, (which was a challenge due to poorly marked signs), I had a long check-in wait because the apparently very well-to-do and entitled gent in front of me was being very fussy about getting a room with a view of the airport that also otherwise met his needs.


It was still unclear when/if my flight would be rescheduled by BA. All I wanted to do was get a flight in any class (including overhead compartment) on any airline that would get me into Hamburg ASAP, even at extra cost, and at a minimum with enough time to get to the cruise to embark one day later. I thanked myself and people who give advice on CC for having allowed a couple days margin to get to my cruise on time. I have learned to always anticipate visits by Mr. Murphy when traveling, who seems to follow me around like a rabid dog.








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Day 0, pre-cruise mess, Part 2


Late in the evening I got a text that my flight the next day was not departing until early afternoon, and internet showed there were no open earlier flights.

All were on board for the next day flight, Econobox-hotel rested, when round two of the frustrating BA comedy commenced. Personnel announced there were no baggage handlers to load our luggage, as they were too busy. To my chagrin I also watched the clouds roll in and rain suddenly pelted the plane's foggy windows, The next thing we were told, again while we were sweltering in the hot plane just like the day before, was that though the baggage was finally loaded, meanwhile visibility had become poor, so we had to wait at least another hour.


An hour later we were told all flights going south and east were stopped completely at LHR due to weather, and we were told LHR was" in chaos", so the pilots were working on an alternative plan to get us out of there. I texted DH and I used the word “European” to describe something I wrote, but instead the iPhone auto-correct decided to turn it into a message that said “You’re a peon” . I certainly felt like one!


Finally weather partially cleared, and we got clearance to go, but the new issue meanwhile was that there was no tug to back us away from the gate, so they were looking for a tug.

We were allowed to use our phones while still at the gate.I had started panicking thinking we would once again be offloaded and given another round of Econobox vouchers. I researched how to again change the already changed timing of my prearranged car ride from Hamburg to Travemuende and how to get to Hamburg if I could not fly out of LHR. All of a sudden an ad popped up on my phone saying, “Muslim and single? Call ____.” I am neither Muslim nor single, am not even a Labor party member, so I must have been selected for such a solicitation simply because I had been at LHR. I received no other new ads other than to fly BA. I started feeling a bit punch drunk.


In case we would be booted off the plane yet again, I researched trains, a rental car (driving distance from LHR to Travemuende BTW is shown as 11.5 hours, some of which would be on the “wrong” side of the road and while jet-lagged) and even what the price of a short-notice private jet chartering would be, so determined was I not to miss the cruise. I was reminded of the silliness in the old movie "Trains, Planes and Automobiles.”


Fortunately we finally got the go ahead to fly and at last I arrived in Hamburg, though a bit frazzled and perspiring from the hot plane. However, there was now no driver to meet me, although my friend was indeed there with a luggage cart as she had texted she would be. I called the car hire company and they tried looking for him and could not find him, and said they’d call me back. They did not call, but my friend went hunting for him while I stayed with our luggage. She found him lurking behind a big pole looking bored, invisible to arriving pax, with a very obscure sign with my name on it pointing down, as was my mood. News was that I had to pay a big extra surcharge for him to get us to Travemuende, as he claimed he had been held up the whole day waiting for us even though I had notified his company and the driver in the early morning in a text not to come until many hours later.


Moral of the long pre-cruise story: ALLOW PLENTY OF TIME, and time to spare, with backup options to get to your embarkation port.




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Day 1, Travemuende


The little inn in Traemuende where we had a room reserved was getting ready to lock its doors as we drove up, but the friendly proprietress had waited for us to arrive. There were now three flights of stairs to negotiate with no lift, there was no AC, and the bathroom seemed narrower than my body (which was not too wide, as the cruise had not yet started). But at least we were in the town of sailaway just a couple miles from the ship quay and odds were good we would make the cruise start with no further incident! Yay! We left our biggest cases downstairs and, as planned, just took the small ones up with us.


We were too tired to go out to eat so instead ate simple sausage and cheese sandwiches my friend had bought at Hamburg airport just in case, and downed a bottle of local rose wine the inn had for sale, on the room’s terrace ( I would have preferred something stiffer at that point but had nothing, and the wine did go well with the food). From our room we could see this view:





Travemuende is a pleasant seaside town neither of us had been to, so once adequately "rested", we enjoyed an hour stroll on the boardwalk after a late sunset, followed by a fortifying cocktail (finally) at one of the seaside bars.


The next morning the sun was shining and things were looking up, as they often do when there is light and one has been, like a horse and other large organisms, watered, fed, and rested. So after my friend swam in the sea, and I swatted a couple bees who had made their way into the room, ( my friend assured me they are harmless) we decided to at least take time to walk into the hub of the colourful old town for browsing and hopefully a fresh fish lunch with what remained of our little time in this port. ( boarding was not until 3:30) :














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We were pleased to see the MS Europa waiting for us at the East Prussia quay:






Amber is sold quite a bit in this area. You can even buy an amber dog or cat collar to help keep ticks away!:




It rapidly started clouding over ( a common theme on this voyage), but the lighting was just right for a few more pictures:







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We checked out an interesting old maritime and sailor’s museum :





In the museum was also an exhibit showing the fate of 13 million ethnic Germans who were expelled from various different countries in eastern Europe into the western Allied zones, which included what became West Germany, between 1944 and 1950.





The Potsdam agreement signed by Roosevelt and Churchill with the Soviets/Stalin, who wanted them gone from the Soviet occupation zone to either western Germany or anywhere else, sanctioned this. Many of the expelled did not even speak German and had lived in those regions of eastern Europe for generations as citizens of those countries. The Soviets appropriated all the ethnic Germans' land, almost all their belongings, and some of their men as slave labor for a few years after the war, as part of war reparations. Many died in the mines and camps.


Between 1-2 million civilians, most of them women, children, and old men, fleeing westwards, reportedly died during the expulsions, from exposure, starvation, disease, and Soviet revenge attacks including brutal rapes. These are unfortunately the kinds of things that can happen when lunatics with big armies start wars, invade other countries, kill millions of people, and lose.




My friend’s in-laws had been farmers in East Prussia (Soviet Union/Russia since WW2, near Koenigsberg, which became Kaliningrad under the Soviets, when they were expelled, and the women, children and old people were then attacked by Soviet planes , many were killed or drowned in collapsed ice as they fled westward with horse carts and crossed the northern ice , hoping to find safety not far from Travemuende.




We were getting ready for a lunch stop but first decided to check out a colourful sale of nautically oriented jackets nearby. I grabbed a bright yellow seaman’s slicker and all of a sudden felt a severe, sharp, unrelenting pain on my index finger. Though I did not see anything causing it, I had probably just been stung by a bee or wasp who had either been squatting in/on the colourful jacket and whose domestic peace had been disrupted by my rude grasp. For the rest of the day and that night, despite icing, assorted topical treatments and ingestion of appropriate pills, I had ongoing very sharp stabbing pains in my hand, but fortunately no anaphylactic reaction that would likely have led to missing the cruise.


It abruptly started pouring rain while I was hunting for ice for my hand, and of course neither of us had brought an umbrella for our walk as we’d left the inn with total sunshine, so we quickly got soaked and then decided to cab back to the hotel before all cabs were taken. We opted to go to the cruise terminal early though not yet time to be allowed to board, before anything else could go wrong, because if it could, the way my luck was running, I felt it would.


Day 1, Travemuende embarkation


I started relaxing with glasses of complementary Duval-Leroy champagne and tasty canapés which greeted us at the terminal, while fighting off ongoing pains from my presumptive bee or wasp sting.


Captain Knopf, a traditional Hapag Lloyd mascot, amused a few of the kids of all ages who were waiting to board (there were 35 kids on the cruise, and with one infant exception, all were well-behaved, out of 383 pax:





Finally, we were on the ship and we got ready for muster. I had trouble getting the velcro straps of my life vest on with my sore stung hand, and before I knew what was happening a hurried stewardess grabbed my bare arm to quickly shove it into the life jacket and unfortunately rubbed the rough velcro down its length, creating skin tears which later turned into big bruises plus an infection (I have thin, friable skin, mostly from medication, so do not tolerate rough handling). It is in part for events such as this that I carry a small pharmacy with me when I travel.

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After a 45-minute muster ( first pool deck, then lounge), we finally sailed away, the sun peeking out periodically to tease us, a local band sending us off, many people waving, and another complimentary cocktail:










Ten minutes after cleaing the harbor the skies suddenly opened up again and we dashed back inside, but not quickly enough to avoid getting soaked a second time that day.

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sorry to read all the unpleasant delays on BA and all the other circumstances - London Heathrow is nearly always a chaos :evilsmile:


i do not know your departure airport however with the combination United - Brussels Airlines over Brussels you can avoid London for flying to Hamburg

if you do want avoid Frankfurt , Munich is a lot easier !



ex Brussels the flights i took this year only had a delay of maximum half an hour and returning from Hamburg the worsest was 45 minutes ( 3 flights done this summer )

but the service on Brussels airlines is very basic and poor even in business ! during the week there are 3 flights Brussels Hamburg


if you do fly business the lounge at Brussels is not so bad at all


i think due to European law if it did happen the other direction Hamburg - US , you were eligible for a very serious dammage ! in some cases up to 600 €

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Looks like your route had quite a few different stops than ours. Good to hear that all worked out after the initial stress. :o

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The first evening, the MDR was bustling. We had been assigned a small table for two one in from the window, so we had a decent water view (the same one I had on my last solo cruise, as I had requested). You can typically start your dinner any time between 7 and 9:30. Alternatives were the buffet indoor/outdoor Lido, or reservation only small Italian or gourmet Dieter Mueller venues.



Food was very good, as before, but service attentiveness was a bit lacking, very unlike before on prior trips. Crew were dashing about a lot, definitely not dawdling, but seemed to spend most of their time at the 8-seat tables which kept them hopping with discussions about wines, food details, etc., while we sat waiting for wine to come before starting food. Understaffing seemed to be the issue. Fortunately the problem was resolved after a day or two, as I really did not want to fuss.


My delicious first evening entree, with tender meat, truffles:







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Day 2 — at sea


A gourmet 9-course breakfast was offered the next day, as is often done on sea days, plus a buffet option both in the MDR and the Lido.

I ordered only 3 courses (small portions of beef tatar, then fried goose liver, and then Canadian pancakes with maple syrup) plus helped myself to fresh little crispy breads, “Broetchen” and fruit from the buffet. Again the food was excellent, but service was marginal. We had

a fairly sullen ( unusual on the Europa) overworked waiter who forgot the cream and sugar set-up for the coffee and seemed to resent being politely reminded, after ten minutes, to please bring it. He also brought the hot second course after I had just started on the first one and there was no room at the tiny table to set it down. He was not happy when I politely told him it was too early and I was not ready for the second course as I was still working on the first one. Instead of taking it away, he pushed things around to make room for it and then ran off. The rest of the meal he ignored dirty plates and empty coffee cups, did not check if we liked our food, did not offer coffee refills, or otherwise provide expected luxury service. I started wondering if my last two wonderful dining experiences on cruises on Europa had not been representative, or if the less then luxury undrstaffing these first two days was the anomaly. Fortunately by the third day all was well and back to luxury standards, so the first two MDR meal services were indeed anomalous, for unclear reasons. But it showed me even the Europa can have problems.



My friend swam and also participated in a morning fitness session, offered each day around 8, varying types, not many participants.

This shows the layout of the pool, which can be covered or partially covered in inclement weather. It is heated to 28C, 25 meters long:








For a fee, personal training was also available, and the gym was up the stairs on the picture and overlooked the pool.


There were also lectures with slides about Scotland and about the gardens we were going to see, but note that talks were only in German, though the speakers were also English speakers, sociable and approachable. Contrast with the Europa 2, where port lectures are delivered in both English and German.


I had been on a hiking trip to Scotland in the Inverness area and highlands about ten years ago when I was healthier and had loved it, (even though I did not find Nessie :)so looked forward to seeing more, and had been trying to read about Scotland’s complex history, including about the “Clearances” where farmers were forced off land they had lived on for many years ( a common theme in history). I struggled to keep all the battles with the English and the clan intrigues straight.


We then went to afternoon tea in the “Belvedere” observation lounge:




I had them put big globs of extra whipped cream, “Sahne,” ( the real stuff) on my mandarin cream cake. Service here was very civilized. The cruise pianist played soft tunes, and then at the end as a bonus, a very talented young girl around 10, one of the passengers, just came up and played Vivaldi and Mozart for us on violin! She apparently attends a famous music high school and is known in competitions. The rest of the cruise I periodically saw her serious face at other classical performances, listening intently, but at other times, as is often the case with child prodigies or geniuses, she was just like any other little kid. Her mom, likely Polish born, alternated talking Polish and German with her, and also seemed to encourage her to practice her English with guides and bus drivers.



Edited by Catlover54

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On-board entertainment started up. During the cruise we had, in decreasing order of my preference:


1. “Trio-R’ange” — an octet of classical wind instrument musicians (2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 2 bassoonists, and 2 French horn players, one of whom was an American from Colorado).


One of the bassoonists, who also read short introductions to the music pieces:





The Belvedere Lounge ( observation area, not used much most of the time) in which they did their three performances:





2. “Pianotainment” — two very talented classically trained virtuoso pianists who did brilliant humorous improvisations of many classical pieces, and during one show also presented beautiful pictures of their travels to 100 countries over the years. A camera highlighted their finger acrobatics in case you had a less than optimal seat.


3. Adam McThomas, who did two shows, playing bagpipe, piano, and guitar, and sang Scottish songs ( I would have liked him more if he had not translated some songs into German)


At the Gatsby’s bar and lounge:






4. “The Rat Pack”, a tribute trio who performed Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammie Davis Jr. songs ("Dean Martin" also had his English-speaking mom with him on the cruise) . The guy who was Sinatra, Thomas Ward, had an uncanny resemblance in appearance, voice and style to the real one.


5. Irmgard Knef — a cabaret cross-dressing humorist I think only Germans could enjoy because of some German local and political jokes. The performer, a middle-aged man, pretended to be an over 90 long lost twin sister of the famous German chanteuse Hildegard Knef. My friend and others who came were practically rolling in the aisles at the jokes. I only went to his first show as I did not care much for his making fun of old people ( complete with Parkinsonian mannerisms) as much as he did in the first one.


The eight person German on-board band (including two lovely lady singers, saxophonist, trumpet, trombone) was also quite talented, “Heavens Club,” and their repertoire in various venues ranged from lounge lizard soft tunes to rock n roll, pop and dixieland jazz. Most songs were English language known tunes.






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Day 3, Leith (Edinburgh), overnight


Military Tattoo performance


This popular and expensive evening event ( procedes go to charity but also stimulate 80 million in local revenue for Edinburgh), at the Edinburgh castle esplanade, was a mix of hundreds of bagpipers, international military bands and performers, plus an odd assortment of non-military performers. Mexicans in huge sombreros played guitar and sang what is considered stereotypic Mexican music ( and would therefore be frowned upon in my neck of California as politically incorrect). The Mexican dancers also performed expected traditional dances, ladies with swooshy colorful skirts.


Women from the Edinburgh girls’ school in Malawi, plus some men from Malawai colorfully dressed as primitive natives, then happily and rhythmically ran across the stage without much more, with no military theme. The young people performing seemed to be having a wonderful time.


We also saw a spry non-military Czech dance troupe, some camels with stern-looking women in head scarves from Oman beating on drums while sitting on the camels, and other women from Oman playing other instruments.


The show was a bit of a hodge podge with a ‘we are a happy and diverse world’ theme, alternating with traditional military parade style performances from U.S., Switzerland, France, and of course UK. But I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. It is done annually for decades, over a three week period of performances, though as I understand it the inclusion of non-military dancers and singers is relatively new and when first implemented was controversial.


The enthusiasm was infectious. The beginning of the well-organized show included folksy welcomes to various travel groups, people celebrating anniversaries and birthdays, and a roll call of people from different countries cheered as their country was called. Interestingly Russia was not called, but China was, as were very small countries. There were also clearly other cruise ship excursion attendees with expected huge contingencies from U.S. and UK.









Tattoo competes with the interesting looking Fringe Festival, which sells a million tickets a year and was also ongoing in the streets at the same time, but we had no time to check it out as we had a different excursion booked the next day.


The Tattoo has nothing to do with dermatologic artistry. Rather, it is a term that evolved qs a refernxe to the last call of the day to military duty, when pubs would close.

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The Swiss group, at this year's Edinburgh Tattoo, is a favourite of mine, the Top Secret Drum Corps:




Yes, they were definitely crowd favorites, though at first I did not understand why they yelled “Top Secret!” as they left the stage.


I would not mind coming to see the Tattoo again, but on a land trip with DH, and his cameras and long distance lenses, and where I could also enjoy more things in Edinburgh while staying in a local hotel. I did not even tour the castle, in anticipation of coming back with him to do that.


I would bring a better umbrella, however, for the streets ( none allowed in the stands, everyone was in ponchos) and frankly for all of UK. I am so used to the majority of days in California having sun that your gray, grayer, and grayest weather took some getting used to. This is why so much is so green!


I was glad the seats had backrests and the toilets were abundant and relatively clean, unlike at the Monaco Grand Prix “luxury” excursion with Silver Sea a couple years ago.

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Day 4, Edinburgh


We slept late and lazy ( HL has a lot of “late risers” excursions and you can have a late breakfast from 10-12 if you like in Dieter Mueller), and then did an excursion to an old estate manor house in the country, Hopetoun House.


First my friend had done her laps in a pool to herself:






Hopetoun had broad manicured lawns and expansive rooms full of historical paintings, in a style most people in the UK are very familiar with but most Germans and Americans who have not been to UK are not, other than perhaps through Downton Abbey on TV. Our group then received tea with exceptionally delicious unusual home-made scones, abundant clotted cream, and jam, plus other treats, which were all very good, a meal in itself.



Sorry this was through the bus window:










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Who spent time in here?






Please sir, I’d like some more!









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Sailaway when we got back, (with free drinks, and the band played on deck)






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You were unlucky with the weather as this year we have had, at least in England, the hottest summer since records began in 1910.




With regard to Tattoos, you may care to have a look at, a favourite of mine, The Basel Tattoo.





In 2016, one of the highlights for me was a Japanese University marching team:



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Fun video, EV!




After sailaway from Edinburgh, this was our night we had made reservations to dine in the small ( 26 seat) Dieter Mueller restaurant (he is a Michelin rated German chef, who sometimes also travels on the ship), where one set menu is served, changed once a week. This was Mediterranean week. Food and paired wines were terrific, as was service. We had seven reasonably sized courses, with five high quality wines paired with them and all was verbally described in detail ( the enthusiastic waiters can do both German and English descriptions if needed). There was no extra cost for the restaurant, but there was reasonable extra cost for the wine pairings.





There were little cards describing each course set at the table. Here is the German description card of this green-looking course ( green from the leek) which included octopus, king crab, and salmon, plus the obvious caviar:






My lamb entree:




All the vegetables on this cruise were flavorful and perfectly cooked.


All in, I still preferred the ambience and food choices of the MDR, and also that tables are further apart.


BTW the Prunier French caviar retails for about $350 per 125 grams.

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Day 5, Ullapool (tender)


Sailing into Ullapool, a usually cool temperature northern UK tip town of 1500 with many outdoor activity options, including various kinds of hikes, drives to view spots, and geology explorations:





Before leaving for a garden excursion, we fortified with a tasty Bedouin salad ( perhaps using the prior day’s remaining lamb?)





After a long distance in a bouncing bus on a very narrow low traffic road, ( looked great for motorcycling), we arrived at the impressive Inverewe Gardens. There, the on-board doctorate in gardening ( who had in part trained in England) pointed out details of all the varied impressive flora, while we maneuvered our umbrellas up, down, and then up again on this overcast and sometimes raining day. From giant rhubarb to California redwoods, this collection had it all.


If you come here independently, I recommend allowing at least a half day to be there, preferably in the morning before crowds, so you can walk the whole length of the soothing gardens at leisure. I do not garden due to physical limitations and know little about it, but I enjoyed the variety of colours, textures, and plant creativity displayed here. I even enjoyed the coolness and light breezes, it was conducive to easy walking, but not the actual rain.


There is a decent gift job with facilities that were suboptimally maintained, and that unfortunately had lines in the limited women’s area, and I think should be expanded and cleaned more often so people can spend more time in the gardens. You can also get silly and buy things like this:



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