Friday, July 1, 2011

Baltic cruise: the North Sea and Warnemünde, Germany: "Who's the celebrity?"

[We pick up my travel journal with ruminations on sailing out of Amsterdam and the subsequent day in the North Sea.]

June 27, 2011: a few hours out of the 'dam

I can hear Stephen playing with our two-way radios in the second of our adjoining cabins. We had a great day in Amsterdam: Nancy and I joined Tea and Stephen for their second round at the Chinese massage parlour, after a breakfast of toasted sandwiches -- shredded chicken, avocado slices, loads of creamy goat's cheese, and honey were some of wonderful ingredients therein across all our selections -- out in the sun by a canal; it was the way to start the day.

We've just come back from an exclusive area of the ship's spa -- for a price, of course; highlights included form-fitted, heated stone benches and a Turkish bath with cold water taps (so you don't overheat). So relaxed right now. And, look! It's time for supper! What's on the menu tonight?

* * *

In port, looking off the back deck

Supper was strange. Our waiter was too chatty after delivering the food, and there were a number of presentation and spicing problems. Celebrity may be aiming to treat us as such -- at one point, Tea, reading through the events calendar, asked, "Celebrity Wine Tasting... Who's the celebrity?" Nancy's "Us!" was priceless -- but that dining room has nothing on Royal Caribbean.

Lido deck

June 28, 2011: sailing

Breakfast this morning confirms it: the level of English comprehension amongst the front-line servers is significantly below what we're used to, which is a problem when you're relying on them to serve you. (It's a pseudo buffet, for lack of a better term.) However, it wasn't crowded at all, and the air is pleasantly crisp here.

* * *

O.K., all's right in the world after a half hour in the Turkish bath, followed by a swim. Now, lunch time!

11:00 p.m.

We had an excellent supper in the specialty Italian restaurant. Many amusing moments: Stephen's 'cheesecake', which the waiter personally retrieved from the downstairs dining room, and, oddly, had all the attributes of what one would call a cheese plate. [Our waiter was a great sport about it, and each of our many trips back to that restaurant featured many a joke about accents.] And then there was the moment when Tea discovered her dessert garnish was Pop Rocks. Holy snap, crackle, pop, Batman!

* * *

June 30, 2011: Warnemünde

Yesterday was our first stop: Warnemünde, Germany. I've been to Germany a few times now, and thought I'd some idea as to the range of experiences available there; unsurprisingly, I suppose, the sea alters that, my quaint beribboned Deutschland.

Invariably it's these small ports that really speak to me. Despite my family's not having made a living from the sea in a generation, those sounds and smells -- the water lapping, the fresh catches -- take me back to St. John's harbour, and my youth. Warnemünde was closer to the South Shore of Nova Scotia or Howth, Ireland, with many fishing vessels, yes, but also many pleasure craft, as they geared up for their big regatta the following week.

I got chatting to a Norwegian gentleman who couldn't say enough good things about Warnemünde. He'd sailed all over the world, but kept coming back. He loved the proximity of the facilities, and that you could tie up to the boardwalk, amidst it all. He also had very nice things to say about Canada. (Another Roots swag win; that's why he'd stopped me.) He said it was very beautiful, and that he'd really enjoyed his time in Halifax and St. John's. I left him with an even greater determination to see the fjords; he was a very proud, if reserved, Norwegian.

A three hour train journey from Warnemünde, we quickly discard Berlin as a potential destination for the day. Instead, we set out for the nearby town of Rostock, first by train, then by tram. The Old Town was lovely, with an open air market surrounded by Dutch-gabled buildings (much like we'd seen in Zaanse Schans a few months ago).

Rostock -- across from city hall

We passed the large tower that features on the label of their brewery's beer [which I believe was the Western Gate Tower, and part of the old city wall, marking the original limits], circled by birds of all sorts, including swifts, I'm convinced, thanks to my studies on Lake Como. Bird watching has really captured my imagination as a pursuit, although I'm convinced I lack patience for it.

M'm... goulash and pils
Unfortunately, the brewery was closed, but we found a shaded patio for sampling their Rostocker pils anyway, and the house special of goulash. Stephen asked for a burger, and while it didn't look promising initially -- we think the waitress was attempting to literally translate his request for a hamburger -- he absolutely loved his selection; we couldn't get him to shut up about it for the rest of the day, truth be told.

From there, we took the train back to Warnemünde. We sat in a large car lined with folded seats -- for bicycles, mostly, we soon found out, as new arrivals pulled out hidden belts to hold their many cycles securely, while they folded down a seat beside them. (Oh, if only they'd had a car like that on the train from Schipol to Amsterdam; that train was convenient for backpackers, not cruisers.)

Back in Warnemünde, munching on a basket of fresh strawberries from a nearby stand, we made our way down the boardwalk to the pier. It was a lovely sunny day, but even so, the sight of hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people enjoying the white sandy (man made) beach and surf took our breath away for a moment; not what we expected of the Baltic!

Aside: both in an elaborate fountain in Rostock, and on the beach in Warnemünde, there were children playing, naked as the day they were born; their screeches and giggles were pure joy. It can't help but warm your heart, something so simple and natural, in a world that can seem anything but for long stretches.

We wiled away the rest of the afternoon on patios, sampling other local beers, and fried and pickled herring -- the latter is lush with fresh dill! It was getting on for 9:00 p.m. as we headed back to the ship, the sun still high in the sky. A rare treat (for cruisers) awaited us: live folk music up on deck as we sailed for Stockholm, the sun finally setting a hour or so before midnight.

Up next: Stockholm, Sweden

There are more pictures of our first days on the cruise in our on ship album, and in our Germany one.

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