Thursday, 7 July 2016

2016 Trip to Europe - Days 20 and 21 - Amsterdam, The Netherlands



Day 20 - Back in Amsterdam

I must talk a bit about our ship, the Prinsendam. It is the smallest of the Holland-America line and is very different in character from any ship I have been on (barring the Windstar Ships that are a class apart.)

It is a quiet ship. One can wander any of the public spaces without being subjected to unwanted music. There is an easily avoidable casino. There are comfortable chairs, everyplace. No one pushes drinks. One may take dinner at any time between 5 and 8 pm. Room service exists when needed.

Violin-Piano Duo
There is an amplified show every night in the theater for those who want it, but in a different part of the ship a very talented young violin-piano duo played only classical music. She is Russian and he was born in Siberia and spent his younger years in Ukraine. We enjoyed listening to them every night. They have an incredible repertory. They rarely repeated anything except by request. It says quite a bit about the ship and about the guests sailing on the ship that the management provides such an alternative.

The Prinsendam is an older ship, but perhaps that accounts for some of its more attractive features. I would not hesitate to sail on it again.


Days 20 and 21 – Amsterdam

The trip into Amsterdam from the ship was the
Amsterdam
journey from hell. We had opted to be transported from the ship to a centrally located hotel by a ship-arranged bus, because the ship said there might be very few taxis at the ship terminal. The bus trip was to take less than a half hour. We’d done this once before in Rome and it worked like magic.

This time it didn’t. First of all there were many taxis at the terminal. We should have just taken one, but we’d already prepaid bus transport for two.

The bus broke down about twenty minutes into the trip. We had time-specific tickets to the Van Gogh Museum – 11 o’clock. We should have gotten to our hotel with time to spare, but...

An hour later we were on the replacement bus. But without our coats. In the transfer from one bus to the other I forgot them up in the overhead compartment. We realized this the minute the first bus was hauled away and told our new driver who called the other driver. We gave our hotel name where the coats could be sent – but alas they were not.  We have no contact information, no one we can call. My coat was five weeks old and expensive. JP’s was older, but a favorite. 

We admit we have each done this before, lost a coat in the middle of a trip. It comes from having more bits and pieces to handle than you have hands. No matter how we swear we will travel with less next time, we never do.

Van Gogh Museum
The day ended well though. The Van Gogh Museum honored our tickets and we spent a wonderful afternoon in that incredible museum.

A word about where we are. We’re staying in the Hotel Fita in the middle of the Museum District. The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum are about a block from us, as is the world renowned concert hall the Concert-Gebouw. Connecting them all is a wonderful long park with outdoor cafés and open green spaces.

Hotel Fita
Our charming little hotel, about 30 rooms, is family owned and operated in one of the beautiful, tall, narrow brick buildings that used to be residences. We are on the top floor in a spacious room with a wall of windows and double doors that open to a wide balcony. If you are ever in Amsterdam, I highly recommend the Fita. Ask for room 44. Every room is different and there are some quite small ones. The breakfast at the Fita is well beyond the usual hotel offerings, varied, delicious, and plentiful.

Rijksmuseum
Today, our last day on this trip, we went to the Rijksmuseum. We went with a purpose in mind. We wanted to see all the Rembrandts and Franz Halls and Vermeer’s.  At least that was MY goal. JP just sort of came along for the ride.  She confided to me as we left the Rijksmuseum three hours later that she had had enough museums to last her for a long time. I countered that I had visited enough churches. 

I hate to say I was disappointed in the collection, after all they have the Night Watch and at least two Rembrandt self-portraits and a huge Franz Halls and some, but not much, Vermeer. I guess I expected more. Certainly more Vermeer. Of Rembrandt there was no portrait of Saskia. Where would it be? Franz Halls, no Shrimp Girl. Where is it if not here? What this museum has is impressive, but I thought it would have more of the Dutch and Flemish masters. I’m going to have to do an on-line search to see where these other paintings are.

JP is sleeping. This has been an intense trip. There has been so much to see, and such a limited time in which to see it. We know we are unlikely to return to this part of the world. We too much love the southern countries, Italy and Greece in particular, to spend more time in northern climes. We’re glad we made this voyage, but we won’t be coming back.

Tomorrow night, barring anything unforeseen, we will be sleeping on our own beds. Then all we have to do, besides dealing with B&B guests, is recover from jet-lag. That takes about a week.

****


Where Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowell
Blair McDowell's latest tale of Suspense  takes the reader to Italy's  beautiful Amalfi Coast.


"Adamo and Eve are two people who have both been through their own versions of hell. They are both certain that they are not ready to enter into a relationship, but love finds them anyway. Then it takes them on the non-stop thrill ride of their lives."
-   Marlene Harris, readingitall.com




 
When Eve Anderson meets Adamo de Leone on a ship bound for Europe, she has no idea of the dark secret that will endanger both their lives. She accompanies him to his home on Italy’s Amalfi Coast to open an inn left to him by his grandfather. But then she learns he spent 5 years in prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Could the man she loves be responsible for embezzling eighty million dollars from the investment firm he once owned?

Adamo wants to hold Eve at arm’s length until he can clear his proud family name. But when there is an attempt on his life and Eve is terrorized by a gun-bearing thug, he realizes how much he wants her, and he must accept whatever help he can get to uncover the well-hidden trail of a six-year-old crime.


Books of Blair McDowell
To review and purchase any of Blair McDowell's books, Click Here.

    

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

2016 Trip to Europe - Days 17 and 18 - Kalmar, Sweden & Copenhagen, Denmark



Day 17 - Kalmar, Sweden

I am unable to go ashore today. My knee is very swollen and access is only by tender. The ship could not dock in port as is has been able to up to now. JP is planning to go ashore, but may not, since there seems to be at least an hour’s wait for tenders and if that problem exists going, it will exist coming back.
Not sure if Kalmar is worth a two hour wait. I can’t, from reading about it, see any real reason we are here. Certainly the view we see from where we’re anchored is uninspiring. With a population of 40,000, it appears to be an oil storage terminal among other things. It does boast a 16th Century castle, but then, what town in Europe doesn’t?

Anyway, if JP gets into Kalmar and if she gets back, we’ll find out whether it was worth the effort!

Kalmar, Sweden
JP did get into Kalmar. The tender took the passengers around the point, right into the center of town, a very different view than the one we had where the ship was anchored.

She reports that it is a lovely little, very walkable
Kalmar Town Centre
town with charming old buildings and nice squares. As you know JP has a thing about churches and old organs. This little town boasts the largest Baroque church in Sweden, with not only an old and substantial pipe organ, but also a smaller two manual tracker in the chancel.

Baroque churches in northern Europe are much simpler in their decoration that those we have seen (and loved) in Austria, Hungary, and Italy. I must admit to a love for the florid over-done churches of the south with their gilded cherubs flying around the pipes.


Day 18 – Copenhagen

Our view of Copenhagen is somewhat colored by the
Copenhagen
fact that it was a cold, windy, rainy day. We opted for the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour. The last one we took (in Helsinki) worked well for us. In Helsinki, the commentary over earphones was intelligent and informative and, most importantly, gave us information enough ahead of the stop for us to make a decision about staying on or getting off.

Not so in Copenhagen. The earphones didn’t work well from the start. Then when we got them working we found they had some kind of God-awful electronic music playing whenever they weren’t describing stops. This meant I heard none of the descriptions since there was no way I could listen to the garbage between commentaries.

Brightly coloured houses
We missed it all. We could have stopped at Tivoli, just to see what the first ever amusement park looked like, but since I loathe Disneyland I had no desire to see its predecessor.  Then there was one street full of colorful houses on a canal. We’d have gotten off there except we didn’t see it until after the stop for it. We finally got off at the stop where the Little Mermaid sits on her rock in the harbour. From there
The Little Mermaid
we walked in a truly drenching rain back to the ship.

Copenhagen, more than any other city we saw in northern Europe, is a BIG city. As such, for the most part it looks like every other BIG city in the world. High rise buildings. Modern architecture. It has much attractive green space, city parks and open areas, but it is still mostly big city.

There was stark contrast between ultra-modern architecture and older more traditional buildings. JP feels we didn’t give Copenhagen a fair chance, but I have no desire to return to it. 

****

Where Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowell
Blair McDowell's latest tale of Suspense  takes the reader to Italy's  beautiful Amalfi Coast.


"Adamo and Eve are two people who have both been through their own versions of hell. They are both certain that they are not ready to enter into a relationship, but love finds them anyway. Then it takes them on the non-stop thrill ride of their lives."
-   Marlene Harris, readingitall.com




 
When Eve Anderson meets Adamo de Leone on a ship bound for Europe, she has no idea of the dark secret that will endanger both their lives. She accompanies him to his home on Italy’s Amalfi Coast to open an inn left to him by his grandfather. But then she learns he spent 5 years in prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Could the man she loves be responsible for embezzling eighty million dollars from the investment firm he once owned?

Adamo wants to hold Eve at arm’s length until he can clear his proud family name. But when there is an attempt on his life and Eve is terrorized by a gun-bearing thug, he realizes how much he wants her, and he must accept whatever help he can get to uncover the well-hidden trail of a six-year-old crime.


Books of Blair McDowell
To review and purchase any of Blair McDowell's books, Click Here.

    

Thursday, 30 June 2016

2016 Trip To Europe - Days 13 & 14 - St. Petersburg



Day 13 - St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg
I’ve wanted to see St. Petersburg for as long as I can remember. And when a Russian graduate student of mine told me about the Hermitage, where both his mother and father were curators, and about the extraordinary Impressionist collection there, I was hooked.

Trouble was, even though I’ve lived in Hungary when it was occupied by Russians, or perhaps because I lived in Hungary when it was occupied by Russians, I have been hesitant to travel independently to Russia, especially since I know not ONE word in Russian, and know that even their alphabet is totally different from ours. I wouldn’t be able to read even the street signs.

When JP found a cruise that spent two days in St. Petersburg and included a shore excursion to see the Impressionist Collection, I said “go for it’. We booked the Impressionist tour at the same moment we booked the cruise.

So here we are, docked in St. Petersburg. And yesterday, we finally saw my beloved Impressionists. There were major problems with our “tour” though. First, I think our tour director got her training at the gulag.

The written description of the tour said we would see the Impressionist paintings, and if time allowed, see the Fabergé Jewel encrusted Easter-egg collection, created by that jewel smith for the Romanovs.

Faberge Eggs, St. Petersburg
Clearly this was not our guide’s agenda. She took us to the blasted eggs first (in a far distant building) and proceeded to spend an hour and twenty minutes describing the history of egg after egg.

When, with some asperity, I said “Where are the paintings?” she replied, “In another building. We will get to them.”

We eventually did, and we had a total of twenty minutes to see them. I could have cried.  There were
One of many Monets in Hermitage Museum
room after room of Impressionists. Fifteen Monets just in the first room. Two huge square canvases of his garden, the largest Monets I have seen except for his water lily panels in the Orangerie.  There were Reniors, Degas, Gauguins, Van Goghs, Pissarro’s. I wanted to sit and study them to absorb them. The frustration of being rushed through them was unspeakable. I unhooked the ear phones through which we were fastened to our “guide”. She knew nothing about art. I found interesting her excuse for Russia keeping all these paintings they “liberated” from the Germans. She said they were “reparations”. That Russia had the right to keep them as repayment for all the damage Germany did to Russia during the war.

A little difficult to grasp, since most of these paintings were confiscated from Jewish families sent to their deaths by the Nazis, and should by any standard of honesty have been returned to their heirs, as were all the ones found by the British and American officers specifically assigned to that task.

The whole experience yesterday left a very bad taste in my mouth. Much as I’d like to spend more time with that glorious collection of art, I will not return to Russia. I had hoped to make this a “first trip”, but I would never feel safe here.





Evening in St. Petersburg - Day 13



Mariinsky Theatre
The other thing I wanted most to see in St. Petersburg, after the Impressionist Collection, was the Mariinsky Theatre, the historic theatre that has seen generation after generation of great Russian dancers, from Nijinsky and Karsanova to Baryshnikov and Nureyev.

We were able to obtain tickets to a performance that was a part of a music festival, “Stars of the White Nights”, the artistic director of which was Valery Gergiev, well-known to Canadian audiences.  White Nights of course refers to this time of year (June) when there is no darkness this far north. There is a sort of twilight, and then it is light again. (JP took a fabulous picture of the new moon setting in our white-night sky at midnight.)

Don Quixote, Mariinsky Theatre
The ballet was Don Quixote, and it provided us with three breathtaking hours of virtuoso dancing. That the dancing was flawless goes without saying – after all this is the original home of classical ballet with its associated ballet school. Most amazing were the children. I’m aware that the school takes them very young as residents, and that once they have been granted a place in this most prestigious of ballet schools, they have no life beyond dance. However knowing that, and seeing the product of this training, are two different things. There were children in this ballet. Quite a lot of children. And they were, one and all, polished, fully professional dancers. I would not have believed it possible had I not seen it.

This was a very good evening. We arrived back at the ship at midnight, having had nothing to eat since breakfast. Thank God for room service!





St. Petersburg - Day 14



Today was an exercise in complete frustration. We had thought an overview bus tour might be the best way to see St. Petersburg in our one remaining day. The palaces, the fountains.....  It was not.
 
In Russia, we could be covered by a “group visa” if we took tours organized by the ship. Otherwise we would have needed to obtain individual visas, a proposition that takes six months and many dollars. In hindsight, that is what we should have done, regardless of time and cost. This way we spent quite a lot of money, saw nothing, and spent four hours incarcerated with a tour guide who was related to Attila the Hun, only nastier. Enough said.

Church of the Spilled Blood
The one thing we saw today – the ONLY thing we saw, was the “Church of the Spilled Blood.” (Doesn’t that ever sound Russian?!) We were allowed out of the bus for seven minutes – I kid you not, seven minutes – to take pictures. And yet, miraculously there was time for a half hour visit to a tourist shop, where the guide, of course, would have gotten kickbacks from all sales. 


My advice to the unwary. Never take an organized tour off a cruise ship.


We are on our way to Finland now. I am not sorry to see Russia’s shore line recede.

****

Where Lemons Bloom by Blair McDowell
Blair McDowell's latest tale of Suspense  takes the reader to Italy's  beautiful Amalfi Coast.


"Adamo and Eve are two people who have both been through their own versions of hell. They are both certain that they are not ready to enter into a relationship, but love finds them anyway. Then it takes them on the non-stop thrill ride of their lives."
-   Marlene Harris, readingitall.com




 
When Eve Anderson meets Adamo de Leone on a ship bound for Europe, she has no idea of the dark secret that will endanger both their lives. She accompanies him to his home on Italy’s Amalfi Coast to open an inn left to him by his grandfather. But then she learns he spent 5 years in prison for a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Could the man she loves be responsible for embezzling eighty million dollars from the investment firm he once owned?

Adamo wants to hold Eve at arm’s length until he can clear his proud family name. But when there is an attempt on his life and Eve is terrorized by a gun-bearing thug, he realizes how much he wants her, and he must accept whatever help he can get to uncover the well-hidden trail of a six-year-old crime.


Books of Blair McDowell
To review and purchase any of Blair McDowell's books, Click Here.