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Archive for July, 2013

Wunderbar Warnemünde!

When we woke up this morning the sun was already bright with barely a cloud in the sky, so we just knew it was going to be another lovely day.   🙂

We found ourselves docked in Warnemünde, in the former East Germany and near to Rostock, which we’d visited on a Baltic cruise on the Caronia in 2002. After breakfast it was a case of assembling in the Neptune Lounge until our bus number was called so we could disembark the ship and start our excursion, which was called “Forgotten Fischland” and took us all through the town, along the picturesque seafront, through the countryside and onto a natural lake for an hour’s boat trip which included wildlife spotting.

Warnemünde is near the Fischland-Darrs district which is fairly rural.  There were lots of absolutely gorgeous thatched cottages and houses, dotted here and there in little clusters among the trees and in the well-cultivated farmland and strawberry fields.  Warnemünde is quite well-known for its strawberries and, every summer, teams of temporary workers come from Eastern Europe to pick the strawberries and make themselves some money. They are not particularly well-paid, only earning five euros an hour, but they get free accommodation and they are working in the sunshine in lovely surroundings, so it’s not all bad!

When we arrived at the lake we all boarded a river boat called the Ostseebad Wustrow which was a double-decker; you could either go below decks where they were serving good hot German coffee and a traditional apple cake, or you could sit in the sunshine on the top deck, although it was a little windy due to the movement of the boat.

The coffee and cake were lovely, as were the surroundings.  We passed little villages and church spires and learned that, in this area, the majority of people were Protestant or Lutheran.  There were also some little ‘islands’ in the lake on which there were bushes and scrubby trees, one of which contained a black-tailed eagle.

After we’d had our coffee we went up to the top deck to take in the fresh air and enjoy the sunshine and gentle breeze.  We watched our vessel manoevre its way through the bouys that marked out the route, until we once again reached the river banks and moored up at a tiny landing stage.  Some of the larger houses had big back gardens that went right down to the river; what an idyllic spot to live in, and I’d imagine the house prices would have been pretty steep.

Once we’d alighted from the boat we rejoined our coach and continued our way through the picturesque villages until we came to a small rest area with a few shops, toilets and the ubiquitous “Karl” strawberry kiosks; the scent of the fresh fruits was mouth-watering.  We also spotted a nearby stall selling cold German beer.  So we bought a glass each and sat in the hot sunshine to enjoy them.   🙂

At the end of the tour we got back on board the Black Watch and dumped our stuff in the cabin, before enjoying an al fresco lunch up on the Marquee Deck. Then we disembarked the ship again to do a little exploring on our own.

The waterfront and beach in Warnemünde are absolutely superb; who would have thought the Baltic coast would have such a lovely, sandy beach just perfect for the many wind- and kite-surfers we saw.  Of course, the ideal weather made all the difference, and we enjoyed a slow stroll along the waterfront, looking at the pleasure cruisers and private boats moored up, the little pavement cafés and bars, and the many souvenir shops, slightly reminiscent of the shops in British seaside resorts.  The crowds were out in force, and it wasn’t just the Brits off the ships that made up the tourists; a lot of them were Germans because Warnemünde is a popular seaside resort for nationals as well.  We could understand why.

We bought some postcards and stamps, then went down to the beach to write them out whilst enjoying a freezing cold glass of Rostocker beer.  Deckchairs were placed nearby, along with empty wooden crates proclaiming their former contents “Malibu” on the sides; these acted (very effectively) as makeshift tables on which to place our drinks.   🙂

We sat in our deckchairs, our toes in the soft white sand, drinking our beers while we watched the windsurfers and the sea-breeze ruffled our hair.  How absolutely brilliant was this?!   🙂   Listening to the mesmeric sounds of the waves rolling onto the shore I wrote out the postcards and just enjoyed the feeling of being alive in this lovely place.

We sat there for a while and then reluctantly made our way back to the Black Watch to get showered and changed.  Dinner tonight would be a bit different; a German buffet served out by the pool deck.

After an afternoon nap (that’s the trouble with drinking during the day!) we got ourselves ready for dinner, but with a difference – tonight was a Nautical-themed night.  I dressed in white trousers, a striped Breton top and added a sailor collar and hat I’d brought with me for the purpose.  Trevor also wore a Breton top and added an Admiral’s cap.  An inflatable seagull (!!!) completed the nautical effect and we were ready.   🙂

As we were making our way to the pool deck, we started to wonder whether anyone else had dressed up, as we seemed to be the only ones.  But once we got there, striped tops and sailor hats featured prominently, along with the odd pirate.  Lots of people had made the effort, but what seemed to be attracting the most attention (with people even stopping to ask for a photograph) was our inflatable seagull, who we’d nicknamed “George” (or we could have called him Stephen Seagull – geddit?)   🙂

We enjoyed another al fresco dinner of salad and German sauages and meats washed down with cold rosé wine, then went into the Neptune Lounge to get some good seats for tonight’s entertainment, which was called “Oceans” and featured the Black Watch Show Company.  It was excellent; the songs were all sea and nautical themed (“Dancing with the Captain”, “Sailing”, “In The Navy” and many more) and the costumes and dancing were brilliant.  Even George Seagull featured when one of the dancers borrowed him off me and held him up, to much laughter.  🙂

After the show we went into the Braemar room for tonight’s quiz, where we met up with the Cramlington couple, John and Linda, once again and formed a team (which John didn’t notice we’d called Mega Mackems) ha ha [gives evil laugh].   😉

We thought we were doing all right, but we lost the quiz… by one point.  Never mind, we had a laugh and afterwards returned to the poolside where a deck party was in full swing, with the “Serendipity” duo playing lively dance tunes.  We enjoyed a few more drinks under the stars as the Black Watch slipped her moorings (a late one tonight; 11.00pm) and set off once more, to continue our voyage.  Everyone seemed to have enjoyed Warnemünde as much as we did.

We finished the evening off in the Lido Lounge at the stern of the ship, where once again the conversation with John and Linda turned into “Mackems v Mags” (Sunderland v Newcastle) football banter – all very good natured, of course, lol.   🙂

Once again it was a late when we left the Lido Lounge, getting on for 1.00am. But we had another sea day to look forward to tomorrow, so at least we’d have a lie-in.   🙂

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All Beer in Aalborg

When we woke up this morning the Black Watch was gliding slowly along the river, just about to dock in Aalborg, Denmark’s fourth largest city situated right on the waterfront.  We hadn’t booked any city tours today as the ship was docked literally across the road from the town; we could see a pub called the ‘John Bull’ just across the way.

The streets of Aalborg were narrow with distinctive, colourful buildings, some of which featured heavy beams in a mock-Tudor style.  Some of the walls leaned slightly and made you think of the “little crooked house”.  At 9.30am we still had half an hour before the shops opened, but it gave us a good chance to have a look around the maze of attractive little streets.

Every other building seemed to be a pub, bar or restaurant, which isn’t really suprising when you learn that the Danes are among the biggest consumers of beer in Europe, each person drinking an average of 90 litres a year.  As we hadn’t been to Aalborg before we decided we’d find a shop selling postcards, then write them out while sitting enjoying a Danish beer.

At 10.00am the shutters and canopies of the shops started opening up, the proprietors placing tables containing their wares outside their shops, to try to tempt us to go in.  Looking at the prices, in Danish kroner, we decided that Denmark, like the other Scandinavian countries, is very expensive compared to Britain.  However, the average worker in Denmark probably earns a lot more than we do in Britain, so the prices will seem normal to them.

We found a newsagent selling postcards and stamps so we bought some, and noticed that the postbox was situated very handily outside.  We walked round for a bit, looking for a bar or café with tables and chairs outside, as the sun was very hot.

Eventually we found a little outside bar, with tables and chairs set out under large umbrellas, and we each ordered a beer, just selected at random from the array available.  Mine was called Leiff and was a dark ale, with a slightly malty, sweet taste and came in a 33cl glass.  Trevor’s was more of a lager and came in a half-litre glass, icy cold and with the condensation gathering on the side of the glass.  They were just the ticket, sitting in the bright sunshine. 🙂

I wrote out the postcards and we enjoyed our beers, but at some point a horrid smell assailed our senses and we noticed a jetting wagon had pulled up in the street and was jetting out the sewer, thus creating the stink.  Of all the places it could have gone in Aalborg, it had to come near us!  Thankfully it didn’t stay too long and we weren’t sorry to see it go.

Once we’d posted the cards we had another look around this pretty little town.  One thing we noticed was that the locals seemed to like their water fountains, and there was a large, artistic arrangement of fountains in the square near the John Bull pub, just over the road from our ship.

As we were only spending a half day here, and had to be back on board by one o’clock, the time flew and we were back on the Black Watch in time for our lunch, which we ate on Deck 9, the Marquee Deck, where they have an outside food point and bar and you can ordered things like sandwiches, burgers and fish and chips.  I enjoyed a nice bowl of soup along with a fresh vegetable salad, and Trevor had a tuna sandwich, which we each washed down with a cold refreshing Strongbow cider.

We then found a seat just above the pool deck, and spent a very pleasant couple of hours just sitting in the sun and enjoying the sailaway party.  We sat with our friends John and Lynda and had a couple of cocktails and listened to the live music on the pool deck, as we watched the Black Watch slowly make her way down the river, once again heading to the sea.  The sun was very hot but there was a gentle sea breeze and we could have sat there all day, but we had to go and get washed and changed for dinner.

In the Neptune Lounge tonight the entertainment was a Geordie comedian called Dave Kristian, who’d we’d seen five years ago on the Boudicca on our voyage to Svalbard.  So another familiar face!  Luckily his act had changed since then (some of them don’t change their acts for a decade!) so we enjoyed a side-splitting 45 minutes of his show, which really was very good and seemed to appeal to everyone.

Then it was off to the Braemar Room for the quiz, which tonight was a 70’s theme so we though we’d be in with a good chance.  We got 17/20 (and there was just the two of us in the team) but another team also scored 17 and it went down to a tie-breaker, which we lost.  So pipped at the post once again!

We finished off the evening by going up to the Lido Lounge, where the entertainment team were putting on a live show featuring 70’s music.  We had a couple of drinks each and it was quite late when we got to bed, nearly 1.00am.  It probably wasn’t such a good idea when we had to be up early the following morning for our excursion in our next port of call, Warnemünde in Germany, but what the hell – we’re on holiday!   🙂

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Destination Denmark

When we woke up this morning we’d already lost an hour of the day, as we’d had to put our clocks forward an hour last night in line with European time.

The day was already dawning bright and sunny although there was a brisk sea breeze and quite a lot of movement of the Black Watch as the North Sea was very rough.

After breakfast (where we saw yet another familiar face; someone who’d been on our cruise on the Arcadia in January) we had a look around the shops and wandered around, exploring the ship.  The Black Watch is only a small ship at around 28,338 tons, and she holds 739 passengers, so it’s quite easy to find your way around the nine decks.

We didn’t really do much today; just wandered around and sat and relaxed. An announcement from the bridge advised us that the current rough seas (Force 9 on the Beaufort scale) would abate by around lunchtime and indeed this was the case.  Just before 12 noon we sat out by the pool in a sheltered spot and enjoyed a beer before lunch.  None of the pools or jacuzzis had any water in them yet, but in a force 9 gale they probably didn’t want all the water sloshing about all over the decks.   🙂

We enjoyed our lunch sitting in the Garden Café, which is a really attractive room done out in white trellises with a huge English garden-themed mural at one end.  As we were eating we were entertained by the ‘Rosario Trio’, a string ensemble playing tasteful background music.  How civilised was this?!

As the sea became calmer and the weather warmer, we spent more time sitting on deck making the most of the sunshine.  We then heard the sound of gushing water and noticed they were filling the main pool; the guy said it takes four hours to fill.

At 4 o’ clock I went along to the salon to have my hair put up in readiness for the Captain’s cocktail party at 5.30pm, as tonight was formal evening.  Mark, the hairdresser, took his time and did a really lovely job, giving my hair lots of volume and piling it on top of my head, which I finished off with a black fabric rose.

I wore a long black velvet off-the-shoulder Gothic dress with a black lace choker and Trevor wore his dinner suit, winged collar shirt and ‘Black Watch’ (very appropriate) tartan bow tie and cummerbund.  Then off we went to the Neptune Lounge where we managed to get seats near the front to enjoy the free ‘champers’ and canapés on offer.   🙂

The master of the Black Watch, Captain Tom Hansen, appeared and made a little speech, outlining the history of the Fred Olsen line and introducing his officers.  The captain was very tall (over 6’) and had a very quirky, dry sense of humour; this is something we’ve discovered with all the Fred Olsen captains, that they all have a good sense of humour and enjoy their own little quirks.

We had a couple more glasses of the free vino then off we went for another delicious meal in the Glentanar restaurant, and enjoyed the company of our table-mates, Ted and Fiona.

The Neptune Lounge featured a female singer called Suzi Woods, accompanied by the excellent ship’s orchestra.  We really enjoyed her show a lot; she wasn’t cheesy, just a really good contemporary singer.

We followed the show by going along to the Braemar room for the quiz.  The first lot of questions had answers that were all sweets or chocolates, and the second set of answers all had something in common (which we didn’t get).  We only scored 14/20 so no prize tonight.  But we got talking to some of the people in the team at the next table, and it turned out they were from Cramlington in Northumberland.  They were Newcastle United supporters (we support Sunderland!) so the conversation for the next half hour or so was complete football banter, with both ‘sides’ raking up triumphant scores past and present, particularly Sunderland’s recent 3-0 victory over our arch rivals on their own soil.   🙂

We enjoyed a pleasant hour or so in their company and had a drink together before going back to our cabin fairly late.  The sea was a lot calmer now and we had land to look forward to tomorrow morning, in the shape of Denmark.

 

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This morning it seemed strange to be getting up and going to work, especially considering we were setting off on another cruise today!  We were joining Fred Olsen’s Black Watch later on but we were due to sail from the Tyne at 5.00pm, and as that is only about half an hour’s drive away from us in Durham, it allowed us to work half a shift before finishing at lunchtime and leaving the house around 1.20pm.

We drove to Howdon Sewage Treatment Works (!!!) near the Port of Tyne and parked the car there.  A strange place to be leaving from for a holiday but allow me to explain; Trevor works for Northumbrian Water and this is one of their treatment works, so we could leave the car there for a couple of weeks instead of paying the 12 quid a day that the port charges.  So we just got a taxi from the works to the cruise terminal, and we were there in only five minutes. As we stepped out of the taxi, a dockside porter was ready to whisk our cases away, and these would be delivered directly to our cabin.

We joined the queue and checked in then waited to be called to board.  The process was fairly quick and efficient and we made our way to our cabin, number 4085, on Deck 4.  Our cases were already there waiting for us, but our first priority, in the 28°C sunshine, was a freezing cold beer up on deck.  🙂

Joining the Black Watch means we will have sailed on all of the Fred Olsen fleet, the other ships being (in reverse order) Balmoral (2012), Braemar (2011) and Boudicca (2008).  We had also been on the Black Prince in 2008 but that ship has since been scrapped as it was an oldie, built in 1961.

We have always found Fred Olsen to be pretty generous with freebie drinks available here and there, such as the Captain’s cocktail reception, ‘champagne’ breakfasts and deck parties.  But on this cruise all of the drinks would be “on Fred” as we were sailing all-inclusive for the first time.  So the pint of Boddington’s we each enjoyed on the rear decks, in the sun, were free.   🙂

We marvelled at the Newcastle weather which was very hot and sunny, over 80 degrees in ‘old money’.  Last year (2012) was the coldest and wettest summer on record and so far this year the weather had left a lot to be desired, as we’d found our during our last cruise in May on board the Adonia around the British Isles.  But today we could have been setting off from the Mediterranean instead of Northern Britain, and we all hoped the weather would continue for our cruise into the Baltic Sea.

We only had time for the one pint before we had to go back to our cabin and get our lifejackets for Lifeboat Drill.  It was quite a thorough drill compared to some cruise ships, and it finished with us having to make a ‘crocodile queue’ and go to our lifeboat, which is number 5.   Then the time was our own, so Trevor took the lifejackets back to the cabin, while I hotfooted it along to the rear decks once again for another cold pint of Boddie’s.    🙂

On the pool deck below us, a live duo (male and female) struck up with the music; we thought they looked familiar and indeed they are called “Serendipity” and they featured on our January cruise on the Arcadia, where they used to play every night in the Rising Sun pub.  They provided a bit of background noise with some catchy tunes as we cast off, and soon the Black Watch glided away from the dockside, and set sail slowly along the Tyne for the North Sea, which was like a mill pond, with barely a ripple.

We had one more drink each then reluctantly left the sunshine to go back to our cabin, as we needed to wash and change for dinner as we were on first sitting at 6.15pm.  Our cabin is directly opposite the hairdressing salon and beauty parlour (how handy is that?!) and, as we approached, they asked if we’d like to take part in the free raffle and have a complimentary glass of ‘champagne’.  We agreed, and the first person I saw was Mark, the hairdresser who’d done my hair last year on the Balmoral.  He recognised me too, not least because I’d made him a kumihimo bracelet at the time, which he said he still has.

We have been allocated table #37 (how apt; our house number is 37) in the Glentanar Restaurant.  We usually ask for a table for six, as we enjoy the interaction with our fellow passengers, but this time we discovered we are sharing a table by the window with another very pleasant couple called Ted and Fiona.  During the conversation they told us that they had met on the Black Watch last year, when it was on its world cruise; they just got married on 30th June this year, so this Black Watch cruise was, in fact, their honeymoon!  What a nice story.

As is usual on Fred Olsen cruises, the food and the service were absolutely top-notch.  All my meal’s courses featured fish in some form; I started off with smoked salmon, then a small salad Niçoise with tuna and anchovy, then a main course which consisted of a Scandinavian herring platter and was delicious.  It contained rollmops, herring in some sort of mustard sauce, and herring in another sauce which was dark red in colour; I don’t know what it was (maybe red cabbage) but it tasted lovely.

We enjoyed a couple of glasses of (free!) rosé wine with our dinner, then finished off with coffee and amaretto.  A delicious meal in convivial company. 🙂

We then went along to the Neptune Lounge for tonight’s show.  On all Fred Olsen ships the cabaret lounge is always called the Neptune Lounge.  We’d also noticed a few other familiar things such as the turquoise-and-orange swirly carpet pattern (that they had on both the Braemar and Balmoral).  In addition, the ship’s orchestra always starts off with the same introductory tune; I don’t know what it’s called but we’ll forever associate it with Fred Olsen cruises.

The show tonight was called “21st Century Swing” and featured the Black Watch singers and dancers.  It was actually a very good show, a bit different from the usual type of stuff.  We really enjoyed it.

After the show we decided to go and take part in the quiz in the Braemar Room.  On our way, we saw John and Lynda Colbert.  In fact, I’ve known Lynda for over 30 years as we used to work at the same place, but I only found out a couple of weeks ago, when we were having a “lasses’ night out” that they’d booked the same cruise as us!  So on our first day on the Black Watch we’d already come across a few familiar faces.

We took part in the quiz and scored 14/20 which wasn’t enough to win. Then we had a nightcap (free!) before making our way back to cabin 4085 and settling down for our first night on the Black Watch.

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