Friday, July 27, 2012

Summary and Highlights Crystal Symphony v2213

We had a fantastic cruise on the Crystal Symphony! The ship was wonderful and we visited some great ports. Below are some suggestions and recommendations for both newbies to Crystal and those sailing on a similar itinerary.

Some things to look forward to:
DO use the PCPC on the Crystal website to book your dining times in advance.  We did this once final payment was processed and it worked perfectly.  We met a few people who did not book in advance and they could not get the dining times they preferred.
DO try the specialty restaurants which are free. My meal in Silk Road was somewhat disappointing but my mother enjoyed her sea bass. I preferred the menu in Prego and thought it was the better of the two speciality restaurants.
DO book your shore excursions in advance. We took a couple of Crystal sponsored excursions which were well done. There were a bit more expensive but well worth it.
DO use the shower to steam your clothes. It worked better than the dry cleaner I have a home!
DO try the bistro for their selection of cured meats, artisan cheeses and yummy desserts. It was a great place for a small snack or a quick meal when returning late to the ship.
DO take advantage of the free laundry (assuming you can figure out the laundry dispenser!)

Some things to consider:
DON”T be discouraged by the higher fares on Crystal. They offer a superior product and in our opinion is well worth the additional cost. Some of their cruises are very competitively priced and surprisingly affordable.
DON’T be intimidated by the perceived demographic of your fellow cruise passengers. We met some delightful people and we did not come across anyone who appeared snobbish or arrogant.
DON’T be put off by the smoking policy. Crystal is making great strides to eliminate smoking on the ship and will add two more smoke free venues in January. They still allow smoking in the staterooms but not on the verandas. Hopefully smoking will become more restrictive and a thing of the past.
DON’T expect loose leaf tea on board the ship. The Mozart tea was a little disappointing. You may want to bring your own tea as I sometime do.
DON’T be dismissive of the age of the ships. The Symphony was in excellent condition and elegant. They had an additional refurb since our cruise that improved and refreshed some of the public rooms.
DON’T be wary of exploring on your own while on shore. We did several excursions with local trains and buses and it worked perfectly.

Our cruise from Southampton to Hamburg exceeded our expectations in many ways. With only 900 passengers the Symphony it almost never felt crowded. The one exception was breakfast in the lido and the theme buffets. It was often quite hard to find a seat if the weather was inclement as they could not use the Trident area. The itinerary was excellent and our main reason for booking this cruise. We especially enjoyed the overnight stop in Honfleur that allowed us to visit Deauville, Honfleur and Bayeux.. We spent the night in a hotel in Bayeux which made our half day tour with Overlord of the Normandy beaches possible and quite enjoyable.
There were a few shortcomings but these were not deal breakers to book again with Crystal.
1)      The Enrichment program was uneven. Some of the lectures were good but did not focus on the area where we were cruising. There was no discussion of World War 2 and the Normandy invasion. This was a cruise to Southwest France, Northern Spain and Germany. Yet, there were far too many lectures on the Middle East and hardly any on the region we visited.

2)      The food in the Crystal dining room was hit and miss for me. My mother had more success and enjoyed it. Perhaps I just made poor choices. However I had many more bad meals than good ones here and struggled with the menu options.
3)      The coffee was terrible in the Lido. My mother is a coffee drinker and was pleased she brought her own and a French press to make it each morning at breakfast.

4)  The theme buffets were a major disappointment. I had seen photos of the Asia buffet on the Serenity and was eagerly looking forward to it. However the selections were more Filipino and not to our liking. The Mediterranean buffet was horrific. I ended up getting a grilled Reuben at the Trident Grill instead.

Where Crystal truly shines is in Guest Relations. The people at the main, shore excursions and concierge desks were exemplary. Everything was well organized including signing out our passports to take with us on our overnight stop. When the ship's arrival in St. Malo was delayed for a few hours, the communication in advance was clear and informative. They also extended our port time so we left a few hours later. Both the shore excursion desk and the Concierge provided information on the ports and local transportation even if we were not on a shore sponsored excursion. The crew on the ship were very professional and it is true they may not have the word “NO’ in their vocabulary. Nothing was ever too much trouble and they carried the day for any of short comings we experienced elsewhere. Our stateroom attendant was fantastic and the best we have ever had in all our cruises.

Top Honors:
Swankiest Hotel: Fairmont Vier Jahreszeiten, Hamburg
Favorite Town: St. Jean de Luz
Best Lunch: Fiskgelagid in Reykjavik
Favorite Heritage home: Osborne House, Isle of Wight
Most beautiful Town: Honfleur
Best Shopping town: Deauville
Best shopping city: Hamburg
Best Boutique Hotel: Villa Lara in Bayeux
Favorite tour: Overlord in Normandy

Best Walk: The promenade in Dinard looking over the emerald water
Best Seafood: Brasserie du Sillon in St. Malo
Best dinner: Doc Cheng’s in Hamburg

Favorite Pinxtos: Zeruko in San Sebastian
Favorite meal on the ship: Vintage Room
Scariest moment: Self cleaning bathroom in Deauville and getting lost in St. Jean de Luz
Worst waste of money: Wireless Internet on the ship. I kept losing the connection while trying to upload photos and had to start all over again. The iMacs in the computer center worked better.

Biggest surprise: Our Oceanview stateroom which was beautiful and very comfortable. It also was surprising that we did not miss having a balcony during this port intensive itinerary.  This was my first experience with a stateroom without a balcony.

Greatest Disappointment: The Asia buffet on the ship. Terrible!
One Thing I Wished I had done differently : Given Silk Road a second chance, more closely monitored my alcohol intake during the Vintage room dinner, used the wireless Internet less. Okay, that's three things!
The All-Inclusive policy was in place on on our voyage but they were still working out some of the kinks. The Sommolier seemed harried to get to each table in the dining room. My mother was a little inpatient and wanted her wine as soon as she was seated. I didn't like some of the wine choices and wish they had a printed menu for the daily offerings by the glass.

On many of the Crystal sailings the ship will overnight at the end in port. This is so passengers can sleep on the ship and depart the next morning for home or continue on their journey. We decided to disembark and stay overnight in a hotel as we were leaving mid afternoon the next day on a train to Germany. However the overnights are convenient and very appealing to a large numbers of passengers.

In summary, we were very pleased with Crystal. The ship was large but not too big and the crew and staff made us feel very welcome. There were elements of luxury we had not experienced before on other ships. We are looking forward to cruising with them again.

Next trip: Please check back in mid November for the details on our cruise on the Celebrity Millennium from Singapore to Hong Kong. I will have the detailed itinerary and our information on our pre-cruise visit to China.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Homeward Bound

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Today the sun is shining brightly. We both must be excited to be heading home because we were up at 5:00 am! Watching the sunrise from the room over the harbor was very beautiful. I miss the dogs tons but I am very fortunate to have excellent petsitters. I have been receiving regular updates and also some videos of the dogs playing and going out for their walks. It makes my absence bearable and our ability to enjoy the trip possible.

We had requested a wake up call at 7:00 am but obviously won't be needing that now. Our flight is scheduled to depart from the Dusseldorf airport at 10:20 am. I took a very nice hot shower and checked email (free) while waiting for the breakfast service to start downstairs.

It has been a pleasant stay and I like the Hyatt very much. However, the hotel seems more suited for the male jetsetter with its iconic Porsche's, plush smokers lounge and the "machismo" room decor. I even noticed when I used the Alessio hair dryer that it had "Black Mambo" emblazoned across the side!

Sunrise on the Media Harbor

As we had a lot of time prior to the flight, getting some breakfast seemed like a good idea. We went downstairs at 6:00 am and were immediately greeted by what looked like a bouncer! This gentleman who was obviously security looked at us rather suspiciously and asked us if we were guests of the hotel. This was odd as we came from the elevator area and not from the front door. I told him we were indeed guests. While my mother has no resemblance to the Mayflower Madam our early arrival in the lobby must have been circumspect.

We soon discovered what the problem was. There were two women and four men standing in the lobby trying to figure out how to access the elevators. The men looked to be in their 20's and were not well dressed. The women were wearing sparkly short dresses. The security person kept trying to get rid of them. As you needed a key for the elevator that seemed quite easy. However, one of the guys went to the elevator and must of had a key. He soon came back and collected his posse.

I am hoping this is just part time work for these young ladies to get them through university. May be wishful thinking. It seemed very apparent that the hotel may have a problem with this type of business taking place.

We were still standing in the lobby observing the scene when the same General Manager we met last night walked by. She said hello and asked if she could be of assistance. We explained we were interested in breakfast. She said the restaurant does not open until 7:00 am but that she would be happy to have someone bring some coffee. We were not that hungry so that seemed acceptable. Mother drank her coffee in the lobby while I spoke with the nice young man at the front desk who completed our check out. I didn't get his name but he was from Seville. We had a little chat about my wonderful visit there last year. He sort of made up for the rude guy who processed our check in yesterday.

A little before 7:00 am we headed to the airport. I was hoping to take one of the hotel Porsches but I was told they have no control over them. I asked the General Manager about the cars but her explanation didn't make any sense to me either. Maybe they are just for show?

Hyatt Hotel Dusseldorf and fleet of Porsche's

We brought our luggage downstairs and climbed into the taxi. We were told it can take 30 minutes to get to the airport but on an early Saturday morning we made it there in about 12!

The airport is large and very white! Looks like a nice shopping mall without any stores in it. As I mentioned earlier the Dusseldorf airport is the 3rd largest in Germany after Frankfurt and Munich. It handles 18.6 million passengers annually. 70 airlines operate at the airport and offer 180 destinations on 4 continents.

Before checking in we needed to find the SIBA Point wrapping station for our polycarbonate carryons. I asked at the information desk and they said it is a mobile station and that he was most likely at the other end of the airport. We wheeled our bags in that direction and soon came across the "SIBA man". SIBA actually stands for Security Plastic Baggage. It is an Italian company so I am surprised they have that name.

Dusseldorf Airport

The SIBA station was indeed mobile. He moved to an area where he could plug in and get power. He wrapped the bags and we paid the 8 euros each. The airport was not busy at this hour. We easily found the Air Berlin counter for USA destinations and there were only a few people ahead of us. Air Berlin does not have online check in for USA destinations so we had to complete it at the airport. We flew Air Berlin before to Mallorca and were able to do the online check in 30 hours prior to departure. 

I had read online that the Dusseldorf airport has recently suffered a sprat of luggage nabbing incidents. Some of these happened at the check in desk. I told my mother not to let go of any of her bags while we were checking in.

At the checkin counter we were assisted by Mrs. Papadopolos who was in her 30's with dark hair and a relaxed demeanor. She was very nice and efficient with our check in. The aircraft is a Airbus 330-200 and we had pre-selected economy seats in row 27.  I asked if any seats had opened up toward the front with a window and aisle. She confirmed that there were and gave us seats 19 A and C which was perfect. The bags were weighed and tagged for the baggage hold. Since this will be a nonstop flight to FL we are very confident Air Berlin will not lose the luggage.

I asked if our aircraft would be one of the recently reconfigured ones with the new "eco" seats and IFE. Mrs. Papadopolos laughed and said not this one. She added with a smile that they have 2 other planes from Dusseldorf that have been updated and maybe next time we will have one. I was expecting as much but she did a great job providing a positive spin on it. Back in October when we booked the flight I wondered if the updating would be done in time. It was supposed to be completed by the summer. It must be a rare occurrence and lapse in German efficiency.

I am looking forward to flying on the reconfigured planes with the LED screens that pop out if broken and replaced with a spare unit. IMS makes the screens and is based in Southern California. The new RAVE monitors are 8.9 inch LED's and have a USB port for operating devices like an iPod. RAVE stores the content locally and is not server centric. IMS has recently been selected to deploy their monitors on 80 wide body Lufthansa aircraft. The company manufacturing the seats is German and called ZIM Flugsitz. The new seats have 30 inches of legroom and are much lighter to save on fuel economy. Below is a photo of what the new Economy cabin looks like.

Reconfigured AirBerlin 330-200 but sadly not our plane

We had about 1 hr and 45 minutes before our flight. The security area was easy to get through and only took 5 minutes. There were several areas with food for purchase but not a place where you would sit down and order something. There was a nice Italian place with focaccia sandwiches and other items that they would heat up. We each picked out something and also added an extra item to take on the plane in case the food on board was unappetizing.  

We sat at a little table and ate our Italian breakfast. Afterward we looked at the shops which are very nice. I found a Lancel bag I liked which was only 89 euros but I was not in a buying mood. We found some seats near the gate area and waited for the flight to board. Since we had changed the seats I could not remember if row 19 had any downsides. Wifi was not working as Vodafone makes you pay for the service so I used mother's iPhone to check seatguru. I was happy I did. Row 19 was absolutely fine but row 20 behind us had a misaligned window. As a nervous flier the window is very important to me.

Since this flight would be 10 hours in duration we were a bit concerned about the comfort of the economy class seats. The last time we flew economy for this amount time was back in 2003 from Atlanta to Rome. The Air Berlin economy fare from Dusseldorf to to Florida was only $450 and too tantalizing to pass up.

The flight boarded on time. We walked to the sixth row of economy on the Airbus 330-200. The configuration is 2-4-2. The seats have a cerulean blue tiger print and are attractive. The plane was very full with only a few empty seats. The high point was there was no obstruction under the seat in front of me so I could stretch my legs out all the way. I am kinda short at just under 5ft 6in. I couldn't raise them but the option of being completely horizontal was very nice.

Getting comfy in our Economy seats

On our last Air Berlin flight the attendants were much younger and wore snazzy red gloves to move the carryon luggage around. Must be my inner dominatrix coming out but I missed the red gloves! The pilots didn't say much prior to take off. We taxied and were soon airborne.

I pulled out my earphones to listen to music however, my connection in the armrest was not working. Fortunately the earphones had a very long cord and as I was seated next to my mother able to reach her armrest. She plugged the cord in on the arm near the aisel and the cord strecthed across both seats. The flight attendant came by and I told her my connection was not working. The attendant had me try the channels on mine but seemed not to believe me that it was not working. Luckily my mother didn't seem to mind the cord across her lap and me being almost tethered to her. Air Berlin has 12 channels of music and I listened to one of the stations for a while and read the inflight magazine until they started the food service. When the meal was served I disconnected "the umbilical cord" and enjoyed the chicken and vegetables which were surprisingly good.

Lunch Meal

The entire meal was very tasty. The little cheese ball was good too. The meal was served quickly and the beverage service was soon to follow. I only drink water when I fly and I had a bottle with me that I brought on board.

My mother looked up at the CRT monitor and remarked that they were showing a movie. I had to break the news that it was a very old episode of "Cheers". As much as I enjoy Ted Danson, the monitor was much too far away to see from row 19. I decided to pass on the show as I didn't want to squint and be tethered at the same time.

Air Berlin offers 1 complimentary glass of wine per person in economy. I passed on it and asked for water instead. I should have known better as my mother glared at me and I understood that meant she wanted my allocation. The attendant was already 2 rows behind me and I had to wait until she circled back to ask for the wine. She seemed surprised I had changed my mind and even said "are you sure you want the wine?" Doubtful she would have heard of our Vintage Room escapades or was aware of my low alcohol tolerance. I hesitated and said "yes I still want it". She obviously sensed my uneasiness or the wrath I would suffer because she then asked my mother if she wanted another glass of wine which she graciously accepted. Problem solved!

Prior to our cruise I had downloaded several movies to my iPod Touch specifically for this flight. I had serious doubts we would get one of the newly configured aircraft with the inflight entertainment. I downloaded the following 4 movies: The Whistleblower, The Way, The Housemaid (Korean) and The Longest Day.

On the iPad I only had one movie but I should of added a couple more. The iPad had the French movie "The Heartbreaker". I passed the iPad to my mother who watched that one. I luckily had a second set of earphones as the ones from Air Berlin are double pronged and won't work on an iPad. I also had a Mophie Juice Pak which doubled the amount of battery power for the iPod.  

I watched The Way first which starred Martin Sheen walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain in his son's memory. I enjoyed it very much and seeing the scenes of Santiago Compostella was a nice memory. Next was The Whistleblower which is about an American woman who signs up for what she thinks is a police job under the United Nations in Bosnia but turns into discovering a human trafficking ring and a struggle to help the victims, save her job and restore her reputation. I had read the book by Kathy Bolkavac which is based on the movie. As in most cases, the book version was much better and provided a lot of background which was missing from the film. However, Rachel Weisz who played her did a great job.

During my movies I glanced over at my mother who was enjoying The Heartbreaker on the iPad. I am glad it is a long movie as it was keeping her busy. The flight was very smooth and the passengers all very polite and cordial. I think most of the passengers were German.

We were about 6 hours into the flight when I took a photo over the Atlantic. The overhead monitors did display our location in between showing the TV shows and a few children's films.

Somewhere over the Atlantic near Canada

Shortly thereafter they started the service for the second meal. Although I would prefer the newer seats and the IFE, AirBerlin is an excellent value and we were reasonably comfortable for the 10 hour flight. The next meal was supposed to be a snack but seemed more like a full meal with potato salad, mixed meat (kibbe?) and a yummy brownie.

Second Meal

I went back to my movie and looked out the window for any signs of land. I prefer to sit on the right hand side of the plane on transatlantic from Europe so you can see land earlier than on the left side. From the display it appeared we were now past Canada and hugging the US coast on the way to Virginia.

About and hour later I could finally see land as we crossed over Norfolk.

Over Norfolk, Virgina
After flying over Virginia we were again just looking at water but the sun was out and we had glorious weather the entire way. For the next hour or so we hugged the coast and finally crossed Florida near Daytona. We were right on time for our landing.

We deplaned and walked to the customs area. It was at this point we realized there were only about 8 Americans on the plane and about 20 landed immigrants. Everyone else was either from Germany or another country. We were welcomed back to the US and went to collect our luggage. I felt sorry for the 300 people who were waiting in line to get through customs. There were only 2 desks open so it was going to take awhile!

My bag appeared first on the carousel and then it was about 7 minutes before my mother's appeared. We were the only ones with wrapped bags so they were easy to identify. After a quick exit through the airport and a taxi home we were greeted by the wagging tail brigade to sheer delight. Thrilled to see the boys and they looked great and lost a little weight, which in Siebren's case is a good thing!



Looking for truffles? Don't think so!
The next post will be a recap of our cruise including some highlights and recommendations for cruisers who may be first timers to Crystal and visiting some of the same ports in the future.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 12 - Hamburg & Dusseldorf, Germany

Friday, June 1, 2012

Becky, you asked what happened to our taxi driver, Daniel who was a no-show at the Lisieux train station. I received his reply this morning:

"Hello, Don't worry. I couldn't be there. I asked another taxi to do the trip with you. Thats ok for me. I hope to see you next time."

Rather odd! He definitely did not send someone else. We are lucky it all worked out.

As for the interior of the Minatur Wunderland, there is no mistaking that it is a warehouse. When the lights change and it gets dark you are able to enjoy the displays more. Perhaps if they painted the ceiling black and did something interesting with the walls that would help.

Hamburg, Germany - Day 2

What a great night's sleep! It is overcast again but we are in excellent spirits. We very much enjoyed our day yesterday. The people in Hamburg are wonderful and very friendly. We did some repacking in preparation for taking the train this afternoon. My mother tried to use the Nespresso machine in he room but it seems the bellman may have broken it yesterday. He tried to demonstrate how it works without adding any water. Oops! Today our itinerary is to ride the Hop on Hop Off bus this morning and then return to the hotel for checkout around noon. We will be taking the train this afternoon from Hamburg to Dusseldorf.

We also had the option to fly but the train is more relaxing and the fare was excellent for first class seats purchased in advance online. The train takes 3 1/2 hours and the plane would take 1 hour but getting to the airport and checking in prior to the flight would make the train journey almost equal.

We arrived in the lovely Fairmont breakfast room known as Cafe Condi around 8:00 am. There were three food sections where you serve yourself. I ordered green tea and my mother had coffee. They had a nice assortment of cured meats, cheeses and gravlax. There was also fresh fruit and yogurt. There must have been about 7 different kinds of bread! I had a couple slices of the sourdough and added some pumpkin seeds. It was all delicious.

Cured meats, cheese, gravlax and yummy bread

The room was very busy but not chaotic. Service was again excellent and professional. After breakfast we took a walk to see more of the city either by boat or Hop On Hop off bus. The bus is known as the Stadtrundfahrt Die Roten Doppeldecker in German. That sounds much better! Along the way we passed the Consulate for Lettland. I wasn't sure what country that is so I Googled it later. Turns out is is Latvia!

We considered taking a boat around the lake and went down to read the schedule. My mother was just about to purchase the tickets when I pointed out that the trip takes over 2 1/2 hours and I didn't think we had that much time. I also wasn't sure what we would see from the boat and the threat of rain made it less appealing. Ultimately the bus was the best option.

We found the bus stop but were not sure if we were on the right side of the street to catch it. We saw two buses go by further up. I read the schedule and it was still too early. Just as we were starting to wonder where the bus was, it turned the corner and it was of course, right on time. I love German punctuality!

Hop On Hop Off Bus (Stadtrundfahrt)

The sun was partially out but the clouds were also closing in. We bypassed the areas of the route we walked yesterday and viewed from the shuttle. The bus fare was 15 euros for adults and 13 euros for seniors. We started a stop #8. This route will take us north along the Aubenalster, we will take a turn left and then head south and eventually we will end at #20 directly in front of the Fairmont. Easypeasy! The complete bus tour is about 1 hour and a half and the route includes 27 stops.

As it is a double decker bus, there is an open area on top but there was no way my mother was walking up so we stayed downstairs. There were some (perhaps German?) tourists in the front of the bus with luggage. The person doing the commentary was on the top level and spoke 90% in German. Every once in a while she would say a little something in English, like "that is the tennis stadium where Michael Sticht played". I understood about 60% of her German dialogue which helped make the tour more interesting. The scenery was very nice regardless if we knew what it was were were looking at or not.

There was a lot of laughter coming from upstairs. With temps in the low 60's it must have been a bit breezy so I am glad they were having a good time.

Bus Route Map

We crossed the Kennedy Bridge which bisects the Binnenalster from the Aubenalster. Here we saw a beautiful park and we also had a lovely view of the lake. This area is called Harvestehude and is distinguished by some attractive homes ($$$$) and modern buildings. The homes are in the neoclassical style and are impressive. The amount of open green space in the city is amazing.

Park near Aubenalster Shore

The lush foliage made this area feel very rural when the center of the city is only about 5 minutes away. The homes along the route were rather stately and look expensive. I was impressed with the grass covered underground parking garage  as seen below.

Neoclassical Home

Possibly an apartment?

The modern buildings interspersed along the street were a nice contrast to the white facade homes.

Don't know what this is but it may be part of the University

At a stop light there was a couple walking their dog. The dog was very attentive and stopped on cue and looked up at his master for the signal when they could cross. My dogs would never do this! Sadly the only thing I may have in common with Oprah is that we are both not Pack Leaders! Perhaps you also saw the episode where Cesar told her so in front of a live audience.

The street lamps are either set to stay on when it is overcast or perhaps they are solar powered.

As we came down Mittel Weg we could see the Tennis Arena in the Rothenbaum area. There are several museums and university buildings here too. The bus stop name is Moorweidenstrabe. There are also some interesting shops and restaurants. We passed Curio Haus which is a conference center. It is named after Mr. Curio.

The beautiful plaques on the homes and the large windows were stunning.

Beautiful windows and plaque

As we came around the road on the other side we had a tiny glimpse of the botanical garden. Even the small part we saw looked amazing. On my next visit I will definitely make a point to see it.  

Our announcer let us know we were passing by the home of designer Jil Sander and probably some other very famous people but we did not always understand the descriptions in German. I thought her home was supposed to be white but the one that we passed was Bermuda pink! Perhaps she got sick of all the white houses.

Stop #15 is Kleine Wallanlagen. This used to contain the city fortifications in the 15th century but it was converted to a park in the 19th century.  One more example of the organic and inorganic interaction in Hamburg's urban landscape

One of the last stops was the Gansemarkt area. Apparently there was never a market here and they also don't sell geese. The square was redeveloped in the 1980's as a focal point. Seven streets intersect here and there are now 3 shopping malls.

During the bus tour we passed some very interesting shops and restaurants that might be fun exploring on a future trip. It was interesting that perhaps due to the threat of inclement weather during our entire tour not one person got off the bus. We approached the Fairmont and signaled the driver our desire to depart.

Once at the Fairmont it was now 11:45 am and our train would depart at 1:22 pm. We went upstairs and grabbed our stuff and headed to the lobby. We wheeled our bags to the front door where a taxi was waiting. The train station is only about 7 minutes away.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof

We arrived at the central railway station which is the busiest in Germany, and after Gare du Nord in Paris, the second busiest in Europe. On average 450,000 passengers pass thru the Hamburg station daily. It also connects directly to the underground rail network of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines.

The station was opened in 1906 and modeled after the Galerie des machines by Louis Beroud of the 1889 Paris World's Fair. German Emperor William II, and the oldest of Queen Victoria's grandsons, declared the first draft as 'simply horrible". For the second draft William eliminated the Art Nouveau style for Neo-Renaissance elements instead. What a pity as the Art Nouveau would have been spectacular. It is too bad he did not pickup some of the architectural skills of his grandparents.

Hamburg Central Station

The German train network, "Deutsche Bahn", is known for being comfortable, economical and punctual. Over 4.5 million people a day use the DB's 29,000 trains serving over 5,500 stations along 35,000 km of track.

Our track number was not posted yet so we waited a few minutes for it to show up. Our train to Dusseldorf would depart from track 14b. It was confusing because I only saw the number 14 and not an a or b. I asked a very nice lady who explained we had to go downstairs to find 14 which did include a & b. We took the elevator and it was just a short walk.

I am quite enamored with German ingenuity. Not only was there a diagram for exactly where to stand for our first class compartment, but the times of the trains were also listed. The chart is called a Wagenstandanzeiger. This displays the composition of major trains that use the track and where they will stop along the platform.The car number and the position is clearly marked on the ground by a yellow line and dot.

This was not for our train but is a good example of what the chart looks like

We had about 20 minutes to wait while they kept announcing that the train before ours was delayed. They would say it in German and then repeat it in English. It was great they had the English announcements but it was also easy to decipher it in German. The one part that was funny was at the end of the sentence in English he would say "thank you and goodbye". The "and" and "goodbye" came across as one word. After about 10 more "andgoodbyes" our train approached the station. It was a little train with just 4 cars. However, as I would later discover, it was deceiving and much larger if you are trying to walk inside between the cars.

I admire the German's for their recycling efforts. One last impression of German efficiency before boarding the train.

Our seats were by the window facing each other. There were two people near the compartment door which left two empty seats between us. I put our bags on the rack above and looked forward to our 3 hour relaxing ride across the German countryside.

After about 45 minutes our tickets were inspected. As I had been advised, I had to show the credit card I used to make the purchase. The train attendant had a handheld device that scanned the ticket and we were all set. I should have asked him if there was a food area on board. Since we did not have lunch I was getting hungry.

I asked the people sitting near us if there might be food somewhere and they seemed to think so. I exited our cosy compartment and ventured down the aisle looking for the food car. I did not get very far. I had to climb over people sitting on the floor of the second class cars. I somehow made it through one full car and found the attendant. I asked if there was any food for purchase and was told no there was not. I climbed back over the same people I had just passed and was disappointed I couldn't get a snack but very happy we purchased the 1st class seats!

I found some lozenges and chewed on those while I starred out the window at some cows.

Countryside on the way to Dusseldorf

The time passed very quickly, The train made a few stops and we heard some more "Thank you and Goodbyes" until we finally reached Dusseldorf.

Dusseldorf, Germany

The city of Dusseldorf was a target of strategic bombing during World War II. In 1943 over 700 RAF bombers were used in a single night. The Allied ground advance into Germany reached Dusseldorf in mid April 1945. The US 97th Infantry Division easily captured the city on April 18th 1945 as there was little German resistance.

In 1946 Dusseldorf was made the capital of the new federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The city's reconstruction proceeded at a frantic pace and the economic transformation saw Dusseldorf grow into the wealthy city of trade, administration and service industries that it is today.

Dusseldorf comes in third place in several categories:

  • It has the 3rd largest Japanese community in Europe (at 11,000)
  • It has the 3rd largest Jewish population  in Germany (over 7,600)
  • It has the 3rd largest airport in Germany after Frankfurt and Munich (18.6 million Pax)
The total population of metropolitan Dusseldorf is 1.5 million. The prominent composers Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn are linked to the city. However, its most famous citizen is the poet and author Heinrich Heine (1797 - 1856).

Dusseldorf is widely known as a center of German advertising and fashion. In addition, this city on the Rhine has become one of the top telecommunications center in Germany.

Frank Gehry Buildings on the Media Harbor

We took a taxi from the station and headed to the Hyatt Hotel about 10 minutes away. The driver had some idea where it was located but at first tried to take us to the Marriott. The Hyatt has only been open for about a year and looks brand new.

On our approach to the hotel we passed some of the buildings on the Media Harbor. A few of them were designed by Frank Gehry and this area may have a "mini Bilbao" effect.

There was a bit of line and as I only have Gold status with Hyatt there was no way to expedite the check in process. We took a quick look at the Smokers Lounge which was quite plush with leather seats and a fireplace. We went back to the reception desk as mother was starting to get antsy so I was happy when it was our turn. The person at the desk was just ok. He took a call while I was still completing the check in process which I could ignore but my mother didn't like it and said so.

We were given a room on the 14th floor. You had to use your room key to access the floors from the elevator. I thought the room was very nice. It would be prefect for business and we had a nice view of the Media Harbor. The windows were open at the very bottom and had mechanically controlled shades. The decor had more of male sensibility though.

Room 1434 Hyatt Hotel Dusseldorf

Media Harbor view from our room

The TV was nice and big. The area below it would be nice for an electric fireplace. 

The bathroom was also well appointed with stainless sinks, a TV and nice fluffy robes.

We relaxed in the room for about 35 minutes and then decided it was time for dinner.  I wanted to eat near the Old Harbor area on the Rhine. I asked at the front desk if we could walk there and they said it was about 30 minutes. We took a taxi instead. I provided the address of a restaurant on the river which might have been wrong as we were dropped off in a an area no where near the water.

My mother berated the taxi driver that he had no idea where he was going but it was most likely my fault as I had the wrong address. We got out of the taxi and tried to find our way there on foot. We passed a nice Chinese man in his early 20's and asked how to get to the Rhine. He said it was very easy and to cut through the park to the other side.

Park on way to the Rhine

While the park was very pretty, we did not reach the water as promised and it took a few more attempts before we were successful. By now my mother was not happy with all the walking and my stomach was grumbling.  We had to pass this busy motorway to the other side.

Finally we reached the Rhine! It was very grey but we were so happy to see it. The temps were much warmer than when we left Hamburg. It was probably about 70 degrees and quite pleasant to eat outside. .

Along the Rhine in Dusseldorf

We had a choice of several establishments right along the Rhine promenade. The one called Gosch Sylt had been highly recommended (thank you Ursula!) so we took a look at the food in the glass case.

Gosch Sylt is famous for their fresh seafood. Their produce comes from the island of Sylt which is a distance of 3 hours drive along the North Sea. The items in the case looked delicious! We placed our order and as they only accepted cash I was lucky to have 40 euros on hand. We were provided with a beeper to let us know when the food was ready. My mother ordered the Thai seafood with penne which was already pre-mixed into the sauce. I ordered pasta with large prawns. My mother decided to order some prawns too.

Items in Gosch Sylt Case

We took a seat at one of the few empty tables along the river. These had bar stool type seating but were very comfortable. My mother desperately wanted a glass of wine so I went in search of someone to take the order. I found the bar person and asked him to come to our table when he was available.

Tables along the Rhine Promenade

The bar person came and my mother ordered a glass of Riesling and I ordered one that the waiter thought was too sweet. I thought for a minute I was back on the Symphony with the sommolier who never seemed to approve of my choices from the All Inclusive wine list! I did not back down and the wine I selected was very good!

Old Town (Alstadt)
From where we were sitting we had a very nice view of the buildings in the old town including the town hall, St. Lamertus Basilika and the Castle Tower. The promenade on the bank of the Rhine is one of the most beautiful in Germany and situated on the right bank.

The Castle Tower is a relic of the Dusseldorf city palace. It was burned in 1882 and damaged in the 2nd World War. The building was renovated many years ago and houses the Maritime Museum.

Castle Tower, Town Hall and St. Lambertus Basilika in the background
It was taking a while for our food (over 25 minutes) so I went up to see if it would be ready soon. As I have no experience with this restaurant I did not know how long it should take. I could see two plates of pasta near the chef who was working in front of the grill on all the orders. The woman who took our order spoke with him and just few minutes later our dishes were presented and I carried them to the table.

Delicious pasta with large prawns
The meal was fabulous and definitely worth the wait! The shrimps were so fresh and grilled perfectly. The two sauces were also very good. It was a terrific way to spend the evening.

Pegluhr clock that tells time and also measures the tide level

After our meal I wanted to take a walk to see the "Ko" Konigsallee (King's Avenue), which is a very fashionable destination. It is flanked by a tributary and is said to be one of the nicest streets in all of Germany with high end jewelry shops, designer labels and art galleries. I had sort of convinced my mother that this was a good idea. We walked over to the taxi rank and asked if they would take us there. No one seemed interested. I think it was either just too close or the traffic may have been bad on a Friday night. The taxi driver pointed and told us it was about 4 blocks away.

Sounded close, however, the only problem was it was 4 blocks down what is known as "the longest bar in the world". Within one square kilometer 260 bars, cafes and small brewing houses line the street. The Old Town is the home of Altbier, a top fermented dark beer. It translates as "old style beer". This pre-lager brewing method of using warm top fermenting yeast is similar to English Pale Ales.

Along the "longest bar in the world"

With it being a Friday night, and the presence of many young people in a celebratory spirit, the prospect of walking 4 blocks quickly dawned on my mother. We started to walk down the street but suddenly her intuition must have kicked in as she said it was too far and she did not want to continue. Rats! I almost made it. So it was back to the taxis and a ride to the Hyatt instead.

We arrived back at the hotel with their fleet of Porsches parked out front. I particularly like the Panamera.

Fleet of Porsches in front of Hotel

Since they did not offer dessert at Gosch Sylt we decided to ask if we could have something small in the bar area of the restaurant. The Hotel General Manager actually showed us to a table that she thought would suit us. She could not have been nicer and softened the harsh male image of the hotel.

My mother ordered the Tiramisu and a glass of wine. I had a delicious creme brulee with a strawberry and rhubarb topping. Mother's tiramisu looked lovely and consisted of Arabica coffee, ladyfinger and amaretto. My Creme Brulee came with a separate bowl of the rhubarb and sour cream ice. It was like having two different desserts in one! It was scrumptious. I also had a mosqito which was a non-alcoholic drink with fresh lime, sugar syrup, soda water and peppermint.


Creme Brulee with Rhubarb and Strawberry
It was a nice and relaxing way to end our day. We went back to the room and tried to watch a little TV. Mother quickly feel asleep and I was soon to follow.  Tomorrow we will be flying home on Air Berlin from the Dusseldorf airport.