Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 11 - Hamburg, Germany

Thursday, May 31, 2012

We arrived in Hamburg, Germany this morning at 7:00 am. I was determined to have a more positive outlook today after my difficulties yesterday. My mood has been rather gloomy like the weather. The previous day was a bit of an anomaly for what has been a fabulous cruise on Crystal. The weather is again overcast as we glance out the window to grey skies and temps in the 60's.

We are docked in the Altoona port of Hamburg. It is an industrial port but there are some nice buildings, like Dockland to enhance the view. This modern glass and steel office building overhangs the Elbe and appears to be floating. This gentrification is taking place all over the town, There is a new port called HafenCity under construction. Remolded old brick warehouses and impressive modern structures have been added to the Hamburg landscape. Architects David Chipperfield and Herzog & de Meuron have made contributions and invigorated this new area with office buildings, restaurants and stores. The new port should be operational later this year but will not be completely finished until the 2020's. HafenCity is closer to town than Altoona which for cruise ships will be more convenient.

The Hamburg ports are very busy and handle worldwide shipments of over 134 tons of goods a year.

Docklands Buildings at Altoona Dock

We will be touring Hamburg on our own this morning and then returning to ship in the afternoon to collect our belongings and disembark for the final time. Our agenda for the day is loosely geared toward shopping and seeing some of the sites. There is a free Crystal shuttle today with the last one departing the dock at 5:30 pm.

Altoona Dock Area

We had our last breakfast up in the Lido. We met a couple there who will be disembarking tomorrow at 5:30 am and flying from Hamburg to Amsterdam, and then Amsterdam to Atlanta and finally Atlanta to Florida. That is a lot of flights! When I told them we will take the train to Dusseldorf and then fly nonstop to Florida they were shocked. My mother went to the reception desk one last time and looked very sad that this is our last day of the cruise. The ship is noticeably quiet today.

Mother looking downcast returning from the Reception desk

We boarded the shuttle and I noticed Mark from from the Vintage Room dinner was already seated. He was with his wife who I think is Japanese. The shuttle pulled away and drove through part of the red light district known as the Reeperbahn. The word Reeperbahn means Ropewalk and this is where rope was made in the 17th and 18th centuries. Lined with nightclubs, strip clubs, bars, sex shops and even a sex museum, this street has the distinction of being one of the largest red districts in Europe. It is quite tame during the the day but apparently transforms at night time. From what we could see from the bus windows it wasn't too scathing.

Passing the Reeperbahn on the shuttle bus

Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg is the sixth largest city in the European Union and has a population of 1.8 million. The city has beautiful green spaces and is more canals than either Venice or Amsterdam. The abundance of water and greenery make it one of the most livable in Europe. Hamburg has an extensive educational system featuring 245 elementary schools, 195 secondary schools, 33 libraries and 17 universities.

We arrived in the Alstadt quarter of the city in front of the opulent City Hall which is known as the Rathaus. The building is the home of Hamburg's Parliament and was completed in 1897 after the first one was destroyed in a fire. It is flanked by an impressive tower and consists of 647 rooms rivaling Buckingham Palace. It is a helpful landmark to get your bearings while touring the city.

Rathaus "City Hall"

The Alstadt area has numerous malls and shops. With the highest GDP in Germany, Hamburg is known as a shopping mecca. There are more department stores here than in other city in Germany. We walked down Jungfernsteig which has the most expensive shops on the way to Monckebergstrabe. The lake front location on the Binnenalter is beautiful.  The Neuer Wall is the location for stores like Escada , Max Mara, Akris, Ferragamo and Bulgari. We also stopped at the Hansviertel which is traditional mall. We were more interested in small independent boutiques so bypassed by many of the larger shops.

Colonnade along the Jungfernstieg

My mother wanted to get a small bag for her personal items as the one she had was getting a little too snug. We went to Ladage & Goelke, mostly famous for traditional menswear. We not only found the perfect bag for only 18 euros but also met Freddie and his owner who were shopping. Freddie is a Bolonka, a breed that was unfamiliar to me. According to his owner it is a Russian dog and somewhat similar to a Havanese, which is Cuban. How a Russian and Cuban dog can be similar I am not sure. He is very cute and had a wonderful disposition. His owner was also very nice allowing me to take a photo.

Freddie and owner in Ladage & Oelke

The store also had a woman's section upstairs and some beautiful sweaters. Many started at 300 euros a pop so we admired them and hoped we can return on another trip when we are ready to make some purchases. Around the corner in the arcade I did find a couple of reasonably priced medium size blue and white Japanese bowls. They were small enough to fit in my carryon.

Fashionable Arcade

We exited to the Neustadt area and reached the Apple store. The store is quite large and centrally located. We checked email and purchased a European converter for 39 euros. The one we have is not working well with my iPad and iPod. They do not sell this one at home (USA) but you can purchase it from the Apple store online.

Hamburg Apple Store

Colonnade from the street side

We crossed the street to get a good view of the Fairmont Hotel from the opposite side.
On our way to the opposite side of the street where the Fairmont Hotel is located

We walked to the Fairmont (also known as the Vier Jahreszeiten (Four Seasons) to check in. It was a very pleasant walk and very pretty viewing it from across the Binnenalster.

View of Fairmont Hotel from across the lake
The hotel is gorgeous! They have candles everywhere and it is like an oasis in a quiet area away from all the shops. I submitted my confirmation and explained that we wanted to check in but would come back later with our bags. It was too early to get the room key anyway. The front desk is very professional and check in was a pleasure.This will be an easy transition after disembarking Crystal later today.

Stunning lobby at at the Fairmont Hotel

I asked at the desk about places for lunch and they said there were many but when we exited the hotel we didn't find any. We eventually ended up at a Munich style hofbrau house where I had a dumpling soup and my mother had some fish. The leiderhosen clad waiter was a riot as he decided to feign a British accent completely for our amusement and was bowing and saying things like "my lady" and "I take my leave". It was unexpected but entertaining.

Dumpling soup

We walked by a few more streets by the hotel and did some window shopping. We then grabbed a taxi to the Miniature Wunderland which is the world's largest model train museum. The museum is located in the Speicherstadt area. This is a old area of warehouses built between 1885 and 1927 where they still store coffee and tea.

It was beginning to drizzle a bit as we tried to find the entrance.

Speicherstadt area of old warehouses

Miniature Wunderland

The building covers and area of 43,000 sq feet. The model railways inside includes over 36,000 feet of track that span eight sections. These include, Southern Germany, Hamburg, the German coast, the Americas, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia and an airport.

We walked to what we thought was the entrance. However, while waiting in line it did not appear right as several monsters and the son of Frankenstein walked by entertaining the crowd. I guess we are getting a little tired because at first we didn't realize what was happening. I saw the word Dungeon and finally it dawned on us that our destination was further away and just few yards up the street.

As it is located in an old warehouse, there are a "gazillion" steps and a car size elevator that transports you to the 3rd floor. I took the stairs which felt like excellent training for Mt Everest. My mother rode the elevator. However, once at the top I had no idea where she was or for that matter where the elevator was located. I finally found the elevator but mother was mysteriously MIA. I was concerned as it must have been a least 5 minutes before she appeared. She ended up on another floor and then had to walk up the stairs!

You can purchase timed tickets but since I was not sure when we would arrive we just bought them on the spot. The wait to buy tickets only took about 10 minutes. As the line snaked around a little waiting area they served refreshments: water, apple juice and soda.

Once past the entrance there were 3 or 4 different ways to go. The signage was only in German and not extensive. We went to the Americas area first because it was the closest. This was represented by a half dome of Yosemite National Park, Mount Rushmore, Miami, Grand Canyon, Key West, Cape Canaveral and Las Vegas! No New York? We then moved on to Scandinavia which had water features for high and low tide and a castle.


We then moved on to the City of Knuffingen which included the car system and the fire department. The lights would flicker off an on as day turned into night. It was captivating. It was hard to view part of the displays because there were so many people crowded in such a small area.

We passed by a few other areas and finally made it to the end where the Knuffingen Airport is located. There is an original replica of the Hamburg airport, and there is an airport fire department and landing strip. The planes are moving sometimes simultaneously. The number of aircraft and the detail was impressive.

Cargo area of airport

The lights would dim and then a plane would taxi to runway in the back and appear to take off as it flew through a door opening and disappears.

Switzerland was our next stop. The Matterhorn was noticeable as was the ski area with chair lifts.

Switzerland and the Matterhorn

Future layouts in the planning process include Italy which will start this year, France to start in 2014, Great Britain in 2016 and Africa in 2018, I am little puzzled they will attempt to represent an entire continent.

As it is constructed now, Minatur Wunderland is comprised of 930 trains and a track length of 13,000 meters. The longest train is 14.51 meters. There are 1,270 signals, 3,050 switches, approximately 335,000 lights 228,000 trees and 215,000 figurines.

Viewing the area certainly was impressive. However, as the purveyors of stylish Mercedes, delicious beer and exquisite clothing, I expected greater efficiency and order. The Minature Wunderland was unforgiving in its small quarters and jammed pack viewing areas. The absence of a clear direction in which to view the different sections was mind boggling. Many of the displays were fascinating and well presented but the flow and the means to enjoy it needs some work.

On the way out we ran into the English couple from Bournemouth we had tea with yesterday. He skillfully guided us (or we just hurried behind him!) to the elevator to exit the building. He also knew which tram to take back to the meeting spot for the shuttle. It was starting to rain lightly and my mother is like a Boy Scout when it comes to rain, she is ALWAYS prepared. She pulled out her collapsible umbrella but as she is much shorter it is not possible to share. Of course the British couple also had an umbrella, which I believe they are born with.

The tram arrived and we returned to the shuttle area. There were only a few other people waiting so we had to stand under the overhang until the bus arrived. The rain was not torrential but it was coming down a little more steadily. By the time the shuttle arrived there were a good number of passengers lined up so the wait to depart was minimal.

We drove back to the ship and made one last run through of all the drawers and closet to make sure we didn't leave anything behind. We wheeled our bags down the hall and took the elevator to deck 6. I think that in addition to playing Louis Armstrong "It's a Wonderful World" when departing from port they should also play Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman "Time to Say Goodbye". However, the scene of all the weeping passengers is probably more than Crystal would care to fathom.
As we stood outside the port building, it was about now 5:00 pm and there was no shuttle. There was no luggage compartment anyway on the shuttle bus so the best option was a taxi. One of the nice port attendants said he would call us a taxi just as one arrived to drop off some passengers. I told the driver to take us to the Fairmont Hotel but he only knew it as Vier Jahrenzeitan and not the new moniker. We had a nice drive to the hotel and were greeted by the bellman. The entrance is elevated and you either have to give your bags to the doorman or carry them up several steps which doesn't seem very proper.

Lobby Fairmont Hotel


I told the gentleman at the desk that we had already completed the check in but just needed the room key. He reviewed the reservation and confirmed the rate, upgrade to Jr suite, breakfast and dinner in their restaurant Doc Chengs all included for the amazing price of 280 euros. Of course he didn't add the part about it being "amazing". This rate and special deal was arranged through our brilliant Virtuoso travel agent, Jen.

Before departing the front desk, my mother offered the His and hers shoe bag to the concierge which he graciously accepted.

The hotel is rather stately and has some very large hallways. We were right around the corner from the Maria Callas suite.

Hallway near our room

Our room was beautiful and warmly furnished. The key was a little tricky though. As an old hotel they still use heavy brass keys. You had to insert the key and actually pull the door toward you after turning it to the right. I kept trying to push it but eventually figured it out.

There was a large sofa in the sitting room with a desk which was separated from the lavish double beds next door. There was an open area to see between the rooms. Amenities included a coffee machine and free water. If Apple designed bathrooms, this one would go to the top of the list. It was gorgeous! The glass enclosed shower, black marble and white sinks were stunning. I think the floor was heated too but I was not able to figure it out during our one night stay. Because I am part of the Fairmont Presidents Club the Internet was free.

Sitting area of the Jr. Suite Courtyard view

Comfy beds

"Apple Bathroom"

We changed for dinner and went down to the front desk to ask for directions to Doc Chengs. As it is a historic hotel you have to walk through the breakfast room and down some steps to reach it on the ground level. There is also an entrance from the street. The surroundings were absolutely beautiful. There were candles everywhere and it was lit up like a beautiful Cambodian temple. As we had the meal included in the rate it was explained we would have three courses including dessert. I asked for a menu in case I wanted to add any dishes. The items on the included menu seemed the best options so I only added lobster spring rolls as an additional appetizer.

Doc Chengs

Doc Chengs with glowing candlelight

The meal started with our drink order. I had a cocktail with lychee and my mother had a Riesling. They started with the Oshibori (hot towel service). I do mean HOT! I was ready for my facial. The ambiance was just divine as we relaxed with our drinks waiting for the meal. The bread came in a stunning tray with hot black lava rocks underneath to heat it. There were a couple of dipping sauces for the bread as well which were yummy.

Warm bread over hot lava rocks
We were served a complimentary starter of rosbef and goat cheese. Fabulous!
Rosbef and Goat Cheese

Next up was the sushi appetizer which I must have been overly excited about as the photo is a bit blurry! The sushi was exceptional! I wish I had given Silk Road on the ship another chance as their sushi may have been just as good.

Sushi Appetizer

The Doc Chengs sushi was one of the best I have ever eaten! The salmon tempura was so succulent and just melted in your mouth. The tuna was delectable. We also were served the Lobster spring roll. The lobster was excellent but the rolls were a bit dry. The single detraction from the entire meal.

Lobster spring roll

I was unprepared for the crescendo of flavors from the main selection of Chicken and green curry. It was a recipe brought back by the chef from Cambodia (or in German Kambocha). It was magnificent! The mix of pungent flavors with the fluffy rice and steamed vegetables was just phenomenal.

Magnificent Chicken with Green Curry

I didn't think it could get much better until the delectable basil lime dessert was served. It was so light and effervescent and a perfect ending to our heavenly meal. Between the hot towel, the steaming rocks and the soothing candles the entire meal almost felt like a spa experience.

Basil Lime Dessert

We floated back up to our room which had been turned down for the night. The fluffy duvet was somewhat reminiscent of the ones on Crystal. I was thinking about all the passengers spending their last night on the ship but was happy we were already comfortably ensconced at the Fairmont. I was also relieved we did not have disembark with 900 passengers.

I think the overnights that Crystal offers on the ship work better during sailing so you can spend time in places during the cruise that are far away or where we need more time. The overnights at the end at embarkation, which are prevalent on many of their voyages do not seem as enticing. It worked well for us as we do not like the chaos of disembarkation and left the day before. However, on Crystal it may be a rather orderly process.
For many people the overnight at embarkation is great for having a day to tour the city, stay overnight on the ship and then depart in the morning for home, like the couple taking 3 flights to get home to FL or if you are just continuing your journey.

We must have been very tired from our day because I think we were both asleep by 10:00 pm. Tomorrow we are spending the morning seeing the sights of northern Hamburg and then taking the train around noon time to Dusseldorf where we will spending the night before flying back to the USA.

1 comment:

  1. It was a little shocking to see the interior of the building that houses Minatur Wunderland. I recently saw a YouTube tour of it; & it looked so unbelievably real when all you could really focus on was the 'mini world'.