cruise

*Disappointment in Brisbane

As fires continue to rage across Australia, I gratefully think about our good fortune to have visited in February 2019 before the conflagration began. Coincidentally, I started writing this blog post in September 2019 just as the bushfires commenced. When my husband recently told me about a video of dead animals strewn along the roadway, (which I steadfastly refuse to view), I was finally spurred to action. I re-read my first draft of Disappointment in Brisbane while tearfully watching the morning news showing American firefighters cheered as they arrived at the Sydney airport.

Our opinions are certainly relative to the situation at hand, aren’t they? When I wrote this draft, I was focused on my disappointment because I couldn’t hold a koala. Today that seems silly. I would definitely choose another title now because, with new information, I appreciate and celebrate all surviving koalas without selfishly wanting to hold them. While I have no idea what future travelers will experience as they travel around Australia, I am inspired to record our experiences from February 2019.

Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, is the capital of the state of Queensland, but the most noteworthy fact to me was the opportunity to cuddle a koala at nearby Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the first and largest koala sanctuary in the world. I did my research prior to our arrival on day 3 of our NCL cruise and learned koalas can be held in only the 3 states of Queensland,  South Australia, and Western Australia. Our ship would not cruise near the other 2 states so this was our one opportunity to hold a koala and we signed up for the cruise line’s excursion to the sanctuary.

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I should have suspected a problem when our tickets contained a disclaimer to the effect that holding a koala was dependent on factors beyond their control. What that really meant is we would be there between scheduled holding times and it would be impossible to hold a koala. We arrived after all the tickets for the 9:30 photos were sold and departed before the 12:00 photo session.

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Needless to say, it was a disappointment. I wouldn’t have selected this excursion had the cruise line been honest about the activity. And, I definitely would have had my photo taken with a koala when we previously visited Featherdale Wildlife Park although we couldn’t hold them there. If you missed my post about our trip to the Blue Mountains, you can read about our visit to Featherdale here.

Although our plan to hold a koala was thwarted, we did see plenty of these adorable creatures and I especially enjoyed watching them munch on eucalyptus leaves which you can see in the video below. Just seeing a koala awake was a delight since they sleep 18-22 hours each day.

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A lucky visitor holding a koala

In addition to koalas, the sanctuary is home to kangaroos and wallabies. The mob below was taking it easy in the sweltering heat.

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Kangaroos at Lone Pine

Unlike the koalas, the roos roam freely with no restrictions while visitors wander about taking photos and hand-feeding them.

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Jim with Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Among the 70 species of native Australian wildlife found here, the platypus was one of my favorites. As we watched them dive and dart gracefully through the water, they almost seemed to be performing for us.

The bad-tempered Tasmanian Devil, the largest living carnivorous marsupial, is found only in the Australian state of Tasmania. Nocturnal by nature, this devil was sleeping during our visit.

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Tasmanian Devil

Likewise, the dingo was snoozing in the heat of the day.

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Dingo

Australia is also home to many colorful lizards, kookaburras, and large (creepy) bats.

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To date, over 1 billion animals have perished in the bushfires in Australia. Animals like the koala, kangaroo, platypus, wombat, and Tasmanian devil are found only in Australia and it would be tragic to lose these species. If you’re moved to take action to protect the animals and their habitat, you can help with a donation to the World Wildlife Fund.

Following our visit to Lone Pine, our bus took us through the city, pointing out landmarks including traditional Queenslander homes. The distinctive architecture of the Queenslander from the mid to late 1800s included wide verandahs and was raised to protect it from flooding and to draw cool air from underneath.

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Queenslander home in Brisbane

We made a final stop at the Cliffs Boardwalk for panoramic views and photos of Brisbane before returning to the ship.

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*So now you know Brisbane was really not a disappointment. After all, who could be disappointed in a city that offers 300 days of sunshine a year? Cheers to Brisbane!

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

At Home on the Norwegian Jewel

I could live on a cruise ship except for the fact my son would hound me continually about my environmental footprint. And I agree, in theory, but ship life is so pleasant it’s easy to be selfish and forget about social responsibility for a few weeks each year. I also rationalize my behavior by telling myself NCL isn’t as bad as many of the other cruise lines. You can see the ratings here. So, we continue to cruise but we try to be environmentally responsible in other areas of our life.

Seven of our 19 days aboard the Norwegian Jewel were at sea which suited us just fine. We enjoy many of the activities offered on board but when we’re in port we feel obligated to explore onshore. On this cruise, we looked forward to having plenty of both.

My friend, Lori, and I began our first sea day by attending the Morning Stretch class at 7 AM followed by Fab Abs at 7:30 in the Aerobic Studio. We liked both so much, we began every day with the two classes unless we had an early excursion preventing us from being there. Jim often joined us for the stretching class, then went off to do his own thing while we developed our fab abs. Rick had his own fitness regimen which began much earlier than ours.

 

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Aerobic Studio in the Fitness Center

We fell into a routine pretty quickly. Following our workout each morning, our group met for breakfast in the area of the aft called the Great Outdoors, located outside the Garden Cafe. After a leisurely breakfast, we’d return to our stateroom to brush our teeth and change into swimsuits, then go in search of a deck chair in the shade. That was easier said than done with an aging cruise population, many of whom have also learned to prefer shade. At any rate, once we found a spot we settled in to read, people-watch, and doze. Often we could hear the musicians around the pool on Deck 12 from our lounge chairs.

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The Great Outdoors

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Lazing in the shade

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I’m not sure why we donned swimsuits to sit in the shade

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The pool area on the Norwegian Jewel

At lunchtime, we would join others in the buffet line at the Garden Cafe and find a table again at the Great Outdoors.

Some days we attended lectures regarding ports of call, excursions, or historical topics. A few of our favorites were the Great Barrier Reef, Darwin and Pearl Harbor, comments from the reef pilot, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, and Indonesian History and Culture. Lori and Rick also participated in some trivia contests and Jim went on the Behind the Scenes Tour of the ship where he was especially impressed with the machine that folded the beach towels.

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The reef pilot said the locals were friendly

Later in the afternoon, we would shower and dress for dinner, then rejoin one another to play bridge before we searched out our favorite table with a view at Azura for dinner.

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There was a lovely view even though it doesn’t show in the photo

The food was always well-presented and it tasted every bit as good as it looks.

Following dinner, if we had time before the theater show, we sometimes stopped by the casino to throw away a few pennies. I was surprised to learn very few slot machines allow a penny bet anymore. I had a $20 budget for the entire cruise so I didn’t bet more than one line in spite of common wisdom which claims you have to bet more to win.

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I had a hard time finding a slot machine which would accept a penny bet

If time didn’t allow, we headed directly to the show, which we enjoyed almost every evening. Generally, photos aren’t allowed during the show but I captured the few exceptions.

After the show, it was generally, back to our staterooms for bedtime where we usually found a towel animal waiting to bid us goodnight. Then, the following morning, we would begin our routine over again.

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A few exceptions to our routine inevitably occurred. Jim and I explored the bridge on this cruise, something we haven’t done before.

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Good to know someone is steering the ship

We never miss an opportunity to enjoy free drinks and appetizers at the Latitudes cocktail party.

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Not all of those cocktail toothpicks were mine

Early on the morning of February 21, I encountered a woman on the elevator up to the 12th deck for my stretching class who asked me why the ship had turned around. I had no idea and inquired what made her think we’d turned around. She explained she’d seen it on the television channel which shows our route and progress. Sure enough, in the night we headed back to Cairns due to a medical emergency. IMG_7083.jpeg

We watched from the window of our stretching class as the patient was lifted aboard a hovering helicopter. Later, we learned the announcements we’d heard the prior evening requesting the reef pilot report to the captain were so he could safely guide us back through the Great Barrier Reef.

Then the following day, the starboard side of deck 7 was closed off. We found out a small fire had been extinguished in one of the lifeboats. Yikes! I suspected a flicked cigarette may have been to blame.

On the 25th, we celebrated Lori’s birthday with dinner in a specialty restaurant and birthday cake.

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Without a doubt, however, nothing was more romantic and captivating aboard the Norwegian Jewel than sunrise, sunset, and a full moon over the water.

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Sunrise on the Jewel

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Sunset from the Jewel

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One more sunset

 

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Full moon

 

Come back and read about the port of Brisbane next time.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Heart and Coal in Newcastle

Have you heard the saying, “It’s like carrying coal to Newcastle”? The saying which means to do something pointless or superfluous originated in Newcastle, England, where the expression dates back to the 1600s, but the Aussies in Newcastle, Australia, also claim it as their own. It turns out both cities have a legitimate claim. Newcastle, England, was the United Kingdom’s first coal exporting port and Newcastle, Australia, is currently the largest coal port in the world. (Newcastle, Australia, however, is currently trying to move away from a carbon-centered economy.)

Australia’s second-oldest city was permanently established in 1804 as a penal colony originally consisting of 34 convicts and a military guard. The convicts were treated harshly, working long days mining coal. By 1826, however, the Australian Agricultural Company took over management of all government mining and the penal colony moved to Port Macquarie.

I think of coal as an especially dirty commodity so I assumed the largest coal port in the world would be among the dirtiest, most unappealing ports ever but I was in for a big surprise! Shuttle buses picked us up at the pier and transported us immediately to the attractive town center. I took a photo of the sign below with a map of the town to help us find our way first to Fort Scratchley. As it turned out, the photo was the only map we had since we were told the town was out of tourist maps due to the recent large influx of cruise ships. Our walking route is enlarged below.

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You can find several other self-guided walks and maps on the Visit Newcastle website but our route, while not planned in advance, showed us a good sample of Newcastle’s sights.

We walked along the foreshore, then climbed the hill to the fort.

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Customs House in the background

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Looking back along the foreshore with a view of the cathedral high on the hill

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View as we climbed to the fort

Fort Scratchley was established in 1882 in response to hostilities between England and Russia resulting in fear of attack by Russian ships to obtain coal.  Colonel Peter Scratchley was put in charge of planning the fort which would subsequently be named for him.

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A Russian ship, His Imperial Royal Majesty’s Ship Rynda, did sail into the port in 1888 causing great consternation but the feared attack never materialized. Instead, an attack came from Japan in 1942 when a submarine, the I-21, shelled Newcastle with over 30 rounds. The troops at Ft. Scratchley returned fire but the sub escaped unharmed. Today, the fort is an interactive museum with many devoted volunteers who love to share these stories and more with visitors. As cruise ships depart Newcastle, they fire a three-gun salute from Ft. Scratchley but it’s rather a point of pride that they’ve never hit a ship.

 

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Quarters at the fort

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No. 1 and No. 2 guns 

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Jim and No. 2 gun

 

 

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View from Ft. Scratchley toward the Norwegian Jewel

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Jim and I enjoyed the view of Nobby’s Beach and Nobby’s Lighthouse

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A volunteer regaled Jim with stories about Ft. Scratchley

The walk down to Newcastle Beach was easier than our climb up to the fort. We had a chuckle over the sign at the beach announcing the nudie Australian Boardriders Battle but we missed the competition which was scheduled several days after our visit. My research on the internet revealed no surfers competed in the nude so I’m at a loss to explain the name. It is, however, the largest surfing competition in Australia.

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Newcastle Beach

After enjoying views of the beach, we climbed back up the hill to Christchurch Cathedral. The cathedral is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle where the Bishop resides. Construction began in 1892 but was never completed. In 1974, the roof sustained major damage as the result of a terrible storm and the building was finally repaired and finished in 1979. Disaster struck again in 1989 when a serious earthquake occurred and restoration following the event was finally completed in 1997. Today, the cathedral is beautiful both inside and out.

 

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Cathedral Church of Christ the King

The banners on either side of the nave depict saints and angels

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Interior of Cathedral

I was fascinated by the beautiful needlepoint covers on the kneelers.

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Kneelers with needlepoint covers

When I asked an employee what the symbols were on the kneeler below, quite a discussion ensued.

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They finally determined the six symbols represent the six states in Australia.

 

New South Wales: the cross of St George with lion and stars

Western Australia: a black swan

Tasmania: a red walking lion

Queensland: a blue Maltese cross and crown

Victoria: the southern cross

South Australia: the Australian piping shrike

Following our visit to the cathedral, we walked downhill one last time and to our great delight, we discovered Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, the iconic pie cart. Established during the Depression by Harry Edwards to provide cheap food outside the Woolloomooloo naval dockyard in Sydney, Harry closed his business when he enlisted during WWII. He reopened after the war in 1945 and the business has operated ever since. This early version of a food truck became “de Wheels” because the city council required food caravans to move at least 12 inches each day so Harry’s became Harry’s Cafe de Wheels.

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Harry’s is known for pie and having pie in Australia was on my “must-do” list. This pie, however, is no ordinary pastry; it’s a meat pie. Lori and I decided to share the signature Harry’s Original Tiger pie made with beef, mushy peas, mash, and gravy. YUM!

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After our sustenance at Harry’s, we were ready to return to the Norwegian Jewel. We had reservations at the French restaurant, Le Bistro, to celebrate a romantic Valentine’s Day with our sweethearts that evening.

I know Jim looks either inebriated or totally smitten in the photo below but honestly, he was just hamming it up for Valentine’s Day.IMG_6448

Join us next time for fun at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Leaving Sydney on the Norwegian Jewel

Our departure on the morning of day 5 in Sydney was bittersweet. Despite the heat-wave, no aircon, no window screens, blood-thirsty mosquitoes, a few other random unidentified insects, and a creature later identified by the landlord as a gecko that skittered through the apartment startling some and terrifying others, we enjoyed our stay in the Airbnb. The location, the kitchen, and the extra space were ideal. I think we all felt a little sad leaving Sydney, a city we agreed was delightful and offered many more experiences than we’d had time to enjoy.  On the other hand, we were excited to begin our 19-day cruise with 5 additional ports in Australia plus stops in Indonesia and Singapore.

So we trudged up the hill past our favorite pub, the Lord Nelson Brewery, one last time with our bags in tow. As we made our way down Argyle Street, I looked around fondly, taking a few last photos to remind me of our adopted home neighborhood.

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We arrived at Circular Quay too early to board the Norwegian Jewel, but joined the line which was already forming. Since our ship wouldn’t leave Sydney until 6 p.m., we had planned to go through the embarkation process, have lunch, then take in one last sight, the Australian National Maritime Museum, in nearby Darling Harbor.

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When we discovered we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the ship once we went through embarkation, we decided to cut the museum from our itinerary. We’ve all had nightmare experiences standing in line for hours to board the ship and right now we were at the front of the line so we decided to stay right there.

Happily, embarkation was one of the quickest we’ve experienced so we were soon on-board and made our way to the Garden Cafe for lunch. Although we couldn’t get into our staterooms for several hours, we contented ourselves with exploring the ship, purchasing our wine package, and perusing the Freestyle Daily which advises passengers of everything happening on-board.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Sydney Opera House from the Norwegian Jewel

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View of CBD (Central Business District) from the ship

Our luggage arrived soon after the staterooms opened and we unpacked at a leisurely pace, grateful to think we wouldn’t need our suitcases for 19 days. The mandatory lifeboat drill was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. and sail-away at 6. As the four of us enjoyed a delicious dinner before the show, Aussie Boys in Motown, we watched from our table as Sydney receded on the horizon.

 

 

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Leaving Sydney

 

Come back next time to read about our first port-of-call at Newcastle.

 

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: Australia, cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Planning to Cruise Australia

Our visit to Australia in 2017 was cut short (you can read about it here) and I’ve been watching ever since for a repeat offer of that cruise itinerary.  If you look at cruises of Australia, you’ll notice most itineraries include many ports in New Zealand and very few in Australia. Because Australia is such a large country and I wanted to see more than just one city, I always thought a cruise would be an efficient way to maximize our time and see more. Our 19-day cruise in 2017 began in Auckland, New Zealand with a stop in Bay of Islands before heading to Australia with stops in 6 cities along the eastern and northern coasts, followed by stops in Indonesia and Malaysia and ending in Singapore.

The itinerary now offered by Norwegian Cruise Line has changed somewhat. The cruise no longer begins in New Zealand which we visited during our 2017 cruise so that was fine with us. Malaysia is replaced by Semarang, Indonesia, on the itinerary which was a disappointment to me (and an even bigger disappointment when we saw Semarang but more on that in a future post.) This was the itinerary:

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I booked the cruise on April 27, 2018, when the price was $6352.80 for an ocean view cabin for my husband and me. In 2017, we paid just under $5000 so the price seemed a little high but I knew if the price came down, I could rebook. I checked periodically and finally in August, the price went down to $5834.36. Then September 1, the price went down to $5134.36 and finally toward the end of September it hit $4187.20. Each time I rebooked at the new price keeping the same cabin and our original amenities which included free internet minutes and a $50 credit per person for a shore excursion at each port. If you haven’t done this before, you call the cruise line and say, “I see the price for my cruise has gone down. Can you help me rebook at the new price?” Simple but we saved a lot of $$$.

Fortunately, we saved on our cruise fare because I was sure an open jaw airfare to Sydney and back from Singapore would be expensive. I decided to check on a multi-city fare with a 3 day stop in Tokyo to visit our friend, Tomo. (More on Tomo later, too.) I could hardly believe my good fortune when I found this itinerary on Delta for the rock bottom price of $1246.43 each. Tip: When you see a good price, don’t hesitate; book it because it probably won’t be there long!

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With cruise and airfare booked, it was time to work on accommodations in Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Sidenote: Many people have asked me whether I use a travel agent for my trips. I research and book everything myself. I enjoy the planning part of my travels nearly as much as the travel and I have a vested interest in finding the best deals.

My brother and his wife visited Sydney in 2018 so I asked them whether they would recommend their Airbnb accommodations. They heartily endorsed the three-bedroom condo located in Miller’s Point in the heart of “The Rocks” but cautioned us there wasn’t aircon. They were there in April in the middle of a heatwave but we thought a heatwave in February was unlikely and the location just couldn’t be beaten. It was pricey but we were traveling with friends and hoped a third couple would join us to share the cost. In the end, it was just the two couples but we were all glad we stayed there in spite of temperatures in the 90s, no screens on the windows with resulting mosquito bites, and a cost of $442 per night.

 

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Jim, Rick, and Lori outside our Airbnb in Sydney

Next, I looked at hotels in Singapore. In 2017 I reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Express but had to cancel it when our trip ended at Sydney. I couldn’t find a better price including breakfast in a better location so, against my better judgment, I booked it again. I usually avoid staying at American chains when traveling abroad, preferring to experience local culture and accommodations instead. This hotel was gorgeous and you’ll see more of it in future posts.

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Interior of Holiday Inn Express, Singapore

Finally, I researched Tokyo lodging. Tomo was staying with us in the US at the time so I had his guidance in selecting a hotel. In spite of that, when he looked at the hotel I booked he said the hotel I selected was in the area where Japanese mafia or yakuza could be found. Sure enough, I read reviews indicating the red light district was nearby! He directed me to another area where we enjoyed the Mitsui Garden Hotel immensely.

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Mitsui Garden Hotel in Tokyo

In between searches for lodging, Lori and I looked at cruise excursions and quickly decided several were not to be missed–snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to Komodo Island to see the dragons, and the opportunity to hold a koala. We also scheduled a tour to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. We decided we would schedule any other tours or excursions as we went.

Last but not least, I attacked the challenge of packing for a month in a carry-on suitcase. Fortunately, we had laundry facilities at our condo in Sydney and our platinum status with NCL provided us with laundry service onboard but careful selection was important, nevertheless. When I mentioned my packing issues to Lori, she said, “You did a packing post before this cruise two years ago. Why don’t you just look at that?” You can see that post here. When I looked at it, I discovered I had selected almost the same clothes this time around! But this time, I decided a month-long journey required more than 3 ounces of shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and sunscreen so I decided to buy those items in Sydney.

We were ready. But of course, any time you plan to travel in Iowa in February, you have weather issues and this trip was no exception. Two days before our departure, we received an email warning us of impending weather issues that could affect our flights. I spent some time researching options and in the end, we decided to travel to Des Moines a day early and let the chips fall where they may. After a nightmarish drive through ice and snow to Des Moines, our flights the following day were unaffected.

Come back next time for our arrival in Sydney.

 

Based on events in February 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, open jaw, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Amsterdam Revisited

In November 2017, our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine ended in Amsterdam so we scheduled two days in the city before our return flight to the U.S. Although we’ve visited Amsterdam several times previously and we’ve seen most of the top tourist sights, it was time to revisit some favorites and add a couple of new experiences, too.

The ship docked within walking distance of Amsterdam Centraal Train Station and we headed there first to orient ourselves for the walk to our accommodations at Swissotel just a half mile down Damrak.

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Amsterdam Centraal Train Station

Although it was too early to check into our hotel, we left our bags there and ventured out to explore the area before our scheduled 1 p.m. tour at the Anne Frank House.

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Our hotel

Our hotel was next to Dam Square where the Royal Palace of Amsterdam is located. Originally built in the 17th century as the town hall of Amsterdam, it was converted to a palace for Napolean’s brother, Louis Bonaparte, who was named King of the Netherlands and lived there for 5 years beginning in 1808. Since the departure of the French, it has been used by the Dutch Royal Family for royal receptions and ceremonies. Today, it is one of three palaces used by the royal family and is normally open to the public. We didn’t have time this trip but I’d be interested in a tour next time.

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Royal Palace of Amsterdam

We walked back to the Amsterdam Tourist Office located right outside Amsterdam Centraal Train Station to purchase our GVB multiday ticket which allowed us unlimited use of public transportation by bus, tram, and metro during our stay.

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Tourist Information

We checked back at the hotel and we were able to deposit our luggage in our room prior to setting off for the Anne Frank House. We arrived early for our tour and rather than stand in line with our pre-purchased tickets, we elected to explore the area a bit and take some photos. As you can see below, both canals and bicycles are ubiquitous in Amsterdam!

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Canal in Amsterdam

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Bicycles galore!

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Another beautiful canal

I’ve toured the Anne Frank House twice before and each visit was busier than the previous one. It’s amazing that nearly 1.3 million people from all over the world visit the museum each year. Anne’s life and her diary have made an enormous impact in our world and the continued interest gives me hope for humanity.

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Anne Frank House

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The bookcase that hid the doorway into the secret annex

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Pictures on the wall of Anne and Margot’s room encased in glass to protect them

After our tour, we wandered some more, finally returning to our hotel as the sun was setting where I got this photo of Amsterdam rooftops.

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Sunset in Amsterdam

After a brief respite, we were off again to meet our friend, Iris, at the train station for dinner together. Iris, who is Dutch and now lives in Amsterdam, lived with us in Iowa while she volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. We were excited to see her again and hear what she’d been up to during the intervening year. She led us off on a new experience, taking the free ferry across the IJ river to North Amsterdam, where we walked a short distance to THT Restaurant. THT specializes in small plates to share and we ordered an abundance of tasty dishes which we devoured while we talked world politics and our lives since the U.S. presidential election.

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Jim and I with Iris at THT

The next morning we took the tram to the Van Gogh Museum where we had pre-purchased tickets. We arrived before the museum opened so we found a charming cafe, Small Talk Coffee Corner, where we enjoyed coffee and breakfast.

 

The Van Gogh Museum is an amazing facility housing the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, including 200 paintings and 400 drawings, as well as 700 of his letters. Photographs are not allowed of the artwork but you can see his complete works on this website. The tragic life story of Vincent Van Gogh is every bit as fascinating as his art and the museum tells the story well.

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View from inside Van Gogh Museum

Another tram ride took us to the Dutch Resistance Museum, dedicated to the courageous Dutch citizens who risked their lives to resist the Nazis who occupied their country from May 1940 until May 1945 during WWII. It was our first visit to this remarkable museum. I especially appreciated the exhibit about the 1300 illegal newspapers which operated to ensure people were informed about what was really going on rather than relying on propaganda issued by the Germans. The papers also encouraged resistance and helped to maintain Dutch morale. If you ever doubted the importance of a free press, see this museum.

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Dutch Resistance Museum

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Printing press

The only criticism I had of this museum was the lighting wasn’t sufficient for old eyes. I wanted to read everything and it was sometimes hard to see the print due to the lighting.

After the museum, we stopped by a small restaurant nearby for some poffertjes, a small Dutch pancake made with buckwheat flour and adorned with butter and powdered sugar. My sister-in-law, who is of Dutch heritage, introduced us to poffertjes and we’re big fams.

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As we continued to wander, I captured some images of interesting architecture and neighborhoods.

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Oude Kerk

The sight below definitely caught my interest, mostly because I wondered if there was an option for women or if this was strictly designed for males.

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Street relief

And of course, the most gorgeous photos include the canals.

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Another Canal in Amsterdam

When we reached the red light district, I had my I-phone in my hand and while I wasn’t taking photos, I had several women pull their curtains across their windows or mouth obscenities to me.

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The message is loud and clear

While in the red light district, we happened upon Bulldog No. 90, the first coffee shop in Amsterdam. When the shop opened in 1975, visitors surreptitiously smoked marijuana on the premises. Today, if you’re at least 18 years old, pot-smoking is legal in coffee shops all over the city. We didn’t go inside.

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Bulldog No. 90

The Dutch are also known for their cheese and we needed some cheese for a wine and cheese event on a canal cruise we’d arranged that evening with two couples from our cruise. Gouda is my Dutch favorite.

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Cheese shop

As we headed to our canal tour that evening, we noticed that even though it was early November, the Christmas decorations were up and the lights were lit in Amsterdam.

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Christmas decorations in Amsterdam

The lights from the canal tour were spectacular although, honestly, I prefer a daytime tour in spite of the wine and cheese.

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There’s plenty more to see and do in Amsterdam but it was time for us to return to the United States until the next time.

 

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saying Goodbye to the Viking Kara

We arrived in Amsterdam on day 8 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. My blog posts for this trip have focused mostly on the ports of call and excursions we enjoyed along the way. But before I tell you about Amsterdam, our final port of call, I want to share some photos of ship life on the Viking Kara. Spoiler alert! For those of you who dislike food photos, this post isn’t for you.

Our cabin was small but comfortable. We chose a room on the first deck at water level since it was the least expensive and we thought it would be too chilly to use a veranda in November anyway. If you’re sensitive to noise, I must caution against this option, however, as we could often hear the engine noise. It didn’t bother us too much and the money saved was welcome.

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Our first dinner onboard Elvia and Geoff were seated with us for dinner and we enjoyed one another’s company so much, they had dinner with us every evening thereafter and often we had breakfast and lunch together, too.

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Elvia, Lori, Heather, Jim, and Geoff

The food was beautifully presented, well-prepared, and delicious. One evening even featured traditional German dishes with entertainment.

 

The service in the dining room and throughout the ship was superior.

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We enjoyed the onboard entertainment including traditional German and French selections as well as the pianist. We were usually the last to leave the dance floor in the evening although it was only 11:00.

 

Our cruise director, Ria, was knowledgeable and entertaining. We felt fortunate to have enjoyed her expertise on her last cruise with Viking. As a new mom, I think the time away from home was too difficult. Even though we’ve been to Amsterdam numerous times, she gave us excellent advice about the city which we hadn’t heard previously.

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This was our second river cruise with Viking and we thoroughly enjoyed our 8 days cruising the Rhine River. When we finished our excursions to the French and German countryside each day, we appreciated returning to our welcoming and comfortable ship where we relaxed, recharged, and readied ourselves for more explorations.

 

We’ll definitely look for more itineraries with this line in the future.

 

Based on events from November 2017.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Food, France, Germany, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Polders in Kinderdijk

In spite of being in Kinderdijk, home of the largest concentration of windmills in the Netherlands, I got only one photo of a windmill. Our ship docked around 2:00 pm on day 7 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine and we had to talk ourselves into leaving the ship because of unrelenting rain accompanied by a cold wind. If Kinderdijk hadn’t been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its nineteen 18th century windmills keeping the land dry for so many years, I’d probably have taken a pass on the included walking tour. And even though Viking provided us with sturdy umbrellas, it was a miserable walk.

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Windmill at Kinderdijk

Our guide led us first to the Archimedes screw that pumps water from the polder to the basin. Huh? OK, according to Dictionary.com, a polder is “a tract of low land, especially in the Netherlands, reclaimed from the sea or another body of water and protected by dikes.” The Archimedes screw is one method used to drain water from the polder, the other is a windmill and since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, the technology is essential. Incidentally, the threat of global climate change is severe to the Netherlands and the Dutch are leading the way in developing new methods to deal with rising water levels.

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Archimedes screw at Kinderdijk

Next, we moved to the outside of a windmill where our guide demonstrated the mechanism to turn the direction of the windmill by hand to face the wind.

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Turning the windmill

Although the information and demonstration were interesting, we were relieved to go inside a working windmill and get out of the elements. Once inside, we saw the living quarters and working mechanism. The under-wheel was on the main level along with a combination living area, kitchen, and bedroom.

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Under-wheel in windmill

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A sleeping area in the windmill

The second floor contained more sleeping areas for the many children in the miller’s family. The third level was the smoke attic where the miller smoked fish caught in a net as the water was moved. The fourth floor, called the grease attic, held most of the working mechanism of the windmill.

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The working mechanism in a windmill

The top floor was not open for us to tour.

When we were finished touring the windmill, we had the option to continue or return to the ship. Due to the nasty weather, we chose to return to the ship. We would end our cruise in Amsterdam the following day and hopefully, see more of the Netherlands in better weather.

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ode to Cologne

We arrived in Cologne, Germany in the morning on day 6 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and one of the oldest in the country with a history dating as far back as the first century AD when the Romans founded the city naming it Colonia. Our included excursion for this port was a walking tour of the old city which we began soon after our arrival.

Our guide immediately told us over 90% of the Old Town was destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII. We were impressed with the results of reconstruction efforts.

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Old Town Cologne

Next to the river, what appeared at first glance to be a clockface turned out to be a depth gauge showing the water level of the river. As you can see below, the depth was under 2 meters which is why we suspected our ship scraped bottom a few times and the ship’s captain expressed concern about the next cruise.

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I’ve seen love locks on bridges in other cities including Venice, Italy but the 2 tons of locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge was definitely impressive. The city considered removing them and not allowing this show of commitment but the outcry caused them to reconsider and the tradition continues.

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Hohenzollern Bridge

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Love Locks on Hohenzollern Bridge

Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed beginning in 1248 but wasn’t finally completed until 1880.  It was the world’s tallest building until 1884 when the Washington Monument displaced it. Today it is still visible from most of the city and I took numerous photographs of both the impressive facade and the interior.

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The twin spires as we approach Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

Below are just a couple of the over 125 gargoyles decorating the exterior of the cathedral.

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Gargoyles on Cologne Cathedral

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Entrance to Cologne Cathedral

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Sculpture at entrance of Cologne Cathedral

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Our guide tells us about the cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral interior

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One of many stained glass windows in Cologne Cathedral

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Altarpiece in Cologne Cathedral

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Interior of Cologne Cathedral

The cathedral houses the relics of the three Magi, the wise men who brought gifts to the Christ child. Between the late 1100’s and early 1200’s, goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun created The Shrine of the Three Holy Kings which holds the relics.

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The Shrine of the Three Holy Kings in Cologne Cathedral

Next door to the Cathedral, we peered in the windows of the Roman-Germanic Museum, built in 1974 over a Roman Villa. The mosaic below depicting the story of Dionysus was discovered when a bomb shelter was built during WWII. Sadly, we didn’t have time to tour the museum.

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Mosaic in Roman-Germanic Museum 

As our tour moved on, our guide told us about Italian-born perfumier, Giovanni Maria Farina, who created eau de cologne in 1709 and named it for his adopted home. The fragrance featured scents of orange, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot, jasmine, violet, and sandalwood. In a letter to his brother, he wrote, “I have discovered a scent that reminds me of a spring morning in Italy, of mountain narcissus, orange blossom just after the rain. It gives me great refreshment, strengthens my senses and imagination.”  You can still purchase the original scent at the perfumery.

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Home of Farina Perfumery

Kölsch style ale was also created in Cologne, a hybrid of ale and lager brewing methods, served in a stange glass.

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Stange glasses for Kölsch beer

Following our walking tour, we made our way back to the ship for lunch prior to our afternoon excursion to the Brühl Palaces.

 

 

Based on events in November 2017.

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Remarkable Marksburg

Perched high atop a steep hill overlooking the town of Braubach, Marksburg was constructed around 1231 with expansion to its current size in 1283. As the only hilltop castle on the Middle Rhine River which was never destroyed, it’s the best surviving example of a medieval castle in the area. You may recall in my last post I said nearby Pfaltzgrafenstein Castle was never destroyed, which is true, but it’s on the river rather than on a hilltop.

While Marksburg was never destroyed, it did suffer damage from US artillery fire in March 1945, and the castle was painstakingly repaired by the German Castles Association following WWII. Today, it’s the most visited of the Middle Rhine castles, albeit by guided tour only. We were grateful our Viking River Cruise included an excursion to this remarkable fortress.

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Town of Braubach, Germany

As our bus climbed the hill to the castle, I tried to get photos and realized the best views were actually from the river but the drive through the amber autumn foliage was gorgeous, nevertheless.

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Driving up to the hilltop castle, Marksburg

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View of Marksburg from the bus

Following our ascent by bus, we trudged another 150 yards uphill on foot which, for some of us, was challenging right after lunch.

Four gates prevented intruders from breaching the castle. The first is a drawbridge gate followed by a tunnel. The gatekeeper’s room, connected to the tunnel, has been converted to an antique bookshop.

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The tunnel at Drawbridge Gate

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Antique bookstore in the old gatekeeper’s room

Once inside the first gate, we had time to enjoy the view, visit the restroom or gift shop, or simply catch our breath before the tour commenced.

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Catching our breath and enjoying the view

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The tour began at the second gateway, Fox Gate, where we followed our guide who possessed a large skeleton key to allow us through the third medieval gateway, Arrow Slit Gate. I understand the fourth gateway in Stewards Tower was altered sometime in the past. To my knowledge, we didn’t see it or, maybe I simply missed it.

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Our guide with the key to the kingdom

Arrow Slit Gate features a machicolation, a projection from which defenders threw rocks on the intruders below. I’ve circled the machicolation on the photo. Fortunately for us, no one seemed to be on rock-throwing duty that day.

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The Rider’s Stairway continued the upward ascent on stairs carved into the bedrock. I was beginning to understand why the cruise line described this excursion as physically demanding.

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Rider’s Stairway

At the top of Rider’s Stairway, our guide told us about the various owners of the castle who were all represented by their coats of arms.

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Coats of arms of Marksburg owners

The small blacksmith’s workshop gave us an idea of how a medieval forge and anvil would have looked.

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Blacksmith’s workshop

The Romanesque Palas is the oldest part of the castle. It houses offices and the general manager’s apartment and is not open to the public.

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Romanesque Palas

The Great Battery houses cannons overlooking the Rhine River. From this vantage point, the castle controlled access from the river. This building dates from 1589 and 1711.

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The Great Battery

Finally, at the top, we paused once more for a look at the view which was quite spectacular.

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View from Marksburg

Before entering the castle, our guide told us about the garden which contained around 150 mostly medicinal plants that would have grown here in medieval times. Poisonous nightshade and hemlock were also grown —maybe to battle enemies inside the castle?

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Castle garden

When we heard how the contents of the castle toilet ran down the wall in the photo below, I realized castle life wasn’t all that romantic.

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Castle toilet

Still imagining the odors from the toilet when we entered the wine cellar, I decided I’d have needed more wine to cope with life in the Middle Ages.

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Wine cellar in Marksburg

Moving on to the kitchen, we heard servants would have worked in this space and served the noble family in the hall upstairs.

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Kitchen

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Kitchen

Like the toilet, this sink also obviously emptied along the outside castle wall.

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The paneled bedchamber contained a canopied bed, a cradle, and a sitting area. The canopy provided both privacy and warmth for the lord and his lady.

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Bedchamber

And we got to see the toilet from the inside, too.

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Toilet

A combination of living and dining room, most of the noble family’s activities took place in the Great Hall. Musical instruments and a chess set in this area indicated some of the available entertainment options.

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The Great Hall

The exquisitely painted 14th-century chapel was used by the noble family for daily devotions and services.

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The chapel

After our visit to the chapel, we took a narrow stairway to the next floor where we saw the Gimbel Collection, consisting of both original and replicas of armor and weaponry from ancient to early modern times.

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The Gimbel Collection

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Work in process in the Gimbel Collection

Our final stop inside the castle was in the former stable which today houses a gruesome exhibit on torture and punishment in the Middle Ages.

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Torture and punishment exhibit

As I pondered the sights we’d seen at Marksburg on our return bus ride to the Viking Kara, we passed by the Electoral Palace at Koblenz, built in the late 18th century. I concluded castle life in the Middle Ages with its privation, hardship, and disagreeable odors was not all that romantic. I think I’d prefer to live in a palace.

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Electoral Palace, Koblenz

 

Based on events from November 2017.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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