It is a sign of how much my life has changed this year that I find myself starting to write a cruise blog almost exactly a month since the cruise set sail – or rather cruises – for as you have probably guessed from the title of this post, it was two consecutive cruises taken ‘back-to-back’. Regular readers will know why I have stopped blogging cruises as I actually take them, and this time my much busier life with my fiancée Carol has meant it’s been almost two weeks after our return before I have found the time to sit and write this – I hope I can remember enough about what happened on the cruise to make this post interesting!
The two cruises in question were M1716 – Scenic Fjords & Waterfalls of Norway (8 nights), and M1717 – German Waterways (10 nights). The first and third cruises I made with Fred. Olsen were to the Norwegian fjords, way back in 2007 and 2008 – and they are so beautiful I was very glad to be making a return visit. By contrast the German waterways were completely new to me, other than making a transit of the Kiel Canal which I did on a Baltic cruise in 2010. The two new cruises were on the Fred. Olsen ship Braemar, the same ship as we had sailed the Rivers of France and Spain on a few weeks earlier.
The new cruises had originally been selected to be particularly suitable for my elderly friend Barbara, who was due to join Carol and I, since if she did not feel up to leaving the ship while it was in port, she could still enjoy plenty of scenery as we sailed the fjords and waterways. Sadly however she was too unwell to join us for either cruise after all, so unexpectedly Carol and I found ourselves on our first cruises by ourselves.
This was the first time either of us had done ‘back-to-back’ cruises, and we were interested to see how it would all work out, especially on the changeover day. Unfortunately we had to change cabins for the second cruise, but we had been reassured that this was made as simple and easy as possible for us. There would also prove to be a number of other ‘firsts’ on these cruises – more on this later…
M1716 – Scenic Fjords & Waterfalls of Norway
As you will see from the map, the main emphasis of the first cruise was sailing many of the most scenic fjords in central and southern Norway, with just three ports of call – Eidfjord, Skjolden and Bergen.
Sailing from Southampton
We sailed from Southampton around an hour earlier than usual on a lovely sunny afternoon, which meant not only we could enjoy good views of Southampton Water and the Solent, but also we could stay on deck for further than usual before having to go below to have our dinner, which allowed me for once to take some photographs as we sailed past the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth:
After a day and a half sailing up the English Channel and the North Sea – the latter thankfully calm with distant views of many oil rigs – we reached our first fjord and began our scenic cruising. Unfortunately someone had forgotten to tell the weather, for it was very damp and misty, which meant we all but failed to see the two significant features to be seen in Lysefjord – Preikestolen and Kjeragbolten.
Preikestolen – otherwise known as the Pulpit Rock – is a mountain plateau that hangs 604 meters above the fjord. It has an almost flat top, some 25 by 25 metres in size, and many people hike there to stand and admire dramatic views of the fjord below. On my cruise in 2007 I had taken a tour on a small boat from Stavanger around Lysefjord on a bright and clear sunny morning, and had had wonderful views of Preikestolen, but this time we only caught a brief glimpse of it between the low clouds and swirling mist – the contrast between the two days and experiences is quite striking:
Further up the fjord lies Kjeragbolten, a 5-cubic-metre rock wedged in a crevasse on the Kjerag mountain, suspended above a 984-metre deep abyss. Like Preikestolen it is a popular tourist destination, and is accessible without any climbing equipment. My tour in 2007 had not ventured far enough up the fjord to see Kjeragbolten, so it was a great disappointment that this time the low clouds and mist completely obscured it.
Here are some of the other photographs I struggled to take in Lysefjord before we retreated to the warmth and dryness of our cabin:
With fingers firmly crossed for better conditions, I was up on deck bright and early the following morning to enjoy and photograph our sailing up Hardangerfjord towards our first port of call – Eidfjord. Cruising in the very early mornings in Norway – whether it is up the inner channel of the coastline, or up the fjords – is an absolute highlight for me – everything is so serene, peaceful and beautiful. In the early mornings the water is flat calm and acts like a mirror – giving amazing reflections of the mountains. When I was first on deck – around 5:10 – I was the only one there, and even by the time we had sailed under the Hardanger Bridge and reached Eidfjord around an hour and a half later there were only a handful or so of us to witness breathtakingly beautiful conditions and scenery. I find it astonishing that the vast majority of passengers – Carol included – would rather be in bed than witness this spectacle:
The village of Eidfjord lies around 15 kilometres east of the Hardanger Bridge at the head of Eidfjorden, an inner branch of Hardangerfjord. It is the largest settlement in the Eidfjord municipality, but only has a population of around 550 people. As we approached the small quay several blue lights flashing in the village caught my attention, and I could see that they were on fire engines, and a number of firemen on tall ladders were tackling a house fire:
As we ate our breakfast in the small restaurant high on the ship we had good views of the village below in the bright sunshine, and afterwards Carol and I went out on deck to take some photographs in the bright clear conditions:
The tour we had selected in Eidfjord was to the Hardangervidda National Park, where we would see the mountain plateau, a waterfall and a lake & dam; having first visited a Nature Centre providing information about the Park. At the Nature Centre there were exhibitions and displays featuring live fish and stuffed animals & birds, and the inevitable gift shop, but the clear highlight was a twenty minute film about the Park. This was shown in a cinema with five large screens displayed in an arc, and was mostly aerial scenes shot from a helicopter swooping over the landscape, with an excellent soundtrack. It was easy to feel that the whole building was banking and turning as the helicopter swept over the fjords, waterfalls and lakes. It made a very dramatic and memorable experience, and I was so impressed I bought a DVD of the film, even though I knew that on a normal television it could not possibly have the same dramatic impact. (On returning home Carol and I have watched the DVD a couple of times, and have been impressed how good it still looks on a single screen).
Leaving the Nature Centre we took the narrow twisting road though the narrow valley of Måbødalen, with its many hairpin bends, climbing steadily up onto the Hardangervidda mountain plateau. The plateau is the largest peneplain (eroded plain) in Europe, covering an area of about 6,500 sq km, with an average elevation of around 1,100 metres. The plateau consists of barren moorland, interspersed with numerous lakes, pools, rivers and streams.
Our first stop was at the Fossli Hotel, which is situated on the top of a high cliff overlooking Vøringfossen, a stunning waterfall with a total drop of 182 metres, and a major drop of 163 metres. While most people on the tour retired to the hotel for a coffee, I was more intent on photographing the waterfall from each of the many viewpoints provided:
We then drove on across the plateau to the Sysen Dam, where we had another photo-stop. Here we walked part-way across the dam, admiring the views of the lake and of the surrounding countryside, as well as the many tiny flowering plants which struggle to survive in this high and difficult terrain:
Our coach then took us back the same way to Eidford, but here the guide asked the driver to take us through a different part of the village so that we could see both the old and new churches. As we returned to our ship we could see that the weather was closing in once more, so Carol and I quickly set out for a walk around the village. We found some interesting sculptures, including two faces – one of which was convex and one was concave – I will let you decide which was which:
The rain then set in, and Carol returned to the ship while I pressed on to quickly grab some photographs of the churches and an impressive war memorial nearby:
By the time I returned to the ship it was raining heavily, so as I had watched us sail up the fjord that morning, I didn’t bother to go up on deck to watch us sail back down.
Cruising Nærøyfjord, Sognefjord & Lustrafjord
The following morning we cruised Nærøyfjord, an 18 kilometre branch of the large Songefjord. Nærøyfjord is stunningly beautiful, and is only 500 metres wide in places. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, and the National Geographic Society rated it number one natural heritage site, jointly with Geirangerfjord.
While normally I would have been up on deck bright and early to watch and photograph every moment we were in Nærøyfjord, unfortunately that morning was also Carol’s birthday, and celebrating that took precedence. By the time we got up on deck we were already sailing back down Nærøyfjord towards Songefjord. To my delight the sun was out, and I was able to take plenty of photographs of this stunning fjord:
We were also interested to watch the videographer they had on board flying his drone around the ship, taking videos of her as she sailed this beautiful fjord:
Having returned to Songefjord, and sailed further up this fjord to Lustrafjord, we eventually sailed into our second port of call, Skjolden, early in the afternoon. Skjolden is located at the innermost point of the Songefjord system, over 200 kilometres from where the fjord meets the open ocean. It is a very tiny village of some 200 people, but even so there was no time to look around as we were only there for the afternoon and we were due to be out on a ship’s tour to the Jotunheimen National Park.
The Jotunheimen National Park covers over 1,150 square kilometres of the Scandinavian Mountain Range, and is a very popular area for hiking and climbing. It contains the two highest mountain peaks in Northern Europe, Galdhøpiggen at 2,469 metres, and Glittertind at 2,465 metres; and over 250 peaks rise above 1,900 metres, with numerous valleys carved by glaciers in between.
Crossing the Jotunheimen National Park is the Sognefjell Mountain Road, a national tourist route, and at 1,434 metres it is the highest mountain crossing in Northern Europe. Our tour took us along this mountain road, and as we climbed high into the mountains there was plenty of snow to be seen, despite it being mid-summer. There were two photo-stops, the first at a viewpoint on the way up into the mountains, and the second longer one beside a lake on the high plateau:
On the way back to our ship we had a final photo-stop to view the dramatic Asafossen waterfall:
The next day we sailed into our third and final port of call, Bergen, the second-largest city in Norway. Bergen is a busy port, with over 300 cruise ship calls each year, bringing nearly half a million passengers to the city. The city was founded in the 11th century, and for a short while it was the capital city of Norway. From the 13th century it was a bureau city of the Hanseatic League, the commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns. A range of wooden quayside commercial buildings from the Hanseatic trading period known as the Bryggen are on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage sites and a very popular tourist attraction.
Both Carol and I had visited Bergen before, and were therefore content to just go ashore by ourselves and wander around the city for a while, rather than take a formal tour. Knowing that there were several other cruise ships in port, we decided to leave the ship early and try to get ahead of the crowds. Walking from our cruise terminal towards the city centre we first passed the Bryggen, and stopped to look around the lovely old wooden buildings with their narrow alleyways in between before they got too busy:
Bergen is famed for its high rainfall, indeed nearly all of my previous visits there have been on wet days. Unusually this time it was dry and just partially cloudy, so I wanted to take the opportunity to take the Fløibanen, a funicular railway which runs up Mount Fløyen, from which there are stunning views across the city. I had last been up there way back in 2005, but since then had never had the weather to make the trip worthwhile. Regular readers may remember that Carol is not good with heights, but she bravely agreed that we could take the trip, provided the queues for the train were not too long, which to my relief was the case. Once at the top, Carol hung back while I went to the edge of the viewing areas to take some dramatic panoramic shots:
When we returned to the city station we found that the queues for the railway were now stretching way down the street, so our early start had definitely paid off – at least from my point of view!
We then spent quite some time wandering around the city’s streets and parks, and as usual we were on the lookout for the quirky or unusual for me to photograph:
Cruising southern fjords
The next day we had one final morning of cruising the Norwegian fjords before we returned to the UK. We cruised an array of fjords in Southern Norway – Hidrasund & Strandsfjorden, Flekkefjorden & Stolsfjorden, Fedafjorden & Listafjorden and Rosfjorden. While these were very attractive, especially in the bright sunshine, they lacked the drama brought by all the high mountains featured in the earlier fjords in Mid Norway. We did see several oil rigs that had been brought up into the fjords for either repairs or storage, and at one point we passed though a very narrow gap between the shore and an island, which emphasised how steeply the sides of a fjord descend into the water:
Returning to Southampton
We then spent the next day and a half sailing back to our home port, Southampton. There is a definite rhythm to a shorter cruise on Fred. Olsen, including the formal nights at the beginning and end, the British Night part way through, and the crew talent show & gala buffet at the end. I am not sure how conscious or subconscious the decisions were, but we found that we went to the British night sing-along and show on the first cruise, and the crew talent show & gala buffet on the second cruise, thus as it were merging the two cruises into one longer cruise with the same rhythm.
Changeover Day in Southampton
It did seem rather strange not to be packing everything up in our suitcases on the final day of the Norwegian cruise, and on the day we arrived back in Southampton while we still had to be up very early for breakfast, we could just sit back and relax while almost all the other passengers were anxiously waiting in their coats for the call to disembark the ship.
We had been told that the crew would take all our clothes hanging on hangers to the new cabin using a set of rails on wheels, so all we had to do was gather together our things in drawers and on shelves. Once our new cabin was ready, a crewman duly arrived to wheel our stuff there – most of our bags also went on the bottom of his trolley. By around half past ten we were all unpacked and installed in our new cabin, and we were able to set off and enjoy an almost empty ship. It all seemed very peaceful and quiet, and we almost resented it when the new set of passengers began boarding around half past one:
When I first booked these back-to-back cruises, I was told that what happened for lunch depended on how many people were also staying onboard. If there were enough they would open a restaurant for us, otherwise we would need to use room service. In the event there were only half a dozen of us staying on, and when we returned to our new cabin around midday we found a tray had been left in the cabin for us. All that was there for the two of us were half a dozen finger sandwiches and a few small pastries. This was the one aspect of handling the staying on board we didn’t think they got right, for when we went up to the cafe a little later so that Carol could have a hot drink, we found they were serving soup, one main course and a hot dessert up there, as well as a range of sandwiches and cakes for the boarding passengers – surely it would have been simpler and better all round just to have directed us up there too.
M1717 – German Waterways
As you will see from the map, the second cruise took us to four ports of call in Northern Germany – Flensburg, Travemünde, Hamburg and Bremen – sailing a fjord, the Kiel Canal and several rivers on the way.
Sailing from Southampton
Once again we sailed at the earlier time from Southampton, but the contrast between the starts to the two cruises was quite marked – while the first cruise set off in warm sunshine and we could stand and watch from the bows of the ship, this time we sat huddled at the sheltered stern of the ship, and after a while retreated under an awning when it started to rain.
This time we had two full days at sea, retracing our steps though the channel and up the North Sea, but this time looping over the top of Denmark before sailing south again in the Baltic Sea towards our first port of call, Flensburg. Once again we were blessed with calm seas.
Fred. Olsen operates a loyalty scheme called Oceans, each night you spend on board earns you an ‘Oceans Point’, and there are different membership bands providing different rewards for the number of points accrued. There used to be three bands – Blue, Silver and Gold – but recently more were added so now there is Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond Elite. Following our long World Cruise earlier this year, Carol is a Gold member, and I am now Platinum. During each cruise a cocktail party is held for members who are Silver and above, and during the party an award is made to the person with most points on that cruise, who has not already won the award in the same 12 month period.
I have known the award to go to people with points in the high hundreds, or even over 1000 points – so I was greatly surprised to find I was to get the award on this cruise with my 476 points! Apparently there were two ladies on board who had around twenty points more, but they had already won an award this year. The Oceans scheme is administered on board by the same lady who does future cruise bookings, and we knew the lady on board this cruise as she was also on our world cruise and had done a cruise booking for us then. She know about how Carol and I met and got engaged on the World Cruise, and asked if the Captain could tell our story when he presented my award at the cocktail party. I received a voucher towards another cruise and a bottle of bubbly, and Carol received a lovely bouquet of flowers from the Captain – another ‘first’ on this cruise:
On the third day I was up on deck just before 7am to watch and photograph us sail up Flensburg Fjord, the westernmost inlet of the Baltic Sea. After the high mountains surrounding the Mid Norwegian Fjords, and the hills around the Southern Norwegian fjords that we had seen so recently, the surrounding countryside seemed very flat. However it was a lovely still and sunny morning, and once again there was hardly anyone else also up on deck to see the lovely scenes unfold. I was particularly taken by the cute little black pilots boat:
As we approached our first port, Flensburg, located at the far end of the fjord, the numbers on deck did increase. We docked against a quay which was clearly normally used for sand and gravel – there were no luxuries here like cruise terminal buildings, the gangplank just let down to a gap on the quay where the piles of sand and gravel had been pushed aside:
Our first port of call in Germany, Flensburg, is located just south of the German-Danish border at the innermost tip of the Flensburg Fjord, and is Germany’s northernmost mainland town. It was founded around 1200 by Danish settlers, who were soon joined by German merchants. It never became a member of the Hanseatic League, but it was still an important and busy port, especially for the export of herrings which were sent to almost every European country. Later in the 18th century the rum trade became very important, it was refined in the town from cane sugar imported from the Danish West Indies.
Following the Second Schleswig War in 1864, Flensburg passed from Denmark to the Kingdom of Prussia, and since then the German language has prevailed in the town. In 1920 the League of Nations decided that the German-Danish border would be settled by a vote, and while some of Flensburg’s northern neighbourhoods returned to Denmark, Flensburg itself voted to remain in Germany. Even to this day around 25% of the population of Flensburg remain Danish, who run their own schools, libraries and Lutheran churches from which the German majority are not excluded.
In May 1945, Flensburg was the site of the last government of Nazi Germany, the so-called Flensburg Government led by Admiral Karl Dönitz. This was in power for just one week from 1 May (when Hitler’s death was announced) until the German armies surrendered and the town was occupied by Allied troops.
Carol and I had originally booked a longer tour from Flensburg, but having seen and heard in the port talk on board ship how attractive and interesting it looked, we changed our booking to a half day tour in the morning so that we could explore the town during the afternoon. Our tour was to visit the nearby Glücksburg Castle, one of the most important Renaissance castles in Northern Europe, and to view the roses in its nearby Glücksburger Rosarium.
There were two coaches in this tour, and our coach visited the Rosarium first, while the other visited the castle. The Rosarium covers more than 10,000 square meters, and is home to over 500 different varieties of rose, including English, modern, rambler and common wild roses. We were given a guided tour by two guides, the first giving detailed information about the types and varieties of the roses, along with their propagation methods in German, after which the second guide translated this information into English. While for those passengers who were keen gardeners all this information might have been very interesting, but there were many like Carol and I who found all this rather slow and tedious, and we began to wander off by ourselves. We thought it would have been better to say at the start of the visit that they would be a guided tour with detailed information for those who want it, and for the others just a time and a place to reassemble so that they could freely wander off on their own.
Unfortunately the roses were just past their best, but I still managed to get some good photographs of them. We were also entertained by a pair of very large and hairy dogs next door, especially when one of them stood up on his back legs leaning on the gate – looking for all the world like a man dressed up in a dog suit:
We then walked around to the Castle, which looked very dramatic being mostly surrounded by water. The castle was built between 1582 to 1587 by Nikolaus Karie, for John II, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg. It was built at the site of a former monastery, and building material from the monastery was partly reused in the castle. Once complete, the grounds of the monastery were flooded to create a lake which almost entirely surrounds the castle.
The castle is built on a 2.5 metres high granite foundation that emerges from the water. The base area is a square with sides of nearly 30 metres, consisting of three separate houses with their own roofs. The great halls and the vestibule are situated in the middle house, while the living space is located in the two side houses. A chapel is part of two of the houses. On each corner of the castle there is a tower with a diameter of seven meters. On the court yard front there are two stair towers, these form the only connection between the floors of the castle. The castle is the seat of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and was also used by the Danish kings.
We were given a guided tour around the insides of the castle by a local guide dressed in historic clothing:
As we walked back to our waiting coach I was able to get some good photographs of the castle surrounded by the lake:
After returning to our ship for lunch, Carol and I set off to explore the town on foot, having taken the shuttle bus from the quay to the town centre. We loved walking around the old buildings, and found plenty of quirky things to photograph too:
The following morning we sailed into our second port of call on the German Waterways cruise, Travemünde. Travemünde began life as a fortress built by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, in the 12th century to guard the mouth of the River Trave Trave in Lübeck Bay, and the Danes subsequently strengthened it. It became a town in 1317, and in 1329 it passed into the possession of the free city of Lübeck, to which it has since belonged. The fortifications were demolished in 1807.
Travemünde has been a seaside resort since 1802, and is Germany’s largest ferry port on the Baltic Sea with connections to Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Russia. The old lighthouse is the oldest on the German Baltic coast, dating from 1539, but this is no longer in use, having been replaced by a light on top of a hotel tower block which dominates the seafront. Another attraction of Travemünde is the Flying P-Liner Passat, a museum ship anchored in the mouth of the Trave.
I went up on deck to watch our approach to the port, and as we did so I could see rows and rows of the strandkorb wicker beach chairs that are a feature of nearly all the seafront resorts in Germany. Constructed from wicker, wood panels and canvas, they usually seat up to two persons, with reclining backrests, and are designed to provide comfortable seating and shelter from wind, rain, wind-blown sand and the sun. There were also good views of the old lighthouse, the Passat and another tall ship Mare Frisium, and the lovely old buildings along the river bank:
The tour that Carol and I had booked in Travemünde was a simple coach transfer to the historic city of Lübeck, where we had free time to walk around and explore by ourselves. We were provided with a map of the old city, which we used to make our way around. While there were many lovely old buildings to be seen, we were both a little surprised just how many modern buildings there were in between, largely as the result of extensive damage sustained by the city during the second world war. There was still more than enough to occupy our time before we rejoined our coach for the return journey to the ship, and we left feeling there would be plenty more to see if we were ever to return that way:
After lunch on board the ship, Carol decided to rest on board, so I set out alone to explore Travemünde itself. I set out along the river waterfront, where many stalls were being set up, heading towards the beach area as I wanted to take some closer photographs of the strandkorb wicker beach chairs:
I then headed inland to see the train station, famed for having two clocks – an analogue one showing the current time, and a digital one showing the time of the next train – said to be so that people on the beach can see when the next train is due to leave. From there I walked through a wooded parkland area, where the birds were singing – it was a most unexpected bonus to have such a woodland walk in the middle of a cruise! The path brought me back to the two roads running parallel to the river waterfront, and just as I finished exploring those the rain started in earnest, so I quickly made my way back to the ship:
Shortly before we set sail late that afternoon a male voice choir from the Passat sailing ship had been due to sing to us from the quayside. The heavy rain meant this had to be relocated to the ship’s theatre, which was fine for us passengers, but the crowd of locals and tourists that had assembled on the quayside were left disappointed. We were treated to just a short concert, as the same choir were booked to provide a much longer one while we were docked in our next port, Hamburg, three nights later:
Kiel Canal Transit
It was another early start the following morning, to watch the ship enter the lock at the eastern end of the Kiel Canal at Kiel-Holtenau at around 6:30. The Kiel Canal is a 98-kilometre long freshwater canal passing through the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, and links the North Sea at Brunsbüttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau. The canal was finished in 1895, but widened between 1907 and 1914 to meet increasing traffic and the demands of the Imperial German Navy. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles required the canal to be open to vessels of commerce and of war of any nation at peace with Germany, while leaving it under German administration. The government under Adolf Hitler repudiated its international status in 1936, but after World War II the canal was reopened to all traffic.
An average of 250 nautical miles (460 km) is saved by using the Kiel Canal instead of going around the Jutland Peninsula. All permanent, fixed bridges crossing the canal since its construction have a clearance of 42 metres. The maximum length for ships passing the Kiel Canal is 235.50 metres, and the maximum width is 32.50 metres, meaning only smaller cruise ships like those belonging to Fred. Olsen can use the canal. Despite these size restrictions, it is the busiest artificial waterway in the world.
As we passed through the lock at Kiel-Holtenau we were joined by three sailing ships. As the water level difference is small, there is no requirement for the mules we saw in use on the Panama Canal earlier this year (see W1702 – A man, a plan). Once again I was surprised how few people were up on deck to watch us transit the lock:
Once we were safely through the lock, I joined Carol for breakfast in the restaurant on the upper deck. It was lovely, but slightly surreal, to sit on a cruise ship watching the countryside slip past as we sailed down the canal, especially as it was not possible to see the water from that height. We then spent much up the time sitting up on deck at the stern of the ship watching us drift along the canal:
After some time we reached the impressive Rendsburg High Bridge, which carries the railway line between Neumünster and Flensburg across the canal. The bridge was erected between 1911 and 1913 to a design by Friedrich Voss and replaced earlier swing bridges. The steel viaduct has a length of 2,486 metres and is supplemented by embankments that bring the overall length of the structure to about 7.5 kilometres. The cantilever main bridge is 317 metres long, has a main span of 140 metres and provides the required clearance of 42 metres above the canal’s water level.
Beneath the railway track there should be a Schwebefähre (suspension ferry) – a gondola that carries up to four cars and foot passengers across the canal forming a transporter bridge. Sadly the gondola was struck by a cargo ship in January 2016, and sustained severe damage, and has had to be removed. A replacement gondola is currently under construction. I had seen the gondola in operation when I went through the canal in 2010, and was disappointed not to see it in action once again:
By mid afternoon we reached the lock at the western end of the canal, at Brunsbüttel. This time there were plenty of people up on deck to watch us pass through:
Once clear of the canal, we then sailed up the River Elbe, and arrived in our third port of call, Hamburg, mid evening. Carol and I had considered going ashore to explore once we had docked, but on seeing we were docked next to a huge building site, we decided to wait until the morning and full daylight.
Hamburg, officially Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg) is the second largest city and a state of Germany, with a population of over 1.7 million people. The official name reflects Hamburg’s history – it was a member of the Hanseatic League, a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire, a city-state, and one of the 16 states of Germany. Before the unification of Germany in 1871 it was a fully sovereign state, and prior to the constitutional changes in 1919, the civic republic was ruled by Hanseaten – a class of hereditary grand burghers. Although the city has repeatedly suffered great damage – by the Great Fire of Hamburg, the floods, and military conflicts including WW2 bombing raids – the city has managed to recover, and emerged wealthier each time.
Located on the River Elbe, Hamburg is a major port, and it is also a global service, media, logistics and industrial hub, with headquarters and facilities for many international companies. It is also a major European science, research, and education hub, with several universities and institutes. Hamburg has been an important financial centre for centuries and is the seat of Germany’s oldest stock exchange and the world’s second oldest bank. The Reeperbahn is among Europe’s best known entertainment districts, and famous for where The Beatles first started.
After breakfast the following morning we went out on deck so that I could take some photographs of the huge building site that had greeted us the night before:
We were docked close to HafenCity, a vast urban regeneration project of part of the former Hamburg free port, which is the largest urban redevelopment project in Europe by landmass – around 2.2 square kilometres. The ground-breaking ceremony was held in June 2001, and the whole project is not expected to complete until sometime between 2025 and 2030, by when the area will be home to around 12,000 people, and be a workplace for around 40,000.
Carol and I were booked on two shore tours, one during the afternoon and one in the evening. Knowing the weather forecast was not good, we set off early to explore the local area in foot. We passed an array of modern buildings in the first part of HafenCity to be completed. The architecture of one or two of these was interesting – a rounded tower block with balconies twisted like ribbon, and the striking Elbphilharmonie concert hall with its complex curved roof – but all too many were just boring boxes:
Just a little further we came to an area where the old brick warehouses had sympathetically been restored, and the contrast was very apparent. I felt it a shame that the design for all the new buildings did not at least give a nod to the heritage they were built in by echoing in some way the old warehouses so close to them or even each other. It seemed to me as if a whole load of architects had each been asked to design a building, without being shown what was there already, or what each other had designed.
Before long the rain really started to set in, so we made our way back to the ship, and rested there ahead of our tours later in the day.
The afternoon tour was in two parts – a coach tour with a couple of photo-stops around the city centre, then a visit to Miniatur Wunderland – the largest model railway in the world. The first stop on the coach tour was at the Rathaus – the town hall – a lovely building in the heart of the city. It was constructed between 1886 & 1897, and still houses its original governmental functions with the office of the First Mayor of Hamburg and the meeting rooms for Hamburg’s Parliament and Senate:
On the square outside the Rathaus the local guide pointed out a man in fancy dress busy sweeping up. He told us that the local tradition is that if on your 30th birthday you are still single, you must sweep the square until released by being kissed by a virgin!
Our coach tour continued around the city, passing along the Reeperbahn, once infamous as a red-light district, but now theatres and music halls have moved there it has become a popular entertainment district:
Our second photo-stop was at St Michael’s Church, the largest baroque church in Northern Germany, with a 132-metre high spire. The church is the third to be build on the site, construction was completed in 1786. Here we were supposed to view the inside of the church and hear an organ recital, but unfortunately a posh wedding was about to take place and we were not allowed to enter it.
Instead our guide took across the road to see Krameramtsstuben, or Grocer’s Apartments. Built between 1620 and 1700 as homes for widows of members of the Grocers’ Institute, these timber-framed buildings form the last of the 17th century enclosed courtyards of Hamburg. They demonstrate how close together the houses used to be built, and therefore how easily fire could spread within the city. For some reason these signs hanging at the end of the street amused Carol:
We were then driven to Miniatur Wunderland, which is located on the top two floors of one of the regenerated old brick warehouses we had seen on our walk from the ship that morning. On hearing that we would have two hours to view the attraction, Carol was concerned that she might get bored, but in the end we both said that we would have both like much longer to really see everything there was to see in this fascinating attraction.
It was started by two men showing off their model railway system, but it has grown and grown over the years to be the largest model railway in the world – although it is really so much more than a model railway. Currently, there are 9 completed model layouts: Austria, Knuffingen, Middle Germany, Hamburg, USA, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Knuffingen Airport and Italy. More layouts are planned, with proposed construction dates listed right out to 2028 – it looks like we will have to wait until late 2021 to see England and Scotland represented. Here are some of the astonishing statistics from their website:
|Current (Autumn 2016)||Current Planning Until 2028|
|Leased Floorspace||7,000 m²||10,000 m²|
|Layout Size||1,490 m²||over 2,300 m²|
|Track Length||15,400 Meters||approx. 20,000 Meters|
|Wagons||more than 10,000||17,000|
|Longest Train||14.51 Meters||14.51 Meters|
|Lights||approx. 385,000||over 500,000|
|Buildings and Bridges||4,110||6,000|
|Kidnapped Figurines (annually)||3,500|
|Construction Cost||20,000,000 €||approx. 25,000,000 €|
It really was the case that the more you looked, the more there was to see, with so many little touches and details to amuse and fascinate you. Every so often the lighting would change to night-time. Here are just a few of the 280 photographs I took there:
We only had a short turn-around time back at the ship before it was time to set off on our evening tour, a cruise by boat on the city’s waterways. We were taken by coach to the city centre to board our boat. It turned out that the boat we were supposed to use was broken, so instead we got to use a very modern electric one – it’s glass roof was covered in solar panels – and it glided silently around the Inner and Outer Alster Lakes. We could see many interesting buildings on the banks of the lakes, but at one stage we were overtaken by an old steam boat!
On the way back to the ship our coach took us for a shorter tour of the city, including back along the Reeperbahn once more:
Our ship remained in port for a second night, and set sail for our final port, Bremen, very early the following morning. We spent that day sailing down the River Elbe to the sea, and then around to the River Weser which we then sailed up, reaching Bremen around 9pm that evening.
Our fourth and final port of call on this cruise, Bremen, lies some 60km south of the mouth of the River Weser. The area has been settled since around 12,000 BC, and the city’s first stone walls were built in 1032. Part of the Hanseatic League, the city grew as a major port, but silting of the river now prevents access for larger ships, which now dock at Bremerhaven at the mouth of the river – Bremen and Bremerhaven together comprise the state of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. Bremen is the second most populous city in Northern Germany, and a major economic and cultural hub.
The tour we had booked in Bremen was a guided walking tour around the historic old town. A coach dropped us close to the market square, where our excellent guide began our tour of the many wonderful old buildings and statues to be seen in the city, including the UNESCO-listed Rathaus or town hall, the Cathedral, the statue of Roland the city’s protector, and the famous status of the donkey, dog, cat and rooster from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale ‘Town Musicians’:
Our tour included a visit to the Schnoor, a small, well-preserved area of crooked lanes, fishermen’s and shipper’s houses from the 17th and 18th centuries, now occupied by cafés, artisan shops and art galleries:
The tour continued along part of the riverbank, then looped back to the market square once more:
At the end of our tour we elected to remain in the city and explore some more by ourselves, returning to the ship later by shuttle bus. Later that afternoon we reluctantly set sail for Southampton and home.
Dinner at the Captain’s Table
On our last formal night which was on the way back to Southampton, Carol and I received another unexpected invitation – this time to have our dinner at the Captain’s table. This was another ‘first’ on this cruise – on all the twenty something cruises I have made with Fred. Olsen this has not happened before.
As well as the Captain and his fiancée (they also met on board ship), there were 10 passengers at the dinner table. At the pre-dinner drinks we asked the Captain how people were selected, he said that the Oceans award winner was always chosen (hence our invite), and then a mix of longstanding passengers and new ones. It was a lovely meal and evening, at the end of which we were presented with a photograph of everyone there, complete with a personal message from the Captain written on its folder:
These were a most enjoyable pair of cruises, and it was lovely to be reacquainted with the stunning Norwegian fjords, and to discover how attractive and interesting the historic towns and cities of Northern Germany are. The cruises were made even more memorable by the ‘firsts’ we experienced – remaining on board for a ‘back-to-back’, receiving the Oceans award and having dinner at the Captain’s table. Doing short cruises ‘back-to-back’ works well and is definitely something we would consider in the future, as otherwise they would be over far too quickly having got used to sailing on very long cruises.