Cruise and Maritime Voyages
A mere thirty minutes after leaving the front door, and I’m walking through the London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury Port. Check in is pleasantly speedy and I’m boarded just in time to take advantage of lunch at the elegant Waterfront restaurant on board the Cruise and Maritime’s flagship liner Columbus, my floating resort for five nights.
Setting sail late afternoon Columbus motored out along the Thames, familiar landmarks drifted by the window of my spacious state room, sinking weightless into a comfy tub chair, sipping a cup of complimentary Whittards tea, watching the sun setting, holiday vibes had started, and I was still in Essex.
As the holiday abode was journeying to our first destination, I could say, after savouring yet more sumptuous cuisine, I too was peacefully seeing the night out.
However instantaneous motions of merriment with our dining companions led to moving on to enjoy sampling the cocktail menu in The Dome nightclub into the earlier hours, then, just a short giggling wobble along the corridors to a freshly turned down bed – that was the sea legs playing me up!
Waking on the first day, already docked at the first port of call – Amsterdam, Holland. A quick but full English style breakfast at the plantation buffet restaurant readied the day’s explorations.
Amsterdam’s compact city, with its famed tulips and cheese, red light district and cafes with their ‘special’ menus was all within walking distance from the port terminal.
Also a few steps away were their famous glass roofed boat canal tours along the splendid UNESCO world heritage canal ring of Amsterdam. The tour passed under numerous bridges, rows and rows of bicycles and beautiful monumental gabled buildings, one of which being Anne Frank’s home, now a museum and disembarked in the lively student neighbourhood of De Pijp.
Strolling pass beckoning cafes and delightful terraces, where car parking spaces had been converted to communal gardens, nearby pipes had taps allowing collected rain water to help nurture this conservation area complete with worm hotels. This area very clearly demonstrates Amsterdam’s growing green global approach.
Sweet syrup fragrances filled the air, as I wandered along Albert Cuyp Market making it impossible to not grab some fresh stroopwafels.
A leisurely walk along the charming canal lined streets, breaking off to peep along the equally charming but very quirky avenues with their novelty museums and shops which led back to the grand station and port.
Amongst daily on board entertainment, the cruise had a cricketing legends theme. A special introduction hosted by tv presenter Nick Hancock wittingly introduced, Darren Malcolm, Mike Gatting OBE, Alan Wells, and our Essex boys John ‘J’ Lever, Graham Napier and Ray East which was followed by a short film of their cricketing highlights. Throughout the cruise there were many opportunities to meet them, have a chat, take pictures and collect autographs… or even enjoy sitting in The Taverner’s pub with them and fellow shipmates humorously, admittedly maybe a little painful at times singing your hearts out at karaoke!
Evening entertainment is held throughout many venues on the Columbus from cabarets to quizzes, including their take on ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’?
Jake our table companion come shipmate, himself was selected. Whizzing through the first questions, when he came to stumble, no need to call a friend, the ‘voices in his head’ were on top form. With hilarious gasps, no’s and comical coughs – duping the famous ‘did he cheat’ of the real show, the whole audience was Jake’s friend. Edging him on to answer that million-pound question.
Day two arrived and we had already crept into Hamburg, Germany.
A full day of exploration started in HafenCity district with the city’s new trade mark. The Elbephilharmonic hall, its waved glass façade rose above the rugged brick base of the historic quayside warehouse and it dominated the skyline of the River Elbe between the docks and city centre. Though the Grand concert hall is the buildings centrepiece, the complex also hosts a hotel, residential apartments and restaurants and cafés.
A short stroll over the canals was the ‘Speicherstadt;’ the largest warehouse complex in the world, another UNESCO World heritage site, where these warehouses have been characteristically converted to create charming buildings.
No trip to Hamburg would be complete without paying homage to the home of where The Beatles truly grew as a band. Standing on the Beatles-Platz, a circular record with stainless steel statues of the Beatles, we met Stefanie Hempel who led us through the Reeperbahn, once a historic red light district, but home to many clubs The Beatles, started out in.
A unique and fabulously fun tour which was informative and entertaining as Stefanie stopped in doorways of these old clubs, some still exist under new names, as she revealed stories and secrets that the buildings, held strumming her ukulele bringing the place alive singing their hits.
A leisurely day at sea, was a welcome respite to unwind and enjoy the facilities of our hotel that was traveling with us, with all the facilities just minutes away from our room, we enjoyed a film in the Palladium lounge, joined the young and young at heart in a table tennis competition which finished just in time to sample afternoon tea.
As part of the press trip I was lucky enough to be given a tour behind the scenes, in the heart of the ship, the galley. The stainless steel industrial kitchen sparkled in cleanliness, labels highlighted how well sanitised the kitchen was maintained, different waste disposal compartments for wet and dry, sinks for each purpose of rinsing and washing food, a separate sink for cleansing hands. Separate fridges for raw and cooked meat, indeed the head chef explained food was cut and prepared in another kitchen below and only food ready to be cooked was in this kitchen. Further around the galley was the bakery section, where the food is so fresh bread rolls where being made to be served hours later.
The tranquil day primed us for the formal dinner affair, a chance from the predominately casual cruising style to return to tradition cruising glamour. Dressed in our finest, guests were invited to meet the captain for champagne before dinner and the formal occasion was saluted with a grand baked Alaska parade. An entertaining sight, as the waiters enjoyed parading around the dining room to claps, cheers and napkins twirling.
The high vitality seemed to flow into the night as the Dome was thriving with merry shipmates and I seem to recall a proclaimers 100 miles concertina style marching circle with everyone on the dance floor before retiring for the night.
Waking up in Antwerp, Belgium, the last destination, the chocoholic in me could not disembark quick enough and the picturesque historic city with all the beauty it has to other was conveniently next to the port.
The city’s main landmark The Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady, breathtakingly stands proudly in the middle of old and new Antwerp. Slipping off behind it is the vibrant contemporary shopping area. Antwerp Zoo is also close and just a few tram stops away is the famous Diamond district and Antwerp’s iconic Brewery De Konick, a lovely place to visit and sample some of its offerings.
An interesting story to know highlighted in the Brabo statue/fountain in the middle of the historic town square in front of the city hall, features the mythical Roman soldier who was said to have killed a giant.
Apparently this story explains the name Antwerp (‘Antwerpen’ in dutch) which, according to the story, is a derivative of ‘handwerpen’ meaning hand throwing). Brabo once killed a giant, who asked money from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt.
When they didn’t want to or couldn’t pay, he cut off their hand and threw it in the river.
Because of this, Brabo also removed the hand of the giant, and threw it into the river. Hand casts are sighted frequently on buildings around the city, and feature heavily in Souvenir shops, especially in edible treats, giving me the perfect excuse to buy more chocolate, a lovely souvenir to take home to share a little cultural knowledge.
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