Regular readers might have noticed that I didn’t write anything in the travel blog yesterday or Saturday. It was mainly because we didn’t do anything noteworthy until last night, when I reminded Bill that he’d wanted to take an anniversary trip in November.
Our anniversary is November 16th, and this year, we wanted to do something exciting. I would have wanted to do something special for our 20th anniversary, but our sweet Arran dog was dying of cancer and we didn’t want to board him. So we ended up taking him and Noyzi with us on a trip to our beloved Ribeauville, France, a beautiful town not too far away that is different enough to be a getaway. We love Alsace, but we’ve been there so many times… This year, we definitely wanted to do something different.
Bill sent an email to our regular boarding facility and confirmed that they had space for Noyzi. Then I got out our trusty champagne bucket, which we often use when we want a little fateful help choosing a place to vacation. I went through the paper slips from past drawings, removing any that we’ve already done or will soon do, and any of those that would not be good for a visit in November. Then I had Bill draw from the bucket…
And the winner was…
ARMENIA!!! And Georgia… but I don’t know if we’ll make Georgia on this proposed trip, because I think we’d need more than the week we’ll probably have for this journey.
Now… it’s not yet engraved in stone that we’ll be going to Armenia. Bill has to get the days off, first. And then I have to figure out the logistics of the trip. Also, I’m still a bit worried about my gallbladder exploding. But Armenia did finally win a drawing, and it’s time we visited. It would be special and different. Bill can finally see where I lived for twenty-seven crazy months of my young life, and if he likes it, we can come back and see the regions.
So, today I will be researching places to go, flights, and the rest…
I haven’t been to Armenia since I left in August 1997. It’s changed a lot! A lot of street names have changed; there’s been a lot of construction and demolition; and in all, it looks like a much nicer place. It also looks a hell of a lot more expensive than it was back in the 90s. I found one luxury hotel that is charging about 400 euros per night. Consider that my first apartment in Yerevan was $50 a month. My second was an unheard of $100. No Armenian would have paid as much for either place, but I got the American rate. 😉
Anyway… wish me luck.
Below are a few photos from this week. See what I mean? Not much has been going on. Bill was away, and I had a cold. At least there are still some pretty flowers.
The featured photo is of the hapless guys trying to load the luggage. They’d lost about half of the load pictured when I took that photo from the ship.
On June 23, 2023, Bill and I embarked on our very first Regent Seven Seas cruise. This was an unusual experience for us, because although we do cruise on occasion, our cruises have overwhelmingly been on much smaller and older vessels. Aside from our very first cruise, which was a short Baltic cruise in June 2009 on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, we’ve only done cruises on SeaDream I or Hebridean Princess. SeaDream’s ships carry a maximum of 112 passengers each. Hebridean Princess maxes out at 49 passengers. Hebridean Island Cruises just acquired a new ship that is also very small. We haven’t sailed on the Lord of the Highlands yet, but she only carries 38 passengers!
Our first cruise on Vision of the Seas was fine, but we determined that we prefer smaller boats that are more all inclusive. So, for 14 years, we have avoided big ships. In fact, I hadn’t wanted to do a cruise at all this year. Originally, I’d hoped we could do a land based trip to Finland, which won our champagne bucket draw, and then go to the Baltic nations on our own. But, as I tried to plan the trip, I was confounded by the lack of easy transportation options in the Baltic countries. And although there are trains in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, they aren’t super convenient like they are in Germany and other European countries. Like, if you wanted to go by train from Bergen to Stockholm, you’d have to go to Oslo first.
At this writing, there aren’t any train connections between Tallinn, Estonia, Riga Latvia, or Vilnius, Lithuania. If we’d done a land based trip, we’d have to rent a car and drive, fly, or take buses. Or… maybe use the ferries, which basically amounted to cruising, right?
Anyway, I noticed that Regent had a handy northern European itinerary available, and I’d been somewhat curious about luxury cruising on a big ship. It helped that the voyage was on sale. So we pulled the trigger, booked our spots on the Northern Folktales & Traditions cruise, and boarded the gorgeous Splendor on that auspicious June day.
Well… I don’t know how auspicious it really was. As we waited in the lobby at Nobis Hotel, I already sensed that we’d be rubbing elbows with people who had the potential to be irritating. I’d been sitting next to Bill and got up to use the ladies room. When I came back, there was a rather assholish looking older man sitting near Bill. There was enough room for me to sit down in my former spot, so I did.
The tall, distinguished looking man with the perfect haircut didn’t seem to appreciate that very much. After a few minutes of sitting near me, he got up and sat on the other side of his painfully thin and rather well coiffed wife, who bore a resemblance to Blythe Danner circa 1991 (when she was in The Prince of Tides). *shrug* I guess he has no respect for the “unwashed masses”… emphasis on masses. I’m sorry to say that COVID and the onset of menopause, plus my love of boozy libations, has done a terrible number on the size of my ass. It’s too bad I never learned to play tennis or golf. Maybe I’d be more the type of person that guy likes to hang around with. His wife, by the way, seemed a lot nicer than her (I assume) husband. We shared a shrug and bemused smile when there was a sudden crash outside.
I don’t want to dwell too long on this first impression of the other passengers. It’s just that this guy gave off serious narcissistic “boomer” vibes. He sort of exuded masculine power. He was handsome and tall, appeared to be very fit, and if I were to guess, I’d assume he comes from the southern USA (as I do) and has a longstanding membership at a country club (as I don’t). He seemed much like someone very privileged who doesn’t like to mingle with people who either aren’t physically attractive to him, or don’t share his level of financial success.
I could be totally wrong, of course, and I realize that I’m judging him as much as I perceived him judging me. But I’m pretty good at observing body language, and his body language told me to keep my distance. So I did that… but later, I also noticed him in the Observation Lounge with his very slim and attractive wife. She was always walking several paces behind him and seemed very much like a second banana to his self-presumed awesomeness. I guess he wanted her to keep her distance, too, lest she cast a shadow on his narcissistic glow. Yes, she was well dressed and very pretty, even in her (I assume) 60s. She and her husband exuded an obvious air of wealth and prosperity. But… I sure wouldn’t want to trade places with her.
We all clambered aboard the first of many tour buses. A beautiful Swedish woman wearing a Regent jacket and scarf took attendance, then wished us a pleasant journey and got off the bus. It was now her job to welcome the departing cruisers from the voyage before ours who were staying for a night in the Nobis Hotel. These were folks who’d had Regent arrange their air, or booked post cruise tours, which Bill and I did not do.
I was excited to catch my first glimpse of the Splendor, which was built in 2020-21 and carries a maximum of 746 passengers. Splendor’s godmother is none other than supermodel, Christie Brinkley. It seems very fitting that such a beautiful ship should have a supermodel as her godmother.
But before we could embark, we had to go through security and pick up our new ID cards. So we got in line and soon found ourselves talking to a very young man– I’d guess maybe aged 19 or 20– who asked us if we’d been vaccinated for COVID and wanted to know if we’d been feverish or had diarrhea in the days immediately prior to our sailing. Then, much to my amusement, he asked me if I was pregnant. Ordinarily, such a question might irritate the hell out of me (as it did in France back in 2014). But… since I turned 51 years old three days before that conversation took place, I simply had to laugh and say, “No, I’m not pregnant.” If I had been more on my toes verbally, I might have added, “That ship has sailed.” 😉
But instead, I added, looking at Bill, “And he’s not pregnant, either.” As one commenter on Cruise Critic pointed out, you just never know these days. 😀 We shared a quick laugh, and eagerly made our way to the gangplank.
Here are a few photos from our journey from Nobis Hotel to the port in Stockholm, Sweden.
I really wish we’d had more time to visit Stockholm. It was our second time in the city, but once again, we were unable to explore it because it was on the end of a cruise. Our 2009 Vision of the Seas cruise ended in Stockholm, and we had to rush back to Germany because Bill (still in the Army at the time) had a conference he had to attend.
This time, we missed a proper tour because I wasn’t able to easily book two nights there, due to our stay at the Nobis Hotel booked by Regent. It was possible to book a second night or simply stay in a different hotel, but that would have required some finagling and probably paying more than we needed to. As it turned out, we decided it was better to just relax in the hotel, since we were both battling colds, as were a lot of other passengers. More on that in a subsequent post.
The featured photo was taken on a day cruise we took in Oslo, Norway, back in 2009.
It’s not so often that I travel blog during the work week. We have the pandemic to thank for that, as it made taking normal trips a lot more difficult for the past couple of years. In 2023, things are pretty much back in full swing. I expect Europe will be, once again, teeming with people this summer. In fact, I expect there will be more people than ever.
A week ago, we did a champagne bucket draw, and Finland won. That meant planning a trip that included a stop in Finland. I marvel at the changes our plans have undergone within about ten days. We went from planning a Helsinki based trip that would include land based stops in the Baltic countries, to pulling the trigger on a luxury cruise, with a week in Norway beforehand.
When you see the words “luxury cruise” in my blog post, of course it goes without saying that this trip is going to be pricey. We are going to sail on Regent Seven Seas’ newest completed ship, Splendor, in June. An even newer ship, Grandeur, will be sailing this year, but I don’t think she’s had her maiden voyage yet. So, as of this writing, Splendor, which was built in 2020, is Regent’s newest. This will also be the newest ship we’ve ever sailed on, as we usually opt for either SeaDream or Hebridean Island Cruises, both of which offer luxury on much smaller and older vessels.
I chose this particular cruise on Regent mostly because of the itinerary, which includes a stop in Helsinki, as well as most of the Baltic locations we wanted to visit, along with a couple of other stops. It’s not our first Baltic cruise, though.
Our very first cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, back in 2009, and that was also a Baltic cruise. It was only four nights, and included stops in Tallin, Estonia and Copenhagen, Denmark, with embarkation in Oslo, Norway, and debarkation in Stockholm, Sweden. On that trip, we spent a couple of nights in Oslo, which we both really enjoyed. The cruise was loaded with Norwegians, and we found that we really enjoyed their joie de vivre. 😉 Later, we encountered a friendly bunch of them on our second SeaDream cruise and vowed we’d visit Norway again. So that’s why we’re doing a week in Norway, too… and staying longer, so we can see more of Norway than just the city of Oslo. Below are a few photos from our cruise from Norway to Sweden in 2009… As you can see, I need to take more photos of beautiful Norway, at the very least! That was before I had an iPhone.
When I saw Regent’s June 23 Stockholm to Copenhagen cruise, I knew it was a no brainer to book it, because I was finding it very difficult to plan a land based trip including Finland and the Baltics… And yes, before anyone comes at me, I know there’s a large body of water we’d have to cross to get to the Baltics. I was planning a few days in Finland, then a ferry ride to Tallin, where I naively thought we could arrange train travel or maybe rent a car or something… At this writing, a train route is being constructed to make that vision come to fruition in the future. As of now, though, it’s just not convenient. 😉 I also realized Bill wouldn’t want to be driving so much, and I wouldn’t want to be flying so much.
The cruise solution was simply more practical, and it was available during the time we wanted to travel. And– we had the money to pay for it, thanks to a big tax refund. Even better was the fact that the sailing I found was on sale… which was a damned good thing. In fact, I should have waited another week, because the price went down again, and it was quite a significant drop! Some people would probably tell me to cancel and rebook, but I’ve already had lots of words with my bank. Oh well… you win some, you lose some.
Anyway… last night, we were trying to decide how long we wanted to stay in the places we’re visiting before the cruise, and how we wanted to travel to them. It didn’t take us long to decide to visit Bergen, which is a very beautiful city on Norway’s west coast that offers enchanting scenery, fresh seafood, and lots to do. However, from Oslo, it takes seven hours to drive there or take the train. We could also fly; that takes just an hour. But if we fly, we’ll miss the incredibly beautiful scenery on the way, and have to deal with everything that flying entails nowadays.
I thought maybe we’d drive and stop somewhere on the way, maybe do some exploration. Unfortunately, renting a car in Norway, especially for a one way trip with drop off in another city, is VERY expensive. Gas and food are also very expensive in Norway, plus there are tolls on the road we’d be using.
The route from Oslo to Bergen is also rather devoid of places to stay. There are a lot of apartments to rent, and a few hotels that are either in the middle of nowhere or have dodgy reviews. I wouldn’t mind renting an apartment, but I’d hate to do that for just an overnight. Most of the ones I found were pretty bare bones, too. I did manage to find several hotels that allowed me to book now and pay later, and can be canceled up to the day of arrival. Clarion Hotels for the win! They even have a hotel out in the middle of nowhere that I considered booking, but then I thought again.
Finally, I think we decided we’d just take the train… which means we now have to decide if we want to leave at 8:23AM or 12:05PM. The later trip is notably less expensive, but slower. I suspect we’ll go for the morning time, so we can get to Bergen in the afternoon. If we wanted to spend another night in Oslo, we could get a really (relatively) cheap train fare… but then we’d be paying for another night in Oslo, which is legitimately a nice city, but one we’ve already seen. It’s not a super pretty town, either, although I do remember enjoying the day cruise we took on the Oslo Fjord in 2009.
So, once I found a hotel that offers parking, in case we drive after all, I went to book plane tickets. A flight from Bergen to Stockholm takes one hour and twenty minutes. I found seats on SAS– Scandinavian Airlines (although when I hear SAS, it reminds me of a cursed statistics program I had to use in grad school). I tried to book with my PenFed card, but for some reason, PenFed refuses to send texts with codes to overseas phone numbers, nor will they send the confirmation codes to emails. So that means I can’t authorize charges through their stupid two factor authentication program.
I went to USAA, which did successfully send me a text. But, even though I entered all of my information, gave them a fingerprint, and tried to authorize the charge, they still declined it and blocked my card. At 10PM, I was calling USAA– for the second time in a week– to ask them to unblock my card and authorize payment, so we can get from Bergen to Stockholm. The lady I spoke to last night was very nice and professional, unlike the other person I talked to a few days ago, who was quite rude to me.
We finally got the plane tickets sorted, and now we just have to confirm where we’ll be sleeping for our night in Stockholm. I had wanted to stay longer in Stockholm, since we never really got to see the city when we were there in 2009, but that would have meant arranging for another night there. Our night in Stockholm is already included in our cruise fare, so adding another would mean going to another hotel or paying more to Regent. I think we’d prefer another night in Bergen, anyway.
All that’s left to do now is buy train tickets, or arrange for a car to get us from Oslo to Bergen. I’ve even mostly paid off the credit card companies. I paid off the deposit and Lufthansa tickets last week, which I booked through PenFed. Then, this morning, I accidentally paid USAA for the rest of the cruise fare. I had only meant to send them $1000 today, but ended up requesting to pay the whole bill. Luckily, there was enough money to pay for it. Thanks again to Bill’s decision to pay taxes all year and get a refund, we had the cash available. Edited to add: I just got us our train tickets… good thing, too, because the seats were already sold out, and I had to get us a compartment for six people instead. That was another $500. At least it’s changeable and refundable.
Living in Germany sure has been good for us…
But dammit… the fares went down 2,000 euros this week!!!!
Oh well. We’re sure to have a great time. I look forward to blogging about it, and experiencing new places on a different cruise line. I’ll be surprised if I’ll want to give up small ship cruising for Regent permanently, but we’ll see. I suspect that if I ever spot a hot deal like the one they’re offering right now for our cruise, I’ll want to jump on it. Especially if we have the money!
If you’re curious about what we’re in for on our journey from Oslo to Bergen, have a look at a couple of videos… I think it will be unforgettable.
And yes, I know we don’t have to spend this much money to have a good time… but I have definitely done my fair share of cheap traveling. It’s nice to have an upgraded experience, and I’m grateful we have the opportunity. We never thought the day would come.
Again, cross-posted on the main blog… The featured photo was taken on the car ferry from Denmark to Germany, back in 2019.
Yesterday, I wrote about my apprehension about booking a cruise. I termed it a “true first world problem.” Aye– as my Scottish ancestors would say– that it is. Twenty-four hours ago, as I was pondering whether or not I wanted to spend big bucks on a luxury cruise in the Baltic region, I started looking for alternatives.
A friend of mine had suggested touring the Norwegian fjords on Hurtigruten, which is, of course, a perfectly good suggestion. However, if I had decided to go for the fjords, that would have completely negated using the champagne bucket to choose where to go. The Norwegian fjords are a place I’d love to see the right way, and a cruise is probably the right way to go. But it wasn’t one of the choices for this particular trip. Moreover, I never asked for alternative suggestions.
I still decided to look into the Norwegian fjords experience and found that besides Hurtigruten, there’s another line that does cruises along the fjords. Maybe at some point we’ll pull the trigger on that. I did look into short cruises in Norway for the days we’ll be there, but they aren’t very convenient to our plans.
After a short while, I stopped researching travel possibilities, and turned my attention to my guitar, which badly needed new strings. I don’t play it so often that I routinely change the strings. But, it had gotten to the point at which I had forgotten when I had last changed them. The old ones were starting to get discolored, and weren’t staying tuned well. So, as much as I hate changing the strings, but love the results of changing them, once they stretch, I knew it was a job that urgently needed doing. I had just put one string on when my phone rang.
It was someone from Regent Seven Seas Cruises calling. I felt confident in answering, since I knew Bill was already agreeable to my booking the cruise, once we confirmed the correct price. The cruise specialist, whose name is Andrea, is from Germany. She thought I was German too, and was speaking German to me, even though I had made contact in English. I didn’t realize it, but the voicemail on my phone is in German… No one ever calls me, so I didn’t know. I thought the call was coming from Germany, but actually, it was a U.S. based call that somehow looked like it came from Germany.
Andrea and I got to talking, and it turns out she lives in Florida, which is where Regent is based. She’s been there since 1991. I always find myself bonding with Germans in the U.S., since I’m an American in Germany. As we discussed the cruise, we talked about how we ended up in each other’s countries. In many ways, Germany is kind of like the U.S., but I find that the U.K. feels more like home to me than Germany does, even though people drive on the other side of the road and kids wear uniforms to school.
Andrea said that my request went to her, because I am in Germany. She handles all clients from Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, even though she’s based in Florida. It was still very early in the morning where she lives when we were talking– maybe 5:30AM! Nevertheless, she was wide awake and friendly. I guess she’s a morning person like Bill is. All of our documents are in German. Andrea says there’s nothing she can do about that, since I’m in Germany. Google Chrome will save us, I’m sure…
It didn’t take long for Andrea to sell me on Regent. I put down a deposit on the cruise. I would have just paid for the whole thing, since the cruise is coming up in June, but I used my credit card with a lower limit, and the whole cruise costs more than the limit is. I used that card rather than the other one, because I knew it was less likely to get declined for “suspicious activity”. Both of my cards usually have zero balances. I rarely use them because it took me forever to pay them off when we were less affluent. The deposit didn’t raise any red flags, which made me feel confident about using my card (mistake).
Bill got home later and I proposed booking the flights. I was thinking of flying into Stavanger or Bergen, since we had never been to either of those beautiful towns, and we have been to Oslo. But it turned out there weren’t any flights that worked with boarding Noyzi and didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Like… there was an attractive flight that would have worked, except it left at 10:30AM, and that wasn’t enough time to get Noyzi to the Hundepension and get ourselves checked in at the airport. So, Oslo it is…
I had no idea that Norway’s cities were so far apart. Stavanger looks like it’s not that far from Oslo, but it’s a seven or eight hour car ride or train trip. Bergen, likewise, is hours away by car or train. There are cheap flights available, and we may decide to avail ourselves of one, just so we can get a feel for a city other than Oslo. But, we did also enjoy visiting Oslo when we were there in 2009, and that was at a time when we had a lot less money.
Oslo is also closer to Stockholm, which is where we will be meeting the ship. We haven’t seen anything in Stockholm except the cruise port, which is where our first Baltic cruise in 2009 ended. It was a four night “short break” on Royal Caribbean, and we started in Oslo and stopped in Tallin and Copenhagen, then ended in Stockholm. We couldn’t enjoy the city, because Bill had a conference in Garmisch-Partenkirchen the next day. So, we hopped a plane to Munich. I spent the next week taking tours out of the Edelweiss MWR Lodge while Bill tended to his Army duties. We had flown to Oslo from Munich, and when we got back to the parking garage, the car battery was dead, necessitating a call to ADAC. Plus, our bags didn’t make the flight, and had to be brought to us in Garmisch.
This time, we will end in Copenhagen, a city we’ve been to twice, but haven’t had much of a chance to really enjoy. The first time, it was on that short cruise, that only allowed a few hours in town. The second time was in 2019, when we were passing through on our way home with our new car and stopped for a night of rest as we continued onward to Rostock, Germany. This trip will at least give us a full day to enjoy Denmark. We’ll spend a couple of nights there before coming home on July 2.
So, off I went to Lufthansa to book our flights, after confirming with Bill which ones we wanted. I input all of the information, then tried to use my trusty credit card to pay. Sure enough, it was declined. I called up PenFed and explained that I was trying to book my vacation. I should have probably asked them to raise the limit on that card, too. Maybe next time I call…
The tickets are now booked. All I have to do now is decide on hotels in Norway and Denmark and maybe book transportation to Stockholm. A flight from Oslo takes an hour, but a train is much more scenic and is about five hours of fun. 😉 Oh… and I also need to choose excursions and restaurant reservations for the cruise, since they are included in the fare.
It’s hard to believe, just a few days ago, I was agonizing over all of this. It’s all coming together now, like magic. I wasn’t planning to do a cruise, but this may turn out to be a bit of a Godsend. If it turns out we really love any of the places we see, we can come back and do a land based tour, as I originally planned. They are now building a railway in the Baltics that will make it a lot easier to travel there. And I do want to go and spend more than a few hours. We already know we like Tallinn from our 2009 trip, and Bill enjoyed Riga when he went.
I know… first world problem, and maybe I should be ashamed of myself for writing about it. But, at least this isn’t a cranky complaint post about politics or similarly unpleasant topics.
For those who are curious, here’s a video highlighting the ship we’re going to be on. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s not like you don’t get a lot for the money. This is also not our usual style. We normally prefer much smaller ships, and that generally means the ships we’re on are usually much older. Splendor was built in 2020. Hebridean Princess, by contrast, was built in 1964 as a car ferry and later became a cruise ship in 1989. SeaDream I was built in 1984. I think Vision of the Seas is 1998 vintage, and I’m not even sure if it’s still in service.
Again, I chose this entirely for the itinerary, and the fact that it’s an all inclusive cruise. I’m not a Regent cheerleader, and I’m not sure we’ll give up small ships for this. But then again, maybe we will. We won’t know until we actually have the experience. At least now, I’ll have something new to write about on the travel blog!
By the way… I was very impressed by Andrea. I hope she’s a representative of most of the people who work for Regent. She seems pretty awesome… but then, maybe it’s because Germans demand it. 😀
Cross posted on my main blog. The featured photo was taken in 2019, when Bill and I went to Sweden to pick up our car and drove it on a Nordic adventure.
I’m in the midst of trying to plan a summer vacation/birthday trip for Bill and myself. Because of the whole COVID-19 odyssey, and the seemingly endless lockdowns that followed, we’ve decided that this year, we’d like to fly somewhere. And because there are a lot of places in Europe we still want to see, we decided to choose our destination using the “champagne bucket” method.
I’ve written about the champagne bucket method on this blog. Basically, I got the idea for it from “blind bookings” on Germanwings (now known as Eurowings). I’m not sure if Eurowings still does blind bookings, but Lufthansa does, and Lufthansa owns Eurowings. It basically involves booking a surprise flight, and usually paying a lower fare. You don’t know where you’re going until after you pay for the ticket(s). Bill and I have done it four times to great success. We visited Barcelona, London, Berlin, and Munich that way.
When we moved back to the States, I decided that it wouldn’t be hard to plan more of our vacations that way. Instead of relying on the airline, we just put our choices on slips of paper and put them in the champagne bucket. Then, Bill picks one of the slips out of the bucket.
I was really rooting for a trip to Armenia and possibly Georgia this summer. That was one of the choices, too. Bill was a bit reluctant, because of political and military issues going on in Armenia right now. We may still go there this year, but for a short trip to Yerevan, instead of an all out country tour. Then, I can show Bill where I lived, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and sign him up for a more extensive trip. 😉
Anyway, when we did our champagne bucket challenge, Bill ended up choosing Finland. Neither of us has ever been there before. We have been to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Estonia together. Bill has also been to Latvia a couple of times on business. Neither of us has seen Lithuania, but we’ve met people from there and Latvia on cruises.
Originally, I was planning for us to go to Helsinki and do a land based trip, then go by ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, stay a few days, and work our way south to Latvia and Lithuania, before flying back. Then I started researching and discovered, there’s no easy way to travel to Latvia and Lithuania that doesn’t involve riding a bus. We considered renting a car, but that seemed potentially risky.
So then I thought, maybe instead of trying to hit the Baltic capitals, I could go west. Visit Finland, do a day trip in Tallinn, then head west toward Norway, which we know we love. Then I thought, maybe it would be better to start in Norway, and head east to Finland, then go to Tallinn and spend a night or two…
Then I realized how expensive flights would be… plus the stress and inconvenience involving finding transportation, hauling bags, and booking hotels… and although I’d already looked for cruises and initially didn’t see any I liked, I kept getting ads for Regent Seven Seas on Facebook. And Regent is– or was– considered a luxury line, although it’s a much bigger ship than we usually go for when we cruise.
I noticed they had a cruise available during the time we plan to travel. It starts June 23 and ends June 30, and hits ports in Sweden, Helsinki, Estonia, Latvia, and Denmark. We could still go to Norway and do a land based trip, working our way to Stockholm, a city we’ve been to, but didn’t really get to explore at all in 2009. Best of all, the cruise in question is on sale. It’s still expensive, but doable for us. We wouldn’t even have to stay in the cheapest stateroom. I pitched the idea to Bill, who liked it.
I started making a booking request. It took about a half dozen times to finally get registered. I mismatched my email address, or added one too many dots in the address, or the passwords didn’t match. Finally, I had my account, and started to make the request.
But the stateroom I wanted was listed as twice as expensive than was advertised. While we technically could do it, I’d rather spend that much money on a new car or a down payment on a house. So I stopped making the request, and sent an inquiry to Regent, asking them to confirm that the cruise is on sale.
About an hour later, I got a phone call through my iPad, which I wasn’t prepared to answer, as I was reading something to Bill. I also got a message, written in German, indicating that the cruise is on sale, and inviting me to call between 11am and 8pm today. I sent a message back in English, asking if I have to call to get that rate, and clarifying that I’m American and can’t speak German worth a damn. 😉
Then I went on Cruise Critic and started reading reviews and comments on the messageboards. The consensus is, the ship I’m looking at booking is beautiful, although Regent has “gone downhill” in recent years. Bill and I have done cruises on Royal Caribbean, SeaDream, and Hebridean Island Cruises. SeaDream and Hebridean, like Regent, are considered luxury and are all inclusive. However, they are much smaller ships. So Regent would be a different cruise experience for us, and it would offer some convenience, as we’d be hitting places we want to visit– albeit for a shorter time than we would personally plan for ourselves.
I truly am attracted to the cruise because of the itinerary and the time the cruise is going. I don’t have particularly high expectations of great service or being treated like royalty. A cruise just offers a convenient way to cross some items off our bucket list.
On the other hand, I was kind of looking forward to a deeper dive into the areas, and exploring more on our own. Also, there’s less chance of running into people with whom we don’t mesh when we do land based trips, or getting sick from any number of viruses on ships. I like to plan trips and look for interesting places to stay. I guess the pre cruise travel to Norway would offer that, but I was kind of wanting to get more of a feel for Finland.
Either way, this trip is going to be expensive. Good thing Bill got a generous raise this year. We do have the money, too… at least for the cruise. I’m just not used to having that, either… being somewhat well-heeled is kind of a new experience for us.
Sigh… a trip to Armenia would be a lot more economical. On the other hand, if I develop a bleeding stomach ulcer, I’d feel better about seeking treatment in a nordic country. 😉
This is truly a first world problem. I’m sure I should just go for it and see what happens. We’ve had some great times on cruises and made some friends. And a bonus is, since Regent ships are a lot bigger, there’s less chance I’ll get seasick this time.
We’ll see what happens. I may scrap the idea of the cruise. It is tempting, though… Regent is probably more comfortable than the Stockholm to Helsinki ferry.
Finally, it was Monday, the day we’d kind of been dreading. It was the reason we’d come to Stuttgart in the first place. At 3:00pm, we would be visiting our dentist, Dr. Blair, in downtown Stuttgart, for repairs and cleanings. After breakfast, we went back to the hotel room for a chat, and finally decided to go downtown at a little after 11:00am.
There was another reason to be a little worried about the day. Monday was the day transportation workers were on strike, protesting for more pay and better working conditions. That meant a lot of trains and planes would either not be going or were delayed. Since we were just going downtown, this issue didn’t affect us too terribly, but we did hear a lot of warnings about it.
We parked in the public garage close to Dr. Blair’s office and went searching for lunch. Stuttgart has a number of good restaurants, but not all of them are open for lunch, and quite a few of them take Mondays as their “Ruhetag” (quiet day off). I was wanting to try a different restaurant, too. We often end up eating in places near Dr. Blair’s office. I wanted to go somewhere else for a change, if only so I could report about it in my Facebook food and wine group. I like to be useful whenever possible.
After some time walking around downtown, we finally ended up at the Nesenbach Brauhaus, not far from the Stuttgart Markthalle. Although Bill and I have visited the Markthalle many times, we had never before dined at the Nesenbach Brauhaus. I wasn’t really wanting German food again, but time was getting short before our appointments and we needed to have lunch. Below are a few shots of beautiful downtown Stuttgart, including the festive Stuttgarter Markthalle…
The Nesenbach Brauhaus has a decent sized menu, which did include a lot of local Swabian inspired dishes. Naturally, there was beer, too, and other libations. We sat down at a corner table by a window, near a large group of ladies who were lunching. For lunch, I chose the “filled avocado”, which promised chicken and vegetables in avocado halves, drizzled with nuts and sweet chili sauce. I was a little hesitant about ordering the avocado, since sometimes “mixed vegetables” include mushrooms. But then, I reasoned, who puts mushrooms in avocados?
Bill ordered a “salad from the land and sea”, which included a small piece of salmon, a small piece of beef, Parma ham with melon, white asparagus, and greens. We were reasonably assured that his choice would be fungus free.
Well, the food came, and wouldn’t you know it? The avocado had mushrooms in it… We had to switch plates, because I can’t eat mushrooms. Fortunately, I liked the salad Bill ordered, even though it was quite an array of different things. I wouldn’t have necessarily thought to put melon and Parma ham with salmon and beef, for instance. Bill didn’t mind the avocado, although he said the mushrooms didn’t really go well, and the chili sauce was a little too cloying. Seems to me they should have paired the avocado with bacon or citrus, or something more like that. Oh well, at least it was an attractive presentation.
When we were finished eating, the waiter asked if we wanted anything else, like sweets or coffee. I just sort of smiled at him and, reading my mind, he said “Another beer?”
“Yes!” I enthused. “We have to see our dentist in an hour, and I want to be relaxed!”
The waiter laughed and brought me my suds, which I happily drank, then we paid the bill and walked to Dr. Blair’s office.
When we arrived, there was still a sign on the door requesting that everyone wear a face mask. However, most of the staff didn’t wear masks, and I noticed a number of patients weren’t wearing them, either. I suspect that by the time we see Dr. Blair again in the fall, the masks will be long forgotten. I know not everyone feels this way, but frankly, I hope that is what comes to pass.
After a short wait, I was invited to the treatment room. The assistant left me alone, and I decided I’d better go to the restroom before things got started. That was a good decision, even though she was waiting for me when I got back. I apologized, and Dr. Blair came in and commented, in German, that my filling was “kaput”.
“That doesn’t sound good.” I said.
He laughed and reminded me that the “kaput” filling was why I was there. Then, somehow, we ended up talking about our ancestries. When I told him I grew up near Williamsburg, Virginia, he said he had many relatives buried near there. I asked him if he was related to James Blair, who was a rector at Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg, and whose name is on a number of public buildings there. He said he didn’t know, but his grandmother– last name of Warren– was from there. And then I realized that he was named for his grandmother, as his first name is Warren.
So then, they put a dental dam in my mouth, which is kind of a foreign experience for me, as most dentists don’t seem to bother with it unless the work is extensive. I mentioned that I knew about dental dams, since I used to study public health, which naturally led to a brief discussion about how gay men used to use them during the height of the AIDS era to protect themselves when they engaged in oral sex. 😀 I swear, I’ve never had this kind of talk with any of my American dentists! But Dr. Blair is not constrained by American conventions! He did mention that back in the late 80s, he worked in San Francisco and knew a lot of gay men who had lost people to AIDS. It was definitely a challenging time for his career.
As I tried to hang in there during the repair of my baby tooth, it occured to me that I am lucky to have such a skilled dentist. And I’m lucky that we can afford to see him on a regular basis, even though using a dental dam was vaguely kinky. It was a big relief when he was finished. Then, after another short wait, I was invited to get my cleaning done by the hygienist. She did an especially thorough job. I left the office with a noticeable brighter smile, although half of my mouth was very numb.
Bill’s cleaning went similarly well. Then he went in to get his filling repaired, as it had a tiny sliver missing. Dr. Blair said, “I don’t even need to numb you for this. It won’t take twenty minutes to fix this.”
Bill thought to himself, “Sez you…” but really, he didn’t require any novocaine. Dr. Blair worked his magic, and we were soon on our way back to the Wald Hotel’s bar. We’ll be back to see. Dr. Blair in early October. I will have to find a fun place to visit in the fall! We don’t need to stay in Stuttgart for that visit, since there’s no work planned.
While we were sitting in the bar, the lady from Vermont and her son came back. She said they’d buried her father that morning. They had a taxi coming, as she had plans that evening. During the day, they went to Ludwigsburg and visited the palace (a place I still haven’t seen), and her son, who is an arborist, found a reflective jacket that isn’t available in the United States. He said he managed not to buy the matching pants! The duo said they’d be flying back home on Wednesday, after a day trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a place we last visited in January 2018.
We decided to have a light dinner, so we wouldn’t be starving on Tuesday morning. I had a burger and fries, and Bill had soup. In retrospect, I probably should have had the soup, too. The burger came huge, on a pretzel hamburger roll. I liked the roll and the fries, but the burger patty was “machine molded and compressed”, which seems to be what Germans prefer, as opposed to hand formed. Hand formed patties are not so tightly packed, so they are juicier and lighter.
The patty was also seasoned, so that it kind of reminded me more of sausage. I like my ground beef “natur”, as the locals would put it. And finally, there were tons of condiments on the burger! Like– a really thick smear of mayo, a bunch of onions and tomatoes, and lettuce. My mouth was still pretty numb, but even if I hadn’t been, I couldn’t open it wide enough to bite into the burger, which was dripping mayo all over the place. I ended up having to eat it with a knife and fork, and finally gave up about halfway through.
Ah well… it wasn’t the worst burger I’ve ever had. And it did the trick of preventing me from getting hungry before breakfast.
We went back to the room and watched some German TV. We landed on a show called First Dates, which was about Germans who went to a hotel near Amalfi, Italy, where they had dates with strangers. There were several contestants, but it looked like the gay couple was the only one that found love. They were sent to Mallorca for water sports, too. I’m guessing the specific water sports they enjoyed didn’t just involve Waveriders and surfboards. 😉 I do like how German shows are less about violence, and more about love. 😀
On Tuesday morning, we got up, packed our bags, hauled them to the car, and had breakfast. Bill had to park in the “Tiefgarage” (which costs money), because the free outside lot was full of expensive cars for the businessmen who had converged on the hotel Monday afternoon. I was admiring my new white smile as Bill settled the bill, which was about 2500 euros. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but consider that we were staying in the suite, and we ate and drank a lot at the hotel. It’s still less than what we spent at Bareiss last fall, too.
Now that we’ve stayed in the suite, I can also say that I don’t really think I’ll need to book it again. I might go for the junior suite, which I think is a better room for us. Or, I might just go back to the superior room, which is a lot cheaper and has a really fabulous shower with mood lighting. 😀
Our drive home was kind of frustrating. There was an accident, so of course there was a lengthy Stau. But we managed to get home by the early afternoon, even after enjoying lunch at a NordSee in a rest stop. I resisted the urge to buy one of those obnoxious signs I noticed on the way down to Stuttgart on Friday. But maybe I’ll see if I can find one on Amazon.de, which would spare me some embarrassment. One other byproduct of our trip is a nasty cold sore, which I think was caused by stress. Either that, or Aunt Flow is about to visit for the first time in months.
As for Noyzi… he came through our short break just fine. Bill said he had to wait a bit before the clients ahead of him were finished getting their dog. When Noyzi finally came out of the pension, he almost knocked Bill over with a literal hug. I almost wish I’d been there to see that!
Anyway, so ends my latest series… Now it’s time to plan a real vacation in a country other than Germany! We might have to bring out the champagne bucket to help us make our choice. I look forward to making the decision soon!
After we dined at O Cafe Central for lunch, Bill and I went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and get a cab to the airport. I could hear Bill talking to the concierge guy, who asked where we were from. Bill said he’s from Texas, which is kind of true, since he’s spent more of his life there than anywhere else (but since he’s a military guy, that’s not saying much). The concierge guy beamed at him and said, “Ah! That’s where Mr. Bush is from!”
It turned out the guy was from the Turkish part of Kurdistan. The war in Iraq was a good thing for the Kurds, who finally got rid of Saddam Hussein. Many Kurds think of George W. Bush as a hero. I know a lot of people hate former President Bush. Personally, I don’t think he was any better or worse than a lot of presidents. Yes, America took a downturn when he was in office, but there’s plenty of blame to go around for that. At any rate, Bill’s conversation with that gentleman was a reminder that perspective is everything. Not everyone thinks the Iraq War was a disaster and not everyone thinks George W. Bush is the son of Satan.
Our cab ride back to the airport was slightly less expensive than the ride into Hamburg was, probably because the cab out used a fixed rate. For those who are thrifty minded, there is a train that will take you to and from the airport from Hamburg as well. We probably could have just as easily done that, since we had only small backpacks with us. But the cab ride gave me a chance to see more of the city and take a photo of a classic Mini Cooper!
You don’t see many of these anymore!
Compared to checking in and getting through security at Stuttgart, getting through Hamburg’s security was a breeze. We dropped my bag with Air Berlin, then took all of two minutes to get through the security line. Then we found a little cafe where we sampled a couple more of Hamburg’s beers and I paid five euros for an hour of Internet access. I would have just used my regular cell phone, but I let the battery die and the SIM card locked. And then I couldn’t remember the stupid code to unlock it.
The McDonald’s at the Hamburg Airport has a nice play area!
Flensburger Weissbier and a Pils… Nice diversion while we waited for our quick flight back to Stuttgart.
Our flight was perfect, other than my unfortunate decision not to pee one last time before we took off. By the time we were airborne, I was in agony. But once I had a good whiz, all was well. And then as we got off the plane, we were presented with yummy Air Berlin chocolates. Any airline that rewards me with decent chocolate upon landing gets my vote.
All in all, we had a great time in Hamburg. I wish we’d managed to get to a museum or something, but just the people watching and food was enough to make me want to go back. Better yet, the city is quite affordable, much moreso than Munich was (at least in our experience). I recommend Hamburg. If we have a chance to get back there, we’ll make a point of seeing and doing more and eating and drinking less…
We drew from the champagne bucket last night and the winner was Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. Guess that’s where we’re going next!
for a Hamburger today…Last night, Bill brought me the champagne bucket. As I wrote in the blog post I just linked to, sometimes we use the bucket to help us decide where to vacation. Martin Luther King weekend is coming up. Bill arranged for a couple of extra days off. We put the names of certain cities in the bucket and I had Bill draw. He ended up picking Hamburg. I don’t know if that means we’ll be eating hamburgers, though.
I’m actually kind of excited to go to Hamburg, even though it means we won’t be leaving Germany for this trip. I have never been to Hamburg before or really anywhere in northern Germany. We have been to Cologne, but that’s a bit south of Hamburg. Our trip through Berlin doesn’t count, since that was just to change planes. Incidentally, Berlin was also a possibility.
I look forward to seeing what Hamburg looks like and eating some good fish. Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and is considered a gateway to Europe. A lot of cruises leave and end there, too, so being familiar with Hamburg could prove useful if we decide to take another cruise while we’re here.
We got a non-stop flight on Air Berlin that will have us in Hamburg in just over an hour. I also scored us a nice room at the Sofitel. I asked Bill how much he wanted to spend. He didn’t know, so I budgeted $1000. We came in under that until I opted to add insurance in case we have to change our plans. I doubt we’d need to, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe and it was less than $50. We could have spent less money on a cheaper property, but the savings would have been minimal. The airfare used more than half of the $1000. I gave thought to using a train, but it would have been a long ride. With only three nights, we didn’t want to waste time on the train.
Interesting that we are going to Hamburg. Just the other day at The Auld Rogue, we overheard the barkeep talking to a customer who said he was going to be moving to Hamburg. The bartender then said Hamburg is a great city– one of his favorites for the bars alone. This could turn out to be an interesting trip.
So stay tuned. Pretty soon, I’ll be posting about another trip!
The champagne bucket pictured above was a wedding present from one of my husband’s relatives. In the past, we’ve used it for chilling wine. Last year, it became useful for another purpose. We now use it to help us decide where we’ll travel next.
Bill and I have many places on our bucket list. It can be difficult to make a firm decision about where to go next. Last year, when we decided to go to Italy and Greece, we did so with the help of the champagne bucket. Since we had a pre-booking for SeaDream that we needed to use, I wrote down the names and dates of four cruises that were in our price range and occurred at a time during which Bill could more likely get off work. I cut the names into small pieces and folded up the papers, then put them in the champagne bucket. I shuffled them around and got Bill to choose. The May 11th Rome to Athens cruise won!
We’ve taken to doing this whenever we’re too overwhelmed with choices and can’t decide what to do next. It’s sort of exciting to pick vacations this way, since it’s kind of reminiscent of Germanwings’ blind booking deal. We’ve done “blind bookings” with Germanwings three times. Basically, what it means is you pick a group of cities you wouldn’t mind traveling to. You pay extra to eliminate any cities you don’t want to see. Pay your fare. Then you find out where your next vacation is! It’s a lot of fun to travel this way, especially since most European cities are a treat to visit. We saw Barcelona, London, and Munich by doing blind bookings.
The champagne bucket is somewhat different in that it’s not really binding when we make our choices. But it’s still exciting to find out where we’re going next instead of trying to pick one place over another.
I broke out the champagne bucket the other day because we were talking about where our next trip might be. Bill chose “river cruise”, which means that if Hebridean Island Cruises offers river cruises on Royal Crown in 2014, we may be aboard. On the other hand, a lot depends on what happens next year as Bill makes his transition out of the Army and into the civilian sector. We may decide to just stay home next year or go somewhere stateside.
Of course, we’re also very attracted to the concept of barging in Europe. We were leaning toward Ireland, but after watching some intriguing videos of barging in France, we may opt to go there. Bill loves France, even if he is very Irish.
I think it would be a dream come true if Bill got another job in Europe… I can dream, can’t I?