05/05/12 Linda and I left for our European cruise this morning. Ben Domurat picked us up at 6:00 am and took us to the airport. We boarded American Airlines and headed for New York JFK Airport flying on a Boeing 767 airplane which was quite comfortable. We arrived around 4:30 pm and left for Paris France around 5:45 am. We flew for 9 hours into the evening of the next day.
05/06/12 This plane was also a Boeing 767 but older with very uncomfortable hard seats. It was a gruesome long ordeal but listening to an audible book made the time go faster. We arrived in Paris, France around 7:30 am and caught our bus connection to Rouen, France, a seaport harbor about 2.5 hours northwest from the airport. The country was very green and pretty. The brilliant yellow Rape Seed fields from which they make canola oil were especially pretty. We arrived at our cruise ship the "Azamara Journey" around 11:00 am and got checked into the ship with some difficulty as the new French employees on this cruise were all inexperienced. We were very happy with our room which was very comfortable and had a outside patio. We unpacked and slept for about 3 hours until safety orientation time and dinner. We met our traveling companions Conrad and Kathy Evans. We had dinner together with two other couples, one from Seattle area and one from Atlanta, Georgia. The first sit down meal was to die for. I had a cold appetizer smoked duck with mandarin oranges and cherry sauce, lobster bisque soup, and an oriental pasta dish with delicious huge grilled prawns. For dessert I had a blueberry, raspberry crepe with vanilla gelato on it. Yum Yum. After dinner we went to the room and from the patio watched the scenery as we cruised west on the Seine River to sea and the English Channel.
05/07/12 After a smooth night of sailing across the English Channel, we arrived in Portland, England this morning around 7:00 am. Had a nice breakfast in the dinning room at 8:00 am. We all got on our tour bus for an excursion to Corfe Castle in scenic Dorset County. The ride through the country side to the castle was beautiful farm country and some mixed forest land. We needed a rain coat as it was raining quite hard when we got to the 1000 year old castle. It was actually a ruin but still very impressive. The castle was partly destroyed by Oliver Cromwell's army during the English civil war. There were hundreds of volunteers on the castle grounds staying in tents, in very authentic looking costumes doing a reenactment of olden times. I enjoyed photographing the site a lot. Had another wonderful dinner in the dining room tonight with 4 couples total. This ship has open seating for dinner and you can request to be with other couples at random. We have done this every night so far on our cruise and have found our dinner companions to be very friendly and engaging people. For appetizers I had a cauliflower puree with caviar and a pear coulis. The veal chop I had tonight was the best I have ever had. It was served with a delicious brown sauce, fresh horseradish, wild mushrooms, and bacon spiked brussel sprouts. After dinner we attended a show put on by a female singer named Helen Jane who sang mostly English theatre show music. She was very engaging and put on a very nice show.
05/08/12 We had sun at sea today but the waves were at 45 degrees causing a peculiar rocking motion on the ship. Linda and I both survived without getting ill. Had breakfast at the Sunset buffet today. It was excellent especially the serve to order egg and omelet bar. We arrived in Waterford, Ireland about 12:00 pm and the ship set anchor. We took a tender into town around 1:30 pm and got on our excursion tour bus for Rural Ireland and Jerpoint Abbey about 70 miles on very windy narrow farm roads. The farm land country side was very green and beautiful. Many small towns were also quite scenic. The 1000 year old Jerpoint Abbey was very impressive and we had a very entertaining guide for the tour. The bus tour guide was also quite good. She gave us a run down of the country's financial state and it was very dismal indeed sounding worse than what we have in the US. Got back to the ship around 5:30 pm. Dinner tonight was beef fillet and lobster which I had too much of. I asked for an additional serving of lobster and the accommodating waiter brought me equivalent to two servings of which I ate it all. I tried every one's desert really porking out tonight.
05/09/12 Woke up very sore and somewhat hung over this morning. Our scheduled stop into the Isles of Scilly, England was cancelled because of extreme gale force winds and heavy rain. Instead the ship sailed to Falmouth, England a pretty town located at the mouth of the Falmouth river. We all decided to walk about a mile up a steep hill to Pendennis Castle. The weather was cool and cloudy. I sure would not want to live here permanently. The lack of sun would be so depressing. Enjoyed the castle tour and returned back to the ship for lunch. Had dinner at our usual time 6:00 pm as the ship left port. The seas immediately became quite high and several people near us including me rushed to take motion sickness pills. It remained rough for most of the night, but being in bed helped a lot and neither I or Linda got sick.
05/10/12 We arrived in St. Malo, France this morning around 6:15 am. A beautiful port but no sun yet. If you like warm weather this is not the time of year to do this cruise as I have been cold most of the time since arriving in Europe. If you're used to cold weather like from the mid west or Canada then yes this may be a good time to come. Linda and I took a scenic tour to Mont Saint-Michel Abbey about 1-1/3 hours away from the ship port. It is located in the area of Brittany. We took the freeway to the Abbey. It was located on an island and filled the entire Island. We walked about 1 mile up and into the Abbey which included a city on the lower level. The place was truly amazingly beautiful and an architectural marvel. Linda and I were very impressed with 2nd most popular tourist attraction in France.
05/11/12 We arrived in St. Peter Port on the Island of Guernsey this morning around 7:30 am. This is the home of the Guernsey cow where excellent butter is produced. The Germans occupied this island during world war two. My muscles felt very sore this morning probably due to over exertion, cold weather, and my MS disease. I decided not to take my walking tour excursion to a castle and stayed on the ship to recover. Linda did the walking tour with Conrad and Kathy. I decided to have a massage in the ship's health spa to relieve the pain in my muscles. I decided on the 75 minute deep muscle massage, which turned out to be the best massage I had ever had. My masseuse was a girl from South Africa who was excellent. When I left that spa I had no pain in my muscles. When the rest got back from their tour, we all had a quick lunch at the ship buffet on the 9th level. Relaxed the rest of the afternoon sleeping and listening to "Uncle Tom's Cabin" on audible books on my iphone. Had another nice dinner with Conrad, Kathy, and a couple from Denton Texas. The man was an art and drama teacher witch really enticed Conrad's interest. I actually got them talking to us as they were sitting on a table next to us. The couple's hobby used to be raising mules. I must take a look at their web site; www.lovebigears.com . My Maryland crab cakes appetizer was excellent. The beef stroganoff was also very good. I had an exotic coffee cocktail with my chocolate desert. Conrad continues to have fun teasing our waiter Noel from the Philippines.
05/12/12 We arrived in Dover England the main entrance to England this morning about 7:30 am. We did two tours today; the first was to Canterbury Cathedral about 60 miles away. The town of Canterbury inner city was very charming, and picturesque loaded with many stylish shops and restaurants. It was Saturday and a local market was in progress with lots of great looking produce and flowers. The gem of the tour however was Canterbury Cathedral a huge and beautiful structure truly an engineering marvel for the time that it was built. The crypt area was huge and impressive where the famous beheaded Saint Thomas Becket was once laid to rest. A small museum filled with sterling silver and pewter items really something to see. Our English female guide on this tour was the best guide of the trip with incredible knowledge of England's history and also having a great sense of humor. She kept us all together very well and no one got lost on our bus. Four people were left behind on another bus and I never heard whether they got back to the ship in time or not. Kathy and Conrad were with us on both tours today. We both loved Canterbury and would highly recommend that anyone visiting England put this their itinerary. It is located about 45 miles from London. We got back to the ship around 1:00 pm; had a very fast lunch and got on another tour bus to Leeds Castle. We drove past the tunnel to France. The rolling hilly green country side here is very beautiful and the brilliant yellow Rape Seed fields were amazing. The castle grounds were beautiful, tranquil, and filled with many birds. The swans and peacocks were especially graceful and pleasing to the eye. The castle was in very good condition and completely lavishly furnished. It was a beautiful sunny day with broken clouds making it perfect for photography. Loved the moats, ponds, and small streams running around the property. Got back around 7:00 pm and immediately headed for the dining room for dinner. It was a long tiring day but really fun and once in a life time historic scenery now in our memories.
05/13/12 We arrived in Bruges (Zeebrugge), Belgium around 7:00 am on a sunny cloudless day. The sea port here is huge being one of Europe's largest products seaports. They have an extensive container transport and storage distribution center one of the largest most prosperous ports in the world. The ride through the rural very flat area had lots of agricultural dairy and sheep farms. It was very green and scenic. We did a scenic walking tour to Bruges a World Heritage City. Took a 30 min. bus ride through prosperous looking business and residential areas to get into the city. The city is very clean and prosperous looking. Many of the buildings are in excess of 1000 years old. The new buildings are designed to blend in well with the old. Their are canals running all through the main city area. We walked around about and hour with our very nice Belgium guide who pointed out many old buildings along with interesting history associated with them. We then did a 30 minute canal boat ride around the city. We then had an hour to roam around on our own. We were worried about getting lost, so we stayed relatively close to our meeting place. We did have lunch at a nearby brewery and restaurant which was very good. I had an excellent vegetable, cheese, beer soup and a very stout 11% alcohol beer which was taxed 21%. The food was only taxed 11%. Got back to the boat around 1:00 pm and worked on my diary and photos for a couple of hours. We attended dinner around 6:15 pm and request grouped seating getting a table for 8. We drew a couple from Savannah, Georgia and a couple from Dallas, Texas. It is very fun to socialize with two new couples every night. Up until this night the groups have been very compatible and everyone participated. Tonight the man,an ex airline pilot from Texas pretty much dominated the conversations. Fortunately he was smart, entertaining, and somewhat engaging with other people. The pork pate with reduced port wine sauce and the rack of lamb with grilled acorn squash was to die for tonight.
05/14/12 We arrived in Antwerp, Belgium about 9:30 am this morning. The port is up the river Scheldt a long ways. This city is rich, very industrial, with lots of oil refineries, and power plants including a nuclear one right on the river. Our tour today went to the Battle of Waterloo location about one hour from the city. It was not one of our better tours, but the guide was very informative with a great sense of humor. I had a wonderful local beer at the pub while waiting for the bus to leave. When we got back to the city Kathy, Linda, the Dallas man, and I walked a short distance down town to the market square to buy butter cookies and chocolates. Our guide gave us samples on the bus of the butter cookies with almonds that were to die for. I purchased $34 EU worth of these delicacies, discovering later that I should have bought more as I only had one small box for myself after dispensing some of the candy as gifts. The inner city of Antwerp is very charming and a great place for photography. It was cocktail hour and many locals were eating and drinking at the outdoor restaurants enjoying the great weather we are having today. Conrad wanted to try one of the premium restaurants tonight so we dined at the Aqualina on the top deck 10 in the bow of the ship. The cuisine was contemporary American with a Mediterranean flair. I had Foie Gras with Port wine sauce. Lobster Bisque soup, Lobster Thermidor, and a Grand Marnier souffle for desert. It was all quite good and a restaurant with a real ambiance. Conrad, Kathy, and Linda were also impressed and were not disturbed to pay the extra $25 each.
05/15/12 In Antwerp, Belgium. We got on our tour bus at 9:00 am heading for a canal boat tour in the mid evil city of Ghent about one hour away. Fortunately the canal boats did have umbrella coverings as it rained hard the entire time on the 1 hour boat ride. The umbrellas had hydraulic lifts so they could be lowered when going under low bridges. The boats dropped us off at the inner city but it was pouring rain and hailing, so we immediately headed for a coffee shop staying in it during our one hour drop off. This is typical weather for this country. Got back to ship around 1:30 and had a light lunch. I slept for a couple hours and then did a steam bath in the spa. Had a fun dinner at 6:00 pm at a table with 4 couples. I then did e-mail and updated my diary.
05/16/12 We arrived in Amsterdam, Netherlands about 9:00 am. Holland appears to be very industrialized as we saw many shipping container ports and oil refineries along the Amstel River cruising into the city. Our excursion to the rural areas including some old windmills which were used to pump sea water out of the country. Apparently 40 - 50 % of the land in Holland is reclaimed land from the sea. This country has been very rich since the 17th century and is still doing better than most of Europe. The population density is about 8-10 times that of the USA. The Dutch use their lands very industriously and efficiently. The have no slums, one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, and a very low unemployment rate. The USA would do well to emulate them. They have very liberal social views most of which I agree with, to list a few; legal drugs, legal prostitution. I want to visit this country again visiting some museums and the city of The Hague. Our tour almost immediately got us out of the city into the pretty rural area. We first visited the little village and did a short 1.5 mile walk around the very narrow scenic streets, canals, historic houses, and churches. The weather was perfect in the low 60's with sun shinning through broken huge billowy clouds. We continued into and through small villages and farms on very narrow roads for a bus of the size we were in. Our guide was great as were most of the Azamara sponsored excursion guides. She had a very nice sense of humor, sometimes the jokes getting a bit seedy especially while viewing the red light district. At our furthermost point from Amsterdam we came to the old windmills that were used to pump ocean water to the seaside of the levies. We toured a working windmill which was very interesting and quite high tech for something designed and used in the 1700's. These windmills have mostly disappeared from Holland as the water is now pumped out using electrical pumps. Today the dikes and various levy water levels are all controlled by a computer network system. We then started backed towards Amsterdam visiting several small villages. Small farms and villages are everywhere. We returned to Amsterdam and were taken to a downtown shopping area where we were allowed one hour to shop. Linda and I mostly spent our time at the floating flower and bulb shops. We also stopped at 3 cheese shops tasting all the yummy cheeses. I purchase one large brick of Edam cheese totally covered in yellow wax. It was very good, but proved to be hard to cut because of that tough thick wax around the cheese. We then drove past several museums, government buildings, old churches, and past the red light district where you could see the madams displaying themselves in large bay windows. I got a couple photos from long distance. This tour was a long one 6.5 hours and we got back to the ship at 7:15 am and rushed to our last formal dinner in the main dinning room. We ate with our travel companions Conrad and Kathy. We could not get served by our favorite waiter Noel from the Philippines, but did walk over to his station to say good bye and give him an extra tip. All tips were included at 18% in our original price but Noel was special, especially to Conrad and Linda. Got to bed around 10:00 am after saying good bye to Conrad and Kathy.
05/17/12 In Amsterdam, Netherlands. We got up at 5:45 am to shower and breakfast in preparation for disembarkation. We left the ship at 7:15 am and got on our cruise company Azamara provided bus to the airport about 45 min. away. Our luggage had already been delivered and was all piled up at curb side. That luggage sitting there, unattended seemed very scary to me! We found our bags and entered the airport where I was able to get boarding passes using a compulsory electronic machine. Then we had to wait at least a half hour in line to check our luggage to the USA Atlanta, Georgia. Then a confusing 1/3 of a mile walk to the terminal for Delta and then security verbal screening and then the x-ray machines and then the most extensive pat down I have ever had. The Dutch seem to be more serious about security than the USA. The security is on a per gate basis and once in there a shortage of seating, no amenities except a bathroom. Got on the Delta plane finally and it left on time. 9.5 gruesomely long hours to Atlanta, Georgia. We had a 2 hour layover in Atlanta which Linda complained vociferously about. It turned out we needed all of this time. Going through customs was at least 45 minutes. Then our luggage had to be retrieved and rechecked. We then decided to walk to our gate, but after walking about 3/4 of a mile we realized it was perhaps 1/2 mile + to go and we only had 20 minutes. We got on an electric train and made it to the gate with less than 10 minutes to spare. Linda stopped complaining about the long lay over. Another 4.5 hours sitting on our butts to San Diego. We were awake now for 21 hours and I of course was really exhausted. Our friend George Humphrey picked us up at the airport and we arrived home around 7:00 pm.
The transportation to and from Europe was gruesome but in spite of that I loved our cruise in Europe with our friends Conrad and Kathy Evans and would not hesitate to book more similar sojourns in the future.