Cologne is a great place to walk and explore. I started my walk at the Cologne Cathedral, or Dom. I heard so many recommendations about it, I was sure it could not live up to the expectations, but it is an extraordinary building.
The size is so impressive, it is difficult to get a complete image to show all the details.
The Dom is next to the main train station, bridge and Rhine River, so easy access to some of the best places in Cologne. Here are my favourite sights from a walk along the river.
My visit to Wismar was part of the Mystery Cruise. Again, we did not know where we are going, but we were sailing very carefully through a narrow channel marked with buoys. The captain then turned the ship around in this very narrow space and backing the ship up into an even smaller docking area. the good news is that we were right in the centre of town. Very impressive!
The city centre had a farmers market and a very ornate fountain that was once the main source of water. This central plaza was also surrounded by buildings that represented various architectural styles.
Our send-off at the end of the day included a concert from a male chorus signing sea shanties and a gun salute.
Rostock was formerly part of East Germany and was important for ship-building during the Soviet era. The guide I had for this journey was from Rostock. He told several stories about what life was like before and after German reunification. One story he told was right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He and some friends decided to drive a town that had been on the opposite site of the border. The drive is about 100 kilometers. When they arrived and talked to some of the people there, he learned that, even though the towns were so close, no one knew about Rostock! I found this a fascinating insight to how little understanding there was about the what was on the other side of the Wall.
The central plaza of Rostock feels very modern. There is a light rail transit system that cuts through the plaza. The central fountain is surrounded by very modern statures representing Norse Gods. There was a a farmers market, selling fruits, vegetables and arts and crafts. Next to the market were several outdoor cafes, perfect for a coffee — or beer. I settled for an espresso, since it was still early in the morning for me.
Another feature that marked one side of the plaza was a large church. I spent a lot of time outside, watching the play of light on the structure. When I finally went inside, there were so many items to see, it felt like someone had just put everything they thought was important into the church, but there was no rhyme or reason. Nothing went together at all! I was very surprised to see an Egyptian obelisk and sphinx. Definitely not what one might expect in a Catholic Church.
Rostock is a lovely town to visit and I wish I had more time to really explore it more.
So, why would someone pay to go on a mystery cruise; get on a ship and head to ports unknown? Since I love to cruise, this sounded like an interesting opportunity to sail into, well, mystery! I’ve now done two of these cruises and both on the Braemar. I really like this ship. It is a smaller one and feels like family. It is very easy to sail solo and meet lots of friends on this ship.
On the first cruise, we sort of knew where we were going. The passengers were given a choice and we voted for one port or another — but we did not know where we were going until we got there! Here are the ports we visited:
The second mystery cruise was truly a mystery — one that would include only maiden ports (ports where our ship had never visited). It was very strange not to be able to plan or research the ports we were going to, nor to be able to know exactly what to pack — for warm or cold! The cruise was early May, so it was hard to plan for everything. It started in Dover and we waited to see if we would turn to go north … or south (or if we could even trust that, in the night, the ship would change directions!). As it turned out, we continued North and thus we began a cruise that went to Norway, Denmark, Germany and Sweden.
Our next stop on Braemar’s Maiden Calls Mystery Cruise was Wismar, Germany. We guessed that we would not be in Denmark again this day because we needed our passports with us. Most people guessed it would be Germany — I had stopped guessing! Watching as we sailed through a narrow channel marked only by buoys, I noticed the language and flags and could determine that yes, it was Germany — but where? We were pulling very close into a city. The ship even turned around and slide into a very narrow docking slip (great parking job!) and we were informed we were now docked in Wismar, Germany. It was an easy walk form the ship to the city centre.
I had opted for another tour. This is highly unusual for me, especially if we are dock within a quick walk to the city, but not knowing made me want to ensure I saw everything! The tour I picked today took me to two cities — Wismar and Rostock. So off we we went!
The central plaza of Wismar has a really nice market around the original source for water for the town. The building that protected this water source was very ornate and beautiful. There was also a number of buildings representing different architectural styles.
Then it was off to Rostock. This area was formerly part of East Germany and our guide, who was from Rostock, told us what it was like before and after German reunification. It was very interesting. He told of driving to the around 100 kilometers to closest town on the opposite side of the border and, when he told someone where he was from, they had never heard of Rostock! And yet, they were so close.
The central plaza of Rostock seemed a bit more modern — maybe it was because of the light rail transit system that lined one side of it. Or maybe it was the modern architecture that surrounded its central fountain. The sculptures were very modern representations of Norse Gods. There was a market here as well, selling fruits and vegetables as well as arts and crafts. there were also a number of outdoor cafes. I took advantage of this to get a nice espresso.
There was also a huge church. I went inside and was very surprised to see an Egyptian obelisk and sphinx as well as more typical iconography one might expect in a Catholic Church.
Back in Wismar, everyone was very friendly and gave advice on where to go for a nice walk into the city. As we left, a men’s chorus sang German shanty songs and we were sent off with a salute from a cannon and rifle volleys (I think they hit a seagull with the fist volley, as there were feathers flying!). It was a picture perfect day!
From May 5 to May 14, the Fred. Olsen Braemar was my home as I and my fellow passengers and the ship’s crew embarked on a mystery cruise to maiden ports — places that the Braemar had never been to before this cruise! Our starting port was Dover, but once we left, only the captain knew where we were headed (at least we hoped he knew where we were going!)
It was a mystery!
But now that it is over, sadly, I can share the wonderful places we visited! Here is the overview of where we went and how we got there.
We left Dover around 4:30 under clear skies and sailed 176 miles. We all made note that the ship turned north as we headed out (although that did not mean much as the captain could have easily turned us around in the middle of the night). But we were confident that we were not heading to Spain this time.
This was a sea day with partly cloudy skies. We sailed a distance of 285 miles and I did a load of washing since some of my clothes were a bit smokey from camping for a few days before getting on the ship (and yes, I will write about that adventure, too!). At night, it was our first formal night and the Captain told us all he would about the cruise and places we were going by saying, that only two people know where we are going, me and the Head Chef. And all I will say is this … it`s a mystery!
We arrive at our first mystery port. I am up early to watch us pull into port and to guess where we were. I saw a Norwegian flag, so I had the country — but no sign of where. The Captain finally announce that we were in Larvik, Norway! This would be my first time in Norway and it was a beautiful start to the day with clear skies and a light breeze. Distance sailed: 295 miles.
Watching us sail into our second port was overwhelming because it seemed that everyone who lived in the town we were going was out to greet us! They had lined the port and vessels of all kinds were sailing along side us, including a Viking ship! And this was all before 8 AM on a Sunday! At dockside, there was a Viking group doing battle and providing a honour guard for us as we departed the ship. Welcome to Hundested, Denmark! This was the warmest welcome I`ve ever had while sailing and I will never forget it. All Hail! Distance sailed: 200 miles.
Watching us pull into port, I was confused at first because I thought I saw a Swedish flag, however we were back in Denmark — this time is was Nyborg, Denmark. This is a beautiful town and, while we were docked in an industrial area, a shuttle bus took us to the town centre close to the Nyborg Castle and other sites. The people were friendly and helpful in showing us places to go and things to do. It was another beautiful day! Distance sailed: 100 miles.
Sailing into our next port was very interesting, as we seemed to have a very narrow channel to navigate, marked by bouys. Once near the town, the ship was turned around and slide into a narrow docking space. We were docked very close to the centre of Wismar, Germany. It was an easy walk into the town that has an interesting collection of architectural styles. It is also a quick drive to Rostock, another German town along the coast. Again, it was easy to get information and people were so welcoming and willing to help. as for our send off — we had a men`s choir singing Germany shanty songs and a group of men wearing uniforms from different periods who, with the addition of a small cannon, gave us a gun salute as we left! Distance sailed: 109 miles.
We really had no clue where we would be next, of course. All through the cruise, there were people playing various guessing games and a lot of us checking the atlas in the library (which went missing one night). I finally figured out that I could at least find out the country by checking what flag we were flying. But that is as good as it got for my guessing game. Where do we sail this day? We were back in Denmark in Fredericia. Our welcome this time wasa marching band! There were also bikes we could rent and a tourist train that would take us the short distance from the port to the town centre. A short drive from the town is a Viking site, Kongernes Jelling. Distance sailed: 163 miles.
Sailing into our final mystery port was interesting. It did not look like there was anything there except very large rocks — granite is important to this area, as we would soon learn. The biggest clue as to where we were was the ABBA music playing at we docked. We were in Lysekil, Sweden. This area is dotted with small fishing villages, beautiful scenery and Bronze Age rock carvings. There are seals close to the harbour as well. The weather was again perfect — as it had been the whole trip. As we left the port, we had to check in with immigration and verify our passports. It was nice to have such friendly immigration officials to talk to (and even joke around with). As we sailed out of port both tourist guides and immigration officials were all dancing to ABBA. Distance sailed: 214 miles
The mystery was over and it was time to sail back to Dover — our final port. It was a great trip and I would do this again! Distance sailed: 329 miles.
I love sailing on the Braemar! Everyone is friendly — from crew to the passengers. There are great places to sit and relax throughout the ship, which is one of the things I really enjoy.
Museum Island in Berlin is a a collection of five world-class museums. They include the Pergamon Museum, Bode Museum , Alte Nationalgalerie, and Altes Museum . You can also visi the Berlin Cathedral, also known as the Berlin Dome. I do not think you could see all of them in one day. I was on a tour that started at the Berlin Dome. It included sitting in the Royal Box and hearing a recital played on the large pipe organ. The sound in the building is incredible. It was truly a magical experience. In the 2014 A to Z Challenge, I wrote a more detailed description of the Berliner Dome.
From the Berlin Dome, we walked across the island to the Pergamon Museum.
The Pergamon Museum is famous for Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate, the Processional Way, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Museum of Islamic Art. Because of renovations, the Pergamon Altar will be closed until 2025, but the rest of the museum will be open, including the Ishtar Gate.
The Ishtar Gate is massive and it was hard to get the entire piece in one photograph, but I was able to show a bit of the scale of the piece and some of the details in the mosaic.
Ok, I could have used B for Barcelona, but if I did that, I would be writing this post until the A to Z Challenge was long finished. So, to keep it simple and share something different.
So welcome to Berlin and the Berliner Dom.
On my trip last year to Berlin, I got to take in a nice treat — an organ concert in the Berliner Dom, or the Berlin Cathedral. It is located on Museum Island in the heart of Berlin. This massive structure boasts one of the world’s largest pipe organs. To hear the concert, we got to sit in the Royal Gallery — high above the main floor. To access to the gallery, we used the Monarch’s staircase. The music from the pipe organ was incredible, especially being able to listen to is from the Royal Gallery.
The building itself is beautiful and can be a nice peaceful retreat during a hectic day of visiting Berlin. There are a number of different tours, including a walk to the dome, which has its own fabulous view of Berlin.
Day 6: Berlin the Second Capitol in my Tour of European Capitols
Our first port of call was Warnemunde. The weather predictions were for a high of 11 C and 70% chance of rain. Since Berlin is a 3 hour train ride from Warenmunde, we hoped that the weather would be a little warmer and a little drier. It wasn’t – good think I had opted for museum tours!
The train we took was booked by Celebrity, so it went straight to Berlin with no stops. Along the way, we were offered coffee, tea, juice and a snack. Very civilized and relaxed! We arrived at the Tiergarten rail station, which is also the closest station to the zoo, not that we were going there. We got on a bus and headed into the city for a brief tour. We drove through part of the Teirgarten (not the Zoo part) and on our way, we saw the Victory Statue, the Reichstag (new parliament buildings), and lots of construction for an extension of their underground Metro. Our first stop was Schloss Charlottenburg, a large summer built for Sophie Charlotte, the wife Friedrich III (aka the First King of Prussia).
We then headed to museum island which is where we spent most of our day in Berlin. Our lunch was served at the café of the National Museum (white asparagus soup, paprika chicken with mashed potatoes and a vegetable ragout, and apple strudel and, of course a choice of beer or wine and coffee with dessert).
We then went to the Berliner Dom which was built during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II from 1894 to 1905. We were escorted to the Kaiser’s Lodge where we were given an introduction to this amazing building. Then came the highlight – an organ concert on the largest pipe organ (it has 7,269 pipes, 113 stops, and 4 manuals). The organist played Bach’s Toccata d-Moll BWV 565, Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March, and Boellmann’s Suite gothique op. 25 Priere a Notre-Dame & Toccata. It was amazing to hear – and feel – this music played in such a remarkable space. We got to meet and thank the organist as we left the church.
Our next stop was the Pergamon Museum. This was one of the things I was looking forward to – seeing the Pargamon Altar and the collections from Babylon, including the Procession Way and the Ishtar Gate, and other very impressive archeological finds from Syria, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. I love the artwork, the colours and the massive size of these pieces. It was everything I wanted and more!
Upon leaving the museum, the rain was coming down and I could no longer ignore it, even if I tried. Fortunately, the rest of our journey was the second half of the city tour. We saw the Brandenburg Gate, The Holocaust Memorial, 3 Opera Houses, the Franzosischer and the Deutscher Doms, Topography of Terror, including a section of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and a portion of the Eastside Gallery (a part of the Berlin Wall that is covered in artwork). If this sounds like a long day – it was. A month would barely give you time to see things in Berlin. But it was a nice introduction to a place I want to come back to see and experience in more detail.
But now, it was back to the train and our trip “home.” This time, we got the added bonus of beer or wine along with our snack. It was a good thing, because we did not pull back into port until 10:30 and the dining room was now closed – not that I needed to eat any more!
So, I got into some dry clothes and headed up to the Reflections bar, which has a dance floor and great views from the front of the ship. We were supposed to leave port at 11:59, but because of high winds, they delayed leaving until 2 AM.
This is where I decided I found my perfect bartender for this cruise. You see, I scout the bars for the one of two bartenders who make me laugh, make a good drink, and simply appear that they also like the job they are doing. I have a great time talking to them, learning about where they are from, and I feel special because they start to know the types of drinks I like. This one is from Anatolia, Turkey and is one of the flair bartenders. He just always seems to be having fun. It helps that he is a bit of a flirt as well! I also saw the other Canadian librarian who is from Calgary. We had a nice time talking and when the DJ started playing good salsa music … I had to dance!