Monday, October 22, 2018

Liberty of the Seas Review - 21 October 2018

Liberty of the Seas Review  

October 21, 2018

Just The Facts
Ship:  Liberty of the Seas
Sailing:  October 21, 2018
Captain:      Cruise Director: Marc
Ports: Galveston - Isla Roatan, Honduras - Belize City, Belize - Ilsa Cozumel, Mexico - Galveston
Weather:  Very nice typical fall Caribbean weather

This is my 4th time on the Liberty of the Seas, 27th Royal Caribbean cruise, and my 138th cruise overall.  I am sailing solo. I only booked a few days before sailing and it was a good value, enough that I had to do it.

Day One—Sunday—Embarkation
I have enjoyed the leaving later and arriving later at the pier scenario on previous Galveston cruises so did so again.  There are so many VIP’s that it now actually creates problems at embarkation…so the later arrival is a much smoother process. I left the ranch about 7:45 am and headed south to Galveston arriving at EZ Cruise parking about 12:30 and I was shuttled over to the Liberty of the Seas fairly quickly. I was after the initial boarding rush and zipped through security and check in and was on board about 1:15 pm. Arriving after 1:00 pm  allows you to go directly to the cabin.  After dropping my bag I went up to the Windjammer and this too is an ideal time as most tables are full of guests until the cabins open so there were a lot of available tables at 1:30 pm.  I had Roast Beef from the carving station and a plate of Cuban Chicken, Green Beans, and Mashed Potatoes.  Then a selection of desserts as I visited with with a Matre’d about the specialty dining packages.  I actually decided to do the Ultimate Dining Package that includes all three premium dining rooms for both dinner and lunch.  This will be different but as a solo a good time to try the new concept.  I will let you know how this goes during the week in this review.  Since I rolled on my bag at embarkation I went back to the cabin to get set up for the week.  I have a interior mid-ship on deck 2, not my favorite location but it was only cabin available with my late booking.  There is a lot of room and storage especially for just one guest. I purchase the surf Zoom internet package ($55 with discount) but not working well so far.  Safety drill began about 3:30 pm.  My muster station is C12 located outside on deck 4 but I checked-in then sat in the lounge.  After dismissal it was easy to walk down the stairs to deck 2, easy as all the elevators were packed as usual after drill.  I finished cabin set up and about 5:00 I went up to the Diamond Lounge on deck 14 that also took up all of the Olive & Twist Lounge.  Beautiful views as we were sailing away from Galveston along with the Carnival Vista.  The Cosmopolitans made by Michael and Hugh from Jamaica were very interesting.  The Captain even came by and greeted all the Diamond guests.  I met some regulars and another travel agent with the same offer I have on this cruise.  About 8:00 pm I went down to Chops Grill on deck 11 for dinner.  They have a great menu and good variety of appetizers and desserts that I will have the opportunity to try this week.  I ordered the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail and the large NY Strip Steak.  Excellent.  I passed on dessert as the steak was so filling.  I returned to the cabin went straight to sleep after a busy and satisfying day.

Day Two—Monday—at Sea
Rolling seas although my location has the least movement on the ship. It was a very restful night.  The weather is beautiful today with blue skies and scattered clouds.  I slept very well until 9:00 am in my nice dark interior cabin then went up to the Windjammer for a light breakfast about 10:00 am  I two small fried Eggs on toast and fruit.  I met my cabin steward Ruel from the Philippines and explained my ice needs and he soon brought a robe and some D+ goodies.  I worked on this review and caught up on some scores and NCAA rankings on the internet.  At 1:00 pm I went to Sabors fine Mexican food on deck 4 aft.  I ordered the Guacamole and bacon-wrapped stuffed Jalapeños as starters and the Barbacoa Tacos.  They served Caja De Dulces for dessert, my favorites were the flan, chocolate banana chimichangas, and crème brûlée.  DW would have loved the chocolate crepes.  It was siesta time following that lunch, but I walked the Lido deck on the way back and the pool areas were very busy and active.  Great weather and everyone happy.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Brilliance of the Seas - Transatlantic Cruise - September 2018

Brilliance of the Seas - Transatlantic Cruise September 2018

Just the Facts:
Embarkation: Amsterdam, Netherlands -  September 1, 2018
Ports: Waterford (Dunmore) Ireland - Dublin, Ireland - Belfast, Northeren Ireland - Cork (Cobh), Ireland - Ponta Delgata, Azores - and Tampa, Florida.
Ship Launched:  December 1, 2001  -  Capacity:  2500 guests  -  Tonnage: 90,090 GT

We are in Amsterdam at the end of our European Adventure so no travel needed.  I’m cruising with my Dear Wife (DW) and good cruise friends.  This is my first time on the Brilliance of the Seas, my 26th Royal Caribbean cruise, 7th Transatlantic, and 137th cruise overall. 

Day One  -  Amsterdam  -  Embarkation  /  Saturday - September 1st
Hotel in Amsterdam
I slept well at our hotel in Amsterdam and enjoyed a nice Dutch breakfast, breads, cereals, cold meats & cheese, boiled eggs, jams & jellies, etc. about 9:30 this morning. Our group checked out at 11:00 am and we used an Uber (limo van as it turned out) ride to the cruise terminal (€14) arriving by 11:30.  I need to begin using Uber when available. At the Cruise facility we proceeded through the check-in area, security, then customs control as we progressed to boarding the ship.  We were offered a glass of champagne as we came aboard…very nice.  We sat & visited in a Centrum lounge until they opened cabins at 1:00 pm.  We then dropped carry-ons and up to the Windjammer for lunch.  The Roast Beef on the carving station as usual on embarkation day was very good.  Boat/ Safety Drill was held about 4:30 pm and following that our bags began to arrive at the cabin.  We unpacked and it will be very nice to have the same cabin and bed for 16 days following our extensive European travels.  DW and the GF’s went to the Diamond Lounge that took up all of the Colony Club lounge on deck six aft.  It was really packed with guests. I stayed in the cabin and watched the opening game of my Oklahoma Sooners.  They looked great for early season.  I was beginning to feel a little weak and I think I got one of those common 24hr. bugs…so I skipped dinner and went to bed by 9:30 following the game.  We did set our clocks back one hour for the first time of this voyage.  It was an easy embarkation day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Two  - at Sea -  Monday - September 2nd

I slept fair and it was nice to sleep until 8:00 am.  We will enjoy having no real schedule for the next 16 days. DW ordered Room Service which is her usual cruising morning ritual.  I had her order some fruit for me and that was good as I didn’t feel like going to breakfast this morning.  I rested until 1:00 pm then went to the Windjammer for some food...I tried to eat light.  We then had to take our passports to Irish Customs to get a stamp to simplify tomorrows arrival.  I enjoyed our balcony cabin and updated this review and checked other football scores.  I took another long nap the rest of the afternoon/evening then about 8:00 pm I went up to the Windjammer for sirloin steak that is usually served on Royal Caribbeans first formal night…it was very good and I felt like Popeye eating his spinach…first steak this Texas boy has had in 18 days and I honestly began to immediately feel better.  Really...so I had another, then one more small one.  Still taking it easy so back to the cabin as we have an early excursion tomorrow but felt fine by bed time. Bug eliminated with rest.  It was a very much needed restful day for me on the Brilliance of the Seas.

 Day Three  - Waterford, Ireland -  Monday - September 3rd
Alive and well  at  Kilkenny Castle Ireland
Slept well and great weather clear and only in the high 60’s today.  Our first port of call is Waterford, but we actually tender into Dunmore just east of Waterford.  We have the Castles & Crystal tour booked so we went to the theater at 8:45 to meet group and we were soon off on Bus #9.  The tour guide was Liam and he was a cracker.  Full of knowledge and very entertaining.  We drove 45+ minutes through beautiful country side to Kilkenny and our first stop Kilkenny Castle.  The castle dates from 1195 and had been improved, sat in ruins twice, and improved again over the years.  It is now owned by the local authority and has been wonderfully restored as a historical site and more for the town of Kilkenny.  We then walked through the old town of Kilkenny on our way to our pub lunch at Langton’s Bar.  Langton’s was an interesting place with both large modern dining facilities and an old fashioned small pub.  Lunch was good, the choice was chicken or bacon, I took the bacon knowing it would be ham served with mashed potatoes and chopped broccoli.  Dessert was choice of cheesecake or ice creme and I again made the better selection (luck this time) of ice creme as it was a huge slice of ice creme pie with several flavors and caramel and chocolate sauce on the side.  I also had two halfs of the local beer Smithwick's Draught an Irish red ale.  Very good beer and very nice pub lunch.  We then drove to old Waterford town for our tour of the Waterford Crystal facility.  DW actually remembered the stations and tour we took 30+ years ago, I had no recall of it at all.  It was an interesting tour…as we went through the engraving department of the unique trophies they make I told them that they could go ahead and print the University of Oklahoma on the 2018 NCAA football championship trophy.  The last piece of Waterford I purchased was a replica of the last one won by OU. We were returned to the ship about 4:40 pm towards the end of the tender run so no lines or waiting to return.  A great excursion. The GF’s and neighbors on this cruise were sunning on their balcony on this beautiful day when we returned to the cabin.  We all refreshened and went down to the Diamond lounge for some very nice cocktails.  It was Cosmopolitan night for the group and I enjoyed several.  Snacks were very good too.  About 8:00 pm we went up to the Windjammer for dinner, the wonderful thing about it was that we ate outside in the wonderful weather and enjoyed a late sail away from the Irish coast.  I love that option on the Radiance class ships.  I retired as soon as I returned to the cabin.  It was a great day in Ireland and on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Four  - Dublin, Ireland -  Tuesday - September 4th
Temple Bar - Dublin
I slept well overnight and went to the MDR for breakfast for the first time this cruise.  I ordered fresh fruit,  Eggs Benedict, bacon, & potatoes…all very good.  Another beautiful cool weather day in Ireland as we are docked in Dublin.  About 10:00ish GF’s, DW  & I shared a taxi from the port into Dublin City Center.  We were dropped at the Spire and walked over to the GPO (General Post Office) the site of the 1916 Easter uprising that eventually led to Irish Independence.  A beautiful building still used as a Post Office and now with a museum.  We walked down O'Connell street and across the O’Connell bridge to the old quay pedestrian area looking at quaint shoppes along the way until we reached the Temple Bar, Ireland's most legendary Pub/Bar.  We enjoyed a round or two, enjoyed the live music, then ordered lunch.  They offer a large assortment of sandwiches that were very nice.  A very enjoyable couple of hours in a very unique public house bar.  We then walked towards the high street passing the Molly Malone statue and visiting with a live Molly herself.  We made it to Grafton Street the pedestrian shopping street and the ladies shopped a bit and guys listened to music as there were musicians every 100 feet or so.  The musicians were a surprise to me. We walked all the way to St. Stevens Green and the Fusiliers Arch.  We have covered a good deal of Dublin and decided we had best go easy as we have big excursion tomorrow...so we did an early return to the ship. Taxi back to port and in the cabin by 4:00.  Easy day in port.  R&R until we went to the Diamond Lounge about 6:30 pm for cocktails.  Then up to the Windjammer about 8:15 pm for dinner.  It was Italian night, but I had the minute steaks again.  We again dined outside as we began our  sail away from Dublin.  I was a very nice day in Dublin and the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Five  - Belfast, Northern Ireland  -  Wednesday - September 5th
Giant's Causeway
I slept very well and we used room service as a wake up call as we have an early excursion this morning.  I had fruit plate and pastries from room service as we sailed into Belfast.  Belfast will mean a change in currency today although there has been no mention of passport control entering into the UK from Ireland.  We went down to the pier soon after we were cleared and found our small private group tour straightaway.  We know there will be only 8, but once a half hour from arriving elapsed we were off with just 6 in a very nice van to stay ahead of the bus groups as planned and advertised.  Our driver was Patrick and he was very good.  We did the 40 minute drive straight to the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage site and were among the first to arrive.  After purchasing tickets we went straight to the site walking downhill and enjoying the views along the way.  It is very interesting geological formation and as a geography major I did enjoy it very much.  The basalt forms unique forms as it goes from the land formations into the sea.  We rode the shuttle bus back up hill to the visitors center and enjoyed a snack in the cafe until the others arrived back.  The center is run by The National Trust so it is a nice facility.  We next went back through the town of Bushmill to the Bushmill Irish Whisky Distillery.  We skipped the distilling tour and went straight to the tasting bar for a sampling of three Bushmill whiskies. (€8).  Everyone felt pretty good once we left there.  We called in our lunch order to a local pub in Ballintoy, the Fullerton Arms.  It was a great place and I had the Guinness & Steak pie, DW a very nice salad, and I had a local beer.  The place had memorabilia from the Game of Thrones including door no. 6 of a series of famous carved doors in Northern Ireland.  From there we went to the National Trust’s Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, an amazing location although we observed from the overlook.  If we were staying in the area I would want to cross the unique rope bridge here.  We then began the drive back to Belfast and Patrick took us to the Falls Road area the location of the ‘Troubles’ and current location of patriotic or memorial murals.  They still close the gates each evening on the roads crossing from British side to the Irish side (not a Catholic/Protestant problem as most think, but British/Irish).  I did not know that they still close these gates to this day.  It was amazing to see this area first hand as I remember the troubles in 1969-72.  We were returned to the ship about 3:00 pm for our 4:00 sail away.  A great excursion and day.  We skipped cocktails this evening and went to the buffet a bit earlier, not busy at all during the 7:00 pm hour.  It was Spanish food night, but I stuck with my usual…the Steaks and the Pork Chops were nice tonight.  We watched some BBC or ITV favorites on TV:  Doc Martin and Poldark before retiring.  It was a great day in Northern Ireland today.

Day Six  - Cobh, Ireland -  Thursday - September 6th
Cobh Cathedral  (west view)
Just as it was for the ship Titanic, this will be our final port in Ireland before we begin the transatlantic portion of our sailing.  I slept well and smooth seas overnight.  I went down to the MDR for breakfast: Eggs Benedict with extras again.  Very nice service in the MDR and nice visiting with other guests.  We decided to stay in the nice historic seaside town of Cobh and not take the train to the city of Cork as original plan.  The weather was cloudy but in 60’s so pleasant enough as we went into town about 10:30 am.  We visited shoppes and waterfront on our way to the cathedral midway up the hill above the waterfront of Cobh. The Cathedral Church of St Colman, usually known as Cobh Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church overlooking Cork harbour from a very prominent position.  One of largest churches in Ireland in such a small town.  Very impressive church from inside and out, loved the mosaic floor with the Celtic knots.  The group wanted to continue up the hill, but I took refuge in the Mansworth’s Bar, one of the oldest in Cobh, and enjoyed a Coca-cola with Colleen.  Soon I was joined by the others as there was really nothing more up on the crest of the hill. After a wee rest we did the other half of the waterfront shoppes, an interesting combination of businesses for locals and tourists.  We stopped at the old White Star Line offices that has been converted into a Titanic Museum, Bar, & Restaurant.  Lunch there was actually very good.  I had a premium White Star hamburger and a White Star lager beer keeping with the theme.  We took photos of the various monuments and visited with very friendly locals.  I was first of our group to return to the ship about 3:15 but I had a nice five hour visit of Cobh.  After R&R in the cabin we went to the Diamond lounge for cocktails…there was a Titanic theme tonight, it has been Irish past several nights, but the GF’s did order Irish whisky, I stuck with Cosmos.  We went to the MDR for dinner tonight, first time for DW and I, this cruise.  I ordered the Maryland Crab Cake, Spinach Ravioli as starter, French Onion soup, the Pork Tenderloin entree, and the Grand Marnier Souffle for dessert.  Dinner was nice.  We retired to the cabin after dinner.  It was a nice day in Cobh and our farewell to Europe today.

Day Seven  - at Sea -  Friday - September 7th
Solarium - Brilliance of the Seas
Now we are getting rolling seas overnight as we sail away from the coast, but I slept very well, I enjoy some rocking overnight.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered a ranch breakfast: 3 eggs over easy with ham, bacon, potatoes, and toast.  Very good.  This is our first real sea day and we had not explored the ship so we did so…started on deck 13 Viking Crown Lounge and worked our way down walking all the public decks forward to aft.  Nice ship, larger than last years TA ship Rhapsody, but smaller than the Voyager Class.  Good size…we have never felt overcrowded although the Solarium was very busy with it too cool for main pool.  By the time we reached deck 4 the Minstrel Dining Room just opened so we stopped in for a salad for lunch.  They have the standard RCCL pick your own items/ingredients salad station set up on sea days in the MDR.  DW left early to go to the Cinema we discovered on deck six for a 1:00pm movie.  I stayed and had a nice Carrot Cake for dessert.  I watched the highlights from the series Godless on Netflex and DW went to a second movie this afternoon. We purchased an excursion for Ponta Delgada, it’s getting difficult as we have been there many times.  Cocktails in the Colony Club serving as the Diamond Lounge. Clavin from India has become our default server there.  GF’s went to the MDR as they had Lamb tonight, we went to the Windjammer for dinner.  It was Philippine night with adobo, popular with crew, but DW had a salad as usual and I again had the minute steaks.  Something for everyone.  Some BBC on TV before retiring.  It was a busy day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Eight  - at Sea -  Saturday - September 8th
Still cloudy skies and rolling seas but calming a little. We turned our time back an hour but I still slept until 6:00 am and then checked email. I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered an Eggs Benedict + extras, all very good.  DW went to exercise and I had a lazy morning then went up to the Lido deck to enjoy the sea breezes before I settle in for NCAA football this afternoon and evening.  I had lunch in the Windjammer a nice pub lunch style Steak & Vegetable concoction that I put on mashed potatoes.  I watched ESPN’s College Game Day then the Oklahoma vs. UCLA football game.  The cabin was stocked with coca-cola and game snacks to make an afternoon of it…always fun when your team wins.  DW saw several movies today and usual cocktails with the GF’s.  I was content with NCAA football.  After the game I had time to go to the Windjammer before it closed.  It was Chinese night and I did have some in addition to my minute steaks.  The late football games won’t be on until midnight local time so I will pass since we have an early excursion in Ponta Delgata.  It was a fun day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Nine  - Ponta Delgata, Azore Islands -  Sunday - September 9th
Village view from the parque - Furnas Valley
I slept well and the room service call was our wake up for this morning.  After breakfast we met for our Furnas Valley tour at 8:30 am.  We have been to Ponta Delgata many times and this was a NEW tour just added, it wasn’t online nor on our excursion booklet in the cabin, so we booked it at a fair price ($40pp).  It may be a trial but new tour locations are needed here and we are taking advantage of it.  We were off in our bus before 9:00 am and drove to Ribeira Grande an old town located on the north coastline of São Miguel island.  We saw the Church of Nossa Senhora da Estrela, then had our first (and only) pastel de nata of the day (they were great).  Next stop was a viewpoint over the Lagoa do Fogo and the Furnas Valley.  You could see smoke from many thermal springs and the beautiful lake below in the old caldron of a former volcano.  Next we had a tour of Parque Terra Nostra.  This is a lovely park with extensive gardens and thermal springs with pool, but although the temperature is only in the low 80’s the humidity is about 90% so most of the old timers on the tour were moving slowly by the time we left here. Our next stop was in an area of Furnas where they had numerous bubbling (boiling) hot springs.  Amazing, you would think you were in Yellowstone, but your actually in a an old city.  They are found throughout the Furnas Valley in rural areas or parks, but to see them in a city is very different.  This was the last stop and all were ready to board the air-conditioned bus by the time all viewed the hot springs.  From the bus we saw some beautiful views from mountains to coastline but were happy to arrive back at the ship about 2:00 pm.   Windjammer for all of us as we had worked up an appetite...then to cabin to cool and rest. DW went to a 4:00 pm movie and we all met in the pub on deck 6 forward about 5:30.  First visit and we used the Diamond benefits on our cards to get beer, wine, or cocktails.  A great system for benefits and to get members out to other bars.  We then went back to the Colony Club for more cocktails and eventually to Windjammer before it closed for some late night snacks and more.  They were making fancy desserts involving a waffle iron that the ladies enjoyed.  It was a enjoyable and different day in Port Delgata and on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Ten  - at Sea -  Monday- September 10th
Tango Buenos Aires - Brilliance of the Seas
Still a bit of rolling seas and I again slept very well.  We turned our clocks back an hour and the weather is very nice and warming for us.  I went to the MDR and ordered the Eggs Benedict + extras, also hot milk.  A relaxing breakfast and always an opportunity to visit with guests.  I then enjoyed the best balcony weather of the cruise so far to update blog and check scores.  DW and I walked up to the walking track on deck twelve, 6 laps = a mile, I did two she did her mile.  Breezy but sunny on deck and guests are in the pool today.  We went to the Windjammer for salad, having a light lunch today.  Slow afternoon for us, mostly cabin time…unfortunately we were without internet all afternoon and evening…bummer. Guests have complained about a lack of American news (no CNN or FOX) and our current weather situation…so the CD and Captain had a special weather report that played most of the day on cabin TV.  I believe we will be lucky and slip between the two hurricanes currently heading towards the U.S.  We did go to the Diamond Lounge early as DW and GF’s were going to the show tonight.  The theme in the lounge was Cheers, first time it was not a country or nautical theme, it has been decorated each night.  We enjoyed our cocktails and the group enjoyed the production show: Tango Buenos Aires in the theater…so much that DW attended the second show as well.  It was Japanese food among all the other selections in the Windjammer; however, the popular item was fresh hot Crepes for dessert.  I guess I’ve eaten all the minute steaks, none the past two nights so I had two nice Pork Chops with potatoes and vegetables.  It was a nice outdoor weather day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Eleven  - at Sea -  Tuesday- September 11th
Ship Art - Brilliance of the Seas
Smoother seas overnight and I again slept well.  The weather is overcast, but still warmer than the Irish Seas.  I went upstairs for breakfast in the Windjammer for the first time this cruise.  As I suspected they seemed to have everything: ham on carving station, bacon (rashers), English bacon, sausage, omelette station, lots of breads, lots of fruit, cereals, oatmeal, and much more.  I even got a hot milk.  By far the primary option for guests breakfast on board the Brilliance of the Seas.  Still no internet in the cabin this morning, but surprise we now have FOX news.  I think the combination of the hurricane hitting the U.S. and no internet forced RCCL to allow some news programs.  The DW wanted me to remind everyone that the Tango Buenos Aires production show is a must see show if you have the opportunity to see it on a Royal Caribbean Ship, evidently this show is being moved to a larger ship.  At noon they held a 9/11 remembrance and veterans gathering in the Centrum with cake and mimosas, it was well attended.  About noon I went down to deck 6 and had internet, then by late afternoon it was working in the cabin…just a part of sailing on a transatlantic cruise.  They had Reuben Sandwiches in the Windjammer for lunch today.  The weather worsened as we are still avoiding the three hurricanes, a bit wet and rocky seas. The Windjammer exceeded expectations again tonight.  At first carving station they had two types of ham, but I knew to look further and at the other station they had Prime Rib, tender & moist prime rib with horseradish.  Amazing and delicious.  They also had Osso Bucco and very nice pork chops among other things.  So many choices.  We’re turning in early tonight since it was rolling seas and raining.  It was a nice changing weather day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Eleven  - at Sea -  Tuesday- September 11th
Rolling seas overnight and I again slept very well.  The weather was better and warmer than previous day.  Still avoiding three hurricanes and two tropical storms.  We set our time back once again last night and are now only two hours off EST.  I went upstairs for breakfast in the Windjammer for the first time.  As I suspected they seemed to have everything: ham on carving station, bacon (rashers), English bacon, sausage, omelette station, lots of bread, lots of fruit, cereals, oatmeal, and more.  I even got a hot milk.  By far the primary option for breakfast on board the Brilliance of the Seas.  Still no internet in the cabin this morning, but surprise we now have FOX news.  I think the combination of the hurricane hitting the U.S. and no internet forced RCCL to supply some news programs.  The DW wanted me to remind everyone that the Tango Buenos Aires production show is a must see show if you have the opportunity to see it on a Royal Caribbean Ship, evidently it’s being moved to a larger ship.  At noon they held a 9/11 Remembrance and veterans gathering in he Centrum with cake and mimosas, it was well attended.  I went down to deck 6 and had internet, then by late afternoon it was working in the cabin…just a part of sailing on a transatlantic cruise.  They had Reuben Sandwiches in the Windjammer for lunch today.  The weather worsened as we’re still avoiding the three hurricanes, a bit wet and rocky.  The Windjammer excited expectations again tonight.  At first carving station they had two types of ham, but I knew to look and the other station and they had Prime Rib, tender & moist prime rib with horseradish.  Amazing and delish.  They also had Osso Bucco and very nice pork chops.  So many nice things.  We’re turning in early since it was rolling seas and raining.  It was a nice day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Twelve  - at Sea -  Wednesday- September 12th

Rolling seas overnight and I again slept very well.  The weather was better and warmer than yesterday.  We set our time back once again last night and are now only two hours off EST.  I went to the MDR for breakfast ordering fried eggs to order…they were close to correct.  Hot milk, bacon, potatoes, and fruit were good.  Lazy day today, DW did some movies, I did some Bosque Travel work.  They had pork ribs at lunch, unique,  but not near as good as what NCL does with their pool deck BBQ.  I did have some nice balcony time in the afternoon.  The ship does offer a lot of activities during the day: lectures, music, movies, trivia, and games…today they had an Amazing Race.  For a change we went up to the Viking Crown Lounge on deck 13 for cocktails.  You do have a nice view, first a bit sunny, but then rewarded with great sun set.  We enjoyed it as we had to make a dash to the Windjammer arriving just before it closed at 9:00 pm.  It was Cake night…a vast selection of cakes at the dessert station.  As it was closing they cut huge pieces for you to enjoy.  It was a long and lazy day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Thirteen  - at Sea -  Thursday- September 13th
Again rolling seas overnight and pretty dramatic, you would really roll from side to side in the bed but I slept surprisingly well.  Clear skies and the Captain has done a great job of sailing between the four hurricane/tropical storms and keeping us safe.  This morning I went up to the Windjammer for breakfast.  The pancakes and poached eggs were wonderful.  Another sea day and pretty much the same same as other sea days.  We have TV, food, internet, and various activities to occupy our time.  Cocktails in the Lounge and Windjammer for dinner.  Various ship activities in the evening or cabin time.  Another long and lazy day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Fourteen  - at Sea -  Friday- September 14th
Again rolling seas overnight but smoother and I slept well.  Again this morning I went up to the Windjammer for breakfast.  Only fresh pancakes and bacon this morning.  Another sea day and pretty much the same same as other sea days.  We have TV, food, internet, and various activities to occupy our time.  Cocktails in the Lounge and Windjammer for dinner.  Various ship activities in the evening or cabin time.  Another long and lazy day on the Brilliance of the Seas.

Day Fifteen -  at Sea -  Saturday- September 15th

Fair seas overnight and I slept very well.  I went up to the Windjammer for a nice early breakfast.  It’s a college football Saturday so I streamed and watched College Game Day that was broadcasting from the TCU campus in Fort Worth today.  Oklahoma has had three early kickoffs in three weeks  that have actually worked well for me since I’m so far later in the day in time zones…today only two hours difference for kickoff at 1:00 pm Atlantic Time.  The game streamed well in my cabin so I enjoyed the afternoon especially since my team won.  DW did a movie and other activities.  I watched some other streamed games as well until the late feature games were on the cabin/ship television.  I was wearing my TCU hat today and I actually saw a couple decked out in TCU colors when I sneaked out for a snack. It was really nice seeing land today as we sailed through the Bahamian Islands this afternoon.  DW and GF’s did cocktails and the second featured Production show: Center Stage. It was also the farewell show so she also thanked the Captain for avoiding all the hurricanes and tropical storms this cruise.  Something happened that has not happened in my 137 cruises…DW ate dinner in the MDR more times than I did on this cruise.  That doesn't happen as she's not a MDr fan.  I was curious if the Windjammer had anything unique as this was the third and final ‘formal dinner’ night.  They did had Leg of Lamb and I mean huge pieces of meat.  Not my choice but I did have the Peach Flambé featured dessert.  I enjoyed my day of college football on the Brilliance of the Sea. 

Day Sixteen -  at Sea -  Sunday- September 16th
Smooth seas overnight as we sailed in the straights of Florida.  I slept well as I have all cruise.  We turned our clocks back for the final time last night so we are on EST and Tampa time. To date all of our transatlantic cruises have been westbound, but this one seemed much longer than usual, perhaps as we were in Europe so long before boarding, but in future we will probably cruise eastbound and fly home.  Romania seems so long ago before we even get home. I went to the MDR for my final breakfast there, great service and food as it has been all cruise.  The internet was dead slow and some sites were blocked, they offered a one day special for $9.99 that I guess everyone did, but unfair to those of us with packages.  A few days of credit should have been offered, they did so on the Rhapsody transatlantic last year.  I paid off our onboard account and got higher luggage numbers at guest services…no need to be in a big rush tomorrow.  They had a very nice pork schnitzel in the Windjammer for lunch today. Lunches are not as varied as the dinners in the Windjammer.  This afternoon I watched some NFL football and began packing as we are putting out our large bags and not using self debarkation.  We went down to the Colony Club/Diamond lounge and Clavin from Goa was again our server for our final cocktails of the cruise.  It wasn’t as busy as usual…tip evaders is my guess.  Interesting that the Windjammer was much busier than usual…again tip evaders from the MDR is my speculation…skipping their waiters after 15 days.  The final buffet was good, it was Tex-Mex night.  I had some very nice pork chops and they had the cakes again so Black Forest for me.  The GF’s had fancy dessert crepes that were available for the second time this cruise.  We had to return to the cabin to get our bags out by 10:00 pm  then it was rest for debark and watch a bit of the Dallas Cowboys on TV before falling asleep.  It was a very nice final day on the Brilliance of the Seas

Debarkation Day  -  Tampa Florida  -  Monday- September 17th
Smoothest seas of cruise and we were docked very early in Tampa.  I slept very well. We had some snacks for breakfast as we finalize packing this morning.  We said good bye to the GF’s and did leave the cabin about 8:15 for the Lido deck as we have very high debark numbers.  The good news is that the Windjammer was somewhat still open so I had scrambled eggs and bacon…nice. Then enjoyed internet time for an hour +.  Trying to be the last off is much more relaxing than dealing with the crowds.  And the DD, our pickup ride, has it easier as well.  We were at our hotel, Crowne Plaza-Westshore about noon and they both allowed an early check-in and we were upgraded to a nice suite.  Sweet.  After we settled in we drove back to Ybor City area and had a long lunch at the renowned Columbia Restaurant an icon since 1905.  We then looked at the renewal of the Ybor area with many of the old Cigar factories repurposed into condos, trendy bars, restaurants, and more. For future reference I noticed that two new hotels would be very close to the cruise port.  Tuesday will be our air travel day back to Texas.  An end to a long journey through Europe and transatlantic cruise.

Cabin
We had cabin 7556 a balcony cabin located between the Atrium and forward elevators on deck seven on the starboard side.  The room is the standard size for a balcony.  It has the following: key pad safe, hair dryer, small couch, vanity/desk, small standard shower, storage in cabinets and vanity, flat screen TV, and good lighting. Well designed.  The air conditioning & water pressure worked well.  Excellent service from cabin steward Marcina.  You will hear music from somewhere (maybe Pub) on rare occasion in evenings, but not late at night.

Crew
All service people have been excellent, they have an obvious ‘guest first’ attitude and it shows in service and attitude.  My favorite was Clavin from Goa who served us in the Diamond lounge most nights.

Food / Bar
Overall very good food.  Excellent: Cookies, Ice Creme, Breads, Rice, Mashed Potatoes and special entrees in Windjammer.  Amazing that the Windjammer dinners were equal to or certainly more varied than the MDR.  Unique items in Windjammer: Mongolian Grill, Mussels, Minute Steaks, Gyros, Leg of Lamb, Spanakopita, Crepes, Cake Night, special garlic bread every night, special salads and ingredients, and much more.  The Diamond Lounges were always busy but adequate number of bar servers for number of guests. 

General Comments

We really enjoyed the first days of doing very little and relaxing after a busy seventeen days touring Europe.  Got busy doing Ireland for four days, then relaxing balance of cruise.  The Windjammer food was excellent, really exceptional. It was a needed relaxing cruise.


Sunset from our balcony on Brilliance of the Seas

~~ Click on any photo to enlarge ~~



Thursday, August 16, 2018

European Adventure - August 2018

European Adventure - August 2018

We (Ray and the Dear Wife) have a nice European holiday and adventure followed by a transatlantic cruise for August-September 2018.

Travel Day 1+  /  August 14
Berchtesgaden, Germany / Wednesday August 15
Berchtesgaden
We had a mid-day flight from Waco to DFW where we took the 9+ hour American Airlines flight 50 to London’s Heathrow airport arriving at 7:00 am local time.  Then a British Airlines flight to the Munich airport arriving in Germany about noon local time (central Europe summer time).  We found the DB train kiosk in the terminal and booked our train tickets to Berchtesgaden.  It took three trains, but we arrived in Berchtesgaden at 5:00.  We could see our hotel from the station but being exhausted from hauling bags up and down at each rail stop along the way to change tracks we took a taxi uphill to the hotel.  The views from Berchtesgaden of the German Alps is spectacular, perhaps the most scenic mountain village view I have ever experienced.  Our room doesn’t have the view, those rooms are booking 2 years in advance, we feel fortunate to get a room here during this season.  After refreshing we walked steep uphill to the old town of Berchtesgaden were we had dinner at the Golden Bear a famous local eatery.  Here we did get an excellent table outdoors with a great view of the Mountains.  It was so interesting seeing a number of German men on holiday wearing lederhosen and the women traditional German clothing.  We are not in Texas for sure.  DW ordered a local white wine and I had the featured local Wieninger beer.  She ordered an Apple & Cheese Spaetzel and I ordered the Pork Schnitzel with German potatoes.  The food was as good as the view: excellent, so our first meal in Europe was a success.  After the great meal we walked down to the hotel and were asleep by 9:00 pm.  A very long day+ ending in a great evening in Berchtesgaden.

Day 2 - Berchtesgaden, Germany / Thursday August 16
Kehlsteinhaus or the Eagles Nest
I had a very restful nights sleep. I woke about 7:00 am and logged into the hotel wifi to update news from home, check schedule, and charge iPhone.  The hotel serves a wonderful breakfast consisting of various varieties of breads, cheeses, cold meats, juices, teas, cereals, fruits, and scrambled eggs, sausage balls & links, sweet oatmeal, and more.  We enjoyed the wonderful view from the dining room as we ate our breakfast.  We actually took the rest of the morning off to rest and I began this review.  Just before noon we walked down to the Visitors Center for a 1:00 tour and arrived very early so enjoyed a coke with ice and a beer in the beer garden across the way.  Our tour was of Obersalzburg and the Eagles Nest.  We had a nice guide and a group of 30 most of whom were actually from Texas.  It was interesting seeing the former Nazi community and residence locations of Nazi hierarchy including Hitler's Berghof.  The views from the mountains are spectacular…you could even see the old Fortress in Salzburg Austria many miles away.  The major site is Kehlsteinhaus or the Eagles Nest built for Hitler in the late 1930’s.  You enter through a long marble lined tunnel, then take a brass elevator to the top of the mountain.  The views from here were even better and the history very interesting.  We were returned to Berchtesgaden about 5:45 and back at hotel by 6:00 pm. About 7:30 we walked up to the old town and saw the old Marktbrunnen, the Marktplatz including two lederhosen shoppes, and stopped at the Gasthaus Watzmann for dinner on the patio.  I had a Bavarian plate with three traditional meats over sauerkraut and a bread dumpling with a Baverian flag on top. DW had an appetizer of fried cheese with cranberries and salad.  It was dark as we finished dinner, but we still walked through the old Berchtesgaden cemetery.  It was beautiful and about 25% of the graves had candles burning.  It somewhat lit the path for us and I had never seen anything like that before today.  It was a great, but tiring day in Berchtesgaden and we were in bed just after 10:00 pm. 


Day 3  -  Berchtesgaden Königssee - Salzburg, Austria /  Friday August17
Lake Königssee - Bavaria
I slept fine and we were up early in order to beat the crowds at Königssee today.  I enjoyed another good Hotel Bavaria breakfast this morning and we checked out and left our luggage so we would not have to rush back from our excursion.  We walked down to the Berchtesgaden Hbf and took a bus the short distance to Königssee.  We arrived just about 9:30 and there was no wait to purchase tickets on an awaiting boat.  Great timing.  Königssee is the largest and cleanest lake in the German Alps thus only the use of electric boats.  We took the boat/ferry ride of the entire scenic lake.  It was very different and enjoyable.  We stopped as is the tradition and the driver played a duet with the echos from the steep mountain walls on a flugelhorn.  We were back at the main dock about 11:00 am and found the bus back to Berchtesgaden with ease.  We walked back to the hotel and got our bags and lounged for 50 minutes before walking back to the Hbf to catch the 1:20 Bus to Salzburg.  Only 45 minutes to the Salzburg Hbf by bus and our hotel was only 250 feet away from the drop off.  We’ve spent a bit of time in Salzburg and have seen ALL the sights so this is basically a transit stop this trip thus the selected location, it’s only 200 feet to the Vienna train tomorrow.  We decided not to go into the old town and to stay close so we took advantage of the nice hotel room to rest & relax.  We did venture into the immediate area for snacks, groceries, and ice creme.  We never eat at McDonalds, BUT we do take advantage of their Coca-cola fountain drinks complete with ice.  McDonald’s has strict rules about the consistency of their Coke product (and some secrets) and they did not fail…they tasted great.  We both took advantage of the WiFi speed and we even did some European TV before bed time this evening.  A fun day.

Day 3  - Salzburg - Vienna, Austria  /  Saturday / August 18
Maria-Theresien-Platz  -  Vienna
Our hotel is the H+ Hotel a European chain and as mentioned perfect location for transit next door to the train station.  Good air-conditioning, simple & clean, excellent layout for luggage, large bathroom, fast WiFi, and comfortable beds.  I slept very well. I went down to get our rail tickets early and I have to take back what I wrote about McDonald's, in lieu of eating breakfast at the hotel for €20 pp we had the McD Viennese Breakfast for €3.90 pp and of course a Coca-Cola.  It only took 25+ minutes to purchase the tickets, use the kiosk at McD’s and back to the hotel room.  That allowed us some time before our 10:08 departure on Austrian Rail.  The train was nice I typed this while on it and enjoying the Austrian countryside.  We arrived in Wein (Vienna) at 12:35 pm. and arrived at our hotel by taxi after a detour from wrong hotel.  The Marriott Courtyard gave us an upgrade so we were pleased and the location is only a block from Schönbrunn Palace.  We oriented ourselves and set our plan for Vienna adjusting somewhat for the heat…almost Texas like heat at 90º by end of day.  I wanted a proper Schnitzel and being a Saturday decided to eat during the slow part of the day so we began by taking a taxi to Schnitzelwirt 52 probably the most famous Schnitzel establishment in Vienna for locals.  Not touristy or fancy, but serves great food and very busy.  We were able to get a table without problem at this time and I ordered my first REAL WienerSchnitzelSchnitzelwirt 52 is to schnitzel, in the home of schnitzel, as Mary’s Cafe is to CFS in Texas.  The portion size is huge (even I could not eat all of it) and it was excellent...well worth the effort to get it.  After dinner we walked the 15 minutes (downhill) to the Museum District of Vienna.  The enormity of the former ornate palaces and buildings in small park settings in the middle of the old town is amazing…huge now governmental spaces that now house mostly museums. We walked much of the area pacing ourselves and walked by or saw:  Maria-Theresien-Platz with the huge Maria Theresa monument, Prinz Eugen - equestrian statue, Erzherzog Karl - Equestrian Statue, Die Hofburg, the Hofburg Wien, the Library with Kaisers Statue von Joseph II, and spent an hour on the Michaelerplatz on a perfect bench in the shade during the heat of the day watching carriages and people pass by us.  We strolled past the old and huge Opera House and the Graban Blvd. shopping district as we made our way to the Wiener Konzerthaus.  We arrived about 7:30 pm for a traditional Viennese Concert.  We had front row upper box seats and enjoyed the production with full orchestra, dancers, and soloists.  It was an excellent show.   Afterward we made our way to the U (underground rail) and made our way to the Schönbrunn stop and then our hotel just a block away arriving about 10:30pm.  It was a long and busy day.

Day 4  - Vienna, Austria  -  Sunday - August 19
Main Gallery - Schönbrunn Palace
I slept very well and kind of late, until 8:15 am.  Our only plans for the day is the Palace so no rush.   Soon we left for the Schönbrunn Palace and it is only one long block from the hotel.  We queued in line for a bit and received an entry time of 1:14 p.m.  We went to the very nice Viennese Café-Residenz in Schönbrunn for proper Coca-Cola with ice and glass and I had to have some of their famous Apple Strudel. The Palace actually offers Strudel demonstrations and shows hourly from 11:00 but I didn’t wait.  It was delicious and the cokes tasted great.  We walked around the famous gardens, but decided against too much walking especially because it was getting hot.  We went to the Patio of the Residenz to relax until tour time and I had a carafe of Residenz homemade lime&ginger lemonade and DW had a chocolate sundae.  We did the Palace Grand Tour (€17.50 pp) that included 40+ rooms of the palace.  I really expected more elegance due to the success of the Hapsbergs and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire but it was a fairly standard palace by European standards (IMHO) although the main Gallery was beautiful.  Still a very nice palace. I think my expectations were too high as a fan of Maria Theresa and that period. The longer tour takes about an hour.  We purchased tickets for the Palace Theater show then returned to the hotel to rest and relax.  So glad it is so close.  We went to dinner at Restaurant Schönbrunner Stöckl located just on the Schönbrunn Palace grounds very close our hotel.  DW ordered Zucchini in Tomato sauce with Quinoa, and Feta & Gorgonzola cheese, it was excellent and must be as she rarely complements food.  I ordered a simple Beetroot Carpaccio entree with Arugula, Goat Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar, and fresh shaved Horseradish…it was excellent as well.  We attended the Sunday evening Schoenbrunn Palace Concert in the Palace Orangery where Mozart himself performed in 1786.  It was similar to last night with an Orchestra, two soloists, and two dancers.  A lot of Mozart and Strauss and it was an enjoyable evening.  The orchestra last night was larger (almost twice), but the soloists and dancers were better this evening.  Very entertaining and just a short walk for us tonight.  It was a nice Sunday taking advantage of a lot of what Schönbrunn Palace has to offer the public.

Day 5 - Vienna, Austria - Bratislava, Slovakia  /  Monday August 20
Old Town Bratislava Square
I slept very well.  We have a private tour service today and we went down to check out at 9:30am and our meet our driver for our 10:00 departure.  He was there before we could get checked out so we were soon on our way to Bratislava.  He drove a nice Škoda and it was less than an hour to our scheduled stop at Schloss Hof an 18th century Habsburg complex including a farm with restored state rooms & ornamental grounds.  They had very unique historical displays and the Maria Theresa suites she lived in during her later years.  After an hour and half visit we continued the short drive into Bratislava.  Our driver Laslo (a local) got us as close as possible to our hotel that is located in the pedestrian only area of Old Town Bratislava.  We were very glad we used the door to door service.  As soon as we checked in and relaxed a bit we made our way to Bratislava's Flagship Restaurant where we enjoyed a feast of Slovakian food.  I had the local Kláštorný Ležiak 11° lager beer and DW a Coca-cola.  We shared a board of three Slovakian specialties:  Bryndzové Halušky (potato dumplings with Bryndza sheep cheese), Pryndzové Pirohy (pirogi with Bryndza sheep cheese), and Kapustové Strapačky so Slaninkou (dumplings with cabbage & ham).  In addition I had a nice Roasted homemade sausage with mustard & horseradish and DW a Homemade Potato Pancake with Bryndza.  It was a wonderful meal and fairly priced, good to get away from tourist area.  We walked through Bratislava's very quaint and nice medieval central square as we returned to the hotel for a nap after the big mid-day meal.  We went for a walk once the temperature cooled this evening.  We found Hviezdoslav Square between the old town and the river that was very nice.  This area would have been just outside the old walls so newer buildings and nice park fountains, and monuments.  It was good to see families out.  There was a lot of activity in the old town sidewalk cafes and bars…especially for a Monday night.  Bratislava is a hopping place.  After only an ice creme we retired for the evening to our very nice boutique hotel.

Day 6 - Bratislava, Slovakia - Budapest Hungary  /  Tuesday August 21 
Chain Bridge - Budapest Hungary
We had a nice Slovakian breakfast at the hotel then went for an early walk while cool to St. Stephens Church and the Old City Hall.  We finally found one of the most famous sights in the Old Town: the statue of Man at work - Čumil.  We had found the other statues the previous night.  We had a car service again today and met Paul at 9:30 am for our trip to Budapest.  We had two stops arranged on the way, the first at the city of Győr to see their newly restored town square…truthfully not impressed, the Town Hall was more impressive.  The second stop was at the Pannonhalma Archabbey located on a rural mountain top and founded as the first Hungarian Benedictine monastery in 996 by Prince Géza.  The impressive thing was the old Library second only to Rome for 1000 years.  It was very interesting and still a working monastery.  We arrived in Budapest at the hotel at 3:00pm.  Paul our driver was fantastic in getting us from door to door and the very difficult locations of both hotels.  We settled into our room and as it was hot didn’t venture far the first night.  I found and enjoyed some great Czech beer in a Jazz club  on the Danube, but soon found it’s fairly common here.  The views of Budapest are quite a thing to see especially and we are located very near the famous Chain Bridge on the Buda side.  We wanted to eat Hungarian on our first night in Hungary and we found a small place near our hotel called Ildikó Konyhája (Ildikó's Kitchen). I ordered Gulyásleves kenyérrel (Hungarian Goulash Soup with bread), Natúr szűz napi raguval, burgonyával (Fillet of Pork Tenderloin with daily ragout and potatoes), and DW ordered Rántott sajt, rizs, tartár (Cheese fried in breadcrumbs with rice and tartar sauce). It was all very good. We had a beer, water, and two cokes to go and the bill was HUF6100 or about $24.  We were lucky, we discovered that this restaurant is very discriminating and only allows locals and a few tourists to dine. After dinner we retired to finalize plans for Budapest.

Day 7 - Budapest Hungary  /  Wednesday August 22
We enjoyed the hotel breakfast this morning, interesting to see the amount of fresh fruit, but not
Hungarian Parliament Building - Budapest
tropical, such as pears, peaches, cherries, etc. They did have scrambled eggs and a lot of breads, cheeses, cold meat, and more.  We booked through the hotel a 10:00 am tour to the major sites and a taxi picked us up at 9:30 to join a small group of 14.  We began on the Buda side with a visit to the Citadella on Gellért hill to see the Liberty Statue and get a great view of Budapest and Danube River.  Then to Buda Castle where we saw various governmental buildings and museums located on old castle grounds.  They were changing the guard at the Presidents palace.  We then walked through the Castle District to the beautiful 14th-century church named for King Matthias and adjacent to it the Fishermans Bastion with more wonderful views of the city and Parliament Building.  We then boarded our van for the Pest side and went to Városliget City Park the location of the 1896 Exposition and World Fair and Vajdahunyad Castle built for the event but from period Hungarian architecture through Hungarian history.  Very Impressive and beautiful setting in park with lake.  Just a long block from there we saw Széchenyi Thermal Bath one of the most famous of Budapest’s many thermal baths.  Next we walked the two+ blocks to Heroes Square with the monuments to Hungarian heroes and Kings.  The heat of the day was now upon us an fortunately that was the last of the walking (for the tour anyway) so we now drive by the other sites such as The Jewish Quarter and Shopping district.  The tour dropped us off near the Parliament Building so we decided to walk there.  Once we arrive we discovered all tours were sold out.  Having just been a Communist country the Hungarian citizens really wish to visit their new Parliament Building as well as the many tourists.  We will visit on another trip.  We did the long walk back to the Chain Bridge stopping at Raqpart a modern bar located beneath the bridge on Pest side.  They had a very good Hungarian beer on draft called Soproni so we rested and enjoyed a few beers and colas before the walk across the bridge to the hotel.  According to the iPhone this was a 5+ mile walking day in the heat on cobblestones and this old man felt it.  We rested then decided to keep it simple and went back to Ildikó Konyhája (Ildikó's Kitchen) to eat as it’s just down from the hotel.  I again ordered the Gulyásleves kenyérrel (Hungarian Goulash Soup), Marharostélyos hasábburgonyával (Roast beef with fried potatoes), and Cékla saláta (Beetroot Salad). DW ordered the Görög saláta (Greek Salad) and Chocolate Pancake (crepe).  I had a large beer and DW a large Hungarian white wine.  Again about HUF6200 or $22.00 a deal.  It was a long and busy day in Budapest and we retired for much needed rest.


Day 8 - Budapest Hungary - Night Train  /  Thursday August 23
We had the hotel breakfast again this morning and I had the same but I also found the hot milk that I
Train Sleeper Compartment
love.  We scheduled our day to fit taking a night train this evening so we stayed at the hotel until 11:00 am checkout time.  We are staying at the Carlton Hotel and at one time it was the Ritz, but it obviously suffered during Communism and sorely needs updating.  The staff was wonderful, but the facilities didn’t match.  I would never stay here in the summer, the lack of proper air-conditioning is the primary flaw.  We stored our bags in the luggage area and proceeded out for the day.  We walked across the Chain Bridge and took the No.2 tram to the Central Market.  This was an amazing place.  Lot’s of Hungarian foods, Fruits, Vegetables, Meat counters, and more.  Upstairs they had Hungarian crafts and linens.  Lots of places to eat as well.  We had a large mixed chilled fruit cup and it was the most delicious fruit ever, especially the peaches. We then took a pedestrian street viewing various shops, bars, ice creme stands, and restaurants. Very nice area and we did stop for a cold Hungarian Soproni draft beer and Coca-Cola.  We also visited a Church and lit a candle.  Then proceeded to the Queen Elisabeth (Sisi) Bridge where we took an hour cruise on the Danube. Budapest is a really beautiful city.  Following the cruise we took the tram back to the Chain Bridge and crossed over to our hotel arriving at 4:00 pm exhausted from the heat.  We rested for a few minutes, gathered our luggage, and the hotel called a car service for us.  It was very nice and actually the coolest we had been all day in the private car (4500 HUF) to Keleti Train Station.  We arrived at 5:00 pm as planned and proceeded to successfully upgrade our tickets to a Sleeper Compartment.  We then went to the station Restaurant for dinner.  I had very nice Filet of Pork on Hungarian vegetables.  Paprika is the national spice and I have had it on every entree when in Hungary.  We did split a Peach Melba as we were inspired by the fruit at the market today.  We then stocked up on Coca-cola and water as there is no snack car on the train.  The train originates in Budapest so we were ready to board a half hour before the 19:10 departure.  We found our sleeping car and the attendant showed us our compartment.  He didn’t speak english but I got the impression that he wanted me to follow him…so I did to a compartment with it’s own toilet AND shower.  I got the message and a some $ passed hands and we were upgraded again.  As hot as I had been today and DW’s pickiness about WC’s it was ideal for us.  First thing I did was shower and cleanup, but the best thing about the compartment was the good air-conditioning. About 10:30 pm the train stopped for customs check on the Hungary side then about 11:00pm/midnight stopped for Romanian customs.  I changed my watch to Romanian time and feel good to have made Romania. It was a great day in Budapest and a successful overnight train journey.

Day 9 - Brasov, Romania    /  Friday August 24
If you forget where you are...look up
I slept well for a train, there were a lot of starts and stops and unfamiliar noises, but certainly better than just having seats for 12+ hours.  It was an adventure for sure.  We arrived in Brașov at 9:30 am and took a taxi ($8) to our hotel arriving about 10:00 am.  We dropped our luggage and walked over to the 15th century (1470) Gothic style Biserica Neagră or Black Church for a tour ($5 for both).  Catholic services were replaced with Lutheran ones during the Protestant Reformation and it has the largest bell in Romania.  We then stopped for brunch on the square having nice omelettes returning to the hotel at 11:30 and checked into our very nice and very spacious room. It has a private balcony and it’s larger than our cabin on the ranch.  Thanks for the early check-in Casa Wagner.  We extended rest time into wash time into planning time all afternoon.  I had picked a restaurant to try while here and it was the same one suggested by our taxi driver so that’s where we went for dinner.  It was another amazing feast.  We ate at Sergiana located where the old town meets the boulevard.  We entered to a plain stairway going down and unimposing door, but once opened is a marvelously clean and decorated restaurant with staff in uniforms and tablecloth perfect.  Being Friday we wanted to arrive early to get a seat and it was fine being seated right away.  Our waiter spoke excellent english and we discussed that since it’s my first real night here I must have all Transylvanian.  I ordered Transylvanian sour soup with smoked gammon & tarragon, Beetroot salad with horseradish, and my entree: Samale (minced meat rolls in cabbage leaves) dressed with bacon and polenta.  It was a great meal.  We walked around the town enjoying the pleasant weather before returning to the hotel.  We decided to turn in early as we have a big excursion leaving at 8:00 am tomorrow.  It was a very restful pleasing day in Brasov.

Day 10 - Brașov, Romania   /   Saturday August 25
Peleș Castle
Best sleep of the trip overnight, I like the cooler weather.  I was up early with the 6:00 am church bells to prepare for our 8:00 am day-long Three Castles tour.  I had breakfast in the hotel, it was interesting, but not worth €11 IMHO.  We met our driver and tour guide Manuela promptly at 8:00 and we were last of four couples (Texas, Argentina, Ireland, & Estonia) on the English speaking small group tour today. We were off on the 40 minute drive to Sinaia, an interesting Carpathian Mountain resort town and Peleș Castle the most visited site in Romania.  Peleș Castle is actually more of a palace than castle built between 1873 to 1914 for Romana's first monarch King Carol I.  It was really a great building with great features including many firsts: electricity, elevator, vacuum system, etc.  Beautiful forested grounds and gardens.  A must see in Romania.  We next drove through the Carpathian Mountains to Râșnov where we visited the Râșnov Fortress built as a retreat for the town citizens in case of an attack.  A very interesting visit to the best preserved of this type of medieval fortresses.  We were then on our way to Bran Castle or what many call Dracula’s Castle.  There is a history of Vlad Dracula using the castle in military operations and now it is quite the site for tourists.  The castle is unique with many passageways and levels and must be seen both for its actual history and legends.  We were returned to Brașov about 4:30.  Manuela our guide, an attractive local, was excellent and had connections that allowed us to park close to entry at first two stops.  A near perfect tour that I would highly recommend...my favorite was Peleș Castle.  We went for nice cold gelato before returning to the hotel to rest and allow the weather to cool.  We went for dinner at La Ceaun on the Square as it was recommended.  I ordered the Pork Ribs with garlic sauce and potatoes, DW ordered the Traditional mashed beans with Pickles (seriously).  Both were very good, she had my garlic sauce and I ate her pickles. We bought some Coca-cola, got some ice, and returned to the hotel to repack.  We are leaving two bags at hotel for our Tuesday return from Sighişoara.  It was a fun day in Transylvania.

Day 11 - Brașov - Sighişoara, Romania  /  Sunday August 26
Sighişoara Dance Group
I again slept very well.  I was up at the 7:00 am church bells to finish repacking and get ready to meet our driver at 9:00 am.  We went down to checkout about 8:30 and our driver Flavius arrived as we finished.  As he brought the car around to the edge of Main Square I used the ATM next door to get ROM Lei being unsure of the layout for banks in old town Sighişoara.  We were off to Sibiu about a 90+ minute drive with views of the Carpathian Mountains along the way.  We walked the lovely and large pedestrian area and Town Square of Sibiu…I really enjoyed seeing the famous winking roofs of the old buildings.  We had lunch on the square and enjoyed THE traditional Sibiu/Romanian food: Tochitura Sibiana Cu Mamaliguta (local Stew specialty with pork, sausages, mushrooms severed with Polenta, fried egg, & cheese).  It was amazingly good.  I had a Gelato as we walked back to the car.  We took the road north towards Sighişoara with a stop at Valea Viilor Fortified Church, this was a huge fortified Church complex, but unfortunately we could only observe from the outside on this visit.  The final stop was the Biertan Fortified Church that was available to tour. The most unusual thing here was the vault room with unusually old large door locks.  These fortified churches were built at the high point of the village and served as fortifications if attacked.  Both of these are UNESCO sites.  We arrived at Sighişoara about 4:15ish and our hotel is located in the actual old Citadel at the highest point of the town.  We had to walk in as there was an active cultural festival going on the old square.  Flavius was a great driver and guide and was helpful throughout the day.  I really enjoy the door to door service.  We did have a mix-up as I thought I had prepaid for today, but there was a delay in confirmation when we added a third stop and it didn't get done, I was so glad I made that ATM stop at the beginning of the day.  Since there was a festival going on we jumped right in with the merriment. The event called Proetnica featured the various ethnic communities of Romania.  There were many folk dance groups, various musical groups (including an Elvis), Gypsy groups,  Religious and other cultures represented,  also a featured Romanian singer for the finale.  We got a table in one of the outdoor restaurants that was elevated enough to have a view of much of the events.  We enjoyed a few beers, carafe of wine, and a Pizza while people watching.  We eventually met Vlad (the Impaler) Tepes who was born just a few feet away in 1431.  Also Elvis who later brought us an autographed mug for us, as well as many other new Romanian friends. We eventually retired to our room and listened to the finale through the open windows.  We have a unique view of one the City Gates out our window… and it looks beautiful lit up at night. A fantastic evening in Sighişoara.

Day 12 - Sighişoara, Romania  /  Monday August 27
Citadel Clock Tower from Square
I slept very well. I was worried that vendors breaking down exhibits or revelers from the Festival would keep us up late, but we had a thunderstorm and rain about midnight that cleared the streets.  Perfect sleeping weather.  I ate breakfast at the hotel, nothing special but a fair price at €6. We checked out about 10:30 and went to our new hotel: the Fronius Sighisoara.  It’s the only premium boutique hotel in the citadel area and only a few rooms so we were lucky to get it for our rest day in Sighişoara.  We took the early small tourist train and that showed us all we needed to see of the new town area.  We went through the Biserica Mănăstirii or old Monastery Church built in the 14th century and very impressive for it’s age.  We then sat on the church side-steps until noon to view the clock on the tower do it’s thing…a little man rings his bell twelve times.  We then returned to our room just around the corner located in a 15th century building near the center of the citadel.  The room is very nice and very large with vaulted medieval ceilings, wooden floors with repro period rugs, stylish medieval decor, great bedding & large pillows (something rare on this trip), fluffy robes, and nice modern conveniences.  We went to eat a very good lunch at the Medieval Cafe hidden just around the corner on a side street.  I had a Pork chop with peasant potatoes, DW had country potatoes with butter.  They lieu of ketchup or sauce they served a Tomato and pepper marmalade…it was excellent.  We shared a Carrot Cake their specialty (not like our carrot cake) and a Plum & Sweet Cheese pie (traditional Romanian). All this plus four Coca-colas for 60 ROM Lei ($15).  After lunch (now 2:00 pm) DW walked up the covered walkway to the Church on the Hill and I went to our nice room.  The plan is to rest and go back out when the tourists leave.  We spent the day relaxing and taking care of some business online.  Most tourists were gone by 6:00 pm.  Sighişoara has one premier restaurant with a special chef so we went to Casa Georgius Krauss and Chef Florin Mihalache’s restaurant for dinner.  For me it was really outstanding food.  We ordered refreshing Elderflower drinks and Mineral water.  I ordered Pork tenderloin in prosciutto with beetroot puree and horseradish sauce over Krass House potatoes.  DW ordered Tagliatelle with mozzarella and tomatoes.  I thought mine was a really good meal, DW not as impressed with her pasta (tasted smoky).  They offered complementary dessert to her so we shared a Crème brûlée and the house dessert Apple pie with vanilla sauce.  They were very good.  This was nicest meal in Romania and the bill was 136.00 ROM Lei ($35).  Very beautiful evening so we saw the major sights lit up at night on our walk back to the hotel.  It was a great relaxing day in Sighişoara.

Day 13 - Sighişoara - Brașov  Romania  /  Tuesday August 28
Viscri Fortified Church - Romania
This is the apex day of the holiday…beginning today we are heading back towards home.  We actually have more days returning because of the cruise back, but we are generally heading back west towards home now.  I slept very well.  Great bed and a fan.  The hotel had a nice buffet of the usual Romanian breakfast items, but cooked your eggs to order.  Very nice.  The Fronius Sighisoara is not only the best hotel of the trip, but in our top five of all time.  At 10:30 our daytrip driver, Răzvan, arrived and we were off on our return to Brașov with two scheduled stops. Our first stop was in Saschiz at the Fortified Church of St. Stephen, unfortunately it’s closed on Tuesdays (Tourism Dept. says Mondays), but we could see the church and more importantly the old Clock Tower.  The imposing Clock Tower is almost an exact replica of the one in Sighişoara with different style clock and more of a ruin…I doubt anyone is even allowed inside.  We went further and made an unscheduled stop at the Bunești Fortified Church a smaller but very unique church that reminded me of our old Norwegian Rock Church at home.  Of course the Bunești church is 600+ years older but similar as it was built for early Saxon settlers.  The real bonus here is a very nice German who happened to be here was a member of a group set up to preserve fortified churches.  He provided a very unique history for us.  From here we took a very poor side road south through Gypsy country to the UNESCO village of Viscri and the Viscri Fortified Church.  It was begun in the 1200’s by Saxons brought here to protect the old border area.  It was improved and enlarged in the XIV and XVI centuries.  A lot of amazing early European history here.  Following this visit we drove through the mountains to Brașov and our old hotel Casa Wagner arriving about 3:00 pm.  Răzvan did a great job getting us here today. We have a nice air-conditioned room overlooking the Square.  Soon they reunited us with our large bags and we were settled.  We went to Sergiana again for us a late lunch although it’s a common time in Romania for lunch. I ordered--Entree: Tochitura lu' Chioru Haiducu---Pork pot roast, chicken liver, smoked sausages, egg, cottage cheese, polinta. Side: Beetroot with horseradish.  It was good as I knew it would be.  We walked around and then settled in to the hotel.  A big 100th anniversary concert of Brașov starts tomorrow and is set up in the Square.  It will be televised throughout the country and much of Europe…our window overlooks the ‘backstage’ area so we listened to some great sound checks, live tapings, and rehearsals this evening.  A private advance showing.  It was another great day in Romania.

Day 14 - Brașov - Bucharest, Romania  /  Wednesday August 29
Bucharest's Palace of Parliament
I slept well while it lasted, I heard the pleasant church bells at 6:00 am., but too soon afterward a very loud security alarm in the festival area went off so we were up early.  We were debating taking an early or mid-day train to Bucharest so the decision was made for us.  We hustled around and checked out and made the 8:40 am train to Bucuresti Nord.  There was nice mountain scenery including a waterfall until we reached the plains. Good bye Transylvania.  We arrived in Bucharest about 11:05 found a taxi and arrived at the Athenee Palace Bucharest about 11:30.  There have been several movies either about or filmed at this hotel over the years, it was known as a ‘den of spies’ during several periods of history.  After getting our bags into the room and freshening we went to Caju a nice restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel.  We had cocktails and DW raved about her Pappardelle (Zucchini, candied lemons, artichokes, olives, green onions, nectarines, red onion, & Parsley) vegetables.  I had a nice and unique Fish & Chips.  We then took a taxi to the Bucharest Palace of Parliament for the 2:00 pm tour in English.  This is the largest civilian administrative building in the world (the U.S. Pentagon is larger) that houses the Romanian government and more.  They require your passport and have security screening for all who enter.  Everything  is built on the large scale here. It was interesting and amazing to see the interior.  We taxi’d back and rested during the heat of the day.  About 8:00 pm we went down to the English Bar, formally known as the American Bar until the 1930’s.  The cocktails were excellent but IMHO there is no longer any panache from the ‘old’ days.  However the original Columns room is very nice and has the old panache as well as vintage photographs.  We had dinner reservations for Caru' cu Bere the famous restaurant popular with tourists for 9:30 pm. so we took a taxi down to Old Town and visited the Biserica Zlătari Orthodox Church before eating dinner.  Caru' cu Bere has traditional Romanian food as well as entertainment and it was packed especially outside in the huge sidewalk eating area.  We ate inside and enjoyed the dancers and dinner.  I  ordered the  Tigaie ţărănească din piept de pui, file de porc, ceafă de porc, muşchiuleţ de văcuţă şi legume (Rustic pan fried chicken breast, pork fillet, pork neck, beef fillet and vegetables) actually similar to fajita meat served on a hot grill. Also Varză acră călită (Braised sour cabbage), Iahnie de fasole (Romanian bean casserole) and fresh bread.  It was good.  A long taxi ride back to the hotel by 11:00 pm.  Taxi drivers in Romania basically will take you for a ride…I know we were overcharged when we used a taxi in Brasov and Bucharest.  That was the only negative thing about Romania we have found and minor actually as the fares are still cheap. I just needed to use Uber.  Most of the Romanian people are warm, charming, and very helpful to tourists. You can tell that they really love their country.  It was a fun and interesting last full day in Romania.  We will return to Romania if at all possible.

Day 15 - Bucherest, Romania - Amsterdam, Netherlands  /  Thursday August 30
Amsterdam Central Station
We slept very well in our lovely room.  We took advantage of the very nice breakfast in the Honors Club this morning.  We prepared our flight arrangements and repacked for air transport.  The hotel was very nice and we would recommend it.  The concierge arranged a legit taxi to the airport and we were off about 10:45 am. arriving in time to print boarding passes at the kiosk, check our bags, go through security, then pass through Romanian customs control.  We were at the gate about an hour before flight time.  Perfect timing all the way.  Unfortunately our KLM flight didn’t go as well…we boarded just fine, but there was an equipment problem with a fan on the pilots windows…bottom line: we waited on board the plane for two hours before we could take off.  At least we did have row 16 an emergency aisle with more leg room.  Finally we were off about 4:00 pm local time---Good bye Romania.  They did lessen the 3 hour flight time by 30 minutes so we arrived at AMS Schiphol airport about 5:30 pm local time.  We picked up our bags from baggage claim, found the train station, got tickets from kiosk, and got to Amsterdam Central station in good order.  We decided to walk to the hotel even with our bags and made it in 15+ minutes…I was proud of that effort and we needed that walk…my bad knees are getting better with the touring and walking on this trip. The hotel, BestWestern Dam Square, is probably least favorite of this trip, but clean and a great location.  The good news is that our good travel friends (GFs) were already here and it was great to see them.  We found a great small Italian place La Zoccola del Pacioccone near the hotel and shared two pizzas, wine, and beer.  All very good...I thought we were in Italy...and later discovered that although small it's a very highly rated restaurant.  After a short walk we then all retired early due to travel days for both.

Day 16 - Amsterdam and  Haarlem,  Netherlands  /  Friday August 31
Windmill De Adriaan (1779) Museum in Haarlem
I was up early and updated blog and did some internet business.  Cooler weather in Amsterdam and
that will be welcome after a warm/hot two weeks in central Europe.  We had breakfast in the hotel and it was a typical Dutch breakfast, the only egg to be found was a boiled one. Primarily nice breads, cheeses, cold meats, and cereals.  We decided to go to Haarlem for the day so we walked to the Central Station, bought return tickets, and were soon on our way.  It’s only 15+ minutes by rail to Haarlem station, but it seems miles away in the difference from Amsterdam.  We walked to the beautiful main City Square and drank a Heiniken before touring the The St. Bavo Church of Haarlem an art-rich towering Gothic church, home to the ornate Muller organ, played by both Handel & Mozart.  We then walked to the Frans Hals Museum Gallery (€15 pp) in a 17th-century building dedicated to portrait painter Frans Hals & the Dutch Old Masters. Next it was time for lunch at Jamón Jamón Delicatessen for wonderful sandwiches.  It was a fantastic lunch.  We then stopped at Chocolaterie Pierre for chocolates or gelato…I had Mango.  Then we made the 3:30 pm sailing on the Haarlem Canal Tour (€13pp)  An hour long floating tour of great sites along the canal, the Windmill De Adriaan (1779) was my favorite site.  after the tour we made our way back to the train station about 5:00 to return to Amsterdam.  Unfortunately there was an incident at the train station in Amsterdam Central and trains were not allowed to stop.  We later learned  that it was a stabbing and shooting at the station.  We made our way back by bus and metro so that was an hour plus adventure.  But it was a beautiful, enjoyable, and wonderful day in Haarlem with friends.  We set a new record for walking today at 7 miles, previous high was 5 miles in Budapest.  I was a bit shocked when I saw the total, but it was cooler today and the streets of Haarlem were so beautiful and clean.  After a brief rest we went out for cheese, street food, and coca-cola then retired for the night.  It was a great day to be in Holland.

Day 17 - Amsterdam, Netherlands  /  Saturday September 1
Today is the day we board the Brilliance of the Seas to begin the next portion of our adventure.  That will be covered in a new Cruise Blog review.

Countries Visited:  7—England (transfer), Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Netherlands (Ireland #8 while on cruise home)

New Countries Visited:  3—Slovakia, Hungary, Romania

Favorite experiences:
Sighişoara weekend
Day in Haarlem with friends
Eagles Nest and Obersalzburg
Budapest
Peleș Castle
Lake Königssee
Bratislava
DayTrip drivers & guides

Favorite Dinners:
Ildikó's Kitchen -Budapest
Sergiana's -Brașov
Golden Bear - Berchtesgaden
Schnitzelwirt 52 - Vienna
Flagship Restaurant - Bratislava
Casa Georgius Krauss - Sighişoara

Favorite lunches or light meals
Medieval Cafe - Sighişoara Romania
Jamón Jamón Delicatessen - Haarlem
Haller Cafe - Sibiu Romania