Amani, Malaika & I had a very enjoyable 2 week European holiday in June. We flew Lufthansa to Berlin via Riyadh and Frankfurt, arriving into Tegel airport early in the morning. We then caught the public bus into town – my plan was to put our luggage into storage at the Hauptbahnhoff and do some sightseeing, but, unfortunately it was raining so I gave that idea away and instead we continued our journey to Hamburg. We jumped on to our ICE high speed train and arrived at Hamburg less than 2 hours later.
I’d intentionally booked a hotel near the main train station in Hamburg so that we wouldn’t have to bother with a taxi and thankfully it wasn’t raining when we arrived so we soon found our hotel, the Terminus Hamburg. The hotel was fine although the neighbourhood looked a bit dodgy, something of a red light area by the looks! Anyway, we went for a stroll in the afternoon and found a double-decker tourist bus stop next to the train station – the kids pleaded to hop on board, so we did. A pleasant way of seeing the highlights of downtown Hamburg in the short time that we had. We disembarked at the harbour and as we stood looking at all the ships, it reminded me that this was the place my great grandfather had set sail from when he emigrated to Australia 134 years ago… My how the world has changed since then.
Next morning it was back to the train station to continue our journey to Kiel, where we boarded the MSC Magnifica for our Baltic cruise. The boarding process was reasonably streamlined and we soon found our way to cabin 8079 – our home away from home for the next 7 days. After a brief rest, we headed up to deck 13 where the main restaurant was located. Amani and Malaika ate pasta, pizza and sausages until they were as full as two googs!
Meanwhile I got stuck in to my chicken salad while enjoying the view out over Kiel. I asked the kids if they wanted dessert, which naturally they did and sent them off to peruse the Sweets section. They came back a short time later and asked for some money. When I told them they didn’t need money and could take whatever they wanted, the looks on their faces was priceless! They literally ran to the desserts and both returned a short time later with two each.
We very much enjoyed the cruise. The staff in the Kid’s Club on board were great and Amani & Malaika spent many hours there being entertained and playing with other children. Meals on board were OK, nothing special, but nothing to complain about either. The standard of food seemed to me to be better on the Costa cruise we did a couple of years ago.
The first port of call was Stockholm and we enjoyed walking around the city, munching on Swedish hot dogs and eating ice-cream, while enjoying the free live opera in a city park. We jumped on and off the “Hop on Hop off” cruise tour boats that ply the waterways around central Stockholm. A very pleasant day – cool temperatures, but no rain.
Next stop was Tallinn in Estonia. Again we didn’t bother with any packaged shore excursions and enjoyed just wandering around town at our own pace. We climbed to the top of St Olaf’s church for an amazing view of the city. It was sunny and warm that day – very pleasant.
St Petersburg was the next stop on the itinerary. I’d studied shore excursion options before the trip, and decided ahead of time that I didn’t think Amani & Malaika would enjoy the organized excursions here due to the amount of walking involved, so they stayed on board the ship under the care of the nice ladies in the Kid’s Club while I went ashore on a pre-booked excursion to The Peterhof Palace and The Hermitage Museum. I enjoyed the tour very much, and leaving the kids on board had definitely been a good decision. The crowds were awful and they would not have enjoyed the Hermitage at all.
On board the ship we had the pleasure of sharing our dinner table with a 95 year old gentleman – Egon. He was such a character – told me how he worked out that cruising full time was less expensive than living in a retirement home – and that’s why for the past year he’s been cruising non-stop! He’s also an accomplished musician and kindly played his rendition of Waltzing Matilda for us one afternoon on the ship.
After another day at sea, the final stop was in Copenhagen, where we walked in to town and met up with old friend Jesper, who used to work in Muscat. Had a nice lunch together, then he guided us around Tivoli Gardens. Another very pleasant day.
Next morning we were back in Kiel, disembarked then caught the train to Hamburg, changed to the ICE train to Berlin, then on to another train to Frankfurt an der Oder. We didn’t have much time for each connection and I knew from past experience with German trains that you need to find the right platform and the right place on the platform (where your carriage will stop) quickly, otherwise it’s easy to miss your train – especially when you’re the only adult with two young children in tow! We did fine though, arrived at Frankfurt about 6pm and walked to our lodging – the Hotel Zur Alten Oder.
Diner at the hotel turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever eaten! It was a house specialty – a pork schnitzel with tomato, mushrooms and cheese inside, served with sauteed potatoes cooked with onions and bacon bits and accompanied by a lovely green salad with a creamy balsamic dressing. Washed down with a local Frankfurter beer, it was absolutely delicious!
The next day we walked a few kilometres, crossing the bridge over the Oder river into Poland, where Malaika once again twisted my arm into buying them ice-creams. (I’ve never eaten so much ice cream in my life as I did on this trip thanks to the arm-twisting by the kids!) On the way back to the hotel I called into Sixt and booked a hire car for the next day, so that we could drive into Poland and visit the village of Radnica, where my great grandfather came from. More about that part of the journey in another post.