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Home > Virtual Cruises > Birthday in the Baltic on Oceania's Regatta
Birthday in the Baltic on Oceania's Regatta
Day 1: Dover
Day 2: Brugge and Amsterdam
Day 3: Kiel Canal and Warnemunde
Day 4: Copenhagen
Day 5: Gdansk
Day 6: Helsinki
Day 7: St. Petersburg
Day 8: St. Petersburg, Day 2
Day 9: St. Petersburg, Day 3 and Tallinn
Day 10: Stockholm
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Day 2: Tuesday, Brugge and Amsterdam
Brugge and AmsterdamOne of the nicest things about Cruise Critic and the Roll Calls is that you can not only make fabulous new acquaintances, but also gain priceless knowledge. Member Bojanges started the roll call for this sailing a year ago and brought name tags to wear at the sail-away get-together. Also in our group was Lair Bear, who along with his wife Sharon had put together a series of walking tours through Brugge, Amsterdam and several of the Baltic cities we'll be visiting. Of course there were also a number of hook-ups in terms of sharing private tours in St. Petersburg.

Bojanges had put out a call to share a private taxi from the dock at Zeebrugge into the city of Brugge; I indicated my interest and another member, Rivergal, secured the ride for us, at 90 euros round-trip for a party of eight through Brugge Taxi Service. That came to a total of 12.50 euros per person, tip included -- a very good deal. It was raining as we waited for our cab at 9:30 a.m., and thanks to my new pals on the Northern Europe forum, I had known enough to purchase both a poncho and an umbrella for just this scenario. Like a Girl Scout, I came prepared!

I had been to Brugge some 10 years earlier, at the end of November when it was really cold. There was little tourism in the city at that time; it was beautiful and sparkling, charming and historic. My daughter and I spent our days wandering the narrow little streets, lunching on fries and mussels and sampling Belgian beer. It's the most perfectly preserved small medieval city in Europe, surrounded by a moat, with ancient entry gates over the outer canal that can be sealed off. The maze-like streets twist and grow narrower the closer you get to the center of town before they end abruptly. This was done so that invaders could not turn their horse teams around. I know it works because I got caught in these mazes several times with the rental car (my daughter had to back the car out of the tight spots).

Now, in mid-summer, with hordes of tourists invading the market square, cafes hawking their prix-fixe meals and vendors selling the same junk from store to store, I was sad to find I wasn't quite as enthralled. Yes, the beautiful medieval buildings themselves had not changed, but today it was going to take a little more digging to find the Brugge I know and love. Perhaps tourism has changed Brugge and its people. But more than likely, I'm simply not used to being here during the high season. Late November vs. mid-July? Big difference.

To raise my spirits I headed out in search of a bucket of mussels in white wine and some incredible Belgian fries with Bojanges (Donna) and her husband Walter. After learning from several restaurants that it would be a couple of weeks before the mussels were really in season (drat!), we settled in at one of the city's central cafes for something else. I chose a baked potato stuffed with smoked salmon and bacon. It was a surprisingly good, very filling lunch -- and at 10 euros, inexpensive.

Dining in Brugge is pricey to begin with, but compounded with the poor dollar-to-euro exchange rate, one's wallet can truly suffer. For example, Walter chose the "market price" Dover sole. His fish looked good and came with a very small salad and a small cup of fries. The cost: Forty-five euros, or almost $72, plus the cost of his beer and the tip. That's a lot for lunch, even compared to my nearly $16 spud.

Most of the rest of my group had taken a canal and a mini-bus tour of the little city after lunch; since I had done both before, I decided to just go for a walk ... and got terribly lost. Because of the inclement weather, we returned to the ship early, rejoining our taxi at 3 p.m. (the ship remained docked until 6). All of us would have been just as happy with a 1 p.m. return; we were shopped out, walked out and all-around exhausted.

In my case at least, it was because my jet lag had finally caught up with me. I sank into my Tranquility Bed at around 4 p.m. and woke up at midnight. If the alarm did actually go off, I didn't hear it; I also didn't hear the bow thrusters or the entertainment from the Regatta Lounge. I missed the Captain's introduction to the staff (I am sure I can figure out who is who on my own).

I also missed supper and so, at midnight, ordered room service: a Captain's Pantry Salad with balsamic vinegar dressing. The menu said it came with turkey, roast beef, ham, cheese and shrimp. I expected it to look like a Cobb salad but it didn't. In fact, mine didn't even have the advertised turkey, but it hardly needed it: Baby greens were surrounded with quartered tomatoes; a quartered hard-boiled egg; two finger-sized chunks each of Swiss cheese, ham and beef; a pile of small shrimp right on top; and a finishing slice of creamy, ripe avocado. It was just right. Not too big, not too small, not too heavy and not too light. If you miss dinner and awake in the middle of the night, I highly recommend this room-service gem.



It was still raining when we arrived in Amsterdam. It wasn't particularly cold, but blustery and wet. Rain or no rain, I was off on my own and on a mission with three objectives, birthday gifts to myself, if you will: take a canal boat tour, eat herring from a street cart like I did when I was a college student decades ago, and peruse the flower market.

One of the first things you'll notice about Amsterdam is its sparkling new cruise terminal -- it's airy and light, featuring cafes, meeting rooms, and even a few vendors -- about a mile from the back of the central train station (in other words, the center of the city). Guests who have no problem walking can get to the central station easily on foot; those who choose to save their muscles for the city can take a tram -- number 25 -- just to the right of the terminal's exit.

The tram costs 1.60 euros and change is given right onboard. Or, if you think you'll be taking the city trams all day, you can purchase a strip of seven rides for just over 6 euros. Each ride is good for an hour, including transfers. These trams make Amsterdam one of the easiest big cities to navigate. Tram number 26 is the one that returns you to the cruise terminal.

At the very front of the train station is a thumb-shaped lagoon upon which the sightseeing canal boats bobbed. Most companies offer pretty much the same thing, at varying prices: a one-hour tour of the canals with narration in English (the exception, off further to the right, are the hop-on hop-off sight-seeing boats; I might try that in Stockholm, but for the moment I just wanted the regular sightseeing tour). I chose a one-hour canal boat tour at what I considered a reasonable 7.50 euros.

A family from the U.K., parents and three children who were on their very first cruise (on MSC Armonia, also in town), shared my ride. It was great fun to chat with them about their perception of cruising. Sometimes just seeing the cruise world from the vantage point of those who are new to it heightens the excitement for someone who has taken to the sea and never really left. Dressing up for the captain's dinner, to me, feels same old, same old -- until I get into a spirited discussion about shoes and eveningwear with a woman who is doing it for the first time. We chatted so much throughout the tour we missed most of the narration! We did, however, glide right under Armonia's bow and alongside Regatta, which gave all of us -- newbies and old salts alike -- a unique view of our vessels.

One down, two to go. Objective two: herring. On previous visits to Amsterdam, there were always herring carts within sight. You couldn't go a couple of feet without bumping into a herring cart. In the cart were different types of herring: roll mops, sour cream, salted. Once you made your choice, the "cart master" put it on a piece of wax paper and cut it into bite-sized pieces -- which you ate standing right in front of the cart with a wooden toothpick, swatting away the seagulls swooping down for dropped morsels. To my disappointment, I couldn't find one of these fabulous carts anywhere.

I hopped onto tram 9 heading over to Waterlooplein (during the boat tour, I noticed a flea market underway and asked at the dock how I could get there). Flea markets are, admittedly, hit or miss, and this one was the latter: the market was full of kitschy junk, the kind of stuff you can find in the toy aisles of any 99 cent store in the U.S. I did find one stall of interest, selling fries with home-made Dutch mayonnaise for 1.90 euros. Since I struck out on the herring, this was the next best thing. The other bit of good news was that the flea market wasn't too far from the flower market along the Singel -- my third objective for the day.

Of course it wasn't springtime, when there are thousands and thousands of cut-flower bouquets and about 10 times the amount of stalls, but it was still impressive. As a woman celebrating a "certain" birthday, I couldn't help but chuckle at the packets of cannabis seed, perfectly legal in Holland. Hot buys here are wooden shoe souvenirs with tulip bulbs in them (or ceramic ones, which are less expensive). There are also bags of bulbs and pots with bulbs -- bulbs of flowers one has never ever seen before. It was a wonderland of bulbs and flowers -- heaven!

I selected a bunch of the ceramic shoes-with-bulbs and some boxes of single black tulip bulbs to bring back to my neighbors and family. "Are these certified for entry into the U.S.?" I'm not sure what made me ask; it had never, ever been an issue before. Some sixth sense, I guess, because the sales girl said no -- that nothing was certified until the end of July. She didn't know why, but it had been that way for several months. I put my entire selection back and selected three Delft-like white and blue ceramic fridge magnets. Just goes to show: When it comes to importing food or plant products into the United States ask questions before plunking down any money.

I cheered up when the sun peeked out for the rest of my walk along the Singel. I contemplated sitting down for a cup of coffee and a pastry of some sort, but something compelled me to keep walking. Maybe it was that same sixth sense that made me ask about certification in the flower shop. Just as I got to the end of the flower market area and ready to get on a tram back to central station, I saw it. Not a cart but a kiosk. HARRING, the sign proclaimed. With a line out the door. What incredible luck!

I walked in and pointed to the kind of herring I wanted (salted) and asked for a broodje (pronounced "broh-jeh") which is a sandwich. I didn't want to take a hunk of fish outside on waxed paper. The shopkeeper grabbed a fresh roll, made a slice in it, put in two pieces of herring, added onions and pickle. I paid 1.70 euros, went to sit on one of the park benches outside, and slowly savored the flavors that brought me back so many years.
Day 1: Dover red arrow Day 3: Kiel Canal and Warnemunde

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