Cruise to Europe

When Shelly & Lynne found out that Alpine Meadows was going to end the ski season early on 19 April 2009, we decided to take advantage of the inexpensive cruise prices and booked a repositioning cruise with Celebrity going from Miami to Amsterdam. On Friday, April 24 we flew to Miami and started our 2 week cruise Saturday afternoon.

Our days at sea were spent doing all sorts of things: dancing, exercising, listening to interesting lectures, touring various parts of the ship and, of course, eating. Lucky for us, most of the sea days were calm and warm. Another lucky thing was we had interesting and easy to get along with assigned table companions for dinner; Irene and Bob from Berlin (check out some pictures they took), Anne and Peter from Canada and Liz and Bill from Florida.

After over a week at sea (and numerous time zone changes) our first stop was on one of the Madeira Islands at Funchal (part of Portugal). The sun was shining and it was a glorious Sunday with the flowers in bloom. We and our dinner tablemates walked into town and took the cable car up to the top of their mountain where we had a wonderful view of the harbor, ship and town with it's distinctive red roofs. At the top of the hill was a church that is the burial place of Emperor Charles I of Austria, last of the Habsburg rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was buried. There was also a tourist attraction that was a ride down on the windy streets on a wooden basket on runners accompanied by a man in a straw hat - a leftover from Venice - riding on the runners on the back. Down in town, we visited a winery known for its Madeira wine (a sweet, strong wine) and were lucky enough to have a taste. As we left Funchal there was a Captain's Club Champaign reception that we attended that was held on the bow of the ship.

Our next stop a couple of days later was La Coruna on the north coast of Spain. We had another warm, beautiful day. In La Coruna we did a lot of walking in the hilly city through a good deal of the town.

Le Havre, in France was our next port of call. It was another beautiful day. We walked, and walked on our usual quest looking for an internet café. We had no luck but did see a great deal of the city. After doing all the walking we went on a little car/train and saw pretty much the same things we had seen on our walk. We just learned a little about them. One highlight was a new church that rose up more like a tower than a church. On the way back to the ship we saw a group of school children learning to sail on the small river we crossed over. It was fun watching them try to race on a small course.

We awoke the next morning to see the white cliffs of Dover. How nice it was to speak English once again. We walked up the hill to Dover Castle to find that the line to purchase tickets to visit was extremely long and by the time we got in it would have been time to go back to the ship. So, we walked into town and used the library to see our email. Good thing we were inside because the only rain we had on the entire trip was on that afternoon.

Our last stop on the cruise was Amsterdam, Netherlands.

It was an easy walk from the cruise ship dock in Amsterdam to the central railroad station. Our tiny rental car was in a garage close to the station. Getting out of Amsterdam wasn't an easy task but we finally made it on the way to Gouda and our wonderful B&B. Our B&B was on the third floor of Mick and Wilma's house. We had a bedroom, sitting room and a bathroom. The bedroom even had a view of a windmill. Too cool. From Gouda we, drove to Keukenhof to see the incredible tulip gardens (three pages of pictures 1/3, 2/3, 3/3), there were also some animals there and an interesting display of the NY boroughs which had its Dutch origins. After leaving Keukenhof, we visited Haarlem, then went to Noordwijk (where Shelly worked with ESA on the Hubble). We also went to Delft to see the famous porcelain pottery company; took the train to Amsterdam; drove to Brugge (in Belgium) and took the train to see Antwerp (also in Belgium). Besides being a diamond mecca, Antwerp had an old section that was extremely beautiful. There was also a printing museum that had some of the oldest printing presses in the world. On our last day we spent our time touring Gouda. The cheese market is only in the summer so we missed it but there was a market that day and also a choral concert in the church put on by students from Dordt College located in Sioux Center, IA.