Amsterdam and Hamburg as Christmas approaches become magical cities taking on new sets of winter clothes and there is no better way to see them than over a long weekend by cruise ship. Columbus, no not the explorer, Cruise & Maritime Voyages new flagship recently re-named by Angela Rippon as MV Columbus at Tilbury, proves to be an excellent choice. The sun has set and at 4pm we move quietly away from the quayside to begin our journey down the River Thames to the open sea, passing fields cloaked in mist, riverside towns and villages displaying their Christmas lights and decorations that twinkle in the darkness as we glide silently by.
Before dinner there is time for a quick tour of what will be my home for the next 4 days. Columbus boasts 20 grades of well-appointed inner and ocean view cabins plus 28 deluxe balcony cabins and 36 junior balcony suites ensuring there is something to suit everyone’s pocket. 597 have ocean views with an average size of almost 190 sq. ft. so no one will complain about lack of room. Cruise & Maritime Voyages recognising the needs of solo passengers have allocated 150 cabins for their use. All cabins are tastefully furnished and come equipped with air conditioning, private en-suite facilities, shower, ample hanging and storage space, flat-screen television, fridge, personal safe and that all important item, a hairdryer. Electrical sockets are of the continental type plus in my cabin there was an English style 3 pin socket.
Next morning sees us transiting the locks, Zider Zee and Amstel River leading to Amsterdam where we arrive at 8am. Time for breakfast, fruit, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs washed down by hot coffee, finished and set up for the day its off the ship and onto a canal boat for a sightseeing trip through the canals of Amsterdam. Passing house boats of all shapes and sizes that together with the cost of purchase and mooring can set you back an eye watering €450,000, churches, official buildings, the Anne Frank Museum where even at this early winter hour queues have formed, houses dating back centuries whose original owners were ship brokers and traders but now occupied in the main by insurance companies, lawyers etc. The history of the area is fascinating as told by Derek our very knowledgeable captain and guide as we pass under low bridges, wave to other river tourists and marvel at the mass of bicycles chained to railings along the walkways. Next stop, the Hermitage Museum overlooking one of the boats landing stages, the museum features various exhibitions and currently until May 2018 is exhibiting ‘Treasurers of the Tsars’, an exhibition including 63 famed paintings by Dutch artists including 6 by Rembrandt loaned from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg along with other precious artefacts including beautiful vases and urns. The ground floor book and souvenir shop will delight enthusiasts for hours as they scan the multitude of books on the subject.
Time now for shopping and sightseeing before returning to the ship for our 3pm departure to Hamburg where we are due at 1pm the following day. Time for a quick snooze before tea time in the Plantation on deck 12. Finger sandwiches of salmon, cucumber, cheese, ham, rolls filled with prawn and shrimp, fresh warm scones accompanied by traditional jam and cream, the choice is excellent all washed down with a selection of teas from around the world. Time for a nap prior to dinner at 8.30pm.
The main dining room, the Waterfront Restaurant on Deck 7 has been decorated for the Christmas Season. The entrance sporting a large Christmas tree adorned with lights, baubles and presents at the base set the scene. Windows on three sides affording spectacular sea views for most diners who occupy tables of 4, 6 and 8. Dinner is served in the classic two seating system that is much favoured by the British traveller whilst breakfast and lunch are dealt with on an open seating basis. For those wanting something different why not try one of the speciality restaurants, The Grill with mouth-watering steaks or the Fusion Restaurant on Deck 12, something more casual, try the Plantation Bistro also on Deck 12 with its al fresco area, imagine breakfast in the sunshine whilst surrounded by a calm blue sea. For that special occasion book Chef’s Table on Deck 7 for an evening to remember. This evening I decide to explore the 6 course menu and my choice is: Appetiser; smoked salmon with spiced avocado. Soup; cream of potato and leak. Main course; grilled pork tenderloin with Calvados sauce and vegetables. Dessert; After Eight mint and chocolate delight with vanilla sauce, all washed down with a delightful rose wine. The salad course and cheese board I decided to leave for another night.
Suitably fed and watered time to take in some of the entertainment provided at one of the six entertainment venues. For shows by the resident song and dance group accompanied by the Columbus Orchestra visit the two-deck, tiered, Palladium Theatre with its retractable stage providing a large area for those wishing to trip the light fantastic. For something more gentile try The Atrium, Dome Observatory or to be really British relax in one of the comfortable chairs at Taverners Pub with its large traditional wooden bar and sing along with the piano player. For the more energetic, or those who are just young at heart there’s the Night Club where you can enjoy the sounds until the wee hours.
Next morning, I awake as we are making our way up the River Elbe towards Hamburg. Blue sky, the sun is shining so a visit to the promenade deck is required to admire the view but not for long as I discover it may look like a beautiful summers day but is in fact only 1c so I beat a hasty retreat back into the warmth of the ship. The ship boasts a proper library, something many of the latest ships seem to have forgotten. Large internally lit glass fronted book cases set in a quiet area elegantly furnished with Chesterfield style settees and arm chairs, a wonderful setting for you to enjoy that quiet time with a book away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world and that is exactly what I did for the next couple of hours.
Arrival in Hamburg, Europe’s 2nd largest port, is greeted by a fire tug saluting us, plumes of water cascading from its monitors firing high into the air as we slowly ease our way onto the berth. Leave the ship, enter the arrival hall to the singing of the Shanty Choir, 20 plus men, all ex dockyard workers, accompanied by accordion players and directed by the choir master. A coach is waiting to unfold to our view the city delights and history. The ‘Counting House’ area where the old counting house has been transformed to offices and apartments, the Chilehaus building, famous for the similarity of a ships prow, Hafen City the largest building development in Europe that will eventually house 10,000 residents and become the workplace to another 40,000. This is a city that boasts the old and new standing beside each other, iron bridges crossing the canals and waterways to connect the various sections of the city. The magnificent 360ft high Elbphilharmonie concert hall completed in January 2017 on the banks of the River Elbe is claimed to be one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world, its roof structure resembling water waves. Travel by escalator to the viewing walkway on the 8th floor known as the Plaza, encircle the building from where panoramic views create a vista from every point.
Dusk is fast approaching so time to visit the Christmas Market where stalls are illuminated by twinkling lights, Christmas trees are showing off their finery, crowds of people mingling with friends, admiring the goods on offer, many just drinking hot chocolate or mulled wine in the chill winter air, enjoying an atmosphere of happiness and goodwill. A short walk takes us to the quayside to board one of the glass topped boats for a tour of the waterways, the banks lined with apartment stores still busy with shoppers and then leaving the city behind as we steam under illuminated bridges, past large houses, apartment blocks and restaurants on the water’s edge, all displaying coloured twinkling lights, illuminated shapes of Reindeer and other Christmas symbols before returning to the quayside to board the Metro. Where are we going, the Reeperbhan, no not to see that for which it is famous but to follow a journey, a journey taken by others, The Beatles. The Beatles began their main career in Hamburg, their first show being 17th August 1960 at the Indra Club. For anyone who is a Beatles fan this tour is a must and operated by Stefanie Hempel whose knowledge of the Beatles Story is simply mind blowing.
Back to the ship just in time for our departure and the last leg of my journey. How different the river looks at night, water traffic is negligible, buildings, houses and piers illuminated for Christmas with their lights reflecting on the water, a stillness fills the air creating a feeling of peace and tranquillity.
Sunday is a sea day so what is there to do, a great deal is the answer. For the energetic, morning walk and stretching on the open deck, body shaping, for the less energetic a quiz, lectures, craft classes, demonstrations and that’s before lunch. 2pm and the Show Lounge is standing room only as Reverend Phil conducts a Carol Service. Back to cabin and unfortunately time to start packing.
So much accomplished in such a short time but who will this ship appeal to. This is a ship that will appeal very much to the British market. It was a favourite when sailing as Arcadia for P&O and again as Ocean Village 1 which is still fondly spoken of by many seasoned cruisers. This traditional ship of classic design with teak decking has much to offer and will surpass the expectations of many, food, service, cabins and general ambience will not disappoint.
Please be advised that Cruise & Maritime Voyages has now ceased trading. For more information, please visit www.cruiseandmaritime.com