Cruise Review, Viking Clara Schumann
May 15-May 26, 2004
The cruise on the Elbe is basically a cruise through the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). In fact the starting point in Berlin, the brand new Radisson SAS Hotel, is in the former Russian sector. I mention this in the beginning because it helps to explain some of the drabness that we saw in some villages along the Elbe. The recovery from the Communist domination is taking a long time.
Saturday and Sunday, May 15 and 16:
We flew Delta Airlines from our home in Melbourne, Florida to Atlanta and then on to Paris where we changed to Air France for the final leg to Berlin. The Delta flights were very nice. (We used frequent flyer points to upgrade to Business Class.) In Paris, it was a very long walk between terminals to get to the Air France gate. Once boarded, we were squeezed into the tightest seating I have ever experienced on any airline. My knees touched the seat in front of me. Fortunately, it was a fairly short flight to Berlin where we received two nice surprises. First, our checked baggage made it all the way without incident and second, there was a private car and driver waiting for us outside baggage claim. It seemed to be a complicated route to the hotel, but the driver had a navigation system in the new Mercedes and whisked us along in a short time. The hotel is brand new and very modern. The bathroom design probably won some design awards, but you couldn’t use the shower without getting the whole room soaked. We went for a walk through a park across the street and ended up at a nice outside restaurant on the bank of the River Spree. We had a beer and dinner, poached trout for my wife and soup & sandwich for me. We took another short walk after eating and returned to the hotel around 7:00 P.M. My wife had the brilliant idea to go to the hotel spa for a massage and I stayed in the room and finished a book that I had started on the flight over. We both were asleep by 9:00 P. M.
Monday, May 17
We got up at 7:30 for the included hotel breakfast. It was wonderful! There was lots of fruit, omelets cooked to order, fresh breads and the standard breakfast buffet items. The weather was very nice with temperatures in the high 60’s. We boarded busses for a 3-hour tour of Berlin. We had an excellent guide. After the tour, we took off on our own for a walk along Under den Linton (the main street to the Brandenburg Gate). Back to the hotel around 4:30, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant for a combination late lunch/early dinner. We both had the weinerschnitzel. It was delicious, served with oven-roasted potatoes with bacon and chives and a salad. Then back to the room for a half-hour nap for my wife and I did a load of wash in the sink and some repacking. Then we went out for a walk in the park across the street again and had another good beer at the restaurant on the river. Then back to the hotel to pack up for tomorrows departure and we were in bed by 9:00 P.M.
Tuesday, May 18:
Up at 6:15. We are on the first bus leaving for Potsdam at 8:00, so our bags are out at 7:00. We had another exceptional breakfast. When I checked out of the hotel I found out that every time you open the mini-bar (fridge), the system automatically charges you 3$ for an Evion water. This was easily corrected at the front desk. I have to comment that the hotel staff was the friendliest that we have ever encountered. The room was beautiful! Everything was very new and modern. The shower would have won awards for its beauty, (but flunked in functionality). Overall, it was a great stay in Berlin with a slow pace and pleanty of free time for acclimatizing to the time change. So far, this trip is lookin great. We have already idintified the travelers in our group who will be “trouble”. They make themselves noticed very early on. Right on time, we departed for a tour of Potsdam enroute to Magdeburg, the departure point on the Elbe for the cruise. We stopped to visit Sans Souci Palace, inside and out and then stopped at the Cecilienhof Palace, the site of the WWII Potsdam conference. Next we stopped at the “Bridge of Spies” where Francis Gary Powers (the U2 pilot) was exchanged for Col Rudolph Abel (the Russian Spy). We stopped in Babelsburg for lunch. There were some language problems and no English menus, but we all got by and most ended up with what they thought they had ordered. The beer was good, so everyone was happy.
We boarded the Clara Schumann at 4:00 P.M. and got settled in to our small cabin. There was adequate storage space for everything, but it was apparent that we needed to put things away and to stay neat. The bathroom appeared small, but turned out to be very adequate. The cruise staff was introduced before dinner along with a mandatory safety briefing. (“Don’t worry, the water is only 2 meters deep. If the boat sinks, you won’t even get your feet wet.”) The first night dinner was a buffet which turned out to be somewhat of a disaster because of some of our “special” travelers. They rushed to be first in line at the buffet and then stood there demanding to know “What’s that?” and “What’s in this?”, Next came the salad bar where they froze in “brain lock” while the rest of us waited and waited in line. After a nice dinner, we talked with our table mates until we were ready for bed. Our bunks were ready for us with duvets. We had to put the A/C at max. cold or else it was too hot under the duvets.