Sydney to Amsterdam the long way - QF & AY in J and a river cruise

4 days in Amsterdam - Day 1 & 2.

From the airport it was a fairly simple trip on the Sprinter train to Sloterdijk, where we had booked the XO Hotels Park West joint. We booked it direct and chose it as it was the best compromise between the City expense and transport links that fit our needs.
It is about an 8 minute fast walk to the train station and the tram to the south of the City is right outside (#19 for those playing at home).
As we were well early for check-in, we stored our carry on bags in their secure luggage room and went wandering.
Right across the road is a park which is hard to explain - it is open to the public, has formal walking paths and ponds but also has summer houses all around which are owned by Joe Public, but the price if you wish to sell is set by some council controlling the park. You can stay overnight in Summer, but not in winter. They have power and sewerage along with water so not sure of the reason.
By now we had clearance to access the room so off we went.
Was a large room, but it was by the cleaning room so we had early wake ups each day.
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As Sloterdijk is a mainly commercial area, dinner options were limited, but thanks to the power of the internet 9and we walked past it), we ended up at Casa Di Michael.
This was a great spot with good food - decent portions and very well made. Our first meal was a lasagne and spaghetti Aglio e Olio which were both very good.
40 Euro later we were sated.

Breakfast was included in our room rate and it was offered as a substantial buffet in a dedicated room.
Everything was on offer - juice, coffee, tea, hot food, cold food and breads.
The quality was good and in line with the setting - not gourmet but not Ibis low rent.

Today we took a train to Delft to look at the sights and be Tourists. The train system in Amsterdam proved to be complex - there are trains, Metro trains and Sprinters and Sloterdijk has 2 separate stations and 3 platforms so we did a few laps of it before we got the right one.
The rains are quick and smooth, no real issues with suspect persons and an uneventful trip.

Fairly uneventful day, went, saw, ate, bought and returned.

Diner tonight again at Michaels.
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Amsterdam - Day 3
After breakfast we again rode the (correct) train into the City. The metro train is slower than the Sprinter but the Sprinter is dearer. It's about a 20 minute trip on the slow train.

We did find a church in a house which was original from many hundreds of years ago when Christianity was banned and secreted away for eons. It is largely original and preserved and quite the thing to see.

That afternoon we did a canal tour. This was a highlight and I really recommend it. Hopefully rules allow naming, which was Voyage Amsterdam. This was a 2 hour trip compared to most others at 1 hour. Drinks and snacks were included and they were decent;
The owners were on the boat and they made sure everything was just right. lots of history of Amsterdam and the canals was delivered.

That night as we were in the city we thought we'd get the 19 tram back, so we ambled towards where the stop was. With the time approaching 7pm we dropped into an Italian joint for dinner. I was on the Spaghetti Aglio e Olio train still so had another one. My wife took on a vege pizza. Both meals were acceptable but not outstanding. When the bill came we had a shock - no EFTPOS as it was broke. With little Euro and cards only this was a problem - not least the biggest one being why didn't they tell us this when we sat down 40 minutes ago? So, we ended up paying the 40 Euro bill with 30 Euro cash and 10 USD. I'm sure the place got the better deal and we put it down to experience.

Jumped on the tram and by now we had learnt not to buy the pre-paid card with a cap on trips per day, as each trip was about 1.76 euro each way, so we just tapped with credit cards.
The tram trip was uneventful and took about 30 minutes which was a good sightseeing opportunity.


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Amsterdam Day 4 - Embarkation day

The Viking cruise we did was the European Sojurn, which was 23 days from Amsterdam to Bucharest. We elected a Category D French balcony cabin which was on the main deck along with the restaurant.

The booking and interim contacts was fine. About 90 days before departure we received notification of the included and optional land excursions. We booked 4 that were of interest and stayed with the optional ones.
The excursion list ended up thus;

We ended up cancelling the Croation countryside and wine tasting on the ship as we booked another paid full day excursion that was better (I can't remember what it was).
On the ship there was a few spots still available so I don't think you must be first to book. I recall the smallest paid group was 12 and that sold out as soon as they reminded people of the tour and the spaces left.
We had previously spoken to Viking about actual arrival time, length of time and departure time on the overnight stay days so we could plan our own time, and this was quite hard to do. There is some chat on forums about this and we had to hassle an agent in Sydney to look at previous trips to see the times. It was harder than it needed to be and I'd call that probably the only issue with booking, paying and receiving intel from Viking.
A few weeks before leaving Oz we received the documents and bag tags for boarding. Basically, tags with our name and cabin number on them that are used on most cruises.
We also confirmed that embarkation would be in the Cruise Port Amsterdam, close to the Central railway station. Some internet mis-information had it at Westpoort which is way North of the City.
Getting to the ship on the day was simple - we trained it to Central, fought the crowds and got to the dock where there was a Viking tent in clear view. I recall we got there about 3pm which was our allotted status time.
With our Bona Fides established, porters took our bags and we were directed along the dock to the ship. All very easy and low stress so far.
On board we were greeted, acknowledged and issue swipe keys for the room and for disembarkation and embarking the ship at ports. All very low fuss and efficient.
A porter took us to the cabin, explained some basic stuff and left us to it. Our main bags were not delivered to the room for another hour or so but it wasn't a problem.
Food was offered along with drinks for the people on board,

The cabin was probably as expected but a little bit smaller - those fish eye lenses do make some trickery! There was about a foot width between the bed and the counter top at the end of the bed and about a foot or so each side, with the door side being the tightest.
The bathroom was a challenge but - it was tight. The shower was about as wide as a man with a solid pair of shoulders, meaning be careful if you bend over as your warm butt cheek will meet stone cold tile.
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The supplied toiletries were Freya brand. After using them for 3 weeks I don't think they were anything to cross town to buy.
After settling in, we took a look around
2 coffee and tea stations were on the top deck. Where the flowers are was filled with either pastries for a.m. or biscuits and muffins during the day.
Coffee wasn't too bad and the machines dispensed the typical styles of coffee. Europeans for some reason think Earl Grey is a regular tea and that was the only black tea on board. Plenty of other botanical blends, seen int he coloured boxes to the top right.
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The lounge and bar was the social hub, as it was the only social hub. To the front was the Aquivit deck, which was half enclosed and half open. Most fine days and nights the open deck was in use, but if colder or wet the closed the bifold doors and it was enclosed.
This served the same food as downstairs but was a more relaxed space to eat. Being small, it did fill up quickly and you needed to grab a space early. There were 2 seat tables up here and I think the largest was 6 people.

That evening there was the compulsory evacuation drill and the obligatory talk about stuff.
Then, we were let loose into the dining room.
This was set up in various table sizes from 4 through 6, 8 and probably 12. It was always table service for dinner, but a buffet for breakfast.
The waiters were a mix of Filipino, Croatian and Romanian. I personally thought the Balkan staff were much more personable and willing to joke and they were great to interact with.

Dinner was what was served throughout the cruise - it was tasty, simple but fine, portions were about right for the courses served and did change with regional offerings along with a staple list of 'favourites'
Starter for the first night - I think they were Aracini. This is a typical serving but I'll post up more in future posts.

Risotto main - this was a bit bland without much defining flavour,
Rib eye main - I had this a few times and it was very consistent in size and tenderness.

OK, desserts were killer. These two were possibly the best we had but all desserts were like this. They also offered ice cream or sorbet and a different flavour was offered each night, but if you had to have your preferred flavour each night then they obliged.

Wine and beer were offered free during lunch and dinner or you paid $20 AUD per person per cabin daily to have on-demand and access to all the grog.
What I found interesting is 14 beers were offered free but only 2 reds and 2 whites, which did change. They weren't fantastic but drinkable.

And that was the first day on board.
23 days of cruising condensed into one post

I'll sum up the cruise as much as I can, rather than describing each day. I'll post the meals and drinks in separate posts too.
The Viking cruise we did was the European Sojurn, which was 23 days from Amsterdam to Bucharest. We elected a Category D French balcony cabin which was on the main deck along with the restaurant.

The booking and interim contacts was fine. About 90 days before departure we received notification of the included and optional land excursions. We booked 4 that were of interest and stayed with the optional ones.
The excursion list ended up thus;

Viking excursions.png

We ended up cancelling the Croation countryside and wine tasting on the ship as we booked another paid full day excursion that was better (I can't remember what it was).
On the ship there was a few spots still available so I don't think you must be first to book. I recall the smallest paid group was 12 and that sold out as soon as they reminded people of the tour and the spaces left.
We had previously spoken to Viking about actual arrival time, length of time and departure time on the overnight stay days so we could plan our own time, and this was quite hard to do. There is some chat on forums about this and we had to hassle an agent in Sydney to look at previous trips to see the times. It was harder than it needed to be and I'd call that probably the only issue with booking, paying and receiving intel from Viking.
A few weeks before leaving Oz we received the documents and bag tags for boarding. Basically, tags with our name and cabin number on them that are used on most cruises.
We also confirmed that embarkation would be in the Cruise Port Amsterdam, close to the Central railway station. Some internet mis-information had it at Westpoort which is way North of the City.
Getting to the ship on the day was simple - we trained it to Central, fought the crowds and got to the dock where there was a Viking tent in clear view. I recall we got there about 3pm which was our allotted status time.

Each day the schedule was advised via a newsletter left in the cabin during dinner, along with the tickets for the excursions, regardless of free or paid.
We were split into groups, normally 4 and the start times were normally staggered into 2 times, so 2 groups per time.
The organisation of the tours was very good. Unless we were right in town and a walking tour started there, we'd get on busses and be driven to the start. The shortest trip was about 10 minutes, the longest was about an hour. The busses were tourist coaches and had air conditioning and seat belts. They also had some steep stairs which the older less mobile folks did struggle with.
All the guides utilised an Audio Vox system which used a receiver and an in-ear speaker and worked quite well with a range of about 50 meters. They also supplied different headphones for hearing aid users.
We found the guides to be varied in their style. When comparing with others after a tour we found some didn't give information that others got, or they didn't take their group to some places. one time that stands out is in Budapest where we all stood off to one side of the parliament in the shade and were told about the area. But when we went to move off into view came a fairly impressive statue that was ignored by our guide and turned out to be some quite important historic monument.
The included tours were all decent in quality - always included history, all had a lot of walking and were all in groups of about 15 or so. We saw old towns, castles, monuments and the guides all provided a non-stop commentary on them.
The schedule was well done - everyday we ate lunch on the boat, either after a tour (most common) or before a tour. There was only one day we had lunch off the boat and that was as part of a full day tour in Bucharest on the last day, which was probably done to give the ship time to change over to the new passengers.

To get off the ship you needed to swipe your cabin card and the reverse was done on return - that way they knew who was on and off. At times when we had an overnight in port we were free to come and go as we pleased, I don't think there was a curfew.

Each night before dinner the cruise director gave a talk of about 30 minutes on the next days activities and schedule. He also included some background and history which was always interesting. There were some older people on board and they were less mobile. Quite quickly into proceedings this 'group' was recognised and a leisurely group was organised that had less walking, they were dropped closer to areas being visited (typically using the disabled spaces for example) and I thought that was a good response to an issue. It's probably in the SOP's but still it was considerate.

The cruise we took was actually 2 cruises which we didn't realise and the split at Vienna was quite pronounced in the surroundings and country.
To start, Amsterdam, Germany and Austria had huge amounts of castles and older towns to visit. This was very interesting as the empires of old were discussed and dissected and they all related to each other. Some of the castles and forts are very old and in good condition.
There were a few tours relating to Jewish history and these were interesting too. The Germans are very up front with this subject - "It happened, we did it, we can't change it and here it is". They don't gloss it but they don't promote naz_-ism.

We did 2 ports with an overnight - Vienna and Budapest. In both ports optional excursions were offered for opera, dinners or shows which we didn't do. In Budapest we did spend time doing night photo's of the town but mostly we were worn out each day after a full schedule.

The optional tours we did were good but I question the value. The Lipizzaner stallions behind the scenes tour was charged to us at 199 Euro each. This did include a horse drawn carriage ride through Vienna, which was a bit of Tourist chintz but when you look at the price of the Stables tour at 23 Euro, we sure paid a premium for that horse ride.
This was no more effort for Viking - we simply stopped outside the venue as part of a tour and stood to one side waiting for another guide to put a sign up. I appreciate there is a cost to Viking involved but a difference as large as this hurts.

The cabin cleaning staff were outstanding. We were lucky to get a lady from Romania and she was very friendly, efficient and a great representative. Each day we walked out of the cabin she did a check list with us; tickets, camera, hat, sunglasses, water, wife/husband. She was great to deal with, as were the other ladies on the floor.
They also cleaned very well. As we walked past cabins there were in there cleaning and they were doing a thorough job on the shower stalls, even wiping down above the shower head. No mouldy bits here folks. Toiletries were always replenished regardless of having one or two open in the shower stall - and they didn't remove them.

Laundry costs were expensive. 4 Euro per piece was the cheapest for your smalls, rising with the size of the garment. The showers had a pull out clothes line and a heated floor, so we washed items in the sink, hung them on the line, cranked the floor up to 10 and closed the door.

Air conditioning in the cabins was efficient, but with nil instructions anywhere it was a bit hit and miss. It would shut off when you opened the sliding door and I suspect a few people were caught by this. But I overheard more than one complaint about lack of control being an issue.

On the top deck there was open space. Mainly utilised with tables and chairs, the front half had umbrellas that would be taken down and removed if the wind picked up; and 'wind' was not much breeze at all. Past the wheelhouse were fixed shade sails with chairs, tables and lounges. Past that was a putt putt green and a shuffle board court. This also had the chef herb garden which we were advised not to touch, pluck, water or do anything other than look. Noted.

Drinks such as still and sparkling water were available at the coffee stations, and 2 bottles of distilled water were provided in the room. However, any other waters of soft drinks were not included outside of meal times and you could expect to pay for these if you wanted one.
There was no issue bringing your own drinks such as alcohol on board, I think they asked you not to drink them in the open area's but I had a beer on the top deck one day without issue.

The room had a fridge (which was quiet) a hairdryer, hanging space with about 8 hangers and on the bench 2 power points - 1 Euro and 1 US. Beside each bed was a Euro power point as well. We used an Aldi power board with 2 plugs and 4 USB ports and it was fine, although I had a power-hungry hard drive that I plugged into one point alone for it to get enough power to charge.

The room had a large flat screen TV and you could watch news channels such as BBC, Fox, CNBC and one other. Reception was a bit sketchy so I didn't rely on it. You could watch the daily cruise director talks in the lounge as well which was an alternative to going to the lounge. they also had a bow cam on 24 hours so you could watch that.

Internet was provided free and unlimited. They did warn us it may be slow and patchy and would be better in port. It was quoted as being suitable for email and light browsing but not for movie download or picture upload. It was slow and sometimes you gave up, but in the main it was enough for a person on holiday to get their interwebs fix. I did the speedtest thing and whilst it come up as starlink and a decent download speed (like 75Mb/GB/??) it was still slow.
You could connect 2 devices per name and cabin, so your phone and tablet could be connected at once.

The differences in the 2 cruises? The first cruise ended in Budapest and the second one started. From a passenger point of view it was seamless; we just had different people at dinner that night. But the biggest change was in the actual countries we visited. There was a definite drop in the wealth of countries in the Balkans - no more castles and forts, old towns were just old and the general vibe was of a struggle. Numerous buildings badly needed repairs and maintenance. The people were just as nice and friendly and I guess happy(?) with their lot.

Croatia was one standout. The war they endured has left permanent marks on the country and there are many buildings left as they were on the last day of war and not returned. Some have been rebuilt but only to a bare stage without any render or finishing.
But the general drop in life quality is evident and it's a wake up call to us in a very lucky country to see how others live.
In all the Balkan states the lack of wealth is evident and you could gauge it by the number of stray dogs. Virtually none seen in the first 2 weeks to a normal thing for the last week.

The history shown in the Baltic states is not as impressive as Germany and Austria but they do have it - older towns are around. We did an optional tour to Lepenski Vir which was a thousands-year old site that was eventually lost to a damming of a river. It's a fascinating site, hauled up the hill and reconstructed above the water level and has displays of original artifacts from thousands of years ago - just in glass cases

To be continued....
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Viking cruise meals - Breakfasts
Each morning breakfast was available, either on the front Aquivit terrace or in the main dining room. It started at 7am and finished at 9.30am(?). Most excursions were gone by 9am so there was no real leisurely breakfasts to be had, which is unfortunate as I like a long breakfast on holiday.
There was a menu available but I do not appear to have taken a shot of it. I recall pancakes, eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine along with smoked salmon and a few other things.
At the buffet there were hot and cold offerings along with cooked-to-order omelettes both full egg and white only, as well as any combination of egg you desired.
Teas, coffee, juices such as apple, cranberry, orange were all on offer. These were all served by the wait staff. If you wanted expresso coffee they did get them but I found it was just as easy to wander upstairs and make it myself. I found it a tad weak so I did an expresso shot and a cappuccino in a mug and that sorted my cravings. The waiters did hassle me a bit to get it so once I gave them the code they were happy to get it for me.
Being a boring person of regularity, I just had eggs Benedict each day, except for once when the waiters talked me into Florentine.
Generally they were a bit underdone with the whites still uncooked which is not to my taste - but tweaking the order to medium seemed to rectify it.
Fruit and yoghurt was also set out along with cereals, meats, cheeses, salmon and champagne. I didn't really notice anyone into the champers at brekky.
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We never had breakfast up on the Aquivit terrace but it seemed to be a bit more casual with more self-serve options.

The meals were good and had decent ingredients. There was both British and European bacon, the British being back bacon and the European streaky with a lot of fat. The scrambled eggs I never tried as they scare me but the sausages and potato rosti were decent. Someone must have had a word as the pork or beef sausages went from boiled to fried all of a sudden and their appeal increased 100%.
The service was great, a bit slow at times but if you let them know you were in a hurry they generally sped up.
I only had one SNAFU where my eggs took over 10 minutes to arrive. I grabbed some buffet stuff and the waiters noticed and hustled my plate over. Which was just as well as the buffet stuff was Holiday Inn Express level.

The amount of food you consumed was up to you and asking for multiple cooked options wasn't an issue (as with all other meal services, if you wanted 2 of everything they didn't flinch).
At all meal times, the waiters did get to know your preferences and would confirm you wanted X juice, X hot drink and X meal which was a pleasant thing.
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Viking cruise meals - lunch

Each day, as noted, we had lunch on the boat. This was always around the noon to 1pm start time and the excursions were arranged around lunch. For me, I found this great as you knew what sort of meal you'd get and there was no worry about how big, how unhealthy or other you would get.
For lunch, as with dinner, there was typically a regional focus for the menu along with what they termed their 'always available' items.
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The lunches we realised were slightly larger in size than the dinners which makes sense although in my case didn't stop me whacking on a lot of weight (read: fat around my midriff).
We split our time between the terrace and the dining room.
The terrace was a nice spot to sit when fine. They had a small roll out awning when stopped to keep the sun off and the glass roof had a sun shade on it to stop the harshest rays.
This is a typical lunch from the regional menu. German sausages and a beef salad, followed by dessert. We don't really do dessert and certainly not at lunch but when in Rome...

With lunch the alcohol was offered so all the beer and 2 reds and whites came out. Henrich Vollmer had the contract sewn up and the wines overall were acceptable. I tried some reds; some were good, some were not which is about typical for a freebie offering. You could also order soft drinks without cost during meal times. Some intrepid Aussies had already trained the bar staff and they didn't do too bad a lemon lime and bitters drink. On the Silver Service package you had the choice of any drink all day. Not sure who took it up but the majority of people who sat with didn't have it.
There was no rush during meal times, and if the afternoon was free staying at the table was no problem on the terrace, but they did start setting the room for dinner in the dining room about 2pm. Nothing was said, you just had goings-on around you.

Once they did a buffet int he downstairs dining room, which was German flavoured. Whilst there was plates of the options laid out, you could also have a sample plate served to you by wait staff.
It was nice food, perhaps not completely accurate but fooled us. There was a lot of variety and even the fussiest eater could find something to satisfy them.

Whilst I didn't see a lot, there was once I saw a person with dietary requirements at a table, and all she did was let the waiter know her room number and they sourced her meal. I'm not sure if it was the daily offering modified to her needs, or an entirely different meal. At any rate, they catered well for this need.

We ran the full gamut of offerings, from the staples, to the specials. The burgers were worth mention - the cheeseburger was a decent size and not over-cooked whilst the vegetarian burger was a bit spicy but well done for it.
Our American friends were not at all happy with the hotdog for good reason - small beef sausage thing, dried grilled onions and some mustard, not like your NY knicks game at all.
Other random lunch food shots:
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Viking cruise - dinners

So to the main course, as it were.

Dinners were offered at 7.15pm both on the Aquivit Terrace and in the restaurant (rather than the 'dining room' as I've described it) and were all table service.
As mentioned the tables were all set for groups of 6, 8 or 12 and most of them were full. There was a core who stayed upstairs for the casualness and we did that option for the last week or so. It just seemed a bit more relaxed and the waiters were a bit more jovial.

In keeping with the lunch, there was a core of always available favourites or a regional tasting menu. There was no issue mixing and matching the choices so you could have what you felt like.
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The regular menu is thus:
The top wines are the paid for inclusions which were free. The bottom two are the free options.
Beer menu for those prefer
Despite the cost alongside each one they were included free. Not a bad selection of beers and much more varied than the wines offerings.

As stated, dinner meals seemed to be a bit smaller than lunch, although 3 courses were on offer each night. The menu was double-paged with the regular stuff that didn't change (except wine choices and desserts) and the special offers on the other page.

Service was reasonably quick once the table was settled. Still or sparkling water was offered along with a bread and butter, that changed nightly. I suspect it was freshly baked as it was mostly always warm and no crunchiness to be seen.
The wait staff were varied - the Europeans always went ladies first for orders and serving but some of the Filipino didn't care. One night I was asked for my order but said ask the ladies first to which the response was I have you first on my app.
They all used a device like an iPhone 5 size that has the table number on it and they ordered according to each seat position. It worked very well and I only saw it glitch once.

Once ordered delivery was in a good time to allow conversation. The time between courses was also timed well and possibly dessert took longer to arrive.

As with lunch, the quality and flavours were good. All of the food was not outstanding but more solid, nice food. Our previous cruises have been with Ponant which are French-flagged and have a very French take on meals, included Jus, sauces, creams and styles. The Viking food was not offensive in design or flavour but was presented well most times.
I liked the food on Viking as it was to my liking and not small portions on big plates with tiny flowers as decoration and complex flavours.

All the meals we had did not get any poor feedback from our table mates as well. Some meals had been sitting waiting to be completed - one dish with potato had a definite crust - but in the context of a large service acceptable.

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Requesting extra items like extra fries, vegetables or whatever was no issue and they were happy to accommodate you.
Even when Ones double ambree was not cold enough
They placed it onto ice for the Gentleman

I became known as the Beer Snob soon after this event.
Viking cruise - Desserts!

These did deserve their own category. Not only were 2 desserts offered, there was ice cream, sorbet and cheese plates on offer.
Purely for research purposes we did go through the dessert menu quite diligently and weren't disappointed most nights.
These was a good variety of choices alongside the regular offerings, some of them regionally based if it was a theme night and some just because.

I'll let the pictures do the talking from here.
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All of them were solid flavours and enjoyable and probably a good size for the size of the previous courses.
I blame most of these on my expanding size. Not my fault at all.
Did you have to sit with the same people each night or could you move around?
Viking cruises - excursions

Although I touched on these earlier, some more info might be of interest.
The buses used were touring coaches with decent seats and seatbelts that were mandatory to use in Netherlands, Germany and Austria.
One interesting issue we found was the bus would not leave until the appointed time - great for when leaving the boat as you could amble up 1 minute before 8.30am, but in the cities it became painful; as the cities all had clean air rules the buses could not sit idling at all, therefore no air conditioning was running. Even if the bus was full of the allotted group, they would stay until the departure time and would not leave early. So, it became stifling in the bus waiting for the departure time to arrive. Some complained loudly but no changes were made.
In the Balkans the difference in bus quality was pronounced; previous buses were all new, auto, Mercedes or Scania
In the Balkans they were older, manual and not as flash.

Some action shots of the bus occupants. Smile folks

The excursions were all interesting and relevant. Quite a strong focus on the history and we saw castles, churches, old towns and monuments. The guides all talked non stop about the site and had a lot of info, but as pointed out some had more than others.
The spoken English was overall good, albeit with a strong accent. Some of them did take a bit of effort to follow, and I noticed they did not use punctuation. An example would be
"Here is a 15th century church which was first built in 1438 mind the step there and was a Christian church before being conquered". The lack of pause to point out a hazard was for me an annoyance, especially as there were many older folks who did struggle with the rough surfaces of European old towns. I did tune out a few times as it was a bit of a monologue and rambled on with obscure dates jumping back and forwards the odd 100 years.

We did get to a lot of sites early and more than once we were dodging the cleaners, staff and others either cleaning the site or making deliveries. On one hand we did avoid the crowds but then we were avoiding Franz in his golf cart roaring around sweeping and emptying bins. So it depends on your needs.

All the tours were paid for and we didn't need to worry about access. There were only a couple of places where tickets were required and the guide managed that; we just went through the gates like Bosses.

The amount of time at each place was generous and I never felt rushed. Normally, after the guide finished their speaking pert there was 30-45 minutes free time to roam. Every guide gave very clear and concise instructions on when the bus would depart, how to get to the meeting spot and ensured that there were no lost Sheeples. Only twice did we lose people; once it seems a couple known for serial lateness took the wrong lift or turn and had to walk back (about 10 minutes) and the major excitement for the boat was the man who totally missed the bus and the boat and had to cab it about 40 minutes ahead to meet us at a riverside dock.
Let me tell you, it's very hard to be incognito as the Missing Man when you are on the only small pontoon in miles and the boat pulls up alongside said pontoon with 2 crew assisting you on board. On a warm sunny day when the top deck is in full swing.

If you did manage to forget your listening device there were spares on the bus with the guides so all was not lost.

On the boat wee did have the cruise director give a PA announcement and talk whilst we went through a couple of spots - the Rhine in Germany with a lot of castles and attractions and the tightest part of the Danube. Our cruise director was Austrian and stated he had been doing river cruises for 30 years, his knowledge of all towns, cities, water ways and stuff was pretty impressive. He knew the small bakeries, restaurant's and pubs to go to and he walked the talk by taking a few people there. Not sure if he arranged it or was going there but I heard he did pick up the bill a few times.

The nightly newsletter also had background on the next days activities such as times, groups and locations to meet. It also had a half page of history on the area which was a gloss over but still gave you a good sense of what was to come.

Bottled water was offered on disembarking the ship. Mostly it was warm and not chilled which must have been made a point of as on hotter days it was chilled. It took me a while to figure out, but it actually made me feel queasy after drinking it so I stopped. it may have had some sort of mineral to it but I didn't really check it out.
The distilled water supplied in the cabins was fine and I topped off a steel bottle with that for each day.

Sunscreen was not offered for excursions, but hand sanitiser was at the doors to the restaurant and the exit doors. No bugs hit the ship which was excellent. The bus operators didn't offer any sanitising products.
Did you have to sit with the same people each night or could you move around?
It was open seating, so a free for all. As is normal, we found 2 couples we clicked with and tended to sit with them.
I think most people did stay with a core bunch although there were couples that did the rounds.
Some people took offence if you said the free seats were for people coming, others just went Meh we'll move on.
If the personalities didn't fit there were plenty of other tables to join.
Viking cruise - last day in Bucharest

On the last day we were all tossed off at around 8am and put onto buses, for the trip into Bucharest.
What entailed was a full day of sightseeing around the city, some walking around the town, a lunch, and a visit to a new church before being deposited at the J W Marriott for the night.

The tour stuff was typical Tourist in much the same vein as all previous tours so I'll gloss over that.

The Marriott was a class above our normal abode. The bags were all tagged before we left that morning and left in the corridors by a set time, based on your departure. Some folk were straight on a plane but most were staying overnight.
Recalling the age and physical abilities of our group, we were 'amused' to see we had been allocated a disabled/accessible room.
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All very nice and bigger than our last 22 odd nights but possibly lost on us.

The menu didn't appeal, either in cost or options so we googled the local area and found a well-rated pizza joint 3 minutes walk away and arrived there just after 6pm.
Some of our shipmates were already there and over the next hour or so 4 more groups staggered in.
The menu was 4 pages deep
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And we both had pizza; for Him the Margherita and for Her the Vegeteriana
1 Lei is 32 cents so just under 13 bucks for a pizza is good.
Add $4.85 for a beer and the night was done.

Next morning breakfast was included in the room rate so we attended the large dining area.
Plenty of options, all buffet style with drinks bought to your table.
I don't recall anything being totally outstanding nor uneatable.
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Flight Bucharest to Heathrow - BA885 J Class

We had the flight from Bucharest to London included in our RTW itinerary.
We had spent a couple of days in Bucharest before flying out and with the flight departing at 0835 and some differing opinions on times from front door to airside, we hopped in a Bolt (Uber) at 5.30am for a 6am arrival. 52 Lei, 17 Bucks and a decent young guy driving. English conversation was restricted to hand signals but we got by.

Being one of them fancy business class people we bypassed the crowds and were served next at check in. Fast process, showed passports, got boarding passes and into security. This was a bit of a slow process, the scanners for bags appeared to be the hold up along with the Public who were uncertain of the process.
Next was immigration. I had a puckering moment when the man in the booth looked at his screen for too long and then went out the back to see someone and finally came back to stamp my passport. He didn't say and I didn't ask, I just legged it.

Next challenge was finding the lounge. It was right up the end near the gates BA left from and not very well signed.
Entering was easy, although my attempts to get 2 guests in were flatly denied by the deck man (we saw an American couple from the boat in the terminal), and my attempt at Big Noting myself to get them into the lounge was flatly rejected. 1 guest only, not 2. We'll get busy he said.

However, they didn't miss much. Small, little seating, food choices AWFULL, nothing to get excited over.
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Food serving area: Choices were Cheese and Salmon balls (putrid), chicken nuggets (even the 3yo girl left them on the plate), Spring Rolls (just bearable) and spicy and cheese and corn Pizza (I was scared to be close to both of them).
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Coffee was drinkable, there was juice and then cold stuff such as yoghurts and the like.IMG_4594[1].JPG IMG_4595[1].JPGIMG_4596[1].JPG IMG_4599[1].JPGIMG_4598[1].JPG
Just off to the left of the food area was the storage/amenities/tip:

With some relief we left and went to boarding our jet airliner.

BA Europe v is nothing fantastic for cabins; even QF domestic J manages to provide bigger seats. BA solution is to block off the centre seat with a bolted in table, so you get space there but leg room is same as economy.
The service is better and we had a nice FA in the 'cabin'.
The menu's were actually menus; nicely printed and presented and no grubby marks on them
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He had the full British and She had the frittata.
First off, a decent cuppatea
Then to the main. The eggs should have been in Supermax, they were that dangerous. I don't understand why the people engineering rockets to the Moon can't spend a few minutes working on scrambled eggs for plane use. The bacon was not cooked but put in the warmer in the hope it may take on a crisp outlook.
But for me, the winner was the sausage. A real, proper, tasty, yummy, hot coughberland sausage. I'm not a cooked tomato fan so that went across to 2A as did most of the mushrooms.
The fruit was crisp.

No photos exist of 2A Frittata but it must have been OK.

The flight was uneventful, the hostie was pleasant and we landed in T3.

As is expected, Priority Baggage is just a money-making thing for the label makers and our bags arrived in due course.

Immigration and Customs was simple or not there and we went off in search of Budget rent a car.
We spent 5 days in the UK driving around but as this is a FF forum I'll gloss over those days and skip straight to the next flights.

Next..... BA LHR to LAX in J suites.
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British Airways BA 281 LHR - LAX - 777 with J suites;

The Lounge experience and the boarding debacle.

I was looking forwards to this, for two reasons - Never been on a 777 and wanted to see what the J suites were like as the only other BA flights we'd been on were A380 with the god-awful 4 seat face-to-face things. I'm still scarred from waking up and staring directly at a Scotsman staring directly at me.

Being an important Emerald FF we hit the BA first check in. All very nice too; water with lemon in a glass jar, nice lady with white gloves overseeing it and Gentlemen around to assist. Interesting they never challenged my worthiness to be there but let me in.
We arrived at about 7am I think as my first picture was at 8.10am. Not many people there, we went straight to a counter.
Check in was efficient and quick - bags tagged, passes given, good morning had and we went through the dedicated security lanes by way of scanning the boarding pass.
The the Troubles started.
My wife had bought some sort of cake during our days touring and had left it in her handbag. (We're not here to judge folks, if she wants to eat a 3-day-old, squashed, warm 'thing' with growth, let her do it)
So her bag exited stage left instead of straight on.
Now, the man here was a cut above the man in Norway - he had learnt the art of conversation and knew how to have a larf. Identifying the issue he had a rustle. And bought out said 3-day-old, squashed, warm 'thing' with growth. We shared a look.
He was very good and carefully placed it into another container for a secondary scan, whilst explaining that some items such as this had composition very similar to Bad Stuff. Like C4 explosive. With the growth not triggering any further alarms we were off to the Lounge.

I don't have a lot of pictures of the First Lounge, as One ought to be a bit low key. The food was a large buffet with multiple stations for hot, cold, drinks and snacks. The tables were very cafe like and not at all fancy. A Qantas First lounge beats this for ambience and dining options.
The food was quite ordinary and very similar to what you'd get at a, well, J W Marriott hotel.
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At the front of the lounge are seats facing the windows and a bar, along with couches set a bit back from the windows.
A wander through the facility showed that the toilet situation is abymsmal - they are multi-use non-gender rooms and are in high demand. However, there was cleaning staff in the small corridors and the rooms themselves were spotless;
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Towards the back of the lounge is a dedicated quiet area which was empty bar one sleeper when I went through.
Next to it is a work area - huh? Too bad if you get Mr Yelling on the phone whilst trying to doss down.

I would rate this lounge lower than a QF First lounge overall - it was more of a business lounge feel with hard seats at eating tables, a buffet open to all, and a lower vibe - and would compare it directly to the Sydney International business lounge as being very similar.

All too soon our flight was ready and whilst there were no calls made we didn't want to be Those People who were late so we walked down to the Gate. And stopped.

The flight was delayed due to a late arrival from New York so boarding was delayed.
However, proving that DYKWIA is truly an international phenomenon, all the Group1 people were insisting on going through the boarding gates now, to be able to sit in the chairs past the gates. I guess to show the plebs they were Special and waited for no one.

In due course, boarding was called and the lady at the gate noted we were Group 1. We said we didn't feel the need to be special to which she replied I don't understand why the need to go nowhere.

Then, in scenes reminiscent of QantasLink or Jetstar, we boarded buses to go to the plane as it had not been bough to our gate.
How do you feel now, Group 1 people?
I have a GPS tracker travel app, and it shows we went from T5B past T5C and thence to a parking area right beside the fuel tanks, near the Fire Station 51°28'22.0"N 0°28'19.4"W for what seemed like 20 minutes to arrive to this:

On the plane - Up, Up and Away

Boarding was easy as it was mostly First and Business people on the first bus. My only gripe, and I believe it valid as a WP, is that the First class people have someone guide them from the door to their seat, I guess in case they get lost on the way. Anyway, all it did was upset my routine of unpacking bags (Mrs is short so doesn't do overhead lockers) and getting all my chattels ready for the flight.
The seat was good, blankets and pillow at the ready and the amenity kit on the table.
Being Emerald, we were able to score seats in 'Emerald City' - my first experience. Similar to the QF A380 it had a tight configuration of 4 rows of 4 seats
The sliding doors were locked for take off and were unlocked when the FA came around for drinks orders.
The amenity kit was equivalent to a QF offering, with lotions, socks, eye mask and dental needs
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Drinks were offered but mine was either flat or the bubbles didn't show up

After the usual gaff of pre-flight stuff we were off and got down to business.
The CSM or equivalent went through the cabin speaking with the BA elite. I thought that would be it as I am Qantas Emerald and nothing to do with BA, but he came back after all the BA were addressed and had a bit of a talk. I thought that was a nice gesture and one he didn't need to do. He was very attentive all flight and was very happy when pouring drinks and we discussed the wines and how hard it was to pour a beer on a plane with it it frothing up everywhere. I'd say it was probably the most meaningful CSM talk I've had.

The menu was presented the same as the previous BA flight, on nice hard paper and well presented.
I think I have the page order correct in the pictures
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Certainly an impressive offering with plenty of choices.
My starter I had the poached prawns
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These were cold but nicely done. I had some concern as they weren't de-veined but some exploratory digging showed there was no residue.
The beetroot and apple salad was very nice.
The lettuce quarters did have some discolouration to them which let them down.

The bread is an interesting proposition - 3 different styles in the one bun. The first one was OK but the second one later int he flight was a bit much and I think I left the savoury 1/3. Butter was rock hard.
I had the Buena Vista Pinot Noir with the starter but didn't rate it. Different to an Australian Pinot, of which some older 9th Island from Tasmania would be my choice.

The main I went with the ricotta mezzaluna which I admit to not knowing what it was, but the others didn't appeal.
It was very hot and took some cooling. The burnt grass on top didn't enhance it any, but the asparagus was ok. It wasn't anything fantastic and nothing stood out - the olives were strong but the cheddar sauce was very bland. Coupe, that with bland ricotta and you have a bland meal.
This time I opted for the Chianti which was a bit more to my taste but not a head turner.

For dessert, Cheese wins. Cheese will always win so let it be.

All I can say about the cheese plate is I never got a chance to take pictures as I was too busy scoffing, but it wasn't the best as I had to leave 2 hard old ends behind. Which is a crime.

The meal service was not fast nor efficient and there was some time waiting for plates to be taken away, but all the crew were friendly and happy. in fact, one younger girl was quite interested in me walking around with my gopro videoing the joint. I jokingly said I was a videoblogger (I'm not, I just film to make my pals envious) but she them said one of the Points Hacks guys was her friend at school. From that pint, I was most definitely not a video blogger.

Any request for drinks or things that were not in view was always cheerfully done and they would often say I'll bring it to your seat.

Entertainment was fairly solid with plenty to watch. I'm not a big movie watcher so I only watched one movie. The screen seemed to respond quickly when I needed to pause when service was offered. The headphones were not noise cancelling to my Bose QC25 standard but were more a direct comparison to my Aldi wireless headphones.

The galley had a large number of offerings of snacks, but it also had decent offerings like salads, sandwiches and the like - a welcome change from the chips, chocolates and junk normally seen. Whilst red and white wine was in the cabinet, beer was not and I had to request it. I am a Beer Guy and the fridges didn't have it cold enough (or maybe that's just due to the British connection) and they were 330ml cans.

I admit to snoozing off for a while and the pillow was great - it was more of a full size pillow and you could sink into it and not have your head roll around. The seat went to a decent flatness and there was room to move. I only dozed so can't guide on sleep quality but it seemed to be a good place to be.

I'll put the arrival meal and deets into the next post.