Thursday, 22 November 2018

Another ski season begins (albeit slowly)

Michelle hates being photographed skiing...

Skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb opened today, albeit pretty limited (only 2.5 runs open). We spent a few hours on the hill just to get a feel, then escaped the crowds.

Skiing down Ego Bowl, Whistler Mtn

Meanwhile, down in the valley, not all the bears have gone to sleep....

Bear on Whistler Golf Course (November 21, 2018)

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

A short visit to Bavaria -- hiking (Mittenwald & Oberammergau) and cities (Nuremburg, Augsburg, Munich)

On top of the Shöttelkarspitze (Mittenwald in the distance)
We have posted all of our Bavaria trip photos on an album on our FLICKR account here.

After the Netherlands bike and boat trip, we took the train south to the Bavarian alps to Mittenwald, with a one night stopover in Nuremburg.

With only one night in Nuremburg, we could only (barely) get a taste for the city. What we saw we very much liked. Its old town (rebuilt after its destruction in the Second World War) and waterways were great to walk around. Its Frankonian food intriguing. We happened to arrive during the annual "Altstadt Fest" (Old City Festival); the old town streets at night were packed with people drinking beer and eating roast chicken and Nürnburger bratwurst.  But with only 1 night, we could only make a note to return to Nuremburg on a future trip.

Next afternoon, we headed to Mittenwald, a town in the Bavarian alps that David had visited many times from 1979 to 1995, including several weeks in 1979. (In 1979, while in Greece, David met Ilse and Christa from Mittenwald; they made the mistake of inviting him to visit Mittenwald. He did, and stayed many times in Ilse's parents' "Haus Ilse" gästhaus. (Last year, we visited Ilse and her partner Helmuth, now living up north in Anweiler.))

Mittenwald (Alpenrose Gästhaus and Church of St. Peter and Paul)

We stayed in the Alpenrose Gästhaus in the heart of Mittenwald. Michelle's first impression was that we had landed into the set of "Heidi" (even though I believe Heidi was Swiss). David hadn't been to Mittenwald since 1995; it was basically the same place but with more tourists (and Americans, who were rarely seen in Mittenwald in the 70-80s).

We came primarily to go hiking. Our first hike was a relatively easy hike to Höhe Kranzberg, the small ski hill behind Mittenwald.

Höhe Kranzberg - Ferchensee - Mittenwald hike

Nearing top of Kranzberg (Karwendel range in background).

View from top of Höhe Kranzberg (Obere Wettersteinspitze in background)
Reaching the top of the Kranzberg gave us great view of the surrounding mountains, allowing David to point out all the peaks he had climbed (alone or with friend Ilse) in the past (W. Karwendelspitze, Vierespitze, Wettersteinspitze, etc). Truth is, David was kinda shocked he did all these climbs, many quite exposed, often in one day. Pointing to the Wetterstein, he remarked out loud that "Must have been when I was young and stupid", causing some German tourists nearby to start laughing.

We hiked for about 4 hours on easy trails. Tired at the end, we were happy to enjoy an excellent Jägers Dunkel bier at the Mittenwald brewery.

Our next hike was to be more ambitious. The plan was to hike to the Soiernhaus for the first night, and then to another mountain hut for a second night. David had hiked the Soiern twice in the past.

Soiern hike
We took the local bus to Krün, and started hiking. The first 1.5 hours were on a relatively-steep gravel road (restricted so there was no traffic). Arriving at Fischbach Alm (alp), we were faced with a choice. One route David had been on before was indicated to take 30-40 minutes longer than the other. With no warnings about the shorter route, the Lakaiensteig, we chose this faster route. Unfortunately it was not faster for us, as the route had many dangerous dropoffs which caused us to slow down and be extra careful. Nothing technical, but one always had to be cautious and it certainly added tension to the walk. (Reminded us of the first half of our Manaslu trek last year!). Michelle was not happy as we arrived (safely) at the Soiernhaus. "No more dangerous trails!"   (Having taken the alternate route previously, David belatedly wished we had taken that safer, albeit longer distance, route.)

Fischbach Alm: decision time (Which route?)

Looking at Soiernhaus (our trail traversed cliffs in centre)

We were shown our bunks upstairs in the Soiernhaus (we had reserved by email the day before, but the hut turned out to be only 2/3rds full). Full of school kids... (who were pretty well-behaved; much better than we have observed on camping trips here in British Columbia) plus a few adults. The Soiernhaus was originally built as a royal hunting lodge in 1866 for King Ludwig II. Now it is owned/run as a full-service (i.e., they provide meals) moutain hut by the "Hochland" division of the German Alpine Society.

We had weinshorle (wine spritzer) and radler (beer and lemon pop) to cool off/recover from the Lakaiensteig hike. For dinner, we ordered pumpkin soup to share and two excellent venison stews, and of course white wine. As we said, full service. Michelle (and David) were feeling better already. (Well, perhaps not "full" service, as we had to clear plates ourselves, and then there are the bunks.)  After dinner, we paid our bill: 130 Euros (40 for 2 bunks; 20 for 2 breakfasts; 70 for drinks, wine and dinners) -- C$200 seems rather pricy for 1 night (certainly compared to our Nepal treks)!

Soiernhaus had shiny new bathrooms which you had to go outside to reach (in 1985, the last time David was there, the bathroom was inside the main building and much smaller). No problem, except 30 minutes after we arrived, it started pouring rain. The new bathrooms also do not have hot water (thus no showers). The bunk was a little too short for David and a little claustrophobic. We had brought the required sheet sleeping bags and with supplied blankets, we were not cold.

Talking to the Soiernhaus staff, we learned that the hut we planned to stay the next night had just closed for the season. Given a somewhat poor sleep the night before, the lack of privacy, and the whole feeling of "camping with the kids" (and the lack of showers), and the surprising high cost, we decided to change plans and complete the hike by heading back to Mittenwald. But which way? We could go back the way we came (Nope!); we could take the easier, longer, safer route (But do we want return via Krün?) or we could head towards Mittenwald via one of two possible routes, both of which David had done (1985). One route was longer and rated as a "blue" route (not scary). The other went over the Shöttelkarspitze and had some exposed sections. In 1985, David took Terry his Ph.D. professor over this route to the Soiernhaus, and did not recall any problems (and Terry doesn't love heights). Still, we asked the Soiernhaus staff, who said the Shöttelkarspitze route was fine, and nowhere near as scary as the Lakaiensteig.  Another hiker, a British Army guy who trains NATO soldiers in outdoor survival, also said the trail was fine, with only about 300m that were exposed.

The trail started out nicely. Great views, including a large herd of mountain-sheep called "gemsen" (we saw even more gemsen later in the hike). We were surprised to be passed by two young guys who were barefoot hiking (they brought no shoes at all). Strange. Even stranger when they left the trail and tried to climb steep stream beds (which they eventually gave up). One really good cut from the sharp rocks and what would they do?

Looking up at out route over the Shöttelkarspitze
Crazy barefoot hikers (here, off the trail)

On the way up to Shöttelkarspitze (zoom in to see herd of "gemsen")

As we neared the top, the dropoffs became more scary. We nevertheless took the 5-minute detour to the cross on the top of the Shöttelkarspitze. As he had done in the 70s and 80s, David filled out an entry in the logbook that is usually placed in a box on the cross at the top of peaks in Germany and Austria. Fantastic views. Time for a drink and bite to eat. But all the time, we kept thinking we still had to get over and down, safely. Michelle was not happy. (Guess when British Army outdoor survival guy says "only about 300m exposed", we should consider that a warning.)

On top of the Shöttelkarspitze

View back down to Soiern See (lake) and to the left of the lake, the Soiernhaus.

Lunch on top of the Shöttelkarspitze (view towards Wälgau, in direction of Munich)
Getting back down to the intersection may have only take 5 minutes, but it was scary as any slip and that would be it. David was in trouble....

The rest of the route followed a ridge that looked scary, but fortunately wasn't as bad as it looked (and definitely better than what we had just done). Once the ridge was done (taking perhaps 20 minutes), it then was a non-scary/non-dangerous hike down a rather steep meadow. At the bottom of this, we took a chocolate break and thought about living longer....

Looking back up to the mountains around the Soiern (including the Shöttelkarspitze) from Mittenwald

We then had a choice: go down a gravel road to a bus stop, requiring about another 45 minutes walk( but not being sure if/when bus would come), or keep walking all the way to Mittenwald (on easy, nearly-flat paths) requiring two hours. We chose the latter. We arrived back in Mittenwald very hot and tired. We went to our hotel (we had phoned for a room, and were directed to the posh "Post Hotel" for 1 night), had a shower, then headed to the Mittenwald Brewery for much anticipated Jägers Dunkel biers!

The first of the MUCH anticipated Jägers Dunkel biers at the Mittenwald Brewery (yes, she is smiling)
After our Soiern hike, we stayed two nights in Mittenwald (moving back to the Alpenrose on the second night). We ate and drank very well. We also had a gentle enjoyable hike in the Leutasch Klamm (a very narrow deep gorge with a metal walkway along it) which is in Austria but exits in Germany, even stopping for weinshorle and radler at the Gletscherschliff Restaurant on the way back down.

Leutasch Klamm

After Mittenwald, we took the train to Oberammergau. Our gästhaus was a 15-minute walk out of town (we knew this in advance), and it was beautiful. That night we had our best meal of the trip (and we'd had many excellent meals in Germany) at the Gästhof-hotel Zur Rose. (So good, we returned the next evening for dinner.).

On our second day, we decided to go hiking again. This time, we promised, no crazy dropoffs. After talking with our lodge host, we headed around the back of the Läber, with the intention of reaching the top (where the Läberbergbahn cable car goes to), have lunch, then come back down via Ettal.

We never made it to Ettal. There was some confusion over which trail to take, and we ended getting near the top, then detouring on a nice road around to the front of the Läber, where we were confronted by a trail sign indicating we were at the Läbersteig which was "Nür fur Geüpte" -- only for experienced. Well, we were "experienced", but we didn't want to go on another dicey trail. So we decided to follow it up until we became uncomfortable. Up top, the fog had rolled in, and we made it very close to the top (the Schartenkopf) before we decided to turn back -- it was starting to get dicey. By the time we got back down to the bottom (taking the Läbersteig all the way down), the fog cleared and we could see the top; it didn't look so bad and we realized we had come close to the top. Oh well, better safe and happy.

Only for experienced...

Oberammergau and the Läber hike

Läber (mound on the top left) and Schartenkopf (ridge on top right; we made it to just below this)

Easy walking up the back of the Läber

Michelle gets her cow time...

Lots of cow time...

Friendly but persistent horses who liked apples

On the Läbersteig, as it is getting steeper (Oberammergau straight down below)

After deciding to turn around (due to fog and steep dropoffs)

We enjoyed Oberammergau. We'd be happy to return and try some other hikes. But we were scheduled to head up to Augsburg (2-3 hours by train).

Augsburg was new to both of us, and we both liked it very much. A very manageable city, with a beautiful old downtown core. Not at all overrun by tourists (indeed, we saw few tourists).

Augsburg City Hall and Perlach Tower
One reason we chose Augsburg was that it was close to Munich (<50 minutes by train) without the outrageous prices charged by Munich hotels during Octoberfest. David has been to Munich many times (70s-80s), but never to Octoberfest. As we were discover, Octoberfest might have been more enjoyable when he/we were younger....

Arriving at the main train station in Munich, we were taken aback by the hordes of tourists. We headed over to Marienplatz, where we arrived minutes before the 12 noon "performance" of the glockenspiel in the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus). Seemed like thousands of tourists were clicking photos of the glockenspiel (only a movie can do it justice).

Neues Rathaus and its Glockenspiel

The required selfie

David wanted to go to Marienplatz so we could have lunch (and beer!) in his old favourite, the Schneider Weißes Bräuhaus. The Weissbier was still wonderful, and the würst was, well, as good as würst can be. Their apfel strudel was wonderful. However, what had really changed since the 70-80s, is that the Schneider Weißes Bräuhaus is now firmly on the tourist map, with many American and Japanese tourists.

Schneider Weißes Bräuhaus

Yup, another selfie
We decided it was time to head over to Octoberfest. Hopefully before it became too crowded. Arriving at the Octoberfest's "midway", we were impressed by what seemed the scariest rides we had ever seen. Certainly too much for us (or, at least, David...). In our mind, many rides were "Nür fur Geüpte".

Octoberfest "midway"

In our mind, the scariest ride at Octoberfest

We checked out some beer tents. Some were pumping out music while others were quiet. (We had heard that music plays for shorter periods during the daytime.) The tables were all full and none seemed inviting.

Inside an Octoberfest tent (Palaner?) at about 3pm on a Monday

We finally found a spot at a table in the Schottenhamel Tent. As it turned out, the man alone at the table was very (very) drunk and unintelligble. When his two friends returned to the table, they were "surprised" to see us there. We tried to have a conversation, but between language difficulties and their inebriated state, it seemed hopeless. Meanwhile, we had tried numerous times to get a beer (each time, the waitperson said something like "ask my colleague"). In the end, we were glad we didn't get a beer, as it only came in 1-litre steins (ein maß) and only boring "Helles" beer. And we were not enjoying our tablemates nor did we appreciate the many drunks (including many many non-German tourists all dressed up in their "trachten" -- lederhosen for men and dirndl for women). We got out of there. Perhaps we would have enjoyed Octoberfest more when we were 20-30 years of age.

A part of Octoberfest Michelle loved: the horses

Hőfbräu Horses (Hőfbräu is pronouced "hoaf " or "hoof" "broy",  NOT "hofbrow" )
After getting away from Octoberfest, we tried to do some sightseeing. But the crowds of people (both locals and tourists) were overwhelming to us. We decided to make a hasty retreat back to Augsburg.

It was a real relief to get off the train in Augsburg. We headed straight over to the Riegele Brewery for great beer and a light meal (we were still a little full from our lunch at Schneider Weiße). 

We spent our last day in Germany exploring Augsburg. Its a lovely place.

Weberhaus, Augsburg

Relaxed Augsburg
On the last morning we caught our ICE express train to Frankfurt Airport, where we learned our airline had changed our flight. That's another story for another time.

Friday, 28 September 2018

North Holland Bicycle and Boat Trip (September 8-15, 2018)

Waiting for hand-ferry across De Tsjonger of De Kuunder (Frisia, Day 3)
Last December, after Michelle tore her right ACL, MCL and meniscus skiing, things looked gloomy for her; she really wanted something down the line for her to look forward to. Given our great time in 2017 on the Rhine and Neckar "Bike & Boat" trip, we decided to book a similar trip for September 2018. (We chose September to ensure her knee healed, and to give us time to cruise May-August to Haida Gwaii.)

We initially hoped to secure an upper cabin on the same boat as last year, and bike & cruise the Mosel River. However, these were fully booked. Sticking with the same company (SE Tours, Bremerhaven), we decided to try their "North Holland" trip on the "MS Serena".

The MS Serena
The MS Serena carries about 100 passengers. Not too large; easy to get to know the crew and other passengers. It is not a luxury ship, but we found it to be very comfortable, with good food and friendly crew. We booked very early (January, 2018) and were fortunate to get one of only two "Junior Suites" on the ship. For only an extra 120 Euros (total for week), the Junior Suite has a large double bed (instead of single bunks, a bathroom with an opening window, and more space; we found it to be well worth it. The trip cost includes room and all meals, printed route guide and daily "route" briefing. (Bike rental is extra, as are end-of-trip tip.) Alcohol drinks are extra (at a very reasonable cost -- usually less than cost on land.) We founds the meals excellent (and too much); the ship's crew excellent.

The "Junior Suite" -- relative luxury
The "North Holland" trip starts and ends in Amsterdam.  A brief route description is given here (a much more detailed description is available here in pdf form), so we will only give some comments and photos. FYI: the cycling is not a "guided tour". We are given details of the route (and various route options), suggested stops (Andreas the tour guide especially seemed to like coffee and cake shops) and sidetrips, as well as information regarding hazards, etc. We are then left to ourselves t0 bike.

The North Holland Bicycle and Boat Route

We've posted all our photos of this trip on a FLICKR album here

The "Fietsflat" at Amsterdam Central Station: 3 levels of free parking for 2500 bikes. The Dutch are really into cycling!

We were glad our actual cycling did not begin in Amsterdam: Only a few minutes there indicated crowded bike lanes with cyclists who were not very "flexible" regarding newbie or foreign cyclists (we had been warned about this by Amsterdam locals on the TripAdvisor Netherlands Forum). Simply stated: as a pedestrian or cyclist, don't get in their way! By the time we returned to Amsterdam at the end of the week of cycling, we felt more confident re: cycling in Amsterdam and better understood the Dutch "approach" to cycling. 😓

Day 1: Arrive on ship in Amsterdam; ship leaves for Hoorn. An easy and short cruise during our first dinner. Hoorn was a very cute town, full of small bars and restaurants around the docks filled with yachts. After dinner, we took a short walk around the various yachts.

Day 2: Cycle from Hoorn to Enkhuizen. We first cycled within Hoorn, a beautiful, historic old town.

Hoorn's Westfries Museum (building built 1632)

Statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen in Hoorn's Rode Steen Square

Founded in 716, Hoorn rapidly grew to become a major harbour town. ("Cape Horn" at the southernmost tip of South America was named by Schouten in 1616 in honour of  his home town Hoorn.) Hoorn was an important home base for the Dutch East India Company; Jan Pieterszoon Coen (1587–1629) is famous for his violent raids in Dutch Indies (now Indonesia), where he supposedly "founded" the city of Batavia in 1619 (now Jakarta). He is considered a hero by some, and a mass murderer by others.

After checking out Hoorn, Michelle and I headed out for the day's journey of about 25 km to Enkhuizen. We initially chose the "dyke" route, but after 10 or so km, we were a bit bored with the route and decided to head inland to the route through the "polder" (farmland below sea level behind dikes). This biking was far more interesting, with green fields and many animals (mostly cows) to enjoy, small villages and little traffic (to our surprise, there was bothersome traffic on the dike "bike route"). The "green fields, cows/sheep/horses, canals, and relatively quite bike routes" were to become the norm over the coming days.

Enkhuizen was another very cute (and touristy) town, with many yachts and a lovely old port. We hadn't readup on North Holland, so were very pleasantly surprised by these towns. And many sail boats; we were surprised the Dutch were so into sailing. Facilities and small-craft harbours were everywhere we docked.


Small craft harbour in Enkhuizen (Netherlands has many many such harbours)

Day 3: Shipping in morning from Enkhuizen to Lemmer; then cycle roundtrip of about 35 km.

Lemmer is yet another cute town with a busy small-craft harbour. Today's ride is a circle trip along dikes and canals, along farm fields and through nature preserves. In the middle, a "surprise" (well, not such a surprise as we told all about it...).

The "surprise": a hand-cranked ferry for bicycles across De Kuunder
Michelle and Danish friend Bente try their hand at cranking us across


Typical bike-route signage (Green circle with number "34")
At the end of the day, the winds picked up, making the bike riding a little harder. Back on board the Serena in Lemmer, showers then drinks "helped".

Day 4: Cycle Lemmer to Stavoren (approx. 42 km)
A very windy day, the cycling proved to be very tiring (despite there being no hills anywhere). we first detoured to the quaint village of Sloten. (This route also went away from the seaside dikes, which we hoped to have less wind. To some  this worked. Nevertheless, we would have to return to the seaside at Stavoren.).

Old windmill in Sloten

On most days of our bike riding, we spent some time riding along canals. we were surprised to often see small-to-medium-sized cruisers (almost always powerboats) moored along the canals, often seemingly out in the middle of nowhere.

Canal cruising at Sloten
Today's ride was particularly tiring, riding against the strong winds. So, we happily finally stopped at one of guide Andreas' recommended stops: Prins Bakery and Cafe.

Coffee and cake at Prins Bakery

Today's ride saw the usual loads of cows. But a new addition were hundreds of horses. Most of these were black Frisians.  So many horses that we began to wonder why so many. (After all, The Netherlands is a big consumer of horsemeat....)

Frisian horses... and cows

Typical scenery on a Dutch bike ride
Stavoren is an historic port which has declined in importance since it silted-in. Nevertheless, there are thousands of yachts moored in marinas in the area. We had a difficult ride to Stavoren against the wind.

Serena seemed rather large as she docked in Stavoren in the 30 knot winds. we were very impressed with Captain Bianca's skill!  A long, tiring day riding against the wind, we were relieved to be back on the Serena!

Serena pulls a U-turn and docks in 30-kn winds in Stavoren
That night, we were due to ship over to Texel Island. But the harbormaster at Texel informed our Captain the seas at the harbour entrance were dangerous. we therefore only went partway, going through the east lock of the Afsluitdijk and stayed the eve at the commercial docks of  Den Dever.

Day 5: Ship from Den Dever to Oudeschild (Texel); Roundtrip Bike on Texel (48 km). (Eve: shipping to Den Helder)

Serena left Den Dever by 6am in the morning, and we were docked in Oudeschild on Texel (pronounced "Tessel") Island by 9am. No wind, but it was raining. Given the weather, we opted for the "middle" route which gave an overall taste of the island over 45-50 km.

In the rain at Da Slufter. Texel

Da Slufter (Texel)
Happily, the rain stopped after about 1 hour. Bike riding was easy without wind, with a mixture of dike riding, polder, and dunes. Very green and lots of animals. Our route took us through Den Burg, the main town on Texel (with a very cute central core). It looked very nice, but we had a goal: get back to the boat, have a shower, then ride back 10 minutes to the "Texel Brewery".

Texels Brewery produced excellent beer!

Bente and Arne (our Danish -- not Finish -- friends) also liked the beer!

The Texels Brewery was very friendly and brewed/served excellent beer. It was a fast 5-10 minute ride back down to the boat.

Serena was supposed to leave to cross to Den Helder by 6pm, but problems at the locks in Den Helder delayed our leaving. Indeed, we left Texel without knowing if the locks would work that night. They didn't, so we docked in a different area.

Day 6: Den Helder to Alkmaar (55 km).
Today's cycling was mostly along the North Sea coast, with a high dike and dunes on the ocean side. On the land side of the dike were extensive polder, with the usual cows,  sheep and horses. David didn't love the dike riding (boring); he preferred the polder and the many animals.

Riding beside the dunes

Polder on the land side of the dikes

Lunchtime by the dunes (near Camperduin)

Also, it started getting crowded on the bike route, as this is a very popular area for the Dutch. Making the bike trails worse were the many many electric bikes and even worse, the motor scooters which roar by you (apparently, motor scooters will be banned from bike trails as of 2019). After lunch, the crowds on the bike trail bothered us so much, we decided to strike out and go inland on a route not part of our recommended route. It was so much better after this. We arrived in Alkmaar about 45 minutes before Serena arrived.

Serena was docked very close to Almaar's old town and square, allowing us to grab a quick beer. The old town is, as we've now come to expect, very cute and very touristy.

The Alkmaar "Waag" (Cheese Weigh House) -- where "cheese market" occurs

Michelle, Arne & Bente pose for a "cheesy" photo in Alkmaar

Day 7: Visit Alkmaar "Cheese Market"; Ship Alkmaar to Wormerveer; cycle Wormerveer to Amsterdam (35 km)

Alkmaar is famous for its weekly (every Friday) "cheese market". Our schedule provided time to see it before leaving Alkmaar. However, we had been forewarned (including by our waiter at the bar in town last night) that this was not a real market, and that it was simply a show for tourists. These warnings were 100% correct, and after perhaps 40 minutes, we returned to the ship, rather bored.

Touristy or not, that's a lot of cheese (all gouda)

While at the cheese market, why not buy some wooden clogs?

They're dressed-up in costume, selling cheese packages

Arriving by ship in Wormerveer, we start our last day of bike riding. A sunny, easy ride for 35 km. We could have stopped at "Zaanse Schans" (where windmills and buildings from around the Netherlands have been moved for tourists to view), but didn't (though even locals say a stop is worth it). We've already seen many old windmills over the past week. Still, we took some photos.

Zaanse Schans (check out the sailboat motoring by)

Zaanse Schans
After Zaanse Schans, we missed a turn and were briefly lost. But such are the bike routes that it is easy to find an alternative and get back on track. And our "wrong way" took us past/through a chocolate factory district (our clothes came through smelling of chocolate!) and a cute suburb. we soon rejoined the "proper" track.

Our final part of the journal was to take a ferry (free) across to Amsterdam Central Station, where the Serena was due to dock. We were early, so we locked up the bikes and went over to a cafe-bar we discovered before the trip that served good beer.

At 5pm, we took an optional Amsterdam canal tour for 1 hour (well worth it), and then returned to the Serena to prepare for the Captain's dinner, the final dinner of the trip.

Drinks in the ship's lounge before the Captain's Dinner

Captain's Dinner (Michelle, Bente, Arne, David)
We made good friends with Bente and Arne from Denmark. As it turned out, we four were the only tour clients that needed the tour/biking information in English. From the first night, we were assigned to the table with Bente and Arne, as well as Erika and Werner from Switzerland. Happily, the six of us all got along well. For this specific cruise, most of the passengers were German speaking; there also was a group of 16 from Finland who had their own tour guide. (Last year, our boat had about 20 English speakers. On the Serena cruise following ours, we were told that at least 80 Canadians were booked. So one never knows.)

Day 8: early breakfast, then caught train to Germany  (blog post soon to follow)

Overall, a great "bike and boat" trip. We enjoyed biking the Netherlands and especially the MS Serena.