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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2015
Mediterranean Cruise -  Part 1
Introduction to  these two Cruises, Southampton and day at sea Amsterdam Zeebrugge for Bruges   Southampton and two days at sea Gibraltar Cagliari, Sardinia Naples, for Herculaneium Civitavecchia for Rome, Italy Monte Carlo, Monaco Barcelona, Spain Cadiz for Seville, Spain Two days at Sea to Southampton

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Introduction to the Cruises and Departure from Southampton

This cruise was a combination of two cruises. The first was 5 days to Amsterdam and Bruges in a balcony stateroom; the second was 14 days in an oceanview to Spain and Italy. The second cruise was booked to celebrate our wedding anniversary and the shorter cruise was added later when it was advertised to celebrate the 5th birthday of Queen Elizabeth.

Amsterdam - Sunday 4 and Monday 5 October

The Queen Elizabeth reached Holland in the early hours of the morning and we picked up our pilot and went through the sea lock at 0545 and then continued slowly along the Ij to the cruise terminal near the Central Station in Amsterdam. We were delighted with the berth because on our previous visit on the QE2 we were berthed in a container port a long shuttle bus journey from town. Here we were only a few minutes from the Central Station and would be staying in Amsterdam for two days. Unfortunately it was Sunday and our favourite Genever cafe (the Admiral in Herengracht) was closed on Sunday and open only in the evenings on Monday. We still hoped to buy cheese even if we could not purchase Genever.

There are 44 museums in Amsterdam and we had made a list of those we wanted to visit and their opening times. Prices for entry varied between 8 and 15 euros and we decided it was better to purchase a Museumkaart which cost 60 euros and was valid for 12 months. We hope to visit Holland in 2016 with our friends Dugald and Lesley and they recommended we get a Museumkaart. Our first museum was the National Maritime Museum which opened at 0900 and sold us our cards. The museum is in three buildings which surround a covered courtyard and there is a replica East Indiaman “Amsterdam” berthed outside. We spent our time in the Oost building which contains paintings by Dutch masters, ship decorations, navigational instruments, photo albums, yacht models, atlases and items of glass, silver and porcelain.

After absorbing the maritime history it was a welcome contrast to look for museums which were in canal houses. Although the subject of the museums was often interesting the main reason to visit was to see inside the buildings, especially if they were not too modernised. The Museum Willet-Holthuysen is a historical canal house built in the 17th century with a rich interior and a beautiful town garden. It is a double canal house on the Herengracht and was gifted in 1895 to the city of Amsterdam to include the contents. The house contains antique furniture, silver, ceramics, sculpture, paintings and photographs. The kitchen has a useful self-service coffee machine (1 euro). Just a few yards along the Herengracht is the Tassenmuseum Hendrikje which initially looked like a shop selling bags and purses but which also has a small museum with a cafe and pretty courtyard garden. The collection made by Hendrikje Ivo has of over 5000 bags and purses. The house was built in 1664 and is a former residence of the mayor of Amsterdam. The next canal house was the Bijbels Museum further along the Herengracht.

There are four branches of the Amsterdam Cheese Company and one is in Leiderstraat where it crosses the Herengracht, just before the Bijbels Museum. However my guidebook suggested instead De Kaaskamer in Runstraat. We visited both and De Kaaskamer had an excellent selection of Dutch cheeses as well as cheese from other parts of Europe. We bought slices of two old Dutch cheese and one of local buffalo cheese.

The is a historic canal house, built in 1662 retaining some original features and two rooms with ceilings from the 17th to 18th century. Like the previous museums, it has a beautiful tranquil courtyard garden. There is also a nice cafe. The Museum of the Canals, nearby in Herengracht, was not listed in the museum book. It is an independent museum with extra entrance charge and we decided to limit our museums to those which were free for us. We then visited the Huis Marseille in Keizersgracht which was described as a museum of photography. This was a disappointment because it was only a gallery of photographs, with displays by Esko Mannikko from Finland and Hanne van der Woude from Nijmegen. There was no photographic equipment on display. Finally we visited the permanent exhibition in the Amsterdam Museum and just had time to watch the video Amsterdam DNA befor closing time at 1700. If we had visited all these museums separately then we would have paid over 60 euros, so we had good value from our Museumkaart.

Our intention was to catch a canal boat for an evening candlelit cruise with wine and cheese (37.50 euros) but the boats from the Central Station were all full. Also these trips didn't start until 2100 because it had to be dark to admire the illuminated bridges and buildings, and it was only 1730. Instead we purchased a 24 hour ticket for the HopOn HopOff Canal Bus (25 euros) and just caught the last journey of the red line at 1805 from the Central Station back to the Passenger Terminal. The rest of the ticket was valid for the following day and we enjoyed a good dinner on board.

The next morning we left early to walk the 3 kms to the Rijksmuseum. The easiest path to the Central Station was along the Ruijterkade which passed the huge moored river boats. Then a direct line passed De Waag at the Nieuw Markt then along the Kloveniersburgwal to the river Amstel. Having negotiated the road works at the Muntplein it was an easy stroll along the Vijzelstraat and over the three main canals – the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht - to the Singelgracht. The journey could be done by tram from the Central Station but the walk is pleasant in good weather.

We arrived at the Rijksmuseum at 0930 before the crowds and much earlier than the first Canal bus from the passenger terminal which was scheduled to arrive at 1120. Entry was free with our Museumkaart. It is Holland's largest museum and has been closed for many years for renovation and only re-opened in 2013. After exploring Amsterdam's canals and waterways, the Rijksmuseum is the next most important visitor highlight. Entry is on Level 1 and we quickly climbed to Level 2 to admire the famous Night Watch by Rembrandt. Painted in 1642 it is a study of the militiamen but is very different to the other formal and static paintings displayed in the same room. The Night Watch shows a lively scene with the unusual use of golden light to highlight the action in the foreground which contrasts with the darkness of the background. The central Gallery of Honour is a beautiful gallery leading to the Great Hall. Level 2 has many other important paintings, including the Jewish Bride by Rembrandt, the Milkmaid by Vermeer and a self-portrait by Rembrandt as a young man. We ambled slowly around the rest of level 2 as the tour groups and children began to arrive to admire the Night Watch. It was then quite difficult to find Level 3 until one of the guides explained that the stairs were only from the Great Hall. It was worth the effort because we were able to admire the aircraft K-123. It is a British Aerial Transport (BAT) FK 23 Bantam designed by Frits Koolhoven in 1917. It was too late to go into production for the war but was interesting to see with its elegant monocoque fuselage in 2mm ply. Down on Level 1 we rushed past the large painting of the Battle of Waterloo in search of the painting by Gabriel of the Windmill on a Polder Waterway.

As the museum became more congested we emerged onto the banks of the Singel simultaneously with the arrival of the green HopOn HopOff Canal bus. This went along the Singel to the Leidseplein, then along the Prinsengracht to the river Amstel. Here we turned towards the Rembrandtplein passing under the famous wooden Magere Brug. We were lucky that ahead of us was a tall boat which required the bridge be raised so we were able to see it lifted and then lowered. There was a glimpse of the Munttower as we turned off the Amstel at the City Hall towards Rembrandt house and Nemo. We passed the well known floating Sea Palace Chinese Restaurant arrived at Central Station one hour after leaving the Rijksmusem, and changed to the red Canal bus.

This took a different route to the Rijksmuseum along the Nieuw Herengracht and the Hermitage museum to the Amstel. Here we continued past the Carre theatre and the splendid Amstel Intercontinental Hotel before turning along the Singel. There was a glimpse of the old Heineken Brewery which is now a museum. The continuation from the Rijksmuseum would mean we would arrive back at the passenger terminal just before 1600, which was late for an all aboard time of 1630. So we disembarked and walked back past the flower market instead.

Zeebrugge - Tuesday 6 October

We used to catch the Dover to Zeebrugge ferry when we went gliding in Germany so we knew Zeebrugge port well. It is also the gateway for cruise ships to the towns of Bruges and Brussels. Our plans were to catch a train from Blankenberg station to Bruges but the weather was bad and we decided to stay on board. It was too unpleasant to go on the complimentary shuttle bus into Blankenberg.

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Content revised: 18th July, 2020