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9 Overcrowded at Overlord

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    9 Overcrowded at Overlord

    The dinners on the Journey are, like all the meals, of a very high standard. One of the marvels of the mainstream lines is how they manage to create the illusion of something different with what is really mass-catering. They do really well, but there’s no denying that when cooking for smaller numbers everything seems fresher, hotter, better. We have not had a bad meal in 10 days, and we’ve had a couple that are amongst the best we’ve ever had.

    The sauces are exquisite, and the cuts of meat perfectly chosen. The vegetables are expertly prepared, with the requisite resistance to bite that tells you they’ve not been steamed to death, nor simply half-cooked and left. The deserts are something that can always be done well by even mass-market lines since they can be prepared well in advance, but even with these dishes the step up is clear and obvious. Mrs B had a souffle that was 99% air and 1% brilliance. It was outstanding, as was my apple tart tatin, with a palpable ‘crunch’ still in the apple slices, though the outsides were invitingly soft.

    I have grown used - not just on mainstream cruiselines but in shoreside restaurants too - to the cooking choices for red meats being a bit of a lottery. I have asked for ‘rare’ and got ‘well done’ many times, and Mrs B’s mother asked for ‘well done’ last year on a mainstream line and received something that a competent vet could have revived.

    I have learned to accept that on large cruise ships it’s perhaps a difficult thing to get consistently right. Even on Cunard’s QM2 which prides itself on it’s food presentation, I found it a disappointing and dispiriting failure as often as I found it a success.

    Azamara know the value of personal choice; they know that in the end it’s detail that’ll get you coming back; and they even know that there is a difference between ‘medium’ and ‘medium rare’ in red meats.

    We had just finished discussing the success of the meal the night before with a young couple from Atlanta, when the elderly lady to my right joined in.

    ‘We’re looking forward to seeing Anne Frank’s house’’ she said.

    ‘Four of them lived in a closet for 8 years’’ said her husband without really looking up from his plate.

    His command of the facts seemed a little loose from the little that I knew, but it could be that his body had diverted all its energies to digestion. He kept raising his fingers and the waiters kept restocking his plate with various meats and comestibles until a weary truce was reached long after the rest of us had finished. Just when I thought he couldn’t possibly force another thing past his lips he asked the waiter for more toast and inspected the various preserves with a practised eye. I have NEVER seen anyone eat like that man, and his wife carried on as if it was an everyday occurrence, which of course it may well have been. I would estimate he weighed 150lbs, or between 10 and 11 stone. If I ate like that I’d weigh double at least, and they’d need one of the many huge cranes that line the main dockside at Amsterdam just to get me aboard.

    But first they would have to move the ship, as we are berthed at ‘Passenger Terminal Amsterdam’ and there isn’t a crane in sight. Another of the charms of the Azamara’s ships is the access they have to ports denied the larger ships. We’ve already had Cherbourg and Honfleur, and whilst the bigger liners can and do visit Amsterdam, they can’t access the centre of town as we do on the Journey. It may sound a small or inconsequential thing to mention where exactly the ship berths, but really it makes a difference. It’s another in the long and sometimes surprising list of small gains that add up to something significant on Azamara.

    We like walking out from our cabin to the gangplank without encountering queues of other people doing the same. We like exiting the gangplank and finding ourselves squarely in the centre of these old port towns. This is how travel would have been 200 years ago, arriving at sea level and directly where the action is. We like the feeling of having our temporary home so close and available to us for these extended port stops. It’s an entirely different feel, and I can’t recommend it too highly, particularly for people who like to explore. For ports where we stay overnight - and most Azamara cruises have overnight stops - there is an entirely different and refreshing feeling of adventure and possibility.

    I had been reading recently a biography of Anne Frank’s father, Otto. It was he who found his daughter’s diaries after the war and it is due entirely to his dedication and a huge slice of luck that the world was able to see them. Otto had been lavishly decorated in the first world war fighting on behalf of the Kaiser in the battle of the Somme. It struck me again that this is another example of the plain dullness and lack of intelligence of the fascist approach. If a man like Otto, born and raised in Germany, a war hero and economic contributor wasn’t German enough, then who was?

    We walked the 3km or 4km to Anne Frank’s house only to find a queue of seemingly similar length waiting to enter. Stupidly, I didn’t think to buy tickets online ahead of time. The wait would have been over four hours, so we decided to try again tomorrow.

    We walked for a while along the beautiful canals that criss-cross the centre of Amsterdam, and Mrs B was just expressing a fondness for the place and its culture when she let out a small shriek of alarm and gripped my arm tightly. Looking down into the small courtyard in front of the basement of one of the houses, I saw a lady with an altogether different culture in mind. She was barely dressed, sitting on a chair under a red-coloured artificial light with a riding crop across her knees. She smiled weakly, but Mrs B was already pulling me away with some force so I didn’t have time to reciprocate.

    After that we noticed lots of groups of young men, many from Britain on stag night/weeks, but it was largely good humoured, and there was no feeling of threat or menace on the streets as you might expect in such circumstances.

    Amsterdam was an entirely surprising and enjoyable city. After most of the day spent exploring we returned to the welcome embrace of the ship. The ‘R-ship’ design is very well thought out. You never seem more than a few paces from where you next want to be and within a very few minutes we’d collected an ice cream and were sitting on the lovely and comfortable open decks.

    At sunset we took a canal boat cruise and saw even more of this beautiful city. It was difficult to imagine it as it was 70 years ago with people cowering and hiding away from the occupiers. We hope to see more in the morning, before we leave early for Germany, from where more tomorrow.

    Hi Max, Just playing catch up with your extraordinary blog, a masterclass in literacy for the pleasure of many on this forum.

    I'm only on Chapter 3 at the moment as I've been on one of those cruise thingy's, but will hopefully catch up on the rest over the next 24 hours.........Wilba


      Thanks Max,another excellent read,Amsterdam is a very interesting city,in every sense of the word,You really feel like you are in a true Capital city.We also missed out on Anna Franks house through the queues,Next time eh? Jan.


        Another great account, Max. I love Amsterdam - it is definitely a city for walking as there is loads to see. The outer canals are a pleasure to walk around and there are loads of outdoor cafes for sitting and watching the world go by. It's probably the best city in the world for people watching!

        You need to keep your wits about you as there are some rougher areas but it probably isn't any worse than most major cities.
        Cruising my way through life!



          Another excellent chapter Max, Amsterdam is a lovely city to visit and I have to say you are painting an excellent picture of Azamara their PR Dept should be offering you a position of Roving Ambassador.


            Yet another rush to the computer this morning, and yet another brilliant edition to enjoy ... it really won't be the same when Max returns home



              I'd love to go to Amsterdam, I've not yet managed to find a cruise going there on the date I want to go.

              Thank you Max. I hope you manage to get into Anne Franks house............................................. .................................Carol


                Max, Happy Cruiser has suggested that Azamara should offer you the position of Roving Ambassador; I totally agree. Azamara sales must be going through the roof.

                Azamara do have an official 'Chief Blogging Officer', she regularly comments on Cruise Critic. If the post becomes vacant I think you should seriously consider it.


                  I love Amsterdam, although we've only been on one cruise which stopped there.....yes, some of the sights are startling, and as one who's had to control numerous schoolchildren who visited en route to exchange breaks in Germany., a good sense of humour is required...
                  Thanks, Max.


                    Hi Max,
                    Just caught up with Parts 8 & 9. More very interesting and entertaining writing. Don't ever give up on the length of your reports, they are like a favourite book, that once you pick up, you can't put it down until it is finished.

                    Many, many thanks


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