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2/2024 – Plan B

This trip needs a prologue! Way back in July 2023, Mark asked Susan what she wants to do for her 70th birthday. This first idea was a cruise through the Panama Canal from end to end, not into the middle and back out. When we couldn’t find one that operated during the birthday, the next idea was to see the Northern Lights. After all, if I have a winter birthday, why not just go from cold to colder?
We found one on Hurtigruten, the Norwegian company that Per and Lise told us about. We booked a cruise leaving from Amsterdam to Bergen and up the coast of Norway to the Arctic Circle and back again. It was on the MS Maud. I even signed up for the various Facebook pages for Hurtigruten trips. This becomes important about December 22!
We start preparing for the trip – plane flights, hotels, etc. We found an excellent price on a Singapore Air flight from JFK-FRA Business Class which we booked, adding a weekend in NY and tickets to see “Book of Mormon” on Broadway. Mark bought us some North Face coats so we are all ready to be cold in Norway and see the Northern Lights!
The drama begins as Christmas approaches. A serious storm hits the North Sea on December 22. The MS Maud sees this coming and changes a port stop so they can beat the storm across the North Sea to get back to Tilbury, UK in time for their Christmas cruise. The ship doesn’t make it! The MS Maud is hit by a rogue wave, breaking the bridge windows. The ship cannot navigate; calls for help. The passengers put on their water rescue suits and spend 8 hours at the muster stations in wild weather. Finally, 3 ships arrive from Norway and Denmark, the Maud gets some power back, and everyone heads to Bremerhaven, Germany. You can Google to read the whole story.
I know all of this thanks to Facebook! At this point, Mark and I start betting our cruise will be a no-go. However, Hurtigruten trades out the Maud for the Spitsbergen. Once again, we learn about this from Facebook. We finally get an email from Hurtigruten about the trade off and the Spitsbergen being a smaller ship – no room for us! We’re offered a refund, rebooking, or a voucher. We chose the refund and actually received it in just a few days. Since we have flights and NYC and hotels, Plan B is the next option.
That’s where the trip starts – Plan B!

We flew to NYC for a long weekend.

We did a tour of the hospital on Ellis Island. It’s very interesting. This is the view the immigrants had from the hospital beds.
We visited the Museum of Modern Art. Once in a while, we need some culture.
The “Book of Mormon” is one of the best musicals we’ve ever seen. We laughed our way through the entire production.

After NYC, we flew to Frankfurt and on to Amsterdam. Mark didn’t want to take Deutsche Bahn to Amsterdam which was a good decision since DB had a strike the day we flew to Amsterdam. The original trip had us spending a few days in Amsterdam before we took the tram and bus to Ijmuiden, where the ship sailed from. Jutta, a German friend, was meeting us there for the day. Rather than undo all of that, we went to Ijmuiden for the night.

Fun brewery on a chilly Sunday afternoon in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam wants to make sure everyone understands the rules.
Ristafel dinner – Indonesian food. It’s yummy! The waitress asked if we had any food allergy. We said “no” and she told us “Boomers never have allergies”. Guess it pays be older.
Ijmuiden, Netherlands has spectacular beaches along the North Sea. In January, the wind howls, making it a hot spot for wind surfing and kiteboarding.
The MS Spitsbergen – the ship we were supposed to be on.

2/2024 – Birthday in Bruges

February is a great time to visit Bruges without crowds but the weather is a bit iffy. Rain was the theme of our 6 days in Bruges. All activities occurred between rain showers! We wandered in and out of the streets and along the canals, stopping at various breweries (Half Moon, Bourgogne de Flandres, Le Garre) to get out of the rain. Mark has a favorite chocolate shop from our first visit to Bruges in 1990. It was not where we thought it was, resulting in a multi-day hunt. It moved but is still owned by the same family. The granddaughter runs it.
We continued the art theme and visited the St. Jan Hospital Museum where they have a Hans Memling exhibit of paintings owned by the convent. They clearly were not poor nuns!

A lonely street in the evening. Bruges is pretty much deserted in February after the work day is finished. Very few tourists wandering around.
Men have it so easy. These urinals are at the Saturday market. Women have to search for a bathroom!
We had the laundromat to ourselves until 3 American teenage guys came in. They were in Bruges with a group of soccer players and needed to wash their sweaty clothes. They had no idea how to use a Belgian laundry. We came to their rescue after watching them for a few minutes – sent them to the store up the street to get change, showed them which detergent to buy from the machine and even gave them a 10 cent piece since the laundry detergent machine only took exact change. We left them waiting for the washing machine to finish and figured they could figure out the dryer on their own!
Chocolate shoes!
Yes, this is a chocolate purse dyed to look green.
One of the many canals in Bruges.
Le Garre brewery. This place is TINY. We’ve tried 3 times to have a beer here – one time it was closed, another time it was SO smoky we didn’t even go in. Third time’s a charm – open, 2 chairs and it’s non-smoking now.
Happy Birthday champagne!
Mussels for birthday dinner.

One day we spent on a WWI tour with a great tour guide – Lucas. He picked us up at 9 AM and we visited Passendale, Hill60, Tynecot Commonwealth Cemetery, Dr. John McRae memorial, Ypres Salient, a farm with ammunition collection, Yorkshire Bunker in the middle of an industrial park, and a German Cemetery.

Ypres was demolished by WWI and completely rebuilt in the medieval style.
A bomb hole from WWI
Tynecote Commonwealth Cemetery. British bodies weren’t repatriated but buried in Belgium or France where they died.