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Hillsdale’s Alaska on “Crystal Serenity”

Hillsdale’s Alaska on “Crystal Serenity”

North to Alaska

The 2016 Hills­dale Col­lege cruise of south­west Alas­ka aboard Crys­tal Seren­i­ty (27 July-3 August) pro­vid­ed an impres­sive vis­it to a spec­tac­u­lar state. Accom­pa­ny­ing the fine din­ing and enter­tain­ment was a crew which could not have done more. Crys­tal Cruis­es seems to own all the high­est rat­ings in the busi­ness, and it’s easy to see why. There’s no sep­a­rate bar bill, and they’ll deliv­er up to two bot­tles a day to your state­room. No one could drink this much! Tips are includ­ed, nobody duns you for hand­outs, and you’re not pre­sent­ed with a list of “esti­mat­ed gra­tu­ities” on your last day aboard.

Crys­tal Seren­i­ty

Crys­tal ships offer more than aver­age pub­lic space. We had only 1000 pas­sen­gers (much less than capac­i­ty), aboard an 820 foot, 69,000-ton ship), so it nev­er felt con­gest­ed. As they used to say at Brook­lands rac­ing cir­cuit: “the right crowd and no crowd­ing.” More pas­sen­gers are usu­al, how­ev­er. On 16 August Seren­i­ty set sail to Alas­ka again with 1700 cus­tomers on a 28-day cruise from Van­cou­ver to New York via the North­west Pas­sage. She is the largest ship ever to nav­i­gate that course.

Fun Afloat

Aside from the atten­tive staff and per­fect orga­ni­za­tion, there was night­ly enter­tain­ment at four or five dif­fer­ent venues. Bar room piano play­er Per­ry Grant kept us at the Avenue Saloon 9:30-12:30 every night, as he played, sang and inter­viewed guests. Per­ry has a touch: nev­er too bawdy, always fun. He seems to know hun­dreds of tunes, hard­ly ever repeats one. For those of “a cer­tain age,” it’s a mem­o­rable com­bi­na­tion. We under­stand he has a small army of fol­low­ers, who sign on wher­ev­er he goes. Here’s Perry’s ver­sion of “My Way.”

(We couldn’t get enough. This one’s for you, and you know who you are….)

The route began from Van­cou­ver to Juneau, Alaska’s cap­i­tal. There was a sea voy­age the Hub­bard Glac­i­er, then to the Alas­ka towns of Hoonah, Skag­way and Ketchikan. We reen­tered British Colum­bia via Nanaimo, and end­ed in Van­cou­ver. Well orga­nized excur­sions (extra cost) were avail­able, but you could eas­i­ly pass a day walk­ing around a town, or just relax­ing on the ship.

We aren’t cruise folk. Viking’s Danube Riv­er cruise, with 180 aboard, is more our style. We con­fess to han­ker­ing for a canal barge for twelve, a big ketch for six, or the Clay­more II, sup­ply ship for Pit­cairn Island, which takes three days to float six pas­sen­gers to the sto­ried hide­away of Fletch­er Chris­t­ian and a hand­ful of rebels after the Mutiny on the Boun­ty. That we enjoyed a “big” cruise speaks vol­umes of Crys­tal qual­i­ty and Hillsdale’s orga­niz­ing.

Hillsdale Seminars

The College’s edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram is a great way to while away days at sea. Our speak­ers were an eclec­tic mix. Hills­dale Pres­i­dent Lar­ry Arnn always has worth­while things to say to thought­ful peo­ple. Wor­ri­some things these days, with so many uncer­tain­ties fac­ing Amer­i­ca and the world. Vic­tor Davis Han­son spoke about Athens and Spar­ta, elo­quent­ly and well, not with­out par­al­lels to mod­ern prob­lems. John Steele Gor­don, the his­to­ri­an and colum­nist, spoke about his illu­mi­nat­ing book on the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment and oth­er obelisks.

Screen­writer Michael Walsh said movies don’t real­ly start off to be lib­er­al or con­ser­v­a­tive. If you want to write one of those, you’re on the wrong track. What matters—despite Hollywood’s rep­u­ta­tion as a hotbed of wealthy left­ies who can bear any tax bur­den levied on the rest of us—is the sto­ry line: “The God­fa­ther could have been set a mil­lion years BC and would still have been a suc­cess because of the sto­ry line.”

Walsh inci­den­tal­ly wrote a great prequel/sequel to Casablan­ca called As Time Goes By, which all Casablan­ca fans should read. The pre­quel explains why Rick Blaine(who grew up in New York as Itzhak Baline) could not return to his home town. The sequel describes how Elsa, Vic­tor, Louie, Sam and Rick  helped to assas­si­nate Rein­hard Hey­drich, “the Butch­er of Prague.”  So now you know how that hap­pened.

David Gold­man was so riv­et­ing on the demo­graph­ics of Islam and the Mid­dle East that I bought his book. Prompt­ed by a Turk­ish wait­er, I also asked him about Turkey, which is wor­thy of a sep­a­rate post.

For infor­ma­tion on future Hills­dale cruis­es, click here.



Viking’s Danube Waltz (7)

Viking’s Danube Waltz (7)

con­clud­ed from part 6…

June 7-9th: Prague, Czech Repub­lic 

“You Must Remem­ber This…”

8a-OverviewPragueTwo full days in Prague, an option­al extra on the Danube Waltz Tour, costs an addi­tion­al $1500 per cou­ple, and includes three nights at the very hand­some new town Hilton. Break­fasts there are the same com­pre­hen­sive assort­ment from nuts to soup that we encoun­tered aboard ship. The coach ride from Pas­sau, Ger­many, takes four hours through the his­toric Sude­ten­land, the dis­pute over which end­ed in the fate­ful Munich Agree­ment of 1938. last stop on the road to World War II.

8e-CanalPragueViking starts you off with a com­pre­hen­sive guid­ed tour of Prague, using a coach with walk­ing inter­vals. The city struck us as at once the most pros­per­ous we’d seen, and the grot­ti­est, with a lot more rub­bish about than Pas­sau, Vien­na, Salzburg, Bratisla­va and Budapest. Every­thing I could hope to tell you about Prague, an archi­tec­tur­al won­der, you can find on the web, so this report is restrict­ed to what we saw on our own and rec­om­mend see­ing.

gismonda_detailAt the charm­ing Mucha Muse­um you’ll find many images by Alphonse Mucha, who defined art nou­veau and made Sarah Bern­hardt immor­tal. His pre­cise lith­o­graphs dec­o­rat­ed every­thing from bis­cuit tins to cig­a­rette ads, and he was a pret­ty fair oil painter too. His small, one-floor muse­um with a fine 30-minute video is well worth a stop. Mucha devot­ed the sec­ond half of his career to patri­ot­ic themes dur­ing the Czech nation­al reawak­en­ing 1900-18 and the repub­lic 1918-38. As a local fig­ure of repute, the Gestapo arrest­ed and ques­tioned him, then let him go, but he died in the ordeal, aged 78. He’d be pleased with the revival of his coun­try, albeit trun­cat­ed since the divi­sion with Slovakia—certainly the Czech Repub­lic is one of the most pros­per­ous in the old east­ern bloc.

Lobkowitz PalaceThe Lobkow­icz Palace is part of Prague Cas­tle, restored to the fam­i­ly after the Bol­shies were thrown out in 1989. The present Count has spent half a life­time and lots of trea­sure find­ing and restor­ing the art trea­sures. This proved a per­fect place for a con­cert of flute, vio­la and piano offer­ing Bach, Beethoven, Vival­di and the great Czechs Dvo­rak and Smetana, whose “Moldau,” the nation­al con­cert piece. It sound­ed as good on one piano as it does with a full orches­tra. This is one impres­sive coun­try, thanks to nation­al hero Vaclav Hav­el, who brought it back to life in 1989.

With the aid of Yelp and some locals, we were delight­ed with the restau­rants we chose for din­ner on two evenings, which we can rec­om­mend with every con­fi­dence.

8p-CafeImpPragueCafé Impe­r­i­al, Na Poříčí 15

CafeImperialSuzanne’s hor­ror over the size of her mar­ti­ni was the only bad news at this place. Yelp it and you’ll see what we mean. Barbara’s mar­i­nat­ed foie gras was spec­tac­u­lar. The chick­en roulade with Ital­ian sausage and bar­ley risot­to out of this world, and, though busy, the ambi­ence and ser­vice were equal to the food. You dine in big Vic­to­ri­an easy chairs sur­round­ed by porce­lain mosaics and art nou­veau ceram­ics. The bill is enough to keep your socks on. Din­ner for four, includ­ing three drinks and a bot­tle of wine, came to $80 includ­ing the tip. Yes, that is twen­ty dol­lars per per­son.

Blue Duckling/Little Blue Duck, Malá Strana

CasablancaPoster-GoldHon­est to gosh, the piano play­er gave us a good imi­ta­tion of Sam at Rick’s Cafe Amer­i­caine in Casablan­ca, play­ing As Time Goes By. Remem­ber?

Rick: (Bogie): “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine….You know what I want to hear.”

Sam (Doo­ley Wlson): “I don’t think I can remem­ber….”

Rick: “If she can stand it I can. PLAY IT!”

I half-expect­ed Ilsa/Ingrid and Victor/Paul to walk in that very moment. There were no Nazis in the cor­ner singing Die Wacht am Rhein, and no Laz­lo to drown them out with Le Mar­seil­laise. Sim­i­lar atmos­phere, though.

BlueDucklingThe cab­bie said it was one of the most expen­sive restau­rants in Prague, and the bill real­ly rocked us. Two bot­tles of wine (one an unpro­nounce­able blend of Caber­net and Czech grapes that could pass for a clas­si­fied bor­deaux, two drinks, starters and duck entrées for four plus bot­tled water, cof­fee, dessert and tip came to a stag­ger­ing $57 per per­son. The entrées includ­ed one duck dish list­ed under “veni­son,” pos­si­bly because the
duck had wad­dled under the deer when the deer was shot. Also, the cab fare back with tip was $8, which will get you through two traf­fic lights on Park Avenue. If you get the impres­sion you can dine like a king in Praque for very low bucks, you are right. We could have spent a week sam­pling the bistros.

Avoid Heathrow Ter­mi­nal Trans­fers!

No mat­ter where you fly from, and where you’re going in Europe, avoid any route requir­ing you to change ter­mi­nals (typ­i­cal­ly from 5 to 3 or vice-ver­sa) at London’s Heathrow Air­port. It took us most of an hour, with lengthy walks, long queues, a shut­tle bus, a tran­sit train and com­pli­cat­ed secu­ri­ty lines. For­mer­ly on inter-ter­mi­nal trans­fers, you were bussed in a sealed shut­tle and passed through with­out anoth­er dose of frisk­ing. Not any more, prob­a­bly because of enhanced secu­ri­ty against the lunatic­swe have to share the world with. Heathrow is  a vic­tim of its suc­cess. Many years ago when the essen­tial deci­sions were tak­en, the present scale of air trav­el was unfore­seen. North Lon­don is crowd­ed, yet each time anoth­er huge invest­ment was made, it became the more dif­fi­cult to aban­don Heathrow as Britain’s major air­port. Now after many years of dither­ing, a long-await­ed report will decide between expan­sion at Heathrow and expan­sion at Gatwick. It had bet­ter be the lat­ter.






Viking’s Danube Waltz (6)

Viking’s Danube Waltz (6)

con­tin­ued from part 5…

June 6: Pas­sau, Ger­many

6a-PassauOnce called “Batavia” or “Batavis,” Pas­sau is a charmer of a medieval Bavar­i­an town at the con­flu­ence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz, the last out of the Black For­est, spew­ing dark peaty water into the larg­er, faster-mov­ing rivers.

6b-PassauStreetWith a pop­u­la­tion the same as Man­ches­ter, New Hamp­shire, it draws 1.6 mil­lion vis­i­tors per year, com­pared to 1 mil­lion down at Durn­stein, pop­u­la­tion 400 and a tenth the size. Result: you can move around with­out mass­es of crowds and enjoy the tran­si­tion archi­tec­ture, Goth­ic to Baroque.

6e-OrganPassauSt. Stefan’s Cathe­dral has one of the largest organs in the world and the recital there is tremen­dous. Viking crew mem­bers tell us they like Pas­sau best of all the stops and you can see why. It’s laid back, 6d-StStephansPassaupic­turesque and not inun­dat­ed with tourists. It doesn’t seem to be try­ing so hard.

6c-PassauBaroqueTem­per­a­tures were still steam­ing as our Viking guide led us around the sights: just won­der­ful archi­tec­ture, and we don’t think the church­es have one square inch of dis­play place left. We bought local cheeses, straw­ber­ries and crusty bread in the open air mar­ket and brought them back to the ship to eat in air-con­di­tioned com­fort. The ship pro­vid­ed lots good Aus­tri­an reds and Ger­man whites, and local beer on tap. I am afraid we pigged out: a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of local cheese and pro­duce and the ship’s ample bev­er­age lists.

6i-DetailPassau6f-StSetphansCeilingPassauAfter all that heat, we were look­ing for­ward to rainy 60s the next few days in Prague, an “option­al extra” to the Danube Waltz Tour, which ends here. The coach ride is four hours, tomor­row morn­ing, through the his­toric Sude­ten­land, the area Hitler claimed and won at Munich, which then had an eth­nic Ger­man minor­i­ty. Since the war it’s been all Czech. They had their revanche after all.

Next: Prague, Czech Repub­lic