So here we are, settled back in aboard the Silver Whisper, making our stately progress along the River Elbe, and out towards the open waters of the North Sea and the Baltic.
Our departure from Hamburg this morning was subtle, splendid stuff. The morning sun had just heaved itself above the city’s web of ancient. slender spires as we cast off. There was no fanfare or ceremony; the sight of 28,000 tons of gleaming white cruise ship, pirouetting gracefully mid stream into the River Elbe, was ceremony enough in it’s own right.
We are moving through a slowly unwinding hinterland that unfurls like a series of drum rolls along both banks of this ancient waterway. Ferries and tugs sprint across our path like so many maddened water beetles. Container ships surge past us, painted in shades of drab red, green and blue. Along the serpentine banks of the Elbe itself, a host of rolling greenery is studded with small villas, hotels and caravan parks. Wind turbines spin lazily in a warm breeze that drifts across the decks of the ship as we surge forward on the steel grey river. It’s like being awake in some particularly vivid dream.
Broad, dusky sand beaches spill out to kiss the water’s edge. Early morning walkers with their dogs gaze up at the awe inspiring bulk of the Silver Whisper as she ghosts past them on what looks like a perfect summer’s day. From over the rim of my coffee cup, it all looks like something from a series of still life paintings.
And we are sailing in the wake of history as well. The Bismarck came this same way back in 1940. Built in Hamburg, and still regarded by the locals as a ‘Hamburg ship’, that tiger shark of a battleship was manned by a crew of mainly local men, all of whom would have known the waters we are sailing through very well indeed. It’s hard to shake the image of that squat, solid grey ghost, with her phalanx of guns looking like so many drawn swords. But here and now, on the Silver Whisper, we are confronted with nothing more aggressive than some particularly feisty- and very welcome- early morning coffee.
There’s a strange dichotomy involved in sailing such inland waterways. Everything looks close enough to touch, from washing flapping idly in the breeze to the trees, rustling ashore in a kind of indolent rhythm that’s all their own. And yet, we are detached from it all by a million miles, cocooned in what I can only describe as a kind of pampered stupor aboard this beautiful ship.
Of course, it’s a panorama s old as time itself; ship, sky and sea creating a stunning, multi colour audio visual playback that unfolds like a series of slowly waving flags. But it’s no less bewitching for all that. Timeless as it is, this stuff never gets old.
It all adds to the mood of surreal calm that permeates this ship. There are no screaming loudspeaker announcements selling everything from T-shirts to costume jewels, no lines for food or drinks. No feeling of pressure of any kind, in fact.
So what is there, then? That’s easy- a sense of contentment and familiarity, and a shared kinship of sailing these waters with the kind of people that appreciate a ship like the Silver Whisper. A sense that nothing is too much trouble, and that everything is within easy reach.
Speaking of which, it’s time for my lunchtime Margarita. More dispatches from the front to come soon…..