Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eagles Take Flight at Burg Landskron

The 9th century ruins of Burgruine Landskron are perched high on  a rock that overshadows the village of St. Andrä by Lake Ossiachersee.

The castle was surrounded with a double wall with seven towers.The main building had four floors, a high main-tower and strong defense-tower.

In 1812, lightning caused a fire that destroyed the roof and much of the interiors that were left. It was not repaired and fell into disrepair. It wasn't until 1953 that the local Hans Maresch began to use Landskron as a tourist attraction.

Today enjoy views of Lake Ossiachersee and the Julian Alps from the castle and visit the zoo of birds of prey with vultures and various species of eagles, owls, and falcons. Climb up to the eagle's enclosure for a panoramic view of the area.

Each day April thru October, enjoy the falconry show where various falcons and eagles take flight, some buzzing right over your head! After breathtaking flights the birds return to the falconer standing just in front of you. Behavior and habits of these endangered species are explained in detail in both German and Italian.

You might even be lucky enough to hold a falcon after the show!

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Brand New Celebrity Silhouette

I was one of the lucky people invited to attend a special inaugural cruise to launch the fourth of Celebrity's Solstice Class ships, the Silhouette, in Hamburg, Germany last week.

Continuing a tradition that started with the launch of the new Solstice Class in 2008, Celebrity Cruises chose a breast cancer survivor as godmother of the ship. Michelle Morgan, the chief executive officer of  Signature Travel Network, held back tears as she named the ship and cut the ribbon, sending a bottle of champagne smashing into the stack to inaugurate the vessel.
Persian Garden

I was in a spacious AquaClass cabin with balcony on the Penthouse Deck. The AquaClass cabins also boast private access to the spa, unlimited use of the Persian Garden (hot stone beds, steam room, and sauna), exclusive use of specialty restaurant Blu, who's menu features a wide choice of fresh and healthy dishes, and extra toiletries. The shower is equally as spacious with jetted bodywash showers from Hansgrohe, which shoot water from multiple heads.

What's New
The Hideaway is a funky, quiet area with pods reminiscent of childhood tree houses and alcoves to relax in while reading a book or using the ship's wifi.

Michael's Club, previously a gentleman's club on other Celebrity ships, is now a beer garden selling some 60 different beers from around the world.

An afternoon tea with champagne, sandwiches and scones is served in Murano by white-gloved waiters. Nearby, Bistro on Five serves up crepes and Cafe al Bacio's barista keep the cappuccino machine steaming.

Lawn Club and Lawn Club Grill
The Lawn Club is a grassy area with over-sized Adirondack chairs, lawn games like bocce and croquet, and private wi-fi equipped cabanas dubbed 'The Alcoves". It's hard to resist the Alice-in-Wonderland like experience of climbing up on the chairs and posing for a picture!

My friend Dena adding toppings for our flat bread
New to the Silhouette and the high seas is the Lawn Club Grill, an upmarket barbecue where you can grill your own meat with the help of your Celebrity's chefs. Appetizers are flat breads, with guests tossing the dough, brushing on the sauce, and selecting the toppings. Celebrity chef's fire the flat bread in a huge pizza oven.

I was the "Grill Master" for our table. My first job was to visit the meat locker and select the finest meats for our group. Next up is my lesson in appropriately tenderizing our meat and seafood selections. A variety of seasoning and glazes are available to customize each order.

Tenderizing our meat and sea food with sea salt
Finally, we are off to the grill. Our medium rare filet is the first on the sizzling grill, quickly followed by the bratwurst. Once those have begun to cook, it's time to add chicken and tandoori chicken kabobs. With everything nearly cooked to order, it's finally time to add the shrimp and scallop kabobs. Applause ensues as I proudly bring my tray of beautifully cooked kabobs and filets to the table - on a silver platter no less!

Manning the grill

Don't forget dessert - we highly recommend the chocolate chip cookie cooked on the grill and topped with vanilla ice cream.

M's Favorites: Mixed Olives – Tzatziki – Eggplant Imambiyaldi Tabbouleh – Hummus – Chicken Kofta – Zathaar Lamb Chops – Kibbeh Mediterranean Chili – Falafel – Goat Cheese Cigars
Qsine is another upmarket tapas style restaurant aboard the ship. The interactive experience begins with your menu delivered via iPad. Start with the drinks menu in which you can be your own bartender. Drag all the ingredients into your shaker and then give the iPad a shake to perfectly mix.

The dinner menu is equally as fun with videos accompanying each dish. The Crunchy Munchies (a 5-tier tower of French Fries, Sweet Potato Strings, Vegetable Chips, Potato Croquettes, Spicy Parsnip Crisps, and "Squeezable Sauces"), Lava Crab (Alaksan King Crab with sweet yellow corn and scallions, Kataifi with Old-bay lobster sauce), Disco Shrimp served with a built in strobe light, Sushi Lollipop's (Nigiri Sushi, Soy Center, Wasabi Mayo & Pickled Ginger-Radish Salad) and M's Favorites did not disappoint! I hear dessert is the "Cupcake Affair" which are vanilla and red velvet cupcakes that come with all the fixings to decorate yourself. Our dessert was a special sampler for the inauguration.

Each deck is artfully decorated. It's fun to explore and see if you can find all the special touches like the birdcages with digital birds, the butterfly wings, or the blown glass sculptures. Rent an iPad for an interactive tour of the ship's art gallery.

The Cirque du Solei style show in the theater is quite good with a mix of contortionists, acrobatics, juggling, singing and dancing.

A variety of classes are available in the fitness center as well as many different machines. Grab a bottle of water from one of the various bars or restaurants as bottled water is not available in the fitness center.

There is no shortage of activities for a day at sea. Head up to the Lawn Club for a bocce lesson, taste wines from around the world in Wine Appreciation 101 at Cellar Masters, get a 70's line dance lesson, or enjoy lounging in a hammock pool side.

Book your Celebrity Silhouette cruise at