Pat's Emailed Account, Day by Day
Neal drove us to the airport very early. Checked in, no line. Security, no line. Lunch at Fridays, no line. Looked in shops, walked to gate. Read. By the time the plane showed up I had read half a Tracy Chevalier novel for the plane was two hours late. So now instead of having 3 hours to kill in Toronto we ended up with 45 minutes to make the Toronto to Frankfort flight. The prop plane had left Toronto with 38 people on board and then developed mechanical problems so had to go back to Toronto. The passengers and crew deplaned, a new plane was brought in and they started all over again.
Once on board a stewardess told three of us to stick together and go left, down a long hall, up and escalator, down another long hall, up another escalator then down another hall and be sure to go through passport control. You gate will be close by. It was and we made it with 15 minutes to spare.
Plane was great, roomy, comfortable!
Frankfort. Landed early but "since the airport is so busy today we will not be able to pull into a gate so you will be bussed to your gate." We spent 1/2 an hour in that stupid bus. That gave us 50 minutes to find our next gate. Up two stories and through passport control, walk, walk, walk. Down one story, walk, walk, up three stories. Down three stories, through security and another long, long, walk to the gate and a waiting bus. We made it! Hugs with friends, seated on plane...Jim in 7A, me in 20A. And we took off!
Basel. Yes, we made it to Basel. And now, put your hand up if you know the answer. What did not make it to Basel? Yes, you there in front. Did you say our luggage? Right. The lost luggage guy looked at our receipts and calmly announced that our luggage was incorrectly labeled. It only showed the luggage how to get from Frankfort to Basel but not how to get to Frankfort. In other words, our luggage never left Pittsburgh. The guy gave us each a tee shirt and some tooth paste and sent us on our way. Did not take long to unpack. Hello Basel!
Day 2, 2013
The boat's Internet reception is suffering from schizophrenia. The Rhine flows along the border separating France and Germany, the Internet connection originates in Spain. When cruising the middle of the river the connection keeps jumping back and forth between France and Germany. We have been assured the connections are fairly good when docked because docking keeps us in one country or the other.
No need to decide what to wear today; how about what I wore yesterday? This morning we are on our way to the Black Forest so named due to the dense shade cast by the tightly packed evergreen trees. Driving through the villages is spectacular. Window boxes are filled with heather, never thought of that. Plus, here it is December and the roses and geraniums are still in bloom!
We stopped in a village with a huge cathedral anchoring a huge school. We learned all about it but I forgot everything the guide said. Was quite interesting at the time.
The area is known for glass working and for cuckoo clocks. The bus pulled off the road at a group of buildings-a restaurant, cuckoo clock shop for a demonstration and a glassworks for a demonstration. I suppose this group of shops might be better known as a tourist trap. Ok, ok truth be known I bought a pair of earrings and two glass pens. But I did not get a $1000 clock like someone else on the tour.
The guide was very interesting in relating the history of the area but then, on the way back to the boat, he pulled out an accordion. He sang a few German numbers. Next out came a female doll dressed in a regional costume including a hat with large balls, make that pompous, topping it. Red poems for a single woman or black to signify a married woman. He then, to explain a few traditional customs of the area, carried on a conversation with the doll, speaking in falsetto for her. Hmmmm.
Back to the boat for lunch and then another outing. This time into the Alsace region of France to the town of Colmar. The designer of the Statue of Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi, is from here. He built several prototypes and a couple can be seen around the city. His home is now a museum. With its canals and half timbering the old town is spectacular!
Day 3, 2013 Thursday
Oh boy, another day wearing the same clothing. And according to the Lufthansa website, the luggage has not been found. So today will be a stinky day to Strausbourg, France. I pity our bus mates.
Another BEAUTIFUL city, more canals, timbered structures and a covered bridge. We had an hour walking tour learning about Strausbourgh. The old town is lovely, lunch at a local restaurant. Salmon and sauerkraut for Jim, onion tart for me.
The buildings are so decorated..ribbon, greens, saplings spray painted white line the streets. Absolutely magnificent. The old town area is on an island and has the largest pedestrian only area in France. We had to wait at a swing bridge to cross the canal to walk into the old town area. We stayed in the village for the day
Jim finally broke down and purchased a pair of slacks, two shirts and some shorts. That guarantees that by the time we get back to the boat our luggage will have arrived.
Or maybe not...
Day 4 2013
Today is Heidelburgh. What to wear, what to wear. Ha, yesterday, at the last minute I picked up a pair of slacks and a turtle neck. So today we are both in clean clothing. Our fellow passengers are aromatically thrilled.
This morning we took a very interesting tour. We drove up, up, up to the beautiful ruins of Heidelberg Castle. An alternative means of transportation to the top is to take an incline. (Incline? Been there done that) Looking down from the castle terraces we could see the city winding through the Rhine River Valley. And we could see two large churches. One Catholic and one Presbyterian. The father of one of the members of our traveling group, Tim, preached in that Presby church.
Heidelberg castle had burned, more than once, and to periodically commemorate the burning they station 60 people holding torches. From the city it looks like the Castle is in flames. We saw photographs and it must be quite something to see.
Now, back on the city level we took a walking tour of the old town. Our guide was super, we learned a lot; here we go.
After starting his campaign in Wittenberg Martin Luther began a Reformation journey. Heidelberg was his first stop and Luther was in the formerly Catholic now Presbyterian church that we could see from the Castle. We visited both beautiful the Presbyterian and the Catholic Churches. The crèche in the Catholic Church changes every year (different theme) and changes during Advent when new items are periodically added. Our guide could hardly wait to see what they were going to do next week! I have a crèche photo on Facebook.
Our guide also took us to the location of the synagogue in Heidelberg. The Nazies moved in and burned the two synagogues. When the fire brigade arrive they were not allowed to douse the flames. Next the Jewish residents were rounded up and fatally moved to various camps. Today the homes where these families lived are marked with brass squares embedded in the sidewalk in front of their homes. There is one four inch square for each person who lived there and on the square is imprinted the fate of each. Chilling.
I have posted, on Facebook, several photos of this morning.
After stopping for coffee and dessert we returned to the boat and cruised down the Rhine being advised of the 52 fantastic castles we passed them. Quite an afternoon. Oh, I might add that from day one we have seen vineyard after vineyard. Wine is, obviously, a big part of the economy here.
After dinner I stopped at the desk to check to see if our luggage had arrived. No. I checked the Lufthansa web site and saw that it had been found (where? who knows) and was in route. So I zipped back up to tell Jim. Walked back down to our cabin and on the way I spied our luggage being delivered. Yippie.
Day 5 2013
Ah, today we hit Braubach and Koblenz with the luxury of wearing fresh clothing,
Today we docked later in the morning and made our way to Marksburg Castle set high above the river. It has the distinction of being the only castle along the Rhine that did not suffer any type of destruction. It is as intact as it was when it was built during the Middle Ages; Rick Steves assures us that it is the real McCoy. We drove up to the castle but still had over 100 steps to climb to reach the entry. And then we found more of an enclosed uphill climb on a very, very uneven stone surface. Better for protection from the wandering hordes.
The castle had only two rooms with any heating-the kitchen, which exhibited many tools and kitchen implements, and one bedroom containing one very short bed. One lays down, flat out, when one is dead
The dining room table was a plank on supports. When one course was completed the top was lifted and tipped so that the leftovers slid down a chute. Bring on the next course! The toilet was in the dining room or, better said, it was hanging off the side of the dining room with a "direct drop" of one's business. An arrangement typical of the other castles we have visited.
We walked outside one door to walk the castle walls and found ourselves in a long narrow garden following the wall to another door....photos on Facebook.
Most castles we have been in have huge, expansive rooms but these were usurprisingly small. The chapel was hardly 12 feet square.
We saw the wine cellar, the keep and the stable. They have an exhibit of 2000 years of armor. Fascinating and including female armor, a ghastly uncomfortable looking chastity belt which was used during travel to prevent, shall we say, unwanted advances.
Back to the boat and on to Koblenz located where the Rhine and Moselle Rivers meet. We were docked near that confluence along the riverside promenade. We walked into the old town and visited the city markets spread through the many squares.
Day 6, 2013
Today we stood in front of the magnificent cathedral in Cologne. Construction began in 1248 and continued through 1880. Then began the ongoing, every day maintenance. A bit like the proverbial painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, it never stops. The cathedral is in the old town and we had a leisurely walking tour of the old town area led by "two meter Peter" who was quite tall and a very, very good guide.
There were many interesting sights in the old town area including remnants of a sewer system dating back to the Romans. In fact one can take a tour of those underground Roman ruins. We saw a beautiful, huge mosaic Roman dining room floor with a museum built around it. There is an ancient, Jewish ritual bath.
Peter also offered sniffing rights to Cologne' Eau du Cologne, 4711, which was developed at 4711 Glockengasse. In 1810 the scent ceased to be referred to as a medicine when the inventor began calling it a perfume. Well I must be totally out of the loop for I have never heard of 4711 and Peter positively assumed that we all had.
The tour began at 8:30 and by 11:30 we knew why so early! As we walked, the streets became more and more crowded. The Christmas Markets opened around 11:30, our tour was over and it became increasingly difficult for our small group of 8 to stay together. So our morning time in Cologne ended in the Christmas Market next to the Cathedral with gluhwein and another cup for our collection.
In the afternoon the guys walked back into the old town and took a hike up the cathedral tower. Guess the views were magnificent..I took a nap.
This ends our tour of the Rhine Christmas markets. The weather was cloudy. The markets were tightly packed with humanity, beautifully decorated and offered some one of a kind items to bring home.
Tomorrow, wind mills.
Day 7, 2013
Kinderdijk, the Netherlands.
We awoke this morning to find the mountains missing. Today we are in the maze of the Netherlands canals. Not only is there a change of topography but also of architecture. Dutch colonial has replaced German board and batten. Well that is a bit of an exaggeration but the idea is sound.
We finally docked in the afternoon seven meters below sea level and next to 15 windmills that date from the 1500's. Most are brick, two are stone, but others are reed! This is the final pumping station for the area. The next level for the water is the river Lek which carries the water to the sea. The action of these windmills has been taken over, on a daily basis, by a huge, modern pumping station. The windmills are only called into action when there is an emergency. Say, a huge rainfall.
We were led by our guide to a building next to the pumping station and given a second lecture on how the pumping system works. (Our first lecture was onboard earlier today.) One of the ladies (a native of Texas who in an earlier conversation told me that if I only lived in Dallas I would love George Bush. I told her that I sincerely doubted that would work) of our group asked the guide a question. She wanted to know if the people of Holland had hired German engineers to design and build the water removal system. The guide paused a moment as her eyebrows melted, looked away from the woman and politely suppressing apoplexy, quietly sputtered a "no."
Anyway after the lecture we ambled over to one of the windmills and walked into and up it. The gears are huge. The stairs are more ladder than stairs. The rooms are small. An entire family lived in them and I would say that the available living space is much less than that of a lighthouse.
the windmills are rented out. And as we toured, people came home from their work day peddling their bikes. The intricate system of dikes present dikes that are much to narrow to accommodate cars.
This evening was the last dinner onboard. We dressed up a bit and were treated to champagne in addition to our usual wine. The person who supervises the restaurant area had recognized Judy and me from our Viking trip to the South of France three years ago. We asked him if he would allow us to take a photo with him. We did so and he brought another bottle of champagne to our table. Yum!
Day 8 Amsterdam, in name
We docked around 2am and the first group of people to be transported to the airport left much too early. The second group, our travel buddies (Tim, Judy, Don, Debbie, Ross, Linda), all left the boat at 6am to make their 9:00 flight to Newark. Our flight was at noon but we got up to have an early coffee and to see them off. The dining room opened at 6:00 so Jim and I had breakfast, put our suitcases outside our door at 7:00 and then just bided our time till we left around 8:30.
The bus driver narrated our trip to the airport! At one point we drove by what we learned in grade school was the saltwater Zuiderzee. It is now fresh water, smaller and has a new name IJsselmeer. I think that is the right name.
I know that people of the Netherlands extensively use bicycle commuting. But to know something and to see it in action are so very different. As we sat at a stoplight over one hundred bicyclists cruised by in very, very wide bike lanes that were well separated from automobile traffic.
Then we arrived at the airport. Flew to Dulles, to Pittsburgh. Trip over.
==> On about day 5 someone stopped by our dinner table to tell us we were the loud table. At first I thought we were being the embarrassing, obnoxious table but then learned that it was our laughter that was attention grabbing.
==> The cruise director gave daily briefings. During a briefing she described how citizens of the Netherlands, she being one, are required at age 50 to have a series of medical tests. After the tests she received a phone call telling her to come to the physician's office and to bring two members of her family with her. She was told that tests predicted that she would, in two years, have a heart attack. She was put on a dietary/exercise program to reduce the chances of an attack.
==> John-Jack Waltz known as Hansi is a caricaturist form Colmar, France who created intricate shop signs. Some of his signs incorporated insults aimed at the Germans. If we saw a sign that had a pig on it it was one of the insulting signs. As you know the Alsace area of France has, many times, shifted back and forth between the French and Germans. Hansi was born in 1873 and became a staunch pro French activist. His signs landed him in prison for a year and in 1940 he was, again, sought by the Germans, the Gestapo.
==> At one point when the Alsace was part of Germany the Germans decided that the location of the Rhine river was inconvenient so they moved it. Moved the river to the "other side" of Colmar or was it Strausbourgh? I forget which one. They shifted the flow of the whole river!
==> A member of the wait staff told us that he remembered us-Tim, Judy, Jim, and me-from our Russian trip. The next day he said, "last night I phoned my friends and told them that you were on this cruise. They said to tell you hello". And we are memorable because...? Makes one wonder?
==> Near the end of WWII the Allies and Patton built a pontoon bridge over the Rhine. We docked right next to that Alsace location.
==> Jim took some super photos until the day he lost his camera. In trying to remember where it might be he decided that he had forgotten it when he turned to hand a package to me. And then he walked away leaving the camera on his bus seat. Everyone on the ship knew about the lost camera. Then I was digging around in my drawer to find the charger for my little camera. I pulled the charger out of the bottom of the drawer only to find that I did not have the charger but had Jim's camera!
==> Most every photograph has the back of Debbie's head. Debbie likes to sit near the front of the bus so she would zip ahead and then she saved seats for us slowpokes. And she likes to get to the historic sites first so she can have a clear view. My idea of a very good idea.
==> The upper deck was available for walking and viewing but it was, even with a canvas cover and a glass screen to block the breeze, too chilly for me. It was an area occupied by the guys who went up there to take photos.
==> Eventually I will upload some photographs of the beautiful Christmas markets and the Christmas decorations. The towns and villages are so charming and the Christmas markets are so colorful. Additionally Jim and I were able to share this experience with Tim and Judy whom we met on the Danube Christmas market tour. Plus with Don, Debbie, Ross, and Linda who are great friends of Tim and Judy and now of us, too.