Rhine River Cruise
Previously I wrote that we discovered we actually WERE “those kind of people” who enjoyed being on a cruise. I don’t think we would ever let it totally replace independent travel but this particular river cruise along the Rhine was certainly a way to see parts of Europe that we probably would never return to for a deeper look.
We began in Basel, Switzerland. Free, convenient public transportation made it easy to reach our hotel from the airport. Given a little more time with the transit maps and we could have avoided pulling suitcases over cobblestones for a couple blocks. After stowing the luggage at the hotel and preparing to walk the city, I asked the gentleman at the front desk if they had filtered water so I could refill our bottles. He laughed and said, “This is Switzerland! The water is good. You can even drink it on the street!” (And later we saw numerous spigots/fountains on the street where people refilled their bottles.) We had a day on our own before we joined the Viking River cruise and we made the most of it exploring the city.
During a brief rain shower in Basel we ducked into a tiny café for a lunch of shawarma (meat sliced from a spit). The owners were so friendly. When we paid for our meal, they presented each of us an ink pen with their café name. The next morning, before departing the hotel we watched a little television. Did you know there are ‘rednecks’ in Switzerland? Evidently. It was a reality show involving first-responders. Although it was all in German, I could tell that in one storyline a shop owner was accusing a woman of stealing from him and there was something up her sleeve. In another, a man had a medical episode and apparently fell from a ladder. His wife seemed concerned about him but also about a dog that had escaped the yard. I think. But perhaps the funniest show was a rerun of the Six Million Dollar Man in German. We didn’t watch TV for another 12 days.
The cruise ship sailed on a Saturday night and we settled into a routine of eating, drinking, and sleeping. Sunday found us in Germany. It was Pentecost Sunday so maybe more things than usual were closed. In fact, we were introduced to the concept of Pentecost Monday as well and found many stores (non-tourist related) still closed. In those first couple days, we moved between Germany and France both on water and land. The city of Colmar, France was like something out of a fairytale with its half-timber houses and canals. This is the town where US soldier Audie Murphy earned his Medal of Honor in WWII and became the most decorated combat soldier in American history. I think I heard at least FIVE tour guides make a joke about it being AUDIE Murphy and not EDDIE Murphy. Evidently Europeans found this very funny. We did not. Neither did the dozen or so fellow passengers I asked.
A highlight of the trip was a morning cruise through the middle Rhine where there seemed to be a castle at every bend in the river. I had done a similar cruise over 35 years before and was not impressed but this was different. Perhaps maturity helped. Each castle seemed to have a legend to accompany it and most of those involved love, death, or a tragic combination of the two. After docking in Koblenz, Germany we had the chance to tour the Marksbourg castle which was the only castle along the Rhine to never be breached during the Middle Ages. The steep walk up to it helped explain that designation.
In Cologne, Germany I did a special rooftop tour of the cathedral (thankful for an elevator ride up!) while Jenni was treated to an ornate palace (Bruhl) that rivaled that of Versailles. From Cologne, we stopped in The Netherlands at Kinderdijk where there were over a dozen traditional, still-operating Dutch windmills. They are still used to help drain the water from farmland and the residential side of the dike and pump it back into the canal. And then, finally, we reached Amsterdam where the tour ended but we had added on three more days to explore the city.
Perhaps because we had been sheltered from humanity on the ship, we weren’t quite ready for the onslaught of people in Amsterdam. People AND bicycles. More bicycles than people to be honest. We found it to be a dirty city, with more than a fair share of human feces on the sidewalks. There was also a pretty constant assault of weed (marijuana) in the air. But for all that ugliness, it also offered incredible views of canals, historic buildings, and amazing museums.
Our first museum was the Anne Frank House. If you plan to go, you MUST book tickets in advance. We had ours but learned the entire month was already sold out when we got there. If you are not familiar with Anne Frank’s diaries, she, her family, and four others lived in hiding from the Nazis during WWII. They were discovered after a couple years and sent to various camps where all but her father perished. As people ahead of me caused the floorboards to creak I couldn’t help but imagine the looks on her family’s faces if such a thing happened to them, as they were located above a factory. It was a somber experience. From there, we went to the Van Gogh Museum where you noted in his artwork his battle with mental illness, self-mutilation, and eventual suicide. A couple days later we toured the Rijks Museum which was like a mini-Louvre. The Dutch masters and many more were on display there; it was difficult not to spend an entire day wandering the massive halls.
The Uber ride to the airport was our final tourist experience. The driver was very friendly and did his best to engage us in conversation. There was no rush for us but he took the curves as if there was a reason to shave off seconds. And then the highways and canals came into our discussion and he searched for a couple photos on his phone while he drove. 😳
We had a wonderful time, but it’s always good to be home.