Friday, August 29, 2014

Trip Report - Our Big Trip - August 10th - Amsterdam to Paris, and an Unfortunate Event

The ship had docked in Amsterdam in the early morning. After a last good breakfast, we fastened the color-coded bags on our luggage (different colors for those who would be staying for an 'after-cruise stay' in Amsterdam, for those who would be being picked up by bus to be taken to the airport, and for those who were departing by taxi or on foot.) We could see the train station from the ship, and we stopped to tell the desk clerk that we were going to walk to the train station to make sure we would be taking the shortest route when we rolled our luggage to the station. The luxury part of our vacation was over, from now on we would rely on public transportation.

The desk clerk told us to leave our bags by our rooms, so we did. We walked away from the dock for a few blocks, then circled back to the train station. It was still early morning, so not many people were about. At one point, thinking of Amsterdam's reputation for drugs I said "I'm disappointed, we've been here fifteen minutes and I haven't seen anyone smoking a joint…"only to immediately catch the whiff of marijuana smoke. At one point I looked into a front window to see a man dancing, dressed only in a leather loincloth. When he noticed me staring, he blew me a kiss.

We went into the front entrance of the train station and checked that we had the right platform and departure times, then walked back to the ship, although we still had a few hours left until our train left for Paris. There was a pile of baggage on the dock, and Harry's bag was there, but mine was not. Then followed a nightmare of searching everywhere, even moving the other bags, one by one, to make sure I hadn't somehow missed my relatively small suitcase. Nothing. I was terrified. I had done the terminally stupid, which was to have left most of my prescription medicine in my suitcase, thinking "what can happen, we are only going for a short walk."

Finally, there was nothing left to be done and we could delay no longer, so we walked back to the train station and caught the Thalys Express to Paris. It felt strange to be getting on a train without luggage, and I wondered what would happen next.

In spite of my concerns, the train trip was very pleasant. There were wide, comfortable seats instead of the cramped confines of tourist class, and the attendant gave us snacks and beverages soon after we sat down. Later they served us a full meal, and they offered city maps and also offered to arrange to have a cab meet us when we arrived.

We got out at the Paris North Station and walked a few short blocks to the Hotel Ibis Styles. This was a 'no-frills' hotel we chose mainly because it was only a short walk from the train station and we would only be in Paris for two nights. Checking in, I explained to the desk clerk why we only had the one suitcase between us "The tour company lost my luggage" I complained, and the desk clerk replied "You're not the first" which helped me put things in perspective.

The room was small, but clean. There were no storage cabinets to speak of,  but room to put down the one suitcase and there was a nice bathroom and hot water.

I had inventoried what I was carrying with me and it turned out that I had both of my asthma inhalers, and Harry had a few extra of another medicine we both take, and he offered to share. I was still missing most of my over-the-counter pills, and the medicine I take for arthritis pain, but I wasn't going to die. I tried calling the ship to see if they had somehow found my suitcase, and wasn't able to reach anyone. By this time I knew the ship was sailing the long stretch of the Rhine back towards Cologne. I also sent an email to what I thought was corporate headquarters asking for guidance, only to find out days later that it had gone to their marketing division instead.

Pedestrian crossing, Amsterdam
We walked over to the Paris East Station, and at a pharmacy there I bought some small necessities, then we took a walk in the neighborhood of our hotel. This was in the 10th Arrondissement, not a popular tourist spot, but there were some nice parks and a lovely walk along the Canal St. Martin.

When we had taken French in adult education classes, our instructor had told us that in the first two weeks of August every Parisian who can goes on vacation. We found this did indeed seem to be true, as many small shops had notices which Harry translated as "back on the 15th of August." Even the MonoPrix around the corner from our hotel was closed.
A canal near the train station, Amsterdam

The Madonna Steak House, Amsterdam
Bike next to "Don't park bike here" sign in Amsterdam

Thalys, Amsterdam to Paris, much
nicer than flying.

Lunch on Thalys to Paris 

View from our Paris window

Our room in Paris

Canal St. Martin

I had seen many locks fastened to fences,
this was the first time I had seen stuffed animals
fastened to fences. Young love?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Trip Report - Our Big Trip - August 9th (Saturday) - Cologne, Germany

 The ship had arrived at Cologne about 3am and our walking tour started at 8:30am and ended at the Cologne Cathedral with only a few hours left before the ship was due to depart for Amsterdam. We toured the Cathedral, as it was an important monument that had been built over six centuries and was literally a treasure trove of art and religious objects. Then we had a snack at a nearby cafe, and returned to the ship. I could have spent much more time here.

All aboard was 12:15 and the ship sailed at 12:30 for the last long stretch to Amsterdam. There was some excitement in the afternoon when the ship made an unscheduled stop at a small town to pick up one of the crew, Nicolette, who had been left behind to search for two missing passengers. Later, the ship stopped one more time to pick up the passengers themselves.

The cooks outdid themselves with the food preparation for the Captain's Farewell dinner, but it was bittersweet knowing that this was the last full day of the cruise.

Just a bird

Streetview, Cologne

Statue in a small square

Guarding their master's sarcophagus
Carving on an old pew
Stained glass window
"City Breakfast" at Reichart Cafe
Roman mosaic in a museum by the Cathedral

Street musicians - notice the balalaika!

Tünnes and Schäl  - comedic figures

Saturday at City Hall there are multiple weddings

Couple outside City Hall

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trip Report - Our Big Trip - August 8th - Koblenz

Back on board time was 7:45am at Boppard, and we set sail at 8am to continue our journey through the castle-studded Rhine Valley. The ship had bicycles and walking sticks available to passengers, and some of the passengers chose to bicycle to Koblenz that morning.

Intrepid cyclists getting ready for a long trip. (Taken
through the dining room window.)
Sitting on the top deck, looking at the different castles as we sailed by, made for a very relaxing experience.

Marksburg Castle - looks like a fairy tale

We arrived at Koblenz around 10am. We had the choice of a walking tour or a tour on the aerial tram to visit the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.
The tram car
Inside the fortress
Coming back - below you can see the town of Koblenz and
the two rivers as they meet.
Where the Mosel meets the Rhine

"The Spitting Boy" is a popular statue
in Koblenz

Detail of the "Inventor's Fountain" by Rumpf

We stayed in Koblenz until nightfall, then had to sail away.

Last view of Koblenz

Back at the ship we have the "Debarkation" briefing, about what we should do before we leave the ship in less than two days. Sigh.

Trip Report - Our Big Trip - August 7th - Rudesheim, Castle Vollrads, and Boppard

At the Rudesheim dock a cute mini-train arrived to take us into town. We decided to skip the famous Siegfried Mechanical Instruments Museum and the cable car, walked back down the main street, down the Drosselgasse, and then bought some dark beer to take back to the ship as this was something that was missing on the ship menu. I was surprised to find all the different beers being offered at the Rewe (supermarket chain). They even had "soda and beer" which I was afraid to try.

We also stopped at a Kathe Wolfahrt Christmas shop, and picked up two ornaments as gifts.

After this buses picked us those who wanted to go to the winetasting at Schloss Vollrads. This was very interesting to me, as my husband and I have been to many vineyards in the US and Canada, and while a few of them attempt to have their main building look like a castle, this was a real chateau, with the oldest part dating from the 13th century. I cannot really speak about the wine, as I am not an expert, but the Schloss and the grounds were fascinating.
The mini-train in Rudesheim

After lunch back at the ship, we sailed at 1pm for Boppard and started started seeing more of the dozens of castles along the River Rhine, as well as the Loreley (Lorelei) rock, where legend says temptresses lured sailors to their doom.

At Boppard we took another short walking tour, and wandered arouund some more.  As the ship was scheduled to stay in Boppard overnight, there was not so much pressure to get back to the ship.

A statue in Rudesheim's town square
Bromserberg Castle & Siegfried's
Mechanical Instrument Museum.

Looking from a castle window towards
the 13th Century tower

Cat at Castle Vollrads

Monday, August 25, 2014

Trip Report - Our Big Trip - August 6th - Speyer and Heidelberg

The ship had docked at Germersheim before breakfast.  This was "a boondocks" docking location that hardly offered enough room on the bank for the buses to turn around. Our included morning tour was to the small German town of Speyer, one of the oldest towns in Germany. In Speyer a local guide took us around the massive Romanesque Cathedral, then to the old Trinity Church, and finally to the remains of the old Jewish Quarter.
Inside the Speyer Cathedral
Steps up from the ritual baths in the ruins
 of the Jewish Quarter.

Relatively modern statue of a pilgrim
 on the way to Santiago de Compostela

A large spider sculpture in the park


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Trip Report - Our Big Trip - August 5th - Strasbourg

The ship had sailed from Breisach the evening before, and was now docked at Kehl, Germany. We had the option of taking a canal boat ride or a walking tour of Strasbourg. We chose the canal boat and had a lovely cruise around the Grand Ile, which is a World Heritage site.

After the canal boat ride we had the option of returning to the ship for lunch, or staying in the city for more sightseeing. We chose to stay, and were given 15 euros each to pay for lunch on our own.  We could also chose to return to the ship at 2:30 or at 5pm. We chose to return at 5pm, and I was surprised that only two other couples had decided to stay until then, since Strasbourg was such a lovely, walkable, city.

A canal boat

Street musicians

Flammekueche, traditional style

A canal-side cafe "The Little Green Tree"

Dark chocolate and pear tart from a small cafe

The entrance to the public toilets near the Cathedral

The Cathedral

A tree along the canal
The dog is an epicure, too (Photo by Harry)

House along the canal

Everywhere there were interesting old buildings, flowers, music, and good food.

I would have liked to have stayed longer, but it was time for our ship to sail to the next port.