Europe 2016: Vienna to Amsterdam via River Boat


Planning for this trip started about a year in advance. I have always wanted to experience Europe from the perspective of a river cruise. For a limited time Grand Circle Travel offered 1000 dollars off per person for their 2 week Great Rivers of Europe tour. In addition I had a credit to apply from my previous GCT tour. I caught Butch at a weak and agreeable moment and the next thing you know I had signed us up! We decided to spend some time at each end of the river cruise - Vienna at the beginning and Amsterdam in the end. After all, why not? We are retired….

Our Itinerary: Here is our river route starting in Vienna and ending in Amsterdam

Wed August 24 – Thursday 25th: We fly off to Vienna!

We were off to the airport in the morning and breezed through security. (TSA pre-check is quite nice!). Our flight to San Francisco however was delayed due to fog (mental note try not to use the Frisco airport in the future for connecting flights…). Upon arrival to San Francisco we hustled to the United airport lounge and rushed through a snack only to find out after we left the lounge that our flight to Frankfurt was also delayed. Oh well, there was also a lounge nearer our gate that we could visit. By the way, we had quite a hike to get to the gate. I guess a little exercise on a largely sedentary travel day doesn’t hurt! They announced a United flight loading up for Frankfurt before ours. It turned out that that flight had lots of empty seats and extra flight attendants while ours was packed with too few attendants! It was a long 10 ½ hour flight with our very own 2 by 2 foot area of quality space. At least we had aisle seats with standing room near the back of the plane (and the restrooms) and there was a nice older man and his son sitting between us. They were heading to a wedding in Italy. Oh and of course there was free wine… Overall we flew east over nine time zones. We finally arrived in Frankfurt too late for our connecting flight to Vienna. We were sent to the United booking desk for a new flight and then to Lufthansa for our boarding passes. After going through passport control we spotted an ATM and decided to take my snazzy new debit card for a spin. Apparently it worked as a bunch of Euros come popping out of the machine. We had to go through security again without the benefit of the TSA pre-check. We had a very thorough examination of our bags and contents before proceeding.

We were at the gate when one of the flight attendants noticed that Butch had his cane/seat next to him. “Sir, would you like pre-boarding with extra help getting on?” Without thinking I said no so we loaded with the rest of the pack into the last 2 seats on the plane. That will teach me! I thought it was interesting that they offered “still” water on the plane (as opposed to sparkling as the alternative). And of course announcements on the plane were now in German and English was relegated to second place.

We arrived and easily identified our bags because of the strip of duct tape which had placed on the handles by crafty Butch. I had ***** phone issues in Germany and Austria. My text did not go through despite having made arrangements for international calling if needed. I think that I probably entered too many numbers??? I was able to text via the Internet at the Airport however and sure enough the taxi company was there to pick us up with the WISE name on their IPAD. Whew, all is OK now.

So…it is afternoon in Vienna and we are on the freeway meeting some traffic. Many cars are high end like BMWs. Our driver was good and also very nice about letting us use his iphone to contact the owner of the apartment. We arrived at the address and fortunately Dieter was out front to greet us as it was a challenge finding the address numbers on the building. Our driver did a U turn and helped us unload our luggage. We gave him a nice big tip!

Dieter, with his piercing blue eyes, was most helpful in showing us around the place. Somehow the topic of pot came up and he laughed and smiled as he pointed out that Americans now could get high with their guns. He must have decided that we were OK as he did not think we needed to leave a security deposit with him. We were very impressed with the apartment. Despite the slightly run down appearance at the entry, the elevator (yay, an elevator) took us up to the top floor “penthouse” with a beautiful view of the Danube. See pictures below:

We are the gold colored building on the highest floor

Beautiful views from our upper balcony. Note the river boats right nearby.

Our kitchen worked well for us. Note the window and how it leaned in to allow a breeze to come in (also the slider onto the balcony with a similar function). There was a learning curve in figuring this out. There were NO SCREENS anywhere that we saw in Vienna but there also did not seem to be many flying bugs… There was an espresso machine (producing only a tiny amount of concentrated coffee of course) and a regular drip coffee maker for us americans. Below is the view from our balcony out back with netting to keep the pigeons away!

Spare bedroom (note sunblocking shades on skylights) Master bedroom

The bathroom. Note combined washer/”dryer” (really just an aggressive spin for the dryer). Dials were in German so Google translate helped a lot! Nice soaking tub and separate shower.

Living/dining area Backside of the rooftop area

We had dinner on the rooftop with pizza delivery from Cathy from the local shop around the corner. It was fun trying to communicate what we wanted as it was a Pakistani family that owned the shop and I think English was a poor third or fourth language for them. I did a lot of pointing at stuff.

This is one of many riverboats that floated by during our stay. They could rotate easily to turn completely around with their side thrusters.

We were exhausted from our long trip so we just managed to visit the grocery store around the corner for a few items. Of course everything was in German so some of the packaged foods we weren’t sure about. Also the checkout lady was less than friendly – she just left after we paid. We thought she was getting us something to put our groceries in. But noooo, next time we will be better prepared!

August 26th Friday: Hop on Hop off bus tour of Vienna

Today was quite warm (especially if you sat up top on the bus)! The bus conveniently had a stop right across the street from where we were staying so off we went with the “Big Bus Company”. We rode around to downtown near the opera house and found a high end side walk café nearby (they had cloth tablecloths after all!). Their specialty was Wienerschnitzel which is breaded and fried veal. Very good! Here is a picture of the card provided by the restaurant with cooking instructions.

And here is us enjoying the wienerschnitzel (along with some great beer)

We completed the circuit albeit with some rush hour traffic!

August 27th Saturday: The Spanish Riding School

Jet lag is hitting us hard and we did not have a great night’s sleep. But we must go on! We found a nice bakery on the way to the subway station and had a delicious cinnamon roll (and I was nice and did not take the whole center). So…next we had to figure out the UBahn subway. They only had an automated machine and after entering our credit card and PIN exactly nothing happened. A very nice American gentleman took pity on us and informed us that a debit rather than a credit card was needed and sure enough we were able to get our multiday pass.

Image result for u bahn map vienna

The Ubahn was very efficient and reliable. We never had to wait more than 5 or 10 minutes for our ride and it whipped us around town with ease. We were on U1 (Vorgenstrabe stop) with 3-5 stops to downtown depending on what area we were going to see.

We found the Spanish riding academy early so there was time for my Viennese coffee at a café. I also had a soft boiled egg which was presented on a little pedestal and proved to be a challenge to eat with grace.

The Spanish riding academy is in a beautiful very old building right next to the Imperial apartments and is famous for the Lippizaner stallions. We are standing in front of the building with the sign in German for the Spanish riding academy.

We had to arrange for tickets on line as the show fills up. Fortunately the horses had returned from their summer “holiday” to resume the shows. We received our tickets and made our way up to our perch in the balcony. We trooped up a spiral staircase behind an old guy with a cane. He offered to let us go by but Butch said no, no – he is making us look good. The building is famous and quite beautiful inside.

The show was terrific. The Lippizaner stallions were very graceful and the dressage movements were smooth. Just beautiful! The younger ones are darker and they gradually whiten as they get older. It takes years for the horse and riders to complete the complex training required for the routines. They had one of them go up on his hind legs and then forward to kick out back. (Nobody was actually on his back for that one.) The finale was beautiful with 8 of the stallions working together in an intricate pattern which was seen really well from our perch above the arena. As Butch would say “it was no Dixie Stampede” but it was beautiful nevertheless.

After the show was over we resumed the Hop on Hop off bus for a different loop and scenery out to the Schonbrunn palace (more later on the palace). We ended up at the river café again and I had interesting and delicious pasta with arugula of all things on top. It added some spice to it!

Sunday August 28th: The Imperial apartments tour and Rock the Opera

It is quiet warm again today! We are now experts on the UBahn and make our way swiftly underground to downtown Vienna. It is very quiet this morning except for a Starbucks of all things is open!

We toured the Imperial apartments which housed the Hapsburg royalty for 100s of years. Here is the entry into the museum. We were there right after it opened in the morning so the crowds had not yet shown up.

The most well-known inhabitants were the emperor Franz Josef and his wife Elizabeth who was nicknamed “Sisi”. They were married in 1854 when she was only 16 and by the way she was his cousin. A lot of marriages were arranged in those days designed to develop alliances with other countries. We toured the rooms where they lived and they were quite lavish and gold trimmed.

A few notes about Sisi: She was quite preoccupied with her beauty and her assistants would take hours helping her deal with her ankle length hair and other beauty routines. She was 5 foot 8 inches and only 100 pounds or so with a very tiny waist (with the assistance of a corset). There was a display of her medications the most notable of which was her cocaine given intravenously. She grew apart from her husband (who of course had mistresses) and traveled extensively without him. Ultimately she was assassinated in Switzerland and grew in fame after her death.

Here are a few pictures from the downstairs area of the Imperial Apartments with extensive displays of table setting items. Needless to say they frequently entertained a large number of guests. Note they liked to have “infinity” mirrors. The picture on the right looks to go on forever….

After an American lunch at McDonalds we headed back to the apartment for afternoon showers and laundry with our tiny little washing machine. The dryer was part of the device and was essentially an extensive spin. And as noted above, Google translate was required to interpret the dials with German text. Fortunately the weather is warm and our clothes dried quickly.

Since we are headed to see a concert in the Vienna State opera house I talked Butch into a collared shirt. It was a no go on long pants though. It turns out that the dress code was just to be dressed. It probably would have been different if we were attending an opera (which was on holiday at this time of year). As it was there were certainly others in shorts and sneakers. Waiting outside the opera house -

The concert was just fabulous and the opera house amazing in and of itself. Here is a picture looking up in the entry way of the opera house –

And the inside of the opera house –

The most memorable part was the Prague Philharmonic orchestra’s rendition of “Smoke on the Water”. It is something I will NEVER forget. The way the violins were used to establish the beat was amazing. We closed our eyes at times to fully appreciate the music. The songs were in English and the speakers usually in German. Oh…and the conductor wore faded blue jeans. What a great evening!

Monday August 29th: Schonbrunn Palace

What a “summer home”! This place is massive with lavish rooms very similar to the Imperial apartments in central Vienna. Only a small portion is available for public viewing.

The audio tour around the palace not surprisingly covered some of the same stories about the emperor Franz Joseph and Sisi that we heard in the Imperial palace in town.

We took a “train” ride around the vast grounds of the palace. They stopped at a lookout with a great view of the palace and the city of Vienna in the background.

Some other pictures from our tour of the grounds

We had just a great meal at the restaurant in the palace with very tender roast beef with potatoes and dessert. There was a nice sunset also!

Then on to a small classical music concert with some opera singing thrown in. We lasted through the intermission before heading home. All and all, it was a very nice afternoon and evening.

August 30th Tuesday: the United Nations Tour

There wasn’t anything actually prescheduled for this day. I spotted a tour for the international center (United Nations). Butch said “Sure, YOU should go!”

The UN complex was within viewing distance of our apartment and one stop away on the UBahn. It is one of only 4 UN locations in the world and was established in 1945. Apparently its location was ideal (close to the Russian “cold war” border) and Vienna was already was quite active in nuclear energy issues. Vienna offered to build the structures and rent it for pennies to the UN. In exchange there are lots of jobs created, not to mention the use of hotels, etc. for visitors. The buildings’ architecture allows windows into all offices and is oriented to maximize the sun in the winter months and shade in the summer. Note the curved structure of the buildings. This means all of the offices have a view.

It is its own little city with its own police force and laws separate from Austria. There was an armed guard outside and barbed wire fence around the complex.

To get in you had to go through an airport like screening process and receive a visitor name badge after presenting your passport. Our tour started late as, what a surprise, a computer glitch temporarily stopped the check in process. Ten of us went on the English speaking tour. There is an outside large courtyard with flags in alphabetical order for all of the UN “states” (190). My “selfie” in the courtyard:

We saw the large conference room where meetings are held.

They provide interpreters if needed for 6 languages (English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese and Russian). If you can’t speak any of those 6 than you have to pay for your own interpreter. The UN is like a city in and of itself with its own post office, dry cleaners, travel agency, cafes, etc. No one actually lives in this “city” though. There are several areas of focus for the Vienna UN. A major area is nuclear power. They are responsible for “policing” nuclear power in the world and making sure it is not misused (like for weapons). Note the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to ensure peaceful use of nuclear power:

They are also responsible for space and registering satellites and they deal with international crimes. Here is a rock from the moon in their space display:

Here is our tour guide discussing the current secretary general for the UN – Ban Ki-moon with his “cut out” figure.

On the way out, as in every tourist attraction, there was a gift shop. I purchased a small travel clock which is sitting in my office as I write this. It has the United Nations symbol on the cover and as Butch pointed out it was “Made in China”.

Our last evening in our Viennese apartment is with pizza from the Pakistani restaurant around the corner. They were so nice and provided me with some Turkish tea while I waited.

August 31st Wednesday: Embarkation! We tidied up the apartment and said good-bye to our fabulous Viennese apartment. Then we proceeded to walk across the street to our boat.

Our boat the River Adagio “double parked” A whole row of river boats!

We checked in and enjoyed the hospitality of the lounge and our first of many great meals. Here are some pictures of the boat and the closet that we call our room.

The bar and lounge area Our cluttered room with “Murphy beds”

Our small balcony One of many swans seen on this trip

We had been issued nametags prior to our arrival. Unfortunately Butch’s nametag said “Harold”. Not that there is anything wrong with the name Harold mind you (though one could argue that it is rather “stuffy”) but Butch goes by Butch……period. He went to the program director’s desk to ask Bob about a new name badge. They did not have the capability of producing another one on the ship so Bob simply turned the badge over and pointed out that he could put whatever he wanted on the other side with a magic marker. Butch said “But I didn’t bring a magic marker” and Bob said “Well here, use mine”. So now he had a nametag that could be seen across the room with the name Butch on it. By the way, we think that the mostly Eastern European crew had not previously been exposed to this name as they pronounced it “Buttch”. They probably also had not been exposed to the pronunciation of owl. One of them pointed out the owl which of course is on all of Butch’s shirt pockets. “Look, Buttch has an owl on his shirt”- owl rhyming with bowl….

The beds were folded down and ready for us after we returned from a delicious dinner. Butch found out later in the trip that chocolates were placed on the pillows. I told him that they must have been forgetting our room. The beds were a little uncomfortable for us the first night as it felt as if they sloped a bit from the wall and Butch was claustrophobic. However with an additional pillow for him the rest of the nights worked well. Tylenol PM was also helpful at least the first night (better living through chemistry).

View from our balcony early, early the next morning

September 1st Thursday: Tour of Vienna

We went for our first breakfast aboard the boat and discovered the omelet station. Everything is buffet style for breakfast with a special menu item or two served also. After we returned to our room later that morning we discovered that we had not closed our door completely and forgot entirely to close the safe. So much for security! Nothing was gone thank goodness….

We discovered that some of the passengers were held up at the Frankfurt airport due to a bomb scare but hopefully they will join us later today. It is so nice that we were able to come a week early as we are fully adjusted to this time zone now!

Then we headed out this morning for a bus tour around Vienna. We drove around the Ringstrausse road which used to be the site of the ancient city walls. These were demolished by the order of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1857 and were replaced by a 2.5 mile long boulevard which encircles Vienna’s old town. I went on the guided walking tour of downtown Vienna while Butch joined a small group for tea.

We walked through some very old narrow streets with stone “bumpers” for the carriages against the side walls. Just try to ignore the graffiti!

There was a delicious looking chocolate store with chocolates that looked like various tools! YUM!

The buildings in the area are old with some of them showing Baroque style architecture with gold trim.

We went into the spectacular St Stephens cathedral in the center of town.

The outside of the cathedral

Aaand – the inside views!

There were Roman ruins discovered when they were digging a subway near the palace. The area was roped off and contained some old rock walls. Butch and I must have walked near it before and never noticed….

Roman ruins near the Imperial apartments

Finally we went through the gardens on the other side and were shown the statue of Sisi in her garden.

Sisi’s garden Statue of Sisi in her garden

Sisi and her garden, nice photography!

The Captain’s welcome dinner was tonight and “boy howdy” was it an affair. There must have been 6 or 7 courses of food! After dinner we had an interesting talk from a young man who was a Syrian immigrant. He fled Syria because of Isis and the risk he would be captured and forced to fight. He noted that Syria is rich but most of this is kept from the ordinary people. It sounded like quite a harrowing journey traveling from Syria through Turkey and eventually to Austria. He now must master German in order to work or go to school in Austria.

Then we are off to bed in our little cabin to sleep and look forward to another day.

September 2, Friday: Cruising the Wachau valley and visiting Melk, Austria

We had a beautiful, beautiful cruise in the morning through the Wachau valley on the Danube. There were many, many vineyards terracing the sides of the hills and also some orchards (especially apricots). There were also lots of cute little towns with beautiful churches and crumbling castle ruins on the hills. Bike riders were traveling along the shore on bike paths. In this scenic area no bridges are allowed to be built so ferries are scattered along the river. For a special treat an old nude couple was walking their dog along the shore. They proudly waved at us…. Here are various pictures along this portion of the river (minus the nude couple):

Note the ruins of the castle above this town

An abbey on a passing hill along the river

Look at those vineyards behind the town

Interesting “nose” sculpture

We arrived at Melk and took the bus up a hill to the Abbey. We toured the massive baroque style structure which still houses Benedictine monks and is active as a school. It is strategically located on a steep hillside perch and originally was the site of Roman border post. It became a Benedictine monastery in 1089 and was quite the center of education. The library is huge and has an impressive collection of very old books and manuscripts. Here are some pictures from the abbey:

Map of the massive Abbey and grounds

Entry to the Melk Abbey

Courtyard beyond entry

View from the Abbey

One of the buildings on the grounds The Wise couple posing near the Abbey

Our boat parked along the Danube near Melk

And….us returning to our boat after our tour of the Melk Abbey

September 3rd, Saturday: Passau, Germany

We cruise into Germany today into a small town called Passau which sits on the confluence of 3 rivers. On the way we had a demonstration on making apple strudel. Rum goes into the recipe and one lady accidentally spilled way too much rum into her mix. Many people were quite interested in having that particular strudel with dinner tonight.

Pastry chef demonstrating proper technique Our program director Randy helping

We went on a walking tour through town and ended up at St Stephen’s cathedral. It has one of the biggest organs in the world (17,774 pipes!) and is very detailed inside with elaborate painted ceilings. We were able to attend the organ concert. The sound was impressive and filled the massive church with its music.

Beautiful view as we came into Passau

The ever present cobblestones (watch your step!)

Floods are an issue in past years! Part of the gigantic organ in St Stephen’s church

Wow! Nice car Butch!!

We had massages in the afternoon with a wonderful therapist from Portugal (Beatriz). The cost was quite reasonable and it felt great!

Dinner was “Hollywood night” and the waiters were dressed up in snazzy outfits. Butch already had a favorite waitress named Tatiana. She said he reminded her of her uncle. At least she didn’t say great uncle or grandfather! Here are a few pictures with some of our favorite waiters/waitresses on deck just cruising along!

GREAT picture! I needed one also (wasn’t as good as Butch’s)

And here is the happy couple (though Butch’s smile isn’t quite as wide as when he was with Tatiana) Note - the boat is busy rising in one of many locks we traversed.

We had a great time visiting with 2 other couples at dinner. The entertainment this evening was the program directors telling us stories about life in their countries.

September 4th, Sunday: Regensburg – nice weather!

We are in Bavaria! Beer! Regensburg is Germany’s largest medieval city and it is quite well preserved as it was undamaged during WWII. We went on a walking tour with a local guide. The stone bridge in town is supposed to be the oldest in Germany.

It is under repair of course……

AND….right by it is the oldest sausage maker. We tried it and it was certainly good with sweet mustard and sauerkraut. But…don’t sit down if you are planning to take food away. They don’t like that and will tell you so.

The sausage shop and restaurant They are good at this!

There was a yet another very elaborate church with a very loud bell.

The church with unfortunate construction nearby affecting the scene!

In the early 1500s the Jewish in town were “kicked out” as scapegoats for a poor economy. So…the Jewish have been scapegoats more than once! Here are some miscellaneous pictures from around town:

Nice arch to drive through Narrow alley with cobblestones of course

Random people…… Music in the square!

Just love the flower boxes below windows

Dinner tonight was a bit of a walk. But we made it to a German restaurant with “Um PA PA” music and beer!

Looking back after crossing the bridge Dinner will reward us after the walk

And…….the Oom Pa Pa music!

September 5th, Monday: Kelheim and home hosted Kaffeeklatsch:

Today we took a bus ride followed by a walk to the Weltenburg monastery. I walked up the hill from the abbey to see the chapel on the hill.

The outside….. and the inside

Then we went into the church for a talk. The abbey is the oldest in Germany, founded in the 600s and houses the oldest monastery brewery in the world. The pews inside were quite uncomfortable but the speaker was very funny and entertaining. She did a great job in highlighting the many pictures and sculptures within the church. The pictures in the cupula were made to look very enticing as a representation of heaven. The artists were able to make some of the flat surfaces appear rounded.

The cupula – isn’t heaven enticing? So much detail everywhere in this church

And more beautiful details…..

Then pretzels and beer! After all we are in Bavaria and at an active brewery to boot…

Nice sized pretzel! Those monks know how to brew a beer!

Then we strolled to the boat site for a scenic ride down the Danube gorge to catch up to our boat in time for lunch. After all, we wouldn’t want to get hungry.

Beautiful scenery on our walk to the boat The boat is ready for us

Enjoying the ride Riding past the monastery

Back to Kelheim with this towering above the town

After lunch we loaded up in buses for our drive in the country to visit a local home in Beilngries for a “Kaffeeklatsch”. At some point we did experience the Autobahn and were quite impressed by the speed of passing cars. The drive was beautiful. The small towns in Germany are quaint and clean with many houses having solar panels.

We met our host, Krista, and initially had a tour of her home. She and her husband both have offices and do work out of the home. He does awnings as part of his business and she is a seamstress. Their daughter and family live upstairs with a grandson and one on the way. It is a win-win deal as they get to see a lot of their grandchildren and also are able to help out with babysitting. They have a small back yard with a garden, greenhouse and fruit trees against a barn wall. Unfortunately they were in proximity to hogs or cattle and it was a bit smelly outside. We had a nice visit with her as our small group sat with her for coffee and homemade pastries. We met her husband as we were leaving and gathered for a group picture. Here are a few pictures from our visit:

Main entry to her home Very nice neighborhood

A pear tree against the barn wall End of the season for her garden

Krista and her greenhouse And tomatoes in the greenhouse

Their living room Table is set for us!

Here we are, happy, full and pleased with our visit. Wait….where’s my arm?

Tonight we had a very interesting talk about all of the locks we have been through and will be taking. Tonight we start transiting the Main-Danube canal and during the night we will pass the continental divide and start descending into the locks. We will run into some very low bridges – watch out! The wheelhouse retracts only leaving the captain’s head sticking out. On a sad note – one of the Viking river boats ran into the bridge during our trip. They postulated that the captain and assistant fell asleep and the bridge demolished their wheelhouse and killed them.

66 locks total (14 on the Danube, 16 on the Rhine-Main-Danube canal, 34 on the Main and 2 on the Amsterdam-Rhine canal). The continental divide is at 1340 ft.

Not much room to spare! Sharing our lock

Our captain supervising the lock transit and using his boat side controls

Butch supervising the lock process from our balcony

Note the captain’s head sticking out Watch out! Duck captain! Low bridge…..

September 6, Tuesday: Nuremberg

Today we went to Bavaria’s second largest city – Nuremberg. We went to Zeppelin field where Hitler held his massive rallies and saw where the Nuremberg trials were held.

The never completed Congress Hall

Muster of the labor service Zeppelin Field 1937. This field could hold MASSIVE gatherings!

Zeppelin field now in disrepair

Zeppelin field grandstand including weeds

Podium Zeppelin Field - minus the Swastica of course

We then made our way to the main market square. There were a variety of stalls with various products and we couldn’t help but sample and purchase one of the famous gingerbread cookies, YUM.

The Frauenkirche church is quite impressive and located right on the square. It was built in the 1350s and is brick gothic style. At noon there is a little show put on by the characters beneath the clock like a cuckoo clock.

In the afternoon I went to see the Documentation center which is a museum that followed the development of Hitler’s regime. It was interesting as some of the focus was how Hitler managed to entrance and mobilize the people. He methodically just got rid of any political competition. Oh, by the way, there was a bat flying through one of the darker rooms of the museum!

We had a Bavarian buffet for dinner with the staff dressed in costume. Nice dessert, always so well displayed:

We also had a talk about politics in Germany. They have a much shorter, cheaper and more structured political election process that I liked! We also found out that it is a crime to display a Swastica or to deny the holocaust in Germany.

September 7, Wednesday: Bamberg

Off we went on another walking tour after breakfast. This is a quaint, well preserved, little German town that fortunately survived WW2 without much damage. It is known as a “little Venice” and there are colorful old houses from the 1500s lined up on the canal.

Here are some random buildings around the town:

A place for your motorcycle Funny home!

Nice mural on the wall

A building between two bridges….

I walked up to a church on the hill with the group:

The outside and interior

And the entryway Buildings on the hill with nice flowers

Then we stopped at a café for the town’s famous “smoky beer”. Indeed it did have a smoky flavor and was quite good. It was made quite by accident originally when the building the beer was being brewed caught fire and they discovered that the beer was pretty tasty! We had a relaxing afternoon quietly floating along the canal in the German countryside. I had another massage whereas Butch participated happily in the ice cream social.

September 8th, Thursday: The towns of Rothenburg and Wurzburg with its “wine bridge”

The medieval city of Rothenburg was an optional tour. It was surrounded by a 14th century wall that you could walk around on with VERY steep steps to get up or down.

We walked around a lot of very old houses with rooms above for grain storage. They were required to have a certain amount of grain in storage in case it was needed during lean periods. Inspections occurred to ensure compliance! Note the half-timbered design of some of the buildings.

The central square in town

We had lunch out which was delicious and reminded us of beef stroganoff type of dish (with pork instead). I walked around some of the shops on my own (as Butch is not known for his interest in shopping). Lesson learned – always have a credit card handy as I would have bought a beer stein. Oh well, maybe someday I will be back. I found a look out over the valley from the back side of the town wall:

And a bakery with “snowballs” in it (pastry deep fried with frosting coating)

I finished up at the criminal museum which had an extensive collection of instruments of torture. This was a common method of obtaining confessions in the legal system way back when…

We headed back to the boat and traveled to Wurzburg on the Main river. There is an old rock bridge that is purely pedestrian and sells wine by the glass. You get a token with the glass and get your money back for the glass when you turn it back in. It was a great place to people watch!

And a lovely view from the bridge

After dinner on the boat we were entertained by folk dancers. What fun!

September 9, Friday: Wertheim and glassblowing

We had a glass blowing demonstration right on board. The glass blower was quite talented and demonstrated making various things out of glass.

Then we were off to a walking tour of the town. It is a charming little town with castle ruins overlooking the area.

Structure in the park with stained glass A typical street in town

The usual castle on the hill over the city Very blue paint (due to urine of a binge drinker)

Dispensary machine for bike tools

Plaques in front of residence of Jewish family members who died in WW2 We took a little “train” up to the castle ruins and had a great view over the city.

The “train” up to the castle Layout of the castle grounds

Nice views of the town from the castle grounds

Side walls of the castle Who is that guy in the castle?

Another view over the city

Unfortunately my little backpack tore open at the seam but fortunately I didn’t lose anything. When we returned to the boat Butch ran into the captain and asked if he had any duct tape. (The captain said “the silver stuff?”) Only Butch would ask something like this of the captain! No duct tape right on hand so the backpack was turned over to the engineer for further evaluation. When we got it back the seam had been stapled shut. Very good!

We had a very interesting talk from a local woman about the holocaust. She was too young to have experienced it directly and it was something that was never taught when she was going to school. It was pretty much swept under the rug and kept out of the German school books.

September 10th, Saturday: Heidelberg, the college town

Butch wasn’t feeling up to par and elected to ride on our boat to the next port of Rudesheim. Meanwhile I took the tour to Heidelberg.

Before arrival a nice reflective view along the river as we cruised

We first explored Heidelberg castle up on the hill above the town. We were herded about through throngs of other tourist groups. This is a 15th century Gothic castle with a great view of the city and the surrounding Odenwald forest. It is made of red sandstone and was partially destroyed by lightning strikes twice in its history. Here are a few pictures of the castle and views over the city:

Preserved entry to castle grounds Castle in partial ruins

Better preserved section of the castle

On display in the castle: Old beautiful pharmacy and a HUGE barrel of wine

Views from the castle over the city

Then we were off to lunch in town and a tour through the college town. The university of Heidelberg was established in 1386 and is the oldest and most prestigious schools in Germany. One of the students gave a talk about student issues and life in one of the school buildings. I love having these educational and unique experiences with the local people thrown into the mix! Finally I couldn’t resist stopping at the chocolate store where I bought one of the famous Heidelberg Student Kisses. This is made of chocolate nougat on a wafer and coated with chocolate. YUM!

Random street scene with mix of the old and new (note the Subway)

Lovely lecture hall at the University Old student prison – note the graffiti and paintings

And the Heidelberg Student Kiss store!

September 11th, Sunday: Koblenz and the castles on the Rhine

Today was the highlight of the river cruise as we meandered down a fabulous section of the Rhine river with a castle around almost every bend.

Apparently it was quite profitable to own castles in those times as fares were collected routinely for passage. For the first time on the entire trip it was cool enough to wear my down jacket I brought. But it was bright and sunny and without rain. Here are some of the pictures from today’s river cruise:

River traffic

Yet another cute German town

Lorelai rock and one of our program directors dressed up as the devious Lorelai who was said to bewitch men to their death and ended her own life jumping off of the rock. It is also said in folklore that she sat up on the rock combing her blond hair and poor distracted sailors would crash their boats into the rock.


Just cruising along

Lunch was a German buffet complete with the staff dressed up in costume.

There was a walking tour as usual around town (Koblenz). Koblenz was established in about 8 BC when the Romans built a fortification to control the land. The Rhine and Mosel meet at the city and both were important avenues of trade. The German corner is a promontory that juts out at the confluence and has a monument to German unity including a few pieces of the original Berlin wall.

Our group with a local guide Look at that lady ready to jump!

Lucky guy with his mobile chair

Then I went on my own up the cable car, over the river, and to the Fortress Ehrenbreitstein looking over the city. This was built between 1817 and 1832 and guarded the Rhine which had been invaded by French troups repeatedly before. It is the largest preserved fortress in Europe. Apparently there was controversy in allowing the cable cars as it was felt to impact on the natural beauty of the river. They allowed the city to keep them going with the understanding that when it breaks down or wears out they are to take it down!

“Love locks” on the fence around the fortress

Only a small portion of the fortress

The tree makes a nice pattern against the building

The fortress was used as post WW2 housing as the town of Koblenz suffered a lot of damage. This is recreated with furnishings from the time. Gardens shown on the rooftop.

Nice job iphone on the panorama setting (view from the fortress)

Riding down on the cable car

Oldest church in town – St Castor Basilica

Beautiful garden in the back of the church

Whaaaaaat??? Now that’s a funny sculpture

After a moment of silence for 9/11 we had a show put on by some local singing sailors.

September 12, Monday: Cologne and the massive church

Today we toured through the city of Cologne and visited the massive cathedral in town. This is a Gothic styled church and is one of the most visited landmarks in Germany.

View from the water from our boat….. Just massive!

Inside – what a high ceiling! And just a guy resting his legs

Lunch was at “Papa Johns” and we experienced the local beer (Kolsch) presented in narrow glasses. They make a “holder” for these that you can wear around your neck.

Dinner tonight was the Captain’s Farewell dinner. There were more than the usual courses of food and it was outstanding!

And the staff is ready to serve…..

Delicious food and wonderful presentation

Finally we went to a show put on by the boat staff. Lots of fun!

September 13th, Tuesday: Amsterdam!

We had a good orientation to Amsterdam on a canal tour. Here are a few pictures from the water:

Chinese restaurant over the water Look at all those bikes!

The canal ride ended at the Anne Frank house (more later on this). Here is a sculpture of her:

From there we walked to the center of town were able to try herring from a stand. It was certainly a bit salty and fishy tasting.

Our program director proceeded to lead us through the red light district and was quite open about the details. The women were behind glass doors in their little rooms and as soon as they had a customer the curtain would go across for privacy. Randy turned his name tag around as he talked about how one of the other program directors was embarrassed by one of the women noting his name and saying “Bob, where have you been?” Amsterdam is quite progressive with open views about the gay community, prostitution and marijuana. We passed a store that was advertised as a condom museum! And we spotted marijuana ice cream! The multicolored flags outside of some of the bars indicated a gay bar. Randy pointed out in the interest of women’s equality that there were some male prostitutes at one time but apparently this wasn’t too popular. All and all this was a very interesting walk!!

Tonight we had our last “port talk”. The program directors made up a very cute poem summarizing our trip. We had our last dinner on board with Don and Diana from Los Angeles and Cari and Joe from Florida and New York.

And finally up on deck we had a last drink and farewell for Randy and the “blue group”.

But first, farewell to Butch’s “niece” Tatiana

And farewell to our great program director Randy

September 14th, Wednesday: Our Amsterdam apartment, a very warm day

We had our last delicious breakfast buffet with made to order omelets on the boat. We also had our last routine of lattie da coffee first thing in the morning in the near empty lounge. It is so sad to say good-bye…..

But we go onward to new adventures. A cab was called for us to travel to our apartment. It turns out that his cab had an automatic breaking system and it came in action when a bike rider (what a surprise) was in our way. It was a rather sudden stop! We had about 8 euros worth of difficulty finding the exact address. But Theo the neighbor was there to show us around the apartment. He did his best in broken English to show us around. The apartment is on the second floor of the apartment building and is directly over a canal. It is a studio with a small kitchenette and everything we need for our stay. It is a very warm day and there is no air conditioning but with windows and doors open on both sides and use of the fan we managed.

Entry to our new “home” (Note the clogs!)

Canal scenes from our apartment

Next we went on a short walking trip to the grocery store and met with the familiar problem of being unable to read labels (this time in Dutch). While Butch napped I walked to the Anne Frank house through an area of Amsterdam called the Jordaan district with lots of old attached houses, bridges, canals and bikes, bikes, bikes. I witnessed a minor car versus bike accident which then generated a spat between the bike rider and driver. The bike and bike rider looked ok though fortunately. It took me about 15 minutes to make it to the Anne Frank House but I know exactly where to go tomorrow. Here are a few scenes from my walk:

Typical businesses/residences (narrow and wall to wall) Note old hoists still used as the stairways are too narrow to haul stuff up…..

See the railing for bike storage And only in Amsterdam…. Posted on a bench

There was a windmill within view of our place. Here is the story and a picture:

We walked to a local lasagna take out place that afternoon except they weren’t making lasagna because of the heat so we settled on a rather weird pizza. It was sort of like biscuits and gravy with a mushroom gravy, ham and an herb thrown in of some type.

Then we found a bench and sat and ate ice cream and watched people and bikes. The Holland people are mostly blond and you hardly ever see anyone that is fat. Do you suppose there is a connection between the bikes for transportation and remaining slim? The bikes often have “cargo” boxes in front filled with groceries, children or whatever. There are bike lanes on all roads except for the small side roads and watch out because bike riders have the right of way. There are also mopeds speeding along these lanes. Pedestrians don’t stand a chance – you have to always be watching for traffic and bikes. Apparently bike stealing is a common practice so many will have “junkers” for everyday commutes and more expensive bikes for recreation. Final comment on bicycle riders – no one ever had bike helmets on. Here are a variety of pictures of the Amsterdam bike riders:


September 15th, Thursday: Anne Frank House

I had prearranged tickets before our trip to the Anne Frank House as they often sell out well in advance. It worked great as you didn’t have to stand in long lines. I read Anne Frank’s diary not too long ago so it was interesting to see the actual space that they lived in during those years in hiding. It is quite small and hidden upstairs in the annex of the business building.

Anne Frank and her sister

Anne Frank at her desk Bookcase at the entry to the annex

Anne Frank’s bedroom (furniture recreated) Otto Frank (the only survivor)

We decided we better figure out transportation this afternoon. There is a bus stop a block or so from our apartment and the bus #21 takes us down to central station after 4 stops or so. And here is Butch enjoying his ride:

From there we walked to the huge central library and enjoyed a nice cafeteria style meal up on the top floor with a great view over the city. On the way home we stayed on the bus to the end of the line to see what the city looked like further out from town. It continued to be an area packed with apartment buildings and businesses. We came back to our stop and ate a gyro from a small stand near the bus stop. It is a small area of mom and pop stores with a variety of ethnic groups and food (from middle eastern/muslims, Chinese, Italian and so forth). Back to our room we enjoy watching the traffic on the canal go by. People were even swimming in the canal (again it was a warm day).

September 16th, Friday: The Rijks Museum

It is time to get some culture for Butch at a famous art museum. Today is our first comfortable cooler day and we walk to the tram stop to try and figure out our way to the museum. Amsterdam isn’t as user friendly as the Ubahn in Vienna but we managed. For the most part they do not have an underground as probably it would flood since Amsterdam is under sea level in places. So we had to work off of a complex map of buses and trams to figure out where to go. It was a bit of a walk to the Rijks museum but it was an impressive building with extensive art displays of Dutch masters. Here is the outside of the massive building:

We first wandered around the rotating exhibit of ship models, very old guns and dishes. How is that for an “eclectic” collection! After coffee, we went on a tour of the highlights of the museum with a guide. The problem was that it was just packed with the popular paintings surrounded by people. Nevertheless, we did see quite a collection of art by the Dutch masters – especially Rembrandt.

A cute cup of coffee to wake me up for the tour

Rembrandt did a lot of portraits in his time

As you can see, we had to work around the crowds!

There were also a few paintings by Van Gogh but the majority of his paintings are in a nearby museum dedicated to him. We made our way home and had a made to order pizza and then sat with our ice cream bars for our usual people and bike watching.

September 17th, Saturday: The Windmill Tour

It was nice to have a day trip out of busy Amsterdam. We first headed to Zaandam to tour some of the wind mills. Some of them were rebuilt as exact replicas (since the original ones had decayed). The one that we toured was used to saw wood. There wasn’t enough wind to run the mill today but we could see the complex gears inside connected to the wind blades outside and the saws inside. Some of the other wind mills performed other tasks such as grinding flour and so forth.

We then stopped by a museum where there were a lot of pictures of previous floods in the area. There were also pictures made from cigar wraps:

We had lunch in the small fishing village of Volendam. It was great fish and chips and dessert in a nearby shop consisted of a chocolate covered waffle with bananas and whipped cream. YUM!

A view of the village as we left on the boat

Wow, difficult to choose Can’t believe he ate the whole thing

We also toured a cheese factory in the town before riding a boat across a huge lake to another little town. Here we toured a wooden shoe factory and witnessed the process of making these traditional Dutch shoes.

Cheese, cheese and more cheese Making those wooden shoes

We walked around some houses in the little town with some nice yards:

Nice fence!

Of note, many of the areas we traveled today were “polders” or recovered land after making dikes to hold back the sea water.

September 18th, Sunday: Hop on Hop off bus and canal boat tour

We had a great overview of Amsterdam by bus and canal boat tour today. A marathon was going on so a few of the downtown streets were closed. Here are a few pictures from the tour:

Nice view downtown Amsterdam

Canal with homes on the water How is this for commuting?

For dinner we went to a local restaurant (the Rooster) a little ways down the canal from our apartment. This was very much a local neighborhood venue and needless to say the menu did not offer any English translation. Fortunately the staff was very helpful and we ended up with a couple of delicious sandwiches served on bread boards. We asked the server what he knew about marijuana ice cream and he immediately turned to one of the young female servers to field the question. We all laughed at that point…. We finished off the night watching more of the DVDs available in English at the apartment (as the TV selections were primarily in Dutch).

September 19th, Monday: Further exploration of Amsterdam

Today we made our way into central Amsterdam for a last walk around and a visit to a “coffee house”. We also stopped for some Dutch waffles (as we had the “munchies”) and some people watching.

The “menu” When in Amsterdam…..

This is the gigantic cruise ship we would have been on if we had gone to Rome from here. We were glad to head home instead.

September 20th, Tuesday: Home!

Our pre-arranged taxi arrived right on time and we said good-bye to Theo and Carmen and Amsterdam. A long flight home to PDX via Chicago but all went smoothly. WONDERFUL trip with many new memories!!!!

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