Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rhine River Cruise Part 7 - Amsterdam

The last leg of our journey entailed packing our bags, boarding a bus, and taking an interminable ride to a conference hotel about an hour away from Amsterdam in the middle of fallow tulip fields.

We did see windmills, both modern and traditional, along the way.

After rushing to eat a buffet lunch (the do-it-yourself-espresso/cappuccino machine was a wonder to behold and produced some fine coffee), we got back on a different bus headed for Amsterdam. Upon arriving we immediately boarded a boat and took a canal tour which was extremely pleasurable and relaxing. Both the bay and canals held sights to satisfy. One of the most interesting and unbelievable structures turned out to be a 4 deck parking garage that was designed just for bicycles. And the place was packed! Bikes were heavily used in the city. In fact, Amsterdam had traffic lights just for bikes along with pedestrian cross walks. If you did not use a bike cross walk, you took your life in your hands. You could truly be run over!

We had about an hour to roam the city before meeting back for dinner. My husband and I headed for the pedestrian only shopping district. A bustling place with shops and green and brown coffee bars. The brown bars served coffee. The green bars (several bearing the name Grasshopper) did not serve coffee. We must have passed over a dozen green bars, many of which had open windows (with enough smoke to almost obtain a second hand high just from passing by). We also admired the gabled architecture of the city.

At the end of the shopping area we encountered a square replete with old, impressive brick buildings. In the middle of the square was a carnival with thrill rides and a haunted house. Definitely, a city of juxtapositions and incongruities. And, for me, fascinating.

After dinner was the obligatory tour of the red light district. This section of the city was bigger than I expected and contained numerous glass doors filled with “merchandise.” The lax and party-like atmosphere really reminded me of New Orleans.

The next day we boarded a plane for home. What an interesting and breathtaking trip. If I had the chance, I would visit each place again, but in depth. This cruise was only able to scratch the surface.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rhine River Cruise Part 6 - Cologne and Dusseldorf

Upon departing Koblenz we docked ever so briefly at Konigswinter, a health and resort town. We proceeded to board a bus, ostensibly to visit Drachenfels where Siefried slayed the dragon. Alas, we traveled to Petersberg, instead, which the German government uses as a guest resort for foreign dignitaries. From this picturesque mountain peak we could barely glimpse the dragon rock. Petersberg did hold forth a few interesting sites itself – the ruins of a 12th century church and St. Peter Chapel.

On the way back to the boat we stopped at Kloster Heisterbach to view the old chapel ruins.

Back on the boat to land at Cologne in the late afternoon. A large city that was settled by the Romans in 50 A.D., but is now mostly modern.

We anchored in time for us to run next door to the chocolate museum. We learned about the cocoa plant, cocoa processing, packaging, and marketing. And we sampled from the chocolate fountain. Of course, we also picked up some chocolate, including Katzen Zungens (cat tongues) in the gift shop.

We then briefly wandered over to the cathedral, the Dom of St. Peter and Maria. Definitely awe-inspiring. The square surrounding the cathedral bustled with visitors, vendors, sidewalk artists, and skateboarders. We ventured inside and admired the spaciousness of the place as well as the wondrous stained glass. The cathedral began building in 1248, but was not completed until 1880.

That night the dinner on the boat gave us the option of Nile perch or lamb. Neither were appealing, so we ate schnitzel and drank beer at one of the outside cafes along the Rhine. My father and husband tried the local beer, Kolsch, while I enjoyed a mild hefeweizen. Once again, a respite from the cruise fare.

In the morning we opted to skip the official city and cathedral tour and climbed up the cathedral spire for some spectacular views. We went right as it opened at 9 AM. Since the same spiral stone stairs are used for going up and down, beginning the trek early is highly recommended. The sad part about this climb was the inordinate amount of graffiti covering the walls.

Next to the cathedral sat the Romisch-Germanische Museum containing Roman ruins and beyond that the Museum Ludwig featuring contemporary art.

We then hurried back to the boat to depart for Dusseldorf snapping more photos along the way.
As we meandered up the river from Cologne, we espied a shepherd and his flock wandering the sandy shore right outside the city. What an amazing and unexpected sight!

Arriving in Dusseldorf we glimpsed a newer part of town featuring a Frank Gehry apartment building. Numerous eateries lined the river as we approached our dock.

The old part of Dusseldorf claimed the longest bar in the world. Well, not really. Basically, they had so many bars lined up and down the streets that the bar seemed endless. What we really enjoyed was the open air market in the center of the old city that featured all sorts of delights from potatoes to chestnuts to Chinese lanterns.

And the pedestrian only shopping district as well as the rest of the quaint scenery. We did have time to stop in the Lowenserf shop that prepared and sold its own mustard.

And then back to the boat. We had to go back to Cologne so the boat could go into dry dock to repair another propeller problem. We would have to finish the rest of our journey by bus.