Rhine River Cruise Day 3

by Mac Lacy 5. November 2009 22:22

We traveled on to Rudesheim, a beautiful village that climbs up the banks of the Rhine and is framed in vineyards.  Siegfied's Mechanical Music Musical Instrument Museum is a world-class collection of music boxes and mechanical music machines.  Rudesheim coffee is a local hot drink made with brandy, whipped cream and spices and makes a perfect outdoor drink on a brisk day.  

We sailed toward Koblenz through the Rhine's fabled gorge, where medieval castles and churches dot the countryside and stand like sentinels above the Rhine.  Many are privately-owned and well maintained, others are in ruin.  It was cold during this leg of the trip, but some of us sat on the bow viewing area of the Creativity and braved the elements to enjoy these magnificent structures as they passed.

We enjoyed a free afternoon in Cologne, and after taking in its incomparable cathedral, we walked the streets in a welcome sunlight.   The change in weather warmed everyone up and brought the local residents out into this large city's shopping district for a Friday afternoon stroll.

Our trip ended in Amsterdam, a delightfully liberal city.  After a canal tour, four or us caught the tram to the city's museum plaza, where we toured the Van Gogh museum.  The permanent collection there provides an endearing study of this troubled artist's life and concludes with a poignant photograph of his grave beside that of his beloved brother's, Theo. We had dinner that evening in the red light district with a few friends.  While the scenery was mostly tawdry, the Tibetan restaurant we found was superb and filled with local diners.

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Rhine River Cruise

Rhine River Cruise Day 2

by Mac Lacy 28. October 2009 17:24

In Strasbourg, we walked through the old town and entered the Notre Dame cathedral that dates to the 12th century.  Inside, a mechanical clock dating to the 1500s still operates daily, wound each day by a clock keeper.  This meticulously-designed timepiece includes angels and apostles, an old man facing death and a young boy just beginning his life.  Each hour, and even on quarter hours, this clock chimes and its pieces move to keep a watch over the seasons of life itself. 

The following day we visited the massive Heidelberg castle.  This medieval structure towers above a busy city characterized by red tile roofs and German architecture.  At one point in its history, the castle was attacked by the French with its own dynamite, pilfered from stores it kept outside the walls.  The castle is used today for many purposes including weddings and events, and each year the Student Prince opera is still perfomed outside here in one of its many courtyards.  Afterwards, we enjoyed a beer, and a serving of kraut, bacon and potato cakes at an outdoor cafe.

The following day, we walked through Mainz, a city almost entirely destroyed during WWII.  Today, it thrives and much of its rebuilt downtown is for pedestrians only, very little automobile traffic is allowed.  Its cobblestone plazas and streets are filled with strollers, dogs on leashes and passersby.

 

 

 

 

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Rhine River Cruise

Pancakes!

by Brian Jewell 9. August 2009 18:12

Today I enjoyed one of Amsterdam’s most surprising and delicious treat’s – the Dutch pancake.

Although we know pancakes as an American breakfast food, in Amsterdam and throughout the Netherlands they are favorite dishes for lunch or dinner. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of pancake houses throughout this city serving locals and tourists alike – wherever you go, chances are you’re not very far from one.

I’m traveling in Amsterdam with Monograms, one of the companies in the Globus family which gives visitors a wide-open itinerary with a local host to help them find their way around the city. Because these trips give travelers total flexibility during the day, I was able to eat at “Pancakes!,” a small restaurant in an old historic home that would not hold a traditional group. But one of my fellow travel writers had read about this particular one in the New York Times, and so a foursome of us made the special trip halfway across town to try it out.

All I can say is – I’m hooked! Unlike their thick, fluffy American cousins, Dutch pancakes are wide, floppy affairs that cover a dinner plate from rim to rim. They are a bit spongier than their American cousins, and more chewy, perhaps. But their real strength is in their diversity – at Pancakes!, along with other pancake houses around town, the dish is served with a wide variety of toppings and fillings. Guests can order traditional combinations, such as pancakes with strawberries or bananas, or more savory and spicy combinations.

Today I opted for #126 – a pancake full of shredded fried bacon, sliced bananas and ground red pepper. These ingredients weren’t piled on top of the pancake, but rather cooked right into the batter. It may sound like an odd combination of flavors, but drizzled liberally with maple syrup, this pancake was a sweet, spicy and savory delight.

(Full disclosure: “Pancakes!” was not my first Dutch pancake experience – I had a bacon pancake at a local restaurant shortly after my trans-Atlantic flight landed in Amsterdam. And I may very well have another one before I leave to fly home.)

Volendam: A breath of fresh air

by Brian Jewell 8. August 2009 18:02

Sometimes a good walk can clear your head and help you see the things around you in a new and fresh way. In Volendam, a small fishing village outside of Amsterdam, a simple walk through town gave me a new perspective.

It’s a Saturday, you see.  And that’s important.

I don’t want to be jaded, but I couldn’t help but to feel like I’ve seen Volendam before – in Germany, in Switzerland, in Ireland, in Mexico, in Canada, in New England… even in Florida. Charming, yes, but not unique. And the sad part is that when tourists begin to discover these wonderful little places, their charm becomes a commodity. The towns no longer seem as authentic – instead, they are caricatures of themselves, peddling a certain image for tourists, all so they can sell t-shirts and ice cream.

Walking along the dock in Volendam, my spirits sank a little, as I saw the typical throngs of tourists crowded into sidewalk cafes, eating their frozen treats and stopping for photos in the most inconvenient places.  So I decided to just walk by, and I kept walking.

This is where the charm of Volendam comes into focus.  In just a few minutes, I was clear of the dockside, of the tourist district, and all of the trappings of the cheap commercialism. Just a few blocks away, I found myself in a local neighborhood, of cute Dutch style houses with peaked roofs and immaculate gardens, laid out along the sides of a canal. Down a side street, a local weekend market was taking place, where neighbors met while browsing cheese, nuts, crafts and handmade clothing. No one was there to put on a show for tourists, and no one was speaking English. This was just life in a Dutch village.

Walking through the neighborhood for half an hour or so, I saw all of the trappings of normal life on a Saturday afternoon – teenagers riding bikes through the streets, mothers on an afternoon walk pushing toddlers around in strollers, and old couples enjoying a stroll down the sidewalk on a sunny, 72-degree afternoon.  As I took it in, I remembered one of the reasons that I love travel so much: When you get past the business and the hospitality and the hassle, travel reminds us how connected we are to people of different races, different nationalities and different languages.  We are so different in so many ways, but in the end, there is so much more that we have in common.

I returned to the ship with a new spring to my step. It’s a Saturday, and I feel privileged to have enjoyed a little bit of it with the good people of Volendam. This is why we travel, and this is why those of us who get to work in tourism are blessed beyond belief.

Christening the Creativity

by Brian Jewell 8. August 2009 09:00

 

 

I’m in Holland (or the Netherlands, if you insist), for the christening of the ms Creativity, the newest ship to join Avalon Waterways’ river cruising portfolio.

Along with a handful of international travel journalists, I’ve been on the ship for about a day now, getting to know the beautiful new vessel, and to experience some of the advantages of river cruising. Our short weekend journey has taken us from Amsterdam to Hoorn, a scenic and historic city, and now to Volendam, a small village where today’s christening took place.

The ms Creativity is the third in a class of five sister ships, and the eighth to join the Avalon fleet. The 110-meter ship holds 140 passengers in 70 state rooms, most of which are equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows and French balconies. River cruise ships are much more intimate than the superliners used for most ocean cruises; still, the Creativity features a well-appointed dining room, two lounges, an internet café, a fitness center and salon.

Though our journey has been short, I can already see why river cruising has become so popular. The river is calm, so there is no seasickness. And the small size of the vessel makes it easy to get to know a number of people on board, without feeling overwhelmed by the crowds.

But perhaps the most impressive facet is the destination itself. River cruising allows you to experience Europe (or China or the Nile or other destinations) in a way that oceanliner cruising cannot. Our itinerary includes stops in a number of charming small towns that a cruise ship could never reach. The Creativity is specially outfitted with a collapsible wheelhouse and deck railing so that it can be navigated under some of Europe’s low bridges.

When we disembark, we blend into the town like locals, instead of overwhelming it as swarms of thousands of cruise passengers also do. The city tours, like everything else on a river cruise vessel, seems more intimate and more casual. Even today’s christening ceremony was fun and understated – dignitaries kept their remarks brief, and everyone enjoyed the popping bottle of champagne against the ship’s hull.

Tomorrow, I’ll disembark for a three-day city tour of Amsterdam, while the Creativity gears up for its inaugural cruise on the Rhine toward Germany. While I won’t have time to come along, this experience has vaulted river cruising toward the top of my list of much anticipated travel experiences.

 

 

 

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