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  • Report from Europe – Week 2


    We took a KLM City Hopper from Budapest to Amsterdam where we boarded our second cruise. It’s easy to get downtown from the airport to Amsterdam’s Centraal Train Station. It is just a 5-minute walk from the baggage carousel to buy the tickets, a 15-minute train ride to downtown and a 5 minute walk to our hotel.

    The capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam and it is one of Europe’s most magnificent cities. From the blooming tulips of the Keukenhof Gardens to the picturesque canals (UNESCO World Heritage Site) to the lively Jordaan district and “9streets” to the flashier Red-Light District, Amsterdam is always vibrant, day and night.

    Home to Rembrandt and Anne Frank, Amsterdam features over 70 museums but one of its most enduring sites are its iconic canals. These charming waterways encircle the city in a labyrinthine-network of over 165 man-made canals lined with beautiful rows of homes, 2500 houseboats, 1550 so-called monumental buildings, 1281 bridges and miles of colourful streets. The oldest stock exchange in the world can be found in Amsterdam. Food lovers can rejoice as they enjoy a taste of Dutch chocolate, cheese and stroopwafels, the local favorite we enjoyed on our trip.

    The following day we headed out to the countryside where we visited Zaanse Schans, Volendam, and Marken on a full-day windmill tour. We visited a cheese factory and sampled local dairy products, including truffle Gouda! We learned about how windmills work, observed a sawmill in action alongside a classic line-up of authentic windmills, and then watched a shoemaker fashion wooden clogs using traditional methods. We took a short ferry ride between Volendam and Marken where we had a delicious Kibbeling lunch. Our last stop was at a traditional Stroopwafel shop where we watched zz and then enjoyed the delicious honey, caramel and chocolate cookies. Then, it was back into town to pick up our luggage and head to the AMA Siena, our home for the next 7 days!

    There are bikes everywhere in Amsterdam! At the train station there are 1750 bike storage spots, and an additional 2500 bikes on the other side of thestatio n, and new storage is being built for 9000 more. Bikes with blue front tires are leased. 15,000 bikes are brought out of the canal each year.

    It was 25 degrees as we sailed into Cologne on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Our tour brought us to one of the oldest pubs in Cologne for a Kölsch beer and some traditional potato pancakes served with applesauce. Cologne was bombed many times during the war and has been rebuilt over the years. The large bridge across the Rhine is covered with locks, much like in Paris, where people profess their love and seal it on the bridge. Apparently, in the next year or so they will be refinishing the bridge so all the locks will be removed and, undoubtedly, the tradition will start up again afterwards.

    There is a great street for shopping here, from high end to very inexpensive and it is very busy compared to all the other places we have been. Everyone was wearing a mask and some stores were even limiting the number of people allowed in the store.

    The gothic cathedral is very impressive, with incredibly ornate spires. The city has several squares and in one main square, on the first day of spring, “carnivals” are held. One of the traditions is for women to drink beer together in the square and then go to City Hall and cut off the ties of all the men they meet! This is a beautiful city that is easily accessible by train and there are also lots of bikes. One day in Cologne was really not enough.

    The cruise into Ludwigshafen had a very industrial feel to it. We took a 50-minute bus ride from Ludwigshafen through Mannheim to Heidelberg where we toured the castle and the old town. It was a 5-hour excursion which was longer than most, but the sights made it (very) worthwhile. There were 3 tours offered. One is an Active tour where you walk from the castle to the town (about 10 minutes); another was a bus tour where the coach takes you to each spot; lastly, was a philosopher’s hike where you hike up to the castle and back down to the city with no tour of the castle. Something for everyone and every ability! Little known fact: John Deere was from Mannheim.

    The town of Heidelberg is beautiful on a warm fall day, but I can only imagine how magical it becomes when the Christmas markets start in mid November! The Main Street in Old Town has 2.5 km of shops, lots of handmade goods and I understand some larger mainstream shops at the far end (We didn’t get that far.). This town will be on my Christmas cruise port list!!

    It was a cool 15 degrees, but a sunny morning, as we sailed through the Rhine Valley Gorge. The views started well before we were awake and continued on the left and right banks. We had a map of the castles and the mile markers which, combined with the commentary and stories provided by our cruise director, allowed us to easily identify the buildings and understand a bit about their historical significance.

    Shortly after lunch we arrived in Rudenshein. Paul and I split up to try out the different tours. In the afternoon I went on a wine tour and Paul chose the gondola ride. I have only about 10 notes from my tour as the gentleman doing the tour was so interesting and held our attention the whole time. I have to say I know much more about Riesling wine now. It has not been one of my favorites, but I learned there is a dry, less sweet version (Trokien) that I did enjoy! Coupled with a fresh German pretzel on a damp rainy afternoon, it was perfect! By the time we finished our tour the rain had stopped and we were also able to (also) take the gondola ride over the vineyards.

    That evening I thoroughly enjoyed the Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum. Paul learned how to make (and drink) a Rudesheimer Coffee. Again, I was the winner since, when we finished, we met up with Paul and were able to also enjoy a local coffee demonstration! The only downside was that we were still awake at 2am.

    All in all, a great day on the Rhine aboard AMA Siena !

    Overnight, we sailed to Strasbourg, France. Several of our travel mates went into the wheelhouse to chat with the captain and learn about the inner workings of the ship. This is only the 8th voyage the AMA Siena has made since it was commissioned. Overnight, at one point, there were only 20cm of clearance from the bottom of the boat, but it was a smooth evening of sailing, nonetheless.

    The scenic bus ride into town took about 30 minutes. Buses are not allowed downtown so it’s about a 15-minute walk to the city centre. The ride back on the shuttle was much farther than it had been at other ports.

    Strasbourg offers cultural aspects of both France and Germany because of its borderline location. Today, we chose the Active Program and walked about 9km through the zoo and around the stunning Parc de l’Orangerie, the European Parliament and the Place de la République before reaching the iconic “La Petite France” district, lifted straight from the pages of a fairy-tale. This is a small area of medieval half-timbered houses and Baroque sandstone buildings located on the Grande Ile (Main Island), where the river Ils is split into a number of cascading canals. We also saw the Cathedrale de Notre Dame (Strasbourg Cathedral) where we witnessed the unique movements of the historic astronomical clock.

    Tarte flambé is the popular lunch dish. It’s a thin pizza crust with cream and bacon on it. We saw several other variations including mushroom and salmon. Strasbourg is a city I would love to return to during the Christmas market season!

    The following day we docked in Breisach. I took the 1 hour bus ride to hike in the Black Forest. There were wild boars, and deer here, but no bears. It is 5000 feet at its highest point, and we went to the top which was a climb of about 900 feet. We climbed beneath the shade of the fir trees as we ascended the steep Ravenna Gorge in the storybook- like Black Forest often associated with the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm. We crossed the Ravenna Bridge, walked under the viaduct of the Hollental Railway and heard the cascading waterfalls nearby.

    The trail we followed ran alongside the water. There were many waterfalls, babbling brooks and pools of clear water in every part of our hike. Every now and then the sun would peek through the trees. It was sunny and about 17 degrees, perfect weather for a hike.

    According to my Apple Watch, the hike was just over 5km and took us about 1.5 hours. A quick peek in the store windows and cuckoo clock shops, and we were back on the bus to board our ship which sailed toward Basel.

    If you’d like to follow us day by day, you can see our adventures on Facebook. Click here to see our travel log. If you have any questions for us, please email us at pdumouchel@tpi.ca Or, you can read about Week 3 in the Chestermere Anchor in a few weeks.