Miltenberg and the Peeing Men

Day 6: Nov 21, 2017 – Miltenberg and the Peeing Men

I neglected to mention yesterday that we left the Rhine river and headed up the Main River through the heart of Germany. While the Rhine is mainly a North-South river (flowing North incidentally) and serves as the border between France and Germany for much of its length, the Main is an East-West river that heads deep into the heart of Germany. We are sailing east toward the mountains that serve as the continental divide in Europe.

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Love these half-timbered houses in town

The first town we visit today is Miltenberg that sits on the Northern bank of the Main river on the edge of the Odenwald Forest. Walking the long main street in town, there are many beautifully preserved half-timbered houses. Due to WWII, there aren’t many towns where you can find preserved houses like these dating back to the 15th to 17th centuries. I remember a few years back walking with friends up to the fortress above the town and being rewarded with great views of the town below, the river and the region on the opposite bank. We had a leisurely lunch and enjoyed the view.

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Three men contribute to the flow of the Main River

As we round the corner near the river, we stop short at an unusual sight – three men standing and peeing into the fountain! Now THAT will stop you dead in your tracks – until you realize that it’s just a statue.

Meanwhile the Crystal Mahler sails further up the river to the town of Wertheim.

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Koblenz’s Peppermint Lady

 

Day 5: Nov 20, 2017 – Koblenz’s Peppermint Lady

Today we are off to see the city of Koblenz. They are just beginning to set up the Christmas Markets here, so we get teased for the days to come. We see Christmas trees—but they are still bundled up and stacked in carts waiting to be set up. We see Christmas Market stalls—but they are still closed with nothing in them. We see rides for the kids—but they are still on the trailers being brought into the town squares. You get the idea—it’s the Christmas Markets…. Almost.

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The Peppermint Lady—read about her in the blog

 

Now today we hear some great little stories about Koblenz. Like the Peppermint Lady who would wander around town begging for food for the stray cats and give a peppermint stick to anyone who would donate. I guess there are not any great town heroes here, since the Peppermint Lady has her own statue.

 

After touring the town we venture high on the hill above to the fortress overlooking the town and river. This dates back to the middle ages but was completely destroyed by the French when they were driven out of the area by the Prussians. But the Prussians rebuild the fortress starting in 1817 and today this is the fortress we see.

 

Cologne: Not your normal German City

Day 4: Nov 19, 2017 – Cologne: Not your normal German City

This morning we cruise along the Rhine River through Germany until we come to the city of Cologne, the second largest city in Germany. When you think of all the common conceptions of Germans, like Serious, Humorless, Stern people, when it comes to Cologne you can throw those thoughts away. Cologne is just the opposite! Cologne is to Germany what New Orleans is to the United States—right down to having an annual 6-day Mardi Gras festival.

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This Brew house is the second largest in Germany, seating 1500 people at a time.

So it would be appropriate for us to spend this afternoon on an educational tour—of the local brew houses. Cologne has its own version of beer, call Kolsch Beer. In order for a beer to be called Kolsch, it has to be an ale brewed IN the city of Cologne. But there are many different brands of Kolsch, so today it’s our job to try the various brews to distinguish the differences. We visit three different brew houses with very different flavors of beers.

Now, lest you think we spend ALL our time in the Brewhouses in Germany, we do visit some other sights this afternoon, such as the world-famous Cologne Cathedral. The Cathedral took over 600 years to build, but they finally got it right and if you are ever in Cologne, it’s a place not to be missed.

Now Cologne is full of traditions and legends and they are all true (or could be). Cologne has the reputation around Germany of not having the hardest working people. This came about by the following legend: In olden days, the people of Cologne would get to work about 10:30 in the morning and work until it was time for lunch. Then after lunch, they

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The woman looking down the stairs sees the elves piled up at the bottom.

needed a rest after eating all that food, so they would nap until four. By then, of course, it was so late in the day there was no use going back to work! Now how did they get away with working so little? It was because of the elves that lived in the basement and came upstairs each night and did the work. But alas, one night a woman decided she would get to the bottom of it all. So she spread peas on the stairs, turned off the lights, and went to bed. When the elves started upstairs, they slipped on the peas and fell down the stairs. The woman, upon hearing the noise, ran to the top of the stairs with her lamp and found all the elves piled up at the bottom of the stairs. Well, the elves were so mad they never returned to do the work and the good folks of Cologne finally had to work like the rest of the Germans. (See the photo of the statue)

Then there are the facts around town. Like the gentleman who lived across the square from the town hall and was made mayor of

the city. So he erected a statue on top of his building facing away from the town hall, but mooning the city hall. So when the city built a new clock tower, it included the face of the mayor facing the man’s house and he sticks out his tongue every fifteen minutes. (Again, see the photos).

So in a nut shell—that’s Cologne.

The Dutch Countryside

Day 3: Nov 18, 2017 – The Dutch Countryside

Today it’s time for Cheese, Eels, and Windmills. What a combination! When you think of the Netherlands, you may think of cheese and windmills, but EELS? Well, yes, that is one of our experiences today. But I’ll get to that in just a bit.

We start our day at the breakfast buffet aboard the Crystal Mahler and this is the place to fuel up for the day,   Omelets, slices of bread, meats, yogurt, fruits, sweetbreads etc. A good variety and great taste. Then it’s time to head out of Amsterdam into the Dutch Countryside on our Crystal motor coaches. For this excursion, there are forty or forty-five people which would fit nicely on one motor coach, but Crystal wants you to be comfortable and not crowded, so we take two motor coaches and have plenty of space to spread out.

The Dutch countryside is interesting in this area as most of it is below sea level and we ride along the dry side of the dikes with the water above us on the other side of the dike. All the fields are green with cute little houses and farms spread out here and there. The sheep are grazing and the people are not in a big hurry.

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Just a very small sample of the cheeses at the farm

Our first stop is a family cheese maker, and what great cheese. After touring the place, visiting the cows, sheep, and goats, and learning the cheese-making process, we get to the shop where they sell the cheese—lots and lots of cheese. They have samples out of about forty-five different cheeses, so I try as many as possible and end up buying a smoked herb gouda cheese stick to take along home.

We ended our afternoon with a stop at a working windmill. Since a lot of the land in this area is reclaimed from the sea and sits below sea-level, the water that seeps in and collects at these lower levels has to continuously be pumped back out to the sea at a higher level. This is where the windmills come in. They are the pumping station. Wind turns the blades that turn the shaft that turns the huge screw that lifts the water up to the higher level. Simple as that. In the old days, the man that took care of the windmill lived with his family in the windmill itself (they still do in a few cases). It must have made for a very dull life, but you have to say these windmills are a beautiful sight to see the landscape.

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Phil experiences his first-ever smoked eel

But I skipped the second stop of the day—the eel experience. Who knew it? There is a lake here where eels are plentiful and this local family that we visited owns a smokehouse and restaurant that specializes in smoked eel. So the owner gives us a tour, shows us how the eel is smoked, and then passes out samples. I’m a little leery about eating this “snakefish” at first, but OH, WHAT A GREAT FLAVOR! Well, you learn something new every day and today it was the fantastic flavor of a smoked eel!

Amsterdam – a City of Bikes, Birds & Brothels

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The Central Train Station in Amsterdam is a major connection point for travel throughout the Netherlands

Day 1& 2: Nov 16-17, 2017 – Amsterdam

Amsterdam—the city of Bikes, Birds, Brothels and Borderline “Coffee Shops”. Oh… and also the start of our sixteen-day Crystal River Cruise.

We leave Tallahassee on the afternoon of Nov 16th and arrive in Amsterdam on the morning of the 17th to board our ship—the Crystal Mahler. It’s a brand new river vessel built by the luxury line, Crystal Cruises, so we hope everything lives up to its name.

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After we check-in on the ship, I want to stretch my legs a bit so I head into the city and walk for a couple of hours. As I walk, Amsterdam is just as I remember it. There are lots of people out and about, especially young people. There is an energy about this city and I think it is fueled by all the bikes zipping every direction and every street. While the bike lanes are clearly marked, it’s best to be extra careful when navigating the city as it’s easy to get distracted by all the sights and step in front of a local on their way home from work or out grocery shopping. In fact, there are twice as many bikes as people

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A few of the bikes parked at the train station

in Amsterdam as it is the major means of transportation around the city. And one of the places with the highest density of bikes in the city is the Central Train Station. Lots of people have a bike they keep parked at the station as they live in another area of the city or outside of town and need a way around when they take the train into town to work. There are so many bikes that there is now a parking garage at the station just for bikes.

The train station is also a major shopping center with lots of shops and restaurants on the level above the train tracks.

One of the places I stop by is a grocery store I remembered from my last visit here. It’s always interesting to me to watch the locals as they shop and to compare the prices to those back home. Some of the best local fares here are all the cheeses and the Stroopewaffles, two thin waffle-cookies with a layer of caramel or syrup between them—super good!

 

Anacortes, Washington – A town you have never heard of in the San Juan Islands!

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View from high on the mountain looking down on the bay

Now when most people first hear about the San Juan Islands, they immediately think of Puerto Rico or the Caribbean.  But, no!  The San Juan islands are at the very opposite corner of the United States.  Head to Seattle, Washington, rent a car, and drive the best part of two hours due north and you will find the San Juan Islands and the small town of Anacortes.

We spent five days there in early JPicture3uly.  The weather was beautiful—cool and clear.  Anacortes is that type of small town where you think the time has stopped a number of years ago.  You know what I mean— when people were laid back, friendly, and trustworthy.  It’s got a great little downtown area that is full of local shops (not chain stores) and is very walkable.

Now for a brief history lesson.  Anacortes was founded in 1877 by a guy named Amos Bowman.  Bowman thought this would be a great place for the Pacific terminus on the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Real estate boomed from 1888 to 1890, but then the real estate bubble burst and the town failed to become the New York of the west.  So Amos took his daughter’s name, Anne Curtis Bowman and named the town after her (Anacortes) and left town!  True story!  But don’t worry, after the bust, the town became prominent in the area of a fishing tradition, thriving canning industry, and timber mills.

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Washington State Ferry boat pulling into Friday Harbor

The Washington State Ferry has a terminal in Anacortes, so there are lots of other places around the islands that can be visited from there.  We boarded the ferry one morning and cruised to Friday Harbor, another great little town with quaint little shops and eateries.  Again, Carol and I along with our good friends spent a wonderful day together.

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Seals along the shore in Deception Pass

 

Another day, we took a cruise out to spot whales, see the seals laying along the shores and view the Deception Pass Bridge—180 feet above the water at Deception Pass.

Of all the things to do in and around Anacortes, one of the most fun activities was provided by our friend, Scott, who lives there.  He invited us to his house for a GREAT Salmon dinner.  But before dinner, he invited the owners of Anacortes Candles over and we had a “candle-making” party.  Now that might sound strange, but it was SOOOOO much fun, using all kinds of colors and scents to create your own, individual, unique candles.

So now for some final facts on Anacortes:

  • “Shipwreck Day” is a popular single-day, flea market/town garage sale.
  • “What the Heck Fest” was held annually from 2001 to 2011
  • The first weekend of August hosts the “Anacortes Arts Festival” and shuts down the main street for all the vendors
  • Probably the most famous person from Anacortes is Burl Ives – Folk Singer, Author, and Actor

Sunday, December 4, 2016: Crossing the Drake Passage – Life on board ship

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Specialty Dining Room

Today is a day at sea, so I thought I’d write about life on board ship.  Hurtigruten is not your typical cruise line – either in Norway or here in Antarctica.  We’ll let the discussion of Norway for another time, and talk about the experience here in Antarctica.  First, one needs to realize that this is NOT a cruise.  It’s an Exploration Voyage.  What this means above all else is that things can (and will) change constantly.  So just because your daily program says we’ll have a lecture on the history of Antarctica at 6:30 pm does not necessarily mean it will happen at 6:30.  For example, we walked into the amphitheater for such a presentation one evening, sat down and were about to start when the lecturer got up and said “We are about to pass through some of the best icebergs you’ve ever seen.  Do you want me to give the presentation now or should we postpone it till 8:30 or 9:00?”  We all voted to postpone, of course, and were certainly glad we did.

So everything needs to be flexible.  One day we were scheduled to land on Danco Island.  When we got there it was packed with ice, so we just sailed over to Cuverville Island instead.  Of course, all the landing times that were in our program needed to be adjusted.

Entertainment on board is different.  No casino, no big production shows, no karaoke.  Instead, it’s primarily educational presentations on the wildlife, geography, history, or culture of the area.  There is also a science lab on board that members of the exploration staff run.  They will gather a sample from wherever we are, bring them on board and we can examine them under microscopes, for instance.

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Lots of presentations were given in the Amphitheater

Speaking of Exploration Staff – this replaces the Cruise Entertainment Staff on other cruises.  We are on a ship with 325 passengers and there is an Exploration Staff of 20 consisting of two photographers (they don’t sell pictures to you, they help you take great pictures), botanists, kayak instructors, geologists, experts in marine life, birds, etc and lifetime explorers including a guy that has skied to both the north and south poles in the same year.  In other words, this stuff is packed full of knowledge and there is nothing they love more than showing you their world.

Meals on board consist of buffet breakfast and lunch (very good I might add) and then dinner which depending on the day’s activities could be a buffet or a county-themed dinner – American one night, Italian another, etc.

Unlike other cruises, you don’t put on your T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops and get on a tender boat to cruise to the town dock.  No, instead you put on your waterproof jacket, waterproof pants and boots to join 15 other people in a rubber Zodiac to land on a stone beach in the middle of nowhere.

There are some of the normal amenities on board such as fitness center, a shop with clothes and souvenirs, a couple of bars, etc but some of the best entertainment is when the bridge comes on a says there is a pod of feeding whales just in front of the ship and the ship comes to a stop for the next 45 minutes so we can watch nature at its best.