All around town we see the Christmas Markets being set up
This guy lays train track getting ready for the Christmas Markets
Like many places in Europe, lovers place their lock on the fence and throw the key in the river (but the way marriages are today, more of them should use combination locks)
Sailing along the middle Rhine, we find many castles. Notice the one high on the hill and then this one on an island in the river. This one was used to collect tolls. A chain was stretched across the river . A toll was collected, the chain lowered to the bottom of the river, and then a boat could pass.
This is the base of the town statue that shows the history. Notice that even way back then, the men are doing the hard rowing while the woman is in the front giving the orders
Quite the view as we approach the Fortress
This statue in the center square tells the history of Koblenz from the bottom up
Note the numbered windows. There are twenty four of them and each light up at night as advent windows
The Peppermint Lady—read about her in the blog
This “Spitting Boy” fountain has water flowing below, but every two minutes he spits water at anyone within range.
Looking down from the fortress onto the German Corner with its King William the First statue overlooking the confluence of the Mozell River with the Rhine River
Approaching Koblenz, we see the Fortress high above
Part of the old Prussian fortress
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.
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.
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.
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
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 woman looking down the stairs sees the elves piled up at the bottom.
Don’t ask me what these ladies were celebrating in the Brewhouse, but they certainly were noticeable
Our gang at one of the Brewhouses in Cologne
The city hall face sticks out his tongue as the fellow on the rooftop moons the government building
One of the many Brewhouses in town
The last of three Brewhouse we visited
The German gentleman volunteered to take our picture, but then had trouble using the smart phone
The “Rathause” or old City Hall
The bartender continuously pours beers—one after another after another
This Brewhouse is the second largest in Germany, seating 1500 people at a time.
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.
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.
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!
Phil & Carol in the Dutch countryside outside of Amsterdam
Just a very small sample of the cheeses at the farm
A picture of our host smoking eels
One of the harbors on the lake
Lots of samples available all around the cheese showroom
One of the workers explains the cheese-making process at the Henri Willig farm
Cows are a great part of the cheese-making process. (Have you ever wondered how that hay becomes cheese?)
The Central Train Station in Amsterdam is a major connection point for travel throughout the Netherlands
This hanging Christmas tree is probably 30 or 40 feet tall and suspended from above
Our River Cruise Ship awaits our arrival in Amsterdam
A few of the bikes parked at the train station
The pigeons love hanging out in one of the central squares—maybe it has something to do with all the people feeding them.
Part of the shopping area in the central train station
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.
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
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!
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 July. 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.
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.
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
View from high on the mountain looking down on the bay
The Majestic Inn was our home for five days in July.
Washington State Ferry boat pulling into Friday Harbor
Phil & Carol’s homemade candles – Surely a work of art!
Carol busy making her candles
Every weekend during the summer season, Anacortes hosts a local street market. I brought home some great BBQ sauce from here.
Seals along the shore in Deception Pass
Phil, Carol and friends about to head out for the day.
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.
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.
Bar looking out over the open deck 9
Sitting area outside on the top deck
The Science Lab
The Tender Pit was our place for getting on Zodiacs
This lounge on the front of the ship has a 270 degree view
We saw this whale late in the evening
Deck 9 is a good place to sit and watch the scenery go by
The Garon deck 8
Anyone up for a game of giant chess?
Lots of presentations were given in the Amphitheater
Deck 9 bar just inside the outdoor deck. Notice the bar set against the windows so you can enjoy the view while having a drink.
Part of the bar area on deck 8
This information center kept us informed as to where we were and what all was happening
This is a nice quiet lounge with large windows… we spent a lot of time here
There is a helicopter pad on the front of the ship
Today we were at a landing site at Cuverville Island located on the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s located in a small cove within a larger bay, so it’s well sheltered from the wind and seas. The sun was shining brightly which brought the temperature well above freezing. The warm sun and calm winds made for the perfect summer day here in Antarctica. As you can see in some of the pictures, the water was so flat it was almost like a mirror.
We started the day with a really nice Zodiac excursion. Our driver/guide was the same one we had yesterday and he again was full of the knowledge of the area. The Gentoo Penguins were one of the stars of the day with over 5,000 breeding pairs in the immediate area. They were everywhere – walking on the beach, swimming in the water, climbing the snow banks, making their nests.
We cruised in the Zodiac among the icebergs deep into the cove. There were icebergs of all sizes and shapes, some flat top table bergs, some domed, some very craggy and broken, but all beautiful. Our driver took us close enough that I could break off an icicle to pass around. I’ve never seen such deep blue in icebergs.
Besides all the Penguins swimming around us, we also had many birds, including Condors, flying around us. Then we rounded a corner and found a Crab Eater Seal laying upon an iceberg, enjoying the sun. We took the Zodiac all around the bergs but it didn’t bother him a bit.
We got back to the ship just in time for a quick lunch and then it was back to the Zodiac to cross over and make a landing on the shore. Again when we landed, there were Gentoo Penguins everywhere. We needed to be careful not to get in their way or step on them. We sat and watched the Penguins on the rocky beach for a while and then hiked in the snow up the steep hill to get to another Penguin colony high up on the hill.
When we got to the top, we found one particular mother penguin with her egg. No one else was around except the two of us so we enjoyed watching her protect her egg for a long time. Each time another penguin walked anywhere near her, she would lash out and peck at them, warning them to stay away from her egg.
And the trophy for Ms. Antarctica goes to…
Ice flows in the bay
I found this little guy just wandering down the beach
I thought this picture had it all-Penguin, water, ship, Zodiac, icebergs, glacier and mountains!
I thought the iceberg on the left looked like a dog-see his eyes, ear, nose, whiskers and his laying on his front paws
Such calm water here… just look at the reflections
I have never seen blue ice as in Antarctica
Just look at the feet on this guy
A flock of Cormorants takes to the air as we get near
Dwight carries his Kayak to the water before an outing
This gives an idea of the mass of ice below the surface of an iceberg
Momma Penguin protects her egg as other envious mommas look on
Phil hitching a ride in a Zodiac
Crab-eater Seal laying on an iceberg
Our driver brought the Zodiac in close so Phil could snag this icicle off the edge of an iceberg
Notice the Kayaks in the lower right… it gives you a perspective of the size of things
Loved cruising among-st all the icebergs
Look very closely…see the small black dots on the hillside? That’s people walking on our path up the hillside
Each time a Penguin walked by this momma sitting on her egg, She would reach out and peck at them as if to say “better stay away from my egg”