Amsterdam, Netherlands Friday, Jun 13 2014 

Amsterdam Houseboat

Amsterdam Houseboat

Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ largest city with a population of more than 800,000 people. We were pleased to be part of the more than 3.5 million who visit each year. We transitioned from the luxurious life aboard Uniworld’s River Princess to the Hilton Doubletree located near the Central Station mass transit hub. Our room overlooked Geldersekade Canal with a commanding view of the city. We learned that in the early 1300s the local inhabitants built a dam in the Amstel River to protect their homes against the sea. The small fishing village grew thanks to the discovery of a method to preserve herring longer so that it could be exported. The city became an important center of commerce and a leading center for finance and diamonds. The ring of canals dating from the 17th century is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great way to be introduced to Amsterdam. Our tour traveled on the Gentleman’s Canal, the Emperor’s Canal, and the Princes’ Canal. The scenery included houseboats as well as Golden Age mansions, converted warehouses, and important landmarks.

The Van Gogh Museum, the most visited museum in Amsterdam, features most of Van Gogh’s famous paintings such as “The Potato Eaters” and “Sunflowers.” We saw several self-portraits. We were able to trace his development in subject matter and painting technique. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed. Our guide deftly presented alternative explanations for some of the most common facts concerning this artist who is appreciated today more than he was in his lifetime. Did Van Gogh cut his own ear, for example, or did Gauguin?

The Amsterdam Museum, located in the old city orphanage, tells the history of Amsterdam. We learned that Amsterdam stands on millions of long poles driven deep into the soil. The old piles are wooden, modern piles are concrete. Without them, the city would sink into the marshy peat. Midway through the 16th century, Amsterdam was part of the powerful Habsburg Empire. In 1578, Amsterdam renounces Catholicism and abandoned its allegiance to the Spanish King Phillip II. In 1600, Amsterdam’s merchants with their fast ships dominated world trade in the 17th century. Ships sailed to the Baltic Sea, North America, and Africa, as well as present-day Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, and Brazil. In 1795, French troops entered the city and Amsterdam lost its independence until 1813 when the French retreated. Amsterdam changed rapidly in the late 19th century from an impoverished, crowded city, to a modern metropolis. In the First World War, the Netherlands remained neutral. On May 16, 1940, German troops entered Amsterdam and occupied the country for five years. There are about 180 different nationalities in Amsterdam. Prostitution is legal, but trafficking women is not. Amsterdam, more than any other city, is the capital of freedom. One of our later walks from Dam Square to the Waag took us through the red-light district where groups of young men congregated and a few women, even in the afternoon, displayed themselves in their small window stalls. Coffee shops, often filled with seedy young men, serve cannabis rather than coffee.

Asselijyn's "The Threatened Swan"

Asselijyn’s “The Threatened Swan”

We timed our visit to the Rijksmuseum so that we arrived shortly after it opened and had only a short wait before gaining access to this large collection of Dutch art. Later in the day there was a long line to enter the building as well as to buy a ticket. We spent the morning on level 2 with art from 1600-1650. Our loop took us by important works from classical Dutch art culminating in viewing Rembrandt’s “Night Watch.” In the adjoining Gallery of Honour we examined more work by Rembrandt such as “Isaac & Rebecca” also known as “The Jewish Bride,” Ruisdael’s “Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede,” Asselijyn’s “The Threatened Swan,” Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid,” and Hals’ “Merry Drinker.” For many of the most famous paintings a large format two-sided explanation with notes was available. We concluded our morning with a stop at the Library, an impressive book-filled room with a functional spiral staircase. We enjoyed a gourmet lunch at the museum’s café before touring the 1100-1600 collection that focused on religious art. Some of the pieces admired included Tricht’s “The Virgin,” Begarelli’s “Christ as the Man of Sorrows,” and Cacchini’s “Christ as Saviour.” It was difficult to differentiate the pieces of a hand carved German chess set from the 16th century. We only scratched the surface in viewing the impressive collection of the Rijksmuseum.

After several hours in a museum, we found our way to Vondelpark, near the Rijksmuseum. This 116-acre park has ponds, tree-lined pathways, playgrounds, an open-air theater, and cafes. A statue of 17th century Dutch writer and poet Joost Van Den Vondel is located near a central pond.

The Dam Square lies in the historical center of Amsterdam. The neoclassical Royal Palace served as the city hall from 1655 until its conversion to a royal residence in 1808. Next to it on one side is the 15th century Gothic New Church and on the other Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The opposite side of the square is dominated by the National Monument, a white stone pillar erected in 1956 to memorialize the victims of World War II.

Palm House

Palm House

The Botanical Garden, Hortus Botanicus, founded in 1638 by the city, contains more than six thousand tropical and indigenous trees and plants. The initial collection was amassed during the 17th century through plants and seeds brought back by traders of the East India Company (VOC) primarily as an herb garden for doctors and apothecaries. A single coffee plant from this collection is said to have served as the parent for the entire coffee culture in Central and South America. The Palm House is an interesting structure. The leave of a Giant Rhubarb captured my attention. Since not many flowers were in bloom, a water lily and Lady’s Eardrop were all the more memorable. The butterfly exhibit located in a greenhouse was too hot for us to enjoy. The Botanical Garden gave us a different perspective on Amsterdam.

We wanted to visit the Anne Frank House but were unwilling to stand in line for 1.5-3 hours. As an alternative, we decided to visit the Dutch Resistance Museum. This turned out to be a wise decision which gave us a much fuller understanding of how the Dutch people responded to Nazi Germany occupation from May 14, 1940 to May 5, 1945. The exhibition introduced us to the many forms resistance took: strikes, forging of documents, helping people to go into hiding, underground newspapers, escape routes, armed resistance, and espionage. More than 107,000 Dutch Jews including 60,000 from Amsterdam were deported to Nazi concentration camps. Of those deported only 5,500 lived. Of the 25,000 Jews who went into hiding, 18,000 survived. Another 8,000 Jews survived but were sterilized. The person who delivered daily bread in a Siegburg, German prison also carried a handmade chess set between two players. “They’ve taken all the children away” is a special exhibit within the museum about the transports on June 6-7, 1943 of 1,269 Jewish children taken from the Vught concentration camp to the Sobibor death camp. Stories of the children and testimonies of bystanders create a heartbreaking picture of what happened. The Dutch Resistance Museum is a powerful reminder of the courage it takes to stand up to injustice.

Before we left Amsterdam, I wanted to visit the Amsterdam Public Library which was located only a block from our hotel. I am so glad I did. This is the best public library that I’ve ever seen! This architectural gem is spread over seven floors. The children’s room is lit with lights fashioned after jacks. In addition to unique collections, it has a theatre, a radio station, conference rooms, exhibition space, a music department, study pods, a readers’ café and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the city. It has an underground storage area for 2,000 bikes and 1,200 parking places for cars. It is open 7 days a week and hosts 2.5 million users and visitors a year. We took advantage of the restaurant to order a takeout pizza and salad.

We enjoyed two fine restaurants in Amsterdam. Van Speyk combines Dutch and French fare. It is located between the Central Station and the Dam Square in a building that dates back to 1659. I took advantage of the special of the day, a three course meal that featured a salmon entree. Indrapura is an Indonesian restaurant located on the Rembrandt Square. We ordered the Purnama Rice Table. What a delight of tastes including pastry minced beef, fried corn-cakes, melinjo nut chips, fried soya beans, fried salty fish with peanuts, sweet and sour vinegar cucumbers, fresh vegetables with peanut sauce, seasoned vegetable dish, flavored vegetables with coconut milk, spicy chicken with red peppers and soya, spicy beef with coconut milk, sweet pork with soya sauce, skewered lamb and pork, mango salad with beansprout, steamed rice, and fried rice. What a treat!

Amsterdam is one of the truly great cities of the world!

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Wijk bij Duurstede, Netherlands Saturday, Jun 7 2014 

Wijk bij Duurstede Windmill

Wijk bij Duurstede Windmill

We spent a day in Amsterdam which I will report on later. For some reason we weren’t allowed to spend the night in Amsterdam, although Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth remained. We took a lovely evening cruise with a colorful sunset and docked in Wijk bij Duurstede, located on the Rhine. In the morning I walked through the town and took a snapshot of the no longer working windmill. A surprise was a beautifully restored castle set amidst forest and completely surrounded by a moat. This is where the Bishop of Utrecht lived. A statue near where we docked tells the story that the Vikings pillaged the settlement around 850.

Cologne, Germany Saturday, Jun 7 2014 

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

With a population of more than a million people, Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany. We sailed in about 9:30 p.m. but the rain dampened views of the lighted bridges and Cathedral. We awoke to a dry day with cool temperatures. Our morning tour started along the Rhine River. We eyed the architecture of homes near St. Martin’s Square. The Town Hall, located on the site of the Roman Praetorium, was the seat of the Roman Governor of Germania Inferior until 475. It is Germany’s oldest city hall with a documented history spanning 900 years. The Cologne guilds commissioned the Gothic council tower in 1406 and it was built between 1407 and 1414. A statue in the Heumarkt by Gusatv Blaeser of Frederick William III of Prussia is surrounded by statues of great Prussian reformers. It was damaged during World War II but the tower including many exterior stone figures have been restored. Konrad Adenauer, the first West German chancellor after World War II, was the mayor of Cologne from 1917 until 1933. Dominating the old city skyline is the Dom Cathedral, the largest and finest in the country. Started in 1248, the Cologne Cathedral, sometimes referred to as “the eternal construction site,” was completed in 1880. In 1996, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cologne became a center of medieval pilgrimage after relics of the Three Wise Men were captured from Milan. Cologne also preserves the relics of Saint Ursula and Albertus Magnus. The stained glass windows are a marvel.

Our city tour took a nasty turn when my spouse stumbled on a broken tile in the plaza in front of the Cologne Cathedral. Our guide called for an ambulance. Before it arrived a crew showed up to fix the tiles. They had known about the loose tiles but no warning was placed on them. We waited about 3.5 hours in the emergency room of Krankenhaus der Augustinerinnen. X-rays were taken of both knees, chest, and hand. Fortunately there were no broken bones. The total bill was much less than it would have been in the USA. Accidents happen so quickly. Suddenly one learns how much dependence we have on that bruised left hand. Ouch!

Rűdesheim, Germany Friday, Jun 6 2014 

Siegried's Mechanical Musical Museum

Siegried’s Mechanical Musical Museum

Rűdesheim, a wine-making town dating back to the Romans in the 1st century, is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it lies in the Rhine Gorge. In the early 1870s Otto von Bismarck ordered the erection of a colossal statue, Niederwald Monument, to symbolize the unification of the German Empire. We walked along a trail through vineyards about a third of the way to the statue rather than taking the cable car to the top. Siegfried’s Musical Instrument Museum is an interesting attraction. One of the large instruments with beautiful woodwork has column tops on each side that open so one can see several real violins being played, another musical instrument was a small box with a tiny chirping bird. This small village receives lots of tourists. Rűdesheimer Coffee, similar to Irish Coffee, is made with the locally distilled brandy rather than whiskey. The cafes were just beginning to open and we did not try this local treat. The Rheingau Riesling wine takes advantage of the favorable climatic and geological conditions — many hours of sunlight, steep hills and mineral-rich ground — to produce great wine. We spotted a sign that indicated that the wine could even be shipped to China.

Rhine Gorge Castle

Marksburg Castle

The castle ruins, some sixty small towns, and terraced vineyards of the 65 kilometers of the upper middle Rhine valley illustrate the long history of human interaction with the natural landscape. There are more than 40 hilltop castles and fortresses erected over a period of 1,000 years. During the 19th century, as a result of the Romantic Movement that influenced poets, painters, and composers, there were efforts of restoration and reconstruction. The Rheinstein Castle, constructed around 1316/1317, was purchased and rebuilt in the 19th century by Prince Frederick of Prussia. Sooneck Castle, first mentioned in 1271, is located above Niederheimbach. In the 19th century Frederick William IV, crown-prince of Prussia, and his three brothers bought and rebuilt it as a hunting lodge. The community of Assmannshausen is famed for its pinot noir wine. The steep vineyards of Lorch have a picturesque setting in the Middle Rhine Valley. This Catholic community features the distinctive St. Martin Church. Stahleck Castle, whose name means “impregnable castle on a crag,” may have been built as early as 1135. Pfalz Castle, located on a tiny island near Kaub, was built in the 1300s to collect tolls from ships sailing on the Rhine River. SchőnburgCastle, built between 1100 and 1149, is located above the medieval town of Oberwesel. The Lorelei is a statue of the siren said to bewitch sailors. She sits beneath the Loreley Rock, a granite rock that rises 433 feet above the narrowest part of the Rhine. Katz Castle, built around 1371, sits above St. Goarshausen. Rheinfels Castle, historically five times its present size, is the largest castle overlooking the Rhine. Boppard is a state-recognized tourism resort and wine growing center on the upper Middle Rhine. Marksburg Castle, built around 1117, is the only medieval castle of the Middle Rhine that has never been destroyed. We enjoyed hamburgers on the sun deck. Unfortunately, the day was cloudy and the rain did eventually force us to a lower covered deck.

Frankfurt, Germany Thursday, Jun 5 2014 

River Princess docked in Frankfurt

River Princess docked in Frankfurt

We awoke to find ourselves in Frankfurt, Germany, the financial center of Europe. It is home to the Central European Bank, German Federal Bank, several large commercial banks, and the German Stock Exchange. In 2010, 63 national and 152 international banks had registered offices here. As a retired librarian, I know of it as the location for the world’s largest book fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair, which started in 1478. We used the Frankfurt airport last year on our way home from Istanbul. In addition to having the second largest airport in Europe, Frankfurt is a transportation hub where major autobahns and railway connections intersect. We did a loop hike along the Main, crossing the pedestrian bridge, the Eiserner Bridge or Iron Bridge. Lovers place locks, many with their names and the date, on the railings of this bridge and throw the key into the river. Frankfurt is the birthplace of the poet and author, Johann Wolfgang Goethe. The Town Hall is in Rőmer, the German name for “Roman” Square where its medieval appearance contrasts with nearby skyscrapers. Work is currently underway to reconstruct some historical buildings that were destroyed during World War II in a nearby area. The Dom or St. Bartholmew’s Cathedral is a Gothic building constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries and rebuilt after a fire in 1867. Saint Paul’s Church is a German national historic monument because it was the seat of the first democratically elected Parliament in 1848. The Kleinmarthalle or Small Market Hall is the largest public market place in the Frankfurt urban area. We sampled sausage and cheese. It is here that our guide told us that butcher Johann Georg Lahner made Frankfurter Wűrstel sausages which came to be known as Frankfurters in Vienna around 1805. The Zeil is the main shopping street. The MyZeil is an amazing shopping mall with an exterior of glass with a hole through the center that looks like a wormhole. Our visit to the Main Tower’s 54th floor coincided with a rain shower. The panoramic view was great, but any attempt at photographs was flouted by gray skies. Frankfurt represented a modern city that contrasted with the medieval villages earlier on our tour.

Miltenberg, Germany Wednesday, Jun 4 2014 

Castle Lőwenstein

Castle Lőwenstein

Our morning began with a glass blowing demonstration on board the ship! The glass blower brought along a wide range of his work from paperweights and Christmas ornaments to rings and pendants. We then traveled by bus to Castle Lőwenstein for an exclusive guided tour and reception. Our host was Alois-Konstantin, Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, the ninth Prince of Löwenstein. He walked us to the Castle Chapel where he described some of the Chapel’s statues and art work while sharing stories from his world travels and entertaining us with his sense of humor. After a look at the wine making equipment in the former stable, we moved to a wine tasting room where we sampled three of their wines.

Castle Miltenberg View

Castle Miltenberg View

We then traveled to Miltenberg, nestled below wooded hills on the Main River, for a guided tour. We learned that the town prospered mainly because all passing merchants were required to offer their wares to the town for three days. Thus townspeople enjoyed job security by unloading and later loading ships. Their May pole displayed insignia from the local guilds and trades. Miltenberg features many timber framed houses from the 15th to 17th century. The Miltenberg Castle is a comparatively small fortress that offers picturesque views from inside the castle walls. The castle has been under to town’s ownership since 1979. Renovation and restoration continue. Brauhaus Faust is the popular beer brewed in Miltenberg. “Three For You” entertained us after dinner with dance music from the 1960s. We didn’t want them to stop, but they needed to remove their equipment before the ship cast off for the night.

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