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Architectural beauty in Cologne

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Cologne Cathedral in Germany when you walk out of the train station

We left Amsterdam at 8:04am last Weds. and arrived fairly quickly in Germany on the ICE. A fast train that is comfortable and efficient. I like trains. They allow you to see the countryside. You also have more leg room than airplanes these days unless you pay a small fortune to upgrade.
Anyway, after we found a ladies room, a locker to put our luggage in, and checked in at Avis for the rental car we walked outside the train station and beheld the beauty of magnificent Gothic architecture. Wow. I read somewhere that it took 600 years to build this cathedral but from the looks of all the scaffolding, there is more work being done. The sun was shining crazily this morning and the light was bouncing off of every piece of stained glass in sight. It also was August 15th which is Assumption Day and the lines were forming to attend Mass. We took a quick look around before we headed out of the city. I know Kris wanted to tour more of the inside but the crowds were steadily getting thicker and we finally gave up.

Then it was time to leave so I could refresh my skill at driving a standard and get on the autobahn. And away we went detouring through Koblenz to get a bite to eat, then heading on to our destination of Baden Baden. Kris kept telling me my German roots were coming out in my driving skills. She must have meant my heavy foot, huh? I kind of liked the autobahn. The funny thing is the cars doing the actual speed demon thing are Mercedes, BMW’s, Audi’s’, and Saab’s. The little tiny toy looking cars behave. Somewhat. And- in all the time we’ve been here we have only seen one big ‘ole pickup truck. We figured it had to be an American driving that thing. Also, at different points in the drive down towards the Black Forest I felt like I was in an old Burt Reynolds convoy movie with all the big trucks filed in the far right lane due to highway rules.

And then we were there with the mountains surrounding us, vineyards all over the countryside, and a really loud church bell that dinged every morning at 6am. It was okay though because we get up pretty early anyway but what if you didn’t? It stormed one night when we there and lightening was lighting up the sky. The next morning the church bells rang more than 64 times. I quit counting but they went on for so long we figured that maybe lightening had hit the bell tower. Makes you wonder.

Thoughts from Kris early one morning…

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I am as usual the only one in the world who is awake (except of course the old priest next door who just peeked out the window at me) so I thought I’d take time to capture my thoughts while sitting in this beautiful  garden. We’ll start with Coffee and smoking since that is what I am doing. Many Europeans smoke and it is not near the stigma yet that it has become in the States but so far every country we have been to has banned smoking in hotels and restaurants. It is kind of funny because the hosts at each place have told us that almost with an apology. Coffee is another thing – everyone drinks coffee but our first hotel had instant and Melle who owns the house boat told us he thought all Americans drank Instant – fortunately he did have a coffee press so even though it was a little effort we did have good coffee each morning. The other thing is that days here don’t seem to start before 8 AM so even getting coffee is not possible. We solved that by picking up a small pot at the German version of Walmart. So I am drinking my coffee and smoking in the garden as I type.

So where have we been?

Ijmuiden on the shore of the North Sea, just outside Amsterdam. This was our first night. The boat wasn’t yet available and we thought it would be a fine place to recover from Jet Lag. We stayed at the Holiday Inn because it was inexpensive, familiar, and I got points. It actually was a good choice – a sleepy little Sea Port where we could walk to the Pier and grab a snack before taking a much needed nap. We had great views, saw a fabulous sunset, and got to put our feet in the North Sea. We also learned that almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English quite well. Fish from the North Sea is quite good and that there is something to this Mayo with your Fries thing.

The next morning we took advantage of the excellent public transportation system and ventured into Amsterdam by bus. We arrived at the Centrum with a few very simple goals in mind. We needed to exchange our $$. We needed to buy burner phones – me for work and Karen so we can find each other. We needed to get to the Boat we had rented and we wanted food.  It turns out those simple thing were not so simple – we walked the wrong way, pronounced the street name completely wrong  and really didn’t even know which machines were normal ATM’s and which weren’t.  We eventually learned that J is pronounced like a Y and got a Taxi to our boat – from there things began to fall into place and within a short time we had rented our bicycles and were off. Amsterdam is a lot of people packed into a very small space and 90% of them are flying around on bicycles – We amused a few, angered a few and almost got killed about a dozen times but we learned a lot and found it really was a great way to get around.  The no cigarettes thing was odd – a town where there are a thousand coffee shops that really sell Marijuana instead of Coffee and you can smoke it indoors but tobacco is banned to the streets.   We visited so many places I don’t know where to begin except to describe the beauty of it all. Probably the best starting point is with the fact that Karen and I are so well suited and we both enjoy history, architecture and just wandering around in new places. This was the perfect city for that with centuries of different styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau and as many canals as Venice. We soaked in History with visits to the Dutch Resistance Museum and the Anne Frank house topping the list. I’ll leave the descriptions and details of most everything to Karen but I have to say both of these were very emotional and relearning the history of Hitler’s rise to power made me look at the current situation in the US today and scares the bejesus out of me.  Amsterdam truly was incredible but the pace was fast and we didn’t even come close to our long list of things to see and do.

Kris

Let me show you Amsterdam

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Today is August 21, a Tuesday and I have been left alone to do as I please while Kris is off to another Dow town about an hour and 1/2 away from here in Terneuzen. I’ve decided to post some pictures from our travels in Amsterdam. I never promised to be an expert photographer so please bear with me. With the technology of digital camera’s I can actually get a few good photos after I’ve taken about 100 of them. But of course I get sidetracked by subject matter that has nothing to do with sightseeing. Like the cat that was up in the 4th floor window above an Irish pub we had dinner at one night. The attitude of Cat is amazing- completely different from Dog but just as funny.

I also was distracted by the Shire horses that the Heineken Brewery uses for tours. This was before we saw them during our tour of the Heineken Brewery. The copper in the historical brew room is the best part of the tour- well, the samples of beer were good too. And the horses in the stables caught my attention again but they were enclosed behind glass walls far away in their stalls so decent pictures were not a go.

Grinding the hops.

Melle’s Houseboat

What else did we do? We rode our rented bicycles everywhere because everyone rides bikes in Amsterdam. Trust me, you may not want to try it. It is nuts and I can’t hardly believe we survived it when I look back on the 1st and 2nd day there. After you figure out the system (tourists suck at riding bikes in this city and the locals are maniacal in their agenda to get to their destination), you can get around but the problem is that you only get comfortable on or about the 3rd day. Fortunately, our houseboat was in a residential neighborhood about 15 blocks from the center of the city where the traffic is the worst. We still had to make sure the bikes were locked up tight at night on our deck. Bicycle theft happens right under your nose. Melle, the tall Dutch guy that owns the houseboat we rented told us a story about how every once in awhile the city goes out and confiscates all the bikes that are parked illegally. Not quite sure what parking is considered illegal because bikes are parked in every spare inch of space that one can find. Anyway, the bikes are then sold in an auction which raises money for the city. Then owners of some of the rental bike shops purchase the auctioned bikes which are sold by weight. Can’t remember if he said tons or what ever it is in metric but it is a lot.  Good for the city’s economy, I suppose.

Westerkirk by the Anne Frank House

Kris and bike

We tried different types of food. Kris was adventurous and had cod, sole but no herring. Neither did I as raw herring is not my cup of tea. There is plenty of beef or as the Dutch say- Cow. No matter how well you think you are prepared to recognize foods and their names in another language on a menu, you’re not. We decided to take advantage of the full kitchen on the houseboat and went grocery shopping at Albert Heijn on  our bikes. Let me tell you, do not buy more than you can carry in your purse or pockets if you don’t have saddlebags on your bike. We were quite a sight with our pockets packed full and my purse bag stuffed to its limits. Fortunately, we were not too far from the houseboat.

Have you ever seen hot dogs in a can?

Floating flower market

One of our new favorite beverages!

Brings out the florist in oneself…

Canal visitors on our last night. I think they heard Kris in the kitchen and the window was open due to the unseasonal heat Amsterdam was experiencing. They just wanted a snack!

In my opinion, Amsterdam is something to see but I would never want to live there. Around every corner it feels as if you have stepped back in time when you look at the architecture of the old homes, shops, and churches. The canals are lovely, comparatively clean when you consider all the people that reside in the city. There are even restrooms on the streets that I believe cost about half a euro.

And the history. I can’t find the words to describe the way my emotions welled up when touring the Dutch Resistance Fighters Museum and the Anne Frank House. All I can say is that we both were filled with feelings of great sadness and disbelief. And respect for the many that fought with small and large actions to try and defeat Hitler’s plan. Pictures are not allowed in either of the museum’s but the images will remain with me for a long time. Time did not allow for us to visit the Jewish History Museum nor to get over to the Hollandaise Schouburg, the old theatre that the Nazi’s used as a deportation center in Amsterdam. It is okay though, I imagine we will come back again one day. Someone told me not to be too aggressive on our agenda of sightseeing and we almost were with Amsterdam until we realized we were just worn out. The history that is there has been there for a long time and will still be waiting for us to see when we come back.

I have many more pictures to share and intend inserting them into the blog when we get back to the states. I am going to pop a journal entry Kris wrote about a week ago. My next post will cover our travels to Germany and Luxembourg.

Until next time

Love and hugs to all,

Karen