Monday, June 10, 2019

Rhine River Cycling Day 8: Utrecht, Netherlands to Amsterdam

Day 8:  Utrecht to Amsterdam
We sailed through the night and by dawn we were in the Netherlands. Again, the Amakristina made a special stop for us in Utrecht so we could ride into Amsterdam.  The ride took us along canals lined by boats and barges as well as immaculately kept up homes and gardens.  We road most of the way to lunch with a small group with Ine leading the way.  She is a Backroads guide on a busman’s holiday (with Phil and Anne and Harvey and Elaine unable to come on the trip at he last minute, Backroads opened it up for a guide trip).  It was wonderful having her with us, between her great personality and riding ability, the miles flew by.  Being a beautiful Sunday morning, cyclists were out in force and we passed many cycling teams out on training rides.   The roads were in excellent shape, some were normal roads, some bike paths (that were extremely tight especially when people were coming the opposite direction, sometimes 2 abreast, sometimes walking, sometimes even on tricycles).  Many of the country roads along the canals were a single lane for cars with 3-foot bike lanes on either side.  Cars coming in opposite directions had to use the bike lane which made for some interesting encounters. 

Ferry across the canal

We got to stop at a working windmill, pumping water to keep the land dry for farming.

Halfway to Amsterdam, we stopped at Muiderslot Castle to tour the castle and eat lunch. The castle was built in1285 by Count Floris V and was part of the defense line around Amsterdam. It sits near what used to be the Zuiderzee (“South Sea” in Netherlands that was closed off from the North Sea and mostly reclaimed after completion of an enormous dam in the early 20thCentury). Because of its proximity to Amsterdam, the day of the week (Sunday), and the beautiful weather, it was jam-packed. We toured the castle briefly after lunch. More time and less crowds would have been nice, but we were able to get a flavor of it.
Muiderslot Castle

View from Muiderslot Castle of the remnants of the Zuiderzee
The remainder of the ride involved a lot of city riding into the heart of Amsterdam.  The bike trail approaching the city was fairly wide, had dedicated bridges, and was easy to negotiate, but in Amsterdam, it was a bit of a free-for-all.  Amsterdam has more bicycles than people (a statistic much like Vermont’s cow population) with the most recent estimate at 880,000 
2-wheelers (not to mention unicycles and trikes!). 
Main train station

The train station bike parking is amazing, there was a sign for 2,200 parking spaces, but with double decker parking, and illegal bike parking, my guess is a lot higher.

Double-decker bike parking
Our ride to the Amakristina took us right past the main train station where the crowds of people wheeling suitcases and cyclists created a sea of obstacles to our forward movement. We were riding with Annika (from Belgium) and watched her negotiate the crush of humanity like a local (which she was). We tried to stay with her, but our tandem was not made for quick tight turns (think semi) and she was quickly out of sight.  Rick was able to keep up with her, and we were quickly alone amongst thousands of commuters.  Fortunately, from here, when we could see over the heads of the Dutch (who are all 7 ft. tall), we could spot the port where the river cruise boats were docked. The last ½ mile probably took 20 minutes.

Since this was our final ride of the trip, we wanted to say our goodbyes to the crew, Jeremy, Nüsa, Marc, Shane and Steffi.  Hopefully, we will see them again on another trip somewhere in the world.

Jeri, Ine and Annika (the Belgians)

Suzy awaiting Richie's return from the war

Minor mishap


Jeri and Jeremy

Marc and Shane

Nüsa and Marc

Jeri and Shane
Before dinner, we had a private boat tour of Amsterdam (of course, with drinks).  Jeri and I had a similar tour with Toby and Marty and Dave and Molly when we were here last time.  Amsterdam has to be seen by both foot and by water to be appreciated properly. It is a beautiful city.

Our boat

Jeri, Robyn, and Randy

NH crew plus Marin (on right)

Bike parking

Overflow bike parking on a fixed barge

The Hermitage

Walking back from the boat trip


Then one more dinner and breakfast aboard and our trip home tomorrow morning.  

The next morning, we said goodbye to some new-found friends, Scott and Marina from Alabama, Randy and Robyn from San Diego with vows to keep in touch and hopefully, visit.  The rest of the NH group, Rick and Harriet, Rich and Suzy, Ben and Denise, Don and Sue, and Neal and Laura were all staying in Amsterdam for a few days. We are hoping that the weather holds for them. 

Jeri and I took a 10-minute walk to the train station and easily negotiated the ticket kiosk and track determination for our train to Schiphol Airport.  Piece of cake compared to our experience a few years ago with Toby and Marty. Amazing what a chip and PIN will do!

One addendum, the diet plan for jet-lag seems to work.  Neither Jeri nor I have had a bit of jet-lag after any of the flights over the past 3 weeks between Tahiti, Switzerland, Amsterdam, and Boston.  A little hard to stay asleep (nothing that a little Ambien won’t help), but no foggy feeling, headaches etc.  We are going to stick with it.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Rhine River Cycling Day 7 Bonn to Cologne (Köln)

Day 7: Bonn to Cologne

This morning (another beautiful one), the boat slowed down in Bonn and we all jumped off.  Actually, it was a bit more civilized than that, but the boat did make a special stop just for our group to get off so that we could ride to Köln (Cologne). We found our bike this morning all tricked out by our guides for our anniversary with roses and assorted other floral species and a big “Happy Anniversary” sign.  The guides on Backroads trips are amazingly thoughtful!
The ride into the center of Köln was pretty flat and, unfortunately, not terribly scenic.  We passed a huge refinery between Bonn and Köln (the refineries were probably the reason that the aAllied bombers paid so much attention to Köln during WWII.   We arrived at the main square well before lunchtime.  Today was a special day in Köln, hunger awareness day, when the city provides free food for the homeless.  There was also live entertainment in the main square to help raise money for a group called “Tavel” (another word for table in German) which collects food for the food pantries in town.  

We felt a bit guilty going into Gilden im Simms, an historic Brauhaus (beer hall) situated on the corner of the main square. Köln is famous for a locally produced beer called Kölsch Bier.                        
The Kölsch beer is clear, light, highly fermented and slightly bitter with a hoppy flavor.  It is not as filling as other beers and very refreshing especially after a ride.

In the Brauhauses of Köln, the Kölsch beer is traditionally served all you can drink style served continually by the proprietor with a large tray.  If your glass is empty (or even low), and you do not cover it with a coaster, your beer is magically replaced.  It is easy to not keep track of the volume of beer consumed.

In addition to the beer, the food kept on coming.  We had salads, wienerschnitzel (veal cutlets that were outstanding), sausage and roasted potatoes, and some delicious fried potatoes, Reibekuchen (like latkes). Then dessert, apple strudel and ice cream!  

We waddled out after lunch to meet a local guide for a walking tour of Köln.  Köln is the 4thlargest city in Germany with a population of about 1 million.  It spans the Rhine with the original settlement (Romans in 50 AD) on the southwest bank and the expansion settlement on the northwest.  Because the ravages of WWII left Köln in literal shambles with very few homes and businesses left habitable, most of the city dates back to the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Insurance and the tv industry are major driving forces in the local economy. 

These statues in a courtyard off the main square are 2 beloved German cartoon characters,Tunnes and Schal.  Rubbing their noses will supposedly bring you good luck.  Ben got a bit carried away.

 The major attraction of the city is the Kölner Dom, or the Cologne Cathedral.  The cathedral was built between 1200 and 1860 in order to store the relics of the Magi which are supposedly housed here, and was the tallest structure in Europe until the Eiffel Tower’s construction in 1889  Because it took so long to finish (funding issues) by the time it was completed, metal roofs had become fashionable; this kept the risk of fire down dramatically reducing the risk of the recent fate of Notre Dame.  Although the entire city of Köln was destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII, the cathedral was spared.  This was probably due to the fact that Allied used the spires of the cathedral as a navigational landmark for bombing raids.   

After touring the cathedral, most of the group walked back to the ship, but Rich, Rick and I decided to walk up to the top of the spire for the view with about 1000 of our closest friends. We climbed the 500 or so step spiral staircase (got pretty dizzy) to the top.  

We did get beautiful views of the Rhine,

 and also were able to see the oil refineries that we had passed earlier in the day.
On the way down, we sopped at the carillon.  Since it was close to 4 pm, we decided to stay and here the bells fire off at 4. Our concern about the potential injurie to our ears was unfounded.  The only bell that rang was the smallest, bonging only 4 times for the hour. Quite the disappointment.

This was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and I think all 1 million locals were out in force today walking along the Rhine enjoying the day.  These children were certainly loving the bubble man.

Back to the boat for dinner. As we cruised during dinner, we got a wonderful anniversary present, a huge, vivid double rainbow! A very nice anniversary.