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As I’m sure most of you know by now, I love to travel. It doesn’t matter where I go, I just want to see someplace new. I get giddy packing my suitcase in anticipation of the unknown sights and adventures that await me. Sometimes I feel that my suitcase spends more time out of the closet, waiting to be packed or unpacked, than it does nestled amongst my clothes and shoes. Whether by car, by air, or by boat, I couldn’t imagine my life without a trip to a different location at least once a year. There is a certain feeling you get when exploring an area you’ve never seen before. Even if it’s an area in immediate vicinity.
A lot of times, I hop in my car and drive down an unknown road just to see what’s at the end of it. I have uncovered full neighborhoods in hidden canyons, dined at hole-in-the-wall restaurants with the greatest food, and viewed formerly familiar territory with a new set of eyes. There is much to be discovered and rediscovered in this world and I won’t stop until I explore every inch of it.
With heavy hearts and thoughts to those in the States, we packed our bags, left the beautiful Schweizerhof, and headed to a boat cruise along Lake Luzern before heading to Zürich. From the lake, we took in the beauty of the Swiss Alps, the gorgeous homes along the water, and just a little bit of Brazil. Ok, maybe just a statue similar to Christ the Redeemer.
We left the AmaCello and departed for Switzerland. We were supposed to arrive in Basel, but due to a broken river lock, the AmaCello was forced to return to our last port of Breisach (where we toured the Black Forest). It was bittersweet to say farewell to most of our fellow passengers as only about a third of us were continuing the journey to the land of cheese and chocolate.
Since we were due to begin the land extension in Basel, we traveled by bus to the cosmopolitan city. The first thing we noticed about our first Swiss town was how cold it was. By far, this was the chilliest of all the places we visited and it was hard to admire the medieval character of this Swiss banking center.
On our last cruising day, we were treated to a traditional German beer service (sorry, I can’t seem to remember the appropriate name) complete with sausages, potato salad, and pretzels. It was one of our last opportunities to get together with the fun people we met from all over America and enjoy a relaxing voyage on our final day of the river portion of our journey.
The food was incredibly yummy and the beer was nice and cold contrary to popular belief about the Germans only drinking beverages at room temperature. I didn’t find this to be true the entire time I was in Deutschland, but I mainly stuck to the glühwein which warmed me from the inside out.
When we docked full of German deliciousness, we had the choice of two excursions to Germany’s historic Black Forest. We could either venture into the town of Freiburg or tour a cuckoo clock factory. We were set on the cuckoo clock factory until several discussions with other passengers convinced us that Freiburg was the more exciting of the two tours. According to our Cruise Director, the other was a bit of a “snooze” and most passengers were a little disappointed by it. I guess if you’ve seen one cuckoo clock, you’ve seen them all.
Needless to say, we hopped the bus to Freiburg.
After our many stops in Germany, the AmaCello finally arrived in France. I had never heard of the town of Strasbourg prior to it being on our river cruise itinerary so I didn’t know what to expect. Having previously been to Paris, I guess I was expecting something a little more metropolitan, but I was delighted with the picturesque qualities of the town.
And it all started with the swans.
Once we got back on the ship after wandering around Rüdesheim, our Cruise Director Nick held a discussion session about people’s holiday traditions. Guests helped trimmed the various Christmas trees while sharing stories of writing letters to Santa and night before Christmas rituals (ours include dinner at In-&-Out, driving around looking at festively lit houses, and watching The Santa Clause). Everyone had different takes on the same holiday and it was fun to hear how everyone celebrates Christmas. Being that we were in Germany and most everyone on board was American, Nick shared with us some of the European traditions we may not have known about. I certainly had never heard of them.
In particular, there were the stories about Saint Nicholas and the Krampus. Now, Saint Nicholas, the European equivalent of Santa Claus, is somewhat of a familiar character. He brings presents to good children on Saint Nicholas Day and fills the stockings hung by the chimney with care. The Krampus on the other hand is almost the yin to the saintly yang. He is a hairy, beast-like creature with hooves and horns whose mission is to punish the poorly behaved children. Not one to mess with.
As Nick told us these stories, he requested that each of the guests (if they wanted) leave one shoe outside of their cabin before they went to bed that evening. My mother and I did just that.
In the morning, we each had a foil-wrapped chocolate in our boot. At first, I didn’t notice that there were different characters on each of the chocolates, but on further inspection, it was clear that we received both Saint Nicholas (me) and the Krampus (my mom). Yes, it is official… I am the good one in the family!
After discovering that Germany was much cooler than I anticipated, we spent our next day cruising along the Rhine from the comfort of our heated ship. It was cozy inside the main room as the passengers gathered around windows, cameras and iPads at the ready, to snap photos of the gorgeous winter landscape that felt like the inside of a snow globe. Around every bend in the river, there were vineyards, churches, and castles. Yes, castles.
Though not exactly like the palaces of kings and queens that little girls dream of being swept away to, the castles were amazing. Clearly strategically built structures, they were scattered along the banks and positioned up on the hills, the high ground a clear advantage for seeing an enemy approaching. Now, I know there are castles out there that more closely resemble the ones in those princess stories I loved, but I really enjoyed seeing these militaristic fortresses and hearing the history behind them.
In the past, whenever anyone mentioned Germany, my mind instantly formed a negative picture. Images of war-torn cities, concentration camp victims, and hoards of David Hasselhoff fans played like trailers in a movie theater. I just couldn’t understand why anyone aside from frat boys wanting to raise their steins at Oktoberfest would ever want to vacation there. Needless to say, Germany was never on my travel radar of places I must visit.
But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
After the delightful and surprising Amsterdam, our cruise ship, the Amacello, brought us to Köln, or Cologne. It was my first experience of Deutschland and I was immediately in awe.
The winter morning was bright and for what felt like the first time, I was up early with giddy anticipation of where the day would lead. With a traffic-free drive to the airport and ten-seconds of arms-above-head security screening to prove that my mother and I were not harboring any weapons, I was ready to hop on the gigantic KLM combi plane for the over ten-hour flight across the Atlantic. Stocked with magazines and snacks, I browsed the on-board entertainment system and planned out the journey’s cinematic adventures (Magic Mike, Seeking a Friend at the End of the World, and Bachelorette—none of which I had seen before).
Let me say, I
was am highly impressed with everything about the KLM experience. The flight attendants were attentive and friendly, the food was actually delicious, and the drinks were plentiful (and free). If you have the option to choose KLM, I highly encourage you to do so. The hours flew by while I swooned over Channing Tatum’s dance moves and sipped red wine, perfectly content in my limited space.
Soon, an announcement requested all passengers return their seats to the upright position and the early morning light of a snowy landscape was visible through the window. We touched down in what has gone on record as being the smoothest landing of all time. Seriously, I talked about it for about twenty minutes after we got off the plane. It was incredible.
We navigated our way through the airport, got another stamp in our passports, and found the transfer that would lead us to our AmaWaterways river cruise ship. We had finally arrived in the Netherlands. Amsterdam, to be specific.
It’s not that I’ve been avoiding you all, I swear it’s not. It’s just that I’ve been having so much fun enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the land along the Rhine. I think about you all the time and wish you could be here with me on this lovely holiday. There is so much I can’t wait to post about when I return home. I want to share it all with you and I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.