Fun And Fancy Free

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.

German Beer

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.

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Gifts Of Love And Chocolate

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.

St. Nicholas and Krampus

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!

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Castles, Cabinets, And Wine, Oh, My!

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.

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.

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Misconceptions Abound

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.

Clockwise from Top Left: Cologne's Town Hall, wood carvings outside of a Christmas market, Cologne's coat of arms, travel buddies for life

Clockwise from Top Left: Cologne’s Town Hall, wood carvings outside of a Christmas market, Cologne’s coat of arms, travel buddies for life

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