Crikey, It’s A Croc! And Sloths!

Early in the morning, we were back on the van headed to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.  It was a long drive that included gorgeous views from the mountain, naps, and the finishing of books for many of us.

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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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Strasbourg: The Fantasyland Of Europe


Strasbourg
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.

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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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Windmills And Wax Figures

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.

Magic Mike

I never understood all the fuss about Channing Tatum… until this scene.

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.

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