Golden trees and the cathedral

The Amaverde had left the Main-Danube canal and now sailed the broad waters of the Danube on its way to the lovely town of Regensburg. Last time we were here work was proceeding on the city’s old bridge. This time a lot of that work had been done on the section nearest the old town, although there’s plenty more to do.

Regensburg cathedral and the old bridge from our ship

This is the place with Germany’s oldest fast food – sausage in a bun – kept the workers fed when the cathedral was originally built. The sausage shop is still there, just near the bridge, but Pete and I didn’t partake this time (although we did last time) – too many people. But bratwurst in a bun is always available in the market square, so we went up there and ate along with a number of the locals (always a good sign), standing up at one of those high tables set up outside the food van.

The busy old town

The town has the usual cobble-stoned streets lined with a variety of architecture, some with the half timbers of the 17th century, others from later dates. Autumn is showing on the trees and the high walls festooned with Boston ivy. There are lots of little streets and alleys both around the main square, and leading up into the town from the waterside.

Don Juan of Austria

Down one alley we found a statue of a dude in the balloon pants of Tudor times. Seems he was Don Juan de Austria, illegitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was born in Regensburg (interesting) He commanded the Christian fleet which defeated the Ottoman navy at the battle of Lepanto in 1571. That was a Very Important Victory and marked the end of the Ottoman expansion into Europe.

We also found more of the brass plates set in the cobbles to commemorate the Jews who lived here, and were taken to their deaths. I think those plaques can probably be found in most German towns now. It always gave me a funny feeling seeing them for real, and also just looking at the photos – most especially now that I’ve been to Auschwitz and spent some time brushing up on the Holocaust.

The town gate from the old bridge

Water flowing too fast for reflections

It was nice to get to walk on the old bridge. It’s a great place to take pictures, and also to get an idea of how rapidly the water is flowing. That’s in marked contrast to last time, when the river just sat. Compare the reflections of the buildings. Here’s the post from 2015.

Next everybody else will take the train to Salzburg, while we stay on the boat and sail through one of the most beautiful stretches of the Danube. See you next time.

The Main-Danube canal – and cases of gastro

Entering a lock

The morning talk from the cruise director was not good news. Our resident gremlin had struck again, and a number of the guests on the Amaverde had contracted a gastro illness. At that stage, no one was sure if this would be the dreaded, highly contagious, Nova virus, or just plain food poisoning. And if the latter, where or what from?

Jude and the hotel director took immediate steps to try to minimize the problem. All guests who were ill, or had a partner who was ill, were asked to stay in their cabins (duh). All buffet services were cancelled. No more soup and finger food lunches in the lounge, everybody had to go to the restaurant. No guest was permitted to handle food. If you wanted bacon from the hot box at breakfast time, you had to ask a staff member (wearing surgical gloves) to serve you. The same with fruit, cereal, and everything else. The public toilets in the ship were closed – if you needed the loo, you had to go to your cabin.

Most people took the measures in good grace. As Jude pointed out, if more than a given percentage of the people on the ship became ill, the cruise would have to be cancelled. I think she and the hotel director were at pains to try to ensure that none of the staff fell ill. That would have been disastrous.

After some detective work, talking with the other ships on the river, Jude was told one ship a few days ahead of us had half the ship down with gastro. Working backwards, she concluded that the culprit had been sausages from a butcher in Rothenburg. Not everyone was convinced, though. At least one person hadn’t been to Rothenburg. Others had doubts about the timing (food poisoning tends to hit within a few hours.) So everything related to food was a tad awkward for several days. Again, the main impact was on the crew. The staff did a wonderful job attending to the quarantined guests in their cabins, as well as handling the extra work of having to serve everything.

The good news was that Pete and I were not affected. Not by the gastro, anyway. At the same time, the usual respiratory infections were passing around. One in five seemed to have a cough or splutter, and Jude urged us to employ the antiseptic hand-wash dispensers often.

Going down

The tour for the day was a few hours in Nuremberg. We did that last time, so we stayed on board. That link also talks a bit about the canal. We were looking forward to the visit from Markus Urban, who would give a presentation on the building of the Main-Danube canal The concept of a waterway goes back as Charlemagne in the ninth century and although Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria (he built Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle in the Alps) had a go in the nineteenth century, a real canal wasn’t possible until after WW2. The canal was finally finished in the 1990s. You’ll find info about the canal here. We bought a copy of Markus’s book, which we should have done last time we were here.

One of the things about this cruise is that because we’re going the opposite way, we arrive at places at different times. It was bright daylight when we reached the European watershed. Apparently a competition was held to design a suitable marker for this important place. I couldn’t find a reference, but I believe it. I’ve shown the marker in the photo below.

The European watershed. With its underwhelming marker.

Bamberg and milch kaffee

Houses along the Regnitz

The lovely little town of Bamberg is situated on the Regnitz River, a tributary of the Main. In fact, it’s kind of built over the river. As usual, there’s a busy old town filled with crowds of tourists. The Germans certainly look after their heritage, with all the lovely old half-timber and painted facades looking like they’re only a few years old.

The old town hall

Beautifully maintained facades

The cathedral’s famous horseman

We went along for the walking tour, crossing over the bridge at the old rathaus and climbing up to the (inevitable) cathedral. This time, a tour of the cathedral was not included, which is a shame because it’s a fascinating building filled with history going back to the eleventh century. But never, mind, I covered that stuff in this blog. Check it out. I’ll wait.

That was fun, wasn’t it? And you got to see the photo of the abbey across the valley from the Prince/bishop’s garden. There were far more people visiting this time than there were last time we were here.

The old residence. But when it became old-fashioned, the prince/bishop built a new one

The new residence. He ran out of money before he could demolish the old one (above) and extend.

Lovely mushrooms, fruit, nuts

We enjoyed wandering through the narrow, cobblestoned streets lined with antiques and art shops, and admiring the produce at the inevitable markets. The fruit and veg are just amazing – as are all the small goods and cheese. But while wandering around can be fun for a while, we both felt we were given too much time to kill. We eventually ended up in a café. We had discovered back in Bonn that the Germans have a thing called “milch kaffee” – which I don’t remember having seen on our previous visits to Europe. The closest thing we could get to a flat white then was a latte, which comes in a glass, so you have to wait for it to cool down before you can drink it. (Stoopid). Here’s the news, folks – “milch kaffee” is a flat white which comes in a huge cup (with handle). I managed to order two cups in Bonn in such flawless German that the lass at the counter asked me (in no doubt even better German) if we wanted something to eat with that. I managed to shake my head in a clearly Germanic way, and even worked out the right money on my own.

So here we were in Bamberg, with two cups of milch kaffee. We’d found in Australia that if an inexperienced kid who doesn’t drink coffee makes the coffee, you’re just as likely to end up with a cup of hot milk with a slightly brownish cast. Yep, happens in Germany, too. We ordered an espresso each, which we tipped into our milch kaffee. Perfect.

And then it was back to the ship, and the Main-Danube canal, where we would cross the European watershed. From there it would be downhill all the way to Budapest.

And here’s a sunset from the previous evening, with cormorants going home to roost


Oops, the boat broke

Reflections in the river

We set off up the river Main for Wurzburg, from which we’d headed off to the walled town of Rothenburg on that previous trip. This time we’d take a look at the Prince/bishop’s residence. But first we had to get there. Pete and I and a number of our fellow travellers were sitting in the lounge watching the red/green/gold scenery slip past while we listened to our resident pianist (he was very good) when the lights flickered, just for a moment. When they flickered again, and the emergency lights kicked in, we were a little more concerned. Not long after that, the captain eased the Amaverde over to the bank and tied up not far from a school. This was most definitely an unscheduled stop, and soon the cruise director was at the microphone. No cause for alarm, problem with the power generator, the captain has tied up here so the crew can concentrate on fixing the problem.

Some of the vineyards in the area

Losing power in a cruise ship like this is a huge problem. Sure, we were unlikely to be affected by huge seas, but without the power generators, taps wouldn’t work, toilets wouldn’t flush, fridges were shut down, and the galley couldn’t cook. Our pianist, his speakers no longer operational, deserted his post. But it was a sunny mid-afternoon and the crew had already put out afternoon tea. We’d be okay for now.

Time passed. We watched a group of kids kicking a football at a nearby playing field. People came out to walk their dogs. Some gawped at the river ship tied up at their little dock. I’m sure they see them going past all the time – not so much moored. We played Solitaire on our tablets. As the hours passed the hotel managers realised more food was needed.

Sandwiches and cakes appeared from the kitchen, and quickly disappeared. Late afternoon began to fade into dusk. Pete and I weren’t the only ones exchanging glances, when the main lights flickered, then stayed on. Everyone in the lounge cheered.

The cruise director came back on. Dinner would have to be delayed because of the outage, but meals would be served in the restaurant at 8:30pm. Pete and I passed. We’d managed enough finger food (and drinks) to get us well and truly by. But I was told later that 80%+ of the guests turned up in the dining rooms for dinner. This, of course, put even more pressure on the hard-working staff. Despite the delays, they would still have to get everybody fed, the dining room cleared and dishes washed, and still be up for breakfast service at the usual time.

Next morning, we weren’t at all surprised to find the ship tied up in the more industrial parts of town so the crew could properly fix whatever the problem had been. We had no doubt that whatever they’d done the previous evening had been a temporary band-aid which had to be put right. Still, the incident reinforced our existing impression that the ship was tired. Amaverde was launched in 2011, several years earlier than Amavenita (which we sailed on in 2015). She was beginning to show her age, not least in some of the nasty smells we noticed around the foyer area from time to time.

Mixed border in the gardens. The gardens are open to anyone

It’s autumn in the garden

Never mind. Onwards and upwards, as they say. We’d made it to Wurzburg, where half the guests went off to Rothenburg and the rest of us took a look at the Prine/Bishop’s Residency. It’s the usual over the top, opulent decoration in the rococo style, with beautiful stucco work and some amazing frescoes. Unfortunately, photography were not allowed. Although it’s a pain, I can understand the reasoning. The building housed a number of beautiful tapestries which would be damaged by the light of thousands of flashes. In this age of the mobile device-with-camera, many people wouldn’t know how to turn off the flash, and too many don’t care. However, there’s an informative website, so you can take a tour in pictures, at least. The building also has a beautiful garden, and photos were allowed there.

The old bridge

Like all these towns, Wurzburg has an old town and an old bridge, worthy of photos. The forbidding walls of the Marienberg Fortress loom over the river. We considered taking a walk up there, but thought better of it. We’re not as young as we used to be.

The Marienberg

We did take a look in the catholic cathedral, though. It seems to have been extensively damaged and repaired after the war. The stained glass is the usual yucky modern style. I was intrigued by the enormous menorah in the church, but all I’ve discovered is someone claims it was a gift from a rabbi to a bishop. Still, it’s yet another Jewish reference in our journey.

A menorah in a Catholic cathedral

Wondering around the cathedral, we came across the usual collection of statues of bishops. One in particular drew my attention. This one is so life-like I could imagine him stepping out of the niche and saying hello.

Buses took us back to where the ship waited at the industrial dock. We sailed past the old town at dusk, which gave an opportunity for a few more photos.

Wurzburg’s old town at dusk

Next stop, Bamberg.

Rudesheim, the Rhine Gorge – and Miltenberg

The Rhine Gorge enveloped in mist

The thing about having done parts of this trip twice or three times is that sometimes I don’t have much more to say than I did in my previous blogs. That was the case with Rudesheim, where we visited the wonderful Siegfried’s Musical Kabinet in 2015, and the Germania monument (via chair lift over the vineyards) in 2016. If you’re interested, you can read all about it via the links. Same thing with the Rhine Gorge. For sheer beauty, a warm late October in 2015 resulted in the best pictures, but we were there again – with a LOT more water in the river – in 2016.

We’d also seen glass-blower Hans demonstrating his craft in 2015. But this one IS worth adding to. Last time, I ducked out rather a lot to admire the glorious beauties of the river. This time it turned out that an elderly couple on our cruise could trace their ancestry back to Hans’s village of Wertheim, just a few generations ago. Hans was entranced, and arranged with our tour director, Jude, to take them with him when he left the ship at the next lock so he could take them back to his village to meet his family and have a look around. He brought them back to rejoin the ship further down the river. I thought that was simply awesome.

Needless to say, Hans used his long-lost relo to help him make a blown glass ornament, just as he’d done with our mate Bruce a couple of years ago. That couple will have had an adventure they’ll never, ever forget.

Although we’d been to Miltenberg before, our visit this time was different in many respects to the last time in 2015, because the guide was different. Each guide has his/her own interpretation of what’s important to show, I suppose. Our guide was Raul, a septuagenarian Canadian who had married a German lady and lived in a nearby village. He was dressed in the costume of a medieval night watchman, complete with halberd and Bavarian flag. The basic structure of the visit was the same as last time – a sort of treasure hunt where the guide explained some of the features of medieval life, including an opportunity to sample some of the food and drink. Of course, the history hasn’t changed, but no guide can tell everything.

The witch’s house, using the town wall to reduce building costs

The steps to the Jweish cemetery

Raul took us away from the picturesque main street with its seventeenth century half-timber facades and up away from the river, where the streets are steep and narrow. Miltenberg has a town wall, and Raul pointed out a building he described as ‘the witch’s house’.   He was quick to clarify that it wasn’t really a witch’s house, but it’s easy to imagine it in an illustrated version of Hansel and Gretel. Raul pointed at the archway further up the hill. “The old Jewish cemetery is up there.” Then he took us back down into the town, stopped in front of a house, and pointed at five brass plaques set in the cobbles. These weren’t book titles, though. These were lives. Five Jewish people had lived here until 1942, when they were deported, and murdered. Miltenberg was the site of one of the oldest synagogues in Germany. Later (he pointed) a new synagogue was built there. It’s gone, along with the Jews. One hundred and forty Jews called Miltenberg home before the war. Now there are none, and there is no synagogue.

Brass plaques all that remains of lives. For a closer look, right click on the image and select ‘view image’. Then make it larger using ctrl+

After Raul finished his formal tour, Pete and I retraced our steps to that archway up the hill to see the Jewish cemetery. The town council cuts back the grass twice a year, but apart from that the tombstones linger in the shadow of the town wall, the markings fading with each passing season. Even so, these Jews have a memorial, unlike the anonymous ashes blown on the wind from the belching chimneys at the death camps. The brass plaques in the cobbles outside the houses where they lived at least bear their names.

The Jewish cemetery

Strange. When we started this trip, one of the reasons was to take the extension into Poland and Germany. Auschwitz was on my bucket list, but long before we reached there the spectre of those events seemed to beckon us on. Starting with the book burnings in the square at Bonn.

One other thing Raul said has stuck with me. I’d always thought Miltenberg had been rescued by the rise in tourism along the river. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s plenty of work in light industry in the Main valley, unemployment is low. Nobody lives in Miltenberg’s old town anymore. All the ground floors of the buildings are shops and all the upper stories are empty. The cost of renovating these old heritage-listed buildings for 21st century living would be astronomical, and even with modern flood walls, the danger from the rising river waters is always there. So when the tourists leave, the street is empty.

People living in the surrounding villages don’t want the tourists, thanks. The buses hardly fit the narrow streets and the increased traffic belches fumes that damage the old buildings and help to break down what had been an idyllic way of life. That meshed nicely with what we’d heard in the Rhine gorge. Fewer and fewer vines are being planted. Each year the harvest is less. The work is back-breaking and hard to automate, and the young people are moving to the cities. It’s as if the boats cruising down the great European rivers are catching a last glimpse of something that is rapidly fading into the mists of history.

Raul in the old town square

A more modern monument, celebrating (I think) the town’s nickname. Grown up versions of Brussels’ mannekin pis

Swans. There are always swans

A visit to Bonn

The alte rathaus

First stop in Germany was Cologne. Pete was feeling loads better, so we opted to go on the walking tour of Bonn, since we’d already had a look around Cologne.

Bonn might have remained just another obscure German university town if it hadn’t been for WW2 and the division of Germany between the West and the Soviet Union. Germany’s capital, Berlin, was firmly in the Eastern bloc, and although the city itself was split between the USSR, French, British, and Americans, it was hardly a reasonable proposition as capital of West Germany. Politicians at the time wisely eschewed larger cities like Cologne and Munich as the de facto capital until the country could be unified. Konrad Adenauer, who came from Cologne and had been the city’s mayor, favoured Bonn over Frankfurt on Main. Even now, after the reunification of Germany and the return to Berlin as capital, some of the instruments of government remain in Bonn. But apart from that, it remains a university town, with a large population of students.

The brothers’ heads are there outside the church which is undergoing restoration work

The tower was added to the church later, emulating the gothic style. But it sits on the chuch’s roof without any other support.

The city dates back to Roman times, when it was a garrison for a large contingent of troops. Our guide, Sebastian, told us the story of a legion of Christian soldiers who refused to sacrifice to the Emperor, and were subsequently punished. You can read the story here.  Among the officers who were martyred were the two patron saints of Bonn, whose carved heads take pride of place in Bonn’s oldest Christian church. You can see the Romanesque structure of the building with its curved, unadorned arches. But the church is not open to the public. It needs substantial restoration simply to make it safe for visitors. Over the years the city fathers added to the building, including a tower which is sitting on top of the roof without any supporting infrastructure inside.

That’s Beethoven on the column outside the post office

Bonn’s other great claim to fame is as Beethoven’s birthplace. You’ll see his name and likenesses of variable quality all over town. He only lived in the house where he was born for four years, when his parents needed to find different accommodation to cater for their growing family. Here’s a potted biography. Seems young Ludwig didn’t have a happy childhood and the comparison with Mozart’s upbringing is interesting.

Sebastian took us to the town’s main square, overlooked by the old town hall. You might have seen that balcony in the top picture in old news footage from the Cold War. But what I found most interesting were the little brass plaques in the cobbles. Our guide was a young man, aged around thirty. He made a point of saying to us that the old Fawlty Towers line (don’t talk about the war) was no longer a thing. Younger Germans were willing to confront their past. And those plaques are part of that. Each plaque is the name of a book that was burned in this very square by the Nazis in the nineteen thirties. For me, it was a powerful statement that would resonate with the young. I can almost see them asking, “What does this mean, Mum?” And the answer is descent into darkness, something we never want to do again.

Needless to say, there was a market set up in the square, with the usual wonderful selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, and cheese. I love those places. But now it was back to the boat.

A stall at the markets

Nothing nasty happened today, not even anything mildly irritating. But then, we’ve only just begun.

Zaanse Schans and dying arts

After our first night on the boat Pete was feeling a bit coldy, so he did the right thing and confined himself to quarters while I went off on a cold, dank day for the scheduled excursion to Zaanse Schans, which is a kind of pioneer village like Sovereign Hill near Ballarat. People live there, and keep alive some of the activities dying away in our modern age, as well as being a sort of living museum. The site has several working windmills and presents demonstrations of clog making and cheese making. The name Zaanse Schans can be translated as ‘the bank of the Zaan’ so it’s fairly obvious the village is on the banks of the river Zaan.

First stop was the clog makers. We wandered past a collection of clogs for all seasons, from working wear with leather leggings to bridal clogs (true), some with beautiful, intricate carving, others with the familiar vivid painted designs. We sat down on logs to watch the craftsman do his stuff. He explained that to hand carve a basic clog would take about five hours, but with his machinery he could turn one out in five minutes. Which he proceeded to do. The machines are French (interesting). Essentially, a mould is fitted to one side of the device, and the other side whittles down a block of poplar wood to match the mould. The foot holes are made in the same way, copying an existing pattern. In five minutes the craftsman cut off the extra bits holding the block to the machine, and held up a rough clog. Now it had to dry. To show how wet it was, he squeezed the wood in his hands, and water dripped out like a slowly running tap. I was amazed. Drying is done without heat, just natural air, for about four weeks. Then the shoes can be decorated. Oh, and Australian Customs won’t let you take raw wood clogs into Australia, but it’s okay if they’re painted or lacquered. The shop is just through there.


The clog makers’ workshop

Making the foot holes

Decorated and ready to go

Next was the cheese shop. A lovely young man took us through the basics of cheese-making, separating the curds from the whey and then aging the product. Extra flavours are added last. They made cheese from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep. We got to taste and the owners explained which cheese we could take into Australia, and which we couldn’t.

In the cheese shop

Wooden tulips

On the way to the village our guide had explained to us how windmills were used to reclaim land by pumping water out of the polders. The area we drove through was actually below sea level. The reclaimed land is used for sheep and cattle, not crops, since it’s never really dry. Now we got a chance to see how these machines worked, and how the miller could move either the whole windmill, or the windmill’s head, to take advantage of the wind. The mill we went into is one of the few remaining where pigment for paint was ground. Did you know Rembrandt couldn’t go to the art store and buy tubes of burnt umber? There you are. You’re a better person. For a bit more information about Dutch windmills, look here.

The tiny windmill pumps water out of the polder. Larger windmills do the heavy lifting

The mill wheel

Part of the village – which includes a bakery and a chocolate processor among others


Yes, it’s all a bit commercial, but the village provides a glimpse of a way of life fading into the past. I gather ‘new’ buildings are being added, as in re-located, here from time to time. It was a grey, cold, drizzly day so I was glad Pete had stayed in the cabin on the boat. Our bus took us to a lock on the Amsterdam – Rhine canal, where we rejoined the ship for our next stop in Germany.

Seen from the boat as we sailed past


A lazy Amsterdam weekend

Ferries dodge around the larger traffic

The weather cleared a wee bit on Saturday, so we mooched around enjoying the city. We’d spent quite a bit of time up on the eleventh floor admiring the efficiency of Amsterdam’s transport system. From up there you can watch the trains filtering in to the central station via the dozen or so lines and the myriad of points. Trams shuttle people along the tracks beside the Ij, and ferries dart backwards and forwards across the waterway to North Amsterdam. They have to be sharp, those ferry captains. The trip takes all of five minutes, but the waterway is busy with traffic – barges, pleasure boats, work boats and the occasional small liner headed for the cruise ship berths. And the ferries are always packed, both ways.

Standing room only

So we wandered down through the central station’s central thoroughfare – filled with shops catering for working people, offering pre-packaged meals, flowers, coffee, bread and the like. Queues of people, quite a few with bikes and scooters, waited at the ferry landing. We joined them and shuffled on board with everybody else as soon as the boat cleared of the passengers coming this way. It’s standing room only, pack ‘em in but without shoving. Then you’re off for the short trip, where you shuffle off again. We never did find out where all those people were going, but we wanted a look at the artsy looking building we’d seen from the room. It was the film museum, part of the university of arts. Not our thing, so we used the loo, then went back to the central station.

Wandering around Amsterdam is always fun. The canals provide a sense of space and air and brightness you don’t often find in European cities. We went down to the Singel Gracht to the flower markets where you can get T shirts, drank some coffee, took some pictures.

That evening we found the Mexican restaurant Vicky and Bruce told us about, just across the canal from the hotel. It wasn’t the greatest Mexican I’ve ever had, but Pete enjoyed his steak – and both of us enjoyed talking to the waiter. He was a Syrian refugee, hoping to be accepted for Dutch citizenship. He has a Christian background and it was interesting listening to his take on the refugees who come to European countries expecting that the host nation will change to suit them. This sort of man – willing to work hard, learn the language and so on – would be welcome anywhere. He spoke excellent English, which he already knew before he left Syria, so I’d say he’s an educated man starting again from the ground up. Good for him. We never got round to asking him how he got out of Syria and into Amsterdam. But he did say that if you came from Syria you automatically had refugee status.

The next day we found out why we hadn’t been able to book rooms in Amsterdam for this weekend. Sunday was “Dam to Dam” day, a charity run between Amsterdam and Zaandam. We watched the riders, walkers, runners gathering down on the road along the front of the station until they were off, then we went down to transfer to the rivership.

The competitors congregate before the start

As it turned out, the Amaverde wasn’t berthed at the docks behind the hotel, she was over at the Westerdok, which meant a short taxi ride. We managed to fend off the touts trying to rob taxi drivers of their fares, handed over our luggage to the APT crew, and went off for a well-earned glass of something.

Zandvoort aan zee and an unexpected trip

The beach

Seeing as how we live near the seaside in Australia, a trip to Amsterdam’s local beach at Zandvoort seemed like a nice little expedition. I remember a little Dutch song about going to the beach in summer. Here it is. Sorry, no subtitles but I’m sure you can rock along with the melody. Maybe I even went there with the family in my very young days. Be that as it may, there’s an F1 track there (I was astonished to discover F1 fan Pete didn’t know that) and I’d seen pictures of Theo Jansen’s marvellous beach walkers, animated by the ever-present wind. That would have been a treat, but they’re not a permanent fixture.

Zandvoort aan zee

So we jumped on a train at the central station. We’d been sitting there only a few minutes when a gaggle of rowdy young men grabbed seats very close to us. We exchanged a glance and debunked to another carriage – only to find another bunch of rowdy Germans taking up position at least a reasonable distance away. What were these folks doing, going to Zandvoort on a dreary Friday lunchtime?  They weren’t regulars – they’d checked with others on the train that this one went to Zandvoort before they took seats. Judging by volume and coherence, they’d been on the singing syrup for quite some time already.

Never mind. They didn’t bother us during the short run to the coast, rolling through Harlem (where Jeronimus Cornelisz lived before heading for the Indies in 1629). When we got off the train we saw a large bus with FC Utrecht emblazoned on the side, which explained the rowdy Germans. A football match! I tried to find out, without success, who Utrecht were playing. Judging by the fans, it would have been a well-oiled audience.

I know this was well past summer’s best, but I don’t think I’ll be swapping my beach back home with Zandvoort. We admired some of the sand sculptures, and had a cup of coffee with apple tart and cream at a café in the town square, then we headed off back to town. They’ve got those rental bikes you see everywhere these days at the local station. Judging by the number of bikes and condition of the rental place, they’re doing as well here in the Netherlands as they are everywhere else (not).

We weren’t terribly impressed with the Double Tree’s executive rooms. I think we paid enough money to be provided with proper cups and saucers, not throw-away paper cups. And somebody else should have noticed the broken fittings in the bathroom. And when we’d used the two English Breakfast Tea bags, it would have been nice to have them replaced in the daily service without having to ask. However, they are issues we took up with the hotel. More minor irritations, you see.

That night we had dinner with cousin Irene at a lovely Indian restaurant in the Pijp area of South Amsterdam. Once again, we’d been there before and loved it, and although it was nice, it didn’t quite reach expectations. After a gezellig evening,  Irene gave me a little bag of goodies to take away with us, and we headed for the tram back to Amsterdam, which was standing at the stop, about to depart. The doors closed a whisker past my backside as I jumped on board. The train system requires you to swipe your card when you get on, so I had that in my right hand, and my bag of goodies tucked under my left. I was off balance and both hands were full when the tram took off as though the driver was aiming for qualifying in the next GP. For me, it was as if the tram tilted around me. One moment I was looking along the length of the carriage, and then it rotated slowly around me so I was looking at the ceiling, while the contents rose out of my bag and departed for destinations unknown. About then I landed on my elbow and hip, and jolted the back of my head. Everybody on the tram immediately jumped in to help, to the extent they were a hindrance. I managed to stand up by myself, while somebody gathered up my scattered belongings. A couple of passengers insisted we take their seats for the rest of the trip to Amsterdam Central.

Everyone’s concern was touching. I (of course) felt like a prize twit. Pete (who had lost a few more of his remaining hairs watching my performance) was angry with the driver’s lack of concern for the passengers, many of whom were standing. S/he continued to drive like a hoon. To my surprise I had no bruises (at least not for a couple of days) although I had a sore elbow and hip and a bit of a bump on my head.

I was lucky. It could have been much, much worse. Just another unfortunate event, really.

View across the Ij at dawn

Europe 2017 – a series of unfortunate events

The view from the hotel

Well… we’re back. From Europe, that is. Amsterdam, Rhine cruise and a coach tour of parts of Eastern Europe. Pretty much a month on the other side of the world. It wasn’t the most wonderful trip, on account of happenings. Oh, not horrible, major happenings. No cars jumping the kerb to run people down. No young men shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they lunged long knives at ordinary people going about their business. No bombs in airports or railway stations. And no evil white man pouring automatic gunfire down on a crowd of people at a concert. But even so, our little adventure was marred by a series of unfortunate events.

Let’s start at the beginning, a few days in Amsterdam before we embarked on our river cruise. We had some trouble finding accommodation in Amsterdam for the four nights before the cruise, even when trying to book months in advance. Our first option was out, APT’s option (the Marriot) was out, so we decided on the Double Tree by Hilton, next door to the central station. From there, we expected a short doddle down to the pier where the river boats park.

APT declined to organise a transfer for us from Schipol, so we were on our own on a dank, drizzly Amsterdam evening. Since it was after 9pm the hotel shuttles had stopped for the evening, and the queue for taxis disappeared around a corner or several. The lady at the information counter suggested we take the train – a ten-minute trip for a couple of Euros, then no more than two hundred metres to the hotel. Just go down the escalator, platform 1 or 2. There’s a train every few minutes.

It sounded like a plan. We bought tickets, hurried down to the platform and jumped on the train standing there. And away we went.

After we’d passed through a couple of stations, Pete turned to me and said, “This feels wrong. We seem to be headed out into the country. There aren’t any more big buildings.”

Damn it, he was right. Th carriage didn’t have one of those graphics showing the stations on the line we were travelling along, so we weren’t sure where we were, or where we were going. The next stop was announced in the usual echoing train voice, hard to understand even if you’re a native. But he said something about ‘Centrum” so we jumped off. A nice little lady explained that this was Almere Centrum, and that if we wanted to go to Amsterdam Central we needed to be over on that platform over there, going that way. Okay. We dragged our suitcases through the system of lifts and underpasses. The rail system in the Netherlands is efficient. We waited a few minutes on the platform for the train and then we were off back to Amsterdam. A bit more trundling of suitcases over cobbles and we were booked into the eleventh (and top) floor of the Double Tree with a view over the myriad rail lines in and out of the central station, across the busy Ij waterway to North Amsterdam. So our ten-minute train trip ended up taking around an hour. Still, it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?

The Rijksmuseum

Next morning we took advantage of a drizzly, miserable day to visit the Rijks Museum (the Dutch National Museum). Re-opened a couple of years ago after several years of extensive renovation, it’s an impressive piece of Golden Age architecture in its own right. The collections include art work from what had been Dutch colonies in Asia, as well as the wonderful paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, with the master being Rembrandt and the iconic Night Watch. You’ll also find a fine exhibition of model sailing ships and their weapons, and if you want more of that, a visit to the Maritime Museum is a must.

The art galleries are the thing here. The paintings show life as it was back then, sometimes with stiff formal portraits of ‘important’ men, others showing life in the raw. I know which I prefer, but it’s all part of the history. Paintings were an important part of my research into life in 1629 for my historical ficition novel, To Die a Dry Death.

The great hall in the museum, with the Nightwatch exhibition at the end

Peasants enjoying life

Ship battles were a favourite subject

A model Eastindianman

Chinese horses

Buddha and a pair of temple guardians

Jousting knights

That evening we dined at a Chinese we’d thought wonderful the last time we were here. It didn’t quite measure up to expectations, but that’s always the way, isn’t it?

Evening over Amsterdam