Already in Europe at the end of my British Isles cruise with Ted, I flew over to Amsterdam to meet Boris for cruise number two. This is a river cruise on the Rhine. I first saw this itinerary when we looked at holiday market river cruises. After my winter experience of having to jump up and go outside to take a photo and run back in (due to outside temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, -7 Celsius), I decided we should try this cruise in the summer when I could sit outside on the sun deck and watch the castles on either side of the Rhine River.
My plane from Edinburgh was late getting in, so I ended up not going into town and just stayed at the airport hotel. The Sherton was very convenient; it was connected to the terminal entrance hall. There were plenty of places to eat and I can just walk right over in the morning and meet Boris at the baggage claim exit. He is flying in overnight. Transfers from the airport to the ship are included in our cruise ticket price.
After a night’s sleep, the good news is that I could start this trip without jet lag. The bad news, Boris was jet-lagged. When we got to the ship he wasn’t really interested in touring Amsterdam, even though it was just a 15 minute walk to the heart of the city. I had an early lunch on the ship and intended to go into town on my own. I started to rain so Boris said he would just rest a bit and would go with me when the rain stopped. Unfortunately it just got worse. After our British Isles Cruise, I was tired of touring in the rain so we waited. About the time the rain ended, we were told the rooms were ready (over an hour early) so we went and unpacked. Well I unpacked; Boris finally had a bed and fell asleep quickly.
About 3 pm the sun came out and I decided to tour a little before dinner. Reviewing the daily program to see what time I needed to back I realized we actually had a 3:30 call back to the ship for a 4 pm departure. So much for touring Amsterdam. Instead I opened our very cool push-button window and almost got hit by a fishing line that was being cast. After being told that yes, the fishing was pretty good from this dock, I closed the window and decided to open it when the boat wasn’t tied up.
After the muster drill and the itinerary orientation, we had dinner with a couple from Adelaide, Australia that we had met on the bus from the airport. Our waiter recognized Boris from one of our other cruises (he can be quite demanding so I am not surprised he was remembered). It was an early night for us since Boris was tired. Our first stop is Cologne, Germany recognizable for the personal fragrance items that were invented here in 1709 and the Cathedral (which Boris has always wanted to see).
We actually made what the cruise line calls a technical stop in Zons, Germany. We got off the boat here early afternoon to board buses for Cologne. The boat will arrive in Cologne about 5 pm. You could opt to stay on the boat if you don’t want to participate in the city and Cathedral tour. Some of Zons’ medieval walls are still standing. It originated as a toll stop on the Rhine. The big news in town today was that a Mosque was under construction there. Zons is a popular weekend stop for picnickers.
As we were leaving Zons, the guide pointed out rental units. Most Germans prefer to rent because the laws favor renters and make it very difficult to remove a tenant. To get them out, you have to should that you need the property for yourself.
There is farming in the region, but the government regulates what your can grow. There is lots of corn production, not because the people eat corn-it is fed to their livestock-but to prevent high corn imports from the USA. We did see some beautiful flower fields where you could go in a pick your own flowers; payment is on the honor system.
Driving into Cologne, we were on the autobahn for a short period of time. There are no speed limits on the German freeways. Traffic mass dictates the speed. Traditionally this is a coal producing region. A chemical belt surrounds the city of Cologne.
18 million people, about 1/4 of the German population,live in this area of the country, more than the entirety of Eastern Germany before unification. Cologne is the 4th largest city in Germany. During its Golden Age, Cologne was the largest city in Northern Europe. Cologne had 100 churches, 18 of which remain today. It is an important Roman Catholic City; its Archbishop is a Cardinal.
In 1910, the city walls were pulled down and a green belt made around the city. Today there are also small hills, growth over the rumble of WWII that was collected here. 70% of the city (90% of the inner city) buildings were destroyed during WWII. There are more ruins of the Roman Walls near the center of the city, as they were never pulled down. They continue to be discovered.
Newlyweds leaving city hall in Cologne, Germany.
Upon arrival we took buses to the Cathedral for our guided tour (included in the price on Uniworld River Cruises). Cologne’s Chinatown is right next to the Cathedral. We had a great guide, Markus; he was very funny. Because they limit the number of guided tours through the Cathedral at any given time, we did a tour around the city center first. My first observation was that the most popular hair style for young German men (and some older ones too) is partly shaved with full and long on top raised to heights that defy gravity.
We saw some Roman ruins, the elf fountain, the original site for cologne fragrance, and the statute-covered town hall. It was raining, so I am not sure if the tour was abbreviated for that reason or there just wasn’t that much to see. The city was heavily bombed during WWII, which could explain the limited sites as well as some of the functional, but highly unattractive buildings that we saw.
After the brief (or abbreviated) city tour, we finally made it to the Cathedral. The Cologne Cathedral was hit by 14 arial bombs during WWII, but survived. Much of the stained glass had been removed and the reconstruction shows various styles of glass as it was replaced over time. The Cathedral remains in a constant state of repair because of weather, pollution, and reconstruction. The Cathedral is a World Heritage site and Germany’s most-visited monument with a average of 20,000 visitors a day.
The Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic Church in Northern Europe. With its twins spires, it has the largest facade of any church in the world. Construction began in 1248 and halted in 1473, not beginning again until the 19th century. Construction was completed in 1880. Noteworthy is the fact that the construction never deviated from the original plans. The Cathedral holds the reliquary of the three kings or magi, perhaps the primary reason it attracted so many pilgrims and continues to attract visitors today.
After our Cathedral visit, our guide pointed out a few other places for us to visit including Starbucks with its no-pay restroom, in contrast to most public toilets where the “pee dragon” (attendant) collects the fee. Next we snaked through the narrow streets to reach the waterfront. From here he pointed the way back to our ship. In the shadow of Great Saint Martin Church, we stopped in a pub and sat outside while Boris tried the local beer and a pretzel. It was an excellent pretzel; we ordered another. Boris didn’t want to share.
After our break we strolled back to our ship along the waterfront. We were not the only River Boat in Cologne that day. We didn’t see that much to do in the city, so after dinner we stayed aboard. Boris is still jet-lagged so he fell asleep early.
The SS Antoinette is one of three “superships” that Uniworld has. This is the first of the three, launched in 2011. It is a longer ship where the standard facilities-lounge and dining room-are just a little bit bigger. There is also a cinema that shows three movies a day and a covered swimming pool (with a wide back door that can be opened, although generally it is closed during sailing due to engine noise). Our “juliet balcony” room has a wonderful feature, the window. It is almost the complete width of the room and can be raised or lowered by a one touch button (or stopped during at a midpoint). The window opens to half the height of the room.
Tonight I enjoyed that window, opening it and the curtains as we sailed down the river Rhine, leaving Cologne. There was a lovely view of the Cathedral, all lit up at night. Further down the river, I saw some really architecturally interesting buildings that seemed to defy gravity. I later identified them as the Kranhaus (“Crane House” in reference to the harbor cranes used to load or off load ship cargo) buildings. Two appeared to be commercial buildings and one looked like a residential building. (I confirmed I was correct later.) Each are 17 stories and shaped like an upside down “L”.
Tomorrow on our southwardly journey on the Rhine, we reach the German Corner.