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Rhine - Day Eight - How big is your bomb hole? PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 03 October 2013 20:40

Started the day docked at Cologne. Interesting place – I’m actually sitting on the upper deck of the ship, writing this while looking over the riverfront. Anyway, we only had a half day here, so we got the usual walk through tour. The funny thing I’m noticing is that each of the guides tell us how pulverized the city center was in World War Two. That’s apparently a common theme here. And yes, I feel bad about the destruction and war is hell, but then again, I’ve seen bomb damage in London. “If you don’t want to lose your Ritz, don’t do the Blitz”, or words to that effect, I suppose.

Anyway, the lady giving our tour gave us a back-at-the-dock time of 12:30pm, which was actually a little too soon. After JB and I checked out the very nice Roman Museum of early Cologne, we had lunch at a nice café, a lunch partially stressed with me clockwatching it. We ate a little faster than we would have liked and bolted back to the ship, only to find it still here. Which is nice – I’m sure if we’d lounged through lunch, we’d have found the boat gone and ourselves way up the river without a tour ship. Happy endings, I suppose.

Now JB has joined me topside and we’re waiting for another ship to pull clear so we can cast off. It’s a bit breezy but not bad.

 

New and old (the old likely dropped in WW2)I’ll take that back. Once the ship got rolling, once the wind started washing over the bow, the other tourists vanished like, well, leaves before the storm. I hung tough topside out of pride until my teeth started to chatter. Finally I came below deck and found JB in the lounge. Hung out, had coffee and cake at four, read for a while and watched the river go by.

I’ll mention we’re just about out of Rhine. Shit.

 

And so tonight we sat with our friends on the final night of the trip (though we will remain on board for an additional night and probably stay in the same hotel with one couple for the next few days). Nice tight dinner (the wine flowed) and afterwards, a crew talent show (silly but honest). Then some crazy dancing. I’m still smiling.

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Last Updated on Friday, 04 October 2013 19:14
 
Rhine - Interlude PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 02 October 2013 21:24

Sometimes so much happens that you need to put in a side chapter to explain other details of the tour. A good writer shouldn’t have to do that, and can carry it in a sentence or two. So here’s my interlude.

Thursday night was interesting. After a long dinner created by a local chef (I had some sort of beef patty things that I ended up literally licking the plate over), we retired to the lounge. There, a local trio of musicians (two guitarists and a violinist) played tunes classical and otherwise for us. I’ll say they were good, since I drowsily listened to them with a soppy smile on my face yet didn’t fall asleep, no mean feat given the gallons of wine aboard.

As the ship’s director had announced we’d be going under the Remagen Bridge (where the allies got their foothold over the Rhine, and which collapsed after ten days of desperate attempts by the Nazis to drop it). Canadian Joe said he’d be interested in going up. So the director rang us up at 12:10am and we left our warm beds to troop upstairs and meet with another three other history buffs/masochists on the bow.

It was dizzily and dark and cold, just a perfect night to appreciate your cabin. We droned down the river between dark banks, the Rhine trains rattling past in the dark. Then the ship’s spotlight flashed out, searching for the block tower, all that’s left of the structure. We looked and looked and finally saw it – I’d already set my camera to “nighttime landscape” shutter speed (since they didn’t have a “hopeless rainy rolling driveby at 30 mph” shutter speed. I managed to get a ghostly (i.e. bad) image of the thing.

A note of our companions. As hinted here and there, we’ve struck up a casual friendship with two Canadian couples. They are very nice (and smile charmingly when I get into my political/social rants (not hard considering America just suffered another manic-with-a-gun moment)).

Ken, Joyce, Marilyn, Joe and JB in a rainy beerhall

So we have Ken, an older fellow with a wry sense of humor and a no-nonsense attitude, the sort of guy who will cuss up a storm yet give you a slap with his hat when you forget yours inside a church.

And his wife Marilyn, a very sweet lady with the saddest little smile, who can hold her own with me when it comes to tossing did-you-read titles. I’ll be reading and reviewing some of her recommendations in the coming weeks.

Then the other couple – my buddy Joe, a salt-n-peppery fellow. He’s the nicest guy, I respect him in every way, and see much of myself in him (and since I drive him nuts, he’ll recognize the insult for what it is). Seriously, Joe was up on the bow with us for the Remagen Bridge episode, looking like a drowned river elf in his hoodie jacket.

And then Joyce his wife, a very nice lady who grew up on a farm and has a pragmatic sense of humor (after all, she married Joe). But I like her – she’s the one who got me up on the dance floor the other night where we acted like dancing fools and had a great time!

So thanks for traveling with us, guys! We had a great time sharing our journey with you.

And now, on with the travelog!

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Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2013 20:50
 
Rhine - Day Seven - Shooting the Gorge PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 01 October 2013 17:17

Pulled back the blinds and looked out the next morning. First pleasant surprise: the tour boat locked to our side (with neighbors as close as a Brooklyn tenement) was gone. Second pleasant surprise: the clouds were gone too.

We went up on deck as the crew cast off, the ship pivoting neatly in the channel and easing into the current. It was cold and windy (i.e. even more cold) with a wet spitty rain lashing at us. But we were all excited – the weather was better than yesterday (i.e. we could see the Rudesheim Mountains) and we were looking forward to the show – the Rhine River Gorge!

And what a show. The mountains slowly rose around us, squeezing the Rhine into a ship-clogged channel. Along both banks, two double-ribbons of railroad main line, with trains rushing past in an endless precession. And on every craggy ridge, another pepperbox castle.

On the left... no, my left!!!I was really stunned by this. I shot pictures, walking from port to starboard, bow to stern, snap snap snap. Eventually JB got too cold and went below. The Canadians followed. As time progressed, the river became lazier, the banks broader (though wineries climbed the broad faced hills). But the sun heated the valley. I wasn’t shooting as many shots now, just a set of curiosities and mood images. Now that I had the topside deck pretty much to myself, I strolled the promenade, just enjoying the wild beauty.

Eventually we docked in Koblenz, the middle of three ships (docking space is limited here, it seems). We went into town for a walk through with a guide, learning all sorts of odd little things. When we were released we went for a longer loop with the Canadians. Sat in a café on the edge of the tourist zone and had some milk shakes (a little more watery than stateside). Saw a model railroad shop but everyone was a little too eager to continue for any sort of a browse – I rather regret that, but that’s life. So now we’re back at the ship, resting up before dinner (JB is resting. I’m typing).

Slap on your aftershave. Tomorrow is Cologne!

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 October 2013 21:39
 
Rhine - Day Six - Wet Ink and Player Pianos PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 30 September 2013 18:28

Woke up in Mainz this morning with more water above the boat than below it – gray skies and driving rain. Still. JB and I went out and joined the walking tour of the old city. Saw all sorts of old, wet buildings and got the idea that this city has been pummeled by everyone from the Visigoths to the American Air Force. It’s an odd collection of the medieval, the renaissance, all the way up to post-modern. I’d like to see the city and its hills sometime when it’s not sleeting down rain.

The things I'll do to get into print!Then we visited the Gutenberg museum for one of the most interesting displays I’ve ever seen. Oddly, it was our guide Andrea (a wiry German lady) who slipped into an apron and showed us how the printing press operated. She explained how the type pieces go into the frame (and how they use an indexed rib along the top so they can visually confirm that all the characters are orientated correctly and of the same font). She even cast a type piece while we watched so we could see how it was done. And then she asked for a volunteer. Suspecting what this was for, I tossed up a hand. Turned out I got to help her work the press and “print” a document. It was fun, a real experience for a writer. Then, when it was all over, she rolled up my bible sheet and gave it to me. I’m going to have to frame it – so cool. I was still so jazzed that I bought a little replica of a printing press to keep at home.

Perfect house for Her, and look at the Man Cave!After lunch and a little quiet time, and after the boat had run further downriver, we arrived at Rudesheim. It was still drizzly, but fine enough to go on a tour of Sigfried’s Mechanical Musical Instruments Museum. Okay, so this was a collection of automated machines, player pianos, gramophones, even chaotic music boxes. It was really a lot of fun in a steampunky sort of way. Afterwards we had a coffee tasting at the Rudesheimer Schloss. This was coffee that started with booze in a cup, lit on fire, doused with coffee and then runway-foamed with whipped cream. Strange but really good. Afterwards, JB and I with our two Canadian couples wandered the town, drinking this and looking at that. Finally we returned to the ship only to find that dinner was pretty lame. So back into town, for some high-priced (but stunningly good) German food (JB and I even found an open ice cream shop afterwards). Then back to the ship, where we hung out in the lounge (and even did a little dancing) until beddy-bye time.

Yes, quite the night. Now we look north to the picturesque gorge and pray for sunshine.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 October 2013 17:28
 
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