Sunday 31 July 2011

The Circle of Life and a OPAM Finish

Through the week we were saddened to hear of the death of an elderly dear friend.  However, he had been ill for quite some time, so it was a blessing that he is no longer in pain.

Life came full circle when we also received the news on Friday that some other dear friends had their first child.  They have called her Poppy Alexandra, which I think is a really pretty name.

This of course, was just the thing I needed to prompt me to get out my sewing machine after our holiday.  Our little sewing group met yesterday afternoon and I had these whipped up nice and quickly in amongst the chatter.  I love this pattern that Mum has been using for years, and now I use all the time.

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I’m glad to have a little something finished for OPAM, so that I only ended up missing out on June.

Monday 25 July 2011

ABC Tour – Coblenz, Castles, Castles and More Castles, Complicated Mechanical Musical Machines


Another early start, this time for a walking tour of Coblenz (Koblenz).  Like Cologne, it  was founded by the Romans and most of the city was destroyed in WWII.  However, there are still some lovely buildings to be seen.

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There are also lots of quirky sculptures around the city and our wonderful, passionate guide delighted in telling us the stories behind them all.  She really brought the city to life.

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Koblenz did not think that it was of any strategic importance in WWII, but forgot about being at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers.  Their big statue of Kaiser Wilhelm lasted until right at the end of the war, when it was destroyed.  The metal ended up being melted down and only the original head retained.  Finally, in the 1980s, a replica was built and the corner of the rivers is once again complete.

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When we visited Europe in 2007 we rode our bike beside part of the Rhine River.  When we reached Koblenz we didn’t realise that any of these interesting old places existed.  It has been so much better this time around.

The section of the River we rode along was the Rhine Gorge and it is mainly because of the beauty we saw then that we came back this time.  We knew that we wanted to have a better look.  This afternoon we sailed along that stretch of the River and it was funny recognising some of the spots we had seen before. 

There are so many castles and picturesque towns and villages along this section of the River.

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We were given a sheet which identified 27 castles.  No wonder it is called the “Romantic Middle Rhine”.

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The town of Boppard.

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The sundeck was the best place to be for viewing, but unfortunately it was a grey old day and quite cool.  Several passengers went and got blankets to wrap around themselves.

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This section is really pretty, but at the same time is about the most difficult section to navigate.  Not only were there several tourist boats like us, but all the usual commercial river traffic.

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This is the statue of the famous Loreley, who, legend has it, used to sit on a rocky bend of the river and distract sailors with her beauty and singing, which caused them to crash and sink.

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River tolls were collected at many points in the past and a chain was put across the river from this castle on an island.  I took a great photo of Mick on the bike in front of this castle (in the rain) last time we were here.

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When we visited last time we explored Bacharach, which is a walled town and truly lovely.  This time we just sailed past.

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Can you vaguely see an iron basket hanging out from the tower at the front of this castle?  Well, apparently people were put in that basket as punishment.  Let’s hope they weren’t too scared of heights.

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Of course, this is the home of the famous wine growing region.  Lots of vineyards on the sides of the hills.

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Eventually, we left the most scenic part of the river and docked at the town on Rudesheim.  Here we went on another little walking tour and ended up at Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Instruments Museum”.  There was every type of whirdy girdy that you could think of.  This was my favourite.

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Not only was it a pianola, it also had violins.  It is incredible that such detailed music can be played mechanically.

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It was raining while we were in Rudesheim, but we can’t complain as it was the first rain we have had on the trip.  It didn’t stop us having a wander around the streets.  The boys found a cafe for a beer, while the girls explored Christmas Shops.  Imagine being here in December when they have the Christmas fares.

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More pretty buildings.

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Can you believe I took 382 photos today.  I think I got a bit carried away.

Have you also noticed something else?  Remember that I said this was the be the relaxing, wind down week before we go home?  Well I don’t know what happened there!!  To be truthful, it could be a lovely relaxing holiday if we wished to just stay on board and watch the world go by.  However, we have partaken in everything on offer as we don’t want to miss out on anything.

Another big day is planned for tomorrow.

Sunday 24 July 2011

ABC Tour – Cologne Sightseeing, Cathedral


We sailed through the night and this morning we were able to have a bit of a sleep in. We arrived in Cologne late morning. 

We passed quite a lot of industrial areas on the way.

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The sight of the Cathedral and bridges is quite stunning.

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After lunch we were met by local guides who took us on a walking tour of the old city.  We were each given a head set, which linked into the guide’s set.  They are brilliant, as we can all hear without having to get really close and them yell.

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Like most of the main cities along the Rhine, it was founded by the Romans.

The old fish market square was our first taste of the old German architecture.  Just lovely.

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Of course, the Cathedral, or “Dom” is the most imposing building.  90% of Cologne’s old city was destroyed during WWII, but fortunately the Cathedral survived. 

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It dates back to the 13th Century and is considered one of the finest in Europe.  The 510 foot high towers were only added in 1880.

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The beautiful medieval stained glass windows were removed  in WWII and put in safe keeping for the duration, so are now back where they should be.

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There is a major archaeological dig taking place of the old Jewish Quarter of the city.

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In our free time I explored the more modern section of the city.

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Meanwhile, Mick climbed to the top of the Cathedral tower.  It is 503 steps and, as the day was quite warm, he said it was quite hard.

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After such an effort we had to try the local “Kolsch” beer at one of the local beer houses. It is light and refreshing and comes in 200ml glasses.

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Then it was back on board for the daily six course dinner before being entertained by a Belgian string trio.  What a treat. They were rather wonderful, after which we set sail overnight.

ABC Tour – Canal Boat, Commencing the Cruise


There was no sleep in this morning as before we sailed we went on a canal boat tour of Amsterdam.  We were to be ready to depart at 8.15am after a wonderful breakfast.

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The best way to see Amsterdam is from the water.  About a third of The Netherlands is below sea level, so managing water is a major part of their infrastructure. It was great to see the wonderful facades on such a nice day.

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I was surprised at how old these buildings are.  Quite a few are a bit lopsided where they have subsided into the spongy soil.

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Of course there are lots of lovely old bridges as well.

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Many people live in houseboats.  We saw people sitting out on their decks enjoying a leisurely breakfast.  What a life.

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The many modes of transport available.

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Another stunning bridge, although this one is fairly modern.

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This bridge is only just wide enough for the barge.

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There are bicycles wherever you look and the most amazing parking lots for them.  Apparently they are always being stolen and they regularly have to clean lots of them out of the canals.

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We started our sailing just before lunch on the Amsterdam Rhine Canal, which took us to the Rhine River.  The countryside is flat but really pretty.

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We traversed our first lock. 

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How it works is that the water level in the lock is lowered to the same as the canal, they open the doors and the boats going downstream sail out.

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We, along with  several other boats sail in.

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They close the door behind us and fill it up with water to the higher level.  Then they open the front door and we sail out and continue on our way.  This is one of the bigger locks we went through.  Most will be only wide enough for one boat, and some are quite a tight squeeze.  We go through 14 all up.

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After a while we made a turn and were on the Rhine River.  The river is really busy with cargo boats.  They carry all sorts of things – oil, coal, stones, dirt, shipping containers, you name it.

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We enjoyed the afternoon lazing on the sundeck, watching the world go by.

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After our six course dinner we went back up onto the sundeck to see this glorious sunset.  Yes, could definitely get used to this.

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We sail through the night tonight.

ABC Tour – Catching a Cab, Train, Cab, Bus and Boat


We had a bit of a busy day today. It was an early start to get to the train station in time to catch a high speed train to Amsterdam.  We allowed plenty of time, only to find that  our half our cab ride only took 5 minutes on a Sunday morning and that catching a train to another country is easier than catching a suburban train.  You just rock up, walk straight onto the platform and show your ticket at the door.  It is that simple.  It doesn’t seem right.

The train took us through Belguim, to The Netherlands and Amsterdam, where we caught another cab to the port to check in for our next adventure, a one week Rhine River Cruise. How exciting!  This is the finale of our trip and something we have both really  been looking forward to.  It is to be a relaxing wind down week before getting home.

We had plenty of time to spare before sailing, so we took advantage of the optional tour to the Dutch folk village “Zaanse Schans”.

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Here we visited a working windmill that grinds pigments for artists’ paints, a wooden shoe maker’s and a cheese maker’s.

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It was really picturesque.

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The weather was glorious, so there were lots of people out and about.  We were really taken with the gorgeous boats, both at the village and in the harbour at Amsterdam.

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After our tour, we boarded the “Avalon Felicity”, which is to be our home for the next week.  It is only twelve months old and somewhat luxurious. 

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I think we might spend a fair bit of time up here.

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Once we boarded we were introduced to the crew and then there was our first experience of the food.  Dinner consisted of six, yes six, courses.  Surprisingly, we were able to eat it all and didn’t feel overly full.  They were just little tastes. A great way to dine.  I could get used to this.

Generally, everyone is finding their way around, getting used to the routine and meeting the other passengers. 

Tonight we stay berthed in Amsterdam and start the cruise tomorrow.