Thursday, October 31, 2019

Amsterdam, Netherlands

When we awoke we had still not reached the dock on the Amstel River in Amsterdam, our last stop. Once the boat docked we had the entire day to explore the city as we would be spending the night on the boat. We previously visited Amsterdam in 1985 and were looking forward to seeing how it had changed.
The dock was very near the central train station where transportation was available to about anyplace in the city. 
Our tour that morning was aboard a canal cruise boat that could navigate through the narrow canals and under the many low bridges.
The Emerald Sun was being refueled when we started the tour on the river.

Amsterdam is known as the Venice of the North with its 60 plus miles of canals. These canals divide the city into 90 islands.
One of the 1,500 bridges. I thought Pittsburgh was the city of bridges!
Many of the canals are lined with houseboats. Some of them are permanently in place and built on poles. Others look quite modern while some are in disrepair.
One of the most visited places is the Anne Frank House (center). Young Anne and her Jewish family hid in a secret annex from July 1942 until August 1944 when they were arrested by the Gestapo. Anne and her family where placed in a concentration camp where they died. Her father Otto survived and found her diary when he returned and had it published in 1947. The book has been translated into 60 languages. We did not tour the house.
Westerkerk - West Church - is one of the city's outstanding examples of Renaissance architecture. Anne Frank mentioned the sound of the church bells in her diary. 
This picture says it all about Amsterdam: canals, bridges, bikes, trees and beautiful houses.
Most of the buildings lean forward a bit and have a hook at the top. The hook is used to lift furniture into the upper floors, so the lean keeps the things from hitting the building.
Just like streets in cities, some canals are wide major thoroughfares while others are like small back alleys. 
Beautiful buildings on the canal. In Amsterdam, buildings were taxed by their width, so some had narrow fronts and were wider in the back. One thing that makes the city so beautiful is that almost all the buildings are only three or four stories tall. 
Every canal (street) is different. On this one, the buildings on the left have a narrow pedestrian and bicycle way while the ones on the right go right down to the water. Originally, the buildings would have been warehouses where boats could unload their goods directly from the canal.
One of the more interesting buildings is the NEMO Science Museum that was built in 1997. The ship like building sure is appropriate for this city with boats and ships of every size on the river and canals.
After the boat tour we had the rest of the day to check out the city on our own. Some people did museums, some just relaxed on board after a busy week and a few of us did a walking tour for an up close look of the beautiful city.
Yes, you can get anything cannabis in the city. Sometimes you just need to be standing in the right place and breathe. A couple people bought some cannabis candy and, after realizing they could not bring it into the states, shared it with us.  
We strolled along the Nieuwendijk, a narrow street with all kinds of shops, many of which you could find in any American city. Almost all the signs in the stores were in English. This is the Herni Willig cheese store.
Not only can you buy cheese, they show you how they make it. Nothing like being able to buy cheese from a store that dates all the way back to 1974:) 
The Royal Palace in Damplein Square was built in the 1600's as the Town Hall. It is one of three palaces that is available to the royal family of Netherlands.
The National Monument was dedicated in 1956 to honor those who died in WWII and other wars. A Remembrance of the Dead is held here each May 4th.  
There once was a lady who lived in a shoe, wooden you like to live there too?
The city has over 7,000 classic buildings, many dating back to the 16th to 18th centuries. Their wealth came from the merchant class that brought products from around the world to Europe.
This looks like a job I did years ago.  Many of the buildings have shifted because they are built on wooden pilings that are rotting away.
It is really hard to take a bad picture as everywhere you look it is picturesque with the buildings and church towers. 
Rick, Denise, Mary, Ken, Nanc, Anne Marie and Gail. As you can see by the sign we were in "the district," that narrow alley where you can see working ladies.
Like I said, most of the signs are written in English including this no pee warning.
This is one thing that hasn't changed.  While you can be fined for peeing on the street, you can step into these on street loos and relieve yourself. I failed to get a picture so I used this one from our 1985 visit.  
There are many different kinds of tour boats in the city including ones that are floating bars. Most of the restaurants and bars have outdoor seating.
Probably the number one means of transportation in Amsterdam is by bicycle. There are so many they have there own totally separate road and traffic signal system. You learn quickly you may get run over if you encroach on their roads.  
Many people dock their small pleasure boats on the canal in front of their homes. Of course if you use the canals, your boat can't be very high.
There were all kinds of ships and boats on the Amstel River. There were ferry boats, water taxis, river barges, big ocean going ships and even what looks like could be a pirate ship.  
I would say that overall the city has changed very little since our last visit. I guess when you realize you live in such a beautiful place you should leave well enough alone. We had a fun time with everyone from WashPA on the cruise:  left to right (seated) Nanc, Becky, Gail, Anne Marie and Sharon; (standing) Bobbie Jo, Dick, John, Jim, Ron, Tim, Ken, Mary, Tim and Denise.

This was our first experience touring on a river cruise and we all agreed it is a wonderful way to go. Unlike a coach tour, once you are on board there is no packing and unpacking as you travel. The service on board was excellent, the food was excellent and the tours were all first class. While river cruises are more expensive than ocean cruises, when you consider all that is included, it is well worth it. There sure are other cruises we would be interested in taking.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Cologne, Germany

When we awoke after our overnight trip down the Rhine from Cochem, we were docked in Cologne. The boat was docked across the river from the downtown, so we met our guide and took a bus to Dom Platz.
Our view from the boat of the Cologne Cathedral and the Rathaus (city hall).
Construction of the cathedral began in 1243 after the 818 "Old Cathedral" burned. That period of construction stopped in 1473 after enough of the building was completed so it could be used. At that point the towers only went up to the belfry.
After years of little or no work, construction started again in 1842 and was completed in 1880 meaning it took 632 years to build.
Before the work restarted in 1843, the original plans had been found so they were able to make the new construction blend in with what had been done centuries before. When it was completed, the West facade was the largest of any building in the world. The color of the stone is dark because of the industrial pollution.
The 1800's construction raised the two towers to 515 feet, although one is 6 cm shorter than the other. At that time it was the tallest structure in the world for four years until the Washington Monument was finished in 1884. While these towers were taller, the people of Strasbourg claimed their cathedral was the tallest that was constructed without modern tools and materials. Metal was used in the towers and for the roof beams in the 1800's work. 
At 142 feet high, the cathedral has the highest height to width ratio of any Gothic cathedral. It is almost impossible to understand how huge the cathedral is until you realize it can seat 20,000 people.  
The Lamentation Window, installed in 1847, shows the Last Supper at the top, the death of Jesus in the middle and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on the bottom.
The newest stained glass window was installed in 2007. It was designed by Cologne artist Gerhard Richter. He used 11,200 same sized pieces of colored glass that look like pixels to make the 1,184 square foot window. That window had been clear glass ever since the original was shattered by WWII bombs. 
Another reason they built the cathedral was to have an appropriate place to display their newly acquired relics, the remains of the Magi - the three kings. Although I question that story, it is a beautiful golden shrine.
The towering vaulted ceiling of the transept. Some of these were damaged during the war. 
The back of the cathedral, which was the first part completed. While Cologne was heavily damaged by Allied bombing during the war, the church was only directly hit 14 times and the soaring towers survived. The word was, Allied pilots were not allowed to bomb the cathedral because they used the towers to align their targets. I have always considered Gothic cathedrals some of the most beautiful buildings in the world and Cologne sure lives up to those expectations.
There are several chalk artists doing drawings on the plaza everyday.  In the evening they are washed away for the next days works.
On the plaza near the cathedral is The German-Roman Museum. When digging for an air-raid shelter in 1941, they uncovered this beautifully preserved mosaic tile floor in what had been a Roman traders villa.
Outside the museum you can literally step back in time and walk on the old stones of the Roman road.
On the other side of the plaza is an arch that was the entrance through the wall that the Romans built for protection.
The Alter Karkt - Market Square. Like much of the city, most of the buildings were built or rebuilt after WWII so there are very few old structures.
In Cologne they call Carnival the fifth season. The season starts at 11 minutes after the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. Except for a break during Advent and Christmas it continues to the beginning of Lent. The "crazy days" start on Fat Thursday ending on Ash Wednesday. For the festivities they elect a maiden, prince and peasant who dress like these two. Sure sounds like a fun time to me. 
The statue in the square is a tribute to Jan von Werth, a German soldier who became a noble during the Thirty Years War.  
The Gothic style tower of the Rathaus (city hall) was built by the guilds in the early 1400's. It was severely damaged during WWII but was rebuilt in the old Gothic style.
All these people are waiting their turn to get married in city hall. Our guide told us there are many weddings because there are so many divorces in Germany.
Here are Nanc and I with Tunnes and Schal, two famous residents of Cologne. Tunnes is kind of a country bumpkin, while Schal is a city slicker. Rubbing Tunnes' nose while holding Schal's hand is said to bring good luck and wealth.
The dry fountain statue in the Fish Market would normally have the fish in the water while the women on the top wait to sell their fish.
The promenade along the Rhine with the towers of the cathedral dominating the sky as they do the city. 
The Holocaust Memorial in Cologne is a simple tribute to those who perished under the rule of the Nazis. The single rail represents the railroads that were used to transport the Jewish people to the concentration camps. The six segments of the tower represent the 6,000,000 people who were put to death. It is strange there is no sign or information about the memorial at the site. 
The train station is just across the street from the cathedral which explains why it was hit those 14 times by bombs. Today more than 1,200 trains a day pass through the station. The European public transportation system has it all over what we have here in the US.
You cannot be in Germany and not check out a beer hall. We went to Gaffel Brewery for a kolsch beer and a pretzel.
Nanc, Jim, Rick and Denise enjoy a (several) cold one. When you get a beer here it is served in these small glasses. If they see your glass is empty, another quickly takes its place. The only way to stop them is to put your coaster on the top of your empty glass. Neat way to do it so your beer never gets warm (not that it is ever a problem for me). Even Nanc enjoyed a couple cold ones. 
We headed back to the boat and departed at 3:00 in the afternoon, as it was a long trip from Cologne to our last stop in Amsterdam. Here is one last look at the cathedral.
 This part of the Rhine had a lot of industry along the shore and was not very scenic. Oh well, I hit the pool and watched the passing scene while taking a swim. Not a bad way to travel.