Saturday, September 30, 2017

People Are Real

When traveling there are usually adventures, some rewarding and some that are annoying verging on the ugly. I am of the belief that travel keeps a life in perspective and in technicolor. Without travel you have a life of monotony and lots of grayness except for an emergency or miracle or two.  Yes, life tests you but if there is little testing of beliefs, testing of bravery, testing of what is trueness, that is a life unearned.  Travel is better when leaving a safe place, and even a journey to a new town down the road can be a learning experience if one keeps their eyes open.

Of course, there are those who are afraid of having to negotiate with someone who does not speak their language, or who speaks it with a thick accent.  There are those who do not like being at the corner of a street unable to read any of the signs and being watched by the locals who sit on their benches with blank emotion in their eyes.  There are those who are put off by peculiar food smells and certainly repulsed by bizarre-looking foods.  Screw your courage to the sticking place, my friend, because this is not an us and them situation.

I consider myself an introvert based on all the tests I have taken and the literature I have read.   Having written this, I am also pretty outgoing on travel.  I am addicted to answers and always asking questions from the locals and other strangers as I suck up all of the newness of where I am.  

I even ask questions of the tourists, because they have their own funny stories.  My ice-breaker is using photography.  Those selfies usually lend themselves to an offer so that both parties can be in the photo or so the person can pose.  Recently while in Amsterdam and walking through their city park, which most tourists miss, I came across a lovely young woman with a bouquet of flowers in her arms using her phone to take a photo of herself with a large chestnut tree in the background.  A tree...a simple tree to frame her.  Of course, I immediately offered to take her picture for her and used a larger framing that would truly lend perspective to her tiny body and the monstrous tree.

As we later talked, she asked if she could take a photo of my husband and me which we agreed.  She explained she was from Turkey.  She was traveling alone and had been traveling for 20 days.  She was heading home the next day.  She was a chemical engineer and had just graduated and was going to start a new job in her homeland.  Now the cynics would remind me to check my purse and pockets when she left and other cynics would say she was something other than a chemical engineer and was just lying to impress or deceive us.  But I knew she was real.  Most people are real.  You have to believe that the globe is full of honest, hard-working and generous people or why live?  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Wrap-up

While I took over one thousand photos...OK closer to two thousand...I deleted at least 20%. ( I saw that eye-roll.)  I have backed up the rest of them for memories and so that my children have something to throw out when I die. This last post is just a quick look at who got us there.  In these times I am very aware of the importance of work, economic stability, and international relations.  I almost always find a reason to admire those that give it their all in work that is demanding and that keeps them away from their loved ones.

The crew of our ship was over the top in friendliness and assistance, as they must be in such a competitive industry. They certainly hear the same questions from old people day after day regarding the complicated schedule, and still, they fail to lose their patience. The Captain, who certainly kept to himself, was from Germany and amazing at being able to dock and maneuver through the locks with almost no jerky movement that you would notice. In the photo below, he is turning a very small wheel (palm size) that adjusts thrusters and moves us every so lightly toward the shoreline to dock.  He turns just degrees!

The lower level crew that handle the rest of the ship usually come from the Baltic states where jobs are few and skills are high.  Their ability to speak English is a premium for these jobs.

At least the maintenance can be done in an open-air office.  These ships are amazing in their complexity.

The crew that deals with the passengers are usually from the countries that the ship passes through. Germany, Nederlands, and France were the homelands of our shipmates.  When I asked they said they usually have 8 weeks on and one week off.

Above a toast with Aquavit to the success of our voyage, by the Hotel Manager and the Chef. There is no staggard seating for dinner, but they managed to mass produce a decent meal with variety!

Some of the crew were multitalented and sang and played instruments. (It was not as hoaky as it may look in this photo!)

And the Cruise Director was also super outgoing, full of humor, full of the double entendre, and a good sport...she only wore this costume on the last night and looked professional most of the rest of the trip.

The serving and cleaning crew were mostly from the Philippines and a long way from home.  

I took the photo below in a haze as my cold was beginning and while we were waiting for our shuttle to the airport.  We were almost the last to leave the ship.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Americans who go to Europe become enthralled with the timber-framed houses, ancient stone castles, and old brick architecture that claims the history of the country. But, while in Amsterdam, I became intrigued by the edgy more modern architecture. Perhaps it is because I live in the country and rarely see cities or have time to walk about when I visit them.

All of the pictures below were taken in Amsterdam...just Amsterdam.  There are some really dramatic modern buildings in other parts of Europe, but I did not get a chance to see those so I will share these.

Above is the ceiling as you enter the Van Gogh Museum which was remodeled just a few years ago.  (I personally feel they totally failed on the sound suppression as the high floors get the brunt of the noise below in the open areas!)

Below is another museum...I think it was a marine museum.

My favorite is to try and capture a library or two!  I wish I had had time to go inside.

Now for some more "edgy" buildings.

I think this above is a hotel?

Lots of buildings on stilts, maybe due to the fact that Amsterdam is below sea level.

Man seems to be getting smarter about environmental building, privacy in cities, affordability, and durability.  I wish I had time to study the history of each of these projects and what the people thought after they were built.

(PostScript to Granny... I just did not find the time to do the Wednesday challenge...I refuse to admit that the word list was a bit terrifying.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Of Course There Were Castles

The major point of moving down the mid-Rhine region of Europe on a riverboat cruise is the ancient castles that dot the hillsides. Some of the castles are abandoned and in ruins, others are privately owned---one by a Japanese man who paid 25 million Euro(!), and others have been turned into hotels, perhaps charging prices not reflective of their service(?)...some even with parking at the top of the hill!

Most of the days were overcast and trying to get good photos of the castles without the definition of sunshine was a challenge.

They were all sizes and shapes.

Seeing castles from a cruising river ship is certainly the lazy way to experience the history and architecture, but I was able to visit a few castles. They require walking up many stone steps and then navigating lots of cobbles and slate and rock beds. People trip and fall all the time as they look away for a second from their foot placement.  The photo below was the only one I could find where I captured the uneven terrain.  You can see the threshold was smooth, but further in, it was treacherous!

"To reach my bed, I have 158 steps to climb, explained Hermann Hecher, the genial owner of the Burg Reinstein, near Bingen. " And it's really terrible when I forget something. Because then I have to go all the way back down and up again!"  Taken from Castles in the Air, A Journey Down the Rhine.  Hecher, a former opera singer, purchased his castle from Prinzessin Barbara von Hessen und Rhein, Herzogin von Mecklenburg, for the sum of 360,000 Deutschmarks---whatever that translates to today.

This one above is definitely a hotel.  I read that nearly all the castles on the mid-Rhine are not medieval castles, but nineteenth-century reconstructions of medieval castles.  "Most were built in the 13th and 14th centuries to collect customs duties for the Holy Roman Emperor.  Seeing what a good business it was, so-called Raubritter or Robber Barons, build their own castles to get a piece of the action."  This was an area of Jewish merchants and they were especially preyed upon.  By the end of the 17th century, most castles had been destroyed in feuds and wars.  Today more than 60 castles remain.

The stories from this area are haunting like the Grimm Brothers horror tales and romantic like words that were written by Bryon and Shelley.

Die Pfalz constructed by King Ludwig
This castle in the photo above was known for breaking up the pack ice that came down the river in the spring.

Castle maintenance and repair is not for the faint of heart.  The government sometimes will provide a grant or loan, but like agro-tourism, they make money by putting on falconry shows, having butterfly houses, and renting out for weddings.

And as you can see from these photos wine is an important crop.  It is a passion with the Germans and I learned for the first time that Reisling can be dry.  The slate stone upon which the castles are built is important in absorbing the heat of the sun which is important to the vines growing at the upper limit of this wine growing area.  I did not go on a wine-tasting because they are usually unrewarding to me.  If I ever return I will pay for a private tour, which is better.

Yes, the grape harvesting on these steep hillsides is still done by hand, but fewer and fewer are willing to work that hard and small wineries appear to be closing.

Well, thanks for coming along the river with me.  By the way, do you have a favorite castle?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Kicking off the ancient dust on my shoes

Back from my ten-day trip starting in Amsterdam and moving to Kinderdijk, to Cologne, to Koblenz, to Heidelberg, to Strasbourg to Breisach and ending briefly in Basel, Switzerland.

Lots of food and wine, lots of tours of cathedrals, museums, cultural spots and quaint medieval structures. This type of thing always reminds me of how naive Americans are to think that the history of our country is weighty in time. We are just babes in the woods of civilization.

Amsterdam is a high-energy city with a young population.  They have a population of close to one million and at least 1.8 million bikes.  While they have an excellent tram and bus system, the streets are cobbled in places and narrow in others with limited car parking.  Most bike owners have "backup" bikes to use when their bike gets stolen.  There is a whole black market where a stolen bike can be purchased to replace your stolen bike.  The police offer no real assistance as this seems to be too routine to attempt to enforce.

I did wonder how on earth a tired worker found his bike at the end of the day!  

We were cautioned about kami-kazi bike riders many times as we got in the habit of looking both ways when crossing streets.

Amsterdam is a very liberal city as most people know.  We accidentally walked around the red-light-district, but the only way one would recognize it in the daytime was the pornographic postcards and the fluorescent condom displays in some windows.  Night time is when the curtains are drawn open and women advertise, and we were tucked safely back in our hotel rooms by then.

The flower market sells cannabis seeds and there are pot-pubs to kick back and relax.  These areas were obvious by the many cigarette butts in front of the sidewalks the next day.

The city itself is very safe and lovely with surprisingly clean canals.  We did take a canal ride, but the walks were more rewarding.

We have been home for days, but I caught a cold two days before our flight home and while I managed to hold it together for the 7.5 hour flight, I completely collapsed upon our return and have been in bed being lazy for the last three or four days...what day is it anyway?  I actually felt sorrier for the Ukrainian of over 6 feet who had to sit next to me in the window seat in pretzel formation listening to my sniffling!  I hope his business trip was healthy!

Friday, September 01, 2017

On The First Day

There is little to calm the spirit more than a small child's enthusiasm and laughter for things that become somewhat routine to an elder. My grandson is six and has a mind interested in many things. On the first day of his week long visit, we had been charged with looking for a new bike as he had outgrown the one from last year. We are lucky to have a small bicycle shop in town and he found a lime green/red racing stripe bike that just suited his needs. It even had hand brakes! Something new for him to try.  The photo is filtered to hide faces a bit.

Then we had to plan dinner as it was late in the day.

First, we had to check the crab traps to see if that was what we were having!

What fun hearing him squeal when the traps had crabs.

We ended up with 9 medium sized crabs which made enough for the three of us!

Back up the hill to start cooking.