Day 4: Farewell, Amsterdam—Hello, River Rhine

Sailing out of Amsterdam along a canal, once we left the city, the countryside looked exactly like Dutch landscape paintings. The canals are lined with poplar trees. Beyond the trees, there were rich pastures with happy-looking cows and sheep, and small towns with pretty houses.

Before long, we entered the Rhine River through a lock. The artificial banks disappeared to be replaced by sandy beaches, most of which were unoccupied in the bright evening light. Mile upon mile of empty beaches, punctuated occasionally by a small town. I did see one fellow fishing from the beach, and later spotted a family picnicking on the sand.

We sailed all night. This is a lovely way to travel. The boat is quiet and remarkably stable. The slight rocking is soothing, and I slept through the night without waking.

In the morning, we were in Germany. No muss. No fuss. No dragging my bags across an airport. No customs or lines to wait in. No security demanding that we take our shoes off.

We had no excursions until we reached our destination for today, Cologne (Köln). So breakfast was leisurely. I went to the lounge afterwards and was greeted by Tobor (yes, that is his name) with a cup of hot chocolate with brandy in it. This seemed very civilized, so I accepted it. The buffet for breakfast and lunch offers everything anyone could possibly want, and then some, all well-prepared—even the steam table dishes. But you can get custom omelets and eggs.

We watched them dock the boat in Cologne—a lengthy process. The sailors didn’t wear gloves to handle the long cables and ropes involved. They must have palms of steel by this time.

Our guide, who was quite funny, walked us to the cathedral, talking about the local history, the beer, the town’s rivalry with Dusseldorf, the local goodies, etc. He spent far more time talking about how the town recognizes its role in the Holocaust and the demise of the town’s Jewish population. There are brass markers called stumblestones fixed in the street outside houses where on e lived people who were taken away by the Nazis, with the names of the deceased. The brick plaza outside and above the philharmonic hall is paved with 6 million bricks in remembrance of the Jews, and through it runs a single rail headed east, the direction of the concentration camps, which ends at a sculpture of a smokestack. They have guards to keep people from walking over the bricks during performances because the architect designed it such that people in the hall below can hear footsteps above—because the dead can still hear us. I am impressed that Germany doesn’t whitewash its past, but instead has tried to remind us so that it will never happen again.

The plaza of 6 million bricks of remembrance.

The cathedral at Cologne is amazing. It was built of white limestone. Industrial pollution has chemically changed it so that it appears covered in soot. Our guide explained that it cannot be cleaned. They have stonemasons working full time replicating every inch in new white limestone to replace the old. Some parts gleam white in contrast to the filthy-looking old stone. I am amazed that they are doing this, and I think being a stonemason here is a job guaranteed for life.

The rail leading to the east and the smokestacks of the concentration camps.

The carvings and traceries of the cathedral are breathtakingly delicate and intricate. You could look at it for a lifetime and never run out of something new to see. Taking photos was kind of useless—there is too much to see and most of it too far away to photograph with a phone camera. The interior is classically gothic, with soaring arches and brilliant stained glass windows.

Cathedral of Cologne main aisle.
Cologne Cathedral stained glass.

We were in the area once occupied by the ancient Romans. Unfortunately the Roman-Germanic museum was closed, but you can look through a window and see a gorgeous, perfectly preserved Roman mosaic tile floor that was discovered during WWII and hidden until the end of the war. There is a portion of Roman road preserved nearby that you can walk on. Sort of like walking on a stony riverbed—very rough. I skipped it, being somewhat unsteady.

Cologne Cathedral. You can see the lighter new stonework in places. It’s still pretty sooty overall.

We also saw the bridge with the famous love-locks. Thousands of padlocks of every size and description have been fastened by couples to cement their undying devotion. (I hear this doesn’t always work.) Some of the locks are painted with the lovers’ names, many are engraved. Some of the locks are very unusual. I saw two rusty, heart-shaped locks and a golden lion’s head with a keyhole for a mouth. I could have spent a lot more time looking at locks.


After visiting the cathedral, we went for some local beer, called Kölsch. Due to confusion, we ended up at a very touristy bar called Aloha. The beer was mediocre, so Susan and David went to find something better. The rest of us tried to go to the Chocolate Museum, which was closed for a private event. (😢) So back to our home away from home. There was a concert after dinner which the others said was quite good, but I wanted some quiet time. At 10:00 the boat set off again and I fell asleep to the almost imperceptible rocking to a night filled with adventurous dreams.