Day 11- In Which We Visit a Franconian Farm

When I was pondering which excursions to take before we left on our trip, the Franconian farm and village visit with tractor ride did not appeal. But we changed our minds after listening to the cruise director, Thomas, talk about it.

For one thing, I didn’t realize that doing a walking tour through every city and village would become tiring. I’m not talking about the exercise, though it has been a bit hard for this couch potato to get used to. It was the routine. Tom and I (maybe mostly me) thought a visit to a farm in the country and a tiny village would be a nice break. It was! The alternative was a walking tour of Bamburg, which was fine, but we wanted a change of pace. Tour director Thomas warned about the smell of pig manure on the farm, but this was no deterrent. Pigs, after all, smell, and farms tend to have pigs around here. Another consideration was the heat—it was predicted in the high 80s. Walking through a city in the heat did not seem like the most fun.

We traveled by bus for about an hour through lovely pastoral Bavaria, passing through several villages on the way. Our destination was the village of Wohnau, population 97. Apparently, the population has been growing because people who were raised here go off to school, perhaps getting jobs elsewhere, but when they start having children, some return because they have lovely memories of their own childhoods in this town.

Bavaria is the breadbasket of Germany, according one guide.

Wohnau is a Catholic town. Most towns and cities in Bavaria are a mix of Lutheran and Catholic, but not Wohnau. Apparently, Bavaria tends to be more religious than other German states. Wohnau has crucifixes everywhere.

We first stopped for what our guide, Kristina, called “a techno bio break,”—a bathroom stop—at the Smitte’n Hof—the farm we were to visit. Then we walked through the town, which took no time all, to the small cemetery. I love cemeteries, and this was a miniature beauty. The gravestones are fronted with miniature gardens, each with a tiny well for holy water and a lantern. The story is that Wohnau had no cemetery and the town’s residents were buried in a neighboring village. A man from Wohnau wanted to be buried in the village in which he had lived his entire life, so he started a project to build a cemetery in Wohnau, which got underway. Tragically, before the cemetery was finished, the man died, and was buried in the neighboring village. Some bold youths went under cover of that very night, dug him up, amid reburied him in Wohnau—I am not sure where, as, you will remember, the cemetary had not been finished.

At the entrance to the farm.

Kristina told us that in Germany, you rent the gravesites for 25 years, then you have to renew the lease. In the old days, if no one renewed the rent, the body would be exhumed and sent to the bone house for storage. They don’t have bone houses anymore, so I asked what happens to the bodies now? She said she had never thought about it and didn’t know. Hmmm.

The tiny, exquisite cemetery of Wohnau.
This was the prettiest memorial in the cemetery. Each of the stones is fronted with a tiny garden, like the houses’ front gardens in miniature.
Every grave has a holy water well and a lantern.

We turned back and walked to the center of town—a few paces from the cemetery at the edge of town. A tall, dead birch tree was stranding in a metal sheath there, its branches festooned with faded ribbons. The tree is decorated and erected in April for some sort of spring festival, but it is looking a bit sad now.

The deceased festival tree.

We visited the Catholic Church, which was tiny but exquisite, decorated in the Baroque style. The priest only comes once every three weeks or so to perform the Mass. The families take turns decorating and cleaning the church for this event.

The little church at Wohnau. The lady in front is our guide, Kristina. I love the twisty Baroque column, embellished with golden vines. The saint depicted is a patron saint of livestock. His name started with a “W,” but an Internet search failed to bring him up.

Back to the farm, where we were escorted to a cool stone cellar for sausage, bread, and soft cheese. Our host, Herr Schmitt, an elderly patriarch, talked at length in German, and sometimes Kristina translated, some times a pretty frauliein neighbor, who looked the very picture of a German girl. She spoke excellent English.

The first snack at the farm. Delicious. I just ate the second snack (cherries and brown sourdough bread) without photographing it.

Then it was time for the tractor ride! Herr Schmitt is the only “full time” farmer in the village. Others have to have a spouse working elsewhere as there is no employment in the village. Herr Schmitt has cannily parlayed his farm into a tourist attraction. He entertains tours with local snacks and wine tastings, tractor rides, etc. He also offers camping, has a store with farm-made products like noodles, makes and sells wine, of course, and no doubt has other enterprises. Very clever man.

We piled into a wooden wagon pulled by a tiny blue tractor. It set off into the woods nearby, emitting diesel fumes, but they weren’t too obnoxious. Our driver—who turned out to be from Connecticut—kept well behind the other diesel-belching tiny red tractor. The woods were quite dense, composed mostly of beech and oak trees, mostly slender, but growing closely

The tiny blue tractor takes us into the forest.

together. We went by the neighboring village where the residents of Wohnau were once buried, past wheat fields, and up into vineyards. The vineyards had a multitude of small structures for each family’s tools. (Different parts of the vineyard belonged to different families.) Some of these structures looked like tool sheds; others looked like miniature chalets, with tiny front porches, tiled roofs, and stovepipes. We glimpsed a minute domed chapel among the vines as well.

A little chapel in the vineyards. Sadly, we didn’t get a shot of the miniature chalet/tool shed.

Then we plunged into the forest again and so back to the farm. Kristina was talking about the farm dog, which she adored, but had died of old age. Apparently in Germany, you can’t have a farm dog unless you can prove the dog is acceptable to the people who come to the farm. I don’t know how they accomplish that.

We went down to the cellar again, blessing the cool temperature, where they served us small, delicious cherries, brown sourdough bread, and two local wines, one white, one red. I recall that the red varietal was called Domina. Both were made on the farm. They were quite good, though they probably wouldn’t be my main tipple. Herr Schmitt wanted to know how crocodile tasted. I was able, through Kristina, to inform him that we don’t eat crocodiles in America, but alligator tastes just like chicken.

Our host, Herr Schmitt.

As we departed Smitte’n Hof, we were each gifted with a round green bottle of 2016 Bacchus Franken, a white wine made on the farm. Given Herr Schmidt’s excellent commercial instincts, I was surprised we weren’t shown the farm store.

The wine from the farm. We were given two bottles, but we haven’t opened them yet.

The bus ride back used the super highway and didn’t take quite as long. It was a hot day, and felt so good to take a shower! The water in our shower pours from the ceiling without a trace of pressure regulator.

By the way, there was nary a pig to be seen—or smelled—on the farm. And it was just the break I was hoping for—confirmed by the others in our group who had opted for the Bamburg walking tour. We rejoined them and went into town to find rauchbier, a smoked beer that is the local speciality. We found it, along with a cheerful waiter who spoke perfect English. It is so far the only beer I have tasted in Germany that I really liked. It has a slight bacon-y nose that only enhanced the flavor, in my opinion. Then we trotted through the 89 degree heat back to the bus, and the River Duchess departed for Nuremberg. I did I get this hasty shot of a house right on the river. It looks like an enormous piece of Wedgewood porcelain.

Day 10: Fairytale Rothenburg

Rothenburg is distinguished from our other visits by being located well-inland, on a nice high point that was easier to defend. It was also distinguished because it was never bombed during WWII, sparing the historic buildings—they have not been meticulously recreated, as we saw in so many places, but beautifully preserved.

We traveled to Rothenburg via bus. (The bus driver is always the same. He travels from location to location with the bus, and I bet he beats us every time.) We traveled along what is called the Romantic Highway through lush pastoral land. We saw fields of sugar beets, cow corn (hard feed corn that they use for ethanol), wheat, mustard, and many crops I couldn’t identify.

A wheat filed along the Romantic Highway. The clouds here are gorgeous.

We wound our way through tiny villages until we came at last to the ramparts of Rothenburg, which completely enclose the town, as they did in Medieval times and earlier.

The Medieval ramparts of Rothenburg. The ramparts have a roof and 6ou can walk all around the town under it. Tom and I didn’t do that part of the tour.

Rothenburg is extremely quaint and charming, with elaborate half-timbered houses, an old cathedral, many town wells, and narrow, cobbled streets. It is also a tourist attraction, and not just for foreign visitors. The language I heard spoken most frequently by the visitors walking by was German.

Town gate, looking toward the town from the site of the original castle.

Our guide, Harry, also added to my understanding of the stumblestones. He emphasized they are not only to commemorate the Jews, but anyone who was murdered by the Nazis, including Romany (Gypsies), the mentally retarded, people with disabilities, gays, and anyone else the Nazis deemed unworthy to live. Lesson taken. Odd that they are called stumblestones, as they are actually brass plaques that are far flatter and less likely to cause a stumble than the cobbles surrounding them.

There are storks nesting on the rooftops here—the first I have seen! Just like in the fairytales.

A real, live stork. Sadly, I only got this shot of his or her butt as he or she bent to feed the babies.

He took us by the Museum of Crime, which is evidently the largest museum anywhere dedicated to the subject of crime and punishment. It is also called the torture museum. Nuh-uh.

It is probably extremely expensive to live in Rothenburg. There are very strict laws regarding the appearance of the buildings. All the roofs are required to be covered with red clay “beaver tail” tiles. All the windows must have wooden frames. Skylights are verboten. However, I did notice glass tiles the same shape and size as the ceramic beavertail tiles on several buildings, obviously letting light through to the upper stories. So people, as always, find workarounds.

A gorgeous house in Rothenburg. You can see the beavertail tiles.

The first castle/fortification in Rothenberg was built around 1100 C.E. on a spur of rock that projects above the surrounding lush valley of the Tauber River. Little remains of the original structure but a small chapel. The former castle is now a pretty garden that command views of the Tauber River valley and orchards below. Mature trees provide much-appreciated shade, and there is a lavender garden, a small fountain, flowers, and stone benches where you can sit and admire the spectacular view. We saw a pair of storks flying overhead, but by the time I got my camera phone out, they had flown away.

A fountain in the garden that now reigns over the site of the original castle. Very peaceful, and the goldfish in the picture seemed suspended motionless in time.
One of the many spectacular views from the garden.

We actually had free time in Rothenburg to wander around guideless, shop, and sample the local cuisine. Tom and I stopped at a bakery for water, and I purchased a “snowball,” which is a large sphere of what appears to be curls of cookie dough held together by various things in different flavors. I selected a dark chocolate snowball—I guess the snow was dirty. It was absolutely delicious, with a crisp, light texture and not too sweet. We devoured it. We visited the castle-turned-garden next, then wandered back to the marktplatz in the town center. The Rathaus, or city hall, in the center has a tall clock tower. When the clock rings the hour, two windows open to either side and automated figures appear, drink beer from steins while the bells chime, then retire behind the windows again.

The clock tower. Everyone pauses on the hour to watch the automatons drink their beer.

We met up with our friends in the marktplatz and decided to try to find a restaurant for lunch that Harry the guide suggested. We did not find it, but we did happen upon a sandwich restaurant that served Mexican Jarritos, Cubano sandwiches, and other exotic fare of the New World. It was not what we were looking for, but we needed to stop for lunch and several men outside the establishment assured us the sandwiches were good. They were VERY good! We ate outside on the cobbles under umbrellas as children dashed in and out of the restaurant. It was a family establishment. The chef was from Puerto Rico, and his wife, a German, handled the front of the restaurant. I think the family lived in the same building, and their kids played on the sidewalk.

I broke away from the group to do some gift shopping and found things for four on my list. This was a godsend—there is usually no time to shop. Being a tourist Mecca, there were many unusual shops and interesting merchandise. And the famous Christmas store was in Rothenburg—as well as every other town we have visited. Linda caved in and bought a large bag full of Christmas cheer.

You just can’t get away from the famous Christmas store.

On the way back, the bus took the super highway instead of the Romantic Highway. In addition to the fields full of growing things, we also saw large fields of solar panels. Germany also uses wind power, but they shut down all their nuclear reactors after Fukushima—a move that with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions, proved to be a mistake.

Day 8: I Take a Down Day

We docked at Würzburg, where there is a royal palace that rivals Versailles. I was feeling a bit worn down, not having slept well the night before. I also realized I was getting a bit snappish, which is a sign I am tired, and it isn’t very nice for other people. So I stayed on board, blogging and reading a trashy novel.

Tom contacted me from the town when they returned from admiring what sounds like a truly amazing palace, complete with Tiepolo frescoed ceilings and amazing three-dimensional plaster work. I did not regret my choice. All palaces are different—and they are all weirdly alike, the obscene excrescences of a previous generation’s multi-billionaires who spent their money indulging their lust for self-aggrandizement and power instead of, say, feeding people. Their only redeeming value is their patronage of the arts, and I am glad these monstrous monuments to ego are now available for the commoners to enjoy.

So I walked as instructed to a large bridge, met Tom, and met up with our friends. Würzburg is a modern city with many older buildings and an huge cathedral. For how I feel about huge cathedrals, please see my remarks on palaces. However, this cathedral was rather interesting. The bones of the building are Romanesque, with Roman arches built in alternating red and white stones, giving it that distinctive look. Inside, the bones are clean, but the apse has been elaborate statues of popes and saints facing the austere columns. Many of the windows must have been shattered during WWII, and have been replaced with clear glass in modern designs. Two altars to either side of the sanctuary feature overwrought and gilded altar displays in the baroque style. Interspersed between the more Renaissance and Baroque works are several modern statues. The sanctuary light is housed in an abstract, towering sculpture.

Smaller chapels to either side feature gothic arches and what looks like original stained glass. And at the foot of the main aisle stands a monumental menorah. It is an altogether unique cathedral that reflects the ages it has endured.

And that is all I really remember of Würzburg—except for a delicious tomato and cheese sandwich in a perfectly delicious roll baked with many different seeds and saffron. The bread in Europe is not just something to hold your sandwich together, it adds to the pleasure of the meal.

So I will share some photos I think are interesting that I haven’t shared before. Enjoy.

Woven nsragon feom the T@iland exhibition at the Floriade.
Floriade exhibit.

Lovelocks on a bridge in Cologne. The idea is the lovers turn the key in the lock to secure undying love and then throw the key in the river below. The river must be crowded with keys. I have no idea how much these things must weigh.
Interior shot, Cologne Cathedral.
Gigantic hilltop fort in Würzburg, the capital of Lower Franconia. Which is actually upper Bavaria.
Red sandstone carving on the side of an old house in Rothenburg. It says, “Fool, do not gossip about the ladies and gentlemen.”
There are wildflowers everywhere. I love the red poppies. These were in the Netherlands.
The “Dwarf Well” in Cologne. It depicts a fairy tale very similar to the shoemaker and the elves. The well in each town closest to the church was considered to have the purest water. This well is outside the cathedral, but I wouldn’t recommend drinking from it.
One of the many hilltop castles along the Rhine.

Day 6: Frankfort

When we awoke today, we were in Frankfort, and traveling on the Main River ( pronounced “mine”). This morning at breakfast, we were observing some sort of waterfowl that lives in abundance by the side of the river. We couldn’t decide if they were ducks or geese. They seemed too big to be ducks, but their necks weren’t as long as the Canada geese we are accustomed to seeing, and they are on the small side for geese. After we returned, I compared some photos Tom took to an online cache of German waterfowl and solved the mystery. They are greylag geese, a species I have read about but never seen before. They seem largely unperturbed by humans.

Graylag goose, apparently conducting an invisible orchestra.

The majority of the passengers opted for a tour of Heidelberg Castle, which involved an hour-long bus ride. I am looking forward to hearing about their adventures, but Tom and I opted for a walking tour of Frankfort. All of us were elderly and in terrible shape except for Tom, who viewed the excursion as barely a short walk.

It was 80 degrees or so, but Tom tells me he barely broke a sweat. Annoying, of course, but I am glad he’s in such good shape. I left my hiking sticks behind and I was glad I did. I had no problem with the terrain, and they are such a nuisance. When I use them, if I want to take a photo, I have to put the sticks aside, find my phone, take the picture (assuming whatever it wasI wanted to photograph is still there by that time), replace the phone, pick up the sticks, and hope I haven’t tangled the earphone cord that attaches to the receiver we wear so we can hear the guide. But I was extremely glad I used them yesterday in hilly Rudesheim!

Our guide, whose name sounded like Shannon, so I will call her Shannon, took us along the river front for a while, explaining the history. Then we visited the old town. Apparently, all the ancient half-timbered buildings were flattened during WWII, with the exception of a single house. The others were lovingly restored and look exactly the same, but presumably with better plumbing.

The sole remaining original half-timbered house in Frankfurt’s old town.Shannon told us a rather confusing story about its role in WWII, involving tanks in this building, tunnels underneath the street, and rich people escaping from the other houses on the square, but I found the story somewhat dubious.

Shannon took us to a place that served the local specialty—frankfurter sausages, of course, with potatoes and green sauce. I liked the green sauce, which uses local herbs that differ depending on where you are. The frankfurter tasted exactly like a hot dog to me, despite Shannon’s protestations that they were much more flavorful and juicier. Not impressed.

I love the way they fit the slate tiles together. It looks like dragon skin.
The square where we ate frankfurters.

We ate on a square that included the Streuwelpeter (Slovenly Peter) Museum and store. Streuwelpeter was an illustrated book written during the 19th Century to instruct and entertain children. Shannon says they still teach this and it tells children how to behave properly. I have read it, and it includes:

• A story about a little boy who sucked his thumbs until the great, long-legged scissor-man came and cut them off.

• A story about a boy who ate too many sweets, went out in the rain and melted.

• A story about a little girl who played with matches and burned herself up, making her two kittens weep.

• A story about a little boy who was always looking up at the sky and fell into the water and drowned.

You get the idea. Shannon seemed to feel these were instructive and positive guidelines for the children of today.

However, she was most solicitous of her ancient followers and allowed us time to sit and rest, for which I was grateful. Tom, of course, did not take advantage of these rest breaks.

After a few more visits to quaint things our guide liked, she bade us farewell and several of us visited a nearby toilet. Half a Euro to pee.

Then Tom and I took off to find an ATM and a SIM card. It turned out that the phone store didn’t take credit cards, unlike every other store in Europe, so it was a good thing we found the ATM first. Tom is happy with his new, strong connectivity. My goal was to visit the Steiff store I spotted back at the square where we sampled the frankfurters. I wanted to buy a tiny mouse I saw at the famous Christmas store in Rudesheim. I had faint hope that it would be less expensive, and sure enough, it was the exact same price. But I bought it for our new little granddaughter Mirabel. Because.

Shannon was upset because the construction spoiled the beauty of the old square. We still enjoyed it.

Then we went back to the boat, had lovely broiled salmon for lunch, and we are sitting in the lounge watching the boat go through a lock. It’s a lengthy process, and I have never seen it before. We have gone through locks on this trip, but I am usually sound asleep.

Tonight, we are celebrating Susan’s birthday with a private dinner in the Captain’s dining room. (He doesn’t actually eat there, of course.) I hope it will be a very special occasion!

Day 5: The Rhône River Valley and Rudesheim

There are two castles in this photo. Can you find them?

This morning, we woke to the picturesque Rhine Valley, dotted with ancient castles that look like movie sets or etchings from some other century. It was cold on the sun deck, but we didn’t want to miss the beauty of this area.

A castle on the Rhine. It looks well-restored and lived in.

The sandy shores and flatter lands of yesterday have given way to rocks and steep cliffs. In many places, vineyards cling to the cliff sides at an angle that defies belief. The vineyards are all worked by hand and I do not know how they do it. Vineyard work is hard enough on level ground. We were told that the Rhîne reflects light onto the vines,which increases their sweetness. The wine is the famous Riesling produced here. Beer is less favored than wine in this region. We passed by tiny town after tiny town, most with half-timbered buildings, a castle or two, and churches ringing the hour—we could hear the bells clearly from the boat.

Alex, our butler, performed a sabering ceremony. He took a pretty but dull saber and uncorked it by swiftly hitting the rim of the bottle with it. The cork had been tied to his wrist so that it didn’t fly into the river. Then we all had champagne and watched the castles go by. Many were ruined, but some have been at least partially restored. Apparently, there was a Bavarian king whose hobby was collecting and restoring medieval castles. Nice hobby if you can afford it.

Our destination today was Rudesheim, a small town that had been half destroyed by accident during WWII. They rebuilt the ruined church from the rubble, replicating the original exactly. In the US, it would have been bulldozed and a modern church would have been built in its stead. Rudesheim has some cute, narrow, cobbled streets, wine gardens, a famous Christmas shop, and a lot of tourist traps. We took a cable car (or suspended gondola) up to the Niederwald Monument above the town. Tom elected to walk, but he wasn’t waiting for us this time. It took him another ten minutes or so after we arrived. The monument has amazing views of the river valley and the vineyards that march up the hills in back of town. The monument itself is a typical piece of nationalistic art celebrating the unification of Germany after the Franco-Prussian War.

Niederwald Monument.
The view from the Niederwald Monument. The island or sandbanks in the river are bird sanctuaries.
Cute half-timbered building in Rudesheim.

In the river below, we could see long sand banks with trees growing on them. These are now bird sanctuaries. They are a fair distance from the boat, but I could see a lot of birds from our stateroom. The swans were big enough that I could identify them.

I can’t get rid of this photo so you get to enjoy it twice.

As Tom began walking back from the monument, the rest of us took the cable car down. It was a quiet, peaceful experience, passing over the vineyards. We went into the famous Christmas store, but as we already have more Christmas decorations than we actually put up and the prices were astronomical, I opted to go back to the boat. On the way, I found an inexpensive, warm wrap to supplement my wardrobe, which was entirely inadequate for the chilly mornings around here. Now watch it never get cold again on this trip!

Tom’s route up from the town to the monument through the vineyards.

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.

Love-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.

Day 3: In Which We Embark upon the River Duchess

This is the day! The day we actually move from the hotel to the boat. Or ship. We keep going back and forth—some of us insist that a ship can carry boats, but a boat can’t carry a ship. None of us are maritime experts, so I’m not sure.

Anyway, the main point of the day is checking out of the Conscious and checking into the River Duchess, a Uniworld tour boat/ship. Which is about all we got done today. We arrived at the docks, which we passed yesterday on the canal tour. River Duchess is a long, low ship (or boat), fairly new looking. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it met or exceeded every expectation. The staff is lovely. They greeted us and took us to the lounge and gave us champagne. There are mirrored surfaces everywhere, which I suppose makes the spaces look larger. (But I really don’t want to see the view of my backside looming unexpectedly at me. Too unnerving.)

Our party I. The lounge of the River Duchess. With champagne.

After a bit, they herded us into the restaurant for a buffet lunch. The dining room is at the stern of the boat/ship, with windows everywhere providing a panoramic view. We sat for a long time, eating and watching the busy boat traffic—river cruise ships, coal barges, pleasure boats, ferries, and other maritime vehicles made for a lively scene. Eventually, the staterooms were ready.

Random shot from the sun deck because I am having trouble uploading pictures. This is on the Rhine.

I have to tell you, we have never done this before. Not only have we never taken a cruise of any kind, we usually scrimp a little on accommodations. I guess they were seriously underbooked, because they offered us the opportunity to bid on a better stateroom. Tom made a lowball bid and secured a suite— the ritziest accommodation on the boat (or ship). It comes with a butler! Complimentary everything! More space! It has a marble bathroom, a large window that opens, king bed, drinks bar, live orchids, dressing table, etc, etc. I love it. The shower is a good size, which I did not expect.

Our butler’s name is Alexandru. (Call me Alex.) Alex is from Bucharest, Romania, as many of the crew are. He reassured us multiple times that we did not have to pay for laundry services (I wasn’t worried about it). He wears full butler regalia, tailcoat, vest and all. He is much better dressed than we will be at any time on this trip. Seems like a pleasant young man. We can call him if we need something—at any time, I gather, but I am sure we won’t be ringing him at 3 am to make us sandwiches.

The others walked back to the old town. I stayed to unpack. Also, my poor toe could use a break. I am wondering if I will be able to wear my sandals again on this trip. I hope so, because I only have one other pair of shoes with me.

A word about Amsterdam and its canals. They have hundreds of them, lined with trees, which makes the city parklike and beautiful. We learned that fresh water continually flushes through from the River Ij (pronounced “aye”), which means “”water.” This keeps the water clean, and indeed, we saw people swimming and fishing in the canals and the port. I investigated and found that the canals are literally teeming with more than 20 species of freshwater fish, so the water must indeed be clean. It also means that Amsterdam does not reek from filthy water, as does Venice. These are people who thoroughly understand water management, and we have a lot to learn from them as the world’s water levels rise from climate change.

Day 2: Amsterdam

Tom and I woke early and went for a walk in Westerpark. It’s a lovely park, a combination of landscaped and wild areas in the middle of the city. OK, not the middle, but close to the docks where we will be embarking on the “River Duchess,” our home away from home for the next three weeks. They were cleaning the wading pond that had produced so many happy childrens’ screams the day before. We saw great blue herons, mourning doves, and a number of birds I didn’t recognize.

This statue of a court dress stands in the middle of a small pond in Westerpark. The lady has evidentially strayed elsewhere.

We returned to the hotel and sat down to order breakfast via Q-code. Our coffee came almost immediately, but not our friends. Or the food. Eventually, Linda texted us. They had decided to sit in the roped-off area for some reason. And the staff had decided to serve them there. So we joined them. Their breakfasts arrived. Ours did not. Tom went to see why not, and apparently the order never went through. No worries—it arrived shortly after Tom inquired.

We had decided to visit the Reichsmuseum today. The Reichsmuseum has the same issues as the Louvre—it is so huge, you would need days to really do it justice. It has a huge collection of Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” which we had seen on our first visit to Amsterdam. It was a bit of a shock to walk into that gallery. An enormous crowd was gathered in front of the “Night Watch.” I remembered from our first visit that we had been one of a few gathered to gawk at it, and we stayed a long time with no interruptions. Then I remembered we had come here in February, which probably explains the difference. It isn’t Rembrandt’s most fascinating work, in my opinion, so I skirted the rapt crowd to focus on other works.

And I got to revisit some faves—Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Vermeer, and others, and discovered a new favorite, Judith Leyster, who had the same qualities I so admire in the others—capturing the personality of real people, distinct personalities, on canvas. I will have to further explore Leyster’s work.

One of Judith Leyster’s genre paintings. If it is in the Reichsmuseum, I didn’t see it, but it has all the qualities I love in the Dutch genre paintings.

We wandered through more galleries, and I began to skip over the things that didn’t interest me in favor of the ones that did—there’s just too much to see! Eventually, we dragged aching feet to the cafe and had some lunch. David ordered bitterballen, which I had never tasted before. Bitterballen (which I think means battered balls) consist of a stew rendered down until the gravy is very thick, frozen, battered, and deep fried. Very yummy. Very heavy. I had boar sausage with picked onions and bread.

Susan had arranged for a canal tour. The departure point was supposed to be very close to the museum. This proved to be true, but they told us it was the wrong place for our tickets. Then they kindly put us on a tour departing from that location, complete with wine and goodies, even though we hadn’t paid for them. Great customer service. The canal tour was interesting, and you get a short lesson in Amsterdam’s history, albeit through the recorded voices of a couple who argued coyly with each other. I know know what the Zeiderzee is—the southern sea that was closed off from the ocean at some point, protecting Amsterdam from tidal surges that tended to flood the residents’ houses from time to time. It was pretty crowded on that tour boat, but that’s what we get for coming during the tourist season. Horrifyingly, as we passed under a low bridge, someone on the bridge threw a half-full can of Amstel Beer through the open top and hit Linda’s head, soaking her clothes in beer. Somehow, I didn’t expect hat kind of behavior here. Fortunately, Linda was not badly hurt.

After the canal tour, we walked to the Reichst Restaurant (not the museum cafe), but we didn’t have reservations so they turned us down. We wound up back at the Conscious Hotel, where the food was very good, if not spectacular. This is a town where reservations are really required most places.

I tried to watch the third Jan. 6 hearings, but Judge Michael Luttig, who was one of the witnesses, spoke SO slowly, with so many long pauses between phrases, that by the time he finished a sentence I had forgotten what he was talking about. It drove me nuts and I realized I was probably tired, so I went to bed.

Voyage to Budapest

Days 1 & 2: San Francisco to Amsterdam

We planned this trip for two years, believing that Covid might be over by then. It isn’t, of course, but we came anyway. I thought we would be traveling a lot after we retired but Covid put an end to that for a while. At my age, I don’t know how long we will be able to travel, and it is worth the risk. I, my husband Tom, and our friends Linda and Clod and Susan and David are doing a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, something none of us have ever done. Apart from Amsterdam, this trip will be covering a huge swath of Europe Tom and I have never seen before. (The others in our group have seen some of the places we’re going, but not all.)

The Covid infection rate here in the Netherlands is 14 per 100,000, which is better than any place in the US. I believe this is because they are not encumbered with as many radical conservatives and conspiracy theorists, but that’s just a guess. Very few here are wearing masks, indoor or otherwise. I am not so trusting, and wear a mask indoors. If one of us gets Covid, they get kicked off the ship at the first opportunity to quarantine elsewhere, and who wants that?

We few over on United Polaris—Business Class. They have eliminated First Class. The seats fully reclined, but it didn’t help me. I have never been able to sleep on a plane. I took prescription medication in an effort to overcome this, with no success. I found it massively uncomfortable, but there were a lot of people who looked blissful tucked up in their reclining seats. Being tall does not help. The food sucked. Honestly. I can’t imagine what they served in Economy.

But it was my choice to watch “Cyrano,” with Peter Dinklage and Jennifer Lawrence. I love both of them. It was a massive waste of their considerable talent. Pretty much a hot mess with meh music and silly choreography. Cyrano is supposed to be a comedy. It opened with promise, but got less funny as time went on, with a tragic ending. Towards the finale, I found myself impatient for it to end. Don’t waste your time.

We are staying in a hotel in a park. You have to walk from the taxi drop-off to the hotel, not very far. The hotel is called “Conscious Hotel at Westerpark.” I thought that was amusing because when I am in a hotel, it is usually in an unconscious state. But the name refers to being ecology-conscious, green, etc. The front lobby looks like a snack shop, which threw us for a few minutes. The rooms are minimalist, but clean and extremely comfortable. The park is lovely. I fell asleep to the sound of happy, screaming children playing in the park. (I am only perturbed by unhappy, screaming children.)

Sitting in the middle of a pond in Westerpark. A statue of a court dress with no one in it. A statement?

The second couple, Susan and David, arrived not long after we did. We walked around looking for a restaurant with tables in the shade. The only one we could find was a vegetarian restaurant with the most wonderful veggie lasagna I have ever tasted. Then to bed again for about 10 hours of sleep. I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with no jet lag—a first. The bed here is seriously comfy.

The next day, we decided to walk to one of David’s fave breweries, located in an old windmill. While we were hoofing it, Linda and Clod checked in to the hotel and we arranged to meet them at a restaurant for lunch. I ordered a Caesar salad, but what arrived was basically a large quantity of fried meat on a meager bed of lettuce. It did have a lot of shaved Parmesan, but it was definitely not what I wanted on a hot afternoon. And I had developed a massive blister and went back to the hotel in a cab rather than walking another 3/4 mile on my abraded and bleeding toe. So I missed the beer. I imagine there will be other opportunities.

It was fun looking in the store windows and just soaking up the city. Head shops everywhere, which I don’t remember from my last visit here. I recall we had to go to a coffee shop to get weed. Not on my to-do list this time.

Tomorrow: the Reichsmuseum! I am so looking forward to that—but I will be wearing different shoes.

Ever Hear of the Fairness Doctrine? No?

I will admit I am an infrequent blogger. It’s not because I’m lazy or have nothing to say. It’s because I have too much to say.

I wanted to keep politics out of my blog and focus on my novels, and curious things I have noticed, or journal my travels. I haven’t traveled in three years for obvious reasons, which eliminated one source of material. And my brain has been on political red alert ever since 45 was elected. His subsequent loss to Joe Biden did not douse my three-alarm brain fire. As his supporters continue to perpetuate 45’s vile lies and to behave like poorly raised six-year-olds, my anxiety over politics has not diminished one bit. 

Even public health issues have to be politicized by the right, resulting in enormous numbers of deaths from Covid. Deaths that in many cases could have been avoided with simple precautions—which were also politicized.

The ugliness and willful ignorance of millions of the people with whom I share a country has been depressing and difficult to deal with. I once believed that most people are basically good, kind, and helpful. I now know beyond any shadow of a doubt that’s not true. Amid the right’s cheering for Putin in his bloody, terrorist war, the vitriol and denigration aimed at good people like Col. Vindeman, and the rightwing hero status of murderer Kyle Rittenhouse— I see a mindless mob, full of hatred and seething with resentment for anyone who isn’t just like them. I see people who have embraced Nazism, who wanted to overthrow our democracy and still do, who would, if given immunity, cheerfully slaughter their fellow Americans for being different in race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political principles.

How did America, land of the brave, turn out so many ugly, hateful, ignorant people? I think Fox News, with its endless rabble-rousing and lies, is a huge part of the reason. The Republican Party used Fox as its official propaganda mouthpiece, but they did more, developing rightwing “think tanks” and research centers to bolster their own point of view. They nurtured resentment and anger, depicting Democrats as lazy, snowflake, pot-smoking losers on welfare with no religion, decency, or jobs. (I was accused of all that myself by Republicans.) I was told, at the age of 70 or so, to move out of my parents’ basement and get a job. (This was online, obviously. Anyone who saw me would realize my parents were most likely no longer on this planet.) One man told me that saying that Democrats went to church was a lie—no godless Democrats ever went to church. This is the kind of ignorant hysteria the Republicans have been cultivating for decades.

I could go on. And on. And on. But I’ve probably said enough about how dismal these people are. Why I want to know is how we fix this. I want to know how Fox News can get away for more than 40 years of lying and spreading false information without consequences. Why have we allowed uneducated trash like Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Bobert to profane the halls of Congress? How do we put this particular evil genie back in the bottle?

There are no easy solutions, but there are urgent ones. I think one of the most effective things we can do to muzzle Fox’s firehose of lies is to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Most people probably don’t remember the Fairness Doctrine because it was abolished under Reagan in 1987—thus opening the door to Fox News and other sources of grotesquely biased media. The Fairness Doctrine was introduced in 1949 by the FCC. According to Wikipedia, the Fairness Doctrine “…required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.[5][6]

Modern media—including social media, which didn’t exist in 1987—mandates that a new Fairness Doctrine must be updated to include these seismic changes in communications technology. But it is long past time to demand of the Federal government that the Fairness Doctrine be updated and reinstated to restrain the false information, lies, and propaganda flooding our media.

Please write your senators and representatives and demand that they support a new Fairness Doctrine for our modern world. Let’s pull Fox’s fangs.

To find and contact your Senator or Representative, see https://www.congress.gov/members?q=%7B%22congress%22%3A117%7D

Note: In the interests of transparency and truth, the image depicted with this post is not that of a fox. It’s a jackal. I think that would be a much better name for the organization under discussion–Jackal News. Anyway, none of the fox images I saw were snarling unless they were taxidermied. The live ones just looked really cute.