Rhine Trip Summary
Whenever Marla and I return
from a cruise, the first question is “How did it go?”
I think I can keep my answer
down to 20 pages, but probably
Our Rhine trip was easily
the most ambitious trip Marla has ever planned.
days, we visited five different countries… Germany, Austria,
Switzerland, France, Netherlands.
I have several stories to
tell in depth at a later date, but for now
this recap should handle most
Day 1 and Day 2: Airplane
trip from Houston to Munich, Germany
We left Houston in the
afternoon and landed in Munich the next morning. The redeye
plane trip was safe and uneventful. Marla and I gambled
that I would have enough stamina to drive our rental car to
Fussen, Germany, which was located in southern Germany three
Sorry to say, but we got
very lucky. I didn’t get a wink of sleep on the plane.
Consequently I dozed off three different times while driving
on the German autobahn. Fortunately Marla was watching me
like a hawk and said something each time to snap me back.
In retrospect, I am not sure if this was a good idea. We
could have easily been involved in a fatal accident.
Fussen had a delightful park high up upon a hill which then
descended into a riverwalk along the Lech River. Our nature
walk was followed by a marvelous meal in a quaint German
Day 3: Visit to
Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle
Every postcard of Germany features the famous fairy tale
castle in the sky. I was dying to see this fabulous castle
up close in order to satisfy a longtime fantasy. I could
not have cared less that the trip required a mile trek up
the long winding road. It was worth it! This castle is
nothing short of spectacular.
Later on we had a surprise.
We accidentally met up with our friends Larry and Phyllis
Beyer during our visit to the Hohenschwangau Castle down
below. This lesser known castle proved to be just as
interesting as the impressive castle in the sky.
Neither Marla nor I have a bit of experience with GPS
systems. During our long afternoon drive to Lake Lucerne in
Switzerland, the GPS strangely ordered us off the freeway
and detoured us straight into downtown Zurich.
I still have no idea why the
GPS did this. What a colossal mistake!
Fighting weird turns, rush
hour traffic, and pedestrians who crossed the street right
in front of our car on two different occasions, a three hour
drive turned into a six hour drive.
One pedestrian crossed when
I had a green light. I had no choice but to slam on the
brakes. Strangely enough, the jolt permanently knocked out
our GPS system. At the time I smugly noted that justice had
Now Marla turned on her cell
phone which didn’t do much better. The cell phone GPS got
us horribly lost while looking for our hotel in Lucerne.
At the time, I swore that I
would rather have a map.
Day 4: Visit to Mount
Mount Tiklis is a Swiss Alp that looms high in the sky
overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Marla got us on a
bus tour that took us into a ski town. This part of the
trip was a real since the view of the Alps was quite
spectacular. From there we rode a series of gondolas to the
top of the mountain. Marla said she had three special
activities planned up there as part of the tour.
The moment we reached the top, it was snowing. Fierce winds
created the worst white-out I have ever seen. Visibility
was at best 10 feet. Plus the temperature was in the
teens. All that work to get here and there wasn’t anything
to do or see except listen to screaming babies in the
Oh well. That’s travel for
you. Sometimes the weather cooperates, sometimes it
doesn’t. The previous day had been nothing but blue sky.
Just our luck.
Day 5: Drive from Lucerne
to Basel, Switzerland
I can’t think of a single highlight. This was an awful day.
Since our car GPS was out of commission and we had no maps,
we had to rely on Marla’s phone. One problem… her phone was
very low on juice due to our lack of a converter to European
electricity, so she wisely kept it turned off till the end
of our trip.
Although we didn’t have any
maps, fortunately we did have a backup plan. Marla had
printed out directions for our drive from Lucerne to Basel.
One would think we were set.
Yes, indeed, the directions
did get us to Basel, but then our luck ran out. The
directions said to take Exit 5 into downtown Basel. We took
a long look at a sign that said “Downtown Basel and Zoo”,
but there was nothing to indicate this was Exit 5. So I had
no choice but to keep going. Maybe the next sign would say
“Exit 5”. No such luck. By missing the correct Exit 5, I
had to drive at least two miles further.
Now we crossed the Rhine
going in the wrong direction. Bad sign. We both agreed our
car rental place was somewhere behind us. Complicating
matters, we had to have the car there by 11:30 am or pay a
hefty fine. Despite how lost we were, we only had 30
minutes to figure it out.
I got off the freeway and
made a U-Turn. Now I was driving north on city streets with
street names that had no meaning. In other words, without a
map, I was driving blind. All I knew is we had to cross the
Rhine first, then we would try to figure out our next step.
I eventually got us back
over the Rhine and now Marla decided she would turn on her
phone. The directions were very confusing and I ended up
going in the same circle two times in a row till I finally
figured out what my error was. I was using a European
circle with four exit options and kept choosing the wrong
option. This wasted another 5 minutes. The pressure
Amazingly, we found the car
rental, but now we remembered we had to get gas or pay
double for each liter. The man gave us directions… two
We found the place without a
problem and filled it with gas, but then came our next
fiasco. Neither of us could figure out where the button was
to open the gas cap. After an excruciating 5 minute search,
finally we asked another driver to help. After another
precious 4 minutes, he was just as frustrated as we were.
Then he had an idea… maybe the gas cap had no lock on it.
Sure enough, it opened manually. Good grief. Who would
have ever guessed we were driving a Mercedes Benz that had a
manual gas cap?
Our next problem was that
the gas station’s credit card machine rejected all three of
Marla’s credit cards. The problem was with his machine, not
with our cards. Fortunately Marla had enough Swiss francs
to pay the man.
So off we rushed back to the
rental place. Sure enough, the guy was staring at his Swiss
watch as I made an illegal U-turn to seal the deal.
We turned the car in at
Although we were able to get
a taxi to take us to the riverboat without further fanfare,
I was so emotionally spent that I went through the motions
for the rest of the day.
We took a walking tour
through Basel with perhaps the worst guide we have ever
had. A native of Somalia of all places, this poor girl knew
practically nothing about Basel. Her idea of giving
information went like this: “This is a church. Basel has
lots of churches. This is a museum. Basel has lots of
When she wasn’t looking,
Marla and I quietly disappeared and headed back to the boat.
I had a massive headache
that night. No surprise there.
The name will be omitted, but I have to tell this story.
The Rhine is interrupted by
an extensive system of dams used to control the river flow
and to generate electrical power. Each dam uses a lock to
raise and lower the riverboat to different levels.
I have been told the Rhine
River has many locks, but to be honest, I only remember
going through one lock the entire trip. This stood in
strong contrast to last year’s Rhone River trip in France
where we went through what seemed like two or three locks a
Obviously this year’s
riverboat transited the majority of the Rhine River locks
while we slept. There can be no other explanation. And
this accounts for my story.
One of our guests was brand
new to river cruising. Consequently she had no idea that
the Rhine River is lined with locks or how they operate.
On the first night of the
trip, this lady was awakened by strange sounds. She saw
that a giant concrete structure had appeared outside her
window. Alarmed, she went out on the balcony to check
things out. By chance, just as she looked down, the lock
opened. As the waters escaped, the boat began to sink
Considering my friend had no
previous experience with how locks worked or what they were,
she was caught completely off guard. Now she screamed in
panic. In her pajamas no less, at 3 am in the morning she
ran down to the front desk to warn the staff to sound the
alarm that our ship was sinking.
6: Rhine River Cruise begins, visit to Black Forest in the
morning, Colmar in the afternoon
The Black Forest of Germany was a huge hit with everyone.
The beauty of the countryside was phenomenal plus we had an
Marla and I took a walk into
the Black Forest alongside a rushing stream furious with
snow melt. The setting was beyond beautiful.
After our walk, Marla
fulfilled a dream and bought a cuckoo clock. Wunderbar!
Colmar, France, in the
afternoon was thumbs up as well. This is a town in Alsace
that has been swapped back and forth between Germany and
France a half dozen times throughout the centuries. This is
also the place where Audie Murphy made his famous one-man
stand against the Nazis.
Murphy’s company was
attacked by six tanks and an estimated 250 German
infantrymen. Certain that his decimated company could not
withstand the German onslaught, Murphy reluctantly decided
to vacate his important position. He ordered his men to
fall back to safety deep in the forest.
Murphy stayed behind to
offer fire to protect his men’s retreat. After expending
all his carbine ammunition at the enemy, Murphy himself
prepared to fall back. Suddenly, he spotted a .50-caliber
machine gun on the turret of a burning German tank. Knowing
that his position had to be held at all costs, Murphy raced
to the tank, climbed on top and began firing the machine gun
at the oncoming Germans. The Germans were incredulous that
Murphy was firing on them with their own weapon, but they
had no choice but to fall back or be cut to shreds. Murphy
singlehandedly kept the Germans at bay until reinforcements
could join the fight.
It was a perfect day for me, but unfortunately my friend
Larry had developed a serious ear infection. After a
doctor’s visit, he was ordered to go straight to the
emergency room of the nearest hospital. As Phyllis returned
to the boat to pack their clothes, she whispered the stay
was estimated at 5 to 7 days. Marla and I were sick because
we thought Larry and Phyllis had lost their vacation.
Day 7: Strasbourg, France
The town of Strasbourg was lovely. What a great place to
walk through! And the giant cathedral with its bizarre
Astronomical Clock was amazing. This was the sixth tallest
cathedral in the world.
As one might gather, like
Colmar, Strasbourg is another town that has been swapped
back and forth. Our guide had shown us a heartrending
statue. It was a mother with a dead son, one in each arm.
At the start of the war, the French fought the Germans.
Each time the Germans captured French fighters, the Germans
made these defeated French soldiers fight against their own
people or be executed from behind. There were stories of
fathers forced to shoot at sons and brothers forced to shoot
at brothers. Some men simply put revolvers to their head.
They refused to fight their own people. Europe abounds with
tragic stories like this.
At the end of the tour,
Marla and I spent our free time with cappuccinos at a quaint
café in a Strasbourg church plaza. The scenery was postcard
perfect of old Germany… or was it old France?
After we returned to the
riverboat, we had the late afternoon free. This was my
chance to take a long walk through a nature park where our
riverboat was docked. I climbed a tower that elevated 200
steps into the sky. I had a view of everything… Strasbourg
to the west, the Black Forest to the east, and the Rhine
below. I took the best pictures ever of the surrounding
As we got off the riverboat to begin our morning tour, the
skies were dark gray. I will never understand why it never
dawned on me that gray skies sometimes become rain clouds.
It didn’t dawn on Marla either. The two of us had brought
raincoats and umbrellas 5,000 miles to protect us from the
rain. In addition, there were complimentary umbrellas on
the boat. So did we have the sense to bring them with us
on today’s trip? No.
Unfortunately, the message
“RAIN” never once crossed my mind.
Part of my mistake was that
I had been told we were visiting Heidelberg Castle. Who
needs an umbrella to visit a castle? If it is raining, I
will just sprint to cover.
No one bothered to tell me
this particular castle had no roof. It was destroyed by
French troops during the infamous Thirty Years War and never
It began to drizzle the
moment we left the bus. By the time we reached the gift
shop for shelter, the rain was pouring hard. Marla bought a
cheap poncho in the gift shop and I got a sad little
umbrella, but neither offered much protection against these
To our amazement, our guide
insisted we leave the shelter and go see Heidelberg Castle.
Since I still had no idea the castle had no roof, I blindly
What was amazing about this
woman… or maybe the correct is ‘bizarre’… she had no
umbrella. As she spoke, her hair was getting soaked.
Finally someone with an umbrella was kind enough to hold it
As the whole group of us
were standing in the rain out in this open courtyard trying
to listen to the guide, suddenly a surge of violent winds
whipped the rain into frenzy. These winds were so powerful
we could barely stand up!! The rain turned sideways and
several umbrellas flew into the air due to the force of the
winds. Our entire visit was just as ruined as the castle
itself. The morning was a total waste.
Later that night on CNN
Europe, we learned that our area had been hit by hurricane
force winds. Good grief.
As Marla said, “I will
always remember how we were almost blown away in Cat 1
Hurricane force winds at Heidelberg Castle. Lol”
It was nice to share coffee and strudel with our friends
Tracy and Ed in a Heidelberg café later on. It was there
that we thawed out and dried out. Heidelberg was obviously
a lovely town, but this just wasn’t our day.
As we waited for our coffee, I took a long look at a German
newspaper. I studied German for four years back in high
school and made excellent grades. During those four years,
I memorized a large vocabulary and was pretty good at
translation. Now as I stared at this newspaper forty years
later, I was appalled to realize it was all gone. I could
make out perhaps 25% of the words, but this was hardly
enough to comprehend what the articles were saying. Imagine
my disappointment to learn that here on my long-awaited
visit to Germany, my knowledge of German didn’t come in
handy a single time. Boo hoo!
Evening of Day
8: Rudesheim, Germany
Rudesheim is a small German village situated along the
Rhine. That evening the entire group went into town and
enjoyed a delightful evening of dinner and dancing. To my
surprise, although the band was dressed in traditional
German lederhosen and blouses, they played mostly American
pop music. I heard everything from ‘New York New York’ to
‘Hava Nagila’ to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’.
Did I mention I hate ‘Achy
Here’s my favorite ABH joke.
Two men are on death row to
be executed back to back. The warden tells the men they
each get one wish.
The first man says, “Please
play Achy Breaky Heart before I die.”
The second man says, “Please
execute me first.”
Imagine flying five thousand
miles to Germany only to be haunted by ‘Achy Breaky Heart’.
Like an out of control weed, it’s everywhere!!
However I didn’t come up
empty. To my delight, the band finally played a German
oompah song. So I grabbed Kathy, an athletic lady in our
group who loves to Polka. I took Kathy for an energetic
series of circle turns around the floor complete the
characteristic hop of the German Polka. Unfortunately other
people crowded onto the floor and ended our parade, but it
was fun while it lasted.
Obviously I made a good
impression because the manager sent over a complimentary
beer for my efforts. Jawohl!
Marla and I had a special moment together. Walking from the
riverboat, we had come late to the restaurant on our own to
meet up with the gang. But our group had to leave about 30
minutes after our arrival to catch their complimentary
trolley ride back to the boat. Then to our disappointment,
once the group left, the band took their break. Oh well.
The room was empty and there was no music. We stayed long
enough to finish our beers, but decided to leave soon after.
A block away we found
another restaurant with music, so we went in. A large group
from a different river cruise ship was in there. To our
surprise, the band played a Waltz. And it was a special
Waltz… “The Last Waltz”… our favorite song.
“The Last Waltz” has
significance because Marla and I performed a Waltz to this
song the night I closed my Bissonnet studio back in April
2010. Tonight was unusually close to the Five Year
Anniversary of this key date.
Seeing the song as an omen
of sorts, Marla and I rushed to the floor. As I hoped, once
the people saw how good we were, they let us have the whole
floor to ourselves. The people were more than content to
just sit back and enjoy the show. Circle turns, Spirals,
Shadows, Synchronized Sweetheart patterns, and swirling
turning Box Steps were complimented by a beautiful dip at
When we were through, we
received warm applause. It was a triumphant moment. What a
It is hard to believe five
years have passed since those days of yesteryear.
Do I miss the studio? Yes
and no. I miss the fun, friendship and spirit of the
studio, but I certainly don’t miss the headaches and
What I always enjoyed the
most about my dance studio was teaching. Teaching is the
joy of my life. Today I am blessed with the opportunity to
continue teaching. Many years ago I had a large dance room
built onto the side of my house. This allows me to teach
dance practically every night of the week.
Here in my dance room
surrounded by the Secret Garden, we have an outrageous
amount of fun learning to Waltz, Jitterbug and Two-Step.
It is never work when you do
something you love to do.
Valley of the Castles
This morning was easily my favorite highlight of the trip.
For the first third of the
river cruise, the banks of the Rhine were not particularly
high. However, once we reached Rudesheim in the middle part
of the Rhine, we entered a rugged canyon-like sector. As
our boat sailed down the river dwarfed by giant cliffs, it
felt like we were river-rafting through a miniature replica
of the Grand Canyon… except that a river raft doesn’t
approach the luxurious setting of our open-air viewing deck!
High atop each towering
hillside loomed an endless series of medieval castles. This
was the Valley of the Castles. As I had hoped, these
castles were absolutely spectacular to view from my post at
river level. My binoculars proved to be especially helpful
at capturing the details.
A view like this can only be
appreciated from the river. Trains go too fast, a car or a
bike will only see the other side. I had the perfect spot.
Although it was chilly
outside, that didn’t stop me from settling down in my
rocking chair. I had a big comfy blanket over my lap and a
nice waiter to bring me hot chocolate for added warmth.
Plus I had my friends Marsha, Sam and Kathy for company (the
rest of the gang preferred to watch from inside).
I loved the gray skies.
That gloomy backdrop was perfect to capture the somber mood
cast off by these foreboding fortresses. From my outdoor
viewing platform, I snapped picture after picture of the
castles as we passed by.
I was certainly not alone
under the spell of the castles. Everyone in our group was
mesmerized by these towering symbols of the violent past of
the Rhine River.
Right before I left the riverboat to begin the Marksburg
Castle tour, Mira, one of the Viking coordinators, whispered
to me that Larry had just been released from the hospital
and that she was about to pick him and Phyllis up at the
I was shocked. This was
wonderful news. Phyllis had told me the ear infection had
gotten into his lymph gland system and the hospital stay was
estimated between 5 and 7 days. So far only three days had
passed. Wow! Let’s hear it for German medicine.
I asked Mira not to tell
When I returned from
Marksburg Castle, Mira whispered they were in their cabin.
As Marla was busy talking to someone, I rushed to their
room. Phyllis answered the door. I put my finger to my
mouth and said, “Quick, here’s my room key. Go down and
hide inside our cabin!”
Then I returned to where
Marla was and told her a serious problem had just arisen.
Marla asked what it was, but I said it was so serious that I
couldn’t tell her with all these people around. With a
deeply worried look, Marla followed me to our room. To her
dismay, she exclaimed, “Oh no, Rick, our cabin door isn’t
even closed properly! Did you forget to shut it??”
Marla opened the door and
suddenly inside our room she saw Larry and Phyllis waiting
for her. OMG!! Marla screamed with delight! Hugs and
kisses quickly ensued. It was a great reunion for all of
us. Marla could not believe Larry had made such a quick
recovery. Thank goodness their trip wasn’t completely
After Larry and Phyllis went
back to their cabin, Marla gave me a big kick in the rear.
“Hey, what’s that for?” I
“That’s for playing a sneaky
trick on me, you stinker!”
Believe it or not, just as my morning tour began, I was
confronted by an angry man who was furious at me for dancing
with his wife the night before. This is an interesting
story, but far too complicated for this summary. Sad to say, I was so depressed over this
incident that I had to return to the ship and miss my tour.
STORY OF RICK'S
Although my morning was ruined, my evening was sublime.
That night after dinner Marla and I participated in a Pub
Crawl. We tromped through several nearby beer halls in
Cologne. We were accompanied by Tracy, Sherry, Diane, Joan,
Cathy, Mona, and Barbara. This turned out to be a
delightful trip. The laughter and teasing increased with
each stop. Fortunately the portions of German beer were
kept small or we would have been completely useless.
I love getting drunk with
friends. It gives me a chance to tell at least one dirty
joke before the night is through. Sure enough, I told my
favorite joke about the pig farmer and received great
approval for my effort. I had way too much fun.
As it was, at the end of the
tour, we spent an hour in the Activity Room of the riverboat
talking ourselves silly while we sobered up. Considering I
was the only guy in the group, I was privy to a style of
conversation I had never heard before.
To my amazement, the girls
started talking about all the great loves of their lives.
Fascinating. Too bad I can’t remember much or I would have
made a fortune in blackmail. Should have taken notes!!
Hmm, now that I think of it, I do seem to recall a couple
stories that Sherry told…
Then the conversation turned
to ‘best pickup lines’ that men had used on the ladies over
the years. One lady in particular had the girls rolling in
“Well, there was this one
guy at a country-western bar who came over and said he
really liked my red and white checkered shirt. This cowboy
said my shirt reminded him of the red and white table cloth
at barbeques. Then he added with a leer, ‘And you know
what, little lady? I really like barbeque!
And what about you, Suzy Q, do you like barbeque? Aren’t
you hungry for some home-cooked barbeque? Hey baby, let’s
say you and me go home together in my pickup. You can
rattle my pots and pans while I make you some barbeque and
we can use your shirt for our tablecloth!”
For a dollar, I will tell
you who told the story. For two dollars, I will tell you
what happened next. For ten dollars from the lady in
question, I won’t say a thing!
This was our chance to explore the world of Dutch
windmills. Our guide Daniel was a college student who was
unusually gifted at explaining the history of windmills and
the role they played in reclaiming land from the sea.
What a great young man! He
was so earnest and so brilliant at his explanations that
everyone fell in love with him. Later when he introduced
his beaming mother in the gift ship, we all melted. It was
wonderful to see the pride his mother felt towards this
exceptional young man.
However, Daniel did make one
inadvertent mistake. Daniel concluded his talk in the
workshop by saying every dime spent at the gift shop next
door went to a fund created to build their 20th
Daniel’s mistake was
stopping first at the gift shop before starting the tour of
the windmills (everyone knows the gift shop should come at
the end). As we soon discovered, every single person in our
group was so inspired by his talk that they bought
something. By this time, poor Daniel had realized his
mistake, but there wasn’t much he could do about. It took
half an hour to proceed to the windmill.
We had a ball climbing
ladders inside the model windmill. Apparently entire
families live in each windmills… this was their home. The
father was the caretaker of this particular windmill.
The walls inside the model
windmill were lined with pictures of a family with thirteen
children who had lived there in the 1920s! Considering how
small the living areas were, this was a shocking
revelation. I looked carefully, but could only find four
beds in the entire structure. Did the children sleep four
to a bed? Good grief. I cannot imagine how the parents
pulled it off.
The Dutch have a long
history of battling with water. Both Belgium and the
Netherlands are referred to as the “Low Countries” of
Europe ('Netherlands' literally means 'Low countries' or
In a manner similar to New
Orleans and the Mississippi River, the entire watershed of
the Rhine River drains through Belgium and the Netherlands.
Considering the amount of snow melt in the Swiss Alps to the
south, both countries are lined with canal after canal to
handle the endless deluge of water.
Currently 40% of the
territory in the Netherlands lies below sea level. I asked
Daniel to explain how the Netherlands reclaimed all this
land from the sea. Daniel explained that they did it one
section at a time. In the beginning, all this territory was
marsh land… reeds, waterbirds, ducks galore. Nowhere was
there enough solid land to walk on for any distance, just
endless mud and muck inundated under a foot or so of water.
The Dutch desperately needed more space. So they learned
how to build a dike around a particular section of
marshland. Then they would build windmills to pump out the
water into a canal on the other side.
Slowly but surely the land
inside the dike dried out and became farmable. At this
point, a new section of marsh land was targeted and new
dikes were built. One step at the time, the Dutch reclaimed
this vast soggy wetland from the sea. Today an extensive
range of seawalls and coastal dunes protect the Netherlands
from the North Sea while levees and dikes throughout the
interior protect against river flooding.
Someone asked with global
warming if there was any fear of renewed flooding. Daniel
shrugged and said not really. Centuries upon centuries of
practice had made his people the most experienced in the
world at protecting their land from danger. Thanks to their
expertise, the Dutch feel totally secure.
As he spoke, I had to wonder
what defense they had against a terrorist attack on those
ocean walls. I decided not to ask the question.
Europe is slowly healing the
wounds from centuries of brutal fighting. It doesn’t help
that Russia continues to scare people to death and that a
growing Moslem population seems vaguely threatening. Of
course 99.9% of all Moslems are decent people, but the
remaining disgruntled ones are capable of great havoc.
We left our riverboat at 8 am and checked into our hotel at
From the start, the list of
problems was endless.
First of all, there was no
ramp from the street to the Lobby of the hotel. Nor were
there any busboys. I had to physically carry every suitcase
up a flight of stairs to get to the Lobby. There were no
chairs in the Lobby so I had to stand while Marla checked
in. There was still no busboy to be seen, so I found a cart
and loaded the suitcases on to it.
Now I squeezed the cart into
the tiniest lift I have ever seen. Major problem… the lift
didn’t work and I was stuck behind the cart in the narrow
lift. So Marla went for help. The lady came and said she
had worked there for four months and never even knew that
lift existed. So now a busboy showed up and helped me get
the cart back out. Then he led me through a winding maze of
corridors until we found an elevator that worked.
That night at 3 am, Marla
and I were awakened by some drunk pounding on a nearby door
screaming to be let in. I called the front desk.
Now that we were wide awake,
we decided to watch TV. It didn’t work.
I called the front desk. It
took a while, but the man finally realized someone had
unplugged the TV. The cord was hidden behind the desk.
In the morning, Marla
couldn’t get the hot water to work to take a shower. I
called the front desk. It took the man five minutes to
figure out someone had reversed the handles on the shower.
That morning we attempted to
go to breakfast downstairs. Only one problem – we got
completely lost. The hallways had no signs other than
evacuation routes and there was no floor plan. When we left
our room, both Marla and I got lost trying to find our way
back out. We ended up on an emergency staircase outside the
hotel. It took us nearly ten minutes to find the correct
I made a joke. “Now I know
why this city is called Hamsterdam… we are wandering around
like mice in a maze!”
At $400 per night, the
Amrath Hotel has to be the most overrated hotel I have ever
stayed at. Truly, this weird hotel would be perfect for a
European version of “The Shining”. Our stay was certainly
just as frightening.
This was our version of “The Longest Day”.
Marla had booked us on the
longest tour ever, 7 hours. Except that our day actually
stretched out to 11 hours!
We wasted an hour and thirty
minutes at the start and another hour and thirty minutes at
the end plus the tour ran over by an hour. 1.5 + 1.5 + 1 +
7 = 11.
For starters, we struggled
to walk one mile through the complicated streets of
Amsterdam using her cell phone for directions.
Unfortunately her cell phone left us in the middle of
nowhere with just five minutes left to find the correct
location. Panic-stricken, I approached a stranger to tell
us where the Plaza Mall was. He pointed to a spot a block
We rushed to make the spot
just as the clock turned 10 am… but there was no guide.
Angry, Marla called. The tour was supposed to start at 11
am. The brochure Marla had been sent had deliberately
forced us to appear an hour early. I wasn’t happy about the
cynical trick that had been played on us.
Fortunately the tour itself
was pretty good.
After killing an hour, a
young bearded man named Aviv appeared. Aviv, a former
member of the Israel military, was a fascinating man. He
and I were clearly soul mates. During our walk from one
spot to the next, we began to discuss Israeli politics,
Indian mysticism, terrorism, world peace, and the history of
Netherlands independence. I had the best time talking to
Unfortunately the tour
itself was only partially satisfying. We wasted half an
hour on a city block lined with flower shops. Then we
wasted an entire hour at a flea market.
By the time the river canal
part of the tour began around 3:30 pm, Marla and I were
already exhausted. The half hour wait for the boat didn’t
That said, it was fun to
float through the maze of different canals. It was very
similar to a canal tour we had taken in Copenhagen, Denmark,
only much more complicated.
After the canal tour, we
took the underground metro over to the Anne Frank house. As
you undoubtedly know, Anne Frank has become the heartrending
symbol of the Nazi Holocaust. Although 6 million Jews and
many others as well died at the hands of Nazi genocide, the
name we remember best is ‘Anne Frank’ thanks to her famous
diary that told how she spent two years in constant terror
up in her hidden alcove.
To make a long story short,
the Netherlands was the most open-minded country in Europe
and welcomed all Jews. Sadly, during World War II, the
Netherlands suddenly turned into a death trap as over
100,000 Jews were exterminated. Otto Frank, a wealthy
businessman, decided to turn the back part of his Amsterdam
office into the “Secret Annex”.
Through the help of several
loyal Dutch friends, eight people went into hiding. During
the two years they spent in the Secret Annex, Frank’s 15
year old daughter Anne passed the time by writing in her
The invasion of Normandy on
D-Day in June, 1944, gave the eight people trapped in the
Annex new hope that rescue was near. It was all for naught…
two months later in August, 1944, the Nazis raided their
house. To this day, no one knows who betrayed them.
Only Otto Frank survived the
concentration camp. Tragically Anne Frank died just one
month before liberation at Auschwitz.
After returning to
Amsterdam, Otto Frank found his daughter’s diary. After
editing the journal, he found a publisher. Over the years,
the Diary of Anne Frank would become the
enduring story of the horror created by the Nazis.
Strangely, there seems to be
some sort of modern sentiment to deny or downplay the
existence of the Nazi atrocities. One of the things I
noticed at the Anne Frank house was document after document
showing how the name of Anne Frank appeared in Nazi records
complete with a death notice. These records offer
indisputable evidence that the fate of Anne Frank was no
fairy tale, but rather the heartrending story of how an
intelligent, sensitive young woman was sent to her death for
absolutely no good reason other than her religious faith.
The Anne Frank museum, in my
opinion, was nothing short of brilliant. I might add a lot
of people agreed with me… the lines outside stretched three
city blocks. Even though it was 5:30 pm, I estimate 500 to
a 1,000 people waited for any chance to visit.
It was only thanks to the
cleverness of Marla that we were able to book a tour that
bypassed this endless line. Otherwise we would have never
seen the place and that would have been a shame. This visit
was a major eye opener.
After the Anne Frank house, Marla and I decided to walk back
to the hotel. Marla and I have a tradition of taking at
least one long walk on every trip. This seemed like a good
place to continue that idea. Marla explained that her cell
phone was very low on juice, but I said not to worry because
the hotel had given me a map of the city. Now that I had a
map, finding our way back would not be a problem.
On the map, the distance
didn’t look all that imposing. Indeed, I later discovered
that the length was around a mile. One mile? No problem.
Marla and I can walk a mile in 15 minutes.
So why did it take us an
hour and 30 minutes to make the trip? To be honest, I
don’t yet have the answer to that question. I took pictures
of street names along the way, so at some point I will be
able to retrace our steps using my markers.
Let’s just say I probably
took a wrong turn or two… or three.
Marla was exhausted from the
Longest Day. The more tired she got, the less confidence
she had in my navigating ability. She grew so impatient
that I finally threw in the towel and told her to use her
cell phone instead.
Twenty minutes later we
found the hotel.
At this point, I am
dangerously close to admitting the map left me totally
confused. However, I reserve final judgment pending a
review of the trip.
I have lived my entire life
believing I had the ability to read maps. But after today,
my confidence was badly shaken.
It hurts to admit I might
seriously suck at reading maps.
This day was one of the real highlights of our trip.
Located 16 miles south of Amsterdam, Kuchenhof Gardens are
the second largest garden in the world. We were told there
were something like 4.5 million bulbs planted.
Oddly enough, Kuchenhof is
only open two months out of the year during mid-March to
mid-May. Considering the incredibly beauty of these 80
acres of flowers, that seems like a shame. But then someone
pointed out that the Renaissance Festival is only open for
two months as well, so I began to accept that it is okay to
reserve certain areas for use once a year. I was told the
other ten months are put to good use planting and grooming
for the next spring crop of flowers.
Kuchenhof Gardens will be
easier to appreciate once I post the pictures, but for now
take my word that this place is exceptional. I thoroughly
enjoyed my five hours of tiptoeing through the tulips.
What a spectacular explosion
of color to behold!
Plane Trip back to Houston
The non-stop plane trip took 10 hours, but our watches only
moved four hours. It was weird leaving Amsterdam at 11 am
and landing in Houston at 3 pm, but thanks to the time
zones, that’s how it works. Somehow a 10 hour flight is
reduced to 4 hours when flying west. That said, the jet lag
is still just as fierce. For example, Marla and I
would awaken at 3 am for the
next three nights.
was 4 am as I
reached this point in typing this story.
Ah, guess what? Marla just
rose and is headed to make coffee. It is
4 am and both of are wide awake.
No doubt our deeply confused
bodies still think we are in Deutschland.
what memories! From the Castle in the Sky to the Black
Forest to dancing in Rudesheim to the Valley of the Castles
to the Anne Frank House to the Garden of the Tulips…. this
was an amazing trip.