Dec 26 -Boxing day Train Ride

France, Germany and Austria, Travel

December 26 – Train

Today was not that exciting, really. We woke up a bit earlier than normal so that we could make sure all was packed and organized and ready to get off the boat by 8am. We had some breakfast and my last cup of hot chocolate before we dragged our suitcases off to the dock. And then we waited and waited and waited for our very late taxi to arrive. It was a little bit stressful by the time it finally arrived and took mom and dad to the bus station and us to the train station.20161226_084528

Shawn and I had quite the connections to get to Sondersdorf! We took one train from Nuremberg to Frankfurt. Then we had 15 minutes to get on our other train to go to Mannheim. Then we had 9 minutes to change to the next train to go to Basel (or Bale). Thankfully all of hate connections and seats went well. We didn’t make reservations on any of the trains because we had a Eurrail pass so could get on whichever train we wanted as long as it was marked on the ticket. I was impressed with how smoothly things went as it has been a while since I took a bunch of connecting trains in Europe.

When we arrived in Basel, we stopped at the first train station (the smaller, downtown station) and got on the little tram that goes throughout the entire city. We got off on the far end of the tram because this is the closest place for the Sophie and Jean-Marc S. to come get us. It was great that they were able to do this!20161226_151256

By the time we had driven back to Sondersdorf, it was practically 4pm. We had a few presents for Laure and they had a few chocolates and perfumes for us. It was lovely. Dinner was great too – it was this flaky Pastry thing with a creamy sauce of mushrooms and chicken on top. It was fantastic. It was also pretty funny because I 20161226_165408had just talked about how much I hate little green peas…and they had planned to serve them for dinner. Lol. Talk about putting my foot in my mouth!

Overall it was a great day. I always appreciate how close all the countries are here compared to at home. It makes for great, easy visits, which is awesome.

Later,

-Allison

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December 25 – Christmas and Nuremberg

Germany and Austria, Travel

December 25 – Christmas and Nuremberg

Merry Christmas! Shawn and I managed to sleep in a bit longer than normal as we were sailing this morning, so there was no rush to get up. We got all ready and unburied the little presents we brought with us before meeting mom and dad up in the dining room. Now that I bought 5 Euro slippers I pretty much treat the ship like my house and walk everywhere in slippers. It’s great.

Mom brought little stockings for us as well, so we did have some little presents like photocopies of what bigger items are at home and little expandable face clothes to open at het table. It was fun and took much less time than our normal Christmas mornings take! It was lovely.p1000697

There was definitely too much food today as there was not much happening in the morning between breakfast and lunch. We did learn about the lock system and the Main-Danube rivers while playing Trivial Pursuit, which was nice.

We arrived in a really dreary Nuremberg around 1:30 and started our bus tour. Because it was the 25th, not much was happening and nothing was open. It did make for good pictures, however because it was so quiet.

Sadly, we started at the Zeppelin fields where the Nazis marched and hundreds of thousands of people listened to Hitler talk. We walked up on the stands where Hitler stood. Now in the field where the rallies used to take place there is a soccer field and a car racing strip.

Because it was such a dreary day, the WWII sites were even more depressing than normal. We visited the courthouse where they held the Nuremberg Trials. The courthouse was still standing after the war, which is why it was used. And it is still used as a courthouse today. I found it interesting that after the main Nazis were sentenced and killed, they were also cremated. Their ashes were sprinkled in a river so that new-nazis would never have a place to pilgrimage.

20161225_162404 The old city was very well reconstructed after the was and is very beautiful. It was so dreary out today that it was already dusk when our tour made its way into the old city. There is a beautiful castle that has numerous residences and a hostel inside of it and with the evening light was especially beautiful with a Christmas tree near the top as well. We walked back down from the castle hill through a few of the old streets and to the centre where the closed Christmas market was located. It was sad that we weren’t able to visit the Christmas market here as it is one of the biggest and best known in Germany. There was, however, one Gluhwine stand open today, so Shawn and I were able to have one last fix and get yet another beautiful mug. Yeah!20161225_161427

We were bussed back to the boat so that it could keep sailing en route to Nuremberg where will get off the boat tomorrow morning. Tonight we got ready and had a nice little happy hour in mom and dads room before heading back up to the dining room for our last dinner. It was lovely but it will be nice to stop drinking so much once we rejoin the normal world.

And we were so lucky because all of my shopping fit into our suitcases! p1000747Yeah! Now we  just have to make sure we are not over the weight limit either when we leave Switzerland!

dsc_8780 It was a great Cruise and a fun way to spend Christmas.

Later

-Allison

December 24 – Bamberg

Germany and Austria, Travel

December 24 – Bamberg

Today was kind of a funny touring day because it is December 24th. 20161224_100035Germans do a lot of their main Christmas celebration in the afternoon and evening of the 24th, so the cruise company had to move things around so we could get the maximum out of our trip! I was impressed!dsc_8670

We disembarked earlier than normal so we could get onto a bus to drive to Bamberg. When we arrived we had about a 1.5 hour walking tour of the old town before having about the same in free time.

dsc_8680We had a great guide. Her English was perfect as she was studying to be an English and Latin teacher as well as she was quite funny. Bamberg is a really cute old town with a few cross-crossing bridges over the couple of rivers. Buildings are built along and in the middle of the rivers including the famous city-hall in the middle of the river and between two bridges. It is beautifully painted on all sides and has a cantilevered room off the back and an arch to walk underneath on one of the bridges.

The whole town of Bamberg is considered a UNESCO world heritage site as it was one of the few German cities that was not bombed during the war. It has been able to retain its Gothic, Baroque, and Romanesque structures over the years and the cobble stone crooked streets are really authentic.

Another UNESCO site here is the huge Cathedral built in 1012 on one of the only hills in the old town. It was built by Emperor Heinrich II when he declared Bamburg the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. The Cathedral used to be beautifully painted inside, but in the 19th century (I think!) it was stripped of its colours to eliminate sins. The outside was impressive, as was the adjacent old court and the beautiful red rooftop views of the lower part of the city.

20161224_100506   In our free time, we walked around the main shopping area and managed to hit up one last Christmas market and get our last Gluhwine mug! Mom tried in vain to find a pair of German boots. I had a chocolate crepe and shawn had a sausage. I think we can now officially say we have done the Christmas markets!!

One of the other things this city is known for is is special beer. They make a smoked beer here and there is a famous pub to go and have some. Unfortunately, it was closed today, so Shawn and dad couldn’t go and have some. They did find a grocery store and bought a bottle to try later on tonight, however! I think it is a pretty unique beer, so I am not sure how it will go over.

We were bussed back to the ship, which was now docked in a little berg about 45 minutes away from Bamberg. We got back on and had a great lunch of ribs and fries! Not very Christmassy, but good none the less.

We all indulged in naps and reading while watching the hillsides pass us by. And there was even some sun, which made the wonderful scenery and the quaint little towns seem even lovelier!

dsc_8687Dinner was super fun tonight. The ship put on a Germany night and were all dressed up in lederhosen, German hats, plaid shirts, and boots. The dinner tables were made up with red table clothes and pretzels. Throughout the meal, there was an accordion player who walked around singing and plying. It was really fun and there was so much food. Especially meat. I really enjoyed my cheese sausage and my pretzel with a variety of cheeses on it.

dsc_8717  After dinner, we helped to decorate the tree in the lounge by writing on Christmas balls and hanging them on the tree. We sang Christmas carols and drank really good egg nog. Shawn managed to Skype his family in Athabasca and we tried in vain to call Kendra. She keeps posting pics of Rupert and looks like she is having a good time, so that is great!

Merry Christmas!dsc_8720

-Allison

December 23 – Würzburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Germany and Austria, Travel

December 23 – Würzburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber

It was a long day today, but a good one! We were early to breakfast, which was good because mom and dad had done some 20161223_082057research into the Wurzburg residence and where we were docked on the ship and determined that we were able to walk in to town and meet up with the guides and the rest of the group before starting the residence tour.

20161223_083741 Nice bonus for being able to walk in because otherwise we would not have really had any time at all to explore this really cute little (actually it is one of the largest towns in Franconia) cities. So I am glad we walked in. We looked in all the bakery windows trying to find more of those marshmallow chocolate cones, but were unable to find any! Oh well. It’s not like we were going to starve aboard the ship!

The tour for the residence was amazing. It was a bit smaller than Versailles, but some of the rooms were definitely more decorated I think. For centuries, the residence housed the rich and powerful prince-bishops. This residence is so fabulous that it is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. And from ascending the amazing double staircase to look at the largest fresco ceiling in the world, it is easy to see why. Even though the ceiling has been cleaned, it never had to be rebuilt or restored as it was saved from massive fires and bombings during the Second World War because the foyer structure was all constructed in fire-resistant marble.

We saw pictures of the damage the city received during the war and there was nothing but stone façades left. The entire residence more or less had to be rebuilt, as did the entire rest of the city. It was just as bombed out as other major cities such as Colon and Dresden. Despite needing to rebuild the interior structure of the residence, most of the artifacts inside are original as paintings, tapestries, and furniture were all able to be removed and safely stored during the war. The one most fantastic room called the mirror room was completely redone as the built in mirrors could not be removed. The entire room was painted mirrors and gold leaf. It was breathtaking. I am not one for the insides of castles or museums, but it was definitely a wonderful visit.

p1000590Once the tour was done, we ran through the market. We wanted to find a mug to match our growing collection of Christmas market Gluhwine mugs! Thankfully we found a mug and a chocolate covered apple and dad got his necessary pretzel for the bus ride! It was a cute market and a beautiful city, so I was a bit sad we didn’t get to see much more than the residence. But some is better than none, I suppose!

In Rothenburg, we followed the tour through the walls into the old city and around the walking streets past some amazing houses, stores, and Christmas markets to a restaurant where the entire ship was eating a lunch provided. We were given a typical German lunch with potatoes, sausage, and sauerkraut. It was warm and cozy wedged in the benches in the restaurant but mom and I were anxious to start exploring the shops and the market.

We wandered up and down the little shop-lined streets and took a tonne of pictures of the timber-framed houses all dressed up with wreaths and beautiful wooden Christmas decorations. Shawn and I bought our annual Swarovski Crystal Christmas tree decoration; a really unique 3D star I had never seen before. We went into very Christmas-y stores and normal stores. It was wonderful. There were cool little market stalls selling chocolate that looked so much like tools that we didn’t understand why they were selling tools to begin with!dsc_8629

In the main square there was a santa playing a music box in front of the massive Christmas tree and giving out suckers to little kids. There was gingerbread and Gluhwine (we got another mug and some red wine!). It was so picturesque. And it was perfect because we were able to stay there until almost 6pm, so it went from being light to totally dark out so we were able to get some great pictures. Made me happy.dsc_8650

We still had about a one hour bus ride back to the ship where it had docked after moving up river all day to reach Gerlachshausen where we all got back on before it took off up river again.

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It was a great day and now we we all looking forward to a great sleep because tomorrow is Christmas Eve!

Night

-Allison

December 22 – Wertheim

Germany and Austria, Travel

December 22 – Wertheim

We “sailed” all night and were docked just outside Wertheim when we woke up at 7am. Even though we planned to eat all together at 8 am, we were almost done by 8:15 as we all got there early. Because of that we decided to leave the ship early and go on our own to visit the town.20161222_091441

It felt great to actually walk. As it turns out, by the end of the day, we had basically walked the same distance, but it felt great to walk at a reasonable clip. p1000388We first walked into town and hill towards the castle. It was mostly in ruins too, but it looked like inside one of the areas was a restaurant that ran until December. It wasn’t open at 8:30 in any case this morning. The walk up wasn’t that high and despite the cloudy day, the views were great. And there was no one else around. We had amazing views of the city below, the rivers, and the castle covered in moss. It was definitely a highlight.p1000394

When we got back down to the town, the rest of the ship was starting to tour about. We raced over to the glass blowing museum and popped in there to do a small amount of shopping. We found another little canal on the back side of town and walked back on that trail into the old centre again. Dad bought a pretzel from one of the three bakeries and mom and I tried on boots in a shoe store. We definitely did not need to buy any boots – especially me – but there was a great pair of boots that actually fit my calves so I ended up buying them. There is always winter at home! Lol.p1000446

By that point we were pretty much out of touring time, so we walked back to the ship getting a few beautiful reflection pictures along the way.

It was a fast visit in town today, but the afternoon on the ship was beautiful. After lunch, we had a glass blower from the town of Wertheim where there is a huge history of glass blowing. Not only is there a bit of artistic blowing, but mainly commercial or lab equipment being produced. 20161222_135724He was great. He had his torch and made a beautiful candle holder and glass ball in the span of 10 minutes while chatting with the group. His family including his older and younger brother have all been glass blowing for over 25 years!

p1000458We had a nice “German Tea” with great shortbread and tea around 3:30 after we all had a nap, which was great. Looking out the window, drinking tea, listening to the pianist play, and reading was a pretty nice relaxing afternoon!

It was a calm afternoon. It gets dark so early that after about 4 pm there isn’t much of anything to see out the windows. But while it was light there were beautiful trees, roads, and little German towns along the way.

Dinner was nice and I think we are all drinking our money’s worth…half because we want to and the other half to stay warm! Lol.p1000466

Tomorrow is a long day, so off to bed we all go!

Night

-Allison

Dec 21 – Heidelberg

Germany and Austria, Travel

Dec 21 – Heidelberg

We woke up early enough this morning to shower and have a great breakfast on the ship this morning. It was nice and we were all impressed with the portion sizes. Much more reasonable than some cruises which is nice…it’s way too easy to stuff yourself on here!

We were all set to leave for the 9am bus that would drive us out of Frankfurt and off to Heidelberg when mom realized she was the only one wearing shoes and not boots…so she made a quick switch and cut across the grass (which was funny because about 5 minutes earlier they made an announce to walk around and not through the grass) to beat Shawn and I to the bus. It was all good. And it was cold, so I am sure she was happy she had boots all day that we were outside.

We drove for just over an hour to reach the Heidelberg castle. The bus was able to wind up the narrow roads and drop us off at the top of the castle ruins. The castle is mostly in ruins because when the town itself was torched by the French during one of the wars, later on the stones were pillaged from the castle to rebuild the city. I guess living somewhere was more important than keeping the castle intact.p1000241

We also learned that students in Germany pay about $200 per semester to attend university as it is always covered by the government! But you pretty much need a PHD to work in a professional industry at all. So better like being in school. The castle was surrounded by beautiful fraternity houses that are all maintained by previous members so that current students can live in the house for free or very low cost. Nice advantages, eh?p1000247

The first part of the Castle was built as early as 1214. It was added on to by different rulers over various centuries. Parts of the castle have been destroyed from a fire and a lightening strike. Since then it was abandoned over 300 years ago.

One of the very young kings that was living here was actually in love with his wife. There was only an age difference of three years and though it was an arranged marriage, they fell in love at first sight. Because he was so in love, he dedicated much building time and money to improvements on the castle. He removed cannons and put in English gardens and built beautiful archways. However, when he was under attack (I believe it had to do something with the 30 year war between the Protestants and the Catholics) he didn’t last very long defending and had to live in exile after less than 1 year of fighting.

dsc_8516   There was one wall of the inside castle courtyard that had sandstone carvings of people who influenced various important events in the city. One of these people was King Rupert! He proved to the Pope in Avignon that there was a benefit to having educated people living around him and was able to bring the first library to the people here. That made us proud – you know, dog named Rupert and all! 🐶

p1020246One of the funny things left in the castle was a huge oak wine barrel. It is a 250 year old vat that was built from 130 oak trees and was able to hold 50,000 gallons of wine! Apparently it was not very good because any and all fruit was used to make the wine, not just good quality grapes like today. Obviously, the barrel isn’t used any more today. We were able to walk up on top of it, which was kind of fun, however.dsc_8495

After we drove back down to the lower part of the city and parked, we walked past a few little Christmas markets and explored the little town. There were a few student bars that have been owned by different family members for generations as well as a chocolate store that had been around for just as long.

We had lunch in a little local place so we could warm up. It was cute and very pub-y. Shawn had a hearty been soup with a full sausage sitting in the middle of it! Dad had potato sop and mom and I shard a pretzel with cheese. It was good food, but it kind of cut out personal exploring time down. We were really sad we didn’t have much time to spend on our own and go shopping.

p1020292We did manage to walk a ways down the “mile long” shopping district (one of the longest in Germany). Mom was looking for some winter boots, so we went into this great outdoor shop. Shawn and I ended up spending quite a bit as there was lots of good quality stuff on sale. We bought some new camping pillows and quick dry towels that were on a killer deal…now we have to bring them home! Shawn found some marina wool two for one long underwear and I bought a fleece. I’m looking forward to adding in this layer tomorrow when we’re walking around tomorrow!

Fortunately, we did hit up a bit of the Christmas market too! We bought a Gluhwine and got the collector glass from this city too. Lol. Funny collection, but it is kind of fun! Mom found a few really cute wood tree ornaments but other than that the stalls were mostly food and we didn’t have too much more stomach room to eat anything extra.

It took almost two hours to drive back to Aschaffenburg. It frustrated me to be in a city we didn’t get to see at all. Basically, the ship moved along upstream while we were out visiting all day. And it took off again as soon as we met up with it. The bus driver told me that I wasn’t missing much, though, so I guess I’ll live!

dsc_8530  Dinner was good but unexciting. I had salmon and a brownie thing for dessert. What was better was that both Shawn and dad drank their weight in Martinis and were a bit happy for the rest of the night! And we bought these great little cone things with flavoured marshmallow cream inside from the market yesterday and ate them in the lounge after dinner with the live pianist playing! That was excellent!

Now time to curl up in bed to stay warm while the ship goes through a bunch more locks throughout the night.

Night

-Allison

Dec 20 – Strasbourg to Frankfurt

Germany and Austria, Travel

Dec 20 – Strasbourg to Frankfurt

The streets were quiet at 8:30 am when we checked out of our hotel and wheeled our suitcases back to the car. After some debate about waiting until the groceries stores opened to buy some cheese, we decided to head out and find a place to stop en route. And as soon as we pulled out we stopped at a small convenient store we saw. I was finally starting to feel better, so I was excited to to buy an orange to eat along the way. Yeah!

We made good time and were able to drive right to the river where the boat was parked. Dad had Shawn dropped off mom and I at the ship while they went back to drop off the car at the airport and took cruise transport bus back.

dsc_8439   This worked well because as soon as mom and I checked in and dropped off the luggage, we headed off to visit the Christmas Market. Mom and I visited and shopped for 1.5 hours, but only managed to visit like 8 little shops! We did some serious damage including more candles and little German houses and food. Oh dear!

dsc_8442We met back up with the boys on the ship, had a quick lunch and went back out. Because it wasn’t as sunny as it was earlier, it got a bit cold as we slowly visited the Christmas stalls. We headed back to the ship (it was Great that it was so close) to get on a few more layers before we headed back out again to walk further away to see a few more stalls as well as try and find some Earl Grey Tea. p1000195Can’t have winter tea without some good “blueberries” in it – and those are already on the ship, so we just needed the right tea! It was nice to be able to do some actually walking instead of just visiting a few stalls along the way.

On the way back to the ship, we stopped to exchange earrings I had bought earlier. Next to the jewelry there was a sausage man. Shawn bought this huge basket of sausage for only 10 Euros. It was a really good deal. He was so happy! We were so busy making little purchases that we were late to the orientation meeting. Oops. The main cruise concierge guy is pretty funny and he was great at explaining what was the plan for the next week.

We went straight from the meeting down to dinner. I had amazing scallops. It was also my first meal in 5 days. Thank goodness! There was also a great tomato basel soup too.p1000204

After dinner, we headed up to the lounge to hear a fantastic trio of piano, French horn and soprano singer. The singer was amazing. She entertained and even came and sang a song next to mom. It was fun and we even got to go to sleep at a reasonable time! Gotta love that too!

Off to sleep!

Night

-Allison