Thursday, August 8, 2013

Kicking the Bucket List in Europe: Part 1

Last month I got to cross a few items off my bucket list: I went to Europe. As in, real Europe. Not just England. Not just Paris. No, I got to visit the heart of Europe: The Netherlands (the home of my husband's ancestors), Germany (the home of my ancestors), France, and Switzerland.

To say that the trip was amazing would be an understatement. 

It was a blessing. A huge, huge blessing.

The best part? I got to take this trip with my mom and my sisters. We've traveled together before, but this one was big. Special. The kind of trip you dream about and hope you can experience someday, but somehow never really think will happen.

But happen it did, thanks to my mom, because she is having a big birthday year and this trip was part of the celebration.

(Happy Birthday, Mom!)

So here we go. I want to share as much as I can with you, but there's just so much to say, so I'll try to keep it brief.

The main part of our trip was a River Cruise on the Rhine River. We started in Amsterdam and finished the cruise portion of our trip in Basel, Switzerland one week later.

I know most of you are thinking that we took a Viking River Cruise, what with my affinity for Downton Abbey and all, but you would be wrong. We took Viking's lesser-known (in the States, anyway) competition, Ama Waterways, aboard the AmaCello. Now, since I've never been on a Viking cruise, I really can't compare the two, but what I can tell you is that Ama was spectacular. The ship was small (it only held 148 people), beautiful, and clean.

Here's a picture of the home-away-from-home that I shared with my sister:

The food was . . . oh my! Every meal was a feast, and the service throughout the ship was top-notch. We really enjoyed it.

A lot.

Days 1 & 2: Amsterdam

I was excited yet apprehensive about visiting Amsterdam because, you know, the Red Light District and all. Growing up, whenever I thought about Amsterdam, aside from hearing about Corrie TenBoom and Anne Frank, I thought the city was only filled with unseemly people and that every night was a huge party.

I was wrong. They also have bicycles.

(This is one of my favorite pictures--do you see the little sign that's on the window? Can you say irony?)

Lots and lots of bicycles.

 They also have tippy houses that, I learned, are built right next to one another for a reason: support.

Amsterdam is built on a marshy swamp with miles and miles of man-made canals flowing through it. It's absolutely gorgeous, but it wouldn't surprise me if some morning we turn on the news to find that Amsterdam has been swallowed up by the sea.

All-in-all, I found Amsterdam to be a lovely city with lovely people. Everyone we talked to was warm and gracious (and they all spoke perfect English!), and I'd really like to take my husband back there someday.

As to the Red Light District . . .

My sisters and I did walk through the RLD one night--we just felt like we had to see it. Once. It's one of those things I can say I've seen, but I never need to go back there again.

It just made me sad.

On our second day in Amsterdam we took a beautiful tour of the city, which included a canal tour. So pretty!

The tour ended with a visit to the windmill made famous by Rembrandt, who was from Amsterdam. The date on top of the windmill says 1636. NBD.

 Day 3: Cologne and Koblenz, Germany

So in the afternoon of Day 2, we set sail (like the sailor lingo?) down the Rhine River out of Utrecht, Netherlands. (I want to say Holland, but I learned that "Holland" is actually two states within the Netherlands. There is North Holland and South Holland, which explains where my husband came from, but the country is called The Netherlands.)

That day and night we were on the boat for 18 hours.

The next morning we docked in Cologne, Germany. I had never really heard much about Cologne except for the famous cathedral, which was truly beautiful, but aside from that, I felt like the city was thoroughly unimpressive.

My sisters and I took a bicycle tour through the town--that was fun--but we didn't see much that I'd want to come back to see again.

I'd say that the best part of Cologne was this:

Enough said.

Things do get better, trust me.

Later on that day, we "set sail" again, docking at Koblenz, Germany after dinner that night. Just a week or two before I left I found out that our adopted "son," Matt (very long story for another day), was living in Koblenz, so we made arrangements to meet that night.

When Matt suggested meeting at the Deutches Eck, the German Corner, which is a famous monument in Koblenz, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find it.

I shouldn't have worried. That thing is HUGE!! Probably the biggest monument I've ever seen in my life.

And Koblenz is absolutely lovely. We only had a few hours in that town, but I wish I could have stayed a little longer. Matt was a fantastic tour guide, showing me the older section of town, which, by the way, looked exactly like Epcot.

I'm so glad I got to see Matt!

(We're cracking up in this picture because the little German lady we stopped to ask to take the picture just couldn't figure out my camera. Matt, in his broken German, kept trying to explain, but she kept not understanding. 
I think this is the 7th or 8th try.)

Day 4: Cruising through the Rhine Gorge & Rudesheim, Germany

This was the day we had all been looking forward to, and the day did not disappoint. Our cruise manager, Darinka (who, by the way, was exceptionally lovely), told us we should be up on the top deck around 8:00 a.m. because as soon as we left Koblenz we would start seeing castles. 

Thankfully, the day was sunny and warm. Actually, it got a bit TOO warm as the day and the week went on, but who were we to complain? We were cruising the Rhine! 

Can I just say right now that you need to put this section of the Rhine River on your own personal bucket list? I could never do justice to the amazing beauty that we experienced in those few hours, slowly crawling along the river. Castles, churches, villages, and vineyards everywhere you looked. It was like living in a fairy tale!

Here's the view from the top deck of our ship:

Those are mostly Riesling vineyards down there--those Germans make some of the best wines in the world.

I'd say we all enjoyed every minute.

Rather than bore you with a million pictures of castles, I thought I'd show you one of my favorites. This one is so cool because it looks like it's just emerging from the side of the mountain.

What smart person thought of that way back in the 12th century, I'd like to know?

After several hours of floating down the Rhine, checking out castles, my neck was getting tired from swinging left and right, so it was with mixed emotions that we put the UNESCO heritage site behind us and docked in Rudesheim.

Rudesheim is a picturesque little village known mostly for its vineyards.

We know it mostly for its oppressive heat.

As the day went on, the sun grew hotter and hotter. We were scheduled to take a vineyard tour and wine tasting in Rudesheim, but once we got up to the vineyard the heat was blazing and we were feeling like it might just be too much to traipse through the vines. We thought we'd much rather traipse through some shops, so we left the tour and walked through the town.

Absolutely charming.

Absolutely stifling.

Bye bye, Rudesheim. Maybe next time.

Up next: Heidelberg, Strasbourg, and the Alsace region of France.

Your thoughts? Have you ever seen the Rhine Gorge? What's on your bucket list?


  1. So much fun, Shelly! Great pictures. I would love to have a European adventure of my own someday. Looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

    P.S. Your adopted son? So handsome! (I couldn't resist.)

  2. Yesterday in the car, Annalyn heard someone on the radio mention the new royal prince. She was just stunned, "WHAT? There are REAL princes? Is he going to save the day? PRINCESSES ARE REAL?!?!"

    I'm pretty sure that when I finally make it to Europe, that will be my exact reaction. "WHAT? There are REAL castles? Do they have dungeons? Moats? Towers? KNIGHTS? CASTLES ARE REAL?!?!"


  3. Leigh, he's even more handsome in person! ;) I hope you do get to have your own European adventure someday.

    Mary, your reaction is priceless! Love it!

  4. What an amazing start to your trip, Shelly. And how wonderful for you to have been able to share such an awesome experience with your loved ones! I've got your next installment open in my browser tab and I'm excited to read on :)