Thursday, 10 September 2015

Keen's European Vacation - Day 6 Tuesday 11 August 2015


We have a new tour guide Daniel (Asian decent, Dutch! The same as Lex). And a new driver Jimmy, who looks about 16 but probably around 25. We visited Zaanse Schans to see traditional clog making and cheese making. The clogs were originally required to keep feet dry and as trees were plentiful and no other available materials to make shoes. I bought a few souvenir tiny clogs for the kids and a vanity mirror for my bag from Amsterdam. We bought a small smoked cheese and a jar of honey mustard to enjoy later on. The traditional windmills were fascinating and the people very friendly, the residents actually live in the village and lots of people riding bicycles everywhere.
Clogs of all shapes and sizes
We left the village and we went to a tourist fishing village, this one was not on itinerary and we were charged 10 by the tour guide. The people on the bus were pretty upset about it as many of us wanted to go and explore Amsterdam earlier. We left the fishing village, which was very beautiful and next to the sea, so I was happy to have spent 2 hours on the coast as all the other cities have been inland. We we told the local fast food is Herring, raw or smoked herring, the raw herring is eaten cleaned and whole, you tip your head back and feed it into your mouth and bite off a chunk and chew! We opted for the cod bits and deep fried mussels with a garlic dipping sauce, they were delicious and we sat on the concrete steps  together, looked out to sea and ate our seafood as the greedy gulls circled and squarked. I later read in our Itinerary that Volendam Fishing village was on the tour but we didn't realise that it wasn't optional. It was fun anyway but more time in Amsterdam would have suited us better.
Smooth Pierre with windmills
We left the villages and went to the Coster diamond factory, we we given a tour and saw the diamonds being hand cut and polished. We went to a private viewing room and were shown the difference in the types of diamonds and their cut and colour. We were shown real diamonds that ranged in priced between 2000 and 250,000. Amsterdam and Antwerp are the biggest and most important cities for diamond production cutting and polishing. The Coster diamond company produced all of the diamonds for the crown of Queen Elizabeth of England, they had a replica of it on display, the Real One is kept in the Tower of London, the largest diamond in the crown are the size of large figs. When they cut and polish the diamond they loose around 40 percent off the size of the raw stone. We spent the next hour in the square soaking in up the atmosphere and cooling our feet in the community pool. We then headed past the Heineken museum to go on the Seine river cruise. It was very informative and we saw lots of sights we would not have time to see. We cruised past Anne Frank's house and the many museums and churches. We saw the converted house barges and safe houses. The city is very beautiful and it feels a little contrived to me as all of the facades were very similar. We then made our way to the city centre and had 2 hours free time. We were dropper off in the red light district which was chock a block with thousands  and thousands of people, bars, restaurants, coffee shops and shops. We went for a walk with James and Alexis who are a brother and sister from Texas USA, their parents work for a travel company and they went on a Reine river cruise and the adult children took the redline tour bus and are meeting their parents back in Paris tomorrow. They are both in college and really nice company. 
There are 3 major cities in The Netherlands which are Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Haig. The temperature range in summer to 30 degrees and minus 20 in winter. The canals freeze over and people skate on them, industries are tulip and fresh flowers, cheese and manufacturing.

We went into the coffee shop and Pete bought a smoke and sat and smoked it while I chatted to a woman from Texas whose husband had been in the military and then worked in Dubai he comes to Amsterdam for the pot to relax his mind and body. 
I went across the cobbled street to a bar called the Drink and Sink and bought a white wine, it was a measured 150ml and was 4 (it was tiny!). I asked could I take it across the street to drink it with my husband in the coffee shop. The barmaid said it is forbidden to take alcohol into the coffee shop but we could smoke our own pot in the bar! Pete was a bit spaced out and relaxed and very thirsty so we sat and had a beer and watched the people pass by. We went to the supermarket and bought beer 12pack of Heineken for 10 a bottle of wine and some toiletries total of 25. 
We went into a bar to use to loo so we bought a drink and spoke with Amin from Iran who owns the bar. He started the conversation by telling Pete he can't smoke cigarettes I the bar only reefers are allowed. So he had to smoke his cigarette out front or in the smoking room, but he fired up a joint in the bar, just because he could, while I sipped my wine and ate my space cake! Amin was a great guy and he lent me an umbrella to get back to the bus as it had started raining heavily. We were back on the bus by 7:15pm and back to the hotel, everything was so funny, we laughed until we cried. It took me a while to realise the Space Cake was the culprit! We hate snacks for dinner and slept like babies. We were so excited as we were spending 2 whole nights in this hotel so we didn't have to pack up first thing in the morning!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Keen's European Vacation - Day 5 Monday 10 August 2015

Day 5 Monday 10 August 2015 Frankfurt - Bonn - Cologne - Amsterdam.

Today we are primed up for some German culture. We are going to Bonn about 2 hours from Frankfurt to Cologne and finish up in Amsterdam this evening around 7pm.
First stop Bonn to visit the home of Beethoven. Twin servo comfort stop, same, same, but different! Burger King attached but in the servo area is a full on breakfast smorgasbord set up with German sausage heaven, cereal, eggs, pastries and a fridge full of beverages including beer and champagne! A bottle of Mumm for 12.99! No I didn't buy one! Toilette cost €0.70 and you get a voucher to spend in the shop. They have no idea about skinny milk and no chocolate sprinkle on your cappuccino but you get a yummy thin cinnamon biscuit to go!
Beethoven's House in Bonn - Germany
Continuing our journey into Bonn it is raining quite heavily but we feel safe and sound in our massive Mercedes Benz coach all of us have our umbrellas packed in our luggage under the coach. Lex our tour guide has given us a brief history of the life of Ludwig Von Beethoven. It bought back memories of my high school elective music classes with Mr Pickering and the facts that I learned as a school girl that were locked away in memories from many years ago. Lex played Beethoven music as we drove through the rain to Fur Elise, Beethoven's 5th and Ode to Joy. Beethoven the child prodigy, who at the age of 2 was dragged from his bed by a drunken father to play for his friends in the middle of the night, if he did not play well he was slapped around the head. He loved his mother deeply and he travelled around Europe as a youngster and at the age of 10 played for the King of the Netherlands Willem 5th. He went to school for 4 years at the age of 7 and was taught Latin, not music. He travelled to Vienna the home of music aged 16 to meet and learn from Mozart. He was called back to Bonn as his mother was very ill and she died that year. He stayed in Bonn for 4 years and then travelled to Vienna again, but by the time he arrived Mozart had passed away. He found another teacher in Handel but they had a rocky relationship as Handel said he had too much anger in his music. He became deaf at the age of 27 and became suicidal but continued writing and playing by cutting the legs off his piano so he could feel the vibration of the music through the floor. He died age 56 of liver disease as his major symptom was jaundice. So off to his birthplace we go.
Beethoven's piano's ( I can hear the music!)
Amazing, seeing the original manuscripts written by his own hand! In his house where he was born and raised and where he created magic and became one of the greatest composers of all time! Listening to his music in his house was magical, and his house is full of the music of people walking through his home and soaking up the history, the squeaky floorboards being played hour after hour of people who still adore the music from the deaf musician. While I walked through the museum Pete explored Bonn, he found the market and bought me fresh raspberries, strawberries, bananas and nectarines for lunch. They tasted amazing, so juicy and full of European sunshine, grown by local residents and not on mass produced farms.
Cologne Cathedral - relics of the 3 Wisemen
A half hour drive from Bonn to Cologne and we are visiting a gothic church and we have 2 hours to explore the city, then back on the bus! Back on the bus 2 hours later, Holy Relic Batman!  The Cologne Cathedral houses the relics of the 3 wise men! You heard me right! The vessels that transported the gold, frankincense and murre when baby Jesus was born in the manger on Christmas Day. Construction began in 1311 and was completed in 1817 it is in the gothic style with spires, carvings, sculptures and paintings making up the gorgeous interior. The floor was indescribable, intricate mosaics that are thousands of years old with millions of feet walking over them. Pete got chipped for wearing his hat in the cathedral by an imposing German chap in a cassock! It was fascinating, I wish we had been able to take the guided tour but not this time, due to time constraints. It was very wet so I bought an umbrella for 3, after we got soaked! We bought bratwurst roll for lunch, 2 rolls and a large bottle of beer for 5.50. Aussies have got no idea how to do sausage in a roll, the Germans have nailed it, we come a very sorry second! It makes Bunnings Saturday morning offering a very poor attempt, (I must remember it is fundraising!) The city centre was bustling with people shopping, eating and drinking. We got caught in a storm. The music shops are amazing but we had no time to look. In the money exchange we met a family from Perth who are touring Europe booked entirely over the Internet, they said the driving was scary, as on the other side of the road and on the other side f the vehicle, trying to listen to navigation as well as concentrating was very challenging, but they are having a ball. Now driving to the Netherlands 300km away, it will take approximately 4 hours.
The traffic was terrible and we stopped at petrol stations for rest stops. All toilets in Germany you pay for about €0.50. We bought burgers at Burger King for dinner, they were massive, fatty and we had little time to eat. We should have waited until the hotel or selected the healthy option next door. Lessons learned from yesterday, always take an umbrella, carry panadol. You can buy booze anywhere but not head ache tablets.

The hotel in Amsterdam is the Hyatt Place near the airport, it is the best hotel so far. They have face washers! They are not widely used or provided in Europe. The rooms are modern and spacious but out of the city centre once again. The breakfast was great and I love the Dutch Gouda cheese.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Keen's European Vacation - Day 4

Luxembourg - Trier - Koblenz (GERMANY)

The trip to Trier took only 45 mins and we crossed the border into Germany where they speak German! and the town of Trier, where we visited the home of Karl Marx the father of Marxism, and the black gate (Noir Gate), built by the Romans to protect the city of Trier from attack. It is all that remains of the walled fortress. 0.50 euro for the rest rooms, they play nice music because the line is so long!
Leaving Trier to drive to Koblenz is massed vineyards on very steep hillsides. They are grown his way due to the lack of sunshine and cold weather and snow. This is a white wine growing region as the names of he rivers are a dead give away the Mosel and the Rhine. My kind of countryside! We will experience the autobahn for the first time today. Very green treed areas and picturesque villages nestled in the valleys. Only tourist buses are out and about here today. In Europe Sunday is a day of rest and all shops are closed, people sleep very late and spend the day at home; so very little traffic or movement about, now back on the bus for the 2-hour trip to Koblenz. Pete has a few fans on the bus, a man from Indonesia and a young guy who looks Arabic maybe? They keep chatting to him about the harp and taking his picture at every given opportunity. Of course, he is lapping up the attention and playing up to them!
Koblenz is known as the corner of Germany, it's not really on the corner but is so named due to the fact that is this point where 2 great rivers meet after their separate journeys and become one. The Mosel and the Rhine combine and the mighty river continue to the sea as the Rhine. 
We drove

through rather industrial areas to arrive at the riverfront. The area was starting to come alive at around 11:30am. We filed off the bus once again and followed our tour guide Lex (from the Netherlands) for a quick orientation and briefing for meeting times. Our group has been awesome getting back to our meeting points on time. This is because the very laconic Lex quietly advised that the bus would leave 5mins after the scheduled time regardless, unless we contacted him to advise we were lost or held up at a local restaurant etc.
We opted for the traditional german lunch with your choice of sausage or pork knuckle, beer or white wine. We arrived and sat with other people from the tour in a very cute German restaurant, we had soup then out came the main meal, OMG sausage to make you eyes water! 3 ginormous skins of goodness, 1 Weiner, 1 bratwurst and 1 frankfurter! Then the pork knuckle; it must have been donated by the prize winning German swine, it was huge, cooked to perfection and so succulent it was falling off the bone! Both meals were served on a bed of creamy mash potato and sauerkraut with gravy! A true taste sensation and we are really stoked that we opted in to this experience 15 out of 39 of the group went along. The bonus during lunch was a lone saxophone player who was awesome played alongside the restaurant, he was very talented and easy on the eye girls, if you get my drift! I thought of Kent teaching himself and practising up a storm in Gloucester, it will get easier matey! We took a stroll along the waterfront where the local music talent was putting on various shows for the festival. Some excellent guitarists, and a big band.
made me wonder how they maintain and harvest the fruit?
We arrived for our Rhine river cruise and boarded a beautiful vessel called the Loreley Elegance.  Along the cruise we learned of the Legend of Loreley.  She was a beautiful lady who used to have a favourite spot to brush her hair and sing a haunting and very beautiful song high on the hill top along the river Rhine. Legend has it that the ships captains and crew became mesmerised by her beauty and her song and the vessels would crash onto the rocks. There are flags depicting the spot and a statue on the banks of a turn in the river.
Our boat was a floating restaurant and bar, but we had eaten our massive meat lunch and could not even enjoy a beer on our river journey, not a bad thing really! The floating tour continued and we spied in the distance high upon a hill our first castle! It took our breath away, it was a fairy tale vision only previously conjured up in our imaginations! 62 and 55 years old seeing a real fairy tale castle, perched high on a hill with an ancient church and village nestled below snuggled like a sleeping baby against the banks of a legendary Rhine. It was the first of so many. I asked the tour guide, were there so many kings in Germany to have so many castles? Then I thought to myself, idiot, Germany has a prime minister, but in my own defence maybe they did have many kings in 1318. But no, the castles were built by private families and nowadays are owned and operated mostly as hotels and restaurants a few are privately owned. I did see a few that are falling into ruin, but mostly they are preserved and used which is wonderful, as fairy tale castles can't be allowed to crumble and turn to ruins.
Villages with their churches and pubs and one curiosity that any self respecting Aussie will relate to, Beer Church! Yes, you heard correctly! The pub has a church attached to it and you can only access the church by passing through the pub! The preacher/priest/reverend / pastor serves the beer and then delivers the church service. They would pack out the Sunday sermon if we had though of this earlier! The cruise lasted about and hour and ten minutes and we soaked up the sun on the open deck and then when we were due to disembark we went below to the air conditioned comfort to cool off, our coach met us with those passengers that did not take up the cruise option and we were off once again.
Our driver Huumbert (The Netherlands), took us up the mountain through the narrowest of streets he navigated our massive coach around bends between houses that side walls stood on the edge of road. Many scrapes were along the ancient walls where lesser drive captains had failed or chickened out. We alighted from the bus at the top and walked along the path up and up to the statue of Germain. OMG!, they sure know how to go BIG in this country! It is so tall and so massive you cannot even look at it all, as you have to crane your neck so far you nearly fall over! I bought the little booklet for 2.50and it will go in my little treasure box of tour memories when I get home. We then travelled for an hour and arrived in Frankfurt at 6pm. By this time we were knackered and the city was bustling and we had been warned numerous times about pick pockets, so we found a pub, sat down and bought a beer. 4 each. I left Pete and went in search of diet coke and take away food with Lyn, Jackie and Jess. Successful in the soft drink, bombed out on the take away food. No supermarkets in sight in Frankfurt, this city was rebuilt after the war as the modern city so it has many high rise buildings not really seen across much of Europe. It is called a working town and is known as the Manhattan of Europe and Bankfurt as many banks and the most important bank in Europe are located here, being the Eurobank.

We drove half an hour to our hotel located near Frankfurt airport, NH Frankfurt Airport West. It was clean, and modern. No tea or coffee making facilities in the room, and no fridge in ours although others had them apparently. The China Dolls from Hong Kong ordered dinner when we arrived at the hotel and got it 2 hours later. We opted for muesli bars and bickies and dip, bourbon and scotch. We had a pool and Pete went out there a few times to chat to others, I woke up in the morning to get in the shower and he had left the door to our room open. No pickpockets in this hotel, they would have had a field day with our electronics! The breakfast was amazing, hot & cold, English, European and everything in between. The muesli was impressive, strawberry, chocolate and some just for me, multi grain sugar free, fresh yoghurt, toppers including chia seeds, pipitas, yoghurt etc. We were fed an on the bus by 8am this morning and some passengers left and more joined us, we picked them up at the Hauptbahnhof (central station).

Friday, 4 September 2015

Keen's European Vacation - Day 3

Day 3 Saturday 8 August 2015 - Paris - Reims - Luxembourg

Our anniversary morning Smooth Pierre has outdone himself, how will he ever top this anniversary? You can read between the lines, if you dare!!! Waking in Paris then taking me on a romantic tour of the Champagne region in Reims and into the French countryside and finishing our day in Luxembourg. Our first romantic day in Paris and we can hardly believe the cityscape, the place is oozing charm and romanticism. Not one to waste good French wine, we toasted each other with leftover red wine; remembering our wedding day and slow dancing in our room to David Bowies Heros. (We have a video, I may share that at a later date!) 
We then experienced our first continental breakfast with croissant, ham w Gruyere cheese, hard boiled eggs, baguette, cereal n fruit, coffee n juice, One Korean lady in the breakfast room got caught taking extra for her lunch, so Pete decided it was not a good idea to stuff his pockets with extra goodies. Although his first go at a croissant when he tore it open was oh look a vegemite croissant! After biting into it he realised it was chocolate, now that tastes weird you are expecting vegemite!. The hotel supplies breakfast not breakfast and lunch, I thought it was a bit rude taking food, when others missed out on brekkie. He did try to lift a copy of the French morning paper La Parisienne but the doorman made him return it. 
We left hotel and took a coach to transfer point in the Place de Italie. We met our first tour guide Lex from the Netherlands and he took over, and told us to really watch our luggage, the whole of Europe is rife with pickpockets. It freaked us out a bit and then to be told, go to the toilet but you need to pay every time you want to pee, so order a coffee or juice in any cafe and you can use the facilities. It was a good tip early in the trip as there was no loo on the coach. Most places charged .70 euro so around $1 AUD.
We gathered all of the people joining the Red Line with Go Eu Go tours and 44 of us set off on the International coach, another 5 Chinese speaking tours were leaving as well. It was packed and everyone was buzzing with excitement. We got a seat immediately behind the driver, we were up high and had a great view of the road. Pete was stoked with his prime position, and immediately adopted his self appointed role of co-pilot. 
We travelled to Reims in Champagne region, to our amazement we turned a corner and got our first eyeful of a truly magnificent gothic cathedral, it literally took our breath away, the size, the detail, the sculpture, the art, the feeling of the dimly lit, cool interior gave us goose bumps, it is the Notre Dame of Reims, the cathedral was built in 1211. All of the French Kings were crowned in this church, also a beautiful statue of Joan of Arc is here. Her story of heroism is amazing, she saved the people from the English during the war after experiencing a "vision" from God in her sleep. Charles VI gave her an army of soldiers and she led and fought with them to save the town and people and defeated the enemy. Unfortunately for Joan she became more popular with the people than the King so Charles IV had her burned at the stake......those times were so barbaric and harsh for everyone, but a 16 year old girl, that led an army to victory being burned at the stake, blows my mind.....poor soul.  
Joan of Arc
We had lunch in the square al fresco with glass of champagne and a Stella. I bought a bottle of champagne to put on ice for tonight and coasters for the summer on our deck, plus a little Paris tote bag. Leaving Reims we travelled north on our luxury coach to Luxembourg.
Luxembourg was a post card, street theatre everywhere and steeped in history. Fortresses  from 932! Tiny country with a huge heart and very beautiful people. It is 2000 sq km, and takes 1 hour to drive across it. It is a tax haven and has the second highest minimum wage after Australia being the first. We couldnt believe our eyes as we watched the news that night, and there we were, Pete and Ronnie from Down Under, captured as wrapt audience participants in the crowd, watching the giant puppets and a tiny weeny lady playing the piano accordion in the street. We were on Luxembourg TV on our anniversary. We spent the night in the Novotel Luxembourg and I ordered the penne with swordfish & Pete had Moussaka.not sure what the natives eat but we really enjoyed it for our anniversary dinner. Pete was dying to speak the lingo but just said to the waiter that we don't speak! He didnt realise the waiter was speaking French, he thought he was speaking Luxembourg! But he tried really hard and I was so impressed with his efforts to make our anniversary dinner so special. We were too tired to drink our champagne but it won't go to waste! Ill carry with me until I get the chance to enjoy it!
We had a great breakfast here, and we are meeting more people from the bus each day, a mother and daughter from Canada Jackie and Jess are lovely, and 3 tiny gorgeous very friendly girls from Hong Kong, that I have nick named the China Dolls. Our bus is English speaking but it is totally multicultural all from different backgrounds and lots of people living in countries other than their place of birth, including America, Vietnam, Kazikstan and Spain. Tomorrow we are off to Trier, and then to Germany for a German Pork Knuckle and Sausage lunch and Rhine River cruise.