A stop in Cologne on our Rhine River cruise

LOCATION:  On the Rhine River on AMA Waterways River Cruise
WEATHER:  Another surprisingly nice day (forecast had been rain which didn’t materialize)

Our ship has a wellness coach on staff, so we did a stretching class with him.  We were the only ones in the class.  It felt good. 

To celebrate entering Germany, the cruiseline offered  a Bavarian lunch – lots of sausages and kraut.  This part of Germany is pretty industrial.  We passed a lot of huge factories in Dusseldorf, then entering Cologne.  The view of the cathedral welcomed us to Cologne.

We docked right near the central part of the city and a tour guide took us through the old town.  It was interesting to see the few buildings that survived the bombing of WWII.

The cathedral dominates the city.  I was here 50 years ago, and my only real recollection of Cologne was walking out of the train station and looking up to this view…

The tour guide then took us to a beer hall where we had the local beer – Kolsch.  Kolsch is only made in Cologne, and is also the name of the dialect spoken here.  You drink Kolsch in special, small beer glasses as it is only good when it is cold.  The waiters come around with huge trays and replace your glass without being asked. 

We also sampled a local specialty of potato pancakes with applesauce, and a thick brown bread. 

Here is our tour guide enjoying a Kolsch, too.  He is a Brit studying in Cologne.

The custom is that the waiters continue serving you Kolsch until you put a beer coaster on top of your glsas, signaling “Surrender!” 

Back on the ship, we had happy hour, then dinner.  After the potato pancake, I stuck with just a salad, while George enjoyed the sauerbraten.

We had a special entertainer come on board who sang and played dance tunes for us.  Fun!

Floriade, food, and fun!

LOCATION:  On AMA Waterways cruise ship on the Rhine River
WEATHER:  Surprisingly sunny in the AM.  Cloudy but nice in PM.  High 61

You can certainly eat a lot on this ship!  We ate a small breakfast – fruit and yoghurt, although we could have stuffed ourselves with anything imaginable from the menu.  Then, we we were off for the morning’s activities while still docked in Amsterdam.  Our choices were either a canal boat trip in Amsterdam, or a visit to Floriade,  which we selected.

Floriade is like a World’s Fair, but with a focus on horticulture.  They offer it every 10 years, so we were lucky to be here for it.  We took a bus to the town of Almera, where it is located.  This town was “created” out of the sea starting in the 1970s.  They call the original trees (from the 70s) “ancient forests”.  Hah!  The Floriade show started in March, and will end in October.  Once the fair is over, they will tear it down, and build apartments to expand this new city, keeping everything green.  It is amazing.

A lot of the fair was about sustainability.  This building, which will be a university building after the fair, hardly uses any electricity for heating and cooling.  It is all solar with plants on its sides and roof.

We took a gondola (cable car) ride to the other part of the fair, an island.

Like a World’s Fair, many countries offered exhibitions.  Germany’s was nice….

We took this photo from the gondola of this apartment, a sample of what the new city will look like. 

The greenhouse was spectacular.  This is the nursery…

Beautiful flowers, fruits, and vegetables.  We even participated in a contest judging the best apples!

Then, back to the ship for a late lunch, and departure at 1:00 PM.  Trying not to overeat, I had the Vietnamese fried rice and George had the “fisherman’s plate” for lunch..

In the afternoon, we sailed down the canal, reaching the Rhine in the evening. 

Happy hour at 6:00, along with an orientation of excursions lined up for the rest of the week. 

We selected the “chef’s table” for dinner.  A small group of us sat in a private dining area and had a set 8-course dinner, each with a different wine.

  First course were two perfectly  cooked/peeled cherry tomatoes with mozarella…

There was a fish course….

A sorbet palate cleanser…

And the main course – wine-braised beef brisket….

A spectacular assortment of goodies for dessert…

This was our view as we enjoyed our dinner….

Then, party time!  The ship has a piano player/DJ – Romeo – who plays music.  I danced with one of the staff from the Phillipines. 

Gloomy day in Amsterdam

LOCATION: On board the AMA Certo, river cruise ship docked in Amsterdam
WEATHER:  Horrible!  Cold and pouring rain all day. High 50

We stayed at the Ibis hotel, right next to the train station for our 3 nights here in Amsterdam. We are RIGHT at the station. This is the view from our window…

We donned our rain jackets and rain hats and hit the sidewalks of Amsterdam.  One has to watch the red pavement as that is where the thousands of bikers zoom along.  They will mow you down if you are not careful.

I was getting a little “hangray” so we stopped for lunch in a delightful Italian restaurant.  We shared Italian onion soup (superb on a cold, miserable day), and a flatbread with smoked salmon and capers.  Equally tasty!

We trudged around the streets for about 2 hours and found our destination, the Ann Frank Museum, only to learn that it is completely booked until mid-October.  😦    When we looked disappointed, the lady recommended another museum called the Jewish Museum that has stories similar to Ann Frank’s.  So, off we trudged through the rain and cold.  After about another 2 hours, we finally found the museum…..closed for a Jewish holiday. 

We passed lots of coffeeshops (all one word) which are places to buy and smoke pot. We weren’t in the “Red Light Distict”, but did pass an occasional house with a red light shining. On one window, where the lady sits, it said “no pictures”.

By this time, we were pretty pooped out, and finished up the long day of walks back at our hotel.  We picked up our luggage and then walked to our river cruise ship. 

We are on a AMA Waterways cruise.  This cruiseline had been recommended to us.  It is like Viking, but smaller.  This ship normally has 150 passengers, but there are only 44 of us on this cruise.  Plus 45 staff.  It should be a lot more “intimate”

We had a welcome cocktail hour along with the safety presentation and orientation. 

Dinner was quite nice.  It seems like you can eat as much or as little, healthy or not healthy, as you want.  We had the sauteed sea bass which seemed like a healthy choice.  I skipped the appetizers and dessert.  LOTS of wine, as this is a wine cruise. 

Amsterdam’s Heineken Experience

LOCATION:  Ibis Hotel in Amsterdam Centraal, The Netherlands
WEATHER:  Yuck.  Cool – 58 and rain all day

Our main destination today was the Heineken Experience.  Fifty years ago my brother, his friend, and I travelled all around Europe on a budget of $1 per day.  Really!  As Budget Director, I controlled the expenses.  When we were here in Amsterdam back then, we discovered that the Heineken Brewery gave free tours and offered free beers and snacks after the tour.  This fit in nicely with the budget, so we did it several times!

So, of course, we had to do it today.  It is now an “experience” , not just a tour, and now costs $20 per person.   Two beers but no food are offered as part of the “experience.”

We walked there, about 1.5 miles, through the rain.  In the touristy part of town, there are a lot of cheese shops (gouda) and  interesting streets.

We also saw several “coffee shops”.  These shops sell marijuana, not coffee.  While not actually legal here, it is “tolerated” and these shops are allowed to sell a limited amount.  You smell pot everywhere on the street.

We finally arrived at the brewery, thoroughly soaked 

We did the tour.  What I remember from 50 years ago was that the brewery tour guide would always ask the 4 main ingredients to beer.  She did it again this time!  They are….water, barley, hops, and yeast.  I remembered!

The “Heineken Experience” is now quite sophisticated, with light shows and a cool atmosphere in the drinking area. We were about the only old people. Lots of cute, young things….

George entered a beer-pouring contest…..and won!

We were starved after the tour, and found a cute cafe.  We had fries (very popular here – with a Belgium influence) and an open-faced cheese sandwich with “seasonal vegetables”.  Unfortunately, they were beets which I hate, so I scraped them off for George…

Then, another 1.5 mile walk to a brew pub that we had seen yesterday.  It used to be a public bath (thus the separate men/women entrances) and is now a hopping craft beer place.

We were too tired to walk any more, so caught a bus back to our hotel. 

DINNER:  Indonesia used to belong to The Netherlands, so Indonesian food is quite popular here.  We found a restaurant with great reviews.  We shared some spring rolls, chicken satay, and a spicy beef/veg dish over steamed rice.  The owner/host was very friendly, remembering our names.

Little Venice in The Netherlands

LOCATION:  Ibis Hotel, Amsterdam Centraal
WEATHER:  Cloudy with scattered showers.  High 62

For anyone visiting Amsterdam, I recommend this hotel.  Very small rooms, but superb location.  Seems safe.  We are right next to the train station….

Today’s plan was to go on an excursion to the country, using a refund from an excursion not taken last year while in Puerto Rico.  We met up the group at the train station.  There were 80 on the tour.  Interesting….English was the first language for only George and me, but it was the universal language used on the tour. 

It was an all-day trip, first taking us to the dike that holds up the country.  Before the dam and dike, the water from the North Sea would inundate the countryside.  Most of The Netherlands (meaning lowlands) has an elevation of minus 3-6 feet.  The fields are all very green, with lots of cows, sheep, and crops.  We stopped for a photo shot, and I just happened to catch this rainbow…

Our main destination was a village from the 1200s, very quaint with its thatched roof houses and canals.  It is called Geithoorn, which means goat horn.  The story is that in the 1200s, when it was originally founded, the settlers found hundreds of goat horns buried in the soil, and they assumed that there had been a flood when they had all died.  The city’s emblem is a goat and people have goat statues in their yards.

We started our visit there with lunch.  I had a typical dish – Dutch mustard soup, and George had a specialty called bitterballen, sort of a beef croquette.  All very tasty.

The town is like Venice – no cars.  People get around on the canals and by walking and riding bikes.

We took a boat ride around the village.  The homes have been beautifully restored, and the lawns are pretty. Our guide said that in olden times, thatched roofs were inexpensive and tile was expensive. Now it is the opposite.

We visited the museum, a restored farm house where we watched a film of people living there in the early 1900s – with their wooden clogs, using the canals to transport their animals and goods.  They used these windmills to pump out the water so the canals would not flood.

A two-hour bus trip brought us back to Amsterdam.  We found an Asian restaurant in the train station for dinner.  I had a bowl of mushroom ramen and George had Japanese donburi with duck. All good.

Happy birthday to me in the air!

LOCATION: Ibis Hotel, Central Amsterdam, The Netherlands

WEATHER: Overcast. High 64

We got an early start for our trip to Amsterdam.  We caught the 6:42 AM train to Nice, then walked to the airport terminal.  ($3 as compared to a $60 cab ride). 

We have really enjoyed our week’s stay in Beaulieu sur Mer.  Thanks to housesitting friends, we found this lovely place and very comfortable apartment.  Here is the town on the map….

And here are some photos of the 4th floor apartment, quite chic….

We had a layover in Copenhagen.  We flew on Norwegian Airline, using a refund from a flight we made and had to cancel two years ago, due to Covid.  When in Rome…..Since we were in Denmark, we had smorgesboard sandwiches for lunch.  The display was beautiful artwork.  George had a liver pate, with beets on rye, and I had smoked salmon and cucumber on firm, wheat bread.

We continue to travel with joy!  Spotted this restaurant in the airport. 

George is happy that we are back in the land of beer…

On to Amsterdam.  We managed to figure out the train from the airport to downtown.  It is really a different vibe here.  First of all, a lot of drunks and potheads in front of the train station….

And bikes absolutely everywhere!  This is a 2500 bike parking lot in front of our hotel.

People have been so nice to me for my birthday.  The hotel gave us vouchers for drinks in their bar.  Then, we strolled around the very busy streets looking for dinner options.

We happened upon the Red Light District.  Sex workers sit in their windows, surrounded by red lights, to beckon in customers.  No one bats an eye!

We found a cozy restaurant with really friendly staff.  I had fish and chips, and George ordered beef carpaccio.  It was all very good.  The staff surprised me with a birthday song and complimentary ice cream…

BOOK:  “The Lost Art of Gratitude” by Alexander McCall Smith.  As always, he does not disappoint.  This is one of the series about a philosopher and her lovely family.  4 stars out of 5

Last day on the French Riviera

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer on the French Riviera
WEATHER: Perfect.  Sunny.  High 73

Today was our day to chill. I did some laundry and hung the clothes out to dry on the terrace.

At mid-day, we walked about 2 blocks to the town center and bought a pan bagne at a popular boulangier/pattiserie.  There was a long line outside the establishment, indicating that it is a great place.  The pan bagne had been recommended by my brother who lived in France several years.  It is like a Salade Nicoise  in a sandwich – tuna in oil, anchovies, tomatoes, celery, sweet peppers, and hard-boiled egg – all on a crusty roll.

I was proud to be able to request one in the shop, in French, and I even understood when the clerk asked me whether or not I wanted anchovies on it!

We relaxed all afternoon, reading and doing wifi stuff.  I bought tickets for a cruise in Argentina for February (an early birthday gift for myself).  It was a sale – 92% off! 

We walked back to the town square and had our final happy hour drink watching families and  several “grand dames” enjoying the evening.

Then – ooo-la-lah – a splurge to celebrate our last night here.  We walked to the harbor, about 2 blocks from our apartment, and ate in one of the restaurants that line the port.  Yachts all around us

I had the octopus salad – just superb – warm octopus with boiled potatoes, tomatoes, arugula, olives, and sweet peppers in a light vinegar and oil dressing. 

George had the scallops – coquilles Saint Jacques.  Magnifique!

His side was mashed potatoes with trufflles.  How can you beat that? 

We sipped on a bottle of rose’ wine from Provence and enjoyed wathcing the activities on the yachts.

Tomorrow we head out to Amsterdam.  This has been a lovely week!

Nice is nice!

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer, on the French Riviera
WEATHER:  Sunny.  High 73

We started the day with one of our favorite breakfasts – leftover pizza with a “sunny side up” egg on top.  And a few fig slices.  Yum!

Then, we were off to Villefranche sur Mer, where we caught the Hop On/Hop Off bus around the coast and through Nice.  It is a good way to familiarize oneself with a new city. 

The bus took us down the famous Promanade with its elegant hotels and restaurants.

We learned that the builder of this famous hotel made the cupola to look like his lover’s breast! 

Famous people have stayed there like Princes Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson.

We hopped off the bus and wandered through some back streets, ending up again on the Promenade.  The waterfront restaurants were setting up for lunch.

People had recommended the flower market in the Old Town.  We finally found it  – full of lovely flowers, plus fruit and veg.

Alongside the market were many cafes.  We found one that serves Salade Nicoise.  Afterall, when one is in Rome, or in this case, when one is in Nice, one must have a Salade Nicoise.  It was huge!  Different kinds of lettuce, sweet red pepper slices, red onion, tuna, black olives, tomatoes, anchovies, and hard-boiled egg wedges. 

To be adventurous, George had some grilled frog legs….

This place touts its seafood.  Some of the items were very pricey!

We hopped back on the bus with such lovely views…

I looked up some info on some of the mega-yachts in the harbor.  One is owned by a London business tycoon and two belong to wealthy Russian oligarchs.  They cost about $150 million.

After the Hop On bus, we caught a regular bus back home. Being rush hour, it was crowded. Nice people steered me to the “old-people’s seat” – notice the stick person with a cane!

Back in Beaulieu sur Mer, we returned to the cafe that offers happy hour.  It sure brings the people in.  Then, we shopped in the supermarket under our apartment.  The fishmonger remembered us from yesterday when we bought the shrimp.  Today I was buying mussels to steam.  I asked him if they are fresh, as I saw a few broken ones.  He assured me that they were, then threw in an extra handful “just in case”.

DINNER:  Steamed mussels.  One of my favorite foods.  I did them the traditional method – sauteed some onion and garlic in butter, then added the mussels and white wine.  Steam for about 5 minutes. The trick is to not cook them too long.  Then, enjoy, sopping up the broth with some good baguette chunks. 

Following Rick Steves on the French Riviera

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer, France.  Near Nice
WEATHER:  Very pleasant and mostly sunny.  High 75

We started the day with a quick trip to our little outdoor market and an boulangerie, both just about a block from us.  We bought a baguette, some fruit for breakfast, and some vegetables for dinner tonight.  Then, we enjoyed baguette slices, cheese, and fresh figs out on our terrace for breakfast.  Nice!

Today’s plan was to follow in Rick Steves’ footsteps when he visits this part of Europe.  He likes to stay in and visit Villefranche sur Mer while checking out the French Riviera.  It is quite close to our town, so we walked there, about 1 mile.  The only problem……It was straight up!

From high above, we enjoyed lovely views of the sea below.  We could see people snorkeling in the clear Mediterranean below.

We walked past beautiful villas that overlook the sea.  Unfortunately, they have big gates to keep their privacy.  I did peek through one gate and saw a manicured lawn, beautiful gardens, swimming pool,  and luxury villa.

Once we were in Villefranche sur Mer, we meandered through the old part of town.  Unfortunately, there is a cruise ship docked in the town’s harbor, so there were a lot of tourists shopping.

We found a restaurant that Rick had recommended, and had a really good lunch.  I had a salad and George had one of their specials – grilled sea bass.  The French really know how to dress a salad – just the right amount of a very light dressing.  I wonder how we came up with “French dressing” in the USA?  It is nothing like they eat here.

We explored the Citadel from the 14th century, high up on a hill.

Then, down to the harbor searching for the bus stop.  Looking up,, you can see where we started the descent…

We were lucky to find the right bus, and took the short ride home.  (Our legs couldn’t take another hike back after 14,000 steps).  We stopped at the supermarket to buy shrimp for dinner. 

We relaxed with pate’, baguettes, wine, and beer on our terrace. 

DINNER:  I sauteed shrimp, green onions, garlic, and mushrooms in a wine and butter sauce.  Side was a lettuce and tomato salad, fresh from this morning’s market, with a light oil and vinegar dressing. And it was a very economical meal – $5 for the shrimp, $3 for a bottle of wine, $4 for the vegetables.

Shaken, not stirred: A day in Monaco

LOCATION:  Beaulieu sur Mer – on the French Riviera
WEATHER:  Beautiful.  High 78

We buy a baguette about every other day ($.49).  The second half gets hard pretty quickly, so this morning George made some French toast with part of it.  Yum!

Then, we were off to Monaco.  It is about a 15-minute train ride that follows the Mediterranean.  Monaco is built on a steep hill.  The train track was about 5 stories below ground.  This is the view when we emerged from the top of the train station…

Our first destination was the Prince’s Palace.  In order to get there, we had to walk down, down, down.  The entire city is high-rise apartments/condos.  I saw one for rent for $55,000/month!

At the bottom, we stumbled upon a market. 

We ventured inside, and found a wonderful indoor market.  It is a combination of food stalls and restaurants.  I think it is where the locals go to eat, as it is less expensive than regular restaurants.

Since we are only about 15 minutes away from Italy, we selected an Italian place.  We shared their specialty of the day – gnocchi with asparagus and clams in a garlicky butter sauce.  Even in expensive Monaco, a glass of good wine was only $3.  Our total for the wonderful meal was $24.  Amazing!

Then, up, up, up to the Palace.  There were even defibrillators on the way!

Once up, we watched the changing of the guard…

Then, we walked around the streets, now full of shops and restaurants, that were once the homes of the people who cared for the royalty,

Down, down, down again to the harbor where they are getting ready for the annual yacht show.  Beautiful people everywhere. 

Sorry to say, but up, up, up again to our second destination – the casino in Monte-Carlo.  It is fabulous…

Bentleys, Jacquars, Rolls Royces all parked in front. 

The inside is very opulent.  We had a James Bond martini (shaken, not stirred) in the bar.  George tried this on the waitress, but she didn’t get it:  ” Reid……George Reid”.

George pretended that he lost a bunch of money, like this statue shows…

We were lucky to catch a bus not far from the casino so we didn’t have to walk miles again. 

Back “home” in Beaulieu sur Mer, we walked up to the little town square where locals were strolling around, and children were kicking a soccer ball in the square.  We found a cafe advertising “happy hour” – not really a French thing, but it was a good price for drinks.  I had an Aperol Spritz.  Tasty.  The cafe was very “hip”

DINNER:  Keeping with the Italian theme, we went a restaurant for a wood-fired pizza. Pizza is popular here, and they put a French “twist” – very thin crust with different toppings.   Ours had olives and goat cheese on it.  Not exactly Pizza Hut!