Grand Circle Cruise Line focuses on travel for older Americans. That’s me. However, there are many far older Americans as well. This is both a blessing and a curse.

I’m a CrossFitter and not a particularly good one when seen in my natural habitat at CrossFit Summerville. I’m their oldest person. I am usually working out with a bunch of 40 somethings – or younger. I am slow and weak in comparison. I’m also there, something no other old farts in this part of the world seems to have accomplished.

I’m used to being last. I’m used to being weaker and slower and simply not as much, whatever that might be. I’m the oldest person and it sorta sucks. However, I’m pretty damn awesome. I do things other people can’t, even people far younger than me because I go to the gym and I try. Or as Yoda might say, I do as there is no try.

On the cruise ship, I was one of the younger people and definitely one of the fittest. I was fast and strong and able to climb cobblestone roads and ascend mountains in a single bound or something. I was able to surpass the 80 somethings like they were standing still, rather like the 40 somethings do with me daily.

My years of CrossFit and my time with yoga have made me strong and flexible. I didn’t get tired or need to sit down every time we passed a bench or a possible place to sit. I was able to keep up with the many different terrains and the steep hills and the climbing and the walking and all the various physical tasks.

I’ve been home for two days now and I haven’t yet gotten back to the gym. My circadian rhythm is still over in a time zone six hours different from where my butt is sitting. Well, it might be part way back over the Atlantic by now, but I’ve been having a hard time with the time difference.

On Wednesday, I did not set my alarm since I really, really needed to sleep. I woke at 1 in the morning – the time my body had been waking up for two weeks or 7 AM in European time. It took me two hours to fall back to sleep and then I was too tired to move much during the rest of the day. I had laundry to do and grocery shopping to get done and things to do to get back into my normal life in South Carolina without room service or chefs or any of the pampering I had so enjoyed while away.

Today, I could have made an 8 AM class, but there isn’t one. I knew better than to try to get up at 5 AM for a 6 AM class. That was smart since I was up at 2.30 AM again still trying to reset that circadian rhythm thing.

It was also colder in Europe. For the last ten days, I had been wearing my coat and gloves and bundling up again the wind and very occasional rain. The sweltering ⁰F 85 here in South Carolina is killing me right now. The idea of working out at noon or one of the late afternoon classes is enough to make me weep. So I’ve not opted for that nonsense either.

Today, I had a massage scheduled. For the first time in five years, it could be a relaxing massage. There was a bit of tenseness from a 10 hour plane ride and dealing with the TSA, but nothing at all like what I usually am like after moving a bunch of iron. It was peaceful rather than painful.

Right now I’m still strong from all my time in the gym without any of the day to day pain associated with all the time in the gym. I still have the benefits without paying a current price. It is supremely tempting to stay home and not hurt anymore.

And then I remember all the people who were bent, twisted, crippled by years of sitting and doing nothing. I passed them by, safe in my CrossFit body. Strong and able and not nearly the mess these others were in. The price I have to pay to keep this, is to keep doing the stuff I’ve done.

It would be nice if there were some easier way. But the sad fact is sitting is killing us all. We weren’t built to sit all day. We were built to move. We were built to fight for our survival. We were built for action. And because of that, I have my alarm set and I will be at CrossFit tomorrow morning. I will have to scale it back a bit so I don’t hurt myself after all this time off. I will be the last to finish and have the lowest weights and generally suck. I will follow the WOD with some yin yoga. I will stretch and move. I will be back.

With all this work, I should be able to enjoy many more cruises, climbing cobblestone roads to magnificent castles, twisting and turning through the narrow passageways, enjoying the experience of seeing the new and different.

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Zooming my way across Europe.

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Me and the grape vines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It was time to go and like Marvin K. Mooney, we went. The scheduling of the flights was taken care of by the travel agent in Boston who set up our whole trip for us. We did not really have complete control over this, but were given right of refusal.

The flights looked pretty good and we accepted them as presented. Our flight out of Brussels was to take off at 10.35 which seemed like a great time. Logistically … well. MS River Rhapsody was docked in Antwerp which is about 45 minutes to an hour away from Brussels. Then, it was suggested that we arrive three hours early for intercontinental flights. So that meant we had to leave the boat at 6.30.

We surely didn’t want to miss a meal, so we were up before the crack of dawn. We obsessively checked to make sure we had all our electronics (2 phones, 2 tablets, 1 camera with battery charger, 1 bluetooth keyboard, 1 fit bit, 3 European plug adaptors, all associated wires) as well as wallets and passports.

We had to fill in papers and hand in keys and be ready to go out into the night in order to get to the airport and get home.

We were supposed to have a bus, but there was some mass transit strike going on at least throughout Belgium and perhaps throughout the EU. I really didn’t care about anywhere else, so I’m not quite positive about the scope of the strike. What I am sure of is that traffic was a bitch. Instead of good European sense where most people take public transit options to get to work, every jackass in Europe was on the road trying to get to work while we were trying to get to the airport.

Instead of the bus, we had three larger vans to take the 19 of us travelers and our luggage, along with one program director to help with sending us off at the airport. Somehow, our driver thought he was the reincarnated Dale Earnhardt or perhaps Mario Andretti. He was under the illusion he was driving either a NASCAR or Formula 1 van and he was determined to get us to the airport via the most twisting and convoluted manner possible while “eluding” all the traffic. Thus we went on several non-major routes aka back streets.

He tailgated. He lane changed (without being able to see out the back window because all the luggage was stacked back there). He drove erratically and scared the living crap out of the seven of us passengers. We got to the airport. Last. We were the first van to pull out. There’s a message in there.

But we did arrive safely even if we were slightly ruffled. We got into appropriate lines and showed the appropriate papers and got the appropriate tickets and managed to find the appropriate gate all in good time. We were frisked and x-rayed and deemed fit to travel with all our luggage and belongings.

The flight was to take 9 hours and 44 minutes. Although we were scheduled with Air France, there were also people scheduled with KLM and Delta. They are all partners and this was actually a Delta flight.

They fed us continually. Our flight over was via KLM and they fed us frequently and with better food. But we were snacked and watered and fed and watered and snacked and watered and fed and watered and then watered again for good measure. Each time they tried to water me, I had coffee.

On one of the rounds, the attendant popped a Coke for a passenger across the aisle and the Coke must have been shaken or under pressure or something and I ended up a bit wet. Luckily, I had my tablet cover closed or it could have been more of an issue. She dried me off and then asked, “Would you like a drink – in a cup?”

We arrived in Atlanta a bit early. We had to wait at baggage claim and get our checked luggage and carry it over to a different conveyor belt so that it could travel around the airport independent of us. But for some reason, it needed our attention to get from one conveyor belt to the next.

We had to show our passport and our luggage claim tickets to a very congenial man who was speaking in English without an accent. It was lovely.

We had to use a kiosk system for customs which was a new thing since my last international trip. The pictures taken at the kiosk looked rather bedraggled. I looked almost as bad as my passport picture. We then stood in another line and spoke with a woman who asked us all the questions we had answered at the kiosk and then she ushered us through.

And then … it was a sad time. Atlanta is THE busiest airport in the world. It is busier than Beijing. It is busier than anyone. And many of their flights are international. And even though we went through a check to get here and even though we demonstrated by arriving safely that we had not blown up any aircraft on the way, we had to go through TSA again. TSA is staffed by underpaid idiots.

There were two different sides to go through and we were split evenly between them. Side A had 6 or 7 check points (all seemed to be in working order). Side B had 2. We were shunted to side B. And it was taking forever. This was because in our absence, things got even dumber than they have been. Apparently, now food can be a bomb. Since many people travel with food, each of them had to be specially screened.

This was a problem on both sides, but on side B, their equipment was malfunctioning. So it was taking forever. There is little I can say here to express my displeasure, but like the rest of the trip while rating things, I would have to say my displeasure with this idiocy was excellent, right at the top.

I had traveled through Europe buying different candies and cookies and treats. I had brought my own flavored coffees and teas. I had two bins full of food items.

After unpacking my entire carryon luggage into the bins, we waited and waited and waited for some guy to slap dash a gunpowder detector strip over only SOME of the things (but it didn’t matter if it had been opened or not) and then wander over to a machine that would calibrate (unlike the other two right there which were broken) and come back to report that I was safe – except he had to do this twice for me because I had so much food.

We got to the gate in time which didn’t happen for everyone waiting in the long, slow line. So at least there was that.

We were seated toward the back of the plane. The gate personnel kept mentioning how much crap you were permitted to take into the plane itself and it seemed too many people had too much crap. I did not pack any of my chocolate in my regular suitcase because cargo bays are not climate controlled and I didn’t want my chocolates to be ruined. I was forced to gate check my carryon.

We got home safely (thanks, Ray the best Uber driver ever and a pretty good CrossFitter, too). My candy arrived safely as did all of our luggage. So that was wonderful.

I managed to stay awake until 9 PM through sheer willpower. But I woke up at 1 AM and realized eventually, this was the time I had been waking up for the last two weeks. As I was finally drifting off to sleep, I knew that on the other side of the world Serge was taking a new group of travelers through his home town. I didn’t really want to share him, but they sure do have a treat in store for them.

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The clouds look so substantial and yet … It looks like the top of a glacier but they come in layers. I loved watching the clouds the whole way between Atlanta and home (as I fretted about my chocolates).

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But they arrived home. There really are four different types of booze filled chocolates here (two boxes of my favorites) which seems extreme for someone who doesn’t drink. 

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Back home. There were no rivers or mountains outside my window today. But the shower was larger and the house never bumped into the side of a lock all night long.

Monday, October 9 is our last full day in Europe – this time. We spent the day in Antwerp, Belgium which just happened to be the hometown of our Program Director, Serge. 

We began the morning with a walking tour of the old part of the city on the Right Bank of the river. I have no idea what river we are on any more. Once we veered off the Rhine to get to our ports of call in the Netherlands, we hit this river and that river and another and I’m so glad I’m not driving the boat. I’m totally clueless as to the river system here. Wherever it is, it has an 18 foot difference between high and low tide, which is quite astounding. 

We first walked past the old port of call, a place where Serge’s uncle used to work. It was a busy port and was a place where many refuges fled the Nazis in order to make a better life in the US. The most famous of these refuges was Albert Einstein. 

They are dismantling it now and going to build a park in the area. The main Antwerp port is now over there and ocean going vessels are not even allowed this far upriver. 

We next rode an old wooden sided escalator into the tunnel connecting the two sides of the river. It was all dug by hand in the early 1900s. It was used as a safe haven during bombing raids during WWII. This side of the river remains undamaged but the other side of the river got hit and then entrance was damaged. We were about 100 feet down when in the tunnel itself. 

We wended our way through the cobbled streets and found some beautiful old sections of town. Today, it is quaint and lovely. In the Middle Ages it was crowded and stinky and not nearly as nice as we imagine. 

Serge bought us some authentic Belgian cookies, one kind was almond and the other was ginger flavored. He then got us some Belgian chocolates. I immediately snuck into the store and bought myself a box of the same things. 

Unfortunately, Serge did not buy us each a sample diamond. Even though Belgium is famous for them. Le Sigh. 

We entered the Market Square where the old City Hall built in 1565 stands. It was covered in the flags of Ambassador Nations whose ambassadors work there today. At immediate right angle to the City Hall was a line of other official buildings. They, too, were gorgeous and covered in gilt and statues. They were also all destroyed by bombing during WWII and were rebuilt in the old style. They were gorgeous anyway. 

Also missed in the bombings was the Antwerp Cathedral. There was lots and lots of construction around the Cathedral and there were Portuguese workers there laying the new cobblestones. Each had to be placed and tapped into the underlying dirt by hand. A time honored and time consuming task. 

The cathedral was housing an art exhibit which included paintings by Pieter Paul Rubens, a native son. We did not go in and see either the art show or the exhibit. We are cathedraled out. Our tour ended and we made our way back to the ship. 

After lunch we packed our bags, getting ready for departure. The earliest flights have to leave at 3 AM but we get a leisurely send off at 6.30 AM tomorrow morning. The Brussels airport is about an hour from the ship and we will be ferried there and then wing our way home. 

This has been an entirely magnificent trip. I’ve seen so many wonderful and beautiful things. I was so frightened of being in Basil without a guide and yet we lived and enjoyed our time there. Everything aboard the ship has been wonderful. They have made some upgrades in the intervening years since our last cruise and they have been for the better. I’m going to hate to leave all the pampering but I’m looking forward to being home again. It’s been heavenly. 

Old wooden escalators

Old Antwerp

City Hall

Rebuilt after WWII

Cathedral of Our Lady

Serge

Sunday, October 8 was spent in the Netherlands. The morning was spent in Kinderdijk which is home to a UNESCO site of 19 functional windmills. These were part of the defense of the land against the sea. The Netherlands are below sea level in much of the border regions. And the dikes were part system protecting the land from the ever encroaching salt waters of the North Sea. They were joined by sluices and levees.

These windmills were used solely for the purpose of placing the water from lower canal into the major but higher canal just behind them. They were line of sight with the first of the series able to communicate by signals (either with lanterns at night or the set of the sails during the day) and then that windmill would relay the message to the next in line.

Each windmill could pump thousands of gallons of water per minute so they were able to keep up with most of the local flooding.

The name of the region is based on a story of a small baby in a basket (like Moses) who was washed into the canals during a flood but was saved when the family cat jumped in the basket and kept it stabilized in the water until they could be rescued.

It is such a nice story that other regions of the Netherlands also claim it as their own. But this area is actually named for the story.

The oldest of the dikes, predating the others by over a century, was built in a different fashion. The sails were set into a mechanism in the top half of the windmill which made it possible to move them only while moving the entire half of the mill. The other remaining windmills were built in a newer fashion with only the very top portion of the windmill having to turn to have the sails set at the proper relation to the wind.

Some nutjob decided to set fire to the oldest mill a few years ago. With the help of the Grand Circle Foundation, the lower portion of the windmill has been rebuilt. The Foundation takes a bit of money they make from our fees to travel and finds something along each of the cruises to help fund. These projects can be reclamation of neglected old buildings or can be used for maintenance of these heritage sites.

Steve was unable to keep all the rain away and it would rain and then stop and then rain and then stop again. That meant that we got wet, but we also got a rainbow as we started the day.

Today’s modern water removal system is powered by electricity generated from a totally different type of windmill. It is an Archimedes screw type thing and moves more than ten times as much water per minute. However, the old windmills work even when there is a power outage.

After lunch we boarded buses for what used to be an optional tour costing $65 each. It is now included for everyone in the package. We sailed to Willemstad a short distance away and then disembarked to buses. After an hour bus ride, we were at the Delta Works project for this part of the Netherlands.

On the night of February 1, 1953 a giant storm broke thru the dikes and levees existing around the perimeter of the country. The coast regions were flooded immediately as was a great amount of agricultural land.

The storm pushed the North Sea into Holland, inundating the coasts all up and down the country and into the neighboring countries as well. The winds were so strong that even at low tide, the waters did not recede. And then the next high tide arrived and caused even more damage. Each and every shifting of the tides further damaged the already breached levees and dikes. About 40% of the country was under at least some water.

The disaster changed everything and it took ten month to repair the dikes and levees, often using left over WWII equipment. The caissons from the Normandy invasion were especially useful. But it was not enough. The Dutch went into action and at great cost and using the most innovative technology of the time, the fortified themselves from the sea.

At first, they built dams in order to protect the humans on land. But environmentalists noted the damage this was doing to coastal ecologies as well as coastal industries dependent on the tides. They came up with the Delta Works.

They first had to dredge the seafloor and then stabilize that with a specially produced mattress they built which was then held in place with rocks. Next they put up cement works which would hold the plates which usually stand above high tide level but which can be lowered during times of exceptionally high waters. After they had the land protected from the sea, while at the same time allowing for tidal economies, they built a road across the upper deck.

It took over a decade of planning and more than a decade of building. They had to design and build the ships that could move the pieces and parts into position to build the thing. There are several of these Delta Works systems over the three major rivers and their tributaries. It cost about 9 billion in what is today euros, but in 1980s rates.

The technology is outdated today but the system still works. In fact, it has been used almost once every year since it was completed and saved the interior of the country from any more devastating flooding. While there are newer materials and much newer systems for massive construction projects, the knowledge they gained in building this has been shared with other peoples threatened by flooding around the world, including both New Orleans and Venice, Italy.

After dinner the crew entertained us with a special variety show and it was very entertaining, indeed.

Windmills as seen from the ship with the “normal” configuration

The windmill we supported

Looking over a small section of the Delta Works

Close up of the metal wall which is dropped into place (and it is too massive to get in one picture). There are 63 of them at this part of the project.

Saturday, October 7 was spent in Nijmegen, Netherlands. One of the interesting things I learned was exactly how long the charge on my bluetooth keyboard lasted. It lasted about ¾ of the way through the blog post I was writing and then … nothing at all. Since patience is one of my strong points, I took this in stride and simply recharged the device and was able to finish writing eventually.

We had sailed all night and reached the Netherlands around 8 in the morning. Right after breakfast, we had a local come aboard ship and explain his life and times as a survivor of this war zone. Nijmegen (pronounced NIGH-megan) was liberated soon after the D-Day landings in September 1944. He was a small boy of 8 at the time. The first word of English he learned was “chewing gum” when a kind American soldier gave him some.

The Allies were able to retain control of this region – the northernmost line of the old Roman Empire – but they were unable to take and retain other bridges in to the north. The lines were stretched too far and the British general didn’t want to sent his troops up to help fast enough. And so the bridge became known as The Bridge Too Far of movie fame.

The parachute airborne portion of the operation was Market (where they intended to land) and the land portion was Garden for obvious reasons. The whole thing was Operation Market Garden.

After taking the city, they had to cross the Waal River to continue. They crossed in boats with Germans shooting as them as they tried to get across a fairly wide river. Some went over the railroad bridge and 48 Americans died on the bridge itself. Each night when the street lights come on, they light one by one until 48 lights are lit, honoring the Americans who saved the city after years of Nazi Occupation. They also have a yearly celebration in September commemorating the event.

We took a walking tour of the city which was also in party mode for some other reason. It was a yearly event, rather like a county or state fair with rides set up in various parts of the city. It was also market day and there were vendor carts throughout the market. It was also raining on and off again.

Serge bought herring (raw) and some other fish breaded and fried. We were right there in the central part of the shopping district and since Dick doesn’t really like fish and I’ve eaten way too much already, we went shopping instead of eating fish.

We all met together again and went to the local no longer a cathedral church. It was originally the church of St. Stephen. Today, it is Protestant and they don’t like naming their churches after saints. So it is today called the Big Church by the locals, but for us American tourists, it can still be called St. Stephen’s.

The Program Directors called the church people, who use the church for non-church things all the time, to ask if we could have a small organ concert there. We were given permission. Two of the people from the ship played the organ and wanted to do so for us.

The organ was built in 1776. At first, they had some schmuck trying to build an organ, but he simply wasn’t up to the task. As recourse, they invited the most famous organ maker of the time to come from Cologne and build their organ. He did.

During WWII, the church was slightly damaged and luckily the stone work from the destroyed tower fell that way. If it had fallen this way, it would have destroyed the organ. Instead, only a few of the pipes were damaged. They were rebuilt along with the tower itself.

The newer built pipes were not made of the same metallic mixture of lead and whatever word the guide couldn’t translate, but maybe tin. The newer pipes are already rusting. The sound of the organ was still incredible. The acoustics in the high arched church added to the mellow tones issuing forth. The music was heavenly, as it was meant to be.

Both of our people each played a song and did remarkable well. And then the church organist played a majestic piece that brought goosebumps to the skin. It was thrilling and as the last notes faded away, it as really exactly like you could imagine them drifting off into awed silence.

We played Eucher with Austin and Shirley again and this time the girls only won two out of the three games. Even with some rain now and again, it was a lovely day. It mostly poured after dinner and we could see the light of the Ferris wheel off in the misty distance.

Our morning talk

The town had been a Jewish refuge and then the Jews were cruelly betrayed by a local citizen sympathizer of the Nazis.

The 1776 organ from St. Stephen’s Church

Simply beautiful

Friday, October 6 was spent inn and around Bonn, Germany. The Bonn docks were filled and we had to park our happy asses in Konigswinter, a place our tour guides had not ever visited. But we could make it work. 

They got buses scheduled to take us into Bonn and asked them to park as close to our ship as possible because this is a cruise full of old farts and some of them can’t walk well. The bus drivers complied and we were catered to once again. This will not happen again since the bus drivers (I assume all three of them) were given a ticket for blocking traffic. We were not dropped off at the same point and old and infirm or not, you just had to get back to the ship slowly. 

The weather finally decided it was done with the cloudy and would actually rain a bit. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it might have been. 

Serge knew that the Jesuit University in Bonn was famous, not just for its curriculum and some important students who had attended, but because there was an excavated Roman bath ruin in the basement of one of the buildings. If you knew it was there, you could go and see it without any fee attached. And so we did. 

We went on to Bonn’s University and had a local student talk to us about the German education system. It is quite different from how we do things in the US. In Germany, the realize that not everyone needs to go to university and those who do have the chance do so because higher education is needed for their field of endeavor. They have apprenticeships and manage to get most of the citizens employed and with living wages. 

It was while this young woman was speaking with that it first started to rain. We were under a line of trees and were mostly kept dry and when we moved on, we decided to enter a store and get a taste of what local shopping is like. 

Their mustard, mayo, and some other condiments come in a tube which looks a lot like toothpaste tubes. It would make applying the stuff a lot easier 

We went back outside and the rain had stopped and Serge had a street vendor make us three different types of wurst to try along with some fried up potato wedges. They don’t call them French fries in Germany. 

The large cathedral in Bonn is closed until 2018 as they renovate. There are two relics inside but we were not permitted in. in front of the cathedral are two Roman soldier heads. In late Roman times, the soldiers were told to attack the locals and refused. The commander decimated his troops, meaning he beheaded every tenth soldier and the two heads in the front of the church are a nod (as it were) to these men who refused to kill the natives. 

Also in Bonn is the world famous origin of gummy bears. Haribo was founded by Hans Riegel in Bonn, hence the name which is the first two letters of his first and last name and the first two letters of Bonn. There is a store in Bonn unlike any other Haribo place I’ve ever seen. I had no idea there were do many different gummy bear type candies. 

We got a little more rain on our way back to the ship and it was a bit disappointing, but there is nothing we can do about the weather. Except for Steve who has claimed responsibility for all the good weather we have had so far. He said he would clear the skies for the afternoon. 

The guides used us as a test case. As I mentioned, they had never docked at this tiny little town, but it boasted a cog wheel train. They convinced Grand Circle to buy us all a ticket on the train. Steve did his magic and the sun came out after lunch. We walked up the bottom of the mountain to the train station. Some of us did this more quickly than others, but we eventually all arrived. 

The train couldn’t accommodate all of us at one time, so there were two departure times. We were in the first group. The train made a stop halfway up the mountain and let off people who wanted to tour a refurbished castle there (not included in the ticket price) and then went to the top. Our train tickets were good for one round trip and we could either get off halfway up and then continue on the next train or go to the top and stop half way down. We selected the latter and made our way to the top of the mountain. 

It was stunningly beautiful. No wonder they built their castles so high and on bends in the rivers. We could see far into the distance all around the perimeter. Pictures included here. After taking enough pictures we reboarded the train and made our way down the mountain and stopped at the castle. 

We knew we couldn’t enter the castle but were not aware we couldn’t even enter the grounds. All we had access to was the gift shop. We couldn’t even get a decent picture of the outside of the buildings. We got back on the train and made our way down and then back to the boat. It began to drizzle again. 

There was a mandolin group coming to play for us after dinner. In my imagination, I was thinking two or three funny guitars. Instead, it was at least a dozen people – an entire orchestra. They had mandolins, mandolas, guitars, a bass violin, and a drummer. They were amazing and played for us for nearly an hour. 

They barely got off the boat before we set sail and headed on to new adventures. 

Roman bath ruins


Haribo


One of the vistas

Ruins of the old castle seen at the viewing site

October 5 was spent on Cochem, Germany. The name, when said in actual German sounds pretty much like you are choking on snot and clearing your throat. But they seem to like it that way.

We began our day there with Dick not feeling well and me going off on the tour by myself – well with 37 of my new best friends in tow. We took two smaller vans up a very narrow twisting road. It was so narrow and twisting, the regular share-the-shit-out-of-me bus ride wouldn’t even fit. The vans each held up to 20 travelers (we are not tourists, we are travelers) and barely fit through the available space. We climbed the mountain/hill to Cochem Castle.

The castle was originally built in 1000 and was eventually the home of the local king-type person and then the home of the Bishop of Trier since those guys got all the good spots. It was enlarged a few times and then destroyed a few times, the most devastating was Ludwig XIV or as we know him, Louis XIV who came through and destroyed nearly everything in Germany. I guess he was the Sun King because he knocked the roofs off everything and the sun could shine in.

The castle lay in ruins for quite some time. A French Huguenot businessman was kicked out of France and came to Germany where he became the builder of the railroads. As in America, this meant he became ridiculously wealthy in the process. He got permission from all the appropriate people and then too ten years and what was then the equivalent of five million dollars and today is so much more, and refurbished to the castle to use as his summer home.

He only lived for two years after the job was complete, but his family retained ownership until the Nazis graciously demanded the castle be given to them. After the war, the castle was offered back to the family, but they demurred knowing the price of the upkeep. Eventually, the castle came to be owned by the city itself and is one of the major tourist attractions of the city.

It was beautiful. The family retained ownership of the nicest tapestries and Persian rugs and what not, but the castle was still decked out with beautiful furnishings and accessories.

The guide who brought us through the castle was a delightful woman who obviously loved her job (or faked it very well).

Cochem has a population of 5,000 and has 4 million visitors per year. They have one of the best ports on the Mosel making it easy for up to eight cruise ships to dock at one time. They have the castle as a draw. They also have a Catholic church that existed on the spot since 900 AD.

St. Michael’s church was built, destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed just like everything else in the region. Today, it has some of the most famous stained glass windows in the region. I don’t remember the name of the of the artist, but he did work at Westminster Cathedral as well.

During WWII, the Germans hid their supply trains in tunnels and when the Allies figured this out, they bombed the hell out of the places known for their tunnels. Cochem was one of those places. They also had a Bosch plant here but instead of washing machines, this one made the detonators for bombs. This also made the city a target. About 90% of the place was destroyed.

After the war, the Marshall Plan helped the area rebuild and the locals decided to rebuild in the old style. So while there are many half timbered houses, they are pretend and only look that way. There was one house that was rebuilt after Louis XIV came through and managed to survive Hitler. It was the only house left standing in the town.

Cochem is also the town of the “best” bakery on our tour, according to Serge. We could stop and have a treat there. I could have brought some back to Dick but instead decided to come back to the ship to see how he was doing. Better.

After lunch, we strolled back across the bridge and into town and I again found the bakery. He got to choose his own treat and I had a delicious cake. We had some of the best coffee we have had on the trip. I was glad I waited for him to join me there rather than bringing something back to the boat. Our trip there and back has been the first time we have had to walk in the rain. We have lived with lots of clouds, but this was the first rain we had. We have been very lucky.

Castle entryway

Ladies’ waiting room

The story of Cochem told on the gate wall

Dick’s pastry treat