It's off to Europe again to learn more about our wonderful world!
  • Day0

    Sep 20 - Heading to Europe!

    September 19, 2019 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Doug and I are off to Europe again. The plan is to spend two days in Amsterdam, then do a river boat cruise to Basel with Scenic Cruises, then to spend a few more days in Switzerland with the cruise company, but traveling by bus. Check the picture below for our travel route. Then we're going to visit my sister and her husband who live near Heidelberg, Germany, Then we're off to Paris for five days. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit there in 2015 and vowed to return to soak up more of its ambiance.

    Glad to have you along for the ride!
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  • Day2

    Sep 21 - Arrived in Amsterdam

    September 21, 2019 in the Netherlands ⋅ 🌙 19 °C

    We had quite a smooth flight into Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. Smooth is always good, given Doug's tendency towards motion sickness. We both agreed that Premium Economy class on Air Transat (which we flew to/from Italy in the spring) far surpasses that of Air Canada.

    We found a "legal" taxi by following the brightly-coloured and numerous arrows on the floor. The airport had a bad problem with "bandit" taxis and launched a successful counter offensive with the signage. In a short while, we were at our AirBnB - a lovely ground floor apartment - owned by Anne. Anne is enjoying a girls' weekend in Valencia, Spain while we are camped out at her place. Her mother, Suzann, graciously met us and gave us the keys and the grand tour.

    We found a nearby grocery store and stocked up on our standards - milk, yogurt, and pre-made salads. Tossed in a couple of Nutella-filled croissants and chocolate-covered digestive cookies to round out the menu. We had yogurt and croissants for lunch and then we both had a long nap. Neither of us slept on the plane so we were both knackered.

    We surfaced, feeling much refreshed, about 5:00 p.m. Since exercise and sunshine are good antidotes to jet lag, we set out to find Vondelpark. It's a beautiful, huge park that was full of people enjoying the glorious warm, sunny day. There were roller bladers, kids on scooters, children playing soccer, a guy practising juggling, couples snuggled closely, and lots of cyclists. This is the city of bicycles - thousands of them. It was so nice to see the park so well used. Not many homes here have a yard, so the park is a great way for people to enjoy the outdoors. We walked and walked, and did lots of people watching. Good, cheap entertainment.

    As the sun started to set and the temperature began to drop, we headed home (thank you Google Maps) and had the salads (excellent!) and cookies for dinner. Doug figured out how to stream classical music from 96.3 FM so we had a bit of culture with our dinner.

    Our plan for tomorrow is a tour of the Heineken Beer Factory, followed by a canal cruise.
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  • Day3

    Sep 22 - Exploring Amsterdam

    September 22, 2019 in the Netherlands ⋅ 🌧 22 °C

    We surfaced about 8:30 a.m. Doug had about 9 hours of solid sleep under his belt. I had about 9 minutes. Sigh.....we have come to expect this on the first full night of our travels. But that's why I bring coffee along. We also brought cereal along for the two mornings we would be on our own. Coffee, cereal and a hot shower put me right for what became a very full day.

    We set off about 11:00 a.m. for FoodHallen, a collection of over 20 small booths, each specializing in a different food type. Doug was drawn to the one with fabulous-looking pastrami and prosciutto; I liked the one that sold delicate little pastries. Fortunately, it wasn’t yet lunch time for us, so we were able to resist both. From there, we headed to the Heineken Experience. Along the way, I had to fire Google Maps before divorce proceedings began. I switched to the Apple maps app which cooperated perfectly and the tension level dropped dramatically. We arrived at Heineken with plenty of time to share, so we stopped for a real lunch. We had crepes - I had ham and cheese; Doug had apple cinnamon with butter and syrup. Both were delicious. The people-watching from our spot on the outside patio was spectacular.

    The Heineken Experience is located in what used to be a brewing plant for Heineken Beer. The plant became too small and has been made into a place to showcase the success of Heineken beer. We found the whole tour noisy and crowded (despite our specific time-stamp tickets) and far too reliant on wild videos and crazy sound effects. The free beer at the end (not for me, thank you) was small reward for surviving the cacophony. There were two good things that we saw - the original huge copper brewing vessels and the spectacular stained glass windows.

    We escaped and sat nearby along the canal, watching the traffic on the water. It was another lovely, warm, sunny day and thousands of people were out in droves soaking up this autumn gift. At 3:30 p.m., as part of our Rock the City combo ticket, we boarded a canal boat. For the next 45 minutes, we marvelled at the incredible architecture that Amsterdam offers. We learned that houses used to be taxed by their width, so the every penny-conscious Dutch built narrow, high (4-6 storeys) buildings to skirt the tax laws. The boat dropped us in North Amsterdam at a place that used to be the headquarters for Shell Oil. It is now a mixed-use building of business and restaurants, with the top floor dedicated as a viewing platform. From there, we enjoyed fabulous panoramic views of the city. If we squinted hard, we could just see England. There were crazy people who paid to sit on a huge swing and fly out over the edge up 20 floors. No thank you for this pair.

    We headed back to south Amsterdam via the free ferry that runs every 4 minutes - full of bicycles and scooters and pedestrians. We noticed many people in running gear. Found out later there was a huge race with over 35,000 runners and cyclists in the city today. What a perfect day they had.

    We bought big take-out salads (they have chicken in them, so, yes, we are getting our protein) and carried on with our observations of Dutch life at the central train station. We hot footed it to the Church of Our Lady and were able to attend 6:00 p.m. mass in English. It was a nice way to thank God for the abundant blessings that He has showered on us.

    It was a half-hour walk home. Should have had a step counter on today. We certainly cracked 10,000 steps and probably even 15,000. And we didn't get hit by a bicycle or a scooter today. Pedestrians rank very low on the priority list in this city when it comes to yield the right of way.

    Our plan for tomorrow is to see a diamond cutting and polishing demonstration in the morning, and then to come back, pack up, catch a tram to the Central Train Station and then walk a couple of hundred metres to the ship.

    I, for one, am going to sleep well tonight!
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  • Day4

    Sep 23 - Diamonds and the Scenic Pearl

    September 23, 2019 in the Netherlands ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    The day dawned with overcast skies and evidence of rain last night. We had our usual breakfast and headed out about 9:30 a.m. for a 20-minute walk to Royal Coster Diamonds - no rain to dampen our spirits. Amsterdam has a long heritage of diamond trade and industry – the city has been a major diamond centre since Sephardic Jews introduced the diamond cutting industry in the late 16th century. They came to the area to escape religious persecution in Spain. Royal Coster Diamonds was founded in 1840 and claims to be the oldest still-operating diamond polishing factory in the world. So far there have been no challengers. The company has handled a few historical masterpieces, such as re-polishing the famed Koh i Noor diamond mounted in the Crown of Queen Mary and the Dresden Green Diamond, held in the New Green Vault at Dresden Castle.

    We had booked a tour - to our astonishment, our tour consisted of just the two of us. It was ably led by Josef, himself a career diamond man. We learned about how diamonds were created and where they are found. (Over the past 30 years, Canada has become a major world diamond producer, producing 23 million carats in 2017, valued at $2.6 billion USD.) We learned how diamonds are rated on the four C’s - colour, cut, clarity and carats. Josef described the various cuts of diamonds, especially the Royal 201-facet cut created by Costers. We were able to watch artisans polishing diamonds - a process done using high speed and other diamonds. A diamond polishing/cutting apprenticeship is only 7-10 years if you are considering a career change. He then took us into a special room and showed us unset diamonds and let us examine them under a loupe (eyeglass). Especially lovely was a heart-shaped diamond - one of the most difficult shapes to cut. We toured the show room of fabulous jewelry. Such beautiful items - deciding how to set each diamond is an art unto itself. We also had tickets for the Diamond Museum next door. There, we learned more about mining techniques and about the history of the diamond industry and saw replicas of famous crowns and tiaras. What a cool way to spend a morning.

    How's this for a bit of Girl Power? Between 1991 and 1994 Pauline Willemse, a diamond polisher at Royal Coster Diamonds, polished the smallest diamond in the world. This is a brilliant cut stone with 57 facets, weighing 0.0000743 carats (0.01486 mg). 0.16–0.17 mm in diameter and with a height of 0.11 mm.

    We packed up after lunch at Chez Anne’s AirBnB and trundled down to the tram stop. The tram dropped us off at the Central Train Station about 20 minutes later. We were proud of ourselves for not wimping out and taking a taxi. From there, it was a 10-minute walk to the pier where our home for the next two weeks was docked - the Scenic Pearl. (I’ll get a picture when we are docked tomorrow in Antwerp.) This is our third cruise with Scenic. We did the Tulips and Windmills cruise in 2015 and the Jewels of Europe cruise in 2016. In a delightful bit of serendipity, our cruise director for this cruise is Andreea, who was our cruise director for the 2016 cruise on this same ship. She gave us a huge hug and welcomed us aboard. (Shannon Crane - we both agreed that Andreea is your doppelgänger!)

    We have unpacked and are enjoying some downtime - we haven’t had a lot of it since leaving Grimsby on Friday afternoon. Harry, our butler, has just been to visit. Service is the watchword on Scenic cruises. Good chance to get this writeup done. We have a briefing at 6:00 p.m., dinner at 7:00 p.m. and we sail at 7:30 p.m. Tomorrow, we are doing a tour of Bruges in Belgium, a medieval city famous for its lace making. We have been to Bruges before - its many enchanting characteristics demand a second visit, and perhaps another small lace purchase.

    All aboard!
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  • Day5

    Sep 24 - Bruges, Belgium

    September 24, 2019 in Belgium ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Doug had to nudge me awake this morning at 8:00 a.m. I finally had a great night’s sleep. We had been sailing since about 7:30 p.m. last night. These ships are so smooth that you can’t tell that you’re moving unless you watch the horizon.

    At breakfast, we saw another familiar face - Satria - who was our waiter on both of our previous cruises. He recognized us too, so I guess we haven’t changed that much in 3-4 years! Doug is happily watching the shoreline from our balcony right now. We are passing the port area of Antwerp, so there is lots of equipment and ships and cranes for him to analyze. At 10:00 a.m., we have a safety drill, followed by a port talk with Andreea, our cruise director. We have downloaded the Scenic app onto our phones - it gives a running commentary of the nearby sights and will be used by the local guides on our various walking tours. Andreea will explain it too. We leave for Bruges, Belgium (second country of this trip) at 1:00 p.m. after lunch after docking in Antwerp around noon.

    Another familiar face appeared when it came time to board the buses. It was Malinda, our bus driver from the last cruise. She is a wonderfully skillful and smooth driver. Our guide was Rudi. He gave us a running commentary for part of the 90-minute drive to Bruges and then gave us some quiet time to watch the scenery. Belgium gets lots of rain, so agriculture is a main industry, as evidenced by the very green fields that we saw. We learned that it was Belgium that invented French fries and beer brewing and perfected the art of making chocolate. Bruges has a beer factory that sends the beer to be bottled to a plant outside the town via an underground piping system. Digging must be done very carefully in Bruges!

    Bruges is one of the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in the whole of Europe. It is full of tall brick merchant houses, picturesque canals and cobbled streets. It is often called the Venice of the North because of its many canals. Bruges rose to prominence in the 1100s as a hub for the Flemish cloth trade, importing English wool and exporting clothing around the world. Its harbour was filled with shops bringing spices, wine and wealth to the wealthy of the town. The harbour silted up and Bruges lost out as a port to Antwerp. It became a centre of lace making in the 17th century and continues to do a huge trade in lace. It is the home of the famous painter Peter Paul Rubens. In 2000, the old town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    When we arrived in Bruges, it was raining lightly, but nothing that we couldn’t survive. Rudi led us on a walking tour of the town, and told us about its history, architecture and culture. Bruges is Brugge in Flemish, one of the three main languages of Belgium, the other two being French (think Hercule Poirot) and German. We had some free time after the tour so we found the same little shop where I bought a piece of lace in 2016 - my first initial. It now has a mate with my second initial. Then we scarfed down a Belgian waffle. Then we got trapped in a chocolate store. Bruges is very pretty but is a very dangerous place for the crowds of tourists who enjoy its hospitality every day!!

    We had dinner with a lovely couple from Australia. There are lots of Aussies on this ship - Scenic is based in Australia and so is a favourite of the Aussies.

    Discovered there is a step counter on my phone - we did about 10,000 steps - that’s about 4.3 miles. That should partially offset the chocolate fest we just had.

    We are doing a bike tour of the town of Veere tomorrow. All those gym sessions are hopefully going to allow us to survive!
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  • Day6

    Sep 25 - Veere, The Netherlands

    September 25, 2019 in the Netherlands ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    We docked in Veere (pronounced Veer-ah) back in the Netherlands this morning. It was rainy and overcast, but right on schedule at 9:00 a.m., as we were about to start our bicycle tour, the rain stopped and the sun even appeared. There were 11 of us on the tour. With Josip in the lead and Manon bringing up the rear, each armed with a first-aid kit, we headed off on our electric-assist bikes. With my Belgian chocolate-induced guilt complex, I tried to use the power-assist very sparingly. Blessedly, the Netherlands is a very flat country, so there were no hills to navigate.

    Veere is located close to the North Sea on a big inlet and was once a prominent port and wool-trading centre because of its proximity to the supply of high-quality wool for the flourishing textiles industry coming from England and Scotland. However, a vicious storm surge (like a European tsunami) in 1953 caused widespread flood damage and took many lives. In response, a dam was built to block the sea. The inlet is now a man-made lake. Fishing, the main industry of the town, was decimated. The population of the town dropped from 5,000 to just under 1,000. The main industries now are agriculture and tourism. The salinity of the lake is carefully controlled by allowing measured amounts of salt water in, the result being that the lake is now a popular fishing and holiday resort destination. On our last cruise, we toured the Delta Water Works and learned how the dam and its gating system works. The Dutch are world-wide experts in flood control and water management and widely-sought for their expertise in this area of engineering.

    Our bike tour took us through the town with its wonderful gothic buildings and busy harbour and then out into the bucolic countryside. We passed prosperous farms - the main agricultural crops around here are sugar beets, cabbage and asparagus. We stopped at a dairy farm - it is moving towards a fully-automated milking system where the cows self-regulate their milking and the milking is done by robotic machines using lasers for precise placement of the suction equipment. Doug had a tour of such a place near Almonte a few years ago and was able to give add some details. We were able to sample the wonderful cheese that is made right there on that farm. From there, it was a brisk ride back to the ship. In all, I think we did about 15 kms/10 miles. I think that amount of exercise should be built into the daily schedule to combat the fabulous food selection and constant availability on this floating hotel!

    After lunch, armed with an umbrella, as the skies were threatening (again - a common occurrence in the Netherlands), we headed back into Veere for a leisurely stroll. It’s a very pretty town - we walked through it on our last cruise. It’s hard to tire of looking at the unique architecture - nothing like it exists in Canada.

    I’ve hunkered down in the lounge, hoping for better internet reception - it’s turning out to be a vain effort - but at least it’s a different view than from our cabin.

    Tonight is the Captain’s Dinner - dressier attire and a fancy dinner. Doug had fabulous roast beef last night. I’ve been working my way through the seafood selections. Beautifully done each time. I wonder what the chef will offer up tonight?
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  • Day7

    Sep 26 - Arnhem to Nijmegen

    September 26, 2019 in the Netherlands ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    It was another 8:00 a.m. rising. The soft motion of the this ship is making me sleep like a baby parked on top of a vibrating clothes dryer. One of these days, we are going to be relegated to the "Late Risers Breakfast" area!

    We sailed all night, having left Veere around 4:30 p.m. It's now 9:30 a.m., and we are sailing past Nijmegen on our way to Arnhem. Any of you who have watched the movie, "A Bridge Too Far" will recognize those names. There was a ferocious battle for control of the Arnhem's bridge during the Allied liberation of the Netherlands in 1944. The British and American forces were fought off by the retreating Germans who then destroyed the bridge to hamper the Allied advance. Operation Market Garden was a crushing defeat. The current arched bridge, named the John Frost Bridge in honour of the allied commander who tried to capture it, is a copy of the one destroyed during the war.

    The Waal River that we are on right now is a busy shipping channel. There is a barge loaded with coal passing us right now. Most of these barges have at least one car parked on the rear deck (this one has two) - these barges double as the operators' homes. There is a hoist that can pick up the car and deposit on the road at any port. We saw one barge on our last cruise with a play pen tied onto the upper deck!

    Andreea did an “All Things Dutch” talk for us in the morning - talking about tulips, cheese, wooden shoes and windmills. She gave a special nod to Canada for its role in helping the Dutch Royal Family during the war. Princess Margriet was born in 1943 in the Ottawa Civic Hospital. A federal proclamation declared the maternity ward extraterritorial, ensuring that the new princess would only be a Dutch — and not also a Canadian — citizen. Canada also led the liberation of the Netherlands. From September 1944 to April 1945, the First Canadian Army fought German forces on the Scheldt estuary — opening the port of Antwerp for Allied use — and then cleared northern and western Netherlands of Germans, allowing food and other relief to reach millions of desperate people. Since 1945, the Netherlands have sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada every year in deep thanks for its help during desperate times.

    We should be in Arnhem around 1:00 p.m. The ship will loop back to Nijmegen after doing a refuelling/restocking/pump out stop.

    There are three activity choices for this afternoon - an open air history museum, the airborne museum at Arnhem or a bike tour from Arnhem to Nijmegen (20 km/12 miles). We enjoyed the bike tour (and the associated exercise) so much yesterday, that we decided to try another one. The weather might be our foe today - the Netherlands regularly offers up "liquid sunshine" to its many visitors.

    Arnhem was the home during WWII of Audrey Hepburn who walked the streets with messages for the Dutch Resistance hidden in her shoes.

    Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands and is built on seven hills, just like Rome. The city dates from 11 B.C. In 1940, Nijmegen was one fo the first cities captured by the Germans. Four years later, Nijmegen was heavily bombed by the Americans, who thought it was Germany. A few bits of the old town survived the war or were reconstructed.

    We are now in Arnhem and have had lunch. We leave on our bike tour in 30 minutes. It's pouring rain. I think we are both certifiably crazy. Will post more after this little adventure!

    The five crazy bike people met up at about 2:00 p.m. with our guide Astrid and her partner Sander who rode at the back of the pack to ensure that no one got lost. Andreea, the tour director, was along for the ride also. Because of the rain, Andreea and Astrid had hatched a hybrid route - we would ride around Arnhem and neighbouring village of Oosterbeek and then rendezvous with the bus at the Open Air Museum for a drive back to the ship. We set off in light rain which stopped almost immediately. We saw a few sights in Arnhem and then rode to Oosterbeek on fabulous bike paths where we stopped at the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery which contains the graves of most of those killed during the September landings, and many of those killed in later fighting in the area. There are now 1,684 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery. The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem was held last Sunday so all the graves were decorated and there were wreaths of flowers at the monument cross. It was a sombre moment.

    We continued on our journey, through peaceful forests and huge parks all the while on excellent bike paths. After almost two hours, we were back in Arnhem. The rain had stopped, so in a fit of energy, we all agreed to ride the original route of 21 km to Nijmegen. Thank goodness for electric-assist bikes! Off we went. One and half hours later we were safely back at the ship. We estimate that we rode ~40 km/25 miles. It was a lovely ride with really nice people.

    After a hot shower, we gathered with our fellow travellers win the lounge and enjoyed a classical music concert presented by three young people playing piano, cello and violin. Yesterday’s entertainment was a Dixie Land Band. We had dinner afterwards - I had the best salmon I’ve ever tasted and Doug raved about the pasta.

    We are sailing right now and will be in Maastricht (still in the Netherlands) tomorrow morning.
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  • Day8

    Sep 27 - Maastricht

    September 27, 2019 in the Netherlands ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    This morning we docked about 9:00 a.m. in Maastricht (pronounced Mahs-treech), located on both sides of the Meuse (Dutch = Maas) River, adjacent to the border with Belgium. Maastricht was the first Dutch city to be liberated by the Allied Forces - Sep 13-14 of 1944. The city is well-known for the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that formed the European Union and paved the way for the Euro.

    The sun is peeking out and it’s fairly warm - a good morning for a walking tour of this interesting city. We set out with Carla to explore. The city began when the Romans built a stone bridge across the Meuse here. The bridge, named for St. Servatius, is still standing, albeit it now has a section that can be raised to allow ships to pass. The city was controlled by many people over its turbulent history - the Romans, the Spanish, the French and the Germans. Maastricht joined the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. All these cultures have left indelible marks on the city.

    The Basilica of Our Lady Catholic Church, built in the 11th century, dominates the city. It houses a beautiful shrine to Our Lady, Star of the Sea. Beneath the adjacent square, the remains of the original Roman settlement were unearthed.

    According to legend, the Armenian-born Saint Servatius, Bishop of Tongeren, died in Maastricht in 384 where he was interred along the Roman road. The Basilica of St. Servatius is an important pilgrimage destination. Located right beside the Basilica is the Church of St. John the Baptist, the city’s main Protestant church since 1632. It has a distinctive red tower - the red colour, until recently, was created using ox blood.

    We walked along the outline of the original city walls to Helpoort ("Hell's Gate"), an imposing gate with two towers, built shortly after 1230, the oldest city gate in the Netherlands.

    This is the hometown of André Rieu - he comes back frequently to put on concerts. Music lovers pack the main square to enjoy hearing their hometown idol.

    We stopped at Bishop’s Mill that continues to grind spelt into flour for the attached bakery using only water power. The smells from that bakery were heavenly.

    We stopped at a fabulous bookstore - Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore - it’s located in an old Gothic church built for the Dominican priests - and is now a union of the spiritual and the secular. I doubt there is a more spectacular bookstore anywhere. Although the altar has never been removed, this church will never again be used for the celebration of mass.

    Some of the most expensive shopping in all of the Netherlands is here in Maastricht - second only to that of Amsterdam. We stumble across a Hudson’s Bay store - it’s stocked very differently than the stores in Canada. We were relegated to exploring the Friday morning smarket outside the town hall with its riot of colours, sounds, smells and textures. There was everything- meats, fruits, vegetables, bread, clothing, leather goods, fabrics (I had to restrain myself) and of course, cell phone cases.

    It’s now time for a late lunch (1:00 p.m.) and time to set sail for our next destination and our next (third) country of this trip - Xanten in Germany. We will actually have some free time this afternoon. What to do???

    Had clear soup followed by warm strawberry cobbler for lunch. Fabulous. Pace yourself, Maureen.

    No pics yet - internet is simply too weak when we are sailing. Will try later.
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  • Day9

    Sep 28 - Zollverein Coal Mine Complex

    September 28, 2019 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Today began when we docked in Emmerich, Germany - the third country of this trip. The climb up the steep gangplank should have been a clue as to river conditions - the penny didn’t drop until later. Read on.

    Three big buses headed off to see the town of Xanten and to visit the Roman Ruins. We boarded a small bus with 15 others and headed to the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, a large former industrial site in the city of Essen, Germany. It has been inscribed into the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since December 14, 2001, and is one of the anchor points of the European Route of Industrial Heritage. It is representative of the development of traditional heavy industries in Europe. The area is now a major arts and culture centre - a festival was being set up as we toured the area. Our guide for the trip was Thorsten whose name means “Son of Thor, the God of Thunder” in Norse Mythology.

    The first coal mine on the premises was founded in 1847, and mining activities took place from 1851 until December 23, 1986. For decades, starting in the late 1950s, the two parts of the site, Zollverein Coal Mine and Zollverein Coking Plant (erected 1957−1961, closed on June 30, 1993), ranked among the largest of their kinds in Europe. Shaft 12, built in the New Objectivity style, was opened in 1932 and is considered an architectural and technical masterpiece, earning it a reputation as the "most beautiful coal mine in the world”.

    Coal, after it is refined into coke, provides the carbon that transforms iron into steel which is used for so many applications - cars, appliances, food cans, roofing, siding, pools - the list is almost endless. As a steel worker for over 36 years, seeing a coal facility was a natural choice for me for today’s activity, and Doug loves all things mechanical so the choice was unanimous. We actually saw an ArcelorMittal site on the bus ride. Will try to figure out which one it was.

    Jütte was our guide at the complex. We traced the route that a lump of coal would take - from being extracted underground (we went only a few steps below ground), to being carted via horse-drawn coal bins to the dumping house, to being sorted by size and finally being sent to the coking plant. The huge machines and iron tracks and conveyor belts made the place look as if the workers were simply on a lunch break. It’s impossible to imagine the conditions that the workers endured - the noise, the noxious fumes, the stone dust that they breathed in, the heat and the oppressive humidity. Getting the “black gold” out of the earth took an enormous toll on many lives and on the environment.

    The plan was to drive to Duisburg and rendezvous with the ship. However, the steep gangplank we climbed in the morning was indicative of low water levels. As a result, the captain had to take extra time to carefully navigate the route to Duisburg and was going to be late in arriving. One of the other buses was needed for a tour on another cruise line, so in a bit of creativity, we got dropped in the Duisburg city centre with some free time to shop and explore and then to go to the ship - with 4 extra passengers who had been on the bus that was needed elsewhere. We got back to the ship about 2:45 p.m. and set sail for Koblenz at 3:00 p.m.

    While in Duisburg, we did what the locals did - eat on the street. Since it was past lunch time, we started with roasted nuts, moved on to French Fries, then had chocolate croissants and pretzels. We could have washed it all down with a cold beer or a glass of wine, but we showed remarkable self-restraint. Not going to need much for dinner tonight! And to Doug’s delight, there were cars - lots of cars - on display by almost every car manufacturer imaginable. Still haven’t found my next car - but we have 5-7 years to do so. There were people dressed up as Avengers (not Emma Peel and John Steed) and people dancing to old time music. The whole town seemed to be enjoying the sunny fall weather.

    I spent the afternoon trying to load pictures. Very little luck. At 6:00 p.m., Andreea gave us an overview of the next week and we made our daily activity choices. Tomorrow, we will be docked in Koblenz and have opted to do a 1.5 hour walking tour of the city. The wine tour bus (not our choice) filled up almost instantly. There are going to be a lot of very happy (and perhaps) sleepy people tomorrow afternoon!

    Will try to upload pics when we are in port in Koblenz.
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  • Day10

    Sep 29 - Koblenz

    September 29, 2019 in Germany ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    The ship is now docked in Koblenz. Docking space is at a premium here, so se are “double bunked” along side another ship that docked earlier. We will have to go out of our ship, cross through their lobby, and then go up the gangplank to reach street level. It’s a good way to look at other ships. (Our bunk mate looked very, very nice.)

    Koblenz is located at the point where that the Moselle River joins the mighty Rhine River. We sailed past the slip of land where this confluence occurs while we ate breakfast. It is called the “German Corner”. The site is dominated by an enormous equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhem I (1797-1888), the first emperor of Germany after its unification in 1871. The Rhine Gorge was declared a World Heritage Site in 2002, with Koblenz marking the northern end. We will be sailing the most dramatic part of the gorge later this week.

    We did a walking tour of Koblenz this morning, ably led a lady by the name of Jorai (pronounced "your eye"). Koblenz was founded in 14 A.D. by the Romans at this strategically important point - they controlled the area for 1000 years. Then there was a conquest by the Franks, a takeover by the French and then domination by the Prussians. Much of the town was badly damaged during WWII but has been rebuilt with history in mind. It is a city of narrow lanes and romantic squares, all lined with cafés and outdoor seating. It was Sunday morning, so the entire city was rather quiet, especially since most stores are closed on Sundays. We saw the medieval St. Florins Church and the lovely Church of Our Lady (a very common name for churches I’ve observed) and the Basilica of St. Castor. The town clock has an “Eye Roller” in it - a comical face that sticks rolls his eyes and sticks out his tongue on the hour. A commentary on the legislative processes that he observes, perhaps? And we saw the Schangël Fountain where an impish boy periodically spits water onto the unsuspecting.

    Back at the ship, we watched as the crew “hand bombed” (passed from hand to hand) more food, water, wine and linens. It’s a real team effort to restock this hotel without the use of machines.

    We had free time this afternoon. There was the threat of a huge storm but we decided to chance it anyway. We walked around along the quay side of the Rhine, back into the old section of Koblenz, and then back to the ship along the Moselle side. We walked about 6 miles today. We need to do that every day!

    I sought technical help about all the trouble I’ve been having uploading pictures. There is no solution- the upload speed is dismal, and in a few days, we are going to lose our internet service all together. So, please be patient - I will do my best to keep you up to date on our adventures, but postings could be delayed several days.
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