Avalon River Cruise Blog
Avalon Affinity - Romantic Rhine 7 Night River Cruise
Avalon River Cruise - Cologne, Germany - October 23, 2009
We arrive in Cologne about midnight and it is the largesT of the cities we have seen on this trip. It looks very modern and cosmopolitan and we are thinking of heading out, but decide that the fast pace of the trip has taken a toll and we need a long nights sleep this evening. The walking tour is scheduled for 8:15 and we are starting to look forward to a regular breakfast each morning to brace us from the cold, foggy mornings we are seeing on the walking tours.
This guide is interesting and reflective about the history of Germany. She points out a building across the river that was a way-station for the Nazi death camps and discusses that much of Cologne was bombed during World War 2. The first stop is the Olde St. Martin Church which is the oldest in Cologne. We stop at the customs house and she explains more fully that each town had a customs house and you had to unload all your goods to give the towns people a chance to buy before you could go on your way up or down the river at each stop.
We also stop at a spot where she explains that Carnival is very important in Cologne. It sounds like New Orleans to me with military uniforms instead of craziness. The calendar is the same, ending on Ash Wednesday and the main two Carnival clans amongst the cities elite are the Red Sparks and Blue Sparks. She says again that it is very expensive and exclusive to be in the Carnival groups but everybody in town comes along for the party. She says that you must be in a Carnival group to be in politics but the Carnival groups are exclusively male dominated organizations. She muses that she wonders how women will ever get power in Cologne under this system. Originally the town was not too close to the river as it flooded frequently in ancient days. The market and the sports stadiums were located close to the river by the Romans because those could be abandoned easily in times of high water.
We stop at a statue of a funny man. The guide says that people touched his nose and made a wish. She had come there to wish for a girl when she got pregnant but joked, we would not get pregnant if we made a wish. In the town square there is a clock with a little man that comes out hourly and sticks out his tongue. She also points out that across the street is another man with his pants down mooning the man in the clock. She jokes that many do not listen to what the local Government says and the little man across the street emphasizes that. This is the town where Eau de Cologne was invented as the Roman water system was gone under the first German empire and the water was very bad so people did not bathe frequently so they used the perfume to cover up the smell. She suggested that you smell the actual Eau de Cologne Perfume before buying because many people liked the competing locally made Cologne perfume better. Near the Cathedral is a dig of the Roman artifacts under the city that we are shown. After that, we see a big German wedding arrive at City Hall. The Bridal couple must start the wedding process here and come in full regalia including tuxedos and gowns with the bridal party to get the license and shoot pictures on the steps of the old city hall.
We stop near the church to see a statue with little elves doing all types of work. Germany has a good work ethic amongst the people and the guide explains that all German children get this book from their parents. The elves all have occupations or trades and the book is a way for the Germans to socialize their children. The statue symbolizes all the elves in the book and one is a carpenter, one is a butcher, etc.
We end up at the cathedral in Cologne which is very large and spectacular. The claim to fame for this church are the bones of the Maggi who arrived on the night that Jesus was born. Cologne is a crazy big city with people that are all moving fast and it reminds me of New York on a smaller scale. The cathedral is huge but again made from sandstone and it has been damaged by acid rain so it is stained black rather than the original white color. They do clean the sandstone but it is very porous and turns black right away again so they have to start over when they finish the whole church.
Inside the cathedral is huge and cavernous and very nicely decorated with beautiful stained glass, tapestries, mosaics and a huge gold container for the bones of the Maggi. As this is the last church in Germany, I light a candle for my grandmother and my godfather Uncle Ray, who I loved dearly, as a child. I go to pay for the candles, but only have a $10 euro so I toss that in the pot. God works in mysterious ways as the church gets a few bucks extra for restoration from someone with German ancestry. We enjoy touring the church and go looking for an ATM afterward. I am in need of another memory stick for the digital camera which is easily and cheaply taken care of by a local camera shop.
One of the pursuits for the Cologne stop was sausage and beer as we are leaving Germany this afternoon. All aboard is 12:30 so we have made a plan to meet with some of our fellow cruisers at 11AM. We met at the Kunibert der Fiese beer garden. One of the river cruise passengers Peter is sitting at a big table for twelve but nobody else showed up for the beer and sausage stop. He is already fuming about the waiter when we arrive. It seems that you can have a beer at anytime, but food (and menus) are not served until 11AM. Peter wanted one beforehand to look at the choices and digest the German on the menu. It was obvious that it deteriorated to the point where the waiter put menus on all the other tables before he brought Peter his.
I try to always learn please, thank you, I would like and I dont speak your language-do you speak English? This seemed to passify the waiter and Peter went along with the flow so we were back on track. They immediately arrive with little 7 ounce glasses of Kolsch and put a hash mark on your coaster to keep track of how many you drank. Kolsch is pretty much the only beer in Cologne,but there are many different varieties including a house brand of Kolsch at most bars. We all ordered a bockwurst which came with a fantastic side of potato salad and a great pickleand the house beer Colner Hofbrau by P Josef Fruh . On the table was a spicy mustard that put even my NY Guldens to shame. We stopped for a few trinkets and a pretty good café macchiato and headed back to the boat about a half hour early. It was pretty funny that the restaurant conductors as we call them, tried us in German and Italian from our looks but they were surprised we spoke English.
From Cologne to Amsterdam is about 14 hours of cruising. This daytime stretch is not as pretty as the Rhine Gorge, but still very interesting with the river traffic, the cities that are passing by plus the industrial complexes on this stretch of the river. Also a lot of what we would call rural suburbs where people had horses and dogs on the river levees plus a lot of activity with people walking in parks by the river along the way. Most of the houses were pretty standard brick varieties like you would see in the Midwest.
We spent four our five hours on the top deck enjoying the cruising and finished our black pepper infused Romano cheese from Switzerland with some apples we picked up along the way. John had a wheat beer that was a 16 oz. bottle served with a tall glass. John ordered Gina a red wine but she did not expect the delivery. This shows you well the staff knows the guests on an Avalon River Cruise as the waiter said; yes Mrs. Rice, your husband made the order on his way to the room.
We worked on this blog while the thoughts were still fresh and just enjoyed German life and river traffic passing by at a nice slow pace. Again the daytime cruising was pleasant as we continue to get more populated along the way. We passed Dusseldorf at one point and everybody was down by the river at some type of festival marketplace. It is late Friday afternoon and it seems everybody in town is enjoying the large balcony on the Rhine River.
This evening is gala night and the staff talent show. Dinner was a choice between chateaubriand or grilled fish. We both had the beef and the béarnaise sauce was nice and light as with most of Stefans sauces. The appetizer was salmon 3 ways and the soup choices were cream of tomato soup but we chose a mushroom cappuccino soup which was a delightful presentation in a coffee cup with steamed milk over a light cream of mushroom soup. The obligatory baked Alaska was served with sparklers and parading around the restaurant. This was done along with a guests birthday so there was quite a bit of sparklers with dinner. Stefan was an interesting guy at 6 foot plus, very thin and a jovial personality with guests. He had cooked on merchant ships for many years and obviously enjoyed the guest interaction. He was a Slovakian citizen and he came to the front of the buffet line each day to personally serve that meal. He was free with recipes if you asked what something was and generally added to the enjoyment of everybodys day. The food program on Avalon was innovative and a step above most of the mass market cruise ship food.
After dinner, the staff did a staff talent show. This was the funniest one of these I have ever seen and my job was to test out resorts for twenty years as a tour operator, so I have seen a lot of these type of staff shows. The first skit was an example of how the other river boat company served dinner. One of the Romanian waiters showed up supposedly drunk and he had an uncanny mannerism like Charlie Chaplin throughout the skit. He used Wolfgang, the dining room Manager as a guest and proceeded to not be alert enough to explain the specials, sip the guys drinks, drop foods and serve spaghetti with ketchup as the sauce. Usually this night is a bore, but we had tears running down our face during much of the show. Dan the hotel Manager read a complaint letter from an Italian friend (complete with the accent) from a friend at a cheap all-inclusive in the Islands. The housekeeping staff must have had someone who had a Romanian or eastern European Circus background. They did two tricks including one that involved sitting on chairs and interlocking themselves with the person next to them. When all four people made a square, other staff took the chairs away and the group stood in place like a table with four legs. Sapar and the other Indonesian staff did a Bali type dance that I am sure was genuine from home with costumes they had fitted from sheets that were decorated. Stefan finished the show as a tall Italian Diva with a huge chest. He came to sing to the tune of some techno diva song like Lady Gaga. He also had backup Pips that came dressed in ship robes and at the high points of the song, opened the robes and they were dressed in boxer shorts with pots and pans strapped up on their private parts. With a hip shake, they were able to make the pots and pans clang to emphasize parts of the music.
Every night on the boat got pretty quiet after the entertainment, starting around 10PM. Usually there were fifteen or twenty of us that remained in the lounge for an hour or so listening to the more hip music the one man band did late night as we rolled down the river. Vesco was also Eastern European but did a wide range of music from Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Feelings at happy hour to Eric Clapton, Santana and even Led Zeppelin in the late evening. He was a great guy that had a large knowledge of Jazz and we discussed our musical experiences in New Orleans one evening as he had never been there but always wanted to go and he was in awe of the fact I had actually seen Satchmo and bands like Count Basie when I was a child. Vesco was a great guy and a very talented musician but explained that in Eastern Europe, the jazz scene had only developed recently with Freedom. He loved talking to an American about American Jazz music as jazz music is revered everywhere I go in the World.