Cologne & Amsterdam highlights
Friday – Cologne
Mum had brought many of her birthday cards with her and over our customary pre-breakfast morning cuppa in bed she opened them all. We skipped breakfast and I left her to have a leisurely morning whilst I went on the 2 hour Jewish Cologne walking tour, which actually turned out to be longer purely because we all found it so fascinating and had lots of questions for our guide.
Having been to Cologne before I was aware that historically the city had a large Jewish population before WW2 who were all but wiped out. Because Cologne was heavily bombed by the Allies 90% of the buildings were destroyed so much of the city centre is a reconstruction. Two buildings survived, the Cathedral and (surprisingly) the house that was used as the Gestapo headquarters. Here we had a fascinating tour of the basement cells where thousands were imprisoned before being deported or executed in the yard. Many prisoners had written on the cell walls and these inscriptions, from a wide variety of nationalities, tell of their heartbreaking stories and fears. The execution yard, which was (as it is now) completely overlooked by blocks of houses, is now covered in mirrored glass as a permanent memorial for people to reflect on what happened here.
The tour guide was excellent and explained how Germany’s attitude to and acceptance of the war has changed through education and various projects and Germans now talk openly about the war. As part of a Cologne art project gold squares in the pavement, ‘Stepping Stones’, mark the threshold of houses where Jewish citizens lived, honouring each with their name, date of birth and death, to ensure they are remembered as a person rather than a number or statistic. I found the tour insightful, contemplative and completely engrossing.
Cologne cathedral is famous throughout the world both for its amazing architecture and beauty as well as the resting place for the remains of the Three Wise Men. This could easily be dismissed as folklore but a relatively recent DNA test confirmed the human bones are from the appropriate date, which I think came as a bit of a relief to the religious authorities! I have visited the cathedral previously but was still impressed by its beautiful Gothic architecture and interior that is something not to be missed.
I left the group and found my way to Farina, the original location where cologne was first invented in 1709. Cologne from the 4711 store was more widely known and sold throughout the world, but only appeared in 1799. According to Wikipedia, cologne refers to a perfume which is usually refreshingly light, unisex with a citrus-based head note. Certainly Farina’s original cologne is still very fragrant to this day so I purchased several bottles as presents.
I returned to the ship to find balloons and a Happy Birthday sign on our stateroom door, decorations inside and Mum stretched out on the bed surrounded by birthday cards and sipping a glass of champagne, courtesy of Avalon. Happy 90th Mum!
At supper that night and surrounded by newly made friends we had a wonderfully memorable meal and the waiters, always brilliant, were extra attentive to Mum. Some of the guests gave her little birthday presents and momentoes, all very touching and much appreciated. After a wonderful meal the crew did their now customary celebration parade around the dining room holding Mum’s birthday cake aloft whilst we all sang Happy Birthday before eating a wonderful creamy chocolate cake – and that was after pudding!
We retired to the lounge but with Florin performing dance classics it wasn’t long before we were up on the dance floor. For someone in her tenth decade Mum danced with amazing vigor and with quite a few men – in another era her dance card would definitely have been full! I practically had to drag her off to bed ready for our final day, which I did not want to miss.
Saturday – Amsterdam
We left the ship a little bleary eyed for an early 8.45 start on a one-hour boat trip along the city’s main canals, followed by a tour of the famous Gasson diamond factory and a walking tour back to the ship. As the centre gets congested with both people and boats the early start enabled us to see the city at a comfortable pace before the crowds descended. In the early morning mist we silently glided passed quaint and decaying house-boats, under ancient bridges, beautiful 17th century merchant houses, churches, hundreds of bicycles and the occasional cycling local. It was a great way to experience an awakening Amsterdam and make the most of a full day in the city.
The city of canals is beautiful, quirky, and has wonderful architecture dating back some 400 years that is little changed. Whatever age, everyone here rides a bike, mostly of the ‘sit up and beg’ variety. Not a racer or lycra cyclist in sight. There are around 800,000 inhabitants in Amsterdam and over 1million bicycles, so extra care is needed when walking as bikes whizz passed you everywhere, but it all adds to the atmosphere.
A visit to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the famous Red Light district. As the area is mostly cobbled streets I ventured out on my own for a couple of hours in the afternoon, by which time the area was already busy with an preponderance of large groups of young men eager to experience what was on offer, which all made for a very interesting walk! Not all the ‘’office’ windows were occupied but some young ladies sat awaiting their next customer. With a lingering smell of cannabis in the air and large numbers of young men, you may think it would lead to a rather hostile atmosphere but I walked around enjoying the city for two hours on my own and never felt in any way uncomfortable. A large number of guests elected to go on the Amsterdam by Night Tour which included a canal boat ride and a walk through the Red Light District, but many also wandered off on their own, whilst Mum and I enjoyed a last, quiet and delicious supper on the ship, reflecting on a wonderful week.
Quite a number of guests chose to extend their trip in Amsterdam and if you haven’t been before I would definitely suggest this as an option. I have visited the city several times and would highly recommend a visit to Anne Frank’s house and the fabulous art galleries and museums to see the Old Masters.
Disembarkation, with a wide variety of flight and departure arrangements is obviously a challenge but with typical Germanic precision worked like a well-oiled machine so it felt like there were only a few of us leaving at any one time.
We left the ship at 08.30 en route for Schipol Airport against the background of a large red sun and blue sky that was a fitting goodbye to our wonderful floating hotel and home for the last seven days.
As we walked down the gangway for the last time the Hotel Manager, Pieter, said the staff all hoped to be on board for Mum’s 100th birthday cruise. Now that really would be something.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Avalon Waterways
- Part 1 – Chrissy prepares for a 90th birthday treat
- Part 2 – The 90th birthday celebration river cruise
- Part 3 – Strasbourg to Koblenz highlights