Travel and Vacations Archives

Our Flight Home

It was finally time for our flight home from Europe. We were amazed at how fast the time had gone, as we said goodbye to all the new friends we met.

We had a flight for one hour flight from Basel back to Amsterdam. The plane was called a city hopper. We were amazed that they came to serve a box lunch. Don ate his but I declined as we had just eaten breakfast on our river boat not long before.

Upon deplaning in Amsterdam, we had a LONG LONG LONG walk from one gate to the next and had to show passports and go thru 2 customers to get to the 2nd gage. We had only an hour and a half between planes, so by the time we walked the lengthy arrival halls to our new gate and got thru customs, they boarded us within 5 minutes.

Even though this was an 8 1/2 hour flight, I was not sleepy as we had just gotten up. I ended up watching about 4 movies. We were also served lunch, and then a 2nd meal which I opted out of as I was already stuffed and airport food it not all that good.

Because we fly Delta, we had to fly to Minneapolis to change planes. We arrived in Minneapolis about 5 PM, which was about about midnight in the time zone we’d left, so we were getting tired by this time. We had to go thru international check in, see the customs guy, and reclaim our bags and check them back in and then go to our gate. That took us about 30-45 minutes.

We were fortunate that the international flight all came into terminal G, as we knew our Tampa flight would be at the far end of G as usual, so we didn’t have to change wings. That was one blessing.

By the time we reached the end corridor, we found a real zoo. It seemed there were several late flights before us so there were 2 or 3 sets of people for each plane coming and going. Our flight was due to leave at 7:15 so we went in the restaurant to get away from the zoo and had a coke. By this time we were really getting tired.

They changed our Gate out as we figured they would with the zoo but we were lucky it was only one away. About an hour later we boarded to a totally full flight. I figured I would take a nap on this flight, but it was undoubtably the noisiest flight I’ve ever taken. First class had 3 or 4 young couples, that were noisy and talkative. The flight attendant kept going to the over head bins, and opening them all and closing them several times. We couldn’t figure out why.

Then they had problems with the drink carts for the back, and finally got them out when the flight attendant came to offer dinner. Needless to say I didn’t get to take a nap. Planes between MSP and TPA are always the old planes from KLM and they really stink. They don’t have TV, or anything to listen to on them. I didn’t feel like doing anything but taking a nap, but couldn’t so by the time we jumped ahead and hour and got into Tampa it was close to midnight. We finally arrived home about 1 AM.

All and all it was a great trip and we plan to do another river cruise. it’s a great way to meet new people and see new places and have someone there to show you around.


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The Netherlands

Amsterdam is the capital city of the country of The Netherlands, as well as it’s largest city. It’s name is derived from “Amstiredamme”, meaning a dam built in the river Arristel. The entire city is below sea level, and sits atop wooden stakes. There are more than 150 canals and 1,200 bridges, and it’s sometimes known as the “Venice of the North”.

It was amazing to see all the water and dykes. It’s hard to see how they survive being below sea level but they seem to have that all under control.

The total kingdom of The Netherlands is about 14,413 square miles. The entire country is roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

Some people call the country The Netherlands, others call it the Kingdom Of The Netherlands and others simply Holland. It’s quite a charming little country. There are thousands of bikes as most people travel by bike. There is very little parking to parking cars is quite expensive. Bikes have the right away over cars and walkers. When you hear the little bell it’s time to get out of the way.

The government is a constitutional monarchy. The monarchy is head of state, but the Prime Minister is the head of the government. The population is about 16.6 million, consisting of Dutch, Indonesian, Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan.

The countries religion is primarily Roman Catholic, Protestant or Muslim.

The education is free, and compulsory for ages 4 – 16. After 16 a student must attend some form of education for at least 2 days a week. Colleges are also free. We in the USA need to ask how they can educate people for free when Our college students graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in dept.

Everyone we met in the Netherlands spoke English. We were amazed to see most people in the Europe do speak English.

If you’ve never been there it’s a very interesting country to visit.


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The Allure Of The Seas

For a few years, I decided to sail on either the Ocean of the Seas or her sister ship the Allure Of The Seas one day. I had a trip I was making a few months ago to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, which it the home port of both the bigger ships. I thought it made sense to book a cruise since I was already in the city they sailed from so I booked it.

I thought I’d share the pros and cons from my experience.

Pros

The ship was absolutely beautiful. It had a replica of Central Park with live plants. It also had a replica of Boardwalk, with a merry go round, and an Aquatic show on the back. All entertainment was on the 4th floor. They had a variety of shows and the casino on that floor.

They also had rock climbing, zip lining, surfing, minature golf, basketball and ping pong areas

They had only the main dining room and Windjammer cafe for meals, that were included. Other than those places you could dine at higher end restaurants from $20 -40 per person with reservations required.

The ship held over 6,000 people which concerned us as to wait times to board and exit. This didn’t appear to be an issue as when they docked they opened 6 different gangplanks so getting off and on was smooth.

They did a good job on getting people off and on, but not so good at getting you in and out for meals. All places to eat were crowded and slow because of the limited hours.

Cons

I have to say we were most used to the Princess lines, and they spoil you. We found dinning inconvenient, as they actually closed the buffets onboard, and dinning was only from 6:15 -9 in the Windjammer. When we cruise we like to relax and eat when we feel like it. Sometimes, if we were out late at night and slept in, we might eat a very late breakfast, late lunch and maybe not even be ready for dinner till 9 or 10. We found it annoying that the only thing to eat at the time would be either a sandwich or a slice of pizza on the Promonade deck.

On Princess, they have food open in the cafeteria 24/7, so we didn’t like having to have a schedule. The other thing missing on the Allure Of The Seas, was lack of places to get water, coffee or tea. If the buffet was closed, you were out of luck. You could go to your cabin and drink and pay $3 for a bottle of water, but around the ship there was only ONE water station we found on Deck 5. We were used to water, juice, coffee or tea open 24/7.

We also found while they had great shows, they were limited. You had to have a reservation to get in any decent time frame. Since we only decided to to on the cruise the month before, most everything was taken. That meant if we wanted to see a show, we would have to show up outside and wait in line till about 5 minutes before the start of the show and then they would let us in. That meant only the worst seats, if any, were left. It was not ideal. We were used to being on a ship and picking a show, showing up a little early to get good seats and have a drink when waiting. Not so on this ship.

We found most of the bars and lounges, while open at night, not many of them had dancing or entertainment so they stayed pretty empty. Outside of the casino, if you didn’t have show reservations, there was not much to do later in the evenings.

The ship claimed to have lots of shopping, however, there was not much to buy. The had a few high end stores, like coach purses, and guess. Most items offered for purchase were not any bargains.

They did set up kiosks in the middle of the mall area on different days offering watches and hats. We went one day on the time in the program for a hat. My husband had forgotten to get a hat. Upon arriving at the booth we found a lot of people waiting and arguing with the employees. It seems they had printed the times in the program but the booths weren’t going to sell anything for another half hour, despite it being in the program.

All in all, it was nice to see the ship one time, but having been on it the one time, I’d not pick that ship to go on again. They always seem to have the same routes, because there are only so many ports they can dock in with their size.

Having been on both Royal Caribbean and Princess lines, I would choose the service and convenience of Princess any day.


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Basel, Switzerland

We docked our river boat at Basel, Switzerland. They docked only about 10 minutes from the airport so we didn’t see much of Switzerland.

We were taken to the airport at 9 AM the next day for a noon flight (which in our home time zone was 6 AM). On our ride to the airport, I noticed the buildings and streets looked quite similar to other towns, in Europe. Basel airport was a little airport but there were quite lengthy walks to the gates.

That’s about all we saw of Basel, although it did look like a little town or country we’d like to return to one day to explore.


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Strasbourg, France

On our next stop we docked in Germany just across the river from Strasbourg, France. This is where the Ill river meets the Rhine and France Borders Germany. Strasbourg lies at the crosswords of major waterways and land routes. It was founded in 12 B.C. for it’s strategic location and quickly became a center for trade.

Strasbourg was originally German, and changed from German to French many times. It was really cool seeing the city has live Storks and stork trees. The stork is said to be good luck.

France as a country is smaller than the state of Texas, yet it’s the 3rd largest European nation with a population of approximately 65 million. The terrain varies from mountains to forests and to farmland.

The government is run by a president who serves as both head of state and executive head for a 7 year term. The president appoints a prime minister from the majority party in the National Assembly a group of 577 members elected for 5 year terms. The Senates 321 members serve 9 year terms and are elected every 3 years.

France has one of the worlds most highly developed economies. Their major industry includes agriculture, steel, motor vehicles, aircraft, textiles, chemicals and food processing. More than half of France’s power is generated by nuclear power plants.

The religion is about 80% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant and 5% Muslim.

Education is free and mandatory for ages 6-16. Secondary education, lasting 7 years (11-18) gives students the equivalent of a USA junior college education. Then students take an exam to determine if they may go on to higher education, which is practically free at France’s 60 universities.

Strasbourg had one of the larger Cathedrals and also one of the biggest Christmas Markets. In both Germany and France they serve a hot wine called Gluewine. My husband fell in love with this Gluewine and wished it would migrate to the states. He did bring home several bottles. France also had a lot of chocolates which we brought back as well.

The interesting thing is you can travel from country to country in Europe without showing your passport. You only need a passport to leave the country but not to go between European countries.


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Breisach, Germany

Our next stop was a medieval city of Breisach,Germany, which many consider the most beautiful in Germany. We boarded a bus to go to the Black Forrest there and see the CooCoo factory up in the forrest.

There as we climbed the mountains we were able to see the first and only snow and also saw the running streams from the melting snow that was going down to the Rhine. I heard they had about 6 feet of snow a few weeks before, but the temperature was in the 60’s so it was all melting during our trip.

We drove thru the town of Frieburg, and many other cool little cities, and arrived ad the CooCoo store. There we saw how they made the clocks. They were all hand made ranging in price from several hundred dollars up to $3-4,000 dollars. The higher priced models were light activated and very unique.

Downstairs they had a German bakery with real black forrest cake, which of course we had to try. It was delicious.

When ancient Romans arrived in Germany, they came upon this thickly wooded stretch of pine and fir forest. The setting was no doubt alluring as the rays of sun shown thru the thicket and dotted forrest floor. But the deeper they walked, the thicker the forest became until the height and density of the conifers blocked out all the sunlight. They called these woods Silva Nigra, or Black Forest. Since then it has inspired German creative imagination and served as the backdrop for popular fairy tales, including Hansel and Gretel.

After touring the little village, we were taking back to ship. There was another tour to a war zone, but we opted instead to walk into Breisach and look around. It was Christmas day but there was one little restaurant and tourist type shop opened so we purchased some more gifts for the kids.

We noticed most German downs all had cobblestone roads and skinny sidewalks. While the German food is quite fattening, with lots of breads, pastries and breads, because they also walked and rode bikes, we did not see any heavy Germans. This ways an eye opener to me, as in the USA, we tend to get little or no exercise and eat huge super sized portions.

I saw many germans in bakeries eating and also drinking the german beers in Taverns. Yet despite all the food and drink, none were heavy.

Sadly this was our last stop on our river cruise. We sailed about 7 PM for Basel Switzerland. Because it was the Christmas holiday, we had not opted to stay over in Switzerland, which proved to be a good thing.


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Cologne, Germany

Our next stop was Cologne, Germany.

Cologne Germany is a cool little German town, divided in half by the Rhine River. In the early days one side of the river was Romans and the other side Germans and they didn’t get along so the river was the end of each country. Cologne is the forth-largest city in Germany. More than 2.1 million people live in Cologne.

Today it’s all German but one side is the industrial side and the other side where the people live and work. One of the biggest employers there was actually Ford Motor company. Very surprising.

Germany also has more than 15,000 beer breweries. If you like beer, you’re in the right country.

Germany much like Amsterdam, has a lot of people walking and on bike, but they don’t have quite the number of bikes as the The Netherlands. Still bikes there also have the right of way.

German is known for bakeries, and there are lots of them. They also have lots of German beer which they call bier, and hot wines and chocolate. With the amount of food, you would think the population would be over weight, but we didn’t see too many heavy Germans. I guess they eat and then walk or bike so that shows there is a correlation between exercise and weight gain as the food they eat is certainly NOT diet food.

In Cologne, we visited a chocolate museum. IF you like chocolate, you’d be in heaven. They had so many different kinds of chocolate you head would be spinning. We bought about 5-10 pounds of chocolate to bring home. Needless to day, when we got back to the airport our suitcases were much heavier than when we left, but because they weight them in kilograms I don’t know how much heavier.

The town of Cologne is a mixture of cobblestone walks, old time architecture mixed in with modern. Much like The Netherlands the homes we saw in the city were apartments that were skinny and straight up with 3 or 4 floors.

They have one of the largest Cathedrals in the world, It was so large they must be able to seat thousands for masses. The amazing thing to me is that it was not even heated, it was quite cold. It was also very very tall, you could see it for miles.

Cologne has the 2nd tallest church in Europe. The Cologne Cathedral is a popular tourist attraction. Every year over 6 million visitors climb 533 steps up to the top of it’s spire.

Cologne would be an interesting city to spend some time in.


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Koblenz, Germany

Our next stop along the Rhine, was the city of Koblenz. Koblenz is latin for “confluence”, or the place where rivers meet. It’s also known as the German corner.

Koblenz is a very small town with only about 100,000 residence. Right out of this down is the Marksburg Castle, which is one of the most dramatic castles on the Rhine. This castle has retained most of it’s original construction and is over 800 years old.

We were told the hike to the castle involved lots of steep steps, as it sits atop a steep isolated hill in the bend of the river. Because of the terrain it discouraged the enemies, so it was never attacked in the countless wars that raged thru the centuries.

Because of the climb and jaggered steps, I opted to stay on board. Don went on the tour, and we sailed down river to pick him up.

On our sail down the river, we saw many quaint towns and other castles atop the hills. Because there were many feet of snow a few weeks prior to our trip, the snow melted into the Rhine and we sailed with very very fast moving waters and rising tides. There were bridges we had to go under and dismantle the entire top deck to get below. Other ships without that capability, were stuck unable to travel the Rhine.

We ended the day in Rudesheimer. There unfortunately it was raining so we didn’t get to see much of the town. We had opted for the mini train ride and dinner at a local restaurant. The German food was very good, and they had some cool entertainment.

After dinner, we chose to return to the ship as we would have had to walk back in the dark and rain if we decided to stay in town. The ship does furnish umbrellas but we didn’t want to walk in the dark and rain so we missed a lot of the cute little shops in their Christmas market.

The rivers were again very high and running and our ship captain was getting a little nervous so we sailed out as everyone was back on board.

ALong the river you also go thru 11 or 12 locks. I didn’t quite understand why the locks didn’t hold in the water or keep it from rising so fast.


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Heidelburg, Germany

We sailed to Heidelburg, Germany which lies in the valley of the Odenwald mountains. There the Rhyne and the Neckar rivers meet. Heidelburg has long been considered the jewel of Germany

This city is often thought of as Germany’s intellectual capital and is home to the country’s oldest university built in 1386. It’s a charming city.

While other German cities were destroyed during the Allied bombings of World War II, Heidleberg was largely spared. As a result, it’s retained it’s charm, with narrow streets, helmet-shaped towers, historic churches and ivy covered castle ruins. After the war, the USA built a military base that today houses about 30,000 Americans made up of soldiers and their families. The city has about 150,000 residents and draws about 3.5 million visitors a year for festivals and markets and events.

While we visited Heidelberg on our tour by bus, our ship sailed to Speyer. It was a little disappointing, as I had planned to meet up with one of my team members in Speyer, and get to meet her. We were to be in Speyer from about 3:30- 7 pm but our captain opted to rush us on board and sail immediately so we missed the city and the Christmas Markets. Luckily I was able to reach her by phone at 9 AM when they made the announcement so she didn’t make the trip down, but it was sad to be so close and miss her. She was stationed on an Army base about 2 hours away.

As soon as we got off the buses and boarded, we sailed immediately for our next destination which actually was a dock in Germany, but a tour to Strasbourg, France.


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Kinderdyke – The Netherlands

After boarding our river boat, the first city we stopped at was Kinderdyke. This is where they have build a huge area of windmills, to help solve the flooding of The Netherlands.

People actually live in windmills and work at turning the blades by hand as needed. The government pays them a pitance to do the work and little rent to live there, but in return they must be sure to run the windmills and turn them at least 60,000 turns a year. There is a counter on them, to be sure that happens.

We took a tour of a windmill and went inside. We actually met a man that lived in the one next to the one we visited. He was in his 50’s and had lived in windmills all his life. They really wear those wooden shows there, because there is so much water that normal shows would not work.

He said they do have TV, internet, running water and electric in the windmill. All the neighbors living there also do the same, and all of them have outside jobs to earn a living.
When water comes they must run these windmills that then pumps the water away down the dykes to keep the land above water.

THe Netherlands is about 60% under sea level, so they are constantly pumping out water or building canals and dykes.

They get about 200 days of rain there so there is a lot of green moldy bricks. All building are build tall and skinny and of bricks. Taxes on homes are by the width so they make them tall, and skinny because it does not make any difference how high they are.


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