What exactly is a RhineFahrt anyway? Well, Rhine refers to the name of a river in Europe and the German word/conjunction Fahrt is used in that language predominantly to refer to travel or traveling. If you’ve ever driven the autobahn then you’ve surely noticed the signage at the exit ramps – Ausfahrt. Emily and I recently visited Europe once again for a Rhine River cruise and my juvenile mind couldn’t resist but to pay more attention to the silly-looking signage than to the abundance of castles littering the picturesque landscapes along the river.
Despite all of the translation incompatibilities, it’s still lots of fun to make up humorous new phrases using the most vulnerable German words. This one was lowing-hanging-fruit as they say, and it’s healthy to keep people snickering just a lil’ bit. I can’t help it; new languages always bring out the 9th grader in me.
I have to throw out a few kudos to Gate One Travel who arranged and guided us to safely fahrt along the Rhine from Amsterdam to Boppar then by coach to Lucerne. I’m always surprised and delighted to trust them with our travel itinerary as their attention to detail, accommodations, and problem solving efforts have repeatedly convinced me that they’re absolutely the best deal in international travel.
We had a rather surprising event on our trip this year. Mother Nature and her annoying friend Murphy called upon us and suddenly our wet fahrt up the Rhine suddenly turned to shit. The Rhine had record low water levels due to a summer drought and we were eventually forced to abandon our comfortable river barge in exchange for a series of motor coach rides and hotel stays. Thankfully, we were at least able to fahrt more than half-way up river before holding our noses and abandoning our comfortable ship.
I must say, however, that although this wasn’t necessarily the vacation we were hoping for, Gate One Travel did an amazing job of catering to our every whim and desire. They worked very hard to help turn a bad situation into a positive experience. Now, if we could only talk them into booking future vacations without Chinese guests, life while abroad would be especially nice.
“There are only two things I hate in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.” – GoldMember
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no bigoted, belittling, bastard traveler. It’s just that my experiences with foreign travel and the accompaniment of Chinese tourists has made me realize the Chinese people have no real sense of personal space – at least not like the typical rural residing American. It could be likely due to many of them living in extremely densely populated cities. Pushing and shoving their way through crowds and jockeying to always be first in line. It could be that their seemingly general disregard for group decorum may be a sort of Nuevo-Confucianism – it gets the job done in a very efficient way. Heck, what do I know – I’m just a dumb redneck.
I guess I’m probably being way too judgmental; Big city folks in every country are probably just like that…uhhh, nope I take that back. My New York and Boston traveling companions are nothing like that. That cements it, it’s just the Chinese.
To the guy like me who has a two-hundred acre back yard – the pushing and posturing just seems plain ole rude. If I happen to make it to a door first, all I’m going to do is to hold it open for a lady or two anyway. Trust me, I’m no threat to you going in the door first. Other than their fahrting style, Chinese people are great in every other way. We’ve met some terrific Chinese people in our travels and on an individual level they’ve been especially great conversationalists and overall decent people; I just think their way of fahrting really stinks.
Now, who fahrted anyway? Oh yea, it was me. And boy did I! Actually, Emily and I were fahrting together but who cares about the semantics of a blog? No one reads blogs anyway and I just lost all 5 of my Chinese subscribers. Now I’m down to my mom, my two sisters, and the 3 Dutch bicyclists who are planning my death after the last blog I wrote.
Who’s counting anyway? Despite the travel challenges we sometimes face, Emily and I have grown to really love all this tag-team fahrting we’ve been doing lately. To be honest, her profession has made her quite the expert on the subject. No one fahrts quite like my wife and I’m so fortunate to be able to relax and trust that her frequent fahrting will always put us miles ahead. Hmm, maybe that’s why the Chinese don’t like being behind us … haven’t thought of it that way before.
Oh well, our vacation actually began in Amsterdam which was beautiful in its own unique way but quite different than I expected. If you love 17th century architecture and the odor of people smoking weed in public then it’s a must see. The feel of this city is very much enhanced by all the canals and arch bridges in a quasi-Venice sort of way. Don’t be mistaken, however, it’s not Venice. Think about it, they did invent the Dutch Oven here. Other than that, you get really hungry walking around in Amsterdam.
I think what makes the city fun is the overall feeling of acceptable debauchery. The red-light district contributes to that “anything goes” expectation. But in reality, people suck down their mini-bong fumes all about town like it’s the newest bestest oxygen out there. No one ever quite feels like they’re not in some sort of red light district anyway – which is fun in its own way I guess. It’s a bit like a college panty-raid. It ain’t exactly illegal but it makes you feel dirty and excited all at the same time. The biggest difference being, you can’t take the bong home as a souvenir.
I can’t help but to mention, because I’ve seen this time after time, the McDonalds restaurants in Europe are nothing like we know in America. They are actually extremely nice, well-appointed with beautiful Chandelier lighting, super clean restrooms, and warm, friendly, professional employees. I don’t know what they pay McDonalds employees in Europe but it must be pretty good. Sometimes you pay to use the super awesome restrooms and sometimes you just get a code on your receipt and use the code to enter the vault like bathroom door. Either way, when you’re fahrting like crazy, and need a good place to rest your legs, you can never go wrong with a European McDonalds.
The first leg of the Rhine River from Amsterdam, Holland to Cologne, Germany is quite industrial, flat and featureless. It leaves you ample opportunity to unwind a while to enjoy a good long relaxing fahrt. You’ll need to blow off some steam for Cologne as it is a busy place indeed.
As Emily and I fahrted along the quaint and ancient streets, hand-in-hand, experiencing the quaint old town of Cologne, we noticed several decent antique shops – a passion we both share. Maybe even equal to that of a great fahrt. As with most other European cities which were originally Roman outposts, there are unique sites both old and new to discover around every corner.
Cologne has a fantastic museum in the center of their old town. The story told to us was that Hitler was building a museum there and discovered a fantastic Roman villa about 30 feet below ground during the excavation. He decided to construct the museum entirely around the ancient site. Gee, and here I was thinking Hitler was an asshole.
The museum is located adjacent to the cathedral, a magnificent Gothic styled cathedral having as its architectural triumph, some of the tallest spires of any other Gothic cathedral in the world. The inside of the magnificent building is perhaps not as elaborate as many we’ve visited but it is said to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men inside its sequestered catacombs.
We were not able to access or figure out where the Wise Men may have been located as none of the signage offered an English translation, a rare thing in Europe and also ironic due to having the most famous wise men in the history of our world being cloistered in a place that denies its wisdom to non-German speakers.
Afterward, I noticed that Germany is pretty much like that everywhere. Few English translations anywhere. They have English signage in Slovenia and Croatia and Hungary and Czechia and Slovakia and Montenegro and Austria and Italy and France and Turkey and Ecuador and Spain and Greece and Bosnia and Japan, China, Egypt, and Colombia but not in Germany. This particular fahrt doesn’t pass the smell test.
Enough of my rant; aside from all that stuff, Cologne is amazingly home to what Emily and I would describe as some of the best pizza in the entire world. Forget Naples Italy, visit Cologne. Rob and Rachel would also agree. In fact, the four of us fahrted happily all the way back to the ship afterward – talking about the fantastic German pizza we enjoyed together.
Leaving Cologne, we sailed to Koblenz. The Rhine was becoming more scenic after leaving the big city of Cologne so the fahrting was much more intensified. Koblenz is a small city which was once a very important place. It has both Roman and later royal German ancestry with an amazing Romanesque cathedral. It is also an important wine region of Alsace so if you are a wine connoisseur, Koblenz is a great place to visit for their annual wine festival. It’s also important to mention that the drought was very serious in this region (2018) so the wine produced here (Alsatian Riesling’s) are expected to be fantastic for this year.
Next, we traveled to the village cities of Spay and Boppar, then took a tour of the 12th century castle called Marksburg. It is the only hilltop castle along the Rhine that is completely original, never damaged by war or time. All of the other 40’ish or so hilltop castles along the Rhine have been destroyed and rebuilt over time. The castle is an amazing time-capsule of the medieval life of sovereigns.
Boppar was as far as our ship could travel before being forced to dock. As a result, the travel company decided to book a smaller boat to take us a couple hours further upstream to see another dozen or so hilltop castles along the Rhine – knowing we’d entirely miss them otherwise. Later we dined in the town and slept aboard our ship for the last time then in the morning boarded our new coach – the SMY Zardine Kan, and took a lengthy fahrt to the city of Koblenz, Germany.
The most memorable thing that happened in Boppar was our dinner conversation at a fine Italian restaurant. The tables were topped with fine white linens, the flatware was decent and the ambiance was sophisticated German/Italian with its dozen or so sophisticated patrons conversing quietly among themselves. Suddenly, when our group conversation inadvertently steered in the direction of Adolph Hitler, albeit humorous (to us), Rachel blurted out in an absurdly loud manner, “Did ya’ll know that Hitler is a very common name…blah, blah, blah……” (Rob silenced Rachel just quick enough that it triggered one of those “it would be really rude to laugh out loud right now so I can’t help but to laugh out loud for ten minutes” kind of situation).
The otherwise quiet room turned cold and sterile almost immediately. Then, after a long laugh, we had to gently explain to Rachel that German people don’t really like for people to talk openly about that terribly convincing and manipulative Austrian. It really makes them Fuhrer-ious (sorry).
On to the city of Darmstadt, Germany and our hotel the Maritim – not the greatest in the world but very good considering they had to find a decent place for 150 guests on extremely short notice. Oh well, what’s to complain about – I’m in Germany touring castles and wineries instead of reviewing subdivision plats and writing zoning ordinances.
We left Darmstadt in the morning enroute to the city of Speyer which is one of the oldest cities in Germany with a Roman military camp established in 10 BC. In 150 AD the town first appears on the world map by Greek geographer Ptolemy as the city of Noviomagus. In the 7th century AD, a Frankish tribe called the Nemetes settled here and named it Spira. The impressive Speyer Cathedral, drenched in history itself, holds the tombs of eight (8) Holy Roman Emperors and German Kings. Leaving Speyer, we fahrted the entire way to Strasbourg, France.
Strasbourg is an absolutely gorgeous city. The combination of French and German culture/language/architecture/cuisine is a very fun thing to experience. We took a long group-fahrt through the old town until reaching the impressive Notre Dame cathedral. She is absolutely fantastic – the most impressive thing inside (to me) being the 16th century astronomical clock – reminiscent of the Prague astronomical clock (Prague Orloj). Also of note, the American monument men (see movie) were able to discover and rescue the original medieval stained glass windows of this cathedral after WWII, returning them back to their original positions. It’s definitely a must-see city along the Rhine.
While there, we enjoyed this typical Alsatian pizza thingee (not really a pizza) called “tarte flambée” or flammekueche in Alsatian. It’s an Alsatian flatbread topped with a layer of cheese (fromage blanc), onions and bacon and maybe some sour crème, baked in a brick oven. It looks like pizza so we were all jonesing for another Cologne type pizza experience and just ordered it like pros. We all ate it, and…liked it for the most part. But, it is definitely an unusual taste for our redneck palates. Oh well.
We crossed back over into Germany to the beautiful city of Baden-Baden to spend the night at the Radison Blue hotel. Baden-Baden is a quaint but elegant, albeit redundant ( I crack myself up), German village with a very ritzy casino. The name basically translates to Spa-town, named by the Roman’s, but it really must have been a crazy terrific spa town because someone named it twice. I theorized that perhaps the Roman Governor spoke with a stutter and his subordinates were too afraid to correct him. It’s a good story anyway. We were pretty tired so fortunately there was no fahrting in the spa. Just some sushi for dinner and on to bed.
It was at this point of our trip where everyone was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Two-week trips are great because you’re not turning around and flying home a few days after arrival but it can also be stressful if you load your itinerary up with excursions and side trips like we’re accustomed to do. The theory being, “I’m only here once in my life – maybe, so why not see as much as I can in one trip?”
First by ship, then by bus, we continued on our course by parting whatever waves and breaking glorious wind to take us to lands we’d scarcely, if at all, heard about. And just like that, we were in just such a place, Colmar, France by way of Brisach, Germany. Brisach is a 4000 year old city that is pronounced in English as Brysa. It’s very quaint, only having a couple thousand people. The ancient part of the once walled city sits atop a tall round hill with a large cathedral sitting atop – reminiscent of our visit to the Croatian city of Rovinj.
It was lunch time and we were not going to stop again until 3 PM so it was important that we grabbed some lunch in Brisach. We found a cutsie café on the old town called the Café Conditorei Bachtel and ordered some sandwiches. We discovered that the place is run by people who hate life, hurt babies and horde food. I say this because a few minutes after we sat and ordered sandwiches, Rachel returns red-faced from the inside of the café, mad as a wet hen, claiming the café staff were extremely rude to her. She had to walk it off while we awaited our orders – food that never arrived.
We think the staff were ticked off at Rachel so they stitched us on having lunch that day. Certainly not wanting to be impolite to the French, we left enough money on our table to pay for our full lunch, demonstrating to them a real example of sophistication and class, and just left hungry. The waitress confronted me for leaving, saying “you should have told us you were in a hurry”. My response, 45 minutes after having ordered a sandwich, “if you had ever returned to our table, even once, perhaps I could have.” I think we all just needed a good fahrt, not wanting to make a stink of things – so on we went.
Crossing back into France to the picturesque city of Colmar was a pleasant retreat from the stench of tour-bus fahrting. It is a mostly medieval city with cobblestone streets lined by half-timbered early Renaissance homes and buildings with a Gothic 13th century church. Great shopping was to be had in this place, along with lots of interesting little food vendors and shops. Emily loaded up on her favorite French cooking salt Flour de Sel at the local grocer and I found a hot dog stand. After a quick snack, we loaded up the bus and fahrted all the way to Switzerland.
Basel, Switzerland is yet another medieval city on the borders of Swizerland, France and Germany. In fact, the International airport there, although extremely poorly rated by its frequent flyers, offers the ability to exit the airport facility in either France or Switzerland. We again stayed at the Radisson Blu hotel, great in every one we’ve stayed in thus far, which was just around the corner from the 12th century Gothic cathedral that dominates the marketplatz and old town.
We didn’t really have an opportunity to spend any real time in Basel as we arrived late and left early the next morning headed for Lucerne, Switzerland. The hotel, however, was terrific. I may add that the fahrting toward Lucerne was extraordinary, in that it was beautiful. As one can imagine, the alpine vista’s and mostly agricultural scenery was quite picturesque.
Lucerne itself is amazing. The crown jewel, my opinion, of this entire flatulent affair. I asked Emily to pull-my-finger just to see if I might be dreaming. The significant old town is mostly intact with 16th century half-timbered homes and buildings and the Chapel Bridge, built in 1333, still spans the Reuss River as it flows from the gorgeous Lucerne Lake.
The Rosengart Art Museum was located across the street from our fantastic hotel, the Astoria Hotel, which boasts the largest private collection of Picasso artwork in the world. Emily and I were stunned by Mrs. Rosengart’s art collection which consisted of dozens of the famous Masters we all know as well as more than 150 pieces from Picasso. Our hotel boasted a Michelin Star Italian restaurant on premises, in which we indulged ourselves quite wonderfully.
To completely sum up two weeks’ worth of fahrting in one paragraph, I would say that we spent considerably more money on this trip than any other European trip we’d thus far taken yet we enjoyed it less. The places were cool and quaint and charming but by-and-large not worthy of entire days of travel. The Danube River was our favorite river cruise so far and second to the Danube would be the Rhone, both of which were picturesque the entire way and took us to far more interesting cities and villages. Switzerland was the most amazing place we visited on this trip by far.
Overall, France rarely disappoints, when it comes to clean, well-planned and preserved old towns but during this trip France fell short in Brisach with the not-so-nice waitress. Germany, however, disappointed me from a town planner’s point of view. Historic sections of old villages are latticed with patchwork railway infrastructure and hilltop vistas are absolutely littered by gigantic steel windmills that ironically were designed to preserve nature. I guess if one gigantic mass of metal that captures clean, renewable wind-energy is good then 500 more must be great! Maybe we should put a few on the lawn of the Eifel Tower to help us light up all those flashing lights?
Aside from all my juvenile remarks, I love visiting Europe but I’m ready to go back home; all this fahrting is numbing my legs anyway.