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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 31st/2014....

Today, I ate more breakfast than usual because I expected to skip lunch - two eggs, bacon, hash browns, French toast, a smoothie, cereal, sweet rolls, orange juice and coffee.

The cruise ended today.  Some passengers disembarked today, others of us took advantage of staying on the ship an extra two nights over New Year’s Day.  Another passenger told me that they were departing today because they did not know that they could stay an extra two nights.   I estimate that more than half the passengers stayed the extra nights.  AMA included all the food but did not schedule any tours or excursions for the extra days.  Passengers had to make their own arrangements for sightseeing and other activities outside the ship.

Being New Years Eve today, there were not a lot of places opened and some places were closing earlier than usual.  It was an easy decision for me what I should do on my own today - I walked over to the train station, which was close to the docks, and took a tram to the Rijksmuseum   It is one of the premier art museums in Europe, which was opened for the whole day. 

The Rijksmuseum holds the magnificent Dutch national art collection of some 5000 paintings, 30000 pieces of applied art, and 17000 historical artifacts.  I visited the Rijksmuseum in 2010.  I admire Dutch painting; and Rembrandt and Vermeer are two of my favorite painters.  I arrived at the museum about 10 and left about 3.  Anyone who loves art, especially Dutch painting, should not miss the Rijksmuseum.  I did not take any photos - I needed a break from taking photos. 

We had so many wonderful suppers that it is difficult to pick out one as the best, however, if I have to choose one, this New Year's Eve meal may have been it.  For the appetizer, I had the marinated Atlantic lobster.  For the soup, a tomato flavored consommé with meat strudel and vegetables.  They put some lemon cello, the Italian liquor, on the lemon sorbet.  For the main course, I had the beef tenderloin and grilled king prawn which was a foot-long (no exaggeration); it was a wonderful variation of surf and turf.  I selected their red wine.   The dessert was three items:  crème caramel, rum flavored chocolate cake, and raspberry sorbet.

There was a New Year’s fireworks display which could be viewed from our ship.  I tried to take photos, but I do not think that they turned out very well.  There was a New Year’s Party on the ship. 

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 30th/2014....

The cruise included a boat trip through the Amsterdam harbor and some canals.  On a previous trip, I took a similar tour, so I substituted another included excursion through the Jordaan area in Amsterdam.   AMA Waterways offered alternative included tours at about a half-dozen locations during the trip but this was the only alternative tour which I took.

Originally a working-class neighborhood, the Jordaan has become one of the most expensive, upscale locations in the Netherlands.  The Jordaan is a network of narrow, colorful streets and picturesque canals.  It is home to many art galleries, particularly for modern art, and also has numerous specialty shops and restaurants.  Rembrandt spent the last years of his life in the Jordaan and is buried in the Westerkerk church.

The Jordaan has a high concentration of hofjes (inner courtyards), many of them with restored houses and peaceful gardens.  These courtyards were built by rich people for elderly women, as a kind of charity.  By the 1970s, most of these courtyards were in very bad shape, like the rest of the neighborhood.  But since then, many have been restored, and are now inhabited by artists, students and some elderly people. 

Our guide lived in the Jordaan - there were only eight people who took this alternative tour.  One of the most interesting parts of the walking tour was entering some of the inner courtyards.  What appears as a door or inconspicuous doorway from the street sometimes leads into an intimate courtyard or maze of interconnected courts.  There is frequently more behind the simple facades of these building than one would expect.

At the end of the walking tour, we went to a café for a complementary slice of apple pie and a free drink - I had hot chocolate.  The café served lunches and pastries -   as there were children in the café - it was not one of the well-publicized cafés where smoking is permitted.  What I like about European pastries is that they are not overly sweet - the apple pie and hot chocolate hit the spot after the long walk on a moderately cold day.  I enjoyed this alternative tour.

As an appetizer that night, Waldorf salad with duck and then the beef consommé.  For the main course, I had the fillet of salmon trout and selected the white wine.  For the dessert, black forest coupe which is a dessert of ice cream and fruit served in a stemmed glass.  As usual, this supper was excellent.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 29th/2014....

Today, I slept in late and skipped breakfast.  It was very cold, especially standing outside while the ship was moving, so I did not take any photos during the cruising between Koblenz and Cologne.  However, I did take a few photos of Cologne Cathedral when we approached the docks.

Before lunch was our second Fruhschoppen - the centerpiece was a whole suckling pig which they carved at a table in the lounge.

It was a dark, cold wintery day as we pulled into Cologne for our Walking Tour and Cathedral Visit.  Cologne is located on both sides of the Rhine River, and was founded and established in the first century AD as a Roman military headquarters.

Besides its medieval economic and political significance, Cologne was an important center of pilgrimage when the Cathedral acquired in 1164 the relics of the Three Wise Men, which are an important theme of the Cathedral’s art to this day. 

The most important site covered in the walking tour was, of course, the Cologne Cathedral.  I have been here on two previous occasions and I have felt overwhelmed both times.  It is unusually complex in terms of its elaborate decoration, its splendor and its size. 

The tour of the Cathedral’s interior was the best one I have had compared to the previous two tours.  The tour guide covered some of the most important treasures contained within the Cathedral.  The most celebrated work of art is the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is a huge Romanesque reliquary made by Nikolaus von Verdun between 1190 and 1220.  It is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men.

The entire Cathedral is one of the most significant architectural and engineering accomplishments in European history.

Since some passengers were scheduled to depart on Dec 31st, supper was a farewell to them - this was one of the very best suppers on the cruise.  The amuse bouche was smoked salmon mousse on pumpernickel, then the butter fish and scallops; and for the soup, the cream of potato.  For the main course, the grilled sea bass and rock lobster - I always have a hard time passing on lobster.  I selected their white wine.  For the dessert, they offered a buffet with a wide selection of items; it was similar to the dessert buffet which they had on the very first night of the cruise. 

After dinner, there was a string quartet playing various classical music selections.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Monday, 28 December 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 28th/2014....

I have cruised along this stretch of the Rhine on two previous occasions.  It has picturesque scenery, highlighted by numerous quaint towns and romantic castles, some of which are in ruins.

The highpoint of this stretch of the Rhine is the Loreley Rock.   According to myth, a maiden mesmerized with songs the crews of ships to cause their destruction on the rocks.

I had the light lunch in the lounge.  They served broiled salmon, pasta with pesto sauce, a green salad and the dessert was chocolate and cheese slices.

We began the tour by driving up to Niederwalddenlmal which towers above Rudesheim.   The monument affords excellent views of the Rhine valley.  Having previously only viewed Germania from the river-level, it was interesting to view it up-close and to take in the dramatic view of the Rhine valley.  There was a snow cover over the entire area; and at the top of the hill, it was cold - cold enough to see our breath.

 From the Niederwalddenlmal, a bus drove us down to the town of Rudesheim to visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Cabinet.  We walked through the famous main street, the Drosselgasse, which is lined with many quaint wine bars and shops.  On the Drosselgasse, Siegfried’s Musical Museum occupies an historic mansion, the half-timbered Bromserhof (1559).

The Museum has a fascinating collection of 350 antique mechanical musical instruments.  From the 19th and 20th centuries, almost all the self-playing music cabinets, calliopes, pianos, organs, and large music boxes are in working order.  A guide at the Museum demonstrated some of the musical instruments.  Some of the mechanical instruments played multiple individual instruments, like a small orchestra. I think they only give tours to those with reservations or tours, and AMA covered the admission fee.  I thought this was an intriguing and very enjoyable museum.

It was almost an hour drive to reach the ship, and much of the drive was directly along the Rhine River.  I did not realize before that many castles and castle ruins are lit up at night.  These castles appear as romantic ghosts when lit up - I wish that I could have taken some photos, but because of the glare on the windows and the movement of the bus, I just could not take any.

 Suppers have been wonderfully gourmet.  I had the beef capriccio with parmesan flakes and mushrooms, and for the soup, the chicken consommé.  Then I had the stuffed pork tenderloin, which was as tender and tasty as the suckling pig.   Pork in Europe taste so much better than pork in the U.S. - there is a difference to me.  For dessert, hazelnut ice cream with litchi, raspberry sauce and chocolate sprinkle.  They served another nice red wine.  They had music and dancing after dinner and a late night snack in the lounge - I did not attend.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 27th/2014....

It is getting increasingly colder with light snow flurries as we began the walking tour of Wertheim.    The town is known for its wine, castle ruins and medieval town center.   We walked through the medieval town center with half-timbered houses and small streets. 

 In the center of the town, there is “The Blue House”  with the only known paint that uses blue grass fragments for color.    The foremost landmark is the Wertheim Castle  on the hill overlooking the town. 

By the time we were ready to depart Wertheim to return to the ship, the snow was coming down harder and accumulating.  Lunch today was only the second time that I went to the dining room - the soup was a beef consommé with pancake strips and meat balls.  The main course was pieces of veal and mushrooms in gravy with mashed potatoes and vegetables.  I had white wine.  For dessert, there were custard-filled caramel balls with ice cream.  It was a very nice lunch.

A few brief comments about the Main River -  it is 341 miles long and one of the more significant tributaries of the Rhine River.  By the time the Main flows into the Rhine River opposite Mainz, it is a formidable river. 

 By the time the walking tour of Miltenberg was ready to leave, it was snowing very hard - I had seen Miltenberg once before, so I decided not to go on the walking tour.

For supper, I  had the grape cocktail with schnapps; it was the schnapps which convinced me to order this.   For the soup, I had the veal consommé. then a fillet of sole and a few glasses of white wine.  For dessert, cake with chocolate sauce and raspberry sorbet.  It was another very satisfying dinner.  There was a local music group who performed after dinner and there was also a late night snack in the lounge -  I did not attend either of them.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 26th/2014....


The farther north we go, the colder it gets - for the first time, we could see our breath.  Being the day after Christmas, the town of Kitzengen seemed deserted.   It  is one of the oldest towns on the Main River and surrounded by vineyards, famous for its wine.

 The city’s main landmark is the Leaning or Crooked Tower.  It was built during the 13th century and is distinctive for its crooked roof.   Legends that Dracula’s heart is contained in the gold ball on top of the Leaning Tower, or that his remains are buried in the town’s graveyard, are untrue.  

 We received a walking tour of Kitzengen and a wine tasting before walking back to the ship.

Immediately after lunch, buses left the ship in for the optional excursion to the colorful, walled medieval city of Rothenburg - one interesting fact is that it was one of the filming locations for the Harry Potter movie, Deathly Hollows I.  

Back at the ship for lunch, I had just soup, a dessert, and a few espresso coffees.  I have been eating too much; the food has been consistently excellent.

We cruised on the Main River for a few hours.  I was only able to take a few photos while the ship was cruising because it was getting very cold.

We had a choice -  the optional Rothenburg excursion or the Wurzburg Residenz visit and walking tour.  I had already been to Rothenburg twice, but if I had never been, I would have selected it.  I selected Wurzburg - I had previously visited the Wurzburg Residence once but had not seen any other sites in the city.  So I had the chance to see something that I had not seen before, namely, other sites in the center of Wurzburg.  And I had the opportunity again to see the Wurzburg Residenz, which I think is extraordinary.

The first place we visited was the magnificent Wurzburg Residenz - this former residence of the Wurzburg prince-bishops is one of the most important baroque palaces in Europe and today it is on the UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list.  However, taking photos inside the palace is not allowed. 

From the Residenz, we walked into the center of town - the other major sites were the Wurzburg Cathedral, the Old Main Bridge, the Town Hall, St. Mary’s Chapel, and the Neumunster Church.

The Old Main Bridge was built in 1473-1543, and is the oldest bridge over the Main River.  This bridge, with the statutes, reminds many of the famous Charles Bridge in Prague.

One of the very few criticisms that I have for this cruise involves AMA’s scheduling of the excursion to Wurzburg.  It took time for the ship to arrive from Kitzengen and dock in Wurzburg; so we had to wait in Wurzburg to be picked up by buses and driven to the docked ship.  It was dark and cold enough to see our breath.  Most or all of the coffee shops had closed, so we had to wait in the cold for about an hour and a half until we were picked up.

For supper that night, I had the chicken-mushroom ragout in a puff pastry and oxtail soup.  Then a roasted rack of lamb and  red wine.  For the dessert, the orange mille feuille.  It was another nice dinner with another nice wine.  There was a glass blowing demonstration after supper, but I did not attend.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 25th/2014....

Today, I slept in late and skipped breakfast.  For the first time, I went to the dining room for lunch.  There was a special selection of fish - shrimp, crab, tuna, salmon, herring; all fixed in various ways.  It was a very nice spread for Christmas day.  There was a creamed vegetable soup.  For the main course, I had beef goulash with spinach dumplings and pieces of green pepper and onion, topped with sour cream.  I think it was the best beef goulash that I have ever had.

Bamberg is a town in Bavaria - it extends over seven hills, each crowned by a beautiful church; this led to Bamberg being called the “Franconian Rome”.   Bamberg’s historic city center is a UNESCO world heritage site, primarily because of its authentic medieval appearance. 

Immediately after docking in Bamberg, we departed on our walking tour at about 1:00 pm.  We walked from the ship into the center of town.  

The first major site we came to was the romantic Old Town Hall - there was insufficient time to see the inside of it.  We walked up to a plaza where three major sites were located -  the Imperial Cathedral, the New Residenz, and the façade and entrance to the Old Household.  

The Cathedral is a late Romanesque building with four grand towers.  The inside of the cathedral was decorated for Christmas, and there was also a crèche display for which Bamberg is famous at Christmas time.

There is a picturesque inner courtyard of the Old Household - half- timbering, oriels, galleries, and various types of dormer windows break up the large wall and roof areas.  In the summer, greenery and flowers make the inner courtyard look wonderfully romantic and the buildings form an imposing backdrop for open-air performances of the Hoffmann Theatre. 

Bamberg is known for its smoked-flavored beer, called Rauchbier and  I personally do not care for it.  It is said that one must drink several, one after the other, to really like it.  When we got back to our cabins, there was a complementary bottle waiting for us.

We had a nice Christmas dinner.  For the appetizer, I had the crab cake; and for the soup, the cream of leek with mushrooms.  Then I had the turkey dinner with dressing, mashed sweet potatoes and gravy.  I had a very nice white wine and for dessert, pumpkin pie.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 24th/2014....

We departed at 9 am by bus to the Nuremberg train station where we boarded a bullet train to Munich.  This is the first time I have been on a bullet train - I think they said that they travel at a maximum about 300kmh.   It took about 1 hour and 15 minutes to travel between Nuremburg and Munich.  For the passengers going to Amsterdam, AMA scheduled an included excursion to Munich, including the train ride.

 I have to say that Munich is my favorite German city.  Perhaps primarily because of the impressive and quaint architecture, almost all German cities are inviting and enjoyable places to visit.  Munich is famous for its numerous architectural attractions, international sporting events, exhibitions, conferences and its Octoberfest. 

Included in the tour of Munich was lunch at the well-known Augustiner Beer Hall.  These beer halls are very large and hold a lot of people; frequently, there is lively German music, but not at this one during lunchtime.  We had a large slice of roast pork with a large round potato dumpling on a large platter with a lot of au jus gravy.  We also had large German-style pretzels, which were great to dip into the gravy.  The tour guide recommended that we order the dark lager beer, which was excellent.  It was a very nice lunch.

The carillon or Glockenspiel is incorporated in the New Town Hall tower - its 43 bells ring at eleven each morning. The brightly colored figures represent the medieval tournament held in 1568, while the dance of the coopers’ guild in the lower part commemorates the terrible year of plague in 1517 which the town survived.

After lunch, we had some time to walk around on our own.  I walked over to a restaurant which overlooked an ice rink and went into two churches - the Burgersaal and St. Michael’s.

St. Michael’s  is a monumental church completed in 1597.  This was the first Jesuit church in northern Europe.  The interior is awe-inspiring with its wide, well-proportioned nave, three pairs of shallow chapels on each side, a short transept and an elongated presbytery. 

We walked down to the train station, took the bullet train back to Nuremberg. and then buses took us back to the ship.  The excursion to Munich was one of the nicest days on the trip, and it was included in the cruise.

Supper was a welcome dinner because a lot of new passengers boarded the ship.  The amuse bouche was marinated melon pearls with cured ham.  For the appetizer, I had the foie gras pate with jelly figs chutney and walnut brioche - it was definitely gourmet.  I had the cray fish with pastry sticks for the soup.  Since I was eating so much meat, I had the grilled Dover sole, and another nice white wine.  For dessert, I had the white and dark chocolate mousse.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 22nd/2014....

The ship was not scheduled to arrive in Regensburg until 2 pm.  Again, I had the light lunch in the lounge - German wedding soup which is a beef broth with noodles and pancake strips; German dumplings with cheese and crispy onions; German cold meats and potato salad; beets with red colored mayo-type dressing, pretzels and cheeses.  For dessert, there was black forest cake.

Regensburg is a city at the confluence of the Danube and Regen Rivers.  The medieval center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We had an interesting walking tour of the old center, and afterwards we walked on our own to the Christmas market at the Thurn and Taxis Palace.

There is a famous stone bridge (built 1135-1146) over the Danube River; it is currently under repair.  The bridge opened major international trade routes between northern Europe and Venice. 

The famous historical sausage kitchen dates back to before 1616 -  it was too cold to get something, but on a prior trip, I ordered a sausage on a bun with a beer.   The most obvious and impressive sights in the city’s old center are the towers - wealthy patrician families competed against each other to build the highest tower in the city. The last sight on the walking tour was St. Peter’s Cathedral.
After the walking tour, they gave us prepaid tickets to enter the Christmas market at the Schloss Thurn and Taxis.  The Christmas market is large, and parts of the market are also within the two large courtyards of the palace.  It seems a very popular Christmas market, but it is the only one which I know about that requires attendees to pay to enter.  

For supper, we had a “Chef’s Table Menu”.  Actually. this was a farewell dinner for those passengers leaving tomorrow.  The parmesan martini did not do it for me - I not sure how to describe the taste.  I had the goose liver-sesame brule for an appetizer and the spicy lobster soup.  For the main dish, I had the wild salmon and white wine.  It was a gourmet type meal which, like all the others, was excellent.

There was a pre-dinner quartet of a former boys’ choir which sang Christmas carols.  After dinner, the crew sang more Christmas carols.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco