Europe

Day 14: Passau, Germany

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Today we actually disembarked from the Viking Baldur and now at the hotel in Budapest, which made for the easiest time to update the end of the blog for the river cruise. Meant to do this sooner but the last few days have been a bit busy at times or poor Internet connection. Four days ago we were in the river cruise port of Passau, Germany. This was actually our last German port of the river cruise before heading to Austria.

In Passau, the Viking Baldur was docked right in town near the main little shopping area. Passau is known as the City of Three Rivers, where both the Inn and the Ilz join the Danube. We were actually docked next to an AMA boat at one point during the morning and later on we were next to an Avalon boat. Today there was a walking tour offered by Viking, though we decided to skip this. The tour basically just walked around the city and saw the main sites from the outside. At noon there was a free organ concert as St. Stephan’s Cathedral through Viking. To go you had to sign up for tickets the night before and since we did not know our timing for the next day, we did pass on the concert.

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Passau is very easy to walk around on your own to see the sites. We headed off the riverboat right after breakfast and walked past the Church and stopped inside for a bit. We luckily avoided running into any tour groups during the day. St. Stephan’s Cathedral actually contains the largest pipe organ in all of Europe. From here we headed towards the location of the town hall of Passau, which is from the 14th century.

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After walking around for a bit we did a little shopping in Passau since there are a few unique shops here besides the couple junky tourist shops by the river. One thing to note in Passau is many of the shops did not take credit cards at all. This actually was our first place coming across this the entire cruise, so definitely have cash on hand if you plan on doing any shopping in Passau.

One of the first places we stopped at was a spice store called Gewurz Depot. The store actually was recommend by Viking but was interesting to walk through. There were a lot of unique spices, which I can’t find in Miami. I did buy a bruschetta and African spice mixes. These probably weren’t the typical things to buy in Germany but something I will use at home. Next we headed to the other recommended shop right next door, which was a marmalade and jam shop. Here there were a few samples to try of some locally made and imported jams and marmalades. I did end up buying a kirsch amaretto jam to take home that was absolutely delicious.

After looking at a couple shops we headed back to the boat to drop off our purchases but on the way stopped for lunch at a nearby restaurant since the riverboat was redocking after the AMA ship left. We lucked out on our timing at the restaurant since it wasn’t busy and it started to rain. We were able to eat outside since some of the restaurant had a covered glass patio. I ordered their hefeweizen, which I believe was made on site while my Mom had a glass of Gruner Veltliner wine. We both ordered the same meal of the wiener rostbraten, which is basically a Vienna steak with braised onions. The meal came with a salad and pommes frites. The lunch was good but I will say the meal was rich due to the sauce and was a bit salty.

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Once we dropped off our purchases we did head out again to walk around. We found a couple wine shops near one of the bridges and bought two bottles of Gruner Veltliner (currently one of our favorite white wines right now). This style of wine is primarily from Austria, but is actually starting to come out of the Unite States as well right now. To me it is a drier white that can sometimes have flavors of apple to grapefruit, depending on the vineyard.

After buying a couple bottles of wine I found a really unique liquor store where you could get bottles filled of liquors and spirits from around the globe. Of course being the typical pattern of the trip, I did end of buying a small bottle of cherry flavored vodka to take home. This actually was relatively inexpensive for about €7. From here we headed back to the riverboat and called it a day.

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Day 7: Cologne, Germany

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Yesterday we made it to Cologne, Germany right after breakfast . We decided to forgo the included tour by Viking and go out on our own in Cologne. The Viking Baldur was docked close to the Lindt Chocolate Museum, and according to my Mom the last time she was in Cologne on the Avalon Felicity they were docked closer to the cathedral. The riverboat docks stretch a long ways across Cologne, but at either end you are near different sites.

Once we got off the riverboat we headed down the waterfront to the first stop on our list of the day, the Cologne Cathedral that is also referred to as the Dom. Construction on the cathedral first started in 1248 and took 7 centuries to complete. In 1880 the cathedral was completed and is a prime example of Gothic architecture in Germany. The cathedral is part of the Roman Catholic Church and supposedly attracts over 20,000 visitors a day according to Wikipedia. Today the cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well.

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During World War II the cathedral did suffer damage during bombings but was not completely destroyed like much of Cologne. Cologne was badly destroyed during World War II and much of the city is completely rebuilt. We were told later on by an individual at the NS Documentation Centre that the Nazis and local firefighters very heavily protected the cathedral during the war because of its significance to Germany.

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After touring the cathedral we headed to a site that I found while researching Cologne, the NS Documentation Centre of the City of Cologne. I highly recommend if anyone has time to check out the museum because there is a lot of information here about World War II, the former prison, and Cologne during the war. This is the largest regional memorial site in Germany for victims of the Nazis. To visit the center only costs €4.50 a person and you can buy an audio guide for €2, but we decided against purchasing one.

From 1935 the building served as a residence to the secret police and was spared of much bombing damage during the war. The basement of the documentation center is actually the former Gestapo prison. Actually the prison is considered one of the best-kept prisons of NS times. The museum provides information about how the prison was run, where individuals were tortured, and who some of the prisoners were. In many of the former prison cells the writings and drawings from the prisoners have been preserved on the walls. The prison is very touching and depressing since many barbaric acts were carried out here against prisoners, particularly international prisoners. Outside of the prison there is a courtyard where an estimated 400 individuals were executed during World War II.

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The execution courtyard

The execution courtyard

While walking upstairs one of the volunteers started talking to use and we really lucked out by this since the nice gentleman took us on basically our own private tour of the top floor of the museum. The top floor is primarily all in German, but is the memorial to victims of the war and includes much information about the secret police and Nazis of Cologne. The man who took us around provided a lot of information and explanations about Nazi time in Germany. One thing that was really interesting was he knew some of the individuals in the photos in the museum and a few were still alive to this day. We so lucked out that he spent time with us and showed us around the museum. There were about 12 to 15 rooms to walk through with many pictures, former Nazi paraphernalia, and local artifacts from the war.

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Once we were finished we headed out towards the main shopping street in Cologne. I actually needed to find some lip balm and fortunately came across a drug store that sold some. After that we found Starbucks and bought something in order to use the free wi-fi. This time I had a mango passion fruit juice blend drink, which also was refreshing. I wish this drink and the one I had in Amsterdam were sold in the United States! We also stopped at a pastry shop and both had a kirschplunder, which is some sort of cherry pastry.The pastry was flaky and had a delicious cherry topping on it.

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From there we headed towards the Rhein and then went to Kolner Senfmusum, which is the Mustard Shop. I tried a couple of the mustards and bought two to take home: a Riesling mustard and a curry mustard. The Riesling mustard actually does have a light Riesling flavor to it, which tasted really good and was not overpowered by the mustard flavor. This is the shop my parents stopped at during their river cruise.

After that we headed back to the riverboat and luckily beat an afternoon rainstorm. That night we decided to eat dinner in the Aquavit, which is actually on the front of the ship. I think I previously said it was on the back, but it’s actually on the front. I’ll post the menu on a separate post, but we did order a hamburger for dinner and it tasted really good.

At night we did book the brauhaus tour in Cologne through Viking. This tour did cost €29 and was fun. I don’t think the tour was worth the price but since we did not know Cologne that well to go around late at night nor where to go for a brauhaus, this did make it convenient. The tour met around 8:30 pm and then headed out into groups. Our tour guide took us to 4 different places where we tried 4 different kolsch beers. Kolsch is a clear beer with a bright straw-yellow hue with a hoppy characteristic, but it is less bitter though then an IPA. Some of the group members did not notice a difference in the beer but each tasted slightly different I noticed. This is of course due to each brewery using slightly different yeast or hops. One thing to note is all the pubs were hot inside and most charged you to use the bathroom. This is the only minor downside but we still had a good time going around Cologne and tasting local Kolsch.

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We were told the priests head from the statue just fall off in the last couple weeks, though this could just be a story from the tour guide.

We were told the priest’s head from the statue just fall off in the last couple weeks, though this could just be a story from the tour guide.

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Day 4: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Yesterday we were able to see a lot of different sites in Amsterdam, even though it rained throughout the morning. Since we weren’t able to see much the first day, we were able to see most places I wanted to go to today.

The first place we went to was Our Lord in the Attic. Since we got there before 10 am, we had to wait in a brief line for the house to open. The house is a bourgeois canal house and is a popular site to visit because of the concealed Catholic Church in the attic that was originally built in 1663. Included in the price of admission was an audio box, which you would then tap on the audio tour boxes throughout the house to hear the history and background of the rooms. The main site to see in the house is the Catholic Church in the attic, which is a huge three-story room. At various points in time there would be about 150 people who would enter the house to go to Church. A priest even lived in the house as well to conduct mass. One thing to note is there are a lot of stairs and steep stairwells, which may be difficult for anyone with mobility issues to walk. There is actually 2 originally staircases still in the house as well. The house took around 45-minutes to tour since some rooms were currently undergoing restoration.

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Next we headed to the Red Light District to walk around a bit. Since it was before 11 am there weren’t many people around, but there were some girls already in the windows waiting for clients. This was an interesting area to walk around in the morning since it wasn’t packed. The next street over to the Red Light District is Amsterdam’s Chinatown, which we didn’t spend much time at.

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One thing I was interested in going to was the Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution. Some reviews I found online beforehand were very positive about the museum, while others had mixed thoughts. I actually found the museum to be very informative about the history of the Red Light District and prostitution. The museum did not just put a positive or fun spin on prostitution, but also focused on the seedy and negative side to it as well. There was a dedicated memorial inside to the girls who have been murdered in Amsterdam since 1956 while working as prostitutes. Additionally, there was information about the sex trafficking aspect to the industry as well in Amsterdam. The museum does not take long to go through, but I really enjoyed it and the information provided.

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After spending time in the Red Light District we headed to Central Station to take the tram to Rembrandtplein. Since it was early afternoon we grabbed a drink at a huge Starbucks at Rembrandtplein. One thing to note is Starbucks in the Netherlands does not take United States Starbucks cards, unlike other European countries. I did try a new drink I’d never seen before at Starbucks, the Mango Passion Fruit Frappuccino. This was a delicious and tasted more like a smoothie, I wish we had it back in the United State since it was refreshing. After finishing up at Starbucks we briefly looked around Rembrandtplein. It looked like there was a lot of cool restaurants and cafes in the area.

From Rembrandtplein we headed to Wilet-Holthuysen Museum, which is just a street over. Wilet-Holthuysen Museum is located on the Herengracht canal. This is considered a former grand canal house and one of the few remaining ones in Amsterdam that is opened as a museum. The house is also one of the only fully furnished canal side patrician houses as well and has a large collection of items from the Dutch Golden Age. A couple rooms on the top floor of the house are dedicated to exhibits while the rest of the house is furnished rooms. Some of the furnished rooms include the dining room, kitchen, pantry, bedroom, antique room, and ladies sitting room. One of the really striking features to the museum is the manicured garden behind the house. This was an interesting afternoon to spend and look at what life was like in a grand canal house in Amsterdam.

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We ended the day by having dinner at an Indonesian restaurant. This was probably my favorite meal in Amsterdam. We ate at Aneka Rasa, which was probably about a 10-minute walk from the hotel and near the Red Light District. When we first sat down we were brought shrimp crackers to dip in a peanut sauce, which was slightly different from the Thai version I am used to. The peanut sauce was delicious and had a slight ginger flavor to it. We ordered a family style meal that came with a sampling of about 12 different items. The flavors varied on the dishes and were heavily influenced by coconut and peanut sauce. The meal included veal, chicken, and a meat dish. Two of my favorite items were the chicken skewers with peanut sauce and the green beans in a coconut sauce. The meal was delicious and I would definitely eat here again the next time I’m in Amsterdam.22119_10155512412560324_2247529288871799973_n

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Day 3: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Yesterday we actually got an early start and were up by 5 am. We decided to try the breakfast at the hotel a couple hours later since it was early and had no clue what was around. The breakfast was average, overpriced, and lacking in selection. This is probably the only let down at the hotel I can think of so far.

After breakfast we headed out towards the Anne Frank Huis. Back in February I purchased the Anne Frank tickets online, which is one of the best ways to go. By purchasing the tickets online you avoid the queues and can get right into the museum at your time. Since the tickets were for 11 am, we still had a couple hours to go so we first bought the GVB multi-day travel card. The GVB pass we purchased is good for 48 hours and only cost €12 each. The GVB pass covers all GVB trams, buses, and metros. We were able to buy the tickets from the concierge at the Crowne Plaza and we later activated them once we entered the tram. Every time you enter or leave the tram you have to scan the card, which is very simple and easy to do. Originally I looked at the Hop-on, Hop-off bus, but found the limited number of stops to not be the best way to go nor the limited timings. The local GVB transportation is a great way to get around Amsterdam since there are constant trams running.

One of the many canals in Amsterdam

Since we still had a while to go before the ticket time for Anne Frank Huis, we walked around the surrounding neighborhood. We first walked past De Poezenboot, which is the only animal sanctuary that floats on water and houses cats. Since it was so early there was not much to see unfortunately. We then headed to the Amsterdam Cheese Museum. This is both a shop and museum, where there are tons of samples to try. I actually ended up purchasing two types of smoked goat cheeses for myself, while my Mom bought a couple type of pesto cheeses. All the cheeses can be brought back into the United States from this store. The shop had some fantastic cheeses and really neat cheese related souvenirs from Holland.

Amsterdam Cheese Museum

We then headed to the Anne Frank Huis and waited until our ticket time. The line for those without tickets was around 3 ½ hours to 4 hours according to the employee at the ticket door. Sometimes during the year the line can be up to 7 hours. Once it was 11 am we were able to enter the museum immediately and go through the security check. Overall I found the museum to be underwhelming and difficult to navigate through because of the amount of people already inside. This was a huge disappointment for me because I have always wanted to go to Anne Frank Huis. It was hard to read the captions for photos or room descriptions because so many people were crowded around trying to read or would block the view for a good 5 minutes. This made it difficult to know what each room actually was. Crowd control is definitely an issue at the museum. By 11:30 am we already had finished touring the house and then exited into the newer addition to the museum. The newer side of the museum includes the typical tourist trap café and gift shop, which really seem out of place here and do not fit the purpose of the site.

The right side is the newer section of the museum, which I thought detracted from the overall look of the canal house.

The right side is the newer section of the museum, which I thought detracted from the overall look of the canal house.

After leaving Anne Frank Huis we headed to House of Bols. House of Bol is the world’s oldest distilled spirit brand and has been making liqueurs in Amsterdam since 1575. This was a really fun way to spend a couple hours in the afternoon. Before going I purchased the tickets online since advanced purchase does save a few Euros, plus I found a 25% off coupon code that saved more. The exhibit provides information and history about House of Bols and the experience of smelling, sight, and tasting liqueurs. One room is dedicated to taste where you try two different tasting strips and have to guess the flavor. Another room has around 36 bottles where you can smell the liquid to guess the aroma. After going through the House of Bols your ticket provides you with a drink and two tastes.

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For my drink I ordered the Blood Red Orange, which is a mixture of Bols Genever 21, Bols Red Orange, lemon wedge, orange wedge, and cane sugar. The drink was really refreshing and was not light on the alcohol. For my two tastes I tried the Bols Passion Fruit and Genever Barrel Aged. The Bols Passion Fruit tasted exactly like a fresh passion fruit and would definitely go a long ways for a drink. The Genever Barrel Aged is slightly like a gin but different. By barrel aging the Genever this helped to smooth out the sharpness of the alcohol. Of course anything barrel aged is great in my opinion. There is a really cool shop connected to House of Bols where they sell vintage metal prints, liqueurs, and some great gift sets.

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After leaving House of Bols we headed to the square area in front of the Rijksmuseum. Right now there are these bunny statues in the square, which are actually put there by UNICEF. There is a temporary store as well to raise profits for UNICEF were you could by a replica of the statues.

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Leaving the area near Rijksmusuem we took the tram and headed to the Bloemenmarkt. Since it was a Friday this area was packed with tourists and locals! The market is one of the only floating flower markets where the flower stalls stand on houseboats. I found a couple touristy tulip items to purchase. Across from one of the stalls we came across a print shop that had some local art by Amsterdam artists and vintage prints. I purchased two prints that came to €26. One is of Amsterdam and is a print of canal houses. The other print I purchased is a reproduction of an old Holland tourism advertisement.

We then headed back to the hotel and stopped at a nearby Indian restaurant for dinner. There are a lot of international restaurants in Amsterdam, which really provides a lot of variety.

Nearby Indian restaurant to the Crowne Plaza