Viking Cruises, Cologne Germany

On our second full day with our Rhine Getaway cruise on Viking River Cruises, we visited Cologne Germany and had a walking tour which included the Cologne Cathedral, Old Town and the St. Martin’s Church. As in most European cities the architecture was gorgeous and primarily filled with vintage buildings.

 

Anniversary Cake from The Viking Eir Staff

 

The primary reason we decided on the Rhine Getaway cruise was that our 39th wedding anniversary fell during the length of this cruise and it explored several countries we haven’t visited. I surprised Kim the second day, which was our actual anniversary with flowers, candy, fruit and a bottle of sparkling bubbly. What I didn’t know was the staff of the Viking Eir had a surprise for the both of us. That night at dinner they brought out this cake made from passion fruit. OMG was it delicious. They also serenaded us with a love song. It was quite a night and we split the cake with those passengers that dined with us. I think they were happy they chose to sit with us that night.

 

Front View of the Cologne Cathedral Church

 

The bus picked us up at the ship and took us into Cologne, passing all sorts of architecture, housing and retail structures along with transportation venues such as their train system and buses. Europe has a large step up on the US when it comes to mass transportation, just like Asia. We disembarked and followed our guide Peter from the bus to the Cologne Cathedral, which is located adjacent to the train station and Old Town. It is a magnificent structure, as are most of the churches in Europe. Cologne Cathedral is the fourth-tallest church building in the world at 157.4 m (516 ft). It’s construction started in August of 1248. As most buildings built centuries ago it is always being updated and repaired.

 

 

Cologne Sculptures to the Side of a Cathedral Door

 

It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and of the administration of the Archdiocese of Cologne. It is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day and currently the tallest twin-spired church at 157 m (515 ft) tall.

 

Cologne Cathedral Door

 

The cathedral suffered fourteen strikes by aerial bombs during World War II. Badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing.

 

 

Example of a Cologne Cathedral Door with Sculptured Trim

 

The cathedral and the immediate area surrounding it was the site of intense tank skirmish between American tanks of the 3rd Armored Division and a Panther of Panzerbrigade 106 on March 6, 1945. The Panther successfully knocked out two Sherman tanks killing three men before it was demolished by a T26E3 Pershing hours later. The destroyed Panther was later put on exhibit at the base of the cathedral for the rest of the war in Europe.

 

 

Cologne Cathedral with Kim

 

Repairs were completed in 1956. An emergency repair on the northwest tower’s foundation carried out in 1944 using poor-quality brick, taken from a nearby demolished structure remained evident until 2005 as a reminder of the war, when it was decided to bring back the segment to its initial appearance.

 

Cologne Cathedral Photos from World War II with General Dwight D Eisenhower

 

Preservation work is continually being administered in one or another section of the building, which is rarely completely free of scaffolding, as wind, rain, and pollution slowly attack the stones. The Dombauhütte, established to build the cathedral and keep it in repair, is said to use the best stonemasons of the Rhineland.

 

Behind the cathedral is an area that memorializes the Archbishops and Cardinals from the history of the Church. As we walked past I saw several parishioners offering prayers for the church officials that had passed on, or at least I assumed that was their intent. Obviously they could have been praying for relatives or themselves, but given the location I think my thought was legitimate.

 

Cologne Cathedral Burial Ground Tributes to Archbishops, Cardinals and Church Dignitaries

 

After touring the Cathedral and visiting the exterior, we continued our walking tour. In the back of the Cathedral was a young gentleman blowing huge bubbles to the delight of all children both young and old. I was enthralled by the beauty of such a simple task. Younger children kept running around trying to burst the bubbles and it was a genuine treat.

 

Gentleman Blowing Bubbles at the Rear of the Cologne Cathedral

 

Once we left the Cathedral and began walking through Old Town, we encountered several Brauhauses, The German version of a brewery and or bar. They served any one of age and several members of our tour sampled the adult beverages once we finished. I was afraid I would get lost so during the tour rather than run into the chocolate shop and sample their goods, hence we waited and of course I forgot to visit the chocolate shop later on.

 

Cologne Brauhaus Gaffel Kolsch and Chocolate Shop with Viking Guide Peter

 

Another brauhaus with a stellar reputation, specializing in kolsch (a clear, top-fermented beer with a bright, straw-yellow hue similar to other beers brewed from mainly Pilsener malt.) according to our guide. Reviews also state their Bratwurst is excellent.

 

Cologne Brauhaus Sion

 

Our guide Peter informed us that all servers at Oktoberfest were to carry a tray similar to this with eleven different beers. That seems to be a large sampling of flavors in my humble opinion. I am not sure even in my younger days, I could have managed to down that many beverages. Apparently though it is a normal tradition and many beer imbibers drink this amount.

 

Cologne Brauhaus Normal Tray with 11 Glasses

 

Cologne had several museums both historical and art fashioned. Of note is the Roman Germanic museum which has a piece dating back to 220 AD. It’s the Dionysus mosaic. It was discovered in 1941 by workers building an air raid shelter. In addition these large heavy stones pictured below are on display. I can’t imagine how heavy they are or how strong their supports have to be.

 

Stones from the Cologne Roman Germanic Museum

 

The Museum Ludwig is a collection of modern art and includes Pop, abstract and surrealist art from Dali to Warhol to Lichtenstein and has one of the largest Picasso collections in Europe. The Mu­se­um Ludwig houses the main positions and trends in modern and contemporary art from the dawn of the 20th century up to the present.

 

Museum Ludwig

 

The museum I didn’t get to was the Chocolate museum which chronicles the 3,000 year history of chocolate beginning with the ancient American cultures such as the Mayas and Aztecs, proceeding through the baroque and industrialization periods and ending in the fine chocolate products of the modern day. The diversity of 5,000-years of cocoa’s cultural history is shown as well as modern chocolate production from the cocoa bean through to praline chocolate confectionery.

 

In the glass-walled production facility and chocolate workshop, visitors can experience how chocolate products are crafted in both mechanized and manual processes. How chocolate is made today is demonstrated in the production facility in the bow of the boat-styled museum building, which also houses the chocolate fountain. The fountain was specially constructed for the museum, an artistic structure filled with 200 kg of warm, liquid chocolate. Smooth, warm Lindt chocolate flows from four stainless steel spouts into a fountain bowl.

 

 

 

Cologne Old Town Forest of the Dolls Side View

 

In the center of Old Town was this sculpture “Forest of the Dolls”. It was designed as a tribute to the young children, who bought water to the surface through small shafts in buckets from the surrounding Rhineland. The children were paid for this work until the 1500’s when pumps started bringing the water to the surface. This forced the children to live in the streets or underground tunnels and they became beggars. The other story is that elves used to do all the repair work after World War II at night, so the workers could be lazy and drink adult beverages all day. This may hold some truth as the city is filled with brauhauses. This sculpture is dedicated to both stories and contains a plethora of elves in various forms.

 

Eau de Cologne Retail Store #4711

 

It was fascinating to see this retail store pointed out on tour by our guide. When I was a young man this cologne was very popular and sold all over the country. I had no idea it originated in Cologne Germany in 1709. Eau de cologne contains a mixture of citrus oils including oils of lemon, orange, tangerine, clementine, bergamot, lime, grapefruit, blood orange and bitter orange. It can also contain oils of neroli, lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, petitgrain (orange leaf), jasmine, olive, oleaster and tobacco. In contemporary American English usage, the term “cologne” has become a generic term for perfumes usually marketed towards men.

 

 

Open Air Retail Pastry Store with a Plethora of Bees

 

As we continued walking around Old Town we came upon an open-aired pastry shop that appeared to be very successful. Customers filled the sales floor and were interacting with sale people. I didn’t notice at first that all the pastry cases were full of sweet pastries covered in bees. I’m not entirely sure of the benefit or the attraction, but I have never seen so many bees in one place except in a hive. I was awestruck and took several photos and one short video. This was a first for me, but apparently the customers were used to this as they interacted with the sales force without showing any emotion or distaste at the bees. The bees literally covered all the various cakes, breads and other offer rings. It still puzzles me.

 

Cologne Cathedral from the Festival

 

As we walked back to the place to meet the shuttle bus across the river we encountered a festival of some type that seemed to specialize in children’s fantasy, toys, clothing and other merchandise. It began raining softly and most of the customers dispersed. That gave me an opportunity to take this photo with the wet bricks and Cathedral in the background. It’s one of my favorite photos of our cruise!

 

Hohenzollernbrucke Bridge Lovers Padlocks

 

As we walked across the Rhine on the Hohenzollernbrucke Bridge I was struck by the outlandish number of padlocks. Across Europe and other parts of the world it has become common place for lovers to state their affection for one another by writing a phrase on a padlock, attaching it to the bridge and tossing the keys away. At first I thought it was a unique form of passion and was truly a way to express one’s love for another. After traveling so much and seeing so many locks across the world it has become rather common and has horrible implications once the bridge becomes filled with locks. What happens to the padlocks when the locks fill the bridge and they have to be removed for safety reasons? Are they thrown away in refuse dumps? Are they melted down and reused? Who knows, but it is a concern for me. It has become an eyesore in some people’s mind. I would love to know the answer. If you have experience with this please comment and let me know. I would appreciate your feedback.

 

So it’s on to Koblenz and the Middle Rhine. If you haven’t experienced this section of the Rhine river you have a world of castles and architecture you are missing. #myvikingstory #vikingcruises

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Kinderdijk Cheese Making Experience

Surprisingly after sleeping all night our first night on board the Longship Eir of the Viking River Cruises European fleet, I felt fairly refreshed and eager to begin my first day of our Rhine Getaway cruise on the historical Rhine river. I say this because the first night on the ship I somehow convinced my wife Kim to take the optional tour involving cheese making. My wife strangely enough, doesn’t eat cheese unless it’s melted or included in a prepared dish. We ate breakfast early and assembled at the meeting place, eager to taste authentic Netherlands cheese, or at least I was very enthusiastic. I have to thank Kim for being a good trooper and accompanying me on this tour.

 

On the way to the farm we learned that several farms in the area had dairy operations, but only a few had cheese making capabilities. The farm we were headed to had started several years ago making cheese when the farmer’s wife decided to expand her cheese making capabilities and offer it to the public, never knowing how successful it would become. The farmer announced at the cattle barn his portion of the overall operation was limited in profitability and the majority of the family’s income came from his wife’s cheese making enterprise.

 

Giessenlander Gouda Original Cheese, My Option

 

The farms are equal in layout and are approximately 40 acres in total, some with multiples of the 40 acre plots. The Netherlands, also called Holland in this and nearby areas of the Netherlands have specific laws applicable to the fair and humane treatment of farm animals. Each cow is mandated an acre for free range grass feeding when the weather allows and all dairy farmers are required to give their cows  120 days a year of at least six hours grazing in the meadows per day. This insures appropriate feeding to satisfy Dutch requirements.

 

Empty Cheese Whip Vat

 

We were taken on a tour of the cheese making operation that is entirely dedicated to the production of fresh Gouda cheese. The farmer’s oldest daughter led the excursion and was quite knowledgeable. She explained that her Mother actually began making Gouda cheese in her kitchen and it became popular with the neighbors and soon grew into a fairly good sized business.

 

Gouda Cheese Whip Vat Filled with Cultures

 

The above photo represents the first step in the cheese making process. The large mixer stirs the combination warm milk and rennet which is the lining from the cow’s fourth stomach. This merger forms cultures that begin the cheese. This vat held 300 gallons I believe or the metric equivalent. Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. About a third of this liquid is poured off, although some people retain it for use as a nutritional supplement in bodybuilding and it is the primary ingredient in most protein powders.

 

A little trivia for those interested, Gouda is the name of a Dutch town where Gouda cheese was developed in the thirteenth century.

 

Kim Holds a Bottle of Cultures for Gouda Cheese

 

After the cheese is formed by pressing it together in a mold lined with cheesecloth, it’s  pressed into its final wheel shape and the first stages of the cheese are finished. It is then soaked in a brine solution of salt and water. After this process it is dipped over and over into this vat of wax that seals the completed product and forms the covering you are familiar with when purchasing your Gouda cheese at the local grocery store. This is the farmer’s daughter who will take over the cheese making operation at this farm when her Mother retires. Very astute young lady and undeniably works very long hours every day!

 

Gouda Cheese Dipping Station

 

We learned that all Low Fat Gouda cheese blocks have a square edge. This identifies it as a product with less calories. I was surprised that a market existed for this product as I am a full flavored cheese lover and I thought most people were of that tradition. The young lady below puts the finishing touches on her Low Fat wheels in preparation for sales.

 

Low Fat Cheese with Straight Edge

 

I was also very amazed at how many flavors of Gouda cheese existed and how they were significantly different in taste. The photo below reflects many of the various flavors. The black wheels are truffle flavored and obviously more expensive. I have to say my black truffle sample was delicious. The red wheels are paprika flavored Gouda and I loved its taste also. The green wheel represented pesto. The speckled wheel were flavored with chopped walnuts. Don’t tell anyone, but I had seconds on several of the samples. I wound up purchasing the original flavored Gouda, but came very close to buying the Cayenne flavor, as I like spicy foods.

 

Flavors of Gouda including, Pesto, Paprika, Truffle, Walnut, Cayenne, Low Fat, and Original

 

After tasting multiple samples and buying my original flavored wheel (small, maybe a pound) we were led into the dairy barn where the dairy farmer explained the operation of managing the dairy cattle. This was dear to my heart, as my grandfather was a dairy farmer in Kansas for over 40 years. As a young man we visited his dairy farm every year, usually at Thanksgiving and I cherished those times after I grew up. Being back in that operation, even though it was in Holland, made the memories flood through my brain. My brothers and I loved exploring his barns and learning about dairy cattle. My only issue was my grandparents didn’t have indoor plumbing until I was fifteen years old. I won’t go into all the associated issues with this.

 

 

Fifth Generation Farmer Giving His Talk on the Operation of the Dairy Farm

 

The barn was divided into two sections with milk producing cows on one side and cows who were pregnant or ready for insemination on the other side with the one bull he owned. As illustrated below the cows are very friendly and very curious. They want to reach out and let you know they are there. You have to be careful though as the cow’s tongues are rough and almost like sandpaper. They can really do damage if you aren’t careful and one can wind up with very bad scratches and abrasions.

 

Farmer and Kim Listening Attentively

 

Contrary to the feedlots in the US, this Holland operation had very widely spaced holding areas for the cows and the cows weren’t in any discomfort as in some of the American feedlots. They are all 100% Holstein cattle and the milking cows were milked twice daily via a robotic machine. I was used to actual hand milking as a young man and couldn’t believe how advanced the milking operation is today. We weren’t able to see the milking operation, as it begins at 5:00 AM daily and the second milking is at approximately 7:00 PM nightly.

 

Holstein Cows Located on the Milking Side of the Barn

 

They are fed hay daily and none of them looked malnourished by any means. In fact they might have been heavy by what I am used to at my Grandfather’s farm. The farmer had fed them earlier in the day and a few small stacks of hay remained.

 

The cows are very curious as I said above and I have to tell you about what happened to Kim. She was wearing a wrap that day as there was a chill in the air and she got too close to one of the cows. I didn’t get a good photo of what transpired, but you can guess from the ripples in her wrap. Yes the cow started eating her wrap and was pulling Kim towards the holding pen. It was hilarious and everyone got a great laugh from the cow’s action. I really wished I had a video of the event, as everyone laughed very heartily and I laughed so hard it almost brought tears to my eyes. It was hysterical.

 

 

Cows Literally Trying to Eat Kim’s Wrap

 

Overall I would definitely recommend the “Cheese Making Tour” which is an optional tour and not included in the original package. It was a very nice experience to see how Gouda cheese is made and best of all, the ability to sample all those flavors was fantastic. We then headed over to the Kinderdijk windmills and joined the rest of the ship’s passengers that opted for the UNESCO windmill tour.

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #18

This will be my first post from our most recent Viking River Cruise, “Rhine Getaway”. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome this trip was. We were treated like royalty, encountered wonderful architecture. learned a vast amount of history and almost couldn’t digest all the fantastic attributes of this recent journey abroad to Europe. Thankfully Viking was able to soothe our wounded frustrations after a beleaguered start. Our flight from DFW was delayed by mechanical issues and we arrived three hours late. It is wonderful to have a warm, damp washcloth handed to you as soon as you enter the Longship Eir and the wash away all your tiredness and dirt from traveling. Viking knows how to soothe life’s irritations.

 

Kinderdijk Windmill on a Cloudy Day

 

On our first day sailing after leaving Amsterdam we arrived in a small community of Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. Everyone knows the Netherlands is associated with windmills, but I had no idea of the complexity of their operations or that individuals still resided in some of them. It’s an unusual sight to see the inside of the windmills and how close quartered they are. One thing is for sure people who operate and live in the windmills have to be very dedicated. They are constantly on call for any and all wind! There were 19 windmills in this Unesco granted area, so designated in 1997. All were originally built in 1740. Imagine the weather and abuse these mills have undertaken and are still standing.

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

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