We were flying with Lufthansa at 38,000 feet, 453 mph with outside air temperature at minus 69 degrees. As we were hurtling through the air on our return flight, the airplane’s movie sound was garbled, and it was more entertaining to watch the flight tracker and look back over photos of our three-week trip from The Hague and Amsterdam to Vienna and Budapest.
A first culture shock on our trip was seeing the enormous number of bicycles on the streets in The Hague, where we visited the Peace Palace with an even bigger number of bikes in Amsterdam. Our guide estimated there are 900,000 residents in Amsterdam with more than one million bicycles. One of our Viking tour friends was injured when she unknowingly stepped into the path of a bike. Bystanders seemed more concerned about the bike’s condition than they were about her injury.
It was a goal to visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam after reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.” After climbing a narrow, steep staircase, hidden behind a bookcase, Allen visited the now vacant rooms with stories on posters around the room. We both felt sadness to know the story of how the Frank family had been in the safe house for two years, only for Anne to die at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp two weeks before it was liberated.
Our Kinderdijk Windmill guide in the Netherlands was an elderly gentleman who grew up living in a windmill with his family. It was within sight of our tour among the windmills and canals. He was an expert at explaining how the country had added about 25% of its total land by using dykes and canals. He told of the cold winters of his youth when the canals froze over for weeks, and he and other kids skated on them all winter. Now the canals rarely freeze over at all, and in the past 10 years have frozen over in only about 10 days altogether. He is convinced of the reality of global warming.
One of the first stops on the Rhine River portion of our cruise was in Cologne (Koln), Germany, to see the cathedral they began to build in 1248. One of the big challenges of the trip was navigating the steps and climbing over rocks at the Marksburg Castle to wonder at the medieval castle’s many rooms, some of which are still inhabited by the castle manager.
As our Viking ship continued on the Rhine, castles proudly stood on both sides as we cruised on to the city of Miltenburg, which was a step back in time with its timber-framed buildings. In Würzburg, we visited the Bishop’s Palace and entered the Main River where we toured the medieval cities of Bamberg, Nurenburg and Regensburg.
Along the way we enjoyed visiting with a Kentucky mission group on the tour, an Australian couple, and Viking travelers from Alaska to Maine.
Barry Duggan, of Wollongong in New South Wales, told us how shocked he was to see the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. “It was shocking,” he said repeatedly. “America is a beacon of democracy for the world. We could not believe what we were seeing.”
We stayed away from discussing politics, and it was a welcome break to be away from the news. We only watched CNN briefly to see the attack on Israel by Hamas.
The cities of Nurenburg and Regensburg were a delight with buildings of half-timber or “Fachwerk,” which did not experience the bombing of Cologne, Frankfurt, and other German cities in World War II.
A day of pure magic was our trip to Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle, sometimes called the Disney castle. We were taken to the castle on a small plane and flew over miles of farmland and tiny villages until we came to the village near the castle.
With the Alps in the background, the walk to the castle was like a dream, surrounded by golden leaves of beech, birch and maple trees. The story of Prince Ludwig was told as we toured the opulent castle. Although Ludwig was reputed to have been mentally unsound, he was loved by the people who appreciated his love of art and the many, modern innovations in the castle.
The next stop where we were now on the Danube River was the Melk Monastery and library, which have preserved literary works from 1,000 years ago. Vienna, Austria, was next, and we had two sunny days to enjoy the Hapsburg’s Hofburg Palace and stop by the stables of the famed Lipizzaner horses. Some people in the group toured the Schoenbrunn and Belvedere palaces. Allen and I enjoyed a Mozart and Strauss concert and visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum to see the works of Brueghel, Vermeer, Rubens, and other renowned artists.
We concluded our river cruise with a spectacular entrance to Budapest, Hungary, on the Danube River with the Parliament buildings in sight as we rounded the bend. We were reminded by our guide that Budapest is the birthplace of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Houdini, and it’s known for its chicken paprikash and goulash. The views of Fisherman’s Bastion, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and the Chain Bridge were spectacular as were the stories of how the people of Budapest fought off the Turks. We enjoyed our last evening in Budapest at a folk dinner in the countryside, which included dancing and music along with a delicious selection of the local food specialties.
Mark Twain’s words ring true how “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and small- mindedness … Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
As much as we enjoyed the sights of Europe, our home in Mount Gilead was the most welcome sight.
Alberta Stojkovic is a correspondent for The Morrow County Sentinel.