Another day, another whirlwind of an itinerary. It’s a good thing our bus trips are long; otherwise I’d never finish these entries.
Day 2 of the official Contiki trip began with breakfast. My roomies and I dragged our lazy selves out of bed after a fun night in Amsterdam and we treated ourselves to a nice breakfast. It seemed pretty basic: toast, eggs, bacon, the usual. I was able to get the cappuccino machine to agree with me so I considered it a success.
We boarded our coach and made our way back into Amsterdam. We only had a half-day to spend in the city, as we would be making our way into Bavaria in the afternoon, so we wanted to take advantage of our time in the city. It took a little longer to get into the city than our first time due to traffic. We stopped at St. Nicholas’s Church again and made our way in to the city center.
My first goal of the day was to shop. Drew agreed, but needed to stop for breakfast first because he slept through the breakfast at the hotel. After a stop at a buffet, we were back on track. As we walked down the streets I continued to stare at the crooked, gorgeous buildings and take in the city atmosphere. Amsterdam has such a great energy to it. My last Europe trip, I always felt a little bit on edge, like everyone was bothering me because I was an obvious tourist. Amsterdam (and London too, actually) didn’t seem to have that aspect to it. Everyone was just kind of doing their own thing. They were even overly accommodating to me as an obvious tourist. I tried to be polite and attempt some Dutch when in gift shops or snack stands and they’d just smile and speak to me in English without me asking. That’s probably just a sign that my Dutch is atrocious.
We popped into a large gift shop near City Hall and I picked up a few things. A common souvenir from the Netherlands is delftware. It’s like a blue and white pottery that the Dutch adopted while trading with China during their era of economic domination. I knew I wanted a little jar of some kind. Last year I picked up a terra cotta jar in San Diego and now I use it for paper clips, so I wanted to find a delft one for binder clips. Teacher swag. I meandered around the shop and couldn’t find hardly any delftware, only what was being advertised in the window. But apparently the shop we were in was one of those where you feel you’ve seen the whole thing, then you find a secret staircase with a sign above it saying, “check out our downstairs!” and then you realize there’s a whole extra compartment that doubles its wares. I ventured down to the secret grotto and found a treasure trove of the blue and white goodies. I quickly located a little jar emblazoned with a windmill, claimed it, and meandered a bit more. In addition, I came across a little delft lucky elephant and couldn’t say no to him. I love elephants. He was only 5 euros so I decided to take him home too. They bubble wrapped my jar but only wrapped the elephant in paper, so I worry for his safety. I will be bubble wrapping him the first chance I get. I also picked up a sweatshirt, some postcards and the Dutch flag. The collection grows. My poor suitcase is going to be challenged on the way home.
Following our souvenir journey, we made our way to the Amsterdam Museum. Drew and I were the only ones who went there. A lot of the group went to see the Anne Frank house. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get inside because as of right now you can only get in if you have reservations. We’d seen the outside from our canal cruise, so I didn’t feel the need to go back for the same view as before. Besides, I am very happy we decided to go to the Amsterdam museum, because it was a great way to learn about some Amsterdam history. We’re such history teacher stereotypes. The museum itself is lovely. First off, we paid for entry and then were given a locker to hold our stuff. We had to pay three euros, but the machine spit it back out at us at the end of the tour, so it was essentially free. I thought that was nifty. We then got an audio remote thing. I’m not a huge fan of audio tours usually because you kind of feel zombified as this plastic talks to you, tells you what to do, and often yammers on about things you may or may not be interested in. This was one of the best, because you could hold up your headset to whatever exhibits you wanted to hear about, and then it would start telling you. The same was for all the videos in the exhibit, they would play silently and then you’d hold up your headset to the sensor and it would play the audio in whatever language you needed it in. It was really cool. There were also a bunch of interactive exhibits, which I found really cool, considering I have the energy and attention span of a 5-year-old sometimes. My favorite one was an exhibit about the types of things traded on Dutch ships, and there were little smelling stations for all of them: spices, coffee, tea, and a whole bunch more. It was set up at child height but I knelt down and smelled it all anyway.
The history was just enchanting. We got to see and hear information about the building of Amsterdam, the power of Dutch trade, how it was conquered by France and how it ushered in an era of human rights, and eventually independence. Probably the most interesting stories were from the German occupation during World War II. I didn’t realize the Netherlands had been the only country to stage a protest against the treatment and detainment of Jews. In more modern history, I also didn’t realize that Amsterdam was the first place to have a legally sanctioned gay and lesbian wedding (one of each on the same day).
We could have spent hours in the museum but it was already time to start heading back to the coach. We walked back to the city center and stopped on the way for a couple snacks. I got a couple of stroopwafels for later. I love them so much. Apparently the Dutch way to eat them, according to TJ, our Dutch driver, is to get a hot drink like a coffee, set your stroopwafel on top of the drink and let it warm up and get all gooey inside and then eat it. I’ve been eating them wrong my whole life apparently. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will be soon. Probably when I’m home and I want to mentally transport myself back to Amsterdam. I also grabbed a cone of “frites” which I’d seen advertised all over the city. I was barely hungry but I wanted to try them, so I snagged an order. A “small” was like the size of my head. Then they poured an outrageous amount of mayo on them. Now, I love mayo on fries. That was a trick I learned from the Canadians. But the amount they put on there was excessive. I munched on a few of the dryer ones and dipped them sparingly in the mayo. They were really good, although I burnt my tongue a bit, as they were fresh out of the fryer.
We all gathered near our bus stop and waited to board. It was raining steadily at this point so we were all huddled under an awning. I was giggling at Matt because he was on his phone, under the awning, and ALSO holding an umbrella over his head. He was really dedicated to not being wet.
We settled in for another bus ride through rural Europe. I don’t mind the drives at all. Yes they’re long but I’ve got a blog to write and the best view on the bus. If I ever go on another one of these trips I’ll have to claim my front seat EARLY.
As we drove we introduced ourselves once again, as we’d had a few people arrive late in Amsterdam. We all shared our name, age, where we’re from, what we do, and what we’re most looking forward to. I’ve gotten that last question a million times and my answer changes every time. During this round I said my mini trip extension to Versailles. Ask me again in ten minutes and I’ll say something different.
We stopped at a service station once we’d crossed over into Germany. Another day, another country, another language. Darn it, I was just starting to get used to Dutch. Luckily I knew the German basics already. When I bought my soda and chips at the stop the cashier spoke through the whole transaction, most likely about the amount of money I gave her and the amount I was getting back for change. That’s what I guessed. I confidently said “Danke!” and then walked away praying I was right. No harm was done.
I also bought a Kinder egg. Now, I’m sorely disappointed, because I don’t think they make them the old way anymore! It used to be a chocolate egg with a prize inside. Now, it’s a plastic egg that you crack into two halves. One half has the toy inside, the other half is like a chocolate and crème custard with a crispy hazelnut bon-bon topping. It comes with a little plastic spoon. Now, don’t get me wrong, the candy is delightful and I ate every last scoop of it. But I miss the delight of eating my way to a toy.
On the remainder of our ride, Matt taught us some basic German. He said he always teaches the basics: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, cheers, excuse me, and a few others. He also said he hasn’t always taught “sorry” but it was repeatedly requested by, you’ll never guess, his Canadian tourists. Those Canadians. So polite. We also continued to talk about his accent, which isn’t super strong, but you notice it more on some words than others. He said his two most confused are “bear” and “beer” which he pronounces the same. So whenever he says “bear” he makes a paw with his hand and whenever he says “beer” he mimes drinking. As we are in Germany, he has been saying “beer” a lot, and therefore he has been miming drinking a lot.
Our first stop in Germany was in the tiny little village of St. Goar along the Rhine River. This area is so adorable, as there are just so many little towns situated along the river, so small you can clearly see the start and the end of it from one angle. The architecture is straight out of “Hansel and Gretel.” Cute tiny little houses situated around a tall steeple or clock tower. St. Goar was the same. It’s a frequent stop for Contiki tours, so all the shops and townsfolk were accustomed to obnoxious English-speaking tourists. It was kind of the best of both worlds in that we had small town charm as well as tourist comfort.
Our first stop in St. Goar was a stein shop. One of the souvenirs I knew I wanted was a German beer stein, so I was excited. Before we were set free to peruse the shop, the clerk gave us a brief demonstration of how steins are crafted. They’re actually stone, not ceramic, so they’re very durable. They make them by compacting them into a mold and then hand painting them, so each one really is a work of art. They had so many varieties of them: themed ones by occupation, surname, nationality, even a Contiki themed one. Then there were special edition ones, their rarest of course being one that features a fragment from the Berlin Wall. (Guess which one Drew bought?) I knew I wanted one that was German themed. I don’t know who is buying a beer stein from Germany and wants one that is Sweden themed, but that WAS an option, among just about every other country. I found one that has the coat of arms of each of the German states on the sides and the German emblem in the center. I waffled between picking that one in color or had just the blue and gray two-tone. One of the shopkeepers came over to assist me and informed me that the original beer steins historically were blue and gray and over time they started adding more colors. For the sake of history, I went with blue and gray.
Also, one thing that caught my eye almost immediately was a set of steins with a blue logo of “HB” with a crown over it. As a teacher at Hollis Brookline, this stood out to me. I asked the clerk about what it stood for. Apparently it’s for Hofbrauhaus, the most famous beer hall in Munich. I’m going there tomorrow apparently. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t get one of those. I mean, HB is kind of my life right now, and I’m a princess, so the crown over the logo only made it that much more fitting. I didn’t want another big one but they had a little baby stein that was only 20 euros so I snagged it. My poor poor suitcase.
Another highlight of my grand adventure was our next activity, a wine tasting of famous Rhine Valley wines. I love Riesling back home, so I know German wine understands me. Right across the street (and I mean THE street; the only street in St. Goar) from the stein shop was the wine cellar. And it truly was a cellar. We all trooped down the steps into the dark basement of a building and down a series of halls. A couple of people made jokes about this being a trap and that we were actually going to die in a German dungeon. We eventually came to a small room lined with two long tables and benches on either side. It was lit by little string lights that were shaped like bunches of grapes. We squished in like sardines and each sat in front of a small glass cup. In came our hosts, the two most amazing German men ever. One was Johann, who is just the sweetest old man. Matt had told us about him previously. Apparently he had a stroke a few years ago and isn’t exactly in perfect health anymore, but he doesn’t let that keep him from working. This man loves leading wine tastings, and he especially loves Contiki tours. I thought that was a lie at first. What European person loves hanging out with English speaking tourists, we must be the worst. But oh no, you could tell as this guy was leading our tasting, he was having the time of his life.
We tasted four wines, a red, a rosé, a sweet Riesling and a sweet and spicy Riesling (which was odd in a cool way). But last, and most notably, was the eiswein, or ice wine. Matt had told us about eiswein on the tour bus and was practically drooling about it as he was talking, so we were all waiting to be wowed by this stuff. Apparently how they make it is by waiting till February or March, and at like 3 in the morning, you go out and harvest the frozen solid grapes. Because they’re frozen, they’re more concentrated, however, you need ten times as many grapes to make a bottle of it. That being said, it’s expensive, as well as a delicacy.
Johann came around and poured us each a portion of eiswein. As he did, he told us a German tradition with eiswein. For effect, please read it in a German accent. A couple finds out they’re having a baby, so they buy 4 bottles of eiswein. When they have the baby, they have the first bottle. The baby can’t have eiswein, he is a baby! The second bottle, they save for his confirmation. He’s a bit older at this point, he may be allowed a few sips of eiswein. But the rest is for his parents. Then, on his eighteenth birthday, they have the third bottle. But at this age, he is eighteen, an adult, and therefore, he will hog the whole bottle to himself. And his parents will be sad. “But wait!” Johann said. “How many bottles have been drunk?” “Three!” We all yelled. “And how many were bought?” “Four!” “So how many are left?” “One!” “And that one they hide for themselves.” We all laughed. He was such a showman, we loved him. The whole wine tasting he made corny jokes and poked fun at his mother-in-law, who seems to fit every mother-in-law stereotype. Anyways, after everyone’s drink had been poured, we shouted cheers in German and all tried the eiswein. I get it now. It was so amazingly delicious. Everyone loved it. I took five sips of the tiny serving just to be sure I savored every drop. The other girls at my table and I all were shamelessly licking the glasses so we could have as much as we could.
Now, these gents are smart. They said they don’t usually serve eiswein at wine tastings because it’s too expensive to just give away. But they do serve it at the tasting, so we, now having an experience with eiswein all want to buy some. I thought it would be like 100 euros for a bottle so I was already planning on saying no. Then I found out it was only 35, so I decided, “On second thought, let’s snag one.” So I bought a bottle. I’ll probably save it for a special occasion, maybe my wedding, maybe the wedding I’ll hold for the family of dauchsands I’ll have bought when I’ve given up on love, something along those lines.
At this point, we had mixed empty stomachs and approximately half a bottle of wine each, so it was definitely time for dinner. Matt quickly realized the danger of giving alcohol to this group. We of course are all responsible, educated adults, but give us some wine and we start giggling like children. We hopped on the coach and arrived at our hotel. It was a tiny little place, very old fashioned with real keys and everything. Kelsey, Charmaine and I ditched our belongings in our room and went down for dinner. It was buffet style: pork schnitzel, potatoes, chicken curry spaetzle, bread, and pasta. The pork schnitzel was decent; I’ve definitely had better. Surprisingly the showstopper was the spaetzle. It was sweet and spicy and flavorful, I could eat that for days and never get sick of it.
Following dinner there was a mass migration down to the hotel bar. There was a poor group of German locals in the bar trying to watch the football (soccer) game, meanwhile we were down there being a little rowdy. We had so much fun though. I’ve found that on this tour I have no problem sitting down somewhere and having people join me, or joining people already sitting somewhere. Everyone is so nice and everyone gets along in some way or another. I found myself hanging out with at least 20 different people, sometimes in groups, sometimes just a one-on-one conversation. There are so many teachers on this trip, which is great, because I’ve already had so many great discussions about education, both within the US as well as globally. Both my love for world cultures as well as a newfound knack for sociology, I’ve been in absolute heaven.
Meanwhile Drew had made friends with the German locals, bonding over the football game as well as just general culture. He was having a blast.
We all stayed up till midnight to toast to Leroy’s 21st birthday. Leroy’s a cool guy from South Africa. Obviously we needed a celebration. We all chipped in 2 euros to buy a box of drinks for the group, and we all yelled “prost!” together at midnight. It was the perfect way to cap off the day.