Category Archives: International Travel

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 6 of our BoatBikeTours bike trip from Bruges to Amsterdam proves to be the absolute highlight (out of many) and not just for the iconic attractions (spoiler alert: windmills!), but the serendipitous experiences that are the essence of travel.

Biking along the river as our ship, the Princesse Royal sails by © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We set out for this day’s ride, 35 miles from Dordrecht to Vianen, riding along a berm that looks down on the river where we can see our ship, the Princesse Royal, sailing along on the left while on the right, just behind a row of houses, we see windmills.

We soon come to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of these centuries old windmills (the name literally means children’s dike).

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I always thought of windmills as industrial engines to grind grain or saw wood, and windmills had that function in Holland as well, but in the mid-1700s, Holland used windmills as pumps to drain water to create farm land that otherwise would have been below sealevel. They began by reclaiming two huge patches of land with a system of canals, dykes and windmills to pump water out. Methods changed over time, with the addition of steam engines, electric pumps, that are in a race to take the water out of reclaimed land. But it is expected that this place will eventually succumb to the sea and be below sea level. (Like Venice, see the windmills now!).

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Dutch have been building hydraulic works for the drainage of land for agriculture and settlement since the Middle Ages and have continued to the present day. And these windmills’ most critical task was the ongoing water drainage because 26 percent of The Netherlands is below sea level. Each year, 5 trillion gallons of water must be pumped out to avoid flooding the low-lying parts of the Netherlands. (https://netherlandsinsiders.com/why-is-the-netherlands-known-for-windmills/)

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At its peak, there were more than 10.000 windmills operating in The Netherlands. Today, there still are more than 1,000 (and we encounter many of them along our ride – along with the modern day version, wind turbines).

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Two of the mills at Kinderdijk, Nederwaard Museum Mill (built in 1738), and Blokweer Museum Mill (which shows what life was like in the 1950s) are opened daily to the public, in addition to boat tours, which can be visited with an entrance ticket .

Kinderdijk is an enchanting place – like a Dutch painting come to life – and after giving us a good amount of time to explore on our own, we get back on the bikes and follow the trail through this entire expanse to continue on our way to Schoonhoven.

Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can see one of the best collections of centuries old windmills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We bike to where we are having lunch – a delightful market and a marvelous shop, which usually has tables outside. But they are doing construction so we sit at tables in the barn, with cows, goats, rabbit, lambs. (Unexpected!).

Sharing lunch with cows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rain is expected and sure enough, it comes in like clockwork (1 pm) as a furious downpour with thunder and wind. We are cozy inside with the cows and goats. (I’m just so grateful the rain waited until after we visited Kinderdijk.)

Sharing lunch with cows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Right on time, the thunderstorm passes, but more is expected, so our leaders decide not to offer the option of the longer ride (we were looking forward to riding through peoples’ backyards, as our leader, Arnold Thurko, described), and so set out.

Enchanting scene after a rain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The atmosphere is utterly magical – a milky/creamy quality washing over the green/grey landscape with touches of yellow and orange, dotted with windmills.

Enchanting experience riding through the countryside after a rain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ship meets us at Schoonhoven and takes us on to Vianen.

Dinner this evening is a delicious broccoli soup with cucumber; cod with white herb sauce; vegetables, potatoes; and for dessert, a white chocolate mousse with pistachio.

The Princesse Royal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Vianen: Free City

After dinner, we walk off the ship and our leader, Corrie Stein, guides us on a tour of of Vianen, delighting us with her storytelling. Vianen, she says, calls itself a “free town,” by which I take to mean they are libertarians, resistant to national authority, like paying taxes, and not too welcoming to outsiders. “The city is proud of being a free town.” “Libre” is proclaimed on a sign as we walk in.

She points out other aspects of culture: “Dutch symmetry”. “People will have two of the same planters for symmetry/balance” and the tradition of keeping curtains open (so others can see how nice it is inside).

The local hero here is Hendrik von Brederode, a nobleman who lived from 1531-1568. He became   important during the Dutch revolt against the Spanish king for religious freedom, the Eighty Years War.

Vianen’s local hero here is Hendrik von Brederode petitioned the Spanish for freedom of religion, and earned the nickname “Grote Geus” or the “big beggar” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In the Netherlands, when we want something badly, we can petition parliament. Nobles sent Hendrik to the representative of the Spanish king in Brussels to petition for freedom of religion. But in translation, the word ‘beggar” or ‘begging’ was attached to him. “From then on, they called themselves ‘beggars’.” Hendrik was nicknamed the “Grote Geus” or the “big beggar”.

“Eventually we got freedom of religion, after the 80-year revolt.”

Most villages have a main square. Vianen – being so independent, I guess – has a boulevard instead.

Vianen shows its free-spirit by a boulevard instead of a town square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Napoleon made a road from Paris to Amsterdam and armies and Napoleon came here (& Dordrecht) and drank red wine.

At the Town Hall, Corrie explains that the ground does not support tall towers, and there is not a lot of stone to build with, so it is very prestigious to build with natural stone instead of brick.

On the chimney on top of the Town Hall we see a stork nest – Corrie says the story that associates storks with delivering babies comes from Dutch tradition.

Vianen’s Town Hall with a stork’s nest © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the outside of the apothecary, there is a bust of a taste tester “to show the medicine was safe.”

Where the historic castle used to stand today there is a water tower – the first in Netherlands to be made of concrete – which turns out to be an icon of Vianen.

She also points to a tree – the Queen Wilhelmia tree. “The House of Orange was depending upon one small girl to keep the house going – would she stay alive? Communities planted trees of hope. The House of Orange had one child – Queen Juliana – who had four daughters.”

Breukelein Bridge

In the morning of Day 7, our last day of cycling, our ship, the Princesse Royal, sails from Vianen to Breukelein, which I learn (most delightedly) that this is where the first settlers of Brooklyn came from. (Corrie jokes that it has its own Breukelen bridge; we stop at for photos). We will bike from here to Amsterdam (New York, you will remember, was originally New Amsterdam) – our last stop on our boat/bike tour.

Okay, not quite Brooklyn Bridge, but the people from Breukelein settled Brooklyn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The path from Breukelein along the River Feckt that goes up to Amsterdam is gorgeous, dotted with literal mansions built by textile magnates. “400 years ago this was an important place- the wealthy from Utrecht and Amsterdam would flee the city in summer –heat, diseases – and built impressive summer houses,” Corrie tells us.  

They were built over a 400 year period and French destroyed many and many were replaced, so they have different styles. Many have impressive gardens and tea houses. It is reminiscent of Newport’s “cottages.”

Over a period of 400 years, wealthy merchants from Utrecht and Amsterdam built mansions along the river where they could  escape the summer’s heat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It was scary for people to be outside city, so they even “controlled” their gardens and would buy the view across the river (that remains true today).

We cycle on to a cheese farm, Willigen, at Nigtevechtseweg, and are given a truly fascinating tour by Kobie the owner (her brother, Henry Villa, is famous for his cheese shops but his sister, who uses the same recipes, prefers to stay small scale).

They have 80 milking cows on 180 acres of land. The cows come in for milking at 5:30 am and 5:30 pm – 10 cows on each side. One person can milk the 80 cows in an hour. The cows all have computer IDs – when their head is inserted, the computer knows the cow, how many kilos and type of food pellets every cow needs. Each cow is milked 300 days of the year and produces 30 liters of milk a day.

Learning about computerized milking, feeding and cheese-making practices at the Willigen cheese farm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The milk, just five minutes old, goes to the cheese-making factory. “The difference between farmer cheese and factory is the farmer is not allowed to pasteurize milk. Milk that is three days old is used as starter milk for the cows.It takes 10 liters of milk to make 1 kilo of cheese.

Dairy farm © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We bike along the River Vecht where there are number of houseboats – we are getting closer to Amsterdam.

At Muiden, we take a bit of a detour to see Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot, one of the oldest and best preserved castles in the Netherlands. The castle was built around 1285 and has a long and turbulent history. It forms part of the Defense Line of Amsterdam and the New Dutch Waterline, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has been a museum since 1878.The castle is surrounded by gardens (muiderslot.nl).

At Muiden, we take a bit of a detour to see Amsterdam Castle Muiderslot, one of the oldest and best preserved castles in the Netherlands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We set out again for Amsterdam, our end point, but the option to take the longer route is taken away because of concern for a severe rainstorm.

We ride fast to get to the ship before the rain, meet the ship and sail into Amsterdam, where it is already raining.

We are docked on the opposite shore from Amsterdam’s city center, but Amsterdam is so bike/pedestrian friendly, the city offers free ferries that run constantly.

We literally step out of where the Princesse Royal is docked and walk a few steps to the ferry to Amsterdam’s Central Station and the historic city center. So I hop on one to go into the historic center for a walk-about in the rain before our gala, farewell dinner.

Enjoying a gala dinner onboard the Princesse Royal at the end of our eight-day BoatBikeTours Bruges to Amsterdam trip © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Corrie and Arnold also help those who need to get a COVID test before traveling back to the US make the appointment (an extremely efficient system from Spoedtest.nl in Amsterdam, and helping us organize for our departure.

Princesse Royal’s captain and owner Roy van der Veen, first mate, chef, housekeeper, host and our tour leaders Corrie Stein and Arnold Thurkow © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is an ideal trip especially if you are traveling on your own, if you are new to biketouring, or with a family or just want a relaxing, incredibly scenic and interesting ride. The scheduling, route, itinerary, tours and excursions are excellent – and I especially love how our ship in most cases docks right at the town so we can walk off and visit.

Boat Bike Tours, Aambeeldstraat 20, 1021 KB, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tel.: +31 20 72 35 400,  info@boatbiketours.com, www.boatbiketours.com.

See also:

Idyllic Trip: Biking and Boating from Bruges to Amsterdam

Bruges-Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Biking to Ghent

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Dordrecht, the Birthplace of Holland

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

__________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Dordrecht, the Birthplace of Holland

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 5 on our BoatBikeTours eight-day Bruges-to-Amsterdam bike trip, we sail in the early morning from Antwerp in Belgium to Kreekrak and cycle 23 miles to Tholen (new harbor) in the Netherlands, where the ship meets us to sail on to Dordrecht – not places that I would bet most of us have ever heard of before.

We stop to visit to the Canadian war cemetery where there are 80 graves of Canadian soldiers who fought trying to free Netherlands from the Nazis. “They try to give the graves a face,” so each one is personalized.

The Canadian war cemetery has 80 graves of Canadian soldiers who fought trying to free Netherlands from the Nazis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our lunch stop is at Fort De Roovere, built in 1628, the largest of four forts that formed the West-Brabantse Waterline, a water-based defensive fortification. Located along the edge of a sandy embankment between Bergen op Zoom and Steenbergen, it was built during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) – the Dutch war of independence against Spanish rule.

Fort De Roovere is now a very pleasant park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After the fall of the French Empire of Napoleon in 1816, Fort de Roovere no longer had a military purpose and was reclaimed by nature. It was designated a national monument in 1975. The earthen-fortress was restored in 2010 as much as possible to its original state, along the same design configuration as in 1784, and today is a lovely park where I watch dragon flies on a lily pond, and climb an interesting modern tower to get a sense of how, in a siege, the approaching enemy forces could be bombarded from protruding bastions by batteries of cannon..

Fort De Roovere is now a very pleasant park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Climb the tower at Fort De Roovere © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We bike into a charming village of Tholen which has a surprising windmill (converted to a restaurant), and have some time to explore.

The quaint village of Tholen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Coming upon an artisan in the quaint village of Tholen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Biking onto our ship, the Princesse Royal, at Tholen, after riding 23 miles from Kreekkrak, which will sail on to Dordrecht on the BoatBikeTours eight-day trip from Bruges to Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our ship, the Princesse Royal, meets us here and we spend a pleasant afternoon sailing to Dordrecht, going through locks which I learn are not to level the water (like on the Erie Canal) but to keep salt water separate from fresh so the reclaimed land can be farmed. Apparently, it’s also an interesting water defense system – areas could be flooded to stop an invader.

Lovely scenery sailing on the Princesse Royal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This day proves a nice, relaxing combination of cycling and sailing, but the highlight is yet to come.

Lovely scenery sailing on the Princesse Royal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are supposed to dock at the historic city of Dordrecht, but there is an important steam-engine ship festival about to get underway and the harbormaster has refused to let us dock. So Captain Roy van der Veen finds a spot at a boat-building marina across the river.

Sailing passed Dordrecht © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our leader, Corrie Stein, not to be deterred because we can’t just walk off the ship into the historic center, organizes a ride back into Dordrecht for her guided walking tour because this is a city that is not to be missed. Dordrecht, as I learn, is like our Philadelphia in 1776, and this place and this adventure proves to be a highlight of our trip.

Bike track to come down from the bridge into Dordrecht… © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
…an escalator to bring the bike up to the bridge from Dordrecht © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here we also get to see the extraordinary infrastructure for bikes – to get up/down the very high bridge, there is actually a track and even an escalator for the bike, as well as dedicated path on the highway bridge.

Dordrecht is 800 years old, the oldest city of Holland (not Netherlands), with a population of 120,000 and some 900 monuments. It has always been a garrison town.

At the main church we learn that they wanted to build a tower 120 meters high (to compete with another city’s tower), but the ground wouldn’t support it. So with the money left over, they built four clocks and a bell. But when the bell tolled, windows broke, so they stopped.

“Schooske” – special historic sailing ships that are iconic to Dordrecht © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see these “schooske” – special historic sailing ships that are iconic to Dordrecht (and why there is the special festival). They are allowed to stay in this marina for free.

“Schooske” – special historic sailing ships that are iconic to Dordrecht © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The original, ornately decorated entrance gate to the town is where Napoleon entered Dordrecht, Corrie says.

Napoleon would have entered Dordrecht through this historic gate © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking down a street, I see stolpersteine (“stumbling stones”) – shiny bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalk as a memorial to the Jewish families who were taken from their home during the Holocaust. There are stolpersteines to commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime in more than 1,100 locations in 17 European countries

On a street in Dordrecht, stolpersteine (“stumbling stones”) – shiny bronze plaques embedded in the sidewalk as a memorial to the Jewish families who were taken from their home during the Holocaust © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On this street, Corrie points out a special Dordrecht style façade of buildings dating from the 17th century, which she says would have been designed by a mason in order to qualify to join a guild. “There were hundreds of these buildings but they fell out of fashion.

Novice masons would have to prove their stuff in order to join a guild in Dordrecht © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We come to what seems a simple courtyard of a 1275 Augustine monastery, but here, in 1572, a meeting was held to decide to revolt against Philip of Spain and to choose William of Orange as the leader. “The Netherlands was born in Dordrecht,” Corrie tells us.

“Netherlands formed after a revolt against Spain. It started with representatives choosing William of Orange as leader and agreeing to fight for freedom – a political moment – a thought out idea – freedom of religion,” which took place right here. (It sounds so much like the Continental Congress of 1776; Dordrecht in 1572 was Philadelphia in 1776.)

The Place Where It Happened. Dordrecht is like our Philadelphia.In 1572, a meeting was held to decide to revolt against Philip of Spain and choose William of Orange as the leader. “The Netherlands was born in Dordrecht.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“William wanted their own church” not like Catholic churches, but rounded with 8 sides. And they wanted their own Bible translated in Dutch.”

In 2019, the King of Netherlands, a descendent of William of Orange, came here to Dordrecht with an original family bible, and computerized art projected the writings from the old text on the building.

By now, darkness has all but descended. We put on our bike lights, and ride back to the ship, everyone giggling over how we look like a line of fireflies.

Biking back to the Princesse Royal from Dordrecht at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Biking back to the Princesse Royal from Dordrecht at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Biking back to the Princesse Royal from Dordrecht at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Boat Bike Tours, Aambeeldstraat 20, 1021 KB, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tel.: +31 20 72 35 400,  info@boatbiketours.com, www.boatbiketours.com.

See also:

Idyllic Trip: Biking and Boating from Bruges to Amsterdam

Bruges-Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Biking to Ghent

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Dordrecht, the Birthplace of Holland

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

__________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Antwerp’s historic center, ringed with Guild Houses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our BoatBikeTours route on Day 4 of our Bruges-Amsterdam bike tour into Antwerp would normally involve going through an interesting 500-meter long tunnel. But our leader, Arnold Thurko, tells us that the 1930s-vintage elevators broke and they haven’t been able to find the spare parts to fix it, so we ride over a bridge and take a ferry into the city instead, which proves a delightful ride with gorgeous views of the city and a fun (quick) ferry ride.

Arriving into Antwerp by ferry© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We park our bikes (Arnold stays with them) and go off with our leader, Corrie Stein, for a guided walking tour of Antwerp’s historic city center.

Antwerp’s Golden Age was the 1500s (earlier than Amsterdam), largely because of the advantage its Suikerrui (canal) provided traders by connecting the city to the sea. (Today it is closed off but you can visit the De Ruien, the underground waterway. You get to walk along old vaulted ceilings, narrow canals, bridges, sewers and sluices, and see the city’s underbelly. You can visit The Ruien by booking a guided group walk, walk on your own with an interactive tablet at fixed times or navigate a small section of The Ruien by boat. Go to www.deruien.be).  I have this on top of my list for a return visit to Antwerp. 

Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Antwerp was apparently spared bombing in World War II. As a result, we can still marvel at the City Hall, which dates from 1560, and a magnificent square ringed with Guild Houses, one for each guild and each with its own decoration.

Antwerp’s historic center, ringed with Guild Houses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The square has as its center the Silvius Brabo statue, a mythical Roman soldier. According to legend, Corrie relates, a giant, Druon Antigoon, who lived on river, would demand a toll from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt. If they refused, the giant would cut off their hand and throw it into the river. Brabo killed the giant, cut off his hand and threw it into the river. This is supposed to have been the origin of the city’s name, Antwerp, translated as “hand throw.”

Statue of Silvius Brabo, a mythical Roman soldier, who gave Antwerp its name by killing a giant © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk over to the Cathedral of Our Lady, built 1550-1800 in Gothic style. The belfry, 1339 meters high is included in the Belfries of Belgium and France list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The cathedral possesses some major works of art: including three major works by Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens (two of which were confiscated by Napoleon and moved to France but returned to the Cathedral in the 19th century).

Antwerp’s historic center, ringed with Guild Houses © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get back on our bikes and ride to where our ship, the Princesse Royal, is tied up at the dock, and walk a few blocks away to the Red Star Museum, which BoatBikeTours has arranged for us to visit.

This is a fascinating museum that is a kind of bookend to our Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City. Indeed, Ellis Island is where 2 million Europeans who boarded the Red Star Lines at Antwerp to come to America would have wound up. But this museum does more – it tells the age-old story of migration through individual people, going back to the Neanderthal, and why migration is such a fundamental quality of being human.

Antwerp’s Red Star Line immigration museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The commentary doesn’t shy away from condemning phrases (that are factually true) – for example, describing the brutal, impoverished conditions these desperate people were escaping, or taken by force as slaves, or fleeing persecution, and up to modern day anti-immigrant policies and speech that has lead to the plight of so many undocumented immigrants.

Between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants came through Ellis Island, with a whopping 1,004,756 entering the United States in 1907 alone. Of these, only 2% were turned away (and if were sent back, it was at Red Star’s expense, which is why, we learn, the line was so very scrupulous with their own medical evaluations)

Anti-immigrant fervor took hold in the United States after World War I; the Great Depression, effectively brought an end to migration to America. By then, almost 20 million Europeans had emigrated to America – settling the West, populating the factories of new Industrial cities. The Red Star Line ceased sailing in 1934.

Antwerp’s Red Star Line immigration museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibits are candid about the difference in how the wealthy traveled in such luxury and style compared to those in steerage. You get to see how passengers in different classes were treated – ‘livid’ – don’t disguise how tough steerage was (but compared to what leaving?). The inescapable conclusion that steerage class was actually key to the company’s revenue and profit.

The exhibits are remarkably personal. It is amazing to see these old photos and recognize the buildings, to see postcards, passports, ID papers, and personal effects.

What I loved most is the display on the first floor which so vividly conveys the central theme: there has always been migration, from beginning of man – and they personalize with one representative person for each era – even Neanderthal.

They show what compels migration in a honest way.

Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Interestingly, for many, Antwerp became their final stop and today there are some 170 nationalities in Antwerp (another similarity to New York City). You can see it in the faces of school children on their outings, in restaurants that represent all nationalities.-Vietnam, Indonesia, Argentina, Italy, France.

For many immigrants, Antwerp became their destination and their home – you can see it in school children’s faces © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is the evening we are on our own for dinner. (I miss out on visiting the Red Building, which houses an important museum, but even though it is closed, you can take escalators up eight floors to see the photos of people, old and young, then climb two stories higher to the top for a view.

I go off to wander Antwerp myself and on my way back to the ship, find myself in Antwerp’s Red Light District.

Stumbling into Antwerp’s Red Light district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have a story to tell when we are all back on board.

The Oklahoma couple says they wound up at a French restaurant, Bistro de Pottenbrug. They saw steak on the menu and wind up feasting on flattened pig heads, escargots, eel soup in creamy base.

“On this trip,” Lindsey says, “I decided instead of saying ‘no,’ to say ‘yes’.”  

Antwerp’s diversity is reflected in its restaurant offerings © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She asks what others’ weirdest meals have been:  Anne’s weird meal – bone marrow from buffalo; Janet’s was fish eye. Lindsey says, “Last night’s pressed pig head – but it could have been marketed better.”

Art abounds in Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Art – and a sense of humor – abounds in Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Art abounds in Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What is so notable about Antwerp, which is still a major industrial city, is that in one view, you can see dozens of wind turbines, coal being shipped, even a nuclear plant billowing smoke, which we see as we sail out of Antwerp the next morning.

Antwerp is ringed by wind turbines © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
An “all of the above” energy strategy on view in Antwerp: wind turbines, nuclear plant, and fossil fuels © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Antwerp is really worth a longer stay. Use the Antwerp City Card as your guide to discover the city from head to toe. The card gives you free entrance to museums, churches, attractions and public transport; as well as some great discounts (https://www.visitantwerpen.be/en/antwerp-city-card).

We leave Belgium and continue on into The Netherlands.

Boat Bike Tours, Aambeeldstraat 20, 1021 KB, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tel.: +31 20 72 35 400,  info@boatbiketours.com, www.boatbiketours.com.

See also:

Idyllic Trip: Biking and Boating from Bruges to Amsterdam

Bruges-Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Biking to Ghent

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Dordrecht, the Birthplace of Holland

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

__________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Bruges-Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Biking to Ghent

Touring Ghent by canalboat on Day 2 of BoatBikeTours’ Bruges-Amsterdam bike tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Though technically our Day 2 of BoatBikeTours’ eight-day Bruges-Amsterdam bike tour, our first ride takes us 35 miles from Bruges to Ghent along waterways, through farmland and villages and we get oriented to how they organize the ride, the gorgeous bikeways, local culture, and stunning scenery.

Setting out on our first day biking from Bruges on BoatBikeTours biketrip to Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stop at a very interesting Canadian War memorial – it’s actually the mangled tank turned into sculpture – and our leader, Arnold Thurkow (who spent a career in the military) tells us the story of these World War II defenders.

We stop next at Castle Lovendegem where our leader, Corrie Stein, tells the story of this place: it is privately owned by a Paris-based prominent wine merchant who grew up here and uses the castle for wine tastings (funny how contemporary history sounds more like gossip). We have a coffee break in the town of Aalter where I get to wander around and look into a bakery and a church.

One of the most unusual sights along the trail that winds beside farms comes when Corrie stops at vending machines where you can purchase a basket of the freshest, sweetest strawberries you have ever savored (Corrie says there are even vending machines to buy fresh chicken!).

Buying farm-fresh strawberries from a vending machine along the country road © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we set out, we quickly see just how popular cycling is in Belgium – one biking club after another and families on an outing, come as a steady stream on these magnificent bike paths, trails and dedicated roadways.

Biking into Ghent © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our group on this first day of riding has been a bit slow (not my fault, I swear) so we have divided into two. I join the slower group so I don’t feel self-conscious shooting photos as I ride. As a result, we reach Ghent about 40 minutes after the first group, just in time to rush to meet up with the rest of our group for the pre-arranged sightseeing canal boat tour of the city (but the other group had 40 minutes to explore – we won’t make that mistake again).

Touring Ghent by canalboat on Day 2 of BoatBikeTours’ Bruges-Amsterdam bike tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the sightseeing canal boat trip, the guide points out a grain depot from the 1200s; a toll booth; a tiny tax house; a 16th century guild house; one of the historic city gates; a fish market that operated from the 15th century to the 1950s when it became a car wash but now is the visitor center. He points out a statue of a boy peeing – it’s a famous image – but he said it actually represents the leather tanners union because they used the urine of boys to smooth the leather (it was tasted to determine if the urine was of good quality), so there are many of these pissing statues.

Touring Ghent by canalboat on Day 2 of BoatBikeTours’ Bruges-Amsterdam bike tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ghent was one of first industrialized cities that made textile barons wealthy. But the men, women and children who worked in factories lived in pollution, overcrowding and squalor – they worked in 16 hour shifts for low wages. This, along with the university, helps explain why Flemish Socialism was born in Ghent (still a liberal/progressive city, with Socialists still in the majority).

Touring Ghent by canalboat on Day 2 of BoatBikeTours’ Bruges-Amsterdam bike tour © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He points to a cannon dating from the 15th century that was installed here in the 16th century for defense. “It was only used once – two people died operating it. Today it is a peace symbol.”

Ghent, I learn, was the birthplace of Charles V who became the Holy Roman Emperor. At the time, Ghent was the 3rd largest city in Europe. To honor their favorite son for his 500th birthday, the city built the Bridge of Imperial Delight decorated with his bust. (Nearby is a sign, “Boat Tourism. Noise Pollution.)

Ghent’s Hall of Justice was used as a torture chamber, we learn on a canalboat tour of the city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a formidable castle, called the Hall of Justice, which (interestingly? ironically?) became a torture chamber. In 1949, students occupied the Castle to protest rising beer prices. “They didn’t change anything, but every November, they celebrate.”

After the canalboat tour (really excellent and appreciated), we still have another few miles to ride to get to St. Michael where our ship, the Princesse Royal is docked.

This day’s ride turns out to be the longest and also the hottest of our trip and when we return to the ship we are greeted with fruit-infused ice water and snacks.

We relax onboard the Princesse Royal and enjoy our dinner: a delectable pumpkin soup with basil; beef stew prepared like chili; a superb mango sorbet for dessert.

An Artist’s Gallery

Day 3’s ride, from Ghent to Merelbeke is 32 miles (or 24 for those wanting a shorter route) to Dendermonde-St. Amands.

We start cycling along the canal and stop at Castle Van Laarne, and visit the small village for our coffee break.(The sign reads: Kasteel Van Laarne-Dit Domein is Prive Eigendom”)

Stopping for a peek at Castle Van Laarne, now privately owned © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We ride on to Lake Donk, Belgium’s second biggest lake and a popular recreational center where we have the relaxing lunch we packed from the ship.

Continuing on we take a free ferry across a small river, and bike along the river.

We ride into the city of Dendermonde. Corrie points out a statue of Queen Astrid, who is like Belgium’s Princess Di. She died in the 1920s in a car accident when her husband was driving. “He was so distraught, he couldn’t bear to look at his kids and they were sent to live with someone else.” Many squares in the country have statutes to her. Across the way is the International Court of Justice, where apparently “smaller” conflicts than are handled at The Hague (mostly about money) are heard. 

Corrie tells us about this town’s most unique and important festival, held every 10 years (the 2020 festival was delayed until May 28, 2022 because of COVID; 85,000 watched). There are banners all over the city featuring the Horse Bayard with four boys on its back.

The historic Town Hall of Dendermonde © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The legend (which I really can’t understand why this would be celebrated), goes like this: Aymon, Lord of Dendermonde who was related to Charles the Great (Charlemagne), had four boys who were on track to become knights. One boy was very strong (and apparently aggressive) and had to have strong horse. Bayard, to match. The boy played chess with Charlemagne’s son and in a fit, killed Charles’ son. Charles took their father captive, told the boy that to get his father back, he would have to give up his horse, Bayard. Reluctantly, the boy gave up the horse, which Charlemagne had drowned.

A banner promotes the festival of Dendermonde, held every 10 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

So, every 10 years, the small town commemorates this event with a huge horse, 4 meters high, who carries 4 boys on its back. The boys who are chosen have to have grandparents and parents from here, be four boys born in a row (no sisters) and be between ages of 16-25.

Dendermonde also holds a Traditional Giants Parade, Katuit, each year on the last Thursday of August when three giants – lndiaan, Mars and Goliath – parade through the town, accompanied by 1000 actors in medieval attire, floats, bands, flag-tossers, professional street performers and torchbearers.

Dendermonde’s historic town square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We bike to St. Amands where the ship is docked (actually next to another BoatBikeTours’ ship, the Magnifique IV) and can walk into this quiet village before dinner.

Sahara Stones, the gallery and home built by artist Joris Maes in St. Amands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After dinner (beef carpaccio with truffles, pasta with salmon and lobster sauce), Corrie and Arnold lead us on an excursion to visit Sahara Stones, a gallery and home of artist Joris Maes and his wife, who gives us a tour and explains his extraordinary art.

Sahara Stones, the gallery and home built by artist Joris Maes in St. Amands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Joris built his house and everything in it, and spends his winter in the Sahara, driving down in a van, to collect fossils and stones which he sculpts for his art. The fossils are embedded along with stones in the walls of his house. “The house is the history of my life,” he tells us.

Sahara Stones, the gallery and home built by artist Joris Maes in St. Amands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The fossils, some of them absolutely enormous, encapsulate the history of earth, and Joris has turned them into rather marvelous sculptures – birds, animals. You think how the heck has he been able to acquire these pieces that you would think would be the nation’s heritage or in a museum. They are 360 million year old fossils, “before the continents formed,” he tells us. (sahara-art-stones.com)

Enjoying the sunset from our ship, the Princesse Royal, docked for the night at St.Amands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Enjoying the sunset from our ship, the Princesse Royal, docked for the night at St.Amands © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kasteel Wissekerke

On Day 4, we set out from St. Amands for a 30 mile ride to Antwerp (the shorter option is 21 miles).

We stop briefly to see a16th century castle which, Corrie tells us, was once owned by a cousin of William of Orange who led the Dutch revolt against Spanish King Philip II. The revolt – largely over religion (they call it religious freedom) began in 1568 and was finally won 80 years later. The castle is privately owned today.

The cycle path follows the river. At Kruibeke, Corrie introduces us to what she calls their “statue of liberty” – a modern, sensuous statue of a woman, “curvey like the bends of the river.”

“Curvey like the bends of the river.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The town is significant because Gerardus Mercator, the 16th-century geographer, cosmographer and cartographer, most famous for creating a revolutionary 1569 world map, was born here (by accident – his parents were visiting relatives).

Mercator’s map represented sailing courses as a path of constant bearing, measured relative to true north (Rhumb lines)—an innovation that is still employed in nautical charts. In their day, they were as revolutionary as GPS, and improved navigation at a time when global shipping was the key industry contributing to a nation’s wealth.

He wound up being imprisoned here in 1543 by the Catholic Church “for radical thinking. “When he couldn’t work, he became poor.” We ride passed Graventoren (Earl’s Tower) where he was imprisoned. There is also the remnants of a castle in Rupelmonde in the town of Kruibeke, where there is a statue of Mercator and a museum.

A bit further on, we stop to eat our picnic lunch at a restaurant that is also a farm museum, the VZW Museum De Schuur, with interesting antique implements that belonged to the proprietor’s husband (we see black and white photos of him). (www.museumdeschuur.be)

It is just down the road from a stunning (privately owned) castle (Kasteel Wissekerke) and garden which presents a gorgeous scene.

There has been a castle here since the 10th century, but the present one was largely built in the 15th century with lake, park and a suspension bridge. In fact, it is the suspension bridge, rather than the castle, that is of major importance: the bridge is one of the oldest surviving wrought iron suspension bridges in Europe, designed in 1824 by Jean-Baptiste Vifquain, an engineer from Brussels. “Though it only spans 23 meters, the bridge is of great industrial archaeological importance because of its historical and structural uniqueness,” notes read. The bridge, castle, gatehouse and pigeon tower were designated a protected historical monument in 1981.

Kasteel Wissekerke in Kruibeke © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the important people who lived at Wissekerke, was the influential family of Vilain XIIII –who were mayors of the town of Bazel for 139 years. In 1989, the castle was purchased by the town of Kruibeke, which has since handled the restoration work. The castle is also venue to many cultural activities, tours and exhibitions.

The gardens of Kasteel Wissekerke in Kruibeke © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is an idyllic scene.

We bike on to Antwerp.

Wind turbines are the new windmills as we bike toward Antwerp © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Boat Bike Tours, Aambeeldstraat 20, 1021 KB, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tel.: +31 20 72 35 400,  info@boatbiketours.com, www.boatbiketours.com.

See also:

Idyllic Trip: Biking and Boating from Bruges to Amsterdam

Bruges-Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Biking to Ghent

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Dordrecht, the Birthplace of Holland

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

__________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Idyllic Trip: Biking and Boating from Bruges to Amsterdam

Biking onto our ship, the Princesse Royal at Tholen, after riding 23 miles from Kreekkrak, which will sail on to Dordrecht on the BoatBikeTours eight-day trip from Bruges to Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have been wanting to do this bike tour from Bruges to Amsterdam (or reverse) for years, and like so many having come out of the trauma of a global pandemic, decided not to it put off any longer, but seize the day! I booked with BoatBikeTours.com.

Besides offering a great biking route, the eight-day/seven-night trip is by boat – so your room (and stuff) floats along with you (in fact, we see our boat frequently from the bike trail). The boat itself provides other marvelous experiences – a couple of afternoons relaxing (there’s even a hot tub!) while watching the gorgeous scenery go by, and the camaraderie on the ship. (Even better, as it turns out, the boat meets us to pick us up on two afternoons when a thunderstorm is expected).

Iconic Holland: riding through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am surprised at how many Americans there are on this biketrip since BoatBikeTours is based in the Netherlands, but I am sure the other Americans, who are in the majority on this trip, are as delighted as I am in finding this bike tour operator.

The Europeans include a couple and a group of four from England and a family of four from Dresden (where I had just visited) which adds to the pleasure of this trip. The Americans come from all over – Oklahoma (who protest that they are not like those rabidly red Oklahomans), Michigan (actually Holland, Michigan), Seattle, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, California, New York. (Two couples who were expected had to cancel for COVID.)

Relaxing onboard the Princesse Royal as it goes through a lock © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each evening, our guides Corrie Stein and Arnold Thurkow – as pleasant and personable as they are expert leaders – discuss what we will see and do on the next day’s ride, and typically, there is a short option for the longer ride.

Everything we experience is exactly as it is presented in the brochure – which is saying a lot. Each day is an absolute delight in every respect, and my longtime dream is realized even better than I imagined it would be.

We are quickly introduced to the fabulous bike trails, paths, roadways that we will follow from Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp all the way to Amsterdam in this most bicycle-friendly region of the world, where biking is a predominant culture. In fact, it seems we see more bikes than cars in the course of our trip.

Like a Dutch painting come to life, biking from Brandwijk toward Schoonhoven after a rain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We cycle through gorgeously scenic – and flat –western Flanders region of Belgium, famous for its medieval towns and castles, and Dutch countryside of Zeeland, a big river delta of the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt Rivers. Among the highlights: we see Ghent by canal boat, tour the fascinating Red Star Line immigration museum in Antwerp, explore the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Dutch windmills of Kinderdijk, visit an artist’s gallery in a tiny village, and tour a Dutch cheese farm.

And then there are the serendipitous experiences – like the downpour while we lunch in a barn with cows and goats, and biking back to the boat from Dordrecht at night, our bike lights making us look like a line of fireflies, a highlight for everybody. We find something of interest around every bend, in towns, villages and landscapes you would otherwise never see – Dendermonde, St. Amands, Tholen, Breukelen (immigrants from here settled Brooklyn!).

Riding back to the Princesse Royal from our evening tour of Dordrecht © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In between cycling excursions, we cruise along these lovely canals and rivers, the scenery absolutely gorgeous. Each place we dock, we are able to get off and with marvelous narration by Corrie and Arnold that adds immeasurably to the experience.

Importantly for me, we generally spend sufficient time in places to get a sense of them – I don’t feel hurried away – like when we visit the Kinderdijk windmills and Antwerp (though this is a city I would definitely come back to, to really explore). Our route takes us passed privately owned castles (just look, don’t visit), a very unexpected farm museum, a Canadian soldiers’ war cemetery.

Our ship, the Princesse Royal, is extremely pleasant – just the right size, marvelous fun and comfortable for our travel.

The Princesse Royal, our floating hotel for the BoatBikeTours’ eight-day Bruges-Amsterdam bike trip © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Its hull is constructed along the lines of a seagoing sailing vessel, giving it a somewhat unique shape, but the vessel has been converted to a passenger barge for inland waterways. The boat was restyled and refurbished in 2010 and during the winter of 2012-3, extended by 14 meters. There is a very pleasant dining room/lounge area as well as outdoor seating area (even a hot tub!). There is even WiFi (free).

Enjoying the hot tub onboard the Princesse Royal, our floating hotel for the BoatBikeTours’ eight-day Bruges-Amsterdam bike trip © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Princesse Royal, which sails under the Dutch flag and management, plies the inland waterways of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany with an crew of seven, led by Roy van der Veen who is the owner and captain of the ship and not above hauling in lines himself;  a mate, a chef, housekeeper, host and two tour leaders. The crew all speak Dutch, English and German.

Princesse Royal’s captain and owner Roy van der Veen, first mate, chef, housekeeper, host and our tour leaders Corrie Stein and Arnold Thurkow © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Princesse Royal accommodates 33 passengers in 16 comfortably appointed cabins. All cabins have portholes (which are fixed for safety reasons), shower, toilet, a washing bin, individually regulated air conditioning, flat screen TV (satellite), 220/230 Volt electric sockets, a small safe and hair dryer. The cabins are cleaned daily.

The meals are marvelous and wonderfully served – breakfast is a buffet with some special hot item each day and a selection of items laid out for us to pack a lunch to take along. In the evening the chef serves a three-course dinner – surprisingly exotic and diverse, always extremely flavorful, substantial and healthy. Though we don’t get a choice of entrée, accommodations are made for dietary restrictions with advance notice; more strict diets are accommodated at an additional charge. One evening (during our overnight stop in Antwerp), dinner is on our own (our guides offer helpful recommendations).

Coffee and tea are available all day long (there is a very sophisticated coffee maker). In addition, there is a bar serving beer, red and white wine and various kind of liquors which does a brisk business (they keep a tab that is paid in cash at the end of the trip).

Harnessing windpower then and now in Holland © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Harnessing windpower then and now in Holland © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is important to also emphasize that travelling by small ship and bike is one of the most sustainable, responsible ways to travel, with the least adverse impact on environment or community, while also providing the economic wherewithal to sustain the heritage we have come to see. The tour company notes that wastewater is collected in a separate tank that is regularly emptied; we are provided a water bottle to refill with tap water (all the ship’s water is filtered) and we are given paper bags instead of plastic to wrap our lunch. In addition, the company makes a carbon offset payment to the non-profit organization Justdiggit.

Relaxing onboard the Princess Royal as it sails the rivers and canals between Bruges and Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Each day, we are given written cue card directions, as well as have the opportunity to download RideGPS to our smartphones (it operates just like your car GPS, with a map and voice navigation and a means of using it off-line). But there is no need, because we follow our leader (one of us volunteers to be the sweep), though I enjoy following our progress on the cue sheets.

We are also supplied with helmet, waterproof pannier bag, water bottle, and the tour includes the fees for ferries.

I’ve done some hard trails – like the five miles up Cadillac Mountain Road in Arcadia National Park last summer on Discovery Bicycle’s Coastal Maine (you’d think “coastal” meant flat, well you’d be wrong, but this part of the ride was optional); South Dakota’s Badlands and Black Hills with Wilderness Voyageurs which featured a five-mile straight up the road in Custer State Park; Albania with BikeTours (I had an e-bike for the first time, which opened a whole new dimension).

I was in the mood for something more relaxing and the Bruges-Amsterdam bike/boat trip is exactly that.  Not only the comfort (and fun!) of being on the boat, but the itinerary is absolutely perfect – especially for first-time biketour goers, for families, and those looking for the most picturesque route you could imagine, with options for shorter or longer rides. And this route is incredibly flat and easy – the only “hills” involved riding over bridges – so that our 7-speed hybrid bikes are more than sufficient.

Belgium and Netherlands are so well organized for bikes, there is even a kind of escalator to get down and up to the bridge at Dordrecht © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The daily rides are absolutely perfect – constantly scenic, endlessly interesting, very fun.  Biking is the best – bringing you through villages, neighborhoods, even to people’s backyards and discovering places and their interesting stories – like Dendermonde, St. Amands, Tholen, Vianen, Dordrecht – that you otherwise would be unlikely to discover. You travel at a pace so you can really enjoy the view – slow enough to really observe, fast enough so there is an endless change in scene, almost like a movie. And you can stop for a photo or just to take it all in. And then there is the physical pleasure of biking – the endorphins that get revved up, the fresh air.

Cycling along the river on our way to visit Kinderdijk, as our ship, the Princesse Royal sails by © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And everybody bikes in Belgium and the Netherlands (I’m told Utrecht has the largest bike parking lot in the world, accommodating 12,500 bikes but the one at Amsterdam’s Central Station is the most enormous I’ve ever encountered). You’d see a guy coming toward you looking like he was riding the Tour de France and realize as he sped by he was a wrinkled old yet incredibly fit man; little kids bike; families had their kids in Bakfiets (literally translates as “box bike,” a popular cargo bike that the Dutch use to carry almost anything, including children) from place to place.

Biking is such a part of everyday life parents transport their kids in Bakfiets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The trails, paths, roads, and segregated bikeways, with their own traffic signs and signals and traffic-calming systems that keep shared roads safe for cyclists, add to the absolute delight and sense of security so you can just enjoy the scene. In fact, cycling accidents are rare – the Dutch don’t even use helmets.

Everything is set up for bikes. And the rules of the road are very specific. On our first afternoon Arnold reviews all the different signs and signals (shark teeth pointing at you means “take care, give priority to traffic”). “Don’t assume,” Arnold tells us finally. “Look in the eyes of the driver, if he stops and waves you through. Don’t take the right of way. Give it.”

Signposts point the way on the multitude of cycling routes between Bruges and Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our first night’s dinner sets the table for the rest: the first course is shrimp fried in garlic and white wine; the main course is pork fillet with red wine sauce, green beans, zucchini, potato au gratin; and dessert is a puff pastry with vanilla cream.

Corrie Stein leads us on a walking tour of Bruges on our first night of BoatBikeTours’ eight-day Bruges to Amsterdam bike trip© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is followed by Corrie and Arnold leading us on a walking tour of Bruges which we enjoy measurably.

The next morning, we set out. Today’s ride takes us from Bruges to Ghent, 35 miles.

Boat Bike Tours, Aambeeldstraat 20, 1021 KB, Amsterdam, Netherlands, tel.: +31 20 72 35 400,  info@boatbiketours.com, www.boatbiketours.com.

See also:

Idyllic Trip: Biking and Boating from Bruges to Amsterdam

Bruges-Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Biking to Ghent

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Antwerp, Medieval Jewel

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: Dordrecht, the Birthplace of Holland

Bruges to Amsterdam by BoatBikeTours: The Windmills of Kinderdijk

_________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Bruges, A Sleeping Beauty Awakened

Bruges exemplifies the biking culture – and infrastructure – that will take us on BoatBikeTours’ eight-day ride from here to Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’ve come to Bruges for an eight-day BoatBikeTours trip from here to Amsterdam and smartly (actually following the operator’s advice) have come a day early to have time to explore this UNESCO World Heritage city, known as the “Pearl of Flanders.”

So I wake in the Flanders Hotel, nestled within the historic district, enjoy a marvelous breakfast in their lovely breakfast room overlooking a garden with a koi pond, and have time to wander, immersing myself in the extraordinary beauty and peacefulness of this place, before getting myself to the ship, the Princesse Royal, that will be my floating hotel to Amsterdam.

The boutique Flanders Hotel in Bruges’ historic district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I come upon a street market just across from one of the city’s prominent art museums, Groeninge Museum, near the Church of Our Lady, with an extensive collection of Flemish primitive, 18th and 19th century and modern art.  In my wanderings, I take note of some of the city’s museums and attractions: Historium Bruges, Gruuthusemuseum, Chocolate Story, Bruges Beer Experience (this is extremely popular and I can’t resist going inside), and Old St. John’s (Memling Museum).

Tranquil morning scene in historic Bruges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel has given me a late checkout, so I time my wanderings to return to collect myself and get myself to the ship.

Walking through the historic gate to Bruges’ Burg  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am greeted by our tour leaders, Corrie Stein and Arnold Thurkow, and shown to my cabin – a pleasant single with its own bathroom (!!). We are fitted for our bikes and get to take a bit of a spin that takes us to visit Bruges’ historic windmills, located on top of what would have been the city’s ramparts along the canalside bike path from our ship.

Sint-Janshuismill, the oldest windmill in Bruges, built in 1770, is the only one still standing on its original site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

These four windmills, between the Dampoort and Kruispoort, are what’s left of 23 that once stood here, principally to grind grain, and were part of the town walls since the end of 13th century.

Sint-Janshuismill, the oldest windmill, built in 1770, is the only one still standing on its original site and is the only one with a museum inside that is open for public. Incredibly, the wooden mill is still grinding flour.

Back on the ship, Arnold leads a bike safety talk and orientation about our week-long bike trip – there is surprisingly a lot to learn about the various traffic signs and rules just for cyclists, a testament to how prevalent biking is in this region – we will even have our own trails, paths, roads and traffic signals. (Arnold, after explaining right-of-way at the yield signs – these triangles painted on the pavement –  counsels, “Don’t take the right of way. Give it.”). 

The Princesse Royal docked in Bruges for our eight-day BoatBikeTours bike tour to Amsterdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After a delightful dinner that sets the tone for the rest of our cruise, Corrie and Arnold take us for a walking tour of Bruges and I get more insights into what I had been seeing on my own walks.

Corrie (as we discover throughout our bike trip, since these narrated excursions of interesting places are the routine everywhere we stop at something of interest) is a fabulous storyteller, able to impart insights and call your attention to things that would otherwise escape notice.

Interesting in the scheme of world history, Bruges, she says, was a leading trading center in the 14th century because of its innovative canals that linked the city to the sea,  the source of its wealth and prosperity; international merchants built Bruges into one of the largest Hanse cities. But Bruges was displaced by Ghent’ rise as a trading center because of technology and events in the 15th, Antwerp in the 16th century and Amsterdam in the 17th century.

Bruges developed into a major trading city because of the canals that connected the city to the sea © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Corrie calls Bruges a “Sleeping Beauty” with exquisitely beautiful buildings but, as it lost its economic base, its inhabitants got poorer and poorer. Ironically, the result was that Bruges’ medieval heritage remained intact as the city was ignored by development. But a 19th century novel, “Bruges la Morte,” by the Belgian author Georges Rodenbach was like the kiss that awakened the Sleeping Beauty. First published in 1892, it was the first work of fiction to be illustrated with photographs, and the photos spurred tourists to see the city as it was in its Golden Century, with its canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings. UNESCO designated the entire city center as a World Heritage site. Today, some 2 million visit Bruges, providing the economic base to sustain its heritage and exquisite architecture.

Bruges developed into a major trading city because of the canals that connected the city to the sea © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our ship, the Princesse Royal, is docked just across from Minnewater Park. We walk across an intriguing, modern red bridge into the park, one of the most romantic sites in this romantic city (you can see why Bruges attracts so many couples). Legend has it that Minnewater, the Lake of Love, is where water nymphs (“minnen” in Dutch) lived, giving the lake its name. Add to that a tragic love story and trees with intriguing shapes and you get a place overflowing with romance.

We see swans (so picturesque!) and learn that they are not only legendary in Bruges, but an obligation. Corrie relates that at the end of the 15th century, the oppressed people of Bruges revolted against the unpopular Emperor Maximilian of Austria, capturing him and imprisoning him in the Craenenburg House on the Markt Square, together with his equally unpopular chief of police, Pieter Lanckhals (he was executed). After four months, the Emperor was freed by his army. The people tried to placate him, reminding him that their revolt was because the Emperor’s wife had made promises she failed to keep. Maybe that worked, because his “revenge” on the town seems fairly tame: he decreed that ‘until the end of time’ the city would be required at its own expense to keep swans on all its lakes and canals. Why swans? Because swans have long necks, and the Dutch for “long neck” is “lange hals,” or “lanckhals”. (The beautiful benches that are so popular with couples have swans.) You can see wrought iron swans on the park benches where couples sit.

Swans hold up bench. The people of Bruges were obligated to keep swans, “long necks,” as penance for revolving against Emperor Maximilian © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We go to a walled complex that Corrie says was built by Countess Mary of Constantinople to shelter widowed ladies, who engaged in spinning and weaving. “She took care of the ill and the poor. They wanted the sheltered life to be safe.” In 1927, the complex was taken over by Benedictine nuns.

Horse-drawn carriages add to Bruges’ picture-perfect ambiance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stop in front of Bruges’ most famous brewery, Brewery of Halve Moon, which has operated here since 1856. Bruges has been brewing beer since the Mid Ages – it was important because water was not safe, so everyone, even kids, drank beer at every meal, Arnold relates. (One of Bruges most popular attractions is the Beer Experience.)

The Beer Experience is one of Bruges’ most popular attractions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Corrie points out a building that would have been a hospital in the Middle Ages and where there is an entrance from the canal. “They knew some diseases were contagious, so had a separate entrance for those people.”

Notre-Dame de Bruges has a 115.5 meter-high church tower, one of the tallest in the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We stop outside the Notre-Dame de Bruges, with a 115.5 meter-high church tower (the second tallest in the world, we are told). It is notable for having the only statue by Michelangelo outside Italy. Corrie relates that the statue was of a naked child and wasn’t deemed acceptable to display in Italy, so a Bruges merchant bought it and brought it here. The church has many art treasures, paintings, 13th and 14th century painted crypts and 15th and 16th century tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold.

The Burg is Bruges’ seat of power © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We come to The Burg, the seat of power in the city: the 14th century Stadhuis, the Gothic Town Hall, two palaces of justice, the original gate to the city bordering a majestic square.

In a corner of the Burg square, too, is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The chapel is behind a richly decorated facade which is actually a 16th century staircase connecting the Romanesque Saint-Basilius chapel on the ground floor with the neo-Gothic Holy Blood Chapel on the upper floor. It seems to me this chapel has singularly put Bruges on the map.

Chapel of the Holy Blood houses a phial said to contain a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Originally built in the 12th century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders, the church is famous because it houses a venerated relic – a phial said to contain a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ, allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.

The relic is kept in a silver tabernacle with a sculpture of the Lamb of God in the large side chapel of the upper church.

I’m intrigued to learn more from Bruges’ visitor site: “Legend has it that after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and preserved the cloth. The relic remained in the Holy Land until the Second Crusade, when the King of Jerusalem Baldwin III gave it to his brother-in-law, Count of Flanders Diederik van de Elzas. The count arrived with it in Bruges on April 7, 1150 and placed it in a chapel he had built on Burg Square…

“However, recent research found no evidences of the presence of the relic in Bruges before the 1250s. In all likelihood, the relic originated from the 1204 sack of Constantinople by the army of the Count of Flanders, Baldwin IX during the Fourth Crusade. Ever since, the phial has played no small part in the religious life of the city. Pope Clement V issued a papal bull in 1310 granting indulgences to pilgrims who visited the chapel to view the relic.” (https://visit-bruges.be/see/churches/basilica-holy-blood)

The relic is shown to the public every Friday and also each day from May 3-17. Outside the chapel is the Holy Blood museum, which contains the shrine for the Holy Blood and other treasures belonging to the chapel. (You can visit the first floor chapel for free, but there is a fee to go to the upper floor. https://visit-bruges.be/see/churches/basilica-holy-blood)

I see the banners that herald a Bruges tradition that dates back to 1304 – the relic of the Holy Blood carried around the city in the Holy Blood Procession on Ascension Day. This folk tradition involves everyone in the city and was recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009.

In 2014, Belgian carilloneurs were also given significant international recognition. The sound of the carillons can be heard all around Bruges throughout the year, but one of the best places to listen is on the Markt Square or in the Belfry courtyard. (I get to hear it during a concert of re-orchestrated 300-year old Flemish music coordinated with the bells).

The 13th century Belfort, with a 47-bell carillon and 83 meter high tower dominates The Markt Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 13th-century Belfort (belfry) with a 47-bell carillon and 83m high tower dominates The Markt Square, which is called the “beating heart of Bruges.” You can buy a ticket to climb it for panoramic views. There is the magnificent Bruges City Hall building, the Historium Bruges (fictional characters tell a story of medieval Bruges). The architecture all around the square is breathtaking – there is the imposing Provincial Court and colorful buildings with stepped gables. The scene is all the more picturesque for the many horse-drawn carriages.

The Markt Square, Bruges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is so much to see and enjoy, Bruges really warrants a longer stay: What seems to be the most popular, must-see is the “Bruges Beer Experience” just around the corner from the Belfort; chocolate museum (Choco-Story). Also: torture museum; Diamond Museum, Lace Centre, archeology museum, Our Lady of the Pottery (historic Gothic church with baroque decor, a famous statue and a hospital now serving as a museum). (Must come back.)

Bruges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am sad to leave Bruges, but excited to start our bike journey. Tomorrow we will bike to Ghent.

Visit Bruges, Postbus 744, B-8000 Brugge, tel. +32 50 44 46 46, visitbruges@brugge.be, https://www.visitbruges.be/.

Boat Bike Tours, info@boatbiketours.com, www.boatbiketours.com.

__________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

The Benefits of Staying in a Historic Hotel in a Historic City: The Flanders Hotel Bruges

Staying over at the Flanders Hotel in Bruges’ historic district, allows enjoyment of iconic scenes like the colored gabled buildings in The Markt town square at night, enjoying the serenity after the day-trippers have gone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bruges, Belgium’s UNESCO World Heritage city, is impossibly beautiful. Walking around, you almost feel like you are in Busch Gardens Colonial Williamsburg themepark or a movie set – it is that perfect, that fantastical, almost unreal in its perfection. The sheer beauty of this extraordinarily picturesque place, gives you such a sense of peace. I walk every route multiple times, entranced.

Bruges’ cobblestone streets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I feel sorry for the day-trippers who flood into Bruges but leave before they can experience how magic descends in the late afternoon glow, the evening light, the reflected lights on cobblestone streets at night, and the early morning stillness when only the occasional swan makes a ripple in the canal – it’s as if the fairies wait for the people to leave the forest before they come out. I am so grateful to be staying overnight, having come a day early for my eight-day BoatBikeTours’ Bruges-Amsterdam bike trip.

The Burg, Bruges’ soul © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I stay in the Flanders Hotel, a four-star boutique hotel and a member of Historic Hotels of Europe – beautifully renovated and updated for modern tastes, and within the historic district.

The hotel provides the perfect ambiance in which to appreciate and immerse myself in Bruges.

The Flanders Hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of Europe, is in Bruges’ historic district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I always seek out historic hotels – they typically are perfectly situated (location, location, location!), have charm and character and embody the stories and heritage of the people – in effect, they offer an “authenticity” and a sense of place. The owners and managers invariably see themselves as stewards, as guardians of that heritage and are fierce protectors, and it shows in the loving care they bring.

The beautiful bar, lounge and terrace at the boutique Flanders Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Designed by one of Bruges’ foremost architects of the 19th century, the Flanders Hotel building stands where the former Grand Hotel Verriest once served travelers from all over the world. The structure includes a Gothic room, which once was part of a Dominican Monastery dating from 1304.

The Flanders Hotel puts you right in the historic district, and within a short (exceedingly pleasant) walk of all major sights in the historic inner city as well as offering amenities that make the stay here an absolute delight– there is actually a beautiful indoor pool, a stunning lounge-bar connected to an outdoor terrace, gardens with a picturesque pond and a lovely parlor. Much of the hotel has been recently renovated. Inside it’s actually hip.

A pleasant garden and koi pond provide scenic views while enjoying breakfast at The Flanders Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Flanders Hotel offers 50 rooms: the classic room type mostly face the garden and pond; spacious club rooms; extra large Grand Double which has a canopy bed and mezzanine bathroom; and Triple and Family rooms set up to accommodate three to five persons, and offer excellent value.

A breakfast buffet is served from 8 to 10:30 am (weekdays) and until 11 am on weekends in its charming restaurant that looks out to the garden and pond.

Its lounge-bar (‘barazar’) is stunning, serving fine wines, cocktails and local specialty beers, as well as other beverages and finger food, daily from 4 pm to 1 am.

A pleasant garden and koi pond provide scenic views while enjoying breakfast at The Flanders Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am also impressed by the personal service with attention to detail, as well as online tools that have everything prepared for my stay before I arrive, and arrange for a taxi to bring me to the boat that will be my floating hotel to Amsterdam at the end of my stay.

The hotel is surrounded by loads of restaurants and eateries of all kinds, from Michelin star gourmet cuisine to local specialties and international dishes.

The Flanders Hotel has an indoor pool © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am delighted with the accommodations, and love that just walking out of the front door, I am immersed in the city’s charm. It’s a very short and picturesque walk to Bruges’ key sites including the Burg and Markt (Town Square).

I quickly discover why it is said that Markt Square is Bruges’ heart and Burg is its soul.

The view just down the street from The Flanders Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Markt Square, the beating heart of Bruges, is dominated by the Belfry, 83 meters high and the city’s most prominent building (you can climb to the top for a breath-taking panorama). In the Market Square itself, I marvel at the imposing Provincial Court and a line of buildings with colorful stepped gables. Horse-drawn carriages complete this exquisitely picturesque scene. Here on my first evening I come upon one of the nightly concerts – this one of Flemish music going back 300 years that is coordinated with the bells ringing from the famous Belfry tower.

A concert underway in The Markt Square is synchronized with bells from the historic Belfort © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Markt Square is the heart of Bruges, but the Burg Square is considered its soul. For centuries this has been the center of power in the city, and Bruges’ city administration still occupies the 14th century Gothic Town Hall. This grand, majestic square is lined with monumental landmark buildings built over the centuries and reflect the building style of their age. They include two palaces of justice, the Liberty of Bruges to the Deanery, and the renowned Basilica of the Holy Blood.

Night scene, Bruges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wandering down a street of shops – chocolate, waffles and such – I come upon a street festival where I mingle with locals.

It says something of the neighborhood that the Flanders Hotel is mere steps away from what is today the Grand Hotel Casselbergh Brugesbut from 1656 to 1659, served as the Royal Palace of England, Scotland and Ireland, where King Charles II held court.

“King Charles II lived here with his brothers James, Duke of York, and Henry, Duke of Gloucester until the restoration of the monarchy,” a marker outside states. King Charles II “loved Flanders and Bruges in particular. In 1662, the grateful Monarch wrote, ‘The Flemings are the most honest and true-hearted race of people I have met with.’”

Flanders Hotel Bruges, Langestraat 38, 8000 Bruges, stay@hotelflanders.com, call  +32 (0)50 338889, https://www.hotelflanders.com

Morning in Bruges © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Historic Hotels of Europe: A Notable Collection

The Flanders Hotel is a member of Historic Hotels of Europe, an exclusive collection of independent and unique hotels, castles, palaces, country houses and other properties of historic importance throughout Europe.

Each property has been handpicked for its historical authenticity, quality and unique story. The owners see themselves as guardians of heritage, with a responsibility to cherish each property as a historic national treasure. Accommodating guests provides the economic support to preserve, sustain and improve each property and keep their stories alive.

You can click on Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece,  Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Montenagro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Wales to find historic hotels, castles and manors.

You can also search by themed itinerary (cultural routes; gastronomic road trips; wine-lover’s trails, fairytale castles; rooms with the best views) and bookmark an Itinerary Inspiration guide; or search by collections, wedding ideas, experiences. You can also arrange for gift vouchers.

And you can search by 2022 winners of the Historic Hotels of Europe Awards (https://www.historichotelsofeurope.com/award.html):

There were ten categories for this eighth edition of the awards to vote in this year, including two new categories – the Historic Hotel Sustainability Award and New Entry Historic Hotel Award:

Historic “A Story To Share” Award 2022: Known as “the hotel from fairytales,” Dalen Hotel in Norway snagged this year’s “Story To Share” award, no doubt because of its “floating” spa, jaw-dropping architecture and exciting common areas that include a terrace and gallery. (Silver Award Winner: Schloss Hertefeld in Germany; Bronze Award Winner: Suter Palace Heritage Hotel in Romania)

Historic Castle Hotel Award: Chateau Liblice in the Czech Republic has perfected the art of blending the old with the new, and combines a classic atmosphere with contemporary comforts, restaurant and spa. (Silver Award Winner: Castello di Gargonza in Italy; Bronze Award Winner: Barberstown Castle in Ireland)

Historic Hotel City Award: Hotel Stefanie has swept the accolade of best historic city hotel for the second time (having won this category in 2020). Having operated since the year 1600, it’s the oldest hotel in Vienna, Austria, and has clearly lost none of its charm or first-rate hospitality over the centuries. (Silver Award Winner: Hotel Britania in Portugal; Bronze Award Winner: Hotel Cattaro in Montenegro)

Historic Hotel Wedding Experience Award: The Slovakian gem Hotel Gino Park Palace, has been named the best place in the Collection to say “I do”. (Silver Award Winner: Villa Bergzauber in Austria; Bronze Award Winner: Villa Cipriani in Italy)

Historic Natural Setting Hotel Award: Overlooking Bantry Bay and Garinish Island on the Eccles Hotel is situated in one of the most enviable places in all of Ireland, the famous Wild Atlantic Way coastline. (Silver Award Winner: Kyrimai Hotel in Greece; Bronze Award Winner: Renvyle House Hotel in Ireland)

Historic Romantic Hideaway Hotel Award: Greece’s island of Santorini has long-been called one of the most romantic places to travel to in Europe… especially if you stay at Esperas Santorini, according to this year’s voters. This pearlescent property contains 17 Greek-style studios complete with such perks as jacuzzis, luxurious beds and bathroom amenities. (Silver Award Winner: Manowce Palace in Poland; Bronze Award Winner: Hotel Villa Schuler in Italy)

Historic Top Hotel Restaurant Award: Foodies are never more delighted than when settling down at a table at Ghan House. This Irish hotel’s restaurant has won numerous awards over the years and is loved by tourists and locals alike for its gourmet dishes. (Silver Award Winner: Twr y Felin Hotel in Wales; Bronze Award Winner: Castel Rundegg in Italy)

Historic Spa & Wellness Hotel Award: The spa and wellness services at Italy’s Relais San Biagio are inspired by the age-old traditions of the property and the monks who once lived there. It’s the place to boost your mind, body and spirit before exploring beautiful Perugia. (Silver Award Winner: Le Bouclier d´Or Hotel & Spa in France; Bronze Award Winner: The Ice House in Ireland)

Historic Hotel Sustainability Award: Schloss Wartegg in Switzerland is Historic Hotels of Europe’s first to be dubbed the best sustainable hotel. Along with its strong focus on cycling and bike tours, the property prizes organic ingredients and makes the most of its extraordinary locale on the shores of Lake Constance, a remarkable slice of Swiss nature. (Silver Award Winner: Hotel Schwarzer Bock in Germany; Bronze Award Winner: Allegory Boutique Hotel in Greece)

New Entry Historic Hotel Award: The peaceful Komierowo Palace in Poland is a wonderful recent addition to the Collection. Not only does the building boast a sauna and jacuzzi house, 16 hectares of enchanting parkland and gorgeously-furnished rooms festooned with Art Deco elements, it has a fascinating history populated with knights, royalty and noble families. (Silver Award Winner: Blue Haven Hotel in Ireland; Bronze Award Winner: Hotel Chesa Grischuna in Switzerland)

More information at www.historichotelsofeurope.com

__________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I must confess to never having heard of Magdeburg before we were bussed from our ship, the MS Elbe Princesse, on the morning of Day 7 of our CroisiEurope river cruise, but, as in the case with the best travel experiences, it turns out to be marvelous to discover.

Market Square, Magdeburg, with one of the oldest equestrian statues in Europe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our tour starts in the Market Square, renowned for its architecture and a City Hall with bronze doors that relate the city’s history – its 1,200 years is one of the longest in Germany – in 14 panels. Our guide also points out the golden “Magdeburg Horseman,” which dates from 1240 and is believed to be the first equestrian statue north of the Alps.

Market Square, Magdeburg, with one of the oldest equestrian statues in Europe © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After visiting so many churches, the St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral is an absolute surprise – and not because of lavish gilded decoration (it is relatively simple) but more because of what it contains. Built from 1209-1520, it was the first cathedral to be built in the Gothic style in Germany, it is the largest church in East Germany, and its towers the highest. It was destroyed twice – in 1631 during the Thirty Years War, and in World War II, when 90 percent of Magdeburg’s buildings were bombed. And oh, yes, the church for some reason was used as a horse stable by the French during Napoleonic War.

St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg, Europe’s oldest Gothic church, dates from 1209 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see where Germany’s famous son and Holy Roman Emperor, Otto the Great, and that of his first wife are interred inside the cathedral.

But what is immediately clear is the revolutionary spirit at the heart of this place – and Magdeburg.

Here we see a wooden chest with locks that was used to collect Indulgences – a symbol of its transition to a Protestant church. Indeed Magdeburg’s wholesale conversion to the Protestant faith was one of Luther’s greatest victories. (It is more impressive having just come from Luther’s House in Wittenberg the day before.)

A chest to hold indulgences at St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A memorial in front of nearby St. John’s Church (which can be visited) erected by the renowned sculptor Emil Hundrieser in 1886 serves as a reminder of Luther’s influence on this historic city. Martin Luther attended boarding school here for a year when he was 13; he returned to the city on June 26, 1524 to give a sermon at St. John’s Church about “true and false righteousness” that was so powerful, it  inspired almost every church in Magdeburg to convert to Protestantism in a matter of days. From this point onward, Magdeburg became a leader in the Reformation and a forerunner in school reform. Our guide tells us suggests that Magdeburg was fairly liberal and its law was adopted in other places.

Statue of St. Morris, a black saint from Namibia, at St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This cathedral is adorned with gorgeous sculptures and wood carvings that strike me as unusual. For one, I notice the statue of St. Morris, a black saint from Namibia who was officer in Roman army, became Christian and refused to take part in pagan ceremony.

Figures decorate a door at St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

To my eye, the Church is ecumenical – it has Hebrew and Greek letters, doors from Greece that seem to depict Dionysus, and I see a fund-raising brochure from the congregation to help raise money to replace the synagogue destroyed by the Nazis (the cornerstone has just been laid). Our guide informs us there were 3000 Jews here before the Holocaust; today there are 600.) And in the pavement is a memorial to the Holocaust.

Holocaust Memorial outside St. Mauritius and St. Katherine Cathedral, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see a beautiful World War I memorial, which dates from1929. When the Nazis came, they had to take it away. The statue was returned to artist’s family and then returned to church 1955.

We also visit the Unser Lieben Frauen monastery which has a sculpture park that was created in 1989, and is the venue for concerts. The monastery, the oldest building in Magdeburg, was constructed in two phases – the east section and nave were built in the second half of the 11th century; the western section between 1129 and 1160.

Unser Lieben Frauen monastery, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But most remarkable to me is the Green Citadel of Magdeburg, an apartment building that is literally a work of art and (amazingly) also a model for new urban design.

I can’t take my eyes off of it. We wander around this fascinating and magnificent structure, so colorful, whimsical. It exudes happiness and optimism, a Dr. Seuss-like quality and playful spirit. It is literally green – greenery grows from the roof, down the walls – none of which have straight angles. It is an “ensemble’ of buildings taking up a full square block, and is in such stark contrast to the other buildings in the vicinity, which range from Gothic to steel-and-glass modern.

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Green Citadel was designed by architect and artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser (born Friedrich Stowasser in Vienna , he adopted Friedensreich, meaning peace, freedom, and Hundertwasser, meaning “100 Waters”), who died in 2000.

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Catholic Church underwrote the cost of building the building (27.1 million Euros) and it is now owned by a Swiss investor. It contains 55 rental apartments (the rental fee is based on the square meter, 10-12E/sq meter, which is cheap), a 200-seat theater, parking garage, day care center, and  a 41-room Art Hotel (that’s what it’s called).

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You walk into this breathtakingly beautiful courtyard and there are bird houses of all different shapes and colors (a Guinness record? Not sure). Within the courtyard are cafes and delightful shops (I can’t resist). The tower is 32 meters high, constructed as a spiral – a symbol of life – with a walkway all the way up to the top.

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The structure exemplifies Hundertwasser’s ”commitment to a more human architecture in harmony with nature and his visionary ecological commitment developed from his belief in the power of nature and individual creativity,” the The Hundertwasser  foundation writes. “Since the 1980s, he has been realizing architectural projects in which there is the window right and tree tenants, the uneven floor, forests on the roof and spontaneous vegetation. His buildings testify to his commitment to diversity instead of monotony, for romanticism, for the organic and for unregulated irregularities, for spontaneous vegetation and for living in harmony with nature.

The Green Citadel exemplified Hundertwasser’s commitment “to a more human architecture in harmony with nature and his visionary ecological commitment developed from his belief in the power of nature and individual creativity.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“At the center of his ecological activities were tree planting and greening campaigns, the restoration of natural cycles, the protection of water and the fight for a waste-free society. He disseminated his socio-critical and ecological positions with manifestos, letters, speeches and public demonstrations in which he criticized the pure functionality of all areas of life, the uninhibited growth doctrine and the adaptation to social conformism.”  (https://hundertwasser.com/en).

It’s interesting to learn that key industries here include the manufacture of wind turbines and small generators. Just saying.

The Green Citadel, Magdeburg. Artist and architect Hundertwasser used the Tower as a symbol of life. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Magdeburg was a fortress town and one of its favorite sons, memorialized with a statue, was Steuben, who helped the Americans win the Revolution. We are told that he also was the originator of “OK” –“He  couldn’t speak English well, and this was his way of signing off ‘all correct’”. (Another famous son of Magdeburg, I learn, is the composer Georg Philipp Telemann).

Old and new in Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Old and new in Magdeburg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That evening, as we sail to Berlin, our final port, we have a gala dinner, and it really is – cream of cauliflower soup; foie gras; veal; cheese in puffed pastry, and for dessert, dramatically served Baked Alaska flaming with Grand Marnier, accompanied by special wines selected by the chef. All the cuisine has been so flavorful, rich but not too rich, with gorgeous presentations.

The finale to the gala dinner onboard CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse: flaming baked Alaska © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have asked for a tour of the kitchen, and they have complied – so we get to walk through. It is remarkably unbusy, unhectic, uncluttered. In the evening, we also are invited to tour the wheelhouse (I am told there is no auto pilot, which makes me think it is easier to “fly” to the international space station than to navigate the river because of the changing depth, hazards, currents.

The bridge on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrive in Berlin, overnighting at a dock in a neighborhood park.

CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

___________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

Wittenberg’s old market square and the Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther delivered the majority of his sermons © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our ship, CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse, sails early in the morning of Day 6 of our Prague-Berlin river cruise for Wittenberg, reaching this historic city, the epicenter of the Reformation lined with noble Renaissance-style houses and a marvelous way of preserving history, in the early afternoon.

Lutherhaus, Martin Luther’s house in Wittenberg is a museum to The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Martin Luther House, which was once an Augustinian monastery and now is the Reformation Museum, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complete surprise – I might even say a revelation. I never expected to be so fascinated, so captivated by the unfolding of Martin Luther’s personal story so vividly depicted in the furnishings, artifacts, portraits and seeing where he actually lived, preserved pretty much as it would have been when he lived here. You begin to appreciate how one man could set a movement of such enormity – the Reformation! – into motion, how a single person could captivate and change the world.

Lutherhaus Martin Luther’s house in Wittenberg is a museum to The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I start off fairly disinterested but as I go through the house – the museum contains 1000 original objects from the Reformation over the centuries to the present including the many publications he put out – the answer comes quickly: the Guttenberg printing press (there is even a replica). You realize that Luther and the Guttenberg printing press were like today’s social media influencers. Indeed, by 1520, Luther had become a media sensation, unlike anything anyone had seen before.

The Reformation was made possible because of Guttenberg’s printing press © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among Luther’s ideas that were heretical to the Catholic Church: Sins cannot be redeemed simply through confession, but faith; he reduced the seven sacraments to two, baptism and holy communion; he called ordination, confession, and last rites as “tricks of priests” to exert power. He called for the abolition of celibacy (and used that as the reason he got married, so he would not be a hypocrite); and said, “A Christian is free, subservient to no one (but subservient to all)” and he called upon the “electors and sovereigns” to implement the Reformation.

Martin Luther’s books and publications are exhibited at Lutherhaus © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the most controversial, which really roiled the entire institution, was the idea you can’t buy redemption with an Indulgence (the next day in a church in Magdeburg, we see the wooden box that would have been used to collect the Indulgences), and that priests can’t rid people of sin,

In June 1520, a Papal Bull accused Luther of 41 errors and gave him 60 days to recant. Instead, he created a media spectacle and burned the papal bull and other items.

Luther basically removed priests as the middle man between a Christian and his faith, and is most famous for translating the Bible into German, to make it more accessible (if I remember correctly, Jesus did the same thing to the priests).

Lucas Cranach the Elder’s portraits of Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina von Bora. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luther had been a monk and his wife, Katharina von Bora, a nun, given over to a convent because her family could not afford to support her, lived here for 35 years.

In what would have been their bedroom, we learn that Katarina fled the nunnery to marry Luther. A monk at the time, Luther said he should practice what he preached – abolition of celibacy. There is a wonderful quote from him (just about everything he said was dutifully transcribed by adoring followers) describing the surprising changes in his life after marriage, and the pleasures of being part of a couple. They had six children of whom four survived to adulthood.

Martin Luther’s living room where he would have entertained guests and apostles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We also see the living room where he would meet guests, have discussions with adoring followers. It’s like being in “the room where it happened” – where these ideas were formulated, transcribed, transmitted.

A Cranach portrait of Martin Luthern in the very room at Lutherhaus it depicts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The couple became well to do after their marriage. Katarina, who clearly did so much to propel Luther (among the journal accounts is how she poured beer for the guests), farmed, and rented rooms to students.

Having been informed the day before to the importance of artist Lucas Cranach the Elder by my traveling companion, I am alert to seeing several Cranach paintings here, including the first authentic portrait of Luther, several others of Luther, and his monumental panel of 10 Commandments. (The English-language audio tour is invaluable to appreciating what you see.)

An early portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder, who probably had as much to do with the success of The Reformation as Luther himself © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At this point, I am admiring of Luther and how he democratized religion, breaking the theocratic authority of the Pope and priests. But I later learn that in two of his later works, Luther expressed violent antisemitic views and called for the burning of synagogues and expulsion of Jews (I wonder if Luther regarded Judaism as a rival for worshippers.)

Martin Luther’s writings were beautifully decorated and published by Lucas Cranach the Elder © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luther wrote of a sculpture depicting an antisemitic scene, “Here in Wittenberg, in our parish church,” Luther wrote, “there is a sow carved into the stone under which lie young pigs and Jews who are sucking; behind the sow stands a rabbi who is lifting up the right leg of the sow, raises behind the sow, bows down and looks with great effort into the Talmud under the sow, as if he wanted to read and see something most difficult and exceptional; no doubt they gained their Schem Hamphoras from that place.” The inscription “Rabini Schem HaMphoras” was installed above the sculpture 27 years later, in Luther’s honor.

My traveling companion on the ship – who is from Munich – has told me to look for the sculpture in the church which I assume (incorrectly) is the Castle Church where Luther posted his Theses.

I still have about an hour to explore Wittenberg on my own (the rest of our group are all French-speaking and led by a guide) – really not enough time. I would have loved to have the whole afternoon to wander. But, armed with an excellent map that pinpoints 36 important sites, I set out with an aim of finding the church and the sculpture.

Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s, was where Luther delivered most of his sermons and is the site of the first celebration of Mass in German instead of Latin. A statue of Martin Luther is in the square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I head to the old market square and the Stadtkirche, also known as the Wittenberg Town Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther delivered most of his sermons, and is the site of the first celebration of Mass in German instead of Latin. Wittenberg in general—and the Stadtkirche in particular—is considered the heart of the Protestant Reformation. There is a statue of Luther outside.

But on the map, behind the church, I see a street name, Judenstrasse (Jew Street) that suggests the Jewish Quarter would have been right here.

I later learn (from an article in Smithsonian, “Hatred in Plain Sight”)  that around the back of the Stadtkirche set into the facade is the carved sandstone sculpture depicting a rabbi lifts the tail of a pig to look for his Talmud that Luther referred to, that I was looking for.

“The sandstone sculpture is a once-common form of medieval iconography called a “Judensau,” or’Jew’s pig.’ Its existence predates the Nazi period by nearly 700 years. Sculptures of Jews and pigs started appearing in architecture in the 1300s, and the printing press carried on the motif in everything from books to playing cards well into the modern period,” Carol Schaeffer writes in the Smithsonian. “Today, more than 20 Judensau sculptures are still incorporated into German churches and cathedrals, with a few others in neighboring countries. At least one Judensau—on the wall of a medieval apothecary in Bavaria—was taken down for its offensive nature, but its removal in 1945 is thought to have been ordered by an American soldier. The Judensau in Wittenberg is one of the best preserved—and one of the most visible. The church is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

(Later, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, I see the newly opened exhibit, “The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do,” showing how centuries of culturally-embedded anti-Semitism paved the way for the Holocaust. See: https://goingplacesfarandnear.com/the-holocaust-what-hate-can-do-at-museum-of-jewish-heritage-holds-lessons-warning-for-today/).

There was an effort in Wittenberg to “solve its Judensau conundrum” by turning the site into a Mahnmal – a memorial to the Jewish people.

“After five years of deliberation, those in charge of the project decided that the Judensau would remain—but they would add a memorial to the Jewish people. Unveiled in 1988, it is now installed on the ground in bronze. Two crossing lines are surrounded by text that reads: “The proper name of God, the maligned Schem-ha-mphoras, was held holy by the Jews long before the Christians. Six million Jews died under the sign of a cross.” Alongside those German words is a Hebrew quotation, the beginning of Psalm 130: ‘Out of the depths I cry unto Thee, O Lord’,” Schaeffer writes.

Neither of these are included on the map, and I miss them entirely, thinking that the sculpture is in the Castle Church.

Cranach House is now an art school © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But I do find the Cranach House. I’ve become fascinated with Lucas Cranach who turns out to have been an apothecary as well as important artist whose portraits filled the Luther House, and whose works decorate many church altars (including the one we had just visited in Meissen). You can visit the original apothecary (it’s still a pharmacy), and then go through to a courtyard where the Cranachs would have lived and today there is an art school. He and his son also served as Wittenberg’s burgomaster (mayor).

Lucas Cranach’s famous painting of the 10 Commandments is on view at Lutherhaus © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I later learn how important Lucas Cranach the Elder was in popularizing – spreading – the Reformation. Cranach was the court painter to the electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, ground zero for the Protestant Reformation. His patrons were powerful supporters of Martin Luther and he embraced the movement, using his art to spread the new faith. Cranach made numerous portraits of Luther – several that we see in the Luther House – and provided woodcut illustrations for Luther’s German translation of the Bible. Cranach became such a close friend of Martin Luther that he was best man at Luther’s wedding and later godfather to his son. At some point, the duke gave Cranach the monopoly for selling medicines at Wittenberg and a printer’s patent with exclusive privileges as to copyright in Bibles. Cranach’s presses were used by Martin Luther. His apothecary shop was open for centuries, and was only lost by fire in 1871.

Cranach’s apothecary is today a pharmacy © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I notice that apartments on the second floor of many buildings through the town have names of their important occupants: Maxim Gorki (1903), Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, German playwright, poet, and philosopher. Jeremias Trautmann, German physician who performed the first completely documented cesarean section, in Wittenberg, Germany, on April 26, 1610.  And very close to the Castle Church, one name really stands out: Harriet Beecher Stowe (who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), who lived here in 1852.

Novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe lived here in Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I make it to the famous door of the Castle Church where, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther is said to have posted his 95 Theses, challenging the notion that indulgences can buy salvation, setting off The Reformation.  The old wooden Theses Door was lost when the church was destroyed by fire in 1760. In 1858, King Frederick William IV of Prussia funded the bronze door with the Latin theses.

The Thesis Door at Castle Church where Martin Luther publicized his challenge to the authority of the Church that indulgences can buy salvation, setting off The Reformation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I don’t have time to go into the Castle Church (the Elbe Princesse group that was guided did). You can also pay a small fee to climb the tower.

I really would have liked more time to explore Wittenberg, a truly beautiful and well preserved historic village. (You can purchase an audio tour of the sites.)

Wittenberg is an important historic city © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get back on the bus and then back on the ship for lunch, and then a relaxing afternoon sailing to Burg. In the evening, we have another marvelous dinner and entertainment. Tomorrow, we discover why Magdeburg is so interesting.

Cruising on the Elbe River on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse to Burg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com.

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

___________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

Meissen at night © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

We sail on to Dresden, where CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princess is supposed to dock for the night, and we are invited to take a 9 pm walk through Dresden’s historic city center. We are all excited and standing around, when we just sail passed. It seems that the docking spot which is reserved for us was occupied by another ship, and because it is Sunday night, there is nobody to complain to or address the issue. So we sail on to Meissen while the ship’s manager scrambles to arrange for a bus to take us back to Dresden for the morning’s excursion.

Our excursion the next morning is first by bus for an overview and then walking, and between the two, we get to see – from the outside at least – Dresden’s highlights and get a sense of its history, but this is certainly a city that deserves more time and a more immersive experience.

Dresden, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most of Dresden’s city center was destroyed in World War II, but the “suburbs” survived the so-called “moral bombing” in which 25,000 out of a population of 650,000 died. But you would hardly realize it – except that our guide, Alexandr Klein, pulls out black-and-white photos of the destruction so we can compare.

It’s fairly amazing, then, that the bombing could not stamp out Dresden’s extraordinarily rich history, heritage and culture, which in so many instances, have risen literally from ashes. They have restored and reconstructed the architecture, saving the facades where possible and in many cases reusing the stones;.

It was here, August 26-27, 1813 at the Battle of Dresden that Napoleon had his last big victory in Germany. It was fought on the outskirts of the Saxon capital of Dresden, between Napoleon’s 120,000 troops and 170,000 Austrians, Prussians, and Russians under Prince Karl Philipp Schwarzenberg. Alas, victory was short lived – a week later, Napoleon was defeated at Leipzig.

Dresden is a green city with more trees than people © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dresden is a “green city’ boasting more trees (600,000) than humans (550,0000). We drive through an enormous park – like Central Park – where among the sites is the intriguingly named German Hygiene Museum, Europe’s only science museum to focus on the human being and body within the context of the environment and society, culture and science.

We drive by the New Synagogue, built in 2002 to replace the 1840 synagogue designed by the revered architect Gottfried Semper, that was destroyed on Kristalnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938. At its peak, Dresden had 5000 Jews; today there are 700. “Most had escaped before World War II, so we have Jewish life again.” The New Synagogue has Star of David finial from the old synagogue. “A fireman who put out the fire in 1938 saved it, then gave it to survivors after the war.”

Dresden’s New Synagogue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We pass Fletcher street. “The Soviets arrived May 8 1945. 200 soldiers had died in combat; Hitler had already committed suicide. Fletcher took white flag to surrender to the Soviets. The SS shot him in the back. He was martyred,” Klein relates.

Dresden also shows its history under Soviet occupation. There is probably no sight that better encapsulates the Soviet era than “The Red Flag” mural and wall fresco, “Our Socialist Life” on the exterior of the Dresden Kulturpalast. It was the pride of GDR architecture when it opened in 1969 as a “House of Socialist Culture”. Today it is the home of the Dresden Philharmonic.

“Our Socialist Life” mural is a reminder of East Germany’s Soviet era and no doubt figures into Dresden’s support for Ukraine. Today the Kulturpalast is the home of the Dresden Philharmonic © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The revolution against Soviet rule started in Dresden and Leipzig churches in 1989. It was the only successful revolution in German history. Then the Berlin Wall came down a year later.”

Dresden’s experience under Soviet rule no doubt figures into its support today for Ukraine against Russia’s invasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A Ukraine aide center in Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get off the bus and start a delightful walking tour through this beautiful city.

We start at Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady. Completed in 1743, the Baroque church was considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. After it was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945, the ruins were catalogued and stored for its reconstruction. 4,000 of the original stones were used in the rebuilding, which began after Germany’s reunification, in 1990 and reopened in 2005. Great Britain, which was responsible for the bomb that had caused so much of the devastation, sent a gold cross to place at the top.

Dresden, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the famous Fürstenzug – the Procession of Princes – a 102-meter-long portrait of the Dukes, Electors, and Kings of the house of Wettin, together with leading German figures from the arts and sciences. Commissioned in 1870, it consists of 25,000 Meissen Porcelain tiles.

Dresden’s famous Fürstenzug – the Procession of Princes – consists of 25,000 Meissen porcelain tiles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our guide, Alexandr Klein, points out Taschenberg Palace, built in the 18th century by the Saxon King, Augustus the Strong for his mistress. (Augustus “had ambitions to be like Henry VII”; a mistress was an actual official position, he tells us). There is a bridge, reminiscent of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, connecting it to the Royal Palace. The original building burned down and was faithfully restored in 1995 and transformed into the luxurious Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski Dresden, owned by the Thai royal family (rooms can cost as much as 10,000E/night). A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2017, it is within the historic city center, steps away from the most renowned sights, such as Semper Opera House, Royal Palace, Zwinger, and the Frauenkirche. (Famous past guests of the Taschenbergpalais include Prince Albert II of Monaco, designer Karl Lagerfeld, and President Jacques Chirac of France, https://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/hotel-taschenbergpalais-kempinski-dresden)

A bridge connects the Royal Palace to the Taschenberg Palace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk along a Tuscan-style arcade with 22 rounded arches leading to the Court Stables.

One of my favorite parts of this delightful walking tour is strolling along Brühl’s Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse), also known as the “Balcony of Europe.” Our guide explains that by the 19th C, Dresden already popular for European tourists. This half-mile long promenade is built on the old city ramparts and was laid out in 1738 as a private garden; it was opened to the public in 1814.

Brühl’s Terrace is also known as the “Balcony of Europe,” a testament Dresden’s popularity with European tourists in the 19th century © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Klein points to where novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who fought with Americans in World War II, was held as a POW in the slaughterhouse district. He wrote “Slaughterhouse 5,” a science-fiction infused anti-war novel, based on his experience.

Klein leads us to the Zwinger, a magnificent early 18th-century palace and a stunning example of Baroque architecture. Inside is The Old Masters Picture Gallery with 750 paintings from the 15th to 18th centuries, among them Italian Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces by Raphael, Titian, Correggio, and Tintoretto, and Dutch and Flemish paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Vermeer.

Semper’s Opera House was reconstructed after World War II © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also worth visiting (we don’t have time) is the Royal Palace, which houses some of Dresden’s most important museums, including the Green Vault and the Numismatic Collection. You can also visit the State Apartment, a suite of rooms that have been faithfully restored to their original condition.

Outside the Zwinger, our guide Alexandr Klein compares to a photo of the scene after being bombed in World War II © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tour gives us an overview, but I wish we had the afternoon to explore on our own.

(You can get a Dresden museum card with gives two days and free admission to the city’s must see museums and exhibitions: Old Masters Picture Gallery with Sculpture Collection until 1800; Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments; Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Porcelain Collection; The Royal State Apartments of August the Strong and the Porcelain Cabinet, Coin Cabinet; New Green Vault; Renaissance Wing; Giant´s Hall of the Armoury; Turkish Chamber; Albertinum with Art from the Romantic Period to the Present Day; Lipsiusbau Exhibition Hall; Museum of Saxon Folk Art and Puppet Theatre Collection; Special Exhibitions in the Japanese Palace; Joseph Hegenbarth Archive; Hausmannsturm, 22E pp).

The market square in Dresden © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dresden has managed to reclaim its history, culture and heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Meissen: World Famous for Porcelain

We are returned to the ship for lunch, and in the afternoon have a walking tour of Meissen.

Meissen’s Cathedral © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We ride an elevator to the hill top, and visit the Cathedral, a three-nave Gothic hall church built between 1260 and 1410 and preserved in its near-original medieval state. We buy a ticket to see inside where there are paintings by the renowned Lucas Cranach., and stained glass windows from the 13th century.

Meissen © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We walk around Albrechsburg, a palace built between 1471 and 1500 by Duke Albrecht of Saxony that dominates the city and the beautiful historic square.

Meissen’s Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After our brief walking tour with our guide, Brigetta, we are taken by bus to the Meissen “manufactory,” where you go room by room to see demonstrations of the remarkable artistry and craftsmanship that goes into making these porcelain treasures.

Seeing the Meissen Porcelain process as it has been for 300 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is remarkable to realize that they have been doing this very same thing for over 300 years, the oldest porcelain manufactory in Europe, founded in 1710 by King Augustus the Strong, who put together a team of physicists, alchemists and metallurgists to come up with the new technology. There’s also a museum with some 2,000 Meissen items.

Seeing the Meissen Porcelain process as it has been for 300 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back on the ship, we sail from Meissen through the late afternoon and overnight to Wittenberg.

We are always a stone’s throw from shore. We sail by people’s backyards and front yards, close enough to exchange greetings. Bicyclists keep pace and even go faster than boat, as they ride along a path beside the water. I see one man on horseback as the sun goes down. The scenery is beautiful, and the cruise so peaceful.

Departing Meissen in the late afternoon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse enroute to Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Enjoying the scenery along the Prague-Berlin rivercruise on CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse enroute to Wittenberg © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dinner this evening is spectacular, beginning with an olive paste on toast, salmon with cheese, filet mignon, goat cheese with salad, raspberry/cream pie.

We cruise overnight to Wittenberg.

Contact CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

___________________

© 2022 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures