Cruise Down The Rhine Was Fine, But Europe Was C-C-Cold
Probably all but a half-dozen Orange residents could care less that Europe was having unseasonably cold weather early this spring.
But those six Orangeites—Bob and Kyle Hood, Richard and Anita Duffee and Susan Kazmar and me—got a first-hand taste of Ol’ Man Winter hanging on in The Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland during the final week of March and the first couple of days in April because we were there.
When we booked a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River a year ago, we never dreamed it would still be winter in Europe. Luckily we did pack a few cold-weather items of clothing—just in case we needed them.
Well we not only needed them, we had to wear long-sleeved clothes underneath our heavy sweaters and then donned our heavy winter coats, gloves, toboggan caps and ear muffs. And we still were cold once we stepped off our three-decked riverboat—the Viking Sun–because Europe was having its coldest March in 130 years.
We left Bush International Airport for a non-stop, 5,100 mile flight from Houston to Amsterdam that took 8 ½ hours. We arrived at 7:30 a.m. after flying all night and were greeted with a 24 degree temperature and a wind chill of around 10 degrees and the news it was Amsterdam’s coldest March 24th in history.
Our cruise ship wasn’t set to sail until 4 p.m. so we had most of that Palm Sunday to see Amsterdam. We decided to take a sight-seeing boat trip on the many canals of the city, mainly because the vessels were enclosed and heated.
We saw the Heineken Brewery and several structures that were built in the 1600s and are still lived in today. The boat driver pointed out the many houseboats moored along the canals that numbered 2,500 throughout the city. We visited the Hermitage Satellite Museum, which was the only branch outside of Russia.
The Viking Sun began its journey down the Rhine and the six of us turned in very early that first night. We traveled all night and docked at Kinderdijk and did a walking tour of a windmill farm that was cut short by us because the little stream that worked the windmill had ice on it. We cast off for Cologne, Germany around noon.
At dinner that night some folks from Lubbock came over to meet some fellow Texans. They said originally they were from the Adirondack Mts. in Upstate New York—Old Forge—and I said I was from Schenectady.
The lady said her sister lived in the Stockade Section of Schenectady, which was right around the corner from where my parents used to live. Small world, isn’t it? The man was from Glens Falls, N.Y. and we found out we played high school baseball against each other.
During our walking tour of Cologne we saw the Farina House which claims to be the world’s first perfume manufacturer, a chocolate museum, a beer museum and The Dom, Germany’s largest cathedral.
The next day (Mar. 28) we docked at Koblenz where the German Army Forces command headquarters was located. The town celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in 1992. We visited the Marksburg Castle, which is the best-preserved castle on the Rhine. We also viewed about two dozen other castles en route to Rudesheim.
On Thursday we took a bus tour to Heidelberg, often thought of as Germany’s intellectual capital because it is the home of the country’s oldest university, established in 1386. While other German cities were destroyed during the Allied bombings of World War II, Heidelberg was largely spared.
The Viking Sun continued down the Rhine where France borders Germany and on Friday morning we visited Strasbourg which was founded by the Romans in 12 B.C. for its strategic location and today is the capital of the Alsace region in eastern France. The wine drinkers had a chance to visit an Alsatian vineyard and sample the famous blends.
On Saturday morning we arrived at Breisach and took a Black Forest bus tour in the renowned mountain landscape and dense forests and saw a cuckoo clock-making demonstration after trudging through about a half-a-foot of snow.
We returned to the Viking Sun for lunch and then took what I thought was the most interesting bus tour of the cruise, the World War II Tour. We were right on the battlefield where the Allies were unsuccessfully trying to keep the Germans from invading France.
Lt. Audie Murphy was trying to hold off a force of 300 Germans with his platoon of 40 men. He finagled three tanks from another unit, but enemy artillery knocked out all three before they could do much damage.
Murphy leaped up on a burning tank and noticed the 50 caliber machine gun was in perfect working order and as the 300 German soldiers charged his dwindling outfit, he began firing and caused the enemy to retreat. He yanked the phone from a dead radioman and directed the U.S. artillery at the fleeing Germans.
The French were so thankful for Murphy’s one-man performance that liberated their country, they erected a monument of him on the tank that stands today at the exact location of the encounter. Audie Murphy became the most decorated soldier of World War II and the film “To Hell and Back” depicts his heroism.
There was a farewell dinner that night as we toasted our captain Herr Robert Oplof and the wonderful staff on the boat, especially Executive Chef Georg Pfandl, whose meals definitely were not from the Weight Watchers cookbook.
We met some very interesting people during our week on the cruise from all over the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
We arrived in Basel, Switzerland early Sunday morning as the eight-day cruise came to an end. However, the six of us chose to extend our stay two more days and Viking arranged for bus transportation to Lucerne. It snowed the entire way and the mountains we were traveling through looked like a winter wonderland.
On Monday Susan and Anita went on the mountain tour to the Titlis glacier at 10,623 feet and rode the world’s first rotating cable car to the peak. They also visited a cheese factory in Engleberg and learned how the Swiss make the cheese.
The rest of us took a boat tour on Lake Lucerne to a hamlet across the lake named Weggis (pronounced Vegas) and did a lengthy walking tour and ate lunch at an original Swiss café before catching a boat back to Lucerne.
The Hoods and the Duffees planned a big April Fool’s Anniversary dinner for Susan and me but all six of us were under the weather with colds we caught from some little old lady on the plane to Amsterdam who apparently never learned to sneeze in a handkerchief.
Viking didn’t put too much thought in our return trip home as we woke up Tuesday morning at 4 a.m. (9 p.m. Monday Orange time), rode a bus to Zurich and caught a flight to Paris at 8 a.m.
We changed planes and left De Gaulle Airport around noon and headed for Detroit where we changed planes again for Houston. The air trip took 16 ½ hours and we finally arrived in Orange at 9 p.m. Tuesday and loved finally sleeping in our own beds. However, four of our Orange group’s six suitcases didn’t make it until later in the week because the French apparently don’t know the difference between Detroit and Atlanta.
KWICKIES…The Sunset Grove Women’s Golf Association concluded another successful Orange Blossom Ladies’ Golf Tournament last weekend at Sunset Grove Country Club with a great turnout of 70 golfers from as far away as Houston, Montgomery County and Southwestern Louisiana. Winning first place in the Championship flight was Sunset Grove member Nancy Wood and her partner Shannon Hanson from Frasch Golf Course in Sulphur, La. Taking third flight honors was the team of Myrna Stimac of Sunset Grove and Marie Rinto of Frasch.
By the time Time Warner and Comcast settle their contractual dispute about televising the Houston Astros games, our heroes from Minute Maid Park will probably be so far in the American League West Division cellar it would take a dragline to dig them out. After winning their opening game against the Texas Rangers before a national television audience, the Astros dropped five straight going into Monday night’s action at Seattle. The question doesn’t appear to be whether or not the Astros will lose 100 games this year, but rather how early in the season will it happen?
The Lamar Cardinals baseball team won their first Southland Conference series last weekend at Hammond, taking two of three from the Southeastern Louisiana Lions, winning Sunday’s rubber game by a whopping 18-1 score. Every Lamar player with an at-bat got at least one hit, totaling 19 during the contest that was halted after seven innings due to the SLC’s “Mercy Rule.” The Redbirds now stand at 4-5 in SLC play and 24-9 for the season. The Cards played a non-conference game last night against the nationally-ranked Rice Owls at Vincent-Beck Field in Beaumont.
The Lamar Lady Cardinals softball team swept a three-game series from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last weekend. The Lady Cards now stand at 9-6 in the Southland Conference and 18-23 overall. They played a doubleheader at Texas A&M last night.
JUST BETWEEN US…Congratulations to Bridge City native Dwayne Dubois for being named as the new head football coach at Hardin-Jefferson High School in Sour Lake. He joins a growing number of football coaches from Orange County who are or have been head coaches. Dubois was a long-time assistant at Vidor under Jeff Matthews, who also hails from Bridge City. Last month former West Orange-Stark player and later Mustang offensive coordinator Toby Foreman was named as the head football coach at Beaumont Central. Other Orange Countians in head football coaching positions include West Orange-Stark head coach Cornel Thompson of West Orange and we can’t forget Orange native Bum Phillips who was head coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints plus his son Wade, who held several head coaching jobs including the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos. There are probably some others that escape our recollection at this time.