By Tommy Barclay | November 9, 2022
This is a blog post about a trip this summer to Europe for me and my Grandma. My Grandma takes each of her grandchildren on a trip of their choice to Europe the summer they turn 13. My trip was a River Cruise on the Rhine River, beginning in Amsterdam, stopping in Cologne, Rüdesheim, Ludwigshafen, Strasbourg, and Breisach, and ending in Basel. We then continued traveling around Switzerland visiting Basel, Interlaken, Lucerne, and Zurich. We were on this trip from June 13, 2022 to June 27, 2022. Let’s get started in O’Hare, with an annoying pinging.
The last group had just boarded and I had settled into seat 21A when I heard –ping. Then I heard it again. And again. Then they came faster. –ping ping ping. I looked out the window and saw a few raindrops rolling down the window. At the time, I thought nothing of it. Ten or so minutes later as the pinging got more and more frequent, I saw a flash outside. A random light was going on and off every few seconds. I had never seen this happen before. The plane’s captain said over the intercom that there was a tornado near O’Hare and advised everyone leave the plane and take all carry-ons with them. At first, my grandma and I stayed on the plane, but because almost everyone had disembarked we decided to as well. Then the dread of travel delays set in. COME ON! WHY NOW? In the end, we got delayed 2 hours and I only got 5 hours of sleep on the plane.
Towards the end of the flight, I woke up, unreclined my seat and waited for breakfast filled with excitement to see Amsterdam. When breakfast came, it was some salad type thing. I try it, and it sucked. We got off our plane, grabbed our baggage, and took a cab to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam – City Hall, located on a canal in the Marken district. It was in no way like an American hotel, unlike normal Holiday Inns. It was a renovated Dutch residence, with a Holiday Inn sign. Our room was simple, clean, and comfy. When we got to our room, I immediately conked out. Once I woke up, my grandma and I decided to go on a canal cruise. It was about a 15 minute walk along a canal to the Central Station, where all the trams meet and where you can get one of many canal cruises. This was extremely convenient. About halfway through the canal cruise, I fell asleep again and due to this we decided to do another one the next day. I had nachos for dinner at the Cafe the Schreirtower and my grandma got a Dutch pancake with bacon at a restaurant that was housed in a renovated historic tower. I chose nachos because I wasn’t quite ready to try the local cuisine. When the food arrived I saw that the pancake looked more or less like a thick golden brown crepe with bacon strips on top. I ended up eating a good portion of her pancake and I wish I had ordered it. You should too.
On Wednesday, Day 2, we went to the Van Gogh Museum and saw WAY too many paintings. We rode the trams to get there and we need these in the U.S. I live in Chicago and our equivalent is the Chicago L, an elevated and electric subway. In contrast, they were much faster, cleaner, and more modern than most transportation in the U.S. In addition, it seemed like there was a 3:5 person-to-seat ratio in the late morning and early afternoon. We saw paintings like the Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, and Wheatfield with Crows. Even though I am not a big painting person it was quite interesting because there was an audio guide about the histories of the more popular and famous paintings.
Once we left the museum we decided to check out the Vondelpark, which is described as “A non-central central park”. Afterwards, we decided to take the tram back to Central Station and took another canal cruise. This time I saw a lot more because I didn’t fall asleep. My favorite sight was either the ABSURDLY large library or the different historical buildings that have been reused for modern society. For dinner we went to Aneka Rasa for rijsttafel, an Indonesian dish made of many smaller dishes. This was one of the few things that my grandma required that we do while on the trip. I liked some of it but most of it was eh…. but it made her happy.
To start off Day 3 we went to the National Maritime Museum. The museum itself was broken into 3 sections: North (Model boats), East (Navigation) and West (Kids). However, the best part was a 1600’s life-size recreation of a merchant boat that was actually in the water. We hopped on board and explored. The cannons, living quarters, and the vast rigging system were fascinating to me.
After that we checked out of our hotel and took a cab to the docks where the AmaLucia was waiting for us. It was a long white boat, with modern accents. We boarded the boat early, around 12:00 pm, and our room was not yet ready for us. We gave them our luggage and had lunch in the boat’s Bistro, a casual restaurant in front of the main lounge. We both had a mushroom pasta that was actually quite delicious. After that we explored the boat. The front third was taken up by the lounge and restaurant and the other two thirds were cabins. The boat had a staggered floor plan, so there were five floors without the boat being five stories tall. There is an elevator in addition to stairways so user friendly for anyone that is handicapped, older, or just pooped from a day of sightseeing. Finally, we were able to check into our room around 2:00 pm. The room was small but there was a seating area, two beds, and a two-sink bathroom. We also had a small balcony. The linens on the beds were quite comfy and were of high quality. We immediately discovered that Barclay & Company Travel had sent us gifts! My grandma got flowers and I got Lindt chocolates. We unpacked and then headed to the lounge for the mandatory safety briefing. We had dinner in the main restaurant, and surprisingly, it was a five-course meal. The menu offered a few choices for each course. In addition it offered several mainstays, like steak or chicken, if the specials of the day were unappealing. As someone with a sister who is a picky eater, I thought the menu was quite kid friendly. After dinner we went for a quick swim in “the pool”. Unfortunately, “the pool” was more of a place for adults to hang out and get a drink at the swim up bar rather than a place for kids to swim and play. This was a disappointing end to my first day on board because I love to swim and play in the water. We headed back to our room for our first night of sleep, ready for the next day.
Day 4: We woke up and had breakfast in the main restaurant. My grandma and I each got an omelet and we were even able to watch them being made. I had ham and cheese….it was scrumptious. In addition and unlike most breakfasts in fancy hotels, there wasn’t much of a line.
After breakfast we headed to our first excursion off of the boat, The Floriade. As a side note, all of our boat excursions were preselected when the trip was originally booked. The Floriade is a once-a-decade, international, horticulture exhibition. We had a few hours to walk around the grounds and see the different booths and art. Each country had set up a booth to show how they had made their country more green. Though not every stand followed this rule. There also was “plant art” which was sculptures made from parts of plants like branches and flowers. Although situated in a suburb of Amsterdam and a 45 minute drive from the boat, it was well worth it. It was an incredibly unique experience and I highly recommend it. The next one will be held in 2032.
Once we got back on the boat we finally were off on our cruise. We went to the lounge for happy hour, where all drinks are free. While happy hour is when the lounge is the most crowded, there wasn’t much of a line. We proceeded to have dinner in the main restaurant where I discovered that I like crab. We had two sisters join our table which we enjoyed and we tended to hang out with them for the duration of the trip. I might add that they were my grandmother’s contemporaries and, in general, the cruise had very few kids. Definitely geared for adults and friendly to older children. However, I would not recommend it for young kids as there would be nowhere for them to play.
Day 5: We woke up to find ourselves docked in Cologne, Germany. We had cruised during the night and were ready for another day of adventure. Our chosen excursion was a tour of Cologne and the Kölner Dom Cathedral. The most interesting fact that I learned was that Eau de Cologne was actually created here, in Cologne. As I am not a big fan of cathedrals this wasn’t the most interesting activity. If you are like me, there really is no reason to see it.
After that we had a nice lunch back on the boat and continued to cruised down the Rhine. We hung out in our room and I had some computer time while my grandma watched the news. After that we had dinner with the sisters again, and for dessert I had a banana smoothie that was too small. Well, too small for me at least. We went back to our room and enjoyed the sunset view.
Day 6: Today, we went to Rüdesheim. When we woke up we realized that we were in the highly anticipated Rhine Gorge. Why? Because there were many castles from the 1200s to 1600s. Although the majority are in ruins, there are some that are in great condition. There also is a famous point where many old trading ships have sunk due to the shallow water and rocks. Because of this, stories of the Lorali Rock have spread across Europe. Once we had docked my grandma and I took a small train to a wine cellar where everyone, except me, had a good time. And with nothing for me to do I took a nap. The cellar was a cave-like room carved into the limestone under the city. Eventually, I woke up and we took the same train back to the ship. We spent some time aboard the ship until the only late night excursion on this trip, the Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet, which is a small, family-run museum of automated mechanical instruments spanning 3 centuries. I would highly recommend this but I will say it does get loud occasionally. This would have been my favorite excursion, however, I cracked my phone screen here. The moment I got into my bed I conked out even though I had taken a two hour nap.
Day 7: We woke up today still slightly groggy from the late excursion the previous day. For breakfast I had a Belgian waffle instead of my usual omelet. After that I decided to hang out with some fellow teenagers. One of them was also on this trip with her grandma. We quickly formed a small group of friends. We also decided to do a 2v1 chess game because one of them is really good at chess. They ended up winning the game. As for our excursion that day, we went to Heidelberg. We took a tour of the city and went up to the castle. Inside of this castle was the largest wine barrel in the world and a 200 year old elderberry bush that looked a lot like a small tree. The castle was amazing and the city was more of just an add-on. As a kid, I didn’t think the tour of the city was necessary unless you wanted to get souvenirs. After that we headed back to the boat and I had a really good steak.
Day 8: Today we docked in Strasburg, Alsace. This province was constantly fought over in the past because Germans believe the border is the mountains, while France believes the border is the river. We had decided to do another walking tour of the city and the Strasbourg Cathedral. While the city itself wasn’t interesting the cathedral made up for it. There was a very old and fancy clock and it was so complicated that I thought it was modern.
During the night we docked in Breisach, the location of our final excursion aboard the cruise. In this city there are many drainage canals around the city that help with the dispersion of rainwater. A fun fact about these canals is that if you accidentally step in one, you will marry someone from Breisach. If you’re already married, well, they don’t care. The cathedral has one of the tallest spires in all of Germany and is entirely made of sandstone. Due to this, parts of the cathedral need to be replaced every-so often. Eventually, this will become an example of the “Argo Problem”.
For dinner that evening we went to the Chef’s Table, the fanciest of restaurants on the ship, and had a 7-course meal. Although artfully plated and quite beautiful, the food was too fancy for me! Here are the courses:
- Caprese Salad
- Grilled Shrimp
- Cauliflower Veloute
- Pan-fried Salmon Trout
- Raspberry Sorbet
- Braised Irish Ribs
- Mango Ice Cream with a Caramel Tart
We had a great view of the back of the boat. With the exception of the excessively fatty ribs and my personal tastes, the chef’s table was very good.
We woke up early the next morning with the shipping having docked in Basel (pronounced…..BAHHHHHH-sel, not basil). It was Day 9 and our time on the ship had come to an end. We said goodbye to the crew and departed from the ship.
Waiting for us was a private car that was arranged through Barclay and Company Travel. The driver took us to a designated location where we met a private walking tour guide who showed us around Basel for the morning. My favorite part was a fountain made of old theater parts. After the walking tour we reunited with our driver who also gave us a short tour of some additional highlights in the city, such as the art museum and a chapel on a hill with a great view of the city, on our way to the train station. NEXT stop…..Interlaken, Switzerland.
Our first morning in Interlaken, we kept things simple and ate breakfast at our hotel. Hotel Bellevue was “lodge-like” and the entire first floor was a big dining hall. It is situated on the Aare River which was quite spectacular! The glacial water was a stunning, opaque, light-blue color. Our room was small but quaint and had a small balcony overlooking the river. We had free time that morning to explore the city. It is a small mountain town with lots of shops; everything from souvenirs, to hiking gear, to local fare. One unique food we came upon was a big hashbrown, about the size of a larger pancake, called a “Roastie’. My Grandma had eggs on hers and I had bacon.
That afternoon we went to the Funky Chocolate Factory. Here we learned about the processes of tasting, tempering, and molding chocolate. The best part was that we got to make our own chocolate bars. This is a must-do if you are traveling as a family… everyone will enjoy it.
Although we were not in Italy, we decided to order take-out at a casual pizzeria across the street from Hotel Bellevue. It was pretty good, better than average, considering I am from Chicago and know my pizza. It was also super convenient as there was inclement weather impending that evening.
Day Two in Interlaken brought the first and only mountain experience of our trip. Meaning we traveled by train to a higher altitude and visited the mountain villages and surrounding areas of Lauterbrunnen, Gimmelwald, and Murren. We started by exploring the village of Lauterbrunnen, which was unremarkable. It is the waterfalls located in Trümmelbach, about a 20 min bus ride, that are the reason to visit here. The Trümmelbach Waterfalls are a group of ten waterfalls INSIDE a mountain. Over time, the waterfalls slowly chipped away at the ground beneath them. After a few thousand years, the waterfalls are where they are today. It was quite cool, although somewhat loud. You may want to bring ear plugs, especially for an overwhelmed child. We then took a cable car, similar to a gondola, further up the mountain to Gimmelwald, the most famous of the Swiss mountain villages in this area. Originally this town was going to become a resort town, but luckily the locals convinced the government to declare the town an avalanche zone. It was a quintessential sleepy swiss village with several cheesemakers, a bakery, and a few restaurants. The village itself was less exciting than its history, so unless you really want to see it, I wouldn’t.
The trip down the mountain that took us to our next destination of Mürren, consisted of one train, one cable car, and two gondolas. Mürren is a small and touristy resort town where I got a very large Toblerone chocolate bar. We then took the train back to the hotel and picked up our handmade chocolates from the Funky Chocolate Factory.
Our plan for the next day was to go see the Swiss Ballenberg. We also planned to move to a different hotel later in the day. To avoid having to drag our bags around with us while sightseeing, we entrusted our luggage with the Swiss Bellboy Service. They are a company that will deliver your luggage to your next hotel. This was very helpful and I suggest you use it next time you are traveling through Switzerland.
We got on a train and headed to the Swiss Ballenberg. It is an open-air museum that replicates an authentic Swiss village by means of traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country. The museum has over 100 original buildings that have been transported from their original sites all around Switzerland. In addition, there are people dressed in traditional Swiss clothing and acting as the different villagers, therefore enriching the experience. In a way, we were stepping back in time. It is the Swiss equivalent of Heritage Hill state park in Wisconsin, U.S.A. The most interesting part was that we got to see people working their crafts, like cheesemaking.
We came in through the west entrance of the museum and made our way across the grounds finishing at the east entrance. We took a bus back to the station and took the train to Luzern. Once we arrived, we spent forever looking for our new hotel. To get to the hotel you can take a cable car up the hill. We weren’t able to find the cable car and ended up walking up the hill. As it turns out, if we had gone right, not even 100ft rather than going left, we would have found it. We took a walk around the city and then called it a night.
The next morning we were able to appreciate our great view from our new hotel, the Hotel Montana, known for its great views. Aside from the views, the Hotel Montana was more or less the same as the other hotels we stayed in. We had breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. The dining room’s walls were mostly glass, giving a scenic view of Luzern.
We then packed up our stuff and headed out to another private car to go to our final city on this trip, Zurich. Once we reached the city we were dropped off at the Lindt Home of Chocolate. The driver then took our luggage to the hotel while we toured the museum. This museum was quite modern and was interesting on the inside. There was a section about the process of turning cocoa pod into 100% chocolate (very bitter and somewhat healthy). The best part was tasting all different flavors and kinds of chocolate. There was a chocolate spout, free Lindt truffles, and a machine that breaks off pieces of a chocolate bar. We finished the tour, bought some chocolates, ate lunch, and got on a ferry to get to the hotel. Unfortunately, we took the ferry in the wrong direction. Once we got off the ferry, we headed to Hotel Glockenhof on foot. We had dinner at the hotel and I had a very salty pork schnitzel.
For the final day of our trip we took a walking tour of the city. This wasn’t anything to write home about. However, there was a castle that was torn down and turned into a plaza at the end of a revolt against the king. I personally found the history more interesting than the actual place. We also saw a 1:1000 replica/model of the city and terrain, which was also quite unique. We then had delicious crepes for lunch at Crepes and Cream, a small restaurant connected to the Hotel Glockenhof. We packed up our stuff, sad but also ready to go back home. For dinner I had another very salty pork schnitzel.
We woke up very early, grabbed our bags, and met our, like, 5th a private driver outside. We then headed to the airport and got on our plane.
Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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