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Europe in December 2002 Part 1

I’m writing this column while riding on a train between Amsterdam and Cologne, Germany. I’ve never written a column on a train before. I’ll probably get sea sick, like I do when I read or write in a car.

The trip started yesterday. Our friend Cindy took us to the Houston airport 3 hours before flight time because that’s what the rules say to do for international flights. From the time we got in line at the check-in counter until we were through the security check took 8 minutes, which is exactly the same as last year. We now had 2 hours and 52 minutes to wait. We spent the time in the Presidents club, where they serve free liquor. I had 2 margaritas because I knew I couldn’t have any in Europe.

We had a direct flight to Amsterdam which was mostly uneventful. I did, however, learn that Continental no longer serves free drinks on international flights. That was new and not at all welcomed.

I also learned how medical emergencies are handled. About 1:00AM, shortly after I got to sleep there arose such a clatter I sprang from my seat to see what was the matter. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but a whole herd of flight attendants wearing rubber gloves and surgical masks, carrying an oxygen tank, medical bags, and a big red toxic waste disposal bag. Apparently the guy in the center section one row behind us took sick, and forcibly expelled everything he had eaten since 1998. When I first saw him his eyes were closed, he was wearing one of those funny little oxygen masks, and he wasn’t moving at all. I thought he was dead. But no--he was just unconscious. When he finally came around he was carefully moved to another seat. (There were plenty of seats—more were empty than full.) The team of trusty flight attendants then disassembled part of the airplane. They put all the seat bottoms in the big red toxic waste bag, along with blankets, pillows and anything else that was lying around loose. The whole row where the sick guy was sitting now looked like it had been a victim of a gang car stripping. I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up til we were over Ireland.

It was minus 6 degrees Celsius when we landed at Amsterdam. The wind out of the east brought the chill factor down to around minus 15 degrees. That means there is no standing water, only puddles of ice. It feels like your eyelids will freeze shut.

Our hotel, Die Port van Cleve, was pleasant and our cute room was the smallest hotel room in which I have ever stayed. Three of the walls had sloping ceilings so that only a Dutch dwarf could walk under without risk of a brain concussion. The part of the room that had a full height ceiling actually measured 9 feet by 9 feet. In that 9x9 space was a bed measuring 4 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 4 inches. That doesn’t leave much walking around room.

We had dinner in the hotel dinning room, which was rated by Fodor’s as the best steak house in Amsterdam. We had filet mignon and a bottle of fine French wine. Unlike Germany, France, or even Italy, Holland produces no memorable wine. However, it is the home of Heineken and its beer and gin are world class. (The hotel was home to the first Heineken Brewery.) The steaks in the restaurant were also world class and they are numbered. That’s right. Every steak that has been sold in that restaurant since it opened more than 100 years ago has been numbered. My number was 5,718,185 and Lynn’s was one more than that. I might come to try for steak 6 million. With it you would get a free bottle of wine.

The next day (today) we are on the train headed for Cologne, Germany. I did not get sick while riding and typing at the same time. However, my computer ran out of juice and went into hibernation. It warned me that it was going to do that. It is perverse.

The temperature in Cologne was almost as cold as Amsterdam, but the wind was not as bad. Our hotel, the Kommerz, was just across the street from the train station—a quick 1 minute walk. We had a nice large well lighted room with a good view of the cathedral. The cathedral is really magnificent. One wonders how 12th century architects and builders could design and build such a structure. I’m sure their computers must have been very primitive.

We took care of personal business and headed for the Christmas Market, which is right behind the cathedral. The Christmas Market is a major source of Gluhwein, a warm wine drink which feel really good in this weather. In fact, the world looks much better after 2 cups of Gluhwein. We walked around the market, ate some mushrooms, and went back to the hotel to dress for the evening’s entertainment.

At 7:30 PM we boarded the Goethe, a big paddlewheel cruise boat for dinning and dancing on the romantic Rhine River. We were expected and were shown to our table by a guy that had the biggest moustache I have ever seen. Dinner music was supplied by a piano player who knew just 12 songs. He played them in sets of 6 songs. At each break he visited the bar. Toward the end of the cruise the songs sounded different even though you knew they were the same ones. Lynn and I would have danced, but we couldn’t find the dance floor. Lynn was afraid to ask where it was and I don’t speak the prevailing language. I was looking forward to dancing, but it was not to be.

Dinner was fine. The first course was a Florentine soup with spinach and prawns. Next we had a nice salad followed by “Crispy Roast Goose Breast, Old German Style,” It was delicious. It was served with red cabbage, a German staple, and potato dumplings. According to the English translation on the menu, desert was a “Fire Tree Honey Parfait with Fruits.” The German menu said it was a Tammenbaum or “Fir Tree.” In any case it was 2 layers of white chocolate parfait shaped like Christmas trees, laid at right angles surrounded by fresh sliced fruit, all floating on a red berry pudding.

Tomorrow we are back on the train headed for the spa town of Baden Baden. I’ll let you know that works out.