We boarded the ship in Amsterdam on the 13th and promptly disembarked to board a smaller sight-seeing vessel that took us around the city. It’s a fascinating metropolis which has been a center of global commerce for centuries.
Over the next week, we traveled up the Rhine river with stops in such storied places as Heidelberg, Freiburg, and Cologne. Cathedrals, castles and countryside made for a visual experience that almost distracted me from the daily five course dinners on board the ship.
Traveling with Judge Tom, Junior and his wife, Julie, meant trying to keep up with a couple of social dynamos whose dance cards are always filled.
Polly was up for the trip. The weeks before we left were filled with doctors’ and dentists’ appointments, as she worked to find relief from sciatic discomfort and repair of a major piece of bridgework that had picked the wrong time to collapse.
Her Father was from Germany and her Mother was from Hungary. She remembers that German was spoken in her home when she was a tyke. Like tiny film clips, lingering memories of food and phrases and faces that speak to her family’s roots were jogged back to life at every stop along the river.
I was determined to get some rest. It was a vacation that provided some down time, as the comfortable, modern vessel smoothed its way upstream. Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Patton was primary on my agenda, and I managed to find the account of his assault on the German homeland over the Rhine River at about the time our ship was in that neighborhood.
On the night of March 22, 1945, a patrol from Patton’s Third Army paddled wooden boats across the Rhine near a town called Nierstein. On the other side, they found no evidence of the German army, and they reported the fact to Patton, who instantly ordered a pontoon bridge to be constructed. Within 24 hours, a full division of GI boots were on German soil.
George Patton was given to symbolism. He had long since announced his intention to invade the German homeland, and promised that he would “piss in the Rhine.”
He did precisely that on March 24th and a photograph evidencing the event is included in Bill O’Reilly’s book. As our ship cruised past the town of Nierstein, I took great pleasure in announcing the significance of the location to all the passengers within earshot.
Heidelberg was a particularly intriguing stop. The short bus ride from the dock took us through winding cobblestone streets up steep hills to the remains of the Heidelberg Castle, a storied structure which inspired our guide to spew out a lecture on European history that included the Roman Empire, the Protestant Reformation, the Napoleonic Wars, and a cascading torrent of information far too detailed and esoteric to stick in my craw.
Of special interest was the wine barrel. Built to hold the taxes paid in wine by the people to the Lord of the castle, the Heidelberg wine barrel is said to be the largest in the world. Nearly twenty feet tall, it holds about 58,000 gallons of wine when full.
Interestingly, through, most of the time since 1751 when it was built, the barrel has been empty. A good message there for tax collectors.
Polly was a stalwart sightseer on Friday when we toured Heidelberg. Back aboard ship, we were feted by the crew at dinner. Tom and Julie were celebrating their 38th wedding anniversary and, of course, Polly and I were observing our 64th. At dessert time, the lights were dimmed and a delegation of the wait staff appeared with sparkler candles and individual cakes.
Polly, of course, wanted to acknowledge the attention with a smile. Unfortunately, just moments before, a front tooth cap had come dislodged, and she was hastily trying to find a way to hold the tooth in place.
Needless to say, the dentist’s office was our first stop after deplaning in Tampa.