The Legendary Rhine - Basel, the Rhine River, Amsterdam
May 11 - 25, 2004
After I became interested in genealogy, I decided that at some point I wanted to visit the villages in Switzerland where the Rickenbacher name originated. I also thought that I'd like to duplicate the 1735 journey of forty-two Swiss emigrants from Basel down the Rhine to Rotterdam on their way to Carolina and the township of Orangeburg. Among those forty-two emigrants were Heinrich Rickenbacher, his wife Anna and their thirteen year old son Heini. Jeanne was all for the trip and we have been planning this trip since 2000. We had tentatively planned to go in 2002 but the trauma of September 11 caused we and others to stay a bit closer to home for a while. This year we just decided to just do it. Uniworld had the itinerary we wanted at the time we wanted so we decided to go with them for the cruise. We were generally pleased with Uniworld, but there were a few nits and the gremlins did strike at the end of the cruise. We made our own air and hotel arrangements as we wanted to stay several days in both Basel and Amsterdam and Uniworld's airfare from Houston was quite a bit more expensive than what I found on Orbitz.
What a day! Thunderstorms moved into Houston and our power went out about 1 PM while we were trying to finish packing. Luckily the power came back about 4 PM so we were able to finish packing before our neighbor took us to the airport at 5 PM. The weather was bad but there were no problems getting to the airport. We sailed through check in and security, but our flight was delayed for over an hour because of the bad weather. We finally left at 8:35 PM, over an hour late. Once in the air, the flight was smooth. After drinks and a nice meal, we both napped as we made our way toward Amsterdam.
We arrived in Amsterdam at 1 PM, an hour late. Schipol is really spread out and connecting there usually involves a long walk. Our walk from Terminal G to Terminal D was not too bad - only a little over half of the maximum possible. There were no Swiss agents at either the Transfer Desk or the gate so we browsed the duty free shops and had a beer until flight time. The flight into Basel was smooth and we arrived on-time at 4:45 PM. The taxi to the hotel cost 40 CHF.
The Au Violon is a small nice inexpensive hotel. I found it on the Internet and thought it had a good combination of location, quality and price. We were not disappointed. Our nice double room overlooked the old city and was clean and comfortable. After checking in, we wandered around Barfusser Platz and had a light supper at a Brotli Bar. This is sort of a sandwich bar with many open faced sandwiches on display and you just choose what you like. Those we had were (I think) a liver mousse, crab legs, smoked salmon with onions and pork salad. All were good.
We slept well and got up about seven. The Continental Breakfast at the hotel was excellent with a large variety of choices. Several kinds of fresh baked bread were available and they were excellent.
This was our first time in Basel. The interesting part of the old city is not very large so we just walked everywhere. We spent the morning just wandering around and enjoying the sights. A treat was finding a statue of a distant cousin, Rudoloph Riggenbach, just outside our hotel. Lunch was pork medallions with mushrooms at the Cafe Nostalgie. With a beer each, the total was 39 Swiss Francs (about $32).
In the afternoon, we visited the Basel Archives. I was prepared with a list of documents that I wanted to see and the folks at the Archives were very helpful. They brought me the bound volumes and I was able to copy them at will with my digital camera. Besides the Rickenbacher documents, I also found Emigration Reports for Niclaus Till, another Swiss ancestor. Dinner was at Pizza Hut. Jeanne and I shared a medium Supreme (10") for only 34 Swiss Francs ($27). With beer, the bill was 43 Francs. This was about the least expensive place we could find for dinner. Eating in Switzerland is expensive.
This was a great day. Prior to our arrival I had contacted Franz Nostitz of the Basel Genealogical-Heraldic Society and he had set up visits with a number of people involved with Rickenbacher Genealogy. Franz picked us up at 9:30 and we headed for Muttenz and a visit with Mr. Werner Hug, author of Stammtafeln Rickenbacher Rickenbach Riggenbach a Rickenbacher lineage book. We had a very nice visit with Mr. Hug and his wife and I was able to purchase one of the few remaining copies of this limited edition book.
From Muttenz we went on to Liestal and the Basel Land Archives. Here we met Mr. Beat Meyer whom I had corresponded with before. I had hoped to get a fresh copy of Heini Rickenbacher's Personal Property. While earching for that document, we found an even better one, the auction of Heini's leasehold land. This document gives a good picture of the land Heini had and how he lived and farmed. These and other documents concerning Heini are online here.
From Liestal we proceeded on to Runenberg for a nice lunch at the Gasthaus Zum Lowen. After lunch we proceeded on to Zeglingen where we had coffee and cake with Heinrich Rickenbacher and his wife. Werner Hug and his wife joined us and we had a great visit. Then we all went on a driving tour of the surrounding area. It was on this drive that I took the great picture of the three villages of Runenburg, Kilchberg and Zeglingen. After the tour, it was time for a few final pictures and we said our goodbys.
It was a wonderful day and one we will long remember. We are grateful to Franz for arranging this visit and for the Swiss friends and relatives who made it a day to remember.
This was our last day in Basel. After breakfast we packed our bags and left them at the desk while we wandered around the old city for the last time. We found an internet cafe and I checked email. Email was fine but my web site was down. There was nothing I could do from afar so it remained down for the duration of our trip. Lunch was Chicken Cordon Bleu and Snitzel (pork) at the Cafe Nostalgie. The chicken was very good but the Snitzel was only fair. After lunch, we recovered our bags and took a taxi to St. Johann and the River Queen. Our cabin was ready and we settled in for the cruise. Dinner was a very nice Beef Stroganoff.
We departed from Basel after dinner. There are nine locks between Basel and Strasbourg so we were awakened periodically by "a bump in the night" but otherwise slept well.
We awoke late at 7 AM in Strasbourg. We rushed to breakfast and made the *:30 departure for the city tour. There was a marathon in progress and our busses had quite a time getting into the city. A real highlight was seeing the storks tending their young in a line of nests on a long street in the German Quarter. The busses took us on into the old city, "Petite France", where we had a walking tour ending at the Cathedral. Jeanne did some gift shopping while my nose led me to a small bakery where I purchased a wonderful blueberry tart. We returned to the ship for lunch.
The afternoon was spent cruising down the Rhine, through the last lock, and on to Speyer. After dinner on the ship, there was a walking tour of Speyer. On our return, we found a convenient Biergarten located next to the ship so we had refreshments before retiring.
It was another early start today as we boarded busses at 8:00 AM for the ride into Heidelberg. We first toured the Heidelberg Castle then had a short walking tour and several free hours in the city center. Jeanne found a gift shop she really liked and made several purchases. I found a couple of beers. We boarded the busses at noon for the hour and a half ride to Mainz where we boarded the River Queen for a late lunch. Then we enjoyed the cruise down to Rudesheim where we remained overnight.
This morning we toured Rudesheim, beginning with a miniature train (the engine was a decorated farm tractor) ride into town to the Musical Museum. This was very interesting with many mechanical music makers. A small music box with a tiny bird interested me and we were told that copies were available in the gift shop. Alas, the cheapest copy was over 1,200 Euros - way out of my price range. After the Music Museum, Jeanne visited the Christmas Store and I had a beer. We returned to the ship for lunch and a 1:30 departure for Boppard.
This was one of the most scenic parts of the cruise. We were traveling through the Rhine Gorge and it was a new scenic view every minute with old castles on almost every hill. A highlight was finally seeing the Lorely Rock of legend.
The River Queen left Boppard at 8:00 AM for Koblenz. This was the first morning we were able to sleep in as our walking tour of Koblenz was not scheduled to start until 10:00. Axel was out tour guide for Koblenz. His English was very good but he was always rushing us along and moved a bit too fast for some of the older ones in our group. Despite the too fast pace, we had a nice tour of the town and a wine tasting. Several of our group stopped at a nice outdoor cafe for a beer (or two). Rather than return to the ship for lunch, Jeanne and I had frankfurters and potato salad at another sidewalk cafe. Delicious! We returned to the ship about 2:15 and spent the afternoon cruising down the Rhine to Cologne.
Just before dinner the Captain gave us the bad news that our ship was sick. One of our propulsion units was leaking oil (we were polluting the river) and the ship would have to go into dry dock Friday. We would not be docking in Amsterdam Friday morning as planned but that instead we would have an all day bus tour of Amsterdam, Vollendam and Edam. After a nice dinner, we arrived in Cologne about 8:30. Jeanne and I walked around the town for a while then returned to the ship.
Our walking tour of Cologne began at 8:30. We had an excellent guide. Unfortunately it was Ascension Day, a holiday. Most of the shops were closed and we were only able to sneak a peek into the Cathedral as Mass was being celebrated. After the tour, I tried a Kölsch Beer. This type beer is only brewed in Cologne. I thought it tasted a little like a white wine. We returned to the ship for our 12:30 departure for Dusseldorf.
Dusseldorf was crowded for the holiday and perhaps a bit of a disappointment. It is a modern city. It's very nice but just didn't seem to us to have the character of the older cities of the upper Rhine. We had a nice walking tour and returned to the ship for the Captain's Reception and the Captain's Dinner. This was the dress occasion for the cruise. Dinner was always good aboard the River Queen but the kitchen outdid themselves for this one. All the dishes were excellent.
Shortly after 7:30 AM the ship pulled into dry dock at Hardinxveld (just east of Rotterdam). Our coaches were ready and we left at 8:00 for the one and a half hour ride to Amsterdam. The day began with a canal tour on one of the long tour boats. We ended the canal tour on Uilenburgergracht at the Gassan Diamond Factory. We saw how diamonds are cut and were given a short talk on the different colors, grades and cuts of diamonds. We were also offered the opportunity to purchase diamonds if we wanted. The prices were not cheap! Associated with the Gassan Diamond factory is a very nice Delft shop and Jeanne found quite a few gifts there. From Gassan's, coaches took us to the famous Amsterdam Flower Market where we had time to walk around and see all the different flowers and bulbs for sale.
After the Flower Market, it was back on the coach for the 1 hour trip to a cheese factory on the way to Vollendam. By now, it was lunch time and we were getting hungry. The cheese factory had samples and we all took advantage of them. Then it was back on the coach to Vollendam. Finally, we arrived at "De Gastheer" in Vollendam and could have a beer and some lunch. It was 2:30 and we were ready. Lunch was whole fried Plaice, similar to fried flounder. It was good.
After lunch we were given a choice of remaining in Vollendam or proceeding on to Edam for a short tour. About half of us chose to remain in Vollendam. From what we heard that was a good choice. Vollendam is a really nice fishing village on the IJsselmeer. There are lots of nice shops and several canals with small neat houses. It was a very pleasant afternoon. We boarded the coaches about 5:30 and found our ship about 7:00 somewhere between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. According to the Captain we were about 5 hours from Amsterdam. We had our last dinner on board and began packing for departure.
Up at 6:30 AM and complete packing for departure. After breakfast we cleared the room at 9:00 and the called for taxi picked up at 9:30. I had to direct our taxi driver to The Bridge Hotel. She was apologetic but very lost. Thankfully I'd been in Amsterdam before. Since our room was not ready, we left our bags and walked to the Rijksmuseum. The paintings here were simply outstanding and we both enjoyed them. After the Rijksmuseum, we continued a little further to the Van Gogh museum. This one was OK, but not in the same class as the Rijksmuseum. The coffee shop was good, however, and we had a nice inexpensive lunch at the Van Gogh Museum. We walked back to the hotel via Utrechtstraat where we found three Indonesian Restaurants that looked promising. Our hotel room was excellent. It was large and clean and had an excellent view of the Amstel river and the Skinny Bridge.
There was an Indonesian restaurant called Flamboyant, next door to the hotel that we decided to try rather than walking back to Utrechtstraat. This was an excellent choice. The staff were very friendly and were pleased to learn that we had lived in Indonesia. We had satay, ajam pedis and the rijstafel (rice table). All of the food was excellent. We asked about Bintang beer. They had none but offered to get us some for tomorrow and send it to the hotel (they closed on Sunday).
I had corresponded with Joop Giesendanner for many years about genealogy. This morning, Joop and Carla met Jeanne and I at our hotel and took us on a walking tour of Amsterdam. I think it is fair to say we covered the city. Joop grew up in Amsterdam and was a wonderful tour guide. As near as I can recall, we covered southwest Amsterdam and the Centrum, finally ending up at Centraal Station where we took a ferry across the IJ River.
On the other side we found a small beer garden and relaxed for a while. Here we found the only anti-American sentiments of the entire trip - from other American tourists! I just don't understand why some people like to run down their own country.
After the break, we returned to Amsterdam and picked up their car which was parked near Centraal Station. Joop and Carla took us on a driving tour of the Oostzaan area which is where they live. This is all polder (reclaimed land) and was very interesting and scenic. We had dinner at Der Pepermolen (The Peppermill) in Landsmeer, a village adjacent to Oostzaan. Dinner was excellent. Many thanks to Joop and Carla for a wonderful day in Amsterdam.
As a perfect end to a perfect day, we returned to find four bottles of Bintang Beer waiting on us courtesty of the Flamboyant Restaurant next door. Wonderful!
This is our last day and we spend it wandering around. Jeanne wanted to re-check the Delf Shop at Gassen Diamonds so we set out to find it. Gassen Diamonds is essentially on an island and Amsterdam Maps don't tell the complete story of where streets end at canals. We wandered around and around, but finally found a way to get there (then we didn't find anything we wanted). We wandered back via the Flea Market at Waterlooplein and the Flower Market. Jeanne wanted some Allium bulbs but gave up when she found out we couldn't get them through Customs. We headed back via Utrechtstraat and picked out the Tujuh Maret Indonesian restaurant to try for dinner. The food at the Tujuh Maret was very good, but not as good as at the Flamboyant. We returned to the hotel and finished packing.
Tuesday, May 25 - Amsterdam to Houston
All too soon, our vacation is over. We are up at 6:00 AM for our 8:00 AM Taxi to Schipol. We had to carry our bags down the stairs and there was much construction in front of our hotel. Despite the construction, our taxi found his way to the hotel and we were at Schipol by 8:35.
Once at Schipol, we immediately started trying to collect the VAT on our purchases. Our VAT certificates were issued by two different agents and we ended up going to three different places trying to collect. We were only partly successful. VAT is a just a bit of a rip-off in Europe. Don't believe the sales clerks when they say how easy it is to collect. It's not! It's a hassle and everyone you have to deal with makes every effort to encourage you to leave and try to collect by mail. The whole process is designed to get you to skip a required step and to leave without collecting.
Once we gave up on collecting all the VAT, check-in and boarding was a snap and our United flight left for Chicago on time at 11:10. We had a nice flight home and even connecting in Chicago was not as bad as anticipated but - O'Hare is really a mad house! We made it home just after 6:00 PM and Alexander and Boris Brooks were at the door to greet us and complain about our absence. All in all, a great vacation.
General Comments on Accomodations.
Uniworld River Queen - As mentioned earlier, we were generally pleased with both Uniworld and the River Queen. The staff both for booking and on board were always pleasant and accomodating. The length of the cruise and the stops were just what we wanted. We really enjoyed the Upper Rhine (above Cologne) and will likely do that again at some point. Our cabin was clean and comfortable and well taken care of by the cleaning staff. The food on board was very good to excellent for Lunch and Dinner. There was sufficient choice and the dishes were well prepared and tasty. The fruits, juices, cerals, breads provided for breakfast were very good but the hot dishes were uniformly poor. In some cases, such as the blueberry pancakes, they were unrecognizable. A fellow passenger responded, "Surely you jest!" when told the dish she was looking at was blueberry pancakes. Service onboard was good but slow and the ship appeared to be understaffed (this was confirmed by conversations with the crew). The slow service was most apparent at dinner. The friendliness of the staff made up in part for the slow service.
Hotel Au Violon, Basel - Small, Good location, pleasant rooms, friendly staff, and inexpensive (for Basel). We were lucky to find this hotel. The hotel breakfast was very good. Eggs were available but we stayed with the breads, cheeses and cold cuts. The Swiss breads were really good. Each morning there was a choice of a half dozen different loaves. All were good. There is a hotel restaurant but it is expensive for dinner and we did not try it. We would be quite happy to stay here again.
The Bridge Hotel, Amsterdam
Copyright © 2004 by J. E. Rickenbacker. All rights reserved.