Something (now) funny happened on the way to the Alps

A cruise on the Rhine River is most often enjoyed as a one way journey. This enables you to visit more ports of call without repeating the itinerary in reverse as you return to your starting point. A Rhine cruise can either embark in Basel Switzerland and end in Amsterdam Netherlands or you could opt for the reverse. I chose to travel up the Rhine beginning in Amsterdam and terminating in Basel. My decision was based upon wanting to spend extra time in Holland to see the annual limited mass blooming of the tulips at Keukenhof. The availability of admission is very limited and my final itinerary was based upon when I could secure entry to the park. Even though my allotted time off from work was tight I chose to add on one additional night at the end of the cruise with the express purpose of visiting Zurich. However, my ultimate goal was to get up into the Alps!

After researching many tour options I reasoned that since I was in “the neighborhood” I should include Lucerne, also known as Luzern, in the itinerary. Storied to be one of the most beautiful areas in Europe, I opted for a  package that included a stop in the city on the way to the Alps. I found an option with an early departure from Zurich that would include a walking tour through Lucerne before heading to the Alps and visiting Mt. Titlis. This had everything I could have hoped for. However, timing would be critical for the day to be successful. I ran through several itineraries and had everything planned to the Swiss minute. I confirmed that we could utilize an early departure from the boat and a pre-arranged taxi would pick us up at the pier to take us to the train station. A double check of the meeting point and location at the arrival train station boosted my confidence. I offered my travel companions two choices. The first option would have us boarding an 8:07am train and arriving 20 minutes before the required gathering time prior to the start of the tour. The second option was an hour earlier, but also meant a 6am departure from the boat. Relying upon the famed punctuality of the Swiss and the European train systems, with full confidence, we chose the 8:07am departure to arrive at 9:00am. The taxi arrived a few minutes early and we were ready, so we jumped in. The streets were empty, lacking work day traffic on a Sunday morning and we arrived at the train station with enough time to buy coffee and pastries. Being among the first to board the train, we had plenty of seating options. As a party of 3, we chose 2 seats facing 2 additional seats with a small table between us. True to Swiss punctuality, the train pulled out at the designated time of 8:07am and at precisely 8:34am the train came to a full stop. There was no explanation for the delay. My travel companions were understandably concerned, which eventually morphed into agitation. I was keenly aware of the passing minutes, constantly recalculating whether or not we would reach the tour group on time. We still had cell service and I was able to use my phone and contact the tour company to advise them of our situation. They assured me that they would watch for our arrival to assist us in joining the tour. When 20 or more minutes had passed, it was clear that the tour group would be departing without us. It was also very clear that our train was expected to be stationary for a long time since we were now being directed off the current train and on to the platform. A replacement train pulled alongside our dormant vehicle and we passengers were urged to get aboard quickly. It was obvious that this train was not in regular service. The older model had the appearance of a work horse that had seen a lot of service and bore the telltale signs of wear and tear. This train was like the ugly step sister to the newer, modern trains with Wi-Fi, food and beverage carts and upgraded classes of service. Likely, having been relegated to an out of service train yard, brought back to life only when an emergency required its reentry. Unsure of where we currently were located and even less sure of how to continue our journey to Zurich I reached out to a Conductor. He consulted with his dispatch office and with their help devised a plan. The plan would require boarding one train and connecting to a second train that would bring us to Lucerne instead of Zurich as originally intended. However, the most challenging part of the journey was still ahead.  As Murphy’s Law would have it the train we needed to board was departing in 5 minutes on the other side of the terminal. Having no familiarity with the layout of this station, I reached out to the Conductor, once again, and explained our dilemma. This resulted in a second consultation with Dispatch and he advised that he would escort us to our replacement transportation. This seems like an appropriate time to use the euphemism “he was running like he had a train to catch”, and he did. We all did! So there we were, 3 very short women carrying an average of 40 pounds of luggage per person running behind a 6 foot tall Conductor through crowds of fellow travelers.

I often hear travelers say “getting there is half the battle”. That certainly proved true in this case. But was it worth it? Were we able to catch up with the tour group? Did we make it to the top of Mt. Titlis? I’ve run out of column space so, like all good dramas, I’ll leave you with a bit of mystery. Please join us again in two weeks to learn if we were successful in our quest to reach the Alps.

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Musical Memories

Tourism is one of the top revenue producers in the world with an economic impact counted in Trillions of dollars. If you’re having trouble envisioning what the exact number looks like imagine a “1” with 12 zeroes after it. This staggering figure includes the airline and cruise industries, hotels, motels and inns, trains, buses and car rentals. Tour guides, souvenir shops, eateries and general spending also contribute to that massive bottom line. The industry is one of the largest employers providing 277 million jobs in 2014. The World Travel & Tourism Council reports that 1 in 11 jobs held by Americans are in the tourism sector. Governments fund their tourist departments to entice visitors who utilize accommodations and restaurants and public transportation. Tourist attractions, restaurants and shopping areas also benefit mightily. Germany is the 7th most visited country in the world! Over 407 million tourists enter the country each year, all staying in accommodations, buying food, paying admissions to attractions, and perhaps purchasing souvenirs. That works out nicely for the main tourist cities such as Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin. But what if you’re a small town on the Rhine River? How do you entice tourists and their vacation dollars?  Rüdesheim am Rhein is a small winemaking town in the Rhine Gorge. Its location on the river allows it to be included as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Still, even though it sits in the shadows of all the magnificent Rhine castles, Rudesheim has successfully positioned itself as a regular stop for river cruise boats.

My visit to Rudesheim started with the option of riding an open car miniature train down the narrow cobblestone street or by foot. The silly little train made it easier for the less mobile to reach the museum so I chose to walk. It was chilly and overcast but I enjoy walking.  Wandering down the cobblestone street of Drosselgasse gave me a front row view of the window displays. It’s basically the “Main Street” of the area with all the requisite tourist souvenir shops and food offerings. Our small group made its way to Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett which translates to: Museum of Mechanical Instruments–or as we know them – music boxes.  The prospect didn’t excite me but I was hesitant to separate from my travel companions who did want to visit. Our representative from the riverboat delivered us to the front door of the museum and introduced us to the resident tour guide. She was dressed in 1800s attire, the period when music boxes were first developed. The mechanics of how the music was produced didn’t interest me. I was more interested in the artistry and detail of the beautiful and varied pieces. My experience with music boxes had been limited to a small Swiss Alpine style log cabin that belonged to my Mother.  It wasn’t large enough to hold anything but the smallest of trinkets. Lifting the roof activated the music though I can’t remember the song. During my mid teen years first boyfriend gave me a larger music box. Asian in style which, at the time was my preferred décor aesthetic, I pretended to be surprised when I unwrapped the gift. The truth is that I hankered for that box every time we passed the drug store window where it was prominently featured and had made my wish known, very clearly. Our tour guide explained the evolution of the music box. The complexity of the instruments was quite an accomplishment considering that, in comparison, the automobile had yet to be invented. With each new room the music boxes increased in size, ability and grandeur until we entered a room which held phonographs from the 1800’s. They looked like the record players we’re familiar with yet, the “record” was very different. These too, were music boxes but designed to look like a phonograph. The sound generated from a 12 inch perforated metal disc when the arm of the antique record player plucked the notes producing music. As the older audience recognized a long ago familiar song, several chuckled in recognition while some swayed to the music. When they reached the chorus “que sera, sera whatever will be, will be” many were singing along. Their memories were palpable, their joy infectious. My eyes now moist, gave me away as I was deeply touched watching my fellow travelers recalling and reliving decades old fond memories. Some might have thought it hokey watching the older folks in the audience closing their eyes and tapping their feet to familiar tunes. I was deeply touched. Music has the power to transport us to another time, to stir feelings and memories to the point that even those with dementia react to familiar songs. I unwillingly admit that while I can’t remember where I placed the scissors 10 minutes ago I can recall every word, every nuance from childhood pop songs. Even when I haven’t heard them in a decade. Our tour ended with a stop to sample the famous Rudesheimer Coffee. I would describe it as sweet and quite potent. Suddenly boarding that little tourist train seemed to be a really good choice. If you’d like to try the coffee, please see the recipe I’ve included. Remember no drinking and driving but riding in miniature train cars is definitely allowed.

When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements. This happens because rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success.

Music Associations. Most people associate music with important events and a wide array of emotions. The connection can be so strong that hearing a tune long after the occurrence evokes a memory of it.Prior experience with the piece is the greatest indicator of an individual’s likely response. “

Rudesheimer coffee – Coffee with a kick

Almost 1.5ounces of Asbach Uralt 3 cubes of sugar Hot coffee (regular or decaf) Whipped cream sweetened with vanilla sugar Grated milk chocolate

Cooking Instructions Rudesheimer Coffee

– Put 3 cubes of sugar in an original Rüdesheimer Coffee cup, pour over 1.5 ounces of well-heated Asbach and light it by using a long match. – Stir with a long-handled spoon to dissolve the sugar. – Let it burn for about 1 minute, then pour in hot coffee to about 1inch  below the rim. – Top off with a scoop of whipped cream and sprinkle with grated chocolate.