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“At last my love has come along. My lonely days are over and life is like a song.” ~Etta James

Today was a spectacular, picturesque, eye-catching,  breathtaking,   amazing and downright glorious day. The sun was shining and the weather was a flawless Kodak moment for our leisurely cruise down the Rhine Gorge, where there is a castle or winery or a quaint village around every bend in the river. The second but more important event was the marriage celebration of our friends/family Dave and Thierry Natale.

The Rhine Gorge is a popular name for the sixty five km section of the Rhine between Koblenz and Bingen in Germany. The gorge was formed long ago and the river is contained within steep walls, the most famous being the Lorely. The region is known for its ts wines on the south facing slopes. It was an important trade route and many settlements grew up and still remain, including the ruins of castles from the Holy Roman Empire. Our cruise was incredible as the pictures will show.

There is a photo opportunity around every corner.

Of course there were many other sights on the deck of the ship today, as my daughter Becca would say “some things can not be unseen.”

There was a lovely celebration of the wedding of David and Thierry our dear friends and family. It was fun, it was emotional, it was joy. It was all the feels.

“Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” ~ Lin-Manuel Miranda

Of course we were all decked out in our wedding finery. There could not have been a more beautiful group of wedding guests ever if I do say so myself.

“I love weddings: happy people coming together to celebrate in great clothes.” ~ Brad Goreski

“Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you

The love of all man’s days both past and forever:

Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.

The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –

And the songs of every poet past and forever.”

~Universal Love – Rabindranath Tagore

“It’s better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.” ~ Unknown author

This morning was a day of relaxation and gentle cruising down the Rhine River to our next destination in Cologne Germany. After a leisurely breakfast we headed to the deck of the riverboat to watch a little of the world go by. Despite the chill and the fog it was still beautiful until the rain started.

After lunch we arrived in Cologne, Germany. It is one of the oldest and one of the largest cities in Germany and dates back to Roman times. We took a city tour and passed by the famous Farina Cologne factory. The original Eau de Cologne is a spirit-citrus perfume launched in Cologne in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina. There is a central rail station in the city and many historical sites.

We headed on to the Cologne Cathedral. The cathedral has two massive towers which dominate the cities skyline. It is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996

After all of the history lessons my brain was in need of an afternoon gin and tonic and then another delicious dinner with good company, good conversation and good wine. This was followed by a fun, frenetic, disco, black light and alcohol party to continue the upcoming wedding celebration for tomorrow!

“I’m having fun. I’m being myself. I’m doing what I love. That’s all that matters.”

~ James Charles

“We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.” ~ Katie Thurmes

Today the weather and I seemed to be uncannily in sync. The morning was foggy and rainy and the afternoon was sunny, bright and beautiful.

After our first on board breakfast, we boarded a canal cruise boat in the soaking rain for an informative trip. Although the weather was not cooperative, the trip was informative and of course a lovely photo opportunity. It may be picturesque but I personally do not think I could ever live on a riverboat.

There are times when both bicycle and car look like they are about to topple into the canal. The guides say that they dredge the canals often and find bicycles, cars and the occasional Englishman!

We returned to our ship and after a delicious lunch set sail for Cologne, Germany. Sitting on the deck of the ship with drink, friends and camera was a peaceful and very delightful way to spend the afternoon thanks to good weather and of course, good company.

After a picture perfect afternoon it was finally time for the real fun to begin! Tonight at the “Fascinators and Bow Ties” cocktail hour we began our on board celebration officially for our hosts David and Thierry.

Later we once again wined and dined, this evening in the private and appropriately named wine room.

“The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.”

~ Tibetan Proverb

“My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclists ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing their bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them.” ~ Terry Pratchett

We woke up after a restless sleep and went to breakfast at a local place. The food was good but the benches were made to encourage you not to linger after eating. We checked out of our hotel and took a cab to drop off our suitcases at the ship as check in was not for a few hours. Being the spontaneous person that Skip is known to be, we made an unplanned, yes not on the excel sheet, trip with our cab driver to see the windmills of Zaanse Schans. Zaanse Schans is a neighborhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam, near Amsterdam. Historic windmills and distinctive green wooden houses were relocated here to recreate the look of an 18th/19th-century village.

It was a charming village and I would have wandered more if the meter on the cab was not running! Our new best friend also known as our cab driver left us in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam so we could have a leisurely stroll back to the ship. There along the narrow canals are hip eateries and pubs and cute boutiques, where again we made no purchases. In Amsterdam, you must be aware and respectful of the bicyclists or you will get hurt!

The sounds, sights and smells of Amsterdam are wonderful, especially from the bakeries. It is a very clean city, though very crowded, but full of life.

We made our way to the ship to be reunited with our friends and to begin the river cruise and celebrate our old friends ( to clarify for Tom Haas I speak of people we have known for some time not of age) and to make new friends.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”

~Hans Christian Andersen

“Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment in life.” ~ Unknown

Day two in Amsterdam was much better. The sun was shining and after eleven hours of sleep although my body clock was still off (normal for me) we were ready to start the day. After a delicious breakfast at a local cafe we headed to our self guided tour of the Ann Frank house. It was very moving to see where she and her family lived and the horrors of life then.

The Ann Frank House

After the tour Skip and I went off on our own to wander the city. Just to be clear, we walked the city and stopped for lunch at a lovely burger cafe, but we did not shop, at all.

Amsterdam is an interesting city to say the very least.

In the afternoon, we had an unplanned, spontaneous, not Skip like, canal cruise. Sadly, my camera battery went dead forcing me to “live in the moment” although I did try some cell phone views of the canal. It was relaxing and lovely.

In the evening, we had the loveliest and most delicious dinner ever, prepared by a couple named Olaf and Martine at their home. It is a fine dining experience of home cuisine prepared by a chef and his wife in their home. I was slightly off my game in taking pictures of the meal as I was enjoying it more than pondering the photo op. They are a beautiful couple, who are warm and welcoming and talented. There was good wine, great food, the best gluten free pear tart I have ever tasted in my life, good wine and great conversation. I highly recommend Martine’s Table in Amsterdam. You will not be disappointed.

Olaf and Martine

“As with any journey, who you travel with is more important than the destination.”

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” ~ John Green, Author of The Fault in Our Stars

We arrived in Amsterdam yesterday quite jet lagged to say the least. The flight was long, the walk through the airport was long and the drive to the hotel was long. But the sunrise over Amsterdam was spectacular.

Sunrise over Amsterdam

We had an hour and a half walking tour with Claudio of “With locals” to get an overview of the city. Jet lag and the beginning of a migraine are my excuse for not remembering much of the detail but the city, even in the bursts of rain was pretty spectacular.

 We had a lovely dinner at CAU Steakhouse with some from our travel group. After dinner we headed to bed for the next eleven hours!

“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.” ~ Alphonse Karr

We celebrated Thanksgiving last month and I noticed that many people were putting a lot of “I am thankful” messages on social media.  I think that is awesome and I wish people expressed and demonstrated their “thankfulness” more often, not just once a year.  Sometimes I fall into the same trap of complaining instead of expressing gratitude.  It is often easy to think about the things in life that are missing or painful.  Often, if we appear too “grateful” it feels boastful and people are put off.   I am simply thankful for the multitude of blessings in my life.

This year on Thanksgiving I felt especially thankful.  Here are some of the thoughts my over thinking brain was working on that day.  I woke up early and was grateful I woke up, and grateful that I had a home and a warm bed.  With the help of my husband Skip, who loves me despite my many flaws (for which I am very thankful), we prepared a small feast.  I was thankful that I had the means to purchase and prepare the food and family to share it with. 

I tried to be in the moment and not to focus on who could not be there but at times my thoughts were melancholy that my son and daughter in law and grand-babies could not be here with us. I am grateful that they are healthy and happy and that they love me and I them.  My daughters, Becca and Kristen, were able to celebrate with us and I was grateful for their presence and their help.  My children, daughter-in-law and grandchildren are the best in the universe.  I am incredibly blessed.  My 91-year-old father was able to celebrate with us, as well as my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and some of my wonderful nieces and a nephew.

There are times when the missing of someone hurts and distracts me in the  moment.   To me, my mom was the embodiment of the holidays.  She brought us all together several times a year to celebrate being together with food and warmth.  She taught me how to make her special stuffing and how to cook a turkey. I cook it in her special roasting pan and it comes out perfect every time.  Her cookie baking skills were legendary.  I really miss that she is not here to share the holiday with all of us, but I am also grateful for the memories she helped to create.

“Grief is never something you get over. You don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I’ve conquered that; now I’m moving on.’ It’s something that walks beside you every day. And if you can learn how to manage it and honor the person that you miss, you can take something that is incredibly sad and have some form of positivity.”     ~Teri Irwin

Sometimes I think people mix up being sad or melancholy with being ungrateful. Although I think those feelings can overlap to me it is not the same. There are times when its a little more difficult to demonstrate thankfulness.  Maybe I need to do a better job of celebrating being thankful in my words and actions.  I think I do a good job but there is always room for improvement.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it”.  ~William Arthur Ward

So to my family and friends I say, thank you. Thank you for reading my blogs. Thank you for taking the time to check in on me. Thank you for loving me especially on those moments I don’t feel particularly lovable.  Thank you for being you, and for being a part of my life.  Thank you for making me laugh.  Thank you for taking this journey called life and making memories with me.   I am grateful.