Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

More than once I’ve been told by fellow travelers not to bother visiting the city of Cologne, Germany. “Don’t waste your time,” they said. “The only thing to see is the cathedral.” So when I realized that Cologne was the first German city to be visited on my Viking River Grand European Tour, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

Exterior of Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe

Exterior of Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe

We began our walking tour in front of the Kölner Dom, as the cathedral is known in German, a UNESCO World Heritage Site said to be the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe. My first impression was disappointment at the sooty facade, which has been blackened by a combination of natural oxidation and the smoke from steam locomotives that used to pull into the train station next door. But soon, details began to emerge: pointed arches dressed with elaborate geometric decorations, twin towers that soar to a height of 515 feet, an entrance lavish with 19th century statuary, and the flying buttresses that allowed medieval builders to build such a cavernous structure. Read More

Noordeinde Palace at The Hague, which is the seat of government in the Netherlands

Click on above photo to view it in large format: Originally a medieval farmhouse, today’s Noordeinde Palace at The Hague is one of three palaces used by the Dutch monarchy. Since it is located in the official seat of government for The Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander uses it as his working palace.

The Royal Palace  in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Click on above photo to view it in large format: Built in the 17th century, the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, is one of three palaces used by the Dutch monarchy.

Temporarily placed in front of Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, these giant cartoon characters, a hallmark of the artist known as KAWS,  present an interesting juxtaposition for a museum that focuses on old masters

Click on above photo to view it in large format: KAWS cartoon character sculpture in front of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam presents an interesting juxtaposition for a museum that focuses on old masters

Not two minutes after I stepped off the bus from the airport, my girlfriend yanked me back up onto a curb. Before I had time to be startled, a bike whizzed past in a blur, missing me by less than an inch. “You have to be careful of the bicycles in Amsterdam. We cycle everywhere.” She pointed out dedicated lanes paved with red brick in the streets and on the sidewalks, cautioning me to look both ways for bikes, even before considering motor vehicle traffic.

Bicycles in Amsterdam coming out of the tunnel at the Rijksmuseum nearly run me over

Bicycles in Amsterdam coming out of the tunnel at the Rijksmuseum nearly run me over

Indeed, everywhere I went for the next ten days I was surrounded by two-wheeled demons. Men in suits, strangled by wind-driven skinny ties, pedaled furiously to offices with messenger bags strapped across their chests. Businesswomen cycled in skirts and spiked heels. Workmen carried supplies in wheelbarrow-shaped bins mounted to the front of the bicycles and, sometimes, benches added inside these same bins were used by mothers to deliver children to school. Lovers cycled to parks, grandmas and grandpas cycled to the market, brave tourists wobbled around on tandem bikes, and everyone cycled to the bars for a beer at the end of the day. Read More

Of all the museums in Amsterdam, you might want to give this one in the Red Light District a pass

Click on above photo to view it in large format: Of all the museums in Amsterdam, you might want to give this one in the Red Light District a pass.