We started talking about another Thanksgiving trip in early October. Thanksgiving is traditionally a good time to travel to Europe because most Americans are busy spending time with their families. We settled on some dates of travel and a loose group of interested parties. We wouldn't settle on a destination until closer to departure time. With standby travel, we are always limited by the number of seats available and the seniority of the standby travelers desiring a seat.
We put together a list of potential destinations sorted by seats available. Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Dublin and Munich all looked like possibilities in October. As the dates of travel grew closer though, it became obvious that Frankfurt was really the only option that would allow the six of us to sit in business class on the way over the ocean.
On the day before travel, the Detroit-Frankfurt flight had 11 Business Class seats and very few standby travelers on the list. The six of us headed for the Jacksonville airport to catch a flight to Atlanta and a connection to Detroit. We didn't know this would be the last time we'd all be together until we met up in Frankfurt.
Before the Jacksonville to Atlanta flight left, it was starting to look like there would be too many standby travelers in Detroit so Nancy and Brian (on a higher priority) decided to try for the Atlanta-Frankfurt flight instead.
When we got to Atlanta, Nancy & Brian headed for the Sky Club. BJ, Tony, Terri & Eva Marie hurried to the gate for the Detroit flight. BJ and Tony were assigned seats right away but Terri and Eva Marie were vying for one last seat on the plane. Terri was traveling on a parent pass, slightly higher priority than Eva Marie on a buddy pass. They decided Eva Marie should take the last seat and Terri would come on the next flight.
By the time we got to Detroit, more standby travelers had checked in for the flight ahead of us, so Terri decided she would take her chances on the Atlanta-Frankfurt flight with Nancy & Brian. Tony decided to try for the New York to Frankfurt flight which had very few seats but no standby passengers ahead of him.
The Detroit to New York flight only had one seat available so Tony was a bit nervous when he saw a woman approach the gate and ask if there was an extra seat on the flight. He thought she would take the available seat and he would be out of luck, but she was only asking if she could go on an earlier flight. Her ticket restricted her ability to stand by so he was safe.
BJ and Eva Marie were looking good for business class seats out of Detroit until about 2 hours before departure when more standby travelers checked in. They resolved that they would have to sit in coach but at the last minute one of the standby travelers did not show up so BJ got to sit up front. Eva Marie was assigned a coach seat with an empty seat beside her.
Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, Nancy, Brian & Terri were heading for their gate. Nancy and Brian were assigned business class seats immediately but there was no seat for Terri. She decided to hurry to catch the next flight back to Jacksonville.
Tony had made it to New York and got his business class prize in this scavenger hunt for seats!
BJ and Eva Marie arrived in Frankfurt first. Our rendezvous plan was to meet at the first bar on the right past immigration. We didn't find a bar but found seats near a brightly lit bakery where we could wait for the others. About an hour lately Brian and Nancy arrived and an hour after that, Tony sauntered up.
Our very loose plan was to go to Rudesheim the first night, somewhere near Cologne the second night and spend the last night in Dusseldorf before flying home the following morning. We had no hotel reservations so we were quite flexible.
We took a bus from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 and found the train station. We bought tickets to Rudesheim. We had one connection in Wiesbaden.
We admired the beautiful scenery on the short walk from the train station to town.
We stopped at a hotel where we had stayed before to ask their rates. The rate was acceptable but we decided to keep going to another favorite hotel. The Hotel Zum grünen Kranz was open and had rooms available at the same rate.
The hotel had added a lovely sunroom which was a perfect place to enjoy a beer before checking in.
We were thrilled with our rooms - the triple room which BJ, Tony and Eva Marie shared actually had a second bedroom for Eva Marie!
We changed clothes and set out in search of lunch. Steps from the hotel, we found Ristorante Da Toni. We were all hungry and ordered way too much food. The pastas, pizza and schnitzel were all delicious.
We were a week too early for the Christmas Market. Booths were being set up and workmen were tacking up Christmas lights everywhere.
We walked down to the river to check on the schedule for a possible boat ride on Rhine. The railroad separated the town from the river and the gate was down preventing us from crossing.
We noticed the sign directing us to the underpath. When we got to the underpath, we started to laugh, thinking this was a funny joke on us!
A few minutes later, the train passed and the gate lifted letting us cross the tracks. A sign showed us the winter schedule for the boat trip. There would be one trip per day, leaving at 10AM.
Eva Marie left us to take a brief nap. We wandered around town a bit and met Eva Marie back at the hotel. We enjoyed a little pick-me-up of cappuccino in the sun room.
After a bit more wandering around the beautiful little town and we decided to stop into the Hotel Traube Rüdesheim for a glass of wine. We played a few hands of the card game "Golf" in their comfortable lobby bar while we relaxed. (We play golf with only 4 cards now - and we've added jokers into the mix as wild cards that can match any other card except a King or a 5).
It got dark very early. We got a few nice pictures but since we had Brian with us, we knew he would be taking much better pictures with his professional equipment! Check out Brian's blog - hopefully he will soon be posting some better pictures of the trip!
Dinner was at the Restaurant Ratsstube. We were much smarter about our ordering this time and split a couple of orders of schnitzel and pomme frites. This left us room for dessert and wine back at Ristorante Da Toni.
Before going to bed, we decided to book our rooms for the next two nights. We got good rates at the Hilton in both Cologne and Dusseldorf. It was a bit of a struggle to get them booked because of the slow internet connection at the hotel.
We slept well and awoke in time for a typical German breakfast of cold cuts, cheese and rolls at the hotel. We had a few minutes to enjoy a final walk around Rudesheim before boarding the boat. Such a pretty little town with grape vines and quaint little buildings.
We boarded the boat at 10AM along with about 30 Asians who seemed to be on some sort of wine tasting tour. They had the smallest tasting glasses we'd ever seen - about the size of a thimble. The beers we ordered seemed gigantic by comparison.
We took one last look at Rudesheim as we left the dock.
High above Rudesheim are the ruins of the Ehrenfels Castle, surrounded by vineyards.
The scenery along the Rhine is breathtaking! Pictures do not do it justice but here are a few.
We passed the famous Lorelei rock about which there are several legends.
We decided to get off of the boat in St. Goar, a little town we had stayed in on one of our bike trips.
St. Goar was was not a very happening town at the moment. We only found one restaurant open, the Alla Fontana Ristorante Italiano Pizzeria. It was a friendly little restaurant with an umbrella for an awning!
We shared a few pizzas and some wine before heading up the hill to the train station. We got there just in time for the train but couldn't figure out how to buy the tickets quickly enough. After the train left, we were still fumbling around with the ticket machine when a pair of Californians walked up. They told us about a regional ticket for 1-5 persons which would save us a good bit of money! They showed us how to purchase it and in appreciation, we took them back to the Alla Fontana for a glass of wine since we had another hour before our train would arrive.
The California folks were headed in the opposite direction so we said goodbye at the train station.
Our train came a few minutes later. We were shocked at the mess on the train. Empty beer bottles, shopping bags and food wrappers littered the aisle. We're accustomed to the trains in Europe being pristine. We asked some of the other travelers and they said that the previous weekend had been a carnival celebration.
The train ride to Cologne was a little over 2 hours.
We checked into the Cologne Hilton, dropped our bags and headed out to explore Cologne. The Californians had recommended a restaurant called Brauhaus Früh am Dom. It was a dark noisy crowded place and we weren't sure how to get a table.
We finally found a server to ask and were told to just find an empty table. We got lucky when a table opened up in the corner. BJ accidently knocked over a lady's beer at the next table in her excitement to be seated so we bought her a beer and made friends with her.
The restaurant served kölsche beer and kept bringing more beer until you put your coaster over your glass.
We wanted to try some traditional German food, so we ordered a variety of dishes to share. We had goulash soup, bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes with bacon), hämmchen (boiled pork knuckle), sauerkraut, kartoffelpüree (mashed potatoes), Rheinischer Sauerbraten (marinated beef), apfelrotkohl (red cabbage), kartoffelklößen (dumplings) and pommes frites (french fries). The waiter was a bit snippy when we ordered and sort of reminded us of the Seinfeld episode about the Soup Nazi.
When we finished eating and were ready for our bill, we placed our coasters on our glasses and our snippy waiter brought the check.
After dinner we stopped into a bakery to pick up some dessert. The Nougatbrezel was delicious but the Lebkuchen had a bit too much of a licorice taste for us.
We wandered around the cathedral area listening to musicians and watching people.
A holiday choir was having a photo session on the steps of the cathedral.
Back at the hotel, we played a few hands of golf before retiring.
We had a lovely breakfast at the hotel. They recognized BJ's Hilton Diamond status by giving us a complimentary glass of sparkling wine!
After breakfast, we set out to do a bit of sightseeing. The cathedral looked very pretty with the blue sky as a background!
We took a beer break at Kunibert der Fiese before continuing our tour. We met a lady wearing interesting ear coverings and decided that we needed to get some of these. They were called ear bags and are individual coverings for each ear that snap into place.
Eva Marie had found information about the KölnTriangle, a great place to see a panoramic view of Cologne. We set out to find it. On our way, we crossed the Hohenzollern Bridge with all of the padlocks placed by lovers. The tradition is to place the padlock on the bridge and throw the key into the river so that the love is locked in! There are thousands of locks that are said to weigh over 2 tons.
The the KölnTriangle did not disappoint. We had a beautiful panoramic view of Cologne and the Rhine river.
We were thankful for the glass shield around the rooftop to deflect the wind even though it caused reflections in our pictures.
Lunch was some shared pizzas at La Tagliatella in the Haymarket district. We were interested in the May-December romance at the next table and were worried that the young girl might be a victim of sex trade, but in an encounter in the restroom, she said she was very much in love with the older man.
We made our way back to the Hilton to pick up our luggage and catch the train to Dusseldorf. The train ride was about a half hour. When we arrived at Dusseldorf Central Station it took us awhile to get our bearings and figure out how to get to the hotel. Google told us which metro train to take but we had to ask at the information desk which buttons to push on the ticket machine to get a ticket. By the time we got to the hotel, it was dark and cold and starting to drizzle.
The Dusseldorf Hilton upgraded us to rooms on the executive level with access to the executive lounge. We found a round table in the lounge and played cards until the happy hour buffet was served. We enjoyed wine and appetizers and played cards until it was time for bed.
The morning of our departure, we had a nice breakfast in the Hilton restaurant and then took a taxi back to the airport. We had been told we needed to arrive 3 hours before flight time because of new security procedures. Of course, we got there almost 4 hours early to be sure, but the check-in counter didn't open until 3 hours before. We had plenty of time to get through security, browse in duty free and wait, and wait, and wait.
We were thrilled to get seats in business class to Atlanta and had that wonderful Delta One service and lie-flat seats. We watched several movies and had 2 meals before landing in Atlanta.
We thought we could make a sub-minimum connection to Jacksonville but we didn't take into account the SLOW TSA line in Atlanta. There wasn't a pre-check line and everyone was required to unpack their liquids and electronics and take off their shoes and belts. It took forever and although we ran as fast as our little legs would carry us to our next gate, they had already closed the door.
We got on the list for the next flight but there were only enough seats for 4 of the 5 of us so BJ stayed back to wait for the next flight which she got on without a problem.
It was another great trip and we got home in time to have Friendsgiving on Thanksgiving day!