in which I travel down the Rhine

Do you remember the scene in Titanic where Leonardo DiCaprio is invited to have dinner with the rich people and even though he is dressed up in his little tuxedo and has his hair combed all fancy, he so clearly does not belong amongst them?

Well that was me. The entire time I was in Europe1.

It was awesome.

When my benefactor Magwitch first approached me with the proposition of a Rhine river trip over Christmas, I didn’t register just how fancy we were going to be traveling. I knew Magwitch is well off and liked to travel in some degree of luxury, but I guess I didn’t register just how stark the contrast of this maids-and-caviar lifestyle would be to the microwave meals and public transport I left back in Boston. It was also extremely different from my previous Europe travels, since I previously traversed the continent with only a backpack and a frequent hosteler card. Needless to say, I felt a little out of place. In the best way possible. The guilt-free living way outside your means way.

Our trip was a river cruise of the Christmas markets of Europe. The boat departed from Switzerland, then climbed northward through the Alsace region of France, into and through Germany, and then finished in the Netherlands. The Rhine, in winter, is blanketed in mist, like the moorish setting of a Gothic Victorian novel. Our skies were mostly grey, and there was a brief misty rain on occasion, but overall, the weather was just the right sort of gloomy. With the Christmas spirit on top of the wintry weather, it was delightful.

I have dozens of stories from the trip, but I will refrain from sharing them all for fear or boring you with excessive word count. Here are some pictures and anecdotes for your enjoyment/jealousy.

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The Christmas markets that lined the Rhine were a whole new level of Christmasyness for me. I have never experienced this level of decoration before. Half-timbered houses draped in holly, garlands, ribbons, bows. Plus the random assorted teddy bear and marionettes strung in the windows.

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After a few days of going from Switzerland to France to Germany and back to France, I was so confused what country I was in and what language was being spoke that, when a woman in a shop handed me my change, I said, “Gracias,” without even thinking, and then walked away.

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The Christmas markets all sell gluhwein, which is wasil mixed with wine. It is also alcoholic, meaning I did not partake. However, Magwitch heard through the grapevine that some stands sold non-alcoholic gluhwein. Excited, I inquired at the next market, only to learn that non-alocholic gluhwein is called “kinderpunch.” Which was humiliating. Also delicious.

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I climbed every hill, castle, and bell tower I could. I love views.

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I rode these cable cars from the city Koblenz across the Rhine River to a mountain top fortress. Unfortunately, I know nothing about said fortress, because all of the signs once we got there were in German.

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The above clock is my new favorite clock of all time. The pendulum is attached to the man’s eyes, so as the clock ticks, the eyes move back and forth. It is hella creepy/awesome.

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I was in Cologne on December 21, aka the day the Mayans said the world was going to end. It obviously did not, but I had a genuine moment of panic where I heard an unidentified crash, felt the bridge beneath me begin to shake (as a result of a passing train, though I did not know that then) and thought the world was actually ending.

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One of our better tours included a tour guide who told us “That cathedral there includes a very famous statue of Karl Marx.” Where we all started muttering about how weird it is that a church would have a statue of Karl Marx. The tour guide quickly amended, “Sorry, not Karl Marx—it’s Martin Luther.”

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We saw a team of folk dancers perform in Nijmegen. They performed several dances from all over the world, then ended with a “traditional folk dance from North America”:  Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.

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Also, the entire crew of the boat was eastern European, which made it feel vaguely like the ship was manned by vampires.

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It’s Magwitch and me!

I really love Europe so much. I love the antiquity of it, the feel of cobblestones under your feet. I love eating in restaurants that are older than my country. I love seeing art by masters that was created before the printing press and has outlasted the memories of the people who created it and the ideals that they praised. I love cathedral spires silhouetted against grey skies, the smell of baguettes and macaroons, and the way the weak sunlight catches the canals. I love meeting new people, and hearing new stories, and seeing the way life moves in a sphere that is not my own.

This world is beautiful and amazing. I am constantly reminded how grateful I am to be a part of it.

  1. This really was me. Especially the part where he takes an uncouthly large bite of roll.
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11 thoughts on “in which I travel down the Rhine

  1. Magna Hahnel says:

    So, I see I have a new name. Nice blog. Nice pictures. Nice job.

  2. Dell Hewey says:

    Mackenzie—you write so well and the pictures are just beautiful!

  3. Joan says:

    Mackenzie-what a wonderful job. We are still all waiting for the book to come out!

  4. Magna Hahnel says:

    Mack…..just so you know, I caught the Magwitch significance. I know you have low expectations of me but I have great expectations of you.

  5. Shirley says:

    Magwitch…I love it! I will let everyone on the next cruise know your “real” name. Very nice pictures and commentary Mackenzie.

  6. […] that’s writing. Sometimes that’s anxiety. Sometimes that’s my family. Sometimes that’s traveling. Sometimes that’s getting my violin fixed by a Bond […]

  7. […] Including large parts of this novel, which came from my Christmas market trip with Magwitch two years ago. […]

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