Cruising the Rhine

01 - 05 - 2012

The poem 'Die Lorelei' by Heinrich Heine

By Frank Linde

Having often spent days, weeks and even months on board of huge ocean liners as a sailor’s son, I never imagined myself signing up for a cruise on the Rhine. To make matters worse: I already get seasick on the 30 minutes ferry ride from Den Helder to Texel. Nevertheless, Thursday April 12 I boarded the ms Amacello opposite the Amsterdam central railway station for a Rhine cruise. I had an excellent excuse: I was asked to entertain the passengers with a lecture series covering: The quantum world; past & present at CERN; Why particle physics matters!; and Astroparticle physics. And the real clincher: I could take my lovely wife along as well!

The service onboard can be summarized in one word: excellent. I now even fancy pasta. Not to mention foie gras. And did you know you really can have smoked salmon with champagne for breakfast? It will probably cost me and my wife at least a month to get back to our regular weight. Culturally, our fabulous cruise master showed us, in his words, numerous ABCs, i.e. “Another Bloody Church”. Some of them and notably the ones in Cologne and Strasbourg were indeed very nice. Certainly much nicer than the modern art museum in Strasbourg which I now rank as the worst museum I ever visited (admittedly, I did miss a Kandinsky). For this I cannot blame the cruise master because we toured Strasbourg on our own on bikes provided by the ms Amacello crew. We had to sign a disclaimer (apparently an earlier passenger is still suing after a touring bus just about failed to knock him/her of his/her bike …). After signing, the receptionist almost fainted when we informed her we did not want the bike helmets. Only after we had explicitly added in handwriting on the disclaimer that we declined to use the offered helmets, we were allowed to take the bikes … Strasbourg by bike is really marvelous, in particular the “Petit France” quarter. Another Rhine valley gemstone turned out to be the town of Colmar. Certainly a place we plan to visit again and I even like (some, Gewürztraminer) German white wine now.

Now the real surprise of this cruise: the passengers. Being Dutch (or perhaps just stupid), I always thought Rhine cruises were targeted at not exactly my favorite public (to state it mildly). How wrong can one be, at least with this American-dominated group! I think I have  rarely given a public lecture for a more science-interested audience than on the ms Amacello. These people not only listened almost daily to my 1½ hour lecture, but as well to lectures on: antiquities (Egyptians, Greeks and Romans); the inner workings of our Sun; and biology even my daughter, a bio-medical student, could learn from. And if that is not sufficient, some even took part in the parallel running so called MacMania lecture series on iPad, iCloud, iPhone, photography and other interesting IT topics! (Not to mention of course the trips to e.g. the Max Planck institute for astrophysics in Heidelberg …).

For instance, I learned interesting things about Hannibal crossing the Alps and I learned things I really disliked entirely (it made me very queasy) on how the Egyptian “doctors” improved the eye sight of those suffering from cataract. During lunch and dinner we not only enjoyed the great food, but even more the excellent discussions on many diverse topics: volcanoes, the early days of computers, Feynman, dinosaur digs, nuclear energy policy, digital photo editing- and archive software, politics, etc. In summary: this turned out to be one of the most entertaining workshops I ever went to! As a result I might even track Hannibal on bike across the alps and/or go to a dinosaur dig in the Rocky Mountains. And I guess I will avoid Yellowstone Park as long as that huge volcano remains looming underneath it.

Also nice things come to an end: Thursday April 19th at 10:30 sharp (Swiss timing) our taxi picked us up to drop us at the Basel SBB railway station to start our eight hour return trip to Almere. One thing in common between our house and our cabin: they both are below the waterline …

P.S. I
And indeed me and my wife also participated in a sixties dance session (with some Elvis Presley look-a-likes) and we did rather well.
And of course I do hope that those passengers who went on to CERN, enjoyed an unforgettable experience at, in my opinion, the world’s nicest research facility!