I had been wanting to go on a Rhine river cruise ever since I did a Danube cruise a few years back. I wanted to see the castles along the way, visit Cologne and its cathedral and I was hoping to do it in the spring so that I could go see the tulips at the Keukenhof gardens in the Netherlands.
This did not go as planned.
I got an opportunity to do a “partial” Rhine cruise in the fall, and jumped on it. I say partial because I sailed partly on the Rhine and mostly on the Main rivers.
Here is how it went.
The cruise stared in Basel Switzerland, so I flew to Geneva ahead of time, and took the opportunity to visit for a couple of days.
Shortly after my arrival I took a guided tour of the Palais des Nations where part of the United Nations is located. I am very proud of my visitor’s badge!
It is an impressive suite of buildings and more so when you think of all that has taken place there, and what is still going on. So many people of so many countries meeting, huddling, working…
The next day, having recuperated from my jet lag, I got to go to Gruyères, yes where the cheese comes from! The village itself is very picturesque.
The château has spectacular views, lovely gardens, and interesting décor inside.
We visited a cheese processing plant and a chocolate making facility…. with tastings!!!! and of course had a cheese fondue on a terrace for lunch. Heaven!!
That evening, back in Geneva, we attended a wonderful concert in an amazing venue: Victoria hall.
The next day I boarded a train to Basel and from there took a cab to the ship. (Interestingly nobody at the train station and at the taxi stand spoke French).
Boarding a river cruise is very different from boarding an oceanic cruise. The taxi driver drops you off at the curb and you have to make your way down to the “gangway”. You walk up, stop at the desk, give your name and are given a key to your cabin and voilà! Those ships are all pretty similar: three levels, a roof top terrace, a communal room with comfortable seating and panoramic views, where they hold gatherings, talks, performances and demonstrations. It also has a bar, where you can order food as well as drinks. The main dining room is one floor below.
The cabin was nice, large enough to walk around in, and with a French balcony (meaning a patio door with a railing).
After an introduction/mingling cocktail reception and a nice dinner everyone went to bed and woke up the next morning as we sailed into the Alsace region on to Strasbourg.
Alsace has been alternatively German and French as wars and alliances shifted the borders. It has always been very important both politically and economically.
This is where the quiche Lorraine comes from, although we were told that the flammekueche/flammkuchen/tarte flambée is the most famous gastronomical specialty of the region (bread dough rolled out very thinly in a rectangular shape, which is covered with fromage blanc ( low far cream cheese) or crème fraiche and thinly sliced onions).
Strasbourg was to me one of the highlights of the trip. The town center ( the Grande Île) is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Even though it rained through most of the day, everything we saw was pretty…the cathedral of course with its astronomical clock, the buildings, the streets…
Day two of the cruise, we are now in Germany and docked in Ludwigshafen. Although this is an important city, being the headquarters of BASF, we opted for an excursion to Spreyer. Its cathedral, consecrated in 1061, is the largest Romanesque church to this day and one of the main attractions. The remnants of very old Jewish quarters, dating back to 1090, are also unique.
Even if this is one of the oldest towns in Germany, it does not mean the inhabitants are not up to date. We came across theses young ladies on their way to a Comic-Con convention.
After returning on board for lunch, we set sail for Rüdesheim. I had been looking forward to the wine yards…
It is a very cute and touristy town, with wine bars and restaurants everywhere.
We were invited to an evening wine tasting in a cellar. The wine they served us was a bit too sweet for my taste, but the ambiance was good!
The next morning, we set out again to discover the town by daylight. We opted for a gondola ride over the wine yards. It was a lovely day and offered great views of the area.
And walked some more through town, admiring more half timbered houses, some of them very old, as this one.
The next morning we awoke on the Main river, in the town of Miltenberg. Described as the “very essence of medieval Germany” it is again very picturesque….
In the afternoon we were bused to the city of Wertheim. This is another lovely medieval city, nicknamed “little Heidelberg”. It is also renowned for its pretzels.
On day five we docked in Würzburg and immediately boarded a tour to Rothenburg. Another postcard worthy town….
After the tour we meet the ship in Volkach and, after lunch, we set out for a visit followed by a wine festival celebration, complete with music and dancing.
On this next to last day, we arrive in Bamberg, the home of smoked beer the Rochbier! I did get a bottle and carried it around all day but ended up giving it to the crew. I am told it tasted of bacon…
The city straddles the Regnitz river, which separates the “old town” from the “new town”
The Altes Rathaus, the old city hall, sits on an island in the middle. It is amusing to see that in some places the paintings are transformed into sculptures…
On one of the bridges there is a stunning modern sculpture called Centurione I
Bamber is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the few cities that was for the most part spared during WWII (we were told that it may be because President Eisenhower’s mother lived there). This explains why the cathedral St Peter and St George is still in its original state and holds the famous statue of the Bamberg Horseman dating back to 1237.
Next door to the cathedral is the New Residenz, which features a lovely rose garden.
This was our last visit as we disembarked in Nuremberg the next morning.
What are my impressions of this trip? The ship was fine, the excursions were fine, the cruise director worked tirelessly to make sure everything ran smoothly and everyone was happy. The food, although good, was somewhat confusing as the names on the menu did not correspond to what I know as those dishes. I was disappointed that they never served “Choucroute alsacienne” (Sauerkraut), which is a typical local dish.
The weather was not on our side so we did not get to enjoy the rooftop terrace and only two of the bicycle excursions could be carried out. So my advice is avoid fall for these cruises if you can.
Finally, this particular itinerary was a bit lackluster as we stayed mostly on the Main river which runs through industrial areas, and the villages, though quaint and lovely , were a bit repetitive. But as always I met great people and had a good time!