This Trip Report of our Rhine River Cruise, follows 5 days in Switzerland which you can read about at tripadvisor.com.au/ShowTopic-g188045-i336-k5…
We (two fairly fit fifty-ish Aussie females) chose to cruise the Rhine with Avalon Waterways. As per instructions, we made our way to Zurich airport, where we found our shuttle to the Movenpick Hotel, meeting place for the Avalon Rhine River cruise. We met a couple of Aussies at the shuttle stop and then, after our bus trip to Basel and boarding of the Avalon Felicity, more later at dinner….and what a wonderful dinner it was. Quiche Lorraine, escargot soup, duck a l’orange and chocolate mousse. Wow! It was french night, of course!
Before dinner we had a safety talk and heard about the tours for the next day. Although more than half our fellow passengers were American, our dinner companions also turned out to be Aussies – and we had a fun table…even dancing to the piano player music in the upstairs lounge, as we left port, said good bye to Switzerland and set off for Strasbourg.
Our room was wonderful – beautiful comfy beds …although being separated singles they are quite narrow. Also the reading lights are designed for the double configuration and therefore always in the way. We managed to find hidey holes to unpack everything, which will make life easier for the duration of the cruise. This of course is the beauty of cruising – the ship is your hotel for the whole week.
Great start to our first full day of cruising with Mimosas and a wonderful breakfast. I had the Hawaiian toast and K an omelette. We had arrived in Strasbourg after an overnight trip, involving a number of locks, to counteract the changes in level. It’s an amazing system that allows these big river cruise boats to make their way down the Rhine. It’s a bit noisy going through the locks; this and the excitement of this long awaited highlight of our European trip, kept us awake much of the first night.
We set off at 8.30 to see Strasbourg in a river cruise boat, amazed that we could all fit onto such a small looking low slung boat. Raphaella, our guide was wonderful and told us about the history of the French/German occupation of Strasburg – now very much French, and the regional centre for Alsace, as we cruised past first of all the modern buildings of the European Parliament and then the gorgeous old canals of Le Petite France. Some of the time we were on the River Ill. The canal boat dropped us back near the Cathedral (Our Lady of Notre Dame) and we split into our 4 groups according to the colour of our radio device. We were fortunate to keep Raphaella as the guide for the red group. This was our introduction to the headsets. They worked wonderfully well; allow you to move away from the guide and hear her clearly. The ear piece is comfortable – much better than buds and the whole thing hangs around your neck. Some people seemed to have frequent trouble, but patience is required to let it settle into the correct receiving channel. The once mine played up and wouldn’t settle to the correct frequency, the guide touched her set to mine… to ‘make up’ and after this ‘kiss’ all was well!
We toured the Cathedral and learned about the magnificent stained glass windows which were taken out for safe keeping during the war, and are being restored – at great expense, but also to great effect. The Cathedral is also home to the Astronomical clock that struck 10 (GMT) while we were there. It was fascinating, and included phases of the moon information and much more – a masterpiece of human ingenuity for its time.
We had a short time to wander around the streets near the cathedral before meeting our guides for the walk back to the Place de la Republique to meet our buses which took us back to the ship.
Lunch was another magnificent surprise! So much choice! It is a bit of a shemozzle with 130 or so people accessing the buffet – but never-the-less wonderful. We had opted not to take either of the additional cost tours offered for the afternoon, but did return ‘downtown’ on the bus and enjoyed more wandering, finding a nice clothes shopping street – but only looked! We had thought ourselves quite clever to plan out a walking route back to the boat, via Le Petite France. However, that’s where our troubles began; we found the spot marked on the map given to us all, but no boat, despite walking back and fro each way and asking numerous people – in French. In the end a kind young Frenchman showed us to the taxis at the hospital and we paid 8E to be delivered back to the boat at Quai de Belques….miles off the map! We just had time for a cuppa from the back lounge before getting ready for this evenings gala dinner. It was when looking for the pink camera case to take the door key in to dinner that disaster struck! My camera was missing. Another of life’s travel mysteries…and I still don’t know how, but can only think that somehow it slid out of my pocket and was left in the taxi. So no camera, no photos of the last 5 days and no credibility for personal responsibility!
Dinner was wonderful and even more courses than last night – a herring amuse; salad, crème herb and smoked salmon soup, single shrimp starter, sorbet, veal cordon blue and rhubarb dessert, all accompanied by a nice red wine, and a lovely couple from Brisbane (Australia) with English accents! After dinner there was a French “chanson” in the lounge – which at first we couldn’t hear, but improved much after Barbara sorted the microphone issue. It seems we are lucky to have Barbara Bocz as our cruise director – she if funny and confident and makes it a lot of fun. However nothing can lift the cloud of disappointment over the camera! We did ask at reception and staff said they would try to enquire, but with only an hour or so left in Strasbourg, they held out little hope.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, despite Barbara’s weather forecast from last night, and we sailed through Germany, with more attractive countryside banking the by now, very wide Rhine.
Docked in Speyer, we took a walk across the park and into the town centre and then returned to join Barbara’s guided tour. Looking gorgeous, as always, with yet another impressive handbag, and beautiful, higher heeled shoes, she explained the history of the area, again from Roman times, with a complex religious/political mix in the base of power. The Dom (Cathedral) was a stoic Romanesque style, probably the best example of this style. We viewed inside and wandered around some of the side chapels. We then had some free time to window shop, as the shops were closed for the May 1st holiday, and walked as far as the tower, part off the original city defences.
Back on board for an early lunch before setting out in a convoy of busses, with local guides for the city of Heidelberg, on the Neckar River. What an amazing place, dominated by the castle or Schloss. Parking the busses was a monumental feat in itself. Our guide, Suzanne, talked from the minute we got on the bus and gave us much insight into the area and its political history. She was very knowledgeable, although her monotone and the bus movement combined to cause us to nod off during the 40min trip. The castle, home of the Prince Elektor, is much in ruin, but some parts have been restored – a constant job, with slippage still happening. The red stones are typical of the area and the castle shows some older fortifications, as well as the more ornate Rennaissance style Frederick building. Our guide overwhelmed us with information about the family of Frederick and Elizabeth and their 13 children. We saw the giant wine barrel – the cellar area was hugely congested, and we feared we’d lose sight of our group in the melee. A more ordered in/out system would have helped. After the castle we had a guided tour of the old city area including good views of the castle from the old Kornmarket, and the Dom and its little market stalls .We walked further up the Hauptstrasse to Augustinergasse and the student prison, of The Student Prince fame. Not much time for shopping, although I managed to buy a Heidelberg University T shirt and a Porsche police car, for someone!
A 30 min bus ride and we rejoined the ship which had made its way to Mainz, the second oldest city in Germany. Again, there was not much time for anything but getting ready for dinner. We treated ourselves to a 2 for one cocktail in happy hour – a tequila sunset. Dinner was lovely, this time shared with a lovely couple from Illinois. We sat up on the skydeck for a while, but soon retreated to our room, and crashed out.
To be continued