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Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

NSW, Australia
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Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

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

Seabrook, Texas
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1. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

Very much enjoying your trip report, thanks for taking the time to post. Will check back for the next installment.

Susan

Sydney, Australia
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for Sydney, New South Wales, Cruises
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2. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

Lovely read so far - thanks for taking the time to do it.

Alsace, France
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3. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

So glad you had a great time ... and hope your memory stick arrives soon!

NSW, Australia
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4. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

By now we were sleeping much better – maybe the copious wine at dinner, and the active days helped! Breakfast was again magnificent – omelettes are getting to be a daily habit, not to mention champagne and orange juice. German sparkling now because we are in Germany.

After breakfast, at 8.30 we joined our local guide in Mainz, Annaleise, for a walk to the Gutenburg Museum where she demonstrated the type setting and printing press by which Mainz’s famous son Guttenberg began printing bibles – at 5 per month. Prior to that one manuscript took years to produce by hand.

We then walked around the old city seeing the beautiful and unique style of houses, and the Dom – another Romanesque building. Again we heard the stories of how intertwined the history and religion of the area is. Even now Germans pay a church tax. During the Holy Roman Empire Mainz was a centre of power.

Back to the ship and we set off into the middle Rhine region. Frankfurt, with its large airport and industrial centre, is nearby, explaining why we saw lots of planes non-stop.

Wiesbaden – a spa town, and a state capital is across the river from Mainz. It currently hosts a large American base. Along the banks we see the impressive ‘Biebrick’ Palace late Baroque style. (1700’s)

We cruised through the Riesling growing areas. (Last good year was 2005 – but 2012 is expected to be a good one)

We enjoyed lunch and arrived at the lovely town of Rudesheim. A ‘choo-choo’ train took us all to Siegfreid’s Mechanical Musical Museum. An extremely dramatic German lass in period costume, took us around and set a number of the music players in motion. We were enthralled at the big 30 piece orchestra dance hall player, the fair ground music machine and my favourite the piano with real violins played with a horse hair circular bow. After the music box shop we went down to the Schloss, were welcomed by a member of the owner’s family and enjoyed a beautiful local specialty – a Rudesheim coffee. Into a vase shaped cup, 3 sugar cubes are placed, cover with a local wine based brandy, stirred, then hot coffee added, topped with thick whipped cream and a sprinkle of chocolate. Something like an Irish Coffee – and delicious! We then had free time and shopped our way down the Drosselgasse, buying a watch to replace the one that had now stopped! Maybe not a Swiss watch – but a German one!

We thought we were back in time for a quiet relax on the boat til dinner time but almost immediately Barbara informed us (via room PA) that a lecture on the history of the Rhineland was happening in the lounge. Elmar Bretz’ talk turned out to be well constructed, interesting and illustrated with a slide show… and then topped off by him playing and singing a song… From Here I am.

He explained Rhineland history, beginning with the Romans, then key figures like Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire, who brought Christianity to the area, through to Napoleon. The area of the middle Rhine (Rudesheim to Coblenz)is a UNESCO world cultural heritage area. Mark Twain spent much time here too.

His talk encompassed human history, starting with how human kind has 4% link to Neanderthal man…then 3,500 years ago the Celts spread from Rhineland all over Europe. Julius Caesar was in the area around 70BC as a General. The Romans were restricted by the Germanic tribes, so they fortified the border line from the Rhine to the Danube. The Roman Empire moved east under Constantine towards Byzzantium/Constantinople, which became his capital. (now Istanbul). Rome and the west then became less important. The Franks began to fill the void. They spread Christianity all over Europe. Koblenz church dates from 836 and the coming of pilgrimages for people visiting Rome. Monasteries dot the way. Charlemagne moved about central Europe and even set up court in Coblenz. On his death, his sons split up the Holy Roman Empire, causing disputes over the border line and the beginning of the German/French disputes to follow us to modern times. The German section was to fracture even further. The castles along the Rhine were constructed as power bases for the ‘Robber Barrons’ to collect tolls and charges along the Rhine from traders and tarvellers For 800 years, right up to the 1860’s you had to stop frequently to pay the required taxes.- mayber 50% of cargo went in tax. This skyrocketed the price of goods. The internal struggles also left the area vulnerable and the 30 years war 1618-48 over religion (power and money) hurt the area badly. During the Palatinate succession war a French king destroyed many of the castles, particularly on one side. Many have now been restored. During the French revolution many French nobles escaped to this area – with a family connection between Louis XVI and a Rhineland Archbishop. Napoleon lost the area to the Prussians, under Frederick Wilhelm V after his failed move on Russia. We saw Frederick’s yellow summer house castle just before Koblenz. Wilhelm I succeeded, then Wilhelm II who became emperor too young and ignored advice from such as Bismark, leading into WWI and French occupation. Worse was to come in WWII when Hitler destroyed much of Europe. Much has been achieved since in French-German relations, including the Euro zone agreements.

Dinner was wonderful again and we joined our Brisbane friends as well as an older couple from Atlanta. E was quite fascinating – and it turns out she was an actress.

After dinner, where we even asked for more wine, we decided that another Rudesheim coffee would be nice and walked back to the Schloss where the Avalon optional dinner was just finishing. Those who went seemed to enjoy it, however we felt the dinners we had already paid for on board were more than good enough for us – and the wine as well. It is true that the wait staff tend to stop refilling glasses after main course – probably with good reason, as we’d had more than a couple of glasses by then! However, if asked, they would find more, without hesitation! Building a rapport with wait staff probably helped – we certainly had a couple of favourites!

The coffee was a perfect way to finish another wonderful day. Back to the boat and bed – although we optimistically thought we would watch a movie – Enchanted – available on the in-house movie list. Of course I was already enchanted …and promptly fell asleep!

NSW, Australia
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5. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

(Continued )

This was the day that all Rhine River cruisers are waiting for! After breakfast we hit the top deck for the cruise through the UNESCO World Heritage area of the castles of the middle Rhine. Of course it was the coldest day we had had yet, so we rugged up…literally with blankets from our room, scarves and coats. Not many of us lasted the whole way through to lunch…but K & I did it, with a coffee along the way.

As we left Rudesheim we saw the pylons of the old Hindenberg bridge blown up by Hitler. Soon Bingen was on our left (port side) and the Germania monument high on the hill to starboard. Rudesheim and Bingen are linked by a car ferry – a bit like Lawrence (a nearby town on our river, The Clarence, at home) really! Klopp castle was followed by vineyards up the steep hills, and then the Maus Tower, built by the Archbishop of Mainz back in the times of the Holy Roman Empire. We passed by more toll collecting castles, like Ehrenfels and Rheinstein, opposite the famous spa town of Assmannshausen, with its beautiful waterfront inns. Each castle was the centre of a separate feudal area and made money charging the traders passing by. The churches are Rheinish Gothic- typically painted cream and orange. Castles were self sufficient but often subjected to starvation in war time. Most of the castles were built in the 10th & 11th centuries, but were destroyed during the 30 year war and the uprising of the peasants following Martin Luther’s reformation. Napoleon tried to unite all the principalities under the Confederation of the Rhine River.

Pfalz Castle in the town of Kaub looks like a boat and is towered over by the Gutenfels castle. Further on, Shonburg Castle has a mixture of Gothic & Romanesque styles … and the legend of the 7 virgins, who turned into rocks a little further downstream. The Rhine Gorge is at its narrowest at the Loreley between 554 and 555km mark. Rheinfels, the largest of the castles, survived French destruction – one of the few. Sterrenberg & Liebenstein castles, just before Boppard are very close, giving rise to the legend of the ‘enemy brothers’.

We docked in the Moselle River at Koblenz and had a lovely German lunch. At 1.30 we set off with our guide Ellieanne to explore Koblenz - first the Moselle river front, then the German Corner with its huge statue of Wilhelm 1, last emperor (they don’t count the ‘bad’ Wilhelm II). Then we visited the Cathedral of our lady, a Romanesque building.

Dinner that night was a riot with an Aussie table, then the crew talent show and music and dancing. It was our latest night.

Consequently we are getting slower and slower to breakfast, so it was a rush to get ready for our 8.30am guided tour of Cologne. We stuck to red group right through, and this time had Claudia, who was excellent. Being Aussies we are not used to tipping, and didn’t feel the need to tip the local guides, however they of course were most appreciative of the American’s tips … but made no tacky announcements requesting such. Avalon organizes a group gratuity for the boat staff and a separate one for the Cruise Director, which we paid as part of our booking fee. I think this is handled differently in each country.

We walked along the waterfront and headed up into the old city where we saw the town squares and the city hall where lots of well dressed people were arriving to be married. We saw the on going excavation of Roman ruins – a huge boost for tourism as well as historians. We saw the museum and finished at the magnificent Gothic twin spired cathedral. A team of over 60 are employed full time to look after the cathedral. They gradually replace the stone work that deteriorates – it is not cleaned. We went into the visitors centre where the guide had said we could go to the toilet – it was a surprise to find that it cost us 50c each! On our own we walked down the shopping area and found the 4711 shop at 4711 Glockengasse, smelling it before we saw it. We bought some souvenirs and made our way gradually back to the boat for lunch.

The afternoon was spent sailing …at least for the captain, but for Kerry & I, the week’s activity caught up and we fell asleep for the afternoon. We woke up in time to visit the wheel house where we saw the radar and controls, with Captain Manfred. Downstairs for our one and only afternoon tea, and we then stayed on for Barbara’s talk on modern Germany. It was interesting, passionate and well informed. Dinner was a gala affair with lots of courses. I forgot to mention a beautiful musical interlude before dinner with a group called La Strada. This classical trio were just wonderful to listen to, bringing tears to many of our eyes, and re awakening our love for classical music. Having witnessed the rapport between the younger man and woman, so tuned in to each others music, we were not surprised to later find out they were recently married! Do not miss them, if you have the chance – although I believe the members of La Strada do change from time to time.

Having arrived in Amsterdam, our destination after an overnight sail, after breakfast we set off in busses to join our Canal cruise – 2 boats needed. Linda was our guide, telling us much about the history and architecture as we passed through the old city area with its beautiful narrow houses – including a single window frontage. Some are on a lean because of building practices of the past. By now we were familiar with the ‘window tax’ and loopholes that meant boarded up windows and narrow tall buildings became popular tax dodges. Locks are needed to equalize river levels. We passed Anne Frank’s House and the new buildings built over the sad stories of the Jewish area.

After the tour we stayed on in town walking down to the Dam Square and back along the Damrak looking in souvenir shops. Back to the boat for lunch and it was time for our one and only optional excursion – the Kerkenhof Gardens.

We were bussed to Kerkenhof where we were greeted with a magnicent tulip display of 7.5 million bulbs. The gardens are a cooperative effort of the nearby tulip bulb farmers. The flower beds were amazing and went on forever. The artistic displays in the variety of pavilions was also worth the trip in itself.

We had a wonderful last dinner with a couple from Melbourne, and their friends. They were very kind in including us for pre-dinner drinks and saving us space at their dinner table. Most travellers were couples, so we at times felt a bit odd travelling as two female friends - but were mostly made very welcome.

After dinner we headed out for our own Red light walk with another couple. It was interesting, but sort of sad and not comfortable to see the girls so openly touting for customers. In fact Amsterdam was overall a bit disappointingly dirty, and perhaps not showing good benefits of its loose drug and night time culture!

The following day was our last to wake up on the Felicity.We set both alarms for 6am, but of course woke up well before after a disrupted night anticipating an early start. Our neighbouring boat left around midnight, and another berthed in its place. Amsterdam is such a busy port for cruise boats. You could not be closer to the city centre. We enjoyed our last boat breakfast, including keeping intact our routine of champagne and orange juice every morning.

As our beds had already been moved and changed while we were at breakfast, there was not much point staying around, so we left the boat with plenty of time to walk to the station where we had already sussed out our way through the back entrance and up a lift to platform 15b. Interestingly platform 15a is the same platform… just further up!

Now we are on our way to Paris!

(You can read further about our travels on the Paris forum)

Adelaide, Australia
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6. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

Wonderful reading, thanks for sharing.

Wellington, New...
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7. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

We shall be on the Artistry II the later part of this July and this has whetted our appetites, thanks! Would be happy to see Strasbourg again and their super transport system. The railway station there, the gare is quite interesting and we have used it to get from Paris to Zurich. On my arrival there several years ago I was helped and greeted by a lovely Frenchman who accompanied us to the hotel then kissed me goodbye.I was with my husband!

NSW, Australia
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8. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

Ah - the french!!

Have a great time - hopefully the flood aftermath will have settled down by next month. I look forward to another river cruise...sometime.

For those who may have followed the saga of my lost camera ... tracked by trip advisor readers on the Strasbourg forum. The taxi company eventually posted just the picture card, as the quote for posting the camera seemed ridiculous. However sadly the card had been wiped clean ...or possibly was never my card. Not the happy ending I had hoped to thank the forum readers for....but luckily my travel companion was more responsible with her camera, so we still have photos!

Essex england
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9. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

Going on royal crown boat in aug anybody been?

NSW, Australia
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599 posts
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10. Re: Trip Report - Rhine River Cruise

Cookie, it is nice to know my trip reports are still being read...but you may do better to post your question on another forum - like Cruise Critic message boards.

I don't know the line you are going on...but the river cruise experience is fantastic. Have a great time next month.