Three German rivers on Fred. Olsen's Brabant
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Castles, churches, vineyards and
medieval towns, Germany has them all but how best to see them, simply by
cruising the countries magnificent rivers.
My journey begins in Dusseldorf on boarding MS Brabant, a river cruise ship operated by Fred. Olsen River Cruises. Boarding is extremely easy and within minutes I am in cabin 306, a 161 sq. ft. Juliette balcony cabin on Mozart deck. Large double bed, 2 wardrobe areas and enough drawers for a 2-week cruise. Tea/coffee making facilities, flat screen tv, hairdryer and safe come as standard and bottles of water are supplied each day. The bathroom has a large shower cubicle with glass sliding doors so no more ‘dancing with the curtain’, toiletries come in small bottles of shampoo, body wash, conditioner and body lotion, towels are large, soft and thick. Electrical sockets are the continental 2-pin variety so don’t forget your adapters.
Unpacked, its time to explore.
Starting at the top, Deck 4, Sun
Deck is adorned with reclining deck chairs, tables, chairs, awnings, swimming
pool and bar for use when the sun Is shining, fancy a game of chess, there is a
large deck sized board and pieces and the wheel house at the forward end.
Deck 3 apart from the Juliette balcony
cabins and 2 suite cabins, the Amadeus Club Lounge at the stern, comfortable
chairs to relax in, 24-hour coffee/tea making facilities, a small library,
large tv screen to watch films and windows on 3 sides affording excellent
views. There is also a small open area that can be used in warm weather, but
this is also the smoking area used by both passengers and crew. The front of
this deck is devoted to the large Panorama Lounge and bar with windows on 3
sides, comfortable seating plus an exit to the open deck. It’s here that port talks, lectures and
entertainment from the resident duo take place, also light lunches and
afternoon tea, or just sit at the bar and sip a cocktail.
Deck 2, Strauss Deck, again, Juliette
balcony cabins whilst the centre is a small shop and reception from where you
can hire bicycles for the more energetic or binoculars for those who wish to
just observe in close up. Forward of this, the large, bright and airy Panorama
Restaurant operating tables of 4 and 6. Breakfast is buffet style offering a
varied choice, couldn’t resist the porridge with honey most days. Lunch usually
at 1pm is waiter service and has a salad bar as an extra course. Unlimited red
or white wine, beer or soft drinks are available to those who are on the £19
per person per day drinks upgrade otherwise it is pay as you go. Dinner, again
waiter service, is served at 7pm and all meals are operated on a sit where you
want basis, again for those on the drinks upgrade package the wines etc are free
flowing and the wine it has to be said was always of good quality added to
which the food during my cruise was excellent as was the service.
Deck 1, Haydn Deck is where you
find the 11 standard cabins that only have windows high up but still offer the same
amenities as the higher grades. This deck is also home to the hairdressers,
fitness room and massage room. A central staircase connects decks 1, 2 and 3
with a lift for the less agile.
Time for dinner and first chance
to sample what turns out to be excellent cuisine in quality, presentation and
choice served by a happy team of serving staff. After an early start, time to
try out that large bed. It must have been comfortable as the next thing I
remember was waking as we berthed in Cologne next morning.
Following a healthy breakfast, it’s
time to go ashore. Booked on a walking tour of the city time to collect the
Quietvox and meet the guide. Quietvox is a multi-channel radio receiver with
attachable earpiece so that even if you are following the guide at a distance
you can still hear their commentary.
Many associate Cologne with its
famous cathedral but it is equally well known for the twelve Romanesque
churches in and around the Old Town all built between the 4th and 11th
centuries. Following the river esplanades, it is noticeable how busy the river
is, large barges carrying freight pass every few minutes. Leaving the river and
ascending a side street the awesome splendour of Cologne Cathedral comes into
view, spires 515ft high making it the third tallest twin spired church in the
world. Originally work began in 1248 and continued for over 200 years but then
stopped until money could be raised to continue in 1842 and finally completed
in 1880. During WW2 the cathedral suffered from aerial bombing. When war ended,
work began on restoring the cathedral to its former glory and in some places is
still ongoing. Entering the cathedral by the main doors you can’t help but
stand in amazement at the beauty, stained glass windows, wall murals,
paintings, side chapels, a ceiling that reaches for the sky, mesmerising main
alter and so much more. It was here I said farewell to the guide as I wanted to
spend more time taking in this wonderful cathedral, no wonder it boasts being
Germany’s number one attraction with up to 20,000 visitors a day. Making my way
back to the boat the sky turns dark and rumbles of thunder can be heard, I make
it just in time as heavy rain has tourists running for cover.
Tonight, is Gala Night and unlike
ocean ships smart casual dress is the order as the Cruise Director introduces
the Captain and crew whilst passengers enjoy sparkling white wine and
canapés. Time for dinner and what a
delight, for me it had to be salmon trio to start followed by cream of Hokaido pumpkin
soup, Chateaubriand and red wine gravy with vegetables, bittersweet chocolate pot
de crème, cheese, biscuits and coffee.
Next morning sees us in Cochem
and it’s still raining as we board the coach to Reichsburg Castle situated high
above the town where had it been a sunny day would have afforded spectacular
views across the town and countryside. Originally built in about 1130 it was
named an Imperial Castle in 1151 but in 1688 was overrun by French troops and destroyed
staying as ruins until purchased in 1868 for 300 ‘Goldmark’ and restored. Visit
the dining room, imagine the enjoyment of a banquet, admire the exquisitely
painted ceilings, views through the leaded light windows, trophy room,
courtyard and much more. Finally, a wine tasting before returning to the old
town with an opportunity to wander the narrow streets past half-timbered houses
that have stood for centuries, on to the Market Square where the water fountain
takes centre place surrounded by cafes, restaurants and more beautiful half-timbered
houses, the medieval church of St Martin dating back to 1593 but restored after
being bombed in WW2. Finally, it’s across the bridge under which the Moselle
flows and back to the ship to dry off.
We sail at 2pm and begin our
cruise along the Moselle passing vineyards, small towns, villages and camp
sites by the water’s edge as we head for our next destination, Koblenz.
On arrival next morning the sky
is overcast and rain is on the way. However, this does not deter from a trip in
the cable car up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress that has stood guard over
Koblenz since being completed in 1828. From the fortresses viewing area 387 ft
above the river the views stretch out across the town to the hills beyond. Coming
back down in the cable car affords great opportunities to photograph the town
and the large statue of William l of Germany mounted on a 14-metre-high horse
standing at the point where the Moselle meets the Rhine. Back to the ship as we
have an early sailing time, 1pm when we say farewell to the Moselle and hello
to the Rhine as we sail to Freudenberg/Miltenberg.
Cruising the Rhine, it’s
noticeable the number of camp sites still full of tourists with their camper
vans and awnings despite it being October. We glide past villages and towns, their
churches prominent against the landscape, vineyards that adorn the hill sides,
castles perched on hill tops and being the start of autumn, the changing
colours of the leaves from green through various shades of brown. Our cruise
director gives a commentary of the castles as we cruise quietly by, even swans
and wild fowl ignore us as did a pair of white stork wading in the shallows.
The following morning, we continue on to Freudenberg where a shuttle bus is
offered to take some of the passengers to Miltenberg. Unfortunately, it is
still raining so many decide to remain on board and enjoy an excellent lunch in
the Panorama Restaurant followed by tea at 4pm. Teatime was always well
attended due mainly to the excellent scones, cream and something a little
different, Marmalade which personally I found gave a wonderfully crisp taste
rather than the more usual jam. What is the correct pronunciation and what goes
on first, cream or jam!!
Next day we enter the River Main
to one of my favourite destinations, Würzburg. As you negotiate a final twist
in the river the town unfolds before you, pass under the famous pedestrian
Mainbrücke bridge finished
in 1573, adorned with 12 sculptures of saints that were added in the
1700s. Once through the lock you berth on the town side of the river affording
clear views of the Marienberg Fortress sitting high above the river whilst on a
hill overlooking the fortress is the small Baroque chapel Käppele.
to be missed is the UNESCO world heritage site ‘Residence’, a large site
constructed between 1720 and 1744 having been commissioned by two
prince-bishops consisting of the palace, chapel and gardens. Enter the palace
into what was once the courtyard where horse drawn carried delivered visitors, ascend
the wide carpeted staircase to the fist level and admire the largest fresco in
the world, ascend to the top and enter rooms that become more beautiful as you
progress from one to the next. Gold leaf in abundance, chandeliers, paintings,
furniture from a bygone age until you finally reach the room of mirrors that
defy description. The palace exudes wealth and beauty, unfortunately photography
is not allowed. The gardens are immaculately kept in keeping with the building.
Back on board it’s the Captain’s Farewell
Cocktails followed by the final Gala Dinner. Tonight, we share a table with
Woolf the Hotel Manager who emanates from Austria. An interesting and jovial man,
a brilliant table host who kept us entertained with stories from his life
including his father who spoke 8 languages but never went outside Austria for
his holidays. A wonderful evening.
Next day, Bamberg but as it is
still raining, I choose to stay onboard and get the packing done as tomorrow after
an 801-kilometre journey along 3 of Germany’s major rivers we arrive in
Nuremburg and from there Munich Airport and home.
Regular Fred Olsen cruisers will
instantly recognise the warm welcome as you arrive, good food and service that the
company is renowned for. We visited some interesting areas and towns. Some say
they wouldn’t do a river cruise but to them I say, what is better than sitting
back, relaxing, gently gliding along beautiful rivers dotted with swans, ducks
and various bird species, past vine covered hillsides some topped with medieval
castles and fortresses, small towns and villages where churches stand tall
amongst half timbered houses of different colours, it doesn’t come much better.
Alan was a guest of Fred. Olsen
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.
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