Avalon Waterways Romantic Rhine Cruise - Part 3
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Strasbourg to Koblenz highlights
A short walk from the ship we boarded a boat for a scenic
one-hour cruise on the canal and River Ill which surround the historical city
centre. This was a great introduction to view the city with its diversity of
medieval houses and the large contemporary EU buildings: the European
Parliament, European Court of Justice and the European Council.
Strasbourg is now in the Alsace region of France and sits on
the border with Germany on the Rhine. Due to its strategic position the city
was alternately occupied by France and Germany, which has impacted on both its
culture and architecture. To put this into perspective our guide said any
current Strasbourg centenarians would have changed nationality four times in
Petit France is a delightful maze of lanes flanked by
well-preserved half-timbered medieval houses and has been a UNESCO World
Heritage Site since 1988. The area used
to be home to millers, fishermen and tanners and the buildings are connected
across the River Ill by footbridges, many of which date from the 16th and 17th
centuries. The architecture is
particularly interesting as the buildings have large sloping roofs and include
open lofts where hides were once dried.
The European Quarter on the banks of the river consists of
several large striking contemporary buildings that house European Union
offices. The European Court of Human
Rights has 47 member states. The
European Parliament, which meets 12 times each year, houses 751 MEPS in its
large sprawling offices. Our guide joked that difficulties can surface when
dealing with so many nationalities, particularly when organizing formal
dinners, as demonstrated by her wonderfully politically incorrect anecdote:
“When everyone is in agreement arrangements run smoothly:
the French cook; the British meet and greet; the Italians entertain; the
Germans organize the event. When things don’t run smoothly: the British cook;
the French meet and greet; the Germans entertain and the Italians organize
everything. The Greeks are then asked to foot the bill!”.
Following the canal and river cruise there was a tour of the
city’s spectacular cathedral. The original medieval stained glass is superb as
is the astronomical clock that dates back to the 14th century. There was a walking tour through the centre
back to the ship but we opted for a coffee and taxi to save on the legs. In the
afternoon there were three optional excursions: Black Forest; French wine
tasting; Maginot Line bunker; which by all accounts were excellent.
The second night aboard was the Gala Welcome Dinner - such a
good idea not to have it on the first night - an a la carte five-course gourmet meal and excellent regional wines and
truly outstanding. Afterwards we were
entertained by a local French duo - accordion and singer - performing songs by
Piaf, Aznavour and the like. By rights
we should have been ready for bed but after some more friendly chatter the
staff came round with a late evening snack - mini pizzas which were
surprisingly light and delicious at the same time - just in case we hadn’t
eaten enough supper.
Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town, is a thirty
minute drive from Mannheim where we docked. The vibrant student town enjoys a temperate climate so we sat outside in
the market square enjoying a drink following a visit to the beautifully
romantic Schloss Heidelberg, which hovers above the town. Previously one of the grandest palaces of the
Renaissance period and considered the eighth wonder of the world in the 17th
century it is now semi-ruined but a definite must-see. The castle became the
home of Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James VI of Scotland & James I
of England, when she married Frederick of Palantine on Valentine’s Day
1613. They were both aged 16 and
apparently very much in love. The impressive Elizabeth Gate (1615) was built in
sections and erected overnight so Frederick could surprise his wife on her
birthday the next morning - now that’s what I call romantic. The panoramic views of the city from the
ramparts across the rooftops and the River Necker are most impressive.
charming and reputedly has the longest shopping street in Germany with many
speciality shops including a praline chocolatier and an all-year round
Christmas shop selling a myriad of hand carved and glass bauble decorations.
Following supper entertainment was provided by a talented
trio of two violinists and guitarist who played a wide selection of European
and classical music. Exquisite.
Wednesday: Mainz & Rudesheim
Mum wasn’t up to the walking tour of Mainz and the
attractions of its cathedral and the Gutenberg museum - home of the father of
modern printing - particularly with an early 8.30 start, so we elected for a
lie-in with tea and blueberry muffins in our room. However, when guests returned there were so
many complimentary comments about the guided walking tour I was sorry to have
As we sailed north under grey skies it was unusually cold
for mid October but it was so pleasant being on the ship, chatting to people,
enjoying tea in the lounge whilst watching the world go by that the weather
didn’t detract from our enjoyment at all.
Early afternoon we arrived in the pretty, but touristy,
village of Rudesheim. Transported by a mini tourist train around the village we
had a fascinating visit to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music museum, which houses
one of the largest collections of mechanical music boxes, barrel organs and
musical box plates. Afterwards we
sampled the local delicacy of a Rudesheimer creamy coffee with a slug of local
brandy before we ambled down the narrow cobbled streets back to the ship.
That evening many guests opted to experience a typical
German meal in one of Rudesheim’s restaurants. However, travelling with mum it was easier to dine on-board,
particularly as the food, service and dining companions never disappointed.
Also, the included wines have all been excellent and one’s glass is regularly
topped up without having to eye the waiter.
Thursday: Rhine Gorge & Koblenz
Just after 8.30 we started our sail down the Rhine
Gorge. This famous stretch of the Middle
Rhine Valley epitomizes the romantic notion of the river with spectacular
scenery, 40 castles and fortresses from the Middle Ages, picturesque villages
and precipitous vineyards tumbling down the steep hillsides.
For most guests this was one of the highlights of the trip
and one which I had anticipated viewing from the Sky Deck against a backdrop of
blue skies and sunshine. With rain, mist
and clouds it did not look promising. However, tucked up inside the lounge
gliding through breathtaking scenery on this misty day was, arguably, more
beautiful. This stretch of the river was
declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002 and, to be fair, would be
stunning at any time of year. To make up for the cold, wet, day and put a smile
on everyone’s face we were offered a glass of warming Gluewein which was
particularly enjoyed by those brave souls on the Sky Deck, keen to make the
most of the experience in spite of the weather.
After passing the last castle we arrived at Koblenz, which
is located at the confluence of the Mosel and Rhine rivers. The location is
impressive and it’s easy to understand why the Romans first occupied this site
50 years BC.
The weather was not kind during our time in Koblenz and as
Mum languished on the ship, the majority of us joined one of the three included
tours in the area. I opted for the city
walking tour. As usual, the standard of guiding was excellent and despite the
rain it was interesting to walk around Koblenz, which like other strategic
cities was heavily bombed during WW2 and reconstructed following the original
city plan. But although there was free
time to wander around the town most people headed back to the ship, rather cold
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Avalon Waterways
- Part 1 - Chrissy prepares for a 90th birthday treat
- Part 2 - The 90th birthday celebration river cruise
- Part 4 - Cologne & Amsterdam highlights
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