Grand European Travel guest, Dale B. continues his story about his recent Castles Along the Rhine River Cruise, picking up his narrative in Strasbourg.
After moving from Breisach to Strasbourg overnight, we spent the morning in a canal boat in Strasbourg. This part of the cruise takes in everything from 15th and 16th century dwellings to 21st century buildings that house the European Parliament and the ARK TV network. It passed under picturesque bridges and through a lock into a quiet lagoon surrounded by half-timbered houses. We then walked to Notre Dame Cathedral in the city center and later shared a table at an outdoor café with tourists from other tour lines.
At this point, my wife stayed in Strasbourg, while I departed for the optional Black Forest excursion. While she spent the afternoon sipping wine on the sundeck of the Antoinette, I saw the Black Forest, had a traditional German lunch of Black Forest ham, cheeses, salad and (available to those so inclined) some good German beers. The countryside is absolutely beautiful, with sweeping valleys and vistas, as well as stretches of winding roadway overshadowed by tall evergreens. Afternoon visits to a cuckoo clock factory and shop and an outdoor museum of local culture topped off the day.
I must mention the dining experience aboard the Antoinette. One thing that struck us was that there were no two-person tables. That means that even those who may be reticent to strike up new acquaintances are, in essence, encouraged to do so.
We had a favorite table served by our favorite waiter, Ladislav from the Czech Republic (Let me say here that the multi-national crew members, all fluent in English, were a true delight). This table seated eight, and was full almost every evening. During our cruise we ate with a farm couple from North Dakota, a nurse administrator, several school teachers from California, a plastic surgeon and his wife from Pittsburgh, a psychotherapist from Kansas City and a retired power company technician and his wife from the West Coast, among others.
Whereas lunch was always a lavish buffet-style affair, dinner was more formal (although with a wide range of attire being worn, none of which was truly “formal wear”). The menu and wine selections for the evening were presented with commentary and recommendations by the waiter. Service was prompt and efficient, the meals themselves examples of the finest in culinary art, from escargot to baked Alaska. There was not a meal that we did not thoroughly enjoy at every course.
Throughout the cruise we took advantage of the locally guided tours, including an excursion to a vinegar tasting at an estate that specializes in vinegars made from fine wines; a wine tasting at a castle surrounded by vineyards; an aerial tram ride to a hilltop fortress in Koblenz; and a walking tour of Cologne, including a visit to the magnificent cathedral there.
Others took advantage of optional trips to Heidelberg and to Marksburg Castle in Braubachis. To their credit, Uniworld arranged at each stop where a walking excursion was offered, a special “gentle walkers” tour for those of us of a certain age and with mobility problems. I was surprised at how many people much younger than us took advantage of those special trips as the week progressed.
True to its name, the highlight of this cruise was the portion that took us along the stretch of the Rhine where castles abound. We had been told by our Travel Manager Tony that we would see “castles on the right and castle on the left”. We were not disappointed. The entire cadre of 140 passengers spread out across the Antoinette’s sundeck, some reclining in lounge chairs, wrapped in blankets against a slight October chill, others standing at the rail, cameras of all descriptions in hand, and all fascinated by the seemingly never-ending stream of castles atop the riverside hills, as well as the Autumn coloration creeping into the trees.
The final leg of the cruise, from Cologne to Amsterdam, brought a wide variety of scenery. We saw power-generating plants, vintage church steeples, modern bridges, local residents flying gigantic, colorful kites on a breezy Sunday afternoon, high-rise radio/TV towers, horses grazing along the riverbank, fisherman and riverside campers, and watercraft of all types – a sternwheeler, jet ski, barges, houseboats, small sailboats, even a scull being rowed by an energetic crew.
One more note. This was a gratuities-included cruise. We heard several guests comment that it was a great relief not having to worry about “when, for what, to whom, and how much.” And we agree.
How to sum up such a wonderful experience as we had during our “Castles along the Rhine” cruise? Well, my wife of 52 years has already begun talking about another “one last big trip.” Perhaps the Danube this time?
Interested in seeing the Castles Along Rhine? View the full day-by-day itinerary here.