Bette M., a guest that has traveled with Grand European Travel several times, explains what she enjoyed from her recent Rhine river cruise. In part one of her story, she shares experiences from her trip including visits to Kaysersberg and Riquewihr in France.
As the Finance Director for a federal government agency, one of the things I could look forward to was retiring when I was 55 with over 30 years of service. When that time came several years ago, I jumped into a new chapter of my life with a “bucket” list of things I wanted to do and see. Travel was right at the top of the list, so after a couple of years of settling into my new lifestyle and getting rid of most of my work clothes, I started out to explore our fantastic world. I did find that I require having a sense of purpose and several years ago volunteered with the AARP TaxAide Program. I am a District Coordinator and keep very busy for about five months of the year (which reminds me why I retired) and then as soon as April 15th has passed, I’m ready to hit the road again.
My adventures with Grand European Travel began in 2010, when they arranged a land tour of Great Britain for me, sister, niece, and friend. We were so impressed with the high level of customer service, that each year since then, I rely on them to arrange my hassle-free trip. In 2011, there was another land tour of Holland but then in 2012, I discovered the best way of all to travel – River Boat Cruises!! I loved seeing all the different parts of the countries on the land tours but packing/unpacking was something we had to do to get to all the good parts. With a river cruise, you only have to do this once. You still see all the different parts of the countries but your room goes with you!
My 2012 Danube River cruise was a solo trip for me but only started out that way. On board, I met two ladies from Las Vegas, one lady from England and one lady from South Africa. We had a great time and enjoyed each other’s company so much that we met in Portugal in 2013 to do the Douro River cruise. I talked my sister into that cruise and she enjoyed it so much that she and I decided to do the Castles Along the Rhine cruise in May of 2014. Our group has not come to a consensus on where to travel in 2015 yet but I’m sure we will have the same level of service from GET that keeps us coming back. The change that the company made to make the tours “all-inclusive” was great (in my opinion). The open bar for anything you wished and not having to remember to save out euros for the crew and tour manager tips is so convenient.
Each of the river cruises has been on a different boat and they have all been decorated beautifully and are so clean. The rooms were large, the food delicious and the service from all the crew was fantastic. They are all friendly and courteous and bend over backwards to ensure your comfort. The chef was truly interested in all the passengers’ thoughts and ideas on the meals.
The river trip this year lived up to the name “Castles Along the Rhine” especially as we entered the Lorelei Valley portion. One could get whiplash from trying to see the castles on both sides of the boat! The Rhine starts in the Alps and flows to the North Sea and is one of the few rivers in the world flowing north passing through Switzerland, France, Germany, and Holland. The southern area encompasses the Alsace area and since this was where my family ancestors lived before immigrating to America, we were very excited about being there.
We arrived in Basel, Switzerland mid-morning and were transported to the River Queen. During the afternoon, the tour director took a group into the “old town” area of Basel while waiting for the rest of the passengers. The next day we visited two Alsatian villages – Kaysersberg and Riquewihr. This region, Alsace, has been claimed by both Germany and France since the Middle Ages and only became French for good in 1945 after the German forces where driven out. The area is not particularly large but is a very fertile plain between the Black Forest on the East and the Vosges Mountains in the West. By law, no grapes can be planted on the plain but the foothills are covered in vines and some of the best Riesling wines come from this area. There are many small cemeteries dotting the countryside dedicated to those (including Americans) who were killed in WW I and WW II. These wars were fought in this area and they are not forgotten as many of the towns were 80% destroyed in those wars.
Kaysersberg (which means the Emperor’s Mountain) is where Albert Schweitzer was born. In this region, the stork is a very big part of their culture. There are 1,000 storks in Alsace and the nests are built on towers and church steeples. Villages can be designated as official “stork villages” and there is a person in those towns whose responsibility it is to watch over the storks, the nests and the young ones when hatched. They believe a stork will bring a “good soul” to a newborn and people put a cube of sugar on the ledge of the home to help guide the stork. Most of the houses on the old main street were original. The local guides gave us a slice Kougelhopf (a Bundt like cake topped with powdered sugar) that is made for weddings and other celebrations.
Next was Riquewihr, a medieval town that hasn’t changed much since the 1600’s. The original village had one main street which is still there – cobbled and very uneven. None of the fighting reached this town and so many of the buildings are still original. They have the signs over the doors showing what was inside (jewelry, wine making, cobblers, etc) since the people of that time could not read.
On the way back to the boat, we drove through Colmar which is the birthplace of Frederic Bartholdi who sculpted the Statue of Liberty and saw a small version of it.
Read the second half of Bette’s Rhine River cruise story here.