Rhine River Cruise

4/30/09 - Talk about a great retirement trip! In April 2009, we took a riverboat cruise down the Rhine! It was organized by Olivia Tours and went from Amsterdam, through France and Germany, and ended in Switzerland.

We started in Amsterdam. Having been there before, we arrived just a day before the cruise began, so we could acclimate to the time zone and reacquaint ourselves with the city. We walked and walked around the city, sticking close to the canals and enjoying the sights of the narrow row houses. Of course we took a canal boat ride, the only way to really see the city from water. Lastly, we visited the flower gardens at Keukenhof, where we saw stunning fields of tulips in full bloom.

When we boarded the Avalon Tapestry, we were among 180  passengers on this small luxury riverboat. The cabins spacious and very well-appointed. The top deck was packed with chairs for lounging while watching the riverbanks go by. There was a small lounge, where we would watch old favorites like Lisa Koch and Roxanna Ward during our trip, as well as new regional performers. We were entertained by an enthusiastic German  cabaret singer and a fantastic German trio that played chamber music.

During our first day on the river, we passed through the Dutch countryside. It was apparent that the people who lived in this part of the country really enjoyed the river. We saw people strolling, riding bicycles, playing musical instruments, camping, jogging and living right along the riverbanks. As it was early spring, we were graced by the rows of poplar trees, with their new leaves, all along the riverbanks.

Our first stop was Cologne, Germany. There we walked through quaint cobblestone streets, passing many cafes on the riverfront. We saw the shop where the original "eau de cologne" was sold and visited a beautiful Gothic cathedral with soaring twin spires.

Coblenz was next, where again we wandered through picturesque streets. In this 2,000-year-old German city they have a charming fountain in one square, that every few minutes "spits" at passersby. Well, I guess it's better than the "manneken pis" in Brussels who releases water in another personal way.

On the fourth day of the cruise, we spent a relaxed afternoon up on deck as the boat meandered down the Rhine and our tour guide, Hans, narrated the scenery on the riverbanks. We passed vineyards on steep hillsides, where the grapes must be tended by hand. And we saw many, many castles from various periods of time, tucked up in the hills. We were so entranced by the countryside that we almost missed the statue marking the legendary rock of the Lorelei at the narrow bend of the river. This afternoon was easily our favorite part of the cruise - it was so relaxing and beautiful!

That evening, we made a quick stop in Rudesheim, where we visited Siegfried's Music Museum, with an amazing variety of mechanical musical instruments dating from the 18th to the 20th century.

Heidelberg, Germany's oldest university town, was our next stop. Here we went immediately to the fabulous Heidelberg castle perched high on the hill overlooking the town. The ruins of this sandstone castle illustrated many centuries of "renovations" as it withstood the elements as well as many changes of ownership. We had spectacular views of the surrounding countryside from up high.

In Strasbourg, France, we visited a Gothic cathedral with an amazing astronomical clock. We passed through squares filled with vendors on market day, but had little time to shop, as we were headed out to the Alsace region for some wine-tasting!

Our last full day on board we stopped in Breisach, Germany. In the misty rain, we visited a village full of cottages representative of various ages, and we took a ride into the Black Forest. What a beautiful region! In the early morning hours of our departure day from the cruise, we docked in heavy mist in the town of Basel, Switzerland. We boarded a bus for an hour-long drive to Zurich to spend a few days before we returned to the U.S.

In Zurich, our timing couldn't have been better. They were celebrating the arrival of spring with a 2-day festival. We joined the crowds to cheer on the children's parade one day and the adults parade the next. The marchers were dressed in clothing that represented the guilds of their forefathers - carpenters, wine-growers, woodworkers. At the very end of the festival, a straw effigy of winter was set ablaze to signify its departure. On that note, we flew home to welcome a new season - the beginning of spring and the beginning of my retirement.

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