Where in the World

by Sarah Welch

River cruises have become the fastest growing type of travel in the last several years. Traditional tour companies in business, for years, have added river cruises to their offerings and new companies are showing up at travel shows. Where there are navigable rivers, you will likely find river cruises with varied itineraries and sightseeing.

Though ocean cruises are still most popular to the mass population, river cruises offer a slower pace and more intimate cruising experience for a much smaller number of passengers.

The ships hold approximately 125-170 passengers and are long and narrow, allowing them to go through multiple locks which are present on most rivers, which is interesting to watch. You are ‘locked’ into a space on the river and the water will either pour in or out, raising or lowering the ship before the gates open and allow the ship to continue at a different water level. Fascinating engineering!

Many cities were built along rivers, so you dock and simply walk off the ship to explore the port of call. You can take a guided walking tour through the city, go on your own or book an excursion to a nearby location or attraction of interest.

One of the most popular river cruises in Europe is on the Rhine River from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland, or reverse. Passengers are able to spend a day in Amsterdam, a 700 year old city with a rich history. Canal cruises through the city reveal the unique architecture and canal-side homes and restaurants. In the streets, you would think Amsterdam has more bicycles than any place in the world, and you may be correct. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of bicycles swish through the traffic everywhere and are locked in bicycle parking spaces on sidewalks.

Departing Amsterdam, the next stop is Cologne, one of Germany’s largest cities with a twin-spired gothic cathedral as the center attraction. The Old Town around the cathedral abounds with shops and cafes.

If you take a river cruise in late November or early December, Cologne and all the cities along the river host a Christmas Market with colorful Christmas lights and tents offering decorations, gifts, good and drink. It will definitely put you in the Christmas spirit!

The next stop along the route is Koblenz, a 2000 year old city which is the perfect location for a walking tour. Further along you will cruise by the legendary Rock Of Lorelei, where it is said the enchanting song of the siren lured sailors to their doom.

The most beautiful stretch of river is the Rhine Gorge where you see many ancient castles perched high on the cliffs, some in ruins, but others remain stranding strong.

Next passengers will visit Rudesheim, and Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum where you will see a large collection of calliopes and music boxes from the 18th to early 20th century. It is a truly magical stop.

Further along, the ship will dock at Mainz and Heidelberg. The highlight of Mainz is the Gutengern Museum, honoring the father of modern printing, Johannes Gutenberg. Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest university founded in 1386. A visit to the ruins of Heidelberg Castle high above the city overlooking the Old Town and the Neckar Valley is a must.

The castle was built and re-built over several centuries in varied architectural styles. Heidelberg also boasts the “World’s Largest Wine Barrel”, which is 23 feet high and 28 feet wide, and holds 58,000 gallons of wine. It even has a dance floor on top.

Strasbourg is situated on the border between France and Germany and the city straddles the Rhine River. On the French side, visit the majestic Gothic cathedral with its ancient murals and stained glass.

Strasbourg is a wonderful shopping city, I found a hat shop there with beautiful felted wool hats, but where would I wear a wool hat in East Texas?

Breisach is also located on the French-German border and is the gateway to Germany’s Black Forest, well known for its Black Forest ham, Black Forest cherry cake and, of course, cuckoo clocks.

You will want to visit a local woodcarver shop where cuckoo clocks are handmade. They are noisy, but so very charming.

Disembark this cruise at Basel, Switzerland, and transfer to Zurich by bus for your flight home. Or, you can opt to extend your visit by staying over in Basel or taking the train to Lucerne or Interlaken before flying our of Zurich. That is another column though.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”~Jennifer Lee