(a gloomy-gray weather cruise)


One nice thing about this particular departure is NO single supplement which is a big savings. I had to change the dates on the Alaska trip, but that worked out fairly well. I'm a bit "leery" of the trip since the descriptions make it sound more formal and stuffy than I like. There is also so much emphasis on the "free" (so called) wines which I don't drink.

A few days before the trip, Tropical Storm "Debby" posed a major risk to Houston and thus the flights out, but "she" decided to go through Florida instead. I'm glad I'm not on that Florida trip now; they've had huge amounts of rain where we were traveling.

Day 1, Saturday, June 30 Depart US
No Debby, but we do have fairly extensive scattered thunderstorms all last night and through the morning. With a 4PM departure, I scheduled the StuporShuttle at 12:05 (in a brief break from the rain), then though a VERY heavy thunderstorm out to the airport. At least it cleared a bit and we got off on time. There is a 7 hour time difference to Central Europe. I booked seat 9C Economy DISComfort on both of the long flights. The seat was so extremely narrow that this turned out to be the worst flight I've ever taken … and I'm to be shoe-horned into the same )*&%^(%*(!!! torture chamber on the return flight. At least it was a bit shorter than originally scheduled - we got in about 25 minutes early.

KLM 0662Houston - Amsterdam4:00 P - 7:50 A8:504:20

Day 2/1, Sunday, July 1 Basel
With a 4-hour layover, I had no trouble making the next flight on a small Fokker 70 commuter jet. I finally got my seat assignment as I printed my boarding passes. I used some of the time in Amsterdam to get Euros for later in the trip. The seat is MUCH better on this little plane.

KLM 1987Amsterdam - Basel12:10 P - 1:20 P1:1014:20

Arrive at Euro Airport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, in the rain, but again we arrived a bit early, and are transferred to the ship, the "River Queen." With no stops in Basel, there is no need for Swiss currency. I'm down in "steerage" class - cheapest cabin on the lowest (Moselle) deck, cabin 107. It's nice in some ways, but frustrating in others. Although we aren't served lunch - we just missed it since we didn't get onboard until 3PM = 8AM Sunday Houston time - but at least we do get dinner, which, as expected since it's a "served" meal, it turns out to be one of those overly-long, stuffy dinners! Very boring for me - I'm used to a much quicker/shorter meal. I'll probably decide to just skip the other dinners. (D)

There are 117 head of cattle on this "barge." But we have a really excellent Tour Director / Cruise Manager - Rik from the Netherlands.. (D)

Day 3/2, Monday, July 2 Breisach (Colmar or Riquewhir)
Featured Excursion: Choice of Colmar city tour OR Alsatian wine villages.

OPTIONAL EXCURSION: Black Forest with Lake Titisee - half day afternoon tour.

Thanks to my "crash and burn" fall on the Florida trip, I'll probably still be using my cane on the whole trip.

As forecast, the weather today is scattered showers and an occasional thunderstorm. The documentation says: "Today we have 'wonderful' ways to spend the first day of our river cruise adventure." This morning we can take a tour Medieval Colmar in the Alsace region of France, (recommended by Norbert), or traipse through the Alsatian wine villages of Kayserberg and Riquewihr (no thanks). I chose the Colmar trip which, despite the rain, turned out to be a very nice excursion.

This afternoon we can unwind onboard, explore Breisach on our own, or join a horse-drawn carriage ride through Germany's Black Forest. Instead after a brief "(very) light buffet lunch," I'll meet my friend and spend the afternoon with him. We walked through the lovely little town of Breisach, then drove through the countryside to see/visit some other very interesting small towns to see the lush fields and beautiful scenery. To some extent, we went on a very similar excursion to the one that was the other option this morning other than this was in Germany, not France. This was so different from visiting (sometimes only) the larger cities and so was also a very nice excursion. A special thanks goes to my friend for sharing his time with me for the afternoon.

A special Captain's Welcome Gala Brawl is planned for us this evening. During his comments in the "Welcome," he acknowledged that their internet service was poor to lousy to bad! Supposedly some of their (onshore) personnel will come and "fix the problem." I'm not "holding my breath." As for the dinner, the early printed documentation said no formal dress required but the information given to us on board says coat and tie - which I don't have, so I have to skip the dinner. For the same reason, I'll have to skip the Farewell Bash at the end of the cruise. (BB, L, Brawl)

Colmar City Tour: A motorcoach takes us, in light rain, on a 30-minute ride from Breisach to the medieval village of Colmar which is nestled between the Vosges Mountains (invisible in the rain) and the Rhine River. Despite the ups and downs of its turbulent history, Colmar has managed to preserve its historical center. It has been listed as a protected area, and, as a result, it undergoes constant restoration. The buildings date from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century.

Our walking tour takes us past the Maison-des-Tetes (House of the Heads) which is a beautiful large house and which owes its name to the 111 heads decorating its façade, and Maison Pfister (Pfister House), a fine bourgeois residence built during the Renaissance. The Eglise des Domincans (Dominican Church) and Egise Saint-Martin (St Martin's Church) are examples of pure Gothic architecture stripped of all ornamentation. We also pass the Musee Bartholdi (Bartholdi Museum), the house where the creator of the Statue of Liberty, sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, was born. The most interesting place to visit was the Musee Unterlinden (Underlinden Museum). After the tour, we have free time to explore on our own including a visit to the cathedral. Stroll along the Quai de la Poissonnerie (Fisherman's Wharf) before boarding the motorcoach to travel back to the ship in Breisach. It was a nice tour.

Alsatian Wine Villages. Our exploration of Alsace begins in the village of Kayserberg which lies on eastern France's popular wine route. This is the hometown of Albert Schweitzer, the famous doctor, philosopher, and musician. Though it was spared the ravages of WWI, Kayserberg suffered heavy damage during WWII. Sensitive reconstruction has restored the town's historic character and cemented its reputation as one of the brightest gems of the Alsatian region. Take a guided walking tour of Kayserberg's prettily painted, blossom-bedecked houses.Then we'll embark on a scenic drive along the famous route des vins that stretches along the foothills of the Voges Mountains. We pass verdant vineyards, romantic castle ruins, and a myriad of inviting villages on our way to Riquewihr, a picturesque town whose layout has not changed since the Middle Ages. Take time to stroll among Riquewihr's charming shops and flower-bedecked homes. Local specialties include wine, schnapps, cheese, and artisan bread. After we're done shopping, hop back onto our motorcoach for the drive back to the ship.

Black Forest with Lake Titisee. (OPTIONAL EXTRA) The excursion begins with a motorcoach ride through the fine Breisgau vineyards of the southern Schwarzwald (Black Forest). Here the roads meander through exceptionally lush landscapes that boast more shades of green and blue than a jumbo box of crayons. Along the route lies Freiburg, one of Germany's charming old university towns which is renowned for being the sunniest and warmest city in the nation. Passing Freiburg, we begin our ascent through Hollental (Hell Valley) to beautiful Lake Titisee, a glacier lake surrounded by densely forested mountains. (This turns out to be a very WRONG description - they never get to the Lake - just drive around for a while in the forest.) Upon arrival at Lake Titisee, we disembark the motorcoach and settle into a horse-drawn carriage for a magical ride through the spectacular Black Forest. Called Silva Nigra (Black Forest) back in Roman times, this gorgeous land of wooded hills and valleys was named for the deep shadows created by its dense profusion of conifers. Home of Black Forest ham, Black Forest cake, and the beloved cuckoo clock, this is picture-postcard Germany where natural beauty and deep-seated traditions exist side-by-side.

As we ride beneath the pines and firs, keep our eyes out for some of the region's wildlife such as owls, eagles, and Black Forest cattle. We also see evidence of the region's hardy, intensely traditional residents: scattered among the valleys are romantic farms and quaint shingled farmhouses. Stop to enjoy a customary local snack of Black Forest ham with rye bread, washed down with a glass of Kirschwasser (locally produced cherry brandy). Then take a short hike along the shores of stunning Lake Titisee before boarding the coach and returning to the ship.(This all turns out to be a very WRONG description - they never get to the Lake - just drive around for a while in the forest. At least we are told this before-hand.)

Day 4/3, Tuesday, July 3 Strasbourg
Featured Excursion: Strasbourg canal cruise. Admire picturesque Strasbourg the way it has been through the ages - on a canal boat

OPTIONAL EXCURSION: Hot Air Balloon Ride (very early morning) Those who take this option miss the Strasbourg city tour.

Weather forecast: overcast, possible light rain. Situated halfway between Paris and Prague, the Alsatian town of Strasbourg is knows as the "Crossroads of Europe." It's located on the border of France and Germany which has resulted in Strasbourg's unique blending of those nations' traditional culinary and architectural styles.

This morning we can get up Very Early, and depart the ship at 6AM to take an incredible (optional) hot air balloon ride that will carry us high above the French and German countryside. Otherwise, those who made it to breakfast also got to see 60-70 swans flocking around the side of the ship looking for more "breakfast" handouts. We can have a leisurely breakfast and at 9AM, we take a relaxing tour of multicultural Strasbourg via its historic canals. Unfortunately, due to the boat's glass top structure, and reflections in the glass top, no pictures are possible. The cruise itself was nice, but the inability to take pictures of some very interesting sights made the cruise disappointing.

The afternoon is free to enjoy however we wish. We can stay in town for lunch (no) and then return to the ship later, or back to the ship for lunch (my choice) then take the shuttle back into town for the afternoon. This gives more time to see the cathedral and the surrounding area. I didn't take my camera thinking that pictures were prohibited as they usually are - oops, bad choice. Dinner is a special WINE AND ??? dinner so I'll skip ... and there is still no working internet service. (BB,L,D)

Strasbourg Canal Cruise. We wend our way along Strasbourg's canals in a comfortable, enclosed water taxi, seeing the city as it has been seen by visitors for many centuries - from the water. We have to pass through 2 river locks during the cruise. Bad news - due both to the arches supporting the glass, and reflections, NO pictures are possible even though there were many times I would have liked to do so. Along our route lie the Ponts-Couverts, the covered bridges linked by medieval watchtowers that were once used for observation purposes. We pass one of the most important buildings in Strasbourg - the Palais Rohan (Rohan Palace) - which houses the European Parliament and three glorious museums showcasing the archaeology, decorative arts, and fine arts. See the Musee d'art Moderne et Contemporain (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art) and Petite France, a picturesque historic neighborhood of cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, and flower-filled window boxes.Our water taxi drops us off downtown - a convenient place to begin our own exploration of the city. The Cathedrale Notre Dame, just a short stroll away, and we get to visit it. Two hundred years in the making, it impresses from every angle. Admire its rose window and then meander outside the cathedral for a wonderful view of the city. Return to the ship for lunch or stay in town and have a chance to sample the local cuisine. The afternoon is ours to spend at leisure onshore or onboard. (Shuttle service will be provided to and from the center of Strasbourg in the afternoon.)

Hot Air Balloon Ride (OPTIONAL EXTRA) A bit of altitude will give us a whole new perspective on this magical little corner of the world. Drift up, up and away as the Rhine River Valley, France's Vosges Mountains, and Germany's Black Forest unfold below us. Enjoy that special blend of tranquility and exhilaration that ballooning is known for; with no engine, we simply float in midair. It's a glorious experience any way you look at it, and it's made even better by the extraordinary scenery. At the conclusion of our trip, we will receive a ballooning certificate to commemorate this experience.

Day 5/4, Wednesday, July 4 Speyer
Featured Excursion: Speyer walking tour.

OPTIONAL EXCURSION: Tour of Heidelberg with a castle visit (half day, afternoon)

We arrived about 3AM at Speyer and tied up at one of the docking sites. There is a large amount of river traffic (cargo boats) and one passes every few minutes, sometimes almost end to end. When one does pass, the wake splashes almost all the way to the top of my cabin window - not surprising since the bottom of the window is only about 6" above the water level. Therefore there is quite a bit of water "noise." The larger boats produce a large bow wave/wake which can really pound loudly on the side of our boat. The boats are probably built about like the "PanaMax" ships, as long as the locks which would mean about 600' long. Some even carry one to three cars - probably to provide land transport for the crew.

Weather forecast: partly cloudy. For more than 500 years, Speyer enjoyed the luxury of being a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire, paying no imperial taxes and answering only to the emperor himself. The city's long period of prominence and prosperity is best represented by Dom Speyer (Speyer Cathedral), the second-largest Romanesque building in Europe, whose majestic outline dominates the Speyer skyline. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first churches in the city date to the sixth century and the foundation for the cathedral was laid in 1030. No decent pictures were possible since the cathedral is about half covered with scaffolding - undergoing maintenance. We have the usual city walking tour this morning - walking directly from the ship. After the city tour, we can explore Speyer on our own or join an optional tour to famed Heidelberg Castle. It is a maor highlight of the trip for me. For those not taking the Heidelberg excursion, guests with a strong mechanical bent might want to check out the Technik Museum Speyer (Speyer Technical Museum), which boasts thousands of impressive exhibits, including a Russian Buran space shuttle, a Lufthansa Boeing 747-200 which we can climb up and go into, the German U9 U-boat (submarine), and vintage cars and motorcycles. After a late departure from our Heidelberg excursion we drive back to Speyer and get there about an hour later than originally scheduled - just barely in time for dinner. (BB,L,D)

Speyer Walking Tour. With our guide, we walk from the ship to the great cathedral which is dedicated to St. Mary and St. Stephan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Speyer Cathedral is laid out in the form of a Latin cross. The Salian Emperor Konrad II ordered its construction around 1030 with the aim of creating the largest church in the Western world. The red sandstone structure served as a burial site for Medieval and early-modern royalty, including Salian, Hohenstaufen, and Hapsburg rulers and their wives. As noted above, the Cathedral is undergoing maintenance and is about half (the best half) covered with scaffolding and safety drapery. Outside the church stands the 411-gallon Domnapf (Cathedral Bowl). This massive basin once marked the boundary between Episcopal and municipal territories; it was filled with wine by newly elected bishops so that local burghers could toast the bishop's health.

We walk from the cathedral to the Alte Munze (Old Mint), an 18th century trading center and marketplace, and Dreifaltigheitskirche (Holy Trinity Church), a masterpiece of late-Baroque style. See memorable remnants of the city's Jewish history. Around 1090, the Bishop of Speyer established a Jewish settlement right next to the cathedral. The focal point of the settlement was the Jewish Courtyard, the center of worship and the location of the men's and women's synagogues, as well as the mikvah (ritual bath). It is here that ritual cleansing was carried out by bathing in cold water. The Jewish Bath of Speyer is one of the oldest remaining baths of its kind. The Speyer excursion turned out to be quite a bit disappointing; first the Cathedral, then the rest of the sights weren't that interesting.

Tour of Heidelberg & Castle (OPTIONAL EXTRA) This turns out to be one of the major highlights of the trip Heidelberg is a perfectly preserved Baroque city nestled in the Neckar River Valley along Germany's Castle Road. The lovely ruins of its landmarks, Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle), have inspired artists and writers for centuries. During a visit in 1838, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Miserables author Victor Hugo strolled through the romantic remains of the castle, musing, "five hundred years long it has been victim to everything that has shaken Europe, and now it has collapsed under its weight." Describing the prospect from the castle in 1878, Mark Twain wrote "I have never enjoyed a view which had such a serene and satisfying charm about it as this one gives."

Our tour of Heidelberg begins with a walk up to the castle ruins. Our guide will show us through the castle courtyard and explain some of the history Hugo was referring to. Then we have an opportunity to roam around the grounds and snap pictures. Take time to see the world's largest wine barrel, the "Heidelberg Tun" which was made in 1751 and holds 58,100 gallons of wine. After the castle visit, ride downtown to Heidelberg. As we stroll through Altstadt (Old Town), we see the late-Gothic Heilggeistkirche (Holy Spirit Church) and the Studentenkarzer (Student's Prison), where, for hundreds of years, students at the local university were placed when they did something against the rules - like drinking at night. We have time to explore the rest of the area. Grab a seat at a café in Marktplatz (Market Square) and watch the flow of people around the central square. Stroll down one of the longest pedestrian streets in Germany, the Haupstrasse, where we find everything from tin soldiers to trendy clothing. Admire the Kornmarkt's beautiful Madonna statue or the regal, late-Renaissance house of Zum Ritter St. Georg (Knight St. George). The botanical gardens of the Universitat Heidelberg (University of Heidelberg) the oldest University in Germany, were founded in 1386 and are quite impressive as well. There are plenty of ancient alleys and bustling squares lined with cafes, fountains, and statues to enjoy, all serenely enveloped by the lush wooded foothills surrounding the town.

Day 6/5, Thursday, July 5 Rüdesheim, cruising the romantic Rhine, Bopard
Featured Excursion: Siegfried's Mechanical Music Museum.

Early morning note: the river along here seems to be in a major high-water but not quite flood stage. The trees along what I would think is the bank look like they are in the middle of a lake, and beyond them, the water is up to the fronts of the houses.

Weather forecast: Chance of rain or thunderstorms. Like many cities along the Rhine, Rudesheim has a lengthy history that stretches back to Roman times; today the city is famous for its narrow avenue of shops, Biergartens, and wine bars called the Drosselgasse and its impressive Niederwalddenkmal (Niederwald Monument). Rudesheim is also particularly noted for its delicate white wines. After docking this morning, board a wonderfully quaint mini-train for the trip to Siegfried's Mechanical Music Museum. The crowds are huge because it's the heart of one of the main wine areas. The town is really crowded - 30 river boats docked but since there aren't 30 different docking points, the boats are double- and triple-parked (and we are the last in line along the bank so we have furtherest to walk to/from town. I didn't stay long since I didn't find that much of interest here, particularly the wine bars.

Following the museum tour, we have time for some exploration of Rudesheim's long and winding cobblestone streets. The town has plenty of shops, taverns, and wine bars in which we can look for souvenirs or try a Rudesheim coffee. There is no actual tour of the town with a guide. The museum is interesting, but I didn't spend much time in town before heading back. We have to get back to the ship on our own - walk about a mile (another of those 40 minute walks), or take a taxi (€8 / $11). Our departure timing is excellent. It seems that there was a tanker boat that got stuck in the middle of the river early this morning. Safety personnel had to pump out all the cargo (acid) before they could try to free the boat. This took hours. The river was closed to all traffic until 12 noon. Since we were scheduled to sail at 1:30, this gave some time for the traffic backlog to start moving again. Boat traffic is still VERY heavy this afternoon.

Now it's time for the "good part." We spend the early afternoon cruising along one of the most beautiful sections of the Rhine - the scenic 40 miles of the spectacular Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Regrettably the weather is not cooperating. It's becoming overcast and dull. Later it even starts to look like rain. Photography opportunities are not good. Sailing away from Rudesheim we see the famous Lorelei rock. As we come upon Koblenz, we pass by Deutsches Eck (German Corner) with its historic monument to Kaiser Wilhelm I. With its vine-filled slopes and its 40 or so castles strung like pearls along the river banks, this is the perfect example of the romantic Rhine - under overcast skies. My pictures are almost all of the castles - almost nothing of the other scenery since I was trying to keep track of what pictures are of what castle. {In 2015 I'll be doing a cruise from Cologne to Heidelburg on the "European Charms" trip with "Insight."

In the late afternoon, the ship arrives in Boppard, another Rhine River town with Roman history. I was going to take the late afternoon semi-guided tour (Rik is our guide, not a local guide so it's an informal walk) through the village. But due to the weather - its even raining now, I'll pass. I would have seen remnants of the once-mighty fort the Romans built here in the 4th century. Then there would be the walk back to the ship for dinner. (BB,L,D)

The Wi-Fi internet is finally working provided: a) the ship is docked which means that it is in an open valley; b) the weather is decent (no rain or overcast), and c) I sit at one of 4 tables in the "Patio Lounge," or in the restaurant (which isn't open all the time).

Siegfried's Mechanical Music Museum. Siegfried's houses one of the world's best collections of mechanical musical instruments in a 16th century mansion, the Bromserhof. Once inside, take a guided tour of the museum and see rare mechanical instruments, some of which are at least 300 years old. We will also hear some period musical pieces played on instruments from this impressive collection.

Day 7/6, Friday, July 6 Cochem (Ediger-Eller)
Featured Excursion: Cochem walking tour, Reichsburg Castle

Featured Excursion: Ediger-Eller wine tasting (horrors!)

Weather forecast: Light Rain. Steep vineyard-covered hillsides and the distinctive profile of an imperial castle greet us (under heavy overcast and occasional light rain) in the Rhineland village of Cochem. A wine-tasting experience awaits (some of) us this afternoon. History comes to life in Cochem's half-timbered houses and Gothic Reichsburg Castle. Enjoy an great guided tour of the castle (it is NOT ruins; it has been fully re-done and decorated) followed by a walking tour through Cochem's Old Town. It is another major highlight of the trip.

Later in the day (after lunch), Since I'm not interested in wines, I'll stay onboard while the others take a motorcoach to Ediger-Eller, but do I want to take a drive to walk through a small town in intermittent rain to taste wine (which I don't drink)? NO!!! The others who take the excursion are greeted by the town Mayor, who is our host for the duration of our visit. Stroll with the Mayor through the cobblestone streets towards the church for a short visit. Then join the Mayor in savoring (horrors!!) three wines indigenous to this region with a special snack prepared for us at a local inn.

I managed to get a last few pictures of the castle as we departed and after the weather had cleared. Tonight is another of those over-wined "epicurean" dinners. Yuck! I'm definitely not going!! (BB,L, D)

Late note: From the first day, the light switches in the room (room & bath) have had to be toggled several times before they would do anything - which meant it took quite a while before I finally figured out which switch did what and in which position. Tonight they quit working - room light on and couldn't be turned off; bath off and could not be turned on. It seems that they operate on battery power, not wired, and the battery had been progressively "dying." At least they came and replaced the battery quickly.

Cochem walking tour with Reichsburg Castle visit. Cochem boasts some of the most enchanting architecture in the Moselle River region; this morning, the town's vibrant history will spring to life during a walking tour with a local expert. Together we wander down narrow alleys lined by half-timbered houses, taking in the beautiful vineyards that grow on the grassy slopes surrounding the town. Crossing the Moselle Bridge which is adorned with a mosaic created by a local ceramic artist, we'll venture into Old Town. We traverse the pedestrian zone and pass Martinskirche (St. Martin's Church), seeing the Baroque Rathaus (City Hall) and the oldest half-timbered houses in Cochem.

We'll wend our way up a set of narrow switchbacks to majestic Reichsburg Cochem (Cochem Castle), a Gothic castle whose unmistakable silhouette looms more than 300 feet above the Moselle River. Reichsburg was built in the 11th century and kept as a hereditary fiefdom by the archbishops of Trier until 1794. It is not the oldest or largest castle in Germany, but, with its towers and spires soaring high above Cochem, it may be the most visually stunning. The castle boasts well-appointed interiors along with its arresting exterior; its many splendid rooms are well equipped with Renaissance and Baroque furniture that was carefully collected by the Ravene family which bought the castle in 1868 and restored it. Afterwards, return to the ship for lunch.

Ediger-Eller village (even more) wine tasting. This afternoon, take a short scenic drive to the picturesque winemaker's village of Ediger-Eller, which is nestled between steep hillside vineyards on the banks of the Moselle. This region boasts the steepest vineyards in all Europe. On arrival in Ediger-Eller, we are greeted by the town Mayor who will act as our host for the remainder of our visit. Join him in a walking tour of his medieval village. Amble past the old city walls and gates to Pfarrkirche St. Martin (St. Martin's Church), which dates from the 16th century. St. Martin's bell tower is considered the most beautiful Gothic spire along the Moselle and is among the most richly ornamented slate steeples in Europe. We will enjoy a visit inside the church before heading off to experience Ediger-Eller's lively winemaking culture at a local tavern.

Day 8/7, Saturday, July 7 Konz / Trier (Luxembourg), Cruising the Moselle
Featured Excursion: Luxembourg and WWII cemetery.

Weather at 7AM - it is definitely cool and damp with a medium overcast but it clears up nicely later. I had hoped to get some very early morning pictures, but chose to "pass" due to the weather. Spend this morning relaxing onboard as the Moselle River Valley unfolds before us. Quiet hamlets and a few castles dot the rolling hillsides and each bend in the river reveals new surprises. The ancient Romans and Celts planted the first grape vines on these steep riverside slopes thousands of years ago, and the remnants of their handiwork are still there today.

Dock in the early afternoon in Konz rather than Trier since they (Trier) are having another "festival" and the noise and crowds would be awful if we docked there overnight. We use a motorcoach anyway for our excursions. After we are "tied up" we head for the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (my first visit there). This is one of the smallest sovereign nations in the world. The duchy's capital city, also called Luxembourg, perches on a promontory overlooking the Petrusse and Alzette valleys. In 963AD, on a rocky outcropping known as the Bock, Sigefroid, Count of Ardennes, laid the cornerstone of a fortress that would become Luxembourg City. Due to its strategic geographical position and the ever-changing political affiliation (the city was variously controlled by Spanish, Austrian, French, and Prussian forces, among others) the city grew into one of the greatest fortified sites in Europe. Today the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is an independent constitutional monarchy, and the partially demolished fortifications found in its capital city - including subterranean tunnels and barracks which we don't visit - are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a nice excursion but nothing really "fantastic." (B,L,D)

Luxembourg and WWII cemetery Our city tour will introduce us to both old and new Luxembourg. We see historic castle casemates and centuries old battlements as well as the gleaming high rise that denote the city's status as a 21st century international financial center. The drive will give us a great overview of the modern city, but to best discover the heart of Old Town, go on foot. On leaving our motorcoach, walk with a local expert to Cathedrale Notre-Dame (Notre Dame Cathedral, AKA the Church of Our Lady), a fine example of late-Gothic architecture. Continue on to the Palais Grand-Ducal (Grand Ducal Palace), where both Louis XIV and Napoleon once resided. It has been the official residence of the reigning Grand Duke since 1890. Our tour ends at Place d'Armes, "the city's sitting room" Surrounded by shops and sidewalk cafes, this is the lively heart of Luxembourg. We have some free time to explore, take pictures, and enjoy ourselves.

(We actually make this stop first.) Leaving the capital, make our way to the WWII Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, which lies just within the limits of Luxembourg City. The 50-acre cemetery was established on December 29, 1944, by General George S. Patton's Third U.S. Army. More than 5000 U.S. military dead are buried here - many of whom lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge - along with General Patton himself. The beautiful grounds, white stone chapel, and monument honoring the fallen make a moving memorial.

Day 9/8, Sunday, July 8 Konz / Trier
Featured Excursion: Trier city tour

No German city has more monuments from Roman times than UNESCO-designated Trier. This is the oldest city in Germany; in ancient times it was the largest Roman settlement north of the Alps. In fact, Trier (or Augusta Treverorum, as the Romans called it) was one of the three capitals of the Western Roman Empire, and six emperors reigned there. Its illustrious history is matched by a lively youthful social scene. After the city tour, we return to the ship for lunch. Later maybe enjoy an afternoon of cruising along the upper Moselle River.

Weather: It isn't cooperating. It rained quite a bit overnight and now we have overcast and light-medium rain off and on. I didn't even take my camera (it would be impossible to keep rain drops off the lens) even though Trier was to have been one of my real photo locations, and it would have been except for that rain. It's really a fantastic old Roman site. Our local guide was excellent and we saw many really interesting places, but we even skipped the extra free time hour in Trier and just returned to the ship. It's still gloomy with a light drizzle as we start back down-river.

We leave at noon (make that 12:30 due to the weather) for the small town of Bernkastel arriving about 9PM (or thereabouts) and dock there for the night. The local tour is the first thing tomorrow morning. I hope it isn't raining there also though I wouldn't mind missing having to waste all that time with the wine tasting. For me, there's too much emphasis (and time wasted) on wines on this trip.. The weather finally clears, but too late for any good pictures along the shore. (BB,L,D)

Trier city tour. We have a very good tour with a truly excellent local guide. It would have been great except for the rain! After first making a stop at a scenic overlook of the town and valley, we embark on a walking tour of Trier with our guide. In town we first visit the Konstantinbasilika (Basilica of Constantine), built by Emperor Constantine in 306AD. All that remains of the once-magnificent structure is the throne room. It is the largest surviving single-room structure from Roman times in Germany. The basilica features two tiers of windows with high-rising arches that still show some of the original wall paintings. The station of the throne was converted to an altar when the building became the Protestant Church of St. Savior in 1856.

Next make our way to Dom St. Peter (St. Peter's Cathedral), home to the Holy Tunic, a robe said to have been worn by Jesus around the time of his crucifixion. Go from there to Hauptmarkt (Market Square), which is full of shops and wine cafes; the square also hosts a wonderful outdoor market during the summer months. Our final stop is at Porta Nigra (Black Gate), the best preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps. The sandstone blocks of the Black Gate are the last remnants of the wall that used to surround Trier.

Day 10/9, Monday, July 9 Bernkastel
Featured Excursion: Bernkastel walking tour and (more) wine tasting

Hooray! The weather is cooperating. It's a nice day. Uniworld writes: "After we thought we'd seen the most stunning scenery in Germany, we come to the emerald fields, beguiling cottages, and historic vineyards of Bernkastel." Discover Bernkastel with its more than 500 years of winemaking history, beautiful vineyards, and picturesque market square. Rik says that this is his favorite town we visit on the cruise. I can believe it. It truly is a great place to visit for a very enjoyable excursion. The Market Square isn't all that much bigger than the ship's lounge. Bernkastel itself is a quite small town; there is a MUCH larger town of Kues just across the river.

Take a morning walking tour of the tiny village of Bernkastel, followed by a sampling of local wines from the regions most prestigious wine estate.The vineyard itself is tiny and almost impossibly steep; it's rumored to be the most valuable agricultural land in the nation. Enter the winery's arched-ceiling tasting room; take a seat at the long wooden table. Then (don't) enjoy samples of estate Rieslings.Since the wine-tasting is a somewhat separate event after the tour, I just skip it and wander around some more before taking the short walk bachave time to shop (a few shops are beginning to open on this Monday morning) before heading back to the ship for lunch. This afternoon, sail along the winding Moselle past Europe's steepest vineyards and some of its most picturesque villages. . The weather starts out very nice but in the mid-afternoon it starts going down the (d)rain. At least I managed a few pictures. At least I managed a few pictures. The weather keeps changing back and forth - sun - dark - rain - sun, etc.

I know my cabin is down at the waterline when we pass a swan and I have to look up to see it's head! (BB,L,D)

Bernkastel walking tour and more wine tasting. After breakfast, a guide leads us on a one-hour walking tour through the city streets to the Bernkasteler Doctor, the most famous Moselle River vineyard. As we stroll through the village, we feel as though we've stumbled onto a Hollywood set; here, streets are narrow and cobbled, bright blossoms dot the window ledges, and fountains burble in secluded courtyards. See examples of the region's famous half-timbered houses in the maze of Bernkastel's winding alleys. The town's Markplatz (Market Square) is one of the loveliest central squares in Germany with well-preserved Renaissance-era buildings clustered around the early 17th century St. Michaelbrunnen (St Michael's Fountain).

At the "Bernkastel Doctor," local legend has it that, hundreds of years ago, the wine from this estate brought a man back from the brink of death, and vintages from this historic winery have been widely coveted ever since. The vineyard itself is tiny and almost impossibly steep; it's rumored to be the most valuable agricultural land in the nation. Enter the winery's arched-ceiling tasting room; take a seat at the long wooden table. Then (don't) enjoy samples of estate Rieslings.

Day 11/10, Tuesday, July 10 Koblenz
Featured Excursion: Koblenz walking tour.

OPTIONAL EXCURSION: Marksburg Castle and Ehrenbreitstein Fortress

. After breakfast, a local expert leads us on a pleasant stroll into the heart of Koblenz, a charming medieval town that lies at the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers. It is a larger city (about 100,000) than the smaller towns we have been visiting. Walk through Koblenz's picturesque Old Town, learning the town's history and its importance to this region where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet. In the afternoon there is an optional tour to the Marksburg Castle which I had definitely planned to take, but after our cruise director, in his orientation lecture, cautioned about some very long steep medieval ramps, and even worse, a very large number of steep medieval (rough and irregular) steps, I decided very regretfully that I had better "pass" on that. (Grumble, grumble!) The weather starts to go "downhill" mid afternoon and about 5PM we get a brief visit from a thunderstorm. It does clear up again later. (BB,L,D)

Koblenz walking tour As we walk through alleys and narrow streets, notice that the names of the public squares - such as Jesuittenlatz (Jesuits' Square) and Munzplatz (Old Mint Square) - indicate the original uses of the buildings surrounding those squares. See the 13th century Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) perched on the highest promontory in Old Town, as well as Romanesque Basilika St. Kastor (St. Castor's Church), which is hailed as the oldest and largest church in the area. Koblenz is known for its whimsical and rather amusing fountains - particularly the Schangelbrunnen (Spitting Boy), which is dedicated to the city's children. At the Deutsches Eck (German Corner), see a panorama of the rivers' confluence and one of the largest Rhine River fortresses, Festung Ehrenbreitstein (Ehrenbreitstein Fortress), on the opposite hillside.

Marksburg Castle and Ehrenbreitstein Fortress (OPTIONAL EXTRA) Take a coach to Marksburg Castle, the most authentic medieval castle in Germany. With its pale walls, slate-gray roof, and unusually slender towers and turrets, Marksburg looks as though it has been lifted straight from the pages of a fairytale. This powerful fortress, was built to withstand attack. Marksburg's defenses are so impressive that enemies generally chose to leave it alone. That's why this is the only hill castle in Germany that has never been destroyed - a remarkable fact when you consider its 700-year history. Enter the fortress through a large drawbridge gate and vaulted tunnel. Notice the periodic "murder holes" in the castle's walls; which would let defenders pour boiling pitch on would-be invaders. See the coats of arms of the noble families who have owned the castle since 1283 before ascending the "Riders Stairway," a set of wide and shallow stairs hewn into the bedrock for use by mounted knights. See the fortress's defensive batteries, chapel tower, banqueting hall, armory, wine cellar, and herb garden.Also see instruments of torture in the castle's former torture chamber and a medieval bathroom throne.

After our stroll through the history and culture of the Middle Ages, head to a more recent military encampment: massive Ehrenbreitstein, the second-largest fortress in Europe. Ehrenbreitstein dates from the early 19th century when it was constructed as the backbone of a fortification system to guard Prussia. The fortress was never attacked and due to advancements in modern warfare technology, it was obsolete almost as soon as it was completed. Though never used in an actual military conflict, it holds a place for the incredible views of the Rhine and Moselle river valleys. From Ehrenbreitstein, an aerial tram takes us back to the town of Keblenz. Enjoy magnificent views of the German Corner as we descend.

Day 12/11, Wednesday, July 11 Cologne
Featured Excursion: Cologne walking tour and Roman-Germanic Museum visit.

OPTIONAL EXCURSION: Farina House of Eau de Cologne.

OPTIONAL EXCURSION: Full Day at Floriade

After a noisy overnight cruise through an industrial area we dock in Cologne about 5AM. At 6AM (breakfast time) the sky is solid overcast, and later, intermittent drizzle. Maybe it will clear later. I wish we were docked on the other side of the river so we would have a view of the Cathedral. As it is, we're about a half-mile upstream and can only see the tips of the towers from the side. The Schokolademuseum (Chocolate Museum) and shop are nearby the ship. I'll have to check them out but only bought a small chocolate bar. We have our expected Disembarkation Dis-Orientation meeting this morning rather than tomorrow morning. Then we have a (late departure) walking tour (in a drizzle) of Cologne, the oldest major city in Germany. In Cologne, we stroll through Old Town's streets first to the great Cathedral (we can't go inside because there is a service in progress), then on to the fascinating Roman-Germanic Museum and later, on our own, that Schokolademuseum. It's cleared when we get back to the ship for lunch, but starts to drizzle again when I wanted to go back into the city - aborted.

This afternoon we have a chance to visit the longest-operating perfumery (NO!!) in the world (we passed it on our walk this morning). Or instead of the town tour, we could have taken a full-day optional excursion to Floriade 2012, an international horticultural and artistic exhibition in Venlo, the Netherlands (No Thanks). We have the usual "Captain's Farewell Din-Din and Booze Party" tonight - but I'll skip it just like all the others.(BB,L,D)

Cologne walking tour and Roman-Germanic Museum visit Cologne, (also known as Koln) is the largest city of the Rhineland and a cultural mecca boasting more than 30 museums and hundreds of art galleries (and hopefully we don't visit more than one of them.) Meet our guides and stroll through this city of rich antiquities. Walking through the narrow streets and tiny squares of Old Town, we pass Romanesque churches as we make our way to Domplatte (Cathedral Square) to visit grand Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). One of the most important Gothic churches in Europe and the largest cathedral in Germany, Cologne Cathedral took 632 years to complete, its foundations were laid in 1248, but after initial rapid progress, construction ceased until 1842. The Cathedral's completion in 1880 was celebrated by the entire country as a symbol of German unification. From every angle, this church is a dazzling work of art. It remains the tallest Gothic structure in the world. It is believed to be the final resting place of the biblical Magi - the three kings who brought gifts to the newborn Jesus. As we view the cathedral's exterior, our guide tells you the storied past of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We then head next door to explore the Romisch-Germanisches Museum (Roman-Germanic Museum), which details the history of the Romans along the Rhine. The museum was built on the walls of a Roman villa that was discovered in 1941 with an extraordinarily well-preserved and now world-famous mosaic of Dionysus inside. Here find a collection of artifacts spanning human history from prehistoric times to the early Middle Ages, including the world's largest collection of Roman glass vessels, a unique assortment of Roman jewelry, and numerous finds illustrating everyday life in the Roman Empire. Seeing the items on display will give us insight into the storied past of the Roman city of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (the Roman name of Cologne), which became the capital city of the imperial province of Lower Germania. After touring the Museum, we have time to explore Old Town Cologne. See cocoa beans transformed into luscious chocolate treats at the Schokolademuseum (Chocolate Museum).

Farina House of Eau de Cologne (OPTIONAL EXTRA) Visit a perfumery. NO THANKS.

Full Day at Floriade (OPTIONAL EXTRA) Gardens tours - I'll pass. Also it would make me miss the Cologne walking tour since this is an all-day tour.

Day 13/12, Thursday, July 12 Amsterdam
Featured Excursion: Amsterdam city tour, including canal cruise, and choice of Rijksmuseum OR Van Gogh Museum

It's a long way to Amsterdam. We left Cologne at 6:30 yesterday and after passing through a couple of locks and through the Ruhr area, enter the very flat lands of the Netherlands in the early (rainy) morning and finally arrive in Amsterdam, via the Rhine-Amsterdam Canal, about 12:30. For those without a hangover, spend the last full day of the river cruise adventure in the Netherlands. Amsterdam, Holland's largest city, is rich in art, architecture, bridges, canals, bicycles, beer, and museums. "Experience the highlights of Amsterdam on a city tour and canal cruise. Here even the simplest of shops has a distinctive charm and every street has a story to tell."

After docking in the early afternoon, we find ourselves in unusually cold (this is July??), and very windy, weather. Since I have no interest in spending (wasting) an over an hour in an art museum, and taking pictures from an enclosed vehicle, whether a glass covered boat or a coach, is virtually impossible due to dirt and reflections, and also I've been to Amsterdam twice before and seen most of what is scheduled for us (except the museum which I'm not interested in seeing), I don't see any reason to go out and get half-frozen (and maybe sick) so I'll stay aboard where it's dry and warmer. Afterwards, we are still captive onboard tonight and as usual, I skip the dinner. (BB,L,D)

Amsterdam City tour with canal cruise. Its my 3rd visit to Amsterdam. Board a canal boat for a tour of Amsterdam, the "Venice of the North." Sail down Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht, two of the city's three main canals which were dug in the 17th century. The canals are lined with stately historic houses and more than 1500 monumental buildings. Among the sights are the Anne Frank House and nearby Westerkerk (Western Church), which has the highest church tower in Amsterdam. We sail to Amsterdam Harbor and onto the Amstel River - the river that gave the city its name. Before disembarking we see the Marere Brug (Skinny Bridge) which we might recognize from the 1971 James Bond film, Diamonds are Forever.

After the canal cruise, visit either the Van Gogh Museum or the Rijksmuseum for about an hour. Then reboard our coach and return to the ship, The route takes us past expansive Dam Square, the historical center of Amsterdam and the site of Madame Tussauds wax museum; Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), a 15th century church used for royal inaugurations and weddings; the former Jewish quarter with its Sephardic and Ashkenazi synagogues; the soaring white Nederlands National Monument; and the Neoclassical Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace). We also see the Munttoren (Mint Tower) which was originally a gate in Medieval Amsterdam's city wall.

Day 14/13, Friday, July 13 Depart Amsterdam
With my 10:45 departure, I have to take an early shuttle: have my bag out at 6 and disembark at 6:30 for my transfer (in the rain of course) to Schiphol Airport for my flight home. With the flight schedule, there is, as usual, NO time for breakfast. Hopefully a return on "Friday the 13th" isn't an omen. Actually I'm in luck: I'm able to switch my sardine-seat for a different one - about 3" more space (width). The row I was originally on is off-set a bet resulting in all three seats being that 3-4" narrower. Out takeoff is delayed about 15 minutes due to rain backlog on the takeoff runways but we make it up enroute. (CB or BB)

KLM 0661Amsterdam - Houston11:00 A - 1:49 P9:49non-stop

Nice arrival time - I manage to get home by about 4:30 (midnight European time) since I get through Immigration and Customs "formalities," but have a very long wait for luggage, and of course, also for the StuporShuttle.

1) Cochem and the Reichsburg castle
2) Heidelburg and the castle
3) Bernkastel
4) The Rhine Gorge and all the castles (would be higher except for the weather)
5) A very courteous and considerate crew

And those "LOWLIGHTS":
1) That miserable so-called stateroom (lack of closet, storage, and work space)
2) Too much of the intermittent poor weather usually "graying out" most of my pictures
3) (much bias) The overly fancy food and too much emphasis on all the booze!!

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge



The River Queen (River Barge) is the "most unique" (too uniquely fancy for me, particularly the food) river cruise ship in Europe. Her exterior resembles the great steamships of the 1930's, while her interior provides a classical extravagance reminiscent of the infamous Art Deco style. Length: 361' (longer than a football field); Decks: 3 + sun, Passengers: 132.

Facilities onboard River Queen: Deck 3/4 - Main (Rhine) Deck - most everything is on this. From the bow: 1) Main Lounge; 2) Main Bar; 3) Captain's Lounge/Library (58 books, mostly discards from previous travellers); 4) Very over-priced Botique; 5) Reception; 6) Fancy cabins; 7) Restaurant. Contrary to some documentation, there's only one dining area on board other than the lounge for light meals (continental breakfast and limited choice light lunch).

Facilities onboard River Queen:
Free laundry services (??) and daily newspaper. Panoramic main lounge with a working fireplace (but what do we need it for in July???) and full-service bar (it's a smoking area for those who smoke - fortunately I don't drink either - but it smokes up the entire main lounge), cozy Captain's Lounge and VERY limited library with almost NO selection (58 books, mostly battered discards from previous travellers), restaurant (contrary to some documentation there is only this one dining area on board), sun deck, extremely overpriced / extravagant gift (rip-off) boutique, guest laundry, and elevator. Complimentary soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard; replenished bottled water in our stateroom; and 24-hour specialty coffee and tea bar (no soft drinks), 24-hour reception service, Wireless Internet access in public areas - when they get it to work.

Deck 3 - Main (Rhine) Deck - most everything is on this deck; 2 decks up from mine. From the bow: 1) Main Lounge; 2) Main Bar; 3) Captain's Lounge/Library; 4) Botique; 5) Reception; 6) Fancy cabins; 7) Restaurant

Deck 2 - (Danube) Deck - All fancy cabins.

Deck 1 - Moselle Deck - My Category 5 (the cheapest on the boat - on the, as usual, lowest, almost submerged - deck back nearest to the engines & crew quarters) "stateroom" supposedly has "floor-to-ceiling" picture windows (actually only 14" tall, high up on the wall - because if they went any lower they would be underwater), twin beds that convert to a queen-sized bed (I would prefer the twins but am stuck with the side-by-side twins = 1 queen), poorly arranged closet space (if you can call this a closet - more like a small storage cabinet), private bath with small shower, and a so-called sitting area with vanity (?), almost non-existent drawer space, and one extra chair to sit in. All of the "staterooms" have thermostat controlled air-conditioning (within limits set by the crew), telephone, flat-screen television, contrary to some documentation, no DVD player, private safe, and replenished bottled water.

The bed turned out to be very nice; there is a decent amount of walk-around space; the bath is large enough but with NO storage or shelf space; and the a/c thermostat actually works. Otherwise, what actually caused the "problems:" the online and printed company propaganda describes the facilities on their recently new/upgraded boats. The River Barge is still old style. Even though it was rebuilt, etc recently, it already looks like it needs a refurbishing - and that upgrade. Most of Cruise West's single cabins that I traveled in were at least more "user friendly" than here. I would prefer one of them to this cabin.

More cabin problems: a) this is on the crew (living & working) deck so there is a constant flow of crew members back and forth down the corridor; b) being below the water line there is a constant slap and thunder of waves, particularly from the wakes of passing boats. It's enough to keep you awake at night and very distracting during the day.

ShipVoyagePassengersPax DecksLengthCrewSpeed
Aegean Odyssey2011 Black Sea
2013 SE Asia
2013 Greek Islands
2013 Grand Mediterranean
Zuiderdam2012 Caribbean
River Queen2012 Rhine & Moselle
Wilderness Adventurer2012 Inside Passage
AMACerto2012 Blue Danube
Voyager2012-3 Caribbean Gems
American Queen2013 Mississippi River

See also SHIPS for more information on the various ships I've sailed on.