Something different from me today. I kept a diary of our travels through Germany and have converted some of it into a review of the holiday in case anyone is thinking of having a boat cruise down the Rhine. Travelsphere specialise in this sort of holiday and I’d recommend them.
After an arduous journey by coach and ferry, we arrived at our ship’s berth in Cologne, the MV Prinses Christina, at 9.30pm, just in time to be served a four course meal before heading to our waiting cabins. The journey had been long: ferry delays and limitations on coach drivers hours conspired to make this a very tedious journey indeed. We had chosen the coach option because the thought of being picked up near our home and delivered to our cruise boat was just too tempting compared with the many changes involved in a train journey or flight.
The boat looked very well appointed with polished wood everywhere and concealed spotlights. The sun deck was very large with a covered area for hot days, of which we had quite a few. The cabin was small but big enough for a week. Fortunately there is no engine noise at night as we only travelled in the mornings. The gentle lapping of water was soporific enough to send us off to sleep quite easily.
We sailed at 6.00am. I was up early and sat on deck in the sunshine watching Cologne slip away before I went down for breakfast. Gorgeous weather, and after breakfast we went up onto the top deck as we sailed to Andernach.
We were warned that the waters of the Rhine are very low this year and occasionally we would not be able to moor as close to the various towns as was expected – we were never more than another ten minutes walk away however which was fine for most people but not so good for some with mobility problems.
It was very hot by now and we strolled up the promenade then I continued on through the town. There was a lot of restoration work going on, with Roman remains being discovered across the town with one large archaeological “dig” fenced off from the road. After dinner, we had a short stroll up the bank and sat by the river in warm air watching a family of swans and a couple of Egyptian Geese. I have since read that this bird is viewed as a “pest”, having established communities in various parts of Europe. We thought they were rather nice.
We sailed off at 6.00am again on the way to Rudesheim, soon entering the Rhine Gorge with rocks and castles to either side. The Lorelei rock was impressive and it was easy to see how many boats have come to grief over the years.
It is lovely to sail up the Rhine valley. The scenery is beautiful and passes by with a feeling of serenity. We passed little town and villages and saw many trains loaded with passengers or freight. You can go up on deck when you like or stay in the comfortable lounge with its scenic windows. Food and service are good. Although Christina is not the most modern ship I appreciated its highly polished wood fittings and the subtle lighting in the bar and lounge. The crew cannot be faulted, being friendly yet highly efficient, keeping the boat scrupulously clean throughout. The purser, Darina, is a highly organised young Slovak woman who impressed us all.
I had planned to do a lot of reading this holiday, but I found it very difficult to avert my attention from the passing scenery, which was so interesting that I didn’t want to miss anything. I would often find myself drifting into a sort of trance with my feet up on the railings on the deck watching all the activity on the river banks – cyclists, trains, towns-folk going about their business. It felt at times like watching a model village pass by on an endless conveyor belt.
We moored in Rudesheim at 2.30pm and then took a Dotto train to Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Cabinet Museum . This turned out to be well-worth visiting, containing a large collection of mechanical musical devices which are demonstrated by the guide (in our case a rather theatrical young woman with red hair). Highlights were the violin playing mechanical piano and a mechanical dolls’ orchestra.
We then walked on to the cable car for a quite spectacular ride over vineyards up to a grandiose monument to Germania called the Niederwalddenkmal. Margaret went into a café and had a delicious coffee while I strolled up to the top to view the monument.
Back on the ship we had dinner then relaxed in the lounge where the “entertainment” was not missed.
We left Rudesheim at 9.00am, in dull but mild weather. We sailed back up the Gorge to Boppard, noted for its twin-towered church. Our guide conducted a short walking tour and we spent time in the beautiful church which is full of interest. Again, the history of the town goes back to Roman times.
Woke to a fine morning and we left Boppard and sailed down to Koblenz then up the Mosel to Cochem. The Mosel is very different to the Rhine – pretty rather than dramatic, with steep hills either side planted with vines which look impossible to manage without climbing equipment. Many idyllic camp-sites either side of the river and far more pleasure boats than on the Rhine. The cycle track goes all the way up the river and many people were taking advantage of it.
The temperature rose as the morning went on and it became hot on deck. We had to go through three locks which slowed us down a little but on a holiday like this it only adds interest to the journey.
There was an optional excursion to the Reichsberg Castle which turned out to be well worth the money. We took taxis up to the castle but it was incredibly busy due to it being both Ascension Day and Fathers Day. We had our own dedicated tour however which took us around most areas of the castle, led by a woman in traditional dress who spoke English perfectly. The castle was dark and gloomy inside but the views from the top over the Mosel valley were spectacular.
After dinner we went to a wine tasting in a stone cellar – very damp and cool. This was conducted by a humorous young man with flawless English. We were given five different wines and the qualities of each one were explained to us. Apparently the uniqueness of Mosel wines is due to the sun being able to reach every bunch of grape on the vine because of the precipitous nature of the vineyards.
We sailed from Cochem at 7.00am and made fast progress through all three locks, reaching Koblenz by lunchtime. The centre of the town is not all that interesting but the promenades on the rivers Rhine and Mosel are lovely – if rather over-crowded at the time of our visit due to a garden festival. There is another huge monument on the headland at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel called the Deutchse Eck or German Corner.
We left Koblenz at 8.00am to sail to Cologne. Another lovely morning with lots to see from the deck, such as Konigswinter and the Draconsfels (Dragons Rock) topped by a ruined castle. Throughout the cruise Val our tour guide told us all the stories behind these dramatically-named edifices.
At Cologne we had to park on the west side of the bank due to low water which meant quite a walk to the city centre. Cologne was not too interesting – full of people, and with little character – so many of these German towns were devastated by us in the war and although they have been rebuilt something is missing somehow. The Cathedral is a magnificent structure however – vastly tall, but today it was crowded with tourists so had little atmosphere inside of a place of worship. I went to the Ludwig Museum of Modern Art which was very good in the Tate Modern mould and well worth the admission charge.
We left the Prinses Christina and set off for Brussels at 8.30am in a modern and comfortable coach. It was a very uninteresting drive across flat country. We arrived in Brussels at 12.30pm and had a tour of the city in the coach. You really need a coach with high windows or an open deck for this to work well for you don’t get a good view of palaces and monuments otherwise. However, the driver was able to drop us off very close to the Grande Place and we walked through, stopping on the way at a pavement café to have an omelette and a drink.
By the way, I took advantage of a free trial two week subscription of a newspaper on my Kindle and it was really useful to turn it on in the morning and find that day’s edition waiting for me. There are three newspapers I would read available for trial and I shall subscribe to another one for our French trip in September. The 3G connection worked perfectly throughout our trip proving that its worth having one of these compact and lightweight devices while travelling.
Later in the day drove on to Bruges and were pleased to find that our hotel was excellent with a large room (what a relief after the ship’s cabin). Our tour manager had managed to get the hotel chef to do a special buffet meal for us and we have seldom had anything so good – a vast range of fish and cold meats for starter (Margaret had turbot, crab, salmon). The main course was either salmon or Flemish beef stew (carbonnades flamandes) which was superb.
We had a leisurely start to the day (very welcome after all the driving yesterday) and took a taxi down to Bruges centre. Our driver dropped us by a canal cruise office and we got on one of the little boats just as it started to rain. Umbrellas were handed out rather spoiling the experience, but it was still worth while and made us feel we would come back again someday to hopefully see it in better weather.
We walked on to the Market Square where we bought the traditional frites with mayonnaise at a snack bar. The weather wasn’t going to improve and, being Monday, all the museums and art galleries were shut so we rang for a taxi back to the hotel and relaxed the rest of the day in very nice surroundings.
The coach left for Ostend and stopped at a chocolate factory so we could stock up with Belgian chocolate. We were then dropped at Ostend coach park which is by the marina. We strolled into the town and had a drink then back across the marina to the Hotel Melinda who have an excellent brasserie where we had a three course lunch.
Back on the coach we had a short drive to Calais where in typical Travelsphere fashion we had a two hour wait for the ferry. However, the ferry was on time and so we got back to England for 5.30pm and were met by our feeder coach which took us back to Eastbourne Pier. A taxi arrived in a couple of minutes and took us home, ending what had been a very successful holiday.
Travelsphere have been running these cruises for many years and certainly know what they are doing. The holiday is at the economy end of Rhine Cruises but I much preferred the Prinses Christina to the more up-market boats we saw with crystal chandeliers and un-necessary balconies attached to the cabins. My only quibble would the coach journeys which seemed to go on forever. We were amazed at how many people had onward journeys to the north of England by coach and were expecting to arrive home in well into the next morning.
The food was very good overall and the boat was spacious and comfortable, the top deck in particular being a fantastic place to sit and watch the world go by. Our tour manager Val was extremely knowledgeable about every town and village along the way and was a naturally helpful person who dealt with everyone appropriately. On the whole I would recommend to anybody looking for a relaxing week in Europe and we are left feeling that we will try another one, perhaps further up the Rhine or on the Danube in the next couple of years.