We recently completed an 800 mile river cruise on Grand Circle Cruise Lines, from Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Netherlands. The voyage took us through about 700 miles of Austria, south and central Germany. History reaching back over a thousand years, stunning scenery, and, almost everywhere, remnants of Nazi and the Third Reich’s awful reign.
I am a history major, and had read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, and other World War II tomes – but was not prepared for the somber tone invoked by seeing the devastation foisted on these countries by the Nazis. In my blog of November 21, I shared our experiences with the history of the Nazis we encountered in our first week’s voyage (Nuremberg, other towns); this is a short report of what we experienced in our final week in Germany and upon entering Amsterdam, Netherlands.
We cruised to Regensburg at the confluence of Danube and Regens River. With Roman/Italian influence, it is Germany’s largest medieval city with buildings dating back 1,000 years. Much of the city was devastated in the war. When my first column ran in the Record newspaper, local reader Craig Hubbard sent me an interesting email – with his permission, it is reprinted below:
Your column brought back so many memories that I had to respond. Over many years my wife and I took about 13 Grand Circle trips. We always found they were the best. We took The Great Rivers of Europe tour quite a few years ago and enjoyed it very much.
Your column brought back some great memories. When in Regensburg our guide explained how, in 1945 during WWII, the Nazis destroyed a section of the big bridge to prevent the allied armies from advancing. However the Americans just built a pontoon bridge and kept on going. I suggested that he could add that it was completely dark that night, it was raining and it was really unseasonably cold. I remember it very well because I spread my sleeping bag out on the big wide, and warm, hood of my half-track and rolled over that scary floating bridge–having told my driver that if he drove us into the Danube he would be in big trouble. (If you are wondering how I could be here to remember that night I am 91 years old.)
The second mention was of stopping at Passau. We tied up right at the city square and there was a lot of confusion because the “New Nazi Party” was holding a rally and a large group of anti-Nazis were there to challenge them. I heard that there were 2,000 police in the city to maintain the peace. I left the ship and followed a police officer who was taking pictures of the mob and I followed along taking my own pictures. When I returned to the ship my fellow travelers suggested that it was dangerous to go down there. I told them the last time I was in Passau they were shooting at me.
So much for my stories. I just wanted to tell you that I have read and enjoyed all of your travel series and have made many of the same trips. Keep up the good work!
Craig Hubbard, Stockton.
We made Frankfurt, another industrial city almost totally destroyed in the war, and took a bus tour through the city and onto Heidelberg (“blueberries mountain” in translation), in the warmest portion of Germany. With the old Heidelberg University and a big army base, it was favored by the Allies and not destroyed in the war, retaining its original centuries-old charm).
We docked in Koblenz, passing multiple historic and crumbling castles. Koblenz is home to the massive Fortress Ehrenbreitstein (the largest in Europe), which controlled the valley from the 10th century until destroyed by French in 1700s. We were moored near the German Corner, with its huge statue of Emperor Wilhelm I, at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosul Rivers. This is a country controlled for centuries by war-lords, though World War I and World War II were of entirely different scope and terror!
Our final day in Germany was in the old Romanesque town of Cologne, one of largest and most powerful medieval towns with 14,000 citizens, today Germany’s fourth largest city. Another industrial center, it was 98% destroyed in World War II and completely rebuilt with an eye towards preserving it’s storied history. We walked through the mighty cathedral, and around the neighborhoods, seeing pictures of these neighborhoods lying in smoldering ruins just 69 years ago.
Our final port of call was Amsterdam, where we booked three additional days on our own. Water, canals, boats and bicycles everywhere! And, invaded and occupied for several years by the Nazis, Third Reich influence hangs heavily over the city. Over 103,000 Amsterdam Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps by the Third Reich; most of them perished.
We toured the Secret Annex, for over two years home to Anne Frank, her sister and parents and four more, in hiding from the Nazi invasion. After their arrest, only one of the eight, father Otto Frank, would survive brutal treatment by the Nazis. The former hideout and adjoining museum is worthy of hours of contemplation on the terrible times that Nazi Germany brought upon so many European countries.
On our final day, we toured the Amsterdam Museum (housed in a former orphanage) and the huge Rijksmuseum; with Van Goghs, Rembrandts, Manets and many more. Each museum houses somber memorials to the Netherlands and World War II’s impacts on its citizens.
For more insight on our European river cruise, and my earlier blog on Third Reich history, see my blog; http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valleytravel. Thanks for voyaging with us; consider adding European river cruising to your future travel adventures!
When to go: For best deals on river cruises, going early or late in the season (I.e., January-March or October/November), and booking “Last Minute” can save big bucks. We booked our November 1-15 cruise six weeks out, got airfare to Europe included in the tour price and saved about 45%.
What to take: Good walking shoes, clothing for changeable weather, your passport and camera and binoculars!
Where to eat, where to stay: These river cruises come with a full gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner included on board your floating hotel (the ship); several “off-ship dinners” are also included in historic restaurants! In Amsterdam, we booked a nice motel near the Amsterdam airport for about 70 Euros per night, and found convenient transit back into the city. Working out of a Rich Steve’s Amsterdam Guide, we found all the attractions and a number of good restaurants.
For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, go to www.gct.com, or (800) 221-2610. For best prices, search “Ways to Save” on their web site.
For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, email@example.com.
Happy travels in your world!