Cruising the grand rivers of Europe/central Germany to Amsterdam, 2014: Part 2 of 2

 

Bamburg's old City Hall, dating to the 14th century, stands resolutely on an island in the River Regnetz.

 

 

 

[This is the second of two parts on cruising the great rivers of Europe; Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Netherlands]

With only one previous trip to Europe (Paris, 15 years ago); we had long dreamed of a fun and efficient way to see Europe after we retired.  Relying on recommendations from friends, we booked a river cruise from Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  This report shares the second half of our 16 day journey aboard the River Harmony, a 340 foot, three-deck luxury river cruiser.

We began a week ago in Vienna, with time to tour the city by coach and on foot.  Vienna, long home to the Habsburg Alliance, Strauss, music and majesty!  The Danube is Europe’s second longest River (at 1794 km), beginning in Germany’s Black Forest and emptying into the Black Sea (Russia’s Volga is longest).

In following days we cruised up the grey Danube, through the Wachau Valley, with cliffs, vineyards, bucolic river towns and old castles, past Linz and the stunning Melk Abbey and Monastery in Austria (the first monks began the monastery in 1089!). 

Our next stop was Passau, Germany; across the river high on a bluff was a huge fortress, dating to 1499 – the Veste Oberhaus, overlooking the three rivers that merge here (the Danube, Ilz and Inn Rivers). Overnight, our ship cruised to Regensburg; with Roman/Italian influence, it is Germany’s largest medieval city.  At the confluence of Danube and Regens River, here buildings date back 1,000 years to Roman times. 

At Kelheim, we entered the Main/Danube Canal (opened in 1992) and soon crossed the European “continental divide”, where water flows north in the Main River to the North Sea, or south in the Danube to the Black Sea. Soon we reached Nuremberg, where the Nazi legacy still stands in mute testimony to those terrible times, from huge Third Reich citadels to Room 600, home to the war criminal trials.

At Bamberg, we reached the Main River.  A delightful old town, it is part of the Franconia area of Germany. The old City Hall (portions dating to the 14th century) on an island in River Regnitz is truly memorable; the Imperial Cathedral, Romanesque style; with architecture of 15-18th centuries was also not to be missed. 

We sailed into Wurzburg on November 9, the anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down 25 years ago.  Wurzburg was a vital medieval city, shaped in large part by its Baroque prince-bishops, whose Residence built in 1720 to 1744 is truly stunning in both its size and art gallery, with 14th to 19th century masterpieces.  The town’s old bridge, dating to the 15th century, is ornamented by Baroque figures and also noteworthy by having a delightful wine bar on its north end! 

Further down the Main, we made Frankfurt, another industrial city almost totally destroyed in the war, and took a bus tour to Heidelberg (“blueberries mountain” in translation), in the warmest portion of Germany, with the old Heidelberg University, 30,000 students and a big army base (favored by the Allies, the town was not destroyed in the war, retaining its original centuries-old charm).

We cruised by Wiesbaden (connecting to the Rhine River), an international town known for its spas for health and bathing, then past Rudesheim, another medieval town known for its fine dining, Reisling and red wines and several castles dating back 1,000 years.  By now, the immensity of Germany’s history was almost overwhelming, with each old river town rivaling the other!

We made port 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.

Our final day in Germany was in the old Romanesque town of Cologne, today the fourth largest German town (it was one of largest and most powerful medieval towns with 14,000 citizens). 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.  After bidding goodbye to our crew and fellow ship-mates, we settled into a nice motel near the airport, and took the train into the central Transit Center.  Water, canals, boats and bicycles everywhere!  The Transit Center has parking for thousands of bikes, the city offers bike lanes set apart from autos and pedestrians and almost everyone cycles!

Another day, 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.  Over 103,000 Amsterdam Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps by the Third Reich; most of them perished.

We walked through the Red light district and passed coffee shops with open marijuana sales, quite the liberated society!  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.

I will offer up more detail on the Anne Frank story, and our time in Amsterdam, on my blog on Friday; http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valleytravel. Thanks for voyaging with us; consider adding European river cruising to your bucket list!

When to go: for best deals in river cruises, going early or late in the season (I.e., January – March or October – November) and booking “last-minute” saves big bucks. We booked our November 1–15 cruise six weeks out, got airfare to Europe included in the tour price, saving 40%.

What to take: walking shoes, clothing for changeable weather, visa, camera and binoculars.

Where to eat, where to stay: River cruises offer a full gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner on board your floating hotel; and several “off-ship dinners” are also included in historic restaurants.

For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, go to www.gct.com, or (800) 221–2610. Find best prices by searching “Ways to Save”, seeking last-minute offerings.

For additional travel inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valleytravel; or contact me, tviall@msn.com.

Happy travels in your world!

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