European river cruising, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, part 2 of 3

European river cruising, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium shine

This week’s installment reports on the second week of our Romance of the Rhine and Mosel River cruise, aboard the River Harmony, a 330 foot, three deck European river cruiser carrying 140 passengers and crew of 36. The cruise is a “last-minute deal“ on Grand Circle Cruise line, allowing us to stretch our travel dollars. More on that, below. 

We are in central Germany in the lovely Rhine River Valley, where we gaze on countless historic river towns, the forest changing from green to yellows and reds and centuries-old castles atop many of the precipices. We soon pass the imposing 440 foot rocky point where Germanic legend holds that an enticing siren – Lorelei – wooed sailors to destruction on the reef below the rocks. 

Our river cruise ship, the River Harmony, on the Rhine River.
Our route on this 15 day cruise begin in Basel, Switzerland, and cruised north down the Rhine River along France, through Germany, the Netherlands and into Belgium.

We soon made port in Boppard, the historic center of the Middle Rhine Region, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its Rhine Promenade and the lofty white towers of the Church of Saint Severus. An optional tour took us to Marksburg Castle, a 13th century fortress unchanged by war or reconstruction.

The Boppard waterfront, lovely in November.

At Koblenz, we detour off the Rhine and head southwest up the Mosel River through a rugged valley, with vineyards planted in the most precarious locations, some on 65° slopes! We anchor in Bernkastel, one of the prettiest villages in the Mozel Valley with sister town, Kues, on the opposite bank. Here we’re hosted to a winery tour, deep in the wine caves cut into the side of the rocky valley. The wine makers note that the vineyards are neither irrigated nor fertilized and seasonal Romanian vineyard workers hand-pick grapes, climbing up the steep, rocky hills.

Tiny home in Bernkastel, built when taxes only took into
account the square footage of the first story of the house.

On day 9 of our 15 day cruise, we make port in Trier, where a walking tour of the city tours us by the Roman Emperor Constantine‘s massive Basilica, erected AD 310 and pass the imposing Porta Nigra (black gate), a huge gateway built AD 200, the largest surviving citygate from Roman times. 

Porte Nigra (Black Gate), built by the Romans in AD 200.

The next day we’re in Cochem, and our walking tour features a walk-through of Reichsburg Castle, originally constructed in the 11th century, burned during the 1689 War of Palatine Succession and rebuilt and converted into a summer home in the late 1800s. It’s an imposing, monolithic structure high above the Mosel River, offering a glimpse into life in a huge castle as well as lovely views of the river below.

We cruise to Bonn, where the tour features the Baroque city walls, Romanesque Basilica and Beethoven’s home, now a museum. The city was the provisional capital of West Germany from the years following World War II until Germany’s reunification in 1990. 

Looking down on the Mosel River from highlands above Cochem.

The Bonn Town Hall is where Kennedy spoke from the portico in 1963, pledging his support to Berlin and a unified Germany. As our tour guide Tim recites Kennedy’s speech from the portico, we realize amongst the cobblestones are 50 brass inlays, of book spines, memorializing where Nazis burned books in the square.

On day 13, the Rhine winds its way into the Netherlands, where we stop in Nijmegen. We are now at sea level and the Rhine’s hills are just a memory. On a walking tour of the 2000 year old city, we pass a sobering memorial to the town’s almost 300 Jews, murdered in the holocaust during World War II. Aboard the ship in the afternoon, a local offers a program on Operation Market Garden, the daring World War II military maneuver that helped drive the Nazis out of the Netherlands; our speaker notes, with gratitude, the contributions of Americans.

Susan, with a 17th century windmill in the Netherlands.

A day later our ship moves on to Willemsted, where a walking and boating tour shows off 19 famous windmills built along the river in the 1740s. We see part of the Delta Works Flood Control Project, known worldwide for its hydro-engineering to compensate for the flooding that long devastated Holland. We see, up close, giant pumps with screws 15 feet in diameter that lift water out of the reclaimed area and back up into the river. But it’s the 270-year-old windmills that catch our attention, still functioning and built with huge, ancient timbers.

Four more historic windmills in Netherlands.

Day 15 takes us to Antwerp, Belgium where a walking tour of the old town shows off the Grote Markt (town square), graced by the old town hall and beautiful timbered houses and shops, framed by the elegant spires of the Cathedral of Our Lady. It’s also home to artist Peter Paul Rubens; his16th century residence serves as a museum. The next morning, it’s  a bus to the airport for a long flight home.

Huge pumps turn these giant screws, 15 feet in diameter,
to lift water out of Netherlands lowlands.

We’re fans of Grand Circle Cruises for their sparkling customer service, quality of their cruise ships and ability to stretch our travel dollar by booking “last minute deals”. Our deal, booked just six weeks before departure, included the four-day pre-tour and hotel in Lucerne, the 15 day Romance of the Rhine and Mozel cruise, daily guided walking tours, three lovely meals each day plus choice of wine or beer and airfare, $8000 for the two of us. We’re ready to do another, perhaps the “Paris to Normandy” cruise – with another last-minute deal!

For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, gct.com, (800) 221-2610.  For best prices, search “Ways to Save” on their web site.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow him at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your world!

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