La Serenissima

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Magical Christmas and New Year cruising the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers: part 3

Regensburg, Nuremberg, Bamberg and Wurzburg

Overnight and through the morning, we sailed from Passau to Regensburg. Again, the scenery was beautiful, having that “quietly suspended in air” feel that cold, snowy landscapes have. And we certainly had a forecast temperature range that matched the silent, foggy picture outside … yep … minimum – 10 degrees, maximum – 9!! (yes, you read right, minus!)

For those of us feeling a bit peckish by 11 or so, typical German “fruchschoppen” with weisswurst and laugenstange. Just the thing for a chilly day. And, after all, we had to cope until 12.30 when a Bavarian lunch would be served.

Just after 2pm, a walking tour of the historical centre of the town began. Highlights were the Stone Bridge and the gothic Regensburg Cathedral.

In the meantime, we started packing our stuff. This followed the briefing (mentioned in the first part of “A Magical Christmas and New Year cruising the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers”) with our cruise director Sue and our captain Henk, where we learnt that we would be disembarking Amalyra due to the Main-Danube canal being frozen, This was a bit of a disappointment, as part of the attraction of the 2 week cruise was not having to unpack for a fortnight! Of course, we understood the situation and the inconvenience was really not that big a deal. The night was capped off with a special Captain’s Farewell Dinner, with all present wearing their best gear, followed by a cabaret performance in the lounge and general “joie de vie” tinged with a little sadness that comes from parting after a fun time together.


We left the boat at around 9am by coach, en route to Nuremberg and then Bamberg, where the Amabella was waiting for us. Nuremberg, Bamberg and Wurzburg are all located in the sub-region of Franconia.

We had a lovely courier/guide who looked after us and gave us some commentary as we travelled. But we had a specific, local guide join us for our drive around Nuremberg. This turned out to be quite a hoot … we stopped to pick up our guide at a small side street and the two guides spoke briefly to each other (sotto voce). Then our new guide started up in the friendliest of tones in a broad Scottish accent no less! She explained (and try to do your best Billy Connolly accent here please) that 20 years ago she had come to Nuremberg to teach English. One thing lead to another and she fell in love with the local German man she would later marry. She still teaches English in addition to being a tour guide, and had us all in stitches imagining all of these Nuremberg kids running about speaking with broad Scots accents!!

Nuremberg held great significance for a millennium, beginning as a significant part of the Holy Roman Empire. This status was important in it’s choice by the Nazi Party as the site for huge rallies held annually form 1927 to 1938.

A great construction project, which included Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer, was undertaken to build the Reichsparteitagsgelande – Nazi Party Rally grounds in south-eastern part of Nuremberg. Many of the individual stadia were not completed, certainly the part we saw was not, but the scale of each part is breath-takingly huge. Such was the symbolism and theatre of the regime.

An important note: our guide took great care to ensure that everyone was ok with seeing these significant Nazi sites. We all were and hence we did a drive around of the precinct.
 After a bit more bus-riding, where we saw the Cathedral St Sebalds, in the distance; the old grain stores which have been converted (and modernised) into low cost student housing and took in the views along the river. Then we stopped at the market square, Hauptmarkt, which is dominated by the rather the lovely Frauenkirche (Our Lady’s church) from the fourteenth century with it’s rather beautiful Glockenspiel and the fascinating Gothic fountain, Schöner Brunnen, one of the most visited sights in Nuremberg. It was actually snowing when Julian took these pictures of the Glockenspeil, hence the white blobs!

In December it gets really crowded there, because then it's time for the world famous Christmas market, the Christkindlesmarkt Nuremberg. Of course, being the 27th December, the crowd had gone, and in fact there were several workmen dismantling the Christmas stalls that filled the space. Still it was interesting to imagine how it would have been a few days earlier.

After this we adjourned for lunch. As it turned out this was the only restaurant open on December 27th. I might say that it was freezing outside with icy snow on the ground and a temperature around minus 5. By contrast the restaurant was a warm, traditional kind of establishment and specialised in the local delicacy – small pork sausages (about the size of your little or ring finger, depending on how big your hand is) accompanied by a very tasty potato salad. Not bad at all. Many chose to wash lunch down with a beer. You can see why no-one was having coffee al fresco!! 

Another important note for the perhaps over-zealous traveller: Our courier/guide had told us to wait for her at the restaurant after lunch, because she had to go and collect some other people at the railway station, as they would be joining us on the Amabella. Well, it seemed to be taking a long time … and we all knew where the bus had dropped us at the main square, so it stood to reason that this was where it would be … didn’t it? … hmm … some of us were a bit “iffy” but, well ok … So, we all trudged back down the hill, and waited … waited … freezing from the knees down as we were standing on ice … hmmm, maybe this was a bad idea?

Well, you know how a story like this ends. Someone with a phone number finally rings the guide. She’s frantic because she didn’t know where we were (no one told the restaurant staff, of course). More times passes; circulation in lower limbs now touch and go … and … yippee, here’s the bus!!

The moral of the story – do what the guide tells you; get a mobile number, just in case and if you have to leave the appointed location, tell the staff where you’ll be … or … smack!!


It was almost dark when we got to Bamberg and the temperature had dropped to more like minus 8. There was a walking tour of the old part of town and a beer tasting. As we didn’t really feel much like doing this, or taking free time to wander ourselves, we joined another couple and holed up in a nearby café, chatted and enjoyed a warm drink together.

We boarded the bus and took a short but eventful trip to our boat, Amabella. It was now fully dark and the boat was not quite where the guide knew it was from the previous evening! Yikes! How can you loose a 160 foot long boat?? Well, not to worry, it was berthed around a corner and down about 150 meters further, so we found it after our fearless guide did a quick sprint to investigate. But, it was worth the wait …


We sailed into Wurzburg at around 9am on Tuesday 28th December. Expected high for the day was zero, starting from a bracing minus 8! Our views from the boat were lovely – snow covered vine clad slopes, interesting boats on the river itself and a distant view of the Residenz Palace. Now a World Heritage site, the Residenz Palace was home for the prince-bishops of the Schonborn family who were both religious and secular rulers of the area.

Whilst there were tours of both the Residenz and Rothenburg ob der Tauber – a picturesque walled city – we opted to go and explore Wurzburg itself. The centre was only about a 10 minute walk from the boat. We walked through a most enchanting snow covered park into the downtown area. 

Our mission there was to buy cough mixture for me (very exciting) as I had succumbed to a nasty bug! We found a great place for coffee managed by a charming young woman who came from a military family and had spent her life to now travelling to different parts of Germany and beyond.


APT provides some very handy statistics regarding rivers and the number of locks on each An interesting thing which we don’t automatically think of when talking about water is the that you go uphill (upstream) and downhill (downstream) when cruising these rivers. Check out APT, go to Europe cruises, travel documents and select “Rivers and Locks” under Europe Luxury River Cruises.
Sailing towards the first big lock on the Danube
 For the nautically minded reader, here are a few of the river/lock facts!
Going downstream the boat enters the lock and the gate closes behind. The lock is then drained until the water level is the same as the lower side of the lock chamber. Then the second gate opens and the boat continues (as if by magic …)
Here it comes …

Inside the filling lock going upstream
Then, going upstream it’s the opposite … boat enters lock, gate closes behind, water is pumped in until the water level reaches the higher side of the chamber, and viola! Boat sails out.
Nearly there …
Free at last!
 The number of locks is quite staggering – 34 on the Main River and 17 on the Danube. The navigable stretch of the Main River from Bamberg to Mainz is 384km or 240 miles. The Danube is navigable some 2415km or 1767 miles and crosses 10 countries from Germany to the Black Sea.