La Serenissima

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Magical Christmas and New Year cruising the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers: part 4

 Cruising from Wertheim, Miltenberg, through the Rhine Gorge to Koblenz, Cologne and Amsterdam

Views of Wertheim and docking in Miltenberg

We cruised along the Main River to where it joins with the Tauber River. There was a walking tour of Wertheim and the centre around the Marktplatz. The scenery was just beautiful along the way. We opted for staying on the boat that morning and enjoying the, yet again, beautiful views. The weather forecast for that day was minus 9 to minus 4.

Just after lunch we arrived in Miltenberg. Our Daily Cruiser told us that the town was stuck in time with the medieval heart still full of fairytale half timbered houses. It did not disappoint at all – it was truly beautiful and a wonderful place to just stroll and explore the various cafes, shops, public sculptures and churches. 

Our cabin attendant Tunde told me that Miltenberg was a great place to get perfume and cosmetics. In fact Germany generally offers very good prices for these goods. Indeed, I did go to a modern (interior) store that specialised in perfume, cosmetics and other beauty products. Later that day Tunde and I compared notes – we both did very well!

Cruising the Rhine Gorge

The next morning, December 30th, was spent cruising the Rhine Gorge, with the option of disembarking at St Goarshausen to visit Rudesheim to see Siegfried’s Musical Cabinet, a museum housing an exhibition of self-playing musical instruments.

Sailing through the Rhine Gorge is one of the highlights of this cruise. There are over 2 dozen castles or castle ruins along the stretch of the gorge covering about 130 kilometres. Three of them were on tiny islands in the river; you could swear you saw a fairytale princess leaning out from one of the windows! Our cruise manager Elke gave us an excellent commentary as we drifted along blissfully taking it all in.

The castles have proved to be a resurgent force through history – they were destroyed about four times between the 13th and 19th centuries but fortunately restored by various regimes and now enjoyed by locals and tourists.

Once through the Gorge, we docked at Koblenz just before dinner and remained there overnight. Koblenz is located at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers and our Daily Cruiser described it as a lovely place. Of course it was dark when we got there, so its beauty was a bit elusive for us!!

To Cologne – New Year’s Eve awaits!!

We left Koblenz around 8 am to sail the 95 kilometres to Cologne, where we would spend the evening of New Year’s Eve. The sailing between the 2 ports was again spectacular and included passing the Remagen Bridge, or the 2 piers of it that remain of what was once thought to be one of the most beautiful steel bridges across the Rhine. Once again we had excellent commentary from Elke as we glided further down the river.

The Remagen Bridge was built during WW1 to support shipping troops and war material to the western front. The bridge was successfully captured by US troops in 1945 towards the end of WW2 after 2 unsuccessful demolition attempts by the Germans. Further attempts were made by the German Army to destroy the bridge and Hitler ordered the execution of some of the troops involved in these failures. Finally, 10 days after its capture, the bridge collapsed apparently of its own accord. Sadly 28 American soldiers were on the bridge at the time and lost their lives. Today each of the piers houses a peace memorial/museum and flies both US and German flags.

Of course all of this comfy sightseeing from a chair in the lounge can make you exhausted and positively starving, despite having had breakfast only a few hours ago!! So … at 10.45 “Fruhschoppen” was served in the lounge. This is a German breakfast containing all imaginable kinds of sausages – bratwurst, weiswurst etc – along with the correct epicurean accompaniments, including a delicious potato salad. I opted for a weiswurst with potato, and the very helpful chef told me how to eat the weiswurst. Do you know? Well, whereas the other sausages are grilled and the skin is crispy, weiswurst are boiled and the skin is soft. So, you pick up the sausage and take a bite, pulling the filling out with your closed teeth, leaving the skin to discard. This approach works well and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The boat docked in a very central place close to the city centre of Cologne, so it was just a very short walk to the Cathedral and the heart of the old city. Of course, being New Year’s Eve, everything was shut, although there was plenty of action inside the Hauptbahnhof (railway station) next to the cathedral.

Cologne was founded in 50 BC by the Romans who were attracted to its natural harbour. They were followed by a long list of occupants including Charlemagne, Napoleon and the Prussians. My Daily Cruiser notes say that the cathedral is reputedly holds the relics of the 3 kings (maggi) for which the cathedral was built.

Interestingly, until the Eiffel Tower was built this cathedral was the tallest building in the world. We enjoyed our rather scenic walk into town. To our right was the Rhine and to our left, across a snow covered park, a row of gorgeous pastel coloured buildings from the 18th century. We then spent a couple of hours walking around the cathedral area, shopping and having a good cup of coffee in a warm cosy café at the Hauptbahnhof. We also had time to admire some very appealing Christmas decorations on the face of one of the exclusive hotels.
Then back to the ship to relax and get ready for the Captain’s New Year’s Eve dinner!! …

The team of chefs and wait staff did a great job of decorating and preparing a wonderful dinner for us. People decked themselves out in appropriate finery for the occasion and the atmosphere was on of festive happiness.

After dinner … well, of course there was a New Year’s Eve buffet served in the lounge, just in case your clothes were too loose!! And at midnight, most of us were rugged up outside for the fireworks at midnight. Of course being on the river we were in the prime spot for viewing the action.

The evening was very cold and misty, which probably made the fireworks somewhat less spectacular than they otherwise would be. It was interesting though, that unlike so many cities in the world now where the fireworks are professionally choreographed productions costing millions, in Cologne it is still a “neighbourhood” event. People buy various styles of firework, and set them off themselves. So, being on the top deck of the boat we had a good view of people igniting rather large packets and watching them explode overhead.


In the early hours of New Year’s Day, we left Cologne and headed for Amsterdam, some 280 kilometres away. We entered the Rhine Amsterdam Canal around 11 am. For those off us taking the guided city tour of Amsterdam, Utrecht was our departure point for the coach. The tour was excellent and I strongly recommend it. Our guide was great, offering lots of interesting information, both on the bus and then later in the canal boat. Cruising the canals in this way gives you a feel for Amsterdam and offers many opportunities to grab some interesting photos – despite the fact that the boats are enclosed during winter.

Whilst I was enjoying views of the inner city and the atmosphere of the canals, Julian was taking some great shots of life around the Rhine Amsterdam Canal, complete with the requisite windmill!!

That evening, we had the Captain’s Farewell cocktails and dinner. A very enjoyable affair with all the trimmings we had come to expect (but not take for granted). We enjoyed a pre dinner champagne in the library beside the faux fireplaces, which are really very effective and give a lovely warmth and radiance to that part of the lounge and proved a popular spot.

Because of the effect of the frozen Main Danube canal and the resulting amalgamation of 2 cruise groups, those of us originally scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam on 2 January had an extra night and day on the Amabella. Our cruise director Elke thought that we should do something special, even though we ere a small group of just a dozen. So, she arranged a wonderful excursion for us to get a feel for Holland, as opposed to Amsterdam. And so it was that we headed north to 2 wonderful fishing villages, each with a unique and different appearance and ambience: Volendam and Marken. We also drove beside Ijsselmeer, a large natural harbour closed off from the North Sea by the Great Enclosure Dyke in 1933. At one stage in our tour we drove near the wall of a dyke where the water level was higher than the road we were on.


Volendam was a charming place. We walked through its streets to the little port area filled with fishing boats and nets. All of the houses were painted a glossy dark green with contrasting white stripes. The effect was quite stunning.

Marken is an island on the Ijsselmeer Lake. Before the construction of the dyke here in the 50s, Marken was quite an isolated place and relied on fishing as its main source of survival and income. Now, its income is from tourism and most people work on the mainland.

After walking around but before adjourning to a café for hot coffee and apple pie, Julian took some wonderful photos of the sun setting behind fishing boats and the wonderful luminescent light falling across the exposed sand.


I have prepared all of the notes for this story since returning home. We have had lots of time to reflect and consider the places we saw and experienced on the river cruise. Our verdict remains the same – it was a magical Christmas and New Year aborad Amalyra and Amabella, and we will carry the memories of this trip in our “best holiday” category. So, if you haven’t done this, put the European River Cruise on your list and get cracking with making plans! … we're planning our next one … France? Russia? … hmmmmm