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Unpack Once and Cruise through Europe

Author: Pat W.
Date of Trip: October 2009

Unpack once and cruise through Europe

Avid river cruisers, husband Rob and I booked a Uniworld cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Selling points were a lift, a self-serve launderette, plus included shore excursions and wine with dinner.

In Amsterdam the Uniworld River Duchess welcomed us with a buffet as well as fruit and wine in our cabin. Embarkation was swift, and cabins were ready at noon on the 134-passsenger ship. All cabins were outside with windows. Space was well utilized with ample closets, nice bathrooms and frequent service.

Meals were served in a single open seating, and every table had a dramatic water view. Romanian chefs delighted us with imaginative dinner creations. Breakfast was a lavish buffet with fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, cereal, pastry and eggs-to-order. Lunch featured a salad bar, soup, sandwiches, pasta, hot entrees and decadent desserts. There were no dress codes.

My favorite part of river cruises is gliding past spectacular scenery. On the busy Rhine River we passed lovely Dutch pastoral scenes of cattle and horses grazing in lush pastures.

Germany’s Rhine River Valley As we cruised through Germany’s Rhine River Valley, each bend and twist brought new visual delights. Steep hillsides blanketed in lush foliage were interspersed with medieval castles. Vineyards clung to nearly vertical cliffs. Autumn foliage splashed the banks with red and gold.

Cologne is a cultural mecca rich in antiquities with 30 museums and hundreds of art galleries. A broad paved river walk invites strolling and people watching. Romanesque church bells peal frequently. Per local legend, the Three Kings of Magi are buried in the Cologne Cathedral.

Since river boats dock in the heart of towns, disembarking is easy with no waiting for tenders. During its 2,000-year history, tiny Boppard was home to Celts, Romans, Franconians and Germans. As charming cafés emit delightful aromas, St. Stephen’s Church bells summon Catholics to Sunday mass.

Famous for its white wine, Rudesheim’s winding cobblestone streets lead to a long avenue of wine bars, taverns and shops. Visitors take a mini-train to Siegfried’s Museum to see and hear antique musical instruments play familiar tunes.

With 50 soaring skyscrapers and cosmopolitan citizens, Frankfurt is known as Europe’s Manhattan. Following World War II bombing, Frankfort was 95 percent rebuilt. A thriving finance and transportation center, Frankfurt boasts a contemporary upscale shopping district. On the south side of the river, apple wine taverns line Old Town’s narrow streets.

Bavarian Germany With less commercial traffic than the Rhine, the Main River passes tranquil farmland dotted with grazing cattle and horses. Farmhouses and barns are clustered in tiny hamlets surrounded by massive fields of sugar beets, turnips and corn.

On a beautiful stretch of the Main River, Miltenberg is a medieval town right out of a German fairytale. Crooked cobblestone streets and dozens of half-timbered houses, some dating to the 16th century—present great photo ops.

Local vineyards produce dry white wine. Vintners plant lovely red roses along the vineyards because roses indicate mildew before grapes are spoiled. Immigrant laborers handpick grapes on the steep hillsides.

Rothenburg appears stuck in the Middle Ages. City walls protect a core of gabled houses and charming gothic churches. Timber-framed houses line narrow, uneven cobblestone streets which hide tiny squares, each with a fountain. Merchants purvey German cuisine, handmade crafts and Christmas decorations.

Built on seven hills with a church atop each hill, Bamberg is brewery nirvana. A local brewery is known for its smoked beer. Of 70,000 inhabitants, 7,000 are non-Germans—many of whom are U.S. military personnel.

An archetypal German medieval city, Nuremberg served as World War II Nazi headquarters. Consequently it was 90 percent destroyed by Allied bombs. Post-war Nazi war trials were held here. Today Nuremberg is known for human rights activism, gingerbread and bratwurst. With a landmark 12th-century medieval stone bridge spanning the Danube, Regensburg became a shipping center for salt and other commodities. Regensburg escaped World War II bombs and today is home to a BMW plant. Still used, the stone bridge provides remarkable photo ops.

Amazing Austria The 19-mile scenic Wachau Valley along the Danube River is dotted with charming small wine-making towns. Some of Vienna’s finest white wines are produced from grapes ripened on terraces clinging to steep slopes. World renowned as Europe’s music capital, Vienna is cosmopolitan city with a convoluted history and a symphony of architectural styles. This beautiful city with broad flat boulevards intermingled with narrow cobblestone streets reverberate with memorable music, romance and culture.

Renowned composers Schubert, Strauss, Schoenberg and Berg were born here. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms and Mahler chose to live in Vienna. Besides giving birth to the waltz, Vienna maintains a link with the past in architecture, interior decor and attitude.

The highlight of the Vienna city tour was Mozart’s House, where guests learned the child protégée became ill traveling to winter concerts throughout Europe in horse-drawn carriages. An optional classical concert in famous Musikverein was well worth the extra charge. Whenever I hear a Strauss waltz, I remember that magical night in Vienna.

We stayed at the Hotel Radisson Blu Style on our extra day in Vienna. This contemporary hotel (which looks old on the outside) is just around the corner from Central Café, an informal meeting place for politicians, musicians and writers.

Nearby are St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the State Opera and the Imperial Hofburg Palace, as well as Kohlmarkt, Graben and Freyung, Vienna’s principle shopping streets. Besides comfy rooms with contemporary design, Hotel Radisson Blu Style offers a delightful free minibar.

Throughout the 900-mile cruise we were entertained by onboard musicians as well as a German men’s chorus, an oomph band and a versatile folk singer. River Duchess guests came from throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as Australia and New Zeeland. The hard-working, English-speaking crew hailed from Eastern Europe, the Netherlands and Germany. Debarkation was like a carefully choreographed ballet with tour manager and ship officers handling luggage.

Most Europe shore excursions are walking tours on uneven cobblestone streets (some uphill), so wear study walking shoes.

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