We have visited Europe three times in the past 20 years, starting with a free-wheeling “on our own” nine-day trip to Paris for our 30th wedding anniversary, then a Great Rivers of Europe cruise six years ago, and a small ship ocean cruise from Slovenia three years ago, down the coast of Croatia to Bosnia/Herzegovina and Montenegro. The latter two trips were with Grand Circle Cruise lines, and we’ve learned how to best stretch our travel buck — typically taking trips near the end of the high season, and, searching for “last-minute deals” on the company’s website.
A few months ago, we decided to celebrate another anniversary with a land tour of Italy. Alas, seeking a last-minute deal, we waited too long and the tour booked out. So, primed to travel, we found another last-minute option, the “Romance of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers” cruise, beginning in Switzerland, descending the Rhine through part of France, a large part of Germany, the southern Netherlands and finishing in Belgium. Since we departed on Nov. 2, we packed clothing for cool and perhaps wet weather; happily, though chilly, very little rain dampened our days.
Our flight took us from Sacramento to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., connecting to a flight into Zürich, Switzerland, where Grand Circle met us at the airport and shuttled us to our pre-trip destination, Luzerne, a town of 80,000 people. Our Ameron Hotel Flora was just a block from the historic Kapelbrucke (Chapel Covered Bridge), circa 1333, an lovely bridge linking the Alstadt (old town) to the Reuss River’s right bank, lined with waterfront restaurants. The town is bordered on the north by a half-mile-long fortified Medieval wall, the Museggmauer, from the 14th century.
The Reuss River flows out of beautiful Lake Luzerne, with Mt. Pilitus towering over the city to the southwest and the Swiss Alps extending south. The next day, we and our dozen new tour-mates boated down the lake about 15 miles to Vitznau, where we boarded the oldest mountain train in Europe to climb Mt. Rigi to a lovely resort above the lake and dinner at the Hotel Rigi Kaltbad. The sunset over the lake and the Alps was a fitting close to a spectacular day.
On our third day, we attended a concert in the Jesuitenkirche Catholic Church, (a 17th century church with baroque architecture, classic murals and a huge pipe organ). The noon concert featured five women singing a cappella, enchanting with their beautiful voices, an acoustically perfect hall and a marvelously photogenic place. On our final day, we took the funicular up to the Château Gutsch, an upscale hotel and restaurant high above the city, once again admiring the high mountain views of the Alps and thinking we must return someday.
After four days touring Luzerne, we bused to our cruise ship, the River Harmony (140 passengers, 36 crew, with 65 cabins, our home for the next 15 days) in Basel. Switzerland’s second largest city, Basel has a split personality — on one hand, giant, modern pharmaceutical and chemical research companies, and on the other, a medieval city crisscrossed by narrow alleys and centuries-old architecture.
Our tour guide, a tall, animated Netherlander, Tim Sommen, led us on a walking tour of the old city, including the Marketplatz, being decorated for Christmas, the colorful Town Hall and the red sandstone, 12th century Munster, the town’s cathedral. With extra time, we toured over to the Museum of Fine Arts, dating to 1662, the oldest public art museum in Europe that features masters such as Hans Holbein and 20th century abstract expressionist Jasper Johns.
Overnight, we cruised down the Rhine, docking in Strasbourg, France. A walking tour took us through the city’s narrow cobblestone streets split by winding canals. It’s the capital of the Alsace region, featuring the charm of the centuries-old half-timbered houses, a unique city with both German and French influence. Over the past 750 years, Strasbourg was a free imperial city of the German empire from 1262, taken by France in 1681, then Germany in 1871. France recovered the city in 1919 after World War I. The towering Strasbourg Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline. Additionally, the valley of the Rhine features towering hills/mountains channeling the river, with old castles and quaint towns around every corner, and forests and vineyards boasting seasonal yellows and oranges.
Our next port was Speyer, a city founded by the Romans in 50 AD that flourished during the Middle Ages. Much of the city was destroyed in the 17th century during the Palatine War of Succession, though the Romanesque Cathedral, built between 1030 and 1125, remains as testimony to architecture of the era. A feature of Grand Circle Cruises is a home-hosted visit by a local resident. Our team of eight was bused to nearby Dudenhofen, Germany, where Edda, 80 years old, a native of East Prussia, shared her memories as a 6-year-old of the bombing by British and Americans and the Russian takeover, which caused her family to flee. Edda was happy Hitler was defeated and shared that her country remains ashamed of the Nazis, seldom flies the nation’s flag and remains leery of overt nationalism.
Next week, we’ll continue our cruise down the Rhine and up the Mosel.
For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, gct.com, (800) 221-2610. For best prices, search “Ways to Save” on their website.
Contact Tim at email@example.com, follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!