LEISURELY as leisurely can be...that’s what river cruising is all about. No big waves to contend with nor long distances to traverse in order to see land. Everything is within reach in a matter of minutes on either side of the river.
The “Captivating Rhine” cruise onboard the AmaStella of AmaWaterways was one glorious adventure. Still vividly in my mind are images of hilltop castles, sloping vineyards and picturesque villages along the river Rhine; ancient churches in all its artistic splendor at old city centers; and cobblestoned streets around heritage towns where time seems to have stood still.
The fourth largest city in Germany with a population of just over one million, Cologne was our first stop after we boarded the AmaStella in Amsterdam. We went straight to the world-acclaimed Roman Catholic Cologne Cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage Site which houses the reputed relics of the Three Kings (Magi). The Gothic landmark took all of 632 years to build (started in 1248 and completed in 1880) and was once the tallest building in Europe before the Eiffel Tower came to be. We were awed by the art treasures inside (including tapestries by Reubens) and the ancient stained glass windows.
Oh yes, we had to get a whiff of Cologne’s most famous product, the “Eau de Cologne” (Water of Cologne) at a perfume shop. The fragrance was created by Italian expatriate Johann Maria Farina when he lived in the city.
Rudesheim is a charming little port town known as the home of the popular Riesling wine. Its main attraction is the 38 meters tall Niederwald Monument on a mountaintop overlooking the valley of the Rhine. The monument features the colossal female statue Germania and commemorates the rebirth of the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. To reach the place we took a cable car ride going over vineyards as far as the eyes can see.
Back in the heart of town, we wandered into an all-year-round Christmas shop and relished its holiday feel. We then searched for “Made in Germany” souvenirs. Was overjoyed to find a little box to add to my collection.
An evening outing brought us to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum which houses one of the greatest collections of robotic and self-playing musical instruments from the past centuries. We were particularly fascinated with Bernhard Dufner’s band of 27 automatic dolls. Each doll played a different instrument.
Heidelberg is best known as the home of the oldest university in Germany, the Heidelberg University founded in 1386. However the most visited site in the city is the castle ruins of that majestic Renaissance-style castle destroyed during the war in the late 17th century. Bad luck hounded the castle as it was struck twice by lightning. The castle ruins with its mythical deep, dark secrets evoke romance and mystery. We ended our visit at the courtyard overlooking the Neckar River where we got a good view of the legendary old town.
Then off we went to the city hub on the pedestrian street Hauptstrasse where we did some quickie shopping. It is one of the longest shopping streets in Germany, stretching to over a kilometer from end to end.
Strasbourg in northeastern France is the capital city of the Grand Est region (formerly Alsace), and the formal seat of the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights. Because it sits near the German border, its culture and architecture are blends of French and German influences.
The historic city center, the Grande Ile (Grand Island) has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lording it over the place is the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg best known for its astronomical clock and its lace-like carvings.
We were charmed/fascinated/captivated by cobble-stoned streets, old-fashioned structures and quaint-looking houses along narrow canals and little pathways. It made us feel that we were thrown back in time to a place of “long ago and far away.”
Riquewihr is officially known as one of the most beautiful villages of France. Located on the Alsace Wine Route in eastern France, the little town of 1500 inhabitants projects a fairytale feel. Think fortified walls, cobbled streets lined with brightly painted half-timber houses, stone entrance gates, carved wooden beams, wishing wells, old-fashioned courtyards. There was a kind of magic that we couldn’t put a hand on. The entire place looked picture pretty in a whimsical sort of way and we loved every minute of our visit there. And yes, time must have stood still in that lovely little village.
The “Captivating Rhine” cruise came to a close in Basel, the city on the Rhine River in northwest Switzerland. It was time to say goodbye to an amazing experience and to the wonderful people who made it possible. Treasured memories of the river Rhine and places around it will forever be etched in our minds.