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The Ultimate in Cruising: Down the Rhine River Christmas MarketsFebruary 6, 2012 By: Maureen Jones
Last week I told you about my first experience aboard a Uniworld river cruise.
We flew into Basel, Switzerland, were met at the airport, and taken to the ship. The next day we had a city tour with Uniworld’s own coaches and guides, and wandered around the Christmas market which was crowded with local people, buying pastries, spices, Christmas ornaments, and drinking hot wine.
Weather was chilly, but not miserable. I took only jumpers and slacks, plus my fur boots and Alvin, my mink coat. I was prepared, since Europe can be brisk in the winter. This was a casual cruise, so no need to take any evening clothes. I was disappointed we didn’t have any snow.
We mostly sailed at night, and the next morning we were docked at the town we were going to visit. Each evening, we had a lecture on the area we were to visit the next day, and were given an excellent map with highlights.
What I liked was you could stay ashore as long as you liked, or wander back to the ship and relax. Some people used the bicycles they had on board.
Everyone was given a marvelous gadget, which you plugged in your ear and switched onto the correct channel, so you could hear what the guide was saying about the area you were walking through. I wandered off many times and could still hear the history of the section we were in.
Several people on board were slow walkers, with canes, yet they were taken ashore every day by a short-cut route into the town square, so they were given special attention. The group I was in only had six people. Each group had a local guide. It was so personal to have a choice.
Strasbourg, France was our second stop, and this was an interesting town, built on an island with canals dividing it up. It's very much a European Union government town, with a lot of historic buildings.
We had a lovely cruise around the little town. It is halfway between Paris and Prague, and called "the crossroads of Europe."
I do not visit museums—been to most of them over the years of growing up in Europe—but I always like to see a new cathedral. The lovely Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral is a must see.
A full day in Heidelberg was of great interest, since there is so much history here, with the medieval castle and university being one of the oldest in Europe. This was a town full of flags, crests, and university fraternity houses. It is a steep walk up to the castle on cobblestones, so it is important to wear flat shoes otherwise you can slip on the uneven streets.
In Rudesheim, I enjoyed going to the Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum. The town was crowded with locals all doing their Christmas shopping. The stops at Mainz, Koblenz were fun. There are medieval small towns dotted along forty miles of the river, with lots of ancient fortresses, castles, and half timbered villages, all nestled along the banks of the river with the steep hills covered in grapevines.
Cologne was the end of our delightful journey. It has the largest market in all of Germany, which is in five different squares. They have a little motorized train, which will take you to each of the markets and it was a fun ride for 7 Euros.
Before World War II, this town had 750,000 people, and after the war, there were only 40,000 left. Ninety percent of the town was bombed, but the 1000-year-old cathedral was left standing.
The station has 1400 trains a day go through it, since Europeans don’t fly if we can help it. We stayed two extra days at the Hyatt Hotel, which was lovely, across the river with a nice view of the Cathedral. The hotel was full of mostly European businessmen, and it had two excellent restaurants.
I think my next river cruise will be in the spring to see the flowers, or summer when I can sit on the deck in a comfortable armchair and sail through Europe. No long lines, no rough water, only smooth and peaceful sailing with a small group of people and best of all, great value.
My husband’s choice is the Danube and I am still debating which of the 37 options to choose from.