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Europe - Part 2: Cruising the Rhine

For the second half of our European Adventure, we selected a river cruise aboard the Avalon Imagery II from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland.


As a travel enthusiast, it's as much about the journey as it is the destination for me. I pour hours into researching every detail of the vacation making customizations to meet our specific needs. Especially when it comes to Bucket List Travel. We may never have another opportunity to return, so each adventure needs to meet our expectations. As explorers; often going off the beaten path, we find river cruising to be the best way to experience Europe. Traveling on the historical super highways, we unpack only once and settle into our balcony suite to watch the world pass us by; waking up in a different port each morning.


There are several excellent river cruising options available in Europe; many offering similar itineraries. We chose Avalon because of the amenities, the diverse clientele, the lack of children on board and the room with a view!


#RoamLikeAPro: Customize vacations to meet your individual needs. A vacation planner/travel agent can work with you to identify expectations and design your perfect dream vacation. Let's start planning!


AMSTERDAM - Day One & Two

We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal Station tired, but proud! We managed to navigate from the UK, through France and Belgium, ending in the Netherlands - only nearly missing one stop! We are grateful to have met a local woman on the train; realizing our language barrier she showed compassion by offering to help us find our connecting train - she happened to be traveling from her country home into Amsterdam for the day. If not for her kindness, we may have found ourselves stranded in the middle of the Netherlands. Instead, we arrived in the Venice of the North, Amsterdam! Thanking our kind new friend, we departed the train station and made our way to Avalon Waterway's hospitality check point.


The picture below was take just outside the train station. Several hundred bikes racked on what seemed span an entire city block. It was not uncommon to see similar bike racks located around the city. Riding bicycles is commonplace in the Netherlands - the narrow streets and paths lend better for cycling or walking than driving.

We dropped our luggage at the Avalon Waterway's hospitality check point and made our way on foot around the city.


Amsterdam is known for elaborate canals systems and narrow houses. According to our guide, houses were historically taxed based on the length of the front façade. One particular residence was less than 10 feet wide! Being nearly 6'5" tall, it is difficult for me to imagine living in a house that is only 10 feet across. Other than some of the houses, most everything else was built with my comfort in mind, the canal boats and motor coaches had ample leg room for my tall stature, which is often difficult to find while traveling.


We hit some hotspots; touring De Wallen, the medieval city center containing the Red Light District (and, oddly enough, a chocolate shop). We walked several streets crossing canals, stopped in a few cheese shops, and toured the Sexmuseum Amsterdam. We passed several groups celebrating bachelor and bachelorette parties; not surprising since almost everything is legal. Authors Note: When in Amsterdam, if you fancy yourself a hot, caffeinated beverage you will need to find a café. Contrary to the name, coffee shops serve an entirely different purpose. You will find zippy baked goods, gummies, and cannabis in a variety of flavor combinations; much like large American cities, you will find a coffee shop on most every corner.


After walking a day in someone else's shoes, we made our way to the dock and boarded the Avalon Imagery II. Built in 2016, Avalon Imagery II was the newest ship, at the time of our sailing, in the Avalon fleet. Boasting the "bed with a view," Avalon intentionally designed each of its 52 suites to maximize the entire 200 square footage of the room. The bed is positioned on an angled wall facing the windows featuring wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling panoramic sliding windows that, when open, transform the entire room into a balcony. This splendid view offers nearly seven feet of open-air to take in the view as the world floats by. Behind the angled wall is a pie shaped bathroom. This bathroom features opulent floor-to-ceiling marble tile, a luxurious shower, two sinks and ample space for two people to fit comfortably. Please enjoy our tour of Cabin 204, our home for the week.


We attended our safety exercise, welcome meeting, and briefing with introductions from our captain, cruise director, and crew. Avalon caters to primarily English speaking countries like Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, and the United States. We met at least one passenger from each country during our cruise. Our cruise director, offered a couple important travel tips and advice prior to setting sail:

  • "If you don't like the dinner conversation. Sit somewhere else. On this ship, you chose where to dine and with whom."

  • "This is no ocean cruiser with nothing but endless ocean outside your window. No. This is a river cruise and we often double dock! A guest on a separate ship may only be few feet away. So... when exiting the shower, don a robe and prepare for a show before throwing open the curtains in your suite. It's likely passengers on other cruises have not received the same valuable advice."

Cruise Director Istvan had terrific comedic timing and was a wealth of knowledge about the various cities and travel destinations. He kept the evening briefings fun and informational. We especially enjoyed his narration from the sky deck during our four-hour cruise through the Rhine Gorge, one of the best parts of this itinerary. Istvan shared the historical insights of every castle along the route.

Day Two in Amsterdam, we engaged in the walking and canal tour. I was impressed by Avalon's listening devices during the excursions. Before departing the ship, each member of the group receives a listening device that can be worn comfortably around the neck. The guide wears a microphone; so as long as you remain within 50 feet of the guide, narration can be heard.


The canal boat had comfortable, spacious seating (my knees were not crammed into the seat in front of me, as is often expected when traveling) and the glass roof slid away to reveal a unique view of the city only accessible by boat. The tour snaked its way around Amsterdam on its elaborate waterways. That afternoon we opted for a featured excursion to Muiderslot Castle by motor coach through the Dutch Countryside. This very well kept medieval Renaissance castle surrounded by water was an extraordinary look into Dutch history. The gardens at Muiderslot featured a well-maintained hedge wall containing several walkways and arches. Muiderslot Castles and grounds looked very different than the castles in the UK that we visited just a few days prior (see Europe Part I).


Back on board the Avalon Imagery II, we set sail for Cologne. The bright sun and clear blue skies lured us to the sky deck as we began our journey up the Rhine. Our captain announced that we were not yet sailing on the Rhine, rather this waterway was an expertly designed dike. Dikes were designed by the Dutch to prevent flooding of farm land and cities from the local rivers. It was a surreal experience to be cruising on such amazing Dutch engineering; in fact, while we were sailing on this 361 foot vessel, I could peer down at fields and farms just beyond the dike. You read that correctly! We were looking down into dry land below the waterway.


Dikes were not the only technological marvels that we experienced during our cruise. The Rhine has 12 sets of locks that ships must use. We traveled through nine or ten throughout the duration of the cruise, with several occurring over night while we slept. I looked forward to every opportunity to experience a lock. Whenever possible, we rushed to the sky deck to get the best perspective of the entire experience.


It can be eerie when entering a lock without prior knowledge. One night at dinner, we were enjoying neighborly conversation with fellow passengers when the dining room went dark. The lights remained lit, but the whole atmosphere changed. Grey brick could be seen within an inch of the glass windows. The ship had entered a lock. This was our first experience in a lock from one of the lowest parts of the ship and it took us by surprise! Once we knew what had happened, we finished our dinner and enjoyed a couple extra glasses of wine as we watched the ship grow higher and higher along the brick wall until daylight could once again be seen over the wall. Locks come in all shapes and sizes, some only large enough for one ship to pass through, while others can fit multiple ships at a time.


COLOGNE, GERMANY - Day Three

We awoke to another beautiful day, the ship sailed all morning and most of the afternoon through the Ruhr region, an industrial area of the German Rhine. The captain opened the wheelhouse for guests to tour in small groups and Cruise Director Istvan gave the morning briefing, otherwise it was a relaxing morning. This was a welcome change of pace for us. Since we'd arrived in Europe, we had a "take it all in" approach; early mornings to late nights to cram as much as possible into our vacation. We watched folks walk dogs and bike the paved paths on the banks of the Rhine as we lounged on the seemingly empty sky deck while soaking in the natural vitamins from the sun.



Around 4:00 pm, we arrived in Cologne, Germany and participated in the 1.5 hour walking tour of the city. We docked at the Stapelhaus, Frankenwerft right in the center between the Deutzer and Hohenzollern bridges within an easy walk to all sights. The tour ended in the city center at the Cathedral; a High Gothic five-aisled basilica. Guests had to be back on board by 10:45 pm, we snapped a breathtaking view of the Cologne Cathedral at night.


KOBLENZ - RUDESHEIM - Day Four

Our day began with an early 1.5 hour city walk through Koblenz. Guests may select between Classic, Active, and Discovery excursions, many of which are already included in the cruise fare. This particular cruise offered mainly Classic excursions, but we loved the daily historical city walks. These excursions gave us a chance to learn the history and hotspots with each new port city.


Koblenz sits at the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine Rivers featuring a large historic monument known as German Corner dominated by the equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I. As we left the ship to begin the tour, we watched as the Avalon Imagery II pulled away from the dock and continue upstream. To remain on schedule, it is often necessary (especially when traveling upstream) for the ship to remain traveling while the guests tour in port. After our walking tour and some of our own sightseeing we boarded a motor coach for Boppard to reboard the ship.


The Romantic Rhine Gorge is the most picturesque stretch of the river with beautiful castles, vineyards, villages and the Lorelei Rock. We were encouraged to join Cruise Director Istvan on the Sky Deck for the (aforementioned) historical commentary and refreshing cocktails. Outside of frying in the early summer sun, this was one of the best experiences on this sailing. We brought our DSLR camera and tripod with us to snap photographs. Deveny captured captured the most spectacular images of the castles - we printed one particular photograph as a canvas that still adorns our walls at home.


#RoamLikeAPro: Just a reminder from Europe - Part I, it bears repeating... Invest in a quality DSL camera and learn how to use it. Bring it on vacations and capture your own memories. When you return, select your favorite images and cover your walls with your adventures.



After our afternoon of cruising, the ship arrived in Rudesheim about 4:00 pm. We all boarded a "choo-choo train" to ride into town. While cute, this kitschy train was not nearly as spacious nor comfortable as previous options. Yet, it was a short 10 minute trip, so I folded myself into a seat. Our tour included a visit to the Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments followed by a Rudesheimer Coffee tasting at the Rudesheimer Schloss Restaurant; hot coffee served in a specially designed porcelain mug with sugar cubes, flamed with brandy, and topped with whip cream and chocolate shavings! Delicious!



We returned for dinner on board. Avalon chefs source local ingredients to prepare regional flavors, including wine and beer, with each meal. Each night the chefs would feature three to four regional specialties or one could choose steak or chicken. As foodies, we always tried one of the local favorites, pairing food with the recommended wine or beer. We never left hungry and it cut down on the amount of money we spent out of pocket while in port.


Evenings on the ship sprung to life with live music, dancing, and even a woodcarving demonstration in the Observation Lounge. Avalon hires talented local entertainers to perform. Author's Note: Isn't this a great job for a local performer! Hop on a cruise in the evening, sail down the Rhine performing your heart out, only to hop off at the next port, grab another cruise heading in the opposite direction and do it all again!!


MAINZ - HEIDELBERG - Day Five

The ship had arrived in port around 7:30 am, we watched from the comfort on our balcony cabin sipping coffee in our robes. After fueling up with the breakfast buffet, we hit the streets for a morning stroll through the city of Mainz, Germany.



Our guided walk passed through the 2000 year old town filled with bustling commuters, students, and tourists. Passing the center square and the cathedral, we headed inside the Gutenberg Museum, where the printing press with movable types was invented over 500 years ago. I was excited to visit the Gutenberg Museum! Authors Note: My paternal grandfather had a Gutenberg Bible with the lineage of my entire family in the front cover. To be in the place where that bible was once created brought me immense pride. The museum

had several items on display and featured a Gutenberg Bible. A guide walked us into a room which contained a working printing press! She asked for a volunteer to help her demonstrate this technological marvel as she explained how it transformed the way information was shared. Much to my surprise, I was the only person who raised my hand.



#RoamLikeAPro Volunteer. It can be silly, maybe even a little scary, and may require the attention and focus of others to be directed at you. This may be uncomfortable, but what do you have to loose? Challenge yourself to try new things and put yourself out there. The results of volunteering may surprise you.


Through this demonstration, I melted aluminum and poured it into a cast to create the capital letter "G." This singular letter would have been combined with capital and lower-case letters arranged in a block, by hand, to create a paragraph of text. Ink would be rolled onto the letters and pushed into the paper for the printing. This process would be repeated thousands of times to print a single page. Other colors of ink could be added to direct the eye to specific passages of text or to create ornate symbols throughout the text. This rewarding demonstration gave me a first-hand look into living history, not-to-mention that I was presented with the metal letter and a tri-colored page of the Gutenberg Bible for volunteering. When you visit the Gutenberg Museum, volunteer for the demonstration. You won't be disappointed.


In the spirit of traveling to three German cities, the Avalon Imagery II featured a German Lunch Buffet as we sailed to Nierstein, serving many of my favorites: spätzle, red cabbage, schnitzel, and sauerkraut, among others.


We arrived at Nierstein to board a motor coach to Heidelberg for a visit of the courtyards of Heidelberg Castle, Germany's largest castle ruin, and the Great Vat. I was hoping to be able to stretch my legs after such a large lunch, but quickly learned why the motor coach was necessary. Heidelberg Castle sits atop a bluff. The narrow streets, barely large enough for two European cars to pass - let alone a motor coach, were pitched so steep that it would be difficult to climb. Yet, the bus passed dozens of people traversing the cobblestone streets for the reward of castle ruins. I was blessed to depart the bus without having made the trek by foot.



Heidelberg Castle grounds were massive and presented us with breathtaking views of the city below. The Great Vat was a bit underwhelming compared to the rest of the grounds. This huge empty cask could have filled our entire house was once full of wine. The Vat was so large (insert peanut gallery, "How large was it?"), that one could dance across the top of it.



After some free time in the city to explore Germany's longest pedestrian shopping street, hoping to find a stylish pair of lederhosen; we boarded the motor coach to Mannheim to rejoin the ship. Alas, we did not return with lederhosen.


STRASBOURG, FRANCE - Day Six

Capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg holds the seat of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. Alsace is famous for its white wines, foie gras, choukroute (sauerkraut) and tarte flambee (thin crust type of pizza with cheese, ham and onions). In addition to the included sightseeing tour of Strasbourg, we splurged on a wonderful countryside drive through the Alsatian wine route concluding with a wine tasting experience to celebrate Deveny's birthday!


The sightseeing tour included a small ship La Belle Strasbourgeoise with a glass top, similar the one found in Amsterdam earlier in the trip. This lovely boat ride showcased the architecture around town and continued with a walking tour through Old Town and into the Cathedral with the astronomic clock.



This evening was the Farewell Gala Dinner and we decided to dress up, in honor of Deveny's birthday. Seated at a table for two near the window we enjoyed our delicious dinner before heading up to watch the evening entertainment Black Forest Woodcarving Artists.


BREISACH, GERMANY - Day Seven

On this morning we journeyed into the Black Forest for a scenic drive through the beautiful countryside and a guided visit to the Open-air museum. Unfortunately for us, the day was filled with heavy rain showers, which didn't matter too much during the drive, but wasn't the best when exploring the Open-air museum. We donned our raincoats, ready to explore rain or shine, but the persistent rain was too much and we spent much of our time perusing the gift shop.


Although soggy, we returned to the ship in high spirits. This would be our last night on the Rhine and we were making the most of it. We had dinner with our newly established friends and headed to the Farewell Party in the Observation Lounge to dance the night away.


BASIL, SWITZERLAND - Day Eight

We arrived in Basil and disembarked the ship by 10:00 am. This was an amazing eight days spent with a tremendous crew, meeting folks from all over the world, and visiting some spectacular places. We said goodbye to the Avalon Imagery II and headed out into Basel, Switzerland before heading home.


After spending nearly two weeks traveling the Europe, we were ready to return home. What an adventure! Arriving in London, staying in Wanstead, traveling to the White Cliffs of Dover by train to sail across the English Channel to France. Hopping onto another train to the Netherlands before arriving in Amsterdam to embark on a cruise up the Rhine River. Visiting 11 ports and eight cities across four countries, we had quite an adventure!


Travel Dates: May 13 - 20, 2017

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