Now that I’ve ranted about the travel part of our trip – I can leave the negatives behind and talk about the good things.
Our ship – the MS Gerard Schmitter – was very nice – part of the CroisiEurope fleet of river boats – a french company. It was built in 2012 with 87 cabins and a capacity for 174 passengers. It sure seemed to be completely booked! The cabins were small but completely functional. We were all on the top deck (one below the sun deck) so we had french balconies. Unfortunately it was so cold and windy, opening the patio doors was NOT going to happen – at least not for any longer than was needed to bring a blast of fresh air into the cabin.
Breakfast was always buffet style and our group got into the habit of boiling eggs rather than trying to eat what passed for scrambled eggs and bacon. One had to hook your egg onto a coloured gadget (then you had to remember which colour was yours), and time it, hoping it wouldn’t fall of into the tub of boiling, or almost-boiling water. We got pretty good at this. There was lots of choice – cereals, croissants, fruit, yogurt, etc. etc.
Lunch was always a formal 4-course meal as was dinner. We usually had some options for the dinner entree. There was never a shortage of food – in fact, it was usually way too much food – but always french, always delicious and beautifully served. Wine flowed at lunch and then starting with happy hour in a small lounge at the rear of the ship, continued through dinner. There were even some non-wine options included – beer, rum, scotch, etc. Premium drinks such as single malt scotch or grand marnier were at your own cost – but there was more than enough alcohol !! If you were still interested in more – post-dinner drinks were also provided!
Everything about Europe is so full of history! Buildings are older than we can imagine and towns full of cobblestone and fascinating architecture. Bicycles are the main mode of transportation and they were EVERYWHERE! They seem to have the right of way no matter what so you had to take care not to get run over by one! We had a few days in Amsterdam and area including a canal tour (beautiful city, full of life), a tour of Volendam – pretty little fishing village including a cheese factory visit and windmills. I completely missed Arnhem due to a nasty tummy bug that flattened me – I slept for 36 hours straight! Then it was on to Cologne where we sampled some lovely local beer, followed by lots and lots of vineyards and castles and the Rock of Loreley on the section of the river called The Romantic Rhine. In Rudesheim we had a tour by sightseeing train, and then a visit to a local winery with tasting (of course) – and a visit to a very unusual Music Museum. We decided to stay in town rather than dine on the ship so we found a great German restaurant and had our fill of schnitzel etc. We had been told we mustn’t miss the infamous Rudesheim Kaffee – so, of course, we sampled that too. Our next stop was Heidelberg where we toured the Castle and the old town and then finally our last stop – Strasbourg where we had a city tour and a very unique farewell dinner in the Maison Kammerzell – a famous restaurant opened in 1427 where the rich and famous and the royal dine. You can imagine our surprise when after a lovely pate, we were served pork hocks and scalloped potatoes!!!
We travelled well as a group – there were 11 of us in our little group of friends. It was a busy 9 days without much down-time but that’s the nature of a “tour”. You see a little bit of a lot of places but nothing in any great detail. We did have some free time in a few stops which was great! One says it gives you an overview and an idea of where you would like to return and spend time. That’s a great theory if you are 30 and have oodles of time to re-visit the places you especially liked!! For me, it was a lovely taste of many beautiful towns and cities and doing it on the water was perfect – there was always a great view.
We had good local tours, well informed local guides, a great Collette tour leader, fabulous food, comfortable beds, friendly staff on the ship, more alcohol than we could consume (another sign of our getting older) and enough castles to last a lifetime!
River cruises are lovely – casual and intimate when compared with large ship cruising. But – this may end up being the last “tour” type of holiday I take. The travel is difficult, and the tour pace faster than I like to (or am able to) go. A “stay put” vacation is calling to me – not sure yet where the next one will take me!
So glad I got to share all the fun times with you….and miss the travel nightmares getting to and from Europe!