CRUISING THE RHINE RIVER
By Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’
Rhine River cruises are some of the most popular river cruises in Europe. The itineraries and vessels vary, but the fun and adventure is always guaranteed. Many sailings start or end in Amsterdam at the northern end of the river. Besides being a city of gabled homes and curving canals, the home to sites like Anne Frank’s house and a Van Gogh museum, it’s airport also offers some of the most favorable airline fares and schedules. I am not above cheering when I see I get to use this airport. Basel, Switzerland, is often the southern terminus of Rhine sailings. It showcases an ornate town hall and some fine art museums.
The Middle or Romantic Rhine is often thought to be the most scenic part of the river cruise experience. This is where ships slowly pass picturesque steep vineyards, grand castles, dramatic landscapes and the ever popular Lorelei Rock. The legend says an irresistible siren once lured sailors to their deaths. It is a memorable day sitting in the lounge or on the top deck taking pictures while centuries of tradition, folklore and landscape pass by as you sip your favorite beverage and snap picture after picture.
Late November and December sailings, known as Christmas market cruises, are quite popular. In addition to the normal sites, passengers spend time browsing the festive outdoor markets that sell handcrafted toys and ornaments, mulled wine, grilled sausages and gingerbread. This is the cruise I took. It was a “bucket list” item for me, one I will never forget, and one that I highly recommend to you.
When I cruise in Europe, my preference is to book a small ship (less than 200 people) that provides a mid-luxury experience at dynamite prices. My favorite is Viking River Cruises. Somehow this ship really “gets” the adult traveler. No children under 12 works for me. Three gourmet meals a day is more than enough food. Large, well-appointed rooms with satellite internet makes for a comfortable stay. Thoughtful wine selections are included with lunch and dinner. An optional beverage package allows passengers to order all beverages at will without limit. At each port, one outstanding sightseeing opportunity is included. Professional guides show top attractions and share their knowledge of the local history and culture. Unique optional excursions are also available. These trips are easy to budget. Because so much is included in one price that you pay up front, you have money left over to indulge yourself. I did and it was worth every cent. Just sayin’….
My Christmas market cruise began in Basel and ended up in Amsterdam. It included stops in France, Germany and Amsterdam. It was seven days of pure shopping diva bliss, as I got to visit over 20 markets. That being said, there was much more to do than just visit the Christmas markets. Viking is quite clever in planning alternative activities for the non-shoppers in the group, which in my case was my husband. Daily port stops included a daily guided walk through each town with enough free time or optional excursions to fill up the day with market shopping, museums, restaurants, chocolate shops and more. Here are a few of my favorite things to do and see on a Rhine River cruise.
Breisach Germany: Everyone should experience the Black Forest, named as such for its dark dense tree scape. A scenic coach drive took us past wine producing villages with fairytale architecture ending up in a small commercial type village where the great arc of shopping options is presented. Think glassblowing, nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and unique ornaments. You can even see a black forest cake demonstration. Buy here. The quality is perfect. The products are unique to the trip. I will remember this as a top shopping spot from any/all of my European travels. Yup, it was that good.
Colmar World War II Tour / Museum and Memorial: This the stop for your history buffs. It is memorable. All passengers who went on this optional tour, loved it. It was quite the fodder for many dinner conversations. Includes the Eddie Murphy Memorial, which was a standout feature for most.
Taste the Best of Alsace in Strasbourg: Let your inner foodie out for a day of good taste. Seven hours is a long time to spend out in freezing weather, but somehow the good food, the joy of strolling the Christmas markets, and a local’s kind of lunch made the time and cold pass quickly. Dress warmly and wear sturdy flat shoes. Our day was directed by a knowledgeable guide and filled with tastes of Christmas foods, bratwurst, beer, Glühwein (Hot Mulled Wine),a farmers market and shops galore. This is a tour for the shop-hardy die hearts. Loved every minute of it. It set my Christmas spirit in high gear.
Small-town Christmas Market shopping in Rudeseim: Many of the Christmas markets are found in the larger cities. This one is a small town where the outdoor Christmas stalls sort of duck and weave up, down and round the town. I did quite bit of evening shopping here. Temperatures dipped low, but the brief 10 minute walk from the ship was worth it. By this shopping outing, I was totally tuned into the proper gear to wear, so I was able to take my time and not long for the warmth of the ship and a hot toddy. My great score here was a teapot snow globe. Only bought one for my best friend, but looking back I should have purchased many more. Part of the issue in shopping for items like snow globes, is how to get them back home. There really isn’t time to stop at a local post office and heaven knows what a TSA agent would think of all that liquid. It would have been great if for this kind of shopping cruise, if Viking would have offered a shop and we’ll mail it service. I would have gladly paid the ship to bundle up my treasures and send them home for me.
Gothic Cathedral in Cologne: I know, I know. All European vacations include a plethora of Cathedrals. It often comes to a point of thinking, “I’ve been there, done that.” But this one was really special. It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe with soaring spires, gorgeous stained glass and the relics of the Magi. Kept just behind the alter, they are just a few inches from visitors. They are spectacular. I’ve not seen anything quite like them. You can also book an optional tour to ascend the roof of the cathedral. It’s a wild e-ticket kind of experience. Afterwards sign up for the Walking Beer Culture dinner. Best darn local food and fun with many local foodie insights. I found my own special mid-sized snow globe in the Christmas market.
Kinderdijk, Netherlands: This was our last stop. No more Christmas markets, just a small village experience where you can see nineteen, 18th-century windmills at work. A short flat walk provides a revealing look at marvelous architecture, landscape and ingenuity that makes the Netherlands such a special place. A great wind down from the rush and hustle of the markets.
Whatever your pleasure is, this particular cruise is a great start to your holidays. My guess is you will love it. It would make one heck of a Christmas, birthday or anniversary present. Just sayin’….or you can take Viking’s advice which hooked me, “The holidays are pure magic along Europe’s waterways. Storybook villages and snow-capped castles line the rivers’ banks, and in grand cities and charming towns alike, festive Christmas markets celebrate the season with colorful crafts, gingerbread and warm, spicy glühwein.”