My sister and I chose to travel on Avalon Waterways Magnificent Europe tour starting from Budapest on 24 July 2013 and finishing at Amsterdam two weeks later on 7 August 2013. It was quite a change for me to be on an organised tour after always traveling independently over the years.
We started our journey in Budapest and enjoyed our explorations of that very beautiful city. My sister had a brief city tour in the eighties while it was still behind the Iron Curtain, conducted from the airport to fill in a 10 hour stopover. The city has greatly changed since then from all accounts.
We arrived in the city a day early and were taken by a private driver to Intercontinental hotel to spend our first night before joining our cruise. Our hotel rooms were very comfortable and of a high standard, while the service we experienced was excellent. During our stay we enjoyed a light meal and wine in the bar on our first evening, and a beautiful buffet breakfast the following morning before checkout. The front desk advised that our luggage would be transferred to our ship over the course of the day.
Prior to joining our cruise, our first day and a half was spent ambling around the local streets, checking out the architecture and local sights, trying not to double up on activities included in our city tour with Avalon the following day. Our hotel was beside the Danube so well placed for our explorations. We particularly enjoyed discovering a number of Art Nouveau styled buildings and some quirky bronze statues along the way. One perched on a fence near our hotel, 'the little Princess' was very endearing, the artist inspired by his young daughter playing princess dress-ups. Another of Ronald Reagan was a surprise encounter, I guess a tribute to his presidential role around the time of the move towards democracy in these parts.
The most poignant monument was a collection of 60 iron shoes beside the river near the Parliament building. A tribute to a group of jewish people who were murdered there by Arrow Cross Militiamen in WW2. Ordered to remove their shoes, they were shot and their bodies were carried away by the river. Sadly the shoes were seen to have a secondhand and greater value than the wearers in the eyes of the fascists. It is one of the most moving street sculptures I have ever seen.
Not far from the hotel we discovered a monument highlighting the city's roman past and also an area of archaeological excavation showing roman remains below a thick clear perspex window set in the paved square above. Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit Aquincum Museum and roman ruins during our stay, no doubt a fascinating outing.
We did however delve into more recent history, visiting the House of Terror, the building that once housed the Arrow Cross fascists and Nazis, then later was taken over for by the Communist Secret Police as a torture centre. It is now a monument and museum as a reminder of this tragic past. How wonderful it must be for the population to now experience freedom.
We joined our cruise on MS Panorama in the afternoon of our second day. We were given a glass of champagne, some canapes and a very warm welcome from Cruise Director Hendrik who introduced the senior crew. Instructions were provided for joining tours each day, collecting boarding passes which would indicate we were onboard on our return to the ship and obtaining headsets for our tour commentaries. This was all done with great precision along with much humour from Hendrik, and providing we all complied with instructions about our return to the ship was assured of running smoothly. We were then shown to our suites to settle onboard before dinner.
My sister and I each had our own Panorama Suite so had the luxury of space without having to dodge around another inhabitant. The rooms are beautifully appointed and well maintained each day. I knew from the moment I entered my suite that I would feel at home there, and began nesting immediately. In fact the environment on the whole ship is of a very high standard, with plenty of space for passengers throughout. The ship holds a maximum of around 160 passengers, with a large crew to take care of passengers. The restaurant is very roomy so there is plenty of space for people who choose to sit in smaller groups.
Our welcome dinner gave us a preview of the quality of dining that we would come to expect every meal while onboard for two weeks. I have to admit that it was a bit intimidating that first time we entered the dining room, not knowing anyone else onboard. We introduced ourselves to a lovely pair of ladies from the UK, and remained firm friends and dinner companions throughout the voyage; sitting elsewhere for other meals in order to meet other people. The food was fresh, superbly presented and very tasty, a credit to chef Orlando and his fellow chefs and helpers. A varied selection of wines were offered with our evening meal each day. We were able to select less courses from the menu each time as the four of us all preferred a lighter diet than what was on offer. But for those who prefer more generous serves and multiple courses this restaurant would not disappoint. Try as we might to be self disciplined, the pastry chef made desserts so tempting that this was a course not to be missed at meals. Any attempt to request smaller serves was subverted by him with that extra dollop, slice or scoop! Our empty plates and bowls were testament to his skill!
The following day we headed out for a city tour, taking in the sights of both the Buda and Pest sides of the river. Our guide was very informative giving us a history lesson at the same time as pointing out the many and varied highlights along the way. Most of the tour was experienced from the bus, with a brief stop at Heroes Square, then an hour and a half to wander around Fishermens Bastion on the Buda side where we were able to enjoy some stunning views across the city. Much more time than a couple of days is needed to really appreciate this fine city.
We also went on an afternoon excursion to a nearby town called Szentendre, a quaint little spot heavily reliant on selling souvenirs. The commentary on the way was detailed and interesting but did we really need a second telling of all these same points of interest on the return journey from our guide! I was thrilled to see Aquincum and some of the roman ruins from our bus, a small consolation for not being able to visit.
We were all very excited when the ship finally set sail to the strains of the music 'Conquest of Paradise' by Vangelis, which is very dramatic. (I know some of the words, the ones that go mm mm mm mm mm etc) As the tour progresses we will discover that this is played each time we set sail and we never tire of hearing it, it quickly becomes part of our routine.
Our first stop was Bratislava in Slovakia where we visited the Castle which is located at a high point with excellent views of the river and city. We were then taken on a walking tour of the old town to appreciate the very attractive old-world streetscapes. I had read about the quirky street sculptures featured here and had my eyes peeled. Eventually we were able to meet 'Cumil' (pronounced Choo-mill) who has his head and upper body protruding through a manhole on the side of the road. He is in such a precarious spot he has lost his head a number of times after being collected by cars and has undergone regular repairs. We also saw 'Schone Nazi', a strange name for a representation of a local well dressed character from the early 20th century who used to hang around the spot where the sculpture is located, greeting people and paying particular attention to any ladies passing by, sometimes even handing out flowers. In those days he was considered to be an oddball but in our times he would probably be on YouTube and famous around the world for his antics, much like the guy who was offering free hugs to people in public places. Sadly Paparazzi no longer exists, a sculpture of a man peeking around a corner with his camera. I had been eagerly anticipating meeting him.
Next day and we were in another country! Aaahhh Wien! My husband and I visited this city many years ago, so we had experienced a visit to Schonbrunn Palace and other local sights. We started our day with a bus tour around the city locale. I had forgotten how amazing the architecture is here, truly stunning! Unfortunately this mode of travel doesn't allow us to explore in depth, you just whizz by in a bus taking photos with reflections, cars, poles etc. It is a taster but you can't expect to do any scratching below the surface of each location as I would normally do. We also went on a walking tour with our very eccentric and lovely guide Cordelia, who was able to point out some aspects of interest that were a little more unusual and gave insights into the Austrian sense of humour which is apparently distinct from Germans despite the shared language. We had a little spare time to check out some of the shops where I was able to pick up a lovely temporary souvenir from a baker - a berry torte. A work of art, it was well appreciated later, but not much later! It was great just walking around checking out the distinctive streetscapes and architecture.
We returned to the ship for dinner. Later I boarded another bus to attend a concert of classical music, dance and opera. These concerts are prolific in Vienna and there are young people dressed up in period costume selling tickets all over the city each day. The hall was pretty but not particularly special however I enjoyed the concert very much. The orchestra and other performers were really good. Many of the musicians are apparently music students who are honing their skills in the final years of their degrees. I was a bit unsure about booking this optional tour but decided to give it a try and I am glad that I did.
Our guide talked about the fact that many tourists now think that there are kangaroos in Austria, confusing them with Australia. How funny! When Phil and I visited Europe in 1984 many people thought we were Austrians when they asked where we were from because they didn't understand our accents. I guess it sounded like we were saying 'Austrayia' or the like. Haha! Now there are Tshirts and plastic bags with the slogan 'No Kangaroos in Austria', featuring a picture of a roadsign showing a kangaroo with a cross through it. I am pleased to see that our country is finally on the map. Of course when we clarified in 1984 that we were really from Australia the usual response was 'Ohhh Kangarooooo!' with a suitable mimicking of a kangaroo accompanying that phrase. Later when we visited the US and Canada in 2001, the population was more interested in Crocodiles than kangaroos thanks to Steve Irwin and also Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee.
Our next stop was Durnstein, a pretty riverside village with steep vineyards surrounding it and a ruined castle on a rocky outcrop above, which is famous for holding Richard the Lionheart for ransom back in the time of the crusades. Coincidentally at home my other half had been watching Errol Flynn's Robin Hood which refers to having to raise gold and silver to pay a ransom for Richard who is a prisoner in Vienna. What strange timing! We were assured that Richard actually was living the life of Reilly while there, with servants, luxurious rooms and a fair degree of freedom within the castle; not chained up in some dark, damp dungeon as we might imagine. We really loved exploring the quaint streets here, admiring the pretty buildings and walking through laneways past the vineyards. It was very hot though so great to get back to the airconditioned comfort of the ship for lunch.
We continued on to Melk, another town in the Wachau Valley of Austria. Again we were herded on to buses to tour Melk Abbey which we were assured was an amazing place to visit. This is certainly a fact but it was so hot that afternoon I found it hard to appreciate the visit and wished I had stayed on the ship for a quiet afternoon. I should point out that I had been struggling with sinusitis and a sore throat which was interrupting my sleep, so the heat was really draining. The abbey has beautiful terraced gardens but it was way too hot for any of us to spend much time exploring. The weather was much hotter than the locals are used to for several days in a row. Once returned to the ship we set off towards Linz for our final Austrian destination the next day.
Linz required an early start as there were several optional tours on offer, We had opted to visit Salzkammergut Austrian lakes area. I was feeling like death warmed up so decided to give the tour a miss and stayed onboard, while my sister enjoyed a long day out traveling around 'romantic Austria'. It was the best decision under the circumstances as it was a much cooler day after some very hot days, so it was refreshing to sit outside and enjoy a cool breeze. With most of the passengers away on outings, I was one of a very small contingent still onboard.
I found it relaxing to watch picturesque countryside and pretty villages pass by. Apart from the naturalist aspect, we thought we may even get to see more naturists' views as we did the previous day. It seems that the River Danube is a popular spot for getting the gear off for an all over tan. We were even bemused by the sight of men cooking barbecues in the all-together, an activity that seemed fraught with danger of burning the snags!
Additionally we were able to observe the workings of some enormous locks along the way. We crossed the border of Austria and Germany through a very wide lock so two ships were able to go through beside one another, but with the narrowest gap between the side of the ship and and concrete wall. I was amused to see that the neighbouring boat was named Hendrika, because our Cruise Director is Hendrik. Another discovery on this journey was that it was a bit weird walking along the Skydeck in the opposite direction to the boat, as it had the effect of a treadmill, with the landscape beside me keeping up.
> Our first stop in Germany was the extremely beautiful town of Passau, which sits where three rivers meet, the Danube, Inn and Ilz. Each is a different colour so it is very strange to see the three colours of water merging at the point where they all converge. After such high temperatures over several days, we had a huge downpour on arrival here which was quite refreshing. I enjoyed strolling around the streets checking out the architecture, the wonderful baroque cathedral and even had time to browse in some shops that were not stuffed to the gills with souvenirs. I strolled back to the ship beside the river in time to see the daytrippers returning from their outings. My sister shared photos of her day's outing with me and seemed very happy with her experiences. She did however feel that too much time had been spent at St Wolfgang, while another superb location with a Schloss reached by cable car did not have enough time for a visit.
As days wore on I found myself struggling to catch up with my first email to family and friends. Wifi access was understandably sporadic along the river and canals so communication with home became difficult. The best time was when we docked somewhere and of course that meant being out and about on tour. Once back onboard the ship sailed off and again there was no wifi. I was also guilty of dozing off in between activities at times when my intention was to catch up on facebook, sorting photos and emailing. When I finally found the time I could hardly remember where I had been since Vienna! Fortunately we were given daily itineraries which made an excellent resource for jogging the memory.
Next stop was Regensburg, Bavaria, which is an amazing city of UNESCO World Heritage status due to more than 1300 buildings of historic interest. After a short walking tour we were given a couple of hours free time to explore. It was great to retrace our footsteps and see the sights without a crowd of people around us. There is a lovely old stone bridge which dates back to mid 1100s, the oldest of its kind in Germany. It seems the biggest claim to fame is the Wurstkuchl which we were told is considered to be the world's oldest 'fried sausage kitchen'. Who would want to argue with that? Actually we were more interested in visiting one of the newest department stores in town than eating sausage and sauerkraut. Haha! I must agree the city is a fantastic place to stroll around. Those who did make it to the Wurstkuchl were full of praise for the sausage and beer consumed there.
On return to the ship many of us took advantage of a chocolate tasting session. We enjoyed trying three different, delicious chocolate treats while our speaker shared some chocolate facts with us. Yum! After dinner our night was rounded off with a corny show by Hans, a One Man German Band, who had a massive moustache that looked like a broom under his nose. He had fun selecting 'volunteers' to play a variety of instruments he had hauled onboard. It was pretty silly but the crowd thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. We made sure we were seated near an exit to make a quick getaway if he headed our way at any point.
While traveling to our next destination the following morning, an interesting presentation was held on the Main Danube Canal, with particular focus on the engineering of this waterway and the operation of locks. It is a fascinating aspect of this particular cruise as there are many locks to negotiate along the way.
The fascinating city of Nuremberg was our next point of call, with so much to see but of course we were not able to explore in depth due to lack of time. It has a long proud history yet will always have the legacy of reluctantly hosting the annual party rally for Hitler's Nazis over a six year period. As a result of this association the city had more than 75% of its historic buildings destroyed. Clearly much of the Old City has been restored as the town walls, towers and beautiful half-timbered houses look in great shape. We made a brief stop at the Nazi Party Rally grounds and found that the building and interior is in disrepair, a crumbling monument to their failure in WW2. We also checked out the massive Zeppelin Field nearby, a site larger than twelve football grounds put together, which was used for huge Nazi parades associated with the party rallies.
We were given an hour of free time away from this sad political history. We decided to visit the Toy Museum, a fantastic display specialising in German made toys which must be one of the biggest collection of its kind. The quality of the toys was brilliant and many still had their original packaging. We returned to the ship for a very popular beer tasting session, not my thing but well received by most passengers.
As the cruise progressed, the food continued to be wonderful. The crew are so professional and attentive, chef Orlando is highly skilled and his army of helpers do an excellent job. They try and include local specialties at every lunch and dinner along with beautiful wines and a selection of other beverages.
Bamberg was the next stop on our itinerary and what a beautiful town. Our dutch guide was great, very knowledgeable as she has lived in this town for many years and presented our walking tour with a sense of humour. She pointed out various places of interest including a fountain featuring Neptune which is known locally as the "Man with the Fork'. It is surrounded by stone seating referred to as the Ape Rocks, in deference to the usual zoo settings for Apes where they watch us watching them. I like that nickname, so apt. The Town Hall is an unusual tall half timbered structure which is perched precariously halfway along on a stone bridge, with water rushing under it. Local legend is that the bishop of Bamberg refused to grant land for the building of the town hall so the citizens rammed stakes into the river to create an artificial island for locating this landmark. Whatever the truth is, it is an incredible sight.
Most of our guides have mentioned that there is an old German (Austrian) saying that a wealthy person is Stone Rich or Rolling in Stones, a nod to the great value placed on Stone in medieval times. The half timbered buildings were a way to build relatively grand homes without the extra cost of stones for upper levels. I guess that is where our saying 'Rolling in it' comes from when we talk about people with pots of money. Interesting. (Well I thought so anyway.)
The afternoon schedule included a talk on the European Union so I decided to have a nap as I was feeling very weary. I had been battling hayfever for days which was progressing to a sore throat and it was all catching up on me. However I did book to go on the 3.15pm galley tour on the ship so set my watch to wake me at 2.30. I woke with a start at 3.21 pm to find that I had set my alarm for 2.30am! So much for my plans, oh well, back to sleep! I drifted in and out of sleep, waking occasionally to lie there watching the world go by through the huge windows in my room. My dinner companions later reported that the galley tour was great, highly organised and they were impressed with the cooking achievements in such a small space.
We woke the next morning to a beautiful view of a hillside palace in Wurzburg, complete with the most perfect reflections on the river. I was able to capture some stunning images of this view on my camera much to my delight. We started our explorations with the obligatory walking tour which I almost passed on, but ended up being glad that I went. Our guide Valerie is British but has lived in Wurzburg for over 20 years. She proved to be an extremely effective speaker, very conversational and funny with a droll sense of humour. We visited the Wurzburg Palace located in town (as opposed to the one on the hill overlooking the river) and she took us on a journey back in time as she explained all of the features of the palace and the habits of occupants and visitors. We were introduced to the Prince Bishop who ruled the town in the early 1700s, by all accounts a humble fellow given that he commissioned a ceiling mural above the Grand Staircase that may as well be entitled 'The World Pays Homage to the Prince Bishop'. Even the gods appeared to be praising his image in this mural. The World only had 4 continents at that time, all featured in different displays. America was shown to be the least important or civilised, while Europe was advanced well ahead of all others. On the origins of words, she mentioned that the men who came to the palace in the 1700s were expected to wear wigs. If a man had a very long wig this indicated he was very important, hence the term 'Bigwigs'.
We had a little free time to wander around town, taking in more splendid views with a leisurely stroll back to the ship along the river, just in time for more food. (In the unlikely event that anyone on board may starve...) Once that was done, we boarded buses for Rothenburg, a fantastic medieval walled town with narrow lanes and many half timbered houses. How lucky we were to have the same tour guide, Valerie, who entertained us on the bus to and from our destination. She gave us a bit of an orientation on arrival then we were cut loose to enjoy exploring for a couple of hours. It was a very hot day so nothing too energetic was on the agenda.
Jill and I checked out some of the shops around the central marketplatz (naturally), including a huge christmas shop and surprisingly emerged with no packages between us. We decided to head to the town walls for a trek above the houses which was a great way to see a different view of the town. We also had an ulterior motive, to find the horse and carriages so we could take a ride. No luck, so we did the female thing and asked for directions and next thing you know we were taking a leisurely ride around the outer streets, under a shady canopy. The ride took 25 minutes with two stops; one a toilet stop but for the horses, not for us, and the other at a huge water trough for a drink, again for the horses not us! On the return journey Valerie entertained us all with personal stories about her adjustment to living in Germany, her children's bilingual issues and other funny tales. This lady could easily do stand up comedy or after dinner speaking. (Take note Avalon, she would be great onboard as a speaker, especially on the cross cultural issues she has encountered.)
Our trip to Miltenberg was very leisurely as we were still sailing for half of the next day before we docked. Once again we were taken on a walking tour of the town, which is famed for its beer and franconian red wines. It is yet another medieval town, with many enormous half timbered houses lining the streets of the old town. The day we visited it was hosting a stopover of a very large contingent of cyclists who were following the way of a pilgrimage from town to town. They departed mid afternoon and the streets were very quiet in comparison. Back on board we had a local lady visit the ship to present a Vanilla Gipfel cookie baking demonstration. She managed to coerce a couple of the guys into helping her with this, and I noticed a few not so brave men quickly depart from the lounge once she announced she needed volunteers. Brigitte was very funny and lively so it was much more than a baking demonstration and whiled away an hour very easily.
Soon after we set sail for Rudesheim to the strains of Vangelis and the view outside my window was perfect; a white swan was floating by, the light reflected on all of the buildings giving a glowing effect, the green of the countryside looked even greener than usual and I spied canoeists on the river. Lovely!
That night the crew put on a show for us all in the lounge after dinner. They did a variety of funny skits as well as some musical moments. I guess all of these cruises do something similar as part of their entertainment. We got to see another side to the people who have been providing us with such professional service this past two weeks. They are a great bunch of people, very hard working. Many of them are married with children but barely see their families during the summer holiday season, They work long hours every day and most do a multitude of jobs, yet no task seems to be too much trouble for these easy going crew members. We also had a piano player each night, Nick, from Bulgaria. He has quite the repertoire, has a great voice and is a good musician so we enjoyed dancing along to his music most nights.
We particularly appreciated our next destination, Rudesheim, which was another leisurely day spent on the boat until lunch time. We boarded our Petit Train on leaving the ship and trundled into town, saving a long walk uphill. It was greatly amusing to see how close the train got to the chairs in the outside dining areas of cafes. Luckily noone was sitting in them as we passed. We had visions of sitting there, then moving backwards to stand up only to be cleaned up by a colourful little train. We have seen news reports of all manner of tourist tragedies over the years, but never by this method. Oh the embarrassment to be killed by le petit train!
On arrival at our destination, we waited to see which way our guide was going then headed in the opposite direction away from Siegfried's Mechanical Music Museum, before anyone spotted us making our escape. No reflection on this popular tourist activity but we had alternative plans! In my research I had found out there was a cable car that would take us to a lookout at a highly placed monument, which appealed to us more than an hour of antique musical instruments followed by coffee laced with brandy at the local Schloss. While I am sure that everyone enjoyed their music and coffee interlude, our journey above the terraced grape vines, with magnificent views of the town, the Rhine and beyond, was a perfect way to while away our time on such a warm summer's day. The Niederwald monument, commemorating the reunification of Germany in the late 1800s, was pretty impressive too. After our return journey we meandered through the streets back to the ship.
We set sail to Cologne through the most picturesque stretch of the Rhine River, with commentary on the Skydeck from Hendrik, pointing out the many castles and other places of interest along the way. The weather was perfect for viewing these sights; cameras and iPads were kept busy capturing the images of steeply perched fortresses and charming riverside towns.
Time was slipping by fast and before we knew it we were disembarking for our visit to Cologne. We chose to wander around the city centre rather than follow the guide as we have both been to this city in the past. We walked back to the ship through the old town, admiring the well maintained historic buildings and the river views. We had an early sailing that afternoon so headed back in good time to enjoy some people watching from the Skydeck. One couple was late getting back; Jill spotted them strolling slowly along the pathway before having to make an undignified dash for the boat with only minutes to spare after our Cruise Director Hendrik yelled out loudly to them. We had been warned previously that the ship would not wait for us if we were late so they were lucky to just make it. Once we set sail we had our final Port talk from Hendrik with special emphasis on disembarkation protocols. Hendrik's pre dinner Port talks were a fixture each day of the cruise along with Happy Hour in the Lounge, briefing us on the schedule for the next day and and what we could expect to see and experience.
We had our farewell dinner one night early given that many of the passengers would be out and about on tour in Amsterdam the following night. It was a very special dinner, featuring a parade of all the people who had carefully prepared and served our meals during the cruise and also to pay tribute to all of the other crew who work tirelessly behind the scenes. Three cheers for you all, you are a credit to your ship and to Avalon.
Our final destination of Amsterdam was reached overnight. We had a long day planned, starting with a canal cruise around this very lively and historic city. We have both been to Amsterdam previously so chose a country outing in the afternoon rather than further exploring the city sights. It was interesting to see the way that the land has been reclaimed from waterways for farming and housing. The farms had raised grazing lands punctuated by channels of water and I saw quite a few swans in the fields, a very strange sight. The farmhouses were square and the orange tiled rooftops were shaped like pyramids. We visited the town of Edam and wandered around checking out the pretty streetscapes of well tended houses. We then went on to Volendam, a nearby fishing village, with more neat little homes reflecting house proud locals. There were many sailboats on the water, a great sight as we walked along the dyke. It is a very touristy area with numerous souvenir shops, cafes and pubs. Our guide mentioned it is a busy place no matter what the season. Fortunately the charming backstreets were quieter so we escaped the crowds. There were channels of water covered in a type of duck weed, giving the impression it was a grassy pathway. Our guide was at pains to remind us of this, paranoid that one of us might mistakenly take a dip. We did spot a bicycle lying beside a pond covered in this greenery, and some orange and white tape had been stretched around the perimeter, serving as a warning to walkers to watch out.
We returned to the ship for our last dinner onboard, then away we went again, this time for an evening excursion to check out the historic city centre, most notably the red light district Amsterdam is famed for. I enjoyed the canal cruise more this time as the light was much better for taking photos. Our guide was adept at discussing the issues of prostitution and legal use of marijuana in Amsterdam. Even though the two are legalised, it appears that there is still a criminal element causing social problems.
For me, walking around this area is uncomfortable, not because of what the ladies are doing, rather because there is a feeling of treating them like they are creatures in a zoo by observing them. Any uncomfortable feelings are quickly wafted away by the strong smell of marijuana in these streets; we relax. Haha! There are cafes with special licences to allow legal smoking of dope, but clearly it is openly smoked everywhere else. This is all part of Amsterdam's culture and ways, so is something for visitors to be aware of, and hopefully show some level of respect as we move amongst the locals.
After our tour we gather with some fellow passengers for a last night of dancing to Nick's music, chatting and debriefing about our experiences over the previous two weeks. It is a credit to the Cruise Director that proceedings run like clockwork and it all appears so seamless and trouble-free.
I would like to make special mention of the lovely people who tended to our cabins behind the scenes. They work extremely hard over long hours and try to incorporate individual touches to make passengers feel special. I had brought along a tiny jointed cat toy on my trip as a piece of home to add to my room. Every night when I returned to my cabin after dinner, my bed was turned down by Anto, who also left a chocolate on the pillow and the little cat tucked up in bed. One day we were all thrilled to find that our towels had been expertly folded on our beds into animals, in my case a dog wearing my reading glasses and cuddling my little cat. These special touches along the way never failed to make me smile!
The next morning we rose early to ensure our cases were outside our room at 6 am. It is hard to sleep when you worry you may not wake on time. I had some last minute packing to sort out and pressed down on my case to close it, hearing a noise that I thought must have been a wake up call. Hang on, I didn't order a wake up call! I realised it was a toy yodelling Marmot that I had bought as a souvenir gift, serenading me from my luggage! I quickly rescued it and put it in my hand luggage, thinking it might alarm a baggage handler if it went off during transit. Wearily we headed to the lounge for a quick continental brekky before boarding the airport bus to catch a flight to our next destination. We were both so tired that we dozed off on the plane, however I woke up when someone close by snored very loudly! Oh dear, was that me? Haha! I forced myself to remain awake after that mortifying experience!
I hope this journal of my cruise experience highlights how wonderful the Magnificent Europe tour with Avalon Waterways is! Although I still favour traveling independently, I did enjoy the refreshing change of letting someone else take care of the detail, carrying me along on their journey.