We have had the privilege and joy of having a front-row seat to a performance by world-class zitherist, Tomy Temerson.
It was aboard the cruiseship Avalon Luminary, as we sailed on the scenic Main River in Germany on a sunny day.
In one word, they – Tomy Temerson's concert and the cruise – were sensational.
In the space of eleven days, with nine of them aboard the Avalon Luminary, our cruise holiday not only entertained us with music, but we also enjoyed a lecture about the European Economic Union, as well as excursions ashore to enjoy wine-tasting and to see historic, interesting sites.
For us, the Avalon Luminary cruise was a holiday of magnificent proportion. From the day we purchased our tickets to the moment we left Amsterdam airport to fly back to Toronto, Canada, everything was well organized and our every need was met. Day by day we followed the scheduled plan under the watchful eye of tour director, Nico de Nooyer. Day by day, we were treated as if we were royalty aboard the Avalon Luminary. And to this day, we enjoy Tomy Temerson's zither music thanks to the discs we purchased from him. I suspect, judging by the variety of world addresses of fellow passengers aboard the Avalon Luminary, there are people enjoying Temerson's music all over the world.
But musical enjoyment, which included other afternoon and evening musical sessions, did not occur only on-board the ship. In one of the many excursions offered at various stops along the Luminary's route, we visited Siegfried's musicial museum. Not only was it musical, it was also magical and well worth the effort and stroll ashore. That musical museum visit was one of the many tours included in the price of our Avalon Luminary cruise.
Price is a big factor when one considers a river cruise. So is where you are going to cruise and what you will do aboard and off the ship during the trip. There are many factors to consider!
We started with river-cruise guidebooks from our travel agent, Shawn McLean of Travelworld in Collingwood. After studying those, we made lists of questions and took them to our travel agent who answered them all. If she did not know the answer, she had it within hours from Avalon Waterways.
We were fortunate enough to get to a travel show in nearby Wasaga Beach at which various travel companies had time to make presentations to the audience after which we visited their booths and talked to their agents. We talked to Robynlee Hyndman, who represented Globus/Avalon very well. Our questions, not clearly answered in printed literature, involved such things as length of time to be spent on connecting train, or bus, rides and about things to do in spare time. All of our questions were answered to our satisfaction.
The river-cruise marketplace is a very competitive one. Approximately six major companies dominate the marketplace and we studied them all, from what they offered day-by-day, to price. Important to remember, compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Some prices include air fare, and/or gratuities. Some don't. It is imperative to know about these differences.
You will probably pay more for a river cruise holiday than you have ever paid for a one, or two, week all-inclusive holiday at some on-land destination. But considering how everything you require, from start to end in your river cruise, will be included, it will be worth it!
We still consider our river cruise with Avalon Waterways our trip of a lifetime and the best holiday we ever had. We believe we received tremendous value for our money.
We chose the “Central European Experience – Eastbound” presented by Avalon Waterways. This would be an eleven-day trip with the best part of nine days travel spent aboard the Avalon Luminary.
I have done a lot of boating on small craft, large boats and on ships. One concern we had was “how rough would it be travelling on a river cruise?” In a nutshell, this turned out not to be a concern. Sailing aboard the Luminary was never a rough ride. In fact, it was surprisingly smooth sailing.
People who are not used to boats, or ships, worry needlessly about rough water when it comes to a river cruise at least that was our experience.
I never saw a big wave in all the time I was aboard the Avalon Luminary, unless you count the friendly waves from passengers on one ship to passengers on a ship going in the opposite direction; or friendly waves from people ashore.
There were waves produced by the forward action of our ship and other ships. Those waves are called “the wake” and V-out behind vessels that are in motion.
But there was nothing, ever, that caused uncomfortable motion to those aboard our river cruiseship as we travelled day and night along parts of the Main, the Moselle and the Rhine rivers. Certainly, I never heard of anybody suffering from motion sickness, nor did I ever see an unhappy fellow traveller on our ship.
Soon after we purchased our river cruise trip, with the vacation code WRN 1011, Avalon Waterways sent us our travel documents through our travel agent. These small booklets provided more information than travel guidebooks do and pinpointed specifics about things we had to know.
Our travel booklets had 52 pages and covered 19 different topics at our fingertips. Topics ranged from air information and an e-ticket receipt for our flights, to the itinerary and optional excursions. There was a strong emphasis on safety in the information provided and I strongly recommend that when you receive your travel booklets you take the time to read everything page by page. There are also sections in the travel-plan booklet which you must complete.
Once booked for our trip, our first time with Avalon Waterways, we had to open an account on-line with Avalon. This was easily done and when I went to do it I found it was half-completed by our travel agent as part of her excellent service.
Avalon also sent us a couple of promotional luggage tags, which I felt were a waste of money on their part. These tags did not have any use for a passenger, other than to promote Avalon's name which is emblazoned on these blue metal squares in white letters. Better, would have been for Avalon to provide luggage tags which can be personalized by each passenger and which carried Avalon's name on one side, opposite to the passenger's name. As it was, I did not want to attach these heavy Avalon tags to our luggage for fear that damage could be done if the tags caught on something in transit. But these luggage tags were a minute issue in the large scheme of things. I think Avalon should rethink this give-away promotion. Give customers a whistle, or a set of nail-clippers, or a small pocketknife, if you have to give us anything at all.
On the plus-side of giveaways, we did receive an Avalon-emblazoned, small folder for documents. That was handy. I like to keep travel documents in one handy spot and the folder made it handier.
On the day of our departure from Toronto, we were aboard Air France flight 351 and it left on time. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris 25 minutes ahead of schedule. The flight was fine and the service was terrific.
At this Paris airport only 50 per cent of existing customs stations were staffed and it took us, standing like cattle herded together, two hours to clear customs. That was not a friendly welcome to France!
An Avalon representative, Max, met us just past customs and took us to a waiting area with seats adjacent to a parking lot. Then, he went away to locate other new-arriving Avalon customers. Once we were all assembled, we boarded a bus and were driven to L'Hotel Du Collectionneur which is not far from the Arc De Triomphe.
L'Hotel Du Collectionneur is a five-star and it is palatial.
Our group was met at the bus by another Avalon representative, Katherine, and then directed to the lobby where we were assisted by a hotel staff member, Julie. We were given an envelope from the hotel which contained information we would need to know during our stay. As well, the envelope contained flexible tags to be attached to our luggage on embarkation day.
Then, we were directed to the Avalon Waterways' reception desk, which is on one side of the massive lobby, and there we met our cruise director Nico de Nooyer. It's at this point that the company's hospitality toward Avalon guests started to kick into high gear.
Nico de Nooyer is a veteran cruise director and his professionalism shone. We received Nico's verbal greetings and also printed sheets which told us about the Avalon Waterways desk's hours of operation, and what would be happening in the two days to come. Information was presented about our upcoming Paris tour and also about optional tours. We were invited to attend a welcome reception at 5.30 p.m., that day, but until then we were on our own.
It was the noon hour, so after checking into our room, Nancy and I crossed the street outside the hotel and settled in for lunch at Le Parthenon, which is half-pub and half-restaurant. Lunch for the two of us cost 29 Euros. You will know in advance, from your travel kit, when daily meals are provided and when they are not. So, you have to budget for any meals that are not included on your Avalon ticket.
We strolled locally, admiring the architecture and enjoying the mild temperature (it was mid-October). We noticed the Myanmar Embassy located across the street from the hotel. Since my wife has family in Myanmar, we tried to get a meeting with staff there. However, it was late in the day and that was not possible.
On a sheet which detailed optional excursions in Paris, we chose a Seine River cruise and a guided tour of the Marais district. The latter was a walking tour with a guide, set for the afternoon of the next day. The cost for this excursion was 54 Euros per person and there were other trip choices available.
For the third day of our stay in Paris, we paid 49 Euros each for a guided, morning trip to Montmartre and the church of the Sacre Coeur. We were making full use of our available free time.
We went to the Avalon Waterways welcome reception for 5.30 p.m., and tour director Nico, who has 47 years with company at that time (“So, I'm part of the furniture,” he joked.) made a number of points very clear to his guests.
On train day, which would be when we depart from this hotel, we were instructed to leave our luggage outside our hotel doors by 7 a.m., for pickup by Avalon. The luggage would be taken to the Avalon Luminary. This would work fine for Nancy and me because we travel using a carry-on bag each and a suitcase each. Whatever we needed for our time of transfer from hotel to the Avalon Luminary would be in our carry-ons.
We were told about a number of other important points:
pickpocketing in France is a big problem, so beware.
Check Avalon's bulletin board daily.
For our guided tour the next morning (included in the trip price) be on time at the lobby, or miss the trip.
Nico gave us the first of our daily newsletters. The newsletters would become an important communication vehicle for all of us Avalon guests. Sometimes, the newsletter would have a map printed on it, or be accompanied by a map sheet. This was very helpful.
Put your cabin number on your luggage labels!
Avalon guests departing from the hotel for the train station would be taken by coach on the day that we would go to the Luminary. For those guests taking the optional guided tour to Montmartre (that was us!) a coach would take us directly to the trian station after our tour. The train would leave at 2.20 p.m., that day and keep in mind that these trains leave on the minute!
The Avalon welcome reception gave us a chance to chat with some of the other guests. They came from distant places, such as Wales, Australia, and there was a group from Wisconsin, U.S.A. Our ship, the Luminary, was about 85 per cent to capacity in terms of the number of passengers it can carry.
After the welcome reception, Nancy and I walked to a nearby supermarket on Rue Lisbonne and bought some drinks, biscuits and salad to share. Much as supermarkets do in Canada and England, their French counterparts offer take-away meals, including salad options. Ours, “Orzo Au Basilic Petits Legumes Fromage Frais” was very good!
So ended our Tuesday, our first day in Paris. It was easy to see that professionalism prevailed in every aspect of the hotel and Avalon Waterways.
On Wednesday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel (included in the Avalon package) and then left at 8.30 a.m., on one of two coaches filled with Avalon guests, for our guided tour of parts of Paris. Our guide was Patricia and she was excellent. We stopped at Emperor Napoleon's tomb, where armed guards inspected our bags. Napoleon's body has been at this tomb since April 2, 1861.
We stopped at the Eiffel Tower for long enough to take photographs and then headed back to the hotel.
For lunch, Nancy and I returned to the nearby supermarket and bought crackers and a selection of cheeses. We agreed, as we ate, that our morning tour was excellent. This quality of guided tours would continue throughout our trip.
On Wednesday afternoon, we were on time for the bus which took us to the boat for our Seine River cruise, which was followed by a tour – once again with Patricia. She equipped us with listening devices which we carried as she explained about our surroundings. Along the way, I bought a map and a Paris guidebook. Nancy bought some mini-quiches at a bakery.
In short, the Seine River cruise was terrific and an excellent way to see (and photograph) various places. We felt that for the money spent on the optional excursions we received excellent value.
Back at the hotel, Nancy used her i-Pad to communicate with family and friends in Canada. The wi-fi at the hotel was excellent. Later, we would find out that wi-fi aboard the Luminary worked well.
Let's be absolutely clear about short-term visits to major European cities, in particular Paris and Prague. Our Avalon trip, staying only a few days in each, allowed us only a taste of what these historic cities have to offer. For a fuller tourism meal, so to speak, one would have to visit such cities for a week, or more, at a time. This is not a criticism, rather a reality.
On Thursday morning, we had our luggage in the hallway for 7 a.m., pickup and went for breakfast at the hotel. Food and service were top-notch. We connected with our guide Clarisia for a tour of Montmartre and were dropped off at the train station with time to spare to catch our train.
At the train station, it was easy to find tour director Nico who had an Avalon sign in hand. He was constantly checking to ensure that everybody got onto the train. Everybody in our group did!
I love train travel, so the two-hour and twenty-minute trip by high-speed train across the French countryside was a delight to me. We arrived at Luxembourg City and moved on to a bus which took us to the Avalon Luminary at dock.
The rest of the day was spent getting settled aboard the Luminary, having a fine dinner and watching the world go by that evening before turning in for the night. Watching the scenery go by from the deck of our ship, we found, would become addictive. It was fun!
Safety is an imperative with Avalon Waterways. Our tour guide Nico talked about it. Participation in a safety exercise is mandatory at the beginning of the cruise. Additionally, Avalon crew keep in touch with passengers by means of a daily newsletter, a daily “Port Talk” before dinner, an information channel on television and through a public-address system on board.
There was a shore pass for every passenger. It had to be taken ashore whenever you went there and, later, returned to the front desk upon one's return to the Luminary. The other thing that one had to remember to take ashore, if you were taking part in guided tours, was a very handy listening device. It too would be returned to the front desk when a passenger returned to ship.
For those who simply had to get a news report from home, Avalon Waterways had that covered too. Daily, close to the front desk, there was a spot at which one could pick up newsletters such as “The Canadian”, or “Britain Today”. These were photocopied newsletters which brought news highlights to our fingertips. It was there that we learned Bob Dylan had won a Nobel Prize in literature, or that Ennis-Hill had retired from athletics. To be blunt, news from home mattered little to us and perhaps to most fellow passengers because there was simply so much to enjoy aboard the ship and off it.
We awoke to find ourselves docked in Grevenmacher near Trier (population 116,000). After breakfast, we went ashore by bus to Trier and then for a tour with guide Andrea Tullus. Trier is a remarkable city dating back to Roman days. Alongside the river, in this case we are on the Moselle River, the hills are covered with vineyards.
While we were in Trier on the “included” tour, others had gone for an optional trip to Luxembourg. We all got back to the Luminary in time for lunch and our ship sailed at 1.50 p.m. Once again, the weather was co-operating with a sunny day and we sailed past hilly vineyard after hilly vineyard.
Before we left Grevenmacher, I explored our dock area where there was a canal boat called “Zinnen” which caught my attention. It turned out to have Maarten Van Lelyveld and Ellen Graafland from Holland aboard. They had spent the summer river cruising and would soon be heading home. Amazing!
It was also amazing at how close to the underside of bridges our Luminary came. Before Trier, she sailed under a bridge at which there seemed to be about half-a-metre's clearance! River cruise ships, such as the Luminary, are designed to have their wheelhouses – which jut up from the uppermost deck – lowered. The captain, or his designate, then controls the ship from a side-of-ship location. We spent a lot of time, when the ship was sailing, on the sky deck near the wheelhouse. The sky deck provided a wonderful vantage point and we enjoyed it a lot, sometimes with a glass of wine in hand and often in the company of other passengers.
If the weather turned against us, which is to be expected with a late-season sailing, we would watch the world go by from the comfort of lounges; either near the bow of the ship, or at the stern. In any area, you made yourself comfortable and often the crew added to our comfort level with either cheerful pleasantries in passing, or with the service of snacks and drinks.
We soon learned about the delights of breakfast, lunch and dinners served in pristine dining areas surrounding by fine staff. To say we were spoiled would be an understatement.
At Trier, the Luminary went through a lock, one of many she would traverse before our trip ended. Locks are a fascinating place! Sometimes we traversed locks during the day and could watch whatever was going on aboard the ship and on shore. Sometimes, we went through locks during the night. Then, I could open our balcony door and be face to face with the dampness of a lock wall, just a metre, or less, in front of me; or so it seemed!
As we sailed past kilometre after kilometre of vineyards, riverside villages, castles, landmarks such as the Lorelei, or other marine traffic, we sat back, relaxed, enjoyed the ship's amenities and chatted with fellow passengers.
A river cruiseship is a working vessel, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It did not take us long to realize that our voyage was the product of a complex and highly-organized system involving professionals at so many levels: the captain, navigation, food service, room service, on-board entertainment. There were so many things that we could see and applaud and many more behind the scenes, which we could not see, such as the staff members who looked after propulsion, the galley, the laundry and other necessities important to our comfort and safety.
TRIER, STEPPING BACK IN TIME...
On our day at Trier, the outdoor temperature was nine degrees Celcius. It was cool, but sunny and we essentially stepped back in time enjoying history there. On other days, temperatures were comfortable enough in the teens.
We had studied our daily newsletter which helped to organize us for each day. In the case of the Trier day, we signed up for the included guided tour, got to the gangplank before the tour's 8.30 a.m., start and made certain that we had our shore passes and our listening devices. Our morning was spent enjoying the guided tour, taking photographs and asking our guide questions.
For every shore excursion, it was made clear from the start whether the walk would be easy, or not-as-easy. That was appreciated. Colour-coding on listening devices helped to organize passengers to their comfort level of tour. Some passengers chose to go on tour on their own, either on foot, or using one of the available bicycles. In our case, we did the guided tours and then took up any available, remaining time with exploring on our own. It was always friendly, with no pressure and just the occasional verbal nudge from a guide to ensure the group stayed together; or waited politely for a straggler.
Thanks to the guides anywhere on our riverside stops, we always had the highlights of their community pointed out to us. Additionally, the maps given out prior to leaving ship were always helpful to have.
Daily, our newsletter noted times for everything: early-riser breakfast, buffet breakfast, late-riser breakfast, sightseeing tour departure time, lunch time, optional excursion details, departure time from whatever dock we were at, coffee-break time (although coffee, tea and snacks were available around the clock at the stern lounge), any stop-and-go visits enroute, happy hour, Port Talk, dinner, after-dinner entertainment, late-night snack, estimated time of arrival at our next destination.
On board, every day, we got to listen to a guitar player called Valentin. He entertained us skillfully and his rendition of Purple Rain was superb!
We sailed from Trier at exactly 1:45 p.m., with theme music as background from the public address system. This background music was never too loud and it was uplifting. In a small way it was like a musical speech saying “here we sail again!” I enquired about this piece of music, played each time we sailed away from a dock. The stirring piece was “Conquest of Paradise” by Vangelis.
Truly, we were in waterways paradise, going to sleep in one area and awakening in another.
We awoke moored on a bend in the Moselle River at Bernkastel-Kues.
KING AND QUEEN OF THE CASTLE....
By shortly after 9 a.m., we were walking with our excellent guide, Genevieve Schmidt. This tour was directly from the ship. We walked away with our guide to the historic downtown of Bernkastel. After her tour, Nancy and I followed a trail through a vineyard and walked up and up and uphill.
Our destination, always looming above us at the top of the hill, was Landshut Castle, a medievil fortress which dates back three centuries. It might have taken us an half-hour of walking slowly, stopping for a rest and then walking some more, but we got to the castle.
From the castle, looking down at the Moselle River we could see the town, cars, the Avalon Luminary and everything down there looked like Matchbox toys. The castle is being rebuilt, but it's a slow process.
Our view included a bridge over the river, the small community of Kues on the other side of the river and a splendid panorama of vineyard-covered hills for as far as the eye could see.
We got back to the Luminary in time for lunch and then we were off again for a tour of the nearby Weinmuseum, also called the Bernkastel Vinothek.
It was a 15-minute walk, including crossing a bridge over the Moselle River, to the wine museum were we were cheerfully greeted with a complimentary pretzel and taken to underground cellars with arched roofs; wine samples beckoning.
Things are extremely well organized for visitors to the wine cellars. I learned that its displays and servings, free samples and opportunity to purchase bottles of wine, were all because of the co-operation of families which have vineyards in this area which date back hundreds of years. There are dozens of vineyards, perhaps more than 100, so it would take a return trip in order to do more sampling!
Our wine cellar guide, Jan Nikolic, was very friendly, helpful and – of course – I told him about our local vineyards just in case he needs a holiday target for a trip to Canada! Jan Nikolic was representing Rieslinghaus, an on-line shop, when we met him.
After our wine museum tour, Nancy and I walked back to Bernkastel's tourist office to learn more about this community. It's a fascinating place and one which we truly can say we “tasted”.
At the tourist office, I bought a map of the Moselle River area for three and a half Euros. I like to pinpoint where we are whenever we travel.
This river cruise experience was our first such voyage and I found myself wanting to know exactly where we were at various times. There were signs on towns and at locks along the way and, obviously, whenever we stopped at a designated spot it was clearly evident because of signs.
But I missed not being able to tie our location, wherever we were, to something as tangible as a map.
Perhaps they have this aboard river cruise ships. Perhaps, the Luminary had it televised with an on-ship channel. I did not watch television, so I can't say. I did notice a black-and-white chart which pointed out names of locks. But that just didn't do it for me. Not a complaint, not even a problem; just an observation from this traveller who – for the second time in his life – felt a bit lost by not knowing his position. (The first time I was lost, it was in a wilderness area of New Brunswick, Canada.)
Perhaps somebody could create a magnetic, map panel, adjacent to the front desk, on which could be a magnet – shaped like the Luminary – which would pinpoint the ship's location in relation to its river travels.
I could also argue that somebody on vacation on a river cruise does not need to know his, or her, location in pinpoint fashion and should simply enjoy the trip!
When the Luminary sailed from Bernkastel at 3 p.m., on that day, I was at our cabin's balcony, with the door open, watching swans which were swimming alongside the ship. By 4 p.m., we were sitting in a forward lounge with Cindy Jenkins and Rick DeKryger of Dundas, Ontario, toasting their eighth anniversary. There's no pressure to meet fellow passengers, but as faces become familiar, smiles and pleasantries exchanged, one can soon be sitting for a meal, or a drink, with somebody from somewhere else in our world.
Later in the evening, following a delicious dinner, we chatted with Bill who worked for Harley-Davidson in Wisconsin, U.S.A. Our common denominator, a love of motorcycling, had us chatting then and later in the trip.
Aboard the Luminary, after every dinner, there was always entertainment. On this evening we enjoyed a couple of hours of music and camaraderie until it ended. Then, we went to the sky deck and watched the darkened shoreline slip past in the silence as the ship moved downstream as smoothly as silk. The river was calm and a full moon watched over us. There was a noise on one riverbank and a light. Then, from the darkness a noisy freight train rattled past and on into the darkness, leaving us in silence and moonlight. It was lovely.
In addition to guest speakers, musicians and other entertainment, passengers could sign up for a Panorama Bistro dinner. We enjoyed ours! Later, we completed a questionnaire from the company which asked us many questions about the dinner, the comfort level, the food quantity and the dishes served. Ah, the dishes served! Once again we were spoiled.
We gave everything top marks, as well as commenting on how spotlessly clean things were kept aboard ship. Mary Pete looked after our cabin and did an excellent job.
The Panorama Bistro dinner we enjoyed had as starters: roast beef, smoked salmon, quiche lorraine, or grilled vegetables – your choice – followed by potato soup, if you wanted it. Main dishes – your choice – veal cheek, fillet of plaice or Kasespatzie-Rosti. Then, if you wanted it, a cheese plate, followed by – your choice of dessert – Black Forest cake, or mousse from roasted nuts, or White Passion.
Given that the regular, daily dinners were a culinary delight, the special Panorama Bistro dinner moved us into Second Heaven and the service was as excellent as the food.
There were many optional features to our Avalon Waterways' cruise. We enjoyed the included guided tours, but signed up for the optional Folklore Show Dinner days ahead in Prague. The cost for this was 64 Euros per person and we were to find out that this was well worth it.
If you are on a river cruise and wake up during the night, take a few minutes to open your balcony door and see what's outside. One night, I opened the door to darkness punctuated by city lights and large buildings. I think we were passing through Koblenz. Seldom, during the day, did we see large cities. Usually, we passed hills, vineyards, small villages and, occasionally, a campground, or a trailer park. Here and there, from the shoreline, people waved in friendly fashion at the Luminary.
Having thoroughly enjoyed our visits to Trier and then Bernkastel-Kues, we thought that those municipalities and what they offered were highlights of our trip. But each day brought new highlights and that would be the case again in Rudesheim.
On one cool and foggy morning, I awoke before dawn, opened our river-facing, glass door and noticed the lights of the Luminary were reflecting from house windows ashore which we were passing. Yes, we were that close! Somewhere ahead of me, in the galley at the bow, staff were preparing breakfast. I could smell the bacon cooking.
Dawn broke, we enjoyed breakfast and then watched the world go by from the Sky Deck where I chatted with Ramiro, a passenger from Wisconsin, U.S.A. By noon, we were moored at Rudesheim.
We were prepared for Rudesheim. We had read our daily newsletter, had looked at a provided map of this city on the Rhine River and also reviewed a map which showed the Middle Rhine area. Each time we received a map it would have information about a community, sights of interest and history on it.
But nothing prepared us for Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett because it is difficult to find something else as unique!
We had lunch aboard before heading off for a tour of Rudesheim. As the days pass, one gets to know servers at meal times. Many of the ones on our ship came from Romania. We also got to know “Chef Bobi”, or at the front desk, receptionists Elena, or Ahmed. From time to time we met the captain of the Luminary, Roger Spoor. Sometimes he had time to chat briefly, at other times we knew that he was busy with work and we did not interrupt him. To a person, Luminary staff were friendly and made us welcome.
RUDESHEIM, MUSIC AND ASBACH
At Rudesheim, what started as a foggy morning in mid-October turned into a lovely sunny day just as we left the ship. We were taken to the heart of the downtown area by means of a small train; one of those imitation trains, not a real train. This one had a small engine and small cars behind it in which we sat. Our first stop was Siegfried's Mechancial Music Cabinet which is the brainchild of a private collector, Siegfried Mandel. He started small, collecting mechanical musical instruments. Today, his collection, located in an architecturally-fascinating house, is one of the largest collections of musical instruments in Europe.
We had a guided tour, which included demonstrations, and it was not simply excellent. It was amazingly awesome!
I purchased a little booklet, written in three languages, which tells the history and explains about instruments at Siegfried's spectacular museum. Take history and add music and you have a winning combination for visitors to enjoy!
Our guided tour involved a second surprise, an introduction to Asbach, a brandy. We walked to Rudesheimer Schloss, a large restaurant which made us very welcome. There, we were poured a coffee which contained well-heated Asbach....”The Hot Original” they called it on a recipe card, which also carried a recipe for “The Cool Delight”.We were welcomed everywhere we went.
As with previous stops, we bought souvenirs and enjoyed ourselves before heading back to the Luminary for “high tea” to the sound of guitarist Valentin playing Carlos Santana numbers. At 4:45 p.m., the Luminary sailed for Freudenberg, once again to the strains of Conquest of Paradise.
Avalon Waterways never ceases to amaze us with entertainment, beyond the on-board guitarist Valentin. A trio which calls itself “La Strada” performs a concert in the lounge before dinner. Two very-talented violinists, Stefan and Vladimir, are accompanied by guitarist Kristina and thrill us with their music. Later, they leave the ship.
At this point in our travels, the topography alongside the river has changed. Gone are the vineyard-laden hills. Now, the countryside is flat and wooded and there is more marine traffic passing us. As the hours go by, we go up in locks, seldom feeling any motion. We sail under traffic-topped bridges.
Early morning brings a pinkish sky in the east and I see a jet plane flying not far from the river. Judging by the number of construction cranes I have seen in built-up areas and at locks, Germany is in some sort of vibrant economic boom. Two pieces of paper arrive under our cabin door. One is an Optional Excursion Receipt and the other is an informative piece about Water Locks:The Key to River Cruising.
By now I have taken 1,802 photographs!
Our daily newsletter invites us to “Zither Melodies” by Tomy Temerson at mid-morning. We attend this concert, which is fantastic, and I not only photograph this skilled musician, I also make a video as he plays Edelwiess. He tells us that there are only five professional zither players in the world and he is one of them. We are not only entertained, we are honoured to be in his audience. He's that good!
FLOATING LOWER AT FREUDENBERG
Approaching Miltenberg on the Main River we come to a bridge and the Luminary is too tall to go under it. Because water ballast had been pumped from this ship the day before, we are now riding higher above the water. Now, our captain has water being pumped into the ballast tanks to bring the ship lower in the water so that we can sail under the bridge. It takes a little while, but soon we go under the bridge and dock at Freudenberg.
From Freudenberg we take a coach to nearby Miltenberg for a guided tour. Once again, we step back in history and Gary, also from Wisconsin, and I team together for a visit to a local brewery while Nancy goes shopping with his wife Jane.
Gary and I visited the Faust brewery which has been operating here since 1654. We buy some beer to take back to our cabins.
Time flies when you're having fun and we make it back to the Luminary with minutes to spare, but well in time for high tea before the ship sails for Wurzburg. Later, we have dinner and enjoy another Avalon surprise...”the one and only Luminary Crew Show”. It's fun and we find out about other talents crew members have. Our gratuities for crew members have been pre-paid as part of our ticket-purchase package, but there are times when you want to give them a little something extra. This is one of those times.
In addition to the on-shore activites, we have seen interesting things on the riverside. Sometimes we see wildlife, sometimes castles, sometimes passing ships which have interesting names (Red Dragon, for example). In one place we sail past a factory which is emblazoned with a familiar name: Magna!
This morning, docked in what looks like an industrial area of Wurzburg, we are ahead of schedule. We go to tour director Nico's briefing and get new luggage tags and two newsletters for Nuremberg and Prague. We had free time ashore to explore in the morning and after lunch we took a coach to the Residence Palace. We leave all of our bags on the bus and are told that photography is not allowed inside the palace.
One of Wurzburg's famous sons is Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen who produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range, today known as x-rays. That was in November 1895. It earned him the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.
As we visited Wurzburg it was apparent that community leaders have a strong focus on looking after tourists. From excellent signage to walkways at the waterfront, to public toilets, Wurzburg welcomed us.
Back aboard the Luminary by 4.:45 p.m., we enjoyed coffee and cake as the ship set out for Bamberg. Later, we enjoyed the captain's Farewell Dinner. Crew members were introduced and drew loud applause for a job well done.
After dinner, we received questionnaires which sought our opinion of the cruise. We also received disembarkation information, a newsletter for the next day (to do with Bamberg), gratuity envelopes for the captain, cruise director and crew. (If you have already provided a gratuity, one can ignore these, or provide an additional token of thanks.)
This evening, just before midnight, we hear noise above us somewhere in the vicinity of the top deck. The shoreline stops moving and with the cabin's balcony door open we soon figure out that we are stuck under a bridge. As our captain, or his designate, solves this situation, the “Travel Marvel Diamond” sails between us and the shore heading in the opposite direction from us. I marvel as that ship clears the underside of the bridge by what seems to be half a metre. About two hours later, the Luminary sails free, heading for Bamberg. There has been no serious damage done
The next morning, after breakfast, I see a fellow with his bicycle being helped aboard our ship at one of the locks. He is Alexander Estel, a historian from Nuremberg, and mid-morning he gives a very interesting talk in the lounge about “The European Union – History, Challenges and Changes”. His insight was much appreciated judging by the question-and-answer period which was lively. Following his address to Luminary passengers, Mr. Estel with his bicycle left us at the next lock.
We docked at Bamberg, had lunch, and headed off for a tour with our guide Sabina.
Historic Bamberg has many unique features. One of them is that the Old City here has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As with other places at which the Luminary had stopped and at which we had tours, there was much to see and the opportunity to do some shopping, or try a cafe, or bar.
Bamberg was also the first and only place at which we experienced an unpleasant attitude toward tourists from some locals. In one book shop, I saw a carry bag for sale with the slogan “I'm not a tourist, I live here” printed on it in large letters. In another spot, as our group stood and listened to Sabina, I saw a passing bicyclist showing his disdain for tourists with his body language. Not nice.
We were told that cruiseship companies were preparing a documentary which would highlight the economic benefits to communities which embrace visitors. I hope it worked for them.
Our worst example of anti-tourist sentiment came from a server in a bakery-cafe. After standing in line to order coffee and cheesecake and being ignored repeatedly by the server at a counter, she eventually relented and served us. When she brought the plates carrying our drinks and cakes she literally threw them at us with enough force that the plates clattered on the countertop. I wish I was fluent in German because I would have had words with the manger. Instead, I waited until we got home and wrote them a letter of complaint.
To be fair, I do understand that having groups of tourists flooding onto sidewalks and impeding local pedestrians is not only bothersome, but disrespectful. But I do believe this matter can be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned. Because I live in a tourist area in Canada, I also understand the value of tourism, in financial terms, to a small community.
Back at the ship that evening, we enjoyed the captain's farewell reception, Nico's Port Talk (as usual) and chatting with new-found friends Peter and Linda from Wales and Anne and Peter from Australia.
That evening we received our final invoice (excluding gratuities) for souvenirs, postage stamps and bar drinks aboard the ship. Our total was 83.20 Euros. I mention this as a reminder that even though the trip is all-inclusive, there are sundry things for which you will need money, or a credit card.
At Nuremberg, our trip aboard the Luminary ended. Our luggage was picked up from in front of our cabin at 7 a.m., and was taken to a waiting coach which would take us to Prague.
I was worried about the four-hour coach trip, thinking that it might be uncomfortable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our coach, complete with a tour guide who commented occasionally about things in the countryside, was modern and comfortable. Half-way to Prague, our big bus stopped at a service centre where we could purchase drinks, snacks and use washroom facilities.
The highway between Nuremberg and Prague is an expressway and flanked by rolling hills, farmland and, from time to time, signs which told us about candidates in an upcoming Czech Republic election.
By mid-afternoon, we arrived at the Marriott Hotel and were met by Zuzana, another excellent Avalon representative. Our rooms were not ready at that point and we were directed to leave our luggage in safe storage in a room, where Roman looked after things.
With a bit of time on our hands, Nancy and I went off to stretch our legs on nearby streets and we ended up browsing at a nearby mall called the Palladium. The architecture in Prague is stunningly beautiful and interesting. There was an open-air market in an area just down the street from the Marriott and we enjoyed browsing and shopping there. Then, to an adjacent Billa store, a food market, where we bought some snacks.
Our room number 205 at the Marriott was splendid. It was large, well-appointed and its windows gave us a view of an inner courtyard. We readied for that evening's dinner, once again with Rick and Cindy from Dundas, for which we had made reservations at Ginger and Fred restaurant.
We got a taxi to the riverside “Dancing Building” in which Ginger and Fred is located on the seventh floor. From food to service, everything was superb. This dinner was not included in the Avalon itinerary and we went to Ginger and Fred because we heard it was good. It was more than good. It was excellent. It was not cheap to dine at this restaurant. But we spoiled ourselves, again, making more wonderful memories.
The morning after our arrival in Prague, we were up and ready early at the hotel lobby for our Avalon-arranged guided tour. We met Stefano, an Avalon representative, then headed for our bus which would take us on our tour. Dana was our tour guide and did an excellent job of taking us throughout Prague and to the historic castle hill and old town. Once again, we used headsets to listen to our guide.
We returned to the Marriott and had the afternoon to ourselves. Nancy and I found the Hop-on, Hop-off bus ticket booth nearby, purchased tickets and enjoyed another guided tour in Prague. Our guide was Monica. We switched at stop number 15 for the Hop-on, Hop-off river cruise. We enjoyed this river cruise from the comfort of a large lounge. We sat sipping our drinks as the shoreline passed by and an announcer told us about Prague. We finished the cruise at what was our starting point. It took us about 15 minutes to walk to Republik Square, where we wandered away to see the astronomical clock.
There were crowds everywhere. Lots of people enjoying themselves and, hopefully, not having their pockets picked. We found a Starbucks, bought coffee and snacks and chatted with visitors from Spain.
Our Avalon adventure continued that evening when we were taken by bus to the U Marcanu restaurant somewhere on the outskirts of Prague. There, we were among visitors who packed U Marcanu and enjoyed the optional Folklore Dinner. It was well worth the price! There was dancing. There was music. There was beer. There was wine. The dinner was both tasty and fun.
Our bus and guide Ivanka took us back to the Marriott and we prepared for departure the next day.
Leaving the Marriott on our last day in the Czech Republic, everything was highly-organized (as usual) by Avalon Waterways. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast. Our luggage was picked up at 10 a.m., from in front of our hotel room. We met a friendly mini-bus driver at the Avalon desk for transfer to the airport at 10.30 a.m.
From Paris to Prague, we met interesting people who were on holidays. Some we met, such as Giada Serafin, were working. An Avalon employee, she was finding out about a river cruise first-hand. She was on our bus to the airport and we wished her well.
The Prague airport is modern and we flew from there with KLM to Amsterdam where we changed to another KLM flight to Toronto. The KLM service was excellent rounding out our Avalon Waterways adventure to give full credence to a saying by Cesare Pavese. His saying is printed on the back of an Avalon Waterways' cruise memories folder which I have kept along with my notes, maps and daily newsletters.
Cesare Pavese's saying states: “We do not remember days; we remember moments.”
Thanks to Avalon Waterways we have many wonderful moments to remember.
Would we go on another Avalon Waterways' river cruise?
Absolutely! Read Less