“You didn’t pack a dress shirt?” I asked.
“I didn’t think I’d need one.”
“We’re sitting at the Captain’s table tonight. We have to go shopping.”
Thus, we dashed through Cologne, Germany looking in every store we found that sold men’s clothes looking for a shirt that would fit Mike. Apparently, they don’t grow many men there as big as Mike as we went in and out of a half dozen stores before a kindly salesman found a shirt that would fit him tucked away on a corner shelf. To Mike’s relief, it was a white shirt and not one of the gaudily coloured ones we had seen earlier.
Now that he would be presentable at the Captain’s table, we had just enough time for a couple of beers at the Biermuseum. Not a museum, but we weren’t looking for one.
We arrived in Amsterdam the day before our Uniworld river cruise left as we wanted to beat the jet lag. Taking the train from Schiphol Airport to Central Station in Amsterdam is easy and a lot less expensive than taking a cab. We did catch a cab at Central Station to our hotel, The Eden Rembrandt Square, just a half block from, you guessed it, Rembrandt Square.
We had lunch in the square, and I realized how much I had missed french fries served with mayonnaise. You can have them at home, of course, but it’s just not the same.
The next morning upon exiting the hotel to find a coffee shop (not that kind), I was glad I had requested a room at the back of the hotel. Rembrandt Square and environs looked like Times Square after New Year’s Eve. It must have been quite the party. City workers were industriously cleaning away the detritus to make everything pretty for the tourists.
We boarded Uniworld’s River Ambassador at about 2pm. We had to wait a bit for our cabin to be ready, but Uniworld had a nice lunch buffet set out in the lounge. When we were shown to our cabin, I was nicely surprised by how roomy it was. There was a lot of space for storage and we had a large picture window. There were two decks with cabins and a large sun deck up top. Reception and the lounge were on our level and the dining room was one level down. Everything was beautifully appointed, scrupulously clean, and the staff were very friendly.
Away we go!
We left Amsterdam at 4pm and started our overnight cruise to Cologne. Dinner seating is wherever you want. We ended up sitting with two couples, who we ended up sitting with for most dinners. The beauty of a river cruise is that the cruise ship holds less than 150 people. It’s easy to meet people and it’s also easy to avoid others. Just the right amount of people.
Each dinner was a minimum of three courses with beer or wine provided. Breakfast and lunch were much more casual affairs, buffet style.
Under our door the next morning we found the invitation to the Captain’s table that night. On speaking with the cruise director, we determined that a dress shirt would be required, hence the mad shopping sortie through Cologne.
Before the shopping, however, we went on a walking tour. We were each given a receiver and headset so the local tour guide didn’t have to yell. We could walk up to 30 feet away and still hear him quite clearly. Of course, the highlight of Cologne is the cathedral, which was started in 1248 and it wasn’t completed until 1880. The cathedral was badly damaged in WWII, but stayed standing, which is more than can be said for much of the city at the time.
We learned about the local beer, Kölsch, which is served in a tall straight glass. Apparently, your server will keep filling up your glass unless you place a coaster on top. Potentially confusing for newbies. Also, potentially fun.
There were ten of us at the Captain’s table that night. We queried the Hotel Manager, Zoltan, as to how we were chosen and found that it’s mostly random for the Welcome Dinner. They just choose people that they hope will be personable as they haven’t had any time to get to know any of the passengers. We were flattered that they thought we might be nice.
After the dinner we went in search of some local Kölsch and unsurprisingly, we were successful.
We arrived at Koblez during the night. There was another walking tour and lunch back on the ship. Koblenz is where the Rhine River meets the Moselle River and boasts a fortress high above that is accessible by gondola. The Ehrenbreitstein Fortress was closed for renovations but there was a nice place up top to have snacks and coffee.
Do not stand in front of the Spitting Boy as his spitting is unpredictable.
Castles along the Rhine
We left Koblenz the next morning at 8am to go through the most famous stretch of the Rhine. Castles everywhere! They are generally situated high above the river and each one of them has a long history. The weather cooperated and we were able to stay on the sun deck and take as many pictures as we wanted.
The staff served a traditional German sausage-heavy lunch on deck with pretzels and mustard and beer.
Rüdesheim am Rhein
We arrived at Rüdesheim am Rhein around 2pm. We took an open-air gondola in the rain over vast vineyards to the Niederwald Monument with its statue of “Germania”. The monument was constructed (starting in 1871) to commemorate the foundation of the German Empire after the end of Franco-Prussian War.
Later that afternoon we went on a tour to Castle Vollrads for a wine tasting. They have been making wine there for 800 years, and I think they have gotten pretty good at it.
Dinner that night was at the Rüdesheimer Schloss, where they put on “German games”. One of which had four shot glasses (full) attached to a pole and four people had to try to drink them at the same time. It invariably isn’t going to work unless all the people are the same height. I managed to only get schnapps on my shoes, not my clothes.
The next morning we were docked in Speyer. There was another walking tour and in the afternoon we took bikes out from the ship and rode about the town. Speyer is quite the cobblestoned town and my rear-end did not thank me for that. It was nice to see the town by bicycle, though. After cycling, we had a beer at the biergarten we were docked beside then found a mini-golf course in the park. Of course we had to play. Mike says he won, but I think he cheated. More beers and arguing over who won at the biergarten ensued.
The next day we were docked near Strasbourg, France. Instead of a walking tour there was a 90 minute canal tour. We then saw the Notre Dame de Strasbourg Cathedral and wandered about the Petite-France area. Very pretty.
Keyserbourg, Riquewihr, and Colmar
The following day was a three town day in France, all by bus. First up was Keyserbourg. Tiny, picturesque, cobblestoned, overpriced. Next up was Riquewihr. Similarly tiny, picturesque, cobbled, and overpriced. We did have a nice lunch there off the beaten track. Lastly was Colmar; a much larger town so not as picturesque, but we found a nice pub.
The Captain’s Farewell Dinner was that night, but we didn’t sit at his table this time. We had to be up very early to disembark the next morning in Basel, Switzerland, of which we saw almost nothing.
We spent the last two nights of the trip back in Amsterdam at the same hotel. We decided to go to a restaurant I had spotted before the cruise, Red. When we stepped through the door the hostess asked us if we know about them, “No,” was our answer. She explained that the restaurant only serves steak or lobster. Or steak and lobster if you want to be technical. It comes with a salad and frites. It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. If you’re only going to do a couple of things, they had better be good. And they were.
A river cruise is an excellent way to see Europe. You don’t have to pack and unpack for each new town and the scenery is beautiful. It was fun going through locks and meeting new people. We are planning our next cruise already.