31 October - Rudesheim, Germany

This morning when I opened the drapes what I saw was fog but luckily it was not cold, about 60 degrees so that was good and again I was greeted with little ducks outside my window. After a full breakfast of smoked salmon, scrambled eggs with bacon and some strong coffee I was all set to face another exciting day.

Rudesheim is located in the heart of the Rhine river area at the southern entrance to the Lorelei valley, about 50 miles from Frankfurt. It is one of Germany's most Romantic cities to visit as it lies along the Rhine River decorated with an abundance of castles. This area on the Rhine is the narrowest and deepest part of the Rhine and this stretch of the river has about 40 castles and fortresses going back to the 1600's around the Thirty Years' War period.

To reach the center of town we traveled on a quaint little train which took a mere 10 minutes to reach our destination. Good food and music is everywhere. The Drosselgasse is a great place to eat and listen to some ump pa pa music. You can actually hear the music throughout the streets because it carries so far. The paths along the streets are narrow, but it's not a problem because everyone seems so happy to be there even on a foggy day.

Rudesheim, is at the foot of the Taunus Mountains and is a chief centre of the Rhine wine industry. It was first mentioned in 864. The Bromserburg, an early castle of the archbishops of Mainz, was rebuilt as a residence about 1200 and later belonged to the knights of Rudesheim; it now houses historical collections and a wine museum. Half-timber houses, narrow streets, and old inns give the town a medieval character. At the top of the Niederwald Height is a monument commemorating the founding of the German Empire in 1871. Rudesheim is also known for its brandy and Sekt, a sparkling white wine. Its location, architecture, and wines make the town a favoured stop along the Rhine for tourists. 

This town is very quaint with many small alleyways and cobbled-stoned walkways leading to many cafes and shops which sell beautiful items including their wonderful wines. Germany is also well known for its hand crafted miniatures. Since I have a miniature dollhouse I was intrigued to visit one of the small shops offering German made items and I was happy to find a beautiful armchair and a miniature porcelain German beer stein

After some free time in the town for sightseeing and shopping we headed back to the ship for lunch. 

In the afternoon we had an excursion for a wine tasting at the Schloss Vollrads Castle. The Estate’s landmark is the powerful tower. It was built on top of roman ruins and is surrounded by an idyllic pond. The Estate had been the Greiffenclau residence since the 14th century from where they had been managing the Castle as well as the Wine Estate. Its charming location in the midst of a beautiful countryside.

Schloss Vollrads is one of the oldest Wine Estates in the world. Wine sales have been documented as early as 1211 and ever since. Schloss Vollrads is surrounded by easy walking paths, a nature trail through the vineyards, and the Schloss Vollrads forest which is a nature reserve. 

We tasted several great Reisling wines produced on the estate and had a chance to visit the castle with it's many elaborate rooms. In 1684 the present two-winged manor house was built by Georg Phillip Greiffenclau von Vollrads near the tower. His son Johann Erwein erected the estate buildings around 1700, as well as boundary walls around the manor garden, and finally equipped the tower with a typical baroque roof.

In 1975 Erwein Matuschka Greiffenclau took charge of the property, which was heavily in debt. Although an important figure in the emergence of a new or rediscovered style of high quality dry Rheingau wine in the 1980s and 1990s, he was not successful in reorganising his estate. 

When in 1997 the principal bank decided on the declaration of bankruptcy, Erwein, who was then also the chairman of the VDP-Rheingau, took his gun, went to his beloved vineyards, and committed suicide. Since then, the estate has belonged to the Nassauische Sparkasse bank, which runs the manor house as well as the vineyards and a restaurant.

By mid-afternoon we headed back to the ship. This afternoon we sailed the most picturesque section of the Rhine and the cruise. Luckily the sun came out which made the viewing of the castles along this leg of our journey quite the spectacle. 

This day was truly magical and I have tried to capture some of it through my photography and although the true beauty can never be truly copied this gives a sense of the treasures for the senses found along the way.

As the sun set we had another wonderful gourmet meal onboard the magnificent SS Antoinette. As the night ended it was easy to fall asleep with great memories and the knowledge of more to come.......  

30 October - Speyer & Heidelberg, Germany

This morning the sun was out again as we docked in Germersheim (Speyer) Germany. We boarded the Uniworld motor coach which is a beautiful Mercedes Benz coach with panoramic windows. Off we went to visit the fairytale town of Heidelberg.

It's no secret that Heidelberg is a jewel among German travel destinations. Heidelberg is located in the Neckar river valley right where the legend-rich Odenwald (Forest of Odes or Odin) opens up towards the plains of the Rhine Valley. Heidelberg is home to the oldest university in Germany (est. 1386). With 28,000 students, the Ruprecht-Karls-University is one of Germany's larger academic institutions and boasts the full spectrum of an ancient academy, from Egyptian Studies to Computer Linguistics. The faculties for Medicine, Law and Natural Sciences are considered to be among the best in Germany.

During WWII, the city was almost completely spared allied bombings which destroyed many of Germany's larger inner cities. As a result, Heidelberg has retained its baroque charm of narrow streets, picturesque houses and of course the world-famous Schloss (castle ruins). Heidelberg's 147,000 inhabitants thus include not only 28,000 students at the university but also nearly 30,000 US citizens, almost all of them soldiers and their families. With hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking to the city annually, Heidelberg is truly a culturally diverse and international destination, despite its small size. 

Over the years, Heidelberg has attracted numerous artists, intellectuals and academics from all over Europe and has sometimes been referred to as Germany's unofficial intellectual capital. People who have lived and worked in the city include the poets Joseph von Eichendorff, Jean Paul, Goethe and Iqbal, scientists such as Bunsen and Kirchhoff, philosophers such as the founder of the "Illuminati" order von-Knigge, atheist Ludwig Feuerbach, architect Albert Speer, and many more. Mark Twain wrote in "A Tramp Abroad":
...Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage ...rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers—the Lear of inanimate nature—deserted, discrowned, beaten by the storms, but royal still, and beautiful.

Heidelberg Castle is the most famous castle ruins in the world. Since the 19th Century the epitome of German romanticism for tourists from all over the world. The impressive ruins annually attracts around one million visitors. In the 16th and 17 centuries Heidelberg Castle was one of the most magnificent palaces in Europe.

It would be hard to imagine a more striking location: set against the deep green forests on the north flank of Königstuhl hill, the red sandstone ruins tower majestically over the Neckar valley. From its lofty position, the palace’s silhouette dominates the old town centre of Heidelberg. The rich and eventful history of Heidelberg Palace began when the counts palatine of the Rhine, – later prince electors – established their residence at Heidelberg. First mentioned in 1225, this was destined to become one of the grandest palaces of the Renaissance.

In the late 17th century, the palace was repeatedly attacked and ultimately destroyed by the French in the War of the Grand Alliance. These catastrophic events are commemorated in a spectacular fireworks display, held several times each year. In 1764, after some makeshift repairs, the battered palace was heavily damaged again: this time by the forces of Nature, in the form of two devastating lightning strikes. The once-proud residence caught fire – and was left in ruins.

The 19th century brought a new wave of admiration: a sight both terrible and beautiful, the ruins epitomized the spirit of the Romantic movement. Heidelberg Palace was elevated to a national monument. The imposing edifice and its famous garden, the Hortus Palatinus, became shrouded in myth. The garden, the last work commissioned by the prince electors, was never completed. Some remaining landscaped terraces and other vestiges hint at the awe-inspiring scale of this ambitious project. In the 17th century, it was celebrated as the “eighth wonder of the world”. While time has taken its toll, Heidelberg Palace’s fame lives on to this day.

After the castle visit we had free time to wander this fascinating little town and this is always my favorite time when I can get lost in the small narrow cobbled-stoned streets filled with cafes and quaint little shops brimming with every imaginable chocolate treat, pastries, souvenirs and the aromas of coffee pouring out of every nook and cranny. 

I stopped and bought some souvenirs which I couldn't resist and after walking around taking pictures I stopped at the sweetest chocolaterie cafe and had an amazing cappucinno with an apple streusel..... a thousand calories I am sure but well worth it.

While I was having this mini feast I was happily surprised to see a young man step up to an old piano and play the most wonderful classical music, this was a perfect backdrop to my already great cafe experience.

I continued walking around this little town and near the square I found a street artist selling some amazing small paintings, drawings and sketches of the town which he had made himself. I love miniature sketches and the artist was so endeariing. We chatted for some time about the city and he gave me some great stories about the town and life as a street artist.

After looking over dozens of small sketches I finally settled on a favorite one and he was oblidging in letting me take his picture. It was finally time to leave this fairytale town and return to the ship. I left with fond memories and tons of photos so it was a wonderful day!

29 October - Strasbourg, France / Black Forest, Germany

This morning I got very lucky again with the weather, it was in the 60's and sunny. After breakfast we headed out to tour Strasbourg, France.

Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin. The city and the region of Alsace are historically German-speaking, explaining the city's Germanic name. Strasbourg's historic city centre, the Grande Île was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre. 

The city is chiefly known for its sandstone Gothic Cathedral with its famous astronomical clock, and for its medieval cityscape of Rhineland black and white timber-framed buildings, particularly in the Petite-France district or Gerberviertel ("tanners' district") and in the streets and squares surrounding the cathedral, where the renowned Maison Kammerzell stands out.

The tour today was by canal cruise around the city and it was a great experience sailing along the narrow canal with small ducks and swans following alongside. It's picturesque "la Petite France" neighborhood looks like something straight out of a fairy tale book, a riverfront neighborhood with timbered buildings accented by colorful flower boxes.

After our canal cruise we visited the famous Notre Dame cathedral. Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre-Dame is known as one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in Europe. The Cathedral stands on the exact site of a roman temple built on a little hill above the muddy ground. The first version of the church was starting to be built during 1015 by proposal of Bishop Werner von Habsburg, but fire destroyed most of the original Romanesque building. By the time that cathedral was being renovated (at the end of the 12th century, this time with red stones carried from the nearby mountains of Vosges), the gothic architectural style had reached Alsace and the future cathedral was starting to develop all characteristics of gothic aesthetics. The project of the first cathedral in Alsace was handed to craftsman and stonemasons who had already worked on the also famous gothic cathedral in Chartres.

The cathedral has many treasures: stained glass windows dating from the 12th to the 14th century, the St. Pancrace's altar (1522) from Dangolsheim, the 17th-century tapestries forming the Virgin's wall covering purchased in the 18th century, and finally a very popular curiosity, the astronomical clock set up in its own 17th-century case decorated by Tobias Stimmer and using an 19th-century mechanism devised by Schwilgué.

The presence of an organ is attested as early as year 1260. The bomb shelling of 1870 and 1944 caused some damage of the Cathedral, but after a few renovations and the replacements of missing statues, the Cathedral regained its original look.

We returned to the ship for a buffet lunch and afterwards I set off on a long awaited excursion to the famous Black Forest region of Bavaria, Germany.

A good 200 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide, the Black Forest is not only one of the most varied, but also one of the biggest and best known holiday regions in Germany. The Black Forest maids, Black Forest farms, Black Forest gateau, Bollenhut hats, cuckoo clocks - the Black Forest embodies everytThe Romans found it harsh and rather impenetrable and the region took centuries to populate and even then was considered an oddly backward part of Germany. Inevitably the Black Forest first rose to commercial prominence for its timber, and forestry naturally spawned woodwork – giving farmers something to do in the winter – and so the famous cuckoo-clock industry, the associated precision engineering, and the manufacture of musical instruments followed. All these continue to provide jobs, though the regional mainstay is now tourism, which continues year-round thanks to skiing and spa facilities.hing that one might expect of a German picture book holiday.

As the setting of countless Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, the Black Forest happily plays up to its image as a land of cuckoo clocks, cherry gâteaux, outlandish traditional garb, hefty half-timbered farmhouses and hill upon hill of dark evergreen forest. But even brief exploration soon reveals more of the character of a region that’s part of the state of Baden-Württemburg but was shaped as much by its history as a long-disputed borderland between Germany, France and Switzerland – and where something of each is in evidence.

Since this area is famous for cuckoo clocks we stopped at one of the longest established shops, the Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks where they have one of the biggest cuckoo clocks in the world. 

The shop is amazing and after a wood carving demonstration we were treated to the famous Black Forest Cherry cake...OMG this must have had 2000 calories! Fabulous....

We also had a delicious cherry wine made in the village....yummy.

We continued on to the open air farmhouse museum which was really interesting. It is a small village with original farmhouses intact from the 1700's complete with stables and farm animals. Very rustic and charming.

After a scenic drive back to the ship, it was time for a short nap to recover from my day of adventure. Dinner was wonderful and I made it an early night back to bed.

28 October - Breisach, Germany- Kayserberg & Riquewihr, France

Today I had an early morning start. When I woke up we were docked in Breisach, Germany. When I pulled the draps away to my surprise and amazement I found  a welcoming party of gorgeous swans swimming past my balcony!  OMG they were so beautiful, there were dozens of them along the river, what a nice start to the day.

After a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and blueberry pancakes off I went to join the tour.

Situated along the Rhine River on the French and German border lies the city of Breisach. Home to Europe's largest producing wine cellar and the beautiful late Gothic cathedral, St. Stephansmünster.

We drove from Breisach onto what they call the wine route because of all the vinyards in this area. 

Our first stop was Kayserberg...what a quaint medieval town this is! It's in Alsace, France where they produce some of the best wines in the world.This is also the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer. Everywhere you look there are half-timbered houses with window boxes brimming with flowers and as you walk around taking in all the visual sights you are engulfed with the tempting smells of home made pastries and fresh brewed coffee, hard to resist. The narrow cobble-stoned streets are dotted with small shops of all kinds and there are dozens of enticing cafes along the route.  

After spending some time here we continued our journey to Riquewihr, France. Once again we are thrilled to find a small town which time has forgotten. The shop signs are fabulous here with wrought iron depictions of the kind of shop it is, so charming.

Situated between the peaks of the Vosges mountains and the Plain of Alsace, Riquewihr is a medieval town right in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards, classified among the most beautiful villages in all of France. Alsace historically was part of the Holy Roman Empire and the German realm of culture. Since the 17th century, the region has passed between German and French control numerous times, resulting in a cultural blend. Germanic traits remain in the more traditional, rural parts of the culture, such as the cuisine and architecture, whereas modern institutions are totally dominated by French culture.

For centuries this magnificent town has managed to combine the quality of its architecture with the quality of its world-famous  wines, from where it gets its nickname «The Gem of the Alsace Vineyards».

I had resisted any edible temptation for the longest time but when I stumbled upon a shop making fresh macaroons in all flavours, I caved and walked into this marvelous small enclave and bought a bag of chocolate and vanilla macaroons.....OMG heaven!!!

Alsatian cuisine, somehow based on Germanic culinary traditions, is marked by the use of pork in various forms. Traditional dishes include baeckeoffe, flammekueche, choucroute, and fleischnacka. Southern Alsace, also called the Sundgau, is characterized by carpe frite (that also exists in Yidish tradition).

The stork is a main feature of Alsace and was the subject of many legends told to children. The bird practically disappeared around 1970, but re-population efforts are continuing. They are mostly found on roofs of houses, churches and other public buildings in Alsace. You can buy many items with storks on them here, of course I picked up a cute small fuzzy replica for myself to bring home.

In my free time I stopped and enjoyed a glass of the famous Alsace wine with some shipmates and then we headed back to Breisach to reboard the Antoinette. Tonight was the Captain's Welcome Aboard cocktail party and gala dinner where the Champagne flowed and the filet mignon was delectable. A good night's sleep was a well deserved event...yawwnnnn. 

27 October - SS Antoinette

After a very long night of flying from Montreal to Paris with a three hour layover before I took my flight to Basel, I finally reached the magnificent river ship, SS Antoinette.

The bed has four choices of pillows, I opted for down filled of course....omg did I sleep well! There is every convenience you could want. Thick imported towels from England, L'Occitaine bath products, plush terry and silk bathrobe and slippers, a safe, a television in the bedroom and another one on the balcony.....this is the life!

This ship is everything I thought she would be and the cabin is fabulous. The walls are not wallpapered but upholstered padded chintz! The curtains are triple thickness and are so heavy it's like sleeping in a French chateau. 

The bathroom is all marble with super thick towels imported from England placed on electric towel warmers (how plush!). The bathroom is also well stocked with a variety of full size containers of L'Occitaine of France products, they are the best in the world.

The shower is glass-enclosed marble,  and has a large rain-shower which has a massage feature.

I was so tired this afternoon that I slept for four hours before dinner, I really needed it.

At dinner I met two gentlemen from Hawaii who have been all over the world, they do four cruises a year, very interesting fellows, we became fast friends and after the dinner we felt like we had been friends forever. That is what I love about river cruising, you meet such wonderful people.

I made it an early night to say the least....slept like a baby.

Soon off to Europe!

This Saturday October 26th I will finally be off on my river cruise adventure. I will fly to Basel to board the new Uniworld luxury river cruise ship, SS Antoinette!

River cruising is a segment of the cruise industry that is exploding in popularity. People who have done the average ocean cruise are now looking for a better way to get up close and personal with the enchanting towns and cities of Europe while doing so in luxury, enjoying gourmet dining and sailing with 120 passengers rather than 3000. 

On a river cruise you are docked right in town so no need to waste time on a bus getting to your destination. River cruises offer a much more cultural experience since clients enjoy onboard lectures and get really immersed in the history of each town during the included shore excursions.

I will be posting here every day during my trip so check in daily to see what I am up too. Here is a link to my itinerary: http://www.grandexplorer.com/uniworld2013FINAL.htm