We are 4 1/2 days in to our 7 night AmaWaterways river cruise and we have learned a lot. It's exceeded my expectations in just about every aspect, and in particular the service and staff have been impeccable. Only minor down side has been wifi that comes and goes, but we need it more than most I suspect. As mainly independent travellers I was worried that the tours on shore would seem impersonal, but the audio listening device provided enables you to wander off a 100 yards or so from the group you are with and make your own discoveries whilst still getting a valuable commentary. Then you are always left to your own devices for a good length of time also. It's a great mix.
Here are the highlights of the cruise so far.
TOP 5 HIGHLIGHTS - BASEL TO KOBLENZ
1. Strasbourg, France (above and below)
Famous for its human rights court and being the official seat of the European Parliament, Strasbourg is also a beautiful river/canal city. It also definitely seemed the foodiest (is that a word?) stop on our trip so far, as we came across several Michelin starred restaurants, cheese producers, and wonderful delis and patisseries.
2. Speyer, Germany (below)
Consecrated in 1061, Speyer Cathedral is a mighty construction that remains to this day the largest Romanesque church in the world.
We had a wonderful guide here, Michael, who led our group around town and really engaged us as he linked 1000 years history to the modern day refugee situation in Europe. Speyer with a population of 50,000 has readily and successfully integrated 1,354 refugees mainly from Syria and the town is both happy and proud of this.
3. Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany
Whilst we found our evening trip to taste the renowned Rüdesheim Coffee (brandy based), a little touristy, we soon went for a wander and found a wine festival in the town square (above) with great local producers. The vineyard hike the next morning (below) with just a few in our group, was spectacular. Huge swathes of vineyards producing mainly Riesling on slopes so steep that picking the harvest is still by hand and is a very long and arduous process. Harvest time is later than most North American grapes in about 6 to 8 weeks time.
4. 40 Castles
The 40 mile stretch of the Rhine from Rüdesheim north to Koblenz has an average of one castle per mile to view as you sail. Popularly known as the Rhine Gorge this is a UNESCO World Heritage Center and it's a unique experience. The dramatic and natural scenery, often with those steep vineyard slopes dotted regularly with up to 1000 year old castles, has to be seen to be believed.
5. AmaPrima (above)
Our home for the week, the ship really surprised me with its comfort, space and especially the service. River cruising is not for everyone, but I really think it should be considered by a wider demographic than currently enjoys its charms. Average age of travellers is up at 65 or so, but is lowering every year that goes by, and I have to say these olduns are on to something. Don't think that Viking, whose advertising dwarfs all other lines are it when it comes to a river cruise. There are many different options, and all have a particular twist on the tale. Different levels of luxury, number of passengers (on the same size ships), formal or informal, all considerations that your travel consultant will know about to help you find the perfect fit.
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