Vacation 2013: Cruising the Rhine, senior style – Part 2

Barriere senior, Jim Hodgetts, shares his 2013 Rhine River cruise vacation with our readers

Barriere resident

Barriere resident

Amsterdam, day two and cruising to the Rhine River.

After leaving Amsterdam, our cruise with Avalon Waterways took us on our way to the Rhine River and Cologne.  Watching the scenery unfold as we sailed along we saw a vibrant canal/river with more commerce than you would think possible going up and down it.  You could see a mix of industrial on one side, and residential on the other.  All the smoke stacks had no smoke showing, and I was not aware of any smog in the air.

Just as it was getting dark, we were advised that shortly our cruise ship would be entering a lock to transit to the Rhine.

We went up to the sun deck and had a wonderful view of our ship entering the lock.  The locks are very long and narrow, and we could see our pilot had controls outside of the wheelhouse and was slowly guiding our ship up the lock.

I looked aft and saw we were not alone.  Another cargo boat was coming in behind us.  After about five minutes we were both in the lock and the rear lock gates were slowly closing.  You could hear the water coming in as we went up, it was only about three feet, and the forward gate was rising up and we could see the Rhine River ahead.

We saw a mix of old and new buildings, and not surprising, we were told this was the result of the bombings during WWII.  Most of the industrial buildings had been destroyed along the Rhine.

Cologne, Germany, day three.

This morning we arrived at Colonge, Germany.  No rain.  A nice waterfront area, definitely an area made for tourists greeted us.

Today, Cologne is one of Germany’s largest cities.  As I recall, Colonge had been hard hit during the war.  On the side we were docked at, the buildings appeared to be pre-WWII; on the other side the buildings looked more modern.  We were told that the industrial side had been almost 99 per cent obliterated.    The waterfront where we docked was clean and well kept, and the tourists (the older ones) stayed near this area.

The twin spires of the cathedral dominated the skyline, and we decided it was time to try a Kolsch German beer at one of the many beer gardens along the promenade.  Shopping for the ladies was probably a must, but for me, a relaxing seat sipping a beer was refreshing.  I didn’t go very far from the boat that day.

After lunch we left Cologne and continued up the Rhine.  We were passing very active, either nuclear or coal, generating plants – I counted 14 cooling towers when I was looking; power lines were going in many different directions.

We passed many river boats carrying coal going downstream, also a lot of tankers.  Some had LNG on the sides.  I saw two large ‘Chem’ plants, both with the former name ‘Bayer’ factory insignia displayed.  I guess they make more than aspirin.

Continuing up the river we passed a mixture of industrial and pastoral landscapes.

That night we had a very good dinner on board ship.  The chefs prepared a large variety of foods for the many different nationalities on board.  They usually prepared at least one local dish from the areas that we passed through.

I think at this time we had gone about 175-200 km up the Rhine, there seemed to be no apparent reduction to the amount of boat traffic that continued to be traveling on the river in both directions.

On the ship we never got tired of looking out the ceiling to floor sliding glass door in our stateroom.  I think they call it a French balcony.  Going through the locks you can see why they do not have balconies outside of the hull – no room.

Koblenz-Rhine Gord-Rudesheim, day four.

On day four we were tied up at a dock, well, the dock was three boats away.  This is normal when on the river.  All the boat deck lobbies are in the same position on each boat, so you just walk through the others to get to land.  We were actually in Koblenz, on the Moselle River, where it joins the Rhine.

Koblenz is 2,000 years old, and is the cultural and business centre of the Middle Rhine Region.  The old buildings are welled looked after, and you walk on cobblestone streets, narrow and twisting.  You really get the sense of 2,000 years of history as you view the city.

Our first stop was Seigfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum.  It was wonderful to see all the restored,  and in working order, pianos and music boxes with speaker horns on top;  from very petite, to very large displays with whole (well a lot) orchestras moving and playing.

Next we trundled down the cobblestones to a restaurant where we were introduced to a favourite local drink called Rudesheimer Kaffee.  This is topped with locally brewed brandy and is served warm after the fireworks (burning brandy).  Well, after one large drink we purchased a kit to make the drink, including spoons, cups, brandy and instructions in German (anyone speak German?).  If you are ever in Rudersheimer, be sure to stop for a Kaffee, it is well worth the trip.

Where the Moselle and Rhine meet there is a park on the land point with a very large heroic looking figure on a horse.  We were told that when the U.S. were attacking from the other side of the Rhine, the artillery kept shooting at the figure on the horse.  Finally, they were successful and knocked the head off the figure.  It has since been restored.

Koblenz to Mainz, the Rhine Gorge, wine country.

Leaving Koblenz, we left the Moselle River and continued our journey.  As we reentered the Rhine, a gondola style chair lift crossed the river to a large building at the very top, which we thought was most likely a church?  The cable was very long, and the rise quite steep as it crossed the river.

The hills were literally covered in vineyards as we entered the Rhine Gorge wine country.  In every place where there was soil, the land is cultivated and covered with grape vines.  We were informed that the climate was perfect for growing grapes; lots of sunshine and very good drainage.  I thought that the workers must be part mountain goat and have one long leg and one short.  Wherever it was possible, the fields were terraced with service roads along the bottoms, where we saw the odd vehicle parked.  It is impossible to describe how every side of the gorge was covered by the grape fields.

All of this is overseen by mostly old castles that sit on solid rock out-croppings, with grand views of that stretch of the river.  We were told that historically, those in the castles, collected dues from the users of the river.  With a commanding view of the river and a few cannon, they certainly had no trouble collecting.

Along the side of the river we saw electric trains, and a road with a fair amount of traffic in both directions.  We did not see any diesel powered trains, so no straight up and down.

There were numerous little towns on the flat lower reaches of the gorge, and we thought they housed the workers or owners of the vineyards.  Every town seemed to have at least one church.

No bridges crossed the gorge, so there were plenty of little ferries crossing, which were quite similar to the ones we have in B.C.

As we approached the town of Loreley, we passed a church.  What made this one different was the fact that it was in the middle of the river.  It appeared to sit on a small island in the middle of the river, and in addition to the church there were trees, a picnic table and benches.  On the other side, on a small point, was the figure of the legendary siren that was reported to have lured sailors of old onto the rocks and to their deaths.  She looked a little forlorn as we passed, but we waived anyway.

Our next day’s stop will be Mainz and a trip to Heidelburg.

Look for part three of Cruising the Rhine in a future issue.