Takeaways from Cruising the Rhine River
After a two-year travel hiatus caused by the pandemic, travel is once again surging. There are signs that more and more people are willing to travel now as many countries loosen their travel restrictions and reopen their borders.
My wife and I, whose last foreign travel pre-pandemic was to the Philippines, are two of the thousands of folks who want to get out and visit places now that travelling is back to normal.
In the past, my wife and I often travelled with family members because it was more fun. It also provided for more conversations and has strengthened the family bond.
I remember the first time we went on a cruise as a family was in 2013 right after the wedding of our daughter. There were 25 of us, including the family of the groom, who took the Alaska cruise on board the Norwegian Cruise Line. We were one of the noisiest groups on the ship. The memory of this particular cruise has begun to fade away except the beauty of one of the world’s stunning glaciers that we saw one morning as the ship sailed by.
The second one was an ocean cruise in 2017 where we – with my wife’s siblings and their respective spouses – immersed ourselves in beautiful St. Petersburg in Russia; Berlin in Germany; Tallinn in Estonia; Copenhagen in Denmark; Helsinki in Finland; Gothenburg in Sweden. We took side trips to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, and Vienna, Austria’s capital.
As a family, the last time we travelled together was in 2019 when we took the Viking River Cruise to Eastern Europe. We visited Budapest, Kalocsa and Puszta in Hungary; Osijek in Croatia; Belgrade in Serbia; Vidin and Rousse in Bulgaria; and Bucharest and Brasov in Romania.
For me and my wife, travelling has always been a family affair. But because of covid and the realization that no travelling is risk-free these days, we were not able to travel as a family this year.
However, since we had a pending reservation with Viking, my wife and I decided to sail the Rhine River last month on board the Viking Egdir, without our usual travel companions – my wife’s three siblings and their spouses.
Why a river cruise and not an ocean cruise?
River cruising is a wonderful way to relax. The vessel is much smaller, with a capacity of not more than 200 people. One has the opportunity to meet as many people as possible and establish personal relationships that can last a lifetime. One can also explore the towns and cities that the vessel visits each day, and just enjoy each destination that exposes the passengers to the local culture.
Cruising the Rhine River, the second-longest river in Central and Western Europe after the Danube, is seen by many as a luxury destination.
One does not have to be wealthy to explore and enjoy Europe’s best-loved rivers. One just has to have a sense of admiration for anything beautiful and even mysterious.
I have an insatiable curiosity for the unknown. Thus, when I travel I want to know what a particular place has to offer or what I can discover. As the saying goes, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
Upon arrival in Breisach, Germany, from Basel, Switzerland on the first day of our cruise, we embarked on a scenic drive to Black Forest, the birthplace of the cuckoo clock. Although I have a seen a cuckoo clock before that produces the distinctive “coo coo” sound, I never knew that the clock originated in Black Forest.
There were other highlights during our 10-day cruise, one of which was visiting Strasbourg, the largest port on the Upper Rhine in Northeastern France. During our walking tour, we had the opportunity to see the inside of the Strasbourg Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the finest of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals.
Inside the cathedral is an Astronomical Clock where the main attraction is the procession of the 18-inch figures of Christ and the apostles, which occurs every day at noon, as the life-size cock crows thrice. The clock, built between 1838 and 1842, is extremely accurate.
Next stop was Speyer, a quiet German town that lies on the west bank of the Rhine River. The city features a Romanesque imperial cathedral, burial place of eight emperors. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was in Speyer where the Diet of Worms in 1521 banned the writings of Martin Luther and labeled him a heretic. But in 1529, a second Diet of Worms reversed the decision, proclaiming the right of anyone to practice Christianity as they please, giving birth to Protestantism.
On our way to Koblenz, we spent an entire morning scenic sailing the Rhine River as we saw from the deck more than 28 castles, each with its own unique history. The almost 40-mile stretch of the Rhine River that we sailed was so alluring that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the heart of Koblenz, a German town, is the Jesuitenplatz (Jesuit Square), a popular tourist attraction named after the Jesuits and is surrounded by historic buildings. On the eastern side of the square is a palatial Jesuit school. In the middle of the square is a monument honoring Johannes Muller, a famous Koblenz physiologist and anatomist.
There were three things that caught my attention when we were in Cologne, a 2,000-year-old city spanning the Rhine River in western Germany: the “love padlocks,” the city’s medieval Cologne Cathedral, and the number of pubs.
One of the most impressive “love padlocks” in the world is found on the Hohezollernbrucke bridge in Cologne. The idea is for couples to affix their padlocks to the bridge and the corresponding keys are thrown into the Rhine River to symbolize the couples’ eternal love. There are thousands and thousands of padlocks affixed to the bridge. How many of these couples eventually separated were left unexplained by the tour guide. It cracked my sister-in-law when my wife told her that what she threw into the river was the padlock and not the key.
The Cologne Cathedral with its Gothic architecture and two spires was the first landmark I saw after disembarking from the ship for our walking tour. It’s the largest cathedral in Europe and dominates the city skyline like no other building. It’s famous for keeping the relics of the Three Wise Men.
It is estimated that there are more than 2,500 pubs in Cologne where drinking in public is tolerated. I observed that people drink beer as early as 10 o’clock in the morning. Many locals drink beer because they just love to drink. The kolsch beer is one of the many reasons for which Cologne is known for, aside from the best colognes for men and its many restaurants and high-end hotels.
From the modern city of Cologne, we visited the picturesque Dutch countryside of Kinderdijk, where we saw around 19 windmills built around 1740. These windmills maintain the water level in the area and prevent flooding. The tour guide explained to us how windmills were built and even allowed us to go inside a windmill, where the family who lives there is required to keep the mill in working order.
Amsterdam, our last stop and the Dutch capital, was a delight to explore. Amsterdam’s main attractions that my wife and I had the chance to visit were the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, Volendam, a fishing town several miles away from Amsterdan, and cruising the historic canals. During our canal cruise, we saw narrow houses with gabled facades that continue to attract tourists.
There are numerous bike lanes spread throughout Amsterdam, and cycling definitely defines the character of the city. Unlike our first day in Amsterdam when the weather was blistery, the second day was perfect to hike along ancient roads and stroll by medieval buildings and churches.
There are other attractions in Amsterdam that we did not have the opportunity to see or visit due to lack of time. But one thing is true: the city is a pleasure to visit and the people are very helpful and friendly.
If all this means anything, it means that travelling for me is very educational. I learn about the history, culture, traditions, and the people’s way of life of the different countries we visit. By meeting other people, I learn how to communicate with respect. By being exposed to a totally different cultural milieu, I learn how to be more understanding and less judgmental of people different from me. I’m also forced to step outside of my comfort zone and learn to be more flexible and open to new discoveries.
Travelling makes people better people.