Monday, October 29, 2007

Rhine River Cruise Part 1 - Basel, Breisach, and Locks

“I never saw so many castles, barges, bicycles, or half-naked women in all my life” pronounced my father at the end of our journey. He had also never climbed up so many cathedral steps or drank so many Beck’s beers either.

My husband and myself, along with my parents cruised along the Rhine River for the better part of eight days. The beginning of October turned out to be an excellent time to travel. We were blessed with rain free days and the temperatures reminded us of what autumn weather should be (our run of hotter than usual weather here in Richmond has been maddening).
Our cruise reservations were made via Gate 1 Travel. I had spotted their advertisement on Fromer’s. The package included all meals, the cruise itself, airfare, and transfers. While we had some difficulty with the cruise (the ship experienced propeller trouble twice) and had to end our trip in a hotel situated in the middle of the Holland farm fields, I mainly focus on our good experiences (and there were many).

We flew from Dulles to Heathrow to Basel, Switzerland to begin our trip along the storied Rhine. And, first of all, I must say that Heathrow Terminal 4 had the best array of shops in which to browse putting the Dulles offering to shame. Heathrow had even set up a caviar bar in the middle of the concourse and the duty free shops offered tastes of whiskey as well as martinis featuring a New Zealand vodka called 42 Below. Of course, the pound to dollar exchange rate prohibited us from purchasing anything, but for pure entertainment (to make us forget that our connecting flight was delayed), Heathrow ruled.

Upon arrival at the Basel airport we made our way by bus to the center of this Swiss city. Road construction or reconstruction met us frequently.
We stopped near the art museum which housed a free toilet. In the courtyard stood Rodin’s Burgers of Callais. As we wandered up to the cathedral, we passed by an impressive water fountain. All of the fountains in the city spouted drinkable water. We traversed the Ritterstrasse (Knight’s Street) and were treated to buildings dating back to the 14th century.
As we approached the cathedral we were struck by the tiled roof – such precision and color. We also were awed by the size and the carvings around the courtyard or entry way.
The cathedral led us to a small square overlooking the Rhine replete with picturesque buildings as well as industrial complexes beyond the old city.
At this point we piled back into the bus and taken to the boat, which was not located in Basel due to propeller difficulties that needed to be repaired.

Thus, we bid Switzerland a fond farewell and headed to Breisach, Germany and our cruise ship, the M. S. Deutschland.
Beisach was a tiny town with a main square, a few cafes and shops, and a cathedral looming over the town from a hill.
We had a couple of hours before dinner and decided to climb to the cathedral.
A majority of Breisach was destroyed during World War II and had to be rebuilt. Most of the rebuilding focused on the traditional to maintain the town’s charm. We simply drank in all of the old-looking commercial signs and the incredible flower boxes dripping with color hanging from the windows. Yes, we imagined that Germany would look this way. We were not disappointed.

Back on the boat we experienced the first of many cruise boat meals – an appetizer/salad followed by a soup of either consume or cream of the vegetable of the day. The entrée almost inevitably was braised meat (there was also a fish option for dinner, but not very appealing). Dessert held the most variety sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Dinner included Beck’s beer or a choice of Riesling (very tart and thin) or Lemberger (the German equivalent of Beaujolais). Although the cruise brochure boasted all the wine you wanted at dinner, it turned out to equal three glasses per night. We could imbibe the wine, but the stuff grew old after a few days. Lunch was a repeat of dinner minus the alcohol. Breakfast offered a buffet. My husband enjoyed the European yogurt. I indulged in flaky croissants with butter as well as Nutella on toast.

The boat set sail after dinner headed for Strasbourg. Locks dotted the upper part of the Rhine and travelling through one at night left us somewhat creeped out and claustrophobic. We were tucked away in our twin beds with the cabin window open to the night. We awoke to us sidling along a concrete barrier seemingly two inches away from the boat. We then stopped and began dropping – very similar to an elevator ride. The concrete continued to rise above our cabin window as we continued our downward journey. We dropped for a long time and steadily faced concrete right outside our window. Very spooky. Eventually, we stopped dropping and slowly inched forward out of the lock toward our next destination…Strasbourg.


John Witherspoon said...

wow, it sounds really fun, except for the propeller troubles!!! I had to pull out the map to see where the Rhine river is because my geography is horrible. Which is actually something my love of wine has helped out with. :)
I can't wait to read more about it.


Admin said...

These are really great pictures. What cruise company did you use? There are so many so I thought it's worthwhile to ask...
Thank you

pjpink said...

Admin - We used Gate1 Travel because of the price. I would probably choose another company next time.