Monday, December 7, 2015

10th Anniversary River Cruise: October 24 - November 5: Part 3, Basel, Switzerland and Rhine Cruise on AMACello

(Note: If I get time, I need to actually write about each day & fill in the outlines. I also need to add pictures)

Oct 29, 2015
This morning, our bags had to be outside of the room by 9am, so we needed to be up, showered, and packed earlier than a couple of days ago.

Got on the bus & traveled to Basel
Along the way, we stopped at the awesome rest stop in P… puts US rest stops to shame
Walking tour of Basel – went to Baselmunster & the walkway next to it. Autumn fair was going on. View from Main Basel across Rhine to Lesser Basel. Went to the Town Hall to point out the meeting spot.
We had about an hour/hour and a half on our own.
Walked through Farmer’s Market
Went to Coop & got lunch. Went back to Town Hall to sit on the stairs & eat.
Walked around several of the hilly streets & back to Town Hall to meet everyone.
Walked back to the bus meeting place with the tour guide & waited for the bus.
Bus ride to the boat
Got on boat, luggage was already in the room. Surrendered passports for the night.
At 6pm, we had our welcome & safety meeting. Around 7:15, the meeting concluded & we went to dinner at The Chef’s Table.
Chef’s Table meal was very good! They take allergies seriously & if there was anything I couldn’t have, they let me know. They also made slight modifications to a couple of the items so that I could have them.
We went straight to bed after dinner, due to it being a long day.

Oct 30, 2015
We woke up "late" (for this trip any how), got ready, sorted laundry to be done, and headed to breakfast. We noticed there were paramedics in our hallway and that we had been stopped for a while. With everything labeled with allergens, it's easy to see what you can/can't eat. Everywhere should be like this, seriously. 

The maître d' met me in the dining room with the lunch and dinner menu so that I could make my selections for both meals. It sounds like this will be the norm for the week. I love it! It has really settled my mind about being able to eat safely on the cruise. He asked me to let them know when I’d be doing the light lunches instead of the full lunch.

While we were at breakfast, we were in a lock. Just as we were finishing up breakfast and talking with some of the other cruisers, we started to go down the lock. That was quite the disorienting experience. The first of 14!

Veronika came on the speaker & said that her 9:30 talk about the rest of the ports was going to be postponed due to an emergency situation & that it’d be rescheduled later. We think she ended up going to the hospital with the passenger that was having problems.

After breakfast, we picked up our passports, safety cards, and tour color cards. We then headed to the lounge to relax a bit. Most of the other passengers did the same. (Rooms get cleaned around this time of day, so it’s best to be out of them to allow the housekeepers the ability to work uninterrupted).

Once we arrived in Breisach, we waited in the lounge until our tour was called. We then boarded the bus by color and enjoyed our ride over to Freiburg. When we got to Freiburg, we took a walking tour around the old town, mostly focused on the cathedral. A lot of the town was destroyed in WWII.  We had about an hour of free time. We were able to go into the church, and walk around it for a bit. We also chatted with several of the other passengers and waited for our guide.

When we got back to the bus, we drove through a town that’s known for their wine producing. We kind of wish we would’ve been able to stop & sample the wines! Once back to the boat, we decided to walk with our tour guide (Monika) up to the church in Breisach. The sun was getting ready to set, so we didn’t have a lot of time. Also, the talk about the ports was now at 6:30, so we needed to be back for that. I wish we had done the walking tour here first and then gone to Freiburg. It would’ve been ok with me to drive back in the dark!

At 6:30, we had the port talk and then dinner immediately following. After dinner, there was a French singer & accordion player. They were pretty good. We enjoyed the performance for a bit and headed to bed around 10pm.

Oct 31, 2015
Happy Halloween!

Today, we travelled to Strasbourg, France. There was traffic on the Rhine, so we ended up getting in about an hour late, which was a bit disappointing.

Our tour guide for Strasbourg was fantastic. I wish we had been able to take our full tour. We were able to see “Little France” and the “masterpiece” (aka: The Cathedral Notre Dame of Strasbourg). The church bells after the clock struck noon were amazing.

Inside the cathedral was the astronomical clock. We were able to watch the clock performance at 12:30pm. It lasted about 3 minutes and was interesting to see.

After the clock performance, we met our tour guide and walked through a bit more of historic Strasbourg to the bus. We came back to the boat for lunch (easier for me to have a GF meal) and then decided to stay on the boat and relax for the afternoon.

We wrote a couple of postcards, enjoyed the sundeck, and generally just relaxed. We also got to see the crew decorating for Halloween. It’s kind of funny because the Europeans don’t really celebrate Halloween, so they were all trying to figure out what the holiday is for.

We had dinner with a few of our pre-cruise extension guests. There was a funny incident where one of the ladies was celebrating her birthday, but they brought her a “happy anniversary” cake, so they also brought her a “happy birthday” cake!

After dinner, I went up to the Halloween party for a bit. The staff was handing out masks, hats, and other head pieces. The music & people watching were a good bit of fun. Jon stayed in the room to get some rest.

Nov 1, 2015
This morning, we left Strasbourg for Speyer. Spending the morning sailing was kind of nice. It was a pretty foggy morning, so there wasn’t a ton to see. The traffic on the Rhine wasn’t too bad today and we got into Speyer just about on time.

We decided to head to Heidelburg to do the walking tour and go up to the castle. We had a bit of an interesting situation on our bus. There is a group of Portuguese speaking people on our ship & they ended up on our bus. The tour guide didn’t let us know they’d all be sitting in the back with their tour guide (who would be talking with them the entire trip), so a bunch of us were sitting towards the back of the bus & we all had to shuffle. No big deal, but this was the first of a few “herding” mistakes our tour guide made.

It was about an hour drive to Heidelburg from Speyer.

Castle ruins, churches, pedestrian bridge with the monkey, beer & coffee
Bus ride back – funny story about the priest & bus driver getting to heaven

Nov 2, 2015
Rudesheim (gondola ride – lots of fog)
Christmas store
Walking wine tour
German lunch onboard with ice cream social after
Cruising the Rhine looking for castles in the fog, fog finally lifted & we were able to see all of the castles. Rudesheim Coffee on the Rhine River as we passed the Lorelei Rock.
Most of the group did a walking tour around Koblenz - we skipped it

Nov 3, 2015
Relaxed morning – watching the towns/cities of the Rhine as we sailed towards Cologne
Arrived in Cologne, walking tour
St Peter’s Cathedral
Walked around (found 2 fabric stores)
Came back to the boat & went to the guest lecturer about modern Germany
Enjoyed a farewell cocktail reception & dinner

Nov 4, 2015
Woke up “late”, had breakfast
Took care of gratuities & guest surveys
Sat in lounge for a while
Amsterdam canal tour followed by bus tour
Free time in Amsterdam (cheese shop & hidden church)
Back on boat to pack, classical music concert, and dinner
We got an anniversary cake at the end of dinner
Lounge to socialize with everyone (and share our cake), one last time

Nov 5, 2015
Woke up, finished packing, got breakfast, waited in lounge
Claimed bags & waited for transfer
Got to airport, checked in, went through security
Met some of Amsterdam’s finest – forgot to take jams out of my carryon for scanning
Once that was sorted out, we went through passport control, & found our gate
Had an uneventful trip home. We got in just over an hour early, which was great!
Easy trip through Global Entry
Luggage came pretty quickly
Through the 2nd level of customs officers (declared the cheese & jam as the food I was bringing back, she didn’t make me get them scanned again)
Back to the car – it’s 75 degrees – WHAT?!
Went home, dropped everything off, went to pick up the CSA, hit up the grocery store for a couple of things, then went to get David (the dog). It was so good to see him.
Back to home to get settled in & start laundry.

Back to reality!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

10th Anniversary River Cruise: October 24 - November 5: Part 2 - Lucerne, Switzerland

(Note: I need to add pictures)
Oct 27, 2015
This morning, we got up, had breakfast at the hotel, packed up, checked out, and went for a quick walk around Old Town Zurich again. We decided we wanted to visit Grossmunster before we left the city, so we headed over there.

The inside of Grossmunster was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, you can't take photos inside, so there's nothing to show.

After visiting the church, we headed back to the hotel, along the river one more time. Since we had already checked out, we waited in the lobby until it was time to go. People started showing up & waiting with us, so that was good.

We verified our luggage & got on the bus when it was time. It was about a 2 hr drive to Lucerne (or Luzerne) on the less traveled and more scenic roads. We stopped in the town of Brunnen for lunch. Jon & I ate at a little place called Kombuse (which means "the galley").

After lunch, it was back on the bus to the town of Vitznau to board the boat for our ride to Lucerne. Since it was such a beautiful day, even if it was a little cold, we decided to stay up on the sundeck for the hour long ride. Only 4 of us lasted the entire trip (with most people leaving in the first 15 minutes).

Once in Lucerne, we headed to our hotel (Raddison Blu), got our carry on bags & keys to the room, got settled in a bit, and then decided what to do. Veronika was taking everyone who wanted to go on an orientation walk at 6pm, but she was recommending people went out on their own while the sun was still out. We took her up on the recommendation and started to wander about for a little bit.

We ended up having dinner at Unicum. The chicken here was amazingly good. Service everywhere is slower than in the US, so that's taken some getting used to. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel & settled in for an early night.

Oct 28, 2015
We took our walking tour of Lucerne this morning. Unlike in Zurich, we were able to go into the churches here. We visited the wooden bridge – which was originally built in the 1300s, but mostly burned down in the 1970s. They rebuilt it and you almost can’t tell the difference of where was rebuilt. The two original parts (the ends) are much darker than the newer parts. With time, they’ll be closer in color.

As we walked down the river, we were able to go into the church and sat for a bit while our tour guide told us some of the history of the church. The church never belonged to a perish and was a teaching church. It was done in the Baroque fashion.

We then walked over another bridge and around Old Town Lucerne a bit more. She pointed out one building that was painted depicting Carnival. Our tour guide left us and we were on our own for lunch. We ate at Manor (a department store which had a café and rooftop terrace). Our cruise manager, Veronika, and her husband, Joe, came up to the rooftop terrace, so we invited them to join us. It was nice getting to know them a bit more.

After lunch, we headed to the hotel for a little bit of down time before we left for the Mt Pilatus excursion (this one is an optional excursion).

Around 1:45, the excursion was under way. We rode the bus about 15-20 minutes to base of Mt Pilatus. From there, our tour guide got our tickets and we all got into the cog wheel train for the ride up the mountain. We saw a couple of people hiking up the mountain. I’d love to come back some day and give it a try! The ride up was pretty cool. The steepest incline was 48% - twice!

Once we got to the top of the mountain, our tour guide gave us some information & quick instructions (when to meet back, etc), and we were free to explore. One member of our group was having some altitude sickness (trouble breathing), so that party was sent back down the mountain. (Also, a good warning that it can happen even with a 40 minute ride up.)

We decided to head up another walkway to one of the two peaks. It was absolutely beautiful up there! We thought about heading up the walkway to the other peak, but I wasn’t crazy with where the stairs were located on it (too many facing the “end of the earth” for my liking. We also walked through a cave path, which was interesting. It had the story about the dragon mountain in it.

Around 4:15, we all met up to head back down the mountain. Apparently, our group was supposed to have a dedicated car (to keep us all together). That didn’t get communicated to all of the staff working and didn’t end up happening. We were in the last set of cars going down for the day, so pretty much everyone ended up in one of two cars. It all worked out pretty well.

The trip down the mountain was just as interesting as the trip up. I thought it was especially interesting that the tree line was at 4500 ft. It was easy to figure out when we had passed that, based on the trees reappearing.
Once down the mountain, we boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel. Jon decided he wasn’t really in the mood to go explore Lucerne any more, so we went to the hotel restaurant, Luce, for dinner.

Service was incredibly slow. I guess we should stop complaining about slow service in the U.S. Dinner (entrees and dessert) took two hours. It was also next to impossible to get information about which menu items were gluten free. I really don’t understand the whole “tell me what you want & we’ll go from there” mentality. How about you tell me what you all can do, like I requested, and we’ll go from there. It’s easier for me to make a decision if I know what you can and can’t do. Sigh. This was probably the hardest ordering I’d done on the trip so far. At the end of the evening though, dinner was really good.

After dinner, we decided to call it a night. We have an early morning tomorrow!