Article By Ron Elledge at Written FYI
You’re departing Switzerland this evening and arriving in Germany tomorrow morning? Leave your bags in the room, don’t even think of packing, you don’t have to gather your gear or put a thing away. Your entourage will look after you! In fact, go to bed, get a great night of rest, the crew will move the entire hotel so you don’t have to lift a finger. When you arrive in Germany, step out of your room in a new country. Proceed to the restaurant for a hardy breakfast prepared by your traveling chef. OMG, what luxury!
When spending a week or two in multiple countries and a variety of cities in Europe, an entourage will shoulder the travel burden. That’s the magic of cruise lines. They provide you with a complete complement of dedicated support staff, traveling with you, working hard to fulfill your every desire.
Now, join me while I share our Rhine River cruise journey complete with an entourage.
Viking River Cruise Ship. Photo © 2014 Ron Elledge.
We watched in awe as our chauffeur (the ship’s captain) skillfully docked our hotel (the ship) in Breisach, Germany. The concierge (program director) has the day carefully planned. In the afternoon we will have the option of a leisurely exploration of Breisach, a nap in our comfortable room, or a coordinated excursion to the quaint Alsatian town of Colmar. First, she has coordinated with a local driver and guide for a picturesque morning trip through the Black Forest.
Out the door of this floating hotel, down the gang plank, across a short walk way, and climb aboard a golden chariot (tour bus) for a jaunt through flatlands, freeways, and forests. We settle in and relax, enjoy the view as we pass by lush green fields strewn with cows and horses, sheep and goats, thatch roofed homes, and dense forests. When the coach stops, we have arrived at the morning’s main stop, the cuckoo clock factory.
Cuckoo Clocks on Display. Photo © 2014 Ron Elledge.
Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo.
On the outside, the building is the image of a huge clock. It’s complete with a woodcutter and water carrying maiden stepping out at the top and bottom of every hour. Inside, wooden houses of every conceivable size and design cover the walls. The majority has one thing in common. A small bird keeps poking his head out and making the sounds of his namesake, the European cuckoo bird. Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo, please, stop the insanity, where is my entourage, bring me some ear plugs.
No one seems to have a definitive answer of whom or where the cuckoo clock was invented, although evidence of the cuckoo’s design dates back to the early 1600s. However, common consensus credits the Black Forest region of Germany with its development and evolution.
After a short lesson in the intricacies of traditional cuckoo clock building, take a stroll, stretch your legs, and enjoy the grounds. Wander down the pathway, past a babbling brook, and visit a small, quaint country church tucked in a grove of trees. Before embarking on the return to Breisach, be sure to indulge in the delightful German treat associated with this area, black forest cake. Rich, dark chocolate, whipped cream. and cherries, all layered together into a mouthwatering, decadent dissert. I may take a siesta in the golden chariot while in route to the floating hotel.
Too much to see, no siesta, tired from the day’s adventure? Don’t fret. There is no need to search for that classic restaurant serving German food, call on the entourage. Each day the onboard, gourmet chef, prepares delicious meals featuring cuisine of the region and country we are visiting.
This evening, we sleep while the hotel travels. It’s on to The Council of Europe and the storks of Strasbourg, France. While the hotel is docked in Strasbourg, our driver and guide will take us for a chariot ride to the wine region of Alsace. Here we will chew on massive, fresh baked pretzels. Walk the streets and admire the churches, gingerbread architecture, and wineries of the Alsace region of France.
Blanck Winery in Alsace, France. Photo © 2014 Ron Elledge.
From Strasbourg it’s a leisurely float down the Rhine River to Heidelberg. This German city is a wonderland of charming shops, friendly people, food, flowers and the remarkable Heidelberg Castle.
Heidelberg Castle. Photo © 2014 Ron Elledge.
Perched over 200ft up the Königstuhl hillside, keeping a watchful eye on the city, sits the partially intact Heidelberg Castle. This famous structure was first mentioned as early as 1214. Its importance through the centuries is prominent in the annals of history. After withstanding numerous enemy attacks the castle was routed by lightning strikes in 1537 and again in 1764. The 1764 strike marked an end to the castles prominence and ushered in twelve decades of disrepair and slow decay. Preservation began in the 1880s and by 1900 the castles Friedrich Building had been restored to its current condition. Today more than three million people visit this castle each year.
Chauffeur, would you please move this hotel down the river. I’ll be sipping refreshments served by my traveling bartender, and snapping photographs this morning, as we drift along the river through the Middle Rhine Valley. This is the most scenic portion of our trip and an opportunity to view some of Germany’s remarkable history and architecture.
This afternoon we will pull over in Braubach, the concierge has made arrangements for us to probe the Marksburg Castle. But this morning, our jaw dropping journey will take us past a paradise of historic castles.
Watch with me as we glide past Klopp Castle, Ehrenfels Castle, Fürstenberg Castle Ruin, Stahleck Castle, Gutenfels Castle, Schönburg Castle, Katz_Castle, Rheinfels Castle, Maus Castle, Liebenstein Castle, Sterrenberg Castle, that’s eleven icons of history, but who’s counting. All photographs were captured onboard our cozy floating hotel. Some were snapped during a gourmet lunch and others while sipping refreshments on the upper deck or by the French balcony in the comfort of our room.
Marksburg Castle in Braubach, Germany. Photo © 2014 Ron Elledge.
Marksburg Castle, constructed sometime between 1100 and 1117 this castle was built as a fortress of protection for the inhabitants of the town of Braubach. It has changed hands many times throughout its storied history, and is the only castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed. The French emperor Napoleon took possession in 1803 and gifted it to the Duke of Nassau. Today it is owned by the German Castle Association and is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Back to the hotel where the chef has prepared a delicious lunch, and the chauffeur is ready to set sail. It’s another grand voyage as we float past villages and countryside, slip past Fortress Ehrenbreitstein, and dock in Koblenz.
This is one of Germany's oldest and most beautiful towns. Set against the backdrop of vineyards and forests fashioned from 2,000 years of history. Stunning churches, castles and palatial residences occupy the landscape. We will spend the afternoon and evening poking around this town where the Deutsches Eck (German Corner) marks the convergence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers.
In 1897, German Emperor William I was honored with a giant equestrian statue displayed prominently on this corner. In 1945, the statue was badly damaged by an American artillery shell and soon afterwards it was completely removed. For almost fifty years, the remaining platform was used as a center for the propagation of German unity. In 1993, a replica of the original statue was raised into position on the pedestal. Today it stands majestically over the two rivers at a height of 37 meters. A favorite way of viewing this historical corner is from the window of a cable-car suspended high over the Rhine River, rising up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress mountain station.
Chauffer, dock our hotel in Cologne.
After a delicious onboard dinner, forging new friendships, and dancing the music of the live band. We’ll enjoy a cozy sleep while our crew works through the night, successfully navigating the Rhine. This morning we choose room service while watching our Chauffer dock our hotel in Cologne, Germany. No golden chariots needed for a day in Old Town Cologne. Our constant companion, the concierge, has arranged for a guide to help us navigate the attractions of Cologne's Old Town. For art lovers it’s The Wallraf-Richartz and Ludwig Museums. Old Town Hall, a must see, is the oldest such public building in Germany. Fall in love with the colorful row-houses occupied by shops, taverns and restaurants.
Cologne Cathedral at Night. Photo © 2014 Ron Elledge.
The Cathedral of Cologne is one of Germany's most important architectural builds. This Gothic masterpiece is situated in the heart of Cologne. It is the third tallest cathedral in the world and boasts the highest church spires ever built. Its construction began in 1248 A.D. to house the precious "Shrine of the Three Holy Kings" (remains of the Biblical “Three Wise Men”). Construction took over 600 years to complete. When finished in 1880, its construction had remained true to the original plans. When the city center of Cologne was 90% leveled by World War II bombings, the Cathedral was one of the only building that survived.
Chauffer, let’s get moving, take us to Kinderdijk so we can visit the windmills and learn just how this area of the Netherlands can stay dry when it is below sea level.
Kinderdijk Windmills. Photo © 2014 Ron Elledge.
Kinderdijk, is world renowned for its preservation of 19 windmills built between 1738 and 1740. These water pumping stations are the largest and closest group of windmills in the world. Today, most are occupied and maintained by single families living in them and maintaining them as they have been for over two and one half centuries. This complex known as the Kinderdijk-Elshout windmill complex was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.
Our journey is almost concluded, our entourage complete with traveling chef, bartenders, ship attendants, cabin persons, chauffer, concierge, and all support staff will see us safely to the port of Amsterdam and help us transfer to our hotel or airline.
We have fed on the finest of cuisine, imbibed in a variety of new refreshments, been pampered by cabin persons, exposed to worlds of adventure and observation, guided and educated through multiple countries. We have had someone look after us every minute of this eight day, whirlwind, life enriching holiday. It is astounding to reflect on the culture, cuisine and customs we have consumed in such a short time.
Our conclusion: Traveling Europe with an Entourage – Taking a River Cruise, is one of the best decisions a traveler will ever make.
I will sum it up very simply.
OMG, what luxury, what convenience, what excitement! Which river cruise shall we take next?
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Ron is also a Freelance Writer/Photographer. You can see his collection of photography at Ron Elledge Explosed.