Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Scenic River Cruise: Scenic Opal part 4

I hope you are still “on board” for the final chapter of our Rhine river cruise on the Scenic Opal. We are now approaching Koblenz, Germany, where two of Europe’s most beautiful rivers, the Moselle and the Rhine, are joined together. As in all stops along the river, we can choose a strolling tour with a guide or a bus tour to a more distant inland venue. 


We chose the walking tour through the historic center of Koblenz. The architecture in the heart of this city is quite unusual. Imagine an architectural collage of style and structure covering about six centuries of building history.  Especially unique in the pedestrian shopping zone were the different types of gables on the rooftops, and many historic houses with oriel windows. High above, the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress sits on the mountain of the same name on the east bank of the Rhine and can be viewed from the riverwalk or visited by cablecar. 

Our Koblenz walking tour through the historic center was about 2 hours which meant that we could be back on board for an outdoor lunch.  Luckily, the weather cooperated and the ship’s crew prepared an eclectic BBQ feast with all the trimmings.

Tonight was our turn to dine at Table La Rive. This is an exclusive dining experience for Diamond Deck passengers. It features a six-course degustation menu with sommelier paired wines served to only 10 guests per evening. It seems as though each evening is more special than the last as we sail on to Cologne.


In Cologne, the filigree twin towers of the Cologne Cathedral--one of Europe’s most magnificent cathedrals--loom in the distance as we walk toward the Old City. The cathedral was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996.  Among the many treasures in the cathedral is the most celebrated work of art--the bronze and silver Shrine of the Three Kings.  The shrine was opened in 1864 and contains the bones and garments believed to be the remains of the Three Wise Men.

Other distinctive features of the skyline are the Church of St. Martin the Great and the Hohenzollern Bridge, an important part of Cologne as it connects Cologne's central station with major European cities on the other side of the Rhine. The city’s most famous product is 4711 eau de Cologne, a toilet water first created in 1709, and is still in fashion.

Like a dessert at the end of a meal, the bakery and pastry displays were the surprise ending to our Old City tour and were unlike any I’ve ever seen during any of my travels.  The accompanying pictures will give you an idea of the beautiful assortment.

The Port Talk this afternoon was all about Amsterdam, our final destination (and a little disembarkation briefing--sigh).  The farewell evening’s entertainment was the Scenic Opal Crew Show, a super fun affair.  If I didn’t know, I would have thought they were on hiatus from Broadway!


The perfect ending for this trip was Amsterdam.  This time we spent a leisurely day just familiarizing ourselves with the city. We’ll be here for a couple of days now exploring Amsterdam’s broad spectrum of recreational and cultural sights.  I’ll save Amsterdam’s adventure for a future post. 

And now I have to contradict my opening comment in the first post about this cruise.  Riverboat cruising has moved to the top of my future “wish list”…and there’s still many other itineraries on the Rhine to explore. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Scenic River Cruise: Scenic Opal part 3

You can read the previous posts if you would like to catch up with us…

Day 4 as we travel the Rhine, I think of a Roman poet’s quote: “O you wonderfully beautiful Rhine”.  A trip along the Rhine offers a “crash course” in European history and culture.  Combine that with the camaraderie aboard the intimate Scenic Opal and I rather wish time would stand still.

So here we are in Rudesheim.  This will only be a half day visit as we sail in the afternoon through the Rhine Gorge to arrive in Koblenz by late afternoon.  Our “Scenic Enrich” excursion took us on the ‘Winzerexpress’ mini-train for our private tour of Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett (Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum).  The collection, housed in the Bromserhof--one of the most beautiful medieval buildings in the
old center of Rudesheim--began when Siegfried Wendel bought an old clock with decorative columns and knobs.  He was so pleased with this clock that he added 30, then 50 and then more to his collection. 

In the summer of 1962 two young people turned up at his home and said: “We know you’re interested in old clocks and we also have an old music box which is contained in a beautiful walnut-veneered case.  The lid is decorated with an inlaid flower motif and it still plays.”  That was the beginning of one of the largest collections of mechanical musical instruments in Europe—a collection so varied that one can see, through these instruments, the history of mechanical music.

Back on board and cruising to Koblenz, Scenic provides listening devices used to inform us about the castles, cathedrals and towns.  As we cruised the World Heritage-listed Rhine Gorge, these devices provided commentaries on every bit of history we witnessed.  You’ll want to take these devices on tours as well as they enable you to hear the Tour Guide from a comfortable distance.  Oh, to be able to remember it all!

This evening we had a special ‘Portobello Dinner’ served in a separate section of the Crystal Dining Room.  Each all-Italian course was served to each guest at the same time.  It was really a grand experience and a treat to remember.  

Put it all together and the day was beautiful, informative, fascinating and yummy. Tomorrow, we explore Koblenz so stay onboard!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Scenic River Cruise: Scenic Opal part 2

Embarkation Day

We convened at the airport Movenpick Hotel in Zurich. Scenic Cruises had arranged transportation by bus from Zurich to Basel where we boarded the Scenic Opal.  An unexpected surprise was meeting someone from Boca Raton who was traveling with several family members.  Once on the riverboat, we met another couple from Boca Raton and I must say, Florida was well represented among many cities and countries.

After being escorted to our cabin, from the first greeting to remembering our personal preferences, our butler was always on hand to accommodate our every need.  Spoiled is an understatement.  With full access to a wellness area, massage services and a hair salon, a gym (though small), on board entertainment, Wi-Fi internet, e-bikes, trekking poles, and a luxuriously appointed suite, I just knew that this was my own private riverboat.  On day one I had yet to know how diverse and delicious culinary delights  would be. 

Day 2 was cloudy and cool.  We arrived in Kehl around 1:00 PM.  Cruise Director, Szilvia informed us during the lunch buffet that we had gone through 9 locks and still had four to go.  Myriad shore excursions (all are complimentary) happen each day and, believe me, this presents a big dilemma.  We chose the Alsace Wine Region
which included a visit to the Albert Seltz Vineyard situated in the heart of Mittelbergheim.  Albert, the 14th generation owner took over from his father in 1980 when he was only 19 years old.  A passionate winemaker, he has converted the vineyard to strictly sustainable organic agricultural practices and he passed on his vast knowledge of how the soil affects the grape.    We sampled five different ‘whites’. I bought a Riesling Brandluft 2010 to bring home.  Reds are usually my choice but these were quite special.  A Strasbourg city tour, Shopping with the Chef, and a visit to the Black Forest area were on the list of excursions.  Time didn’t permit to do more than one.

Tonight we met the entire crew at the Captain’s welcome cocktail party and then enjoyed a Gala welcome dinner with many delicious choices on the menu. More decisions!  

Day 3 we docked in Gernsheim.  Our choices for touring were Heidelberg Castle, Sweet tastes of Heidelberg, and the Speyer Technical Museum.  Heidelberg nestles below the magnificent ruined Castle, which is one of Germany’s most-visited historic sights.  Mark Twain stayed in Heidelberg for several weeks in 1878, and his thoughts about the city and its surroundings can be enjoyed in the first part of “A Tramp Abroad”. 

Explored the historic university town of Heidelberg known throughout the world as a lively, loveable city.  Rightly so.  Located in the heart of the Old Town is a long-standing institution, Chocolaterie Knosel, Heidelberg’s oldest confectioner’s store.  Established in 1863, it became a popular meeting place among Heidelberg’s residents and the students of the university, especially the young ladies attending Heidelberg’s finishing school who loved Fridolin Knosel’s exquisite creations.  The students would flock to the store, hoping to exchange glances with the fairer sex but their ever-watchful governesses were never far away.  Ingenious as he was, Fridolin Knosel created a delicious chocolate delight which he called the Student’s Kiss.  It became a gallant token of affection that not even the chaperones could object.  Yes…it is delicious and I have one as a souvenir—never to be consumed.

We didn’t get to the Renaissance Castle as there was so much to see in the picturesque town and we were having an early dinner so that we could attend a private concert (preceded by a guided tour) at Mannheim Palace.  The castles seem as if they were lifted from a Hollywood movie set.  A lovely musical program in a magnificent setting…a perfect ending for a memorable day.

The Rhine is one of the biggest shipping lanes in the world.  Being a commercial passageway, traffic on the Rhine is so diverse:  all types of transport barges, oil tankers, tugboats, convoys of container ships, tourist boats, fishing boats, ferries—even one named HELENE.  During daytime, sleep is not on one’s itinerary.  Sitting and staring is enough entertainment as compared to ocean going vessels.

Many mornings we awoke already docked only to discover we were parallel to a public walkway along the river’s edge.  Architecture along the river banks ranges from castles to modern dwellings, RV parks, foliage, mountains, highways filled with cars of all sizes, cyclists, runners along the river walks, bridges, crops planted up the mountain slopes, churches and an area with flags of all nations. 

Yet to come: Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne and a few days in Amsterdam.  Gregory and I hope you’ll continue to sail with us…

Friday, September 2, 2016

Scenic River Cruise: Scenic Opal

How ironic that I, whose profession is travel, won a raffle for which the prize was a river cruise.  Riverboats were on my wish list but not in first place; and the itinerary wasn’t my first choice for when I would go on a riverboat.  With all that honesty revealed, my wish list has been reshuffled!  So, let me tell you why…

We began in Zurich, the largest city of Switzerland, which is a mixed hub for railways, roads and air traffic.  Zurich’s Main Railway Station (Zurich HG) is the largest and busiest station in Switzerland and is an important railway hub in Europe where you can shop at over 135 stores 365 days a year.  Zurich is ranked the sixth most expensive city in the world.  I can attest to the fact that taxis seem to be quite expensive which does promote walking.  

After checking into the Hotel Continental Zurich (member of the Sofitel group), we took advantage of our luxurious accommodations and enjoyed a brief rest after which the quite knowledgeable concierge sent us on our way with maps and instructions to take in as many sights as possible during our brief visit.

DADA, chocolate, cheese, watches and Helvetica typeface…what do they have in common?  They are Swiss exports.  Switzerland’s neutrality in the first World War made Zurich a popular refuge for artists, and one result of this was the creation in 1916 of the anarchic DADA movement.  The movement went on to conquer the world influencing artists and intellectuals in countries as far away as the USA and Japan.

Helvetica typeface was designed by Max Miedinger.  From the feather of Adrian Frutiger came Univers, Frutiger, OCRB and Avenir—the font for Apple products. Bruno Maag designed fonts for Swiss Broadcasting Corp and the Ubunto font family for the open source software Ubuntu.  What would we do without some Swiss cheese with corned beef  on rye  bread?  Chocolate — Lindt 
can’t be beat!

Day two began with a light rain so we enjoyed a leisurely buffet breakfast—compliments of the Hotel Continental.  Prepared by a creative culinary staff it ran the gamut from freshly squeezed juice to coffee (made to order) and every item in between.  Still trying to master the art of “stopping-just before-I’ve-had-enough”; grateful that there were no scales on the premises. 

Umbrellas in hand, we strolled to Old Town along the Limmat River which splits the city into two halves.  With so many museums and points of interest each visitor would have to select the sights according to personal preference and interest.  At Spiegelgasse 1 we visited the Cabaret Voltaire where the DADA movement began.  Nowadays, it also houses a museum, cafĂ© and shop.

Serendipity reigned.  While walking through Old Town I spotted one of my favorite shops frequented during my European travels—DeSigual.   I felt fortunate that there was a big SALE sign in the window so I had no trouble spending some of my Swiss francs.  Very difficult to pass up this opportunity. 

We had a recommendation for dinner at The Blue Monkey--a fun name for a Thai restaurant—which lived up to its reputation.  Leisurely walking back to the hotel, we discovered a Gelatto hangout with more flavors than I could count on both hands.  Well…I am on vacation, so why not indulge.

The next day we boarded the Scenic Opal, and I anticipated what was to be on my first experience aboard a luxurious riverboat on the Rhine River with a companion I love…my son, Gregory.  I hope you’ll return to our blog in a few days as we sail from Basel to Amsterdam.