One of the most popular European river cruises is one that includes sailing by the 40+ amazing Rhine River castles like the one seen in the photo above. Emerald Waterways features the Rhine River on several of its itineraries, and I sailed the Emerald Star river cruise ship from Nuremberg to Amsterdam on its "Rhine-Main Discovery" eight-day itinerary.
This excellent itinerary included an afternoon sailing the Middle Rhine where most of the castles are located, but also featured many quaint German towns with medieval towers, half-timbered buildings, and fascinating history. Many on our cruise were doing the 15-day voyage from Budapest to Amsterdam, but it can also be split into two segments (Budapest to Nuremberg or Nuremberg to Amsterdam) for those who don't have has much time off.
This 48-page photo journal provides a day by day look at the things we saw and did from the Emerald Star on the Main-Danube Canal, Main River, and the Rhine River.
Day 1 - Nuremberg - Sausages for Lunch
Our Emerald Star river cruise began with a flight to Nuremberg. Our ship wasn't sailing until the late afternoon, so we used the time to wander around the old city and to have the first of several German lunches.
This "light" meal was traditional Nuremberg sausages, which are tiny compared to those seen in other towns. According to local folklore, in medieval times, all cities were surrounded by walls, and the gatekeeper locked their gates at night. Sometimes men who were partying or working late would get locked out. Their wives took food down to the gate for their men, but the gatekeeper wasn't allowed to open it after dark. The only way to get dinner outside the gate was to pass it through the keyhole. So, the smart women of Nuremberg started making their sausages thin!
In addition to chowing down on some very greasy sausages (not the best we had in Germany), we wandered around the old town to stretch our legs after the long trip from the USA.
Day 1 - Nuremberg - A Walk Around the Old Town
Nuremberg is a fascinating city, with historical significance from the middle ages through the second World War. Those on the 15-day Emerald Star voyage from Budapest to Amsterdam had a guided tour of the city, but since we were joining the ship for an 8-day cruise, we didn't have time to see all of the important Nazi sites outside the old city center like the Nazi parade grounds, Congress Hall, or the war crimes courthouse.
Organ music drew us inside the Church of St. Lawrence (St. Lorenz), a medieval church built about 1400. Today the church is Lutheran, and it was badly damaged in World War II. Nice to see it was restored, and the organ music waffling out the doors was quite impressive.
After exploring a while, it was time to head to the Emerald Star. The river cruise ship was docked on the Main-Danube Canal that links the Main and Danube Rivers. The Main flows westward for 82 miles and dumps into the Rhine River; the Danube flows eastward to the Black Sea. The 106-mile long Canal enables ships to sail from the North Sea to the Black Sea and contributed greatly to the growth of European river cruising when it was completed in 1992. The canal runs from Bamberg on the Main River to Kelheim on the Danube River. It carries ships over the continental divide of Europe. Boarding in Nuremberg, we went through about 10 of the 16 locks on the Canal. Our entire journey had over 30 locks.
Boarding the ship was easy, and I had time to shower, unpack, and take a much-needed nap before attending the safety briefing, welcome aboard party, and then dinner.
The Emerald Star left Budapest about a week or so before, and 70 of the guests disembarked in Nuremberg. The rest who had sailed from Budapest joined the 67 of us who boarded in Nuremberg for the journey to Amsterdam. Everyone is from an English speaking country---USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia. I've sailed with Emerald Waterways' upscale sister company Scenic Cruises twice (Scenic Jewel and Scenic Crystal). This ship looks similar, and the primary difference I noticed the first evening is that Scenic has an open bar, and Emerald does not. Emerald does include wine, beer, and soft drinks at lunch and dinner, but you have to charge to your cabin at other times.
Our first dinner on the Emerald Star was a good one, and I think everyone at our table cleaned our plates. Very nice meal and the servings were right-sized, but the waiter told us we could order as much of the same or different items we wanted.
I was in bed by 10 pm, and ready to go to sleep, despite my hour-long afternoon nap.
Day 2 - Bamberg Walking Tour
The Emerald Star docked in Bamberg very early in the morning (about 6:30 am). I had my first breakfast on the ship. It was good--standard river cruise fare (but no champagne like on Scenic, but I didn't miss it). Nice that they had rubbery bacon for the Brits and crispy bacon for the Americans. Also an omelet bar, but baked beans and Vegemite for the tastes of others.
We had an included walking tour of Bamberg and left the ship at 8:45 for the short bus ride (about 5-10 minutes) into town. We had 6 groups, with one being the "slow walkers". Glad to see this adaptation for those with mobility issues. They saw everything we did except didn't walk up to the cathedral, which sits on a hill overlooking the town. The ship had nice maps of the town and provided good info on the sites (e.g. stats like dates something built, fun facts, etc.) Learned that the Germans say Bomb-bearg rather than Bam-berg. (The a is pronounced like in care.) So, use that pronunciation if you want to sound German.
Bamberg is located in Upper Franconia and is in the state of Bavaria, but the residents consider themselves Franconians. The Old Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993, so little has been changed (no satellite dishes/television antennas in old town).
We used the audio "whisper" devices to listen to the guide. Those devices sure make tours much better since you can hear the guide without having to stand right next to her/him. Our guide was named Sabrina, and she is a college student in her last year of college in Bamberg. She plans to be an English teacher, so her English was better than mine. She was very cute and funny, which always helps. The buses dropped us off at the concert hall, which was about a 10-15 minute walk from the old town, which is mostly pedestrian.
Leaving the concert hall, we first walked along the river while Sabrina filled us in on the background of Bamberg. The town is built on seven hills, just like Rome. The city was first mentioned in 902 and has had a Catholic bishop since 1007, so Bamberg has been a center of European civilization for over 1000 years. The buildings are almost like a lesson on the evolution of European architecture, and it was fascinating to see structures from the 12th century up to today.
Day 2 - Bamberg - Walk Around the Old Town
Arriving in the old town, we immediately crossed an old bridge over the Regnitz River, which is a tributary of the Main River. The Emerald Star was docked on the Main-Danube Canal, which bypasses the city. The Old City Hall sits on this bridge, which seems pretty unusual. The half-timbered part of this old building was completed in 1440, and the rest finished in 1668. The river flows on both sides of the building, and it sits in the middle of some rapids that have a kayaking course set up (you can tell by the poles hanging over the river). Legend says that the old city hall was built "in the air" over the river because the Bishop of Bamberg would not give the town any land to build a city hall on.
Day 2 - Bamberg Old City Hall
Quirky architectural touches like this one on the Old City Hall of Bamberg are quite funny. The artist added a three-dimensional look to the outside, didn't he?
Looking over the side of the bridge along the river, we could see the old fisherman's houses in the area of Bamberg called "Little Venice". Like other places in the world with "Little Venices" (e.g.Mykonos), it didn't look much like Venice at all, other than the buildings were built right on the water.
Crossing the bridge, we arrived in the old town and noticed many of the traditional half-timbered buildings, many of which have taverns on the ground floor--a real beer lover's delight. We stopped outside one of the oldest taverns, which dates back to 1405. It is named Schlenkerla, and our group returned there after the tour to have a Rauch bier (smoke beer), whose inky-black color resembles Guinness, but whose distinctive flavor comes from roasting malt over beechwood. It tasted better than it sounds, and the price was not bad--2.80 euros for a pint (no smaller sizes).
Day 2 - Bamberg Cathedral
Leaving the tavern/shopping area, our tour group walked up a bunch of stairs to visit the Cathedral Quarter. Bamberg's Cathedral of St. Peter and St. George was consecrated in 1237. It features both Romanesque and Gothic architecture. It has four towering steeples and is quite impressive inside. One famous statue inside, the Bamberg Rider, dates back to 1225. St. Stephen of Hungary was said to be the model for the piece of art. The tomb of King Henry II and his wife Kunigunde is also inside, as is the tomb of Pope Clement who died in 1047 and is the only Pope buried north of the Alps.
We walked into the courtyard of the Old Court next door to the cathedral. The two-story building has balconies surrounding the courtyard with hanging flower baskets--very colorful! The building is not open since it is not considered safe, but outdoor plays are held in the courtyard and some of the 2011 movie "The Three Musketeers". Coincidentally, I was in Bamberg in 2011 during the filming, but we didn't take the time to wait to see if Orlando Bloom ever appeared.
Day 2 - Bamberg New Residence Garden
Our last stop on the Bamberg walking tour was across the street from the Cathedral and the Old Court. It is a large 17th-century building called the New Residence. We didn't visit inside the New Residence but did visit the gorgeous rose garden, which is on a balcony overlooking the Old Town. The bishop who built the New Residence planned to have three large wings but had to quit after two were built due to lack of funds. It's still very large, but you can see large blocks protruding from one end of the second wing where they planned to hook on the third wing. Interesting. We all enjoyed snapping photos of the old town before telling Sabrina goodbye.
Sabrina warned us that the staff at the Schlenkerla tavern weren't very nice, but we all agreed we wanted to have a smoke beer there since it is the most famous. The staff did remind me of the NYC deli staff who either ignore you or are just generally rude. Even though it was only 10:30 am, the place was filled with German speakers and some non-German tourists. Never too early for a beer when on vacation.
Leaving the tavern, we did a little shopping before heading back to the concert hall to meet the buses at 12:45 or 1:00. Back on the ship, we had lunch--I just ate a nice salad, but the baked fish got rave reviews from our table. Since I just had a salad, I had a bowl of ice cream for dessert.
Day 2 - End of Bamberg Walking Tour and Back on the Emerald Star
The Emerald Star sailed from Bamberg a little after 2 pm, headed for Wurzburg. The river cruise ship joined the Main River not far from Bamberg--no more canal, but still many locks. The river was very narrow but widened as we headed towards the Rhine.
We had a free afternoon except for a 4:15 tour of the galley. As usual, I was amazed how such a small space could feed so many people.
Our group had another enjoyable dinner. The presentation and serving sizes are perfect, and the wait staff kept the complimentary wine flowing.
After dinner, we joined in with musical trivia in the lounge. Our team did very well but came in second. I think almost everyone played since the lounge was full.
Day 3 - Wurzburg
The next day was another busy one on the Emerald Star. We had an educational, but tasty morning on the ship (didn't have to set an alarm) with a presentation on German food and drinks and a demonstration on how to make apple strudel.
After an early lunch, we had a choice of an optional tour to Rothenburg or an included tour of the Residence at Wurzburg, followed by free time in the city of Wurzburg.
Our ship docked in Wurzburg about 11 am, and we had a light lunch at 11:30 before leaving for Rothenburg at 1:15. This view of the Marienberg Fortress, which overlooks the Main River, was a perfect picture from the huge window in my cabin.
Day 3 - Rothenburg - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The bus ride from the Emerald Star in Wurzburg to Rothenburg along part of the famous Romantic Road took about an hour and a half. The rural scenery was lovely, with lots of vineyards, corn, sugar beets, and sunflowers growing in the fertile fields of this Franconian area. The road is called the Romantic Road after the Romantic form of art, not because it is romantic.
We had an excellent guide, one of my most memorable. She was like a grandmother who loved to tell off-color, slightly raunchy stories. She looked a little like an older Mary Poppins. Her English was excellent because she spent six years in the USA as part of a "tour guide exchange program" between her agency and AAA in the US. She lived in about eight different states during her stay, so she is familiar with American culture. Very funny and entertaining.
I won't take the space to write the details of her many stories, but her analogy of comparing the bathroom on the bus to mail delivery was quite creative. We were all happy she had the audio device since we didn't want to miss a word of her talk. Another memorable story involved a goat's scrotum. In olden days, the Franconians didn't have nice bottles or boxes to store wine in, so they used what was available. Today's elegant Franconian wine bottles certainly have a distinctive shape, don't they? They are called a Bocksbeutel, and the shape has a very interesting history. (I'll let you search for that one.) Enough said.
Day 3 - Rothenburg - Picture Perfect Town
Arriving in Rothenburg about 2:00, we had a walking tour of this very touristy city. Rothenburg has 40,000 residents and 4 million visitors a year! It's quite lovely, with well-preserved, renovated buildings inside the city walls. It's so picturesque, it kind of reminds me of Bruges, Belgium--almost too perfect.
Day 3 - Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany. It is great fun to wander the narrow streets and take photos along the way.
Day 3 - Rothenburg Market Square
Like many medieval towns, the Market Square of Rothenburg is the central hub of the city.
Day 3 - Rothenburg City Hall Tower
The City Hall Tower in Rothenburg is the town's highest point. Those who climb the 220 narrow steps plus climb a ladder to the top are rewarded with great views. Since I had to choose to either climb to the top or enjoy a cold beer in a local tavern, I skipped the top of the tower. It costs 2 euros to step out on the tiny observation level and take in the magnificent view, but the fee is not collected until you reach the top. Can you imagine climbing up there without a 2 euro coin in your pocket?
Day 3 - Rothenburg Medieval Crime Museum
Sometimes when visiting a quaint old medieval town like Rothenberg, you might only think of the beauty of the old buildings and romanticize about life in the middle ages. I doubt many of us would survive long. Filth, waste, and cruelty were part of everyday life.
The Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg demonstrates some of the punishments dished out for even minor offences. For example, this ducking cage (similar to ducking stools) was used mostly to punish women who were accused of being prostitutes, witches, or gossips. Some of the other torture devices were much worse.
Day 3 - Rothenburg - Sausages, Schneeballs, and Wine
Our guide led a very nice hour-long tour and then gave us a couple of hours of free time. During the included tour, we had time to sample some of the many delightful tastes of Rothenburg. My favorite was a large plate of four or five different types of hot bratwurst (along with mustard and ketchup) from one of the local meat shops. All were delicious, but since they were hot (temperature), I found myself wishing I had a couple of hot dog buns.
The second thing we tasted was the famous Rothenburg "snowball", (Schneeball) which is made of pie crust dough that is deep fried and then rolled in flavored sugar like lemon or chocolate or cinnamon or a hundred other different flavors. They are very tasty, and you can store them in a tin for over a year, according to our guide.
We also learned about German Franconian wine that is sold in the unique round shape called a Bocksbeutel. Only the German Bocksbeutel wine and Portuguese Mateus wine is sold in this shape of a bottle. According to our guide, the German Bocksbeutel wine industry has been suing the Mateus wineries for several years to make them change the shape of their bottles. Time will tell.
After the guided tour, our group had a cold beer at an outdoor tavern before going off exploring for an hour or so. I took a lot of photos but didn't buy anything. It's a very touristy town, but fun to explore.
Day 3 - Scenic View of Rothenburg
Everyone was on time for the bus at 5:00 pm and back on the ship by 6:15. Got cleaned up quickly in time for the daily briefing.
Dinner was at 7 pm as usual. I had the grilled feta cheese wrapped in bacon and accompanied by a red bean mousse topped with coriander; baked chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, along with grilled zucchini and olive potatoes; and walnut ice cream with a pear compote and egg liqueur sauce for dessert.
After a long day and a large dinner, I was ready for bed.
Day 4 - A Morning in Wertheim
The next day was another busy one in Germany. Since river cruise fares like those with Emerald Waterways include tours in most ports of call, everyone is out and off the boat every day (if they wish).
The Emerald Star arrived in Wertheim during breakfast, and about 40 of us were off the ship on an "Emerald Active" tour before 9 am. Often these tours are on the bicycles the ship provides (not e-bikes like sister company Scenic Cruises), but very nice road bikes. Our tour was a "hike" rather than a biking active adventure. I knew there wasn't gonna be much hiking when I saw our guide's nice walking heels--not walking shoes. We did walk up a steep hill (took about 10 minutes) to Wertheim Castle, but that was the only strenuous activity. It was fun for me to see Wertheim again for the first time in several years.
Wertheim sits at the confluence of the Tauber and Main Rivers and has long had major flooding problems, most recently in 2011. This latest flood was one of the worst because several feet of water stayed in the town for over three weeks. Most of the time, the water recedes in just a couple of days, according to our guide, but when it stays longer, it does much more damage.
The town had cleaned up well over the past five years and looked very nice as we strolled all the way up to the castle, which provides fantastic views.
Day 4 - Wertheim Began on the Right Bank of the Main River
Wertheim started out as a town on the right bank of the Main River shown in this photo. However, after the Wertheim Castle was built on the left bank, most residents moved across the river, which is subject to more flooding. According to our guide, the name "Wertheim" means "town with no floods" or something similar. Either the guide was joking or the town is misnamed!
Day 4 - Wertheim Street Scene
Our early morning walk through Wertheim was quiet, but the views of the narrow streets were amazing.
Day 4 - Wertheim Market Square
Like other medieval German towns, Wertheim has a lovely market square surrounded by shops, taverns, and historic buildings.
Day 4 - Narrowest House in Wertheim
This tiny half-timbered house is the narrowest one in Wertheim. Like many buildings in the town, the ground floor is a shop, while the upper floors are residences.
Day 4 - Wertheim Castle
The steep hike up to see Wertheim Castle takes about 10 minutes, but is paved and not difficult for those who have time. Construction began in the 12th century, and it took over 500 years to complete. Makes our lengthy public works projects look speedy, doesn't it? Wertheim Castle is one of the largest stone castles in southern Germany. Driving through the countryside, the red sandstone used in its construction often lines the cliffs.
Day 4 - View of Wertheim from Castle
While we were touring Wertheim, the Emerald Star sailed on towards Miltenberg. The rest of the guests not doing the walking tour of Wertheim left the ship a few minutes after we did and took buses to Miltenberg so they would have more free time in the town.
This view of the Main River is lovely, and it's difficult to believe that this city has so many problems with flooding.
Day 4 - Wertheim Wall Mask
The residences of Wertheim are very close to each other. Sometimes in the middle ages (like today), neighbors didn't get along. One man disliked his neighbor so much that he put this face with a tongue sticking out on his building looking into his neighbor's window. Guess we'd call that passive-aggressive behavior.
After our "hike" around the town, we had time for a beer before boarding a bus for Miltenberg, about 30 minutes away.
Just before arriving in Miltenberg, we crossed back into Bavaria, and our guide talked about how much better we could all breathe and how much greener and lovelier the countryside was. Not a surprise and she and her husband live in Miltenberg.
Day 4 - Miltenberg - Elvis and Napoleon Slept in the Giant's Inn
Since those on our bus did a walking tour of Wertheim before moving to Miltenberg, we only had about an hour in Miltenberg before lunch. This town looks exactly like a traditional Bavarian town--lots of half-timbered buildings, bright colors, and steep roofs.
We walked by The Giant's Inn, which is a brewery and hotel. The hotel's claim to fame is that it's the oldest hotel in Europe and has had both Napoleon and Elvis as guests. Elvis was stationed near Miltenberg when he was in the Army, so the story is plausible.
Our guide said you could sleep in Elvis' bed, but have to pay double since they promise to not have changed the sheets since he left! After our tour, some of us returned to The Giant's Inn and had a cold local brew. We pretended that Elvis once sat in our booth.
Day 4 - Miltenberg Market Square
Miltenberg also has a quintessential market square like many other Bavarian towns.
Sailing towards Rudesheim on the Emerald Star
The Emerald Star sailed from Miltenberg during lunch and headed down the Main River towards the Rhine. A glass blower from Wertheim came onboard to do a demonstration and also sold some of his glassware.
Before I knew it, the afternoon was gone, and it was time to get cleaned up for dinner. I had a ham mousse, green asparagus salad, and Parmesan mousseline appetizer; onion cream soup (my first soup); Poached salmon and steamed veggies from the "Emerald's classics" menu, and chocolate ice cream for dessert. Since dinner includes free beer and wine, we always made it a point to take a full glass of wine to the lounge after dinner.
We had the crew show in the lounge, where some of the crew perform and show their various "talents". This show was mostly comedy, and it was only about 45 minutes. Lots of fun to see them let their hair down.
Day 5 - Morning in Rudesheim
The next morning, the Emerald Star docked in one of my favorite Rhine towns--Rudesheim. After breakfast, we all took the cute little "choo choo train" into town (cars pulled behind a tractor). The train rode slowly through the town so that we could get our bearings and decide where to spend the morning.
The train took us through the Rudesheim main square and dropped us off in front of Siegfried's Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments. Although I think I've been to this museum four times, it had been a few years, so I drug two of my new friends into the museum, and they both enjoyed it as much as I did.
Tickets were 7 euros, which included an English language tour. You aren't allowed to touch the instruments or tour independently. It wouldn't be any fun without hearing/seeing the instruments play.
Day 5 - Rudesheim - Mechanical Musical Instruments
Siegfried's hobby was restoring mechanical musical instruments made (mostly in Germany) in the late 1800's/early 1900's. The fun part of the museum is seeing/hearing these instruments, which are still in working order. These violins were particularly impressive.
Day 5 - Rudesheim - Historic Old Home
Day 5 - Rudesheim - View of the Vineyards
Leaving the museum, we walked up the street to board the chair lift that takes Rudesheim visitors up to the top of the hill where the giant Niederwald Monument stands overlooking the Rhine. The Emerald Star had arranged for us to use our boarding cards to ride the cable car, so we didn't have to wait in the ticket line.
The chair lift passes over large stretches of vineyards. You can also walk up and or down from Rudesheim to the Germania monument, but that takes time, and we wanted to allow more time to explore the town. In addition, it's fun to see the vineyards as the lift makes its way up the hill.
Day 5 - Rudesheim - Niederwald Monument
The Niederwald Monument is 35 feet tall, weighs 32 tons and is made of bronze. The monument was completed in 1883 to celebrate Germany's unification in 1871. Not sure how they got it up the hill!
Day 5 - Rudesheim - View of the Rhine River
The Rhine River views were spectacular from the Niederwald Monument.
Day 5 - Rudesheim - Boosenburg Castle
The town of Rudesheim has many interesting castles and other historic buildings. One of these is the picturesque Boosenburg Castle, which is also called Oberburg Castle. It dates back to the 9th century. The old castle is privately owned and not open to the public, so visitors can only peek through the fence.
Day 5 - Rudesheim - Drosselgasse Street
Before returning to the Emerald Star, we had enough time to wander down the Drosselgasse, Rudesheim's most famous street. This narrow lane is about as wide as a sidewalk and only a few blocks long. It is lined with souvenir shops, very lively cafes, wine bars selling the local Riesling, bars selling the local beers, and coffee bars selling the famous local Rudesheim coffee. This coffee is served in a special mug and contains coffee, whipped cream, sugar, and Asbach brandy, which calls Rudesheim home and is German brandy or Brandwein. Visitors can visit the Asbach Distillery, which was founded in 1892, but we didn't have time since we needed to be back on board by 12:30.
Sun Deck Barbecue on the Emerald Star
Before sailing away from Rudesheim, the Emerald Star chefs prepared an outdoor barbecue for lunch. All was delicious, even though it was very hot on the sun deck. Fortunately, the crew put up covers over the tables, which helped a little with the sun, but not the heat. The barbecue featured salads, hot dogs, two kinds of bratwurst, and grilled chicken, steak, and pork. We managed to wash it all down with beer and/or my favorite lunch wine--rosé with ice.
Day 5 - Castles on the Rhine River
Soon the Emerald Star was sailing down the Rhine through one of the most beautiful sections of the river, which is lined with almost 50 ancient castles, tiny villages, and many vineyards climbing up the steep hills. Castles like the tiny Mouse Castle in the middle of the river and the famous Loreley cliffs and rocks are only two of the "must sees" on the river. I'm sure with our excellent weather that this was a highlight of the trip for many on our voyage.
I've been through this area several times, and it still takes my breath away. Although it was very warm, most of us stayed on the Sun Deck, although a few escaped to the Horizon Lounge or The Terrace one deck below. After taking over 100 photos of the castles in about two hours, I retreated to my cabin to cool off and shower.
When I last sailed on the Rhine in March, it was too cold to go out on the deck. Amazing how weather dictates so much.
Day 5 - An Evening in Koblenz
The Emerald Star arrived in Koblenz about 5 pm. We had an early briefing and dinner so that those who wished could go into town and enjoy the evening before the ship sailed at midnight.
Some went ashore for dinner, but we ate another good dinner on board. I had a Caesar salad off the "classic" menu since neither of the appetizers appealed to me. It was okay, but a little fishy--think they must have had added a super amount of fish juice to the dressing since I didn't have anchovies on top. My main course was a slice of lamb, which was delicious, and accompanied by string beans and olive flavored mashed potatoes. Skipped dessert since I planned to look for a gelato place in town.
After dinner, several of us walked along the Rhine to where the Moselle River joins. We wandered into town to see if there was any Saturday night "action". Didn't find any, but did find a gelato shop, where I got a scoop of lemon. We were back on the ship by a little after ten. Such party animals!
Day 6 - A Morning in Cologne
It was a quiet Sunday morning in Cologne, Germany. This large city of over one million residents (fourth largest in Germany) doesn't have an impressive quaint old town and lovely buildings we've seen elsewhere. It has an old town, but not as much as one would expect in such a large city that was founded in 38 BC.
The Allies destroyed about 90-95 percent of Cologne in World War II. When the war was over, the buildings needed to be rebuilt quickly, so most of them have a very square, utilitarian look. Luckily for Cologne and for visitors, the city's large cathedral was not significantly damaged. It's the tallest structure in the city and serves as a landmark for everyone.
Day 6 - Cologne
The Cologne Cathedral dominates the entire area surrounding it. Although the cathedral is magnificent, the buildings around it are not. Our guide said that one of the reasons all the buildings around the cathedral look so ugly is because it is so beautiful. What a great explanation.
This photo shows the size of the cathedral. Notice the truck and the tiny people!
The cathedral is mostly in the Gothic style. The cathedral was started in 1248, but not completed until 1880. Lack of money was the biggest cause of the very long construction period. The cathedral is built of very soft sandstone found along the Rhine River. Unfortunately, this sandstone turns black quickly and (even worse) deteriorates much faster than other building materials.
The cathedral has a staff of 60 stone masons and sculptors who are continually working on the building. Maintenance like this runs over six million euros/year. On most cathedrals, workers seem to be continually cleaning; in Cologne, they are replacing statues and parts of the structure. You can see parts that look much cleaner, but they are actually new parts.
Day 6 - Cologne Cathedral
Looking up at the Cologne Cathedral will give you a sore neck. Visitors who climb the 533 steps to the top of one of the towers are rewarded with a magnificent panoramic view, but we didn't have enough time. (That's a likely excuse, isn't it?)
Day 6 - Cologne Cathedral Gargoyles
As workers replace pieces of the cathedral, they sometimes take on a more modern look like these creepy gargoyles.
Day 6 - Cologne - Brühl Palaces - Augustusburg Palace
We only stayed at the church for a short while since our primary tour for the morning was to the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site Brühl Palaces, which date back to the 18th century.
This site has a large palace, a hunting lodge, and extensive gardens and park built for Clement August who was an archbishop and emperor. Augustusburg Palace is the large Rococo creation built over a 40-year span from 1728 to 1768. The exterior of the palace is baroque, but the inside is definitely Rococo.
Its grand entry and curving staircase look much like the Residence in Wurzburg, so I wasn't too surprised to learn they were done by the same artist. The palace has a lot of the faux marble, which I never realized is more expensive than the real stone. It is used when the designer wants the marble to have a repeating pattern that will look the same everywhere, and real marble doesn't look that way.
Day 6 - Cologne - Brühl Palaces - Gardens
After touring the house, we had about 30 minutes to walk around the large French-style gardens, which resembled Versailles. Really lovely.
Day 6 - Cologne - Brühl Palaces - Gardens and Fountains
A nice stroll through beautiful gardens is a quiet way to spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of touring.
Day 6 - Cologne - Brühl Palaces - Hunting Lodge
Leaving the Augustusburg Palace, we rode on the bus about 10 minutes to the hunting lodge. It was smaller, and we all agreed more livable than the formal palace.
The Falkenlust hunting lodge was built from 1729-1737 on the flight path of the heron, which was a favorite prey for falcons. And, Clement August loved his falcons. The heron flew right over the grounds near the lodge as they went from their nesting area in the gardens of the palace to their fishing grounds on the Rhine River near Wesseling. According to the guide, the falcons didn't kill the herons, but the Archbishop and his friends banded their legs and released them to hunt another day.
Sailing towards Amsterdam on the Emerald Star
We were back on the Emerald Star in Cologne by 12:45 and sailed soon afterward. It was a lovely afternoon to cruise on the Rhine, although the scenery after Cologne was much more industrial than any we had seen on this voyage. At 2:30, we had a cruise debarkation meeting and short briefing about Amsterdam, our last port of call. I decided to watch the broadcast from my cabin rather than attend live, which was nice.
I did leave the cabin a little after 4 pm to check out the tea time and discovered some delicious cakes, so I tried two--cherry and strawberry. Both were moist and tasty. I love that the Emerald Star had a pitcher of unsweetened ice tea and a pitcher of ice water on the bar all the time. The coffee machine serves all sorts of coffee drinks and hot water for tea, but the iced tea tasted much better to me, given our hot August weather.
We had the farewell cocktail party with the captain and staff, followed by the "gala" dinner. (very few jackets on men and not many women dressed up much either). Everything was good, as we had learned to expect on the Emerald Star. I had the sour cream mousse appetizer with cucumber spaghetti and honey-mustard sauce; game cappuccino soup (we asked what game and were told "white poultry" by the waiter). Someone joked at our table it might be one of the many wild white swans we saw on the river, but I think it might have been quail breast or just free range chicken. My main course was chateaubriand with bearnaise sauce and grilled vegetables. Dessert was Emerald Star baked Alaska.
After dinner, we adjourned to the lounge for a fun musical game that got everyone dancing. Love to watch some of the couples who have obviously taken dance lessons! None of us were very good but passable, and you didn't need a partner--many women and were dancing solo.
Day 7 - Amsterdam - Last Full Day on the Emerald Star
We awoke at the dock in Amsterdam and began the last 24+ hours on the ship. Some river cruises immediately disembark guests in Amsterdam, but this itinerary gives an overview of the city so that travelers can decide if they want to return. (And most do). Many onboard who had not visited the city appreciated that we had a morning guided tour with a canal boat ride. After lunch on the ship, guests had a free afternoon and evening for exploring or packing. A Dutch expert from Amsterdam came on board before dinner to talk about the Contemporary Netherlands. He was very interesting, and a good way to wrap up our educational experience.
Day 7 - Amsterdam - Canal Ride on a Small Boat
Our day in Amsterdam from the Emerald Star started with a bus tour around the city, followed by a canal boat ride. Touring on one of these low, narrow canal boats is the best way to see the historic buildings of the city. It provides a nice overview and gives visitors an idea of where famous sites like the Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt House, Heineken Experience, or Ann Frank House are located.
We had dinner the last evening on the ship and said our goodbyes to new cruise friends from around the world. The next morning, I had a transfer to the airport since Emerald Waterways includes all transfers in its fare. It was nice to have an Emerald representative waiting at the airport to make sure we all found our correct check-in areas. I wasn't surprised the cruise line delivered this final piece of excellent service since we had been pampered for a week. In addition to the pampering, we had enjoyed delicious food, learned much about Germany on educational tours, and met many fascinating fellow travelers. Overall, it was a terrific river cruise experience.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.