Avalon Waterways' "Central European Experience" is a wonderful cruise tour that includes two nights in a Paris hotel; seven nights cruising the Moselle, Rhine, and Main Rivers of Germany on the Avalon Tranquility river vessel; and two nights in a Prague hotel.
Our time in Paris was spent exploring on our own or with our fellow cruise tour guests. Paris is such an easy city to get around in, and its museums, monuments, and street scenes are fascinating. We left Paris very quickly--on the TGV high speed train to Metz, followed by a bus ride along the Moselle River through northeast France and across Luxembourg to the old Roman city of Trier, Germany. We boarded the Avalon Tranquility in Trier and spent the next seven nights sailing on three of Europe's great rivers--the Moselle, Rhine, and Main. Finally, we disembarked the river vessel in Nuremberg and rode on a bus to the gorgeous city of Prague in the Czech Republic. It was a terrific cruise tour vacation, filled with two great cities and numerous small river towns. We traveled through both the wine and beer regions of Germany, marveling at the checkered vineyards on the steep river banks. Although not as well-known or publicized as Danube or Rhine River cruises, the Moselle River is as lovely as both of these, and a real treat for wine lovers.
The details of our European river cruise tour follow below:
- Paris - Day 1 - Exploring on Our Own
- Paris - Day 2 - Afternoon at Versailles
- TGV Train and Meeting the Avalon Tranquility in Trier, Germany
- Bernkastel, Germany on the Moselle River
- Cochem, Germany and the Reichsburg Castle
- Cruising the Moselle River
- Romantic Rhine River Gorge
- Rudesheim, Germany
- Cruising the Main River
- Miltenberg, Germany
- Wurzburg and the Bishop's Residenz
- Bamberg, Germany
- Prague, Czech Republic - Day 1
- Prague, Czech Republic - Day 2
I also have cruised in Europe on the Avalon Panorama and the Avalon Tapestry II. These two ships were newer than the Avalon Tranquility, so the cabins and common areas are more contemporary.
Day 1 in Paris at the Le Merifien Montparnasse Hotel
Paris is a perfect place to begin a European cruise tour. There are numerous flights from the USA or elsewhere in the world, and the city is easy to navigate using public transportation. And the sights! Outstanding architecture, fascinating museums, historical churches, and lovely parks. In addition, don't forget the fashionable Parisians and their famous style and cuisine.
The Avalon Waterways representative met us at the airport and we transferred via bus to the Le Meridien Montparnasse, which is now the Pullman Montparnasse. This nice hotel was the headquarters for our two days in Paris. Although we arrived at the hotel at 9:15 am, our rooms were ready. The hotel is lovely, very large, and close to several Metro stations (the Paris subway). Pullman Montparnasse is about a mile south of the Seine River in the 14th Arrondissement. Our room had good views of Sacre Couer, which was way on the north side of Paris, and of a wonderful old large cemetery, appropriately called the Cimitiere de Montparnasse, directly below our window.
Avalon Waterways had a help desk in the lobby of the hotel, and the staff provided maps, information on getting around the city, ATM locations, and a list of possible optional tours. We had free time the rest of the day until a short get-together before dinner to meet our cruise director and some of our fellow passengers. We caught the Metro and rode down to the Eiffel Tower without having to change trains. The lines to go up in the tower were atrocious, so we decided to spend our time walking along the river and the Champs Elysees since the day was so nice.
The walk was lovely, and we did a little window shopping in the designer shops near the Champs Elysees. The Metro system is easy to use and covers the city well. We were back at the hotel by 3:30 so we stretched out and took naps before our Avalon get together at 6:00. I also went down to the lobby and used the free WiFi. At the cocktail party, we learned we had 88 on our cruise tour, mostly couples that looked to be in their 60's and 70's. Although the majority were Americans, there were a few British, Canadians, and Australians.
After the meeting, Mom and I walked to the Tour Montparnasse and got lucky--a window table in the 56th floor bar with an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower. We decided it was much better than going to the top of the Eiffel Tower! Our two drinks were 24 euros, but the view was "free".
We had dinner at a small bistro a couple of blocks from the hotel. It was truly a French meal. Mom had French onion soup and French bread and I had flank steak covered with onions and French fries. We split a carafe of French wine. It was a fun ending to our first day in Paris.
Next Page > > Bus Tour of Paris and an Afternoon at Versailles > >
Versailles Palace in Paris
The next morning our group boarded three buses for a driving tour around Paris. We had a good drive around most of the city, but just stopped a couple of times to make photos. We had to laugh at the number of vendors selling 4, 5, or 6 Eiffel Tower replicas for 1 euro, depending on how close you were to the tower. There seemed to be as many street vendors as tourists! Our guide commented on how quiet the streets were; most Parisians are on vacation in August.
After lunch, mom and I took an optional tour to see the Palace of Versailles, which is about 13 miles southwest of Paris. For over 100 years - from 1682 to 1789 - French kings and their entourage reveled in the excesses of this magnificent royal court. Often the huge chateau was home to over 3000 visitors and 2000 staff. Even a short visit to Versailles will convince you that the frivolous royal lifestyle exhibited there contributed to the French revolution.
Versailles is much like any other "must see" in cities around the world--we heard people speaking many different languages, and I felt like it was a mini-United Nations. Those who have traveled much in Europe will notice that the expansive gardens and massive palace of Versailles looks a little like Belvedere Palace in Vienna or the Catherine Palace or Peterhof Palace of St. Petersburg. The original idea for Versailles was that it would be a hunting lodge, but obviously it became much more. Tourists are allowed to walk through many of the rooms, and the palace is gorgeous. Just seeing the Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I was signed, is worth the price of admission. From 2004-2007, twelve million Euros were spent renovating this glorious room and it shows. In addition to the many public areas, the tours also visit the elegant bedchambers.
Although you could easily spend several hours inside the palace of Versailles, be sure to save some time to explore the 800 hectares of French gardens. The gardens are extremely well-manicured, with trimmed trees and hedges, flower beds, and fountains dotting the landscape.
After our tour of the Versailles Palace and gardens, we returned to the hotel. Since it was our last night in Paris, mom and I rode the Metro to the Champs Elysses and strolled the wide boulevard with the other tourists, stopping at a sidewalk cafe for a light dinner. We were excited because we knew we would be joining the Avalon Tranquility the next day.
Next Page > > TGV Train and Meeting the Avalon Tranquility in Trier, Germany > >
Paris to Trier on Central Europe Cruise Tour
We had to have our checked luggage outside the door at 6 am the next morning. It was picked up and transferred via truck to the Avalon Tranquility river vessel, which was waiting on us in Trier, Germany. This was a great idea--not having to carry our luggage on the train.
We had a free morning in Paris, so mom and I walked over to the huge old cemetery we had been looking out on from our 20th floor room at the Le Meridien Hotel. It was a lovely morning, and we walked about an hour, returning to the hotel in time to check out and catch the 11 am bus to the train station with our group.
The train station was quite lovely, and we had about 45 minutes to have a coffee/tea and buy a sandwich to eat on the train to Metz. The TGV train left promptly at 12:39 pm and we zipped east from Paris towards the Moselle River. The train was quite comfortable, and although the TGV technically almost flies across the French countryside, we didn't have a sensation of going fast as I had expected. The TGV can reach speeds of over 300 mph, but usually runs about 160 mph when carrying passengers. We really only noticed the speed whenever we met another train.
The 1.5-hour ride passed quickly, and we soon arrived in Metz, France, where we boarded two buses for the 2-hour drive to Trier. The buses rode along the Moselle River, and we passed all the way through Luxembourg (30 miles) on the way to Germany. Nothing like 3 countries in less than 2 hours! We had a short walking tour of Trier, which is one of the oldest cities in Germany, dating back to Roman times. We saw the famous Porta Nigra, which is the only remaining fortified Roman gate into the old city. The bus also passed by many of the 48 churches (and 1 synagogue) in the 100,000-resident city. Trier is a definite "must see" for those interested in Roman history. Today, the city is a booming college town, filled with young people. I think we all would have liked to stay longer.
We arrived at the Avalon Tranquility, which was docked on the Moselle River near Trier, about 5:00 pm. Right before we got to the ship, it started pouring down rain. We got quickly checked in, and were delighted to find our luggage had arrived safely.
The vessel sailed away from Trier at 7 pm. Our first dinner on the ship was excellent, and the exceptional food continued at every meal we had on the Avalon Tranquility.
The next morning we awoke in Bernkastel, Germany.
Next Page > > Bernkastel, Germany on the Moselle River > >
Bernkastel, Germany on the Moselle River
Anyone who loves small German river villages will enjoy a day in Bernkastel. This quaint village is one of the most charming I've ever visited. It has all the things I enjoy about small towns in Europe--narrow winding streets, fascinating architecture, and good cafes and shops. Bernkastel also has a famous wine festival each September.
It was a rainy day in Bernkastel, but after a delicious buffet breakfast on the ship, we all donned our rain wear and took umbrellas for a walking tour around the old town. Like most other river cruise companies, Avalon Waterways uses the "whisper" audio devices that make touring much more enjoyable. The guides don't have to shout, and the passengers don't have to close ranks to hear the guide. I wish these were required for all tour guides!
We left the Avalon Tranquility on foot and strolled around the town with one of three guides. Even though we had about 30 in each group, you could easily hear and see everything. The central market was especially pretty, with its half-timbered houses and fountain. Overlooking the town is the Landshut Castle, which sits high on a hill overlooking the Moselle River. Unfortunately, this medieval fortress has sat in ruins for the past 300 years. Lining the hills along the river were thousands of acres of vineyards, and Bernkastel has the largest wine festival on the Moselle River in September.
We were back on the ship about 11 am and dried off a little before lunch. After lunch, we did a little more exploring and walked part-way up the hill to the castle. We returned to the ship about 4:30, just in time for the wine tasting event at the Vinothek, which was just a short distance from where the ship was docked.
The Bernkastel Vinotek was in the underground vaults of the old St. Nikolaus Hospital, which is now a retirement home. This was the most extensive wine tasting I've attended, with over 130 wines from more than 100 vintners available for tasting. Although most were white wines, there were a few reds like Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. I never realized that Riesling wines ranged from very sweet to extraordinarily dry. In addition to the Rieslings, the Vinotek had Elbling, Rivaner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinto Gris white wines. The sugar level of each wine, along with its acidity, type of grape, vintner, alcohol percent, year of harvest, quality, and selling price were all listed above each alcove where the wines were stored. If a wine wasn't open, we just had to ask. It was great fun trying just a sip of the many different wines, knowing that we needed to negotiate the stairs out of the cellar and the two-block walk back to the Avalon Tranquility!
We were barely hungry for dinner, but mom had an onion tart for an appetizer, and I had a Boston Bibb salad with a yummy orange dressing. We both tried the hot chicken consomme with slicked egg and snapper for our main course. Dessert was an ice cream dish for me and mom had two cream puffs. Although wine is included with dinner, I certainly didn't drink as much as usual. We were back in the room and in bed by 10 pm when we sailed for Cochem.
Next Page > > Cochem, Germany and the Reichsburg Castle > >
More on German Wines - About.com Guide to Wines
- German Wines: The Mosel's Steep Slope Rieslings
- Riesling Wine Regions
- Riesling Wine Classifications
A Day in Cochem, Germany and Tour of Reichsburg Castle
The Avalon Tranquility docked in Cochem, Germany about 7:30 am. The rain we had in Bernkastel had passed, and the day was beautiful. Like Bernkastel, Cochem has a large castle looming over the town, but the Reichsburg Castle has been restored and was included on our Cochem tour. It certainly dominates the skyline of the old town, so we were delighted to get an opportunity to visit. Fortunately for us, small vans transported our group up the winding road to the castle, so we didn't have to hike.
In addition to touring the Reichsburg Castle, we also had a walking tour of Cochem. The town is larger than Bernkastel and not quite as scenic, but pretty in its own way. Like Bernkastel, Cochem is surrounded by vineyards, and we all came away with a real appreciation of the difficulties of growing grapes in an area that could be flooded and was subject to the whims of mother nature. It's always interesting to me that guides make a point to show groups the high water marks in these river towns. Cochem souvenirs included wine and mustard, since the area is famous for this condiment.
The Reichsburg Castle was gorgeous, and many of the furnishings are historical, if not authentic to the castle. The fortress was restored in the 19th century, so our guides stressed that many of the interiors were designed from the imagination of the restorers. We all loved it since it looked just like I expected a medieval castle to look, including secret passages, suits of armor, and huge rooms with large fireplaces.
We returned to the Avalon Tranquility just in time to sail northeast for the Rhine River.
Next Page > > Cruising the Moselle River > >
More on German Wines - About.com Guide to Wines
- German Wines: The Mosel's Steep Slope Rieslings
- Riesling Wine Regions
- Riesling Wine Classifications
Cruising the Moselle River in Germany
The Avalon Tranquility spent the afternoon cruising the scenic Moselle River (Mosel River in Germany). Although a little cool, it was a lovely sunny day, and most of us stayed up on the sun deck, with its 360-degree views.
The Moselle is one of the longest tributaries of the Rhine River. The source of the Moselle River is in the Vosges Mountains of northeast France, and the scenic river winds almost 300 miles north through Luxembourg and Germany on its way to the Rhine at Koblenz. The river is flanked by vineyards along much of its route. Many of the vineyards are on very steep hills, some with a slope of more than 60 degrees! Fortresses also line the river, with most commanding a location on the towering hills over the sleepy villages. The river is not as wide or busy as the Rhine or Danube Rivers, but is certainly just as scenic.
Sailing along a lazy river like the Moselle for just a few hours in the afternoon reminded me of why I enjoy river cruising so much. Although a train track, road, and bike paths line the river, we had the best views.
After sailing a while, the cruise director arranged galley tours for all of us who were interested. It is always fun to see just how tiny the galleys are on river ships. We reached Koblenz about 6:30. Dinner was salmon (for me) and vegetarian Oriental (for mom). Another good meal. That evening we docked south of Koblenz on the Rhine River and a musical group, "La Strada" boarded the vessel and gave an excellent presentation of mostly well-known classical music.
The next day we would be sailing the Romantic Rhine River.
Next Page > > Romantic Rhine River Gorge > >
More on German Wines - About.com Guide to Wines
- German Wines: The Mosel's Steep Slope Rieslings
- Riesling Wine Regions
- Riesling Wine Classifications
Romantic Rhine - A Day in the Rhine River Gorge in Germany
I peeked out our French balcony the next morning, and there was fog over the Rhine River! The early September temperature was a nippy 48 degrees, but there was no wind. When we woke up, the ship was already moving upstream on the Rhine River, which is southeast, since the river primarily moves northwest from Switzerland to the North Sea at Amsterdam. The narrow gorge called the "Romantic Rhine" represents about 40 miles (between Koblenz and Bingen) of the 825-miles of river. The Romantic Rhine was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.
After another delicious hot breakfast, our cruise director started the narration of the two dozen or so castles along the middle section of the Rhine River. Although mom and I had seen them before (1985 and 2005), we certainly didn't mind seeing them again. I stayed outside on the "sun" deck, while mom sat in the comfort of the Panorama lounge. Since there was no wind, wearing both jackets I brought kept me plenty warm. I snapped dozens of photos of the medieval castles and the lovely green Rhine vineyards. The cruise director had provided a Romantic Rhine River map, so we had fun following our way up the river.
Due to heavy rains a few days before, the river was very high and muddy. The Avalon Tranquility had to slow down or stop at several of the very narrow places, including the famous Loreley rocks, to allow ships going downstream to have the right of way. (Since it is easier to slow down when going upstream, the downstream ships have the right of way.) The current was so fast that some of the very long river boats had quite a time turning the corners of the winding river. We listened to the story of Loreley as we passed the 430-foot high Loreley cliff, and saw the small statue honoring the beautiful sorceress. We also floated by the lovely villages of Bacharach, Boppard, and Lorch.
We arrived at Rudesheim, Germany just in time for lunch.
Next Page > > An Afternoon in Rudesheim, Germany > >
Rudesheim, Germany on the Rhine River
Before going ashore in Rudesheim, the Avalon Tranquility passengers had a nice lunch with salad, fresh pork, pasta with cheese and shrimp, and walnut ice cream (me) and cream puffs with hot brandy sauce (mom). Another excellent meal on the Avalon Tranquility!
Rudesheim is one of Germany's best known wine towns. We had a small motorized "train" to carry us the short distance into town. Most of the Avalon Tranquility passengers went inside Siegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum for an included tour, followed by a sampling of the famous hot Rudeseim Coffee, which is made from Asbach Uralt wine, sugar, and whipped cream. If you haven't been to Rudesheim before, this museum is great fun since you get to hear (and see) the over 350 mechanical music boxes and cabinets at work. Some are tiny, others are huge.
Mom and I had toured this fascinating museum a few years before, so since the day was so lovely, we decided to strike out on our own and take the chair lift gondola ride to the top of the mountain for a view of the Rhine River. The sun had come out by then, and the small, 2-person gondola rode over the vineyards along the river up to the top of a hill, where the large Neiderwald Monument (114-feet tall) to Germany stood. This monument features the figure of Germania, and 32 tons of bronze were used to cast the monument in 1883. The hilltop was laced with walking trails, and you could even walk across the hill and take another cable car/chair lift down to another point on the river, followed by a river boat ride back to Rudesheim. We walked around for a while, admiring the views, before taking the 15-minute ride back down the way we came. Round-trip was 13 euros for the two of us.
Back down in the busy 10,000-resident town, we strolled the narrow streets, which were lined with outdoor bars and cafes. Given the early September crowds, I can see how they could entertain over 2 million visitors each year! Interestingly, since this is the wine region of Germany, we saw no "beer gardens", just "wine gardens", although I am sure they also serve beer. Mom and I tried a sample (1 euro each) of the "first wine of the season". It was almost like light cider since it can't have fermented long. After window shopping a little and strolling along the famous narrow pedestrian street called the Drosselgasse, we settled down outside at a bar with a couple we ran into from the ship, where we had a glass of white wine that was somewhat older than what we had tasted earlier (probably from last year).
Dinner was good (again). Mom and I both got the feta cheese appetizer and beef soup. I had the fish dish and mom had duck (her duck was better). I was good for dessert--a fruit plate--but mom was better--she skipped dessert all together. Our table mates had tiramisu and some kind of rich pastry.
The next morning we would join the Main River and sail towards the tiny German village of Miltenberg.
Next Page > > Cruising the Main River > >
Main River in Germany - Sailing towards Miltenberg
The next morning we got to be lazy, as the Avalon Tranquility moved slowly up the Main River towards Miltenberg. The Main River is about 327 miles long and rises from two sources--the Red Main and the White Main in the mountains near Bayreuth.
The Main has always been an important trade route, but its importance rose exponentially when the Main-Danube Canal linked it to the Danube River in 1992. Ships can now sail the 2,170 miles from Amsterdam to the Black Sea on a continuous waterway--the Rhine, Main, and Danube Rivers and the Main-Danube Canal. The Main is also important to Germany for its 40 hydroelectric plants. The Main-Danube Canal stretches from Bamberg to Kelheim, which is 106 miles away. Sixteen locks enable ships to pass over the European continental divide to the Danube River, which flows towards the Black Sea, whereas the Main River flows into the Rhine River and the North Sea.
While sailing, we all enjoyed sitting in the lounge watching more of Germany's beautiful wine country. The cruise director also arranged some games and a napkin folding class, but it was mostly a leisurely morning with beautiful river scenery.
After lunch, we arrived in the lovely town of Miltenberg.
Next Page > > Miltenberg, Germany > >
Miltenberg, Germany - Central Europe River Cruise Port of Call
We arrived in the Franconian town of Miltenberg just at lunchtime. After a delicious fresh pasta lunch onboard the Avalon Tranquility, we had a walking tour of Miltenberg at 1:30 pm. The annual local fair was ongoing, with carnival rides, food, wine, and vendors selling everything from pots and pans to handicrafts. Our local guide walked us right through the fair, which was set up on the edge of the river. We strolled along the main street of the old town of Miltenberg, gazing at the traditional half-timbered structures and the interesting bars and shops. Our walking tour lasted about 1.5 hours, so we didn't have much free time. Mom and I took our time walking back to the ship, but we didn't buy anything (not even a glass of wine or beer).
In addition to an attractive town square, Miltenberg is reputed to have Germany's oldest hotel, which is named the Hotel zum Riesen. This hotel has a lovely outdoor cafe, right on the main street. Miltenberg also has its own castle overlooking the town.
We sailed at 4:00 pm, and had an interesting and entertaining cookie-making demonstration from a local woman of about 50 who almost became a cloistered nun (she was a novitiate for several years and then dropped out five days from her final vows). She fell in love, got married, had a daughter, got divorced, and became a tour guide. She was very funny and drafted two men from the audience to be the cookie makers. We laughed and enjoyed the presentation.
Dinner was excellent. I think that overall, the food on the Avalon Tranquility is probably the best I've had on a river ship. Mom had salmon and I had lamb. The vessel serves free wine with dinner, adding to the festive mood at dinner each evening.
After dinner we had the crew show, which is always fun. They had story telling, jokes, "dancing", and a few skits. It was a great ending to a wonderful day.
Next Page > > Wurzburg and the Bishop's Residenz > >
Wurzburg and the Bishop's Residenz
The Avalon Tranquility arrived in Wurzburg early in the morning. The sun was shining again, but the temperature only ranged from 48 to 64 -- cool for early September. Low fog was hanging over the Main River, which continued to be lined with vineyards. We were in the Franconia section of Germany, still in wine country.
Wurzburg is a college town of about 100,000 residents. They were having their annual wine festival the week we were there, so the town was busy. The Avalon Tranquility docked on the outskirts of town and we had a bus shuttle us into town. Two rare things on our bus--a woman tour bus driver and a local guide from the USA. (She's guided in Wurzburg for about 10 years.)
Most of our time in Wurzburg was spent touring the Residenz, which was home to the Prince Bishop of Franconia. Built in the baroque style of the late 18th century, it was very ornate and expensive-looking. Although the Allies bombed the large imposing house during World War II, all of the interior furnishings, tapestries, and frescoes had been safely stored away. The Allies spent millions of dollars helping to restore the Residenz after the War. The most ornate room, which is filled with gold leaf, took the equivalent of 3 million euros to restore. The Residenz was used as a "stand-in" for Versailles while Orlando Bloom and the rest of the cast of "The Three Musketeers" movie were in Wurzburg and Bamberg for filming. Bamberg is being used as a stand-in for exterior shots of 18th century Paris.
After our tour of the Residenz, we had about an hour and a half to explore old town and sample some of the local wines. Since Wurzburg was almost completely destroyed during the war, it doesn't have any historical buildings other than those that were reconstructed. Still, it is a pretty little town on the Main River.
After lunch, mom and I read our books and watched the world float by through our French doors. We were amazed at the number of bicyclists riding along the river. I guess we saw dozens of them. Maybe it was because it was Friday afternoon and a beautiful day. Many of the cyclists looked like they were touring, since their bikes were loaded down with gear. We also saw two boats of 8 rowers, all of them old German men who looked about mom's age. Add in the continuing vineyards and locks, and it was a lovely early afternoon.
At 3 pm, we had a German historian talk about the changes in Germany over the past 20 years, followed by an apple strudel making demonstration. Strudel was delicious, but decided mom's apple pie was better. However, adding ground nuts to her pie might be a nice alternative occasionally.
Our next to last night on the Avalon Tranquility was the Captain's gala dinner. Most people dressed up some, but about a third of the men passengers didn't have jackets or ties on. Mom and I wore our "cruise informal" stuff and felt fine. Dinner was delicious. Think this may have been our best river cruise food. We had a shrimp/crab salad, followed by pea soup, gnocchi with truffles and topped with ground nuts, surf and turf (beef tenderloin and grilled shrimp), and baked Alaska. Finished off with the parade of crew with sparklers. Fun evening.
The next day was our last port of call--Bamberg.
Next Page > > Bamberg, Germany > >
Bamberg, Germany - Medieval Town on the Main-Danube Canal
The next morning we sailed along the Main River and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. An expert on the European Union joined the ship at one lock, gave his presentation, and jumped off at the next lock. Katalin the cruise director led our disembarkation lecture, followed by lunch.
After lunch, the Avalon Tranquility docked in Bamberg and we boarded two buses for the short ride into town. We strolled the ancient streets of this quaint town of about 70,000 with three guides and the audio devices. Mom and I had been to Bamberg before, but it was in late October, so the town looked quite different. The river was still very high, so we had to dock outside the city. Our walking tour passed by some of the movie sets used the previous week to film some of "The Three Musketeers" scenes. Our guide said that one large courtyard had over 200 horses in it for almost a week, and the cobblestones certainly smelled like horses had been nearby! We didn't have any celebrity sightings.
After touring around the town for about 1.5 hours with a guide, we had 2 hours free time for shopping. Unfortunately, about 15 minutes into our free time, it started pouring rain. Mom and I ducked into one of the breweries (with many other people) to try and wait out the storm. After about 15 minutes, we decided to go ahead and have a beer so we could sit down. We ordered a sampler of 3 beers (we both liked two of the beers, but not the third). The piping hot fresh pretzels were delicious.
We strolled a little more, but it kept getting colder and sprinkled occasionally, so we were early back to the bus, returning to the ship at 5:30. Our last dinner on the ship was another good one. I had fish, but mom's vegetarian dish was exceptional. It was carrots rolled in a sesame seed meal and fried--crispy/crunchy but delicious. Accompanying her carrots was an orangey sauce, Thai rice, and broccoli. Stracciatella (chocolate chip gelato) with a Bailey's sauce was dessert.
After dinner, we had a 3-man swing band who came onboard (like the others by joining at one lock and disembarking later at another). They were excellent. Katalin said their total age was significantly greater than 200! These 3 old guys enjoyed a good dinner and were sipping tall beers while entertaining us. Many of the passengers danced--and danced well!
We had started our packing before dinner and finished it after the show. It's much easier when you are just packing everything in the cabin, isn't it?
The next day we were to drive to Prague.
Next Page > > Prague, Czech Republic - Day 1 > >
Prague, Czech Republic - Central Europe Cruise Tour with Avalon Waterways
Eighty of the 88 of us disembarked the Avalon Tranquility the next morning in Nuremberg. The other eight were staying onboard for another week as the ship sailed on to Budapest. Our ship was only half full the week we were onboard, but it would be full the next week. I asked one of the waiters where everyone would sit when the ship was full (there were only a few tables empty), and he said they would set the tables for eight rather than six like we had. No wonder it seemed like we had plenty of room at each table! We had also noticed that the dining room was not as noisy as seen on other river ships. Being only half-full may have contributed to our (somewhat) quiet dinners, too.
Our Avalon Waterways cruise tour group left the ship at 8:00 am and rode the four hours to Prague, stopping once on the autobahn for a potty break. Our guide said that sometimes buses are stopped at the border, but it is rare. We barely knew when we crossed from Germany into the Czech Republic. That's one advantage of the European Union. We entered Europe in Paris, passed through four countries, and never had to show our passport until we left Prague.
We were at the Intercontinental Hotel about 11:30 and in our rooms soon after. This hotel is in a perfect location in Prague and I highly recommend it. We had a large room with two queen-sized beds. One side of the hotel overlooks the Vltava River and the Cechuv Bridge (the one with yellow columns and the metronome at the opposite side), the other overlooks the Paris Street. It's less than 10 minutes to stroll to the Old Town Square, and only about 20 minutes to stroll to the famous Charles Bridge.
Mom and I walked to a nearby pizza restaurant for lunch. While we were finishing, six others from our tour came in - small world. Guess we were all ready for pizza! After lunch, mom decided to rest with her book in the room and I took an optional two-hour walking tour of the "Secrets of Prague". We crossed the bridge and wandered in some of the narrow streets and gardens of the government building area and the Little Quarter. I'm not sure I would have found them by myself, as we took shortcuts through Metro stations and down narrow alleyways. Very fun, and I was glad to have the audio "whisper devices" to keep up. We had an inside tour of one of the palaces and walked by the US Embassy and by the Lennon Wall filled with graffiti and the large wall done up to look like a grotto. Leaving the Little Quarter, we crossed the pedestrian Charles Bridge, with its many statues, trinket stalls, and even more tourists. (lots of pickpockets, too). I was back at the hotel by 4:15.
Right before we got back, our guide told us that we should go towards the Old Town Square to see the end of Prague Fashion Week, which was concluding at 5:15 that afternoon. I went back to the room, grabbed mom, and we walked just a block down the tree-lined Paris Street and found masses of people watching models parade up and down a 1-block runway down the middle of the blocked street. Guess it was really appropriate that they used the Paris Street, which is lined with all the expensive Parisian designer shops like Cartier jewelers. Like we've seen on Project Runway, the patrons sat in chairs lining both sides of the runway, with the masses packed in behind barriers. Since we only saw the last half hour, many people starting leaving and mom and I got a great view of the haute couture fashions of some designers unknown to me. Very fun. The rain wear was almost comical--looked like some of those cheap plastic ponchos. The models (both male and female) were gorgeous and stick thin.
After the show, we continued onto the Old Town Square, taking in the lovely old buildings and churches surrounding the large square. It even had a special bed of flowers as part of the Prague Fashion Week activities. We sat on a park bench and did some people watching. The weather was cool, but nice. We wandered around a little and found a small Czech restaurant, Kolkovna, with outdoor seating. We both had beer to drink; it's cheaper than water or diet coke.
We were exhausted, but ready to do more exploring the next day in Prague.
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Prague, Czech Republic - Second Day in Prague with Avalon Waterways
We had a buffet breakfast (included with our Avalon Waterways cruise tour) at the hotel, followed by the bus/walking tour (with the whisper devices) included with the cruise fare. We left the hotel at 8:30 and rode buses up the tall hill on the other side of the river to the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. We walked past the Royal Garden and the old riding school, arriving at the castle just in time to see the hourly "changing of the guard". Not as impressive as London, but still interesting. We didn't go inside the castle, but visited two of the courtyards and walked along where dignitaries would enter the castle. We also walked down to the viewpoint overlooking the city and the river below. Our group went inside St. Vitus Cathedral and all marveled at the gorgeous stained glass windows and Gothic style.
After the tour, we walked back past the riding school to catch the buses down the hill and across the river to the hotel. Although a few dropped out, the walking part of the tour continued as we walked down the Paris Street to the Town Square and got the guide's description of all mom and I had seen the night before. Our tour concluded at 11:00 am at the Astronomical Clock, where we watched the bells ring, statues dance, and rooster crow to mark the hour. It was another place packed with tourists (and pickpockets).
Leaving the old town square following the tour, we walked from the old town to the new town, which was founded in 1348. Most of the buildings here date back to the 19th century, so it is "newer" than old town. Wenceslas Square (good king Wenceslas was Czech) is really a very wide street that stretches for several blocks. Mom and I paused for a drink (diet coke for me and cappuccino for her) at an outdoor cafe. After resting for a while and doing some more people watching, we wandered back to the hotel for a little bit before a late lunch.
Dropping one of our jackets and our umbrellas at the hotel, we walked back towards the old town and Wenceslas Square, pausing to eat a late lunch (with beer) outside near the Bethlehem Square. Using the map, I took mom across the Charles Bridge and we stopped along the way to take in the lovely views of the city. We found a small cafe on the other side (in the Little Quarter) and had coffee/diet coke before heading back to the hotel, arriving at 4:30.
That evening we went to a Czech folklore show and dinner. The Czech folk show was great fun. The restaurant was a very typical touristy place, with buses from various river cruise lines, tour companies, and hotels. We had groups of Americans, British, Canadians, Aussies, and Kiwis; Turks; Russians; and even one guy from Nicaragua! The wine and beer flowed very freely. In fact, a young man had large glass wine flasks with long tubes and he could squirt the wine into your glass from a couple of feet away. (or more) Very entertaining, and we never saw him spill a drop. He would refill your glass if it got a quarter inch low! Dinner was typical Czech--very heavy. Our guide said that Czechs don't eat many veggies and consider them garnish. We started with a large bowl of small dumplings about the size of a big cashew nut. The dumplings were flavored with ham and butter and cream. They were good (of course), but very filling. The main course was kebabs (lamb, chicken, and pork), some fried potatoes like tater tots, and another potato dish with thin layers of potatoes and cheese in a sour cream sauce--like potatoes au gratin. Dessert was cake with ice cream. Talk about being stuffed! The meal was okay, but the portions were too big and it was way too heavy for most of us.
Interspersed with all the eating and drinking was a lot of fun entertainment. They had a small combo consisting of a dulcimer, two violins, and a bass fiddle. The four musicians (two women, two men) also threw in a few Czech instruments, one of which reminded me of an Australian didgeridoo, and another reminded me of a bagpipe, but it was made of fur and had a much softer sound. They also had a woman singer/emcee who got everyone involved in the singing and dancing. (after we had all enjoyed copious amounts of wine/beer) Mom was drafted to dance with a guy from Turkey, and she did fine. We all laughed very hard and soon it was time to go back to the Intercontinental Hotel. Glad no one in our group had to drive.
Since our flight didn't leave until late afternoon, we used the next morning to take a walk around some more of the old city, seeing the Powder Tower and the Jewish Quarter, which features a cemetery with graves from the 1300's to the 1700's--none since. The cemetery is tiny, but people are "stacked" 12 deep in the graves.
All too soon, our time in Prague was over. After our first day in Prague, I had already decided it was one of my favorite cities. I certainly didn't change my mind the next two days.
The Paris to Prague "Central European Experience" cruise tour with Avalon Waterways exceeded my expectations in many categories. The itinerary was marvelous, with two great cities bookending a wonderful river cruise through some of Europe's most beautiful landscape. The ship's cabins and baths were large, had lovely views, and the galley featured consistently excellent food. This ship and itinerary would be a great choice for either first time or experienced river cruisers.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a discounted cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.