ABOARD THE AmaCERTO – When the clock strikes half past noon, the apostles parade past Jesus while a cock crows and flaps its wings. On another part of the huge Astronomical Clock, the different stages of life are shown as a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man who pass before a scary Death figure.
Ever since I booked my AmaCerto cruise, I have been looking forward to seeing the famous Astronomical Clock in the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg. I had seen photos and a video of the clock but that was nothing compared to viewing it in person.
Since the French city of Strasbourg is one of the shore stops on my AmaCerto cruise, I already know that my visit to the Cathedral and the clock will be well organized and not require an extra fee. Shore excursions are part of the cruise fare on the AmaCerto.
Another big plus of the AmaCerto cruise is having cruise manager Réka Piros go over the day’s activities the night before. We meet in the comfortable ship’s lounge, enjoy a hot or cold drink and listen as Réka talks about the shore excursions and history of the place we will visit the next day. Réka is one of those rare people who knows a great deal of interesting information and can share it in an entertaining way.
In Strasbourg, we have a morning tour and an option to stay in town and catch a free shuttle back to the ship. The ship also offers different levels of difficulty for its walking tours. “Active” is for those who like a fast pace. “Regular” is for passengers who are reasonably fit. “Gentle” allows more time to walk and less walking when possible. Sometimes the “Gentle” group gets a smaller bus to do away with some of the walking and sometimes they leave the ship later than the other two groups.
To make the shore excursion process run smoother, AmaCerto uses a color-coded system. Once a passenger chooses a tour and level, the purser’s desk gives out color-coded cards shortly before the tour begins. Passengers pick up their color cards and look for the bus and guide holding a sign for that color.
The tour buses for these excursions are big and comfortable with plenty of large windows to see attractions during city tours aboard the buses. The Quiet Vox devices in our cabins ensure that we can hear our tour guides no matter how much hubbub surrounds us as we follow along on the walking tours.
All we have to do is loop the charged apparatus about the size of an iPhone around our necks, stick the ear buds in our ears, turn to the correct channel, adjust the volume and we can hear the guide loud and clear.
FAMOUS ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK
As for my tour, the Cathedral de Notre Dame deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in Europe. Our guide Jacqueline told us that the cathedral stands on the exact site of a Roman temple. Master builder Erwin von Steinbach started construction on the beautiful pink sandstone facade in 1277.
“For nearly four centuries, the cathedral was considered the tallest building in the modern world,” guide Jacqueline said. “The cathedral is unique because it has only one spire. The north spire was built in 1439 and a south spire was planned. But it was never built and no one seems to know why.”
Along with magnificent stained glass windows and lovely icons, the cathedral also has a commemorative plaque honoring all the American soldiers who gave their lives to help free Alsace during World War II.
Located in the front of the church, the Astronomical Clock was originally built in the 14th century and was renovated several times, most recently in the 19th century. It includes a perpetual calendar, a display of the actual positions of the sun and the moon, plus solar and lunar eclipses.
Considered a mathematical marvel, the clock has a mechanism that shows the official time, the solar time, the day of the week, the month, the year, the sign of the zodiac, phase of the moon and position of several planets. Then there are all the animated characters that launch into movement at various times.
To see the clock in action, we got to the Cathedral a little after 11 a.m. and waited. At about noon, a 20-minute video explains the clock’s history and how it functions. Then at 12:30 p.m., the clock swings into action and the little figures begin to move. Well worth the wait.
Returning to the AmaCerto, we are always given a happy welcome. Crewmembers are waiting with warm damp hand towels to wipe off the grime of the outside world. We are handed hot spiced cider or herb tea. Going away on our shore excursions is always a pleasant adventure but it is equally fun to return to the welcoming embrace of the AmaCerto.
Photos and video by Jackie Sheckler Finch