Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Spending Christmas on a new ship

Launched in 2015, the Silver II can carry 168 passengers.
Launched in 2015, the Silver II can carry 168 passengers.

When my sister Elaine and I were kids, we would sing in the choir on Christmas Eve at our small Ohio church. A landmark in town, the Bethel Church of Christ was founded in 1866 and was where my family had gone for generations.

This Christmas, however, I will be attending Christmas Eve services at Speyer Cathedral in Germany. This amazing place of worship was founded in 1030 and was the burial place of German emperors for almost 300 years.

Whenever I travel in Europe, I realize how young America really is. What is old to Americans is just a newbie in the grand annals of European history.

I’m usually home for the holidays but this year I will be cruising on the new Amadeus Silver II through France and Germany. Since it is such a long flight to Europe, I am combining two back-to-back Amras cruises for an 11-day cruise.

The first five-day cruise is called Advent on the Rhine. The second six-day cruise is Christmas on the Rhine. We will visit quite a few Christmas Markets in beautiful towns along the Rhine River. We will also take numerous excursions to learn more about the fascinating history of the places we are visiting.

One thing I really like about river cruises is the ship’s ability to dock so close to towns along the way. Often, passengers can just walk off the ship and take a short stroll to the heart of the town. Also river ships don’t carry as many passengers as big ocean liners so it is easier to embark and disembark as well as to get to know each other.

Silver II Holiday Itinerary

Our cruise will start in Basel on the French side and end up in Cologne in Germany. In France, we will be visiting Strasbourg. In Germany, it will be Kehl, Mannheim, Speyer, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Mainz and Siebengebirge.

I am excited about seeing the new Silver II. Little seems to have been written about her yet or about the cruises offered by Amras on the Lüftner fleet of river ships.

Launched in 2015, the Silver II is the 12th in the Amadeus fleet and the Silver III is already under construction with launch scheduled for spring 2016.

It may sound a bit confusing but the Amadeus fleet of ships is owned and operated by Lüftner, an Austrian-based company. Amras is a tour company with a marketing office in Chicago specializing in the North American market. Amras was named for a tiny Austrian village located on the outskirts of Innsbruck. The quintessential charming Austrian village, Amras epitomizes the best of Austrian hospitality and the joys that make international travel such a pleasure.

The Amras philosophy is to include as much as possible into a cruise and a cruise price so English-speaking travelers can cruise worry free.

For example, all shore excursions, WiFi and gratuities are built into the basic Amras cruise fee. Beer, wine and soft drinks also are complimentary during lunch and dinner. This is what Amras has arranged for its guests on the Silver II but other tour companies may have other arrangements on the ship. So it will be interesting to discover what is what as far as the cruise offerings go.

Silver II has Musical Heritage

I can have seen photos of the Silver II and the ship looks quite lovely and comfortable. The ship has four decks and can carry 168 passengers. As a nod to its Amadeus heritage, the decks are named Mozart, Strauss and Haydn. Cabins have individual temperature controls, flat screen TVs and walk-in showers.

The Speyer Cathedral in Speyer, Germany, will offer a special Christmas Eve program. (Photo courtesy of Amras Cruises)
The Speyer Cathedral in Speyer, Germany, will offer a special Christmas Eve program. (Photo courtesy of Amras Cruises)

Suites have a private walk-out balcony and outdoor seating while staterooms on the Mozart and Strauss decks feature French balcony views. I will be in a stateroom on the third deck. My room will not have a walk-out balcony but will have a French balcony which I’ve never seen before. According to the brochure, with the push of a button I can lower the upper half of the floor-to-ceiling window in my cabin to create a balcony effect.

The Silver II has one restaurant, a large Panorama Bar where most activities take place, a small corner Café Vienna for quiet coffee breaks, a larger Amadeus Club room with a small library and coffee machine, and a glass-enclosed River Terrace that offers wonderful views of the river. The ship also has an elevator, fitness room, hairdresser, massage room and small gift shop.

Learning more about this mysterious lady, the Silver II, could be quite an adventure. Hope you’ll come along for the journey.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Getting settled in

So far, this trip on the Amadeus Silver II has been a breeze. A driver was waiting holding a card with my name when I exited the airport in Basel. My Amras contact had already told me to exit on the French side of the airport, rather than the German one. Many people make a mistake and go out the wrong side so I was glad to be forewarned by Amras. On my previous arrivals in Basel, I needed to exit on the German side so this was a bit different.

I was the only Silver II passenger arriving on this flight so I had the plush taxi all to myself. The driver didn’t speak English but he smiled a lot and insisted on carrying my one suitcase.
It was only about a 20-minute ride from the airport to the ship. Even though I arrived at the ship around 11 a.m., my stateroom was ready. I was happy to be able to unpack, take a shower and get ready for a wonderful five-day cruise called Advent on the Rhine.

As I said in my preview blog about this cruise, I am taking two back-to-back cruises on the Silver II. Because it is such a long flight from Indianapolis to Europe, I am combining two cruises for an 11-day river journey. The second six-day cruise is called Christmas on the Rhine.

Sleek and Silvery Ship

The Amadeus Silver II is a beautiful ship and lives up to her name. She sparkles and shines. Launched in 2015, the Silver II has four decks and can carry 168 passengers. As a nod to her Amadeus heritage, the decks are named Mozart, Strauss and Haydn. I am on Mozart.

My cruise has 80 passengers, most of whom are German or Israeli with a small group of Japanese. The Israelis are traveling with their own guide and will be doing their own activities as well as eating at tables reserved for them. Although all ship personnel speak English, the main languages on this cruise are Hebrew and German. I am definitely in the minority as I don’t speak either of those.

Beef Carpaccio was one of my choices.
Beef Carpaccio was one of my choices.

The average age of passengers seems to be about 60 although there is a young New Zealand couple taking their first river cruise and their first trip to Germany and France. The cruise will be going from Basel to Cologne, Germany, with a heavy emphasis on visiting Christmas markets. We mostly have two shore excursions each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Because this is embarkation day, our program is shorter than usual. This first day we had tea time from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Panorama Bar. Along with tea and coffee, the welcoming buffet had bunches of little sandwiches and sweets. We will be having dinner in a couple of hours so I tried to steer clear of the delicious fresh pastries. It took will power not to eat more than one strudel.

At 6 p.m., we had the obligatory safety and ship briefing, followed at 6:30 by the captain’s welcome with an introduction of ship officers and a champagne toast.

First Dinner Aboard Silver II

Dinner was served at 7 p.m. in the restaurant. It doesn’t have a fancy name – just The Restaurant. Dinner is one seating and seats are assigned. The Israeli tour group, of course, was seated together at several tables. Germans also were seated together or as couples at individual tables as were the Japanese. Because the cruise is only half full, it is possible for couples to have tables all to themselves.

I was assigned to sit at a table with a 40ish man named Alex from the United Kingdom. Maître d’ Roman said we had been seated together because we both speak English. Alex is on a business cruise. He arranges tours for clients, especially for travelers with disabilities, and is on the Silver II to learn more about the ship.

It is interesting to see the ship through Alex’s eyes looking for disability access and I think I will learn quite a bit from him in the next few days. Alex is stubborn and uses crutches, although he said he could easily be a wheelchair user. He also told me that he has outlived his projected lifespan and greets each day as a gift. That is a good attitude for everyone to keep in mind.

The dining room is beautiful as is the whole ship. The décor is very appealing to me – light and open, elegant but simple. Floor-to-ceiling windows are everywhere. The dominant colors are deep mauve and ivory. Lighting fixtures are sparkly crystal. Strands and curtains of tiny Christmas lights seem to blend so well with the décor that I think they should leave them up year round.

Cuisine is considered international with an accent on Viennese. Judging from the afternoon tea and first dinner, I am going to be quite happy with whatever label is given the food served aboard Silver II.

Here is the Welcome Dinner Menu. It is quite a lot to type in but look at it and consider what you would order if you were here:

Beef Carpaccio Marinated with Truffle Oil, Old Aceto Balsamico and Ruccola Salad
Or
Caesar’s Salad

Beef Consumme with Sherry and Puff Pastry
Or
Chili Corn Cream Soup

Tortellini Pasta with Truffle Sauce and Parmesan (appetizer for everyone)

Roasted Lamb Shank with Fresh Vegetables, Creamy Polenta, Lamb Jus and Gremolata
Or
Grilled Fillet of Salmon with Potato Carrot Crust, Curry Sauce, Sautéed Savoy Cabbage, Snow Peas and

Basmati Rice
Or
Steamed Chinese Cabbage with Basmati Rice, Lemon-Soja Sauce and Asian Vegetables.

Stuffed Macaroon and Caramel Parfait
Or
Vanilla Ice Cream with Fresh Strawberries and Grand Marnier

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: My stateroom offers comfort, lovely touches

Pretend you are in my stateroom on the Amadeus Silver II cruise. I know it is not the same to walk through with words but I’d like to share some of the special little touches in my lovely room.

It is not one of the top suites on the ship but I am quite happy here. I did peek in a suite and it has an extra seating area with a little couch. It also has a walk-out veranda with a place to sit.

Lowered half way, the French window in my stateroom creates an inside veranda.
Lowered half way, the French window in my stateroom creates an inside veranda.

You can look at the Amras website to see the different levels of accommodations but I would not hesitate to recommend mine, room 320 on the Mozart deck to be exact

So first you have to enter my stateroom. Instead of an actual key or one of those credit-card type keys, the Silver II has an impressive old-fashioned tasseled chunk of silver with a piece of yellow plastic attached to it. The yellow plastic contains a magnetic opening device.

I knew it would be hard to explain so I took a photo of the stateroom “key” and also made a video showing how it is used. The Silver II has blocked YouTube use because it eats up WiFi so I am going to have to find a different way to download videos from the cruise. Looks like I will be searching for coffee shops with strong WiFi on our shore stops but I did find a spot to download this one.

Key is Also Sign That Passengers Are On or Off Ship

Anyway, the door opener is quite heavy and not easy to lose. It has the name Amadeus Silver II on the silver metal along with my room number. The tassel is a deep mauve color. The dominant décor colors on the ship are deep mauve and ivory.

The key is also used to let the staff know when we are on the ship or off. Whenever we leave the ship, we are supposed to stop by the front desk and pick up a plastic boarding pass. Then when we return to the ship, we turn in the pass and get back our key.

The bathroom is larger than on many river cruise ships.
The bathroom is larger than on many river cruise ships.

Now we are in my stateroom. Right away I noticed that the stateroom door does not slam shut behind me. Instead, it stays open until I close it. That is quite handy for moving suitcases or carrying in a drink and it is only one of the thoughtful extras I have discovered in my room.

To the left of the door is a walk-in closet. That’s right. I don’t even have a walk-in closet at home. One side of the closet has a rack for hanging clothes with plenty of room underneath for suitcases and two shelves overhead. My stateroom has storage shelves galore, more than I will ever use.

The other side of the closet has six big shelves with a small safe that you use by dialing in whatever four-number code you chose. Between the two sides of the closet is a full-length mirror. And the closet light automatically comes on when the door is opened and goes off when it is closed. Very handy.

Since I am a solo traveler, I have one bed. Actually it is two twin beds pushed together. Bedcovers are crisp white with a fluffy duvet on top and four pillows.

The bathroom also is big, one of the largest I have seen on a river ship. It has a nice-sized, glass-fronted, walk-in shower with a choice of using an overhead shower or a shower wand. Water pressure is good and the water gets hot very quickly. The sink sits on top of the vanity with three shelves on the left side.

Fridge Stocked with Pricey Drinks

A big flat screen TV is installed on the wall in an alcove opposite the bed. Under it is a three-shelf bookcase. Under the TV and under the bottom shelf of the bookcase are small LED lights that can serve as nightlights. The lights are really quite pretty. Makes me feel as though I’m in a disco but I turn them off when I got to bed.

On the other side of the wall close to the window is a counter with two more shelves below it and a refrigerator. A glass shelf above the counter has several wine glasses. The counter has water glasses and a big bottle of mineral water.

The fridge is packed with small bottles of coke, beer, wine, water, juice and liquor. I would rather the fridge were empty so I could use it. And the prices for these items aren’t cheap. One of those small Cokes costs 2.30 euros or $2.51 in U.S. dollars. That big bottle of mineral water costs 3.50 euros or $3.80 in U.S. dollars. Since my cruise is through Amras, I get the big bottle of water free each day, as well as a small bottle of water when I go on excursions.

As an Amras traveler, I also get complimentary beer, wine or soft drinks with lunch and dinner, plus free WiFi, gratuities paid and free shore excursions. I like the way Amras takes care of its travelers through so many inclusive options built into the cruise fee.

My room has two swivel chairs and a round table. It also has a desk and two nightstands on either side of the bed with two drawers each. The surprising thing is that those drawers are the “magic closing” type that I paid extra to have installed in my recent kitchen project. What is nice about them is that you have to only gently push the drawer and it will softly close on its own.

The whole wall on the right side of my room behind is the bed is brown leatherette. Looks very plush. There are two wall lamps on each side of the bed as well as two small reading lamps. Plus, there are lights in the ceiling around the room. Not one big overhead light in the middle of the room but eight lights nicely spaced around the room for better illumination.

My Favorite French Window

Then there is that wonderful French window. I have never had one of those before and really love it. The floor-to-ceiling window in my stateroom covers almost the entire wall. I don’t have a walk-out veranda but I have an inside veranda. What I do to bring the outside in is to push a button and the upper half of the window comes down. It does feel as though I am sitting outside.

The window wall is framed with wood, almost like the window is a work of art, which it is. The scenery outside that window is gorgeous and changing. The window does have heavy drapes which cruise director Lorelay has already told us in our first-night briefing are very important.

This is a Rhine River cruise, not an ocean cruise. We may go to sleep with nothing around us but the river and the shore in the distance. Then we may wake up docked near a small town or a park or even another ship.

And, as Lorelay warned, we could be in for a rude awakening if we left our curtains open and come out of the shower or the bed au natural and give a surprise show to unsuspecting people outside our big window. Good to know.

Strasbourg traditional Christmas Market continues despite terrorist concerns

The sounds of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” played by a lone trumpeter drift over the annual Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France. A cathedral bell echoes in the distance. Shoppers stroll from stall to stall, many of them stopping for traditional spiced wine and gingerbread cookies.

Police patrol the Christmas Market in Strasbourg.
Police patrol the Christmas Market in Strasbourg.

Solemnly patrolling the holiday scene are three soldiers carrying rifles.

“It’s because of the terrorist attacks,” tour guide Renata explains, as a police van pulls up and four policemen exit to walk their rounds.

At first, Renata said, the mayor of Strasbourg wanted to cancel the long-running Strasbourg Christmas Market. “But people said we cannot do that. We must continue,” she said. “It is a smaller market than usual but it is still here.”

And, Renata adds, security is extra vigilant. “For every police officer and soldier you see, there are many more that you don’t see.”

About a dozen of us from the Amadeus Silver II cruise opted to take this morning tour of Strasbourg and its famed Christmas Market. We are the English-speaking group. There is also a tour in German and one in Hebrew. We leave our ship in a big comfortable Mercedes Benz bus, then we follow Renata into the market area.

As my cruise has been arranged by Amras Cruises on the Amadeus Silver II, all my excursions are included in the basic price. Other passengers have to pay for their excursions or, as in the case of the Israeli group on our ship, they have their own tours, bus and tour guide.

I prefer the way Amras Cruises is doing it. It’s nice to board the ship and know that everything is already included in the basic cruise price – WiFi, excursions and gratuities. Now all we have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy this beautiful part of the world.

‘Capital of Christmas’

Billing itself as the “Capital of Christmas,” Strasbourg is duly proud of its Christmas Market. In fact, it is the oldest Christmas Market in Europe. The Christkindelsmärik (market of the infant Jesus) was first held in Strasbourg in 1570. This year it was voted for the second year running “The Best Christmas Market in Europe” as part of a worldwide competition launched by the European Best Destinations organization.

The 2015 Christmas celebration will run from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31. But it is not just one market. There are 12 different markets in Strasbourg with more than 300 stalls. Each market has a different theme, like Children’s Village, Luxembourg Christmas (each year a different country village is chosen), Village of Sharing (where more than 90 charities are spotlighted), Christmas Market of the Irresistible Craft Producers of Alsace and many more.

Fears of terrorism at the markets are not unfounded, Renata said. They were targeted previously. In 2000, a group of Islamic terrorists attempted to blow up the Strasbourg Christmas Market. However, police thwarted the plan before any bombs were detonated.

Looking at handcrafted wooden toys, Matthew Alexander said he has come to the Strasbourg Christmas Market ever since he was a little boy and he does not intend to stop now. “If we give in to fear and don’t continue our traditions, then the terrorists will win,” he said. “It is important that we do this.”

Selling sweets at a stall decorated with twinkling lights, Juliette agrees. “As far back as I can remember, my family has been coming here and I have been working here for many years,” she said. “It would not seem like Christmas if we didn’t have the market.”

Strasbourg is home to the earliest Christmas Market in Europe.
Strasbourg is home to the earliest Christmas Market in Europe.

Shining its light over the Christmas Market is the Flame of Peace. Burning brightly, the flame is a symbol of peace and understanding among the people of the world. What a world it would be if the flame burned more brightly in the hearts of people so wars, violence and terrorism would cease to exist.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Celebrating Christmas Eve in Germany, Christmas Day in France

On Christmas Eve, we went to mass at a historic cathedral in Germany. On Christmas Day, we visited a historic cathedral in France. The perfect celebration for the holy holiday.

My Amras cruise on the Amadeus Silver II is such a lovely way to celebrate without all the muss and fuss of doing it at home. As a fellow passenger said, if she were entertaining at home in Australia, she would be cooking and cleaning and cooking some more. Instead, she brought her family on the cruise ship.

A model of the Strasbourg Cathedral is displayed outside the real thing.
A model of the Strasbourg Cathedral is displayed outside the real thing.

After a scrumptious Christmas Eve dinner aboard the ship where we were serenaded by the crew, we walked from the ship dock at Speyer, Germany, down a long lane of trees to Speyer Cathedral. Passengers were mostly quiet enjoying the serene night with some stars scattered overhead and a faint moon riding high in the dark sky.

When construction began on Speyer Cathedral in 1030, it was intended to be the largest church in the western world. It has long ceased to have that honor but it is still the world’s largest surviving Romanesque church.

At 10 p.m., the cathedral service began. The church was packed with people looking for seats and many standing in the back. For 45 minutes, four young men in choir robes sang Christmas hymns but I didn’t understand a word they were saying, nor did I recognize the songs. The whole service was in German.

At 10: 45 an organist played some beautiful music but I have no idea what it was either. Then the bishop began speaking. His talk was short and sweet, whatever he said, because soon cathedral bells began ringing. The walk back to the ship was so peaceful with the unusual balmy winter weather making it seem as though we were embraced by an unseen warm presence.

At the ship, we were greeted by hotel manager Adras Moszar with cups of hot rum grog. Some passengers went to the Panorama Bar to enjoy a light snack and music with the Amadeus Duo – singer Silviya and pianist Slavi.

I went to my stateroom and soon was rocked to sleep as the Silver II cruised away from Speyer. If I dreamed of sugarplums, I don’t remember it.

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day we celebrated at breakfast with a champagne toast.

During the morning, the Silver II sailed through the locks of Iffenzheim and Gamsheim. I’ve seen enough locks to last me for a lifetime but other passengers flocked to the top deck and windowed sides of the ship to watch.

Two and a half hours after breakfast, we had Christmas lunch. I don’t want to type in the whole menu but I will tell you what I ordered. And this is for lunch, mind you. Each lunch and dinner menu has three entrees – meat, fish and vegetarian. At lunch the soup and salad are on the big round buffet in the middle of the dining room. At dinner, we order the soup and salad from the menu.

My choices – roasted turkey breast with port wine sauce, cranberries and mashed potatoes. I helped myself at the buffet to cream of forest mushroom soup and Greek salad. Dessert was Christmas ice cream with gingerbread brittle.

Since my cruise is with Amras Cruises, I have complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. I usually have Coke for lunch and red wine for dinner.

After lunch we boarded a big bus and headed to Strasbourg in France. Our English-speaking guide Juliette then took us on a walking tour of Strasbourg, ending up at the amazing cathedral. Christmas Markets and most businesses were closed because it was Christmas Day but we were here for the cathedral anyway and many other people were as well. Security was tight and armed soldiers and police patrolled as I had seen earlier.

Spectacular Strasbourg Cathedral

On Christmas Day, we enjoyed Strasbourg Cathedral in France.
On Christmas Day, we enjoyed Strasbourg Cathedral in France.

 

Strasbourg Cathedral is so grand that it is hard to do it justice in just part of a blog. I’ll save that amazing clock in the cathedral and the cathedral itself for another time. But I would like to tell you about a tiny touch that Juliette didn’t point out, one of my favorite tidbits that you have to really look for in all the cathedral grandeur.

Carved into a pulpit is an adorable puppy. He is small, made of marble and more than 500 years old. I learned years ago on a tour that the small dog sculpture was created in honor of Jean Geiler de Kaysersberg who would preach in Strasbourg accompanied by his dog. The little pup would travel everywhere with him.

Geiler was known to preach long earnest sermons that would put his dog to sleep. When Hans Hammer carved the pulpit in 1485, he crafted the small dog sculpture snoozing below the pulpit. Although the cathedral is one of the greatest masterpieces of Gothic architecture, it is wonderful to see such a tiny human touch in the midst of all this lavishness.

Petting the puppy is supposed to bring good luck. I’ve heard that said about many statues. If true, I must be one of the luckiest people in the world.

Gifts on Christmas Day

When we arrived back at the ship, we were greeted with mugs of mulled wine. Shortly after, we gathered in the Panorama Bar for the daily port talk by cruise director Lorelay Bosca. During these talks, Lorelay tells us about the highlights for the next day. Then Christmas dinner was served in the ship restaurant.

Again, I don’t want to bog you down with the entire menu but this is what I had – Black Forest Ham with honey melon for appetizer, cream of cauliflower soup, braised venison with creamy savoy cabbage and homemade spatzle. Chocolate ice cream with egg nog was dessert.

After a musical trivia contest – my team won – and dancing in the Panorama Bar, I retired to my stateroom to find a Christmas gift – a souvenir Christmas mug with a note from hotel manager Adras and cruise director Lorelay:

“We truly hope that this Christmas brought you comfort, joy, peace and happiness to last throughout the coming year,” it read. “Beneath the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there is the true beauty of connecting with loved ones. May this beauty and joy lift you up during the New Year.”

As a solo traveler, I am far away from home, family and loved ones for this Christmas holiday. But I truly feel at home with these people – most of whom I can’t even speak their language – and have enjoyed the true loving spirit of Christmas on this memorable Amadeus Silver II voyage.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Remains of three Magi who followed the star of Bethlehem said to be in Cologne Cathedral

Even without a wonderful tour guide, I would have known where the treasured relics were kept in the Cologne Cathedral. A slow-moving line of visitors made its way past a huge golden shrine. This must be it, I surmised. And I was right.

Since 1164, the German city of Cologne has claimed the remains of the three Magi who followed the star of Bethlehem to the stable where Jesus was born. “Whether you believe it or not is up to you,” tour guide Marcus said. “Many people believe it is true.”

An ornate gold chest is said to contain the remains of the Magi who followed the star of Bethlehem to Jesus.
An ornate gold chest is said to contain the remains of the Magi who followed the star of Bethlehem to Jesus.

The Cologne Cathedral itself is magnificent. The second-highest building in Cologne, the cathedral’s gigantic pair of towers was completed in 1880 and is an impressive point of orientation in the city. I never got lost when I spent days in Cologne on my own because all I had to do was look in the sky and see the cathedral spires hovering over the roofs and chimneys. Then I would know where I was.

Construction on the cathedral started in 1248 and no expense was spared to make it worthy of being the final resting place for the famous three wise men. “It is quite amazing the risk they took to build something this immense,” Marcus said. “It took 632 years to complete.”

Rebuilding After World War II

On this beautiful sunny winter day, three of us from the Amadeus Silver II are taking a walking tour with Marcus. We are the English-speaking group. A German group is with a German-speaking guide. A group from Israel has their own guide who speaks Hebrew.

Although 95 percent of old Cologne was destroyed during World War II, the residents have a “stubborn way” of rebuilding. “It is nothing short of a miracle that the cathedral was still standing at war’s end,” Marcus said.

Many of the relics, statues, stained glass windows and other valuables had been removed for safekeeping or protected from destruction but the cathedral itself was badly damaged.

A priceless crucifix in the cathedral was carved from one piece of wood.
A priceless crucifix in the cathedral was carved from one piece of wood.

“Here in Cologne we rebuild,” Marcus said. “We rebuilt it the old way so it looks like it did before it was bombed.”

Today, the main factors damaging the cathedral are weather, environment and the march of time. More than 80 stonemasons, glaziers, roofers and other specialists are constantly at work on the maintenance and restoration of the cathedral building. In the several different trips I have visited the cathedral, I have never seen it without scaffolding on some part.

“People say that the day no more work will be needed on the cathedral will be Judgment Day,” Marcus said. “We are in no rush for that to happen.”

The Cologne Cathedral is so huge that it has room for more than 20,000 people. When Archbishop Rainald von Dassel brought back the mortal remains of the three wise men from the conquered city of Milan, the relics made the cathedral one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe.

Legend Tells How Magi End Up in Cologne

Behind the high altar, the Shrine of the Three Kings rises up. In the gold chest are said to be the bones of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Legend has it that when the wise men left the birthplace of Jesus, they stopped in the Hill of Vaws before returning to their own counties. There they made a chapel to worship the Child they had sought. They also agreed to meet together in the same place once a year.

“And they ordained that they would be buried in that place when they died,” Marcus said. “That’s the way the story goes.”

Thus it happened and the Magi lay undisturbed in their tombs until Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, decided the religious relics should be brought to Constantinople. The bones were moved again to Milan in an oxcart in 314.

The bones might have remained forever in Milan except for politics. In the 12th century, the city of Milan rebelled against the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. Needing help, the emperor appealed to the archbishop of Cologne. When Archbishop Rainald von Dassel recaptured Milan and delivered the city to a grateful emperor, the Cologne archbishop got his heart’s desire – the relics were transferred to Cologne in 1164.

Building the Great Cathedral

Supposedly the three skulls wear golden crowns made for them around 1189 as a gift from King Otto to the church of Cologne. “Because of the importance of the shrine and its relics, the Cologne Coat of Arms shows three crowns symbolizing the three kings,” Marcus said.

A magnificent cathedral was built to house the relics of the Three Wise Men.
A magnificent cathedral was built to house the relics of the Three Wise Men.

As the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, the Cologne Cathedral was unbelievably costly to build. When I asked how it was funded, Marcus had two answers.

Back in the Middle Ages, the belief in purgatory after death was very strong and, not surprisingly, no one wanted to go there. “Wealthy men would pay to buy their way out of purgatory,” Marcus said. “Upon their death, they would leave all their money to the church with no concern for their wives or families who could be left penniless.”

That is why, Marcus said, a burial tomb of an armored knight seems strangely out of place among all the archbishops and saints interred in the cathedral. Count Gottfried of Arsberg is the only layperson afforded the special right of being buried in the cathedral.

“He left his entire huge estate to the church with the stipulation that he be buried in the cathedral,” Marcus said.

Then, I am not sure if Marcus was joking or not, he said that is why an iron grid was placed over the knight’s effigy. The grid is still there today. “That’s so his family couldn’t hit him because he had given all his money to the church and left them none.,” Marcus said.

Many of the workers who labored on the church did so without pay for the same reason, Marcus said. “To work their way out of purgatory so they could go to heaven.”

Whatever the reason for how it was built or funded, the Cologne Cathedral is a spectacular sight. As for those relics, Marcus said debate continues about their authenticity and seems to boil down to belief or non belief. That seems like a good enough answer to me.

Browsing through ship gift shop, setting record straight on swimming pool, elevator

How many passengers on a river cruise talk or write about a ship’s gift shop? I’m going to because I think the Amadeus Silver II gift shop is quite nice and is rather unusual. Many river ships don’t have a gift shop at all or it is tucked away in a closet-size room.

On the Silver II, the gift shop is on the main level, right next to the dining room, across from the reception desk. The shop also has extra display cases built into the walls on Deck Three. Leading into both sides of the Panorama Bar, the glass cases have neatly arranged items, mostly jewelry which can be bought in the gift shop.

The prices are not bad either. For example, a lovely scarf with a jeweled round loop on it costs 11.50 euros or $12.59 in U.S. dollars and a pretty Mozart snow globe is 7.50 euros or $8.21 in American currency. Remember this ship is the Amadeus so the gift shop has several Mozart-related items.

Shopkeeper Rodica said that jewelry is among the best sellers and the shop does carry quite a bit of it. After all, jewelry is easy to take home as a souvenir or gift for someone else. It doesn’t take up much room in luggage.

I know my daughter would like some feline-decorated items I saw in the gift shop. Several purses in different sizes feature cute wide-eyed cats and kittens.

The shop also has a handy choice of toiletries that passengers either forget to pack or run out of on the cruise, Rodica said. “We try to carry the products that passengers most ask for,” she said, gesturing to a cabinet of toothpaste, toothbrushes, lotion, deodorant, combs and sunscreen.

About That Elevator

As for that Silver II elevator, I thought it important to mention because some people obviously don’t know there is an elevator on the ship. Before I took the Amras cruise, I googled to read some reviews of the Silver II to get a glimpse of where I would be living for 11 days. One cruise reviewer wrote that the Silver II has a swimming pool and no elevator.

It is just the opposite.

The Silver II has no swimming pool but it does have a wonderful elevator. That writer might have gotten confused because the elevator is so cleverly covered that someone might not have known it was here. Running on all three accommodation decks, the elevator has an elegant wooden door to blend in with the rest of the ship décor. I’ve taken a photo to go with this blog so you will see what I mean.

The ship’s handy elevator is cleverly hidden behind elegant wooden doors.
The ship’s handy elevator is cleverly hidden behind elegant wooden doors.

The door looks like it might just be a pretty decoration. Actually you push a button, the wooden door opens and – voilà – a comfy big elevator takes passengers to all cabin decks.

When I first got on the ship, I saw a woman slowly climbing the stairs until one of the crew quickly pointed out the elevator in case she wanted to use it. I later saw her doing just that.

Truthfully, I didn’t know it was an elevator when I came aboard. My dining companion Alex told me because he walks with two metal arm braces and is quite appreciative of the Silver II’s “lift,” as he calls it and the cruise line’s efforts at being accessible for people with disabilities.

As for that swimming pool, I have no idea where that notion came from. The Silver II has many wonderful things to offer passengers – I’ll tell you more about those in upcoming blogs – but there is no swimming pool. There is so much to do and so many great shore excursions that I haven’t missed swimming aboard the Silver II.

Next trip, same ship, new dining companions

Same ship. Same stateroom. Same crew. Different passengers. My second cruise aboard the Amadeus Silver II feels as though I am coming home.

Although they could have made me check out from one cruise and check into the next one, the Silver II crew was very gracious. They told me to leave all my things in my cabin – my clothing still hanging in the closet – disembark and embark back to the same stateroom. Originally, I had been scheduled to be in another room so this made the whole process much easier.

Flying from Indianapolis to Europe is just too much of a hassle to do it for a five-day cruise. So I added on the following six-day cruise with Amras Cruises. I would advise Americans to do that as well. My first cruise went so quickly that I felt I was just getting acquainted with the ship when it was time to leave. If you are going to pay to fly to Europe, you might as well make the cruise at least a week or longer.

A large buffet in the Restaurant serves delicious choices for breakfast and lunch.
A large buffet in the Restaurant serves delicious choices for breakfast and lunch.

Now I have a leisurely six days stretching before me and I already have the head start of knowing my way around the ship and around many parts of Germany and France where we will be docking.

As I said on my previous cruise, seating for meals is assigned. If you are with a group, you can certainly arrange to be seated together. For this cruise, I was assigned by hotel director Adras Moszar to sit with five dining companions at a big round table. Adras said that table was picked for me because all the people at it speak English. The majority of the passengers speak German and all public announcements are made in both English and German.

What a pleasure. I couldn’t have picked better new friends. I will now be dining with Gilda from Australia, her grown son Tim, his friend John, Gilda’s friend Natalie from Paris, and Gilda’s cruise friend Dama from New Zealand. Dama and Gilda became acquainted on a previous cruise and didn’t realize until they began emailing that they both are sailing on this cruise.

A special table has been reserved for Amras Cruises passengers.
A special table has been reserved for Amras Cruises passengers.

We have had so much fun already and the cruise is just beginning. Dining companions can certainly add greatly to a cruise – or detract from it. How lucky I am to have this group with which to share meals and adventures.

Launched in 2015, the Silver II has four decks with 84 cabins and can carry 168 passengers. As a nod to her Amadeus heritage, the decks are named Mozart, Strauss and Haydn. I am on Mozart in stateroom 320.

My second cruise has 93 passengers, most of whom are German. The average age on the cruise is probably 60 but there are four young men on this cruise with their parents. There are no children.

Dining Choices on the Silver II

My new dining group has a nice large table by a window and I already know that food on the Silver II is abundant and delicious. It is considered international cuisine. In this blog, I thought I’d tell you a little more about the dining room, called simply the Restaurant, and how things are done on the Silver II.

For breakfast, we can order from the menu for items such as cooked eggs, omelets, oatmeal and blueberry pancakes. We also can help ourselves to the large buffet in the center of the dining room. The breakfast buffet has cereal, yogurt, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, crispy and less done bacon, hash brown potatoes, miso soup, sausages, cheese, tomatoes, fruit, smoked salmon and other things I’m sure I forgot.

One of the nice extras on the buffet is that all the hot food is in large silver chafing dishes with hinged covers. To make it easier to get whatever we want in the chafing dish, the lid stays open once we open it. When we are finished serving ourselves, we simply gently touch the lid and it slowly closes.

Certainly makes it much more convenient than having to totally remove a lid from a warming dish and look for a place to put the lid when we are serving ourselves. Or to have to hold onto the lid with one hand while we serve ourselves with the other because the lid will plop down. It’s little things like this that I have discovered on the Silver II to make the cruise even more enjoyable.

Another table has bunches of breads, pastries, muffins, croissants and other sweets for breakfast. A third table has a generous supply of various juices and water. Of course, servers also will offer us coffee, water and juice as soon as we sit down.

Large chafing dishes keep dining choices warm for breakfast and lunch.
Large chafing dishes keep dining choices warm for breakfast and lunch.

A lighter breakfast is served at the same time in the Panorama Bar. A 24-hour coffee, tea and hot chocolate station is available in the Amadeus Club.

Lunch and Dinner Menus

For lunch, we can eat in the Restaurant or have lighter fare in the Panorama Bar. Lunch also has a menu to order entrees and desserts. We can help ourselves to appetizers, soup and salad from the buffet. In the middle of the big oblong buffet – hidden from our sight – are steps leading down to the kitchen. Freshly prepared dishes are brought up the stairs from the kitchen and arranged on the buffet for servers to bring to our tables.

Lunch and dinner menus always feature three entrees – fish, meat and vegetarian. For example, the lunch menu today offered an entrée choice of Franconia white wine chicken with silver onions and Vichy carrots; or breaded filet of plaice fish with tartar sauce and potato salad; or spaghetti with tofu Bolognese.

The menu dessert choice for lunch today was Black Forest cake or cinnamon crème brulee. If you are having difficulty choosing a dessert, do what my dinner companion Dama did – order them both. Also remember there is that huge buffet which is meal enough without ordering from the menu but I always order an entrée and a dessert.

Afternoon tea is served at 4 p.m. in the Panorama Bar with a huge buffet of fresh pastries and some sandwiches. Pianist Slavi from Bulgaria provides lovely background music for the tea. In the evening he teams with singer Silvyia for entertaining music programs.

Dinner aboard the Silver II is served only in the Restaurant and is from a menu. Along with soup and salad choices, our dinner menu last night offered entrée choices of beef roulade filled with sundried tomatoes, plus red wine sauce, buttered broccoli and salted potatoes; or pan fried filet of St. Pete’s fish with saffron sauce, braised fennel and jasmine rice; or fried vegetables in tempura dough with sweet and sour sauce.

Dinner dessert was either tiramisu or chocolate mousse, plus there is a huge cheese and fresh fruit selection from a serving table. Sometimes, my dinner companions and I will get dessert and then finish the meal with some of that tasty international cheese.

The ship doesn’t offer room service. But if passengers are still hungry, the Silver II always has cookies somewhere and a late night snack at 10:30 in the Panorama Bar. I can’t tell you what is served at the late night snack because I have never gone to it. Not hungry at all.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Amras Cruises shares recipe for traditional glühwein

The brightly colored mugs are hard to resist. In fact, I like the collectible mugs far more than I like the glühwein they contain. So far I have five mugs tucked into my luggage and I think I had better stop.

This collectible mug came from Cologne.
This collectible mug came from Cologne.

“It is tradition,” tour guide Renata said. “Many people collect the mugs every year and each Christmas Market has its own mug.”

Glühwein stands are scattered around the various Christmas markets. Some of the stands also offer a choice of other hot drinks like hot chocolate or alcohol-free fruit punch. A liberal translation of the name means “glow wine.” Easy to figure out that drinking enough of that potent hot liquid would make anyone glow.

The mugs usually have a local scene or symbol on them, plus the name of the town and the year. The mugs are not only beautiful but they serve a recycling purpose. To have glühwein served in one of the commemorative mugs, you pay a deposit of 2.50 euros or $2.74 in U.S. dollars. You can return the mug to get your deposit back or you can pay between 2 to 3 euros to have it refilled with glühwein. Good deal and it sure cuts down on disposable container waste.

The traditional hot spiced wine is popular throughout the holidays and during winter, Renata said, adding that the drink is called vin chaud in France. I do have a Strasbourg mug which once held my vin chaud. I couldn’t tell any difference between the vin chaud and the glühwein.

Savoring Glühwein While the Silver II Cruises

Today, we were treated to some glühwein and cookies as we stood on the top deck of the Amadeus Silver II to cruise through what is called “The Romantic Rhine.” Cruise director Lorelay regaled us with historic tales about the countryside as we sipped, munched and marveled as the beautiful landscape we were cruising past.

Today we cruised The Romantic Rhine while sipping hot glühwein.
Today we cruised The Romantic Rhine while sipping hot glühwein.

The credit for spiced or mulled wine goes to the ancient Romans who originated it in about 500 B.C. Spices and herbs were added to the wine to improve the taste and also perhaps for medicinal reasons.

The American “hot toddy” to relieve coughs and colds might be traced to that same belief. My father’s favorite cold remedy was to pour a mug of boiling water, squeeze some fresh lemon into it, add a bit of honey and a big shot of Kentucky whiskey.

The remedy was to breathe the hot toddy and then slowly sip it. I still do that today when I catch colds from traveling. Might just be my imagination but it does seem to work better than any cough and cold medicine I can buy in the drugstore.

Amras Cruises Shares Glühwein Recipe

The folks at Amras Cruises have generously shared their recipe for glühwein so you can put a little glow into your New Year’s celebration.

Glühwein Recipe
Ingredients:
1 cup water
1 bottle (750 ml) red wine
4 tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
2 oranges (one for rind/one for garnish)

Instructions:
Thoroughly clean surface of oranges. Using a vegetable peeler, pare the outer rind from one orange. Add water, cloves, cinnamon, and orange rind to a kettle. Bring water to slow boil.

Stir in sugar until dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-2 minutes.

Add wine to kettle and heat (do not boil!).

Slice second orange into thin rounds.

Pour glühwein into mugs through a sieve to remove spices and orange peel. Add one orange round to each mug and serve.

Recipe makes 4-5 mugs of glühwein.

Castles and ruins dot the hillsides of the Rhine River.
Castles and ruins dot the hillsides of the Rhine River.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: See how old-time musical devices were rare, expensive at Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum

Today, people can walk around with music in their ears whenever they want. They can plug in and tune out.

But back a couple hundred years ago, people didn’t have that luxury. Only the rich could afford musical devices. And those pieces of equipment were huge.

My shore excursion today from the Silver II was to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum in Rüdesheim, Germany. Three of us boarded a mini-train to take a short ride from where our ship was docked to the museum. There we got a wonderful tour from guide Michael, clad in old-fashioned attire that seemed right at home in the museum.

“It is almost unbelievable what you are going to hear in here,” Michael said.

He was right. The museum is filled with one wonder after another. A tiny mechanical bird opens its beak and begins trilling a lovely tune. Six ghostly violins in perfect harmony play classical music without musicians’ hands anywhere in sight. A band of 27 dolls, each playing a different instrument, creates a pleasing symphony.

Six ghostly violins play tunes in perfect harmony.
Six ghostly violins play tunes in perfect harmony.

One Man’s Passion

Hard to believe but the more than 350 musical cabinets in the museum are the collection of one man. The story goes that Siegfried Wendel visited Las Angeles on his honeymoon and came across a collection of player pianos and mechanical instruments. Many of the instruments were in poor condition, some destined for the scrap heap. A craftsman, Wendel was fascinating by the self-playing devices and began collecting them. Wendel restored the musical works of art and then wanted to share the music with others.

That’s why in 1969 he opened his collection to the public in his hometown of Rüdesheim. Today, the museum is located in a 15th century manor. Some of the complex music boxes are so tiny – such as the bird on the ornate snuff box – that they can fit in the palm of your hand. Others are so huge that they fill up most of a room.

Remember these devices were all the rage before radios, record players, televisions and other forms of home entertainment. “If you wanted music in your home and could afford it, this is what you would have to entertain,” Michael said, giving a history behind the instruments and showing how they played and how they sounded.

One scratchy gramophone record sounded like a speeded-up Doris Day singing the words of the song “Que Sera Sera.” “When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what would I be?” The needle on the oversized gramophone has to be changed each time, Michael said, or it will destroy the record.

An ancient Edison gramophone that uses wax barrels made it sound as though 19th century legend Enrico Caruso was crooning right in the room with us.

The most elaborate instrument is the Orchestrion, a huge musical marvel that plays all the instruments of an orchestra. When Michael cranked up that machine, the sound was almost deafening.

A workshop in the museum shows how the rolls of sheet music and perforated disks were created. So amazing were the sounds for the time, Michael said, that the mechanical music cabinets were considered the work of the Devil or “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”

I thought they were pretty heavenly.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Exploring the ship, finding exercise room and more

Since we will be cruising this morning with no shore excursions planned, I thought I’d show you around the Silver II. The biggest and most popular areas, of course, are the Restaurant and the Panorama Bar. But there are several other places on this beautiful ship to discover.

I’ve walked from one end to the other, from top to bottom and here are some interesting spots. Some are quite visible. Some not so easily seen.

The Silver II boasts an exercise room.
The Silver II boasts an exercise room.

For example, on Strauss Deck 2 is a fitness room. Not every river cruiser has a room like this. Although we are walking quite a bit every day on shore excursions, many passengers like to slip in a quick workout when they have time as a way to manage weight gain from all that delicious ship cuisine.

I remember on one river cruise, a fellow traveler was very upset that there was no exercise equipment on the ship. Instead, she would quickly walk around and around the ship’s top deck angrily complaining to anyone who would listen. That problem could have been easily solved – research the ship and what it offers before booking a cruise.

Anyway, the Silver II does have an exercise room with a treadmill, exercise bike and some other devices, as well as exercise mats and a big mirrored wall to make sure you are doing it all correctly. Crewmember Oana also offers light morning exercises each day at 7:30 a.m.

After working out, treat yourself to a massage in the spa room or get a new hairdo in the hair saloon, both on Strauss Deck 2.

At the very front of the ship, Mozart Deck 3 has the River Terrace with comfortable seats and a wonderful view of the river. I’ve seen a few people sitting out there but mostly it has been too chilly. Even though we have been enjoying unusually balmy winter weather on this cruise – highs often in the 50s during the afternoon – it has been more comfortable to sit inside.

In the middle of Deck 3 is Café Vienna, a place to relax and enjoy a specialty coffee and read. The ship’s daily newspaper, printed in German and English, is placed here for passengers to keep up on worldwide news and sports. A plate of cookies is kept filled for snacks.

At the back end of Deck 3 is the Amadeus Club, another quiet spot to read or play games. Bookshelves on one side of the door contain puzzles and games. Shelves on the other side have a small library of books to borrow. A 24-hour station offers coffee, tea and hot chocolate. An ice machine is also located here.

 The Silver II was launched in April 2015.
The Silver II was launched in April 2015.

The Sun Deck atop the ship is a great place for panoramic views of the river and scenery as the ship cruises. There are plenty of seats and tables and shade awnings, plus a Lido Bar, gigantic chess board and shuffleboard. The Sun Deck didn’t see much use on my two cruises but I imagine it is a quite popular place during warm weather.

That’s my goal now – to cruise with Amras Cruises on one of the beautiful Amadeus ships during summer, perhaps aboard the new Silver III when she is launched this spring. Check out www.AmrasCruises.com to see what cruise you might pick for your 2016 dream trip.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Learning history of chocolate, tasting treat from huge chocolate fountain at Cologne Chocolate Museum

The woman behind me said she feels as though Willy Wonka might pop up any moment and that the Oompa Loompas will come traipsing out singing their strange song. I know what she means.

The Chocolate Museum in Cologne or Köln, as the Germans call this city, is definitely an unusual sweet treat. Made of glass and steel, the futuristic-looking Chocolate Museum seems like a ship floating on the Rhine River, close to where the Silver II is docked.

The Cologne Chocolate Museum looks like a ship floating in the Rhine River.
The Cologne Chocolate Museum looks like a ship floating in the Rhine River.

The museum was not part of an organized shore excursion on my Amadeus Silver II cruise so I went on my own. I also went on my own to the Farina Eau de Cologne Museum but I’ll write about that in a separate blog because it has a great tale to tell.

I headed to the one-of-a-kind Chocolate Museum to see if the inside of the building is as interesting as the outside. It certainly is an education in the history of chocolate and how the popular candy is produced.

Founded in 1993, the Cologne Chocolate Museum was financed by Dr. Hans Imhoff who saved many of the items on display from the old Cologne chocolate manufacturer Stollwerck. The treasures were headed to the trash heap until Imhoff – then chairman of the governing body of Stollwerck – saw their value for a museum.

At one time, Stollwerck was the second-largest supplier of chocolate to the United States so, most likely, many of us have eaten the chocolate and thus have a personal connection to the museum. The museum was packed when I was there. An estimated 5 million visitors a year find their way to the museum.

Entering the museum, we are given a tiny candy bar and then we can follow the process of creating the candy from beans to bars in the small on-site factory. The chocolate journey starts from the very beginning with the Aztecs and Mayans “drink of the gods” and takes visitors through the entire production process. Explanation signs are printed in both German and English.

Next is a stroll through a small greenhouse filled with heat and humidity to see cocoa plants growing. The greenhouse is an excellent addition to the museum because some people may not know where chocolate actually comes from. I heard a mother and her little girl in deep conversation about cocoa plants. You could almost see the lights going on in the child’s eyes as she realized that chocolate is grown, not miraculously created by Willy Wonka.

Chocolate was first an expensive drink

Originally, chocolate was for drinking and was quite expensive so only the wealthy could afford the luxury. That was before grinding machines were invented and chocolate was rather rough and not very pleasant to eat so it was preferable as a drink. On display are various types of ornate porcelain pots and cups used for drinking chocolate.

To make delicious chocolate candy from bitter cocoa beans is a long and complicated process that has been continually refined over the years. The 5-roller mills used to create the famous Lindt chocolates are displayed in the museum.

Visitors are given samples from a 10-foot-high chocolate fountain.
Visitors are given samples from a 10-foot-high chocolate fountain.

Smart advertisers quickly learned how to showcase chocolate to its best advantages. An exhibit that looks like an old-time country store shows some of the beautiful packaging, enamel tins and posters for chocolate. Two ladies enjoying the exhibit seemed to be having a great time remembering the collectible Valentine’s Day boxes as well as the specially shaped and wrapped Easter bunnies and Christmas Santas from their childhood.

At the end of the 19th century, chocolate devotees could buy their sweets from vending machines located at stations in New York, the Zugspitze and the Champs-Elysées. About 30 of those imaginative machines are displayed in the museum. I also learned that chocolate should never be refrigerated because refrigeration kills the wonderful aroma and degrades the quality of the chocolate.

After walking through the timeline of chocolate and seeing how it is created, I arrived at the pièce de résistance – a 10-foot-high chocolate fountain. I had seen it from the outside in that great glass-enclosed waterfront view on the “bow” of the ship-shaped museum.

Now I was actually here and being handed a waffle dipped in warm chocolate. Yummy.

The fountain is decorated with 40 golden cocoa fruits and is kept filled with fresh Lindt chocolate. The museum staff member was busy dipping waffles into the warm chocolate and giving the tastes to visitors. I must have looked especially chocolate deprived because the worker gave me two more after I had finished taking photos.

A model of the Cologne Cathedral was created in chocolate.
A model of the Cologne Cathedral was created in chocolate.

On the way out, I looked in the museum’s café where you can sit, sip some hot chocolate, munch on a chocolate dessert and watch the beautiful Rhine. There also is a chocolate shop with all kinds of Lindt chocolates to buy. I didn’t purchase any, partly because I like to travel light and also because the Silver II is very generous about placing chocolates in my room and having a big basket of wrapped chocolates to take for a snack when leaving the ship’s dining room.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Sharing recipe for delicious Amras Apple Strudel

I could get used to this afternoon tea thing. Every day at 4 or 4:30 on the Silver II, we have tea time in the Panorama Bar.

Of course, it is much more than tea. Coffee is also served, plus there is a huge buffet of fresh pastries and sandwiches to enjoy while pianist Slavi plays lovely easy-listening music.

Trays of apple strudel wait for afternoon tea aboard the Silver II.
Trays of apple strudel wait for afternoon tea aboard the Silver II.

Today’s tea time was made even more special when program director Lorelay announced that the Silver II pastry chef would be making apple strudel topped with hot cherry compote. Hotel manager Andras Maszar also would be serving some kind of hot alcoholic drink.

If the ship is docked when tea time happens, I’m often on an afternoon shore excursion. Or sometimes I’ve headed off into town on my own so I miss the tea gathering. But on this day, I made sure to attend the afternoon tea and it looked as though other passengers did, too.

We weren’t disappointed. The apple strudel was scrumptious and whatever Andras was serving was mighty fine, too. Plus Amras Cruises generously shared the apple strudel recipe to try at home.

A layered pastry with a sweet or savory inside filling, strudel is a variation of the German word for whirlpool or vortex. It’s easy to see why the dessert got the strudel name. The dough is rolled and the center of the pastry is very swirly like a whirlpool.

Said to have originated in Austria during the 18th century, the pastry is also popular in Germany and other European counties. Slices of apple strudel are traditionally served warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or fruit compote.

Here is the Amras Cruises recipe if you would like to try making it at home:

APPLE STRUDEL

Ingredients

Dough:
12 ¼ oz. flour
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon melted butter
3 ½ oz. water, lukewarm
A pinch of salt

Filling:
1 ¼ lb. tart apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
3 ½ oz. melted butter
1 ¾ oz. light brown sugar
3 ½ oz. cookie breadcrumbs (Ladyfingers)
1 tablespoon. cinnamon
½ cup raisins
½ cup chopped Hazelnuts or Walnuts
Dash of Lemon juice
Dash of Rum (optional)

Directions:

Dough:
Mix flour, salt and lukewarm water and knead together with the kneading hook on the mixer or by hand for about 10 minutes until the dough has become smooth and elastic. Roll the dough into a ball and brush with butter. Using a knife, cut a cross at the top of the ball of dough. Leave it to rest at room temperature for at least one hour, covered in plastic wrap.

Filling:
Peel apples and cut into thin slices. Gently brown the cookie crumbs in butter. Combine all ingredients for the filling together and mix it gently.

Sprinkle a silicon mat or parchment paper evenly with flour. Roll the dough out as thinly as possible on the mat, forming a rectangle.

Continue rolling the dough thinner and thinner, sprinkling with flour if needed to keep from sticking.

You know the dough is ready when you could read newspaper print through it.

Put the filling on the first third of the dough. Fill and roll the strudel together, using the mat or parchment to help you by raising the end with the filled dough just enough that the strudel begins to roll on its own accord.

Brush the apple strudel with egg yolk; then bake it in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serves 6.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Visiting Cologne – the city and the scent

Women in Napoleon’s days were prone to fainting. After smelling the heavy perfume men and women used to mask their stinky body odor back then, I can sure understand. My head started swirling, too.
“They didn’t shower in those days because they were afraid that water had germs,” said Maria Munoz Orantes, guiding me through the history of Eau de Cologne at the Farina House Museum in Cologne, Germany. “Instead, they used lots of perfume to cover their own personal smell.”

Farina House has been in the same location for more than three centures.
Farina House has been in the same location for more than three centures.

Uncorking a bottle, Marias gave me a sniff of the strong lavender scent used in the ornate Rococo period. “Ladies used to faint because the perfume smell was so strong it would take their breath away,” she said. “This is just a little smell. Think of a whole room filled with people who smelled like this.”

Then along came a perfumer who created a light and fresh scent. It became an immediate and expensive bestseller among nobility. Johann Maria Farina became known as “the father of modern perfume,” Maria said. “He had the absolute nose.”

Although a shore excursion to Farina House wasn’t part of the schedule for the Amadeus Silver II, I decided to go on my own. Cologne is a very walkable city so I headed out with my map and plenty of time to stroll the city.

Creating the new cologne

Born in Italy in 1685, Farina learned the ancient art of perfume making from his grandmother. He moved to Cologne in 1706 to work with his older brother. At the age of 23, Farina created his trademark scent – Eau de Cologne. He set up his fragrance company in 1709.

In something new for the time, Farina was able to recreate the identical, unmistakable scent time after time. In the early 18th century, it was scarcely conceivable that a perfume would always smell the same.

“My fragrance is reminiscent of a spring morning after the rain: of orange, lemons, grapefruit, bergamot and blossoms,” Farina described. “A sheer symphony of scents … It gives me great refreshment, strengthens my senses and imagination.”

The unisex fragrance is made from essences of lemon, orange, bergamot, mandarin, lime, cedar and grapefruit. “That is still how it is made today,” Maria said. “He named it after his new hometown – Eau de Cologne.”

Farina’s scent became a favorite of nobility. “Napoleon ordered 30 bottles a month,” Maria said. It is said that the famous emperor used the fragrant water extravagantly and supposedly had special boots designed where he could stash an emergency bottle of cologne.

One barrel is all that remains of Farina’s ’12 disciples.’
One barrel is all that remains of Farina’s ’12 disciples.’

Over the years, Eau de Cologne has compiled a long list of famous clients, including Casanova, Voltare, Balzac, Madame Dubarry, Mozart, Kaiser Wilhelm, Thomas Mann, Queen Victoria, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Disraeli, Konrad Adenaur, Marlene Dietrich, Indira Gandhi, Princess Diana, Bill Clinton and many more.

“This is the same place where the same family has made the same product for more than 300 years,” Maria said.

Farina House tours tell of cologne’s history

Pre-scheduled tours are offered of the perfume shop’s museum, which is far larger than it looks with exhibits both upstairs and downstairs. Among the wonderful memorabilia are exquisite silver goblets from which Ludwig II of Bavaria drank as a guest at the perfumery. In the 18th century, making a purchase at the Farina House was an art form.

A sad display in the museum contains one large barrel. Eau de Cologne has to mature for two years before it can fully unfold its fragrance. Originally only barrels made from the wood of Lebanon cedars were used for storage.

“Farina had 12 barrels and he called them his 12 disciples,” Maria said. “Only one barrel is left. The rest were destroyed by bombing during the war.”

One of my favorite pieces in the museum is a Portuguese desk where Farina worked until 1760. He kept all the company records and wrote dozens of letters every day. Today, Farina’s archives are the largest and most complete business records in Europe.

At the end of his life, Farina could boast that he had supplied Eau de Cologne to the rich and famous of his era. “There is no imperial or royal house in Europe that I did not supply,” he wrote shortly before his death.

Of course, with such success came many imitators, our guide said. The museum showcases criminal stories of counterfeiters from the time when brands had no legal protection.

Besides the wonderful scent, J.M. Farina’s Eau de Cologne can be identified by two marks. The first trademark registered under the German law on trademark protection of 1875 is the Rococo-style flourishes of Farina’s signature on the label.

The other symbol is the red tulip. In the 17th century, the tulip was a precious item that bloomed in the gardens of Turkish palaces. The Dutch paid huge amounts of money for a bulb of this beautiful flower. Desiring an image of great beauty, rarity and expense for his trademark, Farina chose a red tulip.

When I was walking to the Farina House on my own, it was easy to recognize my destination from a block away. The big red window awnings and the shop windows have the easily recognized tulip symbols.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Visiting museum for ‘Father of Modern Printing,’ seeing famous Gutenberg Bible

His hometown calls him “the Man of the Millennium.” The technology he invented changed the world, our tour guide says.

Can’t say I disagree with those glowing tributes. After all, it might be because of what he perfected that you are reading these words today.

When the Amadeus Silver II docked in Mainz, Germany, I was excited to take the afternoon shore excursion. Seven of us signed up for the walking tour that would include the famous Gutenberg Printing Museum. I was not disappointed.

Founded 2,000 years ago by the Romans, Mainz is one of the oldest towns in Germany and it is where Johannes Gutenberg was born, where he introduced his amazing creation and where he died. With a population of about 200,000, Mainz honors its native son with an excellent museum, including a chance to see a replica of his famous moveable type printing press in action.

Tour guide Lothar Schilling shows a page of the Gutenberg Bible that he printed on a replica of the Gutenberg printing press.
Tour guide Lothar Schilling shows a page of the Gutenberg Bible that he printed on a replica of the Gutenberg printing press.

“His was one of most import inventions of all time,” tour guide Lothar Schilling said. “For the first time in history, books were available to everybody because of his invention. It was an invention that conquered the world and changed the world for good.”

Man of mystery

For such a famous man, very little is known about the great inventor. “He was born here about 1400 and died here in 1468,” Lothar said. “But we don’t know if he was married, if he had any children. We don’t even know what he looked like.”

Images of Gutenberg in the museum were created 100 years after his death, Lothar added. “It’s the same portrait used for other men of that time as well so that wasn’t what he really looked like.”

In fact, his actual last name wasn’t Gutenberg. “His name was Johannes Gensfleisch and he lived in Gutenberg Court (Gutenberg was his mother’s maiden name),” Lothar said. “People would identify him that way back then – he was Johannes of Gutenberg Court and eventually just Johannes Gutenberg.”

In Gutenberg’s day, books were copied by hand. Those time-intensive handwritten books were very expensive and only the wealthy had access to them. Of course, back then, most people couldn’t read or write anyway.

An exhibit allows visitors to see a replica of a Gutenberg printing press and other printing equipment.
An exhibit allows visitors to see a replica of a Gutenberg printing press and other printing equipment.

“When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type printing, it opened up the world of books and reading to everyone,” Lothar said. His revolutionary printing press has been widely considered the most important invention of the modern era because it profoundly impacted the transmission of knowledge.

Invented around 1439, Gutenberg’s movable type printing press allowed manuscripts to be mass-produced at relatively affordable costs. His 42-line Gutenberg Bible, printed around 1455, is considered by many to be the first ‘modern’ printed book.

Seeing famous Gutenberg Bible

Amazingly, we got to spend time in a well-guarded room where the Gutenberg Bibles are on display. Understandably, photos aren’t permitted in that room or anywhere in the museum except in the last exhibit we visited where our guide was allowed to actually print a page for us on a replica Gutenberg printing press to show us how the machine worked.

As for those Bibles, there are only 49 copies left in the world, Lothar said. They are called the 42-line Gutenberg Bible because each page has 42 lines of text.

“We didn’t have a Gutenberg Bible here until 1978,” Lothar said. “It cost $1.8 million and was the first complete Gutenberg Bible returning home. I could rave on for hours about the Gutenberg Bible.”

Called the Shuckburgh Bible, the ornate book in front of us was printed in black and white, then color was later added by an artist. “No two Gutenberg Bibles are the same because no two were done by the same artist,” Lothar said. “Someone would buy a Gutenberg Bible, then pay an artist to add the color and designs.”

Then he pointed out an interesting mistake – the color letter for a large Q has its tail on the wrong side in the Bible. “The artist who did this color couldn’t read so he didn’t know which side the tail should go,” Lothar said.

Gutenberg seemed plagued by politics and business failures during his life and didn’t gather riches despite his world-changing invention. Gutenberg initially borrowed money to finance buying equipment. Then his lender foreclosed and took Gutenberg’s equipment. Hard to be a printer without equipment and supplies.
When Gutenberg was getting back on his feet, a religious/political war erupted in Mainz. “The whole population including Gutenberg was driven out of town,” Lothar said. When people returned, they struggled to pick up their lives again.

“Gutenberg didn’t die exactly poor but he had lost almost everything that was his,” Lothar said. When he died in 1468, Gutenberg was buried in the Franciscan church in Mainz. The church and cemetery were later destroyed and Gutenberg’s grave is now lost.

Gutenberg honored years after death

“When he died, Gutenberg’s amazing contributions were largely unknown,” Lothar said. “He was re-discovered centuries later and people realized how important he was to all of us.”

This excellent museum was created in 2000 by Gutenberg’s hometown to honor its native son. Along with the Bibles, the museum showcases printing presses spanning a period of several centuries. There are also exhibits on the history of paper and writing, bookplates, graphic arts and posters and many books, magazines and newspapers.

Before our tour ended, we had 15 minutes in a special exhibit room to watch Lothar operate a replica Gutenberg printing press. It was interesting to see the whole labor-intensive process and see many of us taking photos and videos on our cameras and cell phones.

Technology certainly has evolved over the years. I gave thanks to Gutenberg before leaving the museum. Can’t imagine life without books.

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Final blog – To me, what this ship has is what it doesn’t have

Walking off the ship to take a tour on my own in Cologne, I was asked by a couple standing on shore what there is to do on the Silver II. Visiting from Munich, the couple said they had seen the ship cruising on the Rhine and were curious about what is offered onboard.

The Amadeus Silver II was launched in March, 2015.
The Amadeus Silver II was launched in March, 2015.

Since I was carrying the ship’s daily program in my pocket, I pulled it out and let the couple – Arne and Marguerite – look at it. Of course, I told them about my wonderful stateroom and the delicious cuisine.

They said they could see from looking at the docked ship that the Silver II is beautiful. I agree. Sitting there on the Rhine River, the Silver II glistened and gleamed.

On this sunny Sunday, our daily program had a walking tour of the city in the morning. Some days we have a shore excursion in the morning and another one in the afternoon. Some involve a big comfortable bus, others are walking from the ship.

Since my cruise was booked with Amras Cruises, all my tours, gratuities and WiFi are included in the original fee. I also receive complimentary bottled water in my cabin and on shore excursions. Some passengers on my cruise didn’t book with Amras so they pay for those things separately. For example, the tour I took to the National Park Siebengebirge cost 65 euros or $71 in U.S. dollars. Today’s tour to Mainz cost 16 euros or $17.47 in U.S. dollars. I prefer to have it all inclusive as Amras does it.

The Silver II uses those wonderful Quiet Vox devices that allow us to hear our tour guide no matter how much street noise is going on and how far away (within reason) from the guide we are walking. On the Silver II, the devices are kept at the front desk so they are always fully charged when we need them. Just stop at the desk, turn in our room key, get a boarding pass, a Quiet Vox, a colored cardboard to identify our cruise group and head off. The lightweight Quiet Vox loops around our necks and is easy to use.

Evening entertainment on ship

Tonight, we will have cocktails followed by a port talk with cruise director Lorelay Bosca, then dinner. Afterwards, we can enjoy music in the Panorama Bar with the Amadeus Duo – singer Silvyia and pianist Salvi.

That is a normal day on the Silver II and it is ideal for me. The main star of the cruise, in my opinion, is the river and the stops along the way. That is where the emphasis is placed on our cruise.

Sometimes in the evening we will have a quiz with prizes in the Panorama Bar. One quiz was to identify places around the world from photos and hints. Another quiz was to name music and dances with tips by the Amadeus Duo. I think all of us, or at least I hope all of us, got one of those musical questions right. Do you know the answer – “What famous singer served with the Army in Germany?”

As a tip, Slavi played and sang “Blue Suede Shoes.” For another nudge, I can tell you my favorite singer was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, a place I have visited many times. That evening, my team won the quiz and was rewarded with two bottles of sparkling wine and a bunch of chocolate candy.

Another evening we had a raffle. I didn’t attend that one. Don’t gamble. A small dance floor in the Panorama Bar also is popular in the evening.

Anyway, if you are coming on the Silver II with plans to go to a flashy casino, sit in a cushy big theater for a Broadway-style revue, or play in a water world, this isn’t the place. I have nothing against those amusements. In fact, I have never met a cruise ship I didn’t like. But the Silver II offers something else.

A fellow passenger complained on my first Amadeus Silver II cruise that the ship didn’t bring local performers on at various stops, the way some other river ships do. I enjoy those guest entertainers, too, but I don’t miss them on the Silver II. To me, what the ship has is what it doesn’t have.

What it has is what it doesn’t have

I’m enjoying the chance to watch the river flow, to stroll through small towns I might not otherwise get to visit, to have knowledgeable tour guides give me insights into the places they live and to have “down” time to think, read, write and converse with other passengers. The Silver II cruise is quite relaxing and encourages all of those joys.

Slavi is a talented musician. My favorite song that he plays almost every day during cocktail hour is “Moon River.” Singer Silvyia tackles all kinds of songs, including the legendary Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” I will give any singer credit for trying that one. My dining companion John of Australia taped Silvyia singing “Crazy” and said I can share it with readers of this blog. The other video I created from photos taken during my cruise.

As I said in another blog, travelers should do their homework before booking a cruise. Know what it offers and what it doesn’t. If it’s not for you, look at another cruise line.

The Silver II crew is an important part of the great time we are having on the ship. Our cruise director Lorelay seems to be everywhere, always making sure that things run smoothly. Lorelay also is training a cruise director intern on my two cruises, 19-year-old Nico Hagen. Nico has a wonderful smile and is very organized. I’m sure he is a big help to Lorelay but I’ve trained newsroom interns in the past and it does take time.

Lorelay’s desk is highly visible. It is located right at the entrance to the Panorama Bar. No out-of-the-way private office, no walls to separate her from passengers, just a desk and chair and computer right there. Whenever I have a question, I always know where to find our cruise director.

My servers – Zultan on the first cruise and Veronika on the second – are top notch. At first, I think they may have been taken aback when my dining companions and I asked that our bread basket be left on the table until we had finished our meal. The process is to remove the bread and butter – neither of which were enough for our table of six – after the soup is served, Veronika told us, because “Germans don’t eat bread after soup.”

Ship captain Petricã Bãlasa offers a toast during the captain’s welcoming.
Ship captain Petricã Bãlasa offers a toast during the captain’s welcoming.

Well, we quickly told her that some Americans, British, Australians, New Zealanders, French and other nationalities do like bread with their entrée and even for dessert with cheese. After that, Veronika made sure that our bread basket and butter dish were never empty for our whole dinner.

As Lorelay said on our very first evening aboard ship, speak up whenever we need something or want something changed. Otherwise, how will Lorelay and other crewmembers know what will make our cruise more enjoyable. In our case, the “situation” (as Lorelay calls any “potential problem”) of the bread and butter was quickly remedied.

Visiting Germany with Germans

Most of the passengers on both of my Silver II cruises – remember I took two back-to-back cruises because it is too much trouble to fly from Indianapolis for a five-day European cruise – are German. Public announcements are made in both German and English. The evening quizzes are done in both German and English. Tours are offered with both English-speaking and German-speaking tour guides. Restaurant seating is assigned. If you travel alone, as I often do, you will be assigned to sit with other passengers.

In my case, on my first cruise, I was placed at a table with a man from the United Kingdom, a tour arranger who speaks English. On my second cruise, I was seated at a table with a mother from Australia, her grown son and his friend, a woman from Paris and a woman from New Zealand because we all speak English.

On my first five-day cruise, I was the only American passenger. On my second six-day cruise, there were eight more American passengers. Did I ever feel lonely or left out? Definitely not. I wanted to cruise the Rhine River and experience the German and French culture. Being with fellow passengers from France and Germany, as well as from other countries, was a big plus. Now, I can even speak a few words of German and understand many more.

One evening I sat at cocktail hour with a German man and wife. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak German but we did manage to communicate with broken phrases, words and smiles. It was quite enjoyable.

As I told Lorelay, if I wanted to have exactly what I have at home, I would have stayed home. Traveling, in my opinion, is supposed to be both pleasurable and enlightening. I certainly had fun and learned quite a bit on my Amadeus Silver II cruises

So when Arne and Marguerite asked me the big question, it was an easy answer: Would I take an Amras Cruise again on the Silver II, would I recommend it to others?

For sure. My two back-to-back Amras cruises have given me 11 days of wonderful memories. For future cruisers, I suggest doing travel research first, finding a ship and itinerary that best suit you, then sitting back and relaxing. The biggest thing I don’t like about my Silver II adventure is that it will soon be over.

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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