Day 1. We met our guide at 10 AM at the Paris Est train station to board a high-speed TGV train bound for Metz, founded 3,000 years ago by the Gallic tribe of Mediomatrici from which it derives its name. The Old Town is grouped around arcaded Place St-Louis with its characteristic stone-buttressed houses from the 14th to 16th century. It’s a quite charming city and is famous for its yellow limestone architecture, due to the extensive use of the Jaumont stone.
In fact, Metz is home to a mishmash of architectural layers, witnessing its millennium history at the crossroad of different cultures. Thus, from its Gallo-Roman past, the city conserves vestiges of the thermae (in the basement of Metz’s museums), parts of an aqueduct, and Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains basilica. The Saint-Louis square with its arcades, where currency changers gathered, remains a major symbol of the High Medieval heritage of the city, as well as a Knights Templar chapel. The Gothic cathedral, several churches and Hôtels, and two remarkable municipal granaries reflect the Late Middle Ages.
Next, we traveled by motor coach to Luxembourg, where we had a tour of the capital of the Grand Duchy. One of the smallest countries in the world, Luxembourg is also the world’s only grand duchy. The Capitol, Luxembourg City, was built in a spectacular location, on a high rocky bluff rising steeply from the gorges carved out of the rivers Alzette and Petrusse.
Less than half a million people live in this tiny, prosperous nation, which is landlocked and bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. The national language is Luxembourgian (a German dialect), but French and German are also officially used.
This visit was followed by a drive to see the American Cemetery and Memorial, resting place of Gen. George S. Patton Jr. The rows of white stone crosses and Star of David headstones create a somber remembrance of the World War II battles fought in the area.
While walking through the cemetery I noticed that small pebbles had be placed on the headstones of some of the graves, especially that of General Patton. These pebbles represent the Jewish tradition of leaving a pebble or stone on top of a headstone to signify that someone has honored the deceased person’s memory with a visit to the grave. A poignant act of remembrance.
In the late afternoon we arrived in the small river town of Remich, Luxembourg, to board our ship, the MS AmaDante. My first impression of the AmaDante is that she does not look like a traditional cruise ship. She has three decks, of which the top two offer large floor to ceiling sliding glass doors for each cabin, each with French Balconies. These balconies are simple railings about half way up the window casings which allow passengers to completely open their individual sliding doors in safety while observing the passing scenery. The ship is a little boxy in appearance and is wide and low. Once underway it becomes apparent that the ship has been constructed to maximize its size yet pass under the low bridges of the region, and through the narrow locks. She has a modern first rate look, and appears to be scrupulously maintained.
Going on board one is met in a well-appointed reception area by a smiling, courteous, uniformed staff; clearly eager to please.
Guests were then shown to their cabins which were, again, tastefully decorated. Cabins were inclusive of the expected mirrors (to give the allusion of spaciousness), ample closet space, a monitor which provided access to television, selected on board movies and internet service, a safe, white terry cloth robes and slippers, two club chairs and bedside tables with reading lamps, individual temperature control, and a nice carpet is underfoot. Bottled water was delivered every day. The marble and fully tiled bathroom was spotless, and offered a modern shower compartment with multiple shower heads, a hair dryer, and a nice assortment of toiletries. The water pressure was excellent and hot water abundant.
The cabins’ focal point is the floor to ceiling sliding glass doors that provide excellent views of the surrounding countryside, castles, and villages along the river bank, and can be viewed from the club chairs or while lying in bed. These sliding doors are far superior to other ships on the river as, unlike their fixed smaller windows, the AmaDante windows offer not only better views, but can be opened to let in fresh air. These windows are available on all decks except the Piano, which has smaller, fixed windows. Such cabins are, however, less expensive, and have all the features of other cabins. Jr. Suites, on the Violin Deck, are 255 sq. ft. and include a larger seating area and bath.
Although limited room service is provided on board, I could find no notice of such in my cabin or a room service menu. I only found out about its availability while lamenting its absence to an AMA Waterways execution on board the last night of the cruise. I would certainly have used it, at least for AM coffee and croissants, had I known.
Following a short time to unpack, guests were invited to a “Welcome Aboard” wine reception during which the ship’s captain introduced key crew members and reviewed ship policies and safety procedures. The captain humorously explained that if the ship sunk entirely, the Sun Deck would still be above water due to the rivers shallow depth; to the obvious relief of some. We then adjourned to dinner in the well-appointed dining room.
The overall impression one gets is that of comfort, elegance, and attentive, professional service. The lines owners and crew clearly know that one only gets one chance of making a first impression.
Day Two. The nighttime experience aboard was quite good. The beds are comfortable, and the individual heating and air conditioning system allows for a personal temperature selection. The bed pillows are hypoallergenic cut foam and a little stiff for my taste as I prefer feather or down, but not so uncomfortable as to interfere with my sleep. The ship glides silently throughout the night with no engine noise or shuddering.
We began the day with breakfast in the ships dining room, which consisted of a breakfast buffet or several offerings from the menu served on white table cloths. I had a made to order omelet, sausage, two excellent croissants, fresh fruit and coffee. A very nice meal served by an attentive waiter.
During the morning and early afternoon the ship cruised along the Mosel toward the German city of Bernkastle. The views along the way were lovely, consisting of fall colors along the riverbank and surrounding hills and the occasional castle or village.
Just prior to lunch guests were treated to the first of many interesting wine lectures by Christopher Silva of the St. Francis Winery in Sonoma Valley, California, christened after St. Francis of Assisi in recognition of St. Francis’ role as patron saint and protector of animals and ecology in the natural world.
In mid afternoon we arrived in Bernkastle with its two and three story Medieval “Half Timber’ homes. The houses are smaller at street level and progressively get larger and higher because their inhabitants were required to pay taxes calculated by the ground space each house covers.
Five guides were available for walking tours of the village that including a wine tasting event at the Bergweiler Winery. We sampled four fragrant wines from their Riesling and Pinot Noir collection in the Dr. Paulys Probier- und Studierkeller charming tasting room, along with an informative lecture.
This evening we were served a German themed dinner paired with select wines from the St. Francis Winery. Wines served are as follows:With the first course: White 2009 St. Francis Sonoma County Chardonnay Description: Apple, pear and honeysuckle With the main course: Red 2008 St. Francis Tres Viedos Zinfandel Sonoma County Description: Rich, dark red berry, spice, pepper With the dessert: 2008 St. Francis Sonoma County Port Description: Rich, sweet cherry dark, chocolaty
My menu selection was Marinated Salmon Trout and Scallops with carrots, cucumber and sour cream sauce; Cream of Pumpkin Soup with roasted seeds; thinly sliced Venison Loin crusted with hazelnut crust with black currant-grape sauce, brussels sprouts, carrots and macaire potato’s; Lukewarm cheese cake with forest berry ragout and crème brule ice cream. This, followed by an excellent selection of cheeses. As always, plate presentation was excellent.
After dinner, we enjoyed La Strada, a group of Belgian musicians that entertained us with “light” classical music.
The three La Strada musicians played the guitar, cello and violin with a remarkable level of skill that kept the passengers in rapt attention. Kudos to whoever brought them on board.
Day 3. This morning at 10:30 AM passengers were offered a German Fruhschoppen (morning pint) with beer and sausages in the lounge. Fruhschoppen comes from a German tradition that after Sunday church the men would head to the bars to drink schnapps and the women went home to make a big lunch. It was a very lively affair for a morning activity. Although a little early for drinking beer in my estimation, many other passengers disagreed and hoisted their glasses.
Following Fruhschoppen we were treated to another wine lecture by Christopher Silva of the St. Francis Winery. The lecture, entitled “Sonoma vs. the World”, was accompanied with a comparative tasting of 3 Chardonnay wines. A busy morning for alcohol indeed.
This afternoon we docket right next to the wine town of Zell, home town of ‘Zeller Schwarze Katz’ wine. Zell is located on the impressive Zeller Hamm river bow of the Mosel, and is one of Germany’s most beautiful and diverse wine regions.
The village itself, deep in the Mosel Valley, has narrow alleyways, centuries-old historic framework houses with steep gables, romantic village squares with ornate fountains, Gothic, Baroque and modern churches that are all appealing cultural sights well worth seeing.
This evening a musician from Zell greeted us as we disembarked the ship leading passengers through the town center to the Cellars of City Hall, across from the cities “Black Kat” statue, for a special event hosted by the city’s mayor and Wine Queen. Several local top vintners introduced us to the regions viticulture with free-flowing Black Kat wine and numerous regional dishes.
Having experienced all the wine I could take in one day, I returned to the ship, and my cabin, to find the nightly chocolates on my pillow from house keepings turn down service. Others with voracious appetites and better bladders than mine remained in Zell until the ships “All Aboard”!! call at 1:45 AM.
Day 4. After a night sailing we awoke to find ourselves docked in the village of Cochem, dominated by the Reichsburg Castle.
With only a few hours to visit Cochem, both bike and walking tours left the ship at 9 AM, which included a minivan ride up to the Imperial Castle. I noted that some of the revelers from the night before did not seem the worse for wear.
A word about Micro Climates. A microclimate is the climate of a small area that is different from the area around it. It may be warmer or colder, wetter or drier, or more or less prone to frosts. In the case of the small villages along the section of the Mosel we recently traversed, it’s colder. These villages are snugly fit along the Mosel’s bank, several hundred feet below the surrounding bluff peaks, and the temperatures plunged to just above freezing, especially at night. Due to this fact, you are well advised to bring along some clothes that allow you to “layer” during this part of the voyage. As we turned onto the flatter countryside surrounding the Rhine at Koblenz, the temperature warmed again.
Each day when returning from our tours and walks about the cold Mosel villages we were greeted on board by a staff member offering warm towels and Glühwein or tea. Glühwein is popular in German-speaking countries and the region of Alsace in France. It is the traditional beverage offered and drunk during the Christmas holidays. It is usually prepared from red wine, heated and spiced with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, citrus and sugar. A very nice touch on a cold day.
We sailed for Koblenz at 12:30 PM and went to lunch, eating while looking out the dining room windows as the scenic vistas of the Mosel slowly passed by. The fall colors of the vineyards and passing trees were a beautiful mottled yellow and orange. This is a lovely and gracious way to travel.
Just prior to dinner we received another lecture by Christopher Silva for a wine blending demonstration. He is a wealth of knowledge, and is slowly educating us about the art of winemaking and introducing our pallets to his personal wine selections.
After dinner the ship arrived in the city of Koblenz, and docked near the city’s old town. Koblenz is much larger than any of our previous stops with a population of 115,000, and located at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. This spot is dominated by the largest fortress situated anywhere along the Rhine, the immense Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. Built over 1000 years ago, the fortress now houses several museums and is gloriously lighted in the evening.
Some of us went for an evening stroll along the river winding up at the huge monument dedicated to Kaiser Wilhelm I, located at the “Deutsches Eck” or “German Corner” park, exactly at the two rivers confluence. The tip of the park is shaped like a ship’s prow, overlooked by an enormous equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm mounted on an equally-huge stone base that you can climb for a great view of the rivers and opposite shore where the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress is situated.
Day 5. This morning we boarded a motorcoach to take us on a day boat trip of the Rhine Gorge. The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is one of the most magnificent and oldest cultural landscapes in Europe. This section of the Rhine, between the old Roman town of Koblenz and the towns of Bingen and Rüdesheim, were included on the list of world heritage sites in the year 2002 by UNESCO. It is hard to find something similar in Europe. The exceptional views of around 40 castles, mansions and fortresses between Koblenz and Bingen make this a highlight of the cruise and is not to be missed.
We arrived back on board the ship in the late afternoon to find that the dining room was preparing a Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner for that evening. The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is the world’s oldest international gastronomic society, founded in Paris in 1248. It is devoted to preserving the camaraderie and pleasures of the table and to promoting excellence in all areas of the hospitality arts. Chaîne is based on the traditions and practices of the old French royal guild of meat roasters. Revived in 1950, the society has professional and amateur members in more than 70 countries worldwide.
The meal prepared by our chef was French, and was so extraordinary that I have included it for your review.APPETIZER Foie Gras Pate with Walnut Brioche, Fig Chutney, Port Wine Shallot Confit *** Cocktail of Cherry with Cointreau *** Lollo Rosso and Biannco, Arugula, Boston Lettuce, Pine Nuts, Croutons Marinated with French Dressing SOUP Traditional French Onion Soup topped with Cheese Croutons *** Escargot Cream Soup with Vegetable Cubes and Chester Stick ENTREES Grilled Fellet of Red Mullet with Creamy Chardonnay Foam, Sauteed Spinach, and Truffle Flavored Potato Mousseline *** Lamb Medallions and Lamb Rack with Herb Crust, Thyme Gravy, Ratatouille Vegetable, Romanesco and Potato Gratin *** Chantarelle-Leek Quiche with Chive Sour Cream, Sauteed Cherry Tomato and Pearl Potatoes DESSERTS Crème Brule, Moist Chocolate Cake with Amarena Ice Cream *** Vanilla Ice Cream with Orange-Grand Marnier Ragout and Biscuit *** Fresh Fruits *** French Cheese Selection with Biscuits White Wine: Weissburgunder-Rabl from Austria Red Wine: Blaurburger-Rabl from Austria
Each course was beautifully presented and served, as usual. This, dear readers, is no time to be on a diet.
Later, in the ships lounge, a musical group performed for listening and dancing. At three AM the AmaDante departed for Cologne.
Day 6. This morning we arrived in Cologne, which is located on both sides of the Rhine River, and is Germany’s fourth largest city. Our time in Cologne is short, so we opted for a walking tour through the old part of the city, visiting its legendary 13th-century Gothic cathedral, seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Cologne. It is an absolute stunning structure started in 1248, and completed in 1880. In 1996, it was designated a World Heritage site.
We also enjoyed a tasting of Kölsch Beer at the Früh Brewery. Like the name “Champagne” in France, the name “Kölsch” is protected by law so that only beers brewed in and around Cologne can use the name. Its taste is somewhat sweet and subtle in flavor, and served in a rod style glass.
Others took a guided bike tour of Cologne with the Früh Brewery their last stop for obvious reasons. This afternoon, the ship departed Cologne and cruised toward Amsterdam.
This evening we attended the Captain’s Wine Dinner. Although it was suggested that male passengers wear coats, few did, preferring to dress in nice but more casual clothes. The evenings wine selections were provided by the St. Francis Winery. We chose to sit at a two top table up against a banquette and were pleased with the small restaurant feel that it gave us. We were grateful for the thoughtfulness of the restaurants design. As usual there was the nice assortment of appetizers, soups, entrees and desserts. I have become very fond of the selection of international cheeses offered every evening, and intend to add them to my home menu upon return.
Day 7. Sex, Drugs & Rock and Roll. We arrived in contrary Amsterdam this morning with its legal prostitution and Marijuana with the contradictory backdrop of interesting architecture, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, and the Ann Frank House. Amsterdam is a very open and tolerant city with a diverse population
We began our day with a scenic canal cruise through Amsterdam, sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North.” Canals encircle Amsterdam’s city center, and a canal cruise provides a good vantage point for admiring the beautiful buildings and merchant homes that line the water. We saw the fabled Skinny Bridge, and the famous Anne Frank House. Afterwards, we went on a panoramic motor coach tour of Amsterdam, in which we saw its most famous landmarks, including the Royal Palace and a photo stop at the Rembrandt Windmill.
Following our motor coach tour we had free time to explore the city on foot, looking for some of the more infamous aspects of the city. We quickly stumbled upon a number of “Coffeeshops” with clouds of marijuana smoke wafting into the street. Coffeeshops in Amsterdam are not where one goes for a soothing cup of Starbucks, but establishments in the Netherlands where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities.
Under the drug policy of the Netherlands, the sale of cannabis products in small quantities is allowed by ‘licensed’ coffee shops. The majority of these “coffeeshops” (in Dutch written as one word) also serve drinks and food. Coffeeshops are not allowed to serve alcohol (although in the past some coffeeshops in central Amsterdam have transgressed this law without reproach)or other drugs, and risk closure if they are found to be selling soft drugs to minors, or hard drugs. The idea of coffeeshops was introduced in the 1970’s for the explicit purpose of keeping hard and soft drugs separated.
We went in one, of course, and received instruction on the many varieties offered by strength or promised effect. For about two Euros one can purchase a “joint”, with or without tobacco included, with names such as Bubblicious and White Rhino, and then can sit outside in the sunlight and fresh air or inside contemplating 60’s style wall murals and recordings of Frank Zappa. We chose…ah, never mind.
Later we walked through Amsterdam’s “Red Light District”, where prostitution is legal. From brothels to sex shops to sex shows, the Red Light District leaves little to the imagination. The Rossebuurt, as the locals know it, is where women of many nationalities parade their wares in red-fringed window parlors. Another familiar image of the Red Light District is of packs of men, young and old, couples holding hands and pointing in shock of it all, giggling groups of women, and busloads of Japanese tourists toting cameras.
Perhaps what few really notice is that the Rosseburt (Dutch for ‘pink’ or ‘red’ neighborhood) is in fact one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of the city with its long, winding, narrow cobbled streets and utterly charming 14th century architecture, such as the gothic Oude Kerk, or Old Church. The Red Light District simply oozes charm and one cannot help but admire the old buildings that lean at odd-angles, and the tree-enshrouded canals.
When visiting the district, however, keep in mind the following: It is strictly forbidden to take pictures of windows occupied by the prostitutes, be careful of pickpockets, travel as a group or at least as a couple, and do not buy drugs from wandering dealers or you may find yourself breaking the law.
We returned to the AmaDante for cocktail hour in the lounge followed by a Dutch dinner onboard. As this was our last night aboard, passengers gathered in the lounge after dinner to share stories, photographs, and addresses with each other. Many passengers had made good friends with others on board, and wished to keep in touch or share another cruise together in the future.
Gratuities are customary expressions of appreciation for a job well done, and two envelopes for them appeared in our cabin on the last night of our journey. It was recommended that guests leave 3 Euros per passenger, per day for the Cruise Director, and 12 Euros per passenger, per day for the crew. Such thanks for services provided are always at the guest’s discretion of course, as are the amounts given.
Day 8. Departure began at 10 AM, and was an easy affair. AMA Waterways had arranged transportation to the airport, or taxi service for those staying in Amsterdam or going to the train station. The process was orderly, farewells were said, and suitcases were carried for passengers to their preferred mode of transportation.
In closing, it seems to me that AMA Waterways Fall Wine Cruises, to be offered again next year, may prove popular with those who wish to avoid summer crowds, experience the fall scenery along the two rivers, and enjoy learning about and partaking of some of Germany’s best wines. All this, onboard a beautiful ship that provides excellent personal service.
You could do worse than getting off your 5,000 passenger behemoth cruise ship next year and Come-Here and Do- This.