A memorable holiday trip on the Rhine aboard the AmaCerto

The AmaCerto joined Ama Waterways in 2012. (photo courtesy of AmaWaterways)
The AmaCerto joined Ama Waterways in 2012. (photo courtesy of AmaWaterways)

When I was a kid, the family friend who gave me my middle name (Marie) and braided my hair was from Germany. To keep my squirming to a minimum, Mrs. Schmidt used to regale me with German fairy tales and other stories while she did those taking-forever-to-do braids.

Such a place as Germany seemed so faraway and unattainable to a young Midwestern girl. But soon I will be headed to visit the beautiful Germany Christmas markets as well as other sites in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands. And I am going to travel the best way possible – aboard the AmaCerto cruise ship. Fantastic!

A photo of my cabin from the AmaWaterways brochure.
A photo of my cabin from the AmaWaterways brochure.

Known as Christmas on the Rhine, my weeklong cruise will visit Basel, Breisach, Strasbourg, Speyer, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne and Amsterdam. Some of the attractions we’ll see include the medieval town of Riquewihr, a music box museum, the place where fragrant cologne was created, a German brewery, the canals of Amsterdam and much more.

Aboard the ship, we’ll cruise past the famous castles of the Rhine – considered one of the most beautiful stretches of waterway in Europe. We will have evening entertainment in the ship’s lounge and eat, eat, eat.  AmaWaterways is famous for its delicious cuisine.

I’ve already seen brochure photos of my cabin – a deluxe outside stateroom featuring AmaWaterways exclusive twin balconies. Whenever possible, my ship cabins usually have balconies because that is one of my favorite places to sit and watch the ocean roll by. But my AmaCerto cabin has an inside balcony and an outside balcony which means a whole wall of sliding glass doors for excellent water views.

The cabin has a big bed, flat screen TV(which I will probably never turn on), refrigerator, plenty of dresser drawers, shelves and roomy closet, plus private bath with a large walk-in-shower.

The itinerary for my Christmas on the Rhine touches four counties along the river.
The itinerary for my Christmas on the Rhine touches four counties along the river.

Founded in 2002, the family-owned AmaWaterways gets its name from the Latin word for “love” – Ama. AmaWaterways has 19 custom-designed vessels and will add a new one in 2015, along with even more river cruises in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Resembling a luxurious long yacht, the AmaCerto can accommodate 164 passengers and sails to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Slovakia. Debuting in 2012, AmaCerto looks big enough to be comfortable but small enough to easily dock along the rivers.

This seems like it will a great cruise adventure and I hope you’ll come along for the journey. Hard telling what treasures we will discover.

First day on AmaCerto cruise gets off to great start

The AmaCerto debuted in 2012. (Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways)
The AmaCerto debuted in 2012.
(Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways)

First impressions can be so important. They can start a trip off on the right foot or the wrong one. AmaCerto certainly knows how to do it right.

Getting to Basel, Switzerland, for my cruise on the AmaCerto wasn’t easy. It seldom is when I have to travel internationally.

First I took a one and a half hour flight from Indianapolis to Atlanta. Waited two hours and took an eight and a half hour flight to Amsterdam. Had three hours in Amsterdam terminal before the one and a half hour flight to Basel. I’ve had some much tougher flights – Australia comes to mind – but this one was long enough.

So when I arrived in Basel, I was ready to stand on land and eat some real food. I’ve flown into the Basel airport before so I knew to exit on the Switzerland side. There was an AmaCerto representative holding a sign to guide me to the big bus that would take me to the ship. Several other arriving AmaCerto passengers went out the French side of the airport so our Ama guy had to go round them up. It’s easy to make that mistake.

Captain Jan Tensen presents women passengers with a welcome-aboard rose. Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
Captain Jan Tensen presents women passengers with a welcome-aboard rose.
Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

It is obvious that AmaCerto has paid attention to all details so now all I have to do is relax, let the AmaCerto staff take over and have a great week.

A short ride through Basel and we arrived at our ship. Although it was still too early for our cabins to be ready – like many other ships, AmaCerto does a quick turnaround with passengers disembarking in the morning and new passengers embarking in the afternoon – we were guided to the lovely lounge where a light lunch was waiting.

Some passengers had booked tours of Basel. I took a long walk instead and then did a bit of computer catch up before my cabin was ready. The AmaCerto has free ship wide WiFi which is a wonderful perk. The ship also has a small business office with a computer that passengers can use. Cruise manager Réka Piros was bustling around, introducing herself and seeing if anyone needed anything.

AMA MEANS LOVE

Founded in 2002, the family-owned AmaWaterways gets its name from the Latin word for “love” – Ama. AmaWaterways has 19 custom-designed vessels and will add a new one in 2015, along with even more river cruises in Europe, Asia and Africa.

My cabin with its dual balconies - one inside and one outside. Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
My cabin with its dual balconies – one inside and one outside.
Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

esembling a luxurious long yacht, the AmaCerto can accommodate 164 passengers and sails to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Slovakia. Debuting in 2012, AmaCerto looks big enough to be comfortable but small enough to easily dock along the rivers. The ship’s name is pronounced Ama-Cherto. The Certo part is a musical nod as in concerto. The three decks of the AmaCerto are named Piano, Violin and Cello.

At 3 p.m. our cabins were ready. I had already seen photos of mine in the AmaCerto brochure but it is even better than it looked in print. My outside stateroom features AmaWaterways exclusive twin balconies which means my cabin has an inside balcony and an outside balcony for a whole wall of sliding glass doors for excellent water views.

A ship’s balcony is one of my favorite places to sit and watch the water roll and I am happy to get a chance to try both an inside and an outside balcony. High temperatures on our trip are supposed to be near the 50s so I know the inside balcony will sure come in handy.

My cabin has a big bed, flat screen TV(which I will probably never turn on), refrigerator, plenty of dresser drawers, shelves and roomy closet, plus private bath with a large walk-in-shower. The refrigerator is already stocked with bottles of water, a very welcome plus.

One of my pet peeves is hotels and ships that don’t provide complimentary bottled water. Sure, they might have a big bottle of water in my room but it also has a big price tag. Little things like that mean a lot.

One neat element that I didn’t figure out immediately is a glass window between the bathroom and bedroom area. How nice, I thought, to make the room seem even bigger and lighter with that window. Then I realized that, although I am cruising alone, other passengers might not want all their bathroom actions so highly visible through that glass window. No problem. A switch at the entry to my cabin turns the window from see-through to private reflective glass. Nice touch.

An unusual bathroom window that opens into the cabin can be see-through or private with the touch of a light switch. Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
An unusual bathroom window that opens into the cabin can be see-through or private with the touch of a light switch.
Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

On our first day aboard, we are invited to an afternoon tea in the lounge with music from talented pianist Pavlin. Then we have a welcome-aboard cocktail with Captain Jan Tensen who introduces other staff members and presents each woman passenger with a red rose. Beautiful gesture.

I don’t speak German or French so I was pleased when cruise manager Réka said that the official language onboard is English. All staff, crew and local guides speak English and all announcements and programs are presented in English.

Then it’s on to dinner. I have chosen to eat at the Chef’s Table Restaurant my first night on the ship. It doesn’t cost extra to eat there but seating is reserved and limited so I want to try it before it starts booking up in the days ahead. I’ll share more about the restaurant later.

Right now, I’m just happy to be aboard and am finding more and more things I love about the AmaCerto. And it’s only the first day! Wonder what other happy discoveries are still to come.

Complimentary extras abound on beautiful AmaCerto

 Ship postcards aboard the AmaCerto are not only free, they are mailed gratis.
Ship postcards aboard the AmaCerto are not only free, they are mailed gratis.

With so many resorts, airlines and other places cutting services or adding new charges for them, it is surprisingly wonderful to see all the complimentary extras on my AmaCerto cruise.

I’ve only been on the ship one day and already I am noticing little pluses that mean so much to travelers. I’m going to list them below – in no particular order – just to show what no-charge things are offered on the AmaCerto. I know there will probably be some that I haven’t discovered yet but I’ll let you know about them later this week.

Here goes:

Petar Petrov pours complimentary wine for lunch and dinner aboard the AmaCerto.
Petar Petrov pours complimentary wine for lunch and dinner aboard the AmaCerto.
  1. Free ship-wide WiFi that works surprisingly well in cabins. The ship also has a small business office with a computer that passengers can use. It irks me that so many hotels, airports and cruise ships charge outrageous sums for WiFi. Good for you, AmaCerto.
  2. Complimentary beer, wine and soft drinks are included with every lunch and dinner. I’m not much of a drinker but I do like Pepsi and it seems stupid to pay what many cruise lines charge for soft drinks.
  3. A refrigerator in my cabin. The fridge is already stocked with free bottles of water, a very welcome plus.
  4. Shore excursions included in the cruise price. Some cruise lines charge $100 per person or more for a shore excursion. On the AmaCerto, we usually have the choice of several excursions each day. My weeklong Rhine River cruise will visit Basel, Breisach, Strasbourg, Speyer, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne and Amsterdam. Some of the attractions we’ll see include the medieval town of Riquewihr, a music box museum, the place where fragrant cologne was created, a German brewery, the canals of Amsterdam and much more.
  5. The fridge in my cabin is kept stocked with complimentary water.
    The fridge in my cabin is kept stocked with complimentary water.

    Bathrobes and slippers in our cabins. I travel with carry-on luggage so not having to pack a bathrobe sure saves some suitcase room.

  6. Umbrellas in our cabins. Also the AmaCerto offers something I have never seen on another cruise line – walking sticks and walking canes that fold out into little seats for folks who have problems walking and standing. These devices are located near the ship’s entrance door and available for passenger use at any time.
  7. The AmaCerto’s reservation-only restaurant Erlebnis doesn’t have a dining fee. Specialty restaurants on cruise ships seem to be a big deal now. Passengers pay extra to dine in a smaller restaurant with a bit more ambiance and a menu that offers cuisine just a step above that in the regular dining spots. It’s refreshing to see a ship include that dining option without a charge. In Erlebnis, a chef prepares a sophisticated four-course menu nightly. The same menu is served every night on our cruise but passengers are invited to dine there again as long as seating spots are open. Erlebnis seats only 24 at mostly tables for four with a few larger ones. After my first night dining experience at Erlebnis, I can definitely attest that the dinner was one of the most exquisite I have ever had on a cruise ship.

    Walking aids are provided free aboard the AmaCerto.
    Walking aids are provided free aboard the AmaCerto.
  8. Beautiful postcards of the AmaCerto that passengers can send free of charge to folks back home. Sure, I know that many hotels, ships and resorts also offer gratis postcards. It’s only good business. But AmaCerto also pays the postage to mail these cards free for passengers. That, I have never before encountered.There you have it – so far.

Dining in ship’s no-charge specialty restaurant is a taste treat

Today I learned a new word. And had a marvelous dining adventure.

I also discovered why AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line inducted into La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest international gastronomic society. The reason? They deserve it.

The AmaCerto specialty restaurant, Erlebnis, is cozy with a glassed-in kitchen to watch the chef at work.
The AmaCerto specialty restaurant, Erlebnis, is cozy with a glassed-in kitchen to watch the chef at work.

My first night on the cruise, I signed up to dine in AmaCerto’s exclusive restaurant. The dinner-only restaurant with its own chef and menu is named Erlebnis – a German word for “something memorable.” It certainly is.

Erlebnis is at the other end of the ship from the regular dining room. Unlike other cruise ships, there is no extra fee to dine at Erlebnis. Capacity is limited to 28 guests and reservations are required but I was assured that every passenger who wants to dine in Erlebnis should have the opportunity. And many dine there twice on a weeklong cruise. The menu is the same every night but I would certainly choose to dine there again.

The restaurant’s décor is elegant with several four-top tables and larger ones. A glass-enclosed kitchen lets us see the chef at work. A semi-circular walls of windows offers lovely views of the river.

The dinner started with a chef’s welcome of goose liver mousse and choice of red or white wine chosen for the meal. Remember that free-flowing beer, wine and soft drinks are complimentary for lunch and dinner on the AmaCerto. A very attentive wine steward kept our glasses filled.

Chef Tamas Peter prepares dishes in Erlebnis specialty restaurant.
Chef Tamas Peter prepares dishes in Erlebnis specialty restaurant.

Appetizer was lemon-pepper crusted salmon with chili sour cream. Not only was the salmon delicious, the serving was wonderfully artistic, a touch that I soon noticed in all AmaCerto dining. Presentation adds to the visual appeal and the AmaCerto chefs certainly have an artist’s eye.

Soup was carrot ginger with marinated butterfish. The carrot ginger part sounded good to me but I wasn’t so sure about marinated butterfish. Needn’t have worried. It was excellent.

Entrée was choice of grilled pike perch with salsa marguerite, beluga lentils, sautéed spinach and eggplant mash or grilled beef tenderloin fillet, zucchini, broccoli and macaire potato. I chose the beef. It arrived cooked just right and the serving size was perfect.

When I first started cruising back in 1976, the servings were so huge and so much food was wasted. More is not necessary better. In fact, it often isn’t. I’ve been very pleased to see serving sizes reduced on cruise lines so that you still get enough to eat but you don’t have to leave the table feeling stuffed. For folks with a bigger appetite and faster metabolism, there is always the option to order a second serving of something. My grandson did that by ordering two entrees – lobster and steak – on a Disney cruise. Of course, Logan is tall and skinny. I am not.

Appetizer of lemon pepper crusted salmon with chili sour cream
Appetizer of lemon pepper crusted salmon with chili sour cream

For dessert – again having smaller servings saves room for a sweet ending – the Apricot Trilogy featured a sweet dumpling, some sherbet and an apricot liqueur. All in all, it was certainly one of the best meals I’ve ever had a cruise.

GASTRONOMIC SOCIETY HONOR

As for that La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs honor, it is the world’s oldest international gastronomic society. The society was founded in Paris in 1950 to honor the traditions of the Royal Guild of Goose Roasters. But the organization goes back much longer than that.

Originally chartered in the 13th century, the guild was once so renowned that King Louis XII of France granted it its own coat of arms complete with two roasting spits, four larding needles and hearth flames.

The Guild of Roasters thrived for four centuries until the French Revolution brought it to an end. The society was reborn in modern times and rechristened La Confrérie de La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.

An entree of grilled beef tenderloin was prepared just right.
An entree of grilled beef tenderloin was prepared just right.

Membership is by invitation only and has grown to include professional chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers around the world. On the fourth night of our cruise, we will be treated to a special Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner in the ship’s regular restaurant. I’ve heard that it is a true dining delight and I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Ship’s special touches include pool with swim-up bar

Today, I thought we’d walk around the AmaCerto and see some of the things that make the ship so special. Although river cruise ships are limited to the same dimensions to fit into the locks on European rivers, the AmaCerto has certainly managed to include some eye-catching extras.

A glass elevator is a beautiful and useful addition to the AmaCerto.
A glass elevator is a beautiful and useful addition to the AmaCerto.

First is the lovely entry area with the service desk and beautiful glass elevator. Because of marine regulations, elevators can’t travel below the water line or to the sun deck but the elevator does offer easy transport between restaurant and lounge decks. Cabins on the Piano Deck, the lowest deck, are only accessible via stairs.

As on most ships, the hub of onboard activities is the large lounge. Floor to ceiling windows make this a great place to watch the river flow. Comfortable couches and armchairs with coffee tables and end tables can be arranged for socializing in small or large groups. A horseshoe-shaped bar is popular particularly in the evening and features a different cocktail every day. A small dance floor is available for late night dancers.

A very small gift shop is on the right entrance to the lounge as is a complimentary self-service coffee bar area that gets lots of use. An automatic coffee machine dispenses regular coffee, espresso, cappuccino and lattes. Hot chocolate is also available as is a wide selection of tea. The AmaCerto also offers the morning news, printed in several languages each day.

An oblong counter in the center of the lounge is where the breakfast buffet, light lunch and afternoon tea are served. Seems as though there is almost always some kind of food there for those who might want a snack.

The AmaCerto lounge is large, comfortable and user friendly.
The AmaCerto lounge is large, comfortable and user friendly.

A piano in the lounge comes alive when onboard musician Pavlin entertains. The lounge is also where cruise manager Réka Piros gives her evening talks. And it’s where the night’s entertainment is presented. So far we have had champion accordion player Armand Jehle, a French chartreuse and a classical music trio.

On the left side entering the lounge is a small library with plump sofas and two fireplaces. Not wood burning fireplaces, of course, but lovely ones nonetheless. The library has books and games for passenger enjoyment.

AmaCerto’s gym is equipped with a treadmill, Technogym weight machine and two stationary bikes. It also has a television screen for exercise entertainment and complimentary bottles of water. AmaCerto has a small salon offering services such as hair styling and massages.

A gigantic chess board waits for players on the top deck of the AmaCerto.
A gigantic chess board waits for players on the top deck of the AmaCerto.

But it’s the ship’s top deck that really makes it stand out from other river cruisers.
In addition to the customary walking track, the Sun Deck has seating spots, a gigantic chess board, shaded area, pilot house and pool. That’s right, a pool. I’ve never been on a river vessel with a pool this big. Some vessels have tiny plunge pools and plenty of hot tubs. But the AmaCerto has a teardrop-shaped heated pool with some depth to it. At the deep end is a swim-up bar with barstools and a bartender serving wine, beer and cocktails – in warm weather.

Although I’m loving this winter cruise on the AmaCerto, I really would like to return for a summer voyage. The Sun Deck would be such a wonderful spot to sit and watch as we navigate the rivers and see the small towns along the way. I would love to give this pool a try. I’ve considered it every day on my cruise but it’s been far too cold for me. Just a good reason to cruise with AmaWaterways again someday.

Winter weather is not conducive to using the swimming pool and swim-up bar during our AmaCerto cruise.
Winter weather is not conducive to using the swimming pool and swim-up bar during our AmaCerto cruise.

AmaCerto excursion – The Astronomical Clock in Strasbourg is a mechanical marvel

When the clock strikes half past noon, the apostles parade past Jesus while a cock crows and flaps its wings. On another part of the huge Astronomical Clock, the different stages of life are shown as a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man who pass before a scary Death figure.

Ever since I booked my AmaCerto cruise, I have been looking forward to seeing the famous Astronomical Clock in the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg. I had seen photos and a video of the clock but that was nothing compared to viewing it in person.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg is a gothic beauty.
The Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg is a gothic beauty.

Since the French city of Strasbourg is one of the shore stops on my AmaCerto cruise, I already know that my visit to the Cathedral and the clock will be well organized and not require an extra fee. Shore excursions are part of the cruise fare on the AmaCerto.

Another big plus of the AmaCerto cruise is having cruise manager Réka Piros go over the day’s activities the night before. We meet in the comfortable ship’s lounge, enjoy a hot or cold drink and listen as Réka talks about the shore excursions and history of the place we will visit the next day. Réka is one of those rare people who knows a great deal of interesting information and can share it in an entertaining way.

In Strasbourg, we have a morning tour and an option to stay in town and catch a free shuttle back to the ship. The ship also offers different levels of difficulty for its walking tours. “Active” is for those who like a fast pace. “Regular” is for passengers who are reasonably fit. “Gentle” allows more time to walk and less walking when possible. Sometimes the “Gentle” group gets a smaller bus to do away with some of the walking and sometimes they leave the ship later than the other two groups.

Considered a mathematical marvel, the Astronomical Clock is huge.
Considered a mathematical marvel, the Astronomical Clock is huge.

To make the shore excursion process run smoother, AmaCerto uses a color-coded system. Once a passenger chooses a tour and level, the purser’s desk gives out color-coded cards shortly before the tour begins. Passengers pick up their color cards and look for the bus and guide holding a sign for that color.

The tour buses for these excursions are big and comfortable with plenty of large windows to see attractions during city tours aboard the buses. The Quiet Vox devices in our cabins ensure that we can hear our tour guides no matter how much hubbub surrounds us as we follow along on the walking tours.

All we have to do is loop the charged apparatus about the size of an iPhone around our necks, stick the ear buds in our ears, turn to the correct channel, adjust the volume and we can hear the guide loud and clear.

FAMOUS ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK

The Astronomical Clock contains myriad little details and characters.
The Astronomical Clock contains myriad little details and characters.

As for my tour, the Cathedral de Notre Dame deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in Europe. Our guide Jacqueline told us that the cathedral stands on the exact site of a Roman temple. Master builder Erwin von Steinbach started construction on the beautiful pink sandstone facade in 1277.

“For nearly four centuries, the cathedral was considered the tallest building in the modern world,” guide Jacqueline said. “The cathedral is unique because it has only one spire. The north spire was built in 1439 and a south spire was planned. But it was never built and no one seems to know why.”

Along with magnificent stained glass windows and lovely icons, the cathedral also has a commemorative plaque honoring all the American soldiers who gave their lives to help free Alsace during World War II.

Located in the front of the church, the Astronomical Clock was originally built in the 14th century and was renovated several times, most recently in the 19th century. It includes a perpetual calendar, a display of the actual positions of the sun and the moon, plus solar and lunar eclipses.

Passengers are welcomed back to the ship by AmaCerto crew members offering hot drinks and warm wet hand towels.
Passengers are welcomed back to the ship by AmaCerto crew members offering hot drinks and warm wet hand towels.

Considered a mathematical marvel, the clock has a mechanism that shows the official time, the solar time, the day of the week, the month, the year, the sign of the zodiac, phase of the moon and position of several planets. Then there are all the animated characters that launch into movement at various times.

To see the clock in action, we got to the Cathedral a little after 11 a.m. and waited. At about noon, a 20-minute video explains the clock’s history and how it functions. Then at 12:30 p.m., the clock swings into action and the little figures begin to move. Well worth the wait.

Returning to the AmaCerto, we are always given a happy welcome. Crewmembers are waiting with warm damp hand towels to wipe off the grime of the outside world. We are handed hot spiced cider or herb tea. Going away on our shore excursions is always a pleasant adventure but it is equally fun to return to the welcoming embrace of the AmaCerto.

Heidelberg: Meeting a bridge monkey and enjoying a Heidelberg Kiss

The famous Heidelberg Student Kiss was created in the 1800s.
The famous Heidelberg Student Kiss was created in the 1800s.

Love will find a way. On today’s shore excursion from the AmaCerto cruise, I learned about the famous Heidelberg Student Kiss and even got to enjoy one.

I also saw a monkey and two mice on the Old Heidelberg Bridge. Never know what you are going to discover on a shore excursion.

As for that kiss, the story goes that the Heidelberg Student Kiss is both a confection and a bit of fascinating history from the 1800s.

“Because of the big Heidelberg University, there were a lot of young men studying in the city. Young women went to finishing school here, too,” says AmaCerto cruise manager Réka Piros. “But parents didn’t welcome the attention from these young men to their daughters.”

The Heidelberg Student Kiss is still made from the same 1800s recipe.
The Heidelberg Student Kiss is still made from the same 1800s recipe.

In fact, sharp-eyed chaperones were usually on hand to discourage any flirtations between the two. “The young men and women had to content themselves with side glances and secret smiles,” Réka says.

However, one pastry chef at a popular café remembered what it was like to be a young man in love. A hopeless romantic, chef Fridolin Knösel at Café Knösel soon developed a chocolate delicacy called the Heidelberg Student Kiss. The sweet was a delicious chocolate praline nougat and thin wafers covered with a layer of chocolate.

“The young men could give the young women who caught their attention a delicious kiss, even if it was a candy one,” Réka says.

The monkey on the Old Heidelberg Bridge carries a mirror to admire himself.
The monkey on the Old Heidelberg Bridge carries a mirror to admire himself.

Given as a present, the Student Kiss was such a sweet token of affection that even stern-faced chaperones could not object. At last, the students and the young ladies had a discreet way to send a sweet message.

Although courting standards have changed since 1863, the Heidelberg Student Kiss is still make by descendants of Fridolin Knösel according to his original hand-crafted recipe. Café Knösel still exists and the chocolate shop at Haspelgasse 16 is just a short walk from the bridge.

MONKEY AND MICE

That is why I was down by the Old Bridge and why I saw the monkey and two mice. I was taking pictures of the river and bridge and noticed the unusual sculptures. I wasn’t with a tour guide so didn’t know the story of the strange critters but was lucky enough to be on the edge of a tour group where the leader was explaining in English.

The story she told is that the monkey holding a mirror in his left hand is meant to remind people not to get too full of themselves. No one is better than anyone else, the guide said, and no one is safe from making themselves a monkey’s rear if they aren’t careful. The monkey actually has his behind turned toward the river and the bridge, all the better to moon approaching visitors.

The hollowed-out monkey head is a popular spot to pose for photos.
The hollowed-out monkey head is a popular spot to pose for photos.

The bronze sculpture was installed in 1979 by Professor Gernot Rumpf. But there had been a bridge monkey in Heidelberg as far back as the 15th century, according to historic records.

A plaque next to the statue read, the guide said, something along the lines of “As you look at me, don’t laugh because if you were to look at other human beings or even into a mirror, you might just see something equally funny.” Good lesson.

The sculpture was created with a big empty space in the monkey’s head. That way people can stick their heads inside the monkey’s head, making it quite a popular photo spot.

Sculptures of two mice are nestled near the Bridge Monkey.
Sculptures of two mice are nestled near the Bridge Monkey.

According to legend, if you touch the fingers of the Bridge Monkey, it will ensure your return to Heidelberg. If you touch the mirror, you will have money in your future. If you touch the mice, that is a guarantee of fertility. I think I touched all of them so who knows what my future holds. Returning to Heidelberg aboard the AmaCerto would be my hope.

AmaCerto excursion: Hearing music from the past at Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum

The tiny 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.

“Welcome to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum,” guide Christelle says, leading our large group through the multi-roomed museum. “It is almost unbelievable what you are going to see and hear in here.”

A teeny snuff box has a musical bird atop it.
A teeny snuff box has a musical bird atop it.

Christelle was right. I chose to visit the Musical Museum when the AmaCrto docked in Rüdesheim because I had heard so much about the self-playing musical cabinets. Other passengers on AmaCerto were going to learn more about the local specialty of Rüdesheimer Coffee. Still others were going to taste some of the Riesling wine for which Rüdesheim is famous.

As an extra treat, our transportation for the short distance into town would be on a mini train. We also could take the train back to the ship after our shore excursions. I decided to walk instead and take photos along the river.

An ornate musical cabinet plays circus music.
An ornate musical cabinet plays circus music.

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,” Christelle says. Clad in her old-fashioned dress and lace-trimmed straw hat, Christelle gave the history behind the instruments and showed how they played and how they sounded.

This instrument plays a violin and piano concerto - without hands.
This instrument plays a violin and piano concerto – without hands.

One scratchy gramophone record sounded like a speeded-up Doris Day signing 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, Christelle says, 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 Christelle 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, Christelle says, 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.

Visiting the home of Eau de Cologne in Germany

Tour guide Marion holds a bottle of Eau de Cologne in front of the place where it is made.
Tour guide Marion holds a bottle of Eau de Cologne in front of the place where it is made.

Napoleon Bonaparte loved Eau de Cologne so much that he ordered 50 bottles a month. The famous emperor used the fragrant water extravagantly and supposedly had special boots designed where he could stash an emergency bottle of cologne.

“Back then, they didn’t take baths as often as we do today so they used perfume to mask their body odor,” tour guide Marion said.

However, some of the perfumes smelled so heavy that they weren’t pleasant either. Then along came a perfumer who created a light and fresh scent. It became an immediate and expensive bestseller among nobility.

Shop windows at Farina’s Eau de Cologne are colorful and eye catching.

Marion shared these historical tidbits while we stood in front of the world’s oldest perfumery in Cologne or Köln, as the Germans call this city on the Rhine River.

Shop windows at Farina's Eau de Cologne are colorful and eye catching.
Shop windows at Farina’s Eau de Cologne are colorful and eye catching.

It was here that Johann Maria Farina created the product that he named after his hometown – Eau de Cologne.

“This is the same place where the same family has made the same product for more than 300 years,” Marion said on our shore excursion from the AmaCerto.

Of course, I had to go in the shop and get a couple of bottles of Eau de Cologne. And it does smell exactly as Farina described it:

“My fragrance is reminiscent of a spring morning after the rain: of orange, lemons, grapefruit, bergamot and blossoms. 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,” Marion said.

FARINA MUSEUM SHOWCASES COLOGNE HISTORY

Eau de Cologne was created in this shop in 1709.
Eau de Cologne was created in this shop in 1709.

The shop also has an interesting museum that explains the history of Eau de Cologne and displays some wonderful memorabilia, including 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.

In the Farina House Museum, the tour guide was dressed as Farina himself in a costume from the ornate Rococo period. One of my favorite pieces in the museum was a Portuguese desk where Farina worked until 1760. He kept all the company records and wrote dozens of letters everyday. Today, Farina’s archives are the largest and most complete business records in Europe.

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.

Eau de Cologne was named in honor of the creator's hometown of Cologne, Germany.
Eau de Cologne was named in honor of the creator’s hometown of Cologne, Germany.

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.

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 got back to the AmaCerto, I sprayed a teeny bit of Eau de Cologne on my cabin pillow. I’ve heard it brings sweet dreams. Whether that happens or not, it really does smell good.

Farewell to beautiful ship, friendly crew, intriguing itinerary

Captain Jan Tensen, cruise manager Réka Piros and hotel manager Attila Bokros
Captain Jan Tensen, cruise manager Réka Piros and hotel manager Attila Bokros

It seems to happen every cruise. When I first step on the ship, the days stretch before me so leisurely. What I will see and what I will learn will be my traveling treasures. Then, before I know it, the trip is over.

Here it is departing time aboard the AmaCerto. A week wasn’t long enough. A return visit would be wonderful.

The vessel is beautiful. The cuisine is delicious. My stateroom with its double balconies is a comfortable haven. The itinerary is intriguing. And the crew. Ah, the crew is perhaps a top reason for taking this cruise.

Debuting in 2012, our 164-passenger AmaCerto had 24 return cruisers, plus guests from America, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Canada, Germany, Netherlands and Australia. “It’s a very diverse group,” cruise manager Réka Piros noted.

Small towns, cities and historic sites abound on a Rhine River cruise.
Small towns, cities and historic sites abound on a Rhine River cruise.

Every evening, Réka would have us gather in the lounge for a brief chat about what we would be doing the next day. Réka also would share little tips for our cruise. For example, she gave some great uses for The Daily Cruiser printed by AmaWaterways and put in our staterooms every evening.

“Take it with you when the leave the ship for a shore excursion,” Réka advised on our first evening. At the bottom of the first page of The Daily Cruiser is the daily docking location of the ship, the ship’s phone number and Réka’s phone number.

“If you become lost, all you have to do is show a taxi driver or someone the docking location,” Réka said. “Or you can call us and we will come and find you.”

The Daily Cruiser also gives the time of the day’s sunrise and sunset, along with the weather forecast. I particularly like the saying printed under the name of the newsletter: “Every day is a new life to the wise one.”

The second page of the newsletter gives the cruise schedule for the day, along with the name of the daily specialty cocktail. The third and fourth pages of the newsletter have some background information on the destinations we will be visiting that day.

Réka also shared a photo tip using the newsletter. “When you get home and you look at all those beautiful pictures you took, you might not remember the name of each place. You might think, ‘Where was that one? What day was that one?”

The AmaCerto debuted in 2012 and is part of AmaWaterways.
The AmaCerto debuted in 2012 and is part of AmaWaterways.

To help organize photos, Réka suggested taking a photo of the newsletter’s first page each day when you get up or the night before when going to bed. “That way you will know that all the pictures you took after that picture of the newsletter were taken in the places we visited that day.”

Another handy tip was part of Réka’s debarkation talk the last night of the cruise. To be sure nothing is left in a passenger’s stateroom safe, Réka shared what she does.

“The night before the cruise ends, before I go to bed, I take a shoe and put it in the safe,” she said with a smile. “I might forget that I have something in the safe when I’m in a hurry in the morning. But I won’t forget my shoe because I certainly won’t be leaving the ship barefoot.”

As a parting gift, AmaWaterways shared a recipe for European Jägertee. In English, this translates to “hunter tea,” a specialty beverage that originated in the 19th century and was enjoyed during the cold winter days by hunters and foresters.

Made with spices, wine, rum and tea – and served hot – this drink is packed with flavor and warmth. It seems like the perfect drink to toast AmaCerto for a cruise well done, a joy to remember and a hope to meet again someday.

European Jägertee

1 cup red wine
1 cup black tea
1 cup spiced rum
1 cup orange juice
1 cup plum brandy or Schnapps
2-3 whole cloves
2 lemon slices
¼ cinnamon stick
Pinch of sugar

Place tea, wine, rum, brandy, orange juice, spices and lemons in large pot. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes – do not boil. Remove from heat. Use ladle to fill mugs. Sprinkle with sugar to taste. Serves 6-8.

 

 

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