What Travel Writers Say


Europe's Rivers & Castles Aboard AmaWaterways AmaDante

By Mike Keenan

AmaDante, AmaWaterways Europe's Rivers & Castles Cruise, photo by Mike Keenan

AmaDante, AmaWaterways Europe's Rivers & Castles Cruise, photo by Mike Keenan

AmaWaterways' 7-night Europe's Rivers & Castles cruise was a terrific way to enjoy a portion of Germany. After an efficient train ride from Frankfurt, we arrive at our docking location, the Esplanade de la Moselle in tiny Wasserbillig, eastern Luxembourg, situated at the confluence of the Moselle and Sauer rivers.

Captain Andreas Turk, AmaWaterways Europe's Rivers & Castles Cruise, photo by Mike Keenan Starting from Luxembourg, we first visit Trier, Germany's oldest city, and then we meander through the picturesque Mosel River Valley with its steep hillsides covered with vineyards. We visit the German villages of Bernkastel and Cochem and experience the dramatic Rhine River Gorge scenery, sprinkled with ancient fortresses and castle ruins. Along the Main River, we stop at numerous medieval towns seemingly untouched by time before cruising through the Main-Danube Canal to finish at historic Nuremberg, famous for its WWII trials. (You can listen to my account of this trip on my podcast - http://whattravelwriterssay.libsyn.com/what-travel-writers-say-podcaast-34-amawaterways-7-night-europes-rivers-castles-cruise

Built in the Netherlands, the 144-passenger AmaDante debuted in 2008. It's 360 feet long by 38 feet wide with a crew of 45. Our stateroom is roomy and well organized with space for everything that we carry. Ours like most others, sports a French balcony. Inside, we are indulged with free high-speed Internet access, unlimited Wi-Fi, movies, music and English language TV stations. We also enjoy climate-controlled air conditioning and after a few minutes of trial and error, we figure out how to use the in-room safe.

Inside an attractive, marble bathroom, we enjoy multi-jet showerheads and soothing bath and body products. My wife appreciates the robe and hair dryer. I like the large sitting area equipped with two chairs. And if we really want to get laid back, the AmaDante offers added comforts, including a sauna, whirlpool, massage and hair salon, a stylish and an inviting Main Lounge with a coffee station which we frequent for early-morning expressos and late-night cappuccinos featuring steamed milk foamy caps.

AmaWaterways is a member of "La Chaî:ne des Rötisseurs," an exclusive international culinary society. Thus, thanks to Executive Chef, Adrian Chirita, we are treated to exquisite, locally-inspired cuisine paired with unlimited complimentary wines, as well as beer and soft drinks with each lunch and dinner. One evening, we relish "The Chef's Table" restaurant at the stern, featuring a delicious tasting menu prepared on site.

There is a walking track on the Sun Deck, a fitness room and a fleet of on-board bicycles to use on our own or on one of the many guided bike tours, as well as healthy menu choices despite the tempting and sugary carbohydrate afternoon treats in the lounge. Our safety is ensured as every time that we leave the ship or return from shore, a personal "safety card" is scanned at the reception desk.

Each day, tea and coffee are available in the Lounge where sandwiches and soup are also served from 11:30-3:00 PM. The food and drink never seems to stop and the small size of the ship enhances our ability to make new friends.

This cruise offered an attractive option, a pre-cruise trip to Paris and a post-cruise trip to Prague, which was the very reason one couple explained to me for this particular cruise selection.

Our first evening, while on-board musician Norbert tickled the ivories in the lounge, captain Andreas Turk welcomed us all with cocktails along with Hotel Manager Stefka Kurtlakova and Cruise Manager Dejan Stancic, followed by a mandatory Safety Exercise and Information Briefing.

For the forgetful few or any poor souls with lost airplane luggage, certain amenities that one might need are available free of charge. They include adapters; blood pressure monitor; converters; crutches; curling iron; earplugs; folding seat canes; Nordic walking sticks; reading glasses; shower chair; and a walking cane. Another much appreciated item was laundry service which we used twice on the riverboat.

A "Daily Cruiser" newsletter is printed on board and delivered to one's stateroom every evening during dinner. It provides details of the following day's program, meal times and other activities, as well as interesting and helpful information about the next port of call. In each port, there is an excursion with tour guide and participation is voluntary. Local guides are carefully selected and we enjoyed them all.

For meals, there is an open seating policy in the main restaurant and table reservations are not accepted. Dress is casual for breakfast and lunch, "smart casual" for dinner. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style, but one may order from the kitchen. The waiters are quite attentive.

Our first morning, Trier, Germany's oldest city beckoned. Docked in Isel, we take a short coach ride to visit this historic Roman settlement with relics such as the Porta Nigra (Black Gate), the symbol of the city dating back to 180 AD. Porta Nigra is a post-Roman reference to pollution over time; the gate originally pale pink. A Trier archbishop transformed part of the huge structure into a Romanesque church, the Simeonstift which honours the Syrian monk Simeon who in 1028 came to Trier on a pilgrimage from Jerusalem and locked himself into a cell inside the Porta Nigra to die there.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trier proudly proclaims that it is 1,300 years older than Rome. Six Roman emperors from the 3rd to 4th centuries AD lived in Trier as well as Constantine in the first years of his reign. Trier is a Catholic stronghold as is southern Germany and avoided the Protestant movement which seized control in the 16th century.

The market square or Hauptmarkt sits at the heart of Trier, set around the Petrusbrunnen (St Peter's Fountain, 1595), which proclaims the cardinal virtues of Wisdom, Justice, Moderation and Strength. Renaissance and Baroque houses surround the square, reconstructed after war-time damage.

Trier's cathedral is the oldest in Germany. Massive and fortress-like, it is a dominant Romanesque structure that epitomizes the town's ancient function as a citadel of the Roman Empire, both pagan and holy. The basic limestone structure dates from the 11th century, but the sandstone masonry goes back to Roman times during the 4th century.

We saw the Kaiserthermen or Imperial Baths and the wonderfully preserved caldarium or hot bath-house. To the west was a domed tepidarium and frigidarium with five pools, a massage parlor and steam bath. The amphitheater, 500 m away, held 20,000 spectators, and it was used to stage gladiator fights. A Roman bridge existed here in 16 BC. The present bridge unites l8th century arches and 2nd century pillars.

Karl-Marx-Strasse leads one directly to the famous number 10, Bruckenstrasse. Surrounded by capitalistic shops, the now bourgeois birthplace of the most famous son of Trier, Karl Marx (1818-1883). The museum inside offers a fascinating collection of memorabilia concerning the founding father of the Communist movement. His most famous text, "Das Kapital," is here in its manuscript form, along with photos of the young Marx with all the great revolutionaries of his day.

Today, Trier thrives with the same population it had during the Roman era. Many of today's 100,000 inhabitants are students, and Trier has become known for its lively university.

The Mosel Valley flourished in Roman times and Trier was the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor from 293 to 395. Remains of feudal castles along the river emphasize the strategic importance of the Mosel in the Middle Ages, both for the robber barons and the greedy archbishops of Trier who exerted tolls.

Mosel Valley Vineyards, AmaWaterways Europe's Rivers & Castles Cruise, photo by Mike Keenan

In the afternoon, we visited the picturesque village, Bernkastel-Kues where we explored quaint streets surrounded by half-timbered houses dating all the way back to the 16th century. These houses are actually representative of the working and lower classes of medieval times. Some are 2 or 3 stories high and the lowest floor, at street level, is much smaller than the upper floors. Inhabitants had to pay taxes formerly based on the amount of ground space that the house or business covered. A clever way to reduce their taxes was simply to build the lowest floor such that it took up the least amount of ground space.

The town has nine vineyards and the most well-known wine is called the "Bernkasteler Doktor". Legend has it that this wine cured 14th century Prince-Bishop Boemund II of Trier overnight after he consumed two bottles. It is so treasured that Konrad Adenauer, the former Chancellor of Germany offered 50 bottles of the best Bernkasteler Doktor to President Eisenhower during his visit to Germany in the 1950's.

Dominated by the ruins of its castle and the vine-clad slopes that abound, Bernkastel was a highlight of the cruise.

The meandering Mosel Valley's steep vineyards and gentle woodlands make this cruise a visual feast for those of us sitting in the bow with large glass windows in the lounge and a few tables outside for the hardier types. We watched people harvest by hand, cutting the clumps with scissors, placing them in baskets which were emptied into a bigger basket and carried down the hillside. Some employed a machine-driven basket holder. Labour intensive!

The Mosel begins in the Vosges Mountains in Alsace, France, and its name is often spelled as Moselle, the French version. It flows towards the northeast, through Metz, until it becomes the border between Luxembourg and Germany. In Trier the Mosel is joined by two smaller rivers, the Saar and the Ruwer, before it begins its serpentine flow towards Koblenz and the Rhine River.

The entire length of the river is 549 km (341 miles), and it is the German portion which is most scenic. Steep vineyards are terraced up the mountainsides, with quaint and charming villages in between. About 70 villages dot the river banks between Trier and Koblenz, mostly dedicated to the production of wine and to the tourism industry.

Our second day started with a walking tour of Koblenz on the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine Rivers, followed by an afternoon of scenic cruising through the famous Rhine Gorge including the famous Lorelei Rock. We anchored overnight in Rudesheim

Fountain, Koblenz, photo by Mike Keenan

The Rhine is Europe's most important waterway. It flows from Switzerland to the North Sea, and is known by its four main sections: the High, Upper, Middle and Lower Rhine. The middle part of the Rhine is flanked by dozens of old castles. The passion for building castles skyrocketed around the 12th century. Every Lord wanted one for himself. Castles were expensive to build but they also made money for their owners as each castle owner could demand customs money from whoever passed, no matter if by land or water.

The river has a total length of 1,320 km (820 miles). Along with Lake Constance it forms a reservoir of drinking-water for a population of some 30 million people. The Rhine can truly be described as an international river since it traverses and borders no fewer than six countries: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

The Rhine Gorge is the popular name for the Rhine Valley, a 65 km (41 mile) section upstream of Koblenz. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2002 for a unique combination of geological, historical, cultural and industrial reasons.

No other river in the world has a greater concentration of castles or castle ruins, especially between Koblenz and Bingen. We gaze upon steep slopes, many covered by vineyards and dotted by the castles, and picturesque villages. We also pass the famous Lorelei Rock, located in the narrowest and deepest stretch of the river.

Castles, AmaWaterways Europe's Rivers & Castles Cruise, photo by Mike Keenan

The valley became a core region of the Holy Roman Empire. During the Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648), many castles were left in ruins. In the 19th century, the valley became part of Prussia and its landscape became the quintessential image of Germany. Many of the old towns along the Rhine's banks retain an historic feel today.

Koblenz is a lovely town of 115,000, located at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. The point where the two rivers meet is called "Deutsches Eck", the German Corner. Here we find an impressive monument dedicated to Emperor Wilhelm I, who once resided in Koblenz and is quite a local hero.

The confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers is dominated by the largest fortification situated anywhere along the Rhine River, the immense Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. Built over 1,000 years ago, the fortress was destroyed several times throughout the ages and was finally rebuilt by the Prussians. Nowadays, it houses several museums as well as a youth hostel. The fortress is illuminated in the evening.

With a population of 7,000, Rudesheim is a small and charming port town with a long history dating back to the Romans, and is now home of famous "Riesling" wines. There is no shortage of sights down at river level with the eagle tower, the parish church of St. Jacob housing gravestones of the local noble families, the half-timbered houses and the cozy Market Place, site of the Rüdesheimer wine festival every August and a charming little Christmas market every December.

There are the remnants of no less than three castles in the center of town, including the remains of the 12th century Bromserburg castle, which once belonged to the Archbishops of Mainz. Nowadays it is home to Siegfried's Mechanical Music Museum with a huge collection of self-playing musical instruments. "Asbach" brandy is a specialty of Rudesheim and a key ingredient in Rüdesheimer coffee. A sip of this brandy is poured into a special mug, set on fire, doused with coffee and topped with whipped cream and chocolate flakes! In the morning, a Mini Train left from the ship to take us to a Gondola Ride, stopping in front of the Siegfried's Music Cabinet Museum. The Gondola took us uphill to the Niederwald Monument but it was misty and visibility was limited.

After Rudesheim, some chose to visit Heidelberg, located in the Neckar river valley, but we picked Mainz instead, the birthplace of the printing press.

Mainz, photo by Mike Keenan

Mainz is a city of 200,000. 85 percent of it was destroyed during WWII. Much of the old town has been rebuilt and lovingly restored, and today the city is not only the capital of the German state Rhineland-Palatinate but also an important city for the publishing and media industries. Once it was the seat of the Prince-elector of Mainz and therefore the cathedral of Mainz is one of the most important in all of Germany, and among the three best known Romanesque cathedrals in the country. The construction of the cathedral started over 1000 years ago.

Chagall Windows, St. Stephan, Mainz, photo by Mike Keenan

Mainz is also famous for the Gutenberg Museum. The first European books printed using Gutenberg's moveable type were manufactured in this city in the early 1450s. This impacted Europe's history and society by allowing the public to read the bible and other books in their own language. It was a trigger for the birth of the Protestant religion and later for the so-called Reformation. Mainz is also one of the capitals of the German Carnival annual celebration.

We enjoyed the Chagall choir windows in St. Stephan, unique in Germany. Between 1978 and his death in 1985, Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall created nine stained-glass windows of scriptural figures in luminous blue. The figures depict scenes from the Old Testament, demonstrating the commonalities across Christian and Jewish traditions. Chagall intended his work to be a contribution to Jewish-German reconciliation, made all the more poignant by the fact that Chagall himself fled France under Nazi occupation. He chose St. Stephan due to his friendship with Monsignor Klaus Mayer, who was then the presiding priest of St. Stephan. Chagall's work has been continued since his death by his pupil Charles Marq and by others.

The next day, we cruised the Main River to Wertheim. "Main" means "snake" in old Celtic German, an apt name for a river that twists and winds its way across Europe. 524 km (341 miles) long and one of the more significant tributaries of the Rhine river, the Main has many quaint villages situated along its banks. Wertheim's main street was lined with half-timbered houses, and the impressive ruins of its castle overlooks the confluence of the Tauber and the Main. At Goepfert's bakery in the Old Town, he taught us how to make and roll various items such as pretzels. His father used to make 50 pretzels per day, but they are now up to 450 thanks to tourism.

Earlier, on board as we cruised, we were treated to an impressive glass blowing demonstration in the lounge by Hans Ittig, a Wertheim master glass craftsman, and we visited his impressive shop when we arrived. The very center of town is the Marktplatz (Market Square) with lively cafes and shops as well as the Engelsbrunnen, or "Angels' well."

20+C+M+B+17: You discover some strange scribbling on house doors. In Germany, and especially in Catholic areas, January 6th is Adoration Day or Three Kings' Day. Groups of church singers (mostly children dressed in costumes) venture from house to house singing and asking for donations. When given one, they write these symbols with chalk on the door. The numbers form the number of the current year. The letters mean "Christus Mansionem Benedicat," (may Christ bless this house). Some say it is the 3 Magi's names: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The blessing is left on as an omen of good fortune for the whole year.

Bamberg Guide, photo by Mike Keenan I thought Niagara's Welland Canal had a lot of locks, but there are a total of 34 locks on the Main River which covers 386 km, the smallest 2.3 m (9.84 feet) and the steepest 7.6 m (24.93 feet).

Next morning, we awake surrounded by the hills around Wurzburg - more steep slopes covered with more vertical vineyards. This city claims one of Germany's most visited attractions, the "Residenz" of the former Prince Bishops, now a World Heritage Site. Here, we witness how the rich and powerful once lived! Wurzburg, a Bavarian jewel and a popular tourist destination of 130,000 is a university city where the x-ray machine was invented in 1895.

Our tour guide, Alex, humorously introduced himself as the son of a nun, an ex-nun that is! The Residenz, reminded me of Versailles and was built for the Schonborn family. It symbolized the wealth and power of the ruling prince bishops. This beautiful Baroque palace is one of the largest in Germany and was designed by a famous architect, Balthasar Neumann. The richly decorated facade by Johann Wolfgang von der Auvera bears the personal arms of Friedrich Karl von Schonborn, Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Wurzburg. Two of the highlights in the Residenz are the largest fresco in the world, by the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1753) that adorns the vault of the staircase and the gorgeous Spiegelkabinett or mirror room. This unique work has walls consisting entirely of glass panels decorated on the back.

Wurzburg was fire bombed by the Allies and completely destroyed to try and break the will of the German people. A timeworn bridge sported statues that reminded me of Prague's Charles Bridge.

In the 13th century, local bishops were given the status of "prince-bishop" by the ruling emperor, Friedrich II. This made the bishop not only the religious ruler but the secular ruler as well. They became very wealthy and powerful until Napoleon abolished this initiative in 1803 with the creation of the "Kingdom of Bavaria".

Later, we step back in time to the Middle Ages with a visit to Rothenburg and we end this day in the region known as Franconia with a wine tasting in Kitzingen!

Rothenburg is one of the most picturesque medieval villages in Germany, and one of the most visited. The Altstadt, the old town, is a patchwork of winding cobbled lanes lined with incredibly picturesque old houses interspersed with trickling fountains. Perched on a promontory 90 m (270 feet) above the River Tauber, Rothenburg was a prosperous city in medieval times, but its fortunes plummeted after it was cut off from the new trading routes. Reduced to a provincial market town, without money to expand or erect new buildings, it remained virtually unchanged until the 19th century, when Conservationists stepped in to preserve it.

According to legend, Hadeloga, the countess of Schwanberg, lost her jeweled scarf while standing on the ramparts of her castle overlooking the Main River valley. She promised to build a monastery wherever the scarf was found. A shepherd named "Kitz" (hence the name "Kitzingen") found it and the countess kept her promise and founded a Benedictine monastery there. Today Kitzingen is famous for its wines. To underline its historic importance, in 1482 Kitzingen established a wine law against adulterated wine.

City Hall, Bamberg, photo by Mike Keenan

After a hearty breakfast, we spend the morning leisurely cruising the last stretch of the Main River enroute to Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and not damaged during the war. Bamberg is built on seven hills like ancient Rome, and it's a Franconian gem. After lunch we take a short coach ride to the historic heart of Bamberg to sample the town's specialty, Rauchbier or smoked beer! 10 breweries here serve a population of 65,000.

At one end of the Main-Danube Canal, Bamberg features such an abundance of well-preserved historical buildings, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The skyline is dominated by the cathedral of St Peter and St George, which combines the late Romanesque and early French-Gothic styles. Bamberg emerged from the WWII bombing raids with hardly a scratch, and most of the city's finest buildings are originals. The Regnitz River runs through the center of town, separating the old town from the new town. Bamberg has a population of 70,000. Highlights include the town's incredibly statuesque Altes Rathaus, the old city hall, built on an island in the river so as to equally serve the city's two rival parts.

Tourism, auto parts and electronics are important economic factors as well as vegetable farming. The University attracts 12,000 students yearly, adding to the lively city atmosphere.

The town features wonderful beer gardens and brewery restaurants. A typical local dish is the "Bamberger onion," an onion stuffed with minced pork, smoked pork belly and onion decorated with slices of bacon, usually served with mashed or boiled potatoes. Bamberg Hornla is a croissant-like butter pastry found in most bakeries.

Spargelzeit, asparagus season, lasts two months in Germany starting in April, and is a much welcome sign that spring is on the way. The end of the asparagus season is marked by St. John the Baptist's feast on June 24. "White gold" and "the regal vegetable" are two nicknames for white asparagus. Green asparagus is hard to find in Germany. Asparagus is a labor intensive vegetable, harvested completely by hand. This delicacy is sold at Bamberg's market fresh from the field.

Bamberg has nine breweries with 81 others in the surrounding region that produce over 200 different types of beer. Rauchbier (smoked beer) is definitely Bamberg's specialty - a dark red ale with a smooth, smoky flavor and an aftertaste of bacon. Sounds odd but it is actually very good! Our tour guide advised us to pinch our noses for the first two sips and the effect was rather neat, emphasizing the resulting taste.

Levi Strauss was born Lob Strauss in Buttenheim, a tiny village in the area of Bamberg in February 1829. At 18 he travelled with his mother and sister to the United States to join his brothers who were operating an import business in New York. With the California Gold Rush, Levi was sent to California to open a second business. He imported goods from his brother's West Coast stores. His firm "Levi Strauss & Co" began in San Francisco in 1853.

In 1870 Jacob Davis, a Nevada tailor, started making men's work pants with metal points of strain for greater strength. He wanted the patent but needed a business partner, so he turned to Levi, whose fabrics he had been purchasing. In 1873 Davis and Strauss received the patent #139121 for using copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of Denim work pants. Strauss never married and left the business to his nephews when he passed away in 1902. He left his money to a variety of orphanages.

Palace of Jusdtice, Nuremberg, photo by Mike Keenan
Location of the Nuremberg trials that were held from 1945 to 1949 for the main surviving German war criminals of World War II

Alas, after 7 eventful days of beautiful German countryside and many memorable excursions, we finally arrive and disembark in Nuremburg, the last step of our journey. It has been an outstanding journey, this our third AmaWaterways cruise. Obviously, we are hooked. Considering that one's food, accommodations and daily travel are all included, smooth, effortless riverboat cruising has become a favourite mode of travel for me.

The daily tours were all well-thought-out, groups divided into "Active," "Regular" and "Gentle" walker categories to suit individual strengths. Bike tours featured two guides per group. Electronic listening devices allowed one to take pictures yet listen to each guide. And, over several meals, we formed one good friendship with a couple from Phoenix. If you want to enjoy Germany the easy way, I highly recommend this cruise!

YouTube Video
Germany's Romantic Rhine and Rothenburg

AmaWaterways Luxury River Cruises

Mike Keenan is a travel columnist for Troy Media. He produces a travel podcast - http://whattravelwriterssay.libsyn.com/ accessible on iTunes and Stitcher Radio and has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of five thousand viewers.

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If you go
Wasserbillig, Luxembourg: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasserbillig
Trier, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trier
Mosel River Valley: http://www.romantic-germany.info/holiday-regions/moselle-valley/
Rhine River Gorge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhine_Gorge
Main-Danube Canal: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhine%E2%80%93Main%E2%80%93Danube_Canal
Nuremberg, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg
Petrusbrunnen (St Peter's Fountain, 1595): http://www.touristisadirtyword.com/?post_id=86&title=the-colorful-main-market-square-in-trier
Bernkasteler Doktor: http://www.grapesandgrainsnyc.com/2010/09/19/the-bernkasteler-doctor-the-greatest-vineyard-in-germany/
Rudesheim, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%BCdesheim_am_Rhein
Koblenz, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koblenz
Mainz, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainz
Gutenberg Museum : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutenberg_Museum
Wertheim, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wertheim_am_Main
Wurzburg, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W%C3%BCrzburg
Rothenburg, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothenburg_ob_der_Tauber
Bamberg, Germany: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamberg

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