By Clint Bizzell from Places We Go
Getting closer to the culture... Why a European River Cruise offers an ‘Insider Experience’
I am by no means an experienced ‘cruiser’, as they call them. In fact, until recently my only experience travelling by ship was on an expedition to Antarctica, where the options of getting you there any other way are, let us say, limited. I personally like to spend as much time in a destination as possible, rather than spending time simply travelling to and around it. But I was told to expect something a little different from a European River Cruise...
"Unsure but excited about what to expect from this river cruise”
Firstly, unlike an ocean cruise, there are no days spent ‘at sea’ (i.e. not docking anywhere). Every day of the 15-day journey sailing between Amsterdam and Budapest, the boutique river ship pulls up to one of the charming cities or towns along the Rhine, Main or Danube Rivers (no matter how small it is), and allows you to explore what lies on the shore.
“Sailing through the night...”
Most of the nights are spent cruising, getting you from A to B while you sleep peacefully in your suite. You find yourself going to bed in one location and waking up in another, without any effort on your behalf.
Plus, as I mentioned above, unlike an ocean liner which can only dock in big ports, a river ship can pull up to the smallest port, allowing you to explore some of the little gems along the route – this was something I didn’t want to miss.
“The captivating canals of Amsterdam were a fantastic start to the journey” “Getting into the spirit of Amsterdam”
So, with this in mind, I boarded the Travelmarvel Diamond in the city of Amsterdam excited for the experience ahead. I was going to be joined by roughly 140 other passengers, so I knew I wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. And with 43 crew members to assist us on board, I calculated we were going to be well looked after.
The experience from day one on the ship was quite beyond what I had imagined. I had pictured all of the experiences we would have off the ship in my mind, however what I didn’t anticipate was the travel experience we would have on the ship.
“From the sun deck we had a front row seat to the beauty floating past us”
From the top deck, we had 360 degree views of the landscape as we sailed literally through the heart of Europe. These rivers used to be the original highways of Europe, used as the main trade and passenger routes before trains and cars, and therefore, so many of Europe’s most historical towns and cities lie alongside the banks. We had a front row seat every single day to the sights as we cruised, and as river ships sail on calm waters at a fraction of the speed of a train, bus or car, you have plenty of time to soak in the sights and take plenty of perfect photos. There is even commentary through the ships PA system, telling us all about the regions we were sailing through.
“The best views possible of the entire Rhine Gorge” “Sailing through the heart of Europe”
To say that we felt ‘immersed’ in the local region was an understatement. We watched local people go about their everyday lives on either side of the river. We had the best seats to capture the glorious Rhine Gorge castles perched high on the steep slopes around us – new visions coming into view around every bend. And we watched as landscapes, architecture and industry changed around us as we travelled into new territories and countries. We didn’t need to waste any time at all on this journey packing, unpacking, or fussing over transport or logistics. We simply sat on the ship and watched it unfold around us.
“The medieval town of Rothenburg welcomes you into their culture”
Our daily shore excursions took in the best of the best locations we were sailing past. From medieval villages to eminent European cities – we would disembark the ship each day and find ourselves smack bang in a brilliant new destination. I found myself in small towns and villages that I might not have stopped at if I was travelling by road – but these were the hidden gems.
“Experience small towns you might otherwise pass”
Our local guides would offer an organised tour of the highlights, or we could choose to do our own thing. And more often than not, the opportunity would be there to go beyond the standard tourist experience and really get to the heart of the place.
“A true insider experience meeting the locals Manfred and Monika in Miltenberg”
In Miltenberg, Germany, we visited the homes of local residents, who opened their doors for us and welcomed us in as friends. They shared with us what life was like here, introduced us to their culture and, in my case, let us taste the local delights. I will not forget our host Monika’s rhubarb cheesecake or the schnapps that followed it!
“Welcomed into the local historical festival – what cultural experience” “Celebrating Whitsuntide with the locals in Rothenburg”
In Rothenburg, one of Europe’s most beautiful and romantic towns, we stumbled upon a local historical festival celebrating Whitsundtide… Purely by co-incidence, we found hundreds of locals dressed in costume and partaking in the festivities through the old cobblestone streets of the town. Needless to say, we were welcomed into the celebrations and joined in with the singing, dancing and joviality.
“Tasting the locally famous smoked beer at Schlenkerla Brewery in Bamberg, brewing since 1405’
In Rüdesheim I tasted the local coffee speciality; in Bamberg, the smoked beer. In Nuremberg I ate the pride and joy of their town, the bratwurst sausage; and in Cologne, we visited the castle and hunting lodge of the prince-archbishops… Everything was designed to bring you closer to the culture than you might otherwise be able to get, and all with as much freedom, ease and fun as possible.
“Navigating through the locks, the boutique ship can fit anywhere”
Speaking with my fellow cruise passengers, we couldn’t believe the authentic experience we were having. Sometimes ‘tours’ can have the opposite effect; alienating you from the culture instead. But small groups, local knowledge and our actual method of travel, combined to create one of the best cultural experiences I had ever had.
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