One of the longest trips we have taken so far, August 12th- September 4th, 2017. A 7 day Rhine River cruise with AMA Waterways, ending with 4 days in Switzerland and then home to Italy for 11 days. Here are some of our highlights.
We started our cruise in Amsterdam; we had a 1/2 day to explore this amazing city on foot upon arrival and the next day with a canal cruise. Amsterdam is a very interesting city; legalized Marijuana with dedicated cafes, lots of breweries, plenty of restaurants and legalized prostitution. Definitely different than any other city I have ever been, oh and don’t step in front of a bicycle or tram, you will lose!! I would have enjoyed another day or two exploring this city, there was far more to see .. I was not able to get inside the Ann Frank house or see the I AM AMSTERDAM sign, which I wanted a picture with, 2 reasons to return another day.
We left Amsterdam midday and headed to Cologne, Germany where we enjoyed an approximate 6 mile bike ride along the Rhine river. During our ride, we also went into the old town and visited the Gothic Cathedral containing the golden casket of the 3 wise men (Magi). Cologne was also the original home of No.4711 Cologne (I remember my mother using this a LONG time ago). Almost bought some, almost. We left Cologne late afternoon and ended the day in Koblenz for an evening walk and a visit to the Deutsches Eck, a Equestrian monument marking the joining of the Mosel and Rhine rivers.Most of the next day was spent cruising the Rhine Gorge valley with it’s many castles and beautiful vistas. We then arrived in Rudesheim, Germany late afternoon to a heavy rain fall. We had a hike scheduled for the day, but due to the heavy rains, it was canceled. Nevertheless, we set off on foot to explore the city, rain coat and umbrella in hand. Lucky for us, the rain relented and we were able to take a cable car up to the Niederwald Monument, overlooking the very scenic Rhine Valley. The monument is quite impressive; it is a commemoration to the unification of the German Empire after the Fanco-Prussian war. Later in the evening, after dinner we went to visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum, where there was quite an assortment of self-playing instruments, dolls and music boxes.
The next day we arrived in Mannheim, Germany and were bused over to Heidelberg where we met our guide for the hike up Philosopher’s Path. The hike was actually very strenuous, up various unpaved wooded trails to the very top of the hill. Here we found St. Micheal Monastery, built in the 16th century and Thingstatte amphitheater, built during WWII by the Nazis. We also had fabulous views of Heidelberg and its famous landmark Castle from the top of the hill. After the hike, we had some time to get an ice coffee in Heidelberg before going back to the ship and setting sail again.
Next we arrived in Strasbourg, within the Alsace district of France. We finally had the entire day off the ship to explore. Our first tour was an approximate 13 mile bike ride around Strasbourg city. We explored some of the not so walkable areas of the city with old and modern structures, rivers, statues and homes. We also went to Notre Dame Cathedral for a brief visit and then headed back to the ship for lunch. We learned that this region changed hands between France and Germany 4 times in 75 years, and the entire region speaks German and French (they never know when it will change back ;). After lunch, we went out again on foot to further explore the amazing Notre Dame Cathedral, it’s famous astronomical clock, and the very quaint but touristy Le Petite-France district. This was a very enjoyable area to spend the entire day!
The next morning we docked in Breisach Germany, we decided to take a tour to the Alsatian village of Riquewihr which was about 45 minutes out by bus. This village has the appearance of being completely unchanged in the last 400 years and largely escaped any damage from WWII. It was very charming with beautiful courtyard and gardens, however the majority of the structures were now set up for tourism and shopping. Back to the ship to have lunch and pack, tomorrow we are disembarking in Basel Switzerland.
**I will add my commentary here about the Rhine Cruise: I did not enjoy the Rhine cruise as much as the Danube. The Rhine River was not very scenic, and we spent FAR too much time cruising than at ports. One of the reasons I loved the Danube cruise we did a few years ago was that we spent the entire day in the port city exploring and then sailed in the evening, not so with the Rhine. It’s a very long river, with many locks, and it just takes time to get through them. My bad for not getting this detail in our itinerary and adjusting our expectations. However, the cruise line is fantastic, food was excellent, and the service impeccable!
We off boarded the ship in Basel and set off for 2 days in Lucerne, Switzerland. Our first stop was the Lion monument. This beautiful monument is of a dying lion; it commemorates the hundreds of swiss guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French revolution, when an armed mob stormed the Tulleries Palace in Paris. We also toured the Water Tower and Chapel Bridge; built in 1333, the bridge was partially destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in 1993. Also on our travels, we explored and climbed the Nine Towers (only 4 were open), the Musegg wall and saw the oldest city clock which is allowed to chime every hour, 1 minute before all the other city clocks. We did some shopping, ate our meals along beautiful lake Lucerne, and just admired the views of this stunning city and its surrounding mountains. Two excellent restaurants we ate at were Barbatti Italian. You must have the prosciutto, house speciality!! And Pfistern, excellent local food!
Leaving Lucerne, we took a scenic boat ride across Lake Lucerne into the city of Vitznau, where we boarded a bus for a very scenic drive to Zurich, Switzerland where we stayed for 2 more days. In Zurich, We saw Old St. Peter Church, which has the oldest clock face in the world, the old town, town hall, Fraumuster and the scenic beauty of Lake Zurich. We spent quite a bit of time in the old town and also visited the Swiss National Museum. Noteworthy in Zurich is Movenpick Ice cream. It was amazing! We also ate at Restaurant eCHO, it serves traditional Swiss food. I had a hamburger which was nothing like I’ve ever seen or tasted. It was Excellent!
**A few things to note about Switzerland: It’s amazingly beautiful, everywhere! I never got tired of just sitting and admiring it’s beauty. It’s also amazingly expensive, everywhere!! Seriously, I couldn’t believe the cost of a simple meal, nothing fancy. Thai food, 1 dish, 37 francs. Ouch! The food was excellent though, every meal we had.
August 23rd (my mother’s birthday), we left Switzerland and landed in Bari, Italy; a bittersweet visit. My mother passed away on May 15th; her and my father spend their summers in Mola Di Bari. My father picked us up from the airport, and I am very accustomed to seeing mom as soon as I walk in the door of their home, this was the first of many other times that I was looking for her while here. Since my mom was buried in Chicago, we had arranged a memorial mass at the nearby church in Mola for the following day; I was able to see many of my cousins and family friends, it was a nice tribute to my mom. Our time in Mola was a mix of work and fun. We spent quite a bit of time cleaning up and organizing my parents condo, and also collecting a few things out of their old house, which will be put up for sale eventually. This was originally my grandfathers house, and my parents first home after they were married. I was born in this house, and my parents still have many of their belongings in it… over 60 years later, and so many memories. Bittersweet.
We took a day trip to Lecce, the Florence of the south, and we explored the highlights: the church of the Santa Croce, Teatro Romano and the Piazza del Duomo, and spent some time strolling the city. We also spent a few days at our favorite beach, Lido Verde. My cousins were here from Chicago, and they invited us to their farm for a BBQ and brick oven pizza picnic. This is one of my favorite things to do while we are in Italy, they make the best pizzas ever!! We were also invited by another cousin for lunch at their new home in Alberbello. This place was just awesome! It is a Trullo, and it has been completely renovated. It appears very small from the outside, but it’s amazingly spacious and lovely on the inside. They also have a beautiful garden and courtyard where we spent the afternoon chatting after a wonderful meal.
Over all the trip was wonderful, we enjoyed our travels and it’s been difficult to get back into the groove of being home. I will say again that our trip to Italy was bittersweet, with so many memories of my mom. With every turn, I was waiting to see her or hear her voice. Both my husband and I agreed that Italy just wan’t the same without my mom, she is definitely missed.