Captivating Rhine Journal, August 2021

In late summer 2019, just before leaving on my last group trip (Walking in the Footsteps of St Paul), I began researching the next adventure for late summer 2020. I figured that it was time for a river cruise, as we had not done one since the journey down the Rhône River and time in Provence in 2016. Searching around for a decent supplier and looking at potential itineraries, I settled on AmaWaterways. I liked what they proposed and I well remember the great trip AmaWaterways provided for Travel With Chardoul in Portugal a few years earlier.

This trip, it would be the Rhine River with time in Amsterdam and also in Switzerland. As I prefer trips that last for about two weeks, with the optional pre-cruise extension in Amsterdam and the post-cruise extension in Lucerne and Zurich, it was just about two weeks. For the time and money spent on transatlantic air, two weeks is the minimum that I would consider.

Water Portion of trip

Working with my fantastic trip advisor Lynne Erikson, we signed the contract with AmaWaterways and then I began recruiting guests for this trip. In some respects, it was unusual because I like to have personal knowledge of an area before I lead a group there. Never having been in Amsterdam, other than changing aircraft at Schiphol Airport or at most of the places we would be visiting on the Rhine or ever having been in Switzerland, I relied on the internet to give me additional background information.

Ah, but the vagaries of reality stepped in. In early 2020, we were all subjected to the sad situation of the spread of Covid-19. This necessitated a major alteration of my schedule. AmaWaterways was very accommodating and moved the trip from 2020 to 2021, Lynne worked out air changes and then I began recruiting anew for the current year. The cruise itinerary remained the same and I was able to include several new guests who could not have made the 2020 trip.

We were transported to the Barbizon Palace Hotel that could not have been more centrally located in Amsterdam. Note on the accompanying map the U-shaped series of canals with the open end to the northeast. Our hotel was very near Centraal Station, a structure designed by the same architect who designed the Rijksmuseum and almost next to St Nicolaskerk.

Central Amsterdam

As private cars are not encouraged in the central city, residents depend on bicycles and ubiquitous trams to get around. These electric trams are articulated to get around tight corners.

Five section (articulated) tram

I found that not all bikes are fully functional.

Whoops!

It was there that we met John Riley, the Cruise Director, who would be with us for the Amsterdam pre-cruise extension, the seven-night cruise on the Rhine, and the four nights in Switzerland. He shared some hints and gave us a map of the city. I needed to get a European SIM card for my iPhone and there was a store just a few meters away that installed one for me for 10€. I also got a whiff of a strange smell in that store and saw interesting artifacts there. I noted that my iPhone and my Fitbit had not changed from -5 (EDT) – and this went on for the entire trip, so I had to add 6 hours to get the correct western European time (and 7 hours when Connie and I spent five additional nights in Greece).

On 4 August, the 30 plus people who had elected for the pre-cruise Amsterdam extension met in the lobby for a walking tour of the central city. There were three groups: an active group, a regular group, and a gentle group. Connie and I elected to join the regular group and were led by Corene. She had come to Amsterdam 40 years earlier from the United States to go to school and never left. She described the layout of the canals. The three main canals: Keisergracht (Emperor’s Canal), Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal) and Herengracht (Gentlemen’s or Lords’ Canal) were dug in the 17th century, during what was called “The Golden Age.” The fourth ring was the Singelgracht that functioned as a defensive line and also to maintain water quality (to keep canal water from becoming stagnant). Other canals intersected so that the canals became essentially roadways. Locks were created to control the water level and some are still functional. The mud dug up was placed on the land between the canals to build it up.

As homes originally released their sewage conveniently into the water, a complex sewer system was constructed in the 19th century and even canal boats have to hook up to it.

By the way, it is illegal to pee into the canals and for that reason, these were installed.

Pissoir next to canal

What is fascinating about the public buildings and the homes along the canals is the variation in gables. The different styles originally signified when the structure was built. So Bell Gables were built from 1660-1790. Neck Gables from 1638-1780. Spout Gables in 17th and 18th centuries. Step Gables from 1600-65. Pointed Gables 1420s. Here is an example of three types right next to each other.

Three distinctive gable styles
Hoist on building

Many of the homes, even those more recently built, had an extension built perpendicular to the outside wall to function as a pulley system to get large furniture pieces into the windows as the stairways were very narrow and extremely steep because of the tight construction.

On our walk, Corene pointed out a building where Rembrandt painted some of his best-known paintings, including  Night Watch.

One of buildings Rembrandt used as a “studio’

It now includes a restaurant. Although Rembrandt was born in Leyden am Rijn (hence the van Rijn after his name), he knew where the money was and moved to Amsterdam for commissions. I was amazed at the profusion of flowers everywhere.

Also, the number of buildings that had the date of construction prominently displayed.

Flowing through the center of the city is the Amstel River (hence the city name – and also the name of the beer).

Amstel River in center of Amsterdam

Because of this river and the many miles of canals, there are about 2500 bridges, with 500 of them in the city center!

Bridge crossing Singelgracht

Dam Square is the true center of the city with the Royal Palace built in the 17th century and other buildings here,

Royal Palace

including Hotel Krasnapolsky (my initial choice of our hotel), Nieuwe Kerk

Nieuwe kerk

and Madame Tussauds. Originally built in the 13th century when a dam was built around the Amstel River to prevent the Zuiderzee from flooding the city, it was severely degraded during the 1960s with an invasion of hippies. As it is within throwing distance of the Red Light District (where guides are NOT allowed to take tourists), there is still an element of honky-tonk there.

But one does not have to go to the Red Light District…

No explanation needed

Connie and I spent the rest of the day at the Rijksmuseum. We had ordered our tickets the day before and took #12 tram from Centraal Station.

Many tracks at Centraal Station

The museum was everything that I thought that it would be. Having timed tickets to maintain social distancing ensured that there were never crowded areas.

Entrance to Rijksmuseum

Only eight viewers at a time were allowed in the massive library.

Besides a fantastic collection of 16th and 17th art, the architecture of the building was truly amazing.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SBun3S52xA] I vowed that I wouldn’t take pictures, but I couldn’t help myself. The details on lace cuffs and the sheer size of some of the paintings as well as the mosaic on the floors was breathtaking.

Connie and I found a Sichuanese restaurant for dinner that night that also took our breath away.

On 5 August, we put our checked bags outside our hotel room doors and after breakfast, we boarded a coach and headed north out of Amsterdam for the Potemkin-like village of Zaanse Schans. It recreated a typical residential area in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Working windmills at Zaans Schans

We saw cheese being made, inspected a working windmill (some used to move water, others to grind grain or different color stones to make paint powder mixed with tempera or oil (Rembrandt used this), saw wooden shoes being made.

Millstone at Zaanse Schans windmill

Afterwards, instead of returning to our hotel, we went to the river cruise ship, AmaMora. We were accompanied to our staterooms and spent several hours moving clothing out of our checked bags that mysteriously were in our rooms, using a large closet and plenty of drawers storing everything. One of the reasons I selected AmaWaterways was the unique two balcony staterooms. Of course, one is a French balcony that only someone weighing less than 20 pounds can stand on, but there is a sliding floor to ceiling door there to bring the outside in. The other balcony has several chairs and is a great location to watch the shoreline pass by. Another reason for selecting this river cruise company is the quality of food, the hotel accommodations for pre- and post-cruise extensions, the careful selection of shipboard personnel as well as the guides when we go ashore, and particularly for the Cruise Manager. Like many of the river cruise ships, this ship has three decks that are enclosed and a sun deck. There are different categories of staterooms on the three enclosed decks. Here is the deck plan of AmaMora and her sister vessels. Chardouls in stateroom #206.

And here is a picture of a typical two-balcony stateroom (before the Chardouls moved in)

AmaMora is essentially a brand-new ship. Launched in 2019 just before the effects of Covid-19 hit, it got little travel time. Then in 2020, cruises were totally curtailed and even the July 2021 start date was postponed, so our cruise was for all intents and purposes the maiden voyage of the ship. Always curious about names, I found out that Mora was the name of the ship that William the Conqueror rode from the Norman coast to Hastings, England in 1066. It was a gift from his wife, Matilda of Flanders.

As a retired Naval officer, I had to check all aspects of the vessel and noted that the ship does not have rudders. Rather, there are two movable pods at the stern, each with two propellers. As a result, steering is done by manipulating the pods. There is also a post near the bow that can be put down in the water and water courses through it in whatever direction the ship captain or pilot chooses and the combination of pods and post, the ship can be “walked” sideways into a pier – no tugs.

Great dinner as we explored our surroundings.

On 6 August, as now it was the entire passenger list of 90 (AmaMora can accommodate 160 passengers) we left the ship and boarded one of several small boats for a canal cruise in Amsterdam. Surprisingly, our boat guide was Corene once again. The large glass sliders above us were moved so that we were not forced to take pictures through the glass and we saw how dependent the city is on its canal and bridge system, some of which could open to allow larger vessels to pass through.

Amsterdam Bridge

The canal cruise boat went out into the harbor and we were able to see some very modern buildings.

In Amsterdam Harbor

We returned to AmaMora and followed the proper procedure of scanning our ID/room key cards and it was lunch time. shortly, it was time to get underway and leave Amsterdam. The ship maneuvered away from the dock and quickly entered the Amsterdam-Rijn Canal.

Amsterdam-Rijn Canal

This connects Amsterdam with the Rhine River as that river empties into the North Sea in Rotterdam, 57 kilometers to the south. The canal was officially opened in 1952 by Queen Juliana after almost 20 years of digging and replaced a much smaller canal. It was further widened from 58 meters to 70 meters in 1965, meaning that the bridges spanning it had to be replaced.

A note on spelling: what we call “Rhine” is “Rijn” in the Netherlands, Rhin in France and “Rhein” in Germany. As we traveled along this artificial waterway (canal) with an average depth of 5 ½ feet in a southeast direction, we passed through Utrecht.





I noted four locks on this canal. As the land gently rises above sea level, the further inland we went, to keep the water from moving too quickly downstream, locks were installed. There are several kinds of locks: some have large gates that swing inward to encase water, while others are called either “blade” or “guillotine” locks.

One of the canal locks

After passing near Arnhem, the site of a major World War II battle at the beginning of Operation Market Garden (a bloody and generally unsuccessful Allied attempt to gain control of the Rhine River in late summer 1944 with parachute landing of 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne divisions), our ship came near Nijmegen and its historic bridge over the Waal River that the Dutchman Jan van Hoof had destroyed in 1940 to slow the German Panzer advance (this city is almost on the German border) but the Germans rebuilt it.

Lynda McKee and her daughter, Michelle Marlow, had taken a suite aboard ship, but Michelle chose to sleep in their bathtub that their room steward would prepare every night.

When we finally reached the Rhine River, I immediately noted the extremely high water. This was caused by the major rainstorms that had occurred two weeks earlier in southern Netherlands, Belgium and southwestern Germany. One of the major flood areas was only 60 miles south of Cologne. As a result of all this water rushing downstream, our speed of advance was slowed somewhat (I figured it at a bit less than 7 knots).

High water on Rhine River

Our scheduled arrival in Cologne was to be the morning of 7 August, but the ship did not tie up at the dock until about 2PM. In anticipation of finally being in Germany, our lunch that day included pork knuckles. Our excellent server, Boda, joked with our table about that. (Surprisingly, I do not have a single photo of her. If anyone has one that s/he would like to share, I would gladly add it to this website.)

Again, there was a breakdown of three separate groups in the “Holy City” walking tour. As the regular group with Marcus as our guide, the concentration was on the magnificent cathedral. But first, he took us near Grosz Sankt Martin, a Romanesque church that was built after 1150 on what was then an island in the middle of the Rhine. It had been destroyed by bombardment in World War II and was rebuilt. Although we did not enter it, I knew that it would have massive walls, small windows pierced in the walls, and rounded arches.

Gross Sankt Martin

Another massive building was the town hall. Marcus described in great deal the desire of city leaders to add many statues to the exterior. Like several cathedrals in northern France, some of the sculptors took artistic license to portray their distaste.

Town Hall Statue

As Covid proscriptions were still in effect, only a small number of people could enter the Cologne cathedral at a time, meaning that there was a fairly long line waiting to get in. Marcus knew the guard at the entrance and we “cut the line” and entered. The west façade was intricately carved with many figures.

As I thought I would, I was totally amazed at the interior of this Gothic cathedral. The building was begun in 1248, but was not completed until 1880!

Sanctuary of Köln Cathedral, looking East

The vaulting is one of the highest in the world and the cathedral is the largest one in Germany. No number of pictures can truly do it justice. I took many photographs, but this one looking east toward the apse gives a sense of the majesty, particularly knowing that there are large corridors on each side of these major piers. The detail of even the mosaic on the floor amazed me. I had studied this cathedral in several history of art classes in undergrad and wanted to see it for real. (Now I need to see Yorkminster!)

Mosaic floor of Kölner Dom (white space is light shining on floor)

What made this cathedral so important to Christianity was the inclusion of the Shrine of the Three Magi, those “wise men” who came to honor the birth of Christ. Located near the high altar, Marcus told our group to look for it (he was not allowed to guide inside the cathedral and disappeared, so we were not able to talk to him later about the significance of the Shrine).

Shrine of Cologne

We made our way down the incline and along the shore back to the ship. A typical great dinner was followed by entertainment of a duo, Poppyfield, who had to cut their gig short because the ship was scheduled to leave and they didn’t want to travel onwards with us. We were also treated to a great rainbow, one end of it terminating on the double arch bridge spanning the Rhine.

Famous double arch bridge over Rhine in Cologne

As there are a series of locks to traverse and the amount of river traffic requires very strict scheduling, the ship’s crew knew just how long it would take to get to the next lock.

For many, 8 August was the highpoint of the entire cruise. The ship would move into the upper middle portion of the Rhine where, for 65 kilometers, it cuts through the primarily slate sedimentary deposits in the uplift with the most famous feature as the Lorelei. The uplift has created its own microclimate and the south slopes are particularly suited for grape vines. This area has over 30 castles and is the site for Wagner’s opera “Götterdämmerung”.

One of the Rhine Gorge castles

Another Rhine castle. Some had been made into hotels.

The name “Lorelei” (the German spelling is Loreley) means alluring or temptress and the myth is similar to the ancient Greek one of Ulysses being tempted by the sorceress Circe. She was skilled in the magic of illusion. She transformed Ulysses’ men into swine; luckily, he was able to overcome her powers with the help of the god Hermes.  Here are the words to the “Loreley Song” Don’t wait for me to sing it!





The small towns and castles we passed were almost hypnotic. It was a bit chilly and windy that morning, but the sun was shining.

Connie on sundeck checking out Gorge castles

Many on the sun deck had commandeered blankets and sat in chairs taking it all in, but I felt compelled to walk from one side to the other, while John Riley gave a running description of what we were seeing.

As we passed through the Lorelei Rock, where the Rhine narrows to less than 20% of its normal width, it is like a funnel and extremely dangerous to shipping as the current speeds up (if you are interested in the physics involved, I had experienced this navigating a ship up the Mekong River in 1966, and researched it. It is based on the Bernoulli Principle {the same principle that gives an airfoil – like an airplane wing – lift})

According to the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine, ships must have operating radiotelephones and AIS (a vessel location system) as well as functional shipborne radars in accordance with Directive 2006/87/EC of the European Parliament. The various German states on the Rhine use shore-based radar in the area of the Lorelei that allows traffic centers to obtain a highly accurate picture of the current traffic situation. The combination of shipboard and shore radars as well as lighted signals both on shore and matched by like panels aboard ships kept vessels from colliding.

Rhine River Navigation symbols

As fascinating as the trip through the Gorge was, our goal that day was the city of Rüdesheim. (This micro-area has some of Germany’s finest wines. I sampled a Georg Breuer Rüdeshiever Berg Schlossbert Riesling and it was like none of the rotgut Rieslings I have been subjected to in the past. This one was absolutely delightful! But way too expensive for my budget.)

 First settled by the Celts, then Romans, then the very disruptive time of Germanic invasions before the Franks. The weather started to turn chilly and wet and we were scheduled to ride a gondola up the hill over well-tended vineyards (I was never able to determine the height of this hill) to the 38-meter high statue of “Germania” known as “Niederwalddenkmal.” This bas-relief is on the plinth beneath the statue with Kaiser Wilhelm I in the center. Built in 1883 at a point that is almost the middle of the Rhine’s passage through Germany, it celebrated the Prussian victory over France in the 1870-71 war that led to the unification of Germany as the Second Reich.

This war that took the rich provinces of Alsaçe-Lorraine from France (only added to France during the reign of Louis XIV) and an entire French political movement called “Revanche” (revenge) developed. As a result, the Germans countered with “Die Wacht am Rhein.” The song had additional verses added over time and it was popular through World War II. (I wonder if the French are going to reconstitute Revanche after the surprise announcement of AUKUS when France was cut out of selling nuclear subs to Australia.)

The Rhine at this point divided the state of Hesse (where Rüdesheim is) from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. On the other side of the river is Bingen. This was the home of St. Hildegarde, a 12th century nun who in the Middle Ages was a herald of the near end of the world and was the first great woman in literary history. She lamented abuses in the Catholic church and was a champion for the emancipation of women. She composed mystical music that is still played (at least on Blue Lake Radio).

We had signed up to visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum later in the day, but I just could not make it.

We got underway again and continued up the Rhine and on 9 August, we docked at Ludwigshafen. (keep in mind that the word “hafen” means “harbor” and you can see how important the Rhine is to commerce.)

Again, we were offered choices of excursions:

  • Secrets of Speyer tour
  • Heidelberg Philosopher’s Hike
  • Romantic Heidelberg
  • Ladenburg Bike Tour

We chose the Romantic Heidelberg excursion as I definitely was not up to a hike and I remembered my experience on a bike ride several years ago in Vietnam. Heidelberg is about a one-hour coach ride from Ludwigshafen. Once there, the first thing our guide took us to was to go through what was left of the castle.

Heidelberg Castle

Then to the city to stumble on the cobblestones and some took time out to do some shopping. We saw Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) (also known as the Karl-Theodore Bridge)

Karl-Theodore Bridge in Heidelberg

crossing the Neckar River that was built in the 18th century and we looked at the Student Jail. (Yes, there is a connection between the jail and the university as even today, about ¼ of the city’s population is students.) The site of Germany’s oldest university that was destroyed during the religious wars of the 17th century, but was rebuilt the following century, so it was a joy walking through the Gothic streets.

When we returned to the ship, we got ready to attend the Chef’s Table. Located at the stern of the ship on the third deck, and encased in windows, it was an ideal location to sample different wines matching the food courses, served elegantly. The menu included: a tomato carpaccio, beet root marinated salmon with avocado, lemon grass soup, skin grilled pike perch with citrus sauce and Beluga lentil ragout, a cassis sorbet to clear our palates, a tenderloin prime beef with truffle jus and sweet potato, and a choice of yummy desserts. The offered red and white wines were from the Wachau Valley in Austria. The kitchen was in full view so we could watch the chef making final presentations of each dish. The total experience was as long as a dinner should be: around two hours.

Unfortunately, because there were 11 of us, we couldn’t have a group picture at the table, so we assembled on the stairway after dinner.

Finally! A picture of all 11 of us! (and without masks!)

On 10 August, we arrived in Strasbourg, France. Located on the left bank of the Rhine, it was part of the disputed territory of Alsaçe-Lorraine. Here is some further information on Alsaçe-Lorraine.

Those passengers who did not opt to join the post-cruise extension in Switzerland received their Covid tests at this time.

Again, AmaWaterways offered two different options in Strasbourg: either “The Gem of Alsaçe” tour or a Strasbourg bike tour.

This city, with its Roman origins (celebrated its 2000th anniversary in 1988), took us back to France within the province of Alsaçe as the province, along with Lorraine, transferred back as a result of the Versailles Treaty in 1918. The name is of Germanic origin and means “town at the crossing of roads.” Not too far to the west are the Vosges Mountains and the Black Forest to the east on the west side (right bank) of the Rhine.

Such luminaries as John Calvin and Albert Schweitzer spent time here, as did Johannes Gutenberg. Gutenberg lived in Strasbourg from 1439-44 and his statue is on Place Gutenberg near the cathedral.

Gutenberg holding page of Bible with “and there was light’ written on it

It was in Strasbourg that Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle wrote the stirring “La Marseillaise” as the battle song as the declaration of war against Austria in 1792 and became the national anthem in 1795.

On our coach orientation tour before the walking portion, we saw the extensive campus of the International Commission on Civil Status and the Council of Europe (later becoming the home of the European Parliament).

European Parliament Headquarters

Again, there were three groups for the “Gem of Alsaçe” tour and Connie and I chose the regular group. Looking at a map of the central city, I realized how much we covered on foot. We went to Petite France and saw the covered bridges.

Petite France in Old City of Strasbourg

According to a description that I later read, although the area appeared to be a truly romantic hideaway, because of the presence of the moving water of the Ill River, here is where the flour mills, slaughterhouses and leather shops were located.

Tannery in Petite France. Note the date

There also was a hospital for syphilis (that the Germans called the “French disease”).

Petite France near hospital

The tour began with a 45-minute orientation tour of the city and then the three groups separated slightly and we were off. Our guide actually spent more than the scheduled hour and left us off near the cathedral. Those who had proof of vaccination stood in a long line to go inside the cathedral to see the astronomical clock. We were with John Tanner and he and I had our proof on our iPhones, but Connie did not, so we decided to just have something to eat. There was a gelateria and so we thought we would order a cone apiece, sit down, and enjoy it to take some time and take the load off our feet. John paid for it (2€ apiece) but the woman said that these were “takeaway” and we could not sit, so we walked around. Connie and I walked around the area and John took off to check out some other sights. We noticed some woman sleeping on the street on the south side of the cathedral.

South side of Strasbourg Minster (Nôtre Dame)

Then we saw a police car with its lights on come into the square. I had assumed that they were going to pick up this woman but they kept on going. A few minutes later, John breathlessly came back to us and told us that as he was getting ready to take a picture, a man ran into him and knocked the phone out of John’s hand but fell down and stayed down. John’s phone was not hurt, but he had a slight cut on his chin. The police were after this man and carrying machine guns (according to John) put nylon ties on the man’s arms and then stood over him for a few minutes before carting him away.

Late that afternoon, we attended a lecture aboard ship by Dr Sven Mathiessen, who discussed “Germany and France: A Difficult Partnership.” As I have spent some time researching both countries, I fully agreed with him regarding their antagonistic past but how they did have similar characteristics and must cooperate in the future.

We were treated to a Farewell Gala Dinner that was followed by Virtual Bingo.

Connie and I stayed up to watch a late night maneuver through yet another lock on the Rhine.

On 11 August, we awakened to find ourselves already tied to the pier at Breisach, Germany. Again, we had a choice of excursions:

  • Freiburg excursion (city with 230,000 population)
  • Breisach win country bike tour
  • Black Forest excursion
  • Riquewihr walking tour

I thought that the Riquewihr tour would be the most interesting, so chose that one. The 40-minute coach ride northwest back into France passed Colmar, where I was hoping that we would stop because of its colorful architecture and description by Charlemagne, capture by the forces of Louis XIV and World War II battle. But we were on a mission to Riquewihr. We met our guide when we got to the entrance of the town, who took us down the main street, complete with cobblestones and inclined streets. BE CAREFUL! This medieval town of 1200 in Alsaçe was picture perfect, located between the peaks of the Vosges mountains right in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards.

We bought some macarons to take to some relatives as well as a street sign to put on the wall in our kitchen reminding us of past foreign adventures. (I am running out of room for future trips!)

It was still fairly early in the daytime on a perfect day for weather. So many interesting shops to peruse (and I normally hate shopping ). This town had built several walls for defense, with the prominent tower called “Dolder” (that in old Alemannic means “highest point” or summit), that was constructed in 1291. Another defensive wall that was newer lay outside this one.

Dolder in Riquewihr

Some of the half-timbered homes were stepped with upper levels further out into the street than the lower ones.

Traditionally, these homes are built of thick walled masonry and posts on the first level and, to reduce weight on second and higher stories, a cage structure where timbers were sawed in half (hence “half-timber”) with the flat edge facing the street and space between filled with brick, plaster, or wattle and daub. The viewed wood was usually a darker color to stand out.

Two adjacent buildings in Riquewihr from different centuries

I so wanted to go into the Hugel building. Hugel has a world-wide reputation as producing some of the finest Alsatian Gewurtztraminer wines.

Hugel wine house from 1639

In front was a sign board that advertised the process of wine making from the picking of the ripe grapes to the actual fermentation.

Our return to the ship was followed by lunch, a brief “liedown,” and then a presentation by John Riley on the process of disembarkation, where the majority of the passengers would go from the docked ship in Basel to the airport there, while the 31 remaining would travel on for four more nights with John in company.

We packed that evening, finding all the clothes in the nooks and crannies and put them back in our suitcases, and placed the special green ID tags on our checked bags for the next morning pick-up to be placed the next day outside our staterooms (so they would be loaded on the coach headed to Lucerne and not the Basel airport).

On 12 August, we put our suitcases outside our staterooms, ate breakfast, said our good-byes to wonderful Boda, and then waited in the lounge for our call to leave the ship for the last time.

Here is our ground itinerary for Switzerland, from Basel to Lucerne, boat trip to Vitznau, then coach through Zug to Zurich, where most everyone flew out to the final destination.

Itinerary in Switzerland

We first got a walking tour of Basel, Switzerland after we got our new Quiet Voxes. We found out that the main spoken language is local Basel German, that differs slightly from what is spoken in Germany. Basel is truly the head of navigation on the Rhine and located, as it is, close to both the French and German borders. Switzerland’s third largest city, it is dependent on commerce and hence there are many very modern buildings. Besides the bridges spanning the Rhine, there are four ferries that are guided by a fixed steel rope over the river, using the river current and correct angle of the rudder to determine to which bank the boat will go.

St Alban Rhine Ferry in Basel

We also saw the interesting Romanesque-Gothic cathedral (minster) that was originally Catholic but is now a Reformed Protestant church. Looking from the cloister at the decorative roof tiles.

Basel Münster

Before returning to the coach, one last pit stop.

No caption necessary here

Then onward to Lucerne in a one-hour drive. A reminder that the Swiss Confederation is made up of 26 cantons (similar to our states).

Swiss Confederation map

We were treated to a one-hour coach tour of Lucerne, a truly fascinating. John got us out of our comfort zone and we walked a couple hundred meters to the Lion Monument in a park in the center of the city.

This was sculpted into a sandstone cliff and commemorates the almost 1000 Swiss Guardsmen who died protecting King Louis XVI in 1792 during the French Revolution. (Best guess is that if this were in the United States, woke mobs would have torn it down.)

Lion of Lucerne

One officer who was on leave and missed the action initiated the creation of a monument to the fallen and raised funds for this project. It was completed in 1821. Mark Twain said: “the Lion of Lucerne is the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”

Lion of Lucerne carved in rock cliff

Following the coach tour that included some great painted buildings,

Lucerne building

and this hotel overlooking the city

Château Gütsch (19th century castle)

we had an hour and a half for lunch on our own and then joined a walking tour that was concentrated on the two wooden covered bridges (Kapellbrücke and Speuerbrücke) crossing the River Reuss. Both of these bridges were part of the fortification of the city, so the outer wall was higher than the inner wall.

What makes the bridge so interesting is first, that Kapellbrücke doesn’t cross the river perpendicular to the water, but curves; and second, the 158 17th century paintings on the triangular interior supports, some of which were destroyed in a 1993 fire when someone flicked a cigarette into the river and it landed on a piling.

Some of the many paintings on Kapellbrücke

This is probably the site where millions have taken essentially the same picture of Kapellbrücke showing the tower as the bridge curves on its way to the other bank of the River Reuss.

Kapellbrücke

Near the end of the bridge was Jesuitenkirche, a beautiful Baroque building.

Interior of Jesuiten Kirche

As I would have guessed, the interior was very ornate.

We finally got to our hotel, not the one that I had counted on (Schweizerhof Lucerne) because that one had closed due to the pandemic, but the Renaissance Hotel. It was a good location and frankly, the best coffee on the entire trip.

Connie and I gathered John Tanner and we found the Rathaus Brauerei Luzern for a typical Swiss dinner that was across the River Reuss (different kinds of sausage and the obligatory beer).

Friday the 13th! Following the hotel breakfast, we followed John Riley’s advice and did waited until this morning to decide whether or not to go to Mount Pilatus, because if it were foggy or rainy, it would not be worth the time or money. We took a bus to the cog railway at Alpnach.

Entrance to Cog Railway at Alpnach

Commissioned in 1889, it is the steepest cogwheel railway (48%) in the world. This is a model of the way the cog system works.

Model of how cog railway goes uphill at 47º angle (without falling backwards)

Some absolutely beautiful scenery as we went up, including through several tunnels.

So how did Pilatus get its name? Some say Pontius Pilate was buried there (or maybe somewhere else?). A legend says that the massif looks like the belly of a large man, whose name was Pilate. Or maybe the term “pileatus” that means “cloud-topped?”

On the way up, I took a lot of pictures

I could see people hiking up the 7000 feet incline, but thought that it was more convenient riding on the cog railway. After wandering around, and even listening to two Alpen horns sort of playing, and having something to eat, we decided to go back to Lucerne.

On cog railway up Pilatus. Note the zigzag walkway

Rather than taking the cogwheel railway back, we started with the Aerial Cableway, called “Dragon Ride.”

Dragon Ride, going down

We got off that at Fräkmüntegg and boarded a gondola that took us to Station Kriens. Riding with Gary and kept walking following signs saying “Tram #1” and must have walked a mile until we found the correct tram stop that took us back to Bahnhof. We went to the lower level of the railway station to the COOP and bought a bottle of nice cabernet and some munchies.

We had an informal gathering of all of the 31 who could make it in a sort of gathering room on first floor of hotel. We sat in a circle and introduced ourselves and drank what people bought.

On 14 August, we had our luggage out half hour before scheduled departure. If you look at a map, the shortest route from Lucerne to Zurich is about an hour, but instead, after we loaded our checked bags on the coach, we walked to the boat pier near Bahnhof and boarded a private boat not unlike this one (that was more than a century old).

Cruise boat on Lake Lucerne

The owner gave a running commentary as we steamed on the upper deck of his boat.

On Lake Lucerne with Scott and Laura

Here is a great shot of Mount Pilatus that we had been to the day before.

Mount Pilatus from Lake Lucerne

If you look carefully here, you can see the snow-covered peaks of part of the Alps.

Snow-covered Alps peak from Lake Lucerne

Our destination was Vitznau on this really weird-shaped lake.

And there was our coach! We continued northeast to the now flatter part of Switzerland, stopping at Schwyz. It was here that the Federal Charter (Bundesbrief) of 1291 was signed. This led to the foundation of the Swiss Confederation, commemorated in the mural on the town hall.

Swiss Confederation commemorated on Schwyz Town Hall

Looking at a map of Switzerland, it is obvious that the coach driver did NOT take the most direct route which would have been Highway #4 to the left of Lake Zug. Schwyz is to the right of the lake on a much less traveled road, as is the next city we traveled through: Zug.

The first time I saw that name, I thought the author was kidding. I had to look up the meaning of the term zug.

  • It could be a person whose talking is unintelligible because s/he mumbles, may be soft talkers or possibly because they are foreigners.
  • In Magyar (spoken in Hungary): it is a nook or corner, usually implying secretive or illicit.
  • Or the Middle Ages term for the right to pull up fishing nets, implying the right to fish.

There was human habitation from 14000BC and around AD600, Alemannic families and tribes settled into the area. (This is another name for Germanics). In 858, King Ludwig the German gave the farm Chama to the Zurich Fraumünster (more on that later…)

A protective wall was built around the town around 1200 and in 1352, Zug joined the Swiss Confederation.

Today, Zug is a low tax region and is headquarters for a number of multinational enterprises (something to keep in mind for higher tax enthusiasts.) The population of 30,600 includes 32% as foreign nationals (expatriates).

As we approached Zurich, John Riley announced that we were not going to the hotel where we would be bedding down for two nights, but to the Radisson Blu hotel near the airport where those who were headed back to the United States on 16 August would get their required Covid tests. Luckily, everyone tested negative. We then reboarded the coach and drove into the city to check in to the Park Hyatt Hyatt Hotel and experienced true 5-star treatment.

John Riley had access to an entire business office space complete with computers and printers. I thought that we wouldn’t see him again, but he told all assembled that he was going to take a walk around to show whoever was interested where some good restaurants for meals were located. We walked past several interesting squares with what looked like enticing restaurants and the group got smaller as small groups peeled off and went to one or another suggested eating place. Connie and I selected a small, obviously family-owned Italian restaurant and had a seafood meal with pasta.

On the way back to the hotel, it was easy to follow Bahnhofstrasse with its elegant stores and then turn right at the construction, and left on Beethoven to the hotel. At 7PM, a church began a peal of its bells, that was joined by another, then another, then another, until I was able to distinguish six different sites all ringing bells for almost 15 minutes.

One of many Zurich construction cranes

On 15 August, after a great breakfast, we met in the lobby for a combination panoramic coach ride for an hour followed by a 90-minute walking tour. I had to include this as it is said that the crane is the national bird of Switzerland.

This is a dynamic sign of national prosperity.

I could see the steeples of two prominent churches when we stopped at the Limmat River.

First view of steeples of two major churches in Zurich

Connie and I elected to walk with the “gentle” group as there was talk of climbing a bunch of stairs. Right across the river was the unique women’s bathing club (Frauenbad), where no men were allowed. Unlike Henry, I did not dwell on the site with a telephoto lens.

Frauenbad in Zurich

Our group had only five participants, so it was an almost private tour that was primarily the two main churches in the Old Town: Grossmünster and Fraumünster (I told you I would get back to this).

The story: Charlemagne (also known as Karl der Gross, Charles the Great, Carlus Magnus) was hunting a deer and after a long chase, his horse stumbled on the tomb of the martyred brothers, Felix and Regula. He commanded that a great church be built there. What we see is the Romanesque church built around 1100 on a hill with its two distinctive bell towers.

Grossmünster in Zurich

The story of the martyr is found in the magnificent bronze doors.

Bronze doors of Grossmünster in Zurich

Unfortunately, there was a service in progress and we could not enter, although our guide said that the interior, typically Zwinglian sober, was nothing special.

Martin Luther had nailed his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg cathedral in 1517 and in 1518, Ulrich Zwingli (another Catholic theologian) was appointed people’s priest at Grossmünster. His sermons were influenced by illness from the plague and his idea of the supremacy of Scripture, yet he disagreed with Luther’s theology. A third branch of Protestantism developed in Geneva under John Calvin. Here is a statue of Zwingli near Grossmünster.

Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich

Fraumünster church has gone through many alterations and although fairly close to Grossmünster, it can be distinguished by the high and sharp bell tower.

Fraumünster in Zurich

I particularly wanted to enter it to see the five stained glass windows by Marc Chagall of 1967 and the north transept window created by Augusto Giacometti.

Again, services were being held and the entrance was secured. I found this picture of one of Giacometti’s windows.

Giacometti window in FrauMünster

I was told that the city art museum had a collection by Giacometti, but just couldn’t get enough juice going to catch the right tram to get there, so we skipped yet another museum. We turned in our Quiet Vox to the guide.

Dinner was with almost our entire group at Zeughauskeller where some had eaten the night before and had described it glowingly. Supposedly, the crossbow used by William Tell was right over our heads.

In Zeughauskeller

After a great and filling meal, we walked leisurely back to the hotel and said our ‘good-byes’ because we didn’t know who would be up and out the next morning.

On 16 August, as I had everyone’s flight schedule, I was in the lobby with John Riley. AmaWaterways had decided earlier that rather than having our group go together to Zurich Flughafen and then wait for hours, the company would contract for either 7-passenger vans or limos to take small groups of the 31. Flights stretched from 0600 to 1330. The Chardoul pickup was at 1000. Mark arrived a couple minutes early and loaded our suitcases into his black Mercedes AMG sedan. As it was past rush hour, we got to the airport fairly quickly and a guide with a AmaWaterways shirt greeted us and directed us to the right counter our continuing trip to Greece to visit relatives.

This ended the “Enchanting Rhine” portion of the Travel With Chardoul excursion of 2021. I hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as Connie and I did.