From A to Z = Amsterdam to Zurich

The title given by AmaWaterways is “Captivating Rhine.” What I like about it is the scheduling of two additional optional nights in Amsterdam and two nights in Lucerne and two nights in Zurich.The original scheduling was for August 2020, but with the Coronavirus, I was able to port the entire trip to August 2021.

Map of Seven Night Cruise portion of Captivating Rhine

For those who have not had the opportunity to sign up, there is still time/room, although the choice of staterooms is limited now.

As of 18 January 2021, here is the stateroom availability:

  • Here is the current availability
    • AA / French & Outside Balcony / 6
    • AB / French & Outside Balcony / 3
    • BA / French & Outside Balcony / 4
    • CA / French Balcony / 1
    • CB / French Balcony / 2
    • D / Fixed Window / 6
    • E Fixed Window / 1 

Here are the highlights of the trip:

2 August 2021: overnight flight from your starting point in the United States.

3 August: land in Amsterdam. We will be taken to the Barbizon Palace This hotel is part of the NH Hotel complex that has hotels in 36 cities (only US city is New York). The Barbizon Palace is centrally located within the most important areas of the city. This will be our base for the two nights we are in Amsterdam and not on the ship.

The remainder of the day can be used as time to unwind. I am recommending that you spend at least part of the day exploring some of the fantastic museums located nearby. For those who have already signed up for the trip, I will be providing a list of possible places to visit. You could also just chill out at a café. If you trust Travel Advisor, here is the updated 2021 list of the “top” selections. Remember that many of these coffee houses lallow legal pot, so be careful!

4 August: After our hotel breakfast, we will meet our English-speaking guide who will lead us on a tour of Amsterdam. Keep in mind that with all of excursions, you will have what I call a “whisperer” but AmaWaterways calls a “voice box.” This means that you can stand away from the English-speaking guide and still hear what s/he is saying. It is one-way, however, so if you have a question, you must be closer to ask it. As the receivers have different frequencies that will be dialed in at the beginning of a tour, you can be in close proximity to another group that has the same equipment and there will not be interference.

This guided tour of Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, will concentrate on the meandering canals, bridges, and distinctive architecture. Remember that much of this part of Europe was “captured” from the North Sea and is at or some cases, below sea level – hence the name Netherlands (Low Country). The canals have different names that you will see, such as gracht or singel, that are human-made waterways around the city, with streets on one or both sides. The singels are generally older and were once used for defense purposes, so you will find them in older parts of the city, particularly the Golden Age.

In what was called the Golden Age (from 1609 when the Twelve Years’ Truce ended until either the death of Prince William III in 1702 or the conclusion of the Peace of Utrecht in 1713) when the United Provinces were at the highest and was one of the one most powerful and influential nations in Europe and the world. This was the time that Dutch merchants developed a lucrative colonial commerce through the United (Dutch) East India Company with bases in Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka), mainland India in Goa, and current Indonesia. The West India Company was established in 1621, but its legacy was an embarrassment to Dutch history as it was primarily involved with the slave trade and privateering. This hub of world trade made this part of Europe a desired conquest. The many wars to maintain independence created an economic burden so the Dutch became one of the most heavily taxed people in Europe.

In the Dutch Republic (note the many names I am giving the nation), the official state religion beginning in the 17th century was Calvinism. Even though the preachers attempted to oppress other religions, many parts of the Dutch Republic, particularly in the north, maintained Catholicism. Religious toleration encouraged Sephardic Jews, driven out of Portugal and Spain, as well as Ashkenazim from eastern Europe (who were primarily the poor workers in and around Amsterdam. They lived in their own communities.

The Golden Age also was the flowering of culture, enhanced by strong finances. An historian of the early 17th century, Hugo Grotius (his Dutch name was Huigh de Groot), has been considered the “father of international law.” His De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace) in 1625 was a best seller. On the Law of Prize and Booty is the basis for free access to the ocean for all nations (something that the People’s Republic of China is currently attempting to subvert!)

René Descartes lived in the Dutch Republic for 20 years because it provided freedom of thought. The physicist Christiaa Huygens, the microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek thrived in the liberal environment as well.

In art, Frans Hals, Jan Steen, and Johannes Vermeer painted popular life for private homes. But one of the world’s finest painters, Rembrandt van Rijn rides high in the list of desired artists. Jacob van Ruisdael (Grand Rapids Art Museum has one of his works as well as a collection of fantastic Rembrandt etchings) painted Dutch landscapes.

Back to a short note on canals: Amsterdam has over 100 kilometers (62 miles) of canals, about 90 islands, and 1500 bridges! The three main canals: Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizergracht (I translate Heren as “lord,” Prinsen as “Prince,” and Keizer as “leader”) were dug in the 17th century and form concentric belts around the city. The soil that was removed was used to raise the ground level. Go back to the URL for our hotel and click on “location” to see the interactive map of central Amsterdam. Our hotel is the red marker and you can see the essential “U”-shaped canals. Notice also the Amstel River (yes, the beer name comes from that.) It is hard to get lost in central Amsterdam, even if you don’t speak Dutch (just ask anyone and there is a good chance that almost everyone speaks passable English. (Hint: get a business card from the hotel that has the name and address and keep it on you.) Note also that “brug” is bridge.

On our schedule, on 6 August, we will be treated to a canal cruise where this will be explained at greater length. Those of you who have been with me on past trips, will remember the Seine cruise in Paris, the Moscow river-canal cruise, and the St. Petersburg canal cruise (with its extremely low bridge clearance that almost decapitated one of my guests!)

5 August. Make sure that you pack everything the evening of 4 August and be ready to go the next day. There will probably be an announcement that checked bags have to be outside your hotel room at a certain time on this day (Thursday). After our hotel breakfast, I will ensure that each of your checked bags (only one, please!) is loaded onto our coach. Although I do not have the exact time of our hotel departure, it will probably be around 9AM.

Today is a fun trip to Zaanse Schans, to see what life used to be in the Netherlands. We will travel from our hotel and probably go into Amsterdam-West to pick up Highway A15 and go through one of the ports to Molenwijk, where we join Highway A5 and go northwest a few miles to Zaanse Schans on the Zaan River. Here you will probably see your first traditional Dutch windmills. These, along with homes and shops, were relocated here to create a typical 17th to 18th century village.

When we return to Amsterdam later, we will board our ship, AmaMora. Our checked bags will already be mysteriously placed in our staterooms, our “home” for the next seven nights. As I am writing this on 25 January, this ship is nested until the beginning of cruise season with AmaSerena and AmaPrima on the Nederijn. Coordinates are: 51.96315N/5.93912E. (Remember that “Rijn” is the Dutch version of Rhine. Built in 2019, but not sailed in 2020 because of Coronavirus, it is essentially a brand spanking new ship. It holds 158 passengers, but will probably have fewer than that to meet the proper protocol. When we board, you will be assigned your stateroom and will be escorted there by a staff member. This is the time to unpack and slide your suitcases under the bed. Wander around the ship to get a “lay of the land.” Dinner will be served aboard.

AmaMora, our home for the next seven nights

6 August. After our first breakfast aboard ship, we will depart and board a coach that will take us to a spot where we board a small canal boat to get a morning cruise. I am not sure if this is the path that we will be following, but it will be similar to this. Again, note the “U”-shaped orientation of the main canals.

Map of Amsterdam canals

We will return to AmaMora in time for lunch. Later this day, we leave the port. As a retired Naval officer, I am always interested in the process of getting underway, although when I was on active duty, we did not have the luxury of sideways thrusters and instead relied on careful use of spring lines and backing of engines, then shifting to forward with appropriate rudder angles to distance ourselves from the pier.

Here is a short statement from AmaWaterways on appropriate clothing to wear aboard. NO Tuxedos or formal gowns! I will share with you later the recommended clothing, so you will know what to pack.

Part of this afternoon’s trip will be South SouthEast on the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal for about 72 kilometers (let’s think in the metric system as the United States is only one of three of world’s nations — the others are Myanmar and Liberia — that still uses the old measuring system.) Even though the terrain is quite flat, we will be traversing four lock systems as we will be going slightly uphill. Some of you are now “old hands” and this will be second nature to you, but I like to see how the crew handles the process.


We enter first the Waal River near Tiel and the Rhine (Rijn) at Millingen man de Rign. Tonight, as every night aboard AmaMora, we will have a fantastic dinner. We continue to steam all night.

7 August. We will wake today in Cologne (Köln). Some of you might want to be topside (upper deck) because just prior to getting to Cologne, the ship will pass under the Hohenzollern Bridge, that is a double arch structure. Typical of river cruises, our berthing will be right downtown. (Those of you who were with me in Russia, will remember that our berthings in Moscow and St Petersburg were about an hour outside of the central city because of the cities’ size.) After breakfast, all the ship’s passengers probably will be gathering in the lounge to hear about the different shore options before we leave the ship for our morning excursion:

  • Some will join a guided tour through the Old Town and explore the UNESCO-designated Cologne Cathedral, an amazing Gothic structure. From there, this group will go to the Cologne Rathaus (the oldest city hall in Germany), as well as some other sights.
  • Others may choose to visit a local tavern to taste the famous Kölsch beer (unique to Cologne) and reibekuchen mit opfelmus (potato pancakes served with applesauce).
  • If you are adventurous, you might want to join a guided bike ride along the Rhine and through the historic Stadtgarten.
Interior of Cologne Cathedral

We should be back aboard the ship for lunch. My guess is that either the ship remains in port for several more hours and you could get off and wander on your own (but always make sure that you are back aboard prior to departure!! This applies to all of our shore excursions.) or the ship leaves and continues further upriver.

Famous spires of Cologne Cathedral

8 August. This section of the Rhine is probably the most enjoyable to see as we will be cruising through the UNESCO-designated Rhine Gorge. We are now in the Rhenish Palatinate (in German, “Pfalz”). The history of this district goes back to 945AD with the secular (non-religious) Counts Palatine who owed allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor. During the Reformation, many of Martin Luther’s followers gathered in this area and later it became strongest Calvinist area of Germany. The Protestant Elector Palatine Frederick V (1596-1632), called the “Winter King of Bohemia” because when he ascended the throne, it almost immediately precipitated the Thirty Years War (1619-48) that raged all over Europe as the last major religious war. Particularly during the attacks of the French in the reign of Louis XIV during the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-97), much of the land was ravaged. Many of the inhabitants fled and emigrated to the New World; we know them as “Pennsylvania Dutch.” But they were not Dutch. The German word for their people is “Deutsch.”

The Rhine Gorge will be your time to see a multitude of castles along the river. Here is a short video to give you an idea. Note in the video that some of the land is terraced. AHA! Wine country!

The ship will dock in Rüdesheim. Again, you will have a choice of guided tour excursions to select. And again, we will meet in the lounge to get some idea of what is in the choices:

  • A wine tasting to sample Rüdesheim’s offerings at several vineyards, by coach.
  • You might want to choose a gondola ride high above the vineyards en route to Niederwalddenkmal.
  • Hike through the town’s beautiful vineyards.
  • Bike along the Rhine River.

We return for lunch and then have to make more excursion selections for the afternoon:

  • See the Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum and its collection of self-playing musical instruments.
  • Taste one of the town’s special delights: Rüdesheimer coffee, that is ceremoniously made with brandy, coffee, and whipped cream.

Back in plenty of time for dinner. (All of our meals aboard ship will have regional menus to select from, and this will also include the wine list.)

9 August: After our overnight trip further up the Rhine and the typical great breakfast, we dock in Ludwigshafen. Again, the entire passenger list meets in the Lounge to hear the choices of excursions. This is your gateway to a choice of four different excursions:

  • Visit Heidelberg, 12 miles from our ship, a medieval city in the Neckar River Valley along Germany’s Castle Road that has been perfectly preserved. Check out some quick facts on the city.
  • Some quick facts on Heidelberg:
  • We will be in Baden-Württemberg Land in the southwestern part of Germany. It was the capital of the Rhenish Palatinate (Pfalz) and home of the electoral counts palatine until 1720. Much of the city was destroyed in 1622 during the Thirty Years’ War and almost completely destroyed by the troops of Louis XIV in 1689. As a result, most of the important buildings are in the Baroque architectural style rather than Gothic. It was reconstructed in the 18th century and suffered minimal damage in World War II.
  • The current population of Heidelberg is approximately 160,000, one quarter of whom are students.
  • Home to the oldest German college, Heidelberg University (1386), and the Museum that houses the jawbone of the 600,000 Heidelberg Man.
  • Student jail that was built in the 16th century to keep drunk students off the streets for three days to a month. (Anyone remember “the Student Prince?” Drink, drink…)
  • Heidelberg Castle (Schloss Heidelberg) sits on a bluff 100 meters over the Neckar River; you won’t be able to miss it. Built during the Renaissance, its red exterior. It houses the Grosses Fass, sometimes called Heidelberg Tun, a huge wine cask that has a capacity of between 185,000 and 220,000 liters! (that is somewhere between 49,000 and 58,000 gallons).
  • Alte Brücke (Old Bridge), built in the 18th century.
  • Some may wish to be more active with a guided hike up the Philosopher’s Path (called this during the Romantic Period of the early 19th century). Great panorama of the city.
  • Travel to Speyer (14 miles from the ship) that has the largest Romanesque cathedral in Europe as well as the medieval Old Gate (Altpörtal).
  • Some may want to join a guided bike tour along the Neckar River to the picturesque medieval town of Ladenburg. (for those who were with me in Vietnam, I think you know why I will not opt for this excursion.)

Any of those excursions should make your hungry for your next meal aboard AmaMora. We can compare notes from the various excursions.

10 August: Remember that we began our trip in the Netherlands, but have been in Germany for a few days. Today, we visit France in the border city of Strasbourg. Located in Alsaçe, this city has a long history that precedes Roman use as a garrison town (Argentoratum). The Franks captured it in the 5th century and renamed it Strateburgum. In the Middle Ages, it was a free city in the Holy Roman Empire. Louis XIV seized the city in 1681 and got ratification for his action in the Treaty of Rijswijk (1697) that ended another war of conquest, where territory changed hands. During the French Revolution, Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle wrote “La Marseillaise” that became the French national anthem. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), the Germans captured Strasbourg after a 50-day siege and annexed it. After World War I, it returned to French control, but the Germans occupied it 1940-44. In 1979, it became the home of the European Parliament.

All of the pictures that I have found of the city include La Petitie district where we will probably see the old streets with wooden houses, and some picturesque canals.

The cathedral of Nôtre-Dame (damaged in 1870 and again in World War II) has been carefully restored. Distinctive among churches with its red sandstone, it fits into the city architecture. Today, the city enterprises include engineering products food processing, pharmaceuticals, electronics, a large auto assembly plant, and one of the major ports on the Rhine. Its population is about 275,000.

Once again, you will have a choice of excursions:

  • A panoramic tour of the city, including Parc de l’Orangerie, the European Parliament and the Place de la République before walking through its iconic “La Petite France” district (this looks like a fairy tale). (For those of you who joined me on the tour of northern France, Normandy, and the Loire chateaux, if you will remember, our first hotel in Paris was in the Place de la République with the statue of Marianne – the symbol of the Revolution in the small circular “square” across from our hotel. This was near the site of the Bastille.) We will also check out the streets near the Cáthedrale de Nôtre Dame that has yet another astronomical clock.
    • If you are interested in the functions of the European Parliament, click here
  • An alternative excursion is a guided bike ride through the city and Parc de l’Orangerie.

11 August: Today we stop in Breisach, back in Germany. A small Rhine Valley town of 16,500, located in Baden-Würteemberg and about 60 kilometers from Basel (where we depart from our home away from home).  This is where the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) spills into Alsaçe. So we are still near France and French culture.


Check out one of the following excursions:

  • A 36-minute coach ride takes you to the Alsaçian town of Riquewihr, that looks almost as it did in the 16th century. On your walking tour, see historic architecture and famous sites, such as the Dolder Gate. This puts you back in France. Here is a five-minute video of the charming town.
  • Head east for 32 kilometers to Freiburg, founded in 1120 and home to the Freiburg Münster, a Gothic cathedral said to have “the most beautiful spire on earth.” Here is a short 1 ½ minute video of Freiburg.
  • The more adventurous can cycle through the countryside.
  • A final alternative is a hike in the Black Forest, a magical land full of cultural traditions. As I look at the map, it will require a coach ride to get there, then hike, then coach ride back to ship.

As with all of our excursions, you will be back aboard and not miss a meal, unless AmaWaterways has contracted with a place to eat ashore.

An explanatory note on cathedrals. A cathedral is the principal church of a bishop’s diocese or seat. So there should a single cathedral in a city. Often the other largest church is called a basilica. (This comes from the basic design of that structure, not its religious significance.) Those of you who were with me in Italy many years ago, will remember that the Italian cathedral is called a “Duomo.” In France, it is “Cáthedrale”, while in Germany and Austria, and the German-speaking part of Switzerland, it is “Münster”. Just to show how languages migrate, surely you have heard of Westminster in London! Where do you think that –minster comes from? Aha!

A generic note about all the scheduled excursions during the entire cruise. As they are activities organized by AmaWaterways, AmaMora will NOT depart from the port without a group late getting back. However, if you choose to go off on your own, you may not be so lucky. How does the ship’s company know who is aboard and who is not? When we first board the ship on 5 August, each passenger will be given an access card. This is your stateroom key and identification. You will scan this every time you leave or board the ship. The computer registers your absence and “knows” if you are off the ship. Do not lose the card ashore!  Alles wird gut sein! (Everything will be good!)

Tonight, after dinner, it is time to go through your staterooms carefully and pack. After seven nights not having to worry about that, who knows where that other pair of shoes went? It is also time to “render unto Caesar…” and pay any bills that have accumulated. Remember that as a Travel With Chardoul guest, you have been credited with $250 on-board credit!

12 August: As all of the Travel With Chardoul guests have opted for the post-cruise extension, I will include some detailed information on that portion of our overall trip.

You will receive instructions when your checked bag must be outside your stateroom. Eat a hearty breakfast and prepare for the departure. I will ensure that everyone’s checked bag (one each) is accounted for. When we disembark from the ship, we board a coach and receive a highlights tour of Basel. If you look at a map and find that city, you will see that, although in Switzerland, it is close to both France and Germany. We will probably see the late Romanesque-Gothic Munster with its distinctive red sandstone exterior and the multi-colored tile roof.  We probably won’t get an opportunity to visit any of the 40 museums. There is also an Old Town and Switzerland’s oldest university. This is also the headquarters of Herzog & de Meuron Architekien – and you will see the significance when we get to Lucerne. This company, created in 1958, designed the Beijing National Stadium with a whole lot of Chinese controversy. Will we get a chance to visit the Läckerli Huus to sample the Basel honey cake?

I have incorporated a lot of information on Switzerland in my website. Click here to see some of the details that I put together a few months ago. For quick reference, look at the following map of Switzerland. Begin in Basel, trace the road south to Lucerne, then northeast to Zurich.

Map of Switzerland

Then it is about an hour drive to Lucerne. We will stretch our legs with a guided walking tour to see some of the close-in sites and get an orientation for our two-night stay at Lucerne Hotel Astoria. After we check in, we are on our own. Note that there is a rooftop terrace to get a birds-eye view of the area. This hotel was designed by Herzog & de Meuron a Pritzker Prize winning firm in 2001 with Tate Modern II in London. In checking the hotel’s website, I note that the hotel is closed until the end of April 2021. Doing a Google search, I see plenty of restaurant choices nearby, from Chinese, Thai, Italian, to Peruvian.

13 August: Today, after breakfast, we get a tour to the famous Lion Monument as well as the spectacular medieval walls and towers, dating back to the 13th century. For protection, many towns had walls surrounding the main part of the town. As the towns expanded, the walls were either torn down (and often the material was used for building material for other structures) or parts were carefully preserved. Often the areas within the bounds of the walls still have the narrow, crooked streets because space was at a premium; these would be the “Old City” that is so prominent in Europe. After the tour, you are on your own. This will be a great time to explore the neighborhood around our hotel. Look for the announcement of when your checked bag must be outside your room the next morning.

14 August: After breakfast, we check out of the hotel, board our coach and go to the shore of Lake Lucerne. There, we will board a small cruiser for a scenic lake cruise to Vitznau on the east side of the lake. We then reboard our coach and travel about an hour to Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city (about 1.3 million). Our five-star hotel, Zurich Park Hyatt, will be waiting for us. Located on the north end of Lake Zurich in Zurich’s financial district, it is close to the train station and Old Town.

15 August: Today, after breakfast, we get a guided city tour, including Old Town (medieval homes and churches). I do not have any additional information on what we will see on this orientation tour. When you are thinking about eating, remember Swiss chocolate and fondue as possibilities. Make sure that you take time to pack for our flights home. Again, look for announcement of when checked bag must be outside your room tomorrow.

16 August: After breakfast, we check out and, since I do not have everyone’s flight schedule, we will be traveling the 13 kilometers to the Zurich airport (ZRH) for our return home flights. There is even a train connection (under the terminal building) from the railway station near our hotel. We will probably leave from Terminal B.

Here are two optional tours that you can take while we are in Lucerne and Zurich. There is an additional cost for each.

Swiss Mountain (Pilatus, Rigi, or Stanserhorn)

Cost $169pp USD. Available on Swiss Extension

This afternoon, travel to Mount Pilatus where you will ascent the summit by two types of cable car. At the summit enjoy free time; from the panoramic terrace admire the scenic views of the surrounding areas, including the tranquil Lake Lucerne. Shop for souvenirs, take a walk on the nature trails, and read the story of the Dragon who lives in the mountain. Later, descend the mountain on the engineering marvel, the world’s steepest cogwheel railway before taking a short train ride back to your hotel, around the edge of Lake Lucerne. Afternoon optional.

Rhine Falls

Cost: $113pp USD. Available on Swiss Extension.

From Zurich, depart for the picturesque Rhine Falls, which are the most impressive waterfalls in Europe. See the mist in the air as the river cascades over the falls before you. If the weather allows, you will be given the opportunity to take a short boat ride and approach the face of the falls from the water. Then continue on to the charming town of Stein am Rhine which received the very first Swiss Wakker Prize, a prestigious award by the Swiss Heritage Society for the development and preservation of its architectural heritage. It is considered to be one the best preserved medieval small towns in the German-speaking world. The medieval part of the town has been pedestrianized and many of the buildings are painted with beautiful frescoes. Take a stroll in the quaint city during your free time. afternoon optional.