There is something about ‘Fred’ that everyone loves and after enjoying a week cruising on their riverboat ‘Brabant’ I can see why. This was my first ‘Fred’ experience and I was immediately struck by their incredibly loyal clients, returning year after year to enjoy cruises that can be relied on to offer value for money.
2019 is the second year that ‘Brabant’ has been operating in Europe, as Fred Olsen dip their toes into river cruising with great success. Having never sailed on their ocean cruises I can’t compare, but all the guests I spoke to were relieved to find standards were the same. Standards that I can sum up as friendly, well organised and great value for money.
The holiday started with a British Airways flight to Basel. Not without anxiety as it was the day after BA’s computer systems had failed and Heathrow was in a complete mess. I was lucky – just a couple of hours delay. On arrival we were taken by coach to the ship and I was soon settling into my cabin. I would have liked a little longer in Basel with the chance to explore, but this cruise had a tight schedule, so maybe another time.
My cabin was very comfy, an average size with all amenities, plus a large sliding window so I could watch the scenery whilst lying in bed with my morning cuppa. Meals were of a high standard, an extensive breakfast buffet, 3 course lunch and 5 course dinner, plus afternoon tea if you could fit it in!
Seating was ‘open’, so you chose to sit where you liked on tables of 6-8 people. As on most river cruises, there was only one sitting for meals.
The staff were a mix of many nationalities and all incredibly friendly. Being a small ship (compared to cruise ships) crew often doubled up in duties and all worked very hard. It was endearing to note that they soon remembered guests names, likes and dislikes. Evening entertainment was low key, but great fun, with quizzes, bingo and live music. Not forgetting an informative ‘port talk’ each evening to set us up for the following day.
We set sail along the Rhine in searingly hot temperatures and the ship’s air conditioning was very welcome. Our first stop was Strasbourg, a beautiful city and very deserving of its UNESCO World Heritage status. I had chosen an optional excursion of a canal boat ride which was a picturesque way of seeing the beautiful buildings of the old medieval town known at Petite France. We cruised under pretty bridges bedecked with flowers and passed by the massive glass structures that comprise the European Parliament buildings. Rather than return to the boat for lunch I had a typical French ‘tartine’ in a cafe near to the cathedral and then followed a walking route along the river back to my floating hotel.
Next stop was Speyer and a guided tour which started early before the crowds arrived. Our guide explained the history of the imposing Romanesque Cathedral and then took us to the Jewish Courtyard. Part of this museum is a very well preserved Jewish ritual bathing house, the oldest in central Europe and dating back to 1128. Sadly the main Museum was closed but the numerous English information boards gave a good insight into the timeline of the Jewish inhabitants.
During lunch on board Brabant we sailed along to Mannheim. On arrival I took the free shuttle bus to the city centre and indulged in some idle shopping for the afternoon. Suddenly my peaceful wanderings were shattered by whistles, drums and deafening music as a massive carnival parade appeared causing complete traffic chaos and crowds of revellers. It was colourful, good humoured and great fun to watch. All part of life’s rich tapestry!
A dip in temperatures heralded Sunday morning and suddenly Autumn was in the air with mist rising over the water. We docked in sleepy Oberwesel for a wander around, then back on board and a relaxing sail to Koblenz, one of the oldest cities in Germany. We docked alongside another big celebration, this time an annual festival ‘Rhein in Flames’, a 3-day summer jamboree of fairground rides, pop up beer gardens, live music and fireworks. I escaped the revellers by taking a short walk from the ship to the cable car up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. High above Koblenz the views were breathtaking over both the Rhine and the Moselle rivers.
We were now cruising the pretty Moselle river, surrounded by vineyards and dotted with romantic castles and picture-perfect towns. We docked early in the twin towns of Traben and Trarbach, both very pretty and linked by a bridge famous for its attractive bridge gate known as the Bruckentor. We had the morning to explore which gave me plenty of time to walk around on both sides of the river and enjoy a coffee along the way. I came across the town Glockenspiel which was lovingly restored in 2004 with 28 bronze bells each weighing between 80 kg and 7.6 kg. The town hosts regular glockenspiel concerts when the chimes ring out on specific dates and for special occasions.
Back on board for another tasty lunch as we sailed along to Berkenkastel; these towns just get prettier and prettier!
Deep into Moselle wine country a wine tasting excursion was almost obligatory, and I chose to join one in Berkenkastel. We learnt about the conditions required for the local Riesling production and tasted 3 very different wines. All much improved from the Riesling I remembered from my younger days!
We arrived in possibly my favourite town, beautiful Cochem. I decided to walk up to the fairy-tale Reichsburg Castle along a very well kept, but steep path through woodlands with views of the river at every turn. I was lucky to catch a 40-minute guided tour in English for €6 which was very informative and showed us around some of the furnished apartments. It is worth noting you have to take a tour in order to go into the castle.
Back on board and overnight we left the picturesque villages and small towns behind and woke up to the cityscape of Cologne. A city rebuilt after WW2 with a lot of concrete and not much beauty it seemed to me. With the exception of the iconic cathedral which is an awesome and unforgettable experience. Beware of neck ache as you gaze upwards to admire the architecture that rises high above you, especially the jewel like stained glass windows each telling a tale of their own.
The final stop before our flight home was Dusseldorf and for me it was an afternoon to wander along the river front into the city and enjoy a summer afternoon relaxing with an ice cream.
One last delicious dinner and it was time for the dreaded packing to begin.
As with our outbound travel arrangements, Fred Olsen had all bases covered and the check out, transfers and departure all proceeded like clockwork.
My week has shown me why everyone loves ‘Fred’. For me the cruise has been both relaxing and informative and above all, enjoyable. The mid-summer early mornings, watching the sun peep over the hillside, and the mist rise over the Moselle, was my favourite time of day. I had the sun deck to myself, a hot coffee to hand and was content to watch the day begin before everyone else. During my week I dipped into some pre booked excursions but equally enjoyed exploring on my own. Above all I liked unpacking just once and returning to the familiarity of Brabant at the end of every day.
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