‘Scenic Gems of the German Landscape’ sailing from Dusseldorf to Basel
Ironically, for me the highlight of Fred Olsen’s ‘Scenic Gems of Germany’ river cruise was Strasbourg – which is in France. We moored some 2 km from the city centre so a shuttle bus was arranged to transport us from the Brabant – our river cruise boat for our trip along the Rhine from Düsseldorf to Basel, with a delightful detour along the Moselle. The shuttle bus started at 10am but I wanted to get ahead of the tourists, so I set off earlier on foot and headed for the Tourist Information centre next to the magnificent Cathedral. Here I booked a 70-minute canal boat tour with Batorama, the only company running these tours, at a very reasonable charge of 13 Euros. This open-top boat with its accompanying commentary helped me identify the prettiest parts of the town, such as the French Quarter, where I would return on foot to explore in more depth and take photos.
I donned the canal boat’s complimentary headphones, switched to the English channel and was rather surprised to hear a hearty pirate voice giving a lively commentary accompanied by a squawking parrot. I laughed out loud a few times and noted none of my fellow travellers seemed to find their commentaries amusing. It was only later that I realised I’d tuned to the ‘age-appropriate’ version for English speaking children!
As well as circling the entire city centre, the boat tour also took us to see the European Parliament building. It was a relief to be sailing past this in the company of other Europeans. There were mixed views and some strong feelings about Brexit amongst fellow river cruisers aboard the Brabant and, to preserve the harmony, most of us had carefully avoided entering into any political debates.
Our penultimate cruise day took me to the Black Forest – a 90-minute coach excursion from our next mooring at Breisach. Throughout the coach journey, our delightful guide who came from a local farming family entertained us with fascinating facts about life in the area such as the pavement sweeping and gossiping sessions the residents undertake each week. Our first stop was the House of Black Forest Clocks where we were greeted in the forecourt with cherry wine, just as the largest cuckoo clock in the world started to chime. Holding my glass, I turned my wrist to take a video on my mobile and…you guessed it…poured sticky red wine down my front!
After our free coffee and a huge slice of scrumptious black forest gateau in the shop’s café, we had a short time to browse the collection of fine handmade wooden cuckoo clocks and incredibly pretty wooden Christmas decorations. I was determined to find a clock like the one my grandmother had collected on a pioneering coach trip of Europe back in the 1950s. Amidst a bewildering array of clocks, I fortunately found one that stood out for its cute St Bernard mountain rescue dog complete with brandy barrel. As soon the mellow and very realistic-sounding cuckoo popped out its head and flapped its tiny wings, I was smitten. Two of my fellow travellers opted for the same clock – it’s rather nice to think of them all merrily cuckooing in unison but in different time zones in Lisbon, Zimbabwe and South Yorkshire!
We’d love to have lingered longer but we were whisked off to a Folk Museum to learn about the harshness of farming life in the Black Forest in times gone by. Our guide told us how her own grandfather had been given away at the tender age of 5 as a goatherd to a hill farmer. She showed us the type of rough straw cape that he would have worn in winter to keep out the cold. “He was the youngest of a poor family with too many children”, she said, so at least he was fed and clothed. “No one looks back in nostalgia at the good old days in this area”, she said. We were soon back on the coach and had the afternoon free to explore Breisach. It was rather disquieting to learn that 85% of the town had been destroyed by allied artillery in WWII. Most of the buildings were, therefore, relatively new.
On our last night we sailed to Basel in Switzerland. We were expected to disembark from the Brabant at 9am the following morning but as we had a mid-afternoon flight, we were allowed to wait on board in the lounge area. I took a stroll into Basel along the river bank. With the September temperatures climbing once again into the late 20C I envied the locals sunbathing and swimming in the Rhine, rinsing off the river water at strategically placed showers. It was quite a shock to fly back to Manchester Airport a few hours later and emerge into heavy rain and wind with temperatures just about reaching 12 degrees.
If you enjoy exploring different countries and visiting new towns and cities, river cruising is a lovely way to travel. On board your floating hotel, you only need to unpack once and the Fred Olsen crew, who look after your every need, soon get to know your tastes and preferences. The quality and variety of food at every meal was superb and the wine and beers that came with the drinks package were very drinkable. I heard there were also early risers’ pastries, afternoon tea and late-night snacks in addition to the three sumptuous main meals each day. I was too busy planning and exploring to take advantage of this additional food, but there’s certainly no danger of anyone going hungry!
Carole and John took the 8-day ‘Scenic Gems of the German Landscape’ with Fred. Olsen in September 2018. See all Fred. Olsen’s river tours.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.