A day in the life of a Shearings Rhine cruise

Freiburg

We decide to do just one full day coach trip with Shearings as part of our Rhine Cruise.  It’s more than enough after spending a good one and a half days coaching all the way from England to Basel, Switzerland where we begin the cruise proper.

FreiburgThe coach takes us from our mooring at Breisach on the Rhine, through to Freiburg, and then into the Black Forest for lunch.

Any romantic thoughts I had about taking a gentle ‘Walk in the Black Forest!,* are quickly brushed to one side.  It’s not a Forest as such, but a whole region; rolling hills, verdant pastures, and yes trees as well.

Our coach trip can do no more than provide us with a snap shot, or flavour of the region. Since we are mostly ‘travellers of a certain age’ it’s time to relax and let the coach take the strain.

Freiburg is the acknowledged gateway to the Black Forest, and so a very popular staging post for hikers as well as holiday makers especially in summertime.

Our coach

Our Shearings’ coach is very comfortable and we glide past gentle slopes covered in vines, and traditional chalet type farms nestling amongst the hills.

Tony, our coach drive/guide points out tit-bits of information along the way. His commentary, however, is never too much to become intrusive, thank goodness.  I certainly don’t want to fill my mind with endless facts, preferring to relax and savour the beautiful countryside. For me the journey is always about the experience, not touristy facts, especially as I’ve grown older.

There’s always something special about vines, although it has nothing to do with the wine they will eventually become.  They seem to stir ancient memories in me, harking back to a much gentler pace of life when we all lived closer to and appreciated the land more than we do today. For me a coach or car is very much a part of the journey, and certainly not a frantic dash to get from A to B as quickly as possible.  I haven’t come with a ‘to do tick list’, but to relax, drink in these magnificent surroundings, and immerse myself in the culture as much as possible.

I’m a Traveller, not a Tourist

Freiburg is the acknowledged gateway to the Black Forest, and so a very popular staging post for hikers as well as holiday makers especially in summertime.

The Martinstor (Martin's Gate)It is apparently one of the sunniest cities in the whole of Germany and a hive of activity.  The locals seem to have taken to their bikes in a big way.  Our local guide, Iris tells us there are supposed to be more bicycles in the city than there are people.  Judging by the number we saw in just a short while, I can believe it.  We are quite safe, though, because a lot of the city has been pedestrianised.

Our coach squeezes in between a multitude of others in a car park just a stone’s throw from the centre of town. The short walk to the centre of town should be okay for most of us.

I count myself a Traveller rather than a tourist though, so I have always generally fought shy of coach journeys.  I have no wish to be herded from one venue to the next, so appreciate as much time to explore by myself as possible. This day trip with Shearings is a good compromise.  We get to see something of the region, are shown some of the magic attractions in Freiburg, and then have plenty of time on hand to wander around at our own pace.

Nonetheless, I find myself scanning the empty parked coaches and doing a rough calculation to see just how many other passengers have been let loose on this beautiful cathedral city.  Tourists sometimes managed to get themselves a bad name, but a tourist of a certain age as well?

Freiburg Munster medieval cathedralHowever, any concerns I have about trying to keep up with some brightly coloured brolly bobbing above a crowded pavement of pedestrians are quickly dispelled by Iris.  She knows her audience well, speaking excellent English and has an absolutely passion for her work.  She is very sensitive to the needs of everyone in the party especially those who are less nimble than the rest, so we amble at a very gentle pace in the brilliant summer sun-shine.  First stop is of course the loos.  We were met by one exasperated attendant, trying to collect a small fee.  This is a charge rather than a tip and so you are expected to pay for the service. but it is worth it.  I, for one, have never encountered a dirty loo in all the time there.

Freiburg is an ancient university town, so is really vibrant. It seems as if musicians play on every street corner to our delight.  Round another corner, yet another group of artists daubed chalk white perform an elaborate mine, that has us all, children young and old completely entranced.

The Market Place

The ancient sand stone cathedral dominates the city and is surrounded by a wonderful market.  Its stalls crowd almost up to the cathedral entrance much as it’s done through the centuries. Once again, I marvel at the way this tradition has survived in an otherwise fast changing and sometimes challenging world.  I can’t wait to explore once again.  The old City Hall (Rathaus)I love all the fresh vegetables stretched out across so many stalls, dressed in so many rich, inviting colours; so many fresh fruits and vegetables, reds, yellows, oranges, greens, aubergines and many shades in between.  Bananas strung out above a stall crammed with apricots, grapes, lemons, and produce I don’t even recognise.

Quite apart from the fresh produce, it seems like the square is a place to meet, talk and exchange views.  It’s a market place for the locals rather than just the tourists, although there are some arty/crafty bits to take away too. It’s lovely to see Freiburg has managed to retain most of its character in spite of us tourists.

Rathaus

Round the corner, there’s a second and much small square, where we sit watching couple after couple emerge from the Rathaus after their civil wedding ceremonies.  Actually there’s not one but two Rathaus; the Altes – a magnificent 16th. Century structure, and the Neues (new Town Hall – a 19th century building, sitting alongside) which is now the Tourist Office.

Bachle

Bachle - drains running through the Old TownLeft to our own devices, we sit on a kind of island sipping cool summer drinks, and surrounded by what appears to be a system of gutters, or drains known as Bachle.  These run all over the Old Town but our Guide, Iris is at pains to tell us that these certainly are not, nor ever have been drains or open sewers, but are a system to provide water to fight fires or feed livestock, going back centuries.  They contain water diverted from the local River Dreisam.  Round the corner there is another market stall selling wooden boats children can float in them. And, what’s more there’s even a festival to celebrate them.

Be warned!  It’s quite easy to miss your footing and end up in a Bachle especially as a tourist.  However local legend has it that if that’s the case, you could end your days in Freiburg married to one of the locals.  Well, after a near miss myself, I am not sure what hubby would have to say about that.  I do know however, it wouldn’t take much persuasion to spend a few more days there to explore.

Freiburg City Hall (Rathaus)Freiburg is a city I would very much like to go back to after our whistle-stop coach tour.  There are plenty of pavement cafes dotted around both the cathedral as well as the Rathaus, where we can watch the world go by, and maybe talk to fellow travellers and even some of the locals.  I was very much struck by the sense of community in Freiburg and it turns out that a lot of the old town was lovingly restored to its former glory following the Blitz in World War 2.

Coach journeys do give you an overview of a region you might not otherwise have had.  We choose to take one coach trip for a snapshot view, but then to explore each town we came to in our own time, taking to public transport as much as possible to explore the sites.

For further information on Freiburg visit the tourist information website.

Gillian explored Freiburg by coach as part of a Rhine Cruise with Shearings.

More about Gillian

Gillian Holland’s passion for writing and travelling was ignited by two books she read as a young person, ‘Heidi’ by Joanna Spyri and ‘A Town Like Alice’ by Neville Shute. Switzerland and Australia are two countries Gillian still holds dear in her heart, and wants to see more of.  Travelling for Gillian isn’t about facts and tick lists, it’s all in the experience, exploring the culture and meeting the people to share common experiences as much as possible. 

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Shearings River Cruises

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Gillian Holland

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