Christenings are always joyful occasions
So I was particularly delighted to be invited by Avalon Waterways on the inaugural cruise of their latest Suite ship, Poetry II, from Cologne to Amsterdam for its christening launch in Dordecht along with her larger sister ship, Impression.
My first river-cruise experience. My first ship christening. Doubly exciting.
We arrived in Cologne on an unusually hot, sunny, March day and were transferred to the ship, moored slap bang in the centre of the city, moments from the historic landmark gothic cathedral. Full marks for location.
First impressions didn’t disappoint: sleek, elegant, with a full-length sky deck, spacious lounge and dining areas, the ship exudes style. The roomy staterooms (cabins) are very chic and have the benefit of wall-to-wall panoramic windows to facilitate maximum viewing that give added depth and space as well as creating a balcony within the room. A brilliant design concept and, which I was to find out later, one of many modern approaches to technology that Avalon have used to make the Poetry II a truly state-of-the-art cruising vessel.
As you would expect on a new ship everything was pristine. However, even more striking was the thought put into the design, lighting and layout of the public areas and staterooms. Beautifully decorated in contemporary style and furnished to a very high standard, the staterooms are luxurious yet comfortable and easy on the eye. Storage in small spaces is always a challenge but was plentiful. The marble tiled bathroom and shower was a decent size and, again, beautifully appointed, with complimentary L’Occitaine toiletries, the ultimate touch of luxury for a rejuvenating bathroom experience.
Ready to explore, I opted to join a walking tour of the city centre, keen to get a feel for Cologne before sailing later that afternoon. All destination excursions are included in the package with expert local guides and individual audio sets to give a personalized experience.
I had visited Cologne many years before but it hadn’t been the best experience. Driving back from a long trip to Greece with my very young sons we overnighted in one of the city’s hotels. I dropped the boys and luggage at reception and parked in the nearby hotel car park. Imagine my horror when the huge iron gates locked behind me. Trapped in the dark car park, I banged and rattled the gates, but the few passers-by quickly crossed to the other side of the street, clearly thinking I was deranged. Almost 30 minutes later the hotel manager, accompanied by my two tearful sons, came to look for me and was horrified they had locked me in! After a complimentary meal, wine and treats for the boys things started to improve. However, exhausted, the next day my sons weren’t too keen on sightseeing so we didn’t see much of Cologne. This was my chance.
Our guide, with excellent English, walked us around the very attractive area next to the river. The squares were full of locals enjoying the sunshine and drinking the local hooch, Kolsch in the many beer gartens. Our guide repeatedly pointed out that Cologne residents are very untypical of Germans as they have a much more relaxed attitude to life and were often considered lazy by their fellow country men. Certainly, relaxation was high on the agenda that day!. Cologne is one of Germany’s oldest cities but 95% of it was destroyed in the war so the majority of buildings are reconstructions. Nevertheless, with its large Jewish quarter currently being uncovered it is an interesting and easy city to explore.
Cologne is, of course, also the home of Eau de Cologne, the fragrance created in 1709 by Johann Maria Fabrina, almost a hundred years before the more widely-known 4711 cologne in 1799. The shop has its own little museum and although they now offer a wide range of fragrances they still sell the original cologne: so nice I bought a couple of small bottles.
The Cathedral is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and Germany’s most-visited building. An architectural masterpiece in the High Gothic style, it is also famous as the home of the shrine of The Three Wise Men, whose remains were brought to Cologne in the 12th century, thus ensuring the city’s importance in Christendom. Apart from a small amount of damage during WWII the Cathedral miraculously escaped the carpet-bombing of the city; legend has it the spires were used as a navigational landmark to target the main railway station located immediately next door. The Germans did take some precautions, however, as the medieval stained glass windows as well as the important Shrine were removed to safety during the war years. This is definitely a must-see on any visit to the area.
A few minutes walk back to the ship and after the short mandatory safety drill the ship set sail from Cologne. As the ship turned and sailed under the city’s famous reconstructed railway bridge, the sun setting behind the Cathedral’s spires, it was a fitting start to the cruise.
Relaxation and dining room facilities on the ship are plentiful with more than sufficient space and seating for its 128 passenger capacity. So no bun fights on this or any Avalon ship, which makes for a very relaxing cruise. After a pre-dinner drink in the lounge we headed down to a delicious dinner that, typically, consists of a three or four course a la carte menu, including speciality regional dishes, served with complimentary wine or local beer. The food throughout the cruise was very good with a choice of hot food to order and served at the table or a buffet and salad bar.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Avalon Waterways
• Read Part 2 – Cruising through Europe’s rich and turbulent heritage
• Read Part 3 – Poetry II Christening and Final Impressions