RIVER CRUISE - The Exmoor Extroverts 2016
A series of photographs and report showing our recent River Cruise

“Ups” and “Downs”

Was Sue mad or were we? A four countries River Cruise up the Rhine and down the Danube, not to mention the Rhine Main Danube Canal (RMD Canal) which connects the Main & Danube Rivers across the European watershed. 102 in the group - two coaches, two planes and returning to two different airports! After a cheerful very early start to our journey we arrived at Dusseldorf to find that the River Cruise Company had sent a coach which appeared not to have enough seats. After a roll call to make sure we had no illegal immigrants on board, two of the group had to stay behind to await the next coach, leaving their wives on board with passports and money! The coach driver had difficulty in finding the ship amidst the chaos of a Bank Holiday in Cologne.

The weather and atmosphere were a fine greeting but it was still quite a lengthy walk to our ship! Fortunately our luggage was taken care of and we were greeted by friendly staff, a sparkling clean ship and later an excellent meal, by which time the second coach had arrived and the “troops” had rallied in true ‘Extroverts’ fashion!

We set off for the 1,516 km journey and 66 locks! At first some found it disturbing travelling overnight through the locks but ear plugs were provided and each day was an adventure to be enjoyed. Our first cable car ride at Koblenz, over the confluence of the Moselle & Rhine Rivers in sunshine up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress was a huge success. However at Rudesheim, where a Harley Davidson rally had closed the roads ashore, we encountered a thunderstorm that also closed the cable car. The visit to a musical museum was mesmerising and the Extrovert’s choir joined in familiar songs mechanically played! Some returned to the ship like drowned rats while others found a cafe for a Rudesheimer coffee made with brandy, set alight and topped with cream! The Chef on our ship Serenity had promised a spectacular thunderstorm and we were not disappointed!

We had sailed the romantic Rhine Gorge (World Heritage Site) in sunshine, mostly on top deck with commentary, legends and views of vineyards stretching up from the river. We joined in the “Lorelei” song as we passed her statue (too far away to tempt any of our men) and the “Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer” song as we sailed past Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea (or River)! We passed pretty villages and towns all making the most of their towpaths and leisure facilities down by the river - menacing fortresses and fairytale castles on every side made it all very magical. After the big storm the weather improved for us - always warm and ‘Sueshine’ appeared between clouds just when we needed it; as we sailed on we joined the River Main as we headed towards Frankfurt.

Arrangements for Frankfurt were hampered by roads closed for a Marathon but tours on foot continued. On the far bank was a fete and the biggest duck race ever seen turning the river into a mass of yellow. Bands were playing and the sky line reminiscent of New York - the peace of the Rhine Gorge seemed a world away. We continued towards Wertheim, a delightful small town where most enjoyed the land train and were inspired by a visit to a glass factory; others explored on foot and some purchased items to wear for a ‘Pirates evening’ on board ship. We were greeted at dinner by waiting staff dressed as fierce pirates, the restaurant decorated with skull and crossbones flags and drapes. Sanity returned next day for our tour of the Residence Palace in the city of Wurzburg, the palace was full of Baroque furniture and art work; the gardens were breathtaking and perfumed by English roses.

We were now in Bavaria, Germany’s largest region - onwards to Bamberg for the start of the (RMD Canal). Bamberg’s old town is built on seven hills, listed as a World Heritage site because of its authentic medieval appearance. Thence we travelled to Nuremberg, the second largest city in the region to Munich. Most of the city walls still stand and churches and cathedral were visited. From the next town of Regensberg we joined a cruise through the magnificent Danube Gorge which was in contrast to the Rhine Gorge with menacing high cliffs and caves and occasional castles. We visited the oldest Monastery in Bavaria where we ate our picnic lunches and some tried the black beer of the area. Our next destination was Passau - “the three rivers city” where the Rivers Danube, Inn & Ilz meet. Our berth was close to the town and some went to the Cathedral of St Steven to hear an incredible organ recital, later most had a guide tour whilst others explored this delightful city independently. Later we sailed past the different colours of the confluence of the three rivers on our way to Melk in Austria. We visited the Benedictine Abbey set in the most beautiful surroundings and admired the exquisite Chapel before continuing our cruise through the Wachau Valley for 24 miles of stunning scenery with mysterious forests. We reached Vienna in the evening and some went ashore to explore.

The following day our tour showed us the magnificent buildings then in the afternoon we savoured the delights of the Schonbrunn Palace and gardens. It was a bonus to sail past the city as we set sail on a beautiful evening towards our third country, Slovakia. The Capital Bratislavia is an interesting town and good tour guides told us much about its history. We approached Budapest in Hungary late at night and cannot truly put into words the sight of this amazing city “alight” with the greatest show on earth! The Captain surprised us with a Hungarian gypsy quartet on top deck as we sailed to our berth. The sights were still to be enjoyed next day and the busy city contrasted with the peaceful arrival by river of the previous night - our last night and time to reflect on the highlights of this amazing adventure.

There were intriguing Castles, breathtaking churches and deep forests along the way with local life on the towpaths for most of the way. Small river beaches and the nudists who saw us before we saw them! We experienced so many contrasts with a new experience around every bend in the river, there with herons galore and some heard cuckoos. River traffic could be a cargo ship carrying many cars or someone on a paddle board. The rivers were sometimes narrow sometimes as wide as a lake but always full and fast flowing - at times busy whilst sometimes it felt as though we had the river to ourselves.

The staff and crew worked hard for us dealing with our many requests. They made sure tour leaders were told to go slowly for the group with walking difficulties. There were other passengers on board and Lisa the Cruise director arranged quizzes and a wonderful musical quiz which had everyone on the dance floor. We had a keyboard player who played every evening but it was mostly the other group who danced the night away. Seating in the lounge was comfortable and the bar was run by cheerful waiters. A coffee bar providing hot free drinks 24/7 proved to be very popular and became the ‘Extroverts Office’ at times!

The engineering of some of the 66 locks is breath-taking, up to 25m deeps they are incredible, recycling most of the water they use and creating electricity in the process. Our Captain Marco had a tough journey with the rivers running so full due to heavy rain and even a loss of radar and lock lights. However he enjoyed the challenge whilst we slept peacefully in our beds!

So 102 “up” and 102 “down” and safely home. Sue was not “mad “and had planned it in detail.
We were not “mad” either as we knew she could do it! Mission accomplished and very much enjoyed.
Christine Kershaw