3 Things to Consider When Traveling with a Dietary Concern

One of the perks of travel is to taste new and different cuisines. This can be hard if you have dietary concerns. After all, you are special; your needs and wants are important and when it comes to food, these needs can make or break your trip.

  1. Know and stick to your dietary concern.

There are 7 types of vegetarian.  Do you know the differences? There are ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pollotarian, pescatarian, vegan, and flexitarian. There are also allergies, food intolerances, and dislikes.  There are a lot of choices, it’s no wonder chefs and restaurants in foreign countries sometimes have a hard time understanding what your dietary need is.
Your travel agent or tour operator acts as the middle-man when it comes to your dietary concern.  Your requests are given to airlines, hotels and restaurants where food reservations were made on your behalf. When you check-in for flights or arrive at a restaurant please double check your dietary request has been received.
It is also prudent to stick to your dietary requests.  The staff has gone out of their way to accommodate your request; it is not the time to come off your diet because your neighbor’s dinner looks appetizing. You may laugh at this, but those that relay their dislikes or food intolerances have the luxury of changing their minds as their dietary concern is a preference not an allergy, I’ve seen it happen, it’s not polite. If you do change your mind, talk to your tour manager or host and they will see what they can do to change your upcoming meals, not the one that is currently being served.

  1. Don’t expect a substitute for everything.

You are not at home or in Kansas anymore. Food will be different, embrace it.  Chances are you will not find gluten free bread in Europe.  If your group dinner is having chocolate cake and you are a vegetarian, a chocolate cake made without eggs will not appear.   On the bright side, Europe has fantastic, fresh cuisine.  With all the in season vegetables,  fresh cheeses,  and meats, you will not go hungry.

  1. Bring Snacks.

Just like at home, you may not be able to eat when you are hungry.  Having a stash of non-perishable snack you can eat will be very helpful. They also help if you end up leaving a meal still hungry.

Bike and Barge Tours: The Best of Both Worlds

Bike and Barge Tours

As more travelers seek out experience-based vacations and stray further away from traditional “tourist traps”, bike and barge tours have emerged as a booming trend—particularly among people over the age of 50.  With adventure travel and river cruising also rising in popularity, bike and barge tours offer the best of both worlds: the excitement of an active, culturally immersive, off-the-beaten-path experience, combined with the all-inclusive comforts and amenities of a river cruise!

So, with nice weather just around the corner and Witte’s Bike & Barge Tour from Amsterdam to Bruges coming up this September, I’ve answered some FAQ’s about bike and barge tours. Continue reading “Bike and Barge Tours: The Best of Both Worlds”

Highlights of a Rhine River Cruise

In late October 2014, my colleague Teri and I departed from Grand Rapids, Michigan for a Rhine river cruise with Avalon Waterways, aboard the Artistry II.

Melissa with the Artistry II
Standing in front of the Artistry II

River cruising is a great way to travel Europe– especially if you’re not sure where to go in Europe or what you want to see!  Our Cruise Director was Gusta from Amsterdam. She traveled with us for the entire trip.  Every night before dinner, during the cocktail hour, she would give a “port talk” about the next day’s excursions, what time to meet, and what the importance of the next port city was.

Teri with the Artistry II
Teri’s turn to pose with the Artistry II

Dining on board is open seating for all meals. There was a full buffet for breakfast and lunch, and dinner was by menu. Hungry before the scheduled meal time? Not a problem! There is an early riser’s breakfast available, and a light lunch of soup, salad, and sandwiches.  For something fun to do, Avalon offers the Pamorana Bistro of Chef’s specials Tapas style.  There is an aft lounge with coffees, cappuccinos, teas, and sweet treats always available.  These meals, and treats are included in your cruise price.

Life onboard is very casual and comfortable.  There is a small workout room, and a hair salon.  The ship does have one elevator. The public spaces are never crowded.  The top deck is the place to be when cruising the river, with enough loungers for everyone to have a place to sit.  The scenery is ever-changing and the cruise director will make announcements of the important sights along the way.

Had we cruised in the summer months, the top deck Jacuzzi would have been open to enjoy as well.  There are no swimming pools aboard.

Entertainment (piano and singing by Jerry!) was provided each night after dinner, in the lounge. This offered a chance to visit with others, dance, and enjoy a cocktail. Occasionally, Avalon brought special entertainers onto the ship.  Don’t miss these nights!  The entertainment was excellent, and again, it was included in the cruise price.

We also took several tours during our stops along the Rhine:

Strasbourg, France – Alsace – wine tasting and winemaking country

wine tasting in france
Wine tasting in France

Speyer, Germany – Excursion to Heidelberg – Heidelberg Castle

Rudesheim, Germany – Best coffee! Be sure to visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Museum.

Teri and Melissa in Rudesheim
Teri and me, in Rudesheim

Rhine Gorge – Sailing all day.  The scenery is so wonderful.  Enjoy a baguette sandwich and wine on the top deck!

Rhine River Gorge
Gorgeous views from the Rhine River Gorge

Cologne, Germany –  The Dom Cathedral is very Gothic, and so beautiful.

Dom Cathedral
Dom Cathedral

Amsterdam, Netherlands– This was the end of the trip, but not the end of cool things to see.  We did some biking during day, and toured the Red Light District at night. (Sorry, no photography allowed in the district).

Biking AMS
Biking in Amsterdam

Is there a river cruise in your future? Join us for our 31st annual Netherlands Waterway Cruise this April, or check out our other cruise offerings.

Tell us about your river cruising adventures in the comments, or let us know on Facebook!

Performing in Great Britain

by Jane Larson
Manager, Performance Tours
WJane_Larsonhile France and Italy have been the top destinations for 2012 and 2013, Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) will be number one for Witte’s 2014 performance tour schedule. This is consistent with statistics from “Visit Britain” who report a 14% increase in travel from North American visitors this year.
In the last few years, the Royal Wedding, the Olympics, and then the Royal Baby have kept Great Britain in the public eye.
But, according to “Visit Britain,” 67% of U.S. visitors to Great Britain do not venture beyond London. This is definitely not the case with Witte’s performance tours! Beyond London, our groups are traveling to and performing in great cathedrals throughout the isle, from sharing joint concerts with Welsh Choirs to exploring Presbyterian heritage in Scotland.
Whether you are planning a concert tour to Great Britain in 2014 or in the future, here are a few things to think about:

  • British cathedrals and their choral traditions are strongly linked. During medieval times, when many of the great cathedrals were built, the monks would chant the offices, comprised of eight services or hours (Matins, Laudes, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline). During the 12th century, many Lady Chapels were built, in many cases specifically for the boychoirs. The Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral is world-renowned for its acoustics and two of Witte’s touring choirs – First UMC Birmingham and Santa Barbara Madrigals – gave midday concerts there this past June.
  • Regular midday concert recitals at the cathedrals offer wonderful opportunities for visiting choirs. Our choirs have performed in many cathedrals including Canterbury, Chelmsford, Chester, Lincoln, Salisbury, York, and St Giles’ in Edinburgh. Most only offer concerts on certain days of the week and, while pianos or choir organs are sometimes available, choirs should plan on a sacred repertoire that can be performed a cappella.
  • Many of the great cathedrals have professional choirs as well as choir school. In addition to singing for the Sunday services, the weekday Choral Evensong is one of the most important roles for the cathedral choir. While most cathedrals do not accept visiting choirs except when their own cathedral choir is on holiday, opportunities do exist. Choirs who want to sing during an Evensong service need to know and be able to sing the appropriate music, including the proper psalms for the day. Or you could plan to attend a Choral Evensong service for a unique opportunity to hear a cathedral choir at work.
  • Beyond the great cathedrals, many American church choirs travel to England to explore their Methodist roots. The Methodist Churches in England are often much smaller than American Methodist churches, but many are very welcoming to visiting choirs and instrumental groups. Concerts are often done to benefit the church or a local charity, and a hosted meal or reception before or after the concert performance is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the local audiences.
  • Presbyterian Choirs often travel to Scotland for the same reasons that Methodists travel to England – St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and The Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling are two of the historic churches where groups can give performances. Even if you do not have Presbyterian roots, the spectacular Scottish scenery and smaller picturesque towns make Scotland the perfect destination for many groups.
  • What about Wales? This is the smallest of the three countries that make up Great Britain but unquestionably one of the world’s powerhouses of choral music. The country of Wales is even traditionally referred to as “The Land of Song.” There are excellent mixed choirs – both for youth and adults – but the Welsh Male Voice Choirs are truly special and unique. These choirs have their roots in the community choirs forged in the coal mines and iron works of the South Wales valleys and the quarries of the North. To hear a genuine Welsh Male Voice choir is a very special and moving experience. We have contacts with several such choirs in northern Wales who are very interested in having joint concerts with American choirs. The town of Llandudno is a great choice with several beautiful churches with strong traditions of choral concerts.

If you haven’t already brought your group to Great Britain, we hope you will consider visiting one or more of these very special countries on an upcoming performance tour!

Performing in France

When most Americans think of France, some images that probably come to mind are romantic views of the Eiffel Tower, fabulous cuisine and stereotypes about chic but slightly snobby people. Except for jazz musicians, France may not be a destination that immediately comes to mind for choirs, orchestras, bands and handbell ensembles. Well, quelle surprise!—for 2012 la belle France has overtaken Italy as the number one destination for our performing groups!
Jane Larson, Witte Travel & Tours Manager of our Performance Tour Division is also our staff Francophile. Jane is a French Government Tourist Office “France Certified Agent.” As a longtime student of French language and culture, she continues her French studies at the Alliance Française de Grand Rapids (where she also serves as a member of the Board of Directors). In her 18 years at Witte, Jane has developed an extensive network of contacts throughout France. She is the first to admit that our true VIP and the man responsible for the success of concerts in France is the incredible Mr. Gilles Daziano, fondly known as Mr. D.
Between September 2010 and November 2011, Jane made three trips to France—two were behind the scenes planning trips for our groups. From March 31 to April 7, 2011 she traveled with the Battle Creek Choirs while they were on tour.
Here are a few words from Jane with some tips on traveling to and performing in France:
One of the questions that I am frequently asked by clients, colleagues and friends is, “why do you love traveling to France so much?” I can honestly say that it all started with my first French class in 7th grade. The language seemed magical and I couldn’t wait to have the chance to use what I learned! Because I got “hooked” on traveling to Europe when I was still in high school, I am passionate about creating quality travel and performance opportunities and experiences for students.
From my first trips to France as a student, to the most recent trip in November, I have learned how much most French people LOVE to hear an American speaking French. I know that the French language (and yes, even the French people) can be intimidating to Americans. However, it is a grossly outdated and inaccurate stereotype to think that French people refuse to speak anything but French and make fun of people who don’t speak French perfectly.
On the other hand, I ALWAYS tell people who are planning a trip to France that if they can at least learn a few key words of French they will “open doors”—and often the hearts of the French people they meet. The absolute minimum every traveler to France should learn are these words: bonjour (good day), bonsoir (good evening), s’il vous plait (please), merci (thank you) and au revoir (good-bye).
This past spring, after working for over two years in planning their tour, I was fortunate to travel with the Battle Creek Choirs. On the first full day of the tour, for our independent lunch in the small town of Port en Bessin in Normandy, our large group of almost 80 broke into smaller groups. I was with about 10 from the boychoir. As we lined up in a small shop to individually order our freshly made baguette sandwiches, each boy asked me how to correctly pronounce the name of their sandwich and in turn, said, “Je voudrais (I would like . . .) ___ sandwich s’il vous plait— then politely said, merci and au revoir.” When I saw the smile and impressed look on the shop owner’s face, I could not have been more proud of these young people!
That evening, the Battle Creek Choirs gave their first concert in a Gothic style 12th-century church in a small town in Normandy. This concert was sponsored by a local choir, the mayor of the town and also the organization France États-Unis, (founded after WWII to promote friendship between the French and American people).
By the time the concert was about to begin, it didn’t seem as if they could squeeze another person into this church that held about 300 people. At the last minute, Mr. D. turned and said to me, “Of course you will also need to stand with the sponsors and say a few words in French.” Gulp… suddenly all my years of French hadn’t prepared me for this! My words, first in French and then in English, were short but heartfelt—“It is a great pleasure to be here this evening with the Battle Creek Choirs from my own state (Michigan) from the United States. Thank you for welcoming us here in Normandy, France.”
The beautiful singing of the Battle Creek Choirs enchanted the French audiences, who hosted us to a lovely reception after the concert. This was the first of five concerts and each performance was equally well received. One of the tour participants and singers in Ars Voce (the adult ensemble) was Brooks Grantier, former director of the Battle Creek Boychoir. In a post tour letter to me, Brooks wrote:

“I’m writing on my personal letterhead, as a tour participant, to let you know that I found my experience with Witte Travel & Tours one of the finest performance tours I have ever made (and I’ve made a lot of them)… Venues were superb, and nicely mixed from the prestige places, to the memorable parish churches. Arrangements by Mr. D. were perfect… I was exceptionally proud to be associated with Witte Travel & Tours on this trip. I have received so many compliments about the service and professional style of the operation.”

What other advice can I offer those of you who will be taking your group on a performance tour to France in 2012 or in the future? First—don’t just think Paris! The regions of France are tremendously diverse and the smaller towns offer more unique “people to people” experiences. Besides teaching your group the basic French greetings, teach them to be patient, tolerant and flexible. The French can be a bit more formal than Americans and they are very appreciative of polite behavior. Please be sure to bring some small gifts to give to the local concert organizers.
Post concert reviews also generally comment on the concert dress—so make sure your group looks professional and polished, even for informal daytime concerts. In preparing your repertoire, plan a primarily sacred program because the best venues are usually churches. When performing in cathedrals, a more “traditional” sacred repertoire is required. For the full concerts—the French audiences LOVE to hear American songs—especially spirituals and more upbeat songs.
If France isn’t in your plans for 2012, I hope you will consider this very special country for a future concert tour. To give you fair warning, be careful if you don’t want to get hooked! A visit to France is like the first spoonful of a delicious chocolate mousse—you’ll be back for more!
Jane Larson
Manager, Performance Tour Division

Performing in Italy

For the past few years—and especially for 2011, Italy is one of the top destinations for our groups performing and touring in Europe. Everyone who has ever traveled in Italy agrees that there is a sense of magic in the great cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice. The country is filled with beautiful churches that have fabulous acoustics—AND the Italian people LOVE music.
Witte Travel has found that a winning formula for most groups is to have some concert performances in historic churches—often participating in a regular Mass. When possible, we schedule the full concert performances in some of the smaller towns and cities where there is more opportunity to connect with local audiences. Here are a few words from one of our local concert organizers.

The deconsecrated church of San Bevignate is a wonderful place for concerts. The city owns it and has restored it. The concert was great—the Varsity Men’s Glee Club is really a very gifted ensemble and the audience called them back for an encore! Some of them were American students at the University. It was touching seeing them meeting in that occasion in Perugia!

— Daniela B., local concert organizer

Although churches are the most popular places for choral performances, we have other wonderful venues for instrumental groups or for choirs that want to perform secular as well as sacred music. For the 2011 season, we have also purchased a high quality electronic piano so that groups can take this on tour to use for full concert performances.
Here are a few tips for choirs performing in Italy:

  • If you are interested in performing in a Mass at St. Peters or another historic church, your repertoire should include some sacred works that can be performed a cappella—especially songs appropriate for opening, offertory, communion, and closing.
  • For full concert performances, we recommend including some American music and spirituals.
  • For historic center city venues, try to keep your concert dress simple and easy to carry and change into.

One of our experienced Sales Representatives or Group Tour Specialists will be delighted to talk to you about the destination that would be a perfect fit for your group’s goals. Request a Proposal or call us at 800 GO WITTE.

Netherlands Waterway Cruise…tips and hints

Things I learned on the Netherlands Waterway Cruise:

  • Make sure you have extra battery packs and memory cards for your camera!
  • Don’t wait until you get to the airport to say goodbye to all the new friends you’ve made. With everyone busy finding their luggage and looking for the right gate, we were scattered to the four winds before we knew it. Make sure to get information to stay in touch while you’re still on the boat.
  • Take comfortable walking shoes. Also, take comfy “lounging” shoes for when you’re on the boat.
  • If you like ice cream, you’ll love ice cream in Holland.
  • Holland is full of friendly, helpful people who live in a clean, green world and are very proud of their land and their heritage.
  • Although our cruise ship is small compared to many of larger ships we saw in Amsterdam harbor, this boat can get into the smaller canals and go places the big guys can’t. That’s really what makes this waterway cruise so special. And I think it makes it a more comfy-cozy sort of trip.

It was a great time and a great trip, and if I have an opportunity to go again, I hope to meet you there!

Viking River Cruise

River cruising is one of the best ways to travel through many of the world’s most fascinating places.  Once you board the vessel, you can unpack (just once) in a very spacious river-view stateroom, then relax in comfort for the duration of the cruise.  Each day enjoy the beautiful scenery from almost everywhere on the ship.  The Bar, restaurant, and lounge all have panoramic views.  The staterooms have a balcony or large picture window that opens.  My favorite place to take in all the beauty is the shaded Sun Deck, where you can enjoy the fresh air and a 360-degree view!  The vessel keeps moving, so throughout the day everyday you see new scenery and explore new destinations full of culture and history.  The docks are located in the middle of the town or city so you can walk right off the ship and check out the area on your own if you like.   Enjoy guided walks, tours and excursions planned for you everyday, with leisure time to sightsee on your own.  Because the ships are smaller with the average of 150-300 passengers, you get a more intimate experience with the crew and fellow passengers.  And the flat-bottomed ship ensures a safe and smooth ride without the worry of motion sickness!

My husband and I went on a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River.  The ship we were on was the Viking Helvetia.  This ship is one of 19 Viking Ships and holds 198 guests.  All Staterooms are outside with river view.  Deluxe staterooms have hotel-style beds with European linens and duvets.  Staterooms on upper deck have a French balcony with sliding glass doors.  There is plenty of closet and drawer space and a place to stow your bags after you have unpacked. All rooms have a private bath with shower, your own climate control system, telephone, safe, TV that offers CNN and other English-language programming.  The ship has a shaded sun deck, restaurant, library, observation lounge & bar, onboard boutique, and free wireless Internet.

Viking River Cruises offer all-inclusive packages that include your meals, enrichment lectures, excursions, hotel accommodations for “cruise tour” itineraries, and airport transfers when air is purchased thru Viking.  The dining on board is excellent with regional specialties as well as Western-style favorites.  Complimentary wine is offered every evening with dinner.  Each day, you will have an excursion that will introduce you to the local culture.  All tour guides are English speaking and personal headsets are provided so you can hear every word they are saying.  Culture Curriculum lectures focused on the history of the region of the day are offered on the ship.  Viking uses deluxe, first class or superior first class hotels for overnight stays for passengers taking a “cruise tour” package.  If you want more than the included excursions, Viking does offer a selection of optional tours on each itinerary that can be purchased on board.  If you do not want to participate in the tours that are offered, you may choose to stay on the ship or tour on your own.

The tour my husband and I chose was called the Rhine Getaway.  The cruise was on the Rhine River beginning in Amsterdam and ending in Basel.  It consisted of 8 days, 6-guided tours, and 4 countries.

Viking does offer pre and post extensions if you want more time in those cities before or after the cruise.  We only did the cruise.

Saturday-Amsterdam

We arrived in Amsterdam mid morning on Saturday and were transferred to the ship upon arrival.  The staterooms are not available until mid afternoon so we familiarized ourselves with the ship, enjoyed a light lunch in the lounge, and then took a walk into town.

Some things to see as you stroll the city:

  • The many canals and connecting bridges that crisscross the city
  • “Amsterdam’s Rodeo Drive” which is the popular upscale shopping street
  • Anne Frank House, where Anne wrote her famous diary of her experiences while hiding from the Nazis
  • In the evening, visit one of the many popular pubs, know as brown cafés
  • The famous Red Light District

After settling in our stateroom, resting a while, and freshening up we went to the lounge where the staff introduced themselves and the program director gave us a briefing of the next day’s itinerary.  Then everyone went down to the dining room for dinner.   Later that evening the ship’s Program Director took anyone who wished to see the Red Light District, on a walking tour.  We chose to retire for the evening since we had been up over 24 hours.

Sunday-Kinderdijk

Our ship left Amsterdam at midnight and arrived in Kinderkijk at 9:00 a.m.  Viking offers an “early bird” breakfast from 6:00 – 7:00 a.m. consisting of coffee, juice, and pastries just outside the lounge area.  They also offer a full size breakfast buffet in the restaurant from 7:00-9:00 a.m.  We went for the buffet.  At 9:00 the Helvetia arrived in Kinderdijk.  Our shore excursion was to visit the picturesque Dutch Countryside of the historic Kinderdijk area.  There we could visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, where there is a collection of 19 windmills that give you a glimpse of Holland’s past.  The windmills were used to pump water from the pastureland into the Lek River, which lies above the level of the fields.  Today huge diesel electric pumps perform this function.  We were able to tour one of the working windmills.  Some families still live in them today and must keep them in working order even though they are no longer used.  By noon we were back on the ship and cruising down the Rhine toward Cologne.

Monday-Cologne, Germany

The Helvetia docked in Cologne at 8:30 a.m. and our 2 hour guided walk tour started at 9:00.  We did a short walk around the Old City of Cologne and visited the magnificent Gothic Cathedral.  The cathedral is the largest in Northern Europe and it took 632 years until the construction of it was completed.  This was the cities most famous landmark for centuries.  It is known for its two soaring spires and its most beautiful stained glass windows.  There are still fragments of Roman ruins that can be seen in parts of the city.  There is a Roman Tower near the Cathedral, which was once part of the medieval town walls.  Cologne also has many popular Museums such as the Museum Ludwig, devoted to modern art where a collection of Picasso’s work is displayed, the Fragrance Museum Farina House, the birthplace of Eau de Cologne and the Schokoladenmuseum, dedicated to chocolate making.  Unfortunately we were not able to visit any museums because they were closed on Mondays.

The rest of the day we were free to visit the city on our own or enjoy time on the ship.  On the Viking, they offered a lecture on “Germany Today” and a German dinner was served.  After dinner an optional excursion was offered at an additional price of 29 Euro to join a local guide on a walking tour to visit different pubs, taste the Cologne beer, and learn about the Brahaus Culture.

Tuesday-Koblenz, Middle Rhine & Rudesheim

Our ship docked in Koblenz early Tuesday morning.  This city, located on both sides of the Rhine is the third largest city in the Rhineland-Palatinate with a population of 106,000.  The headquarters of the German Army Forces Command is located here.  After breakfast we began our tour for the morning, taking buses to the Marksburg Castle.  This fortress is located on a hill above the town of Braubach.  It is the only medieval castle of the Middle Rhine that has never been destroyed.  This castle was used for protection rather than as a residence for royal families.  The tour lasted about two and half hours and then we were back on the ship and sailing down the middle of the Rhine for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a beautiful sunny mid 60’s fall afternoon to enjoy the upper-deck of the Helvetia in our lounge chairs and enjoy all the beauty that surrounded us!  Our program director Stephanie, gave a commentary of all the points of interests as we cruised through the most beautiful stretches of the Rhine.  There were so many “Kodak moments” throughout the afternoon, between the variety of colors lining the hillsides from vineyards and the gorgeous fall colors of the trees, to many little towns, churches, castles, and ruins.  We also passed the famous Lorelei, a legendary rock formation rising 440 feet above the river.

Late in the afternoon we docked in Rudesheim.  An optional excursion of a mini train ride, dinner and entertainment along the Rudesheim’s lively Drosselgasse was offered for 59.00 Euro per person.  This main commercial street is lined with wine bars and small shops and is very popular with the locals and visitors.  For passengers that chose not to take the excursion they were free to dine on the ship and then take a stroll in town on their own.

Wednesday-Heidelberg & Speyer

Midmorning our ship docked in Mannheim where we disembarked for a coach excursion to Heidelberg, Germany.  Our first stop was at the Majestic Heidelberg Castle.  This Castle was originally built during the 13th Century and was the residence of the Palatinate monarchy from the 13th through 18th centuries.  It is located on the Northern slope of Konigsstuhl Mountain.  The view from the castle overlooking the town of Heidelberg and the Neckar River is breathtaking.  After touring the grounds of the Palace our tour continued on a drive around the 600-year-old Heidelberg University, the oldest in Germany.  Then we took a walking tour through the old town and had some free time to stroll down Main Street lined with shops and cafes that stretch about a mile.  Later we returned to our ship, which had continued cruising to the town of Speyer.  It was late afternoon and we had a couple hours before we would set sail again so many of us took a stroll into this town.  Speyer was once an important center of Jewish culture.  Some ruins of the 11th century synagogues still remain.  We were not able to go in but we walked around Germany’s largest Romanesque building, the Imperial Cathedral.

That evening after dinner our ship began cruising down the Rhine towards Strasbourg, France.

Thursday-Strasbourg, France

Thursday morning the Helvetia docked in the German town of Kehl, directly across the Rhine River from Strasbourg.  After breakfast we disembarked for a tour of Strasbourg.  Our tour consisted of a drive past the Palais de L” Europe where the Parliament meets and the city’s remarkable Renaissance architecture.  Then we proceeded to the city center where we began our walking tour.  We visited the picturesque Petite France area and then walked to Old Town and then on to Cathedral Square where we toured the Strasbourg Cathedral.  This was one of the finest of Europe’s great Gothic cathedrals.  Inside we saw the beautiful stain glass windows, and the remarkable astronomic clock on the back wall of the cathedral.  After the tour was over we had a little free time to do some shopping in Old Town before getting back on the motorcoach to return to our ship for lunch.  Our ship would not be departing until late in the evening so we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore on our own or take an optional excursion to Baden-Baden.  This included motorcoach transportation and a guide for 39 euros.  My husband and I chose to enjoy the beautiful afternoon by walking into the town of Kehl and do a little shopping.

Friday-Breisach & Black Forest, Germany

The ship docked about 8:00 a.m. and at 8:30 we disembarked for a motorcoach excursion through Germany’s beautiful Black Forest.  This densely forested, mountainous region is famous for its traditional cuckoo clocks and cherry schnapps.  Our first stop was at a shop in Hofgut Sternen where they sold their amazing cuckoo clocks and a demonstration was given on how they are made.  We also had the chance to try their famous Black Forest Cake.  It was delicious!!  The second stop on our excursion was in the town of Sankt Peter.  We took a short walking tour through this small town and went into the St. Peter Cathedral.  This Cathedral had beautiful paintings all over the ceiling, a lot of gold décor throughout, and a huge pipe organ in the balcony.  We had a little time to browse the shops and then back on the coaches for a return to our ship.

In the afternoon, two more optional excursions were offered.  One was a motorcoach ride and guide to the town of Colmar for 34 euros and the second was a World War II tour for 39 euros.  Those who did not choose those excursions were free to visit the town of Breisach.

In the evening we gathered in the lounge for a farewell toast with the Captain and then enjoyed the Captain’s Farewell Dinner with our newfound friends.  During dinner the ship departed for our final destination, Basel, Switzerland.

Saturday-Basel, Switzerland

Bright and early we disembarked to the airport for our return home.  For those who had purchased the Post-Cruise Extension, a motorcoach would take them to Lucerne where they would check into the hotel and then have a tour of Lucerne the next day and depart for home on the third day.

It was a wonderful trip and a relaxing, stress-free way to see Europe!  I recommend it highly!!

DC Trip Quick Tips

Getting around – whether you fly or drive, if you want to visit more than just the “Mall,” stay at a hotel that has a metro in the near vicinity. That will make getting around DC and the outlying areas easy, more economical, and less stressful.  (The Mall is a long line of Smithsonian Museums)

Plan for the weather – No matter when you go, there will be times when you should be inside where it’s cool, dry, etc. vs. visiting monuments and memorials.  Check the weather forecast before your vacation and be flexible.

Getting the most out of your trip – be strategic when planning your itinerary. I group places that are close together so my fiancé and I aren’t spending a lot of time traveling from one attraction to another.

Best way to see most monuments and memorials – take a hop on/hop off tour. There are three companies that offer these tours in DC and tickets can be purchased at Union Station. One word of caution, don’t stay on the tour bus and complete the whole circuit and then go back to the attraction(s) of your choice. If you do, you’ll waste valuable time. Also, be sure to check on times the tours begin and end operation for the day as those vary depending on the time of year.