Rudesheim was my favorite spot so far. A small medieval town, our visit was enhanced by the fact we were there on a Saturday and stayed after dark so we got the full effect of a festive, very crowded scene with a lively street-fair ambiance. It must be the custom for groups to all wear matching hats and it was fun to see the different types of Christmas-themed hats including: cowgirl, Christmas trees and, of course, funky elf caps.
We had lunch at the Schloss Restaurant located on the famous Drosselgasse, a very narrow alley with dozens of shops, restaurants and wine bars. During lunch we had some local beer and Riesling and listened as a band played a wide variety of international music – oddly enough, even Hava Nagila (Rudesheim is known for a very international Xmas Market). Once out in the street our group made a quick visit to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum. We almost didn’t go, but it was worth the short investment in time to see the incredible mechanical instruments in action, all housed in the 16th century home of a medieval knight. Then we were back out with the crowds to visit the shops and market stalls including the well-known Kathe Wohlfahrt store (one of several throughout Germany) to do some serious shopping for German-made Christmas items. Entertainers were singing Christmas music from a stage set up near the chairlift and even the weather cooperated by giving up a reprieve from the rain.
Eventually we had to get back to the bus and travel a bit more up the Rhine, crossing by ferry to return to our ship.
I think Uniworld has done a good job under the circumstances getting us to all our planned markets. Tomorrow we will change ships to finish the trip. Even though we will have to pack and move, and have had to use a bus to get around today, they’ve also done a great job of getting us down the Rhine to see the castles on a smaller boat, as well as given us complementary lunches, drinks and cash credits. I have been impressed by the calm, thoughtful and efficient staff. A few people did take the pre-cruise option to cancel – and as a result the two of us are traveling with 118 very nice people!
I’m sitting by myself – listening to the most wonderful pianist play Christmas music . . . it’s like I have a private performance. Even though Uniworld is a British company (owned by South Africans), I feel like I’m in a salon at Versailles; we have boarded the beautiful S.S. Antoinette riverboat for our adventure along the Rhine. While Mom is having a little reading and resting time, I’m taking care of business trying to get us organized and check in with my emails.
The ship is fully decorated for Christmas – all in a white/snow glittery theme – it’s lovely and somehow very tranquil.
While I’m on the topic of decorations let me explain how they do things here . . . there are dozens of healthy looking evergreens pretty much everywhere you look. Of course, trees are in the Christmas Markets, but also around every corner and placed up against the multitude of construction barricades around downtown. Lights are white and used much more sparingly than we do in the USA. Ornaments generally are a single color and large with colors of choice being red, blue, silver or gold. It’s a beautiful effect.
We’ve had another sunny, beautiful day, but with the angle of the European winter sun you find yourself generally in the shade. The temps are in the 40s during daylight, 30s at night. It’s completely dark here by 5pm. Of course, the better to see the Christmas lights!
We got two more Christmas markets under our belts today – the Neumarkt (also known as the Angel Market) and the Rudolfplatz (aka Fairytale Market). Although named the Neumarkt, this is actually cologne’s oldest market launched in the 70s, and features really beautiful decorations on the top of each stall and lots of lights and stars in the huge trees. As with the other markets we’ve seen, there is a huge focus on food and there seems to be lots of locals taking advantage of the culinary opportunities. Even though these markets attract tourists, it’s all very German and most of the visitors seem to be German. I have made one significant discovery – I do NOT like the Gluhwein – in fact, I find it a little nauseating. Heat up and spice your next glass of red wine and see what you think. I do love the cute little mugs, however.
We had a lovely walk to the Rudolfplatz through an attractive, high-end shopping area on Mittelstrasse, but the market itself was very disappointing. It was a much smaller market and even seemed a little seedy compared to the others.
Knowing us, you will have guessed that to fortify ourselves for all these new experiences, we began the day at a wonderful bakery/coffee shop . . . then off to catch the cute “Christmas Market Express” train that gets you to the main markets efficiently. Roundtrip tickets were €7, and one way tickets are €4. The little yellow cars are enclosed and keep you warm while listening to Xmas music. Our route took us down by the Rhine, past the Chocolate Museum and Cologne’s newest market: the Harbour (sometimes called Port) Market.
Our hotel graciously extended out check-out time until 2pm, making it really easy for us to have a leisurely market experience, get back, reorganize and take a cab over to our ship. It was a good thing I called to double-check the ship location, because it was not where I had been told.
Of course, we had to have a light lunch right after we boarded . . . .
We spent the rest of the day learning about our ship, how the crew has planned to deal with the low water situation (good news – I think they have everything beautifully worked out), making new friends and enjoying a lovely dinner. Since this is one of the only riverships with an actual swimming pool, one way they have made our ship lighter in order to navigate the lower water levels, is to empty the pool. The Captain joked that if we had to evacuate the ship while sailing, we would be able to just walk off. In any case, we will still be changing ships in four days.