Wine on the Rhine

Michael Korn not Mick JaggerIt was a sunny lunchtime but I was trapped in a dark, underground state-cellar with 150, aged Australians.

After an average meal, I was forced to clap and sing to cheesy songs (think ‘Que Sera Sera’) by a strutting, lederhosen clad, German blonde-bombshell who appeared to think he was Mick Jagger instead of Michael Korn (see left).

Was this a nightmare?

Would I wake up?

Unfortunately I was awake and on a day trip to Freudenberg from our Rhine river cruise from Nuremberg to Amsterdam.

Despite the fact I’d been tasting splendid German wines amongst vines in the morning, I badly wanted to escape and retreat to the peace and quiet of my cabin.

This was our first foray into river cruising, but we’d been tempted by the ubiquitous Viking advertisements sponsoring ITV Mystery Drama although we eventually booked with Scenic. We were somewhat apprehensive about our trip as we’re very independent travellers who shun company and prefer to do our own thing. It started well. London City Airport, a 20 minute cab ride from home, was small and friendly with all formalities being dealt with quickly and simply. In Nuremberg, our transfer was equally straightforward, although by coach rather than my preferred private transfer. We were greeted by the extraordinarily friendly manager Svetlana, whilst Brigita, pressed us with flutes of chilled champagne. Our personal butler, Enache, escorted us to our cabin: we’d been advised to go as high as we could afford, and as near the front as possible. We discovered a spacious, well equipped cabin and bathroom with L’Ocittane toiletries and state of the art shower with coloured disco lights. The small balcony had a sliding window in case of chilly weather and there was a HD TV incorporating internet, radio, DVDs to amuse us.

The first day’s itinerary tempted us with a Bavarian beer experience at 6pm, the regular port talk about the following day’s activities at 6.45pm, and a 7pm dinner. We’d tasted two beers and realised that if we didn’t miss the final two, we wouldn’t have time to dress for dinner. We wondered when fellow travellers would change out of their day shorts and t-shirts. At dinner, we realised they hadn’t and Roy’s two summer suits, remained unworn. This was disappointing as he’d been looking forward to our butler pressing them every day (a freebie as part of the ‘top-deck’ gang). So much for the DVD showing elegantly clad couples.

Food was exceptional: fizz accompanied breakfast and the four-course dinner was free from the dreaded buffet. As neither of us have huge appetites, we opted for a sandwich and fruit lunch in the bar rather than the formal restaurant affair. Dinner was served promptly and rather early 7pm but at least it had free seating. As most tables were large, communal affairs, we quickly learned to be on our starting blocks after the port talk finished to bag one of the few tables for two. This wasn’t difficult bearing in mind the age and condition of fellow travellers who had a flight of steps to negotiate. We were usurped one night but spent a delightful evening with Australians, Stella and Don. Stella was of Chinese descent and an extremely young-looking 76 who taught ‘oldies’ to play card games to keep their minds active. Don, two years older, and paralysed down his right-hand side since birth, had been one of her ‘oldies’ but romantically they’d settled down together.

Our top-deck cabin entitled us to dine one night at ‘La Rive’ a degustation tasting menu with galley views. Each sumptuous course was presented with an appropriate wine, great fun.

A billed highlight of the trip was dinner and medieval entertainment in Marksburg Castle. Scarred by the state-cellar lunch, we ducked out fearing Michael Korn dressed as William the Conqueror. Instead, dinner on ship was in the Italian Portobello restaurant where to our horror, we found three large tables set. As those dining were either too ill to leave the ship (more of this later) or social misfits like us, Roy was despatched to sort it out. However, the sick people were worried about infecting others and soon the large tables were dismantled.

The Top Deck - exactly how we liked it - empty!

The Top Deck – exactly how we liked it – empty!

The daily itinerary, delivered at turn-down with a pillow chocolate, could have filled our days from the early-riser breakfast at 6.30am to late-night snacks at 10.30pm. On-board entertainment showed us how to make ‘swan towels’ and blow glass, whilst lectures about the European Union and German history provided more cultural stimulation.
Stunning German Villages and Vineyards

Stunning German Villages and Vineyards

Off ship, we stopped at small previously unheard of German villages with narrow, cobbled streets, old but well maintained buildings with colourful window boxes and a plethora of interesting looking bars, restaurants and small shops. In some, like Wurzburg, we docked in the centre of town allowing us to do our own thing instead of following the guide and table-tennis bat. In Rűdesheim, we had to board the dreaded coach for the short journey into town. Once dropped off, we escaped to freedom. Electronic gizmos with headphones enabled us to either tune to the guide speaking into their microphone or be self-guided by GPS. Ironically we struggled to use them and reverted to an old-fashioned map and book, whilst the oldies used them with ease.

We’d arrived on the ship half way through a 13-night cruise and discovered many passengers had developed and spread some kind of lurgy: a debilitating chesty cough and cold. On our first night a passenger was admitted to hospital, the following day an elderly lady collapsed at breakfast and a doctor came on board in Amsterdam to tend the sick. Through constant use of hand sanitiser, we stayed well until our final day when Roy brought home a souvenir of one of the worst colds he’s had.

So, would we repeat our experiment? We’d certainly think about it but we’d like the company of slightly younger passengers, less full-on, forced entertainment, tables for two and more flexible eating times. Then it really would be the perfect trip.

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About Helen Jackson

Helen Jackson works for HMRC and moved from her native Yorkshire to London 24 years ago. She lives in Walthamstow with her partner and is passionate about using local shops and services in an attempt to protect its multi-cultural flavour. Travelling is her passion. Helen recently spent 6 months in South and Central America. She has also travelled extensively around the world visiting the Far East, Middle East, Africa, India and Europe. Helen’s love of food combines well with travelling and after taking a course in food writing at Leith’s, she is writing a Central American cookery book. Helen writes a weekly online food column for the West Essex and East London Guardian series of newspapers. Helen is a keen cook and a mystery diner. She also enjoys genealogy, entering food and travel related competitions and is learning to play the piano.
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