Budapest to Amsterdam – Amanda’s Avalon Cruise Part 4

Here are my thoughts on my last few days in Europe.

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Rudesheim was a cute place. We went up the cable car to the top and saw a huge statue that was built in commemoration of the union of Germany.  Here we visited Siegfried’s musical instrument museum where they had old musical instruments that played by themselves using punch-hole strips of paper. They had lots of music boxes there of all kinds. We sailed through the Rhine Gorge that had many very old beautiful castles.  Some are ruins and some are used as hotels today. Also, I saw the rock of the legendary “Loreley”. Luckily our captain didn’t get wooed. Haha.

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Cologne was nice and more modern than what we were accustomed to seeing. The Cathedral there is very large and was hit during WW2 but is still standing and has been restored.  My favorite thing about this city was the Lindt chocolate museum the Schokoladenmuseum,haha. During our free time we went to the museum and it was interesting to see the whole process from beginning to end of how they make the Lindt chocolate we see today in stores. We even got to sample some fresh made chocolate while there.  YUMMY! ☺ We saw a bunch of different molds of all sizes.  I went to the gift shop and bought some very delicious chocolate items.

In Amsterdam we hopped onto a canal cruise to tour some of the older downtown part of the city.  I got to see houseboats where people live on the canals.  I can’t imagine living on a boat but at times it was more cost effective for the inhabitants there. The canals are small and parking is very limited. The most used mode of transportation in Amsterdam seems to be bicycles.  The streets are very crowded with cyclists and bikes parked everywhere.

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We had a lovely lunch at a little local restaurant called Haesje Claes.  It had traditional Dutch food and was very good. I would recommend it.  We also did a windmill tour in the afternoon at Zaanse Schans – not far from Amsterdam. I learned a lot about using windmills as a power source. My favorite part of this tour was seeing the demonstrations. We saw limestone grinding by using a complex gear system using wind power. There was also a Gouda cheese making demo. Best of all was seeing how they make their world famous wooden clogs. It used to take a while with knives and other tools. Now it takes about 5 mins as they have a machine that is similar idea to key cutting machines to form the outside of the shoe.  Then they have a tool system to cut out the hole for the foot.  Apparently these shoes are very comfortable and wearing wool socks inside is definitely the best. The shoes are water proof and like steel toed boots for protection as they are very hard.

At the end of the cruise we had to say goodbye to our new friends and to all the wonderful staff on the ship who catered to us hand and foot. I was sad to leave Europe as this whole experience was such a wonderful adventure and felt like going back in time in a sense.


For those who may have concerns about sea or motion sickness on a cruise, there are no worries about this on a river cruise as you don’t feel it at all.  I do recommend getting a cabin around the middle of the ship.  At the back you get more of the noise and vibration from the engine, at the front you can hear a lot of people traffic and music from the lounge in the evenings.

My overall experience with Avalon was phenomenal. The staff were great and got you whatever you needed.  The ship, cabin and amenities onboard were wonderful.  The cities we visited were all interesting and amazing in their own unique ways.  This trip was definitely a great combination of relaxation, friendship building, amazing architecture and education about history.

It was recommended to me that if you want to upgrade to a higher cabin category (if available), do that before you leave home as it is much lower in cost than if  you try when onboard.  When considering booking a river cruise, the best pricing and availability are available further out from departure.  The earlier you book the better.


A few tips about travelling to Europe:

  • It costs money to use public bathrooms most places I travelled to in Europe this trip.
  • Remember to ask about tax free purchases when shopping.
  • The weather is best over the summer as some places get colder and even have frost or snow during the winter.
  • Bring Forint (HUF) when travelling to Hungary and Crowns (CZK) for Czech Republic. Euros were used everywhere else I went.
  • Make sure to bring an adapter with 2 round prongs in Europe.  A converter may be needed as well as their power is 220Volt.
  • Pack for all types of weather, shorts and t-shirts, to pants and warm shirts. Make sure to bring a light jacket as the wind can be cool and it rains from time to time. A small umbrella could be useful as well.

 

Watch the video of my cruise here:
AVALON WATERWAYS – Cruise Ship Tour

If you have any questions about Avalon or just River Cruising in general please feel free to reach out to me!  You can call me in Saskatoon at 306-934-3400 or email amanda@uniglobevacation.com.

Uniglobe Basebar

 

Budapest to Amsterdam – Amanda’s Avalon Cruise Part 3

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Our day trip through Regensburg was great. I like how you can see that the buildings have been kept as they were before World War 2.  The Gothic look of their main cathedral was neat. We had their famous bratwurst and sauerkraut in this city. Then we went to Weltenburg Abbey/monastery which has the oldest brewery in Bavaria. There was beer and pretzels there for us.


The transition was made so smoothly by Avalon to the next/new ship. We arrived back at the Avalon Expression, got to our cabin and our luggage was there. They had made sure that our preferences in the room were duplicated too. The new staff had to get to know our needs again but they are quick. This staff is younger with most being under 37 which is nice too because they are lively, energetic and made us laugh a lot.  There was a guy “Thorsten Loher” who is a one man rock and roll show who played this evening.

I had mentioned 68 locks and climbing a hill then going back down.  From Budapest until Kilheim we were going upstream and uphill. From Kilheim we started going downhill all with the help of the locks.


Nuremberg was an interesting place. I loved the castle/palace within the old stone walls and the Roman Catholic churches are so beautiful outside and in.

I loved Bamberg Germany.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site and everything has been kept as original as possible in the old part of the city. The most unique thing about this city is the old town hall location.   I also loved the paintings on the side of the building behind it. We got to see Romeo and Juliet’s balcony. We went into the nicest Cathedral so far in my opinion. It has a statue of “Bamberg Rider” and has the tomb of Henry II and his wife there. There was a beer tasting afterwards back at the ship and we met all of the chefs during dinner.

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Wurzburg 5In Wurzburg we saw a beautiful palace that used to be the Bishops Residence. We couldn’t take any pictures inside but it’s absolutely beautiful. It was partially damaged in World War 2 but has been rebuilt with some of the original belongings. They took pictures of every room and tried to take as much out as they could before the bombing started during the war.  They wanted to preserve as much as they could. After the war, upon rebuilding, they tried to make every room look exactly like it did before it got hit during the war. I really liked how they molded stucco to make frescoes on the ceilings of the palace.  It has one of the largest frescoes…it tricks the eyes, making the roof looked curved and things look like they are 3D. I must say the local guide we had for this city walking tour was the best one yet out of our entire tour so far. He was very down to earth, honest and made funny jokes.

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My favorite place so far has to be Rothensburg. It is a preserved Renaissance city and so amazing. I loved all of the buildings and the preservation of the traditional medieval city look. My favorite shop was the Christmas shop, Kathe Wohlfahrt, although it was very expensive to buy stuff.  I have discovered that I wish I could build a half-timbered house in Saskatoon. The design and look of them are amazing and I especially love the ones with flowers outside all the windows.

Rothensburg 1
In Miltenburg I woke up to see some swans swimming beside the ship. It was very unique. This city is small with 9600 inhabitants. Our guide said everyone knows everyone and there is no crime. We saw the oldest hotel in Germany here and they have 2 very cute market squares. And my favorite…again the half-timbered buildings.

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I’m slowly coming to the realization that my trip is almost over. I’m very sad to be leaving all of the beautiful historic buildings and luxury of Avalon waterways. But we still have a few wonderful things yet to come like Cologne chocolate museum and Amsterdam. I am also going to sum up my experience with Avalon and my overall impression of Europe (it is my first time over here). Stay tuned…

Budapest to Amsterdam – Amanda’s Avalon Cruise Part 2

On days two, three and four of our cruise we sailed to Vienna, Durnstein, Melk and Cesky Krumlov.

Vienna 3

Vienna

Vienna was a great city to see. We walked around the downtown area by the opera house and palace. We lucked out and saw the Spanish stallions they use for shows. That was neat. We visited a local market then got in the hop on/off bus. It was a great way to see much more of the city.

Vienna 1

Spanish Stallions

 

Durnstein Austria was an older city and very tiny (only 30kms long). It was quaint and visited by a lot of tourists. They make pretty much anything you can think of out of apricots. They are also well known for their wines.

In Melk Austria we went to the Abbey and walked around the town a bit. The Abbey is a monastery and a school. The church and library in the spiritual wing were beautiful. The imperial museum had lots of old significant pieces from Catholic history there. The frescoes on the ceilings were amazing.

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I really liked Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic as it had old buildings and people dressed up. The cobble stone streets were a bit hard to walk on but it was worth it. I tasted traditional Czech ice cream which was vanilla and blackberry. It was so yummy.  I thought it was black licorice at first until I read the sign.  The 5 Petaled Rose celebration was just wrapping up when we were there.  People dressed up in Renaissance outfits and many traditional foods and activities from that time period there. It was like literally going back in time, a very neat experience.  This is a UNESCO world heritage site.


CRISIS AVERTED!! We found out about a change in plans. A cargo ship got stuck sideways blocking the river westbound as the river level was very low. It was going to take 5 days to move it. It happened that Avalon ExpressionAvalon had another ship, the Avalon Expression, that started in Nuremburg headed to Budapest and they were stopped in Regensburg on the other side of the cargo ship. We had to pack up last night as we were switching ships. We have the same cabin numbers for most part, just 3 people had to move. They gave us an all day excursion in Regensburg which was nice.

If this change of trip hadn’t worked out so well, we would’ve had a land tour for the remaining days with coaches and staying in hotels. Luckily with the Globus Family of Brands this would have been an easy solution as well since they have Avalon, Cosmos, Globus and Monograms. No other river cruise company would have those options at their disposal so quickly.  This is an excellent way of showing how Avalon / Globus goes above and beyond for their guests and always has best interests in mind. They always say on their documents to be prepared for changes as needed and this is a perfect example of the type of change that could come up!

The transition to the new ship was very smoothly. Our new cabin is very similar to the previous one.

On these ships you can really feel and hear vibration of ship from engine from the back to about mid ship so I recommend booking early (at least 6 months out) to get closer to front or middle of the ship for a quieter cabin.

Also, our ship climbed a hill and went back down going through 68 locks in total!   I’ll have more details for you in my next post so stay tuned…

 

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Adrienne’s Germany

May 16th, 2012

Berlin – Day 2

We started out the morning exactly the same as yesterday. The Cafe is way too good to be true and why mess with a good thing.

From there we walked to the Reichstag (Germany´s Government building). On top of the building is a huge egg shaped dome. It is free to go up too but you have to make a reservation a minimum of three days in advance. We were able to make our reservation on the Reichstags website and were emailed our confirmation shortly after. I would recommend being at least 15 minutes early for your appointment; we had to go through security (very similar to the airport) and a screening process. Once we were up it was definitely worth all of the hassle: the views were amazing!! We were given a free audio guide that pointed out the attractions that can be seen from the dome.

When we came down from the Dome we walked to the nearby Brandenberg Gate – very touristy but worth seeing.

From there we walked a few blocks down to the Holocaust Memorial. The memorial is roughly the size of a city block and covered in square cement blocks. All of the blocks are exactly the same size and set up on a grid pattern. I didn´t realise until we were there that the blocks are different heights. The edges start at about 2 feet high and when you walk into the memorial the ground slopes down so the middle blocks are approx 15 feet tall. It was very cool! (I know you shouldn´t think this about a memorial but it would have been a lot of fun to play in.)

After we walked to nearby Potsdamer Platz, this area of the city was completely destroyed in WW2 and was recently rebuilt in the 90´s. It is now covered in very modern buildings and it the cultural area of the city. We walked around the Sony Center that is filled with restaurants, pubs, a movie theatre and Film Museum. When they were rebuilding this area of the city they tried to incorporate the old buildings everywhere they could. The Grand Hotel used to be located here before it was destroyed, a few of the walls remained standing and the builders have encased them in glass and built them into the new structure. I thought it was an amazing way to show the old and new at once.

We then took a tram to Schloss Charlottenberg (a Prussian Palace in the heart of the city). The gardens are now a public park with children’s play grounds, duck ponds (which you know I was excited about) and great walking/biking trains throughout. It was roughly one km to walk from the back entrance of the park to the formal gardens around the palace. We got to the Palace just in time to miss a small downpour.  It was 6 Euros to tour the palace and the audio tour was free. The palace is extremely beautiful and it filled with lots of art. My one complaint was about half way through I was told that I wasn´t allowed to take pictures unless I paid an additional 3 Euro free upon entering. I thought that was pretty silly to say the least…who doesn’t take pictures?

From there we had supper at a nearby restaurant. I was able to get goulash and bratwurst. More things I was able to check off of my “to eat” list. We ended the night in the Hofbraauhus in Berlin. It was very similar to the famous beer house in Munich!

May 10th, 2012

Day 1 – Exploring Berlin
I had an absolute amazing time exploring Berlin today!!

This morning for breakfast Regan and I went to a nearby cafe and we were able to get a patio table overlooking the Spree River. The views were amazing!! It was a beautiful day today in Berlin – average temp was 25C and I may be slightly tanned now. We had a traditional continental German breakfast of a three tier platter of cold meats, a variety of cheeses, dips and sauces, mixed bread basket and a boiled egg. You made yourself an assortment of open faced sandwiches which were absolutely amazing. This is definitely something we are missing out on in Canada.

From there we walked down Friedrich Strasse one of Berlins main fashion district with lots of high end fashion labels along it, (There are a lot of nose and fingers prints on the windows from me window shopping!). We stopped into Gallerie Lafayette a French mutli-level department store – this is where I would like to call my new home. The building and decor are almost more amazing then the merchandise inside.

We wandered down to the nearby Gendarmen market, with two churches and one of Berlin’s three opera houses. The square holds Berlin’s most famous Christmas market in the winter. We paid three Euros to climb the tower at Französischer Dom (one of the two churches in the square). After climbing more stairs when I would like to admit to climbing, we reached the top and were rewarded with amazing views of the square and city. Upon descending we stopped by a local Bavarian pub to quench the thirst we had acquired from all those stairs!

We walked further down to the Wall Memorial, Check Point Charlie and the Check Point Charlie Museum. Check point Charlie was the only border crossing in Berlin that Westerners were allowed to go into East Berlin from. I had my picture taken with the “soldier” on duty and my passport stamped to show that I have “been” to East Berlin.

Check Point Charlie

From there we hopped S-Bahn (the suburban subway) and made our way out to Oranienburg a nearby suburb of Berlin. The train took us 45 minutes to get there. Upon arrival we walked roughly 20 minutes to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. Entrance into the camp was free but we did rent audio tours guides for three Euros each. I’m not able to describe what I saw there yesterday, I am still trying to process it. It was important that I went and would recommend if you ever have the opportunity to go see a camp to do so. I can tell you I was overcome with great sadness walking through it.

After the camp we hopped back on the train and made our way back into the city for the highlight of my day – a Football game!! This has always been on my bucket list and I am happy to say I was not disappointed. Berlin’s Hertha BCS had their first of two playoff games. We were able to purchase tickets on fairly short notice (Tuesday of this week) for a great price of 30.00 Euro each. We had amazing seats in the upper level, but they were in the first row and right in front of the center line. The subway ride there and festivities surrounding the soccer field are half the fun! Even if you are not a football (soccer for us North American’s)  fan I would recommend going to a European game if you have a chance. With over 68,000 (that isn’t a typo) in attendance the crowd is absolutely amazing – they do not stop cheering, chanting, singing and clapping the ENTIRE game. The crowd was almost more amusing then the game at times. My best description would be a Saskatchewan Roughriders game but on steroids, it was amazing. Unfortunately, Hertha lost by one point in the end but I have high hopes for their second game next week.

Hertha BCS fans!

From Hertha newest fan and the smallest football hooligan;
Adrienne

“Güten Tag from Berlin!!   I left Saskatoon yesterday at 3:20pm on-board Air Canada. I had one quick stop over in Toronto (1.5 hours) which was perfect: enough time for my bags to makes it but I really didn’t have to spend any real time in Toronto airport (YYZ and I don’t always get along). Air Canada’s international service was great!!   The staff were excellent, food was decent (a large meal after Toronto and a quick breakfast before landing) and my pillow/blankie/touch screen TV made the flight quite enjoyable. I am all caught up on my movie watching!!

I landed in Frankfurt around noon and had given myself four hours before my next flight to go through customs and re-check in with my next airline. I do still recommend having that amount of time in case of a delay but I honestly didn’t need it. It was the easiest customs of my life – in about 10 minutes – and had no problems finding my way around. Frankfurt airport is very nice; everything is clean, modern and well laid out. There were tons of shopping and dining options for me while I waited (I did my best to hold out on the shopping though this early into the trip).

My next flight was with Air Berlin, I had booked myself a short one hour hopper flight between Frankfurt and Berlin (very similar to a Saskatoon to Calgary flight). I had never booked Air Berlin before, and because of the cheap fare I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. They are a great airline that I would recommend to anyone bouncing around Europe. The Highlight was the fist-sized chocolate heart every passenger received upon getting off of the flight.

Once I was in Berlin I had no problems getting from the airport to my partner in crime’s house for the next few days – my step brother Regan. Berlin’s transit system is amazing: bus, tram/street car (Strassenbahn), U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (suburban train system)! Everyone I have encountered so far had been extremely nice and spoken some English (I got into a small fight with the bus ticket machine at the airport and received lots of help).

After a quick freshening up we were off to explore East Berlin, we walked to Prenzlauerberg a trendy district not far from Regan’s house. I managed to have two of the items off of my “to eat” list while in Germany: a Pretzel (amazing) and CurryWurst (sausage, ketchup and curry powder mixed in a small dish). The Currywurst was actually very good and I’m told the ultimate street food in Berlin. The locals love it so much there is even a museum in its honour but I don’t think I am going to have time to visit it while I am here. We then made our way to a local beer gardens and finished off the evening there.

CurryWurst!

The only bump in the road I have run into so far is I have no cell phone reception what-so-ever. I had spoken to Sasktel before I left and was told that it wouldn’t be a problem to text home but sadly that is not that case.

Auf Wiedersehen for now!! – I’m exhausted
Adrienne