Cruise on the Rhine December 2010
We spent four nights sailing from Düsseldorf up the Rhine and back again on the 'Premicon Queen' The ship is absolutely stunning, with lovely cabins - sorry, 'suites' - superb staff and the most consistently wonderful food we've ever eaten. The sad truth is that, much as you'd love to, you couldn't really spend more than four or five days on a cruise like this if only because of your waistline!

Friday 17th December – Düsseldorf

We're on the Premicon Queen and have just set sail from Düsseldorf. The Rhine is flowing incredibly strongly and the water is so high that, unfortunately, we can't stop at Cochem tomorrow because the ship won't fit under a particular bridge. Instead, we'll call at Koblenz.

We arrived at the ship at 11.30am, well ahead of the official boarding time of 3pm, so we had a fair bit of time to kill. We walked a mile to the Old Town, which was just a bit treacherous because of the thick snow and ice. The weather is absolutely bitter, and for a while we were walking in heavy snowfall, but it certainly added to the Christmassy feel. There were small Christmas markets scattered around the Old Town, and we didn't waste any time tracking down some hot food – Gill had a freshly cooked crepe and I had a superb Bratwurst that set me up for the afternoon! Gill also notched up her first white chocolate-covered strawberry 'kebab' of the holiday. We killed an hour or so in a department store restaurant as we warmed up with hot chocolate and Stollen before trudging back along the river to the ship.

9pm – Just back to our cabin following what we agree was the best meal we've ever had on a cruise. I'd go as far as to say that it was one of my Top Ten of all time. It consisted of SIX courses (there was even one more that we skipped, by mistake!), all of which were light and dainty. What I liked best is that I left the table feeling satisfied but not full. We're sharing our table with a Romanian lady and her grown-up daughter, both of whom speak good English and who are very sweet. There's supposed to be another British couple on our table, but it seems that there have been air traffic problems today with the UK and eight British people missed their flights - they won't catch up with us until Koblenz tomorrow.

So, it's an early night for us following a 4am start this morning. We've booked a walking tour of Koblenz for tomorrow starting at 10am. It's so cold here that we daren't leave the ship without a good breakfast, so we'll need to be up sharpish!

Christmas Market
Our cabin
Heavily laden barges,
hardly any freeboard
Koblenz - memorial made from sections
of the Berlin Wall
Koblenz - memorial to
Kaiser Wilhelm 1
Saturday 18th December – Koblenz

We woke at 8.40am, already moored in Koblenz, and had to scurry to wash, dress and have breakfast before the guided tour at 10am. The view from the ship's windows wasn't terribly encouraging, but as we walked we realised that Koblenz is a very pretty place. It's at the junction of the Rhine and the Moselle, and apparently the name of the town comes from the Latin for 'confluence'.

The area's obviously had a fair amount of snow recently and it's bitterly cold, but the locals just seem to get on with things regardless in a way that we don't in the UK because, simply, they're used to it. Halfway through the tour we were given a nice mug of Glühwein. Interestingly, it was white, not red wine, which Gill found nicer as it was gentler and easier on the palate – I prefer it aggressive and unsubtle, because that way I can at least taste something :o) Before heading back to the ship I had to have another Bratwurst – we have photographic evidence!
Koblenz - the
obligatory Bratwurst
Back on board for a simple lunch, or so we thought. It turned out to be exactly like last night's dinner, i.e. six courses! My favourite was Lentil Soup with Sausage – an incredibly German dish and one that I remember very fondly from the time I lived and worked in Germany in 1970/71. Again, we each skipped one course, but even so. Gill says that her mother would love the food that they're serving here – it's laid out beautifully on the plate, it's perfectly cooked and the portions are modest. Last night I had Aberdeen Angus for one course, it was nicely pink and incredibly tender. To demonstrate its tenderness I rested my knife on it and drew it back and forth applying no pressure – it cut right through in seconds.

Still exhausted from our long day yesterday we rested in our suite after lunch, but went out again into Koblenz after dark and before dinner. The various Christmas markets in the Old Town were packed and seemed to bring Christmas even closer. It's my firm belief that Christmas as we know it in Britain is essentially a German import from the time of Prince Albert, and that to experience it in Germany is to go back to its roots and see it in concentrated form. The funny thing is that the music that you hear being played is our contribution to their Christmas, i.e. Slade, Wizzard, Greg Lake, Wham, Elton John, etc – 1960s-80s pop.

Dinner tonight was another gastronomic delight, and we had a fabulous white wine to go with it – a dry white Riesling. As usual you look at every dish as it arrives and think, 'perfection'.

The ship stays moored in Koblenz tonight and doesn't sail until 7.30am tomorrow. We were wondering why it didn't set off during the night, but we've since discovered that at 10-ish we'll pass the famous Lorelei rock, which I'd certainly like to see. At midday it's Glühwein on the (open) top deck – it'll be so cold I doubt we'll stay long!

We arrive in Rudesheim at 3pm and have signed up for a tour at 3.30pm. It promises to be a wonderful day!
Premicon Queen
On-board cookery
Rhineside vineyards
St. Goar
St. Goarshausen
Riverside castle
Lorelei rocks
Sun deck covered in
snow and ice
Castle Pfalzgrafenstein

Sunday 19th December – Rüdesheim

Up at 8am to watch our progress up-stream before breakfast at 9. When we first looked out the scenery was already a lot more interesting than yesterday, with quaint villages along the river, sometimes crammed one house deep between steep cliffs and the railway line that runs along the river's western bank.

There was a bit of a build-up of expectation about the Lorelei rock before we got there in late morning, but in all honesty it was a bit of a let-down. The legend is that the Lorelei, a beautiful flaxen-haired temptress, lured unwary sailors on to the rocks on which she sat combing her hair. In the event it was hard to imagine where she might have sat as the cliffs fall steeply straight into the Rhine. Because of the narrowness of the river at this point the waters run fast and deep, so it's certainly not a place for careless navigators.

At midday we were served several mugs of Glühwein each, which kept us going until lunch. By now we're getting the hang of meals on this ship, and the trick is not to take every course offered! Yet again, each dish looked absolutely wonderful, and I've decided to take my camera to dinner tonight so that I can prove this when we get home!

Castle Pfalzgrafenstein
The riverside trudge into
The Premicon Queen
moored at R
Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments
Christmas Market

By the time we arrived at Rüdesheim snow was falling really heavily. We were due to be taken into town on a sort of motorised train, but because the snow was too deep this part of the excursion was cancelled. Instead we trudged into town to the Museum of Mechanised Musical Instruments, which was much more interesting than you might think.

Afterwards, we walked around Rüdesheim, exploring its Christmas markets, with the biggest snowflakes I've ever seen falling thick and fast. Rüdesheim is attractive enough in its own right, with its traditional half-timbered architecture, but at dusk and covered in snow it looks truly magical.

In the end we broke away for the long trudge back to the ship through still-heavy snowfall, arriving with an hour in hand to warm up and get ready for tonight's meal, a 'Chef's Special Dinner' – how he could possibly top his performances so far isn't clear.

Well, it's now 11pm and dinner has been served and consumed. 'Special' it certainly was. First of all all of the chefs, kitchen staff and waiters were introduced by name to the guests – believe it or not there are 85 passengers but still 56 staff to serve them and run the ship. Then we we given the menu. We gaped – EIGHT courses tonight! All of them were small and exquisitely presented, and I took photographs of most of them. As we left the restaurant all the women were given a highly perfumed red rose and all the men a decorated marzipan figure – very nice.

Romantic snowy
Christmas Market
Nativity scene
Christmas Market
Truffled Egg with Caviar

We've travelled together on cruise ships, large and small, run by several different nationalities, but find it really surprising that the finest food by far has been provided by a German company. We can joke as much as we like about Germans having little spontaneity or sense of humour, but on this cruise their attention to detail and their flair for preparing subtle, original and delightful dishes has been undeniable.

So to bed. Tomorrow it's back down the Rhine, calling at Bonn in the morning and Cologne in the afternoon.

Guinea Fowl and Lobster
Croustillant with Mango
Carpaccio of Bavarian Ox with Far East Spices
Fillet of Gilthead with Rice-Cigarillo and
Lemon Foam
Expresso and Chilli-scented Beef Fillet
with Mash and
Orange Sauce

Passion Fruit ‘Lollipop'
Chocolate Surprise
A rose from the captain
Bonn - University
Bonn - Minster
Bonn - Christmas Market

Monday 20th December – Bonn and Cologne

Two fairly quick stops today. The ship moored near the Bonn Opera House at around dawn, having sailed down from Rüdesheim during the night. After breakfast we joined a guided tour that took in the University, Cathedral, Christmas markets and, best of all, Beethoven's birthplace. The snow lay very thick on the ground and the going was treacherous – it'll be even worse when the slush freezes. Back to the ship for yet another many-course meal that we didn't really need but simply couldn't resist. We set sail for Cologne during lunch and the ship raced along on the very strong sea-bound current. Less than two hours after lunch, before our guided tour, we had tea and cake which, frankly, we just didn't need and we did at least feel a little embarrassed about!

Bonn - Beethoven's
Cologne - unconventional
Nativity scene
main station

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral
nativity scene
This tour featured the various Nativity scenes around the city centre, some of which were traditional and some were very unconventional. Of the latter the one that made the greatest impression was one showing the devastation of the city at Christmas1944, with a refugee family sheltering in the ruins - very moving. At the end of the tour we didn't have the energy to go back into the city, so we bade farewell to Germany's Christmas markets and went back to the ship.
Cologne Cathedral
nativity scene
Cologne Cathedral
Cologne - Christmas Market near the Cathedral
Cologne - shop window
nativity scene

Tonight's dinner was just as good as all the others we've had. We've been asked to complete a questionnaire on all aspects of the cruise, and we agreed that 'the cuisine and the service in the restaurant is the best we've ever experienced – anywhere!'

So, it's back to the cabin to pack and get ready for our return. The snow has made travel difficult here in Germany for all modes of transport except river traffic, so it hasn't bothered us too much. As far as we know, Düsseldorf airport is open and operational, so it's a case of hoping that Heathrow is able to receive us. Our flight leaves at 11.20am (10.20am UK time) and we should land at about 11.45am if all's well. We rather luckily left the UK just ahead of the worst of the snow and we're hoping that we'll get back without too much trouble.

Cologne - nativity scene
created by chainsaw

Cologne - another
Christmas Market
Cologne Cathedral
Our cabin
In Düsseldorf again

Tuesday 21st December – The long slog home

Even before we had breakfast we knew that our plane had been cancelled due to problems at Heathrow, so when we got to Düsseldorf airport just before 10am we were ready for alternatives.

Most important of all, we had decided early on that we were determined to get home today, one way or another. All Lufthansa flights but one to Heathrow had already been cancelled and that one was already in severe doubt. There were no flights to Stansted and the one flight heading for Gatwick had already closed. We asked the Lufthansa ticket people to look around other UK airports, and soon realised that the only airport worth considering was Birmingham. We'd originally been due to fly at 11.20am to Heathrow, but in the end we settled for 6.20pm to Birmingham.

To kill time we had tea and cake in the reception of a rather nice new hotel nearby and then set off into Düsseldorf by train. Wandering through the city centre we came upon the department store where we'd killed time on Friday waiting to board the ship, so we did the same again. We were back at the airport by 4pm. Following some excellent research and cost/benefit analysis by Gill we'd agreed that the best option that'd get us home tonight at least cost and most quickly was to get a cab from Birmingham airport to Heathrow. We called a cab company that specialises in this sort of transfer and arranged it all while sitting in the departures lounge. The plane that we boarded must have been one of the smallest we've ever travelled on – probably no more than 80 seats. Walking down the central aisle my head was brushing the ceiling! However, it was a very new aircraft and the seats were comfy, with good legroom, so the 80 minute flight passed pleasantly.

At Birmingham we opted to go through the automatic passport control rather than queue – we both have the new passports that allow this. This was a smart move, as we must have saved a good 15-20 minutes of queuing. Going into baggage reclaim was a complete shock - it was full of hundreds and hundreds of people who must have just arrived from all over the Indian sub-continent. It felt as if we'd been diverted without knowing about it, but I'll bet that the majority would have been Brummies with perfect local accents :o)

The cabbie was waiting for us, having just driven up from Croydon, of all places! He got us down to Heathrow in an hour and three quarters, which we thought was excellent. We picked up the car and were home before 11pm, which, frankly, was a result!

In spite of today's uncertainties, delays and extra costs we've had a fabulous and memorable trip, with simply stunning meals, fabulous service, excellent guided tours, beautiful towns to visit and nice company. It'd be nice to do it again one day ... in summer!

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