Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Germany-Uniworld Christmas Market River Cruise

Our holiday season getaway took many forms: night-sledding down the mountains of Switzerland (my idea), a week in Slovakia (his idea), northern lights in Tromso...even Tibet. It was agreement to experience some serious Christmas that led us to Germany and a 7 night Nuremberg-Frankfurt Christmas Market Cruise with Uniworld.

Our night flight with Lufthansa departed Friday December 14. We chose to arrive in Frankfurt due to scheduling and economic factors.  (N.B. We liked the way the airport was decorated for Christmas and thought the giant clear boxes for smokers were hilarious).

Though various modes of travel can get you to Nuremberg we chose the train which is super convenient b/c it leaves right from the airport and it has frequent departures.

kissing in Germany

We had researched beforehand the different types of ticket options and, since really the only thing we cared about was not missing embarkation the next day (and only a series of really unlikely unfortunate events could cause that), we had little concern for the train other than making sure we were on it. It is because of this we really cant complain about what happened next.

After boarding a nearly empty train we had our choice of seats. We chose two a bit away from things, secured our luggage into the communal holding rack, and tucked our personal belongings into seatbacks and overheads. Settled in and cozy, we nuzzled down into the soft cushiony seats to watch through the windows the snowy German landscape glide by.

Fast forward.  Chris tapping my arm: "wake up, we have to move."  I slowly open my eyes and see the train around us has become completely packed and there is a an older man smiling nicely at us but basically waiting for us to get the hell out of his seat.  He has reserved these specifically so we have to move.  Except now, walking from car to car to car frantically looking, there are no seats left.  The only place we can be together for the rest of the ride is the dining car which a. offers no seating and b. requires you to dine.  As if ordering a basket of bread and various spreads and coffees and teas doesnt sound good at 7:30 am when you are full and tired it sounds even worse at 1:30 am which is what time our bodies thought it was.

We were exhausted and full and while neither standing nor dining appealed to us we had no choice.  Naturally, we chalk this up as part of the adventure and enjoy the sights, admittedly counting down the minutes to arrival in Nuremberg!

Funny food at train station vending machine.

So we have Saturday and Saturday night in Nuremberg on our own!  We had chosen a hotel near enough to the train station that we could walk and also close enough to the Nuremberg airport we could easily meet Uniworld the next day for transfer to the ship.  We chose a junior suite at Le Meridien Grand Hotel.  We arrived HOURS early and attempted to check in even though we knew theyd laugh at us.  Pleasantly, they warmly welcomed us and escorted us to our room!  The room decor reminded me of Kimpton which is interesting and fun for a visit but really what I liked about this hotel were the lights they hang during the holidays (more on that later)!

Id so so so looked forward to seeing this and, after getting settled in the room and taking a nap, woke up to the giant strands of twinkle lights climbing down our windows!

The lobby was also nicely decorated and really got us in the holiday spirit!

Knowing the first day/night of the Uniworld itinerary was in Nuremberg we didnt feel pressured to sightsee.  Though Id packed mittens hats scarves thermals, etc it was relatively mild so no need to bundle up-I was fine in my sweatercoat.  We took our time strolling around-at first in the little castle shops across the street (including the mean lady in the candle store-you know who you are) then off to explore the city center, giving us a chance to taste some old-timey roasted chestnuts and Chris a chance to try his first drei im weckla!  Each time we rounded a new corner to bustling activity (who all appeared to be locals) and holiday decorations we wondered "is THIS *thee* Christmas Market?"  We even stopped for coffee/soy peppermint hot chocolate at the local Starbucks (Thanks Sarah!) and watched through the giant windows from the top floor the festive world go by!

Wed researched beforehand on happycow to find a vegan place for dinner and chose Cafe Klatsch b/c it looked totally cute online!  We took the scenic route (read: made some wrong turns) so what should have taken us about 20 minutes took us about 2 hours.  And I should say really this wasnt a big deal-it was less that we were "lost" and more that "wed find our way eventually" because it was interesting to walk through the city streets and get a glimpse of what life is like for the locals!

Cafe Klatsch was amazing on many levels!  The decor was perfect-including the low, warm candlelighting.  The service was excellent, the other patrons were great (loved meeting the tiny dog dining with his family, yep dogs are allowed which is another huge plus imo), and the food was good.  I had currywurst and Chris had wiener schnitzel.

I am drawn to photographing doorways that catch my eye-this one is the entrance to the Cafe.

We strolled slowly, albeit more directly, back to the hotel and along the way admired the architecture of the old buildings, the Christmas decorations adorned by nearly every shop large and small, and the grand wall circling the town.  Arriving back at the hotel we caught our first glimpse of the exterior, illuminating grandly in the night, and the tasteful decor at the entryway.

Longest word in the German language?  17 consonants, 6 vowels.

Sunday December 16-Embarkation

Sunday morning we headed to the Nuremberg airport to meet Uniworld-a great way to start my birthday!!

We arrived a bit early so wandered looking for a suitable snack.  We met a military family, complete with kids and dog, and I couldnt help but think how once upon a time that was my parents-and their kids (my sister/me) and our dog!  We decided we simply had to try a Bavarian pretzel and perform an obligatory taste comparison with our Philadelphia soft pretzels.  Ill let you be the judge =)

When Uniworld arrived we got our first glimpse of those that would be travelling the river with us and, as expected, due to our research, they were an older crowd.  Which actually we prefer.  Off to the River Queen!  First impressions I think are important: Arrival upon the ship was nice-they welcomed us with smiling faces and warm mugs of goodness, which was the routine for the rest of the week.

Our room, on the lower level and fine upon arrival, looked just like it did online!

We unpacked and hung the white lights wed brought from home which is cheesy yes but we were excited to ensure continuity of the Christmas spirit!  After setting up our room we were off to explore the ship and immediately learned of an announcement of an impromptu trip into the Nuremberg Christmas Market!  We looked at each other like "heck yeah!" and bolted for the gangway!  The crew ran with us flagging down the bus that was slowly pulling out of the lot.  Out of breath and faces flushed, we board the warmly lit and toasty chariot and fall into the cushioned seats excited for our first "official" taste of Germany!

We quickly learned that the night before we had *not* been at the Christmas Market.  Which is funny and good.  Funny because wed been so wrong and good because it illustrates how active and nicely adorned the entire city is during the holidays-such that every street looks like a festive Christmas Market!  Stand after stand after stand of lebkuchen, ornaments, smokers, twinkling lights, and long funny sausages captivated us the entire evening!

(clunk) Gluhwein!

Back on the ship, smiling faces and warm mugs of something welcomed us back and we began to explore!  I should say here wed of course researched and while it was def not our bag we could still appreciate the ship's decor.  The tasteful Christmas decorations helped-it really made such a nice festive atmosphere!

The lounge was very cozy and is where we spent most of our evenings.  I got my chamomile tea (which tasted strangely of tarragon) and Chris got his coffee and (many) cookies and we headed over to the fireplace and listened to the piano as we sailed into the night!  Wed read reviews online that the fireplace never seemed to be on or working during cruises but we didnt experience that.  One night they were out of fuel.  Apologetic, they said they would purchase more at our next stop and that they did because from then on the fire was lit nightly.  I admit, I wouldve been more than a little disappointed if the fireplace hadnt been in operation b/c I had specifically been looking forward to it-it really sets the perfect mood for holiday evenings and it wouldnt have been the same without it!

Dinner was ok. Despite having the same group of servers and explaining multiple times, the concept of vegan/animal-free was not understood. Though I have grown used to this over the years it still intrigues me that for some it is still a difficult concept to grasp. So I admit it did grow a bit tiresome, even for me (patient and used to having to explain) to have the same conversations with the same people night after night after night. Even our dining companions began to question the staff on why I had to continue to explain.  For those of you that dont know me: of course I relayed this when I made the reservations. And of course I relayed this upon boarding. And to the maitre d immediately after crew introductions. And in a friendly "as a reminder" fashion at the start of each dinner service. I prefer not to make a spectacle out of my dietary choices but also recognize the importance of giving those who will tend to me as much notice as possible to make accommodations. So, it is despite all this that I was often first served chicken, or salmon, or rack of lamb which, after some deja vu exchanges with the wait staff, resulted in something more suitable like white asparagus or an imaginative tofu dish, which I did appreciate. For Chris, dinners were "a little seafood heavy" but "ok for a ship in Germany." His preference is burgers, burritos, and steaks (:

I admit I was hurt that neither Uniworld nor the crew had done anything to in any way acknowledge me on my special day, despite my husband responding "Yes, Carrie's birthday!" to their question upon booking of whether any special celebrations prompted our journey.  Dejected, I settled into my first night aboard the River Queen :(

Monday December 17-Nuremberg

Breakfasts on the ship were fine-they had a nice selection of fruits and grains (for her) and various pastries and "hot breakfast" items like omelettes and pancakes (for him). Something for everyone!  Also, the staff was very nice to bring me a large glass of soy milk each morning!

Bellies full, we headed out for day one of Christmas magic!

During the Middle Ages, Nuremberg was the preferred residence of German emperors, as you will discover on your guided excursion. Visit Kaiserburg Castle, which rises high above the city and has housed every emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Your walking tour continues along cobblestone streets to one of the most famous examples of 14th-century German ironwork, the Schöner Brunnen (Beautiful Fountain) in Hauptmarkt (Market Square). Finish the day shopping for one-of-a-kind gifts at the festive Christkindlesmarkt, the largest and oldest Christmas Market in Germany. In this fine Medieval setting, you can enjoy authentic Nuremberg gingerbread and bratwurst.

Love all things mossy.

Arent these red rooftops the epitome of what comes to mind when you think Germany?

The Nuremberg Ring (now welded within an iron fence of Schöner Brunnen) is said to bring good luck to those that spin it!

Mom and Dad-look familiar!?

Gorgeous old church.

This was my favorite part-a dark corner illuminated only by candles lit by those leaving prayers...pain, love, happiness.  It was special to be part of this.  I had to post the version we took using flash otherwise it was too dark to show you the details.

More drei im weckla!

Within 24 hours of boarding, poop smells began to permeate in our shower stall. It wasnt bad until everyone came back from excursions or from dinner and all the toilets started flushing. We raised this with the front desk and subsequent to their investigation were provided with a can of lufterfrischer.  A few days later we were further greeted with sewage bubbling up from the shower drain. The smell was wretched. We emptied the can of lufterfrischer, stuffed all the towels we had on top of the (literal) shit hole, closed the door and hoped for the best!

Tuesday December 18-Bamberg

Wander with your guide through the curious narrow alleyways that line Old Town on your way to the scenic Bamberg Cathedral and New Residence, taking in parts of Bamberg’s famous Krippenweg (Nativity Walk), which links 40 churches, museums, and public spaces displaying Nativity and New Testament scenes. Some of the figures in these scenes were carved hundreds of years ago. You have time to explore the treasures waiting in the local Christmas Market, which is actually four markets: the traditional market on Maxplatz, one featuring Medieval cultural programs in the courtyard of Geyersworth Palace, and two markets that focus on local arts and crafts. If that’s not enough for you, browse through the delightful shops that are beautifully decorated for the holiday. When you’re ready for a break, you might want to try one of Bamberg’s beer; the city is famous for its smoked beer, but local brewers also make a special Christmas beer.

I feel like this could be Buddha or a steaming pile of doo (:

We stopped in here (the oldest bakery in town-dating back to the 15 century) and got a tasty snack after our excursion before heading off to tour on our own (which we did for each city-half the day was a guided excursion, the other half we chose to spend together exploring solo)!

Cutting through a back parking lot we encountered birdies on a grape vine singing such a pretty song!  What a pleasant happenstance!

The sun, who hid from us most of the journey, peeked through the clouds just for a moment today!

Yes that is indeed Hulk Hogan.

As was the case throughout Germany, everywhere you turned stores and offices had decorated for the season!

Meanwhile, back on the ship: While one could certainly find transportation back into town nightlife on the ship was limited to the evening's entertainment, the small bar in the lounge, and Zoltan, the piano player.

The evening entertainment was an excellent mix of music, history, and culture. Call us nerds but we choose this over lip-synched coversongs and pas de bourree in glitzy lycra: "cruise entertainment" that evidently appeals to the masses on oceanliners.

Though initially successful at avoiding other passengers on excursions and at dinner it is such a small group and it is such close quarters that it was inevitable wed have to mix. Mixing isnt at all a bad thing we just arent good at it (shy).  As opposed to my mom and dad who seem to make friends everywhere! Thank goodness we met Mr. and Mrs. California-the couple who made an awkward first date feel like hanging out with old friends! Proof that, despite the old man on the bus (Ascot) that openly complained when he didnt get "his seat" each time, there really are cool people out there: Mr. and Mrs. California, Alamo, Double Whiskey, South Africa-Im talking to you!!!

Wednesday December 19-Kitzingen (Rothenburg)

Chris is sick with a horrible headache and sore throat.  I stay with him on the ship as he rests.  Though it would mean giving up time in a subsequent city, Bart, the cruise director, later in the week kindly offered to schedule logistics so the two of us could see Rothenburg.  We researched Rothenburg and compared it to the remaining cities and while we chose to forego it was really stand-out that this offer was made available to us!

Tonights entertainment: AMAZING  local band singing mostly holiday songs-I even bought their cd. I *never* do that.

Because our ship was unable to pass through locks, due to a lot of rain, we had a few changes to the itinerary. As Bart, the cruise director, put it: What takes 8 hours by boat takes 20 minutes by bus. So while the changes were minor, and, in our opinion, it actually ended up benefiting us because "due to the inconvenience" we had extended time in some docks plus additional cities and excursions, some people complained about it because thats what they do (eye roll, but not letting them effect our good time).

Thursday December 20-Würzburg

The town of Würzburg owes many of its most notable monuments to the ambitious building programs of the wealthy prince-bishops of the Schönborn family, who controlled the town in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their spectacular episcopal residence will be your first destination today. The opulent Würzburg Residenz is an extraordinary Baroque palace and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 300-room palace took nearly 60 years to complete and contains the world’s largest ceiling fresco, created by Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, as well as what is often described as the most beautiful staircase in the world. Afterward, visit the town’s 200-year-old Christmas Market for one-of-a-kind presents and souvenirs. In the afternoon, share some homemade seasonal treats with a family in an idyllic small German towns. You can try out your German while your hosts practice their English.

Gorgeous tree (yay) and sick hubby (boo).

After the morning tour we popped into an Apotheke and thanks to Wolfgang got some medicine for Chris!

Heading back for dinner we noticed a Chinese vessel docked behind our ship.  It appeared to be some sort of casino boat with people coming and going at all  hours of the night-we were intrigued...

Tonight Chris was feeling a bit better so we returned to the dining room.

Things were going well until "Dear Guests" approached us at the table and openly began grilling Chris about his symptoms (forget her name and title-hospitality something-who began all her ship announcements with "Dear Guests") . Chris and I froze in surprise at how what was happening was so inappropriate!? Even by our standards haha! Im not sure who at our table spoke up-maybe Mrs. California? That perhaps this could be discussed in private. Yes yes yes of course we understand the importance of and urgency of getting to the bottom of an illness on the ship but just saying this wasnt the way to go about it.

Overall, the crew overall was just ok. While polite enough for the most part they could stand to be a bit more charismatic and sincere. When you are in the customer service industry personal interactions matter. We cant really recall a single memorable exchange with the crew. Many mentioned it was the last sailing of the season so perhaps they had mentally checked out.  Bart, however, who is not considered a River Queen crew member, was outstanding!  It takes a certain je ne sais quoi to be able to inform, entertain, and address bitchy passengers all at the same time.

Afterwards we walked back into town to enjoy the Christmas cheer!

That very sign came home with us!

These tasteful decorations on tables of outdoor seating caught my eye-I should have known good taste in decor meant good taste in food!

Vegan dessert options!

Tonights entertainment: A local glass blower-more interesting and cooler than it might sound (:

The tea/coffee/cookie station and the public bathrooms nearby were closed down. We eventually learned, as wed begun to emerge a bit from our collective shell and talk with other passengers, this was in response to several people becoming ill early on and who had since been quarantined to their rooms.

Friday December 21-Wertheim (with Miltenberg)

Join your local guide for a walk through the picturesque town of Wertheim, where you can look across the Main River to Bavaria before continuing to the Spitzer Turm (Pointed Tower). Built in the 13th-century and once a former prison for drunkards and feuding women, the Tower’s structure now leans to one side after withstanding over 800 years of flooding. Stop in the historic Wertheim Market Square, lined with half-timbered buildings and shops selling artisan glassworks and Franconian wines in round bottles.

This morning we woke up to find the city covered with a light dusting of snow-the only time the whole trip!

Made poor sick Chris climb the icy Wertheim Castle ramp with me.  He wasnt happy about it then but Im sure he appreciates it now.  ...Right?

We didnt have lunch on the ship often-I believe only once or twice. When we did it was fine-there was always pasta, steam vegetables, soups, and meat choices. Again, something for everyone. Most lunches were had either on our own in the towns or with the group on excursions. The latter, we agree, being the most disappointing. Upon arrival to the scheduled restaurant, and occasionally with a teency bit of aid from the tour guide but usually left to fend for myself, I had a very difficult time expressing "no animals" in either English or German. And little effort was put into preparing anything special-I usually got a plate of plain-whatever-single-side-vegetable-they-were-serving.  Good thing a. Im not a "foodie" and b. didnt have high expectations (:

Our tour guide was awesome and easily our favorite of the whole lot.  Later in the day, as people broke off on their own, she was able to negotiate an unplanned visit to the Faust Beer Factory for those of us remaining where the owner himself (Cornelius Faust) gave us a behind the scenes tour and very generously allowed us to taste a special reserve brew!  This was without a doubt the highlight of the day!

Gummi beer.



Giant crouton-like skyscraper cozied in parsnip puree.

Mr. and Mrs. California <3

Tonight's entertainment: In-house Christmas Market and two tween girls playing piano

Saturday December 22-Heidelberg and Frankfurt

Because it was my mom's favorite city when we lived there years ago, we chose Heidelberg by day, Frankfurt by night.

Heidelberg Castle

The Frankfurt Christmas Market was far and away the largest!

We wound our way through and around so much so that we had to run back through the stalls trying to retrace our steps to the bus before it left without us!

Last night on the ship (wiping tears, looking away)

Sunday December 23-Disembarkation

Always a sad day.  Solemnly we boarded our shuttle bus to the airport with a large Australian family and various couples and solos.  First drop off were the Aussies.  We all wave goodbye and the bus pulls away.  Picking up speed we are about to exit and by chance we see one of the children running after us at top speed, face flushed.  They sent their fastest to let us know they had grabbed someone else's suitcase by accident.  Guess who?  They wouldve gotten home to find lacy panties and sorrels.

Closing thoughts: Germany must be one of the best places in the world to spend Christmas.  I really really wish wed gotten to know our fellow passengers sooner than later-they made the last few days of the trip so very special. xo

1 comment :

  1. I loved your pictures ,but most of all your great narrative - you made the trip come back alive for me - thank you for taking the time to do this - remember you are always welcome in California and to spend time with Mr. and Mrs. California


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.