CHAN­NEL SURF­ING

A multi-gen­er­a­tional am­ble down the Rhine River pays div­i­dends for a pair of cruis­ing new­bies.

Western Living - - TRAVEL - Amanda Ross

We chat late into the night from per­pen­dic­u­lar sin­gle beds, jos­tle for bath­room time in the morn­ing and con­fess our hopes and dreams for the fu­ture—it all sounds like the hall­marks of a clas­sic 1980s John Hughes movie. Ex­cept in lieu of Molly Ring­wald, I’m gig­gling with my 72-year-old fa­ther from a ship’s state­room, and those hopes and dreams take shape at the bot­tom of a whisky glass each night at the bar. But the bar­tender knows our name here be­cause we’re all part of the same cast. And our cin­e­matic set­ting takes place on­board a river­boat while we cruise down Ger­many’s Rhine River. Ours has the mak­ings of a dif­fer­ent kind of clas­sic.

River cruis­ing isn’t the first ac­tiv­ity that springs to mind when con­ceiv­ing of the per­fect fa­ther-daugh­ter trip. My dad, Bill, is an ul­tra-fit 72-year-old who prefers open spa­ces and long hikes. I pre­fer stores that open early and don’t have long lines. And we both value a spon­tane­ity that seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive to be­ing stuck on a 443-foot boat. In my mind, cruis­ing was the purview of the seden­tary white knee-high-sock set who long for the com­fort and im­pos­si­ble-to-place smells of tour buses. But in the past few years, river cruis­ing— the more in­ti­mate, eru­dite cousin of the ocean-go­ing be­he­moths—has ex­ploded in pop­u­lar­ity. Its ap­peal is tempt­ing—a new port ev­ery day, but not hav­ing to be one of 5,000-strong dis­em­bark­ing—so we booked pas­sage on Vik­ing Cruises (the world’s largest river cruiser) to am­ble down the Rhine. We’ll hit the Black For­est, a UNESCO World Her­itage Site, and visit some brew­eries in Cologne and, af­ter each ad­ven­ture, re­treat to the com­fort of the ship’s bar to de­com­press against the back­drop of un­lim­ited cock­tails.

With Teu­tonic ef­fi­ciency, our bags are loaded on the Vik­ing Hlin in our com­pact 205-square-foot Ve­randa State­room—re­plete with bal­cony, two twin beds and heated bath­room floors—which will serve as ground zero for the next week. Be­fore we de­camp from the Up­per Rhine in Basel, Switzer­land, it seems fit­ting to cel­e­brate with Cham­pagne, so we head to the bar for a kir royale while An­gela ( pro­nounced with a Merkel-es­que hard g), our res­i­dent bar­tender, sug­gests Bill switch out his Cardhu or­der for a more be­spoke Bal­ve­nie. Drinks in hand on the rooftop deck, we con­tem­plate our im­pend­ing jour­ney as the an­chor is pulled. This wend­ing, nav­i­ga­ble wa­ter­way’s value as a trade route is clearly ev­i­dent by all the cas­tles, cathe­drals and for­ti­fi­ca­tions dot­ting its 1,230-kilo­me­tre stretch. We’ll take it in bite-size chunks, start­ing with some Black For­est cake. Lit­er­ally.

As it turns out, the tra­di­tional way to make Ger­man Black For­est cake is to go easy on the cher­ries, heavy on the cream. And there are other les­sons learned along the way: we’re in the Brothers Grimm heart­land here. Shrouded in mist, all these tow­er­ing conifers that block out the light served as in­spi­ra­tion for the duo’s iconic fairy tales. Lit­tle won­der Hansel and Gre­tel couldn’t find their way back home.

The next day, we find our own way in the me­dieval vil­lage of Col­mar, with its “Lit­tle Venice” quar­ter, at­ten­dant gon­do­las and 13th cen­tury Gothic churches. The city over­flows with per­fect lit­tle Al­sa­tian homes and a colour­ful mix of French and Ger­man Re­nais­sance ar­chi­tec­ture. We’re happy to be free from the rest of the other 190 pas­sen­gers, so we make a break for the 9th-cen­tury cob­ble­stone streets to an out-ofthe-way café perched on the wa­ter, and for a mo­ment we sit and watch the river go by. Chas­ing our idyl­lic mid­day Gewürz­traminer with a stop at the Musée d’Un­ter­lin­den, we note its pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions as a 13th-cen­tury con­vent and, in 1906, a public bath-house (the Ger­mans’ love of nu­dity never dis­ap­points) and take a mo­ment to marvel the day. Nei­ther of us has heard much of Col­mar be­fore this trip ( by which I mean nei­ther of us had heard the name Col­mar be­fore this trip), but herein lies the joy of river cruis­ing—it brings you to these hid­den gems and, un­like the big ships, they’re not for­ever changed by the ar­rival of a scant few cu­ri­ous souls.

In stopovers in larger cities like Cologne, then Stras­bourg, then Hei­del­berg, our im­pact as cruis­ers feels non-ex­is­tent, and while or­di­nar­ily just a day would be too brief for ex­plo­ration, we find that when ex­plor­ing on our own—some­thing many river cruis­ers do—we’re able to make quick work of the charm­ingly crooked al­leys and idyl­lic street cafés and dis­cover the vibe of these his­toric towns, even if it means we don’t knock off ev­ery cathe­dral. And any­thing we miss, we hear about that night over lo­cal wine when we dine on board with our fel­low pas­sen­gers.

And be­fore you know it, Ger­many falls way to France, then France to Hol­land, and a wel­come pat­tern de­vel­ops be­fore we fin­ish in Am­s­ter­dam. In a lot of ways, river cruis­ers de­fine them­selves by what they’re not—namely, ocean cruis­ers—but by trip’s end, even our now tight-knit group of eight friends on board have de­vel­oped a re­laxed af­fec­tion for each other. And for the most part, we’ve come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds: a jock, a geek, a princess…oh wait, that was The Break­fast Club. —

Barge Right In A Vik­ing cruise ship nes­tles in nice and close to the Cologne Cathe­dral on the Rhine River, un­der­scor­ing the ac­cess the smaller river boats can get.

Up Close and Per­sonal A Vik­ing boat idles be­low Katz Cas­tle in Ger­many (above, left) be­fore dis­em­bark­ing pas­sen­gers to stroll the vil­lage of Col­mar, France (above, right).

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