Underhill's Christmas Cruise Trip Report

Dec 28th, 2005, 08:43 AM
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The on-board accommodations were fine. The cabin was small, as you would expect on a river ship, but comfortable, and it was immaculately maintained. Now I know the meaning of shipshape!

The Christmas cruises aren't up on the GCT site yet, but I'm sure the customer service operation could give you the information--they're very good about responding. My account is now closed; so I can't send you the URL for my itinerary, but here are some similar cruises:

Underhill is offline  
Dec 28th, 2005, 09:31 AM
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Day 4

The day began with breakfast, the usual (we were spoiled by now) sumptuous buffet of hot and cold cereals, cold meats, hot sausages and piles of bacon, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs kept warm on a bed of grains, made-to-order omelets with a choice of fillings, nine different fruit juices, big bowls of fruits (I really liked the dried fruits in orange sauce), a sea of breads that included a seasonal stollen), yogurts…and an additional daily special. Phew!

We set out on the river again in the morning, arriving before noon at the medieval town of Passau, which sits at the confluence of the Danube, Ilz, and Inn rivers. It’s a lovely small town of Roman origins, with a fine Bishop’s Residence, a 13th-century town hall, and interesting streets with beautiful old buildings. I took a taxi up to the town square to avoid the lengthy climb up more of those cobblestones that I had come to hate.

The 17th cathedral, St. Stephen’s, holds the world’s largest church organ, with 17,774 pipes and 231 stops. We were lucky to be in town for a rare mid-week concert, and even luckier that the program was all Bach. Heavenly! The only drawback was that the huge cathedral, built originally in the Gothic style but reconstructed during the 17th century in grand baroque, was freezing cold. All that stone and marble made for icy conditions, and I was sorry but thankful that the concert lasted only half an hour. Even with my heavy coat and two mufflers I felt myself slowly turning into an ice sculpture (shaded of Narnia!).

We returned to the ship for lunch—the daily routine. I hobbled down the route to the ship, very glad that I had packed my folding cane, and made it just in time for another feast. Lunches featured buffet-style cold and hot meats, lots and lots of yummy breads,soups, choices of several entreés, about a dozen salads, and a whole counter of desserts. Because the passengers were all Americans we were offered iced tea, unusual in Europe.

Then it was back up to the Christmas market, the smallest and my favorite of the trip. Many of the stalls featured local woodcrafts, and several local woodcarvers were hard at work producing a wide variety of intricate decorations and toys. I bought a small, beautiful nativity scene, thinking I would add to the collection over the next few days, but wrong--I never again saw similar items and wished I hadn’t violated my First Rule of Travel Shopping: when you see it, buy it!

That brings me to the one problem of the trip—the limitation of one suitcase, maximum 26”, because of limited storage space on the ship. I needed a pile of warm clothes and so had not much space left over for purchases to take home. I had left my normal-sized carry-on suitcase in Washington and taken with me instead a much smaller one that fits under an airplane seat. That proved to be a real mistake, even factoring in the small folding suitcase that I did bring with. I just didn’t have enough suitcase space for everything I bought, let alone everything I wanted to buy, and had to be very creative about getting my small pile of purchases back home. Next time I will wear cargo pants!!!

After dinner we all met in the lounge for the port talk, followed by a local speaker’s interesting presentation on “German Christmas Traditions.” Afterwards there was music by Hans’O, who played the keyboard, two saxophones, an oboe, three different clarinets, and panpipes—though not, I’m glad to say, at the same time. Opera buffs take note: one selection Hans played was “Va, Pensiero”—on the saxophone! It was actually pretty good--who would have thought that Verdi could swing?

Underhill is offline  
Dec 29th, 2005, 03:16 PM
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Day 5

We docked mid –morning at Regensburg, Germany’s largest medieval city; as it was not damaged during World War II it remains in fine condition and is very interesting to visit. Our group had a walking tour beginning with the 12th-century stone bridge, Germany’s oldest, and ending at the Old Town Hall. The nearby 17th-century corn market was turned into the Christmas Market, held on a large square near St. Peter’s cathedral (one of only a few Gothic churches in all Germany).

Our local guide turned out to be from Missouri; he teaches English and lives with his family just outside the town. He told us that his wife’s mother used to live between the town and the university, where her neighbors were a Catholic priest and his brother. That priest is now Pope Benedict.

I was delighted to see that the town square was paved with large tiles rather than cobblestones, a change made when the town decided to modify the design to emulate an Italian piazza (don’t ask me why!). The tiles made walking much easier, and I was able to spend considerable time exploring the old side streets and looking at the old buildings. On those streets the cobblestones had been updated with paving that incorporated sausage-like designs, and I wish I had been able to ask someone whether that was intentional….

At one side of the main square is a memorial commemorating an old Gothic synagogue beneath that was discovered during the reconstruction of the area. The architect chose to design a living memorial, with space for children to play and visitors to sit. I was very grateful.

Regensburg is a very good city for sightseeing. There are a number of museums, Germany’s oldest sausage kitchen, and the Thurn und Taxis Palace—one of the three Christmas markets is held on the grounds. The town also offers excellent shopping in addition to the Christmas market. I did a bit of browsing in the Kauhof department store but skipped the basement supermarket because I was running out of take-home space.

That morning everyone had been given 1 Euro with which to buy bread to be served on board the ship. I followed university students to a bakery near the Kauhof and bought half a huge loaf of black bread; others from the ship bought salt sticks (yum!) and cheese sticks, each about a yard long. The buffet table in the ship’s restaurant was piled high with assorted breads at lunch time, and the maître d’hôtel sliced them to order for each of us. Most of us had seconds, then thirds, fourths…the breads were all delicious. Man may not live by bread alone, but I sure could!
Underhill is offline  
Dec 29th, 2005, 03:19 PM
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Bread, cheese and wine are the 3 main food groups
FainaAgain is offline  
Dec 29th, 2005, 04:40 PM
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Hello Underhill, I finally had time to read the last segments of your trip report. How lovely!! I am so enjoying it and obviously you did..for that I am glad.

And going along with Faina's comment, bread and wine would keep me going (would have to skip the cheese unfortunatly due to a dairy allergy).

Your comment about not purchasing as much as you would like due to luggage space is something that always frustrates me when I travel. Travelling light is good but it does not work when one wants to shop.

And we will be getting a huge storm tonight and for the next few days according to the news. Stay warm!
LoveItaly is offline  
Dec 30th, 2005, 10:43 AM
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Day 6

I just realized that this should really be Day 7, as GCT didn’t count our arrival day in Vienna as part of the 7-day itinerary. Oh well.

Most of this day was spent cruising along the Danube. One of the passengers gave us a half-hour of delightful cocktail music in the lounge, and after lunch our big-teddy-bear captain answered questions about the ship, navigation, and other items of interest. Our captain was from Bratislava and spoke Czech, Hungarian, Russian (required of ships’ captains whose travels take them down to the Black Sea), Croatian, German, and Romanian—he’s working on English! So the ship’s hotel manager, an efficient young woman, translated the questions and answers for him.

After the session with the captain we visited the ship’s kitchen and talked with the chef about the equipment and cooking for a large group of people in a short period of time. Besides the chef, the kitchen staff consisted of 6 sous-chefs, a pastry-chef, and a dishwasher. After the visit we were treated to (more) cookies made by the pastry chef.

In the late afternoon we had a disembarking briefing in the lounge, with instructions for dealing with our luggage and ourselves on the day we were due to leave for the airport. Then the lounge was closed for preparations for the Captain’s Farewell Drink an hour later. Champagne was the farewell drink; the captain, his senior staff, and the four program directors formed a reception line, and we clicked glasses as we moved along. Hugs happened.

Afterwards we had our final port talk, followed by the Captain’s Farewell Dinner—yet another 7-course meal. We were served

An amuse geule that I cannot remember, with brioche (one night it was blini with caviar!)

The cold appetizer was a salad of smoked duck breast with salt sticks, roasted sunflower seeds, and a balsamic vinaigrette

The hot appetizer was fillet of sole and salmon with risotto, gamba (large prawn) in tempura and a creamy lobster ginger-curry sauce

The entremet was frozen black-currant sorbet with pineapple juice and brandy.

Next came a slice of roasted whole filet of beef with whiskey-green-pepper sauce, deep-friend chicken liver on pan-fried chicory, roasted wood mushrooms, a vegetable basket, and almond potatoes.

The vegetarian entrée was a grilled tofu skewer with tomato sauce, a baked potato with sour cream, and assorted vegetables.

For dessert came baked Alaska, paraded around the room by the chef and his staff, served with whipped cream and red fruit; raspberry sauce and hot chocolate sauce were served separately.

Each night a chicken breast—cooked in various fashions—was a dinner entrée alternative.

You see what I mean about the food! This was only one of four “special” dinners; the others included the Captain’s Welcome Dinner, the Austrian Christmas Dinner, and the German Christmas Dinner.

After dinner a panpipe player performed in the lounge. Not being in the mood for a dancing faun after all that food I retired to our cabin and read the information sheet on the coming day in Nürnberg. During the night the ship went through 3 locks, each dropping about 82 feet, taking us into the Germany-Main-Danube canal. Some passengers stayed up to watch the ship go through the first lock, scheduled about 1:00 a.m., but I passed on that. We were informed that the ship might encounter ice during the night and that passengers on the bottom deck would feel it most—I felt a few bumps, but that was, thankfully, all.
Underhill is offline  
Dec 30th, 2005, 03:42 PM
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Day 7

Our ship docked at Nürnberg early in the morning, and after breakfast we left for a bus tour of this medieval city surrounded by 13th-century walls. Although Nürnberg was severely damaged by bombing during World War II, the city has been restored mostly and is quite picturesque to its former appearance.

We began by visiting the huge arena where Adolph Hitler led his political rallies. I found the experience very creepy and wished the whole complex had been razed. Instead a “documents museum” was built onto one end of the arena’s horseshoe shape, utilizing glass and metal for the construction—elements hated by Hitler. Our local guide showed photographs of the buildings erected at Hitler’s behest and gave a brief history of Nürnberg’s use by Hitler as a model German city.

As a follow-up we drove past the Palace of Justice, which was the setting for the famous Nürnberg war-crime trials took place in 1945. Because a trial was in progress in room 600, where the trials were held, we were unable to visit it, but we did see the room from the outside.

Instead of returning to the ship for lunch my friends and I, and quite a few others, elected to stay in central Nürnberg and visit the Christmas market. It was very large and is Germany’s most famous and traditional, featuring handmade Christmas decorations, toys, ceramics (I bought a small rooster plaque for a friend), glasswork, and candles. We four stopped at a sausage stand for a sandwich and then split up.

In a small stationer’s shop off the main square I found some of the European metallic stickers I love and bought a goodly supply. Then I wandered off through the market, delighting in the scent of gingerbread and beeswax candles, and off course the glüwein. I bought a set of wooden pick-up sticks for a young friend and then fruit bread, chocolates at a corner ship, a lovely candle wrapped with gold wire at a Swiss shop across the bridge, and finally both gold and silver angels’ hair—at last! I found it at a small florist shop in an underground mall and felt triumphant.

Nürnberg’s main shopping streets are home to Vuitton, Armani, et al., and dedicated shoppers could have had a wonderful time. I was more interested in Christmas things and crossed back over one of the bridges that straddle Nürnberg’s river to wander through the small produce market on my way back to the main square.

Going back toward the Christmas market I saw an old woman sitting on the ground, begging; she looked really pathetic and cold. While I was trying to decide how to help a group of rowdy teenagers went past, laughing and shoving each other. Suddenly one of the boys turned around, went up to the woman, and offered her his unopened sandwich with a bow. Nice, that.

The weather was getting colder by the minute. I spotted a large bakery-cum-café and ordering hot chocolate and resting my weary back and feet. On the way out I bought a lovely big butter stollen for friends, as I was not planning to bake any this year. As I walked back toward the market the stollen grew heavier and heavier, as did the fruit breads, the candle,the gingerbread, and the chocolates. Finally I saw a small grocery, went in, paid the obligatory 1 Euro for a shopping cart, and dumped into it all the things I was carrying. What a relief! Then I bought a large insulated shopping bag for carrying everything and headed back to the area where we were to meet the shuttle bus to the ship.

I waited and waited. No bus. Finally I saw two women I’d met on the ship, and they showed me where I should have been waiting; the bus came soon, and off we went. But if I’d had a rolling shopping cart I would have stayed for a few more hours….

Once back at the ship I pulled out my suitcase, opened the folded-up case inside, and began packing. I couldn’t believe how many things I had bought, even though they were mostly small items, and fitting everything into my bags was a real challenge. Fortunately GCT allowed us to have more than one suitcase for our going-home trip, and I planned to check my 26” case and the little expandable one.

After dinner we went to bed early, as we had to rise shortly after 5:00 the following day to have breakfast and get ready to leave for the airport at 7:30. We were the lucky group! Another had to leave at 4:00 a.m. for an earlier flight, as the airplanes out of Nürnberg are not large and all of our tour group couldn’t fit on one plane.

Take heart--I'm nearly done!

Underhill is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 03:18 PM
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We got up early for breakfast and then left for the airport via shuttlebus, arriving in good time to go through security and board our half-hour flight to Frankfurt. I was surprised that those of us in business class were served a hearty snack, a true brotzeit (bread-snack) with fresh orange juice, yogurt, some kind of meat sandwich, and a pastry. German airlines do like to feed their passengers.

Rain was sheeting down when we landed at Frankfurt, a real problem because of our having to go down slippery stairs—no extendable gates yet again. One person slipped and nearly fell; fortunately someone grabbed her at the last minute and prevented a nasty accident. Because I had ordered a wheel chair I waited until everyone else—except for one other person—had disembarked and then was helped down a set of steps at the back of the plane. Then my fellow traveler and I had a lengthy ride around the airport in a minibus before being decanted into a large lounge for people needing wheelchair transport.

After about ten minutes a very pleasant young woman arrived to push me through the airport. Security was very thorough; everyone was being wanded. My pusher spoke excellent English—I commented on the pretty Christmas lights and other decorations, and she observed that some of them were tacky.

After a brief stay at the Lufthansa lounge I got myself down, under my own steam, to the gate where my friends were waiting. It was packed and warm and stuffy. After about half an hour we were told that we had to move out of the area with seats, line up again, and be checked back into the waiting area “for security purposes. The line was very long, and I knew I couldn’t stand for half an hour without my leg really hurting; so I asked passenger agents at the next counter whether they could call for a wheelchair again. Instead they kindly allowed me to sit in their gate area until everyone else had gone through to the original gate.

On my flight to Vienna my Dutch seatmate had commented that I wouldn’t find Lufthansa’s business class like Austrian’s, and he was so right. It was perfectly comfortable, the cabin crew were pleasant and very helpful, the food was adequate—but that’s all it was. American Airlines does a better job.

As we neared Dulles Airport I was happy to see snow on the ground. That was the last pleasure for a while, as my wheelchair pusher was clearly very new at his job, spoke limited English, wasn’t sure how to set the brakes (!), and seemed to have alienated all his colleagues. In the customs area he got into a fight with another attendant and had to be calmed down by his supervisor.

However, for once I had no interesting agricultural purchases to declare, and the customs agent just wished me a Merry Christmas and waved me through. My poor friend had to wait and wait and wait for her luggage, but finally we left the airport and took a cab to her home in northwest Washington. The route was Christmas-card-scenery most of the way, with beautiful snowscapes.


I left for California the next afternoon, after some nervousness because of a major storm’s coming in. But my flight to Chicago was delayed just 20 minutes, and I had only an hour’s layover before leaving for Sacramento. The second leg of the flight was very comfortable (an Airbus this time) and uneventful until after we landed. At that point a man in a hurry opened the bin above my and rooted for his things, and my cane fell out and bopped me on the head. No damage was done, however, aside from a bump, although the purser insisted on looking at my head to see whether it was bleeding. She told me later that one of her colleagues had asked why on earth she was picking through my hair!

Friends met me at the airport, but not my luggage. A conveyer belt had broken in Chicago, and most passengers’ luggage didn’t make our flight. Mine arrived the following afternoon.

My trip was over, but the jet lag was just beginning.
Underhill is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 04:06 PM
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Sounds like you had a terrific trip. How did you make out as far as any motion-sickness? Did you need to use any of the remedies you planned to take?
allisonm is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 05:08 PM
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Absolutely delightful! I thoroughly enjoyed every word!

When you mentioned a fold-up suitcase, do you mean just like a duffle or nylon type bag? I am also guilty of buying too many things or items too big while on trips. I usually have to send my hubby out of the room while I pack that last night. Otherwise, I get these "looks" from him.
kopp is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 05:17 PM
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I'll be looking forward to seeing pictures. We had friends who did this cruise about 18 months ago but I don't know if it was Viking or GCT. How did you choose?
hopingtotravel is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 05:38 PM
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No motion-sickness whatever, thankfully.

The fold-up suitcase was a small one, about a foot and a half by a food and about 8 inches deep. It folds up all the way and then can be opened out by using supports on the sides. It was sturdy enough to be checked through on the return trip--very handy.

I didn't actually choose GCT--it chose me, because the friend with whom I shared a cabin had already booked her trip with GCT. She's been one two other trips with them and thought the organization and everything else was great, and I have to agree with her--even though I have no other cruise to compare mine with. But if I could go back and do it all over again I'd be on the plane right now!

I'll be working with my husband on the photos tomorrow; they'll probably be up on the Snapfish site.

Underhill is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 05:42 PM
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One other thing: when I travel with my husband and we can take more luggage (I am not a light packer), we always take with a collapsing, rolling suitcase that's kind of round when opened up. When we g to France we fill the smallest section with stuff to use up along the trip and then discard. On the way back we then have a good-sized piece of luggage for all our purchases--olive oil, tapenade, jams, honey, wine, jars of pistou sauce and aioli and lovely tomato sauces...and that's just for starters. My dream is to be able to import an entire small grocery shop.
Underhill is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 06:30 PM
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Happy New Years Underhill!! I so enjoyed your trip report. I travelled right along with you..and the food sounded wonderful. I am so glad you had such a beautiful experience.

Hope you are not floating away. The second bad rainstorm seems to have calmed down here, just a gentle rain now. Haven't read anything about your city so guess everything is alright there. Take care and I sure wish you some more beautiful trips in 2006.
LoveItaly is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 06:47 PM
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Fortunately, our house sits on the highest point in Davis. So I hope all will be well...but how about the closure of I80? Wow!
Underhill is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 06:52 PM
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hi jean, curious what you discard? when then you have now that section to bring back your goodies.
I need to pack very light for my two weeks and having problems
cigalechanta is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2006, 09:53 AM
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Paper towels, useful for mopping up spills. Windex wipes to keep in our rental car. Toilet paper--it fills out the collapsing bag nicely. (Yes, yes, I know it's available in France, but I'm partial to a particular brand.) Bubble wrap and cellophane tape. Plastic baggies for trash. Gifts for our friends.
Underhill is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2006, 10:39 AM
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Hi Underhill, the flooding on I-80 was really something. Glad you are alright, I am too. But flooded streets, houses and apartments were each way from me, within 3 blocks no matter which way you went. It is amazing the street I am on did not flood, in fact I don't understand it.
Quite a mess in Vacaville. Stay warm and dry!!
LoveItaly is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2006, 10:54 AM
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You too! This is really turning into a major mess, isn't it? A neighbor tried to get through to Yountville to see a dying father and had to come back because of the I80 blockage and go over the mountains...not nice at all.
Underhill is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2006, 12:27 PM
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Oh Underhill, I hope your neighbors father in Yountville is alright. I lost my dear Godmother due to the terrible flooding in Yountville in 1986.

The noon news said the storm had moved down to south of SF..well I would like to invite them up here to our area. Feel like we should start going on Google and find instructions on how to build an ark! Hope 2006 is a good year for you with more fun trips.
LoveItaly is offline  

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