Swiss Rhine & Moselle with Vantage

By: Philip A. Shart
This item appears on page 27 of the September 2018 issue.

When I signed up for "Switzerland, the Heart of the Rhine & Moselle" with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 888/514-1845, www.vantagetravel.com), the cost of the trip, including air (Miami-Basel, Amsterdam-Miami), insurance and an optional Luxembourg excursion, was $6,342. There was no single supplement, as the ms River Voyager offers four single cabins.

I left Miami on May 21, 2017, for Basel, Switzerland, a city of narrow streets, hidden squares, at least 180 fountains and many centuries-old buildings. There I boarded the ship. The trip ended on June 5 in Amsterdam, a city of bicycles, canals and the Rijksmuseum.

Shore excursions were included in the price, and there were two optional excursions. We were divided into small groups (for active and less active individuals). The groups saw the same things but at different paces. While touring, we had the use of earphones and receivers.

The ship also provided bikes at all stops and even offered bike tours.

My memory is saturated with a plethora of places that were visual treats.

In Strasbourg, there was the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, with its 19th-century astronomical "dancing" clock whose figures moved on the quarter-hour. To its left was a statue of the builder smiling at his masterpiece. During World War II, the cathedral's beautiful stained-glass windows were stored in salt mines near Heilbronn, Germany.

During our walking and on a canal boat trip in Strasbourg, we saw the contrast between the modern European Parliament building and the half-timbered houses.

In the town of Speyer, we took part in a people-to-people exchange. I attended the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hermann Kögel. Mr. Kögel is an artist who has won several awards, and their home contained many paintings and sculptures. During our kaffeeklatsch, we discussed life in Germany.

In Mainz, we visited the Gutenberg Museum's vault and saw several early Bibles. This city is also where the artist Marc Chagall created several stained-glass windows of luminous blue, with figures depicting scenes from the Old Testament. The windows now can be seen in St. Stephan's Church.

The city of Trier is outstanding. The colossal Porta Nigra (a Roman fortified gateway) is built of light sandstone blocks placed one on top of the other and joined together by clamps, without mortar.

We saw the remains of a 2nd-century amphitheater that could seat 20,000 spectators. There also were remains of a Roman bridge and baths.

In Trier's Hauptmarkt, a 16th-century fountain depicts St. Peter, who is surrounded by the cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.

I noticed that there were brass bricks in the sidewalk in front of several houses. The guide told me these homes had been owned by Jewish people and that the bricks — reminders of the horrors of the Holocaust — showed each owner's name and occupation and the dates of the person's birth and death.

We visited the Luxembourg American Cemetery & Memorial, the resting place for more than 5,000 US soldiers killed in WWII. A sobering moment occurred when our guide asked any veterans of the war to step forward, after which they formed an honor guard. A recording of "Taps" was played, and the cruise director placed a wreath in one of the chapels.

With its pointed towers and battlements, Reichsberg Cochem Castle stands on a hill overlooking Cochem. Before we toured the castle, people dressed as medieval musicians played and sang songs.

Aboard the River Voyager, the hub of activity was the Blue Note Lounge. There you could relax with a book and enjoy the views of the river through the wide windows. It was also the gathering place for lectures on the European Union, German lessons, wine tasting and cooking demonstrations.

Every evening from 6 to 6:45, newfound friends would enjoy happy hour. From 6:45 to 7, the cruise director discussed the following day's activities. Later, local entertainment took place in the lounge. Movies were shown in the Cotton Club Lounge.

All 176 passengers could be seated in one open seating in the Bourbon Street Bistro. Meticulous service and friendly, courteous waiters served both traditional and local specialties. Those wanting a lighter meal could find a buffet in the Cotton Club Lounge. Every night, there was complimentary wine, beer or soda.

The vessel had a small but adequate gym, a spa, a small library and a 24-hour coffee, tea or chocolate station. The open sun deck had a path where guests could jog (54 laps equaled one mile).

The ship's small elevator didn't go all the way to that top deck, but anyone with mobility issues could access it via a chair lift attached to a railing on the stairs.

The sun deck was where we all stood to hear about the area's history as we sailed through the Rhine Valley — land of castles, kings, regents and lore. Erna Hoek was the perfect cruise director and Anja Waters, the always-helpful concierge.

Our weather was perfect, with 16 days of sun. Temperatures were in the low 80s to low 90s.

All in all, this was a wonderful trip! I really got my money's worth.

PHILIP A. SHART
Tamarac, FL