Knego continues his five-night off-season November voyage up the Rhine to Basel aboard AmaWaterway’s deluxe AMACERTO river cruise ship with visits to spectacular Strasbourg and charming Riquewihr. Click here for Part 1 of his journey.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.
Monday, November 14, 2016
At 8:00 AM, AMACERTO tied up at Kehl, a German town across the Rhine from France’s Alsace region. After breakfast, I filed off on the included “hike” excursion, an invigorating walk through Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. The Ama coach dropped us off at L’Orangerie, the largest and oldest park in Strasbourg.
It was utterly frigid as we began our march through the park, underneath a canopy of autumn leaves and storks’ nests. The once endangered birds are the symbol of Alsace, where they now enjoy protected status.
Before long, we were passing by the Palais de l’Europe, a Modernist building designed by Henri Bernard and completed in 1977. Originally used to house the European Parliament, it is where the Congress of the Council of Europe holds its meetings.
As we crossed the River III, the current European Parliament building came into view. The sweeping, glass-framed monolith conceals a giant chamber where all 751 members of the Parliament (representing 28 EU nations) meet.
After some 90 minutes of fast-paced but scenic walking, we had arrived at the 466-foot-tall Strasbourg Cathedral, which reigned as the world’s tallest building between 1647 and 1874. This remarkable example of High Gothic architecture was completed in its present form in 1439. It was built on the site of a Romanesque cathedral that replaced a Carolingian basilica that was situated atop a Roman sanctuary. Strasbourg is unique in that it has alternated between German and French rule, both of which are reflected in the old town’s architecture, culture and cuisine.
Our tour included access to the interior of the cathedral where a film was being shown. The imposing setting was a nice respite from the bitter cold outside.
We continued to the edge of old Strasbourg where the brilliant, sunny reflections in the River Ill provided a deceptive contrast to the actual temperature of the day.
On our way back to the meeting point for the return coach, we were treated to a marzipan by of one of the local confectioners, courtesy of the good people at Ama. While there, I couldn’t resist getting some caramels and nougats to sweeten the trip home.
Back aboard the AMACERTO, an Alsatian lunch was served in the dining room. Afterwards, although a shuttle service into Strasbourg continued for the rest of the afternoon, I remained on the warm ship for a work out and some down time before attending the Captain’s Farewell cocktail party in the Lounge. This would actually be an even more special occasion than usual with AmaWaterways’ founding co-owners Rudi Schreiner and Kristen Karst hosting, along with the captain, hotel director and cruise manager.
After dinner and prior to our departure at 11:45, local French musical duo Armand and Muriel performed some classic French chansons in the Lounge.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
AMACERTO spent the morning sailing upriver at a leisurely pace as I wandered about with the camera in search of any space not yet documented. With everyone at breakfast, the Library, located on the port side of the Reception on Violin Deck, was a good place to start. This cozy corner leading into the Main Lounge boasts a digital flame fireplace.
It was also a good time to capture the Spa Treatment Room adjacent to the Beauty Salon and across from the Fitness Center on aft Violin Deck.
A few steps away, I opened up the curtains in the Chef’s Table for a couple parting views. For those seeking a quiet, out of the way corner to catch up on a good read or just stare out at the ship’s wake and ponder life, this space is the AMACERTO’s best kept secret.
I also had an opportunity to document the ship’s various cabin categories, beginning at the bottom of the ship with a 160-square-foot Category D on Piano Deck. These thrifty staterooms have a comfortable seating area, two fixed windows at water level and a granite-topped desk.
Next up on the accommodation chain are the 170-square-foot French Balcony cabins on Cello and Violin Decks. With slightly more room than the Fixed Window cabins, they boast full-length sliding glass doors that open to a French balcony.
There are two grades of the double balcony staterooms: Category B, which is slightly smaller at 210-square-feet and Category A, which chimes in at a generous 235-square-feet. Both feature French and standard full balconies.
AMACERTO and her sisters also have one Category AA+ double balcony stateroom (not shown) and a trio of Suites that measure 300-square-feet. As AMACERTO was the first in the class, her suites feature expansive balconies and smaller sitting areas that were altered on the other ships to provide more room in the sitting area. The Suite’s bedroom area and bath are largely the same on all of the sisters.
I also had a chance to peek in at the ship’s wheelhouse, the top portion of which lowers into the base, that in turn can recess into the deck to clear low lying bridges.
At 10:30, just as I laid my cameras to rest, there was a complimentary Fruhschoppen or traditional German bratwurst, leberkase and beer being served in the Main Lounge.
Moments after AMACERTO tied up at Breisach, she was joined by her slightly younger sister, the downriver-bound, 2013-built AMAPRIMA. Identical in nearly all structural aspects, the AMAPRIMA boasts a brighter interior palette and soft fittings as well as her own unique furnishings and artwork, all curated by Ama’s Kristen Karst. I paid a whirlwind visit to her before disembarking both ships for the included tour to Riquewihr, a wine village some 45 minutes away in the foothills of Alsace.
Although it was thankfully not as cold as the prior day in Strasbourg, the weather was not exactly photogenic. Nonetheless, even in the grim climate, the French countryside was breathtaking and somewhat reminiscent of California’s Napa Valley.
Our guide explained that Riquewihr was one of the few authentic German-style villages to survive the Allied air raids of World War Two.
A member of The Most Beautiful Villages of France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France), Riquewihr is surrounded by medieval fortifications. Its town center dates from the 16th century and is renowned for its charm.
On our off-season visit (between peak summer season and the upcoming Christmas Market), Riquewihr was mostly shuttered. We had time to explore, shop and, if so inclined, do a wine tasting or sample some of the local cuisine at the few restaurants and wine cellars that were still open.
A steady drizzle began to fall just as we began our trek back to the coach.
Our final night aboard the AMACERTO ended with yet another fantastic multi-course dinner. I veered from the daily menu to sample the “anytime” chicken entree with a side of crispy fries. Simple but excellent.
After bidding goodbye to newfound friends, I retreated to Cabin 209 to pack as AMACERTO neared Basel, Switzerland, the disembarkation port of our cruise.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
I set the luggage outside my cabin just before breakfast and clambered off the ship at 9:00. Ama called me a cab for the relatively short journey to the French town of Mulhouse near the Basel airport. It was a quick coach ride back into Basel, where I met my charming host, Gabriele Goldbeck, who gave me a short tour of the town.
As the mist turned into a proper drizzle, we warmed up with a nice coffee in a cafe across from the 500-year-old Town Hall and then walked a few more blocks for lunch in one of the local pubs.
Gaby then escorted me up to the Kuntsmuseum before heading back to work. I spent hours marveling at the collection in its contemporary art annex, including a spectacular Pollack exhibit.
The plain concrete facade of the annex belies its stunning interior, where the staircases seem to sweep straight out of a Fritz Lang movie.
Even more marvelous was the collection of modern art next door at the original Kuntsmuseum.
I could have spent days there but sometimes it is OK to leave a few stones unturned for future visits. Basel has some 40 major museums, so here’s to returning and taking them in, bit by bit.
On my way back to the coach terminus, I veered slightly off course and crossed the Mittlere Brucke, Basel’s oldest bridge (dating from 1905), to take in the Rhine waterfront.
Before the drizzly day faded out, I took in one last view of the AMACERTO, my lovely home for the past five nights, as she embarked a new complement of lucky guests for her next Rhine adventure.