Enjoying our breakfast onboard the Crystal Bach, we said goodbye to our cruise buddies and the dining room waiters and waitresses. After breakfast at 8:30 am, we checked to make sure that all our luggage was in the coach’s luggage compartment, then just 4 of us (another couple were on transit to Denver via Toronto) took off to the airport. For just the 4 of us, Crystal sent a rep with us, other than the driver. Then Crystal had another rep at the airport, waiting for us to lead us to the Air Canada counter. Since we had priority check-in, we went through security in 20 minutes and arrived at Aspire Lounge at 9:50 am. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:55 am, so we should have over an hour to spend in the lounge before boarding at 11 am. The lounge was very pretty.
Unfortunately, due to full capacity reached, we were denied entry though we had Lounge passes. Instead, we were offered a voucher of 12.50 Euros each to eat anywhere inside the airport, or wait for people to leave. We figured that since we only had about an hour, we’d rather eat somewhere else, so we chose to take the vouchers.
Having eaten western food for 10 days, we decided to have Ramen at Kebaya.
It was delicious and we had to pay just a few more cents to have a drink with the ramen.
On board the aircraft, we had very spacious first row seats of Premium Economy and I could stretch my legs straight, very comfortable with the inflated foot stools. The flight was on time and we got to Toronto at 2:40 pm as scheduled.
Feeling relaxed and revitalized after a wonderful cruise! Time to start planning for our Alaska cruise in July.
After lunch on the boat, we walked to Amsterdam Central Station which was only 10 minutes on foot. We did our flight check-in online which was quite easy. I was very happy with the 1-month O2 UK SIM card that I bought in Canada for CA$29 + tax = CA$32.77. The store I bought it was on the 2nd floor of the same plaza as T&T on Kennedy & HWY 7. It’s a Pay-As-You-Go card with £10 preloaded and I got 500 minutes, 5000 texts, plus 2 GB data to use in 30 days max. For my 10-day trip, I used it for almost everything and I still had data left. It received better than the boat’s satellite so I had it on all the time. It covered UK, France, Germany & the Netherlands that we went, but we bought a $10 data card to cover Switzerland as an add-on.
At the Central Station, we bought a 24-hour public transport pass from the iAmsterdam store for €7.50 each. A single-use ticket is available on the tram or bus at a cost of €3.20, so one return trip will cost €6.40. We could also get the card from a ticket machine in the Central Station.
We took Tram 2 or 11 or 12 from the Central Station to Leidseplein and the journey took about 15 minutes. On the crowded tram, I got pickpocketed and my wallet was found hanging outside my backpack like this:
Even with a Pacsafe bag, the pickpocket could undo the zipper of the backpack and undo the zipper of my coin wallet in less than 10 seconds & took the contents inside my wallet. Luckily, I just used up all the coins so there was just a folded passport photocopy that the pickpocket took but there was no money nor credit cards inside. Lucky Me!! My husband was standing right behind me and after he looked at the bus stop names on the bus screen, he saw my backpack open with my wallet that was supposed to tie to the inside by a long connector, now outside the bag. I was lucky that my real wallet was tucked at the very bottom of the backpack, with lots of things on top of it so it was saved. What a blessing!
The reason why we had to take a tram to Leidseplein was that we had to check out the starting point of our evening canal boat location, operated by Blue Boat Co. I paid CA$32 for 2 people online but on site it was advertised a lot more. if we joined the ship tour to do the evening canal cruise, it cost US$89 per person. I was so glad I did some homework before our trip and we know how to get around Amsterdam since we were there many times. We saved A LOT!
As we had to pack, we took Tram 2 back to Central Station and walked back to our boat. It’s definitely the least favourite time of the whole cruise: packing (BIG SIGH!!!) We finished packing in about 30 minutes as we only brought 1 big suitcase & 2 carry-ons. Beside, we only had to leave our bags outside our room 45 minutes before our assigned departure time of 8:30 am on disembarkation morning. No rush like the ocean cruises that we had to pack the big bags the night before disembarkation.
Our waitress, Gessica, and waiter, Stelios, were excellent and incredibly efficient in their service, knowing that we had to get out to town for our canal cruise. We finished our dinner in 45 minutes without rushing and got out to Leidseplein at around 8:15 pm. It was not even completely dark so we took some beautiful pictures of the canal.
As our tour was booked for 9:30 pm, we asked if we could be switched to the 9 pm cruise and the sales rep was kind enough to help us change. We still had around 45 minutes to spend so we went shopping nearby.
We did daytime canal cruises many times so we were very thrilled to do an evening one. It felt really different this time. This was the canal boat we were on.
We even sailed by our boat, the white Crystal Bach, with the black AmaSerena doubled-parked on the outside.
We could purchase drinks and snacks on the boat for only a few euros and the commentary in English was clear and easy to follow, wearing the headphones. After 1.5 hours, we took the tram back to Central Station and walked back to our boat, just in time to spend the last hour of the day at the Palm Court. At 11 pm, there were only 2 tables of guests there so we had a very nice chat with the bartenders and the servers before retiring to bed.
Though we have almost come to the end of our cruise, this is the most colourful page of the whole blog. I feel so cheerful and happy just by looking through all these wonderful and colourful pictures.
In Amsterdam, we had to triple park, so Crystal Bach was the one in the middle, with Belljour closest to the dock and AmaSerena arriving after breakfast on the outside.
At 9:30 am, we started our tour to Keukenhof Gardens which was a 1-hour drive from Amsterdam. We were all super excited to do the highlights of our cruise. Keukenhof was only open for 8 weeks throughout the entire year, from March 21 to May 19 in 2019.
We had only 2 hours to spend in the garden, so we had to fast track everything in order to visit all the different pavilions. My husband took a map and plotted a route so we could cover most of the gardens. We were only able to visit Oranje Nassau, Willem-Alexander, The Mill, Beatrice and Juliana/Tulpomania. We didn’t even have time to line up to order tulip bulbs. Oh well…next time!
As soon as we walked in from the main entrance, we were greeted by a sea of tulips.
Beautiful floral displays inside the Oranje Nassau
Then we walked to Willem-Alexander where we spent the longest time.
We didn’t have time to walk to the front of the windmill. Just the back will do for this time.
Garden staff dressed up in flower costumes of all kinds.
After breakfast, we boarded the coach to Bonn. As a musician, I was really looking forward to visiting Beethoven the famous composer’s birth place. It was unfortunate that his house was under renovation so we were not able to go inside. Many people did not take part in this excursion because there was not really much to see without Beethoven’s House.
After an hour’s drive, we arrived at Bonn. Sebastian was our guide and he was very good, very fluent in English. Originally we were going to look at the recital hall with some exhibitions and explanation, but the hall was only going to open at 11 am, so we had to do the Beethoven’s Walk in the area first.
Then we went to a local church where Beethoven’s baptismal font was housed. It was moved there from the old St. Remigius Church.
Next we walked to the Market Square.
Then we walked to Bonn University.
No Beethoven Walk is complete without seeing the statue of Beethoven. Here is one in front of the Post Office:
Beautiful flowers were grown around the statue.
We walked to the Bonn City Wall before going back to Beethoven’s House.
This was the recital hall inside Beethoven’s House.
After buying some souvenirs from the official Beethoven’s store, we walked around the area before having some snacks at the restaurant nearby.
Another unfortunate incident was that the pianist who was supposed to do a mini recital at the restaurant had train problems so she could not get to us on time. We were just having complimentary German sausages, apple strudel, coffee or local beer as snacks.
We left Bonn at 12:45 pm and got back to the ship for lunch at 1:30 pm. It was a pity that we did not have time to walk around the area as we had to set sail for Amsterdam at 3 pm. I went to Ana, the Crystal Society Hostess to book our next cruise. This time cruising the Netherlands and Belgian waterways in late March, so I can have more time at Keukenhof to see tulips and other blossoms.
We were tired after a lot of walking, especially a super late night in Cologne, so we did not even go to Palm Court for the Irish Pub Night with Joe & Liv. How we missed the Irish Guinness & the folk tunes!!
Docking Location in Koblenz: Peter Altmeier Ufer Docking Location in Cologne: Pier 5
Crystal Bach docked at Koblenz, with Starboard side facing the river. We had to go up to the top Vista deck to get off the boat. Being a rainy day, the ramp was a bit slippery.
This morning, we paid 49 Euros each to join the ship tour to the Medieval Eltz Castle. We left at 8:45 am and arrived at the castle 1 hour later. Then we had to take a castle shuttle from the parking lot to the castle itself. Walking from the parking lot to the castle was a 30-minute walk downhill.
Eltz Castle is a medieval castle nestled on the hills above the Moselle River between Koblenz and Trier in Germany. It is still owned by the Eltz family who lived there since the 12th century, 33 generations ago. As we were on the 1st shuttle, we had a bit more time taking pictures.
Look at the people holding the Crystal umbrellas before starting the tour. Although it was raining, the tour was mostly inside, so they collected our umbrellas at the castle entrance and we didn’t have to hold on to any umbrella while we toured.
We started the 1.5 hour guided tour with Christian. Here are some of the rooms inside the castle.
It was good that the rain stopped when we finished the tour, so we could take better pictures before we left. Yesterday and today were the 1.5 days that rained during the entire 7-night cruise. It’s not bad considering it’s spring.
On the way back, we saw the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress on the hill. That was a complimentary ship excursion offered by Crystal but we did not take it.
After a lot of walking, we were tired so after lunch we took a long 3.5 hour nap, waking up just in time for the Crystal Society Party in Palm Court at 6:30 pm. It’s a pity that we missed all the Crystal Enrichment talks. We heard from fellow cruisers that they were all very good.
After the party, there were 9 of us having dinner together at the Waterside. The service was super slow as the kitchen had to wait for all 9 dishes to be brought out at the same time. Some of the items were not even hot enough like the mushroom soup. We had to send them back to be reheated. My pork loin was so dry and practically inedible. The executive chef came out to apologize and said that he would take it off the menu completely. We spent 2.5 hours to eat dinner and we had to take our coffee to the Palm Court to attend the Spotlight Showtime presented by the soprano, Ioana Mitu and pianist Sophia. Ioana had a beautiful voice and the program was quite enjoyable.
After the show, it was only 10:30 pm, so we headed out to take some awesome night shots of Cologne and walked around the cathedral area for a little bit. We felt safe even after midnight in the area. We crossed the bridge and walked to the opposite side of the river to take the pictures. Look at all these locks on the bridge!!
During the 30 minutes we spent there, there were police patrolling the area in his car . Below is a great long exposure taken by my husband showing our boat on the river with the Cathedral in the back and the Deutzer Brucke Bridge on the side.
Back to the ship, we took more pictures of the Cologne Cathedral from the Vista Deck.
This blog is the hardest to write, as I have to spend lots of time trying to figure out the names and locations of numerous castles, churches, ruins and towns we passed by. Nonetheless, I have to give photo credits to my avid photographer husband, Brian, who captured tons of beautiful landscape along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, despite the lousy and rainy weather. Being so wet and cold, it was really unfortunate that we could not go on the top deck to enjoy the best scenery of the whole cruise on both sides of the Rhine. Crystal’s Destination Manager, Viktoria, was giving commentary all along but we were too lazy to go and join her outside. Sitting on the bed in our robes to watch the scenery pass by was the best, with the TV showing the camera on the other (Port) side of the boat, though the camera showed some delays on many occasions. Huge applause to the one who designed the room to make the bed facing the river with the panoramic window.
Another view of this lovely town of Lorchhausen and the vineyards on the hill
Cruising along, there was a castle right in the middle of the Rhine on an island, the Pfalzgrafenstein Castle. Pfalzgrafenstein Castle is a toll castle on the Pfalz Island in the Rhine river near Kaub, Germany. Our boat sailed right beside this picturesque and unique setting.
Gutenfels Castle, also known as Caub Castle, is a castle 110m above the town of Kaub in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.
Then we saw the beautiful Schönburg Castle in Oberwesel. It was first built in the 11th century, got enlarged in the 13th century and restored in the late 19th century by a German-American banker, T. J. Oakley Rhinelander from New York.
Church of Our Lady with Schönburg Castle on the hilltop in Oberwesel .
I was looking very hard to find the Loreley Statue but couldn’t see it anywhere, even with the help of the binoculars. The Loreley Rock is a 132 m high, steep slate rock on the right bank of the River Rhine in the Rhine Gorge. This historically treacherous river bend has been associated with a legend that Loreley committed suicide here and her spirit distracted sailors with a sound or siren that led to shipwrecks. The Rhine at this point is up to 82 feet deep but only 371 feet wide. The we reached St. Goarshausen and saw the Katz Castle.
Then we reached Koblenz and saw the off-white yellowish Stolzenfels Castle. It is a former medieval fortress castle turned into a palace, which was ruined in the 13th century. It was rebuilt in the 19th century in the Gothic Revival style by the Prussian Crownprince, Frederick William.
The boat arrived at Koblenz at around 7 pm. After a quick buffet dinner, we boarded the Crystal coaches to attend the Crystal Signature Event: Sonic Bliss in the Gateway to the Gorge at the Electoral Palace in Koblenz performed by the string quartet, La Finesse.
Our coach took a wrong exit and went over to the other side of the river and had to take a long way back to the performing venue. The string quartet chose a good program and it was pleasing to most people. It’s the lighting that hurt our eyes and I didn’t understand why lights were put behind the performers, instead of in front or on top of them.
Being the first group of the river cruising season attending a concert in the Electoral Palace, we had to wait for about 15 minutes before someone unlocked the gate so we could drive back to the boat. Hopefully Crystal could iron out this wrinkle in future sailings.
This was the performing venue, Electoral Palace, as seen in day time. We were not able to take a night shot there.
It was the 1st rainy day of our cruise and we were glad that we didn’t go on the cable car. Instead, we joined the ship tour to take the miniature train ride directly from the pier to the Mechanical Music Museum.
The Miniature Train dropped us off outside the Mechanical Music Museum. Unexpectedly, it became my favourite excursion of the whole cruise. What we saw was extremely interesting. I was totally impressed with such a huge collection of automated musical instruments. I got so fascinated that I bought some mini music boxes for my grandson. The museum guide did an awesome job during the 45-minute tour, explaining how various instruments worked with fantastic demonstrations of the sounds. What a great way to spend a rainy day in Rüdesheim !
When we left the museum, it started to rain so we went to Eis Cafe Engel on a side street to enjoy the special Rüdesheim coffee made with brandy. It cost us 18 Euros for 1 special coffee, 1 regular coffee and 1 slice of apple strudel.
After the snacks, we walked around the quaint little town, bought some souvenirs and followed the river bank to walk back to our river boat.
Time for lunch before sailing the Rhine River Gorge to Koblenz.
As the ship was late arriving at Mannheim, we did a mini city tour in Mannheim, stopping at the main attraction of the city, the Water Tower.
After a quick lunch on the boat, we joined Dagi for a city walking tour, passing by the Mannheim Baroque Palace, which claimed to have 1 more window than Versailles.
The palace was under renovation so we could not go in for a visit. Another unfortunate event was that out of 9 people, 5 did not bring their listening devices and 3 could not hear well even with the device, so the guide decided not to wear the microphone as mine was the only one that worked. We had to stay close to her to listen to her. Dagi did not control the time very well so we ended up being 10 minutes late to get back to our coach. Since we drove past the palace and the water tower earlier on, the walking tour was like taking a long walk to get our gingerbread cookies and the gelato.
Although there was a long line up for the ice cream, we got ours very fast because Crystal pre-ordered everything. The sampling portion was big and delicious with nut sprinkles & strawberry syrup. We also got their spoon as a souvenir.
After walking for 8.1 km with close to 12,000 steps, we did not join the “Majority Rules Game Show” after dinner. We retired early that night…praying that there would not be pouring rain in Rudesheim.
This day turned out to be my least favourite day of the whole cruise, not because of Heidelberg but because of the non-productive time in Mannheim. In order to visit Heidelberg, Crystal docked at Karlsruhe, another industrial port.
While we were doing our ship tours, the boat left Karlsruhe for Mannheim. Unfortunately due to river traffic, Crystal Bach could not dock at Mannheim at 2 pm as scheduled. We ended up circling around Mannheim, doing a mini city tour and visited the main attraction of the city, the water tower.
After a 1-hour drive, we arrived at the beautiful ruins of Heidelberg Castle. Our guide, Mike, was humourous and informative.
After the 1.5 hour guided tour in the castle, we were dropped off in the Old Town where we had 1 hour’s free time. The Heidelberg Castle nestled on the hill 80 meters (260 feet) above the city of Heidelberg offered a breath-taking view.
After a quick lunch on the ship, my husband and I took the 2:30 pm shuttle and went back to Strasbourg city centre for more exploration. Since my civil engineer husband loves taking photographs, he would not want to miss the Medieval architecture in this quaint little place.
After getting off the shuttle, we took a tram (line B or F) from the Republic Square to Petite France. It cost € 1,80 per person and we used our credit card to pay at the ticket machine at the tram stop.
It was a quick 3-stop ride and we got off to walk to the Swing Bridge.
Then we walked further in Petite France to watch the canal boat passing through a narrow lock.
After all the video-taping, we strolled leisurely in Petite France, admiring the beautiful medieval buildings.
Walking along the lovely street of Rue du Bain aux Plantes to the Cathedral Square, we were eager to try some French coffee at Christian Patisserie before attending a private organ recital in the Strasbourg Cathedral.
After the closing of the cathedral at 6 pm, we attended a 15-minute organ recital, followed by a private tour of the cathedral.
After dinner at Bistro, we attended “The Modern Strings”, a well-presented show by a virtuoso violinist, Anna-Maria Barth. It was pleasing to the general crowd with pretty good violin skills.
A very pleasant first full day of our river cruise, with beautiful nice warm weather that a jacket was not even necessary in the afternoon.