Avalon Visionary: Indulgence and education

The Avalon Visionary is a 128-passenger vessel that sails on the Rhine and Moselle rivers for the Canals, Vineyards & Paris itinerary.
The Avalon Visionary is a 128-passenger vessel that sails on the Rhine and Moselle rivers for the Canals, Vineyards & Paris itinerary.
Let my fitter fellow passengers go bike riding on picturesque village paths, hit the ship's mini-gym or eschew a lunch buffet's second portions and enticing desserts.

I, on the other hand, often prefer at age 76 to watch the world go leisurely by, and there's no better way to do that than from the bed in my spacious cabin on Avalon Waterways' Canals, Vineyards & Paris itinerary on the 128-passenger Visionary, which negotiates the Rhine and Moselle rivers from Amsterdam to Remich, Luxembourg, and then beyond by rail to Paris.

My 200-square-foot cabin, one of 52 Panorama Suites on the Visionary, positioned the bed facing a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall sliding-glass window. As a result, in lieu of a wake-up call, I had what amounted to a cosseted, eye-opening balcony view of a passing vista of steep, hillside vineyards; turreted castles; and modest, half-timbered homes.

Not that this voyage, which included sightseeing and a canal cruise in Amsterdam as well as a coach trip to Luxembourg City and two overnights there, forgoes the demands of the awake, the aware and the active among its participants.

There was plenty to keep me on my toes during port calls in Germany on the Rhine and the Moselle. For example, Day One on the Visionary offered a trip to the well-known Keukenhof Gardens in the Amsterdam suburbs, and Day Two, while still docked in the city, the options included the aforementioned canal cruise as well as a visit to a diamond factory, biking around Amsterdam, a coach trip to a castle and, my choice, a culinary walking tour of the raffish Jordaan District.

That fun outing featured a visit to shops and bistros for samples of aged edam and gouda cheeses, bitterballen (crispy beef croquettes), Netherlands-brewed De Leckere beer, poffertjes (puffed pancakes), herring (downed with tulip vodka) and, for dessert, Dutch chocolate and licorice.

On the third day, we docked in Cologne, where a guided Jewish heritage walk that detailed the German city's dark history during the Holocaust concluded with a tour of the National Socialism Documentation Center, more accurately described as a preserved Gestapo prison.

An afternoon stop at Rudesheim on Day Four presented me with the forgettable opportunity to experience life in a Rhinish town as lived by rushed crowds of tourists, what with the port's proliferation of souvenir shops, "authentic" German taverns and other ephemera.

Much more to my liking was our vessel's last stop on the Rhine, which came that evening at the charming town of Engers, where passengers were treated to an exclusive Avalon Waterways excursion experience, a classical concert presented at the Schloss Engers. The castle, a majestic mid-18th century structure, is home to the Villa Musica, a foundation established to foster chamber music among talented young students.

The concert was made possible because the Avalon Visionary is 360 feet long, which gives it greater access to the relatively small prime docking locations adjacent to town centers than is available to the standard, 442-foot river cruisers. Such was the case at Engers, where Avalon recently completed a docking facility.

Our first call on the Moselle, which the vessel entered at Koblenz on the morning of the fifth day, was Cochem, a medieval town set narrowly along opposing banks of the river. I wandered about the town and literally spiced up my walkabout by buying a few crocks of mustard at Senfmuehle's mustard mill, located not more than 200 yards from where our ship was berthed.

Local wines are available for tastings at the Wine Cultural Center cellars in Bernkastel-Kues, Germany.
Local wines are available for tastings at the Wine Cultural Center cellars in Bernkastel-Kues, Germany. Photo Credit: Joe Rosen

The next morning offered a walking tour of Zell, home of the Zeller Schwarze Katz winery, where likenesses of the emblematic hometown black cat, depicted standing on a wine keg with a glass in its upraised right paw, are emblazoned on posters and billboards everywhere you look.

Next on the agenda was an afternoon wine tasting in Bernkastel-Kues, where visitors to the Wine Cultural Center cellars could sample and purchase the vintages of more than 100 regional winemakers.

Day Seven, the last of the ship-based touring opportunities, featured a morning optional excursion to Trier, an ancient Roman capital and Germany's oldest city. There the Porta Nigra, Trier's only surviving Roman gate from the time it was a walled city, and the nearby Imperial Baths were the main attractions.

Luxembourg City, a short coach ride from our final port call in Remich, was the last city on our agenda before leaving for Paris the next day.

A must-see in Luxembourg's capital was the American Cemetery and Memorial, where the graves of 5,076 American military — including one army nurse and Gen. George S. Patton — are a sobering reminder of the carnage of World War II.

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