A very German Christmas, Part 2: River Queen

Nanci Browning in Rothenberg, Germany on aUniworld river cruise

After our visit in Nuremberg, the next day we set off for Bamberg, which is a charming town that was spared heavy bombing during World War II and has the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our guide took us on a walking tour visiting the New Residence where the 17th century prince bishops lived and the Old Court dating from the 15th century – most recently used as a film set for The Three Musketeers in 2011. 

We also visited the Cathedral and part of Bamberg’s Nativity Walk.  The Bamberg Christmas Market was small compared to Nuremberg’s, but we enjoyed seeing what they had to offer.  Although the glühwein was calling me, I had to try the local smoky beer (with the local brats, of course).  Bamberg has the highest beer consumption per person than any other German city.  They must really like their Rauchbier, which is a good dark beer with a bit of campfire aftertaste.  

Next stop for the Uniworld River Queen was Kitzingen and an excursion to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for Schneeballs, which is a delicious pastry in the shape of snowball and dipped in sugar.  Well, actually the trip wasn’t just for the Schneeballs (almost worth the trip when enjoyed with a mug of glühwein). 

Rothenburg is my favorite German town and has been since I first visited it when I was 18 years old.  It is a charming medieval town with fortress walls, half-timbered houses, fountains around every corner, turrets, and towers.  Some of the 42 towers date to the 12th century.  Christmas is a year-round affair in Rothenburg with the Käthe Wohlfahrt (all Christmas, all the time) flagship store and museum located in the heart of the city.  The Rothenburg Christmas Market did not disappoint, nor did the local brats.

Würzburg was the next port.  A highlight in Würzburg is visiting the Residence, which is an 18th century baroque masterpiece and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Würzburg was heavily bombed during World War II, but the Residence was painstakingly refurbished to the smallest detail.  There is a pictorial exhibit in the Residence showing pre-War and post-bombing images, which makes the reconstruction that much more impressive. 

The River Queen was docked close to the Old Main Bridge, and we had a walking tour of the town and were given some history behind some of the churches.  We overnighted in Würzburg, which gave us extra time to go into town at night and see how the locals were preparing for Christmas.  We were there on December 23rd, and Christmas is celebrated in Germany on the 24th.  The locals were out purchasing last-minute gifts at the Würzburg Christmas Market and enjoying a holiday evening drinking glühwein (good to know I wasn’t the only one finding warmth in a cup of cheer). 

While in Würzburg, as an included Uniworld tour, we visited the Franconian Village of Aschfeld.  In 1981 Aschfeld celebrated its 1200th anniversary, and locals marked the celebration by beginning to turn clerestories and cellars into a historical museum.   This small village is a medieval fort, which was built to protect against raids.  In its 1200+ years of existence it was never taken.  The parish church of the village has a baptismal font that dates back to 1591, and the organ is from 1846.  It’s hard to fathom the history in one small town.  We were treated to homemade Christmas goodies and carols from townspeople, and we were touched to hear some of the elderly residents recount their personal stories when the village surrendered to the Allied Forces in 1945.  This was a special way to celebrate Christmas Eve.

The next morning, Christmas Day, the River Queen was in Wertheim at the confluence of the Main and Tauber rivers.  The town was shut down other than for church services.  It was a quiet and peaceful day, and we enjoyed a walk through the small town.  The town has been flooded by the Tauber River, and markers date back to 1593 showing the flood levels.  Wertheim is known for glassblowing, and Uniworld arranged for a glassblower to come onboard for a demonstration.  A local baker came onboard for a Stollen (traditional German fruitcake) making demonstration, too.  Later in the day the River Queen set off for our final destination, Frankfurt. 

The River Queen was beautifully decorated for Christmas from a large gingerbread house in the entry to Christmas trees and décor throughout the common rooms.  In case anyone might go through glühwein-withdrawal, every afternoon we could help ourselves to a cup in the Lounge.  The River Queen is the only river cruise ship in Europe with a fireplace, and this added to the cozy feeling.  There was no shortage of Christmas cookies, and on Christmas Eve the staff led Christmas carols after dinner in the Lounge.

Without exception the staff on the River Queen was outstanding.  They bent over backwards to make all guests feel welcomed and made any accommodation they could to keep everyone comfortable and content.  Food sensitivities and preferences were noted and catered to, and the service was consistently fabulous. 

A river cruise with Uniworld means all of your gratuities, tours and beverages are included in the fare.  Unless you choose an additional excursion or order a special bottle of wine, you will have paid for everything before leaving home.  Of course, if you eat your way through Germany, you may need to buy a new wardrobe for the flight home.  Plan ahead and pack some stretchy pants, and make sure you have an extra carry-on for the glühwein mugs you’ve collected.

If you would like help finding the perfect river cruise for your next trip, please contact me for help with itineraries and choosing the right cruise line and ship.

Nancy Browning