A Christmastime Cruise Along the Rhine River - My Family Travels

     In August 2010 I received a casual call from my grandmother. Not a minute into our conversation, she invited me to accompany her to Germany and France that December for an eight-day cruise on the Rhine River to visit the Christmas markets. Needless to say, just a few months later I found myself lifting her oversized carry-on bag into an airplane bound overseas. The trip has become my most memorable vacation to date, due to not only the great experiences, but also the not-so-great struggles that a sixteen year-old girl and sixty year-old woman face when teaming up to conquer Europe.


    Our complications began before we got onto our first plane bound for Holland. Because of the heavy snow at the Amsterdam airport, our flight was delayed for two hours, which caused us to miss our next flight into Cologne, Germany. We arrived in Holland one restless sleep and two airplane meals later, only to spend the next eight hours before our rescheduled flight exploring the Amsterdam airport, eating at various food venues, shopping for Longchamp bags, riding the peoplemovers, and (unsuccessfully) trying to look European. I have not since complained about being bored in an airport.
    Our relief from finally arriving in Germany was extinguished in mere minutes when our luggage was nowhere to be found. We arrived at the hotel at midnight with a promise that our suitcases would be returned to us the following day. For that first night, I learned to love the complimentary robes in hotel rooms, and, upon receiving our luggage the next afternoon, I never appreciated clean underwear and a toothbrush so greatly.
    The worst of our troubles were behind us. We were greeted on board the Ms Swiss Sapphire, Tauck’s charming riverboat with a Christmas tree in its marble lobby, by a smiling staff and a fancy, four-course meal, the continuance of which has led food to be a frequent subject of my photographs. The kind staff treated us like royalty. They were the finest waiters and waitresses, greeted us in the hallways, and even filled our shoes with candy overnight for Saint Nicholas Day, which we excitedly discovered outside our doors in the morning.
    Our destinations spread from Germany to France over the course of eight days. Each day, after scenic traveling along the Rhine filled with snow-covered mountains, old castles, and faculty commentary on the places we passed, we docked at a town to visit the old-fashioned Christmas Markets. There, one is transported back in time, to a medieval era where artisans sell their crafts from stalls, and pedestrians roam the snowy cobblestone streets past half-timbered houses with hot drinks, feasting on potato fritters, spekulatius biscuits, printen, roasted nuts, and other traditional German fare. We visited a musical instrument museum in Rudesheim, rode the funicular up to an ancient castle in Heidelberg, entered the grand Strasbourg Cathedral in Alsace, France, and shopped past sundown. While tours and lunch outings take place as a group, guests are free to roam on their own until dinner, where everybody reconvenes on the ship.
    Our trip ended with a Christmas celebration on board the riverboat, and farewells to our fellow passengers and crew with whom we became closely knit. My grandmother and I returned home with nothing but chuckles in light of our airline, luggage, and language struggles (for although she knew a bit of German and I was a third-year French student, we still had to resort to charades), as well as new problem-solving knowledge, a broader sense of cultural awareness, new friends, full bellies, and plenty of Christmas gifts for the family.



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