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Friday, October 30, 2015

GAWA Day #44: How Goes the Tauck European River Cruise at the Midway Point?

I am now just about midway through my Tauck river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam.  If you're new to this blog site, GAWA is the acronym for my Grand Around the World Adventure.  Day #44 means I have 22 days left before I return to Honolulu.

First a quick tour through Regensburg, a city of 155,000, with nearly 30,000 students at the University of Regensburg.  The city is about a millennium old, and was spared World War II devastation because the Swiss Red Cross was headquartered here.  Unemployment is about the lowest in the country and both BMW and Audi vehicles are manufactured here.  This  is the only location for the production of  the BMW 300 series, and also the 100 (white cars below):  


I show this second photo because my blue bar pigeon followed me to Regensburg.  Mind you, it's not like there are thousands of pigeons and I pick-out one blue bar.  Almost always, there is only one pigeon, my shadow from Venice.  Below is the impressive St. Peter Cathedral in the background, and here:


We asked what do visitors buy in this town for gifts, and the answer was a BMW or sweet mustard:


Hmmm...blue flowers.


The best sausage in the world is made here, although a future stop, Wurzburg, would disagree.  They also debate about who has the oldest bridge in Europe.  Turns out that while both stone bridges in Regensburg (above) and Wurzburg are around 900 years old, the Roman Bridge in Trier (Germany) is more than 2000 years old.  Someone told me that six tiny hot dogs, maybe 2 inches long, cost around $10.  Then there would be the added cost for beer and sides  The tour guide walked us past the residence of Oskar Schindler.  Remember Schindler's List?  (Rotten Tomatoes gave the film 97%/98% ratings.)

My Thurn and Taxis Palace visit was nothing short of excruciating.  Interesting story, of course, about how the family became nobility, and, while Germany does not today recognize any king of royalty, Prince Albert and his mother Gloria still live here, and this structure is larger than Buckingham Palace.  Prince Albert, was in 1990 listed as the world's youngest billionaire, and is still single at the age of 32.  No photos allowed inside, but I mistakenly took one of what looked like a fried egg.  There is a long story to this, but it had something to do with former Queen Gloria giving an art piece to her husband.  I have the only photo of the group, and it looks sunny side up.

I learned something about crowns.  On top of this palace are crowns with four half-arches  (two of them).  It is said that kings and queens wear a crown of six half-arches and Emperors get eight.  Thus, those four half-arches because of Albert.  I was so bored by the palace tour, that this is the only fact that interested me. However, Queen Elizabeth and previous kings/queens of England wore crowns of four half arches, while the Prince of Wales Charles has one full arch.


Okay, so about the river tour itself, first, I hate long tours of castles, churches and palaces.    Maybe one per year of one of them is about all I can take.  ALL river cruises feature them, and this happens just about every day.  Worse, you can have two or three of them on the same day, back to back to back.  And you're trapped on a bus or something, so must stick around until the end.  Sure, you can skip the tour, but they are part of the one price, so it would be a waste to remain on the boat, or maybe this is large enough to be called a ship.  

Which is the best European river tour?  This is my first one, but I chose Tauck because, while I avoid guided tours, I've been generally pleased with four of Tauck's in the past.  The term that sticks for Tauck is relaxed elegance.

While most river tour companies have their own ships, Tauck charters the service from Scylla AG, a Swiss shipping company, which owns and runs everything.  Tauck only has three employees on board, Lynn, Cruise Director, and Tour Directors Kati and Elisabeth.  They have been absolutely wonderful.  Here is one rating, with the dollars/day cost from a second source.

  • #1 (5 stars--$380):  Tauck.  If you have the opportunity, get on the Swiss Emerald, for it is the best on any European river.  While many cruise lines feature free booze (even premium alcoholic brands--and from 9AM to midnight for Tauck), free tours, free internet (adequate for e-mails, but slow, very slow if you need to process photos) and no tipping (even at the end), as Tauck does, it is in the quality of service and excellence of cuisine that Tauck shines.
  • #2 (4.5 stars--$473):  Uniworld.  They supposedly lend out Nordic walking sticks, which for me would have been important because I bought a cane on my Tauck tour.
  • #3 (4 stars):  AMA Waterways--$427--formerly known as Amadeus, has a newer fleet and champagne at breakfast.
  • #4 (3 stars--$320):  Avalon Waterways, owned by Globus.  Quieter ride and is improving.
  • #5 (3 stars--$264):  Viking River Cruises, the largest of the European River Boat companies.  Said to be okay, but service and amenities are not the best.  They sell water bottles on board!  Food not memorable.  A great unsophisticated cruise for those who want to be treated like children.  (These are not my words.)
According to this review, if you do not pick one of the above, don't go.  One surprise is that cost did not determine star quality.

I also selected Tauck because, if you did not mind being placed on the bottom floor, you got by with a single rate.  All other rooms required payment for couples.  Some lines have a single supplement, but this is ghastly high, even at Tauck.  If I had to move up one floor, I would have to pay $4000 more.

Anyway, here is my room, and while the "portholes" are rectangular and large, you need to stand up to gaze through them. 


The shower is serviceable, but there is no bathtub.  This is, after all a boat on a river.  The TV system is reasonable, but limited.

Frankly, even including my excruciating walk throughs of castles, churches and palaces, I am enjoying my cruise.    I would guess that I'm the only single male living alone, while there must be at least a dozen potentially available females, most in single rooms.  Half are Tauck people training to become future tour directors.  I count 63 people on the guest list, with 49 from the USA (most are Californians), ten from Australia, two from Panama and two from Canada.  We will be passing through 68 locks.  Here is one:



Above, view from our sundeck.

For dinner I went to the Bistro for an Italian cutlet with linguini.  I was invited by two couples seated next to me to join them.  Let me call it the front row, Merry and Moe from West Bloomfield, Michigan, and back row, Nancy and Barry from Laguna Beach,California:





Tiramisu and cheese as the final course, followed later in the evening by a quartet of former Regensburg Boys' Choir members.  They were excellent, and I would have purchased one of their CDs if the cost were not 25 Euros.

Over the next ten days or so I need to be smarter about which tours to avoid.  By the way, it is 4:25PM and it is getting very dark outside.  My view today is a wall, as the ship is docked, but all I need to do is walk up to the bistro, lounge or top deck and any drink is free.   There is a lot of room and no one bothers you if you wish privacy.  However, part of the reason you go on a trip is to meet people, and everyone I've talked to here has been uber-friendly.

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Incredibly, a weather disturbance over the past day has become 155 MPH Super Tropical Cyclone Chapala off the coast of Yemen.  The expectation is further strengthening:



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