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Highlights along the Great Rivers

Posted on 9/17/2019 12:00:00 AM in Traveler Insights

The M/S River Adagio docked in Wertheim at the confluence of the Rhine and Main rivers, overlooked by the medieval castle and fortifications.

Last year, Graeme and Connie joined us on a special departure of The Great Rivers of Europe, which included a visit to Oktoberfest in Munich. If you’re interested in experiencing Oktoberfest on your own before or after your river cruise, ask your Travel Counselor about personalizing your experience. Below, we’ve featured just a few highlights from Graeme and Connie’s river cruise. You can read the full account on their blog, GC Journeys.

By Graeme & Connie G., 2-time travelers & 5-time Vacation Ambassadors from Manchester, NH

In September 2018 we traveled on Grand Circle Cruise Line’s Great Rivers of Europe river cruise. It offered spectacular scenery, castles, and cathedrals; a comfortable ship with 145 friendly fellow travelers and wonderful food; very knowledgeable and helpful Program Directors and local guides; and the rich history and culture of the region. One of the many highlights was a day at the real Oktoberfest in Munich.


Graeme and Connie explored the charming center of Wertheim during a walking tour.

Wertheim is proud of its glass-blowing artisans, and before arriving at today’s destination we enjoyed an on-board demonstration by a local glass-blower. Like many of the cities we visited, Wertheim has the ruins of a castle on a hill above the city, built starting in 1183 and continuously expanded until the 17th century. The Main River has flooded regularly over the centuries, and a nearby house has flood levels marked dating back to 1764 when the floodwater was about 12 feet deep. One result of the flooding is a noticeable lean on the 13th century 120-foot tall Spitzer Turm (“pointed tower”) that was once used as a jail.

On our guided walking tour, we visited the site of a synagogue which was built and torn down at least four times from the early 1300s on. It is now a memorial to 800 years of Jewish persecution. Another interesting sight was the church clock tower, which has a normal clock with two hands facing the town and another facing the castle with only an hour hand. Apparently the aristocracy had no need for accurate times.

After lunch we went in small groups to different homes around the area for a home-hosted visit with a local resident, to learn more about life in Germany. Our host lives in a refurbished 100-year old house with a barn dating to 1875, and regularly hosts visits from Grand Circle cruises. Before dinner Connie and I had time to go up the hill to check out the Wertheim Castle. We found ourselves completely alone in the ruins—a little eerie but very picturesque.

Nuremberg’s Sobering History

The Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg.

Our day in Nuremberg was more educational than scenic. Once the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Nuremberg played a significant role in the rise and fall of Hitler and the Nazis. We stopped at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds where Hitler frequently appeared on a high podium overlooking thousands of troops. We also visited Room 600 at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, site of the Nuremberg Trials. We listened to a talk by a local guide about the trials of Nazi officials and their significance.

After lunch we went to the Documentation Center, housed in the Colosseum-like but uncompleted Nazi Congress Hall. The Documentation Center chronicles in great detail the rise and fall, causes and consequences of Hitler, the Nazi party, and their atrocities. Of note is that no one thought it would ever become so evil when Hitler first started rallying his supporters by demonizing all who were different.

We were able to do a little sightseeing before lunch, around the market square in front of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). In addition to a produce and baked goods market, the square is home to the 60-foot tall Schöner Brunnen (Beautiful Fountain) built from 1385 to 1396 to resemble a church spire. Two gold rings in the fence around the fountain are said to bring good luck to those who turn them.

The Church of Our Lady was built from 1352 to 1362 and has an animated mechanical clock added in 1509, which features trumpeters and a parade of electors around the Holy Roman Emperor every day at noon. Dinner was on board ship as we continued along the RMD Canal. We had a Lock Party while moving through the highest locks (at 82 feet) this evening as we sailed toward Regensburg.


Regensburg’s 12th-century Stone Bridge was the only bridge across the Danube until the 1930s.

At the end of the RMD Canal we entered the Danube River, and after only about 20 miles on the Danube we arrived in Regensburg. The Romans first built a fort in Regensburg in 90 AD, and we saw remnants of the Roman fort Porta Praetoria, built in 179 AD. The Stone Bridge over the Danube is the oldest in Germany, built between 1135 and 1146 and used by knights crossing the Danube on the way to the crusades.

On our guided walking tour, we passed the Old Sausage Factory, which originally fed workers building the Stone Bridge and is claimed to be the oldest continually serving restaurant in the world. We also visited the 14th century Town Hall building, and St Peter’s Cathedral, built from 1275 to 1634.

After the tour we had coffee and pastries at a sidewalk café and watched the parade of people heading to a demonstration near the Evangelical Church. We then crossed the Stone Bridge and walked along the other side of the three arms of the Danube, enjoying beautiful parkland on our way back to the ship. For dinner we all went back to the Ratskeller in the Town Hall basement before checking out the floodlit St Peter’s Cathedral.


The incredibly detailed characters of the Rathaus Glockenspiel—beautiful even when not in motion.

Munich was founded in 1158 and is the capital and largest city in the state of Bavaria. Our walking tour was concentrated around the central historic district which includes the 13th-century royal palace (“the Residenz”), the Old and New Town Hall with its animated “Rathaus Glockenspiel” characters, big churches, and high-end stores.


Connie approaching the entrance to Oktoberfest.

After the walking tour we rode and walked to the 104-acre site of the Oktoberfest for the very crowded last day of the 16-day event. This year’s Oktoberfest had 7.2 million attendees and served 6.9 million liters of beer, along with 550,000 chickens and many thousands of assorted other meat dishes. We enjoyed live music and had a roast half-chicken lunch in one of the 21 smaller tents (with 360 seats). We also walked through one of the 14 large tents which seat from 2,500 to 11,000 people each, and checked out (but didn’t partake in) the scores of carnival rides.

Experience the many charming towns along the Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers—and perhaps make your own way to Munich for Oktoberfest—when you join Grand Circle Cruise Line for The Great Rivers of Europe.

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