Avalon River Cruise Blog
Avalon Affinity - Romantic Rhine 7 Night River Cruise
Avalon River Cruise - Strasbourg, France - October 19, 2009
We awoke to a very thick fog in Strasbourg. When we looked out into the darkness, we appeared to be simply anchored in the middle of an industrial canal off the Rhine. The Avalon Affinity served a hearty breakfast each morning and we were soon adopted by a smiling Indonesian waiter named Sapar. He would greet Mr. John and Ms. Gina each morning by name with coffee as soon as we sat down. Breakfast had a great cold plate with fruit, cheese and cold cuts like prosciutto plus eggs cooked to order, a hot buffet with American breakfast, cereals, some type of regional specialty like pancakes with apple topping.
The morning tour was usually an early call like 8:15 or 8:30AM. In Strasbourg, we started with a canal cruise starting on the Rampart Canal. This was a tour of the Petite France district and the Strasbourg, Cathedral. Each day we are given headsets with a color on them and today we randomly chose blue. Standing on the dock is a lady that is shaped and dressed a little like Mary Poppins who is saying blue, blue, blue to gather her flock and test the headsets. We are standing in a cold fog and we are glad that we properly dressed in layers as the weather forecast is for this to burn off and become a nice day with a temperature of 60f. The guides are excellent and all four of them have different insights about Strasbourg (history, culture, government, economy, etc). It is understood that the local guides tip is not included and we are suggested to tip 1.5e each in the pre-cruise material so we all drop coins in the tour guides hand. I try to keep some 1 and 2e coins as I travel Europe as they are needed for guide tips, bathrooms, public transport ticket machines, etc.
Strasbourg was named a World Heritage site in 1988 and it is actually an Isle surrounded by rivers and canals. The port of Strasbourg employs about 15% of the people in the area. The towns are all set a little way away from the Rhine as it had a big flooding problem in the 1800s. Most of the houses in Strasbourg are only concrete on the bottom floor with the top two or three floors made out of wood filled in with straw, twigs and leaves (and eventually concrete) unless you were stone rich and could afford to build the whole house out of stone. We heard this term stone rich up and down the river. The timbers were soaked in cows blood and vinegar. The cows blood gave it color and the vinegar preserved the timbers. The canal was filled with live aboard barges and even a barge bar. The buildings had high roofs with windows in the ceiling. If you were "stone rich" you made your great canal front mansion out of of yellow, pink or grey sandstone. Much of the water power in the city was used for tanneries so the windows opened onto an open roof to dry skins.
The history of all these towns is similar with the reformation in the 1500s but the Catholic Church becoming dominant again in 1681. Under the German empire, they became Protestant again and then were taken over by the Prussians in 1870s when the Prussians beat the French and took back the territory. In 1918 it went back to France but in the armistance after World War One, it went back to the 3rd German Empire. Strasbourg went through three wars in 75 years and if you were born in 1870, you changed back and forth from French to German four times.
Strasbourg was picked as the headquarters for the European Union because it had changed hands so many times and the people were fully aware of the cost of War. The EU Parliament meets one week per month and they say they are Unified in Diversity. It is too foggy to see the EU Parliament from the canal so we decide to go back later by Tram.
The Cathedral is the highlight of the Strasbourg trip. It has a funny clock inside with a little man and even a skeleton at certain hours when the man rings the bell. The church was started in the 11th Century and not finished until the 13th Century. They are restoring the church in Strasbourg which is deteriorating because it was built of sandstone and the iron ore in the sandstone keeps rusting. The original stained glass survived World War 2 because the citizens pulled the glass and shipped it to a salt cave in southern France. The church was originally built under the German Empire and when the Nazis got to Strasbourg, they complimented the towns people because they had protected the originally German built church. The US troops helped to bring the stained glass back after the war and there is a plaque thanking the troops for liberating the city in the church. Many of the townspeople work and shop on the German side of the river as staple goods are 20% cheaper in Germany. Strasbourg is also a college town with a student section.
Lunch on the ship was Beef Bouguignon and Pasta Arrabiatta with a great salad bar and always and hot and cold soup each day. The lunches each day were spectacular with a great buffet fronted by the head chef Stefan. He was a Slovakian that had cooked on ships around the World. Each lunch was regional with the cuisine of the country we were in and we always enjoyed the lunch buffet each day along with Stefans smiling commentary. The ship offered optional tours to Alsace or the Black Forest plus they also had a bus arranged into the city center. We chose to take the bus back into the city center and got a tram ticket to go out by the EU Parliament. After that we took an hour walk along the canal back to our ship just enjoying the day in Strasbourg. People were bicycling and walking along the canal which was lined with interesting live aboard barges.