Gently Down the Rhine
Call up an image, if you would.
As the boat pushes ahead, the river laps around you, greeny-blue
and placid. Swishing past every half minute are barges sagging
with a variety of cargo. Some waving the Swiss flag and others
unfurling the red, white and blue stripes of France. Sailing gaily
by are boatloads of tourists too, festooned in cameras and binoculars.
Every half an hour the hydrofoil whooshes up to dock at a quaint
medieval town, perched on a hill top. With a toot it pulls out
again and moves upstream, passing an ancient bastioned schloss
and bountiful vineyards that curve vertically downward to the
We are cruising on Der Rhine, the river Lord Byron spoke of in
awed tones as the place "blending of all beauties". The legendary
Rhine, consecrated in the literature of its lands - in the German
epic - Nibelungenlied and often been the focus of rhetorical
tempests of nationalism.
It is this watery artery that has bound together European peoples
for centuries and ironically cast asunder communities, by acting
as a cultural and political boundary.
Taking a cruise down the Rhine from Koln to Koblenz or Mainz has
become almost a cliché for travelling in Europe. How can
one travel through Germany without sailing down the Rhine? Where
you invariably bump into a stampede of tourists, jabbering in
a multitude of tongues and poking their elbows into your ribs
as they click pictures a dozen by the minute, vulgarly sniffing
out souvenirs. So what would be a better option? Skip a Rhine
Sorry pal. You'll have to brave the tourist ambushes because a
Rhine cruise is a must on a list of top Europe sights. Floating
down one of Europe's most famous rivers is quite incomparable
to any other experience.
Unlike chugging on the Danube, say between Vienna and Budapest,
the banks of the Rhine are crammed with interesting sights - be
it a haughty castle or a quaint hamlet. The countryside is very
picturesque and there are no boring barren stretches of land because
every inch has been furrowed by vineyards. Vineyards that produce
the Rhine wines - the famous light, still and dry wines like the
Rheingau and the Pfalz.
There are a few ways to do a Rhine trip. (Click on the map on the left to get a detailed route map) It can be accomplished
through a five hour ride from Koln to Koblenz by hydrofoil. Or
an all day ride on a steamer. Though the river is easily navigable
from Basel to Rotterdam, for most a Rhine cruise must merely include
the 80 kilometre stretch of the Rhine Gorge from Mainz to Bonn.
The hydrofoil ride though expensive is the fastest, yet most adequate.
If you prefer sightseeing in a precise, business like fashion
then this is your best option . However, if there is unlimited
time at one's disposal and some extra funds, then wining and dining
and gently floating down the waterway on a steamer for eight hours
is a fine way to spend the day.
And then you must decide the starting and alighting point, and
whether you would like to travel north down the river or south
up the river. At the quayside at Koln or Koblenz - the starting
points of the standard cruise, there are several choices of boat
lines. We recommend the KD Line or the Koln-Dusseldorfer Line,
most efficient although at times not the most hospitable.
I took the 9 am hydrofoil from Koln on a chilly day in May. The
boat was a tiny affair with about 20 window seats. The ideal vantage
point was the first seat, giving a front windscreen view or alternatively
a seat outside on the back deck, in the open nippy air. Warm clothes
recommended. Also a must is a pair of binoculars.
The boat sat in the harbour under the shadow of the magnificent
Koln cathedral, on the left bank of the river and gradually filled
up with tourists, mainly Japanese. Some snored most of the way
At this point, the river 1500 feet wide. Koln, once an elite university
town dates back to 48 AD. The town gained fame and fortune for
the eau de Cologne, which was first industrially produced over
here in the 18th century. Koln's vast Gothic cathedral, referred
as the Dom is extremely impressive (Click on the first picture in the article to get a better view of the Dom). Daunting in size and the beauty
of its design. It takes nearly 20 minutes to walk around this
enchanting, twin-towered cathedral. Completed in 873 AD, it has
survived 262 air raids suffered by Koln during World War II.
I had a chance to look at the cathedral before sitting in the
boat. I would advise all headed for a Rhine cruise to begin their
trip with a small tour of this cathedral. It stands 515 feet high
and contains many valuable pieces of art and historical artefacts
worth a peek. The Dom's stained glass windows, installed in the
14th century are perhaps the most beautiful church windows in
The boat started with a roar, billowing foam in its wake as it
took off on a journey down the Rhine. We zoomed under Koln's huge
but classically beautiful Hohenzollern Bridge, that rumbled and
rattled almost melodiously with the noise of trains pulling into
the Koln Bahnhof every few minutes.
Koln was soon left behind. The huge cathedral with its memorable
Gothic arches and dark facade gradually diminished to a speck
in the distance. On the first leg of the cruise from Koln to Bonn,
the land was flat and surrounding land is a rich lignite belt.
The scenery was rather tame and consisted of various commercial
outposts that probably contribute to making this the most busiest
section of the river. It is said portions of the Rhine, north
of Koln where the Ruhr River enters the river has the highest
concentration of industrial activity in the world. Rhine sees
the busiest traffic from the north of Ruhr to the Netherlands,
where the majority of boats belong to the Dutch and the Germans.
The Swiss, French and the Belgians operate very few boats by comparison.