Just like the Righteous Brothers said about losing that loving feeling I am losing that holiday feeling this year!
If you are like me and just cannot get that holiday feeling this year or you just want something really festive to look forward to you might want to join me next year on a holiday markets cruise. I chose one that goes through Austria and Germany but there are many wonderful options to choose from. You can see them on our site - https://www.travelwithoutstress.com/festive-season-river-cruises.html
I have always been wanting to do this cruise but have put it off because I usually end up with too many trips already planned each year. After this year I will never think it is possible to have too much travel planned! If 2020 taught us anything it is not to put off doing those things you have always wanted to do!
If you are not feeling the holiday spirit right now check out he highlights of this cruise and I have a feeling it might help:
This holiday river cruise takes you to many beautiful and historical cities of Germany and Austria. And the views along the way can’t be outdone—towns and villages decorated for the holidays and beautiful views as you cruise along the Danube and Main Rivers, and the Main Danube Canal. Your Christmastime river cruise begins in Vienna, the capital and treasure of Austria, and ends in Frankfurt, Germany. In Vienna, see the sights with a Local Guide, or opt for a culinary walk through the Christmas markets to taste some of the traditional fare. Cruise through the picturesque Wachau Valley to Melk, and visit the Benedictine Abbey, one of Europe’s most architecturally-breathtaking monasteries—sure to be truly magnificent during the holiday season. In Regensburg, one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities, see the sights with a Local Guide and savor local sausages and beer at one of Germany’s oldest restaurants, Historiche Wurstkuche (Old Sausage Kitchen). On to Nuremberg where, after your guided tour, you are free to visit the Christmas market, one of the most famous in the world. A full-day excursion to Munich shows you the Bavarian capital. The traditional Christmas market is located on the Marienplatz, with aromas of toasted almonds, roasted chestnuts, and gingerbread filling the air! Continue your Christmastime river cruise to Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the many nativity scenes exhibited throughout the town are sure to delight. In Würzburg, on the River Main, visit the ornate Bishop’s Residence—home to the largest ceiling fresco ever painted, then stroll through the Christmas markets while you sip Glühwein (hot mulled wine). Your last stop is at one of the charming small towns dotted along the river—sure to be even more appealing illuminated with Christmas lights and decorations.
Here are some links to check out that relate to this cruise and could also help you get that holiday feeling:
Paris - Day 1
Sadly our cruise ended this morning but the good news is our Avalon vacation isn't over yet. We booked a package that included 2 nights in Paris after the cruise. Since it is all one package we will have the wonderful Avalon service even while off the ship. Last night we were told when to have our luggage ready and the color tags we needed to put on our bags. After some breakfast in the dining room we boarded a shuttle to the train station while our bags were transported by car so they will take a bit longer but we won't have to lug them around so that is nice. It was a quick ride to the train station where our Avalon cruise director, Barbara, is joining us and lead us to our train and we were all seated together for the 3 hour ride to Paris. It went by pretty quick and we were met at the train station by our bus that took us to the Paris hotel that would be our home for the next 2 nights. We were very close to the Paris Opera House which is a nice central location. Our lunch and dinner are not included in this part of the package so while we were waiting for the official check in time of 3 pm we went off and found some lunch nearby. We were able to get into our room after lunch so we took a short break before going out to explore Paris on our own. We headed towards the river and walked around the outside of the Louvre and then headed up the river towards Notre Dame. We couldn't resist walking across Pont de Arts, which used to be the love locks bridge but all the locks have been removed. I think we heard there were over 13 tons of locks that removed so that was a lot of extra weight for a bridge that really seemed to be barely standing without all that. It was a great spot to enjoy sunset though. When we got to Notre Dame it was getting late and you cannot get close as it is all gated off and guarded.
Paris - Day 2
Breakfast is included with our stay so we started with that before meeting the group for our included city tour. We are a small group of just 18 which is nice. Our included tour was a bus tour around the city with a stop at the Pantheon. At first I thought it was really odd that they would include the Pantheon on a Paris tour but when we got there I realized why. We went all the way up to the roof of the Pantheon which gave us a spectacular 360 view of Paris. Definitely worth a visit! We also drove by all of the other main sights and our driver did a great job of going slow enough for us all to get the photos we wanted. Our tour ended just before lunch. Avalon also offered a Paris foodie tour that was an optional excursion. Some of our group chose to do that so they were off on that as soon as we got back to the hotel. Food is not my thing so we opted to find our own tour for the afternoon and went off to Versailles. I chose a small group tour through Project Expedition so we were picked up directly from our hotel and went in van with just 6 other people and after dropped off right at our hotel. Our driver was also our guide through Versailles and she was wonderful, even with how crowded the palace was inside. She guided us through each room and pointed out a lot of interesting things. After walking through inside we had some free time in the gardens. I would have liked more time in the gardens and I could see why our guide said you really need 2 days to see Versailles. I guess next time we will just go and explore the gardens which we also learned is free to do. This was our last night stay in the city of Paris but we our vacation still isn't over yet as we head to Disneyland Paris in the morning. How could I go all the way to Paris and not go to Disneyland!
Today is a full day in Lyon which is a pretty big city and also our last stop for the cruise. We will overnight here and disembark tomorrow morning. We chose the Active excursion which was an Urban Hike through the Traboules. The traboules are the sort of tunnel like stairways in the old city that used to be part of the old silk work that Lyon was famous for. The tunnels helped the worked and merchants get the silk products easily to the river. I am not sure I would call this a hike as it turned out to be more of a classic city walking tour than a hike but I guess all the stairs made it a little more active. Our guide was very informative and explained that the traboules are private and for awhile they were all locked so that the public couldn't use them anymore but in the 90s the city was able to convince about 10% to open back up so the public could explore. Our guide said that families will come to visit on the weekends and go on a hunt to find which gates will open. They are really just shortcuts through the city but I guess it is fun to see if you can find all the ones that will open. The other options for today were a Discovery which was to be a French Chef for the day and learn to cook a Lyon specialty. The Classic option was a foodie walking tour. There were also a couple optional excursions that had an extra fee - a wine tasting at a private vineyard or a Rooftops of Lyon excursion.
It was sad that our river cruise had come to an end but it is not the end of our vacation yet! We added 2 nights in Paris to our cruise package and after that we are headed to Disneyland Paris so stay tuned for more on our visit to France!
Our ship left Avignon at 4:45 am to make our way to Viviers. Along the way we passed through the deepest lock on the Rhone - the Bollene Lock. When you go through the locks on a river cruise your ship really fits snugly in the lock so if you were to open your balcony you really only have a couple inches between you and the wall. When you enter in low if feels like you went into a tunnel and then you slowly rise up and see sunlight again.
We arrived in Viviers after lunch. When we docked it was easy to see that Viviers is a very small and old village. There was even a Renaissance faire going on so the townspeople were dressed for the occasion which made it feel even more like we had stepped back in time. Today we chose the Active option and are "canoeing" again but just like yesterday we learned that canoeing actually means kayaking. Today's kayak was an included option so we had a few more people going but it was still a nice small group. However when we got to the river we quickly realized it was a Saturday and that definitely changes the crowd. Even though the weather was overcast and only in the low 60s the river was very crowded. We were kayaking through the Gorges de l'Ardeche. Our guide said that during the summer there is usually around 5,000 kayakers on the river each day. There were only a few hundred today and that seemed too crowded for me. I guess we got spoiled yesterday having that river all to ourselves. Our guides did a good job keeping us together and made us aware of what was coming as there were a few rough patches but it was really fun. The gorge was really impressive with lots of great walls of limestone. We all got wet but no one flipped over so it was all good. Today there were a lot of included options to choose from. There was another Active that was a hike through gorges so they saw a lot of the same things we did but from a different perspective. There was a Discovery which was underground wine tasting. There were 2 Classic which were either to the Lock Bollene or to a crocodile farm.
After dinner we were all treated to a guided walk through town to learn more about the history which was very interesting. The town of Viviers floods a lot but it sounds like the townspeople adapt. Viviers is home to the smallest cathedral in France about 1/8 the size of Notre Dame. I love getting to stop in these cute little places!
This morning we woke up and it was nice and sunny with less wind. Today we have our second Active excursion. We boarded a bus to head over to Val d'Enfer for our hike. The name comes from the unique white limestone rock formations. We learned that this location was the inspiration for Dante's inferno. The hike was so much better than the bike ride! It was a nice climb with lots of wonderful views to stop and see along the way. At the end we visited the old quarry which now hosts the Carrieres de Lumieres which was just amazing! You entered what seemed like a cave with lots of perfectly flat walls and many square columns. The show started and it was a moving collage of Van Gogh paintings set to music that were projected all over the walls, ceiling, and floors. You felt totally immersed in the experience and I just couldn't stop looking everywhere to take it all in. I could see how some people might feel a bit dizzy though. Our guide mentioned that the show changes every year so make sure to visit again next time we are in the area. I really enjoyed the Van Gogh theme since it really seemed to tie in with everything else we have been seeing in Arles. The Discovery option for today option was a painting class where you got to paint in the same spot as Van Gogh once painted. The Classic option today was a tour of Arles with a bullfighter who took them into the Roman arena and explained the games they do there with the bulls.
We arrived back at the ship for lunch and since it was so nice the ship offered a bbq lunch on the top deck which was just perfect. After lunch we headed back into Arles to do a little shopping and exploring. Arles is a very old town with lots of Roman influence. We explored the arena which looks like a mini colosseum and they still do bullfighting in there. We learned that it is not the same as the Spanish bullfighting though in that they do not kill the bull but instead it is more of a game where were are pulling the ribbons from the bull. There are plenty of shops and cute French cafes to enjoy. We did have to be back onboard before dinner time because the ship was moving onto our next stop, Avignon. On the way we did go through our first lock and it is a tight squeeze but we made it.
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