Home' CruisePassenger : Cruise Passenger 74 Contents RIVER REVIEW: CROISIEUROPE MS BEETHOVEN
We board MS Beethoven, a handsome white ship with
green railings, and are treated to a welcome cocktail
party where we meet our fellow festive cruisers.
The cruise promises to be a gastronomic one, under
Croisi’s head chef Alain Bohn, a member of the Maîtres
Cuisiniers de France, an international association
dedicated to French culinary art.
The set menu is très French, slightly top heavy with
meat and fish but not a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit.
Despite this, as a vegetarian I am well catered for, as are
special dietary requirements on board.
The beer, wine and soft drinks are on tap, as is the
entertainment, from pre-dinner quizzes to dance floor fun.
With a maximum passenger load of 180, the ship has
90 cabins spread over three decks; a handful of which
have king-size beds. The rooms are compact, with small
bathrooms, yet shipshape and bright.
Day two is the one big cruising day, and as we amble
down the Rhine, we are sandwiched between Germany’s
bottle green Black Forest – Schwarzwald – and the vast
Plaine d’Alsace on the other, ambling through vineyards
and villages to the Vosges mountains which once marked
the French-German border.
Alsace was passed back and forth several times over
the centuries between Germany and France and its dual
nature is borne out at the Marché de Noël, also known
as Christkindelsmärik in Alsatian dialect. Everything in
this region, from food to street names, is flagged in
both regional languages.
By late morning we are already in Breisach, 90
kilometres south of Strasbourg, ready for a tour of the
Christmas Market in nearby Freiburg, accompanied by
our amiable hostess.
Nestled within rolling forested folds, the bike-loving
university city is a lovely mix of parks, gothic spires,
art nouveau buildings, chic boutiques, bookstores,
and canal-side restaurants and wine bars. The
Weihnachtsmarkt (yet another word for the Christmas
market) unfolds in the historic Altstadt, around the Münster
Cathedral and surrounding streets and canalsides.
There are plenty of the emblematic lange rote (long
red) sausages on offer alongside other Christmas fare, and
crafts like hand-blown glass and wooden toys. The grilled
skinless extra-large sausages do a wonderful job of
warming up my cruise companions, while I happily stick
with the glühwein (mulled wine) and some doughy
Weckmann, Christmas men with raisin eyes and a white
clay pipe in their mouths.
Day three starts with an excursion to Colmar. The small
Alsatian city is the Upper Rhine capital, and the Christmas
market plays out against a backdrop of colourful half-
timbered colombage houses with peek-a-boo oriel
windows, and there are wafts of cinnamon, roasting
chestnuts and melting chocolate.
Adults and children grin from underneath bell-topped
hats, their mouths warmed by hot chocolate and vin chaud,
the French version of mulled wine.
The Christmas market has been part of Alsace’s
traditions since 1570. Even the smallest of its 400 villages
boasts one. The Christmas tree, or sapin de Noël, also has
its roots – literal and figurative – in the forests of Alsace.
Here again we get a taste of the region’s cross-Rhine
Stalls sell spicy festive specialties: chocolate-dipped
bretzel, spicy gingerbread, aniseed scented bread, and
prettily decorated star and moon-shaped bredele biscuits.
Others are stacked with kougelhopf, a crown-shaped
brioche macerated in dried fruits and liquor and covered
Don’t leave without trying a Männele, a little man. The
bouncy brioche in the shape of a gingerbread man are also
known as Saint-Nicholas bonhomme, says one stallholder,
named after Santa’s predecessor. During the festival on
December 6, good children are rewarded with bonhomme
and other sweets handed out by the Angel.
Our visit to the Écomusée d’Alsace deepens the gaze
into Alsatian rural and craft traditions. Founded in the
village of Ungersheim in 1984, its collection of 75 original
buildings fitted with everyday objects includes colombage
houses, farmhouses, craft studios, a school, a chapel and
even a train station.
As we head off, soft snowflakes start to fall, making
several passengers’ dreams of a white Christmas come
true. The cruise has offered a magical peek into the fairytale
Christmas of both Alsace and its German neighbours.
“Alsace’s dual nature is borne out at the Marché
de Noël, or Christkindelsmärik in Alsatian dialect.”
the salon and
Colmar by night.
Below: Männele in
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