JenSop: The Singing Travel Pro!

Idealist. Dreamer. Singer. Explorer.

Cruising the River Rhine!

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Rhine River Cruise on the Avalon Felicity

During the last week of July, we took an extended family trip on the Rhine River.  My parents, sister, and I had such a great cruise two years ago on the Danube, that we decided our next one was to be on the Rhine.  Besides, we had family along the route that we were interested in visiting as well.  The four of us were joined this time by my cousin, her husband, and their friends.

After all my traveling around either on my own or with Miloš, I’m kind of not a fan of big groups, so I tended to opt out of the group tours that the ship had to offer.  Instead, I preferred to explore the towns and cities on my own – going where I wanted to go and at my own pace.  Here’s a bit of an overview and some highlights of all the great places we got to visit.

We flew into Zurich, Switzerland and had some time to explore the city.  It’s very pretty, but honestly, after my visit to Basel last year (where the cruise officially starts), I think it would have been better to have that time to explore Basel.  But we still had a lovely jet-lagged lunch at an outside cafe and marveled at how clear and blue the water was in the river.  We were then all bussed out to Basel and taken directly to our ship.

My sister and I in Zurich.

My sister and I in Zurich.

Posing by the river

Posing by the river

Zurich

Zurich

Starting that night, and every night, we had excellent dinners.  Always with a choice of soup, starter, entree, and dessert.  Of course you always get unlimited wine and beer with dinner.  My sister, Amy, and I enjoy getting dressed up, and we made a point of dressing up for dinner every night.  It’s always fun to put on a pretty dress!  (What can I say, I’m girly like that.)  Of course, you are not required to get dressed up at dinner, we just like to.

However, the first night, being a bit celebratory, ended up with too much alcohol consumption on my part.  After a certain point, I don’t remember much.  I just vaguely remember getting back to my room, and crying about how much I missed Miloš, while everyone was trying to calm me down by reminding me that I’d be seeing him in a week.    And the next day, some people told me how well I sang, as I apparently had shown off my opera skills for some people.  Anyway, my condition led me to miss all of Strasbourg, France, as I lay in my bed feeling the after-effects of the previous night.  (Hey, it happens.)

First night - Amy and I posing in the lounge

First night – Amy and I posing in the lounge

The whole Graf family!

The Graf family!

second night - what hangover? ;-)

second night dinner – what hangover? 😉

****

One of the really huge highlights for us was our visit to Heidelberg, Germany.  I was so upset that it wasn’t longer!  We only had a few hours in the afternoon, but we made it count.  You see, my dad’s cousin Richard lives there with his wife, Edith.  (Well, my dad and Richard’s  moms were first cousins, so whatever kind of cousins that then makes them.  Daddy had last seen him back in 1988 when he went over to settle my grandmother’s affairs after her passing.)  Anyway, we made plans to meet up with them, and spend our time with them while in Heidelberg.   It was truly a wonderful experience!  They were so nice!  We went out for beers and lunch and then walked around town.  The town itself is just beautiful and charming, with quaint German buildings along the cobbled streets, and the castle ruins on the hillside above, all along the Neckar River.  The day was also a great mental workout, as Richard and Edith don’t really speak English, so it was up to my dad, my cousin Dolly, and myself to be the ones communicating in German with them.

I was also happy to be in Heidelberg, as it’s the setting for the Romberg operetta, “The Student Prince,” which is the show that I’ve officially been in more than any other production in my performing career.  Seeing the castle ruins up on the hillside over the Neckar River made me think of all the wonderful music I got to sing in that show. (Ah, good memories!)  It was kind of sad to say good bye when it was time to leave and get on the bus back to the ship.  I hope I’ll get back to Heidelberg sooner than later for another visit – Richard and Edith are super nice people, and it’s good to be connected to family that lives far away.

Meeting our relatives in Heidelberg

Meeting our relatives in Heidelberg.  From left: Daddy, my cousin Dolly, myself, my mom, Edith, Amy, Richard

Me posing on the bridge with the castle ruins in the background

Me posing on the bridge with the castle ruins in the background

Time for beer......

Time for beer……

........and giant pretzel sandwiches

……..and giant pretzel sandwiches

Daddy sitting between Richard and Edith

Daddy sitting between Richard and Edith

Heidelberg

Heidelberg

Heidelberg

Heidelberg

There was also a morning in Mainz – which was nice to walk around – it has a lovely cathedral and lots of shopping in the town area – although I have to say, it wasn’t one of the highlights – at least for me.  Here are some pics from Mainz…

View of the cathedral in Mainz

View of the cathedral in Mainz

Mainz

Mainz

Mainz

Mainz

Rudesheim was also a nice stop – such a pretty little German town.  I knew from Miloš that this town had good wifi, as we often talked from this point when he was working this specific route earlier last year.  (During this particular cruise, Miloš and I were able to find several times to have some nice video chats, including when I was in Rudesheim.  I skipped the guided tour so we could chat – we were pretty damn excited about our own vacation together that was coming up the following week.)  Anyway, when I was done on the phone, I walked around Rudesheim for a bit on my own until I met up with my family not too long after.  That night, while still docked in town, Amy and I went out dancing with our new fabulous friend Gary.  I even met one of Miloš‘ old friends that he had worked with during a previous season!  My sister and I didn’t stay out too late, and after having too much to drink the very first night of the cruise, I was really keeping my alcohol intake down anyway.

Rudesheim

Rudesheim

Rudesheim

Rudesheim

Rudesheim

Rudesheim

Cheers to you too, statue guy!

Cheers to you too, my fine statue friend!

Dinner that night on the ship

Dinner that night on the ship

Drinking on the ship before we hit the club

Drinking a bit on the ship before we hit the club

The next big highlight was cruising along the segment of the Rhine with all the castles! Now, I think that the part of me that is drawn to fantasy literature, is also the same part that draws me to castles.   I used to get calendars with pictures of European castles when I was younger.  (Nowadays if I get calendars, I stick with dragons or wizards, but I digress…)  Let’s put it this way – we had four hours up on deck to watch as we sailed past castle after castle after castle.  I put on my bathing suit to work on my tan and watched the exquisite scenery go by.  It was fantastic!

Pretty castle!

Pretty castle!

Another pretty castle!

Another pretty castle!

And yet another!

And yet another!

so many castles...

so many castles…

Castle!!!!

Castle!!!!

The next day, we had the morning in Cologne.  (Again, wish it had been more time.)  I didn’t want to go out with the tour group, so Daddy and I ventured out on our own.  I had but one request – I wanted to search for the lock Miloš and I put on the love lock bridge (the Hohenzollernbrücke) back in March.  Just to see it again.  I’m the sentimental type, what can I say.  I SORT of knew where it was, and Daddy was super patient for the 20 minutes plus it took to find it.  But I found it!  🙂  I made sure to take a pic of the entire panel this time for future reference.  😉

The panel that our lock is on

The panel that our lock is on

After that, we went to the cathedral and really explored the different areas around the inside of this amazing architectural achievement.  I seriously just marvel with my mouth agape whenever I’m inside such a structure.  I honestly can’t fathom what really went in to the construction – and how they have been able to last for so many centuries.  Just wow!

intricate details on the cathedral

intricate details on the cathedral

Arches at the entry-way

Arches at the entry-way

Inside the cathedral.  The German word for cathedral is "Dom"

Inside the cathedral. The German word for cathedral is “Dom”

Exploring the inside of the cathedral

Exploring the inside of the cathedral

Exploring the inside of the cathedral

Exploring the inside of the cathedral

Outside of the cathedral

Outside of the cathedral

Windblown selfie at the Dom!

Windblown selfie at the Dom!

There is a long sailing to get from Cologne to Amsterdam, our final destination.  I was eager to see this city in the warm weather.  (Not the sub zero temps from my February visit during the Disneyland Paris audition.)

That night at dinner (after leaving Cologne) the table for eight in the dining room was already snatched up, so Amy and I were left to fend for ourselves as the rest of our group found a six top to sit at.  It ended up being a great situation!  We sat with a mother and daughter who were on the trip together, and lo and behold, made some new friends!  The daughter’s name was Anne, and she was close in age to my sister and myself.  We had a grand ol’ time chatting and drinking through dinner!

Dinner!

Dinner!

*****

The first morning in Amsterdam, we started with a canal cruise through the city.  Earlier in the year, I hadn’t noticed all the houseboats around the city (lots!), so that was an interesting aspect to take in.  There were just as many bikes out as in the winter.  (I thought there would have been more in the warm weather, but it was the same.  These people do not fear the cold weather when cycling around.)

Later that afternoon, Amy and I ventured out on our own – just wandering around the city.  We didn’t feel rushed, as we knew we had an extra night in town after the cruise finished.  (One of our biggest regrets two years ago was flying home directly at the end of the cruise.  Staying an extra night in the ending city is well worth it.)

That night, we went out into the city with our new friend Anne, as she had a friend in Amsterdam who was going to show us around.  (Our new friend Gary was also going to come along initially, but he had to back out, as he wasn’t feeling too great.)  The four of us went out for some beer, then got a personal tour of the red light district. It’s rather sad actually – many of those girls are victims of the illegal sex trafficking industry – lured here under false pretenses – told they will be given other jobs, but then forced to work in the sex trade.  Some are transgenders in the process of changing and working to be able to afford surgery. I just felt really bad for all of them.  There was such a vibe of sadness, misery, and desperation every where.

Anyway, the four of us hung out for a little while longer, then Amy and I headed back to the ship in the pouring rain, while Anne stayed out to catch up more with her friend.  By the time we got back to the ship, we were soaked to the bone.  We had to use the hairdryer on our clothes and shoes so we wouldn’t be packing sopping wet items in our suitcase.

Early the next morning, it was our time to finish packing and get off of the ship.  We weren’t rushing off to a plane at least, as we had a reservation in town at a hotel for the night.  That way we could relax a bit more in town and see a few more things before leaving.

We left our things in the lock room at the hotel and went out to explore.  All eight of us had lunch together, but then parted ways for the rest of the vacation.  The four of us continued back to our hotel to get into our room.  (Now that official check-in time had arrived.)

The next morning, my parents and sister flew back home to the USA, while I got a plane to Croatia to spend three weeks with Miloš while he took his vacation from his ship.

Here are some pics from Amsterdam!

posing by one of the canals

posing by one of the canals

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Heading out with Anne in Amsterdam

Heading out with Anne in Amsterdam

Overall, the trip was great.  We DID decide that we liked the Danube better, even though both were great cruises.  (Another blog coming soon comparing both cruises, and why we preferred the Danube.)

Let me just add for those of you taking this kind of cruise or ANY kind of cruise – PLEASE remember that those super helpful crew members on the ship are working for several months straight, seven days a week, from early morning until late at night.  (Except for their short vacations.)  They are exhausted and overworked.  Yet they are there providing you with everything you need for a great trip, day in and day out – all while being away from home and their loved ones.  Show them a little extra kindness when you can.

Let me know if you have any questions or are interested in a river cruise yourself!

Author: JenSop

One of my favorite quotes is, "If your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough." I guess I've been a dreamer all my life - I set my sights high and then I try to reach the sky. Some might call me a naive idealist, but that's just the way I am. I believe in always taking the high road, I believe in true love, and I believe in treating people the way you want to be treated. If you put good out into the world, good will come back to you! Being the dreamer that I am, I pursued singing as my primary life's calling - I've got two degrees in classical voice under my belt, and I sing just about anything under the sun. I also love a good adventure. Over the past few years, I've done quite a bit of world traveling, and have even lived abroad for stretches at a time: mostly in Vienna (Austria) and Croatia. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and I became a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations. (Seriously, I KNOW Disney - I've been going regularly since I was a little girl - and I LOVE it!) And with all my experience traveling and living in Europe, I'm becoming quite the specialist in that travel category as well. (And this year, I've started working as a Tour Director in Central Europe!) As to the other juicy details of my life - I'm originally from Pennsylvania, I'm engaged to an awesome Croatian man named Miloš who is the BEST adventure partner a girl could ask for. (He's also an expert on knowing how to make me smile.) He's truly the love of my life! I've also had all kinds of other jobs along the way, besides singer and travel pro. (Which is pretty standard for those of us who went to school for music.) I've worked part time weekends as a Disney Princess look-alike for children's parties. I've been teaching for almost 20 years, and have lots of experience in retail and customer service. Oh, and I should also probably mention that I'm a huge Lord of the Rings/Star Trek nerd! :-) Let's all go along for an adventure, shall we?

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