Cycling Bamberg in Avalon’s Magnificent Europe

Toasting the end of a great river cruise after a day of cycling through Bamberg, Germany with Avalon Waterways. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Monday, September 18, 2017

The rain held off this morning on what has been an unseasonably cold September trip through Germany. This morning, Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Expression arrived at our remote docking location near the start of the Main-Danube Canal, which was completed in 1992 and links the Main (pronounced mine) with the River Danube.

While most guests are continuing on this 15-day Magnificent Europe itinerary until Budapest, Hungary, this is my last port of call before disembarking Avalon Expression tomorrow morning in Nuremberg.

Avalon Expression, on a moody morning near Bamberg, Germany. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’ve decided that one week on the rivers of Europe is hardly enough; you barely get over the jet-lag before it’s time to head back to the airport and start screwing up your body’s internal clock once again. But before I have to leave here on a jet plane, it’s time to explore Bamberg, Germany – one of the crown jewels on the River Main.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, Bamberg is famous for its spectacularly-preserved medieval town centre. Only about four percent of the town was damaged during World War II and while postwar reconstruction efforts have been amazing (particularly in nearby Nuremberg), Bamberg’s historic town center is the real deal.

Boarding our coach…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…to the start of our morning Active Discovery cycling tour of Bamberg with Avalon Waterways. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

In addition to its storybook looks, Bamberg is also where Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the leading members of the July 20, 1944 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, was married in 1933. His wife and their children returned to Bamberg in advance of the plot, which was portrayed in the 2008 movie Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise starring as Stauffenberg.

I’ve been here once before, at the height of summer 2015. On a blistering hot July day, I elbowed my way through the throngs of people that lined the bridge leading to the historic Altes Rathaus, or City Hall. I remember trying (unsuccessfully) to find a seat in a local beer hall. To top it off, it must have been a Sunday; I don’t recall making a single purchase.

Our amazingly personable guide…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…led us through hidden Bamberg. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

September in Bamberg is busy but far more subdued. You can get a decent photo of the Rathaus, and finding a pint of beer isn’t a problem. We’d end up doing that, and much more, during three hours ashore this morning.

Ships dock about 30 minutes outside the town of Bamberg, near the start of the Main-Danube Canal that was completed in 1993. At 8:30am, three coaches set out from Avalon Expression to deliver most guests on their included guided walking tour of the city. The small group I was travelling with did something more active: a 2.5-hour Active Discovery cycling tour of the city and its surroundings.

We started in a relaxing way by cycling the paths that line the rivers and canals that border Bamberg. This is absolutely essential, as six days of good food and pampering onboard Avalon Expression will turn you into a human blob if you don’t stay on top of it.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After we found our cycling legs, we pedaled for about three kilometres through the park, stopping frequently along the way to, as the Germans like to say, “Make a photo.”

Following this, we rode into the historic center of Bamberg, where we locked our bikes and walked on-foot up the hill for a look at the imposing Bamberg Cathedral, which dates to 1002. It is sometimes listed on printed maps as Bamberger Dom St. Peter und St. Georg, but you really can’t miss it thanks to its position looking down over the town like some king surveying his fiefdom.

Bamberg’s historic Rathaus is one of the city’s most iconic sights. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Handmade children’s puppets in a store window. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Bamberg was largely untouched during the Second World War. What you see here is predominantly authentic. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

But Bamberg is also famous for something else: its smoky Rauchbier, which literally translates to “smoke beer.” Smelling like a woodburning stove on a winter’s day, Bamburger Rauchbier is among the most distinctive of all German beers. It is also one of the best, with a smooth, malty flavour and more than a hint of smoke.

How best to enjoy a Rauchbier? With a traditional German Bretzel (or pretzel), of course, while sitting in a brewhall (the Brauerei Heller Bamberg on Dominikanerstrasse 6) that dates back to 1310, when it was a monastery.

In one of the oldest pubs in the city…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…thre is always time for a pint of smoky Rauchbier. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Full of beer, bretzel and life, the clock rung 12 Noon and all too soon we were forced to make our way back to the Avalon Expression, in time for lunch and our afternoon cruise down the Main-Danube Canal towards Nuremberg. There, I will disembark tomorrow at the halfway point of this 15-day journey to Budapest after a wonderful week onboard.

If there is a downside to this particular itinerary, it is the relatively short amount of time Avalon Expression spends in port; in some places, as little as three hours. Having sailed the Main-Danube Canal before, I know the number of locks needed to navigate from the Rhine to the Danube is prohibitive, and that port visits generally get longer once ships reach Regensburg, on the Danube.

Back onboard Avalon Expression, an afternoon of gorgeous scenic cruising awaits. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Still, by the time our excursions were finished, it was time to go back to the ship. Guests, then, have to make an unenviable choice: do I go shopping and browse town on my own, or do I take the included guided tours? It’s all going to depend on your personal wants and needs but sadly, the first half of this Amsterdam to Budapest itinerary doesn’t leave time to do both.

On the flip side, this cruise provided an ample amount of scenic cruising opportunities – and Avalon’s wall-to-wall panoramic windows (that are featured in over 80 percent of the accommodations onboard Avalon Expression and her sisters) add an entirely new dimension to scenic cruising along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.

Why not? Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Before coming here, I thought this whole “wall-to-wall-window creating a panoramic open-air balcony” thing was just verbose marketing-speak. While there may be no sexy way to describe it, there’s no getting around the fact that Avalon’s Panorama Suites, with their massive floor-to-ceiling French Balcony windows and ultraluxe beds that face them, really help to se the line apart.

This time tomorrow, I’ll be trapped on a metal tube flying at 35,000 feet, back to North America. For now, however, my heart is here in Europe, and in Germany – and over the last week, Avalon Waterways has done a brilliant job of making me, the tourist, feel a lot more like a local.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Expression has sadly come to a close, but stay tuned for our full Voyage Recap coming soon. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Avalon's Magnificent Europe - Amsterdam to Nuremberg

September 12, 2017Amsterdam, NetherlandsEmbark Avalon Expressionin Amsterdam
September 13Amsterdam, NetherlandsCulinary Walking tour in Amsterdam's Jordaan district; Dutch Painting Class
September 14Cologne, GermanyCologne Off the Beaten Path
September 15Rudesheim, GermanyHiking and Wine Tasting
September 16Miltenberg, GermanyHiking and local flavours excursion
September 17Wurzburg, GermanyHike to Marienberg Fortress
September 18Bamberg, GermanyCity cycling tour & Rauchbier tasting
September 19, 2017Nuremberg, GermanyDisembark Avalon Expression

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