City of Lights - Paris to Prague
Land and Cruise: 1st May to 12th May
So, back here in the French capital. It is the official start to the City of Lights cruise and I am ready to meet and greet our next group of guests. I got into the city the night before the guests arrival. This gives me the usual prep time and to be fresh and ready for welcoming some tired guests from their transatlantic air odyssey.
The origin of the moniker “City of Lights”
However, before we talk about the cruise, it might be good just to clarify what the actual title “City of Lights” means.
Most people, myself included at one time, believed the moniker came from the fact that Paris dazzles at night.
It is true, Paris is ablaze with lights, all across the city, from the Eiffel tower to the boulevards and bridges. But, this is not the reason it is called as such.
Before you rush to say it came from the Age of Enlightenment, a time of scientific discovery and breakthrough, you would be partially correct.
Actually, it was Louis XIV who decided to make Paris safe back in1667. He ordered, it is said, a quadrupling of the number of policemen on patrol in the city.
Every main street in the city had lanterns placed to light the area and stop criminals hiding in the shadows. But the King did not stop there.
He made this illumination of Paris a community affair with having residents light candles and oil lamps and place them at their windows.
The crime rate dropped and the city gained the name of La Ville-Lumière (‘The City of Light’).
It was only then that the concept of enlightenment in human discovery and expression gained traction and the city became known as the City of Light (s), connecting with the Kings campaign to light up Paris.
The scent and feel of Paris
Perhaps it is the male in me, but I refer to Paris in the female gender. I see the city as being feminine, classy and beautiful.
So, what is it? “Paris est beau” or “Paris est belle”? Turns out it can be both. The city is referred in spoken French as the masculine. But it is also described as “la ville de Paris” – feminine.
Whatever the semantics and gender appropriation, I still see Paris as female.
Paris is fast becoming an old acquaintance. The city is like that friend or lover, if you’re a romantic like me, who you think you know well but she still manages to surprise you with yet another revelation of herself.
I guess that’s what makes Paris the ultimate “Je ne sais quoi”, an indefinable attractive quality that draws you in.
The night view outside the Pullman Hotel (video)
The City of Lights day arrives
I was at the Pullman hotel again, in Paris. The first greeting the guests get at the hotel is the Eiffel Tower standing as a glamorous sentinel, looming close-by.
It truly is spectacular – especially for the guests who have never been to Paris before.
I love watching their reaction as they step out the vans…just immediately disarming themselves of the carry-on luggage and standing in awe, drinking it all in.
Again, over the next day, our guests for the City of Lights itinerary, are treated to a variety of tours, with the included tour of Paris on the coach and an hour or so of walking about.
Many also opt for the afternoon optional tours of the Montmartre Hill, Palais de Versailles and a few may have taken the full day optional to Giverney.
It’s a busy day for those with stamina…doing the included tour, going for lunch afterwards and returning after to go on tour again.
Meeting the guests
The fatigued but genuine smiles I was responded with, told me that we had a nice positive group of guests joining us.
They seemed in good spirits and many decided to either leave luggage and head out for an exploratory walk or to wait in the lobby for a short while before receiving their room keys.
Paris and the City of Lights cruise is a little different to our operation from the Swiss Alps. Guests are mostly arriving in small vans, 6 or 8 at a time and not the large groups on a motor coach we received in Zurich.
This makes the day busier for me and the city host as there is no real break as the phone is ringing all the time from the airport reps to let us know to expect a van of 4, 6, 8 or 10.
The City of Lights If you have the stamina, truly consider taking the Montmatre Hill excursion.
It is a fantastic way to get a real feel for Paris by joining your guide from the hotel and traveling on the Metro as well as taking the venicular up the hill to visit the Sacre Couer (Sacred Heart) cathedral and getting time to explore the streets of cafes and art.
The history is captivating. Even though a hill in the city of Paris, this was once an independent village and prided itself on its self imposed social exile from the Parisiens.
The people of Montmatre – know as Montmartrois, delighted in their individuality and looked on the Parisians as another population that did not belong to them.
It is a delightful area to explore and I highly recommend it. Learn about the name: The “Hill of the Martyr “and learn of the legend of the Saint, St Denis.
This is truly a fabulous taste of the city and you can sense the difference of this place and that of the rest of Paris.
For many guests, a return to the hotel after the afternoon excursion is an excuse to have an early night but, many guests opt for the trifecta of tours, adding the Paris Cabaret – Paradis Latin as their evening excursion.
The City of Lights Cruise
On the road to Trier
The drive from Paris takes a little while. First you drive through the province of Champagne and eventually get to Reims for the pit stop.
I watched as the guests stepped off the coaches and stretched out after a 2.5 hour drive to this point. They seemed in good spirits and went about getting their coffees and eats.
Depending on the time, I vary the stops.Generally, for snacking and bathroom breaks I allow for 40 mins.
All the guests on my bus were on time and ready to move on. Another 2 hours or so we arrived in Luxembourg for the walking tour and some free time.
This is when some other guests took advantage of the time and had their lunch there whilst others just wanted to explore.
Leaving Luxembourg we made another stop about 20 mins later for the American War cemetery and then headed for Trier and the ship.
Once on the ship, all the guests joined me for the cruise portion briefing. This is when I can truly address them as a total group and let them know what is coming up in the City of Lights program.
The cruise section was underway. 2 days into the cruise and the guests were totally at home.
The Viking Idi crew are fabulous at their job and it is amazing to me how quickly they connect with the guests and help create the fun ambience.
The weather was still not great. The summer was having a serious battle with winter to loosen the icy grip. It started to get warmer as the week went on.
By the time we left the ship for Marksburg Castle and others for the Ehrenbreitstein fortress, it was suitably warmer. I took the groups going to Marksburg castle.
The guests always enjoy the castle. It is the most authentic castle on the Rhine and truly shows what life in a castle was like back in the Middle Ages.
That afternoon it was sailing time through the middle Rhine, watching those magnificent castles go on by.
The day is filled with fascinating history and the romantic Rhine. Our adventure continued with the next day traveling to Heidelberg. Then came Wurtzburg the following day.
Wurtzburg is an exciting place to visit. Certainly, if you enjoy a good mix of history and free time, this is a tour you will enjoy.
The included tour takes in the Bishops Palace, known as the Residenz. It is a fascinating walk through the ostentatious, almost obscene wealth of the Prince Bishops lifestyle of the time.
The architecture, grand staircase and Fresco ceiling are breath taking. The gardens are truly beautiful. However, the optional tour is Rothenburg.
Located in Middle Franconia, this is a walled medieval town that is well preserved. Not damaged in WW2, this magnificent example of Middle Ages architecture and memorabilia.
Instead of taking the included tour, guests head off in their own coaches to Rothenburg.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber translates to Red fortress above the Tauber (river). It is a sight to behold as you head up towards the sandstone walls of the town.
Prepare for some time travel.This is a great day out, enjoying the history of the town, getting in some free time and having lunch at the famous Glocke restaurant.
Guests then head back to Wurtzburg and have the opportunity to see the town but will not have time to explore it.
However, they will visit the Bishops Rezidence as well. Those who are too fatigued to take on another tour with the Residenz, have the option to return with the motor coaches back to the ship and skip the tour.
I personally recommend this day out as it is truly memorable and really interesting. To get to Rothenburg you travel what they call the “romantic way” and get to enjoy the meandering country roads along the Tauber river.
It is really special and certainly worth the extra money spent.
The show must go on
On this cruise, I had about 18 people sign up for a hike in the Wurtzburg Hills. The weather was not great in the afternoon, cold with some dark foreboding clouds starting to gather.
However, even though we had this weather, 10 guests wanted to go on the hike. The guide looked horrified. I smiled and shrugged. “They want to go, what can I say?”
And so they did. Within 30 mins of their departure, the heavens opened. My thoughts went to them and I shuddered at the idea of greeting our intrepid hikers afterwards.
However, a few hours later they returned and had a great time, smiling and damp. This is a new optional excursion and it certainly does offer another aspect of Wurtzburg.
You walk up to the pilgrimage chapel, across vineyards and the fortress on the hill (once the original Prince Bishop palace). For those seeking some activity, this is a good bet.