Alan - great pictures.
Moving right along, but first an observation.
A few months ago there was a discussion about river boat noises. This trip I tried to pay closer attention and discovered the following. The river boats are made of steel which easily transmits sound. Water also easily transmits sound (in some cases hundreds of miles.) We were in an Inspire Class Cat 3 cabin which, except for the tall loft windows is mostly below the waterline (same for Cat 1 cabins), so the hull in that area easily picks up noises in the water and transmits them into the cabins and other parts of the boat. While I could hear and sense changes in our speed and direction, like when we entered locks or turned 180° to point upstream into the current when we docked, most of the "noise" I heard at night was engine and propeller noise generated by passing barges. The noise was distinctive from those generated by our boat. But, if you are tired and don't normally have problems sleeping, you won't hear the barges.
Now on to Day 5, Heidelberg
12:30 am Inspires docks in Manheim (Heidelberg is 45 min. inland on the Neckar River, but the river is not deep enough for anything by smaller boats so we had to take a bus)
6 - 9:00 am - breakfast
8:45 morning briefing and depart via bus for Heidelberg
Upon arrival we had a guided visit to Heidelberg Castle which looks down on the city. This tour was much shorter than the one we did during the Romantic Germany tour. After the tour we rode a funicular down to town and had a short guided tour followed by a (very modest) group lunch (sausage, souerkraut, spätzle, cheese, crackers and a pretzel) at a family owned traditional German beer hall called Vetter's Brauhaus. Free time followed. It afforded everyone time to visit the two main, but modest markets, and see the sights. We had the choice of returning to the boat at 2, 4, or 6 pm.
Town and the Neckar River as viewed from the Castle:
The castle as viewed from town and one of the old city gates:
Day 6, Rüdesheim
6:00 - 9:00 am Breakfast
7:30 am Inspire departs Mannheims
10:30 Presentation: "Childhood memories of a German Christmas" by Heidi
12:00 - 1:30 buffet lunch
1:40 Disembarkation briefing followed by Rüdesheim briefing
2:00 Depart boat (walk or ride train tram into town)
2:15 Visit Siegfried's Musikkabinett which has a fascinating and unusual collection of antique music boxes from tiny "bird boxes" to mechanical orchestra mechanisms in large cabinets.
3:30 Walk to the Rüdesheimer Schloss hotel restaurant to watch a cookie making demonstration
We had free time to explore the 120 small market stalls in Market Square and spread along the Drosselgasse and other narrow (typically no more than 15' wide) streets, of this small, quaint town. Tickets were also provided to anyone who wanted to ride a gondola up to the Niederwald monument that commemorates the 1871 unification of Germany. The ship spent the night docked so I guess there was no curfew? Unfortunately, on the way to Köln (Cologne) it was dark when we transited through the section of the Rhine with highest concentration of castles. I suspect the daily sailing schedules can vary, due to docking and lock transit times.
Several years ago we visited Rüdesheim in the summer during tourist season. It was busy then, but this time with only one other riverboat docked, the streets were jam packed- with locals and German tourists? It is a small town but was busier than any other market town we visited, hence no photos of crowds blocking views of market stalls.
Day 7, Köln (Cologne)
7:00 - 9:00 Breakfast
9:00 am TD Andrea provides intermittent river commentary
12:00 - 1:30 Buffet lunch
2:00 Inspire arrives Köln
2:15 gather for short walking tour of the city and a visit to the Köller Dom cathedral
Afterwards return to the boat or stay in town to see one or more of the six large markets until 3:30, 4:30 or 5:30
It is a toss up whether Köln or Strasbourg had the most and largest Christmas Markets. I wish we had the time and energy to see more of Köln's markets.
I left out a number of shipboard activities that added to the enjoyment of this tour, e.g. Christmas trivia contest- our team got second, gingerbread house decorating contest (another second), and a few others.
Day 8 is normally fly-home day, but we took a DB train to Hamburg to see Miniatur Wunderland, the largest model layout in the world.
The two of us and our friend and TD Heidi.
Day 8, Fly-home day
Instead of flying home we took a DB train from Dusseldorf where the tour actually ended to Hamburg to see Miniature Wunderland. https://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/ (check out their website and the videos on YouTube) the worlds largest model railroad.
Our train was late, so we had to really hustle after arriving in Hamburg. Months earlier I had booked a behind-the scenes tour in English for 2:20. The check-in time was 2:05. We took a cab to the Westin Hotel to drop our bags then fast walked to Wunderland which was only two blocks away in the Speicherstadt (waterfront wharehouse) district. We arrived late at 2:25 but the great people there processed our (pre-purchased) admission, issued VOXes and took us to where the tour had just started. What amazing access to an incredible place. We could see much of the unseen equipment and wiring that make features like planes taking off and landing at the airport, work. After the behind the scenes tour, we had a bite to eat at their cafe then toured the entire setup which spans three entire floors of the building. When they wanted to expand but couldn't convince the neighbors, Hamburg Dungeon, to move, they got permission from the city to build a skybridge over the adjacent canal so visitors can get to new areas in a building on the opposite side (trains travel there under the bridge floor).
In addition to extreme realism they have added whimsy:
The layout's Knuffingen Airport is truly amazing. The Concorde just landed. (Occasionally you will see a Space Shuttle or the Millenium Falcon land or take off! ) The big blue KLM and the other two aircraft on the taxi-way, will taxi onto the runway in turn and "take off"!! The behind-the-scenes mechanism to make this all happen was amazing!
The display incorporates numerous places we have visited with Tauck, e.g. Neuschwanstein, Cinque Terre, San Gimignano, Colosseum, Vatican, etc.:
Alan - Miniature Wunderland is cool, the ultimate geekdom for an engineer.
So very cool, Alan! That had to have been a highlight of the trip! Happy Holidays!