Looking back into my childhood, my most treasured memories are those of good ole summertime Ohio River cruises aboard the majestic Island Queen. For 35-cents, this grand and stately, green and white, 5-deck side-wheeler traveled ten miles up river from downtown Cincinnati to Coney Island, the beloved amusement park that enticed us with its Lost River and Sunlite Pool.
As the Island Queen's huge paddle dipped into the river's muddy waters, and Homer Denny's calliope music rang throughout the boat, I would find myself a secluded rail on the upper deck and dream my way up a lazy river.
It was not visions of hot dogs and cotton candy that danced in my pre-pubescent head, but dreams of excitement brought about by the motion of a river...any river...a river that endlessly flows backward into time and forward into adventure…a river that is banked by pyramids or castles or virgin forests…a river that, decades later, I would explore from the luxury of an ocean liner or from the intimacy of a floating "boatel".
Come on board with me for my idyllic cruises on some of the most exciting and romantic rivers in the world.
THE AMAZON RIVER: O Rio Mar! The River Sea! The world's largest river, that fires the imagination of all who dare to dream, dominates the land and the people who come in contact with it.
BRAZILIZIANS SWIM IN THE MIGHTY MUDDY AMAZON
The muddy and mysterious Amazon is a majestic presence. To those with an insatiable spirit of adventure, it is a strange mixture of primitive and civilized. The Amazon is a kaleidoscope of mud huts and mini-highrises, dugout canoes and sleek ocean liners. There are man-eating piranhas that you don't see and immense Vitoria Regia water lilies that you do see.
|IMMENSE VITORIA REGIA WATER LILIES|
A foray into the land of tribesmen called Waura and Kuikuro, this1000-mile voyage of discovery from the mouth of the world's mightiest river to the port city of Manaus (at the confluence of the Amazon and Rio Negro), was once virtually inaccessible to the leisure traveler.
Cruising the Amazon, I was able to experience one of nature’s most spectacular sights. Encontro das Aguas…the Meeting of the Waters. This rare phenomenon is caused by the sluggish, inky black waters of the Rio Negro meeting with the fast- flowing, café-au -lait colored waters of the Amazon. The two rivers, differing in density and speed, flow side by side for nearly 40-miles before they integrate completely.
|THE MEETING OF THE WATERS (ENCONTRO DAS AGUAS)|
Traveling 1000 miles up the Amazon River, I came face to face with another world…a world that gave me a taste of a country as virgin as 16th century explorers found it, yet as modern as civilization allows it.
THE DANUBE RIVER: The beautiful Blue Danube, Europe’s second-longest river, isn’t blue at all. It is a mocha-green ribbon that entwines itself through the rolling hills, vineyards, vibrant cities, and quaint hamlets of Europe. The beautiful Blue Danube…the river of my roots…the river about which my Austrian-born mother so often spoke…the river about which Strauss wrote a waltz…offered me a week of unsurpassed relaxation and a dream come true.
|THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE ISN’T BLUE AT ALL|
Prior to boarding my river vessel in Passau, Germany, I opted for a 3-night pre-tour in Prague, the Old World capital of the Czech Republic. Laced by the scenic Vltava River, Prague is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Zlata Praha (Golden Prague) has been dubbed “the city of 100 spires”. One memorable day was spent in nearby Terezin, the town that the Nazis etched forever into the human conscience of the world.
Negotiating eleven locks on the Danube, from Passau, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, the Danube presented a 365-mile journey of great cultural and scenic diversity across the heart of Eastern Europe.
As our boat approached Budapest a breathtaking sight appeared before our eyes. The city of Budapest, gracing both sides of the Danube River, was ablaze with thousands of lights. Lights outlining the regal bridges; lights outlining the Neoclassical buildings; lights outlining the grand monuments. Budapest (pronounced Budapesht) was a veritable fairyland…a fantasy that Walt Disney might have conjured up.
|BUDAPEST GRACES BOTH SIDES OF THE DANUBE RIVER|
Here I was, one quarter of the way around the world, in an exotic, mysterious city that had been devastated in WWII and inaccessibly cloistered behind an Iron Curtain in the last half of the 20th century. Here I was, watching history being made in a city that was, once again, being rebuilt and reinvented by its proud people.
THE NILE RIVER: Whether you begin your Nile cruise in the Egyptian city of Aswan and sail to Luxor--or sail "up river" (which is actually the north-to-south direction of the river's contrarily flowing waters) from Luxor to Aswan, you'll be experiencing sights and adventures similar to those of ancient pharaohs some 4000 years ago.
However, in lieu of a royal barge powered by muscular Nubian oarsmen, you can glide along the river in a floating houseboat/hotel complete with swimming pool, bar, observation lounge and sundeck. In place of sweating fan-bearers, you'll need only to adjust the thermostat in your air-conditioned cabin.
My Nile cruise began in Aswan, site of the gargantuan dam. Prior to a morning departure, there was time to explore Aswan's colorful night market. Turbaned Egyptian men wearing caftans, smoked hubbly bubbly water pipes while black-draped peasant women packaged a dried date petal used to make a delightful drink. Early the next morning, we sailed from Aswan to Kom Ombo, the site of Egypt's unique double temple dedicated to Sobek (the crocodile-headed god) and Haroeris (the falcon- headed god).
|HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGE RIDE IN EDFU|
At Edfu, horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped us to the Edfu Temple completed in 57 B.C. and considered the best preserved temple in Egypt. Strolling the streets of Esna proved more fascinating than the temple itself. The local laundry leaves something to be desired. Ironing men used their hands, feet and saliva to aid their chore.
Continuing through the lock of the Esna Dam, I sailed toward Luxor along the world's longest river and watched more than 4,000 years of civilization from a deck chair. The Temple of Luxor; Karnak, with its Avenue of Rams; Dendera; Abydos and The Valley of the Kings, where Tutankhamon is entombed. I saw it all.
Boarding my riverboat for the last time, I realized that to visit Egypt--the gift of the Nile--without sailing the world's greatest outdoor museum, is to have made an incomplete visit to the Land of the Pharaohs.
|THE NILE RIVER IN CAIRO|
THE DUORO RIVER: a 30-minute drive from the port at Leixoes, Portugal, brought me to Oporto, Portugal's second largest city. As I drove along the Avenida dos Aliados, enroute to the Duoro River, I viewed some of the city's most impressive buildings such as the 1915 train station, the 18th century Church of Clerigos, and the austere Se Cathedral, a 12th-century Romanesque building.
|CRUISE BOAT DOCK IN OPORTO, PORTUGAL|
I then headed down to the Ribeira quarter to enjoy a boat ride on the Douro River (River of Gold). The water afforded a totally different panorama of Oporto's skyline. On the opposite bank from where I had boarded the boat, I visited Vila Nova de Gaia, home to the port trade and numerous wine lodges. Most of them were established in the 18th century; their brand-name port wines are known worldwide.
|ONE OF THE MANY WINERIES ON THE BANKS OF THE DUORO|
My Duoro river cruise culminated with a visit to W & J Graham's Port House with an "OPORTOnity" to learn the process of wine making, and a tasting of their fine Port wines.
Gliding along the world’s river gems is a memorable experience. Do it…at least once before you die!
JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer/Editor and an International Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio