Disabled World

A wheelchair user's adventure on the Rhine

Updated: 2012-01-09
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Germany's glory: The Rhine is a spectacular river for a cruise


Since an operation to remove a benign tumour in my brain, my balance has been affected and I am now a wheelchair user. So I was intrigued after being invited to join the first Accessible cruise along the atmospheric Middle Rhine.

My daughter Amy and I flew out to Germany to join MS Alegria for an eight-day journey to Amsterdam. The 50-cabin vessel, which had previously been a hospital ship, is fitted with automatic doors and a lift up to the sun deck – and there are few experiences more enjoyable than being tucked under a tartan rug in the autumn sunshine as the world passes by.

As we headed along the Rhine, pretty gingerbread houses dotted the riverbank. We passed ruined castles and the fabled Lorelei rock, from where a siren is said to have lured sailors to their deaths.

At Rudesheim, one of the prettiest towns on the Rhine, Amy and I opted for a wine-tasting session with the Stertzel family at their vineyard, before visiting Siegfried's Mechanical Music Museum.

Our guide, Liam – he of the spare commentary and vast experience – knew Siegfried, who gathered together this colourful collection of phonographs, pianolas and hurdy-gurdies.

The local Rudesheimer Berg wine went down well with our fish supper on board the ship. Meals were served quite early and featured plenty of healthy options, such as salads, and fruit for dessert.

And if you need a gluten-free diet, it will be catered for. One of the things I enjoy about cruises is meeting different people – we shared our table with Sheila Webb, from Canterbury. Sheila suffers from arthritis but that did not stop her bringing her bike along and one day, when we moored at a town, she rode off to see a painting by Rubens.

Sheila was following in the footsteps of her intrepid great-great-great-aunt, Catherine Crichton, who had cruised up the Rhine on a paddle-steamer in 1829. During the journey, Catherine had complained that her rest was disturbed by the hideous snoring from a fellow traveller's 'sonorous nose'.

We also moored near the cathedral in Cologne, widely regarded to be one of the finest in Europe, and called at Dusseldorf, where the works of renowned architects Daniel Libeskind and Frank Gehry are prominent.

The only disappointing aspect of the break was the rude behaviour of a woman working for a 'passenger assistance firm' at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport before our flight back to Britain. Her mood was in stark contrast to the cheerful young man who assisted me at Gatwick – if only everyone could be like him.


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