This week, Travel Editor and river cruising novice Winston Aldworth is sailing down the Rhine on the maiden voyage of Avalon Imagery II. The brand new ship is 110m long and can carry up to 128 passengers. On this 'christening cruise', the passengers are travel-industry types and travel writers - they're joined by Judy Bailey, who's doing the christening duties. Winston will file updates throughout the cruise.
8am, Saturday - Basel, Switzerland
Overnight, we sailed across the Swiss border. We say our farewells and head for the airport. It's been a cracking week. I've done a few ocean cruises and the thing that's different - and great - about river cruising is the business of getting off the boat and exploring the countryside.
10am, Friday - Colmar
It's Easter market time in the gorgeous city of Colmar, in the Alsace region of France. In these parts, the river marks the border, so hopping off the ship we step into Germany, before crossing over a bridge and emerging in France.
The town itself and the region around it has swapped between the two countries over the years depending on the vagaries of dictators and peace settlements.
We wander around Colmar, gawping at beautiful old buildings and scoffing decadent pastries. The sausage rolls are next level and the pain au choclat is heartbreakingly good.
2pm, Friday - Breisach am Rhein
Again, the passengers split into two groups for afternoon tours, with a handful scooting away to do their own thing. One group heads off for a wine tasting; the other goes for a more wholesome bike ride. Unable to face another drop of Riesling, I opt for the bike.
10pm, Friday - The Rhine
As we're tucking into our final dinner on board, the ship is still making its way through a series of impressive locks. Some of us still find this pretty exciting so we race upstairs for each lock.
2.30pm (local time), Thursday - Strasbourg
We're in France! Passengers are leaving the ship and taking a coach to Strasbourg, giving us the chance to explore the most German of French cities before the ship catches up tonight. A bunch of us are making plans to find a bistro for dinner.
Midday (local time), Thursday - the Rhine
Captain Nico van den Boom takes the ship through a massive lock. We are raised 16m to meet the higher level of the rest of the river. It's a remarkable piece of engineering. Watch the video above to see.
11.30am (local time), Thursday- the Rhine
The rematch of Trivial Pursuits was played in better spirits. We lost.
10am (local time), Thursday- the Rhine
Avalon Waterways boss Patrick Clark tells us where he thinks the future of river cruising is going.
1am (local time), Thursday - The Rhine
A bloody and ruthless game of Trivial Pursuits was concluded before bedtime. Happy to report, my team won.
6pm (local time), Wednesday, the Rhine
Avalon Waterways New Zealand manager Troy Ackerman talks about what it is that attracts Kiwi travellers to river cruising.
4pm (local time), Wednesday - Ruedesheim
Later in town, I found that rarest of things: A hat big enough to fit my massive skull. It's felt, brown and wide brimmed. For $40, it seemed a bargain.
Happy with my purchase, I settled in for a stein with the local tourism guy. I put it to him: "This is a very German-style of hat, yes?"
"Looks more Australian to me," he replied.
For a famously humourless nation, the Germans have a knack for nailing great one-liners.
2pm (local time) Wednesday - Ruedesheim
After a couple of hours of watching stunning castles go by in the famed Rhine Gorge, we pull up at the bustling little riverside town of Ruedesheim. In answer to Francis' earlier question about feeling the motion of the vessel - yes, once we're underway, I definitely felt a slight sense of the ship's movement on the water, but nothing at all like you get on an ocean cruise.
From the boat, we cycled for about an hour to the Niederwalddenkmal statue, which celebrated the unification of Germany in the 1880s. Huge statue, amazing views. Vineyards surrounding us and the Rhine down below.
If I wasn't so knackered from the bike ride, I might have remembered some of this from my seventh-form history lessons. Regardless of their political tendencies, I'll say this for the continental Europeans: They do good statues.
Midday (local time), Wednesday - The Rhine
Thanks for all your feedback. Send any comments or queries to email@example.com. My father-in-law has been watching the video updates and emails to say: "Didn't know you owned a tie." I'm a man of mystery, Hamish.
10am, Wednesday (local time) - The Rhine
We've been seeing a lot more cruise ships on the water, too. Mostly about the same size as our own (around 110m). Some of us have been debating whether not to wave to other craft. It's a dilemma I also feel when fishing on the Waitemata - does waving mark you out as a newbie?
On a visit to the wheelhouse today, we got to see how busy the job of steering the thing is. With so much traffic using what's actually a relatively narrow bit of water, running these ships is an intense job. Atilla Ladaymyi, from Hungary, is the Second Captain (apparently, they don't do "first mate" on a river ship). He tells me the ship's top speed on still water would be about 24kp/h. We're mostly rolling along at an easy-going 8kp/h.
8am, Wednesday (local time) - The Rhine
Day three of the cruise starts with us sailing through a stretch of the river famed for it's stunning run of castles and fortresses. The river banks are covered in trees, centuries-old villages, amazing castles, and vineyards.
It can't have been much fun living around here in medieval times. The winter's were harsh and every few years someone would invade - hence the castles and fortresses. Still - a few centuries later, those tough times have given us some stunning scenery! So thanks very much, medieval hordes!
5pm, Tuesday (local time) - Engers
Judy Bailey does the honours at a christening ceremony for the Avalon Imagery II. She smashes a bottle of bubbly on the hull and becomes the first Kiwi to fill the role of "Godmother of the Ship" on a European river cruise vessel. Well played, Judy! My travel buddy Andrew Potter got a cracking video of the bottle-smash moment.
Midday, Tuesday (local time) - Koblenz
Travel buddy Andrew Potter and I have been working hard to find the best coffee around the Rhine and, sadly, on our wanderings in Koblenz we found no prize candidates. But we did find a statue of a massive thumb (see photo).
The coolest thing in the town was a plinth for a statue to celebrate Napoleon's victory in Russia. They erected the plinth before the war, planning to add the statue later - big mistake. Today, the empty plinth is a stark and beautiful reminder of the dangers of presumption.
10am, Tuesday (local time) - Castle Marksburg
I love a good castle, and Marksburg is a belter. Built in 1117, it's a classic medieval fixer-up. The main toilet is located directly alongside the dining room - all the better to chat to your dinner guests while passing a motion - and the collection of torture equipment is second only to sitting through a Blues Super Rugby title campaign.
For fans of really uncomfortable garments, there was a chastity belt on display and I tried on a medieval-style helmet.
And, in case you ever wondered, no you can't hear your mobile phone when you're wearing a knight's helmet.
6pm, Monday (local time), Wiesbaden
After a safety briefing, we're underway! Pretty soon, we're surrounded by stunning twilight vistas - the dim light fading along sloping vineyards steeped high above the river.
As we pass by the town of Assmanhausen, I nod in silent tribute to the German sense of humour in naming small hamlets.
4pm, Monday (local time), Wiesbaden
The Rhine is a busy, working waterway and, while I haven't noticed any other cruise ships, there's been plenty of freight chugging along. It's about 200m across, but because of that width it's very shallow, the deepest part being about 3m down at the moment.
Midday, Monday (local time), Wiesbaden
My highlight from yesterday was the visit to the Gutenberg Museum, in Mainz, where I was asked to help with a little demonstration of the printing process developed by Johannes Gutenberg. Basically, I had to pull a giant wooden lever - it was heavy work.
As a (mostly) print journalist and a bit of a nerd, I was pretty buzzed out by all this and I was delighted that at the end f the demonstration, I got to keep the page we had printed. It's a page from the Gutenberg Bible. The guides told me to keep it wrapped up for a day before I opened it - so the ink could set I guess. It's going straight to the pool room.
Anyway, just for you, dear Travel Live blog followers, here's exclusive footage of the page being opened for the first time.
10am (local time) Wiesbaden
"It's the best riesling in the world," says our guide on the way to the Neroberg vineyard.
"Of course you don't have to believe that. But you should just believe it for the next two hours while we visit the vineyard."
Riesling, as anyone who knows their wines or has access to Wikipedia will tell you, is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany. So, here in the birthplace of riesling, it seems polite to doff our caps and acknowledge that the Neroberg vineyard's wine is excellent. Even fans of great New Zealand rieslings, like those produced by Black Estate, will be wowed by drinking the variety at the source.
The vineyard is on a high hillside in Wiesbaden. On the hills overlooking the town, we gulp back this crisp and pleasantly apple-ish drop.
Best in the world? I'll believe that.
9am, Monday (local time) Wiesbaden
Reader Christoph Thurner emails to point out a couple of spelling mistakes "Wiesbaden, not Weisbaden," he points out. "Then it's Gutenberg, (loosely translated 'Good Mountain', if you read [Terry] Pratchett you will remember a dwarf in The Truth by the name of Gunilla Goodmountain) not Gutenburg (Good Castle)."
Danke schoen for that, Christoph. Happily, thanks to the wonders of the technology that Gutenberg started, we can make those corrections live in the blog.
7am (local time)
With most passengers exhausted after flying in from New Zealand and Australia, the cabins aboard Avalon Imagery II hummed last night with satisfied snoring. As for the beds: I can happily report that, as my brother would say, these are "good scratchers".
With a couple of wines in my belly and a 24-hour flight still in my head, I was early to bed, which meant I was up early, heading out for a Rhein-side run at 6am. Today, there are two excursion options: a trip to the Neroberg vineyard or a cultural tour of Wiesbaden. As we're in the home of riesling, it'll be the vineyard for me - I'll send photos and drunken blog updates later.
In the afternoon, my travel buddy and I will explore Wiesbaden town. His name is Drew, and he's better at tech stuff and photos than I am, so expect a radical improvement in Travel Live blog quality once he's involved. The ship sails this evening, with a scheduled 6am departure.
I've got my first reader query. Francis wants to know if you can feel any swell on board a river cruise ship. So far there's been very little, though we are still tied up at the side of the river. I definitely haven't had that 'can't-walk-in-a-straight-line' thing that you get when an ocean-going ship is rolling along. But, hey, maybe after the wine tasting, huh? I'll find a member of the crew for a more definitive answer. Shout-out to you, Francis. Any other queries? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
11pm (local time)
Here's a video of my room:
Back at the ship, we've just wrapped up evening cocktails ahead of a big day tomorrow.
10.30pm (local time)
I've done a couple of journeys on ocean-going cruise ships, and you can spend a couple of days exploring yet never knowing the labyrinthine paths of the giant vessels. But a river ship? You can walk every path on board in less than 10 minutes. Which, I guess, makes it even more imperative to get off the ship and take a walk on shore as discussed previously.
8.30pm (local time)
Guten tag from Wiesbaden! Stepping aboard the Avalon Imagery II this morning, I noted what I can only presume river cruise regulars would recognise as 'that new ship smell'.
Everything looks mint. There's a bit of excitement as groups arrive, find their rooms and get settled in. We'll be sailing on Tuesday morning (NZT) after taking a look at the local surroundings.
Two new things for me here: First river cruise, and first blog for a blog novice. Feel free to email me (polite) tips at email@example.com.
First point of difference between a river cruise and the ocean variety: You get off a lot. Straight after stowing my gear I went back to dry land for a trip to the Gutenburg Museum, which celebrates the work of Johannes Gutenburg inventor of the modern printing press . . . oh dear, you're reading this online aren't you . . .