Arrived a couple of days early to visit the museums and go around town a bit. If luggage light, take the subway in from the airport for about 5 euro; otherwise walk outside to the Connexion Blue Vans and get dropped off at your hotel for 16.50 apiece. Four people? Taxi is cheaper…. Stayed at the MovenPick on the waterfront, great location between the two piers that Viking uses, 5 minute walk from the Central Station and on a tramline. 7 euros gets you a day pass on the tram / bus system. Go online and see what kind of deal you can get. Invest in the executive package at the Movenpick for 65 euros/day/couple, you get a buffet breakfast that they usually charge 30 euro each for, an afternoon cocktail party with appetizers and good wine (food very good), and free internet. In addition, you get a Krupps expresso maker that turns out the BEST hotel room coffee I have ever had…. Note: bath is so trendy, it has a swinging frosted glass door, and use a lot of caution in that slick shower. ATM in lobby.
City stuff: Van Gogh and Rijks museums, canal tour, stop at a grocery store, visit to Saturn Electronics to buy a 220v to USB plug for the electronics. The deal is on a City Pass, which gets you most of these plus a 2 day transit pass for about 45 bucks, plus skipping the lines in the museums. Lunch was at the Café in the Rijks – very good.
Boarded the Jarl about noon on the 6th, dropped off the luggage, had some lunch, then took a walking tour (bucket list: Red Light District), then the canal tour.
The ship: launched in April, it shows no signs of wear. The cabins are a romping 150 ft2 and you’re going to be bumping into each other (a lot). You can go for the twin beds, sharing the space in the middle, but some genius has put light switches in the headboard. I survived turning the lights on accidentally in the middle of the night on a regular basis. Good nightlight in the bath, decent sized shower – I’d bring some soap, the cabin attendant really guards the premium stuff. 110 v and 220v plugs both available, about 3 of each? Have to leave a card in the switch if you want lights (bring one of those casino cards from home – they work just fine) . Coffee and lounge on the upper deck – best coffee machine, bar none. I always stopped at breakfast and let the machine make me some expresso, then went back down to the restaurant. A tray of pastries sits beside, in case the climb up the stairs weakened you. Lounge has a bar, two roll down projection screens, and not quite enough seats for the nightly briefings, so arrive early and get a drink. Reception is on the mid-deck, and the cruise direction Rene and his assistant Dora were the best we’ve had in a dozen+ cruises. In case you’ve eaten the pastries on your way back down, there is a dish of cookies on the reception desk.
Restaurant: Food was small portions, but you could always get more. “No sugar” desserts are available, and really good. The soup cook really knows his stuff on this boat, and I had seconds a few times. The baker was really good, and the croissants were top-notch. The free wines were crummy, the red palatable, the white poor. One night we had a good Riesling, but never seen again. There was a choice of about three beers.
Bad things: other than the light switches, the corrugated steel ramps to the piers are quite slippery and hazardous – how about a rubber mat? The lower deck “half window” starts right about at the level of my wife’s hairline – to see out, she stands on the bed. Bring a rain coat, wear layers, good walking shoes (hiking type is good)
Dinner that night was ChateauBriand (talk about setting a high standard…)
Day 2: Kinderdijk Windmills
Foggy /drizzly morning, walk a quarter mile to a windmill to go inside, then back to the museum next to the ship. I’m taking in a bit of that, and birding in the marsh while waiting. Afternoon – cruising. Nice to have a sea day! We take advantage of the afternoon to have some Dutch dishes and a shot of “gin”. Dinner was crispy chicken, haddock/mashed, consommé with ravioli, cheese soufflé. I have the cheese plate every night to get my calcium (not a lot of milk to drink in Europe). After dinner: lecture on Dikes/water management.
Day 3: Cologne
Sunday, so the Dom is closed for group tours. It is surrounded by a couple of overcrowded Christmas Markets. I liked the Roman museum next to the cathedral with artifacts found while digging, and the talk about flooding on the Rhine opened my eyes a bit. Gernan lunch aboard of Bratwurst, minestone soup, kraut; then back to the markets for a little pushing and shoving. Give up on the weekend crowd and go back to the ship for a nap. A kid’s choir entertains, then the captain buys champagne for the Explorer’s Club members (about half the passengers). Dinner is a marvelous roasted veal tenderloin.
Day 4: Rhine Gorge
Dock temporarily in Koblenz, bus up and go up the hill to the Marksburg Castle. Warning: if you are ability limited, don’t even consider taking this excursion! Rejoin the ship in Brauback, take a couple more pictures, then cruise through the lovely Rhine Gorge on the ONLY sunny day of the trip. Have to go the church and light a candle…. Rudesheim at dusk, and what a lot of people considered the nicest market of the trip. About a kilometer walk each way, but nice lighting, best prices. The drink at a market is gluhwein – heated wine with spices. Couple euros a cup, another euro if you want a floater of schnapps (I like apple), another couple of euros for the souvenir cup. Non drinker? Just buy the cup! Dinner was a great cauliflower soup, John Dory fish, English beef cut, cheese with a really good tomato jam.
Day 5: Heidelberg
Disembark in Mainz to catch the bus – tour the castle in Heidelberg overlooking the town. Warning: slippery slopes of round cobblestones, a good walk involved. Back down for a walking tour of the town square, which we skip since my wife graduated from Heidelberg High (DODS). The market is permanent, and attached to the outside of the cathedral. If music is your thing, check the cathedral – the music students from the University might be giving a concert with the lovely pipe organ (free). Rejoin the ship in Speyer – 1 kilometer from the Technical Museum, 2 kilometers from the cathedral. There’s a walking tour to the cathedral at 4:15, but a retired science teacher? Off to the Tech museum. How about a 747, racing cars, a Russian Space shuttle (never used), mini subs and torpedos, and a real German U-Boat to go aboard (our WWII subs are a LOT bigger). Another check on the bucket list….
Day 6: Strasbourgh
Probably the best looking city of the trip – the half timbered houses are beauties. The tour is good, ends at the quite nice cathedral, and its about a mile walk back to the bus. An extra cream of vegetable soup at lunch gets me going again…. Afternoon option is to a wine tasting in Alsace: an hour drive through 3-4 villages to get to Barr, 4 glasses of decent wine, then the usual chance to buy a few. On the way back, we stop at Obernai – for some reason, this city with its original city walls looks very cool in the fog, and the Market isn’t bad, either. Dinner is French Onion Soup, Shrimp Avocado, Sea Bass.
Day 7: Breisach
Awake to find ship moored in the fog, surrounded by a big flock of Mute Swans in the water at a meter distance from our window. Bus up for an hour’s run through the Black Forest for a cake and cuckoo clock demonstration (I go across the road for a hike in the forest and go birding). There’s a stop on the way for a Baroque church (St. Peter’s) in a forgotten town. Back to the ship for Spinach Soup and Veal/mushrooms. Board the bus for the optional tour to Colmar. I’m about citied out, and just went and looked at my pictures to remember the town. Recommendation: skip it. Dinner was Filet Mignon and mushroom soup, just as good as the previous ones.
Day 8: Basel
We’re in the second batch to leave to catch our flight to Munich (we’re spending a few days in Bavaria as long as we’re over here). The restaurant is open at 4 A.M. for the early risers, and I have my last batch of smoked salmon of the trip… Airport is about a 20 minute trip.